There were a lot of bats in Nathan Williams’ beachside belfry (many of them wearing press laminates), and you could see it coming. He didn’t get apprehend by police at a McD’s drive-in or anything, but even a cursory glance at his behavior set off all kinds of alarms, leading up to his final onstage “meltdown” that made music “reporters” feel really, really “important” for a day or two. I remember a particular clip where he’s being followed around by a camera crew for a “feature” (really more of a “stalk”), and he starts laughing a little too hard with a friend and mentioning something about a “weed demon.” There’s a demented twinkle in his eye, one that I’ve seen before in bar owners who are about to torch their tavern to the ground for a tidy insurance profit: they know things are getting out of control, and they want to bail out.
Under Pressure like Freddy Merc, Williams bailed out, big-time, during a show overseas, then apologized for doing what rock ’n’ rollers have been doing since the artform’s inception (why?). Through it all, the music seemed largely forgotten, which is fine because Wavves hadn’t recorded a great album. They were all potential, raw and wadded up on the bottom of their skate shoes like threshed-up Big League Chew. They sounded like shit in concert, a pale imitation of the studio magic, much like Ariel Pink’s early live uncertainties. What Wavves did do to capture the hearts of the blogerati was flaunt genius in small doses. If it’s true that Courtney Taylor-Taylor could “sneeze” out hits in his heyday (of course we all know he couldn’t), it’s not a stretch to say Williams could cough them out in a cloud of green-tinted, ozone-crackling haze. Waaaaaavves were a Singles band that you could definitely see capturing all that talent someday, full-length style (which is the only way to go, silly youngsters), if the hype would let them. IF.
King of the Beach is a fairly flattering step in Williams’ development under the Wavves namesake, cleaned up like Jay Reatard’s last album, and a convincing comeback swipe besides, with some defiant lyrics and a ton of unsurprising admissions/statements that simply reek of that funk most of us experience in our early twenties (also known as the “roaring twenties.” HIYO!). One thing King of the Beach absolutely, positively isn’t, however, is an effective full-length statement. It fizzles and fades when you need it most, reverting to Phil Spectorisms (that “boom…boom-boom, BAP” drum rhythm is so played out it’s SICK) and less confident explorations that bode well for the future — you can’t get to the next level without some trial and error, especially when you’re recording a new album at LEAST every year — but do little for the Here and Now.
For better or worse, Williams attempts to reclaim his balls (“You’re neeeever gonna stop me” … “I bet you laugh right behind my back/ I won’t ever die” … “I could apologize/ But it wouldn’t mean shit”), which is probably a good move after all the aforementioned apologizin’ and such, and you couldn’t script a better album-opener than “King of the Beach,” a primal PUNch that caves in yr chest like a savage volleyball spike. “Post Acid,” whose bridge is almost identical to that of the title cut, is even better, a lead-off single with a firm grip on the bat and the best harmonies Williams has managed to date, hummable and memorable. Don’t get me started on “Baseball Cards” and “Baby Say Goodbye,” either; the almost flippant test-runs are effortlessly efficient, instantly likable. As before, Wavves have the firepower to snap your neck with a double-dose of summer HEET. So why can’t they even come close to pitching a shutout?
“Super Soaker” — just listen to it. It’s a runny nose, snuffing the titular track’s momentum at slot no. 2 with riDICulous faux-soprano — the only soprano our generation knows, sadly — and a general lack of tunefulness. A late-song rally doesn’t save its pep. And “Idiot” — I understand the need to address the issues on display here, but at what point does self-deprecation become -pity? You get the feeling he’s not calling himself an idiot as much as he’s assuming others think he’s an idiot. He’s a tad defensive, and whether people do or don’t unfairly judge him — and they most certainly have — it’s not something a punk puke should be worrying about, much less consistently committing to tape. It’s one thing to answer the barbs of the bloggers; it’s another to dwell and become mired in negative pronouncements and young-dude worldview. A few isolated “thwacks” at the haters would have sufficed, as the best revenge is living well, especially in an indie-rock world where literally thousands of bands would suck the blood from an infant’s neck to claim even an iota of the attention and hype lavished upon Williams and his ebbing Wavves.
There’s more: “When Will You Come” isn’t worth a goddamn; “Take on the World” is too reliant on repetition and the avves-Wa tricks of old — Nathan sings, that girl “ooooh-aaaah”s — and “Convertible Balloon” is a baby-talk bonanza of a tune that pretty much affirms all the worst fears I had for Wavves coming into this review. King of the Beach is one of those albums, like Contra, that gets high marks for all the reasons you’d expect in the age of the attention-devoid. It’s flashy and initially warm like a new piece o’ strange, but as you get to know it, the cracks in the foundation begin to show. Listeners looking for a long-term relationship are advised to look elsewhere or lower their expectations for love.