The Greenhornes ★★★★

[Third Man; 2010]

Rating: 2/5

Styles: garage rock, radio rock, dad rock
Others: The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather

The Greenhornes aren’t “meat and potatoes.” If anything, they’re more “sliders and hash browns.” They’re the kitschy diners in the creases on the maps of great American cities. You know the places — your parents took you there when you were little, let you jam quarters in the jukebox consoles to make them crank out “Louie Louie” or “La Bamba.” In the course of adult life, you’ve got little reason to dirty your elbows on their Formica countertops. The lurid linoleum makes your shoes stick to the pavement on your way out. Not one of the waitresses even remotely approximates the gum-smacking louche underaged vixen of American lore. Most of the time you and your buddies would rather cop empanadas or hit up that cheap Thai place on 7th Street. But now and then, when it’s 3 AM and everyplace else has gone dark, you guys might pop in there for a malt and some fries. Maybe you’ll pretend you’re Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer in Pulp Fiction, or heckle the lipsticked ogre at the register. Maybe you’ll just slump there to decomp after a rocky night over some supremely shitty, overpriced victuals in the only place in town you can guarantee to be basically empty.

The difference here being that, to continue the metaphor, The Greenhornes are a fluorescent-lit eatery getting repped by Tony Bourdain on the air — this 14-year-old trio out of Cincinnati and its environs have landed on Jack White’s label/garage rock preservation society Third Man Records and secured a production credit from the man himself for this go-round. Not that these gents haven’t earned their keep: stick-man Patrick Keeler and bassist Jack Lawrence help jack up the reeling thump of both of White’s post-Stripes posses (The Raconteurs and the wonderfully unwashed The Dead Weather), and their earliest Beau Brummels-y output outdates most of the millennial garage renaissance.

★★★★ doesn’t just strip-mine Nuggets and call it a day — the scope of its appropriation actually makes it fairly tough to pull specific references from the roadside rock muskeg. Troggs or Sonics, Yardbirds or Them; pick a name and you’re probably right. “Underestimator” could slip unnoticed between Blackfoot and Boston on Clear Channel-ed car radios nationwide; standard issue Hammond B-3 sounds creep out of the woodwork on “Cave Drawings” and “Hard To Find”; and heavy hints of Stax are dropped. Airtight musicianship lets The Greenhornes skip from pastiche to pastiche like gangbusters, even if the songcraft seems engineered for minimum impact.

They come off like ace session players and little more, thanks especially to Craig Fox’s insipid vocals and some crushingly jejune lyrical content. “Floating sunbeams of satin” are pretty tough to swallow, even when couched in vintage Arthur Lee phrasings. Granted, none of the great bands they emulate succeeded by pure poesy, but these stalwarts lack the adolescent frisk required to sell a pop song with the simplicity of an early Kinks single. At their best, The Greenhornes rip like one of the great house bands of American history — the Mar-Keys, the MGs, and so on.

Were we to awake one day to find that all the garish retro diners had disappeared from the American landscape, we’d no doubt feel a twinge of sadness. Similarly, it’s oddly heartening to know that rock preservationists still crank out this kind of pap. But until the catastrophic day when both these things are no more, The Greenhornes’ biteless buckshot approach does little to warrant our attention.

Links: The Greenhornes - Third Man

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