Over the past 10 years, Hamilton’s Arkells have become, as their label boasts, “the most-played band on Canadian alt-rock radio.” True to the Steeltown archetype, they’re persistent and play no-frills rock, tour relentlessly and assume the role of the amiable underdog in their scene. But with their fourth album, Arkells seem poised to take the next step.
As with many bands that survive a decade together, Arkells have decided not to stick with the sound – in their case, Springsteenian rock anthems – that got them this far. Opener Drake’s Dad affirms that right off the bat. The song isn’t just cringe-worthy for its narrative, in which Dennis Graham is a character, but for its insistence on using a dated click-track rhythm and an out-of- place gospel choir in the chorus. First single Private School doesn’t fare much better, suffering from awkward rhymes (Bacardi and Molly) that could even alienate the millennial set.
Simply put, Morning Report finds Arkells lost and deep outside of their comfort zone. The lavish string section for Passenger Seat, a schmaltzy 80s ballad, feels a little too disingenuous, a little too Hedley for their average fan. Round And Round softens up to the point of falling into a “lite FM” area that threatens their cachet as a rock ‘n’ roll band. When they finally do get to the peppy rockers – Making Due, A Little Rain, Come Back Home – it’s a bit too late in the game.
Regardless, alt-rock radio will continue to play the shit out of Arkells because they write catchy-enough singles that happen to be CanCon. That kind of endorsement may be all they need in the end, but Arkells have shown they can be much more than that.
Top track: Come Back Home