Hopping the pond makes for strange bedfellows. Though the Subways had an early U.S. breakthrough this fall on that great cultural arbiter, The O.C., a February release date has lumped their debut with the latest wave of British musical exports. So, despite sometimes sharing space in the same breath as the wildly popular Arctic Monkeys, the Subways may in fact be one of the least British rock bands to emerge over the past few years. Their music, if anything, harkens back to the sort of stripped-down, straight-ahead sound of bands like the Vines. Lead singer Billy Lunn's voice (often entrenched, ‹¨« la "Get Free," in unwavering strain) shares few of the trademarks, in lyric and delivery, that make his contemporaries so culturally specific.
Young for Eternity shows early promise, with the opener "I Want to Hear What You Have Got To Say." The first minute suggests a relatively simple, melancholic acoustic ditty, but with an emphatic grunt, the guitar goes electric, the drums kick in and things really get going. Rarely on the rest of the album does Lunn's voice sound this mature and self-possessed, and, what's more, he is complemented fantastically by bassist Mary-Charlotte Cooper, who takes over on lead vocals for the final verse. Her voice might not be strong enough for full-time lead duties, but the remainder of Young for Eternity, to its own detriment, consigns her to backup duty alone.
The single "Rock & Roll Queen" plods along pleasantly enough, making up with volume what it lacks in nuance. The catchy, punk-informed "Mary" offers another glimmer of hope that maybe Young for Eternity's sheer exuberance might salvage it from the grip of mediocrity. But the album soon takes a decisive turn for the worse. On the title track, the lyrics devolve into such inanity ("Thank God for Dracula / He sucked the shit out of me") that even the inattentive listener cannot pass them over in silence. The band especially flounders on its two token "soft rock" tracks, "Lines of Light" and "She Sun," which exploit the tired formula (acoustic guitar + slow tempo + harmonization = tender emotion) without shame. The Subways aren't necessarily bad musicians, but it's clear they're uncomfortable venturing too far outside the realm of musical convention.
And here's where, after all, you start yearning for the tongue-in-cheek confidence of their British peers. As lyricist and frontman, Lunn is no Pete Doherty, and while comparisons these days can be tiresome and cliched, putting Young for Eternity up against Bloc Party's 2005 debut, for one, makes it pretty clear where the Subways stand in the musical hierarchy -- and the view is less than spectacular. The Subways are indeed a young band, all around age 19, but it's ultimately their lack of maturity, not experience that drags them down. The album cries out for a little sonic variety and experimentation, while the band seems to just put on the blinders and charge ahead. Give the Subways props for stepping outside the (probably stifling) constraints of the British scene, but pure "rock n' roll" without a little musical I.Q. just isn't going to cut it.