Reviews: Sharks – No Gods – What Happened to Fist Clinched Full of Hate?
In 2011, SHARKS released The Joys of Living (2008-2010), a compilation of their previous two EP’s, plus a few fresh songs as filler. This album blew away any 2011 release, made my year, and changed the way I viewed the future of punk music. In America, the Gainesville, FL beardos and the New Jersey pop punksters have claimed what the new sound of punk music is, and the truth is that it’s all barely a distant relative of where punk rock began for most of us. I am of course referencing the Clash and the Ramones, the starter bands, the beginning of every lost and lonely youth’s journey into amazing grace. SHARKS seemed to have an intimate connection with that reality, and though they were embraced quickly by the likes of the Gaslight Anthem, Hot Water Music, Against Me! and Social Distortion, they were nothing like them. Their brand was nostalgic yet fresh, it was powerful but it also reflected four musicians who felt weak and unheard. Somewhere along the way, Rise Records picked up SHARKS along with powerpop darlings Cheap Girls, and gave SHARKS the official debut they have been yearning for; it is titled No Gods.
No Gods almost reminds me of Pleased To Meet Me by The Replacements. It’s the clean-cut, smoothly produced and crisp album of a band that made their name on raw aggression and crunch. No Gods has some memorable songs in “Arcane Effigies” & “Patient Spider”, like Pleased to Meet Me had Can’t Hardly Wait & Alex Chilton. Producer Brian McTernan (Strike Anywhere, HMW, Thrice, Converge, Texas is the Reason) took the reins on No Gods, and one would think that with his largely reputable resume he would know how to see what a band is all about and extract those best qualities. James from SHARKS said to AbsolutePunk “We spent a lot more money and time on production, had a big name producing it so we gave him a bit of rope to put his own twist onto the sound of it so what we came out with was a collaboration of sounds whereas before it was just strictly our ideas. We were very limited before so we’ve tried to push the boat out a little bit.”
As if money and limited means effects musicianship and artistic expression.
On older songs such as “Three Houses”, “It Threatens”, or “Trains”, SHARKS oozed with so much passion and vigor. When they were at their best, SHARKS created soaring sonic landscapes that made you feel as if you are driving down an empty highway with your whole life in front of you. On a personal note, “More Blue” and “Glove in Hand” are songs I will take with me to my grave. I don’t have words for what these songs mean to me. Now I’m wondering which songs on No Gods will achieve that, and I am coming up empty. “Till the Wonders Rise” is an entertaining start to the record, its epic first seconds suck you in and make any SHARKS fan feel safe, and a new listener would have to be intrigued to continue listening.
A huge factor of my disenchantment is I just get plain bored. With their previous releases, I could listen to all of their EPs back to back and not lose interest, but I find myself wanting to turn off No Gods after 4 or 5 songs. This album not only lacks the punk rawness and liveliness of their past material, but it also is lacking the very lifeblood that defined what makes SHARKS a great band. There is no White Light/White Heat. No White Riot. No Bastards of Young. This is what we all expected, and it didn’t arrive.
There is clearly a heavy influence of 90s Brit Pop such as Oasis and Blur or even old school mod rock, with significantly less emphasis on the Clash/Buzzcocks influences of SHARKS earlier days. On the tracks where they try to utilize different sounds such as the country twang of “On a Clear Day You Can See Yourself” it sounds kind of forced, cheesy. This is what one would expect from a band spending too much time with Mike Ness and Social D. After that, they hit us with “Matthews Baby” as one of the only tracks that would fit in really well with their old material, with its tremolo picking and bouncing rhythm, it is a stand out track that seems less bogged down with compulsory bluesiness. It strikes me as a moment where the band takes a look back at where they came from and smiles. It’s important for a band to remember where things began for them, but isn’t it a little soon for that?
The major sonic shift rests in the change from the reverb-riddled lead guitar, with significant fuzz on The Joys of Living…to the uber clean blues-rock sound of songs like “Able Moving Hearts”. At times, this new guitar sound can be interesting and skillfully melodic, and at other times it just doesn’t add anything at all to the songs. SHARKS created solid emotional anthems in “Able Moving Hearts” and “Luck”, using dissonant chords that sweep us into a place of youth and vulnerability. No Gods sounds to me like the album SHARKS would theoretically put out in 10 years, as their 3rd or 4th record. It would be their attempt to show the world they are in touch with their roots and can still pack a punch, and sadly miss their mark.
I truly believe that when the honeymoon period of No Gods passes, SHARKS fans and even SHARKS themselves will wonder “Why would I listen to this album when I have The Joys of Living?” They are two albums that seem to be made my two different bands, with two different backgrounds, values, experiences, tastes and passions. As an adoring mother says to her child when they do something slightly beneath them, “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” SHARKS seems to have taken all the Clash comparisons they received in the past three years and turned that into a negative thing, as if being likened to Joe Strummer was unfulfilling. So they approached No Gods to turn the tables, and gave producers “a bit of rope” to help them make a proper debut. Unfortunately, they very likely would have been better off going it alone.