Nic Armstrong made an impressive debut in 2004 with The Greatest White Liar, a frenzied, tuneful collection of British Invasion-style rave-ups and ballads. But the album apparently wasn't what Armstrong had in mind for his career, so almost as soon as he hit the road with his band The Thieves, they rechristened themselves "IV Thieves"—with each member now contributing songs and vocals. Sadly, IV Thieves' debut album, If We Can't Escape My Pretty never reaches the giddy highs of The Greatest White Liar; this batch of songs isn't as inventive in their retro-revisionism as what Armstrong came up with on his own, and the presentation carries an inexplicable air of menace. The album takes its cues from the song "The Day Is A Downer," an ungainly mash of peppy Britpop and thudding hard rock that sounds like Nick Lowe crossed with Oasis. Even when some of Armstrong's prior brightness burns through, If We Can't Escape is too heavy, too sparkly, too slow, and too much.
Speaking of sophomore slumps, The Zutons follow up their not-that-great-in-the-first-place debut Who Killed with Tired Of Hanging Around, an unappealing hunk of overbearing guitar-pop. Following in the footsteps of countless buzzed-over British bands, The Zutons go for the big punch on album number two, and the result sounds like glam-rock without the glam—and pretty thin to boot, in spite of a preponderance of instrumentation. Some of the songs get where they need to go just through sheer force and determination, like the sass-rocker "It's The Little Things We Do," and Tired Of Hanging Around's two great songs, "Valerie" and "Oh Stacey (Look What You've Done!)," work because they're broadly theatrical and a lot of fun, like Bruce Springsteen crossed with Elton John. But later comes the faux-gospel, and the music-hall romps, and the nods to movie soundtracks, and the bombast. Ugh.