Photo Credit: Connor Peck
When was the last time you remember hearing a song by a rock band in which not only were they themselves specifically identified as the subject, but it was all sung from the perspective of an outside character? Well, on their third album A Portrait of an Ugly Man, that’s what Bloomington, Minnesota band Remo Drive does on the song “The Night I Kidnapped Remo Drive.” Singer and guitarist Erik Paulson even “appears” on the first line (“Erik and I are the best of friends // Although I’m not sure that he knows it yet”) and the rest of the song describes rope burns and contains direct references to Silence of the Lambs.
Huh. Well, needless to say that’s a lot to process for one song…and we haven’t even talked about the music yet. In that case, it’s a bit more similar to the rest album A Portrait of an Ugly Man, which luckily overall is a tight and highly appealing work which might suggest a more “fun” version of Radiohead, but more specifically derives from both British Eighties New Wave as well as early 2000s bands like Franz Ferdinand, the Keiser Chiefs and Modest Mouse. No other song on A Portrait of an Ugly Man is as oddly conceptual as “The Night I Kidnapped Remo Drive” (which in fact doesn’t appear until eight tracks in). Leading up to that, however, Remo Drive command the attention of the listener right from the opening track “A Guide to Live By”, between the gripping bass and drum parts in combination with the impossible-to-resist structuring of the tune. The track also provides something of a guide for what listeners can expect from the rest of the album.
“Dead Man” sort of sounds like Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burin’ for You” filtered through early Eighties New Romantic, while “If You’re Ever Looked Too Deep in Thought” (great title!) has an almost Spanish-sounding guitar reminiscent of Havana 3AM, the short-lived and underrated early Nineties outfit featuring former Clash bassist Paul Simonon. Kinetic, uptempo “The Ugly Man Sings” is its own treasury of surprises, including a bass solo and a Broadway-type chorus with some piano. On the subject of pianos, “Ode to Joy 2” (was there an “Ode to Joy 1?” We’re not sure) presents a very Billy Joel-like verse, along with more surprises during the instrumental section.
Remo Drive’s driving force is clearly lead singer Erik Paulson (also the guitarist, as mentioned), whose clear and straightforward crooner vocal style in the tradition of singers like Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet is unquestionably the band’s most instantly-recognizable feature (and Paulson’s approach includes just the right touch of lounge lizard irony). Bassist Stephen Paulson and drummer Sam Becht are just as tight. Among the few possibly unattractive features of A Portrait of an Ugly Man is the fact that there might appear to be a kind of sameness to the tracks, at least on the first couple of listens. However, on the closer “Easy as That” Erik Paulson offers a last-minute reveal of a falsetto which gives this track its own distinction. All told, we could of called this album A Portrait of a Promising Band.