Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The Automatic @ The Carling Academy, Oxford

October 2008

(This article originally appeared in Oxford Music Scene)

What’s that, coming over the hill? Is it by-numbers pub-rock clap-along British indie?

Well, not entirely. When The Automatic open tonight’s gig with eccentric single ‘Raoul’ (which, admittedly, I’d completely forgotten they’d written), my preconceptions about the headliners – whose reputation was largely built on the mysterious success of that ‘Monster’ single - vanish as quickly as my overpriced Jack’n’Coke.

If only it could last. The majority of the set is constructed around stagnant, barked choruses and identical guitar twangs. Heart-wrenchingly, the band can do much more than lift off from formulaic mediocrity, and it’s here that you see them struggling to crash through the gluey hype one over-played single has smothered their career in. ‘This Is A Fix’, from the new album by the same name, is nerve-shreddingly fast: discordant guitars wrestle into a barely coherent wall of sound while the vocals, completely disconnected, limp and lunge over the surface. In terms of adrenaline it’s all very Last Shadow Puppets: closer ‘Light Entertainment’ is another pleasant surprise, piling riffs asthmatically impenetrable for a tighter, heavier dose of rock.

The shock conclusion of the night is that there is innovative talent at work in The Automatic. It bursts out, sarcastic and progressive, on some live tracks. But for every daring moment there are five back-catalogue hits of disappointing mediocrity, built around the number of opportunities for tame audience participation per song. That The Automatic have kept crowd pleasers well-apart and that darker stuff is making an appearance hopefully indicates a change of direction: this is a fix, but with the success of ‘Monster’ well behind them, it’s about time they showed us what they’ve got.

Liz Dodd

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