Crobot – The Legend of the Spaceborne Killer
review by Paul Simpson
It can be dangerous to compare bands to other bands when reviewing their work, but that’s what makes this fun, so I always do it anyway. No artist wants to be thought of as a derivative copycat, but the honest ones are happy to acknowledge those who have influenced their style. Aerosmith, for example, never shied from admitting that they were Zep-heads, and Guns’n’Roses in turn acknowledged their own debt to Aerosmith. The really good bands draw on these influences and weave them so skillfully into their own work that it really becomes their own, and you have to listen hard to pick them all out, but they’re there; as I said, that’s what makes this fun. Pottsville, PA-based Crobot is such a band, and listening to their debut album The Legend of the Spaceborne Killer was a real treat.
Ironically, I began listening to Crobot on the night before I was to see another band, my old pals The A’s–who were getting together for what they swear was to be their FINAL reunion concert (if it really was, they are crazy–they sounded every bit as good as they did in their 1980s hey-day–but that is another story)–and Crobot made me think of them, even though they sound nothing alike. More to the point, they made me think of a review written by Dave Fricke back in 1979 (now a senior editor at Rolling Stone, back then a staff writer). In reviewing The A’s debut album for Arista Records, Fricke wrote this:
“Shameless thieves though they are, the Philadelphia-based A’s plunder the Sixties and early Seventies with style and humor… this band welds pop’s cheery past to the concentrated power of punk’s nihilistic present, creating a flagrantly derivative whole that would simply be the impressive sum of its obvious parts if the A’s didn’t go about their piracy with such panache.”
I love that quote (OK, I don’t like “flagrantly derivative,” but “piracy with such panache”–yes!), and if you change a few names and words, something similar could be said of Crobot. Add the charismatic frontman, the talented lead guitarist, and the tight, authoritative rhythm section, and the aptness of the comparison continues. Crobot “plunders the Seventies and Eighties with style and humor.” An impressive sum of not-so-obvious parts; as I indicated, this album was a fun listen.
I did a little plundering of the past myself, and found this nice, short Crobot interview.
Yes, the Led Zep influence is obvious. With his extraordinary vocal range and control, Brandon Yeagley–who comes across like a blend of Robert Plant, Steve Tyler, and Axl Rose–could front any Led Zep tribute band out there, and bassist Sam Grim pairs well with drummer Tony Kobel in a nice Jones/Bonham way, while guitarist Chris Bishop has that essential power-trio ability to sound like he’s accompanying himself on rhythm guitar while playing the lead. At times I was reminded of the complex instrumental metal sound of Kansas and the tight harmonies of Toto. There are Black Sabbath vibes and Bad Company and The Who slipping in, maybe some Foreigner and Journey? Long Allman Brothers jams. More con-temporarily, I was reminded of the brilliant purity of the Black Keys, and Yeagley’s skill as a vocal chameleon made me think of The Heavy’s Kelvin Swaby.
The good news is that the eleven original songs on this album reflect the best of 70s-era rock music without sounding at all derivative or even truly retro; think of it as a brand-new, updated version of your favorite 70s muscle car–all the power and glory of your old GTO or Z-28 tricked out with all the essential 21st Century accoutrements like power windows, iPod dock, and in-dash GPS. And power sunroof. It may just be my fading memory, but with the exception of “Leave The Key”–which has a distinct “Kashmir” ring to it (sans orchestra)–I couldn’t pick out a single song from this album that reminded me of a specific 70s tune, despite an abundance of stylistic nuances that took me right back to my 70s high school garage band days.
Led Zeppelin was famously opposed to releasing songs as singles, and The Legend of the Spaceborne Killer is similarly one of those albums where you should just “listen to the whole thing”. The title cut is probably the one I’d select if introducing someone to this band for the first time, but there are no weak songs on this album. They are well sequenced, and the overall production quality is excellent. So hop into your Trans-Am, pop this into your tape deck–er, iPod dock–and drive to wherever Crobot has their next gig. I suspect this will be a heck of a band to see live. Highly recommended.