I was pretty sure I was going to like Comeback Special from Chicago band The Sleepers before I even cracked open the CD. *
The cover has a vaguely bootlegged look to it like The Who’s Live At Leeds. Prominently displayed on the cover is the band’s logo, faux-rubber-stamped over a phonograph. Not a distinguished old-timey one that might have a dog peering into it, but one of those 70s down-market deals that proves that albums only sound better than CDs when you have 10K worth of stereo equipment behind them.
The back of the CD insert apes the look of a taped-up set list next to a picture of the band. The bassist is the most flamboyantly dressed of the five, while the lead singer is outfitted in what appears to be a sweater vest, button-down and corduroys. This makes so little sense that it must be true.
The easiest, laziest criticism against what The Sleepers are doing is that there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking going on here, though you could level the same critique at The Detroit Cobras, The Bellrays or The Goldstars, three bands who – like The Sleepers – take all the pieces necessary for a rock-and-roll, barroom-stomp style and put it together in such a way that it doesn’t sound like a retread.
Comeback Special is the band’s 2nd full-length after Push It Nationwide. The songs are full of crunchy guitar riffs crackling over bottom-heavy grooves as the lyrics repeatedly invoke the Holy Troika of Rock Problems (women – of legal age and otherwise – booze, and cigarettes). 70s rock shibboleths are offered from the MC5-style guitar lines to the Freddie Mercury-esque shouts of “Yeah!” on “Loaded” and “Jailbait,” to the direct line that can be drawn from Cheap Trick’s “Southern Girls” to The Sleepers’ “Filthy Ways.” These are bombastic, anthemic songs that revel in weekend-warrior vice.
The Sleepers manage to transcend their influences precisely because of all these winking nods at what came before. It’s the difference between a band that knows what it’s doing when it plays a certain way and a band that plays a certain way because it doesn’t know any better.
Comeback Special works because The Sleepers studied hard in rock school, then pissed off their professors because they turned out to be a little smarter.
The Sleepers’ Comeback Special is out now. Tracks from their album are available via its MySpace page. Their CD release party is March 8th at Double Door. Opening will be The Regrets, The Cocksmiths, and Whiskey Blonde, which sounds about right, actually.
* My own personal barometer for this decision-making – hinted at here – is worth expounding on, but not here. Buy me a beer in a bar sometime though…