Julie Doiron fronting a hard rock quartet rounded out by Eamon McGrath and members of Cancer Bats sounds like a no brainer, the kind of collaboration that's catnip to CanRock fans. Doiron, who got her start with legendary lo-fi noisemakers Eric's Trip, is certainly at home amidst loud, distorted guitars. Yet, with a handful of exceptions, she's spent her prolific solo career delivering soft, sparse records.
You get the impression that such a record was the original intention behind these 10 songs, as Doiron rarely raises her soft voice above the fray ("You Wanted What I Wanted," a standout, is an exception). Even when working with her former Eric's Trip bandmates, there's always been an intimacy to Doiron's solo work that's absent here. Hard rock, on the other hand, keeps its listeners at arm's length, letting the guitars fill that the emotional gap.
Yet her vocals, not the guitars, are the album's focus — there's a surprising dearth of memorable riffs or searing solos here. McGrath, Mike Peters and Jaye R. Schwarzer are a formidable trio, and you can hear glimpses of greatness as they gel with Doiron on songs like "Heartbeats." But overall, it feels like something's being held back, and the disconnect that refusal to fully engage creates is pervasive.
Doiron's willingness to marry her voice to a litany of sounds, styles and languages always makes for interesting listening, even if the experimentation doesn't play to her strengths. Unfortunately, this collaboration elevates neither her songs nor the Wrong Guys' playing. Maybe subverting expectations was the point, but Julie & the Wrong Guys is less than the sum of its formidable component parts. (Dine Alone)