Published Oct 14, 2019Amongst certain fans of rock'n'roll, the go-to litmus test for assessing a band's quality is the question of how "real" they are. By such a metric, the highest praise an album can receive is: "this is real rock'n'roll, this is real music."
Most often, to be real is to be old in spirit, to draw greedily from the ethos of classic bands of the genre. One is real if one rejects the digital norms of the present and orients oneself instead towards the sounds of earlier decades — when things were sweaty, and authentic, and, somehow, just more true.
If tasked to come up with a band that would pass this test with flying colours — whose claim to realness is central to their very identity — it's Starcrawler, the young group who entered the spotlight with their 2018 self-titled debut.
Everything about Starcrawler, at first glance, is built on references to their rock and glam lineage. There's the shaggy-haired, fringed-dressed aesthetic that slacks across each promotional photo. The shrilling and lurching guitar riffs, scrubbed over with the vocals of lead singer Arrow de Wilde. Even the high-voltage live shows, the ones teetering on the edge of chaos — full of just the right amount of feral intensity and stage antics.
On their sophomore album, Devour You, Starcrawler enthusiastically deliver another 13 tracks full of sweating, chaotic stuff of the genre. It's a sound defined by a pulse-raising, posturing rock, set forth by the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and the Stooges. Take the sunburnt fuzz of "Hollywood Ending," with its kaleidoscope of rockstars, mistakes and broken hearts: a perfect recapitulation of a style.
There's nothing necessarily at fault about borrowing so heavily from the past — these sounds are, after all, classic for a reason and it's true that Starcrawler conjure them expertly and deftly. The most memorable moments of the record, though, are those when Starcrawler distinguish their work from the giants before them, sketching out instead their own growing sense of self.
Listen to slow-burning closing track "Call Me a Baby," as de Wilde's voice, breaking around each note, asserts herself as, at once, "a stud, a power machine, a full grown man." There's a playful bravado here, but also a clear sense of heartfelt vulnerability. It's an arresting blend, one that's the most affecting and — just maybe — the most real moment on the record. (Rough Trade)