Published Apr 22, 2020If you saw Billboard's chart of the top 50 rock songs of the 2010s, you may have felt a sense of cognitive dissonance regarding "rock music" in the 21st century. Measured by streams, sales and radio airplay, the top three all belonged to one of pop culture's favourite punching bags: Imagine Dragons. The list was a sobering look at what mainstream rock has become — that is, the most vacuous of commercial pop, but played more loudly by guys in leather jackets
Winnipeg group the Treble fit right in. The band's second album, Rivals, doesn't sound like the work of artists with something to say, but the output of a cog in a hit-making machine — and a cog that doesn't do anything to prove its necessity in keeping that engine running. The band has shown up to a field of Canadian outfits already playing the same game — e.g. Dear Rouge, USS and the Zolas — and the eight songs on Rivals are indiscernible not only from each other, but also from anything you can already hear on corporate rock radio or from anyone gunning for the NHL 21 soundtrack.
Despite big, moody and rafter-reaching production from Ryan Worsley, Rivals is flat and soulless. The songs are polished, but that artificially rugged sort of polished that re-inserts just the right amount of lab-tested grit. The Treble sound like a band making mass-appeal rock just for the sake of it. As they say in their title track: "It's all about survival, not about the hunger."
Yet with decent hooks, a dusky atmosphere and a strong groove, "Rivals" is a rare scrap that might be worth salvaging. If you're into OneRepublic, you may cling to "Eyes on Us," especially if you can be suckered into its underdog spirit. "Glorious" could be decent if it wasn't trying so, so hard to be noticed with poorly executed Imogen Heap-style vocal modulation. Among the album's worst offenders are "No Secrets (There for You)," "All the People" and "Fix of You," all fighting to be the tackiest single to hit the Canadian charts and be forgotten within a year.
Meanwhile, the prosaic lyricism contains almost exclusively boilerplate clichés. "Just a couple of kids / How did we end up like this on a Saturday night?" Mark Brusegard sings in a chorus that tries to land an emotional blow but falls limp in its meaninglessness. "If tomorrow is too late / Then I'll do this my way," he cries out in "Dangerous," an ode to carpe diem tattoos everywhere.
There's a reach-for-the-stars approach behind this. In earlier days, the Treble wore an off-the-rack version of Mumford & Sons' folksy dust-bowl costume while churning out sap-rock aping Train and Maroon 5. They've since switched to the clean yet vaguely bad-boy aesthetic of Billboard alt-rock, with its electronic enhancements, richly hued lighting and H&M's latest looks. Today's money is with Imagine Dragons, but the Treble may find greater rewards in breaking new ground. (Cadence)