Reviewer disclaimer: Listen to The Cheats’ Pussyfootin'” before reading their promotional literature. Better yet, as their promotional literature suggests (which may be ironic to say after forewarning against reading it), see them live before taking their word for what to expect in their sound. The carpet does not match the drapes, but fortunately the carpet is woven way, way better than the drapes. On a scale of pop-to-punk, The Cheats summer 2012 release, Pussyfootin’, is more Green Day than Black Flag, however, keeping this album’s sound locked in that kind of linear measurement would miss the point of what is going on in The Cheats’ heavy drumming, dueling-guitar (read “G-EE-tar”), solidly baselined, and diversely voiced thirteen tracks. Although The Cheats espouse an 80s punk rock persona, the influences of British anthem rock, British metal, and American glam rock are much more obvious – and quite craftily brought to bear on the audience’s ears.
Good news is, The Cheats are bringing together these stylistics with surprising technical precision (especially given the tonnage of gravel that is continuously dump trucked onto each song) and a seemingly subconscious ease at the task of merging hard-edged rock aspects with poppy familiar rhythm aspects. A couple of strong “for-instances” of this come in the first track, “Make You Pay,” where a Guns-n-Roses element is alloyed with a Foo Fighter peppiness and in track 2, “Sin For a Living,” in which a vocal tweak to the tune of Tom Petty’s annunciation of the word “promises” (imagine the song “American Girl”) rolls awesomely off the tongue of lead singer Todd Porter and bounces Plinko-like through a churning pot of electric strings and drums.
Speaking of that voice, Porter consistently delivers a profound concoction in his singing; in places catching a cleaner, clearer tonality that is impressively reminiscent of a Freddy Mercury croon that is rolled over a Motörhead-stylized progression. At other times the vocals are needing a nearly doo-wop feel into the dough, that variably hearkens to Meatloaf, Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors, and (in a more convincingly “punk” way) Sid Vicious when he sang “My Way.” Where Pussyfootin’ more closely hits the punk mark is in tracks 2, 5 – “Broken Creeper,” and 7 – “Mystery 37;” each of which gives a blend of sophisticated punk, a la Dead Kennedys, and some grunt punk, a la S.O.D./M.O.D.
All of these qualities emerge in the totality of the album, but there is a bit of an identity discord in approaching the album either by way of expecting an overall punk performance or via the recommended radio singles, “White Knuckle Ride” and “Better Than The Rest” (which are tracks 3 & 4 respectively and thus stacked as if they are the strongest batters in the album’s lineup). While these two tracks are certainly strong in the commercial, professional-strength industrial cleaner sense, they pale a bit in comparison to the heavier-duty musical strengths of the tracks that they are bookended by at the start and midsection of Pussyfootin’; especially if “punk” is the target genre. In an entirely other sense, The Cheats save the best for last in “I Don’t Need You” and “Star Tattoo,” the expansive, final two tracks of the album. It is here that you can hear the most distinct creation of their sound: clean electric guitar lines and pop structure, with a gritty texture of ZZ Top and Def Leppard poured on top; a good rounding out of the merger of so many foot-tappable influences. “Star Tattoo,” also features, uniquely from the rest of the album, the use of female backup vocals and a horn section that add a seriously smooth finish that seems oddly akin to some tracks from the neo-doo-wop band Fitz and the Tantrums.
Ultimately, Pussyfootin’ just isn’t angry enough to be a punk album. But, if The Cheats doth protest too much in insisting that they are punk-rock v. hard-rock, there do be some truth in their delivery of a very cool piece of bandwidth from the rock-n-roll spectrum. More importantly, and branding questions aside, The Cheats are doing something on Pussyfootin’ that is more than interesting enough to listen to and decide for yourself.
PS- listen for the clever vinyl emulation that is engineered with a scratchy fade-in on the beginning of track 1 and fade-out on the end of track 13.
The Cheats “Pussyfootin'” is available on CD in stores and through their label, Screaming Crow Records at: www.screamingcrow.com