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Dreamcar - Dreamcar (Album Review)

Thursday, 25 May 2017 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

We all have that one style or phase in music that we’ll defend to the hilt, no matter how badly it’s aged. It’s why the likes of goth-punks AFI and ska-poppers No Doubt still command sizeable cult followings. Music goes in cycles, so it makes sense they in turn would choose to work on side projects that commemorate their own teenage obsessions.

What’s more surprising is one such project features members from both groups. Dreamcar, a love letter to ‘80s new wave, sees AFI frontman Davey Havok teaming up with No Doubt’s Tom Dumont, Tony Kanal and Adrian Young. The result is an album that utilises the members’ talents well, even if it’s in service to a genre it makes little sense they’d be a good fit for.

For starters, there’s a touch of Dave Gahan to Havok’s polished vocals that you only notice when they’re placed in this new synth-laden context.

On paper, the words feel pretty familiar – Havok croons on Born to Lie that “you were crying on the floor…with my heart there next to you” – but here they are charming rather than melodramatic.

In truth, it’s Havok’s charisma that determines the success or failure of each track and he’s prone to the odd mis-step. On the Charts, for example kicks off with a grating spoken-word verse where he commits the cardinal sin of comparing a woman to an inanimate object.

The embarrassment is thankfully minimised by a sparkling synth funk groove, one of many points the instrumentalists are on hand to ensure tracks are consistent with the vibe of the album. Young’s dance rhythms and Kanal’s booming basslines are particularly evocative of the Cure or Duran Duran.

If anything, the No Doubt trio’s years as a glorified backing band for Gwen Stefani prove useful. There’s a sense of unified purpose to many songs, with solid ideas providing the perfect backdrop for Havok to be as elaborate and ridiculous as he likes.

These different elements coalesce most gloriously on centerpiece All Of The Dead Girls, a bouncy number packed with countermelodies on keys and horns. It’s simultaneously a million miles away from Havok’s horror punk days and the most joyous and flamboyant thing Kanal and co. have put together in years.

Unfortunately, it also proves to be the peak of a front-loaded album that loses its legs after a quarter of an hour. Don’t Let Me Love and Slip on the Moon are a slog to get through, seemingly padding out the album solely because they fit the aesthetic.

‘Dreamcar' would have been better as an EP, but then it makes sense this project would lack longevity. Supergroups and side projects are almost always born from of a desire to release pent up creative tension and this one is no different.

Is the songwriting cluttered in places? Absolutely. But Dreamcar generally sound best when they throw everything at the canvas and double down regardless. This is probably a one-off venture that won’t be revisited, but it’s no more a nostalgia trip than anything No Doubt or AFI are likely to release themselves.

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