When a band’s debut album is a flawless as the The Black Tambourines’, you can only be filled with anxiety about the release of a second album. You wonder how it is possible for anything to compare to the brilliance of the first album, how they can have any material left after an 18-song piece of perfection, yet you cling on to the hope that such an authentic group might be able to surge forward with more artistic energy than ever. Too often however, have you witnessed your favorite bands burn out after one or two albums, or even worse, decide that they’re “going in a new direction” after they start to gain popularity.
Needless to say, the Black Tambourines are still an underground band whose fan base barely stretches beyond Falmouth, England, so thankfully I wasn’t worried about the latter. Regardless, their recently released second album, Freedom, met my somewhat lowered expectations. It is by no means a bad album. It kicks off with “I Wanna Stay Away”, which sounds just like another Samuel Stacpoole gem off of their debut album. Complete with an epic drum and guitar intro full of note bending, and a rowdy interlude of Stacpoole’s yelling, it is a Black Tambourines classic. The following three songs, “Punk Simon”, “She Don’t Mind”, and “L.A.” take an ever so slightly calmer turn, but still capture the Black Tambourine’s signature youthful carelessness that make them so distinctly “beach punk”, to quote a Tamby’s expert friend of mine who resides in Vermont.
Next, the album loses a lot of esteem in my book by including four songs that do not feature the incredible lead singer Sam Stacpoole on vocals, a blaring mistake in my opinion. These four songs on the whole lack the balance of melody and chaos that Stacpoole seems to have mastered: “Namaste” is anything but catchy, and heavier sound and screaming in “No Action” comes off as forced.
In the final three songs of the album Stacpoole returns to the spotlight. “Look Down” and “Ride Hard Crash Hard” are both solid tracks, with signature guitar solos and a long final two minutes of jamming at the very end of the album. “Cool Out” is a slightly weaker slow track that doesn’t quite have any reminiscence of their typical ra-ra party feel.
Freedom has its ups and down to say the least, but it is by all means worth a listen. Perhaps it is harsh to judge it in the context of The Black Tambourines but I do so merely out of respect for a band that I think has exposed us to their fresh, uninhibited creativity, and who I think has the potential to continue to do so.