Live shows of the modern era are considerably different than they were in the ’70s, ’80s and even ’90s. Not seeing a sea of iPhone flashes in the crowd makes a marked difference in the experience of live music, as people danced and sweat and screamed the lyrics to the songs they knew and loved without the thought of an Instagram story hanging in the balance. The Struts, a British band known for their ’70s glam-rock sensibilities and the strength of their anthemic music, are no stranger to recreating that feeling — a timeless sense of freedom and fun that lasts.
Going to a Struts show is like being transported in time, with lead singer Luke Spiller’s sequined outfits and shaggy black hair flying through the air as he belts the notes to a familiar tune. The other members of the band, lion-haired guitarist Adam Slack, slick bassist Jed Elliot and charismatic drummer Gethin Davies amp up Spiller’s extravagant nature with a flair for the dramatic as well. The group has certainly come a long way from their beginnings in Darbyshire, and The Struts have always recorded music that replicates the glittery feeling of their live shows so expertly. Well, at least they did, until this year’s record Strange Days came out.
Much like the aftermath of the 2016 US election, the coronavirus pandemic has spurred many artists to respond to turmoil and uncertainty with new material. It’s a natural reflex for creatives to bounce back from sadness with new art, both as a way to cope and an inspiration to draw from. This was definitely the aim of Strange Days, but alas, the album’s intentions fall flat through a series of cheesy and predictable tunes that unfortunately don’t live up to the bar that the group has already set for themselves. These are strange times, indeed, but instead of providing their fans with a dose of edgy rock to scream their Zoom stress out to, The Struts have created a record that feels like 43 minutes of straight pandering.
The one bright spot on the record is Robbie Williams collaboration and title track “Strange Days,” a poppy ode to the weirdness of quarantine and its uncanny power to “destroy / our casual joys.” The album is also full of other collaborations with two members of Def Leppard, a catchy guitar-heavy track with the Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr. and a song with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. Despite the glitz and glamour of all these famous partners, their presence feels like a last-ditch effort to save a sinking ship.
Spiller’s distinct style and inimitable voice remain present in each track, yet they lack the band’s typical sparkle and soul. It’s as if they are putting on a show for no one, which COVID has made a sad reality. But still, the opportunity to record something new in the wake of that reality stands, and Strange Days instead chooses to lament that fact instead of running with it. They are throwing confetti without a crowd, using the formula they are used to rather than creating a new sense of celebration in the face of a pandemic.
Daily Arts Writer Clara Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.