SINGAPORE: Soul Detergent - The Stoned Revivals
Well made indie rock, with psychedelic influences. Or is it something more?
Though rock music is a foundational genre for me – I wouldn’t be writing this if, on a bus journey on a school trip to Spain, a friend hadn’t played me The Beatles on his iPod for the first time – for a long time, I had a slight disdain for a lot of indie rock music, mainly because I found it to be derivative and slightly boring. There’s nothing particularly wrong with rock music performed by American nerds in polo necks and pastel-coloured jumpers, but give me a bunch of hard-drinking, hard rocking Australians, or an Argentinian with a bicoloured moustache any day of the week. There were exceptions, of course. Bands like The Libertines and the Strokes had that full-throated force that I like from rock music, and both had great, genre-defining albums, but for the most part I found other bands to be mostly aping other, better bands (usually the Strokes or the Smiths, if I’m honest). There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, I should add. I love plenty of bands that are extremely derivative, it’s just a question of how much you like the source material. Over the years I’ve mellowed towards indie rock, with my initial preconceptions having been challenged by some seriously good albums performed by indie rock outfits. So, where do the Singaporean band The Stoned Revivals fit in? Well, their music on their album Soul Detergent certainly seemed like indie rock on first glance, but a closer listen reveals something far more interesting.
“Their heady mix of 60s psychedelia and ‘indie’ simplicity and guitar riffs is therefore something that was far ahead of its time, and not, as I erroneously thought, influenced by the British or American indie bands that actually came after them.”
The album is certainly competently made, entertaining, and an enjoyable listen. For the most part, anyway. There are a few issues that we’ll come to. First, though, the good stuff. One thing I do like about the album is how much of the 1960s sound there is in the album. Songs like Sunflower and Peroxide successfully evoke that 1960s rock feel, and Shoe is rather reminiscent of things like the Rolling Stones during their psychedelic era, as well as having hints of Jefferson Airplane. It is still rather indie in its sensibility, but the guitar noodling, repetitive refrains and distorted vocals all add an enjoyably retro psychedelic tint to it. Thus, while it is ostensibly an indie album, The Stoned Revivals are indeed reviving something, namely that raw 1960s, early 1970s guitar sound. Think the Strokes meets the guitar sound of Steppenwolf, and we’re kind of there. In addition, in a playful touch, the song Just Shaved they pay tribute to Henry Mancini’s iconic film score for the Pink Panther. I don’t know why, it could even be a coincidence, but it certainly sounds like the Pink Panther at the start, except played on the trumpet. One rather odd decision was to open and close the album with the same song. Teenage Queen opens and closes the album, and I really do not think it is a strong enough song to bear repeating so soon. It has a nice bass riff that powers the song, but it is rather long and very slow, and certainly not a song that needs playing twice on the same album. I also don’t like Vacuum, the album’s closer (aside from the reprise). Lead singer Esam Salleh has an interesting voice, and one that is mostly suited to this style of music, but it isn’t strong enough to carry an a cappella song.
There is another rather interesting aspect to this album. It was released in 1992 (or thereabouts, the dates are fuzzy) and as such it actually predates much indie rock music, and as such my lazy assumptions had been proven wrong. Therefore, all of those retro influences, as indicated by their name, begin to make more sense, and the sound of the band ceases to sound potentially derivative, and instead it becomes pioneering. Their heady mix of 60s psychedelia and ‘indie’ simplicity and guitar riffs is therefore something that was far ahead of its time, and not, as I erroneously thought, influenced by the British or American indie bands that actually came after them. Released in an era where grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam ruled the world, The Stoned Revivals were truly marching to the beat of their own drum. All of this provides interesting context to an album that I had initially unfairly written off, and it certainly makes me appreciate the album more, as well as the band’s legacy on Singaporean rock music. I still don’t love the album, though I do like it, and certainly there’s much more to it than meets the ear. It’s also worth a listen if you fancy getting to the world of Singaporean rock music.