The Reputations: Begging For More
By Jay Armstrong
With the psych ship sinking, as the old dogs of sleeze and sweat continue fading off into the sunset, while most nights get spent with our eyes rolling at yet another band to show up sadly trying to align themselves with the 90’s soulless resurgence of disaffected mediocrity sprawling its reach into our lives, The Reputations feel like the first shot of whiskey at the end of a long ass day. Austin dulls the senses, often forgetting the bands railing in the background of our good time are the best in the world, hell even the groups we don’t dig are incredibly skilled beyond what locals get doe eyed for anywhere else. Over the years watching again and again the hordes of nobodies show up with their suitcases filled with ambition only to crawl back to their nowhere towns with nothing but bitter broken hearts after being called on the carpet for expecting to be lauded as a god in a city already stock full of deities. None of which we find true and holy arrives there overnight in this town, getting to the top of this trash heap is a slow train coming, respect must be earned, style must be proven, all shine worn to grit, we allow as witnesses nothing less. The Reputations, although embodying the love between lovers unique to the dichotomy of performer and audience, remain an anomaly amongst our propped up giants we attach our osmotic passions to by having been tried by the fire while refusing to be molded into the cookie cutter shape we systemically have demanded to sustain the disillusioned rock n roll clone bubble we call home. Not conforming is noble, sure, but rarely anything but ostracized, The Reputations’ swaddled in pop noise being our exception as we champion for the first time a group ignoring completely the rote format of lo-fi all-surface simple-substance definitive structure to that which remains holy in our corner of Texas. We are all lucky they are brave enough to do so.
I am weary about breaking down bands by members, it devalues the sound and certainly is a tactic of lesser fandom shown through the guise of criticism to do so–and maybe my digression from the substance of their latest album could boil down to just that, one can never see the causality of their own actions honestly–there is an importance it seems to chew on the path which each facet of The Reputations sound has taken to get here, the knowledge deepening all the more the line in the sand between the Little Debbie throwaway garbage pop we digest by default when stuck in traffic or letting the coworker we find nothing in common with choose the background music for the day and this meticulously-crafted slice of Tres Leches whose first bite brings sensual orgiastic pleasure which concedes to unimagined fulfillment by the last. It’s not only what they are playing which holds sway for the band but the underlying realization of how they taught themselves to play it and this can only come by drawing into focus the country/soul lineage of both front women, Jenny Carson and Rockyanne Bullwinkel, as well as the tough rock n roll facade we have been buying into for years from the four dudes surrounding them, Rudy Spencer, Justin Smith, Seth Gibbs and Jimmy Wildcat. Hardly do we find a show lineup worthy enough to put pants on for which doesn’t include one of the other bands these guys are involved with, be it Crocodile Tears, Secret Bad Boys, Warm Sugar, The Bad Lovers, or who knows what other projects I’m missing, a sort of strangeness settles in bordering on dissonance of what we should expect from their combined efforts being channeled now through a much different lens on Begging For More (Resurrection Records) yet when basking in each tracks ideal tangents it certainly makes sense. There’s an underlying sense to it all of this being the real, in the same way Janis Joplin could scream out to an audience assuming she was not their style and make absolute believers of them all, The Reputations are a revival converting Johnny Rockers and squares alike by turning us all on to carnal proof that characters of substance create only substance regardless of the medium they choose to use.
Instead of electing to go loud or heavy we see the homage derivative nature which IS rock n roll tapped with typical fashion in a direction unique. This release coming on the heels of the heartbreaking passing of Sharon Jones, with Charles Bradley closing in on being seventy, we are left with Saun & Starr, Mayer Hawthorne, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones carrying each the torch of Phil Spectoresque pop with a one-sided approach of which The Reputations circumnavigate without coming off as having the clean sterile arrogance unfortunately defining their peers–this is to say bands who care more about playing shows under the pretentious lights of The Continental Club or Stubbs rather than Hotel Vegas and Barracuda– this is where the glam/disco hints draw them into the light in dominance over their lesser equals. Where others carry themselves into omnipresence by ego, The Reputations are doing it by earned respect with such gumption of which only Natural Child and Banditos come to mind as having done it similarly in this all-hype lacking-substance reality of which we are helpless to escape from.
Immersed in this modern neo-Trump America we find ourselves in a moment where honesty and optimism need a commonplace for us to find an escape, the cornerstone of Begging For More being just that. Certainly there are subtle hints of pessimism, the existential crisis in which our thoughts of the future and attempted retribution for the lives we leave behind, find their way passively present on this record as well, creating an ideal balance often attempted yet rarely achieved; the optimism beautifully substantiated in Doc Pomus overtones bearing the weight of the standout songs “Taking My Time,’ “Mon Petit Sherri,” “My Baby’s Back“and “Sugar High” (Honestly they are all goddamn standout songs I might as well just list them all here) where the surface is syrup and honey while the brutal honest appraisal of living a life worth living finds itself dusting the ether as the gripping force most obliviously will find themselves magnetized by. Begging For More is the most dualistically satisfying album we’ve heard in years where the pop can carry the good time on forever while speaking boldly to those stopped seconds of alone and empty as surface on “I Won’t Be Here” and “Forever On My Mind,” their power and craft showing fully in that it doesn’t direct those emotions in the youth way of an angry song making one angry, a sad song sinking you into desperation, this album comes to life with your own emotions taking the lead, speaking to the meaning and importance from your place in time rather than guiding it with the power of inherent polarity as is incorrectly considered the necessary naive nature of pop music; the most obvious testament to this on “I Feel Dead” which closes the album with such universally fitting perfection you cannot help but start the album over as it finishes.
Catch these babes at Cheer Up Charlies on April 11th. Get Begging For More on vinyl here.