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by Max Barashenkov / 20.08.2010

At the album launch, the Plastics are introduced with something along the lines of: “And here are the Plastics, their new album was produced by Gordon Raphael, you know, the guy who produced the Strokes!” Alarm bells go off – oh shit, guys, if this is the horse you are riding then this is going to be a sad experience… but then the band takes the stage and turns my long-standing perception of them being dry live inside out.

The show is great, plain and simple. Everything from the décor, to the lights, to the video mixing of the backdrops, to the performance itself – it is all on the highest level, if you squint a little you could swear you are watching a good international act. The Plastics play with a sense of sheer joy of being on stage, presenting new material to the already substantial fan base. Pascal has matured, from the Hoax days, into a charismatic frontman, a master of the coy-grin-eyes-through-the-heart routine. The rest of the band pull their weight equally well – carrying the songs the crowd has never heard before with gusto. The crowd overcoming their initial confusion at the darker, slower nature of the material. Right there and then I’m ready to hail these guys as definite leaders of the indie-pop scene, a head above bullshit favourites like New Holland, who essentially play the same sound. Then I get the record and grind my teeth – ah damn, they fucked up another one.

It is hard, when a big name producer is involved with a young, small band, to not be hyper-aware of his presence, to not look for it, especially when the band themselves fly that flag high and proud. We can never really know how the recording process went, which ideas were his, which were theirs, but it isn’t a far stretch to imagine (and the objective-bent fiends will piss boiling water at this) the following conversation:

Gordon: Hey, young South African band, your country is so hip right now, I’ll make this sell.

Plastics: Yes, mister famous producer, whatever you say.

Gordon: Let’s make you sound like the post-acid era Beatles here, let’s put some annoying pop backing vocals there…

Plastics: Oooh, that sounds so great, will we big overseas?

Gordon: With me, baby, you will, you will.

This is not to slate the songwriting ability of the band themselves, but I can’t imagine them being able to resist the temptation of going along with whatever Mr. Raphael offered. The result is a good record that suffers badly from over-production. Why the blanket distortion of Pascal’s voice? He is best when his vocals are clean, not when he sounds like every second fool with a blocked nose on the British airwaves. Why can you smell the ‘hit’ tracks from a mile away? Both “Jukebox” and “Caves” are designed for radio success, but are actually the weakest tracks on the album. One thing is having a Beatle-esque influence, quite different is shamelessly recycling their sound. “Caves”, in itself, is not a bad track, but what are those things in the chorus – auto-tuned vocals or gay high-pitched backings? Another major let down are the lyrics – the record is crammed with every cliché possible, tired images, infantile observations. It simply does not do justice to the mature arrangements and songwriting choices.

The best tracks are without doubt “Unusable Block” and “By Hook Or By Crook”, on them the new brooding Plastics sound works flawlessly with some of the catchiest choruses ever, something the band does extremely well on all songs – the sense of blissful melancholy is over-powering and engrossing. The record is peppered by moments of brilliance, when the producer and the band seem to come together, from the cheerful cynicism and the laid-back lyrics of “Midnight Passion” (one of the few tracks that you can actually ‘dance around all fucking delirious’ to) to “Stereo Kids”, a song perfect for walking around the city in the mornings, grinning at the passer-bys, sunk deep into the simple joy of being young (and here, unlike “Caves”, the pop-backings work). Sadly, Shark, also has its share of bland fillers, which border on elevator music: “Caroline” is an over-licked love song that leaves all stones unturned, “Late Night Scene” is just one continuous build-up without the joy of climax, “Banks of the Breede” is a peculiar experiment in irony that, in my opinion, fails miserably – ‘what the fuck is the radio’ they sing, but that is exactly where their eyes are firmly set.

My prediction of the Plastics’ album being number one locally and not going further than the bargain bins overseas is both coming true and being proved wrong – they are flooding 5FM already and, I hear, getting huge amongst the Vikings. Shark must be the album that Thor smokes cigarettes and gets depressed to. Good form.

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