Cheap Meat are, the promotional material asserts, back with their debut album, ‘People Are The Worst’, released 29 January 2021 via Jerk Store Records. Their return follows a four-year hiatus between a 2016 EP, ‘The Parts That Show’ and December 2020’s ‘Marigold Moon’ single (included here), in which Ross Drummond (vocals and guitar), Matt Rebeiro (drums) and Peter Hakola (bass and vocals) have “been through the ringer: emotionally, physically and creatively”.
While four years might feel like a long time to come back with a debut album, ‘People Are The Worst’ mainly feels like it has been a lot longer.
I didn’t know Cheap Meat before putting this on, and – promised an album “written during a time of significant socio-political unrest, with a specific context and themes rooted in the day-to day unpleasantness of Brexit, Trump, and “culture wars of increasing hysteria” – I was a bit surprised by just how old-fashioned and American it all is.
The opener, ‘Spoons and Other Cutlery’, has a Bluetones tang about it – if the Bluetones had been a US power pop metal band. Expecting dour satirical commentary on Albion’s ills, instead I’m invited to “dance with me in the living room; no Patrick Swayze, won’t put you in a corner baby”. Now, I’m not sure how old these lads are, but that doesn’t strike me as the most topical, cutting-edge, post-referendum observation this side of Charlie Brooker.
And I can’t decide if the lyrics are deliberately or accidentally cringe-inducing, but it takes some nerve to open an album with the line, “I always knew we had something good from top to bottom. I love your bottom”. But ‘Spoons..’ has a lovely, clever tune and – in common with a lot of other songs on this surprisingly short album – a cracking, hooky chorus (“I don’t think that I’m explaining how much the world would suck without you”) and a very metal guitar solo.
‘Pretzels and Poptarts’ is also a nice little power pop song, complete with a sly Abba reference and a pining romance at heart, which takes us firmly into a Green Day vibe which hangs around for most of the album. Track three, ‘Eddie and Valerie’ (is that a ‘Whitesnake/heartbreak’ rhyme? Really?) has a distinctly ‘I Walk Alone’ feel in which “I want to slow dance to power ballads”. Here again is a (wilfully accurate Van Halen) metal guitar solo. There are others; notably on ‘Pasodoble’ (a Wheatus-sy, anthemic, lighter-waver tune) and ‘Lust and That’s All’. Much of this is a bunch of baggy shorts-wearing, skater-boy, power-punk opportunities to throw horn signs and loudly yell “Guitar Solo!”
These shredder moments are foretold. The bumph self-awarely says the album is “sonically upbeat… delivering poppy hooks and air-guitar-euphoria”. Hmm. The ninth, closing track ‘Love Song Reject’ features a lead guitar break which to my non-playing ear seems to reference at least; Lynyrd Skynyrd, Queen, The Eagles and the Allman Brothers Band. In one go. ‘Reject’ runs at an almost concept 7:30 (most tracks fall around the three-minute, classic pop single mark). So it begs the question: are Cheap Meat wryly taking the piss, or can they just not say no to their ‘Guitar Hero’?
This is a nicely produced album packed with some smart tunes and – yes – poppy hooks. But it feels dated; made by men stuck in their own youthful tastes who either can’t or won’t move on, and who choose to stay for their own sly amusement. But neither necessarily makes it a bad thing. Whatever else, it’s great fun for a couple of listens, and I’ll bet these lads are absolutely belting live.