Back in 2002, a once up-and-coming Irish band called The Revs released an EP titled ‘Loaded’, which featured a neglected masterpiece entitled “25 Years Too Late.” The band wrote it in response to the plethora of bands at the time who were trying to be reincarnations of punk bands from the late 70’s and early 80’s. The same could be said for Wakrat (pronounced “wok-rat”), the most recent musical endeavor of Tim Commerford, formerly of the mighty Rage Against The Machine and supergroup Audioslave. With their self-titled debut album set for release later this year, Commerford steps up to the plate with the addition of guitarist Laurent Grangeon and drummer Mathias Wakrat (a surname not unfitting for a band!) to create an album that tries really hard, but arrives too late in the day.
Commerford is a musician who is always searching. As well as making contributions to works by Maynard James Keenan of Tool, and being part on the soundtrack for the ‘Sonic City’ movie for lead Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, his recent Future User project saw him take on the simultaneous role of bassist and frontman. Yet despite all this, Commerford definitely has a musical itch he needs to scratch with Wakrat, once again filling both the roles of bassist and singer. He describes his part in Wakrat as “enjoying myself on a musical level more than I’ve ever enjoyed myself in my entire musical career.” While there’s certainly some great energy here, the listener might not entirely share Commerford’s enjoyment.
Opener “Sober Addiction” is an arranged marriage of sorts between punk and jazz, forcing a blend of two conflicting styles that edges on the uncomfortable. The band make this work well enough, with jumping time signatures and a direction not quite mapped out, which one must simply follow. Chaos ensues in “The Number” as Commerford lets loose his pent-up angst singing, “I’ve got nothing to say,” and topping off one of the album’s standout tracks. Contrary and opposite in nature, what follows is the lazily titled “Generation Fucked”, a track which proves that he does, in fact, have quite a lot to say. It’s just that this track fails to deliver personally, politically, and lyrically, carrying no weight behind the punch it tries to deliver.
Throughout, the album speeds by with the pace and energy of an express train run by a conductor anxious as hell to clock off for the day; something Wakrat know how to execute masterfully. Even with tracks averaging on typical length, the pace here still feels like lightning on a jet-propelled motorbike. Only a small minority fall below the three-minute mark, but there is still a raw and powerful rush of adrenaline exuding from each one, unleashing a wild and chaotic energy. “Knucklehead” wields guns and knives back and forth, marrying danger and anger in a high-octane piece. Vocally, it’s one of the strongest and, despite its scintillating pace, musically Wakrat retain their precision. As the album comes to a close – with much of the same, chaotic rushing of blood to the head – it feels like you have just been released from the fired bullet you’ve been tied to.
So what exactly is the problem? Commerford once said that, “when I do karaoke, I go straight to Sex Pistols’ ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ album. I can do a Johnny Rotten that is the best of all time.” And he’s right. And that’s the problem. Wakrat is like channeling the spirit of the Sex Pistols, karaoke style. As much as we all love to see Commerford impersonating the frontman of what was once the most dangerous band in the world, it still remains an ‘impersonation’ – a word that serves as an apt description for this debut that drowns in its influences from start to finish.
Journalist Jon Savage once described ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ as “feeling like a tombstone… airless, no spaces between the music”. Whether this is to be interpreted as a positive or negative comment is up for debate; however, it is an apt description that also works for Wakrats’ debut effort. Yet where Rotten sang as an act of anarchy and protest of living through the poverty and hell that was the late 1970’s UK, it feels like Commerford’s disenfranchisement comes from a place of privilege. A single song by way of tribute would have been fine, but despite some beautiful chemistry, technically brilliant musicianship and a fierce rush from start to finish, this debut only feels like a good impression of something from almost 40 years ago.