Cobra Starship - While The City Sleeps, We Rule The Streets
Just climbed out from under a moon rock? Not heard any mainstream American guitar/synth pop for about three years? Great! Cobra Starship are just what you need to fill in the blanks.
Syphoning off the sound and (in some cases the delivery) of already successful bands and making them your own is nothing new. And wearing your influences on your sleeve is commendable, but what else are you bringing to the party?
Head honcho Gabriel Saporta is a talented cookie. Former front for New Jersey indie punksters "Midtown", he made 4 albums before this debut from new vehicle Cobra Starship. So as far as being a 'first album', it's more a distillation of the sound perfected over his old band's career. Not that that's a bad thing.
"While The City Sleeps..." is frankly packed with polished and upbeat pop-punk. Every track is a stone-wall American radio hit. This is as much a commercial record as anything by Backstreet Boys or Take That. And at times just as disposable.
You might have heard "Bring It! (Snakes On A Plane)", which features on the soundtrack for the Samuel L. Jackson film of the same name. Good fun, catchy enough to serve its purpose, great production, knockout chorus. That's the blueprint for this album. You could essentially listen to that, and not have to hear almost everything else on this record.
Cut from the same cloth as recent tour-mates "Panic! At The Disco", Cobra Starship tread a path to major success already cut for them by The Killers, The Strokes and even Tiffany. "Send My Love To The Dancefloor" is pure "Hot Fuss". 'Edgy' track "The Kids Are All F***ed Up" audibly grovels at the altar of Casablancas. Cobra Starship do definitely stamp their pop branding on each of the tracks. But instead of perhaps entertaining and educating the listener to what else they might discover, they seem to produce a peculiar hermetically sealed product leaving no room for the music fan's imagination.
When Cobra Starship sound unlike any of their obvious contemporary influences, they actually are worthwhile listening to. Saporta's Uruguayan roots come out in the Latino rhythms of "The Ballad of Big Poppa And Diamond Girl". Couple that with a vocal delivered with original feeling (rather than the cynical "Oh I'm Julian! Ooo now I'm Conor Oberst" turns), and they show they've some depth. Along with the fuzzy pop diamond of "It's Warmer In The Basement", Cobra Starship start to sound like a real band, with real musicians and a heart driven to make hooky hits. The production on these tracks drops the lead vocal back a bit, sounding like a group now rather than a solo vanity record for Saporta.
Commercial success was guaranteed (in indie America at least) by heavy hit rotation and movie tie-ins. Whether they'll be able to carve out some of the smaller UK market already occupied by Panic! is a different matter. They lack the natural flamboyance of Brendon Urie's camp rock funsters, and they're also playing catch-up. But never underestimate the tastes of the Emo, or their ability to be distracted by cheerless irony such as the listener is bashed over the head with on penultimate track "Pop - Punk Is Sooooo '05". Yes, quite.
Pretty soulless at times, absolutely catchy on every track, yet maddeningly cynical in places. This record has a job to do, and that's finished off nicely by the slow (for them) heartbreaker "You Can't Be Missed If You Never Go Away". With that, the Aguilera box is ticked.
If all you want from your records is 40 minutes of poppy beats and mid-chart hits, this is your bag. Undoubtedly blessed with great pop sensibilities, Saporta definitely sounds capable of producing more idiosyncratic and individual tunes. But on "While The City Sleeps..." he appears content to suck any life left in the pop-punk genre and reanimate it for his own satisfaction.