The growth of young rock musicians always is a fascinating thing to watch unfold — especially acts that take a few albums to really catch on. The classic case is Bruce Springsteen, who had to wait until album No. 3 for the masses to fully embrace him.
Denmark’s The Blue Van is at that point now, and as its new album’s title would suggest, it’s time to Man Up and try to reach the next level.
The band’s first two efforts, 2003’s The Art of Rolling and 2006’s Dear Independence, were loaded with organ-filled adrenaline garage rock that was perfectly sloppy and rather juvenile. Now, the band, which coincidentally first started playing together at the crest of adolescence, has moved to mature its sound with this third album.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a particularly evolving effort. As a whole, the album lacks the spirit of the band’s looser material. The production has a safety to it that suggests that there might have been a few second or third takes made in the recording studio. With this attention to quality, the band loses what made it fun and somewhat unique.
Singer Steffen Westmark still has a great gift in his quaky, nervous phrasing, but there is a lack of moxie, particularly on “In Love With Myself.” The song starts out with a terrific opening line (“Oh put your camera away, ’cause my beauty you can’t portray”), but it never keeps up the necessary attitude to really push the tongue-in-cheek factor up. (By the end it may remind a few listeners of a Strokes outtake.)
To make matters worse, it seems as though the band has lost its organ. The amped-up Hammond B3 flourishes that made The Blue Van’s prior work sound spacey only makes brief appearances on Man Up. “Out of Control” is the shining example of the vibe being right, and it’s no surprise that it’s the best of the bunch. Simple production and a neat marching breakdown in the middle highlight this one, giving the song the honor of being the least skipable piece of a very disappointing puzzle. Better luck next time.
— By Mike Madden