For the uninitiated, San Francisco’s Slough Feg has been producing high quality old-school rock since the dark ages known as the mid-1990’s. Their signature sound combines elements of early metal and Celtic-inspired hard rock topped off by the bizarre lyrics and unique vocals of Mike Scalzi. Think Thin Lizzy with Professor X on vocals, and you’re in the ballpark. Digital Resistance is the band’s 9th album, and according to their bio, it’s a semi-concept record about “the digital age not only in terms of music, but how technology affects life itself.” A cool concept for sure, but if not approached carefully, it has the potential to come off as bitter, in a “things were better before/everything sucks now/only their demo tape was good” kind of way. Especially if it’s coming from the guy who wrote this. Or this.
Opener “Analogue Avengers/Bertrand Russell’s Sex Den” (now THAT’s a song title!) surprisingly favors keyboards over guitars, resulting in a mini-rock-opera vibe that somewhat resembles early Genesis (or Scalzi’s former band Hammers Of Misfortune). Luckily, this quickly gives way to the title track, which, alongside lead single “Laser Enforcer,” is about as hard rocking as this album gets. “Digital Resistance,” the song, is a bite-size portion of most of the things that make Slough Feg great. It’s got a great riff, some clever lyrics and guitar harmonies, and most importantly, it’s fun.
Elsewhere, many of the tracks find Slough Feg settling into a mid-tempo comfort zone, not exactly slow jams, but still too laid-back to truly kick your ass. “Habeas Corpsus” is sort of a Wild West murder ballad, and while it’s a really cool idea, it gets repetitive pretty quickly. “Magic Hooligan” and “The Luddite” are would-be rockers that lose momentum under layers of acoustic guitars (although the former eventually picks up some steam). This general lack of energy was also an issue on the band’s previous album The Animal Spirits. On Resistance, it’s mostly remedied by having the heavier tracks strategically placed throughout the running order (aside from, y’know, starting the record with a song that sounds like Genesis).
In keeping with the lyrical stance, the album’s production is of an analog nature, although this is a bit of a double-edged sword. While the mix does fit the message and places Feg‘s music in the appropriate ’70s rock context, it also mutes whatever heaviness or energy might have been there. Everything feels fuzzier and less immediate than it did on their earlier records. This is another bad habit that’s carried over from Animal Spirits, and while Digital Resistance sounds considerably better than that record, it’s still something I noticed.
Another thing I miss is Scalzi’s insane wordplay from earlier records. There’s nothing wrong with the lyrics on Resistance, but there’s also nothing as joyously weird as “Simian Manifesto” or “I Will Kill You/You Will Die.” Instead, Scalzi is pining for the metal days of yesteryear, and as a result, he comes off as kind of crotchety (although I’d imagine a lot of people echo his sentiments) [Is that a dig at my elderly nature? — Steel “Iron Replacement Hip” Druhm].
Regardless, a new Slough Feg album is always a positive thing. These guys always bring well-written songs and solid musicianship to the table, and Resistance is no exception. Despite my grievances, this record is still a perfectly good way to spend 41 minutes of your life. If you’re a longtime fan, now you know what to expect. If you’re new to the Slough Feg party, I’d suggest starting elswehere — perhaps Traveller or Atavism.