Great bands simply don’t arrive from out of nowhere; they evolve. With ‘Teen Dance Ordinance’, ‘A’ have – four albums into their career – delivered their ultimate statement of intent. Not only have ‘A’ capitalised upon their renowned songwriting prowess, but they’ve streamlined their sound to deliver a work of granite-heavy riffage, battering rhythms and soaring vocal melodies. ‘Teen Dance Ordinance’ is an album in the oldest and finest of traditions – an album as cohesive as it is packed full of killer material, an album which needs to be digested as a whole work and, most importantly, an album that demands your attention and respect. ‘A’ have raised the stakes for the competition.
The title ‘Teen Dance Ordinance’ is named after the draconian entertainment laws that governed Seattle & Washington State’s live music industry from 1985-2002. The TDO dictated that if a gig allowed under-18’s in then only people aged between 15-18 could attend – the only way someone older could attend would be in the case that they were accompanying someone under 18. This, combined with excessive security and insurance requirements, effectively stopped Seattle’s teenagers attending gigs in their own town, until it was superseded with the more flexible All Ages Dance Ordinance in 2002.
Of course, when working with such material you need a producer whose ability is second to none. Step forwards Terry Date, whose work with the likes of Pantera, Deftones, Soundgarden and Machine Head has pushed him to the forefront of aggressive music production. Having never previously produced a UK band, Date heard the ‘Teen Dance Ordinance’ demos and was won over. Within six weeks, ‘A’ had joined Date in Seattle’s Studio X, where classic works by Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam were conceived; the foyer of which Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love had a legendary argument in front of the worlds’ media.
“ There’s so much history in that particular studio and Seattle has a great feeling, especially in the music scene”, opines keyboard player Giles Perry, the junior of the three brothers. “You can walk into any bar and the jukebox is full of the music you love”. Further more, Seattle’s live circuit offered further inspiration with gigs by Blood Brothers, Mastodon and Vendetta Red proving to be particular highlights.
“ There’s so much history”, emphasises bassist Daniel P. Carter. “I walked out of a pub one night and [Mudhoney’s] Mark Arm walks by. The studio was a block away from the SubPop offices so we’d walk past every morning. When I was growing up I was obsessed with so much on SubPop – Big Chief, Nirvana, Tad – that it meant so much to me”.
For vocalist Jason Perry, Seattle had a darker influence that forced him to reconsider the lyrics he had written back home in England and he consequently spent many an hour sitting alone in a nearby coffee shop rewriting. The hotel the band were staying in was “really scummy and full of crackheads and murderers… a real fight-for-your-life type place” and Jason rewrote accordingly.
Dan agrees that Jason’s writing became ever darker, losing much of the chirpier tone of the band’s prior work.
“Things have changed a lot for everyone in their personal lives and that had a huge affect on Jason’s lyrics. As is the case in most bands where the singer isn’t playing [an instrument] as well, the musicians have a bond as a unit and I think he felt a little alienated.”
Whilst his lyrics took a darker turn, Jason’s appreciation for Terry Date’s craft proved to be a hugely inspiring factor.
“We wanted to set up in a room, have some beer, light some candles and play a gig for ourselves every night”, says Jason, his eyes lighting up at the memory. “And that’s what we did. It was raw and live and that was a big difference. Terry is looking for killer riffs, killer hooks and a band that can play and mean every second on record”.
Drummer and third Perry brother Adam agrees, adding, “Terry gave us a richer, more rounded rock sound. He stopped us being over produced and caught the dynamics”.
The end result is that ‘Teen Dance Ordinance’ finds ‘A’ fully realising their potential. The first single ‘Rush Song’ offers a bold introduction to the approach of the new album, coming across like a Perry Farrell fronted Cave In covering the veteran Canadian progsters whom the title alludes to. ‘A’ have been best known in the past as a band that fires out melodic pop-punk firecrackers such as ‘Starbucks’ and ‘Old Folks’ and that continues on this album with ‘Someone Else’ and ‘Better Off With Him’; that said the former is tempered with a sombre melancholic edge, whilst the latter is infused with an artfully crafted verse that perfectly compliments the hyper infectious chorus. But the darker, rawer side of the band is in evidence throughout, with ‘Second Coming’, ‘Wake Up’ and ‘The Art Of Making Sense’ all pulverising slabs of pure rock ferocity that indicate a fresh direction for the five-piece.
With their last album, ‘Hi-Fi Serious’, ‘A’ finally broke into the mainstream with the help of the crushing Top 10 hit ‘Nothing’ and Top 20 singles ‘Starbucks’ and ‘Something’s Going On’. Its success opened doors for the band; not only did they land ever larger gigs across Europe, America and Japan, they also peppered the world’s festival stages, returning to their native U.K. with a quarter of a million records sold worldwide.
If ‘Hi-Fi Serious’ was the album with which ‘A’ hit the mainstream, ‘Teen Dance Ordinance’ is the album on which they’ll capitalise upon that break with the finest music of their career. Take one listen and you’ll undoubtedly agree. What’s more is that it’s no less than what they deserve.
Ben Hopkins, March 2005