It seems a strange time in history when it is anomalous to encounter musicians who can only be called ‘rock’ without any other qualifiers. The ‘rock and roll’ genre was once so all-encompassing and pervasive that it permeated every corner of the musical universe that didn’t a classical composer, and the label itself needed no acute narrowing into subgenres. Eventually rock evolved as our tastes were refined, turning into rockabilly, hard rock, alternative rock, metal, pop rock and a million other things.
In the midst of it all, we see Sinner Sinners, the husband and wife duo who are keeping the spirit alive through their understanding of the most basic and everlasting mores of rock. Their new album “XI” appeals to a simplistic but shockingly effective ideal; if you make music that’s accessible, easy to listen to and keeps the pace moving, you can make great music that people will enjoy.
Right off the hop, we see the lifeblood of rock still virile and on display in the form of “Modern Man,” a rolling, noisy exhibition of the idiomatic pacing that the genre exemplifies. This first impression is the album’s best cut; it’s an infectious piece of high-octane rock craft that before you know it, you’re humming to yourself for the better part of a week. It’s aided in this by a big hook chorus that lends the song a memorable moment without resorting to histrionics or unnecessary appeals.
There is a quiet fury to the “XI” that permeates several of the early cuts, and we see it again for “No Hard Feelings”. This is the extra dimension in Sinner Sinners’ arsenal that separates them from every two-bit garage band that can put three chords together. The music of this duo is capable of great aggression, but comes equipped with a mature restraint that keeps the record from rolling off the rails. It’s almost a conscious exercise in the recitation of the structures of rock and roll that date back some sixty years.
Because of the construction, relationship and musical ideal of Sinner Sinners, the duo will inevitably be compared to the White Stripes, which isn’t entirely fair. Jack and Meg were also a married duo of rock musicians, but that duo and this one only share a few similarities. Sinner Sinners by contrast are appealing more to the fuzzy, roadhouse corners of rock and roll, not necessarily the clean tones that can fill an arena.
The restraint we talked about earlier can be too overbearing as the album rolls along. On a personal note, after four passes of this record, there are still songs that I struggle to distinguish from one another. The album gives away the listener’s attention too easily and whole sections will be left behind if the listener is multi-tasking. There are some good singles on the back half like “Reckless”, but by that point there’s a chance you’ve moved on to something else. “XI” would have been better served to live just a hair closer to the edge, and let the kind of sonic pop that characterizes its best moments show.
“XI” is a good record that’s highly enjoyable in its best moments, even if it can’t totally shake the feeling that there could have been more. Sinner Sinners is keeping rock and roll thriving by concentrating on the finer points of the genre, and they are more than worthy of the heady label ‘rock band.’ Treat “XI” like a singles record and it’s a near guarantee that you’ll find something to enjoy.