Dead Confederate’s Wrecking Ball begins with character: a guy named Hardy Morris croons the first song’s cheeky title, with a grungy riff bookending each word. It’s not great character, and a whole album of it could wear out its welcome, but there would be something to it.
But it’s not to be. The band settles into a Corganian mode of operation, singing trite lyrics with more emotion than they deserve and setting up huge choruses with sparse verses. Morris somehow considers the group “kind of like a Jackson Pollock painting,” when in fact the music is as ordered and conventional as can be.
Bad lyrics often accompany the crushing choruses, and the single “The Rat” and the ballad “It Was a Rose” are easily the worst offenders. The single’s chorus is catchy, but railing against the religious with “You live inside your Jesus dream” and “Throw your judgments across the breeze” is dumb. Using abstractions and atmospherics to build up to Morris wailing “It was a rose” isn’t much better.
Dead Confederate likes to jam. Instrumental breaks add little to the shorter songs, except where they shift the dynamics, like in “Start Me Laughing.” Then, in the twelve-minute “Flesh Colored Canvas,” the band never gains much traction. Although the song supporting the jam is mediocre, the main problem is that the guitars and keys get spacier and wilder while the rhythm section stays home. It shows better, though still too rigid, in the seven-minute “The News Underneath.”
The songs, written by Morris and bassist Brantley Senn, are decent. Hooks abound, and the choruses of “All the Angels” and “Goner” are the best of the lot. What elements of Southern rock the band appropriates – slide guitar, shuffling rhythm, singing with a Southern accent – are tasteful.
They fare best when the instruments match Morris’s intensity; “Start Me Laughing” and much of “Heavy Petting” are energetic rock that probably sounds great live, and Mike McCarthy’s theater-style production gives a good approximation. Morris has the pipes to fill that room, and he and Walker Howle have guitar tone to match. But most of the time, they work not toward anything dirty, menacing, or Southern, but predictable 90s alternative rock. That said, the title track’s early Radiohead imitation is just fine.