UXL aim to be a big band – their career goal is big impact, big sales and big audiences. They don’t want to simply play big arenas and appeal to many people. They want to appeal to as many people as possible, i.e. everybody – from housewives to metalheads.
This is an ambition not to be sneered at, as the only two acts that have ever succeeded at fulfilling it are Elvis and The Beatles. The reason why the two managed to do it was that their material was as versatile as it could possibly get. UXL, for their part, can’t do versatile at this stage.
This band is very competent and well-practised, and they sound great live, but their songs employ one recurring compositional strategy and aim to recreate one particular emotional vibe that makes them, on the one hand, instantly recognisable but, on the other, slightly monotonous.
Atmospheric epic rock built on plain basic harmonies, featuring a melancholy, but at the same time hopeful, vocal brimming with dark undertones is UXL’s schtick.
Drawing from 80s epic rock, 90s grunge and industrial, and this decade’s pop, UXL want to be soft rock hitmakers with an epic slant but don’t quite make the grade. They constantly teeter on the edge of overindulgence with whimsical, gratuitously repeated musical forms often distracting them from their goal and robbing them of focus needed for any serious bid for chart action.
The show’s standout, ‘Onto Better Days’, was a perfect illustration of this, beginning with a killer rock riff but then quickly losing its axis, the band trying to make this song into too many things – a banging rocker, an epic slow burner, a heartfelt ballad, and a radio-friendly chart-topper. The result was a song that would have fallen apart if not for the riff that somehow managed to hold it all together.
In fact, ‘Onto Better Days’ has later turned out to be their most ‘rock’ song of the six that UXL played on the night. Curiously, UXL don’t exactly have the sharp and clear rock chops, but at the same time, they don’t have the necessary good pop hooks either, which is curious in a band which tries to fit into the commercial pop-rock culture.
All this doesn’t mean that nothing is exciting about this band. Singer and songwriter John Tierney is good at brutal (even though slightly sentimental) delivery of his vocal parts. His mournful intonations create a forlorn, slightly haunted atmosphere. He is a very practised singer, even though slightly obsessive, and he draws nourishment from melancholy instead of straightforward upbeat rock energy.
He is good at creating private myths (with song titles like ‘New Dawn Waiting’, ‘Onto Better Days’ and ‘Phoenix Rising’ pointing at a very particular recurring lyrical theme), which in four years of the band’s existence have crystallised into a kind of personal dogma, making repetitions inevitable. What is also pronounced in Paul, more than in the rest of the band, is the struggle between an attempt to share a genuine deep feeling and a wish to sell his music to as wide an audience as possible.
The two final songs of the set, ‘Phoenix Rising’ and ‘This Life’, showcased the conflict between the numbingly conventional harmonies, which at times sounded almost banal (the band suddenly running low on musical ideas), and an ambition to deliver a profound message. John’s vocal message could indeed be sincere and heartfelt, but it often ended up obscured by the lavish arrangements from the rest of the band. The simple musical structure of his songs frequently becomes buried by the attempted grandeur of his band delivering a larger-than-life setting for the songs.
If John were to go solo, a man-and-his-guitar scenario would be a perfect vehicle for his private fixations and his personal musical vision. It would make his musical ideas shine, allowing him to have a bigger and more immediate impact on his audience, making his music easier to digest for the masses whose attention he is after.
If John did go solo, the rest of the band would have no problem getting hired. They are all great musicians. Skilled, experienced, and confident, showing maturity and competence that is surprising in musicians of their age.
Time will tell how well the songwriter and his band are suited.
Guest article from Alyssa O.
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