– this review originally appeared here on This Is Not a Drill –
Look, I’ve got nothing against retro music. It’s fashionable now to hate on whatever came before punk and after The Beatles (and even they are not entirely safe), and sure, I don’t like the excesses of the 70s either, but there were some great bands back then. Neither is originality a real problem here; all music is derivative, right? So yeah, I liked Temples, and The Smith Westerns are a pleasure I don’t feel guilty for – but what about Montero?
The first track, ‘Montero Airlines’, sets Performer up as a concept album of sorts. The imagery of “Thank you for flying Montero today / You got a first-class ticket going all the way” is clear (and cheap): it’s a trip! Sit back and let the album experience you. The theme is kept up for one more track (“Flying over the ocean / Staring into the sun”) and then doesn’t resurface until the closer ‘Pilot’ – unless ‘Vibrations’ is actually about airplane turbulence. It’s funny, in way, but it also feels a bit poor, as if we’re not really flying first-class but just watching a simulation of the real thing. But hey, our destination is far away, so we might as well see what comes our way.
And I won’t deny that Performer certainly has its moments. Sound-wise, this is the real deal: the 60s have never sounded as full and crisp, as it were. The overall palette is as colourful as the cover, with hints of brass here and there (fun fact: when one of those Ryanair planes lands on time, they’ll play a victorious trumpet theme over the speakers). But real airplanes are noisy in a way Montero is not, and so the music hovers between cloudy and fake.
Track-wise, ‘Vibrations’ is an absolute stand-out, the kind of track you want to turn the volume all the way up for to enjoy the sound of the sounds. Better than anything Tame Impala have ever done, if I’m in a mood for overstatement. It’s also one of the few bangers on a reasonably slow-going album; the vibrations that stir up a flight you otherwise would’ve slept through. There are other highlights too, though, such as the aforementioned opening track, as well as the dramatic and complex ‘Caught Up In My Own World’. I’m not as taken with the second single ‘Tokin’ the Night Away’, which to me sounds repetitive, but at least it’s slightly rough around the edges.
I’ve got nothing against retro music. But it’s not a feature, either. After all, there’s plenty of that where it came from, so you do need to stick out above the rest for it to work. And, despite the airplane-metaphor (which by now has become overextended – sorry!), Montero don’t. There is nothing to fault them for, from the immaculate soundscape to the occasional tunes, and that is exactly he problem. I like my flights clean and easy, but my music not so.
-- Caspar Jacobs, February 5, 2018