Roma – Surrender on Demand

Roma
Surrender on Demand

It is amusing to me that in the early 90s when people were throwing around the term “grunge” like Senator McCarthy threw around “communist,” that it held very little meaning to most of us. It seemed like there were so many bands doing so many different things that you’d never think to put them in the same category. Mudhoney really didn’t seem that much like Nirvana. However, 10 years gone, it’s a handy term, perhaps overused by certain lazy reviewers. However, in this case, I’m going to be one of these lazy bastards, because there doesn’t seem to be a much better description of this outfit.
It’s almost as if this trio has spent a lot of time distilling several of the great bands of the “grunge” era into what Roma is. The songwriting displays the catchy, vaguely metal leanings of a group like Tad (see especially “Don’t Complain.”) The sludgy fuzzed-up guitars bring to mind Mudhoney at their greasy best. So what’s not to like about that?
Devon Irish’s vocals are the most obvious focus of my pigeonholing of this act. The guy couldn’t sound more like Kurt Cobain if he tried, and it really sounds like he’s trying. It’s astounding how his voice apes Cobain’s: the lower register crooning where he’s playfully struggling with pitches, right down to the tormented yelling. It’s like he studied just how to have his voice break up to a hoarse yell at the same places and pitches. It’s not as if this just happens occasionally, because pretty much the whole disc sounds like Kurt himself sat in on the sessions. Even some of the songs ape the Nirvana approach: “Said and Done” sounds like an Incesticide track that I never got around to hearing. I can’t tell if this makes me upset or if it spooks me out.
I liked Nirvana as much as the next guy. And you know what they say, it’s all been done before. But the outright aping of one’s influences puts one dangerously close to tribute band territory, the sworn enemy of original live music, and that made this album hard for me to enjoy. It’s obvious that Roma is talented and has the instrumental skills to go really far, but if they continue along this road they might end up as “Come As You Are – The ULTIMATE Nirvana Tribute,” and that would be a shame. Here’s hoping that their next effort branches out a bit more and the real personality of this group shines through.