Eleven Eleven – Unlovable EP

Eleven Eleven
Unlovable EP

Do you remember when “alternative rock” meant stuff like Simple Minds, the Wild Swans, the Hoodoo Gurus, and the Church? Before grunge, there existed a universe of pop-leaning bands with bright ideas and bright sounds, given to guitar anthems – whether they admitted it or not. They went for a big sound, often replete with reverb, and usually held to melodic verses and sing-along choruses. Sometimes you had the strains of a synthesizer in the background to heighten the romanticism of it all.

Two overlooked bands of this era were Ten Ten and A Drop in the Gray, and Unlovable by Eleven Eleven makes me remember how much I liked those old bands. Surely you have to watch out for the sappy moments, but when these kinds of folks hit their marks you can’t help but give in a little and enjoy the guilty pleasure of their hooks.

Eleven Eleven will appeal to the pop-minded. The music is lush, polished, and well produced. The title track begins with an REM-like riff that opens onto some soaring guitar work on top of a driving beat. You can imagine the singer closing his eyes and craning his head while he sings such lines as “Love won’t come from me tonight” and “Love won’t dress the wound tonight.” Once the chorus arrives, you know these guys have done their homework: it’s rousing and melancholy at the same time, catchy but not kitschy. Remember Cactus World News? Like that. Very well done here, in fact; “Unlovable” would make a nice single and years ago probably would have gotten the band college-radio airplay and an opening slot on a tour with, oh, the Connells or the Lucy Show or something.

“Be There” has subtle, delayed electric guitar and strummed acoustic guitar, as well as dramatic synth strains. Its chorus could probably get the stadium crowd to melt into involuntary mouthing of the words “Won’t you be there.” It reminds me very much of the excellent “Young Manhood” by the Wild Swans. Then there’s “Suicide Tuesday,” which follows a similar tack as the others but feels a little bit too much like that song – its name escapes me – that goes “We were only freshman,” which used to get a lot of airplay (and I remember hearing piped into the bathroom at a movie theatre, which I have to say I hope never happens to Eleven Eleven).

By the time you get to the cut called “Beautiful,” you start to feel like you’ve heard it already. The band doesn’t stray too far from its formula here. The ballad “Paper Cut” gives the very competent rhythm section a breather and puts the synth at the fore. The closer “Voiceless A” sounds like early, Celebration-era Simple Minds by dint of its studio experimentalism, its electronic beat, and its use of stereo delay. It’s quiet and mercurial, and it’s typical in that albums of this ilk usually feature such a track – almost like a palette cleanser. And speaking of cleansing palettes, this EP would do that nicely once you’ve OD’ed on your Lightning Bolt or Deerhoof albums.