The Subways

Young for Eternity

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Rock & roll is the province of youth. Each generation needs new bands to call its own, preferably bands close to the audience's own age. Hence, the Subways, a U.K. trio who won the Best Unsigned Band competition at the 2004 Glastonbury Festival and released their debut album, Young for Eternity, the following year when they were all still in their teens (it appeared in America early in 2006). As evidenced by their victory at Glastonbury, a large portion of the Subways' appeal was built on their live act, which according to most reports, crackles with energy. Not that you could really tell that from Young for Eternity, since producer Ian Broudie, the former leader of the Lightning Seeds who also helmed albums for the Coral and the Zutons, gives the Subways a gilded, anonymous sheen where the guitars and drums sound so big, they wind up diminishing the songs themselves. Wrapped up in this oversized production, the Subways sound superficially mature, but their songs are clearly the work of teenagers, scrabbling together strands of their favorite bands -- chiefly Nirvana and Oasis, yet there are elements of other Britpop bands like Supergrass, along with post-grunge groups like the Vines -- to create something that feels comfortably familiar even as it rages to say something new. To a certain extent, this is par for the course for debut albums, where a band's influences are readily apparent, so often the key to first albums is to listen to how a group fuses their favorite bands together or how they harness their energy in the studio. Unfortunately, neither of these are evident on Young for Eternity. Whether they're grunge-saturated punk rockers or wistful ballads in the style of Noel Gallagher, the tunes are generic, and the slick, bright sound doesn't elevate them beyond the commonplace. Never once do they have the breakneck invention or infectious that Supergrass illustrated on their debut, I Should Coco, nor do they have the earnest energy Ash displayed on their first album, 1977, to name two teenage Brit groups the Subways resemble. In comparison, the Subways are well-scrubbed and well-behaved, a punk-pop group direct from central casting: they're cute and photogenic, they look the part and play it competently -- and without much distinction, either. It's music that's good enough, but not good enough to remember, particularly because they haven't stamped their punk-pop with either originality or excitement, at least on record. Not that Young for Eternity is bad, but it is rather rote, the kind of record that has been made many times before, often better. This may be a problem only for listeners who already have had bands to call their own -- teenagers in 2005 and 2006 may find this to speak directly to them simply because the Subways are new in appearance, even if they aren't new in sound. But the best records made by teens not only speak to their generation, they also offer bracing reminders of what it was like to be stuck in adolescence, where the world lay just outside of your grasp, but anything seemed possible. Young for Eternity falls short of that standard and, in a way, offers the opposite experience: at its best, it serves as a reminder of the monotony of waiting to grow up.

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