The Orwells

Terrible Human Beings

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The Orwells started making music when they were in high school, and their first two albums had a high-spirited, suburban-bros-coming-of-age feel and a simple, effective guitar rock crunch. On the quartet's third album, Terrible Human Beings, the group and producer Jim Abbiss streamline their sound into something slick and punchy, suitable for modern rock radio but still bratty beneath the high-pro gloss. The album has a very post-Nirvana feel, harking back to the days when major-label A&R people were signing up every decent rock band with a pulse and an attitude. The Orwells aren't as forgettable as most of those bands and, thanks to the hookiness of its best songs, Terrible Human Beings likely would have managed to claw its way to the top of the pile if it were released in 1995. The uptempo tracks, like "Fry" and "Vacation," have a nice kick and a light touch, kind of like a Midwestern Strokes. "Buddy" has some of the loose, ramshackle appeal of their earliest efforts; also, it's great for drunken singalongs. The songs that utilize some dynamic tension show the band to be maturing sonically, especially the self-explanatory "Black Francis," the almost jangly pop tune "M.A.D.," and the epic-length album closer, "Double Feature," which has a naggingly catchy vocal line and shows off some nimble guitar work. There are a few spots that sound like the band is treading water just a little, and occasionally singer Mario Cuomo's lyrics sound a bit forced and overly studied as he attempts to stretch past adolescent concerns toward something more adult. Call them growing pains that are more like occasional jabs instead of life-threatening injuries, certainly not mortal or anything to call a doctor about. If the Orwells' first two albums and their goofy antics appealed in the past, there's nothing on Terrible Human Beings to cause any concern. The mild growth and light sophistication they show in spots doesn't make the record any less of a rollicking good time. Just like they have since their early days, the Orwells bring the songs, the suds, and the knuckleheaded energy to the party.

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