In the four years that have passed since the glam-glitter-trashy-fabulousness of You Love You, Semi Precious Weapons has gone through quite a metamorphosis. Anyone who has followed the band a while would know that change is definitely a constant. From the haunting torch ballads of frontman Justin Tranter’s two solo albums to the first couple SPW EPs that mixed glam rock with a new wave sensibility, along with the balladry of before, to the first official album We Love You, there have been quite a few musical changes. What first hooked me was their mix of hard rock with a gender-bending standout visual sense that dared you join the party. Since then I have played that album over and over so many times. I’ve seen the band three times and got to meet them every time. These guys bring the party.
After their first major label album “You Love You” in 2010 and a stint opening Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball tour, things got a bit quiet. Then last year the band started posting about new music, an upcoming tour with Ke$ha, and at last a new album. Me and my partner immediately snatched up tickets to the Ke$ha show specifically to see SPW. The new previewed song they unleashed on us beforehand was quite different. “Aviation High”, the soaring first track from this new album took SPW into a place of atmospherics and electronics. It still showcased the band’s talents but in a different light. A year later, I am still loving this song. The mix of subtle guitar and synth drum beats makes me feel like it’s one of those hot summer nights in the 80s listening to the radio as a kid. As with many of the songs here, it just celebrates life, love and friends and feeling alive. Simple, yet layered enough to get under your skin.
The second track, “Look To The Stars” almost has a “Personal Jesus” swagger to it. This groove is a bit new for the band but works so well. “Drink” may be one of the happiest break up songs in recent memory. While it may have a four-on-the-floor beat aimed at the dance floor, the guitar riffs here still keep it rocking hard. This song maybe more than the others seems to encapsulate the new sounds that came from being around Ke$ha and clubbing. “Never Going Home” is a more somberly sung, yet electrifying song about being worn ragged from the road but being excited about the wonder that lies ahead. This is definitely one of my favorites here. Most likely this one was inspired by the band’s move to L.A. There’s a sense of discovery here that runs as a thread throughout the songs.
“Scream To The Sky” is about the excitement of the road and still having your friends around to enjoy it with. While some rock songs are about the burnout of road life, this one is just the opposite. This one has a club-ready beat and is most likely going to be a candidate to get on the radio. Yet it’s hard to dislike for its genuine happiness. And Justin lets one hellacious scream rip mid-song that makes you stop and pay attention.
“Young Love” is next and is about the craziness of, well.. fleeting young love. And it’s so damn catchy. The influence of working with fresh producers Tricky Stewart (behind so many pop hits like Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies) and Axident definitely brought a mastery of how to make these songs have a glossy shine. But at their core, if you strip these down to just piano, you have solo Justin Tranter, and if you crank the guitar up and drums much louder you’d still have something akin to “You Love You”. These guys have always been writing catchy songs.
Side two (Yes, side two. I bought the vinyl on Record Store Day!) kicks off with “That’s My Friends”. This one was a highlight when the band opened for Ke$ha last summer and played only new material. From our spots way on the side I couldn’t get a good enough view to see who plays the electro-drum sounds and synths now, but in concert I believe the drums were rigged to effects and a pad. As long as we don’t lose Dan Crean’s energy, I’m happy, as he is quite a manic drummer. Next is the closest the album comes to a ballad, the ethereal “Healed”. The bass work intertwined behind this one really stands out. The band just recently posted a stripped down version of this and I will try to add it if I can somewhere on the page. Gentle yet not.
Next is one of my favorites since I first heard it, “Cherries On Ice”. Last year this was released as a separate track with the intention that it wouldn’t be on the album. It ranks as one of the band’s raunchiest double entendre tracks to date. The beat and the bass groove are infectious. I went from being bewildered by how different it sounded to everything so far to it being a song on repeat. However this isn’t the same mix as the preview version. The original had an extra-raunchy rap verse by Dominique Young Unique, but this version exchanged this for an additional verse of Justin chants. The song is still a top notch jam in either version. What comes next? “Free Booze” of course! I’m calling this one as a hit. It’s by far one of the most memorable party-starters on the album. It sounds instantly familiar without me being able to pinpoint what it sounds like. “Vegas” follows, an almost-heartbreak song. Because what do you do when you’re heartbroken? “It’s time to go to Vegas” and “do everything I always wanted to do”. The album comes to a big encore of a close with “Hands Up”, a positive good-times look-on-the-bright-side party jam. Somehow when SPW shouts “hands up muthafuckaaaaas!” it feels genuine. Oh and a cowbell solo? Nice!
So I guarantee there will be fans of the band’s earlier music that will not like the changes here. Four years is a long time. SPW is being honest here by making the music that reflects how the atmosphere of touring and the nightlife makes them feel truly alive. Change is a constant, and staying in one place too long makes one become stale, no matter how nostalgic one may get. Aviation is an gamble and an adventure for the listener. And it’s a hell of a fun time too.
CHECK OUT MY INTERVIEW WITH COLE: “BROKEN BONES, UFOs AND BLOODY MARYS: 10 QUESTIONS WITH COLE WHITTLE”!
GET YOUR OWN COPY OF AVIATION HERE!
Check some videos and performances from the album:
“Look To the Stars”
“Never Going Home”
“Free Booze” (Audio):
“Cherries On Ice”
“That’s My Friends” (Acoustic – Live on 91x):