Every artist needs a few demons to get by, right? You Am I’s Tim Rogers knows he’s got ’em; he just doesn’t call them out by name: “They’re just some pushy friends, they’re on my couch, they’re on my knee.” He’s learned to live with them over the years. “If I don’t let ’em in, some other fool will / If I don’t let ’em in, maybe they won’t come back again.”
Daemons (as Rogers calls them) sits squarely in the middle of You Am I’s 10th album, Porridge & Hotsauce, and it wants you to know he’s OK. If this ballad – just acoustic guitar and strings – could almost seem too self-aware for its own good, it’s nonetheless reassuring. Rogers, who has been open about his struggles with anxiety and depression in recent times, is at ease with himself.
It’s also reassuring that the remainder of Porridge & Hotsauce is hot rock & roll, many of its 13 songs coming in well under the three-minute mark. Tearing out of the blocks with Good Advices, which dismisses the well-intentioned opinions of others with a flourish, it’s an enjoyable ride, with Rogers in fine voice and his band’s capabilities shown off to full effect.
It’s the sound of a group that’s at ease with itself, too: one that knows its strengths and, mostly, plays to them. The obvious exception is the swinging soul revue of Two Hands. Recorded with the Dap-Kings’ horn section, it’s an extension of Rogers’ recent work with the Bamboos, and stands out by virtue of sounding like nothing else You Am I have ever recorded.
That aside, we’re in familiar territory. The bottom-of-the-bottle reflections of One Drink At A Time reveals Rogers’ huge debt to the Replacements; She Said Goodbye could have been recorded by the Easybeats in 1968, and the charging power-pop of Out To The Never Now features a vocal turn by second guitarist Davey Lane. These are among the best songs here.
Others have a slight by-the-numbers feel. Beehive could easily have slotted onto the band’s third album Hourly, Daily; Bon Vivants and A Minor Blue are rumbling rock numbers that make a noise but don’t hit nearly as hard as they mean to, and the closing title track is a 90-second throwaway about what it takes to get you going in the morning.
What Porridge & Hotsauce lacks, inevitably, is the nervous tension of You Am I’s tremendous early work, when Rogers’ daemons weren’t confined to the couch and were raiding the liquor and medicine cabinets. That hint of danger, so crucial to the best rock & roll, is absent here. This happens to bands that have been around a long time: it’s why the old stuff is, indeed, often better than the new stuff.
So if you already own nine You Am I albums, you will find little to surprise you here. But there will be much that delights, too. For Rogers’ sake, I’m glad he’s got his daemons on a leash. For his art’s, I hope they stick around, like those annoying friends you can’t get rid of and talk too damn much. You’d kick them out, too, if what they had to say wasn’t so interesting.
First published in The Guardian, 13 November 2015