D. Charles Speer and the Helix
Leaving The Commonwealth
Released: April 11 2011
Label: Thrill Jockey
By: Jack Oldham
When listening to an album by a self proclaimed “narrative honky tonk rock” band, it is probably best that you approach it with an open mind. That’s definitely the case with Leaving the Commonwealth, the third full length LP from D. Charles Speer and the Helix.
Opening track Razorbacked kicks the album off in a fashion that you’d expect from a honky tonk rock band, as it ticks along nicely with a collection of hand claps, crashing pianos and an overriding theme of banjos. If you close your eyes for a second, you might just feel as though you’re an extra in a spaghetti western classic.
La Grand Cochon is the first real highlight of the album. The song is in-keeping with the first few tracks of the album but picks up the pace a bit and has a guitar riff that you’ll find yourself whistling for days. The hybrid mash-up of English and French lyrics make it a hard one to sing along to, but you can’t have everything now can you?
When D. Charles Speer and the Helix decide to step it up a gear on tracks like La Grand Cochon and Freddie’s Lapels then the result is catchy tunes that you’d be hard pushed not to tap your foot to. Unfortunately there simply aren’t enough of these songs and what the listener is treated to instead are strung out tunes like Cumberland and Days in the Kitchen, the former clocking in at a massive 7 minutes 51 seconds! The same applies to Battle of the Wilderness which, with its constant tempo changes, would be a much more enjoyable listen if it was two minutes shorter.
The album’s title track and album closer is an interesting one as it shows a totally different side to the band than the other songs. Whilst the heavy instrumental feel isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it seems to break up the flow of the album and feels like it has just been thrown on at the end to say, “look, we don’t just do one style!”. It seems like an unnecessary way to end an album that is unnecessarily long. Despite only being made up of nine songs, the truth about Leaving the Commonwealth is that there is simply too much of it.