Behind the Beat: Watch This

Doug Ratner isn’t what you’d call a poet. His lyrics are often filled with somewhat clichéd, stereotypical tropes about girls, conformity and rebellion, and reside inside songs with less than thought-provoking titles like “If You Wanna,” “Let’s Roll” and “Let Her Rip.” Nonetheless, the sheer energy level that he puts out with his band The Watchmen is considerable; it’s largely rock ’n’ roll in the raw, in the 1974 sense of the term, and you can hear that having fun is among the band’s top priorities. They have a reputation for spirited live performance, and a decent collection of video evidence to support it (see here).

Most elements of the songs on the Watchmen’s new record, Run with Me, are dead on; the melodies are great, the instruments are all played with admirable skill and recorded with equal precision and care, and the band is a really tight unit. It’s hard to nail it down to any more specific genre than “rock”—in some ways they sound like a band that’s been in suspended animation since at least the early ’70s—but then all of a sudden they’ll whip out something that’s nearly 1980 punk. Generally speaking, their sound is extremely American, oozing that warm, acoustic/electric vibe you hear in everything from Tom Petty to John Mellencamp to the Gin Blossoms, and as such is almost inevitably somewhat derivative.

That doesn’t seem to matter to the Watchmen—if it sounds good and it feels good to play, what else do you need? In this sense the band often comes off sounding like some odd, bluesy version of the Ramones, likely well aware and unconcerned that the depth of their message amounts to nothing more than “Rock rock rock rock rock and roll high school.” To their credit, they’re definitely not trying to sell you anything besides a solid beat, a chunky riff and a good time, and though they may change their perspectives as they ripen and/or scar over from decades of rock living, for now they are an unjaded WYSIWYG phenomenon.

There are exceptions to this rule when a few tunes poke through as something like thoughtful narrative or commentary. “Piece of Mind” is a seriously kick-ass, drop-tuned hard rock piece with nasty riffs and thick, sludgy guitar tones in a league with anything Rage Against The Machine does, and the lyrics tell an interesting rebel story besides. “Will There Be a Day” is, to my knowledge, the first song to address the Newtown/Sandy Hook shootings, and in a way that comes from a place of genuine feeling: “28 times that song was sung/ Oh Lord what have we become?/ Will there be a day when we can all say/ ‘Children are forever safe?’”

Even if his verbiage has yet to catch up with his skills in melody and cadence, Ratner shows here that, above all, he has a heart, and it continues to beat powerfully in the right place.•

Author: Tom Sturm

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