The closing track on Killin' It, the new release from the Quad Cities reggae-rock trio Rude Punch, is called "Payment," and unfortunately it's overdue. Loose and light, the guitars and drums at the outset seem to be searching for the groove, and when they find it 35 seconds in, they sustain it for another four minutes. Brady Jager's singing is heartfelt and nimble, and background vocals and twin guitars add satisfying accents and interplay, while bassist Robb Laake and drummer Adam Tucker are each given opportunities to fill in the gaps. The lead-guitar and drum breaks suggest a band adept at jamming within a song's structure.
I'm guessing the band's CD-release party on Saturday at the Redstone Room will be a good time, as its music goes down easily and has the benefit of familiarity. If you've heard reggae, you'll have plenty of reference points. Most importantly, the band works it right on stage, and "Payment" shows what they're capable of.
But the album itself suffers from a lack of imagination.
There are some moments of sonic inspiration, but generally it clings to the reggae template far too tightly, and there's nothing in the lyrics or production to distract you from that.
The first few times I listened to "Payment," I couldn't tell you anything about the lyrics, and that's meant as a compliment. If the words are front-and-center without much else to draw your attention, they'd better be good; but if they're one element in a compelling overall mix, they can be ignored or glossed over in favor of something more interesting. "Payment" has a lot going on, so the lyrics are initially mere vehicles for the vocals.
But on most of Killin' It, the lyrics are critical, and they're not up to the task. Most are about love and/or sex, with a few meta moments about the music itself and one obvious pot reference. Jager delivers them earnestly, but there's only so much one can do with "Hush little baby / Stop all your crying / Our love is not weak / And I know it's worth tryin'."
The pinnacle of wit here comes on "Rock for Me," and it's funny mostly because it suggests an unusual fetish: "Rock for me darling / Take off all but your socks for me / Rock for me."
"Crab Killer" has potential as the mixed-blessings tale of life on the road, but it's impossible to reconcile the broken knees of the first verse with the chorus' "I don't want to go home."
Those lyrical deficiencies are easy to overlook when the band builds a more ornate structure on the reggae foundations.
The first song, "Bang Bang," is like "Payment" in that it's fleshed out instrumentally. With a minimalist-Hendrix-style lead guitar - wandering into corners, creating a cosmic tune parallel to the song proper - your ears have room to roam. The guitar solo on "Rock for Me" is gently coaxing, perfect for a song about a man trying to woo a woman back. Jager's solos are generally economical and strong, and I wish the guitar were employed as a genuine lead instrument more frequently; too often, he's simply doing standard-issue reggae and flat fuzz rhythm guitar.
There's simply not enough variation in tempo, instrumentation, and production to goose the record when the material is subpar, and the largest problem here is that most of the songs sound half-naked. When they're all dressed up, they're pretty damned good.
Rude Punch will perform at the Redstone Room (123 Main Street in Davenport) on Saturday, February 21. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $5.