Bands frequently profess to hate being pinned down to any one genre, railing against definitions put on them by critics or record labels. Luckily for The Yawpers this is not a problem they are ever likely to deal with, certainly not on the evidence of this album, the band’s fourth. They manage to incorporate blues, southern, punk and garage rock plus Americana, country and gospel. All squeezed into a mere 38 minutes!
If this all sounds a bit chaotic and messy, that’s because it is, with some of the gear shifts being particularly jarring, such as when we move directly from the gospel-y Carry Me to the hard-rockin’ blues boogie of Forgiveness Through Pain. Both are individually decent tracks. The former is a beautiful, elegiac number which slowly builds to rousing finale, while the latter is a shot of hard-drinkin’ rock coated in 70s swagger, which is all good. But placing them together makes for an odd listening experience.
Away from the constant genre-hopping, the other thing that immediately stands out is how steeped in influences the band are. The Yawpers are clearly an act with great knowledge and love for rock’n’roll in all its various guises. This love is both a great strength and a great drawback over the course of the LP’s ten tracks. It is a strength because they know how to shape a decent tune in a variety of different rock modes, be it punk, blues or whatever. The drawback is it is hard to stop thinking about other bands while listening to the songs. There are several examples of this. Dancing on My Knees could easily be a Supersuckers or Nashville Pussy track (both of whom they have toured with), Earn Your Heaven sounds like it could be a Stooges off-cut, while the title track is very reminiscent of The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Obviously, everything under the sun has been done, and every band has influences, but when they are so on the surface, it can be distracting. Plus it’s frustrating. All three tracks previously mentioned are solidly crafted and passionately performed efforts robbed of character by their referential nature. This character does come through more in lead songwriter and guitarist Nate Cook’s lyrics, which may surprise with their intelligence, given the shit-kicking punk-blues packaging many of them are wrapped in (although perhaps less surprising when you know the group is named after a Walt Whitman poem) and delve into Cook’s depression and other personal traumas.
Reason to Believe is an obvious example of this songwriting approach. On the surface a rollicking blues number but lyrically a paean to not succumbing to depression.
Human Question is undoubtedly an enjoyable record, at times raucous, at others soulful. But the fuzzy focus and over-reverence mean it falls short of excellent. With a little more direction and a touch more of their own flavour, it is still possible they will turn into the “Saviours of Rock’n’Roll” they so desperately seek to be.