REVIEW: Trank – The Ropes (2020)


I don’t think it’s unfair to say that there haven’t been a lot of successful French rock bands over the years. For those of a certain vintage, there was Trust (who Nico McBrain of Iron Maiden once played with and, famously, had Bon Scott come on stage with them to jam a version of the DC classic Ride On) and, more recently, Gojira, who are gradually creeping up the big festival running orders. After that, I’m struggling. So, Trank were an unexpected and pleasant discovery.

The thing about this band, and this debut album, The Ropes, is they and it are unusual. It draws together some unlikely musical bedfellows. Marrying the 80’s pop synth of Depeche Mode and Talk Talk with the grungey swagger of Stone Temple Pilots, the dark Alt rock of Deftones, and the prog moods of Pink Floyd, they’ve managed to create a catchy and intriguing signature sound. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

Opening track ‘Shining’ has a rolling, fluid riff that breaks into a staccato chorus. Right away the drums stand out in the mix. Rhythmically complex and tight as a, well, err, drum! In all seriousness, the drums are truly brilliant throughout. It also has a nice little, mellow breakdown section. In fact, this is a template for much of the album. Dynamic and interesting arrangements with unusual combinations of influences on show.

Another thing that helps make this band sound a bit different is the vocals. They’re not archetypal rock vocals but singer, MJ, still delivers everything with a rock n roll swagger. He most often sings in a smooth baritone but there’s plenty of power and grit in reserve to help give the heavier moments that edge they need.

The highlights, for me, include the title track, which opens quietly before breaking into its giant, rasping beast of a main riff, morphs into an 80’s pop song for the verses, and then smashes you in the chops for the chorus. ‘Forever and a Day’ is the ballad. Chiming guitar, washes of synths and strings that build in intensity towards the glorious guitar solo with its full-on orchestrated backing track. Another shape-shifting gem is ‘The Road’ with its enigmatic synth opening, strummed electric guitars and a verse that vocally hints at the ghost of Roxy Music past. The chorus sounds like a song I knew from my youth, that one that Peter Gabriel didn’t actually record but I’d swear blind he had.

There’s some industrial metal where that Depeche Mode influence comes to the fore again, blending synths and programming with huge riffs and soaring melodies. ‘Bend Or Break’ is probably the only riff-led, traditional rock song, and even it doesn’t conform to accepted rock norms. And, to continue confounding convention, they close with a gentle, atmospheric instrumental, ‘Refugee’, interspersed with clips of news reports instead of a vocal.

What we have here, then, is twelve diverse tracks, played by hugely talented musicians, and with a powerful crisp production that allows all the ambitious layers and ideas to breathe and make sense. I mean, what’s knot to like? Ahem, sorry, couldn’t resist!

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