Throwback: The Zutons

The Zutons have been given the title of “the band that wants to be the Corals.” If you first listen to the Corals and then listen to the Zutons, you might agree with that statement. The Corals had huge commercial success in the early 2000’s; their 2003 album Magic and Medicine topped the UK album charts at No. 1.

While the Zutons gained some commercial success, they never became as big as the Corals. For this they have been ridiculed as a knockoff band. But I disagree. The only reason the bands sound so similar is because of the simple coincidence that they share the same label, producer and hometown. Alright, so maybe its not a simple coincidence. But regardless, the Zutons have a distinct sound of their own.

My personal favorite album of theirs came out in 2004. Who Killed the Zutons? was one of the best albums to come out in the 2000’s, yet the public has no idea it exists, and critics have given it no respect.

Who Killed the Zutons? is an extremely dynamic album, with a sound that moves from punk to soul to blues seamlessly. Add in disco beats, a jazzy sax and a howling guitar, and you get the sound I’m having such a hard time explaining. Only one word fits it: Zutons.

The amount of energy on this album is staggering. Lead guitarist Boyan Chowdhury (more on him later) spits out riffs that are down right provocative. Matched with lead singer Dave McCabe’s potent yet simultaneously honey-sweet voice, the whole album is dripping with a sultry groove that leaves you kind of guilty. The odd part is that the drums are, for the most part, laid-back. I can imagine the drummer sitting behind his set, playing with one hand, cause he’s got a cocktail in the other. But right when you half-expect him to just fall asleep, he kicks into a big-band rolling beat, hen transitions right into ear-shattering punk jams.

The song “Not a Lot To Do” might be the the demigod of a wicked love triangle involving Neil Young, the Beatles and U2. Granted the Zutons’ lyrics aren’t as heavy, but that’s where the energy comes in. It’s a driving force that pushes you further into the album.

Back to Boyan Chowdhury’s guitar. He managed to catch sounds like Velvet Underground, Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Nels Cline. Nels Cline is most known for his jazz guitar on Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky. The album came out three years after Who Killed the Zutons?, and Cline’s riffs sound eerily like a reformed version of Chowdhury’s work. The best example being the solo on “Nightmare Part II”, which is just one of Chowdhury’s many fantastic contributions to the album’s diverse sound.

Who Killed the Zutons? is a well-balanced album. To match the powerful lead vocals and guitar, the Zutons added in hooting vocals, cowbells and various other goofy percussion instruments you would expect to find in your elementary school music class’s storage closet. This creates an energetic and fun album, with dark and cigarette-burnt edges.

I do have one small problem. The saxophone. There is a time and place for the sax, and it doesn’t belong in a lot of the songs. While it adds even more range to the dynamic sound, it needs to be pushed towards the back. If the sax would just step aside and let the bass work its funky magic, the album would be perfect.

The Zutons are not a rip off of the Corals. They are, in fact, far better and more important. I could say that based on just one album, but listening to all the other Zutons albums has backed up my opinion even more. Who Killed the Zutons? created a new sound in the early 2000’s while simultaneously challenging the alternative genre’s idea of a solid album. And while they won’t be getting any credit any time soon, the Zutons were one of the more important bands of the 2000s.