There are certain points in my life where I just want to revel in simplicity. This feeling often correlates into the music I listen to. The endless tags put on every single band, song, and album is just so irritating. It could be anything from post-punk, to garage rock, to my absolute favorite, emo. This name tagging compulsion that everyone in the world seems to harbor has sent me over the edge. I just want to listen to a rock band. I don’t want to have to think of a bunch of genres to describe it. I want a band that will extend through the barriers of stereotypical labeling. Lucky for me I found the Von Bondies.
First of all, there is a misconception that must be cleared straight away. Many people seem to think that the Von Bondies are just a second rate version of the White Stripes, much like those purses with weird initials on them are $30 knock-offs of $1,000 Louis Vuitton bags. That is simply not the case. Yes, it is true that both bands hail from Detroit, Michigan, and both got lumped into that garage rock category. Jack White even produced the group’s first album, but that doesn’t mean the Von Bondies need to be placed alongside the White Stripes. There are three main differences between the two groups. First, the Von Bondies do not have an album full of songs with really repetitive bass lines that start to give you a headache after a few listens. Second, the Von Bondies write lyrics that impose clarity and simplicity, while figuring out a White Stripes song is like putting together a puzzle with about seventy-five percent of the pieces missing. Thirdly, the Von Bondies are just all around much more enjoyable to listen to. What the Von Bondies need to do right now is shake off the White Stripe’s shadow and let their own image shine.
The Von Bondies latest release is Pawn Shoppe Heart, an album full of rock and roll tunes about life, heartache, and booze. They are very rock n’ roll: from their looks, to their attitude, and to their songs; yet they have their own defined version of rock n’ roll, considering their band is split down the middle when it comes to the male and female ratio. The album takes off with “No Regrets,” a song with an astoundingly catchy drumbeat that distinctly matches the catchy chorus. Wailing guitars come in and out of the song until the listener is completely convinced this record is definitely worth listening to. Pawn Shoppe Heart is one pocket full of energy infused with loud rock that can be found through the whole record.
The Von Bondies are reminiscent of the Rolling Stones back when they were young men and releasing songs like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Stollsteimer sounds like he has the propensity to have the swagger and confidence of Mick Jagger. He has the attitude and charisma that shines through just by the way he can turn it up and turn it down. He can howl a song out like a rock star and/or he can go to the other extreme by drawing out long dramatic notes. On the title track of the album, Stollsteimer sings with such veracity over the screeching guitars it makes for an intense end to the record. It is the sort of song that you really just want to hear as the finale at the end of a concert. If it’s this good on record, it has got to be amazing live.
Stollsteimer takes off from his vocal duties to let the girls take the lead on the track “Not That Social” which poses the lyric “you’re not that social, just a good drinker” as the tagline. The song has simple words, but it’s the perfect Saturday night out-on-the-town song. Everyone knows someone portrayed in this song. This is something else that the Von Bondies seem to conquer whole heartedly. Stollsteimer has the talent of writing lyrics that avoid complexity and instead harbor on ground that people naturally identify with. The songs are not horribly written rock songs with no point, no story, or no sense of comprehension. They instead focus on the sort of issues that everyone deals with and understands.
Pawn Shoppe Heart is what so many albums strive to be. It is a rock album that manages to be catchy, simplistic, and yet doesn’t sound like an overproduced “garage band” record. The Vines, the Hives, the White Stripes; they all need to take note, because none of them have lived up to the hype they’ve created. The Von Bondies might actually be able to surpass theirs. They have made a record unbound by labels. Why? Because it’s good, and that is all that really matters in the end.