Billy Idol gets it. When the ’80s-era MTV icon tapped Broncho to support him on tour in 2015, he must’ve known the Oklahoma band would get a fist pump or two from his audience. The group had recently released its excellent sophomore album, Just Hip Enough To Be Woman, and songs like “Class Historian” and “Stay Loose” were weirdly 1982 in their mix of classic rock, punk, and new wave—topped off with the nerdy Ric Ocasek croon of singer Ryan Lindsey.
Broncho wouldn’t fare quite as well with this latest set—not even if Billy were to come out and do “Eyes Without A Face” for two hours straight. Double Vanity is a major sonic leap that comes at the expense of energy and songwriting. Gone are the irresistible hooks of Just Hip Enough and the band’s more garage-leaning debut, 2013’s Can’t Get Past The Lips. In their place: moody guitars that move like waves of molasses mucked up with carpet fuzz from your childhood bedroom. It’s heavy-duty ’80s dream-pop without enough variation to sustain the drama.
There are still some fine moments: Lead single “Fantasy Boys” is a lush and lusty shoegaze flashback to teenage love. The same nocturnal, nostalgic guitar sounds surface on “Highly Unintentional,” “Two Step,” and “Wanna,” lesser variations on the same theme.
On those songs, Lindsey’s melted-taffy vocal style would render his words unintelligible even if they weren’t drowning in reverb. In album highlight “Soak Up The Sun,” he moans something like, “I found a way to never be home / I found a way to soak up the sun.” If that’s not the actual lyric, the wonderfully smoggy guitars evoke feelings of bittersweet loneliness that support such a misinterpretation.
The pleasant ache of those standouts is sadly absent on grungy plodders like “All Time,” “I Know You,” and “Jenny Loves Janae.” Broncho goes retro Jesus And Mary Chain on the thudding “Speed Demon” and “New Karma,” but only finds the right leathery strut on “Señora Borealis.” Luckily, that one scrapes along like a muddy psych-rock take on Idol’s “Flesh For Fantasy,” so there’s hope for Broncho yet.