Review: The Legends – “Up Against The Legends”

Break out the Vespas and get yourself a floppy haircut because The Legends, the Swedish imports making their full-length debut with the ambitiously titled Up Against the Legends, are ready to plug in the guitars and break into full-blown Euro-pop mode.
On the band’s first full-length player, we get all the increasingly familiar trademarks of the genre: the Morrisseyesque vocals (reverb and all), the perky bop of guitars, the hand-clapping, the hooks, tracks with names like “Right On” and “The Kids Just Wanna Have Fun.” The group’s nine — yes, nine! — members have a good handle on what strings to tug at to make their songs fit the mold, but, sadly, the record seems to fall a little flat, a study in predictability and only faint hints of potential.

The problem with the record — or, more accurately, what makes its 12 tracks lose their luster at times — isn’t really the songwriting and it isn’t entirely the performance. There are tracks that have some depth and resonance to them (the unexpected dissonant in-betweens of “Your Song,” the catchy, layered-delivery of “Trouble Loves Me”) and some that are caught on tape in what’s probably their finest form (the sweet fragility of the mournful ballad “When the Day is Done,” the fuzzy energy of “Breaking Time, Breaking Lines”).

But, by and large, the record feels somehow incomplete or not fully written to its logical conclusions. The guitars and vocals, both mixed high, lead the listener, but it’s tough to grab hold of other elements, even when you pay close mind to them. (It’s not until a few tracks in that you can start to prove The Legends have a drummer.)

Elsewhere, the band seems to shine the spotlight on details that really don’t have much impact or add much to the delivery. Case in point: the hand-clapping. While, as percussion, a well-timed clap can serve as an almost spontaneous reminder of the people crafting the music pouring out of your speakers; when it’s overused, it feels lazy, uninspired, and even hokey.

On a track like “Make it All Right,” with all its distorted guitars and crunching choruses, the hand-claps border on nagging, always buried behind a wall of guitar fuzz or lurking around a corner.

For its shortcomings, though, there are moments on Up Against the Legends that hint at what could have been a more interesting record or, better yet, a great EP. Its title aside, “The Kids Just Wanna Have Fun” may be one of the record’s finer tracks, a sugar-sweet jolt of bouncy guitars, skittering drums, emotive vocals, and, yes, well-timed hand-claps. “Nothing to be Done” is a 45/7″ straight out of Margaret Thatcher’s U.K., an optimistic little piece of bubblegum-pop that you’ll swear was played over the credits of at least one John Hughes film.

The aforementioned “When the Day is Done” suggests that The Legends may be better suited to explore its acoustic songwriting on record number two. Starting with a single guitar, the song quickly unfolds with a frighteningly tender duet between male and female voices and a chorus that does its best to pull at your heartstrings.

If these finer moments were expanded on this Lakeshore Records release, The Legends could be chalked up as one of the more promising pop acts to come across the pond this year. There’s no doubting the musicians’ abilities or their ambition (insert joke or obvious dig about the name here), but The Legends need to make sure the next outing feels like less of a rough draft if they hope to go up against anybody. – Delusions of Adequacy, Nov. 1, 2004

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