I’ve often compared stoner metal to pizza because it’s really hard to do poorly. When it’s good, it’s the most incredible thing on Earth – especially when you’re high. But even when it’s bad, it’s still usually pretty good. Even if you have little to zero musical talent and haven’t really found out how to write riffs yet, you can usually get something that sounds close enough to a song by just fooling around on the pentatonic scale. It’s not that hard to do and usually satisfies on at least some level, but like pizza, there’s some recipes out there that just don’t work at all. The Vintage Caravan’s debut album Voyage is the perfect example of this, with a crippling lack of focus and commitment that hamstrings the recipe completely.
A common complaint against stoner rock is that Sabbath’s already done everything there is to do in the scene, so why bother? It’s all just different degrees of derivative, I admit, and the best bands stick as close to the formula as they can while still throwing in enough uniqueness to make themselves stand out. The Vintage Caravan has the first aspect down, but the second is nowhere to be found. Most of the album is dominated by cookie-cutter pentatonic riffs that feel like the musical equivalent of potato chips. The solos are pretty outstanding, but the riffage feels more like disinterested sleepwalking across the fretboard. There’s no real reason to come back to most songs on the album, because there’s tons of stoner bands out there that already do what these guys are doing way better – and not just Black Sabbath! But if unremarkability was the worst of this record’s crimes, it wouldn’t be sitting on just two stars.
“Do You Remember” is when I realized that Voyage would not be a forgettable album. I do remember, Vintage Caravan. I remember a clumsy and incompetent power ballad with cringe-inducing lyrics and limp-noodle riffs that made me want to force-feed the lead singer a pound of pinecones. My desires for coniferous gastrointestinal mutilation notwithstanding, I can understand the impulse to switch up the pace, especially when the rest of the album is so one-note. Going back to the pizza analogy, it’s akin to zazzing up a couple of the slices with extra toppings and sauces while making the rest of the pie a fairly traditional affair – cheese, tomato sauce, maybe a bit of pepperoni or sausage here and there. It almost works on “The King’s Voyage” (until the band runs out of ideas and starts making ~*~SPACE NOISES~*~ by clapping and whispering through a delay pedal), but the problem with very special slices like “Do You Remember” is that the tomato sauce seems to have been replaced with an artisan blend of orange juice and toothpaste.
But the worst part of Voyage for me is that the album isn’t completely without merit. “Expand Your Mind” is pretty far from terrible, and the album art is totally sweet. (It’s a gypsy caravan pulled by POLAR BEARS!! LOOK AT IT!!!) Voyage is just inconsistent, and suffers from a criminal overabundance of filler. This is something a band can definitely fix, and in the case of The Vintage Caravan, I hope they do fix it. If the good ideas on Voyage were good enough to make up for the bad ones, this would be a pretty delicious pizza. But in my opinion, you’re better off just ordering from that Sleep place again.