May 2008

Painkiller Hotel - Black Roses
Severe Records 142221
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

Painkiller Hotel has been pounding it out for a while now throughout the Midwest (they’re based in Illinois), and the band’s debut, Black Roses, has the kind of "for your consideration" sheen that happens when a band wants to make a big commercial splash -- it sounds like it’s being pitched to a potential manager or record producer. For the first several tracks, they show their new-country/Nickelback/everything-including-the-kitchen-sink willingness to buy into pop stardom. Then, on "All I Ever Wanted," something happens. They start to sound like a real band. The obvious influences on the previous tracks gel into something original, and the song builds dramatically.

They manage to do it a couple more times too. "Lead Me On" has the melodic sureness and bold emotions of the Shins, without sounding like a lift from that band, and "Weakness" features cleanly chiming guitars and a genuine, heartfelt performance from leader Kevin Presbrey. I found myself going back to the earlier tracks and, sure enough, "Brightest Flame" has its own likable charm, plus some nicely placed background details, and "You Don’t What You’re Missing" rocks hard and convincingly.

That’s not to say Black Roses is a sure winner. I’d advise Presbrey to drop the CMT twang he employs on a few of the songs, and I’d pull guitarist Klaus Luchs up a lot further in the mix. Ditto Mike Krull’s snare drum. Black Roses casts its net too wide, but the songs I mentioned here suggest Painkiller Hotel has it in them to be a solid rock‘n’roll band. Maybe even an inspired one.