There's no irony to Temperance League's Midwestern working-class rock — even though it's a Charlotte band. There's a long, respectable history of East Coast outfits composing stunning, often-defining, big-rock anthems, the kind of music that's perfect for Nebraska's endless cornfields or the dry, expansive Dakotas. From The Boss himself to his fellow Jersey-ites Gaslight Anthem, from Brooklyn's The Hold Steady to Durham's Red Collar, Temperance League is not the only eastern seaboard band in this mode.
But the Temperance League conversation only starts with Springsteen and company. There's also a lot of Memphis power-pop; accordingly, only one track, "Story," breaks the three-minute mark. "I Don't Wanna," "Unwelcome Change" and "Your World" bear all the essential jangle and meticulous, multi-hook composition of Big Star or The Raspberries. And then there's the two-step roadhouse stomp, rampant libido and insatiable boogie riff of "I Have To." But perhaps the most intriguing flavor on this LP is in "(I) Dreamed Last Night," which explores a ruined relationship through the tragic nostalgia of an Elvis ballad.
And then there's the Heartland rock — cuts like "Homecoming," which imply a more rough-and-ready Hold Steady — and this is where songwriter Bruce Hazel really shines. "I spent too long biting my tongue for the fear of offending anyone," he sings in "Pursuits of the Past." The language mixes revolutionary-level frustration with blue collar exhaustion, so that what initially seems to be a call to arms turns into an invitation to some side street bar. "Only the foolish wrestle with regret/So tonight, let us surrender."
What sounds like physical distance, and makes this such a good driving record, is a powerful yearning — for the way the world should be ("Pursuits of the Past") or the halcyon days of pre-soured love ("Dreamed Last Night"). And the long miles between this band's Charlotte home and the rolling plains its music implies only brings that distant landscape into clearer focus. Dee Brown wrote that his tragic history of the American West, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, was meant to be read facing east. Listen to this record facing Memphis — or farther west.