CD Review: Chris McKay and the Critical Darlings

(Scott Bullock / artwork

The Critical Darlings’ newest album sold out so fast that it was gone before it was officially released. Yup, no hard copies left in sight. A quick word about the artwork as per usual. While it’s not the surreal flying fish thing from the last record, the lady in the water pretty much nails the album right on the head. Simple and refined, subversive and tricky lyrically…It’s an early contender for Album Artwork of the Year in my book.

I first met the band when they played “Terry Tunes” last fall. When you’ve got a singer that looks like Mick Jagger and bounces around like he’s Freddie Mercury, you pay attention. They impressed me with their professionalism and their sense of humor. It wasn’t their best gig but they stayed pretty optimistic. I keep crossing paths with these guys. I highly recommend you see them live. As hard as you try, you just can’t get the same experience from a recorded version. You need Frank, Joe, Chris, and Joshua in your face and wearing their stylish/retro rock clothes. Welcome to the circus ladies and gentlemen.

An Uncertain Flight kicks off the rock and roll. I’d heard this song a long time before on an advance disc we got at WUOG. I was impressed then and am still fond of it now. Probably the first thing you’ll notice are the harmonies, both vocally and in the arrangement. There are a lot of layers of instruments here but it only sounds like a few. This sounds like a Beatles bootleg in places with its unusual melodic structure and pensive lyrics.

The Only Way is the song you need to hear live. A serious heavy hitter of classic rock sound, the recording doesn’t quite do it justice. McKay’s vocal delivery is superb but a little too perfect for such a ballsy song. Catch it live. Also, I dare you not to try and hit that quick 16th note McKay does on “the only way” in the chorus.

Waiting for the Siren DISCO. Holy cow. Put it on to dance to.

Sadder Day Remember when the Stones did “Beast of Burden”? This sounds a lot like it. Based on some personal tragedies in the band, “Sadder Day” is a interesting look into how you cope with the loss of someone you hold dear. Take it as “never be a sadder day” or “Saturday”. If there’s no Saturday, there’s no end of the week, meaning no weekend or breaks. Heavy with a side of awesome.

Rage On is my favorite track from the album and my favorite for the single. This is how vocals should be treated. The guitar work on here is the type that will pull you in and remind you what rock should be. Great harmonies between McKay and Joe Orr on the tail end.

Sorry Joe lol. Don’t you just love studio mishaps?

From Now Til Then. My other favorite mainly because of the sentiments in the song. “I wish I knew your name/so I could say it to myself when noone’s around.” Aww! Now who hasn’t passed by their love at first sight and just wondered what their name is? Again, nice guitar work with a bit of a twang every once in a while. Lovely ballad.

Tonight Never Happened continues our trip though different classic rock styles. We’ve moved from the Beatles and Stones to more of a dark, almost Ziggy vibe. This might’ve gone well in that Labyrinth movie. Interesting thought process. Never to tonight and Saturday…

Happy Here and Now is the one that I will recommend to anyone who wants to hear exactly what CM&tCD are about. Lots of cymbal work and guitar with straight ahead, in your face vocals.

Worms on the Pavement is a favorite at WUOG even though I can’t quite pin why. Really doesn’t matter all that much. It’s your typical pop/rock song about worms. What’s not to like? That said, the album could probably do without it and be just as strong.

Give Up Town is a by the numbers tune. Uptempo with a good guitar lick and steady drumming. The bass is the real standout but overall, it’s another track that just seems more like a b-side.

Scared of Myself sounds like another disco-esque tune at first listen but then drifts into a showcase for McKay’s vocal acrobatics. You’ll enjoy the sick bass and good dynamic control that the band employs here. Awesome guitar riffing in the middle of two soft Red Hot Chili Pepper like sections. Rock and roll is more than just being loud, it’s about knowing what can get your message across.

Track 13. Random rain/gravel/noise.

Wide Bicycle: Featuring a lot of piano towards the end and a chorus of children yelling “BOO!” in the middle, the track is a bit disjointed. It will start flowing into a groove then another random change

Something Unseen: I LOVE the piano on this song. It may have to do with the special guest but this is a great ballad.The song continues on to feature a few more tempo changes, showcasing everything the record is with guitar solos, drumrolls, bass riffs and all. I thought it was a bit odd at first that such an upbeat record ended on such a note. Thinking a bit more, only the tempo is upbeat. In all seriousness, this is one sad record. It has very happy points but the difference from “C’Mon Except Your Joy” is pretty obvious. Great end.

I give it an 7/10. The songs on here are really solid stuff, better than most you’ll hear coming from indie bands and certainly better than any “rock” albums lately. This is how rock used to sound and where it’s headed. The main problems are the experimental touches that go awry. Props for reaching out and trying new things but sometimes it’s best just to let it be. A few songs could be taken out to make the runtime a bit shorter without the feel suffering one bit. I do like them all and you will be humming some of them while waiting for your ride from Five Points. The album is best for those days when the sky is bright and sunny, you’ve got your All-Stars on, a soft drink in one hand and a skateboard in the other.


  1. For the (proverbial) record, Jordan, you’re the first person to call it more or less how I see it!I actually didn’t want “Give Up Town”, “Worms On The Pavement” or “Scared Of Myself” on the album but I was outvoted.In retrospect, I was wrong about “Scared Of Myself” and “Worms” has become a favorite, so I’m cool with that one, too. I’m not so much with “Give up Town” to this day.If there’s ever a massive re-release version of it, “Give Up Town” will most likely not be there and will only be on the ones that people grabbed in the beginning.I’m just saying…Thanks so much for all your time spent with the record and keep doing what you do! So when should we do the guest DJ thing?Oh, oh, here’s your scoop for today since I can give it to you first. Joe is leaving the group. He should be around to fill out the gigs on the calendar but his days are definitely numbered as a Darling.There’s no big drama, it’s just time to move forward. So you might see us a trio again for a bit. My hope is that we’ll find just the guitarist / singer that can jump in and take the ball and run. Know anyone? If you do, send ’em my way!Thanks again,C

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