They call it second album syndrome. It happens when signs of early promise and the weight of expectation simply prove too much to live up to. It’s an ailment that’s tripped up countless bands on their unrealised paths to glory. It’s difficult to ignore and even harder to overcome. But for Calling All Cars it was all a bit of a non-issue when they returned to the studio to begin work on Dancing With A Dead Man, the follow-up to their highly acclaimed 2010 debut album Hold Hold Fire.
“There are too many bands that do their first album and then kick back, have a year off, and then it comes to their next album and it’s like, ‘Oh shit!’” notes frontman Haydn Ing. “I always had in the back of my mind that dreaded second album syndrome, so I started writing straight away and we ended up with something like 40 songs to choose from. I think after recording the first album we kind of found our feet and we knew where we wanted to take it from there.”
That last point is somewhat of an understatement. Working once again with Shihad sticks man Tom Larkin in his Melbourne studios, Calling All Cars return to the fold with a renewed focus, energy and confidence in their abilities. Whereas its predecessor was a compilation of tracks taken from a five-year period during the band’s early incarnation, Dancing With A Dead Man is a fiercely honed record that raises the bar and sheds new light on its makers.
“There’s definitely more of a cohesive theme running through it,” adds bassist Adam Montgomery. “It’s not a concept record at all, but it’s got a similar feel running through it, which is exactly what we wanted.”
“I think with the first album there was a learning process of finding out what works and what doesn’t,” chips in drummer James Ing, Haydn’s younger brother. “Then I think we were able to narrow things down and find our niche. We basically kept everything we liked from the first album and then reformatted the band and started again in a way.”
It doesn’t take long to see what they’re talking about when listening to Dancing With A Dead Man. The lead single Reptile –with its angry, nihilistic vocals and tightly coiled rhythm section – smashes any preconceptions you might have had about this band. But it’s the first of many twists on a record that solidifies Calling All Cars as a brutal force of nature. The venomous love story of Worlds Collide is a foot-stomping, stop-start rocker made up of equal parts vitriol and anguish, while There’s A Dead Man In My Room hauntingly exhibits what this band are capable of at slower tempos.
Having toured extensively over the past 18 months with rock heavyweights such as AC/DC, Queens Of The Stone Age and Grinspoon – not to mention a spate of their own headline tours – Calling All Cars have taken lessons learned on the road into the studio with them. As Adam puts it, “If you really want to nail an album, you can’t just cruise. At some point you’ve got to work really hard to get to that level and then try and maintain it. It’s not something you can ever perfect.”
Thankfully Calling All Cars have heeded their own advice. Dancing With A Dead Man makes a mockery of the so-called second album syndrome. If Calling All Cars’ debut was all about them finding their feet, its follow-up has them kicking in the door.