The danger of satire is not differentiating yourself enough from the thing you’re poking fun at to remain distinct from it. In the past that’s never really been an issue for David Thrussel’s Snog, for years the long-running Australian project has had enough genuine outrage and snide commentary to offset their increasingly slick and approachable musical palette. It’s odd then that Snog’s new album Compliance feels like the first real misstep in the project’s lengthy discography: a record that isn’t bad so much as it is glib and superfluous.
It’s important to note that from an instrumental perspective there’s very little identifiably wrong with Compliance. The smoothed out electro that Thrussell has been cultivating since 2007’s The Last Days of Rome sounds as good here as it ever has, with first single and lead-off song “Cheerful Hypocrisy” making the most of a bouncing bassline and a hearty dollop of synth organ on the chorus and bridge. Whether cast in a sinister light as on “The Clockwork Man” and the title track, or turned to plaintive ballads on “The Vampires of Real Estate” the programming is universally polished, sprightly and easy to listen to.
With latter era Snog, the balance of that accessibility has always been in Thrussell’s sardonic vocal delivery and mocking vocals. And while that formula remains true here, it feels less like the clever skewering of our consumerist self-obsessed culture, and more like David spinning his wheels as he tackles topics he’s exhausted as inspiration. At best his takedowns are innocuous, if uninspired. At worst they feel like grasping at low hanging fruit. Which is not to say that subjects like arrogant one percenters (“Rich Kuntz”), our own desire for creature comforts (“The Toxic Womb of Convenience”), or the moral hypocrisy of the middle class (“Middle Class Worms”) aren’t worthy of a good skewering, the issue is that Thrussell sounds positively uninspired while doing so, stumbling from one gripe to the next with little commitment apparent in his lyrics or delivery.
Whether that’s a symptom of creative ennui or just plain old boredom is unclear, but the entire album reeks of a weariness that no amount of expert production can cover. There are good moments here (“Heroically Deluded” is a refreshingly straight bit of synth balladry with no irony apparent, and closing instrumental “The Theme from Compliance” is a bit of vintage Thrussell synth composition) that serve to remind us of what Snog is capable of, but they’re too few to lift the album above the passable groove it settles into early on. For all its attempts at derision, the real irony here is that Snog has finally made the sort of album that he joked about producing for years in his press releases: inoffensive, easy to digest, and ultimately disposable.