reviewed by Michael Thomas
Napalmpom have always played their brand of celebratory rock and roll with a high degree of self-awareness. So it makes a lot of sense that their sophomore album uses words that sound like something out of a high-school curriculum. The title can mean many things, as the band speculates in its press release, including (and I’m paraphrasing here) “playing to one’s strengths, regardless of how those strengths play to the people listening.”
But Napalmpom playing to their strengths is far from a bad thing. I’d argue we need a lot more feel-good rock and roll, especially now, and Core Competencies provides more of that than you might even think possible. The album is gapless, leaving nothing but 45ish minutes of non-stop energy.
It’s got pretty much anything you could ask for—huge guitar riffs, “woah-ohs,” gang vocals, tight bass, the works. “Get Love” lays all these strengths out to start off the album, from the fireworks of the intro guitar to PJ Lavergne’s exclamations like “All hail the cheaters.” This song has a Japandroids-if-they-had-a-bit-more-fun vibe, but most of the album draws its inspiration from the classic rock of the 1970s.
In “Show Me What You Make,” the band is sick of hearing what you’re made of, and would rather know what you make. On “Last Legs,” the band encourages you to just have some goddamn fun while you’re still alive. Even when the loudness is turned down just a little, there’s still plenty of poignancy, like the in the touching “Ghost Bike.”
Right until the end, there’s no sense winding down or fading into the distance. It’s the kind of vitality that ends up missing from a lot of rock albums, and Core Competencies for that reason gets stronger and stronger on each listen. However you want to interpret the title of this album, it’s as colourful and busy as the album artwork.
Top Tracks: “Get Love”; “Watch It Burn (Slight Return)”; “Last Legs”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)