Saturday Night Wrist

(Maverick; 2006)

By Clayton Purdom | 1 December 2006

“Cherry Waves” fucking kills. Reverberating notes, plucked individually and echoing against each other, form a delicate minor chord, all bleeding into a simple two chord thrash and finally erupting into a quivering chorus. It’s as delicate as the Deftones can be but without any of the twee goth leanings that thwart so many of their attempts at immensity. Despite Chino Moreno’s eagle squawk “Is THAT what you want?”, what holds things together is the song at the core of “Cherry Waves,” a song that would still crash and caress if played on acoustic guitar or piano or xylophone, a song of simple structure and direct emotional impact. The chorus, grounded by Moreno’s oscillating, “It’s youu-u-u-uu,” has the tenderizing effects of both release and explosion. As Deftones songs go, it’s some blinding shit.

There are a few other examples. “Xerces,” all wilting synth lines and slow-mo heartbreaker chorus, is an easy runner-up to the capable “Hole In The Earth” as best Clear Channel mod-rock single of the past, I dunno, month. “Rapture” thrashes like it was Ozzfest ’96, like they were trying to drown out Soulfly from the sidestage. There is very little, actually, to dislike about Saturday Night Wrist—except, of course, that the Deftones have once again done not a goddamn thing more than release another Deftones record.

Someday, somewhere, these guys could do something great. They won’t, though: five albums in, they continue making exceptionally mediocre music, brimming with the tension of a brilliant sonic aesthetic that refuses to materialize. But, god! What music has resulted from that tension. Around the Fur (1997) produced incendiary bedroom epics “Be Quiet and Drive” and “My Own Summer”; it was an album that, in the hot hot heat of the Limp Bizkit era, stunned pretty much everyone that heard it because in the armor of nu-metal breathed an indie spirit, an MBV, GBV, and GNR fan that happened to play in drop-D. White Pony (2000) stretched far, and almost made it, buttressing “Change (In the House of Flies)” with “Digital Bath,” while creating an album of interesting but ultimately feeble experimentation in between. Moreno’s insistent bleating nearly took down Deftones (2003), but “Hexagram” carpet-bombed the band’s peers and monolithic “Minerva” incinerated the fans’ black-clad hearts. For the record, Adrenaline (1995) sucked.

These guys are to radio rock what Missy Elliot is to radio rap, Abe Cunningham’s fleet-footed drums rippling beneath Moreno’s alien croon like Timbaland’s polyrhythmic laser light percussion framing Missy’s do-anything flow. When they’re on, they’re on, but, like Elliot, each album contains about three ons, four offs and a few too close to call. Elliot’s problem seems to be a) too little Timbaland, and b) an inability to consistently tap into her celestial imagination; the problem with the Deftones is too much production, often to disguise a dearth of songwriting. This is why “Cherry Waves” (or any other Deftones album highlight) works; it’s also why something like “Rats! Rats! Rats!” doesn’t, using start-stop dynamics and rising synth lines to gain momentum as falsely as the exclamation points in the title.

And so Saturday Night Wrist continues the Deftones’ sad trend, another album of scattered transcendent moments in a field of attention-getting parlour tricks, still eagerly tugging at the listener’s sleeve to say, “Listen to this sound we created!” Moreno indulged this tendency exhaustingly on last year’s solo trip-hop outing Team Sleep, and the results were predictably, distractingly listenable, though empty. Oddly, Saturday Night Wrist jerks most jarringly to life during the contentious Team Sleep retread “Pink Cellphone,” which, after succumbing to an effects-laden slumber, reawakens with, “Greasy filthy handjobs / In truck stop restrooms,” and gets (a lot) worse from there. It successfully made me feel dirty inside, and that’s not something that happens too frequently, because I am very fucking dirty inside.…Words largely failing me, I’ll describe the track as yucky and move on.

But in an album that, for all the impressive moments on display, does exactly what was expected of it and nothing more, “Pink Cellphone”’s perturbing coda is an unexpected sign of life, a violent wave that upturns us on otherwise placid, enjoyable waters. That, unfortunately, is how the Deftones do. When System of a Down’s Serj Tankian shows up to warble a verse, though, the difference between these two cultural cousins comes into sharp focus, and in this wider angle Saturday Night Wrist looks a little different. SoaD exceeded their maximum sonic potential on their first record, and continue to surprise by releasing solid albums. This is commendable, but the Deftones have accomplished something much rarer, a feat of a different order. After a dozen years and five solid chances, they’ve failed miserably to fulfill their potential, but in doing so they’ve crafted the most interesting and conflicted discography in modern rock’s Clear Channel era. If nothing else, the Deftones’ music suggests a striking individual aesthetic, and though they’ve failed to fully realize it, that suggestion itself is an accomplishment none of their peers can claim. Without ever releasing a great record, the Deftones are a great band. Saturday Night Wrist is one more shitty reason why.