The music is still fed through the framework of 80’s rock, but is decisively modern and of the time. Ladder is paced at the forefront, his baritone as intoxicating as ever and his dry gallows humour traced across his incisive lyrics. His crack team execute this vision masterfully. There isn’t a scarce trace of ego in these songs. Every buzzsaw guitar solo, drop of feedback, keyboard line and production trip serving the atmosphere the song demands. Whether it’s the morose loss of "Come On Back This Way", the sinister moping horror trickling through "Neon Blue", the nod to flat out metal aggression of "Reputation Amputation" or the old world romanticism at the heart of "To Keep and Be Kept".
Playmates is the strongest record Jack Ladder has written yet. It’s a record that looks deep into human nature and desires and throws them back at you, with a neat glass of whiskey and a knowing nod. Its achieved using tools of a traditional rock band, with the end product both of our time and timeless.
(The AU Review)
True to the Gary Numan mould of pop music there is little room for virtuosity, every guitar or xylophone melody feels perfectly calculated and placed, the simple but effective nature of the melodic lines rendering some of the songs a classic anthemic quality, which is at the same time understated.
This backdrop allows Jack Ladder the space to match his heartbeat to the drum machine, bringing all the passion and life to the songs as he pleads, purrs and croons his way through these ten remarkable tracks.
One of the things that sets Ladder apart from his contemporaries is his lyrics. Slow Boat to China opens with the image “I watch the whale ride the wake / throwing fountains at the sun,” while on what should be the next single To Keep and to Be Kept, a wry sense of humour shows through the deadpan – “and me, I’ve always been a country of one / since we met, border control’s all come undone.”
Reputation Amputation adds diversity to the album’s sound by showing Ladder’s rock'n’roll leanings, his howls adding credence to all those Nick Cave comparisons while an incredibly distorted guitar and almost dance-like beat brings to mind Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People.
The delicate Let Me Love You is a standout track and a gloriously understated love song, with Ladder’s vocals mixed to the front, the acoustic instrumentation sounding crisp and natural, not a synth to be found.
If you are not a fan of 1980s pop or are sick of bands with synthesisers and snare reverb – don’t be fooled. This is not a genre record, but a clever and rewarding album that should be making all the Best Australian Releases lists for 2014 in a few months. Highly recommended if you like: music.