At The Drive-In are just as famous for what they were supposed to accomplish as they are for what they did. They were supposed to make commercial radio great again. They were supposed to be the next Nirvana. They were supposed to be spokesmen for the next generation. But they didn’t achieve any of those goals, mainly because no one in the band wanted to. Their destruction only held off nu-metal’s inevitable demise for another year, as The Strokes and The White Stripes ushered in a garage rock revival in 2001. The subsequent success of Sparta and The Mars Volta only goes to show that these five guys from El Paso where destined to succeed.
This Station is Non-Operational is a chronological, quasi greatest-hits package from a band that had no “hits” to speak of. “One Armed Scissor,” featured here, was unlike anything on the radio in 2001
They had other great songs, though, and Station puts all the choice cuts on display. Listening to “Initiation” and “Lopsided” after the fact, it is quite obvious that they were years ahead of the game, and that many emo bands should be signing over their royalty checks. “Incetardis,” with its piercing noodle guitar line and start/stop provoking rhythm, would have fit nicely on Relationship of Command and is one of the songs that makes you wish they hadn’t broken up.
Many unfamiliar with the group might be surprised at the range they showed in their brief career. It wasn’t just screaming, aggravated guitar riffs, and swinging microphones. “Autorelocator” is an instrumental, dub-style track that would fit in nicely within the ATDI side project De Facto. “198d” is earnest ballad that supported by a sparse arrangement and the occasional bell sound, until its climatic conclusion.
As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, and many have been listening to this album to find evidence that their surprise break-up was somewhere in the music. The only real clue are in the two covers featured on this album; the often cited emo reference The Smiths “The Night Has Opened My Eyes” and prog-rock giants Pink Floyd“s “Take Up They Stethoscope and Walk. Both covers are spot on, musically, but Cedric sounds like he is phoning it in on the Smiths cover. Stethcoscope, however, sounds like a practical demo for the Mars Volta, especially in the heavy emphasis on keyboard on the track.
The only major setback to this collection is the same criticism that held them back during their career. The discussion was always that they had an amazing live show, but they couldn’t ever transfer it on to record, and Station proves that. The cause for all of the initial excitement about ATDI signing with Grand Royal (which, in turn, started the signing blitz for bands like Glassjaw and Trail of Dead) was that with some real money (along with producer Ross Robinson), they would make a revolutionary record. And they did.