It’s been a busy year for Thunder, British rock stalwarts who have just released their second album since their second reunion and eleventh overall (presumably they didn’t get the memo that bands no longer split up, they just go on ‘extended hiatus’ until they feel like doing something again!), ‘Rip It Up’. This record comes hot on the heels of their official biography (‘Giving The Game Away’, named after their 1999 album) in which all members past and present contributed to a comprehensive look at their history. In addition to that, singer Danny Bowes has embarked upon a broadcasting career with a weekly radio show on Planet Rock, and has even found time to add vocals to a recent single from fellow UK rock band CATS in SPACE, a cover of Slade’s ‘How Does It Feel’. Given that their 2009 split was down to the workload becoming too much, is there a danger of that happening again? Hopefully not, since their two albums since starting up again in 2014 have been released on the independent earMUSIC label, rather than the band issuing them through their own label as was the case from 2003 to 2009.
2015’s ‘Wonder Days’ album was well-received by their loyal fanbase, with its slightly nostalgic feel it perhaps went down well with long-time listeners who have grown older alongside the guys in the band. At the time of writing this post I am still awaiting my physical copy of the new album (the bundle of LP, CD and bonus EP since you ask) and so it was time to start up Spotify, where the 11 tracks that make up this album are available to listen to immediately.
Having given this album a few (virtual) spins now, I have to say it all sounds rather familiar. The guys in the band have spoken in interviews about how they’ve tried to stretch out more this time around, and felt that they did accomplish it with this record, but much of the material immediately had me thinking of tracks from earlier albums that had some kind of similarity. Case in point being ‘She Likes The Cocaine’; a cautionary tale about drug abuse that has a similar sort of wah-wah guitar effect as ‘Everybody’s Laughing’ – another cautionary tale about drug abuse from 2003’s ‘Shooting At The Sun’. All but two of the tracks on this album reminded me of earlier material, and having been a fan of this band from the start, having bought every studio album they’ve released to date, the songwriting style of Luke Morley is now becoming a little too easy to read. The chord progressions are very similar to what’s come before, giving the feel of something we have heard many times over. One slight variation comes on the power ballad ‘Right From the Start’; it is the sort of thing they’ve done many times before but on this occasion is given an extended outro guitar solo from Luke Morley. The best track on the album for me is ‘In Another Life’; even this has a distinct air of familiarity about it though as its slow grooving style will make listeners of ‘a certain age’ think of Alannah Myles and her 1990 hit ‘Black Velvet’. Honestly, if you don’t start singing ‘Mississippi, in the middle of a dry spell’ along to it then you mustn’t know of Ms Myles! The Thunder song does however feature probably the best vocal performance of the entire album by Danny Bowes. Another track that borrows from someone else as opposed to themselves is closing number ‘There’s Always A Loser’, with a drum beat straight out of Zeppelin’s version of Memphis Minnie’s ‘When The Levee Breaks’.
I think that the band would benefit from using an occasional outside contributor more; they are almost totally reliant on one songwriter (Morley, other members have contributed sporadically in the past) and once you wise up to his style, his songs all have that familiar feel. Even lyrically – I felt like throttling the speaker at yet another mention of ‘regret’ (there were three, and another of ‘situation’ which crops up many times in his lyrics). It’s almost on a par with Dio’s frequent use of ‘rainbow’ in his lyrics, something that irked even his most devoted fans at times! When the band HAVE used outside writers in the past, it generally worked well – the last album featured a co-write with Lynne Jackaman (‘Black Water’) who incidentally contributes backing vocals on this album, and 2005’s ‘The Magnificent Seventh’ closed out with a track co-written with noted hitmaker Russ Ballard (‘One Fatal Kiss’). They don’t need to do an Aerosmith and bring in the likes of Desmond Child or Diane Warren to write their entire record, just one or two tracks with a different approach would go a long way towards freshening things up.
To conclude, if you know this band even in passing, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here. It’s well played, well produced and superbly sung (of course, they have one of the best in the business at the microphone) but – that nagging feeling of having heard it all before won’t go away. Because of their inherent quality this album shades a fourth inflatable guitar, but if you do buy this album having come to the band fresh, grab any of their first three or ‘Robert Johnston’s Tombstone’ for a better impression of what they’re about.