Album: The SoapGirls ‘Elephant In The Room’ (self-released)

The Debray sisters (bassist Camille ‘Mille’ and guitarist Noemie, or ‘Mie’, a.k.a. The SoapGirls), those two threats to all that is good, proper and decent have returned with their long-awaited new album ‘Elephant In The Room’. They’ve billed it as their third album but it’s actually their fourth, if we include their 2011 (pop-orientated) major-label release ‘Xperience’. That platter, a hit in their South African homeland, has now been put in the same cupboard under the stairs as Pantera’s first four albums however, since they made it when they were still teens, and had little to no influence on its content. This one then, is their third as independent artists, and if you have the two previous offerings (‘Calls For Rebellion’, 2015; ‘Society’s Rejects’, 2017) then you’ll know what to expect here.

As with the last two albums, there’s a saucy cover shot of the girls; that should please the Beavis and Butthead brigade (huhuhuh – the girls themselves find the cartoon duo funny) but will doubtless reinforce the prejudice against them from certain quarters. What their detractors are missing however, is that there is no sleazy record executive ‘encouraging’ them to dress (or not, as the case may be!) provocatively, there’s no outside influence at all. Their look, and musical direction is all their own; they set out to please themselves first and if you like it, that’s great but if not, that’s fine too. All they ask is that they be allowed to be themselves; they’re not changing their style for anybody. Anyway, cover photos matter little once you’ve got the music playing, and as this album has been played in the car for pretty much the past week, we’ll talk no more of their image and focus on the sounds.

Cover image 'Elephant In The Room' by the SoapGirls

Cover image ‘Elephant In The Room’ by the SoapGirls

‘One Way Street’ picks up where they left off with the last album, that insistent drum beat and jagged guitar riff is present and correct. It’s Mie who takes lead vocal on this number, Mille coming in on the choruses with the two blending nicely in the pre-chorus. That is one of several tracks that will be familiar already to the Soapsuds, as it’s been played live over the past year. ‘Bitter’ continues the pace, but has a gentler guitar intro more akin to post-punk than hard rock, and with a harmonised chorus of ‘Not My Fault You’re Bitter’. The riff in the verses to this one made me think of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’!

Though there’s plenty of the usual Soap tropes with lyrics dealing with their various trials and tribulations, heavy guitar, F-bombs dropped all over the place and that vocal combination of the raucous Mille and the sweeter sound of Mie, there are a few new wrinkles this time around too. For one thing the production on this record is a noticeable step up from the last two records, the grungy riffs are still there (‘Chains’ is as heavy as anything, and ‘In The Name Of God’ has a guitar sound Queens of the Stone Age would cast envious ears to) but the overall sound is that much sharper, clearer. For another, this time around they’ve introduced their brother (Redd-Valentino Debray) who features on ‘My Development’. An angry riposte against a neighbour who objected strongly to the band’s rehearsing, it is prefaced by Mie presumably relaying the tirade they were subjected to, before Redd delivers a rap/rant of his own in the verses. Redd is also credited on ‘Sugar Gets You High’, a typical Soapy rocker combining that buzzsaw guitar with Buggles-style ‘oh-oh’ vocals. This one has a particularly catchy chorus which suggests they haven’t totally left their pop credentials behind them; I could imagine that fitting in on radio if only they wouldn’t put those oh-so offensive electric guitars all over it (!)

Another ‘first’ is on ‘I Stand Alone’; this one’s actually preceded by a spoken introduction from Mille, actually stating outright that a certain person tried to split them up, mess up (or words to that effect!) their lives. She then tells the unnamed individual *exactly* what she thinks of whoever it was, before the main song kicks in. Even when it ends she hasn’t finished, all but shredding her throat with yet more anger directed at that particular miscreant! ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ has a guitar intro reminiscent of Madchester/indie, but once it kicks in it’s business as usual with the combination of savage guitar and catchy choruses, while ‘Fade To Black’ has no connection with Metallica but is built on a guitar riff that had me think of ‘Save Tonight’, for those who remember 1990s one-hit wonder Eagle-Eye Cherry!

Their albums are traditionally lengthy affairs, usually consisting of around 16 or 17 tracks but they’ve upped the ante a bit this time, presenting the album on two discs and adding two bonus songs: reworked versions of ‘One Way Street’ and ‘Sugar Gets You High’, with the verses sung in French. Although that’s actually their native language (they’re French-born although raised in SA) this is another first so far as I’m aware.

If you’re already on the Soapbox then you will like this album, it’s better-produced but it is still travelling along the ‘rebellion rock’ direction of the two albums which came before. Those who haven’t been won over yet probably won’t be with this record, it’s unapologetically as hard-hitting and as defiantly provocative as before. The record was initially released digitally but if you get along to one of their UK or European gigs from this point on they should have the CD available for you to buy and get signed, in their inimitable fashion!

The SoapGirls Facebook Page

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving


DORJA release new single/video ahead of full album release

A year after international hard rock collective DORJA issued their debut album (‘Gemini’) to crowdfunders they are finally ready to release the record officially this month. Gearing up for that, they’ve already put out two tracks online complete with promo videos, firstly ‘Chainbreaker’ and now the title track ‘Gemini’ has come out.

The video for ‘Gemini’ (directed by Dan Coffey) sees the various band members in low key lighting, performing against a black background alongside reflections of themselves, while vocalist Aiym Almas is shown flicking through and then dropping Polaroid photos, which are later revealed to be portraits of the band members themselves. Also there’s another scene showing the singer conducting a ‘photo shoot’ with the rest of the band, which was of interest to a camera geek like me, since they were using what looks to me like a vintage Bronica SQ-A medium format camera. Their earlier video for ‘Chainbreaker’ utilised on-stage footage intercut with scenes from the road, with the studio recording soundtrack up until the final minute where it segues into the band actually performing live, getting the crowd to chant ‘DOR-JA’ as they did during this number when I saw them last year.

Also released recently was a stripped-back version of ‘Use You’; described as ‘acoustic’ although both guitarist Sarah Michelle and bass player Becky Baldwin are using their regular instruments, this shows the quintet in a relaxed, informal setting with three of them on a sofa (!), while drummer Anna Mylee is sat playing the cajon.

‘Gemini’ will see a full release on 21st June 2019; as one of the crowdfunders I got my copy a year ago and have reviewed it here. Following this the band are looking to play a run of dates in the UK and Europe around August; when they come around I shall be in attendance.


Album: Holly Henderson ‘Monday Green’ (Trend & Chaos)

I heard her first before I saw her. Four years ago in Liverpool, having just joined an all-girl band Holly Henderson introduced herself with a mighty blast of rhythm guitar, before stepping onto the stage (somewhat tentatively) to join the others. She was performing under a stage name then, but she elevated that group single-handedly, bringing not just looks but a feisty attitude, as well as a mastery of her instrument well beyond her years (she was just 19 at the time).

Even then it was clear she was going to go much further than playing rhythm guitar for a touring cover band; when not playing live she was also putting out home-recorded demos on YouTube, of her own material as well as some selected covers of artists who influenced her. These demos were eventually collected into an EP, released online (‘Opium Drip’, 2016), but by the time that had happened her home recordings had caught the ear of Pete Thorn, a Canadian guitarist and producer based in Los Angeles who has recorded with many ‘names’ in the industry. He established contact with her and after hearing her cover of David Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’, he did something remarkable: he invited her over to Los Angeles to record a full album in his studio, with some of his fellow professionals, furthermore he actually paid for the plane ticket himself!

Holly Henderson 'Monday Green' cover photo

Holly Henderson ‘Monday Green’ cover photo

The album was mostly recorded in early 2017, with finishing touches added later that year but only now is the complete album seeing the light of day. In the meantime Holly has gone on to release two more EPs (‘Desert Wax’, 2017; ‘Rust’, 2018), venturing into a more electronic style, as well as appearing on sessions for other artists. When I finally got my hands on this completed album (it is only available digitally at the moment, either for streaming or purchase) I was a little concerned that because I’ve got to know Holly over the past few years, even travelling down to her home town of Maidstone on two separate occasions just to see her perform material from this album live, I might have become a little too ‘invested’ in this project to give it an objective appraisal. Hence, it has had a LOT of play over the past few days; on constant play in the car or via the download I got from Google Play (other platforms are available!) before putting fingers to laptop keyboard.

Opening with ‘Uncommon Love’, a co-write with Pete Thorn, this number sets the tone with a quietish opening before the guitars are unleashed. You’d expect a good portion of guitar when you’ve got a highly-regarded six-stringer as producer, and axe fans aren’t going to be disappointed here. It’s not a hard rock or Metal project by any stretch of the imagination, but rockers will find much to savour here. ‘We Sold The Earth’ is one I do know from her live performances, in which she laments the fact that almost everything on Earth is the property of huge corporations (‘We sold the Earth and all its creations, all its colours‘).

What’s clear from this album as opposed to her home-recorded work is that her voice is much more prominent here. She didn’t previously consider herself a singer; whereas before she’d multi-track her vocals heavily or swamp her voice in effects, that’s been pared back on this album, allowing her voice to find an identity, as opposed to a choir of Hollys. That’s down to Pete Thorn, who encouraged her to use her voice much more, as is evidenced on ‘Somebody Knows’ and lead-off single ‘Loneliness’. The latter is an immediately catchy, instantly memorable uptempo rocker that is a sure-fire radio favourite, if radio is savvy enough to pick up on it that is! ‘Pride Can Wait’ was also released ahead of the full album, and this is a completely different kettle of fish. A quieter number not too far removed from her ‘Opium Drip’ material, the production on this song is lush and showcases what a gorgeous voice she has. It builds up into a power ballad with the guitars gradually coming to the fore.

The next track ‘Doldrums’ is my personal favourite of the album, another slow-burner like ‘Pride Can Wait’ which reminds me a little of Radiohead (another of her influences). Again, her voice is allowed to shine, with layers only used where necessary. This is probably the most ‘prog’ track on the album, with the song eventually breaking into a fantastic guitar solo at around the two minute 30 mark. Breathtaking. How do you follow that? Why, with a song about a ‘bad Tinder date’ of course! ‘Ghost of Denmark Street’ was influenced by a real-life encounter and features a half-spoken vocal over a prominent bass line, with an acerbic lyric recounting how that date didn’t exactly go as hoped! Once again, she delivers a searing guitar solo to go with the line of ‘Little psycho boy, I wanna take you home‘ (the song was originally titled ‘Psycho’ when performed live.)

‘Your Hands’ (which originally featured on ‘Opium Drip’) comes next. Here it has been shortened, tightened up, with a cleaner sound once again bringing Holly’s voice further up but retaining the killer guitar solo at the end. What I take from listening to this song and the album as a whole is how good the production is; it could so easily have ended up as a Pete Thorn album featuring Holly Henderson, but not a bit of it. He’s subtly, but effectively brought the best out of her, sharpening her sound and giving her a platform to showcase her immense talent, but without taking anything away from who she is. That is also down to the other players on the album; it must have been a privilege to play alongside top talent such as bassist Jon Button (currently touring with The Who) and drummer Blair Sinta who has performed with world-renowned names such as Chris Cornell and Stevie Nicks among many others.

‘Cost of Love’ will probably have you singing ‘Roxanne’ over its Police-style guitar riff, with some memorable lines (‘the heat always rises in the cracks in the council house window‘ and ‘you crushed my conscience and you took it like a drug; now the world is on fire and our leaders are drunk‘). Another uptempo number which would sound great on radio, once again if the powers that be are actually paying attention! Closing number ‘Frantic’ once again starts off with gently tinkling guitar, and on this occasion Holly has deployed the layered vocal to introduce the main body of the song. It’s this song which provides the background to the cover image of Holly playing guitar sat on the loo – she actually recorded the guitar part for the pre-chorus in the bathroom to get the desired sound! I suppose it’s not quite Deep Purple in the Grand Hotel but y’know, the end justifies the means! This one has a huge chorus sound which is likely to stick in the mind after the album finishes. Unless of course you play the whole thing over again (!)

As said earlier I was wondering whether the fact I have got to know Holly as a friend would impact on my thoughts on this record. but there is no doubt about what a well-produced, well-recorded set this is. If she didn’t have the writing and playing talent to start off with no amount of production sheen would hide it, but she has it all in her locker. What Pete Thorn and his players have provided is the sharp focus to make sure that talent gets recognised. This album was well worth waiting for, and what’s worth remembering is that this material is two to three years old. A lot’s happened since then, and this is one of the few artists I know where I honestly don’t know what to expect from her next. The genuinely exciting thing is that unlike some so-called ‘alternative’ acts who have gotten huge by sticking to what works, by ‘staying inside the box’, Holly has a whole collection of boxes, of different shapes, sizes and colours to choose from, so what will follow from this album is a mystery to me. But I am looking forward to finding out!

‘Monday Green’ (a pun title, based on ‘mondegreen’ or misheard song words) is everything I’d hoped for and more besides. Despite being close to this whole thing in so far as having followed her journey from backing musician in a cover band to her recording in LA with some of the best in the business, I’ve no other option than to award the full five inflatable guitars. Sadly for Holly, they’re not inflatable Telecasters though!


5 – Delightful

Album: Desensitised ‘Sister Psychosis’ (Sound-Hub)

In this day and age when pretty much all the media outlets are controlled by a handful of huge corporations, and only those who are carefully selected and vetted by the ‘gatekeepers’ get to be presented to the masses gift-wrapped for their adulation, it’s good to know that you still can get to hear of a band by old-fashioned word of mouth. My first encounter with Desensitised came two years ago, at a birthday bash organised by a fellow gig-going friend, who’d seen this band several times and booked them to play (also performing at that event was Lauren Tate from Hands off Gretel, another band I found out about from the grapevine).

Desensitised album cover 'Sister Psychosis'

Desensitised album cover ‘Sister Psychosis’

That night, they were playing acoustically and without any drums; I’ve since seen them numerous times plugged in, electric and untamed and so I was looking forward to hearing this first full album from the trio. They have a following of mainly punk fans, but this album does cover a few bases in its eight tracks.  Opening track ‘Emily’ is a typically energetic piece of power pop, about a girl of ‘beauty beyond belief’ who is also ‘eaten up by jealousy’. The punkier ‘You’ll See’ (a previous single) keeps the energy levels high, with meaty guitar from Libby Butters-Smith and a powerful roar from bassist/singer Charlotte Radford, with following tracks ‘All Eyes On Her’ and ‘Messed Around’ showing their knack for a catchy chorus.

Things ratchet up a notch with ‘Wasted’, with a pounding bass line and heavy guitar sound more akin to the hard rock of The Amorettes, then comes ‘I See Red’, a pogo-able number sounding like it could have come from the 1978 post-punk era. Penultimate track ‘Burn The Witch’ has also been previously released; a favourite of mine, it’s a slow, menacing track unlike pretty much everything that’s come before with Radford showing remarkable range to her voice, low rumbles in the verses and power in the choruses.

For all this however they saved the best until last; ‘He Loves Me Not’ is the archetypal acoustic ballad with which to close things. Radford’s vocal delivery on this one is spine-tingling, she shows here she’s no mere punk shouter but a singer of versatile talent. Indeed it is she who truly shines on this record; whenever I’ve seen the girls live it’s been glamorous guitarist Libby Butters-Smith who caught the attention with her untamed stage antics, reminiscent of Este Haim but on record, the bassist/singer comes across as a star waiting to be discovered. One other thing to note is the drum sound, a satisfyingly solid delivery from Claire Brookes and something that isn’t always evident on records from certain other bands with far higher budgets than Desensitised had.

I have only one real quibble with this album – it’s too damn short! At eight tracks, most of which are short and to the point, totalling 25 minutes, it’s certainly snappy but there’s a definite sense of being left wanting more; I found myself humming that melody from ‘He Loves Me Not’ almost immediately after it ended and it wouldn’t leave my head for some time after.

Charlotte, Libby and Claire can rightly be proud of this record, self-funded and released and already garnering acclaim. They’ve had airplay on Planet Rock’s New Rock Show and their gigs are now starting to draw in growing numbers of attendees, so it’s to be hoped they find their way to my part of the world before someone snaps them up to a major deal! Despite the brevity of this debut album, I will still award all five inflatable guitars.


5 – Delightful

Desensitised Facebook page

Album: Whitesnake ‘Flesh & Blood’ (Frontiers)

Cover art for Whitesnake 'Flesh & Blood'

Cover art for Whitesnake ‘Flesh & Blood’

Released 12 months later than scheduled, Whitesnake have finally issued their 13th studio album, Flesh & Blood. Available in multiple formats: as a straightforward CD,  a deluxe CD/DVD edition with bonus material (including two tracks not featured on the standard edition), digital download or for vinyl revivalists, you have a choice of red, silver or gold for your honest twelve inches of Whitesnake, or you can just have plain old black vinyl.  The first album of original material to feature the current line-up, it marks the first time mainman David Coverdale has written alongside long-serving guitarist Reb Beach, as well as with relative newcomer Joel Hoekstra.

Even the most ardent Whitesnake fan will accept now that Coverdale isn’t the singer he once was, that ‘lung-busting roar’ of yesteryear is now supplanted by a vocal blend, with Coverdale heavily backed on stage by every other member bar drummer Tommy Aldridge. For a guy who will be 68 this year though, he nevertheless must feel that he has something left to give since he still wants to produce new music, not just trot out the hits of three decades ago.

There are few surprises here, despite the new blood, though one does manifest itself in the very first number ‘Good To See You’. Coverdale has dropped an F-bomb on record for what I am sure is the first time (he’s notorious for using that word practically as punctuation when on stage), as he urges us all to ‘make some f- noise’.  All the usual tropes are present and correct, fun songs made for the stage (‘Shut Up And Kiss Me’; ‘Trouble Is Your Middle Name’) ones that promise he’ll be around ‘Always & Forever’, or those that show his sensitive side (‘When I Think of You’). That also means he’s used just about every one of his lyrical cliches at his disposal on this album; when not rhyming ‘fire’ with ‘desire’ he’s ‘tongue-tied’ with his ‘temperature rising’ or someone is making him ‘beg and plead’ yet again.  You could play lyric bingo with this album and get a full house of all his favourite phrases, which you’ve heard many times before on just about any previous Whitesnake record.

I did note that this line-up has managed to emulate successfully several different past eras, for instance second track in ‘Gonna Be Alright’ is reminiscent of Coverdale/Page with those brooding, menacing guitars hanging over proceedings. ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’ meanwhile, could have come off ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ – perhaps that’s Reb Beach’s influence, he can do a pretty good Vai when required. The poppier ‘Always and Forever’, with its Lizzy-esque twin guitar will make you think of ‘Guilty of Love’, while closing number ‘Sands of Time’ is another attempt by Coverdale to recreate the epic magic of  Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’.  Even here though, he’s peppered the song with hackneyed clichés like ‘winds of change’, and ‘eye of the storm’.

Realistically, this late in the day Coverdale isn’t going to come out with a complete change of image and direction, you know what you’re getting with him by now. However I cannot be the only one who was tempted to throttle the speakers (or stomp on my earbuds, listening to it on Spotify for review purposes) when he came out with yet another promise to ‘set the night on fire’!

Even the cover art, another variation on the ‘amulet’ theme used for every album since 1987 is starting to look a bit hackneyed now. I’m all for brand identity and all that, but Whitesnake once used to give us fun, if sometimes risqué covers for their albums, not just the same old ‘Serpens Albus’ thing in a different colour and a slightly different pattern in the background for each record. So, a bit of a mixed bag; some good stuff (‘Heart of Stone’ is the highpoint of this whole record, that shows the man still has a good tune in him), some fine playing from the guys backing him and also a lot of recycling of old ideas and lyrical phrases we’ve heard many times before. If you’re a fan you’ve probably bought this album already; if you’re wavering then I’d give it a cautious ‘yes’ – but do get the deluxe edition, since the bonus tracks are (in my view) good enough to have been included on the album proper in place of at least two others which did make the cut. ‘Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong’ is a slow-burner with some tasty guitar licks, while ‘If I Can’t Have You’ does have a surprise in it, with a Queen-style harmony vocal intro before the main riff smashes in.  These, plus ‘Heart of Stone’ means this offering squeaks four inflatable guitars.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

LP: CATS in SPACE ‘Day Trip To Narnia’ (Harmony Factory)

If CATS in SPACE founder, guitarist Greg Hart was unsure whether there was an audience for the music he wanted to make (unashamedly retro-sounding power pop/rock) then he can have no doubts now. It’s been a steady upward curve for him and the rest of this band of experienced, veteran musicians from the UK rock scene since their debut offering ‘Too Many Gods’ emerged four years ago. From small venues to some prestigious support slots opening for the likes of Thunder, Status Quo and just last year, performing to arena crowds on the Deep Purple UK tour. Anyone who’s followed them since launch (pun not intended) will know by now what to expect: well-crafted songs with plenty of references to the bands which influenced them, all topped off by a lead vocalist (Paul Manzi) who can sing the phone book and make it sound good.

Day Trip To Narnia album cover art

Day Trip To Narnia album cover art

The presentation is as important as the production in CATS world, and for this, the band’s third release they gave their fans several options as to how they’d like to take their ‘Day Trip To Narnia’. You could have a straightforward CD version, a double LP on heavyweight 180g white vinyl or, if you were really feeling flush, a special set presented in a wooden box containing the album on CD plus a multitude of other goodies. You had to be quick though, since that was snapped up rapidly even before the record was officially released. They have already reported that the vinyl is running low and that the CD is to be repressed, and all this within a day of the official release date of March 1st 2019. I plumped for that white vinyl LP which came a week before the official release, and was treated to a lavishly-presented gatefold offering featuring artwork by Andrew Kitson, plus a poster by the same artist depicting a painting of the inside of a bedroom, complete with ‘space’ wallpaper alongside various CATS in SPACE memorabilia. The inner sleeve for one of the discs also features a comic strip panel, concerning a character known as ‘Johnny Rocket’. The character is featured heavily on the album itself, taking up the second half of the record as a concept, reminiscent of the Small Faces doing something similar many years ago on side two of their ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’ album.

The first two sides of this double LP feature a selection of songs in the now-familiar style, 1970s-styled music coupled with some acerbic lyrics about more modern-day topics. ‘Hologram Man’ immediately caught my attention with a biting lyric about the increasing use of technology to ‘resurrect’ deceased stars and base a show around a holographic recreation of them. The widow of one much-missed Metal star will doubtless not be happy with lines such as: ‘Let’s welcome back the legend, but you can’t shake his hand’ for instance! Another song takes aim at the tribute scene (‘Tragic Alter Ego’); Greg Hart knows all about that having performed in one well-known tribute act for many years himself, and is probably drawing on experience with lines like: ‘Got to be note perfect, you can’t improvise’.

The big difference with this album is the introduction of a concept for the second half of the album; ‘The Story of Johnny Rocket’ concerns a 1960s schoolboy who dreams of taking a space flight. The story goes from his schooldays to his progress towards his goal, via meeting the woman of his dreams and finally getting to take that space flight – or so it appeared. The story is available to read on the band’s website as well as being published in the sleeve notes, and if you remember the film ‘Capricorn One’ you might see a parallel or two 😉 This segment includes the disco-flavoured ‘Thunder In The Night’, the lead-off single for this album. Reminiscent of ‘Discovery’-era ELO, listen for the backing vocal of ‘Can’t Stand This Disco Music’ for a little giggle!

One thing I did take from playing this entire album is that although the influences are just as easy to spot this time around as on their earlier work, they’re now establishing a style of their own, as though the ingredients have been in the blender for a bit longer. Whereas before you’d listen to a track and find yourself exclaiming  ‘Queen!’ ‘The Sweet!’ ‘John Miles!’ at various points, now it’s more definitively CATS in SPACE. It is another meticulously-crafted, beautifully produced album which has already captured the imagination of their fans. Though I still prefer the ‘Scarecrow’ album personally, this is so accomplished that I’m obliged to give this one another five inflatable guitars.

CATS in SPACE are:

  • Paul Manzi – lead vocals
  • Greg Hart – guitar, vocals
  • Dean Howard – guitar, vocals
  • Jeff Brown – bass, vocals
  • Steevi Bacon – drums
  • Andy Stewart – keyboards, vocoder

5 – Delightful

CD: Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disasters ‘Show Me Your Teeth’ (self-released)

I admit it, the name hooked me first of all. She had me with that short, snappy alliterative stage name; the hint of danger in the name ‘Blade’ and the band name ‘The Beautiful Disasters’ alluding to memories of the good old days of sleaze rock.  Then there’s that saucy album cover shot of Beth herself, holding a guitar behind her head and poking her tongue out in a manner not unlike that of Gene Simmons (she is a self-confessed KISS fanatic).

Album cover 'Show Me Your Teeth' by Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disasters

Album cover ‘Show Me Your Teeth’

So even before hearing a note of this album she already had me under her spell; this record is the second full album from the band, following up from 2017’s ‘Bad Habit’. It comes after the band were chosen to perform on last autumn’s KISS Kruise, an experience Beth is still pinching herself about. She and the band have been fortunate in their timing too, since this record was made possible by a successful Pledge Music campaign. They’re one of many bands affected by that platform’s sudden decline, but did get enough of their pledge money coming through so that they could record the album and crucially, press the CDs to send out to fans.

What’s on offer with this record is a straight-up serving of hard rock, guitars right up front and centre and a voice that demands attention, reminiscent of Lzzy Hale around the time of Halestorm’s first album. Opener ‘Secret’ is so much in the style of the Pennsylvania quartet it could have been an outtake from their first or second album. Beth can certainly pen a catchy power pop number (‘On And On’) as well as she can a no-nonsense headbanger (‘Jack And Coke’), but there’s also a chance to get your breath back with slower tracks such as ‘Crazy’. There are some clear influences, such as the Lizzy-esque twin guitar intros to ‘Into The Light’ and ‘I Ain’t Got Nothing (If I Ain’t Got Rock And Roll)’, and the old rocker in me had to smile at the numerous references to classic bands and songs in ‘1974’. That one has Beth wishing she could do a Sam Tyler and travel back to the year of Bowie, Queen and Bad Co but if you’re reading this Beth – take it from someone who was alive then – you also had just three TV channels with one music programme a week, you had to endure strikes, unreliable British cars and terrible clothes, not to mention brown decor everywhere (!)

This record is a definite step up from the debut, which showed promise, but this one is likely to get Beth and her Disasters a lot more attention. They’re touring the UK in the Spring, and if this record catches on like I believe it will, I can see BBATBD landing  themselves a support slot on a big-name tour.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Listen to ‘Show Me Your Teeth’ for yourself via Spotify:

Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disasters Facebook page

Album: Within Temptation ‘RESIST’ (Vertigo/Spinefarm)

One of the leading lights in the European symphonic metal ‘scene’, things have been a bit quiet on the Within Temptation front since 2014’s ‘Hydra’ album. Following that album and tour vocalist Sharon den Adel owned up to some issues, not least writers’ block, putting that down to constantly working with this band over a period of two decades. During that time they, alongside Nightwish, basically paved the way for a multitude of bands to follow, many of whom have become successful themselves. Last year the singer released a solo project (‘My Indigo’) which was a long way removed from the heavier style of Within Temptation’s previous work, and according to her that was her way back into writing and recording with this band.

Within Temptation 'RESIST' cover artwork

‘RESIST’ cover artwork

‘Resist’ (styled on the album cover as ‘ЯƎSIST’) is their return, marking their longest gap between albums. Delayed still further (it was meant to come out late last year, as the band toured; indeed they played several songs off it in the set) with the eventual release coming in February 2019, has this band got its groove back?

Things get off to a strong enough start with lead-off track ‘The Reckoning’, featuring Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix; sadly though, this and the other track featuring a Metal guest (‘Raise Your Banner’, featuring Anders Friden from In Flames) are pretty much the only halfway-decent tracks on this album.  Despite the fact that three guitar players are credited, the guitar sound is dialled right back in favour of synths and electronic ‘wash’ effects, to the point where this ceases to have any connection to Metal. Indeed it’s more silver paper than Heavy Metal, you certainly won’t find a guitar solo and you’re even hard pushed to find a riff of note, the powerchords are firmly in the background.

The material bears more resemblance to den Adel’s ‘My Indigo’ project of last year than anything Within Temptation have done before, even ‘Hydra’. Perhaps that’s down to the influence of producer Daniel Gibson, who appears to have taken a more prominent role in the songwriting than previously was the case, or maybe the band have seen the success of PVRIS who have scored hits with a similar fusion of dance/electronic with (barely enough) rock guitar. Song after song begins with those electronic riffs; the guitars aren’t let off the leash until closing track ‘Trophy Hunter’ and by then it’s too little, too late.

The vocal performance of den Adel remains strong, and if you particularly like her singing above anything else you might still find enjoyment in this album. Personally I thought the ‘My Indigo’ effort was better (and I didn’t much care for that) but at least it was more honest, as though that was the direction she felt happier following now. This feels like a My Indigo album with a few powerchords grafted on.

Sadly though ‘RESIST’ gets a thumbs-down from me; this band is going in a direction I’ve little interest in following and only makes me want to reach for ‘The Unforgiving’ to remember what a great band they were. I’m afraid I’ll ‘resist’ sending off for this CD!

2 – Disappointing

Listen to the album for yourself on Spotify:

Album: Thunder ‘Please Remain Seated’ (BMG)

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Thunder as a band. Which is quite a sobering thought for someone who has been a fan of theirs almost from the beginning (ulp!) To mark this milestone, their new album (their 12th) is a departure from their usual style, consisting of re-recorded, re-arranged renditions of songs from across their back catalogue. The album title will give a clue as to what to expect; it’s mellowed-out, stripped-back stuff allowing these songs a bit more room to breathe.

As is now the norm when a well-known band releases a new album, there are various formats available for your delectation. There’s the standard, 12-track CD, a deluxe version with a second disc containing yet more of their material presented in reworked form, and for purists the album is available on heavy-duty double vinyl LP.  In the lead-up to this release the band have gone to great lengths to ensure fans know exactly what to expect, even warning some of their more ‘partisan’ followers to prepare themselves for a change of style. To promote this record they will play a run of dates in the UK in February, performing in this style, while for subsequent shows in continental Europe the amps will be cranked back up.

The best way to approach this offering is to regard it as similar to the semi-acoustic performances they’ve delivered at their Christmas shows; traditionally they play a set of songs rearranged in a manner not too dissimilar to this, then play a more conventional electric set. If you’ve seen them at one of those shows, or perhaps if you saw the duo of Danny Bowes and Ben Matthews when they toured a few years ago, then you’ll be more prepared for this album.  They’ve opted to start things off with a more obscure track however; ‘Bigger Than Both Of Us’ was a song originally recorded around 1992, it didn’t feature on their album ‘Laughing On Judgement Day’ at the time (but was included in a later reissue). This version is more laidback but does retain its rock ‘n’ roll feel, kind of!

Other songs are more surprising in how they’ve been repackaged; there are elements of swing, jazz, and funk to be heard – ‘Girl’s Going Out Of Her Head’ now has an arrangement that could have been performed by Sinatra! ‘Fly On The Wall’ now has a bit of reggae in the chorus, over a tasty bit of organ (ooer) presumably from Ben Matthews. The new version of ‘Empty City’ could probably evoke the image of a desolate city centre even better than the original, while the walloping guitars in the original version of ‘Loser’ have been replaced by tasteful guitar licks over that evocative organ again, in an arrangement much slower than the rock version on ‘Shooting At The Sun’.

One thing that does stick out is how well these melodies transfer to a radically different format, and of course the fact that it’s all sung by one of the greatest singers in the business doesn’t hurt either. Danny Bowes can sing a takeaway menu and make it sound soulful, if he wanted to he could switch to jazz and take that world by storm too.  Of note on the new version of ‘Miracle Man’ (a relatively recent number, originally on 2008’s ‘Bang!’) is that one of the backing singers is Beth Blade, a young rock ‘n’ roller with a bright future herself. (Katy Dear is the other backing singer on this track.)

I do have one issue however, and it comes in the last track; a new take on ‘Low Life In High Places’. Even though I thought I was prepared for anything with this record, the use of a male voice choir in this one completely threw me off. That’s the only time on the whole album I went ‘WTF!’ – I likened it to being offered a chocolate covered sprout or one of those prank toffee onions – not at all what I wanted!

Overall though, this has proven to be a success for the veteran British rockers. Despite two periods of inactivity, these guys seem destined to stick together until well into their dotage. They do so safe in the knowledge their fans will follow them throughout.

Cover to Please Remain Seated

Cover to Please Remain Seated

Listen to ‘Please Remain Seated’ on Spotify:

4 – Deserving

LP: DORJA ‘Gemini’ (self-released)

One of the albums that I’ve been eagerly awaiting is this debut offering from the cosmopolitan collective DORJA. The album (which will be available on CD and as a download, plus a limited edition vinyl) comes almost exactly two years after the band’s formation. This record, the first full album for some of the musicians involved, was made possible by a successful crowdfunding campaign. It exceeded their target by some distance, enabling the band to allocate more budget than they’d planned for in recording and producing this record.

A brief recap on the band’s history so far: they were formed in summer 2016 by drummer Anna Mylee, then based in LA. Recruiting fellow LA expat, Kazakh-born singer Aiym Almas, they looked back across the Atlantic to complete the line-up, bringing in three British players in guitarists Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill, plus bass player Becky Baldwin. All had worked with Anna before and they began to collaborate on material, convening via Skype at first but all met up in LA to record their first track ‘Fire’, issued as a download in June 2016. The EP ‘Target Practice’ was released in early 2017, and they played selected live dates in the UK as and when schedules permitted. Holly Henderson departed the band in mid-2017, as a concurrent solo career began to gather momentum. The band advertised for the vacant position, eventually settling on Irish guitarist Sarah Michelle to take over. They continued to play selected live dates and in the winter of 2017 unveiled their crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to record a full album of material. With the target reached, then exceeded, the group came together in early 2018 to begin sessions on this record.

The album features ten tracks, some of which are re-recorded versions of tracks from the EP while others are brand new. All were written collectively by the band (with credit duly given to Holly Henderson for her part in writing five of the songs which appear here) and also to Eduardo Limongi for arrangements.

Front cover for DORJA 'Gemini' album

Front cover for DORJA ‘Gemini’ album

I was one of the pledgers involved in the crowdfunding campaign; there was a broad range of items on offer to suit most pockets ranging from a straightforward pledge for the album in your preferred format, to a bundle of stuff including posters, an exclusive T-shirt, a live EP and other items such as drum heads, hand-written lyric sheets and patches. As the bottom of my pocket is quite easily reached I plumped for the album on LP plus that T-shirt, with the items being despatched to pledgers in late June 2018. Having had the chance to give the record a few spins, the old-fashioned way with a turntable and stylus, here’s what I made of it:

The initial impression is that the blues influence is more pronounced than perhaps might have been expected. I’ve seen the band twice before and they stormed it live; they were always rock with a blues base but that base is a bit more evident in the material presented here. Dealing with the previously-released material first, the new versions of ‘Target Practice’, ‘Reaching Out’ and ‘Fire’ (‘Far Gone’ I suspect is the same one as what was put out as a single last year) are a little cleaner-sounding than the EP versions, but not much different otherwise. Opening track ‘Chainbreaker’ gives a good indication of what’s to come, these songs are all mid-tempo bluesy hard rockers showcasing primarily that remarkable voice of Aiym Almas. Her vocal evokes R&B greats of the past and she brings that to a hard rock style, giving this band a distinctive sound.

The songs all tend to follow a similar template: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, breakdown/solo, playout over repeated chorus. That doesn’t mean they’re all variations of the same thing – there are lighter as well as heavier songs and some tasty playing from guitarists Sarah Michelle and Rosie Botterill. Standouts for me are the raunchy blues of ‘Use You’ and the anthemic, guitar-heavy ‘Silence’ with a solo that will have you reaching for the air guitar. (Whose, I am not sure about until I see this one done live!) Appearing on record for the first time is ‘Limitless’; that one was performed live from their early days and is one of the more uptempo rockers on the album. I’d have liked a little more of that personally (they have one other as yet unrecorded song in their repertoire, ‘Turn It All Around’ in which they really cut loose), but this one rocks too, with a terrific lead solo from Rosie. Title track ‘Gemini’ features a little slide guitar, which I’d guess is Sarah Michelle’s doing. The listener might be fooled a bit by the intro to ‘Too High’ (the first track of side two on the LP); opening with Aiym Almas singing over piano chords (courtesy of Anna Mylee) before the main body of the song kicks in with a guitar riff which reminded me of Black Sabbath’s ‘Mob Rules’, before the middle section introduces another riff which, strangely enough made me think of Ozzy’s ‘Crazy Train’!

I’ve not mentioned the rhythm section up to now, they lock in together really well though fans of bass player Becky Baldwin will have to listen more closely for her fills, she’s a little less prominent with this band than she was with, say the trio format of IDestroy. The drum sound on this record gives a satisfying ‘thump’; the producers did a fine job of capturing Anna Mylee’s sound.

Overall the group can be proud of this album, it’s a solid debut which like the EP, demonstrates their huge potential. I still feel there’s a lot more to come from them in future though, especially if they can overcome the logistics of having an international membership with an LA-based singer and the musicians scattered across Britain and Ireland. What they need is a backer with bottomless pockets, to enable them to base themselves in one location (LA? London?) – of course, there’s not too many of those about! They remain unsigned as of June 2018, with this record now available I’d expect that situation to change before very much longer.

For now though, this is a promising debut. They haven’t quite hit it out of the park but to use cricketing parlance, they’ve got it through the covers and it will reach the boundary for four. Four inflatable guitars, that is!

DORJA are playing a short run of dates in the UK and Europe in June/July 2018, with dates in Birmingham on the 14th of July and an appearance at SOS Festival in Prestwich, near Manchester on the 15th. This record will be available to purchase directly from them at the shows with a full release to take place in the near future. They’ve also issued a lyric video for ‘Use You’ to coincide with these dates, presented below:

4 – Deserving