CD: Inglorious ‘II’ (Frontiers)

This was an album I meant to do a write-up on long before now; I went to the band’s Liverpool in-store appearance in May and picked up this record on the day, but ‘stuff’ kept intervening and it’s only now, with me out of gig-going action temporarily that I have got around to this one.

Inglorious are the latest in a long line of British rock bands touted as ‘the future of rock’; they were saddled with a tag of ‘The New Deep Purple’ by some commentators, which I thought was a little unfair. For one thing Deep Purple didn’t hit their stride until their fourth album and then only after a change of singer and bassist! Also, when Purple were at their peak, they were also at their most dysfunctional, something that this band could well do without as they make their own way in the rock scene. The tag was one this band could never live up to, and their debut album of last year showed promise, but ‘In Rock’ it wasn’t.

The band are built around singer Nathan James, whose pyrotechnic vocals certainly attracted attention. They have striven to present themselves as a band, not just a vehicle for the singer, but such is his voice, his presence, that he does dominate the spotlight, just as (for example) David Coverdale before him did with Whitesnake. However all the members have contributed to the songwriting on this album, including guitarist Wil Taylor who, after recording his parts for ‘II’ parted company with the band at the end of 2016, to be replaced by his own predecessor Drew Lowe. Taylor has since formed another band (Deeva) and has been back at Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios this year (where this album was recorded), working on new material.

So what do we make of this follow-up album by Inglorious? CD in the deck, let’s press play…

It certainly gets off to a good start with ‘I Don’t Need Your Loving’; typical of their old-school rock style yes, but it’s a catchy number which ticks all the boxes. Hard riffs, singalong chorus and an early chance for James to show off those pipes. From there though, the album is full of material that could have been written by any number of those bands in that long line of acts that came before them. Titles such as ‘Hell Or High Water’, ‘Taking The Blame’, and ‘Change Is Coming’ give away what to expect even before you get to them, that this isn’t going to break any new ground. The playing is fine, the drums kick with enough wallop and the guitars slash away with intent, but these songs just don’t stick. Like the first album, you’ll come away with the impression you’ve heard this record many times before, the only thing that makes them stand out is the voice. There are fast-paced rockers (‘Taking The Blame’, ‘Hell Or High Water’), slower songs (‘Making Me Pay’), ones with Whitesnake-style gentle intros which bring the band in with a wallop (‘Tell Me Why’, ‘Change Is Coming’, ‘Faraway’), guitar workouts for axeman Andreas Eriksson such as the shred solo on ‘I Got A Feeling’, but this is an album that is a distillation of so many 1980s hard rock bands, nothing you haven’t heard many times before. It is all so familiar, that the only reason for picking it up is if you’re a particular devotee of James’s vocal style.

The in-store appearance aside, I’m still yet to see this band live (they are touring the UK in October 2017) and I’m sure they’ll cook up a storm live, but for me they need some stronger songs – even if that means an external writer. They can imitate the style of previous bands, but there is little to innovate here. I’m afraid this album only reinforces the perception that it is a vehicle for James, however hard he tries to tell us otherwise and I still feel the way I did after hearing this band’s debut – sooner or later he will be recruited into a supergroup or will be offered a solo mega-deal, one he would be crazy to refuse. This is a band made up of dependable, solid players but fronted by a singer who cannot be confined by this act for ever.

Inglorious II

Inglorious II

3gtrs

3 – Decent

 

Album: HAIM ‘Something To Tell You’ (Polydor)

Back in 2013, there was no escaping HAIM. The group, made up of three sisters from California first came to UK attention at the beginning of that year, winning the BBC’s Sound of 2013 poll of music industry figures. From then on, following a UK tour in the spring they played Glastonbury, T In The Park, and Reading/Leeds – all of these appearances were televised on BBC, significantly boosting their profile. Their first full album, ‘Days Are Gone’ did not appear until the autumn of that year but by the time it did, they were as well-known in the UK as they already were in their native Los Angeles. When the record was released, it showed two distinct sides to the group.

On album, their music was radio-friendly pop with harmony vocals to the fore, with more than a hint of Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles to their sound. Against that, the record’s modern production sheen brought their sound up to date. However, they were a completely different proposition live; middle sister Danielle (the more reserved of the trio) was cast as primary lead vocalist, while showing herself to be a mean lead guitar player, unleashing hard rocking solos in songs that had nothing of the sort on record. She also played drums on the album, however for live performances the sisters enlisted drummer Dash Hutton (a friend of eldest sister, bassist/vocalist Este) who toured full-time with the girls.  Este herself was the most outgoing of the trio, engaging the crowd between songs with banter punctuated by more than a few choice F-bombs, while youngest sister Alana ‘Baby Haim’ took up the other side of the stage, given a multi-faceted role on rhythm guitar, additional drums and keyboards as well as vocals.

Later on the group added a full-time touring keyboardist (Tommy King) to take some of the load off Alana, expanding the live group to a quintet. The band live were more akin to a hard rock act than a pop group, songs would feature Danielle cutting loose on the guitar far more than on record, and to close their set the girls would take to drums themselves to bash away alongside their drummer in a spectacle reminiscent of that done by The Scorpions in recent years. The band toured extensively for the next two years, coming back to the UK in 2014 for a tour of bigger halls, and a return to Glastonbury in the summer, but back in their homeland their popularity really blew up when they were selected to support pop megastar Taylor Swift. From there on in they haven’t looked back, although this second album has been delayed somewhat by the meticulous nature of their studio work. The group actually pulled out of planned festival dates in summer 2016 in order to focus on completing the album, releasing a statement apologising to their UK fans.

In April 2017 HAIM finally unveiled a taster for this record, the haunting, brooding ‘Right Now’ which turned out to be an early, ‘live in the studio’ performance. To say the least, after the runaway success of their first album expectations were high for ‘Something To Tell You’ – especially after a four-year gap (Leppard-esque, if you will!) between this and ‘Days Are Gone’. The record was released at midnight on Friday, 7th July, becoming available immediately to listen to on Spotify. Time to settle back and see what the LA sister act have in store for us this time, then…

If you’ve seen this band live and were hoping for an album that captures that harder live sound more accurately, prepare to be disappointed. The material here is smooth, slick, well-produced (perhaps OVER-produced? Bearing in mind that the final result is exactly how the band intended it to be) but, once again it shows that on record this group is a different beast to the onstage version. That’s not to say it is a bad album; it’s actually very good, the songs are designed to ease their way into your brain and take root – you’ll find yourself humming one or more of these ditties after one listen to this album. If anything it is smoother than ‘Days Are Gone’; the group worked once again with producer Ariel Rechtsaid to deliver an album that will sound great in the car, whether you’re heading down a freeway in the summer sun or stuck in a traffic jam on the M62 on a cold, wet Monday morning. There are some nifty basslines from Este in tracks such as recent single ‘Want You Back’, but guitar from Danielle is used sparingly, often buried in the mix such as on the playout for ‘Little Of Your Love’. I’d expect that to be radically different once they hit the stage.

The vocal harmonies that have led to those Wilson Phillips comparisons are present and correct, and they venture into RnB territory with songs such as ‘Treat You Right’. On that track, surprisingly there is another lead guitar playout from Danielle, unsurprisingly it is again buried deep within the production. On ‘You Never Knew’ they go into full Fleetwood Mac mode; the echoed backing vocals will make you think immediately of ‘Little Lies’ from Mac’s 1987 album ‘Tango In The Night’.

The girls’ drum background is shown once again in ‘Kept Me Crying’; this album’s ‘The Wire’ with a beat throughout that will inevitably lead to audience handclaps when it’s played live. This one DOES have a more prominent, fuzzed-out guitar outro. The highlight for me is penultimate track ‘Right Now’; a slow-burner starting out with a church-style organ and gradually building up, deploying the heavy guitar chords for the only time on the record midway through and then introducing those syncopated drums. Even so, the live version as seen on their recent BBC appearances is superior, the production is a little bit too strong with unnecessary (IMO) effects added to Este’s backing vocal. That could have been the album closer, but they have chosen to end things with the gentle ‘Night So Long’, demonstrating once again their close harmony vocals.

You won’t find thought-provoking lyrical content on this record, it is all concerned with boy/girl relationship issues. With that in mind it is a little baffling that this band is considered ‘indie’ by some, this is pure ear candy that has many tracks that could be singles, surely many will be picked up by radio in the coming months. Besides ‘Want You Back’ and ‘Little of Your Love’, tracks such as ‘Found It In Silence’ and the title track are potential hit singles.

If you’re more of a rock fan and were hooked by this group’s live prowess, you’ll need to put aside your metallic leanings in order to enjoy this record. If you can do that, there’s much to enjoy on this album. Consider it a successor to ‘Tango In The Night’ and you’re about there.

Haim 'Something To Tell You'

Haim ‘Something To Tell You’

4 – Deserving

Album: Thunder ‘Rip It Up’ (earMUSIC)

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.

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving

LP: Delain ‘Moonbathers’ (Napalm Records)

When my copy of this, the fifth full studio album from Dutch symphonic metallers Delain arrived (on the day of release – kudos Napalm Records and the Royal Mail!) the shrinkwrap covering the record sleeve contained a sticker trumpeting this as ‘Delain’s Finest Moment’. It’s certainly had a lot of build-up; as early as January this year I and other attendees at their ‘Suckerpunch’ gig at Haarlem Patronaat were treated to some short extracts from the sessions they’d been working on. Soon after that came ‘Lunar Prelude’; an EP containing two new tracks, some live material and some previously released songs reworked for the EP. Those two tracks (‘Suckerpunch’ and ‘Turn The Lights Out’) are also featured on this new album, along with a cover of Queen’s 1989 hit ‘Scandal’. More recently, in the weeks leading up to this release, some other tracks have been getting airplay on rock radio; ‘Fire With Fire’ has been featured on a local radio station’s weekly show and ‘The Glory And The Scum’ has also been released as a lyric video on YouTube. On top of all of that, the band released short extracts from all the album tracks, initially to fans who attended the aforementioned ‘Suckerpunch’ show and later on, to YouTube.

With all this activity, it has heightened excitement for the eventual release but also served to spoil a little of the suspense; we already knew two of the songs (three if you are a Queen fan and familiar already with ‘Scandal’) and by the time this record was out, anyone interested will have heard at least half of it. Napalm Records have done what they usually do with acts on their roster, and have issued this album in a bewildering choice of formats including two different vinyl options (my choice this time was the initial double vinyl issue on 180 gram ‘gold’ vinyl) and, for those who have yet to discover the bottom of their pockets, a wooden box containing the CD in ‘mediabook’ packaging, a bonus silver vinyl 7″ disc and – a flag! Once again, the cover features art by Glenn Arthur, whose trademark style is becoming synonymous with this band. But is ‘Moonbathers’ the band’s ‘finest moment’ as trumpeted on that sticker? Time to shred the shrinkwrap and put those 180 gram discs on the turntable to find out…

Things get off to a good start with ‘Hands of Gold’, a lively rocker very much in the familiar style, with symphonic fanfares and downtuned guitar crunches. They have picked up pretty much where they left off with 2014’s ‘The Human Contradiction’; using the same writing team (lead singer Charlotte Wessels, keyboardist Martijn Westerholt and studio collaborator Guus Eikens) and with production duties once again handled by Westerholt, it does feel like a continuation of that record. They even brought back Arch Enemy’s frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz to contribute ‘death growl’ vocal on this track as she did on the previous album closer ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons’. I confess I’m not a fan of that style of vocal, but used sparingly I can handle it. ‘The Glory And The Scum’ is another typically Delain track, one that could have sat on the last album comfortably. All the trademarks are there, I can picture Wessels getting the crowd clapping along to the second verse; they’ve deployed a familiar trick in backing off the guitars, leaving Wessels to sing over a bass drum beat. ‘Suckerpunch’ we know all about, with its Bon Jovi-esque ‘whoa-whoa’ hooks, leading into what I consider to be a highlight of this record, ‘The Hurricane’. A slower, quieter number more akin to what they were doing on ‘We Are The Others’, it has a catchy chorus that lodged its way into my head straight away. The cooling of engines here allows Wessels to use her sweeter vocal, which was what drew her to my attention in the first place, rather than the ‘roar’ she has developed in recent years. Things are taken down still further with the epic ballad ‘Chrysalis – The Last Breath’, once again showcasing the singer’s remarkable voice.

Back up to speed next for ‘Fire With Fire’, as the guitars come roaring back with another high-tempo, but catchy song. The difference between this album and the previous one is that the songs are more ‘hooky’ – with few exceptions they’d moved away from the more pop sensibility of 2009’s ‘April Rain’ but here, it seems to be a partial return to songs you can latch onto quickly, the sort of thing that ‘walks off the disc and into the concert hall’ (if I may steal an old quote from David Coverdale!) ‘Pendulum’ follows, probably their most Metal number on the album and somewhat reminiscent of 2012’s ‘Where Is The Blood’. Towards the back end of the record, it gets a little more experimental; ‘Danse Macabre’ has a strange but catchy ‘eeeyyaahh’ vocal throughout, an unusual hook but effective. I’d been anticipating their cover of ‘Scandal’ since they announced they were to do it.  One of the lesser-known Queen songs (originally from that band’s 1989 album ‘The Miracle’) and from their later period, it was written by Queen guitarist Brian May (although credited to all four members). Its lyric dealt with the relentless intrusion of band members’ personal lives. I did wonder whether that was something Delain also felt hence their decision to cover this track, but it turns out that Martijn Westerholt simply liked the song and was even given May’s blessing to cover it. It’s heavier (the synth riff in the original is now accompanied by guitar), it is a little faster in tempo, but otherwise not too different. However, much as I love Charlotte, nobody beats Freddie Mercury! 😉

‘Turn The Lights Out’ is the other previously released track and is already known (in truth, not one of my favourites) and the album closes with ‘Monarch’. I detect more Queen influence here; the song is mostly instrumental with only a short vocal contribution from Wessels in the middle. Queen did something very similar with the track ‘Bijou’ on the ‘Innuendo’ album; although this song is slower and more keyboard-orientated the effect did remind me of the concept of the ‘inside-out song’ as Mercury and May aimed for with ‘Bijou’.

Following the studio tracks, there are several live tracks presented from a recent show in the band’s home country of the Netherlands; including a live rendition of ‘The Glory And The Scum’. Closing the fourth side of the double LP are orchestral versions of that song and ‘Hands Of Gold’. That’s something they’ve done on previous releases; it is essentially filler material to make up a double LP but the live tracks are more of interest to me personally.

This is a strong album with probably their most accessible songs since ‘We Are The Others’; however I do feel that the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ production takes some of the gloss off for me. One of the things that attracted me to this band some years ago was that their music was less overblown than other bands of this type; the symphonic elements weren’t swamping their vocalist so much. The 2009 album ‘April Rain’ got that balance right for me, but here I found myself struggling to hear Wessels over the wall of sound on some of the heavier tracks. I’ve already heard two of the songs delivered acoustically by her and guitarist Timo Somers; they worked better for me as the strength of the songs was more evident once stripped back. I still think it is a very good album, but one that could have been improved had they left that extra egg from the pudding. (Apologies to Charlotte for the analogy, since she has been vegan for some years now!) 😉

Finally a word about the choice of vinyl this time around; I bought a vinyl LP of ‘We Are The Others’ at a show last year, and on playing it I’d noticed how much more comfortable a listen it was than the CD. I found out later on that it had been mastered differently for that release; further investigation revealed that the CD (and all the others in their catalogue) were ‘brickwalled’; i.e. mastered for maximum ‘loudness’ at the expense of ‘clipping’ of some of the higher frequencies. That makes for an exciting, but wearing listen if played on even halfway-decent stereo equipment, and the vinyl LP proved to be so much more preferable. Since then I’ve bought their subsequent releases (this LP, and ‘Lunar Prelude’) on vinyl and will continue to do so as long as the CDs are mastered that way. (I already had the LP version of ‘The Human Contradiction’.) They’re far from the only band whose CDs have their phasers set to kill, but it is a trend I could do without. If the music can be mastered properly for LP, it can be done better for CD – after all, that format was sold to us back in the 80s as ‘perfect sound which lasts forever’. Not true as we now know, but CD is capable of a far better listening experience than what we are being offered today in the never-ending ‘loudness war’.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Moonbathers cover

Moonbathers cover

 

 

Album: Inglorious ‘Inglorious’ (Frontiers)

It’s been impossible to avoid reading, or hearing about UK sextet Inglorious in the months leading up to the release of this, their debut album. Every time you opened a rock magazine, browsed a rock-orientated website you’d see a picture of these guys (or of just vocalist Nathan James), or if you tuned in to Planet Rock (the UK’s only national radio station geared towards classic rock), chances are you’d hear one of their songs before very long.

The band were put together in 2014 and are very much built around the powerhouse vocal of Nathan James; he was totally off my radar until recently but had previously toured with Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO)  as well as Uli Jon Roth. Before all of that, he competed on a televised talent search show in the UK. James is without doubt the name, the face and the voice of this band although in publicity for this record, they have been keen to play that down in favour of presenting this act as a complete unit. To that end, they recorded this album using ‘old-school’ techniques; they eschewed auto-tune, digital recording and other aids such as click-track, in an effort to recreate the feel of the classic-era hard rock records which inspired them.

I was meant to go and see this band live recently but found that the date clashed with another gig I’d booked (a frequent frustration of mine when it comes to gig-going!) so I missed out on seeing their recent headline tour, and also missed the chance to see them open for the Winery Dogs at the start of the year; the nearest show was in Manchester, because it was mid-week that made it impractical.

So having missed out on seeing them live this time around, I decided to fire up Spotify where the whole album is available to listen to for free (if you don’t mind the occasional ad) and decide for myself whether or not the massive hype surrounding this group is justified.

Things kick off with ‘Until I Die’; one of two tracks that has been in heavy rotation on Planet Rock. On the album it’s preceded by a lengthy intro on Hammond organ (courtesy of Liam Holmes), but soon kicks in with that mighty riff from guitarist Andreas Eriksson. The initial impression is that James’s voice is reminiscent of the late Ray Gillen; his band Badlands are just one of the many rock bands of the past you’ll recall when listening to this record. ‘Breakaway’ is a fast-paced rocker which made me think of Sammy Hagar.

The whole album will have you either getting straight away where they drew their inspiration from or have you scratching your head wondering where you heard that bit before. I did get the impression I’d heard this album many times before, and while they certainly do mine the Zeppelin seam like so many others before them have, it’s hard not to think of the likes of Whitesnake, Mr Big, Rainbow, and even more recent acts such as Alter Bridge while playing this album through.

Overall then, it is a solid debut, not the instant classic many would have you believe as the influences are a little bit too obvious. I feel the plaudits already bestowed upon them (they’ve been compared to Deep Purple, for example) have led to something that is impossible to live up to, certainly with a debut album. They can become a great band in time, if allowed to develop properly. However, vocalists of the calibre of Nathan James don’t come around that often, so sooner or later I think he will receive an offer he’d be mad to turn down and will find himself in LA in the company of more stellar players. He’s far and away the most recognisable name in this outfit and it will either become ‘Nathan James and Inglorious’, with a revolving cast of backing players or he will eventually go solo. It is to be hoped that the band as it currently stands will survive long enough to make the album they’re capable of before that happens.

3gtrs

Decent

ingloriouscover

EP: Delain ‘Lunar Prelude’ (Napalm Records)

NB: For reviews, Air Guitar ratings will appear from now on. 5 – Delightful; 4 – Deserving; 3 – Decent; 2 – Dreary; 1 – Dismal. Look out for the inflatable guitars! 

Delain’s next full studio album is currently in progress, but as that isn’t due until later in the year the Dutch symphonic metallers have issued this mini-album. A similar idea to when they issued their ‘Interlude’ compilation between studio albums, the artwork for this release is once again provided by Glenn Arthur, who started working with the band on 2012’s ‘We Are The Others’. The record was issued in both vinyl and CD format, and this time I plumped for the ‘gold’ vinyl edition, available only by mail order. I treated myself to a vinyl copy of ‘We Are The Others’ at their merchandise stall on the last UK run, and found it a better listen than the CD edition; it seemed to have better range in its sound.

The record comprises two new studio tracks (‘Suckerpunch’ and ‘Turn The Lights Out’), one song from the last album (‘Don’t Let Go’) reworked and several live cuts, plus an ‘orchestral’ arrangement of ‘Suckerpunch’. It is therefore a shorter offering than ‘Interlude’ (which was a collection of ‘B’ sides, reworked material, live tracks and two new songs) but is intended to serve much the same purpose: to keep the band’s profile high while they work on the follow-up to 2014’s ‘The Human Contradiction’, scheduled for release later in 2016.

Taking the record from its sleeve, first impressions were that the streaky yellow appearance of the vinyl gave a  rather different impression to the ‘gold’ effect that they were going for (!) but the disc itself appears to be heavy duty vinyl; you can’t use it like a wobble board like you could with some LP records back in the 1980s! Disc colour notwithstanding, the needle was dropped into the groove and it was time to pin back the lugholes…

Both ‘Suckerpunch’ and ‘Turn The Lights Out’ have been performed live; the latter debuted on the UK tour and the former provided the basis for the theme behind the band’s recent show at Haarlem which I attended. On record they are rather ‘lighter’ in tone than live; there’s not as much emphasis on the guitar, even though the group now boast two axe-slingers with the recent addition of Merel Bechtold as a permanent member, alongside incumbent guitarist Timo Somers.

‘Suckerpunch’ sounds rather like a 1980s pop-rock song, with it’s ‘whoa-whoa’ hook and also using the old modulation trick on the chorus near the end, it isn’t a million miles away from the sort of thing Bon Jovi broke big with 30 years ago. One definitely aimed at the radio, even if the lyrical content isn’t quite the sort of standard boy/girl stuff of typical chart hits (‘Suckerpunch the demons from my dreams’, sings Charlotte Wessels over those Jovi-esque ‘whoa’ chants). ‘Turn The Lights Out’ is even lighter in tone, with the singer’s sweeter side shown on the chorus. Whether this suggests a rather poppier direction for the next record is still to be determined, but if they are going that way then remember to pack the guitars – their best album to date (IMO) ‘April Rain’ was very much in that vein, strong pop songs with enough of a heavy guitar base to satisfy those of a more metallic persuasion.

Next is the reworked version of ‘Don’t Let Go’, a track originally found on the expanded edition of ‘The Human Contradiction’. This one HAS been given a slightly heavier treatment, but is still difficult to distinguish from the original version. Similar to the reworked treatment of ‘Are You Done With Me’ found on ‘Interlude’, you have to listen to them back-to-back to spot differences in production. I’d have liked to see something completely different to the original if they are going to redo a recent track, the differences are so slight as to render this version almost redundant.

The best part of this record is definitely the live section; there are four live tracks presumably taken from a recent show in their home country, as the frontwoman can be heard addressing the crowd in her native Dutch between songs. All the live tracks (‘Lullaby’, ‘Stardust’, ‘Here Come The Vultures’, ‘Army Of Dolls’) featured on their last album , these versions showcase Wessels’ excellent live vocal and feature (I’m guessing) the expanded six-piece line-up. The lead guitar part on ‘Stardust’ does sound a little different in tone, suggesting it’s Merel Bechtold’s six-string we’re hearing. The songs do sound heavier, harder-hitting live than on the record now that they have a twin-guitar attack, and it’s to be hoped they can bring some of that heavier sound into the studio for the next album. The record closes with the orchestral version of ‘Suckerpunch’; again this is an idea reused from ‘The Human Contradiction’ where two songs were given similar treatment for the expanded 2-disc edition. I’d have preferred another live track personally, these orchestral arrangements sound like film scores and are little more than filler in my view.

All in all then a bit of a mixed bag; of the two new songs ‘Suckerpunch’ is the stronger but the live material is the most worthwhile for me, while I find the orchestral number and the remade song somewhat non-essential. One for existing fans rather than anybody new to the group; if you are just finding them I’d recommend starting with ‘We Are The Others’ as that album provides much of the basis for their live show still.

3gtrs

Decent

Delain-Lunar-Prelude-album-cover-delain-39117326-720-720

The artwork for Delain’s ‘Lunar Prelude’ by Glenn Arthur

CD: CATS in SPACE ‘Too Many Gods’ (Harmony Factory)

Remember a time when the release of an album by your favourite band was an Event? When rock albums were allowed to be diverse, to offer something different with each track rather than ten variations on one theme?  A time when they didn’t worry about the look, the image or about aiming for the right ‘demographic’? This album from new act CATS in SPACE might be what you’re looking for, the whole thing harks back to a time when musicians made the music they saw fit, not to fit in with a prevailing trend or conform to anyone’s strictly-defined genre description.

CATS in SPACE are a new band comprising some players who are far from new to the scene: the personnel involved have worked with many major names including 10cc, Asia, and The Sweet. Indeed, original guitarist from The Sweet Andy Scott appears as a guest musician on lead-off track ‘Mr Heartache’. The instigator of this project, guitarist and songwriter Greg Hart is an unapologetic devotee of 1970s music, and his aim with this project was to create an album in the style of acts such as ELO or Queen, with diverse, catchy songs and a complete ‘package’ with distinctive artwork. Greg’s regular gig is as guitarist in touring 1970s revival act ‘Supersonic 70s Show’ (also billed as ‘Solid Gold 70s’), alongside fellow CAT in SPACE, keyboardist Andy Stewart. Also involved in this album are vocalist Paul Manzi, bassist Jeff Brown, guitarist Dean Howard and drummer Steevi Bacon. All these guys have vast experience performing with well-known names and rather than list them all here, I suggest a quick look on the band’s own site to illustrate just what we’re dealing with here.

The band have gone to great lengths to make their album release the sort of big event that used to accompany releases from the likes of Electric Light Orchestra for example, even releasing the album on high-quality vinyl in a gatefold sleeve for those who want the complete 1970s experience. There are even CATS in SPACE slipmats available for your turntable, if you want to go that extra mile!  The gatefold sleeve is recreated in miniature form on the CD release too, featuring artwork (depicting some very nice space-suited cat ladies in an alien landscape) from artist Joanna Wenczka. If you do plump for the CD, there is a bonus track (‘Schoolyard Fantasy’) on that format.

When I sent for this album it arrived within a couple of days, and was instantly in my hi-fi. It is the sort of album you need to listen to as a complete whole, and one you should play several times to let everything sink in. Once you have heard it a few times, the influences that permeate the record are clear for all to hear but you’ll also appreciate just how much has gone into the production of ‘Too Many Gods’. It really is a lavishly-produced effort, and one that rewards a few repeated listens to uncover its many layers.

To go through it all track-by-track would take up most of my evening (!) but in brief, you’ll hear bits of Queen in the guitars and distinctly Sweet-style vocal harmonies on title track ‘Too Many Gods’, material that references such artists as John Miles (‘The Greatest Story Never Told’, the album’s centrepiece), the Eagles (‘Only In Vegas’) and ELO (‘Man In The Moon’). That is not to say that the songs are mere knock-offs of those artists; Greg Hart’s strength in songwriting is to take those elements, and reshape them his own way so that you hear something new, yet familiar.

One thing that isn’t so retro is the lyrical content; ‘Stop’ is a song pleading for more humanity in an increasingly computerised, dystopian 21st century (‘no-one is interacting, cold fingers on a plastic screen’), while ‘Five Minute Celebrity’ is a Who-style hard rocker dealing with the current trend for ‘instant stardom’ created off the back of reality TV shows (‘you got no talent, but you want the fame’). ‘Last Man Standing’ deals with the decline of London’s so-called ‘Tin Pan Alley’ as property developers move in and ‘regenerate’ the area, destroying what made it so special in the process. Another thing you’ll notice on listening to the album is that, despite the major talent involved, there is no ‘overplaying’ – guitar solos where used, are short and to the point. Other instruments such as piano or sax are used where appropriate and not to show off anybody’s virtuosity. In short, it’s all about the SONGS, not the players!

This is the sort of record that, had it been released in 1975, would be in your older brother’s collection alongside John Miles or Supertramp, and one that you’d be going back to again and again.In 2015 it is more of a niche market, but with that 21st century phenomenon the Internet it should still reach enough fans of this style of music to enable those CATS in SPACE to reach orbit.

‘Mr Heartache’ – CATS in SPACE

‘Last Man Standing’ – CATS in SPACE