Classic Rock’s New Release Round-Up
This week: new stuff in the shops from Hawkwind, Skunk Anansie, Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy, The Sword, The Jim Jones Revue, The Master Plan, Touchstone and Phil Lynott.
If Britain ever had its own Grateful Dead, it was/is Hawkwind. Their new album Blood Of The Earth (Eastworld) is exactly what you might expect, and it becomes so timeless the tracks could have been cut at just about any time in the last 40 years. Although he does what he does with consummate skill, at no point does mainman Dave Brock choose to go where no band has gone before. Electronic swirls of solar wind, modal progressions, monotone vocal chants and instrumental crescendos are all Hawkwind-familiar clichés. Far from being on the anarcho-cosmic cusp, the modern Hawkwind might need to catch up or risk becoming their own tribute band.
It’s easy to forget how big Skunk Anansie were – five million albums shifted, main-stage Glastonbury headline slots – and their comeback album Wonderlustre (V2) does little to mess with the formula that got them there in the first place. Frontwoman Skin’s soulful voice still dominates and powers it all along, the familiar lighter-waving heartbreak and romance of You Saved Me and I Will Stay But You Should Go held together by guitarist Ace’s subtly brawny riffs.
Robert Plant And The Band Of Joy‘s Band Of Joy (Decca) features Americana veteran Buddy Miller (guitar, bass, production), with Alison Krauss replaced by Austin singer-songstress Patty Griffin. Patty takes more of a deferential, back-seat role than newgrass goddess Krauss, shadowing Plant in a discreet soprano that – on Low’s Monkey, for example – brings to mind nothing so much as the Alison Goldfrapp of Black Cherry. This album inevitably lives in the shadow of its predecessor, Raising Sand – and falls slightly short of it.
The Sword’s Warp Riders (Kemodo) is a concept album with a retro touch, bringing in a taste of early-80s thrash. It’s relentless, chock-full of great tunes and silly words about space-travelling warriors. Thankfully The Sword aren’t laughing at metal in a condescending Steel Panther/Darkness way. Okay, sure, the sub-Frank Frazetta cover suggests that the tongues are slightly in their cheeks, but the music is for real.
The Jim Jones Revue are a band forged in the spirit of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, but also in the music they sired: The Troggs, The Stooges, Gun Club, Motörhead and more. In short, they deliver the kind of psychotic storm that makes your scalp tingle. Their new album is called Burning Your House Down (Punk Rock Blues). The title track is pure rock in the raw, as is Righteous Wrong, wherein Jones invokes all manner of unholy plague as the moon crashes, fires rain and the devil beats Jesus in a strip-poker game. If Beelzebub ever needs an in-house garage band, he knows where to call.
No relation to German power metallers Masterplan, The Master Plan are a garage-rock supergroup spearheaded by bassist/chief songwriter Andy Shernoff, the genius behind The Dictators. There’s loads to enjoy on Maximum Respect (Green Mist), and those of you with short attention spans will be relieved to hear the songs are all around the two-and-a-half-minute mark. The jaunty-but-jerky 14th Street sounds like Jonathan Richman meets Talking Heads; Are You Crazy and Long Drive Home are chock-full of infantile Iggy-isms; Feels Good To Feel (with Hoodoo Gurus’ Dave Faulkner on guest vocals) recalls a retarded Monkees. The Master Plan aren’t ever going to change the world but for sheer stoopidity they take some beating.
With two studio albums and one EP to their name, it’s great to hear Touchstone‘s best songs laid end-to-end on the two-CD live album Live In The USA (www.touchstonemusic.co.uk). The sound quality is fine and we really dig how the first CD begins with some stentorian narration by actor Jeremy Irons (pre-recorded, naturally; he wasn’t actually there), a prelude to the mighty Wintercoast. The quality of the songwriting always shines through and never gets swamped by complexity. In fact, Joker In The Pack and Strange Days might just be the two best commercial-sounding prog tunes written in the last 10 years. No kidding.
Yellow Pearl combines a seemingly arbitrary selection of songs from Thin Lizzy leader Phil Lynott’s two solo releases: Solo In Soho and The Philip Lynott Album. Also included are Parisienne Walkways (the Gary Moore hit written by Lynott as well as featuring him on vocals) and Nineteen, released just weeks before Phil’s tragic death on January 4, 1986. There’s also a couple of rare single B-sides: Somebody Else’s Dream and Beat Of The Drum. What immediately strikes you is the dreadful 80s production which ruins many of the tracks. But overcome this obstacle and you’ll discover plenty of gems. King’s Call, with Mark Knopfler on guitar, is a supremely heartfelt tribute to Elvis; Ode To A Black Man is a gritty celebration of Lynott’s racial origins – even if it, bizarrely, namechecks Robert Mugabe; Cathleen (‘A beautiful Irish girl’) is a whimsical tribute to Lynott’s second daughter by Caroline Crowther; Solo In Soho (the song) proves that Phil could reggae it up with the best of them. Yellow Pearl might be puzzling and directionless at times, with thunder and lightning always at a premium, but Lynott’s genius always shines through.