Classic Rock’s New Release Round-Up
This week: Marmite from the Manics, prog-by-numbers from Spock’s Beard, the return of Heart, a tour-de-force from Tinyfish, Journey and Barry Goodreau reisssues – plus the awesome debut from Scottish scuzz-busters The Amorettes!
Words: Geoff Barton
West Lothian wonder-women The Amorettes are the surprise package of this week’s reviews round-up. An attitude-fuelled three-piece, these Scottish lassies sound like Rock Goddess fed on a diet of single malt and deep-fried pasties. (In fact, the band give the good folks from Ginsters a ‘thank you’ on the CD sleeve.) Debut album Haulin’ Ass (www.myspace.com/theamorettes) contains 10 brilliantly breathless tracks, Gillian Montgomery leading the way with her high-pitched singing style and clunky guitar licks. The songwriting is first-class and as concise as you like: three-minute stun-gun bursts full of humour and hellion fury. Vardis with vaginas? No, we didn’t say that.
Musical Marmite to both their fierce critics and intensely devoted fans, Manic Street Preachers have been mixing punk, metal, literary allusion and passionate political rhetoric for more than 20 years. Postcards From A Young Man (Sony Music), their milestone 10th album, finds the Welsh trio musing on familiar themes including death, consumerism, internet alienation, disenchantment with New Labour and the decline of British industry. So far, so Manics. But it is also the band’s most accessible and energised work for years, reclaiming some of the rousing populist clamour of their 1996 best-seller Everything Must Go.
X (Mascot) will delight long-term Spock’s Beard devotees and provide a catch-all cribsheet to those discovering prog rock for the first time. Like one of those shows when all of Shakespeare’s plays are condensed into an hour, so every tic and trope of an entire musical style is here. But Spock’s Beard’s skill comes in the way that they have managed to avoid pure pastiche. The songs sound like their own, even if the constituent parts are not.
So to the brand new release from Heart: Red Velvet Car (Eagle). All the elements you’ve come to expect from the Seattle band over their three-and-a-half decade career are represented here, from the pop-tinged Hey You to the moody title track via the claustrophobic Death Valley to delicate album closer Sand (a re-recording of a fan favourite from the Wilson sisters’ Lovemongers side project). Those expecting power balladry in the vein of Alone and These Dreams should look elsewhere, but for those who always knew the heart of Heart was rootsy instrumentation coupled with belt-you-about-the-head riffs topped with one of the finest voices in rock should drive this crimson automobile off the forecourt immediately.
Three years in the making, Tinyfish’s The Big Red Spark (Festival Music) is a concept-album tour de force. Based on a dream vocalist/guitarist Simon Godfrey once had, TBRS tells the tale of a mysterious machine created from the thoughts of mankind. It could be an euphemism for the Internet; it could be something else entirely. All we know for sure is that it’s ‘an engine of metal that moves like water’. Weird, or what?! All the familiar Tinyfish traits are here, but amped to the max. Jim Sanders’ guitar sounds gigantic; the recurring themes reverberate with chilling precision; the spoken-word parts sound like they’ve been lifted from the script of Blade Runner. Or Brazil. Or Metropolis… even though it was a silent movie. See? That’s the twisted effect Tinyfish have on you.
Journey’s second and third albums have just been reissued via the BGO label. Following the flop of their experimental, self-titled debut in 1975, Look Into The Future arrived a year later. Stripped to a quartet following the departure of guitarist/vocalist George Tickner, a more straightforward musical approach helped the album scrape into the US chart at No.100. Anyway, which somehow manages to be both slinky and brooding, hints at the slick machine Journey would become, while She Makes Me (Feel Alright) is a chunky showcase for guitarist Neal Schon. Next (1977) is a similarly mixed bag. The hyper-tearful ballad I Would Find You (with Schon on vocals) is the highlight, with the supercharged Hustler following close behind. But, again, this is the sound of a band finding its feet.What Journey lacked was a proper frontman. After Robert Fleischman’s brief tenure, they struck gold with Steve Perry on 1978’s Infinity. Suddenly, the stratosphere beckoned…
Barry Goudreau can claim to be Boston’s third most famous member, behind Tom Scholz and Brad Delp, and although he didn’t quite manage to prise control of the band’s early songwriting from Scholtz, it was his heavily stylised guitar sound that helped to found an era of dominance for radio rock. By 1980, Goudreau was keen to have his material heard, and his first and only solo record (self-titled, just reissued by Rock Candy) was lifted by the unmistakable presence of Delp and the man who would replace him in Boston, Fran Cosmo. This album’s shimmering AOR will slip neatly into the connoisseur’s racks between Boston and RTZ, the band Goudreau went on to form with Delp.
As one of eight Rick Wakeman albums (count ’em – eight!) released in 1995, you’re forgiven for missing Cirque Surreal (Edsel) first time around. But it’s stood the test of time better than most and is now much respected among fans. Featuring occasional vocals by Wakeman stalwart Chrissie Hammond (once half of Cheetah) the album is titled after a touring show mixing of Cuban/Russian/French acrobats and its contents were originally played live each night. A couple of numbers are a bit big-top twee, but the gentler Balance Of Power and Tubular Balls (we see what you did there, Rick) suggest a high-wire interval. Mostly, though – as on Gnash and Juliet – things barrel along, suggesting a stage busier than a kebab shop at midnight…