Classic Rock’s New Releases Round-Up
This week, we’ve new studio albums from Accept (who are very Accept-like), It Bites and Ian Anderson’s Jethro Tull. A live Enid offering, loads of Roadmaster and Foghat reissues – and more.
Words: Malcolm Dome
Two years ago, Accept proved they can still blow up a glorious metal storm with Blood Of The Nations. Now, they’re back with the equally potent Stalingrad (Nuclear Blast). Led for the second time by vocalist Mark Tornillo, there’s actually more diversity here than on the previous release, as the band display the full range of their huge talent. It still blazes away at appropriate times, but what happens here is also a lesson in how to be subtle without losing any metal thrust. This will be one of the best metal albums of 2012.
For a brief time at the end of the 70s, Indianapolis band Roadmaster were seen as rising princes of pomp. And as the reissues of three of their albums through Rock Candy proved, they had it all to mix and match Styx, Kansas, REO Speedwagon or Angel. If 1978’s Sweet Music – their second album – showed them as shimmering with all of those pomp hallmarks, then Hey World a year later put it all into focus. Glittering vocal harmonies, stylish musicianship and songs had energy and towering melodies, yet all done in the best possible taste. Quite why they never became lords of all they surveyed at the time is actually explained in the extensive sleeve notes here. And by the time Fortress came out in 80, it was as if the band had lost belief and gone for a far more radio-indulging sound. Still strong stuff, but perhaps a little more conniving. However, all three are definitely worth picking up now. Musically, they were Masters of mayhem, but perhaps they ended up burnt up by the Road weariness of commercial pressures at the time.
Four decades on from Thick As A Brick, arguably the ultimate concept album (even though it was conceived at the time as a pisstake) we get Thick as A Brick 2 (EMI). Except this isn’t a new Jethro Tull album, but is billed as Ian Anderson’s Jethro Tull. Not that this should make any difference. It’s the musicality and storyline which matter – on both counts, this is a triumph. Anderson has envisioned the way the life of Gerald Bostock, the schoolboy who was the central character of the original, might have developed. And he’s not only come up with humorous yet also socially relevant comments, but enshrouded it all in music that nods at the 1972 album, but is never in its thrall. On all fronts, this works brilliantly. For once a sequel proves more than worthy.
Killing Joke have always stood apart from the crowd. They go their own way, whatever the consequences. So MMXII (Spinefarm) offers no succour or respite. It’s dense, dark and deeply crafted. There are hints of industrial and even black metal incursions. But the overall impression is of a uniquely gifted band who take the almost clichéd aspect of 2012 and repattern it in their own manner. Starkly violent, yet also restively comforting, it takes a while for you to realise how many levels are here. But it repays lengthy plays.
On a more superficial level, Shinedown are among the best pop-rock bands of the 21st Century. Amaryllis (Roadrunner) provides further evidence. There are no outrageous statements or shifts in musical policy. It’s all about giving fans easy-to-access songs which are expertly hewn into modern anthems. When it comes to this sort of approach, few currently do it better.
Foghat have become so entrenched in the foundations of American rock over the past 40 years that it’s easy to forget their British heritage. But that was always what made the ’Hat a little different. Arena headliners in America, they’d have been lucky to get a support gig in a local pub over here. Yet their blues-rock quality was always international, and should have gained greater recognition here. Now, Edsel are assiduously going their Bearsville back catalogue and reissuing the albums in a format that sees two albums put on one CD. So, here we go with the first six albums. If 1972’s self-titled debut set a low-key blueprint then Rock And Roll a year later showed they were becoming a force. That’s the first pairing. You then get 74’s Energized and 75’s Rock And Roll Outlaws, as the band hit both a groove and momentum. Their ceaseless touring schedule had made them one of the biggest attractions in the States, and given this work ethic, it’s no wonder you can hear them going from strength to strength, commercially and artistically. This is even clearer on 75’s Fool For The City – the first Top 3 album, propelled by the incomparable Slow Ride – and Night Shift the next year. The latter has the tremendous Drivin’ Wheel, which has become something of a petrolhead fave. Six albums. Three releases. Every one is essential.
It Bites have an unmistakable sonic motif. There’s something about the way they sound that is unique yet also has universal appeal. But Map Of The Past (InsideOut) is not merely another fine album from the band, it’s also their first full concept album. The storyline deals with Britain a century ago, and provides some intriguing musical and lyrical insights. Yet, while the flow and coherence of the album is paramount given the conceptual nature, this is never allowed to overshadow the need to make tracks work individually. The result is a superb album of light and shade, power, force and complexity. One of the best It Bites albums of a distinguished career.
Last October, The Enid played a truly special show at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham. That’s captured on a double CD titled Live With The City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs (Operation Seraphim). This is the venerable band in their pomp and prime, taking their classical wares into a fresh dimension. To hear the whole of the Journey’s End album performed like this, not to mention so many other inviolate Enid landmark pieces is a joy. And there’s also an uplifting exploration of Barclay James Harvest’s Mockingbird – Enid leader Robert John Godfrey played a crucial role in its original development – plus the rousing finale of the Dambusters Theme and Land Of Hope And Glory. An audio spectacle in the finest sense.
Tags: Accept, Angel, Barclay James Harvest, Foghat, Ian Anderson’s Jethro Tull, It Bites, Jethro Tull, Kansas, killing joke, Mark Tornillo, REO Speedwagon, Roadmaster, Robert John Godfrey, shinedown, Styx, The Enid