Bad Magic, Motörhead’s 22nd studio album in the band’s 40th year, opens in classic Motörhead fashion with Victory Or Die. All the essential ingredients are there: the fast and furious rumbling bass, the hoary, growled vocals, the blinding guitar solo, coupled with a memorable rock ‘n’ roll tune and some world-weary seen it all, done it all rock ‘n’ roll lyrics. It’s a strong opener. For sure, Lemmy’s voice might sound a bit more aged than previously. But given his well-publicised health problems in recent years it’s something of a miracle that this album sounds as good as it does. Many of the songs wouldn’t sound at all out of place on some of the albums from late 70s/early 80s “heyday” period. Thunder & Lightning and Electricity are both stand-out tracks for me in that vein, as well as the aforementioned Victory Or Die.
It’s not all completely predicatable, though. Two tracks depart significantly from the tried and tested Motorhead formula. Firstly, we have Till The End, a slow number that has Lemmy spelling out his life philosophy with some suitably heavy but melodic backing. And we also have a cover of the Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil. “Motörhead sing the Stones” could have sounded a bit gimmicky but, surprisingly, it comes off. A wall of thunderous drum sound provides an atmospheric backdrop for Lemmy to let rip on the old Jagger/Richard classic.
Did I need another studio album by Motörhead? If truth be told this is the first new studio album of theirs I’ve bought in years. But admiration for how long they’ve kept going twinned with a realisation that this is a band almost certainly in the final stages of its long career drove me to buy it. I’ve not been disappointed.
Released: August 2015
Previous review: Motörhead at Hyde Park
Whatever the genre of music and however talented the musicians, without strong tunes and hummable melodies no band is going to make much of an impact on me. And that goes as much for my heavy metal as anything else. It’s one of the reasons that attracted me to Saxon in the first place, thirty-odd years ago.
And while there’s not necessarily the next Wheels of Steel or 747 (Strangers in the Night) on this album, there are certainly some strong and memorable songs here. Title track Battering Ram is a classic slice of Saxon and a strong opener.. Biff Byford’s voice is as powerful as ever and the album rocks hard as you would expect. But there is light and shade here, too. Proggy, choral backing vocals on tracks like Queen of Hearts add texture and atmosphere to the hard, driving guitar riffs.
Kingdon of the Cross, Byford’s poignant reflection on the slaughter of the First World War is another stand-out track on the album. “Comrades of their different coats, Came to fight and die, From all sides they stood and fought, And fell beneath the sky”. Apart from the choruses this track is delivered entirely in spoken word. That may sound strange for a Saxon track, but it works. In fact, Byford has such a wonderfully characterful speaking voice you could almost imagine him doing the voiceover for a BBC4 documentary.
Any some-time fan of Saxon who feared this is a band who had lost their way years ago should get this album and have those fears immediately dispelled. And don’t just take my word for it. “This is cool. What’s this music?” asked a friend’s 15 year old daughter when her and her mum popped round just as I was playing the album for the first time. Biff would be pleased, I’m sure.
Released: October 2015
Released in January 2015 I’ve come late to this but I’ve been following Gaz Coombes’ career pretty much since Supergrass burst on the Britpop scene with Alright in the mid 90s. Matador is Coombes’ third album outside Supergrass. The first, a covers album with Danny Goffey, released just before Supergrass called it a day, had the sound and feel of Supergrass in all but name. His next (and first solo album) Here Comes The Bombs, was a starker and more experimental affair, with Krautrock electronica influences clearly present. Matador continues in that vein to some degree but has a more mainstream feel to it. More accessible certainly but altogether a stronger album with stronger tunes.
It’s mature, quality songwriting. It is unmistakably Gaz Coombes, though, and listerners will recognise many of Coombes’ classic trademarks: reflective, sensitively delivered Bolanesque vocals leading up to frenzied, more manic delivery on the hook lines. Opening track Buffalo is a case in point and wouldn’t sound unfamiliar to anyone acquainted with some of the later era, more reflective Supergrass material. Detroit is another beatiful track in the same vein. The Girl Who Fell To earth with some gentle acoustic guitar, lush instrumentation and lovely vocals is another track I instantly warmed to.
This album is proof that the post-Supegrass Gaz Coombes is making a valid contribution to the UK music scene and it’s little wonder it’s been nominated for this year’s Mercury prize. Will I play Matador as much as play I Should Co-Co, In It For The Money or Life On Other Planets? Probably not. Will I play it lots? Absolutely.
Released: January 2015
Raucous sounds, catchy tunes, dark lyrics and a whole lot of fun, Blackbeard’s Tea Party have been making a splash on the folk scene for some time now.
As well as loud electric guitar from Martin Coumbe and pumping electric bass from Tim Yates, what really makes this folk act rock is the presence of powerful duel percussionists, Liam “Yom” Hardy and Dave Boston, making Blackbeards’s Tea Party kind of the folk world’s answer to the Glitter Band. Laura Boston-Barber provides spiky, tuneful fiddle playing throughout. Stuart Giddens on lead vocals and melodeon was not the original singer but he’s been with the band several years now and his vocal delivery and hyperactive stage presence have meant he’s truly made the role his own, such that it would be difficult imagining anyone else filling it.
They’ve got a new album to promote “Reprobates” – featuring songs about a range of characters who are all engaged in activities that are either “illegal, immoral or ungodly” explains Giddens with a fair degree of relish. It’s literally just out in time for this gig so we get to hear a a selection of new song, like album opener The Steam Arm Man – about a soldier who loses an arm at Waterloo, builds himself a replacement which unfortunately turns haunted and takes him on a murderous rampage.
We do get a few old crowd favourites as well, such as the sing-along-and-do-the-actions-Agadoo-style Chicken On a Raft (it’s based on an old saying about sailors’ rations I understand and not “Chicken in a Wrap” as numerous of my friends have innocently sung while watching the band.)
I was lucky enough to see Blackbeard’s Tea Party at Cropredy festival in 2014 where they absolutely stormed the place. But they are just as enjoyable up the road in my local, The New Cross Inn, where they also stormed the place. They gig extensively and are well worth catching.
Previous review: Blackbeard’s Tea Party at Cropredy