How to structure an album review
This is one of my favourite reviews I wrote for The Vine (27/10/09). I write for no one now. That’s cos it’s no fun anymore.
I blinked, and missed the ’70s.
Luckily, Andrew Stockdale and his all-new Wolfmother are on hand to relive it for us, time and time and time and time and time again. (All quotes below are sourced from Wikipedia.)
In 2003, VH1 named Led Zeppelin the 44th greatest album of all time, while Rolling Stone ranked it 29th on the magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
OK. First, you have to understand that Cosmic Egg rocks (except when it’s imitating Uriah Heep). You like this band, you don’t like this band, you think they’re the metal version of The Australian Doors… it’s immaterial. This album rocks, the same way almost all of Wolfmother’s influences (not Iron Maiden) rock: does it matter if one song or another is a dead ringer for one song or another that went before? All art – and that includes heavy metal – builds on what goes before. The first song on Wolfmother’s second album, ‘California Queen’, and the second from last song (‘Phoenix’), push precisely the same buttons as ‘Communication Breakdown’ from the debut Led Zeppelin album. How can they fail to rock?
Released on Friday the 13th February 1970 by Vertigo Records, Black Sabbath reached number eight on the UK Album Chart. Following its US release in May 1970 by Warner Bros, the album reached number 23 on the Billboard 200, where it remained for over a year, selling a million copies. While the album was a commercial success, it was widely panned by critics. In a review for Rolling Stone magazine, rock critic Lester Bangs felt Sabbath was “just like Cream! But worse”. Bangs dismissed Black Sabbath as a “a shuck—despite the murky songtitles and some inane lyrics that sound like Vanilla Fudge paying doggerel tribute to Aleister Crowley, the album has nothing to do with spiritualism, the occult, or anything much except stiff recitations of Cream clichés”.
Scratch the centre of ‘New Moon’ – the lyrics so blatantly written in tribute to ‘Bad Moon Rising’, Stockdale barely bothered to change the main hook – and you’ll find Soundgard…I mean, Black Sabbath. Everything that is good, pure, precious about metal has its roots in – no, not Black Sabbath’s debut album, cited above only because the Lester Bangs quote is so funny – Black Sabbath’s second album, Paranoid (1970)…‘War Pigs’, ‘Paranoid’, ‘Iron Man’…Wolfmother understand this. They’d be crazy not to. ‘New Moon’ is a kick-ass crazy great song.
Led Zeppelin II has been cited by music writers as a blueprint for heavy metal bands that followed it. Blues-derived songs like ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘The Lemon Song’ and ‘Bring It On Home’ have been seen as representing standards of the genre, where the guitar-based riff (rather than vocal chorus or verses) defines the song and provides the key hook. Such arrangements and emphasis were at the time atypical in popular music. Page’s guitar solo in ‘Heartbreaker’ featuring rapid-fire runs of notes tapped only by the left hand, was a major inspiration to the later work of metal soloists and ‘shredders‘ such as Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai. As such, the album is generally considered to be very influential on the development of rock music, being an early forerunner of heavy metal, and inspiring a host of other rock bands including Aerosmith, Van Halen and Guns N’ Roses.
Yeah, well. The Led Zeppelin influence really is still to the fore on Wolfmother’s second – new members or no new members. I saw Page and Plant perform once, round about 12 years back: they were as boring a plastic buggery in a Playdough factory until they hit the encores (‘Whole Lotta Love,’ Heartbreaker’) then there was no denying the sheer… um… testosterone force. Radio stations are going to love ‘Sundial’ here, for that very reason. A few songs later, where Wolfmother reprise the same motif, the title track sounds tired in comparison – a little too much Iron Maiden frippery.
The White Stripes is the debut studio album by American garage rock band The White Stripes, released on June 15, 1999. Allmusic said of the album: “Jack White’s voice is a singular, evocative combination of punk, metal, blues, and backwoods while his guitar work is grand and banging with just enough lyrical touches of slide and subtle solo work…Meg White balances out the fretwork and the fretting with methodical, spare, and booming cymbal, bass drum, and snare…All D.I.Y. punk-country-blues-metal singer/songwriting duos should sound this good.”
‘White Feather’ is by no stretch of the imagination as good as any of The White Stripes. It does, however, sound like most of it. Weird, huh?
Uriah Heep are an English rock band, formed in December 1969 when record producer Gerry Bron invited keyboardist Ken Hensley (previously a member of The Gods and Toe Fat) to join Spice, a band signed to his own Bronze Records label. They were sometimes jokingly referred to as “The Beach Boys of heavy metal” for their melodic songs, and trademark multi-part harmony backing vocals, although their music draws on diverse influences.
Ah, now every good rock album needs a slow number or two, where you can go take a piss/smack that fucking motorcyclist round the head for revving one too many times outside your front door/change your face mask. You might want to avoid ‘10,000 Feet’ and ‘Far Away’ here for that very reason. Why veer from the Led Zeppelin/Black Sabbath template now, Stockdale? Weird, that you should want to sully ‘Far Away’ with a sound invented post-70s, too. Guess that’s what happens when you invite an ex-My Bloody Valentine producer to take charge of the controls… eventually, they can’t help themselves. It’ll play well on the soft rock stations, doubtless.
Live at Leeds is The Who’s first live album. Initially released in the United States on 16 May 1970, the album has been reissued on several formats. It is thought by many to be the best live rock album of all time and is included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. It is also included in Q magazine’s list of Loudest Albums of All Time.
This is bullshit, this whole Live At Leeds Greatest Live Rock Album of All Time line. What about Motörhead or Thin Lizzy or Ramones or The Beatles’ Live At Hollywood Bowl, for starters? ‘In The Morning’ sounds like one of the weaker tracks from it (e.g. ‘Shakin’ All Over’), end of story.
‘Black Hole Sun’ is a song by the American rock band Soundgarden. Written by front-man Chris Cornell, ‘Black Hole Sun’ was released in 1994 as the third single from the band’s fourth studio album, Superunknown (1994). It is arguably the band’s most recognisable and most popular song. The song topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, where it spent a total of seven weeks at number one.
I once clambered on stage with Soundgarden in Holland for a duet on ‘Some Velvet Morning’ with singer Chris Cornell, only to be ceremoniously rugby-tackled by the band’s merch guy… sorry, I digress. Are we still here? Are Wolfmother still slavishly copying…I mean, building…on everything that’s gone before? Ah fuck it. Good on them. Good on them for getting up on stage and rocking the good rock. If you tied me down, slapped me round the head several times for being a pommie music critic and played me ‘Pilgrim’ louder than loudness itself, I’d probably swear blind it was from Superunknown. Yep, it’s that ‘good’.
There are parts of Cosmic Egg where Wolfmother are way too self-indulgent (mostly the guitar solos, but that’s personal taste). And there are parts where they totally rock. But at least they’re not Jet or The Vines – and for that we should be grateful.