Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 1 Feb 2019
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Having thoroughly enjoyed the new Electric Mary album, I thought I'd take a further dip into Aussie hard rock with the second Five Star Crooks record and I'm not unhappy I did. I found that they're not as good as Electric Mary but they're well worth a listen anyway.
They're a versatile band, wearing a slew of influences on their sleeves where we can see them. Nobody who's heard Rose Tattoo will fail to hear them as the opener, Wings, kicks off. It has a softer edge and a much looser guitar solo, but singer Pete Burgess sounds very reminiscent of Angry Anderson.
A further song, Every Action, follows suit, though it has a bizarrely clumsy chorus: "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction". I can't imagine Mr. Angry singing about Newton's third law of motion, but then I couldn't imagine him singing a wedding theme for Neighbours either and that happened. So much for my imagination.
While this is a good album, there are other odd little points like that which lessen it. For instance, I really dig She's So Hollow, a neatly stripped down track with a very cool groove, but its core riff is the chorus to I Heard It Through the Grapevine. That's more than a little offputting.
Slow Down, which is reprised late on for no reason I could figure out, adds a country feel but it still rocks, rather like Son Volt covering an obscure gem from the Rolling Stones. It slows down very nicely too and it makes three good songs in three to kick off the album.
What impressed me most, though, wasn't individual tracks but the variety on offer. Rose Tattoo to Son Volt in three tracks is a big jump and the fourth, Give It a Try, is a straight forward rock song with a little edge, like Rick Springfield might record. Out of Control ups the pace considerably, rumbling along with the hyperactive bass of Nik Brajkovic that almost finds the tone you might expect from psychobilly.
This is good stuff and it walks that fine line between commercial songwriting that ought to find radio play and the rough edges you might expect on a local band ripping up the bar round the corner. Limbo is particularly obvious on that front, with both Burgess's voice and Rich Anderson's guitar raw and real. The production is good here but it simply wasn't interested in smoothing this band down and removing their blemishes.
There isn't really a major flaw, but I realise after a few listens that the first side is notably stronger than the second. The first six tracks quickly became old friends and just looking at the titles starts them playing again in my brain. However, I'm having trouble remembering the last five (well, four if you ignore that pointless reprise of Slow Down), except for that one chorus I don't want to remember.
I might prefer the hard edges of Rose Tattoo over the soft ones of Five Star Crooks, but that doesn't mean I don't like both. Their first album was called Hearts and Hands and I'll need to track that down. Bring on the third!