Monday 13 January 2020

Wolfmother - Rock 'n' Roll Baby (2019)

Country: Australia
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 29 Dec 2019
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Not everything I'm reviewing from 2019 this January was culled from the end of year best of lists. New releases continue as if rolling from the end of December to the beginning of January had little meaning and Wolfmother, the fuzzy hard rockers from Sydney, Australia dropped this on 29th December. It only runs twenty-three minutes so I'm not buying that it's the new album. I would call it an EP or a mini-album, given that it features seven songs.

It's roughly what you might expect from Wolfmother, sounding like the early seventies as proto-hard rock bands figured out what the new genre was going to sound like, but with a modern stoner rock edge and hooks everywhere. As always, it's part Sabbath, part Beatles and part Zeppelin but fitting very well alongside a modern band like the Darkness. There isn't really anything new here at all.

But, my goodness, it's catchy! I had it playing on repeat over much of the weekend and the result is that I've been waking up with Hot Night jamming in my head. With its stop/start chorus, it's punchier than anything else here and the whole thing is punchy, primarily courtesy as always of the main man Andrew Stockdale, who's responsible for vocals and guitar. The latter remain upbeat and fuzzy, though the level of fuzz varies substantially from track to track; the solos are short and in your face; and the vocals are full of hooks even when he's singing a verse.

I'm unsure about who the other musicians are here, as I'm seeing conflicting information as to who's in the band nowadays. Hamish Rosser seems to be the drummer again, after a couple of years with the band early last decade. Who plays bass and keyboards depends on where you look. And, scrolling down the Wolfmother Facebook page, I'm seeing a lot of suggestion that the musicians varied from song to song. It's Rosser on drums on Kick Ass but Lucius Borich on Rock 'n' Roll Survivor and at least seven people have played with Andrew Stockdale in Wolfmother in 2019.

Let's just say that it all sounds good, but more like a collection of songs than an album. I don't know if it's just that ever-varying level of fuzz on the guitar, but the mixing levels seem to keep changing too, as if this is a product of multiple musicians across multiple recording sessions. At the end of the day, the constants are the quality, the upbeat tone of the songs and the utterly generic lyrics. What might you imagine songs like Rock 'n' Roll Survivor, Hot Night and Kick Ass talk about? Yep, you're exactly right.

What impressed me most is the variety and the consistency. Even with a mere seven songs on offer, none of which last past the four minute mark, I have at least four highlights and, each time I listen through again, I'm tempted to add another one to that list. Wolfmother fans certainly won't be at all disappointed in anything but the overall length and the band may well keep on finding new fans with this material.

Higher is a heavy stoner rock song. Stockdale has said that he was driving around LA listening to Fu Manchu when he wrote it. Rock 'n' Roll Survivor is stoner rock too but much closer to that Black Sabbath original sound. Kick Ass brings in that most seventies of instruments, the Hammond organ. Spanish Rose is a fuzzier Uriah Heep. And, with Hot Night a playful stop/start rock song, that's a lot of variety in the first five tracks, but it gets wilder over the last two.

Freedom is Mine carries a layer of distortion over the vocals and it results in a strange combination of hard rock, glam rock, garage rock, psychedelic rock and punk rock. Is there a rock that isn't represented somewhere in the song? It's kind of like Iggy Pop singing a Beatles song with Queens of the Stone Age behind him and that's not a bad thing.

Special Lady adds an electronic disco beat to proceedings and it really goes there with a funky robotic voice effect partway through. However, the guitar fuzz remains and it still sounds like Wolfmother, even if it's a little more experimental than usual. When the disco robot voice comes back for a second shot, it's during a notably Iron Maiden-esque solo.

This is a glorious way to start a week and I wonder how long these songs are going to keep playing in my head first thing in the morning.

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