Not to be confused with the '80s tribute band in LA featuring Hugh Jass on vocals and Lou Bido on guitar and keyboards, this Wayward Sons are a New Wave of Classic Rock outfit from the UK which was set up after an offer from the ever prolific Frontiers label to help Toby Jepson, of Little Angels fame, "get back on the horse". The band he put together in response includes old and new names, Nic Wastell the bass player for Chrome Molly and Dave Kemp an old Little Angels bandmate, so of quite the heritage, but drummer Phil Martini known for Joe Elliot's Down and Outz and guitarist Sam Wood from Treason Kings. This is their third album and they're a mainstay in NWoCR circles.
Unlike many of their notable peers, I haven't heard them yet. I wasn't paying attention when they put out Ghosts of Yet to Come in 2017 and somehow I let 2019's The Truth Ain't What It Used to Be slip past me, so I wanted to make sure I didn't let the same thing happen with this one. It really is good stuff and I can happily say that, for a change, you can believe all the hype. It's as urgent as a consistent cover art approach that pitches these albums like comic books might suggest, with the sound harder and more up tempo than I remember the excellent Little Angels being but closer to what I remember from Chrome Molly.
I liked the album from the outset, because Even Up the Score starts out with a riff reminiscent of Tank, then moves into a neat hook. It remains rock instead of metal, but it's vibrant and up tempo stuff that emphatically wants us to move. I found that my toes were tapping even before the first chorus and I was almost singing along on my first time through, without knowing the words. Most of the songs as the album runs on fit those comments too but, for a while, they do the same thing in much the same way, so I wondered if the downside would be variety.
It would likely be the only downside, because these are good riffs and good hooks and the entire band feels energetic and driven, however old some of these musicians must be now. I was buying Little Angels and Chrome Molly albums in the mid eighties, so Jepson and Wastell have to carry a few more years than me and I'm in my second half century now. And hey, consistency can't be that much of a bad thing, right? Maybe they'll mix it up later and they do a little with Bloody Typical, a song that pares the heaviness back quite a bit without losing energy and vibrancy. Don't worry, it comes back on Faith in Fools.
But it's fair to say that I was losing faith as the first half wrapped up with Fake, a sub-three minute song with a riff that initially sounds like Smoke on the Water played by an eight year old after two lessons on the guitar. But the second half grabbed me and grabbed me hard. Downfall starts with a bass line right out of Thin Lizzy and Jepson's voice is even more acerbic than usual, spitting out a host of neat rhymes. It builds to a strong chorus and there's an excellent solo from Sam Wood too. He's no slouch at all on this album, even if he doesn't have the experience of Jepson and Wastell.
If Downfall remains my favourite song here, Tip of My Tongue and the toe tapping Looking for a Reason aren't too far behind it and they're the next two on the album, underlining how strong side two is. Even with less to work with on Land of the Blind, they make it work anyway and there's yet another excellent bass line on They Know. And that leads us to This Party's Over, the closer, which is something again for Wayward Sons.
While the vibrancy of these songs might suggest that the band are all about emphasis and power, with lyrical content much further down their priority list, I ought to shoot that thought down now. Sure, some of the ideas are more routine than others, but Jepson has a good turn of phrase and it finds itself put to its best use on This Party's Over, almost a story song that certainly has the most poetry, the most substance and the most resonance. It, like the album as a whole, entertains first and foremost but also leaves us thinking a little about what Jepson is singing about.
I thought a lot about whether I should give this an 8/10 rather than just 7/10 and I'm still not sure I picked the right one. Every time I listen through, quite a few songs leap out as highlights, but I'm not convinced by everything here, especially Fake. In the end, I felt that there were just too many highlights to warrant staying at 7/10. Clearly, this is a good band, not just one featuring invigorated musicians after decades of waiting for this moment but a good one in 2022 regardless. Carry on!