Monday 19 September 2022

Thunder - Dopamine (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Apr 2022
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Thunder aren't the most prolific band on the face of the planet, but they've continued putting out product for over three decades. Their debut, Backstreet Symphony, first saw the light in 1990 and it made quite the impression on me, even at a point when I was drifting away from new music due to changes both in my life and the new music I was hearing. Last year, they released lucky number thirteen, All the Right Noises, and I gave it a highly recommended 8/10. Only a year later, here's a new one and this one's a double album. Clearly the creative juices are flowing.

I found this one easily split between the two discs. The first one is traditional Thunder throughout but the second one sees them taking all sorts of chances to be able to play with other genres, both through departures into new places or through merging hard rock with other flavours of music. I'd be hard pressed to say which is my favourite, because both discs are strong. I might actually lean a little towards the second disc, because it feels like the band are overtly exploring their influences.

The first one shows us why Thunder have been such a reliable band for so long, especially over the first four songs. The Western Sky is an emphatic opener, as if it wants to play in heavy metal but is still a little hesitant to dip its toes too far. Black has a cool glam rock vibe going on. One Day We'll Be Free Again is a quintessential song, with effortlessly powerful vocals from Danny Bowes in the Paul Rodgers tradition. It has a huge build, aided by gospel-infused backing vocals and a seventies heavy organ. And, even though that one's a peach, Even If It Takes a Lifetime is the standout. It's odd that I blanked past this one on a first listen, because it grabbed me on a second and won't let go at all.

They're good songs, one and all, though the first side tails off a little for me after that. As each of these discs contains eight songs, for a seventy minute runtime, that means half of it spoke to me and half not so much, though I don't want to discount the second half. Every song on it is done well and they may be favourites for you; they just aren't for me. Unraveling feels too patient; The Dead City too straightforward; Last Orders too simple, even though it shifts nicely from an acoustic vibe to become an overt foot tapper.

That leaves All the Way, which feels like it should have been a Queen song, an approach that would have shifted it to the second disc. Instead, the second opener is Dancing in the Sunshine, which is a Queen song in a very different way, and that's well placed. It's less overt in its influence, so maybe should have swapped that place in the playlist, but it's also a perfect opener, so is maybe fine right where it is. It's deservedly one of the singles.

From there, we leap into influences. Big Pink Supermoon deliberately channels, of all people, Van Morrison, right down to specific chords, words and transitions that bring classics like Moondance immediately to mind. It features a strong saxophone solo. Across the Nation channels AC/DC in its relentless simple but very effective riffing, with a little Cult groove in there too. Is Anybody Out There is a ballad, sure, but it's an Elton John sort of piano song rather than a power ballad, right down to the orchestration.

Just a Grifter is the one that looks back further, because it's not a seventies song at all, instead a vocal piece that we might expect to be sung by members of the Rat Pack, complete with accordion in the French cafĂȘ style and a little fiddle too. I dug this one a lot, even though it plays more as an opportunity for Bowes than a true band piece, unless those less traditional hard rock instruments are played by regular band members. And don't worry, everyone in the band shines at some point or other, even if they don't get specific spotlight moments like Bowes gets here. The closer for that, because No Smoke without Fire gives everyone opportunity.

Other tracks are less in the style of one band and more just a different genre. I Don't Believe the World is sassy, a hard rock song for sure but one that's deeply infused with pop and soul and a few other flavours. Disconnected keeps the sassy but adds a grungy riff, along with a psychedelic part early in the second half that reminds of the Beatles. I guess that makes this disc a tribute in mind if not specifically in form. I don't believe any of these are covers, but they're still homages and not particularly opaque ones.

I'm tempted to give this another 8/10 because much of it deserves that but I don't think it's quite able to sustain that level throughout. As a double album, that it comes this damn close is a strong recommendation all on its own.

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