I try to keep up with the New Wave of Classic Rock, because there's so much wonderful new music being released under that banner, but I inevitably fail because I'm covering a broader spectrum at Apocalypse Later and there are only so many hours in the day. As such, I'm happy to say that I have already reviewed the top two albums on the NWoCR Facebook page's end of year list for 2022, The New Roses coming out on top with Revival Black right behind them. However, I hadn't even heard of Shape of Water, who landed the third place slot, and now that I've heard this album, I see why.
Long story short, they're not really NWoCR at all. They're fundamentally an alternative rock band, with the obvious comparison on that front being Muse. However, the base of their sound is in their keyboards, making them an electronic band, and that allows them to seamlessly move in and out of new wave, post-punk and straightforward pop territory as frequently as rock. They self-identify as gender-fluid, which sounds pretentious but is actually spot on. At this point, I shouldn't see any surprise in them being two Italians based in Manchester in the north of England. It makes sense.
The opening track, Starchild, highlights how hard it is to pigeonhole them. It only runs five minutes but it's all Capriotti for the first three, vocals over keyboards. Somehow it's both progressive and twee, like Philip Glass joining the Cardigans, but the organic dance beat introduced halfway, shifts into a higher gear with much more intensity, De Falco's guitars kicking in heavy and escalating into almost a Rage Against the Machine vibe. And that's song one of ten, though Falling follows it with an almost shocking conformity as a decent but traditional alt rock song except for the jazzy piano break halfway through.
The Snoot is where the NWoCR kicks in and kicks in hard with a solid seventies riff from De Falco. It grows in a few different directions from there, but it's a guitar song with a tasty guitar solo, even if Capriotti's vocal still sounds pop, even when he's rocking it up. Of course, being genre-fluid, they don't stay in rock for long, shifting straight into new wave for Don't Leave Me in the Dark, and the longer the album runs on the more interesting and versatile it gets.
My favourite songs all come late, starting with A Ghost in Manchester seven songs in. This is a post-punk song, I guess, built on pulsing synths, but the verses sound like a centuries old folk song in an utterly contemporary framework. There are bells and what I presume is a trumpet to punctuate it all and then, halfway through, it explodes into intense action only to drop quickly away into a solo piano break. Just in case Queen never sprang to mind, it makes a very deliberate nod to Bohemian Rhapsody to ensure that they do. It's a magnificent song and it stands apart from everything, not just the other songs on this album but everything. It's almost Ghost Town levels of different.
Everybody's Gone feels like the Beatles during its first half but it ramps up to a much more intense mentality with another tasty guitar solo from De Falco. It even finishes with a flourish right out of classical music. Terraformer is back to a rhythmic Philip Glass synth sound, then alt rock, but with a screaming saxophone and a guitar solo to match it. Suddenly Words in Eternity, which closes out, is notable for being not notable, as a conventional alt rock song in the Muse vein.
This album grabbed my attention from the beginning of the first song and it impressed me with its uncompromising versatility, but for three songs it shook me. Few bands can be that good and that consistently different across three songs. Frankly, the only two bands I can name who excel at that are Queen and Saigon Kick; check out Sheer Heart Attack and Water for two albums that manage that throughout. This doesn't manage it across the entire album but it comes closer than anyone else I can remember and they nail it for those three songs late on.
Because this is rarely NWoCR, ranking highly on a list with that particular focus seems odd, but it should rank highly anywhere. Shape of Water are now firmly on my "must listen" list.