This was released back in July but I've only just noticed, so I'm reviewing it now because, hey, I can. If you don't know the name, they're a legendary British rock band whose alumni include musicians as diverse as science fiction author Mick Farren, T Rex percussionist Steve Peregrine Took and the original Motörhead guitarist, Larry Wallis. Current band leader Paul Rudolph played on their first two albums and some Brian Eno solo efforts, then he replaced Lemmy in Hawkwind. Joining him on what I think is his fifth stint with the band are ex-Hawkwind bassist Alan Davey and the only other member of the original Motörhead line-up I haven't mentioned yet, drummer Lucas Fox.
With those connections, it probably shouldn't be surprising that Hawkwind are one of the obvious influences here, and indeed there's a kinda sorta Hawkwind cover here in Hassan I Sahba, with an interesting guest appearance from Hawkwind violinist Simon House. I say kinda sorta because it's a Paul Rudolph song, written with Robert Calvert, so it's not entirely a cover, and it sounds utterly authentic, especially when followed by a dreamy space rock instrumental in Dreamzzz and a piece of space rock ambience with a title as quintessential for the genre as It Came from Zeta-77073. A later piece, Big Pink Chopper, plays in the same ballpark.
However, Hassan I Sahba doesn't show up until track four and the album builds towards it with the title track, Digital Sin and WhatchaGonnaDo all sounding like garage rock songs that merely have an increasing amount of psychedelia infused into them. Sure, Rudolph's guitar is psychedelic over Screwed Up, but the rhythm section is no nonsense solid and the vocals, as they across the album, are basic but effective and appropriate. When they're playing songs with hooks and choruses and riffs and all the other typical components of rock music, it's done without any frills at all, just like they recorded it live in the studio.
Given that, and song titles like Screwed Up, Punky and Big Pink Chopper, it probably shouldn't be a surprise to realise that the overall sound is exactly the sort of thing that might catch your ear as it comes blaring out of a random nothing bar. You follow it in and, a few pints later, realise that it's a highly varied audience, so you're surrounded by rockers, metalheads, punks and bikers, a melting pot who are all totally on board with it, because the Pink Fairies are common ground in exactly the same way that Motörhead always were. This is that sort of old school. "We just play rock 'n' roll."
Talking of Motörhead, We Can't Get Any Closer could have been an early Motörhead song, except, of course, that it isn't. Suddenly Rudolph's vocals seem out of place, on a song he probably wrote, simply because he isn't Lemmy and the song conditions us to expect his memorable voice. Davey's bass is closer to Lemmy's and that just adds to the effect. Fox, of course, drummed for Motörhead, so it can't surprise that he can sound like he's still there. Wayward Son does a similar job but with better success for Rudolph, who stamps his authority over it with both vocals and guitar, even if it could again have been a Motörhead song.
I haven't heard the Pink Fairies in forever, but I'm very happy to hear them again in this latest of a countless number of incarnations. The sense of fun that the glorious cover art suggests is here on most of the vocal songs, but only WhatchaGonnaDo cares to actually dip into comedy in the sort of way that Dumpy's Rusty Nuts might have done. Digital Sin also manages to get some surprisingly deep social commentary into its lyrics without losing its sense of fun. They're strong when rocking out with regular rock instruments; they're strong when experimenting in Hawkwind style without most or any of the above; and, crucially, both those sides work well together.
I liked this on a first listen but it didn't feel like it would necessarily work as well on a second time through. I was happy to find that it did and continued to do so on a third and fourth. In fact, it felt more complete as an album the more times I listened to it. Tracks I initially thought were weaker grew on me and only one faded away, which is the closer, In the Ether. It never bugged me so much that I removed it from the playlist but, as everything else grew, it started to feel a little awkward in their company. It's here as a way for the album to end and that's its only real value.
So, given that the Pink Fairies have never really had a stable line-up since they were founded, way back in 1969, I wonder how long this one will stay in place. Certainly there wasn't a single musician who played on both 2017's Naked Radio and 2018's Resident Reptiles, but the line-up on the latter is the line-up here, meaning two albums from either side of the great gap that was COVID, so I'd hold out a little hope for a third album from this trio in a year or two. How about it, lads?