"It’s one of those almost-ballady croons – with just a hint of menace..."
Drummers. So often the backbone of any band. Not the least because they’ve usually got a van or a station wagon that can carry everybody else’s gear as well. See, they’re also butt of many a musical joke. Or horror stories like a band knowing they’re in trouble when the drummer comes to rehearsals and announces “Umm, I’ve written a few songs…”. Which leads to Phil Collins jokes. And we’ve heard enough of those. Like his Dance Into The Light album.
So, you approach the Andy Strachan solo career with some caution. If unaware, he’s the man on the stool for The Living End, still one of the great festival draws of the nation. Remember them? Come to that: Remember festivals? But that long experience means he knows what he’s about, and what the audience is likely to want along with a guy balancing precariously on a double bass. Nothing Left To Lose (Footstomp), is a chunky bit of riffing rawwwk which will fill the spaces between swigging from the Jim Beam & Cola can you just paid $9 for inside the entrance gates.
The obligatory awkwardness at this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame induction this year will likely come via a drummer as well. Personally, it’s more of a surprise to me that Cheap Trick haven’t already got said trophy for the mantelshelf. The trick with The Trick since the late-‘70s was always the balance of the two spunks – singer Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson, colliding with cartoon characters Rick Nielsen (baseball caps, a thousand increasingly ridiculous guitars) and drummer Bun E. Carlos (looked like middle-aged accountant, with affixed cigarette dangling from lips). Carlos has been sidelined for a few years – via illness or argument, depending on who you’re asking – but the HOF induction has opened the wounds, even as the band puts out a new record to cash in/celebrate. There’s live clips of No Direction Home (Big Machine) on the YouTubery, with Nielsen’s son in the hitting-things-with-sticks position, but who’s doing the job in Cleveland when they’re handed the award is probably currently in the hands of the lawyers. The new song’s probably no Dream Police or Surrender either – but few things are.
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James Newell Osterberg started his music life as an almost dangerously hyperactive drummer – think something like Animal from The Muppets – in a band called The Iguanas. But no kit could hold him from the front of the stage. So he nicked the name of the band, became Iggy Pop, and the rest is history - and/or myth, based on an ingestion level of legal and illegal substances that makes Keef Richards look like a lightweight. He’s been saved from himself numerous times - notably by Bowie last century, and now Josh Homme has apparently appointed himself to the carer position. The first reveal of their collaboration/co-dependency, Gardenia - as exposed a couple of weeks back on Colbert’s Late Show - seemed maybe a bit too tongue in someone else’s cheek to take altogether seriously, so they let Break Into Your Heart (Loma Vista) out into the world as well. It’s one of those almost-ballady croons – with just a hint of menace – that David used to get out of him back in Berlin in 1977, and you kind of hope the new album owes more to this that the first impression.
And you knew that PJ Harvey was never going to make it easy for you. An album, recorded as a kind of voyeuristic art project where the public could peek through an art gallery window to watch her and her band at work, will not appear in full for a couple of months yet. A chunk of the officially designated single, The Wheel (Island) appears as the second part of this video teaser-trailer although you can get the whole thing on various streaming platforms. It nods to the observational and sometimes bloodily grim folk-poetry of the towering Let England Shake project, but comes on somewhat more electric and modern – allowing for the plastic saxophone that sounds like it was stolen from The Psychedelic Furs’ Pretty In Pink from sometime in the 1980s. On evidence, she will – as ever – make you think and make you feel. And it may hurt.
Meantime, if you want something that give you exactly what you expect on the wrapper, the solo Brian Fallon doesn’t stray far from The Gaslight Anthem template, although the band he fronted has supposedly ceased to exist for the moment. A Wonderful Life (Island) is a man happy with just having his name on the marquee, and maybe a bit too obviously having enjoyed those times he got invited up on stage by Bruce Springsteen to sing something about New Jersey he very apparently knew all the words to before sharing the microphone. If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.
Leadfinger also acknowledge their heroes. It’s a strain of Australian hard rock that you can probably trace back through from the blast of The Masters Apprentices to post-punk bands some of the ‘Fingers may have even been members of, but still has relevance to the likes of HITS and Bad//Dreems of these here modern times. Cheer Squad (Conquest Of Sound) is a band telling you that don’t need one, although they probably deserve one. And please note the effort put into the stop-motion video of what we best call ‘generic toy construction bricks, possibly of Danish origin’ just in case the corporate lawyers of said Scandinavian company happen to be watching.
Then there those videos you may even remember more than the song. The Chemical Brothers have almost made of a habit of that particularly quirk – Humanoid singing monkeys! Skeleton discos! – and even though they engage a very distinctive guest voice for Wide Open (Virgin) in the form of the puzzled detachment of Beck, you’re more likely to be left wondering more about how they honeycombed the girl. I’m guessing computers. They still make eminently well-constructed dancefloor soundtracks, but are you gonna remember whose song it is by the time the pingers wear off the next day? Probably not.
Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade is with New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown in Divine Fits. But that’s not enough, they’ve got another overlapping side project called Operator. Added to that mix is multi-instrumentalist Devojka, and the result is sometimes akin to a thicker and more insistent take on the terrain sometimes covered by Chvrches. There’s often a more human desperation in there as well, and Cold Light (Last Song Gang) churns at you eagerly, and can stick in your head.