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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Reviews: Cheap Trick, Black Stone Cherry, Immensity (Reviews By Paul)

Cheap Trick: Bang, Zoom, Crazy, Hello (Big Machine)

The richly deserved rock and roll Hall of Famers Cheap Trick return with their 17th album and it’s a cracker. Often described as the Japanese Beatles due to their sound and the idolisation they receive in the Land of the Rising Sun, Illinois’s favourite sons have produced a fantastically catchy follow up to 2009’s The Latest. Often known for their saccharine coated I Want You To Want Me, this release demonstrates that there is so much more to a band who are often overlooked for their huge influence on the rock world. I’ve loved Cheap Trick for a long time but I have to admit that my knowledge of their catalogue has been limited to some of their earlier classics such as The Dream Police and Surrender. I’ve often considered Cheap Trick as slightly poppier rock but on Bang, Zoom, Crazy, Hello they have a rediscovered a real edge to their sound.

In fact, they’ve delivered a variable palate of tunes, which all contain some exceptional work from the vastly underrated Rick Nielsen. His work is just scintillating, and he can solo with the best. Check out his work on Do You Believe Me? for just one example of sheer quality. Meanwhile the evergreen Robin Zander provides a masterclass in the vocal department, with his delivery ranging from the all-out rocker on tracks like Blood Red Lips, a real T-Rex stomper, to the beautiful Bowie tinged When I Wake Up Tomorrow all and even the cover of Billy Page’s The In Crowd. As you listen to this album, it’s crystal clear how influential this band have been to the rock industry. Whether it be the Americana style of Sing My Blues Away with its Jeff Lynne style hook, the raucous opener Heart On The Line, No Direction Home resplendent with their distinctive signature harmonies or the pumping Long Time No See Ya which would sit comfortably on a Devin Townsend release and you realise that Cheap Trick are clearly not imitators but originators.

The superb quality of each cleverly crafted composition is the result of the main team of composers; Julian Raymond who alongside Zander, Nielsen and bassist Tom Petterson has produced 40 minutes of high class rock. And what a debut for Daxx Nielsen, son of Rick and filling the legendary shoes of Bun E Carlos on the sticks for the first time. He combines brilliantly with Petterson to cement the platform which allows Zander and Rick Nielsen to really shine throughout. The almost throwaway casualness of Blood Red Lips, all seventies stomp and pomp is great whilst Roll Me allows Zander to demonstrate that even at 63 his voice remains in first class condition. As well as containing Nielsen’s stunning fretwork, Do You Believe Me? also contains a hook reminiscent of Billy Squire at his peak combined with the wilder side of Steven Tyler. Penultimate track The Sun Never Sets rocks and rolls with style whilst album closer All Strung Out adds yet another layer to this fine release with shades of one their peers, a certain Mr Iggy Pop. I cannot find fault with this album at all and it is already firmly ensconced in 2016’s top ten. 10/10

Black Stone Cherry: Kentucky (Mascot)

Arena powerhouses and friends of Jesus Black Stone Cherry return with album number five, titled after their home state and it contains few surprises. Having just missed the target with Magic Mountain in 2014, which was of variable consistency, it might be argued that they were under some pressure to deliver this time around. Kentucky isn't a ground breaking musical release. It’s an hour of big songs written in the country rock sound which fits so snuggly into the arenas where they are now so comfortable. In fact, virtually every track on this album will sound great in an arena with decent sound. From the crushing power chords that hit you full on in opener The Way Of Our Future, the sing-a-long anthem of In Our Dreams to the hideous acoustic closer The Rambler, Kentucky demonstrates that BSC has now established their sound and if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Their cover of War (Made famous by Edwin Starr fact fans - Ed) is pointless but will get a huge response from the assembled masses next time they play the shed known as the Motorpoint Arena. Why this is on this album is beyond my comprehension. It's just a little lazy.

As you’d expect from this bunch, Kentucky contains several nods to the man upstairs during the journey from start to finish; Rescue Me stands out in particular. To be fair to BSC, they've tried to move to a deeper soul and blues based approach in certain songs; Soul Machine is a decent example with some nice female vocals enhancing the choruses and a brass section complements Chris Robertson’s neat guitar work. Cheaper To Drink Alone promises much but falls into the typical BSC formulaic delivery with the verse chorus verse approach although it does diverge into a blues type guitar exploration before reaching its conclusion. By the time you get to the final third of the album it’s just a little bit too much padding. Feeling Fuzzy and the ponderous Darkest Secret repeat the earlier part of the album whilst penultimate track Born To Die feels like a left over from a previous session. Ironically, bonus track I Am The Lion is one of their better tracks, with a slight variation to their usual approach although with Robertson’s voice so distinctive I concede that it is hard to really vary their approach. The current popularity of the harder edged country flavoured rock will no doubt ensure that Kentucky mirrors the high chart placings of its predecessor. It’s just a little too bland and repetitive for me. 6/10

Immensity: The Isolation Splendour (Hypnotic Dirge)

The Isolation Splendour is the debut release by Greek Death Doom outfit Immensity. It is a dark brooding atmospheric release, reminiscent of the earlier works of such icons as Paradise Lost, Katatonia, Opeth although it was Ahab that immediately came to mind on first listen. The mix of death and clean vocals works stunningly well and the lengthy weighty tracks build slowly with the clean vocal sections providing respite from the sometimes crushingly heavy riffs. Powerful passages of interplay are evident throughout; check the opening single Irradiance (For The Unlight) which builds patiently and quite magnificently. With the release containing two remastered tracks from their earlier demo The Lonely Aquarelle this is a hefty tomb of work, clocking in at just under 68 minutes for seven tracks. However, repeated plays have turned it into one of the year’s most interesting releases. If you don’t enjoy slow tension filled melodic doom then this won’t be for you. Luckily I really enjoy this genre and The Isolation Splendour serves as a splendid aperitif for the forthcoming release from Katatonia. Without a doubt, one of the melodic doom releases of the year. 9/10

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