Sometimes it seems like such a short time ago, even now. Things were all so different then, I was younger, keener, looked at the world with a fresher, albeit more naïve mind-set – a very different person in a different place, at such a different stage in my journey. I like to think back on those times, when I get a quiet moment to myself; maybe even raise a glass to myself as I was then. This album takes me straight back there, like it was yesterday. Here’s to June 2014.
A year ago today* I bought Rival Sons Great Western Valkyrie on a hot day in Chester. My expectations were high, the rock press were falling over themselves to anoint them the saviours of rock/next big new thing, I really liked the Western chic of the cover AND Pressure & Time was (and still is) on high rotation here at 1537 manor. I was in the market for more classy, classic-sounding rock and R&B. I bought it home and I think I’ve played it maybe four times before tonight. I know all you 1537 fanatics out there will remember it didn’t make my Top 11 LPs of 2014. It just didn’t take with me.
My predominant memory of Great Western Valkyrie was that it was a little lacking in tunes and memorable moments, in the variation that set Pressure & Time apart from the pack. It was interesting to hear it again now. Although it gets bonus points for being a three-sided LP.
It all starts so well the pure rock, crunch and roll of ‘Electric Man’, a song so manly and over-heated that if you play it 3 times in a row it will mark its’ territory in the corner of your room. We get lots of suggestive mutterings about ‘sexy girls’ and promises to take a certain lady ‘to the sugar shack’** over one of the best and sharpest beats I’ve heard in ages – new bassist Dave Beste adding some real muscle to Rival Sons’ sound. If I say it’s a bit of an amalgam of hoary old rockers like Led Zep, Free and even Humble Pie, I don’t mean it is a derivative track, just that the band are prowling around that particular neighbourhood at night; knocking over bins and trying to look in bathroom windows.
Jay Buchanan is pretty much my favourite hard rock singer out there today and he really gets to open up his pipes on the next two tracks, ‘Good Luck’ and ‘Secret’. The former shows his penchant for his radical tactic of actually singing, rather than screeching*^ and is kin to my all-time favourite Rival Sons track ‘Young Love’ (but not as good) and the latter is another belter where Buchanan gets to impersonate a certain priapic golden God from West Bromwich to good effect. My fave track on Great Western Valkyrie is the resigned ‘Good Things’ which features some great keys from the late Ikey Owens. Everything that can be great about Rival Sons just coalesces for me on this one, excellent vocal, great playing from all and at the risk of sounding a bit retro, a great vibe; it just sounds like someone trying to be optimistic in the face of overwhelming odds.
As I’m a very superficial guy I’ll also say right here that I love the unfinished looking cover art for this LP and the look Rival Sons have adopted. I’m big on fashion as you all know by now and I’d describe it as a kind of weirdo western vibe; think a Californian goldrush town, 20 years after it all dried up, now being ruled by cattle barons and a strange religious cult. Checking out the cover pics I wouldn’t be surprised if the gentleman’s’ names weren’t Doc Greene, Cleetus, Rictus Van Shine and the Reverend Abel Snyffer. True story.
Unfortunately Great Western Valkyrie does have a chunk of filler on it, tracks like ‘Open My Eyes’, ‘Belle Star’ and ‘Where I’ve Been’ aren’t bad per se, Rival Sons are too good for that, they’re just average – good/average, but still average and that’s a sin because there’s evidently far too much talent here to plump for that. Unfortunately, when stuck for ideas they do tend to reach for the Led Zeppelin dressing up box, witness the ‘ … Levee Breaks’ drums that are pinched for ‘Open My Eyes’ and the middle section of ‘Dazed & Confused’ that gets borrowed for, the otherwise great in its own right, ‘Destination On Course’. My theory is that whilst new bassist Beste adds beef to the sound, he isn’t as adroit as the previous incumbent Robin Ererhart and so they fall back on what they know^. This in itself stops the LP from scoring big, but I am afraid I do have a crime to report.
Right there after ‘Open My Eyes’ comes the worst new song I’ve heard in years, ‘Rich And The Poor’. If I was being charitable I’d say it sounded like an amalgam of Muse, a nursery rhyme and a Who song I don’t like, but I’m not being charitable today. Despite some clever keyboard atmospherics and a vocal flourish, or two this is just turgid dog-end doggerel from Dis. I mean, I fucking ask you!
Rich and the poor, that’s how people get pain
She said I’m gonna show you how babies are made
That’s the knock out chorus. It’s awful, especially from a band this good. AND its misleading, everyone knows babies are delivered to new parents by storks, not made! Implying that the creation of new life involves bumping uglies with a member of the opposite sex is just irresponsible! Fools! I deleted this track off my iTunes, drastic I know, but I hope that it teaches such an otherwise fine band a lesson.
Speaking of which, one of the main reasons I got Great Western Valkyrie out from the archives is that I’m off to see Rival Sons at the end of the month in Wrexham^^ in a 500 capacity venue and I’m really looking forward to it. I firmly predict though that I shan’t be jumping up and down shouting for ‘Rich And The Poor’ though, well maybe not all night. If I was one of those ratings guys I’d give this a 6.5/10 and tell them to come back a bit lighter on their feet next time around.
But anyway here’s to those crazy days of June 2014.
*that’s actually one of those ‘lies’, as people insist on calling them, but it is only 3 days short of a ‘truth’, as people insist on calling them.
**a US donut outlet?
*^it’ll never catch on.
^or it might just be that they really like Led Zeppelin.
^^just over the border into God’s Own Country.