Put yourself in my position- you love rock music, you also listen to guys (who also love rock music) talk about it in various podcasts, and then one podcast in particular offers you an opportunity to actually write about what you think about new rock releases…? I mean, come on, how fast would you have bitten that hand off?
And so here we are; imagine my surprise when I looked at the list of ‘to-dos’ only to see The Answer’s newest effort sitting there with my name on it. Now, don’t think that I’m any kind of The Answer expert, I’m not by any stretch of the imagination, but I have heard enough over the years to know that they pack a punch, and everything that I have heard has always been good…really fucking good.
Fans of the band include Jimmy Page and Joe Elliot, and with support slots for The Who, Paul Rodgers, Whitesnake, AC/DC, as well as The Rolling Stones under their collective belt it seems I’m in very good company too.
Raise a Little Hell is the fifth studio album from the Northern Irish four-piece, who have been around since the mid-2000s, released on Napalm Records and produced by Will Maya. This review is based on the Deluxe Edition with six bonus tracks, and unlike many deluxe packages it actually feels like a complete package rather than just Album plus tacked on extras for the hardcore cash cow.
First run through had me sold completely by the opening bars of “Aristocrat” and genuinely full-on rocking out by “Last Days of Summer”. The band plays straight into my wheelhouse with what, on the face of it, is a grab bag of 70’s rock influences (hard not to hear Free, Bad Company, Thin Lizzy, Zeppelin, AC/DC and early ZZ Top in their music) but at the same time they retain a contemporary sound and direction. So while there is a definite revelling in the past there is also a real sense of The Answer and its own identity throughout the record.
The production is note perfect with Maya bringing out not only the best in the band but the best in the arrangements, which is reflected in vocalist Cormac Neeson’s comments from the Napalm Records’ press release, “During summer 2014 we hightailed ourselves down to Madrid to record our new album with long time friend and producer, Will Maya. Our time in Spain represents one of the most productive and enjoyable chapters in The Answer’s colourful history…We’re all incredibly proud and thrilled with this record!”
And so they should be with all four members consistently contributing to what is definitely a beast of an album; a joyous and bombastic romp through The Answer to the question of what good music is.
- Long Live the Renegades
1,2-1,2,3,4aaaww…what better way to start any rock record? From the start, The Answer step up to the plate and don’t back down. This is everything you want from a four on the floor rock song; great air-punching playing, anthemic lyrics, killer solo, and leave ‘em wanting more. The Black Star Riders have been treading similar territory to great effect lately but as the guitar solo starts old school and moves swiftly into shredding before heading back to Thin Lizzy-ish territory, this is the closest we‘ll find the bands sounding.
- The Other Side
A joyfully ringing riff starts the second track as Neeson once again lets us hear what he’s got, and for guys like me who like to hear a voice that sounds like it’s been lived in, he really delivers and is a pleasure to hear on this record. A genuine head-banging moment happens when the band kicks in…and, well, just carries on for the whole track. It’s one of those songs that must be killer live if it’s this good from the studio.
As much as I like the opening track had “Aristocrat” been the opener I think it would’ve all been over. How could you follow that tight 70’s strut & swagger crossed with Zeppelin I overtones along with a guitar solo/harp interplay that Page & Plant would be proud of? “I am ready” indeed…full volume, please.
- Cigarettes & Regret
So, how to follow “Aristocrat”? Well, like this, actually…by changing tact completely and serving up a melodic rocker with a huge hook of a chorus, just the kind America loves. Surely a future consideration for Chris ‘I like melodic rock’ Czynszak…?
- Last Days Of Summer
There’s a lot of this deep down sludgy riff-making around lately but where a lot of songs fall and get dragged into the mud by assuming ‘noise equals power‘, the production here serves and elevates the song. You can feel the depth and power course through this song as it traces its slow inexorable drive forward. This is earth-shaking stuff; this is Godzilla emerging from the ruins and staring you down…
- Strange Kinda’ Nothing
A gentle epic of a song with a cyclical riff which rolls along, pulling and pushing in just the way it needs to…and more evidence that these arrangements while on the face of it may seem simple to begin with, continue to give up more and more on repeated listens. Stand out vocals as the bridge harmonies swell and soar. Man, this song moves you and there is a genuinely feeling of hope despite loss…what that loss quite is, though, adds to the weight of the message.
- I Am What I Am
This next song immediately throws down the gauntlet with some AC/DC riffage straight off the bat, and as soon that good ol’ analogue-sounding kick drum breaks in I’m on that highway to hell; how can I not be with an opening line like “I don’t care what you think of me”. A strength of this band is the ability to pull influences in without it sounding merely like a clone and after the initial riff we are treated to an example of this as the song rapidly moves with an unexpected dynamism into something very un-AC/DC-like…and it works. Paul Mahon’s very tasty blues-based guitar solo deserves a mention, bringing Joe Perry to mind, but in truth the whole band are 100% in the room on every track.
The next track is another example of this band’s confidence to throw different sounds or influences together and funnel it all through their own creative filter. It seems strange, considering what has come before, to use a guitar effect that is heavily redolent of the sound bands like U2 and Angels & Airwaves have based careers on but, again, the band make it work by tying it together with a more traditional rock chorus. Adding in that the breakdown on the bridge and following solo wouldn’t sound out of place on a Queens Of The Stone Age album and it sounds like a mess, right? As I say, they really make it work.
- Gone Too Long
The general lyrical themes of the album touch on the need to find peace, move forward, and of strength in self through acceptance. With “Gone Too Long” Neeson declares it unashamedly, “I apologise for all the shit I have done…but you’ve been gone too long’.
A straight forward rock song in the best possibly way, with Micky Waters and James Heatley (on Bass and Drums respectively) once again proving that great rock bands live and die on their rhythm sections. Musically, across the album these guys provide not just solid backing but a raised platform from which Mahon and Neeson can take-off into higher reaches.
This is a track that wears its 70’s influences proudly on its sleeve, from the punchy jive lyrical delivery and rock ‘n’ roll chorus to the bluesy guitar solo and fills, not to mention those “Red Lips like strawberry wine”. The band sounds like they’re having fun with this one and when Neeson states “We brought the blues, the swagger and soul back into the studio and emerged from it with an album that encapsulates our unabated love for making the music we make”, you believe it.
- I Am Cured
Man, it’s hard not to hear the Zeppelin swagger all over this track, not only in the Slide Guitar intro but all over the chorus too. Just as well I’m a Zephead. This is literally a life-affirming manifesto; through all the trials and tribulations, the slings and arrows, I am cured. Something has happened but we don’t find out what, we just get to join in the joyous feeling of rebirth… and man, it feels good!
- Raise A Little Hell
The title track is a little like a QOTSA riff given up to Bad Company for vocal treatment. A slab of monolithic rock in the traditional mould and the band do it so well. This is the kind of music which inspires people to start playing; the kind of music that compels you to turn it up and tear it up. Neeson’s rasping vocal perfectly matches the band’s lumbering beast of a lay-down, whilst Mahon flies, like Page, just a little left of heaven. Perfectly encapsulating The Answer on this record and a truly fantastic way to finish the regular cut of the album.
- Feel Like I’m On My Way (Bonus Track)
Fortunately, however, it’s not the end for this Deluxe Edition and after a slight nod to QOTSA with the title track the first bonus track plays like a fairly straight homage, in much the same way as QOTSA’s “Precious & Grace” is a straight homage to ZZ Top (along with being an excellent solo vehicle for Billy Gibbons; you should check it out). Another apt comparison is the QOTSA’s propensity to experiment with recording techniques and throw in subtle changes to excite an arrangement, or “ear candy” as producer Toby Wright described it in a recent Decibel Geek episode, and The Answer enjoy their ear candy for sure. Listen to the harmony lines introduced throughout this track and tell me I’m wrong.
- Flying (Bonus Track)
Oh man, Neeson certainly can deliver on the vocal front but for me the star turn here is bassist Micky Waters (who, according to Wikipedia, was the first person to play Phil Lynott‘s black bass since the legend’s death in 1986). Not content with just root playing he‘s creating his own melodies while driving the track ever onward, and making me draw comparisons with John Paul Jones is the highest compliment I can think of.
- I Will Follow On (Bonus Track)
And still the band delivers with more full-on rock swagger, those sessions in Spain must have really been something because the band sounds like it’s firing on all cylinders all the time. Mahon once more takes a blistering solo…I’m going to see this band live as soon as possible.
- The Other Side (Acoustic Version – Bonus Track)
- Gone Too Long (Acoustic Version – Bonus Track)
- Strange Kinda’ Nothing (Unplugged Version – Bonus Track)
The acoustic bonus tracks that we get are more or less straight up but stripped down versions of the album tracks. Again the producer deserves kudos for allowing the listener to not only appreciate the song as is but relish its component instrumentation. “Strange Kinda Nothing does stand out for those gorgeous harmonies on the bridge section (even more beautiful in these delicate surroundings) but these last three tracks bear out the old adage “it’s not a good song if you can’t play it on an acoustic”, whilst providing a great way to round out the deluxe edition.
Before you press the play button again…(people still do that, right…?)
The Answer are currently hot-footing it around Europe before heading over to the USA for June and July.
Check out the official page for tour dates and make sure you don’t miss ‘em.