This review is a big deal for me. I’ve been a Thunder fan since their first album, Backstreet Symphony. I’ve followed them over the years through all the ups and downs they have had. It was a bucket list goal of mine to go see them in the UK for years. When they called it quits (the second time) in 2009, I was convinced I would never see Thunder live or get to hear any new music from them again.
Then in 2011, I got a strange email from their fan club saying Thunder was playing in Sun Valley, Idaho, an hour away from the small town where I grew up. Danny Bowes (lead vocals) & Luke Morley (lead guitar) were participating in a charity motorcycle ride starting in British Columbia and ending in Sun Valley, where the rest of the band would fly in to meet up with them to play a warm-up gig for a one-off live performance, at that year’s High Voltage Festival. My bucket list wish of getting to see Thunder play was realized…but that experience could be a whole article entirely.
That High Voltage show marked the beginning of Thunder’s revival leading up to a comeback album, Wonder Years, in 2015 and now, Rip It Up. Thunder have always been a tight band with outstanding lyrics and songwriting. Wonder Days was no exception. As the release date for Rip It Up approached, I was excited to hear another great Thunder album.
Thunder is Danny Bowes on vocals. Luke Morley is the primary songwriter and guitars. Ben Matthews plays guitars and keys. Gary ‘Harry’ James and Chris Childs round out the lineup on drums and bass respectively. I’ve always described Thunder as a Bad Company’s younger brothers, solid hard rock with a heavy blues base. Rip It Up plays like an homage to all the great British bands.
This album does not disappoint. The chief riff on the opening track, “No One Gets Out Alive”, echoes Led Zeppelin’s “Song Remains the Same”. Thematically, the track addresses the shortness of life and to embrace living in the now. “No One Gets Out Alive” serves as the album’s manifesto of embracing good times with maturity. Next, up is “Rip It Up”, the lead single from the album. “Rip It Up” has a sleazy swagger that Morley says draws from Bowie’s “Jean Genie”. It’s a catchy tune that I find myself humming along to constantly. “She Likes the Cocaine”, a tale of a club girl who likes to party past her prime, lays down a fat bass groove with some wah-wah guitar. I love the addition of the woman’s backing vocals reminiscent of The Rolling Stone‘s “Give Me Shelter”, which Thunder does an incredible cover.
“Right From The Start” is a reflective ballad, remembering friends lost. The track is a showcase of Danny Bowes’s vocals. Danny hasn’t lost a step after nearly 30 years of signing. Thunder has come out with some of my favorite ballads ever and“Right From The Start” fits right into that stack. One thing that will sell me on a song immediately is cowbell so when Harry lays it down in “Shakedown”, I was sold. Luke explains that “Shakedown” is a political song about UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s time in office. “Heartbreak Hurricane” is a sprawling mid-tempo epic that lives up to its name. Chris Childs is one of my favorite bass players in rock and “In Another Life” is a perfect example of why. The track is has a laid back groove full of restraint that gives the song a smooth feel. This track reminds me of the experimentation displayed on earlier albums like The Thrill Of It All and Giving The Game Away, a real blue-eyed soul approach.
“The Chosen One” leads the back third of the album with a great piano intro by Ben Matthews. The track is about the intrusiveness of the media in the digital age and has some unconventional lyrics like “eel riding Vaseline” and “assassins smiling like an ingénue”. “The Enemy Inside” continues the trend on this album of paying homage the great British act with a riff that feels like Faces, “Stay With Me” (another track Thunder covered early on). The track is about holding the reins on the inner demon.
“Tumbling Down” feels like a closer and I think it would have had this been the 90’s. I love the way the primary riff really feels like it’s dropping down. The female vocals also come back at the end of the track for a few minutes as well and sound great. If “Tumbling Down” would’ve been the closer, “There’s Always A Loser” would be the bonus track. A great bare bones track, that’s primarily Harry’s drum shuffle with Ben’s piano. The track feels like the last call at a nightclub and has a great intimate feel.
The overall theme I kept thinking of listening to Rip It Up is confidence and maturity. It’s been a long trip for the boys from the wide-eyed, brash Thunder that came out with Backstreet Symphony. They’re not the same band and that’s a good thing. I love listening to a band that can show that they still rock but provides a depth that comes from years of playing together and living lives. I highly recommend Rip It Up. I’m sure it will be one of the best albums I will listen to this year.