After a 17 year gap, the mythical beings that are The Network drop their second long-player. Who are they? What are they? Is a question we would all like to know but with only names like Fink, Van Gough, and Snoo to go on and a vague background they leave us guessing. What I do know is that they’ve dropped an album of pure quality so let’s pick out some highlights from this 25 track monster of a record.
“The Prophecy” kicks us off with a spoken word warning for mankind and launches into the chorus of “We’re right you’re wrong and we told you so” and lets us know that we should have listened to the band’s warning all those years ago.
“Theory of reality” is an urgent upbeat number and sets the tone for the rest of the album.
“Trans AM” is an atmospheric number with a great bass line running throughout the song.
“Asphyxia” is an instant earworm and its melody instantly lodges in the listener’s brain.
“Ivankkka is a nazi” is a contender for song of the year as it’s not only a great singalong number but the lyrics are brilliant with lines such as “Ivanka is a nazi, she’s in the KKK” and “She has a Gucci swastika and loves the NRA” it’s simply a great track.
“Flat Earth” is another gem of a song with the band telling us that if we think the world is round that we indeed are wrong.
“Degenerate” has a funky, new wave feel with some scratchy guitar and is another top tune.
“Carolina’s ultimate Netflix tweet” is a short blast of pure power-pop-punk goodness.
“Respirator” has a great keyboard opening and yet again the lyrics are great with lines such as “I used to be an anti-mask crusader but now I’m on a respirator” drawing on the recent events with covid 19 and people refusing to wear a mask for others safety.
“Cancer is the new black” has a great twangy guitar riff and an awesome drum track that keeps the album quality at an all-time high.
“Threat level midnight” is a fast punk number and instantly gets the listener’s foot-tapping to the beat.
The Network money money 2020 PT ll we told ya so! Is a triumphant return with great catchy songs with witty lyrics relating to recent times and is an album that with repeat plays the listener will find something new to enjoy.
Let’s hope The Network can bury the hatchet with their arch-nemesis Green Day wink wink to do a joint tour, now that would be something to look forward to once covid is under control.
Pick Up The Network Pt II Here
Author: Gareth Hotshot Hooper
Back in march, Billie Joe Armstrong set out to brighten things up a bit with the Green Day frontman putting out cover versions of songs he loved via the Green Day Youtube channel.
I personally loved this as it was something to look forward to each week and lighten the mood in these dark times.
So what we have here is a release of these songs as a physical document of these timeless tunes Billie decided to put his own spin on.
The album starts off with “I think we’re alone now” by “Tommy James and the Shondells” and in fairness, it’s a great version given the power-pop treatment.
Next up we have “War stories” and this is another tune I really enjoyed and I can’t recollect hearing the original by the group Starjet.
“Manic Monday” is a song that I would be very surprised if anybody had not heard before as the original by the bangles has to be one of the most played songs on the radio. Billy does a great version here with him taking the track in a much more guitar orientated direction and the track sounds all the better for it, we are even treated to a guest appearance by Susanna Hoffs of the bangles.
“Corpus Christi” “That thing you do” and “Amico” are enjoyable tracks and keeps the album going nicely.
“You can’t put your arm around a memory” is a track that this reviewer holds very close to his heart as the original by the one and only legend that is “Johnny Thunders” is a true classic in every sense of the word and in fairness to Billie he does a cracking version of a timeless tune.
“Kids in America” is another tune that will be very familiar to listeners as the original by Kim Wilde is still played on the radio a lot to this day and Billie again turns his guitar up and turns this pop classic into a power-pop gem.
“Not that way anymore” is another song this reviewer holds in high esteem as the original was written by Stiv Bators and Frank Secich and is one of my all-time favourite tunes and Billie yet again delivers with a great version that he puts his own unique stamp on.
“That’s Rock ’N’ Roll” is one of the songs that on first listen I thought I’ve heard this before but couldn’t for the life of me think who the original was done by. After some research, it was done by Shaun Cassidy and is a tune that I will definitely play more of.
“Police on my back” originally done by the Equals and covered by punk legends The Clash is a stunning track that Bille does a faithful rendition of.
Bringing this album to a close is “A New England” and like all the way through this album, Billie puts his heart and soul into it and the album finishes on a high.
Billie Joe Armstrong doesn’t know how to deliver a sub-par project and this is another stunning release from the Green day frontman that will give the listener much enjoyment.
Buy ‘No Fun Mondays’ Here
Author: Gareth ‘Hotshot’ Hooper
This is the third single taken from the forthcoming album ‘Looking For Love, Ready For War’, which is set for release in 2021. Same Old You was produced by the legendary Rob Cavallo (Green Day, My Chemical Romance) and co-written with Atlanta-based writer/producer Butch Walker (Green Day, Weezer, Fall Out Boy, Pink, Taylor Swift), it is a fun and upbeat rock and roll number with infectious melodies and artful musicianship, with lyrics about a relationship gone wrong
The song was co-written with Butch Walker. Tuk says of the experience, “It was really cool to write with Butch Walker, something I’ve always wanted to do. In Atlanta, he is a hometown hero and a really big inspiration to me so to be able to write with him was really special. I’m super stoked the song turned out so good. You never know what’s gonna happen, we had really good chemistry and it was a lot of fun”.
Tuk’s musical roots run deep. Growing up as an outsider in rural Georgia, he found solace in hardcore/punk acts like Black Flag and The Exploited. From there, Smith branched out into exploring seventies New York bands like The Dead Boys and New York Dolls, which lead him across the sea where he embraced first-wave British acts like The Buzzcocks and the Clash. Smith wasn’t just a casual fan of these acts, he was obsessed with them and traced their lineage with fervent dedication. “I was always into the Clash growing up and Mick Jones’ favorite band was Mott The Hoople, so through the years I ended up developing a love of the first wave of british glam, power pop and things like that,” he explains. Soon Smith was forming his own acts, toured relentlessly and building a DIY following with his high-energy live shows.
Looking for Love, Ready for War is an album that has been a long time in the making and due to be released in 2021. It is the culmination of Smith’s already impressive career in music and showcases the versatility of his songwriting. His love of rock, punk, and glam come together into a unique amalgam that is at once fresh and new and also harkens back to music that is missing from today’s musical landscape. In many ways, it’s a musical homecoming for Smith that shows that though he’s covered with battle scars from perfecting his craft, he’s come out on the other side with an amazing collection of songs.
Another week comes to a crashing end and another week of pretty impressive singles get dumped on the RPM Singles Club dancefloor. The finest in wax, digital and video are here to tickle your taste buds and hopefully inspire you into finding your new favourite band. From all corners and alleyways of the world we search
Jenny – ‘Same’ (Wanda Records) When we saw that this band was fronted by LA Drugz Justin Maurer we had to go and crack it open and crank up the volume and from the first clashing chords of the harmonious ‘Stupid Band’ we smiled knowing we were in the presence of a power pop genius. But with five tunes on this release, it could only get better as the dreamy ‘Rose City’ took us in an upwards trajectory as far as moods go towards that layered vocal chorus it was already a must-have new record. ‘Cockroach Tea’ is more power-pop goodies leaning more towards the pop and then the 60s infused acoustic Thunders melodic ‘Alright With Me’ it has a really early Who mod like quality if it’s possible to mash up some Thunders, meets The Who if it’s not possible then it has just been invented.
To round it off there’s the acoustic ‘Song For Sadie’ an old Suspect PArts track but redone here making this a more eclectic offering than Maurers LA Drugz or Suspect Parts but none the less desirable. Don’t dilly dally as they say in the olden days get it here or on one sided vinyl 12″ from Wanda Records Here
Stiff Richards – ‘Going Numb’ (Legless Records) With two albums in the bag Australias Stiff Richards are hot property. If you managed to get a hold of their debut album first time around then you’re good if you managed to pick up a repress then, well-done pat yourself on the back. Then came ‘Dig’ which was also pretty spectacular to be fair and seemingly unable to do any wrong they sneak out this digital single to let us all know they’re still alive and ready to go (hopefully) with album number three due in October it looks like a winter assault from Melbourne’s finest and we can’t get enough from the southern hemisphere who are leading the way with some awesome punk rock.
Death By Unga Bunga – ‘Trouble’ (Jansen Records) The second in a series of new singles set to be released in the coming months. These Norweigan Nutters have got a slice of summer sunshine in the shape of ‘Trouble’ With a great hook over that steady beat its catchier than a global pandemic. once this one lodges itself into your head it’s not coming out and you’ll be muttering the lyrics for days wondering just who the hell it is. That’s Death By Unga Bunga that is and with the news of more to come there is light at the end of this pandemic that’s for sure and it’s coming from Norway and not some lab in England it might be power pop it might be death metal but one thing for sure it’ll have the DBUB logo on it. Get it here
Killer Hearts – ‘Get Some’ (Spaghetty Town Records) Houston we have a problem. We’re not getting enough Rock and Fucking Roll and that’s a problem. What isn’t a problem is when Killer Hearts this is the first glimpse of what’s coming on their long player ‘Skintight Electric’. Lots of loose riffs and oohs and arghs and some of the best sleazy Rock and Roll since Flash Boys and The Adjusters were about. Go Get some high octane Rock and Roll if you know what’s good for you! Buy Here
Guerrilla Teens – ‘Tell Me What To Do’ (Self Release) Another day another Guerrilla Teens record gets released via Bandcamp. This week’s offering is a right thumper by the name of ‘Tell Me What To Do’ backed by ‘Hurry Up’. One is in your face and bouncing on its toes like a young hooligan the other is a more laid back confident slow burner but both ooze quality and will make for awesome tracks when these weekly offerings finally get pressed by some awesome record label onto a slab of plastic to nestle alongside Those Humpers, Lovesores records you’ve got. buy Here
14 Units – ‘Listen’ (Self Release) This is the lockdown-busting debut release from 14 Units who cram five tunes into this debut EP, Five songs about drinking, getting old, murder, regret, not drinking and Brexit (possibly). opening with a neat uptempo twelve-bar with melody and somewhere between Frank Turner vocally and a cowpunk Quo. They get their jig on from a sprightly ‘Can’t Unlike You’ its melodic and uptempo and carries a decent melody. They certainly like to boogie and then they turn down for a more mellow knocking on heavens door progression for ‘Looks Like Rain’ which heads off down a Buffalo Tom wormhole and its probably the best track on offer with the sparse verse with just percussion before the guitars rejoin for the build-up to the chorus which is a catchy sing-along. A decent EP and first offering from 14 Units. Buy Here
Grindhouse – ‘Ramma Damma’ (Tuff Cuff Records) Melbourne must have something in the water because over the last couple of years its turning up some smoking hot records and this summer has seen that continue with those purveyors of pounding Rock and Roll Grindhouse are back in the room with some sweaty flesh pressing high octane Rock and Roll. in the shape of ‘Ramma Damma’ and ‘City High’ with its bruising riff-a-rama and moon the loon like drumming this is the dogs bollocks. If there ever was a sleeve that best described what was going on in the grooves before you ever played it then it’s this bad boy. or should that be bad girl? Rock and Roll can get you high so fuckin high and Grindhouse has the goods baby!
Relentlessly good band and with a new album on the way these are good times for fans of high octane Rock and Fuckin’ Roll Grindhouse Style. Bring it on. Buy it here
Girls In Synthesis – ‘They’re Not Listening’ (Harbinger Sound) Taken from the debut album ‘Now Here’s An Echo From Your Future’ this video will guarantee you a head fuck from the Jesus and mary chain feedback and the repetitive pounding to the strobe on the video GIS are fucking with you and that’s always a good thing. turn it up and then some more and get lost in that caustic guitar riff before the bass rumble nails you to the floor. Extreme music for extreme times uncompromising and uncomfortable just like punk rock should be. Like crass for the 2020s the album is due the end of the month. Let’s hope this isn’t the soundtrack to the apocalypse like my neighbours think it is.
Cutters – ‘Cutters’ (Legless Records) Another day another slice of punk rock from Down under. This time labelmates of Stiff Richards Cutters are here with this tasty three-track EP. With howls of feedback and a frantic hoof around your ears, this is relentless. ‘Chewed Up Fortune’ is first up and lead throat Al insists he wants to fuck and sleep in that order I guess. Cutters aren’t fucking around either with their Lo-‘Fi take it to the edge of reason and give it a good fuckin’ thrashing. If you think they would be spent after that opener then you’d obviously be wrong. ‘Robo Debt Blues’ is like Motorhead in their late 70s heyday knocking out some ANL and uk82 anthems and dragging through the Melbourne back streets before dropping them off at the studio. Nice!
But then they get all proggy on the five-minute headfuck frenzy of Twister’. Only yanking your chain the intro is painless before they go fuckin’ ape-like Venom meets the Exploited. Its frantic, Nasty, out of control and fuckin’ champion – Buy it here
Zip Gun Bomber – ‘Paper Aeroplanes EP’ (Rum Bar Records) Outta Cambridge, Massachusetts Zip Gun Bombers have been a thing since 2011 and with this being a revisited yup, you guessed it its a new improved take on that EP. Sure its a Nostalgic trip for that early 90’s era Lookout! Records and all things Green Day. ZipGun Bomber’s ‘Paper Airplanes’ EP embraces and embodies all of that. From the opening of ‘Chase That Feeling’ to the acoustic closing of ‘Paper Airplanes’, its easy on the ear pop-punk where the lyrics are easy to embrace and before you know it you’ll be singing the songs like they’ve always been on your playlist. Well worth checking out if any of the previous words ever meant anything to you jump in and lose yourself in the tunes. Sure there is a familiarity here but it’s only pop-punk Rock and Roll and I like it! Oh and if you like you can download the EP for free or name your price. Pick it up Here
Science Man – ‘Match Game’ (Swimming Faith Records) Punk as fuck – a 7″ single with not 2 or 3 songs on it but nine slabs of uncompromising head mashing industrial hardcore. Science Man from Buffalo NY isn’t here to compromise he’s here to lay out his manifesto and from the opening repetitive thump of ‘Tiny Tower’ it’s game on through the frantic thirty-two seconds of ‘Steal The Street’. Don’t leave the fuckin room for gawds sake.
‘Surge’ sounds like the cassette on a Commadore 64 or finally, the aliens are coming. At times it sounds like out of control chaos but I suspect it’s far from that and the almost prog length of the final track ‘Cursed’ clocking in at almost two minutes is a challenge but industrial hardcore isn’t meant to be easy listening, I’m sure only the hearty punk amongst us will endure or even get this straight off. But its certainly interesting as well as a challenging listen.
Pick it up here
S V & the Eruptions – ‘Tomorrows Promises’ (Avenue Recordz) An altogether more sombre and thoughtful SV & The Eruptions, It’s not all cheeky chappies and a bit of slap and tickle it can’t be. Here SV busts out a mid-paced thoughtful number with a big catchy chorus that drops back into the muted guitar work and into another tuneful verse. A most excellent twist and shows how versatile and downright bloody good these gents are. I have told him myself the tunes you aren’t expecting are some of his best work and this will grow and grow and in time will be one of those late in the set anthems you look forward to. Excellent song with great vocals.
Ryan Hamilton & Kay Hanley – ‘Oh No’ This dropped last minute so we thought we’d include it in the singles Club because we love some Ryan Hamilton.
The Fuzzstainz – ‘Sick! Sick! Sick!'(Beluga Records) How could we sign off this week’s singles Club without dropping in on Scandinavia Again. Always reliable, Always churning out quality Rock and Roll from all the corners of the world Beluga Records have released this banging 7″ platter with two tracks of sizzling Garage Punk courtesy of The Fuzzstainz. The lead track is sick – no it literally is sick! those guitars sound like razor blades trying to cut through some barbed wire. But it’s catchy and easy to sing along to but the best is yet to come in the shape of ‘Thinkin’ ‘Bout Me’ again the same standards are set but with added floor tom and is that a buzzsaw? Gawd knows but its got swagger and I love it. Pick it up here
Well, with a brand new album on the horizon we wanted to get the lowdown on whats going on with Tommy Ray and where he’s at musically. Having been a long time admirer of The Cry! and his punk rock record The Decayed Tommy branched out as a solo artist with an impressive debut solo album so, it was time to find out what makes the guy tick and where he’s at with the new record so here’s what we got once we tracked him down…
Solo record number two already you seem to have hit a rich vein of songwriting. Are you writing all the time?
Literally, “all” the time. It’s how I see life; big hooks and jagged verses. My mind is always busy making verse or thinking through a production. Right now, not including “Handful of Hits” LP and the dozen tracks I am holding back for a third “The CRY!” record (hopefully), I have over 50 titles in some active stage of production. I will never have time to finish them all.
As far a the quality of songs, I guess that’s up to the listeners.
I think most people saw The CRY! as your vehicle and you are their focal point for sure. Where are you at with The CRY!? Could you not just have released the solo album under The CRY! banner? starting over even in the internet age seems like a bold move.
Naw. The CRY! is a band and that owes its sound from the members creating collaboratively. TOMMY RAY! Is me doing me. They are similar sounds for sure but my solo stuff has a much harder edge and the lyrical content is more real-life and not as clean cut.
Right now, The CRY! is dormant. Brian Crace (singer/guitarist/co-founder) and I have some pretty bad blood going that needs to get taken care of before we can work together. In time I think we will work it out. Brian is my favorite guitar player and life is short. I do have an LP worth of material and have five or so tracks nearly completed but there doesn’t seem to be the same energy to complete the project with Brian and I not working together. Also, our bass player (Michael Cortichiato) recently left Portland to play with Dr. Boogey in LA (I love those guys and wish them all much luck).
Going back to the debut solo record, I think it was a familiar sound obviously with your voice on it but there’s more of an edge to the sound, is that fair? In your opinion was it the best record you’ve made to date? Even songs like ‘Coming Back’ whilst having the keys is a rougher edge.
All fair! But the records are all different. But, here goes: It is really close but I like the first CRY! record better than the ‘Dangerous Game’ LP. I recently listen to both and was really proud to be part of that. They are both really great records but I like the rock & roll feel of the first record just a bit more than the glammy feel of the second record. Brian wrote more of the 2nd record (‘Seventeen’, ‘Hanging Me Up’, ‘Toys In The Attic’. He also co-wrote a few tracks) and that is reflected in the overall sound of the record.
Also, Evan “Maus” Mersky and Dave Berkam also were HUGE contributors to both studio LPs by The CRY!. Maus recorded, engineered, and played amazing drums while Dave is simply a brilliant all-around musician. His current band “The Reverberations” are pretty cool.
I like the song-writing and production on the TOMMY RAY! Records because (as you accurately stated) the songs are honest, gritty, and produced only as much as needed to get the point across. My mind is a pretty chaotic place these days and I think that that gets across.
Bottom line: I like the new “Handful of Hits” collection…(until the next record) Buy it!
That’s my shit! The Portland street-punk scene is where I grew up. I am proud to say that these songs were NOT all written by me. There are songs written by my early bandmates that we played at hard-core house shows and notorious drunken events. We had no way of recording tracks at the time, I didn’t want the songs to be lost, and I still feel the youthful angst so I figured it was time roast those old chestnuts one more time. My old bandmates are super psyched to see me bring back those piss & puke proven classics! My next record project will likely be a 2nd Decayed record.
Coming up to date tell us about the new record? Whos playing on it? Where was it recorded? What’s it sound like?
Truthfully, I played guitar of only a handful of The CRY! recordings. We had better players in Maus, Dave and Brian so I was happy to just write songs and sing my parts. We always said that the best player should record the parts, and they did! Of course, I played the parts live.
Now, I have learned how to play all the instruments so when I made “solo” music, I did it solo. I mean, I recorded all the parts tracks myself here in Portland. I think Brian may play a guitar part (like on Suzanne from the last LP) and Corsh was involved with recording a couple of tracks but the most part it’s all me.
It sounds like me. Not sure who to compare it too… it’s honest…
What’s the lockdown been like for Tommy Ray?
I don’t like it.
I just don’t like it.
What influences have been coming out in your new record? I remember hearing a banana stand performance where you did modern kicks and thinking it was the perfect cover for you and you totally owned it? What other covers you been jamming on?
I seem to recall you asking this question a few years back and my answer is the same as always. Ramones. Exploding Hearts. Ramones. Paul Collins. Ramones. Beach Boys!
I really like a 3 min pop song that moves. You know, “Don’t bore us. Get to the chorus.”
I’ve been playing tons of music and busking in downtown Portland during the recent protests. Where there are people, I will play music. I play mostly standards from the past 50 years. Never gets old. It’s my favorite thing to do. My dad plays a little guitar and slams through the old hits like a savage for hours. I learned from him…
Pandemic easing what are the chances of you coming to Europe and the UK for some shows?
What other bands and performers out there currently delivering the good in your opinion? Who would you think were the right bands for you to go out on tour with?
I’d love to tour with Green Day. They bring the goods and I could learn a ton from Billy Joe. Mad respect there. Tuk Smith and the Restless Hearts are crushing it these days. Love his shit. Shit, there are so many great talents out there I will tour with anyone that is not boring. Too many live acts are fucking boring. Great skills, okay songs, but boring and lacking any “rock & roll”.
So there you have it. the new solo album is out in October and its a belter if you’re already a fan then you’ll love it and if you’re not – why not? Its only Rock n Roll kids and Tommy Ray does it really well.
Tuk Smith & The Restless Hearts was due to be opening act for Mötley Crüe stadium tour starting this month before it was postponed to 2021, however, despite this, Tuk is thrilled to announce the release of the new EP Covers From The Quarantine on 12th June 2020, via Better Noise Music. The release will be available on streaming platforms and can be accessed here.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic the music industry is now in flux, live performances are on hold, and the music community, as we know it, has been forced to adapt to these new challenges. Covers From The Quarantine is Tuk’s resilient contribution to the music community, throughout the quarantine period he kept creating new material and performing originals & covers for rock lovers with his bi-weekly live-streams.
Tuk comments: “I decided to record some acoustic cover songs in my attic home studio to keep sane during the covid-19 lockdown. These songs and EP are not a representation of who I am as an artist, I just felt like I should try and contribute with something creative and positive in such uncertain times. Also, with all my tours being cancelled or postponed and my album pushed back I feel like it’s important to stay connected with fans. When picking the track list I chose them based off my moods during the quarantine. I recorded this EP without electric guitars and just used acoustic, keys, and some drum samples to make up my one-man band. It definitely gives the body of songs a vibe of its own.”
LA Weekly, in their endorsement of his streamed performances, says: “The guy has a glorious sound that straddles the line between glitter stomp and punk poet“. This is spirit behind Covers From The Quarantine, a collection of Tuk’s favourite tracks recorded in his attic studio, served stripped down to their very powerful core: David Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars’, INXS’s ‘Don’t Change’, Lana Del Rey’s ‘Summertime Sadness’ and more.
Each song on the EP represents a moment, a mood of Tuk’s quarantine. He continues: “David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ was the biggest challenge for me to translate. The chord structure and arrangement are pretty unconventional once you open the hood up. It’s always good to push yourself so I enjoyed it. Bowie has continued to be a staple of inspiration for years so thought I’d take a swing at it. Hope he digs it.”
When speaking about INXS’s Don’t Change Tuk says: “I’ve been wanting to cover ‘Don’t Change’ for a few years now live with a band and just never got around to it.”
Another key track on the EP is Lana Del Rey’s Summertime Sadness: “In ‘Summertime Sadness’ I had to change a few words out to be sang from my perspective … listen close and you’ll hear me mention a Rod Stewart hairdo and my Cuban heel boots. This song was way out of my comfort zone and wheelhouse … I still struggle whether or not I should have done it … oh well! Once again, I wanted to challenge myself and see what would happen. At the end of the day a good tune is a good tune. The lyric and feeling of it seem appropriate for the times.”
Tuk Smith bleeds for rock & roll, the kind that stays true to its roots, the kind the classics were built on. After building a career as the frontman for BITERS, Tuk will be launching his solo career with his band The Restless Hearts on his Better Noise debut Looking For Love, Ready For War. Produced by the legendary Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Phil Collins, Kid Rock), the album unifies multiple musical styles and showcases the versatility of Tuk’s songwriting. Tuk Smith & Restless Hearts were set to join Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard and Joan Jett on their epic US stadium tour this summer; however, due to Covid-19 pandemic all touring activity is currently on hold.
Covers From The QuarantineTrack Listing:
1. Don’t Change
2. Life On Mars
3. Hard Luck Woman
4. Summertime Sadness
5. Behind Blue Eyes
Follow/Like TUK SMITH & THE RESTLESS HEARTS
Billie Joe Armstrong does the best cover of his lockdown by tipping his hat to the one and only legend that was Stiv Bators by taking on the excellent ‘Not That Way Anymore’. already having 100,000 plays on youtube how cool would it be if only 10% of the kids watching looked up Stiv and liked what they heard. Originally released on Bomp Records back in ’79 its classic power-pop from the Master Bator.
There are many mysteries in this world, but one of the greatest for me is why Butch Walker is not a household name at this point in his career. From his humble beginnings with glam rock hopefuls SouthGang, to chart bothering, power pop sensations Marvelous 3, onto a burgeoning solo career that has accumulated no less than 8 solo albums over the last 20 odd years. Oh yeah, did I mention the day job? His production credits include the likes of Weezer, Panic At The Disco, Pink, Taylor Swift and most recently Green Day…need I go on?
For me, Butch Walker has a certain way with melody and wordplay that few can match. He has the ability to tell a story and tug at the heartstrings, putting the listener right in the picture. Every album has its own merits and every album is better than the last, as Butch strives to not repeat past work and continue to do something fresh.
When I first heard ‘Sycamore Meadows’, I thought he wouldn’t better it, until with his band The Black Widows, he released ‘The Spade’, and so it went on. A master of introspective and retrospective lyricism, his work culminated in 2016 with ‘Stay Gold’, a masterpiece of 80’s throwback stadium rock and lashings of Americana. The blue collar ethics of Springsteen and Bon Jovi were recreated and produced to perfection, the likes of ‘East Coast Girl’ and ‘Can We Just Not Talk About Last Night’ solidifying his reputation as one of America’s best kept secrets.
So how does Butch Walker take it up another notch in 2020? He only goes and releases a concept album, doesn’t he! ‘American Love Story’ is a full blown rock opera, a story of hate wrapped up in glorious, upbeat signature melodies to die for.
Inspired by the 2016 presidential election, Butch started writing songs about bigotry and race hate, and he then found he could write about nothing else. No love stories, no break up songs. This is a story loosely based on his upbringing in Georgia and the characters he saw around him growing up in a small town environment. These are bittersweet tales told to a soundtrack of late 70’s /early 80’s rock radio from the point of view of a cast of characters. Most songs are sung from the perspective of Bo, a white, middle-aged bigot, along with the gay classmate he bullied in school and a hippy chick named Paris that he ends up marrying.
As with every story it has a beginning and an end. The album flows as one body of work, to be experienced with the press of a button and it will have your attention until the disc stops spinning. With segues and radio interference throughout, it does feel like a journey, a movie in audio if you like.
‘The Singer’ immediately gets the brain ticking with its “are we having a conversation? “ refrain, before first track proper ‘Gridlock’ introduces our protagonist as he returns to his childhood town. Musically, it’s prime Butch Walker, harking back in feel to ‘Letters’. Lush harmonies, a cool guitar lick and though provoking lyrics draw the listener in from the off. Whiffs of 70’s power pop emanate from the speakers, and the sounds of ELO and Gerry Rafferty fill the ears.
The radio friendly ‘Flyover State’ mixes spoken word drawl with upbeat acoustic vibes. Here Butch channels Lou Reed and Tom Petty, while the genius pilfering of Tight Fit’s ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ melody is cleverly changed to fit the theme, “freedom, dumb my way” he sings.
‘6ft Middle-Age American Man’ explores redneck stereotypes, to a happy-go –lucky, Billy Joel like piano led tune. And answers on a postcard if you can guess who the line “my Jesus wore a frown and a red ball cap” refers to.
Anti-love song ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Like Love)’ paints a stark picture of where our man comes from over a soundtrack of Kiss guitar harmonies and stadium-sized handclaps. We are then introduced to his school victim and his struggle with living the American Dream and ultimately coming out in the piano-led ‘Divided States Of America’.
We are mid-album and that leads nicely into the moment of change in the story. ‘Out In The Open’ is told from the perspective of ‘the bullied classmate’ in vivid detail. From the school days of bullying, empathising with Bo and ultimately the irony of pulling “the guy who called me ‘faggot’” from a car wreck and saving his life. Musically it’s ‘Hazard’ meets ‘Dry County’, FM territory done the Butch way, with an epic guitar solo to boot. I feel the contrast between the melody and the lyrics is what makes this song so damn immersive.
“So, are we having a conversation yet?” Announces Butch, as if needing confirmation that we are hooked. Side two sees Bo questioning his beliefs on ‘Torn in the USA’ and following pro-white radio interference, the funky ‘Everything White’ owes as much to Chic as it does to Springsteen and Gerry Rafferty.
‘Pretty Crazy’ introduces the hippy chick Paris, who comes along and changes Bo’s life for the better. Again, this is classic Butch, it could’ve easily fitted nicely on either of the Black Widows albums. A nice guitar line that follows the church choir “wooh-wooh’s” on a sweet melody. Catchy, soaked in summer vibes, with great bluesy guitar licks and handclaps, what more could you ask for in a song about a girl who claimed she did coke with Jesus in the bathroom of a train!?
‘You Gotta Be Just Who You Are’ sees our story jump a few years. Bo and Paris got married; they had a kid who turns out to be gay, oh the irony! But Bo is now a changed man, and this is a love letter to his son told over bombastic 80’s beats, swathes of electronica and choppy, guitar chords straight off a Duran Duran record.
Emotive piano-led closer ‘Forgot To Say I Love You’ is a haunting reprise. Bo, now an old man, has lived, loved and lost. He takes the ashes of his wife across the desert to see the country as he always said they would.
Apparently, Butch has been sitting on this album for 2 years waiting for the right time to release it. With racist and homophobic references that will surely offend the not so open-minded, it’s a brave and ambitious album to put out into the world and it is sure to jolt minds and fire up conversation. Many will take it out of context and not realise these are the actions of characters from observations of an artist who grew up in a redneck town in Georgia, a place that still holds a place in the writer’s heart.
Even though ‘American Love Story’ was recorded pre-quarantine, the collision of upbeat, radio friendly melodies and dark subject matter make for a thought provoking rock opera, a snapshot of American life that is needed in these troubled times.
Buy ‘American Love Story’ Here
Author: Ben Hughes