Listening to new product from an old favorite always carries the weight of conflicting expectations - as Lester Bangs observed, it's harder to get excited about an act's twenty-third album as you did about their first, second or third. And, as many a cynical, chin-wagging reviewer likes to tut-tut-tut, comeback albums often become dust-gathering reunion tour souvenirs - a rarely-played CD bookend that your best friend plucks out of your collection, with ruthless efficiency: so you ran out and bought that? Har-har-har, what d'you expect?
Happily, that's not the case here. This is the debut album of God's Lonely Men (GLM), featuring three-quarters of the original Lurkers, one of many Year Zero era bands that never garnered the accolades commonly reserved for the Big Three (The Clash, The Damned, and The Sex Pistols). However, rather than recapture the old glories ("Hammersmith Ramones," anyone?), drummer Pete "Esso" Haynes, bassist Nigel Moore, and singer, guitarist and lyricist Pete Stride have returned with a dark, moody, heavy rock approach - but it's thankfully free of the mile-a-minute wankery that often overtakes the "rawk" side of things.
The tightness of the sound is striking. In an era where bands feel compelled to fill all 78 minutes of those shiny little silver discs, GLM have taken the opposite tack - with four exceptions, everything happens in two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half minutes. As a rhythm team, Haynes and Moore are rock solid and to the point, without sacrificing the firepower that's required to make this music come alive.
Stride's guitar playing is agile and self-assured. When the mood takes him, he'll hang back, and create a texture - check that nifty-sounding Arabic intro to "Here Comes My Life," for instance. At other times, Stride cuts loose with abandon, as evidenced by the glorious, clanging lead breaks that drive "Now Is The Winter," and "Every Night's A Story," two of the undisputed highlights here.
The band also uses tempo changes effectively to set a mood. For Exhibit A, I nominate "Just A Dream You Had," whose ruminations should give any self-respecting trendinista to shudder ("Saw you in a red car/Making a scene/Said you got a visa/You're going nowhere"). For Exhibit B, try "Beyond The Pale," where Esso's rat-a-tat-tat drumming style truly comes to the fore, before the aggression on parade yields to a haunting bridge ("All my words go round and round/Funny they don't make a sound").
Lyric-wise, there's plenty to take in, too. The collapse of youth to substance abuse runs like a red thread through "Crash Landing" ("Sending out an SOS/Now my head is such a mess"), and the title track ("Now I'm going back in time/When I was so confused/Yeah, my song was 'Born To Lose'"). The predominant themes are melancholy and regret, with a touch of paraonia ("Don't look around/They're going to take you down"), as well.
However, the old defiance emerges on "September Breakdown" ("Is this your night?/Is this your life?/Time to begin/Release your skin"), driven home by Stride's gravelly baritone (think: "solo-era Syd Barrett hissing above the hum of a Marshall stack," and you've got the idea). Nor has the band forgotten its punk roots entirely, as the one-two combo punch of "Crash Landing" and "Bad Caroline" demonstrates - brimming with snappy guitar figures, they're the closest in tone to what older fans might expect.
As I've mentioned, in this era of CD Bloat, it's not easy to find an album that works so well from front to back, but God's Lonely Men have done the trick - with a sound that deftly straddles the past and future, it'll be interesting to see what they do next. If you want a soundtrack for the apocalypse in your head, this is the one.
God's Lonely Men: Chemical Landslide (Unlatched Records ULU 0001)
Tracklisting: Every Night's A Story/Chemical Landslide/Army Of Angels/Don't Look Around/Surviving/Here Comes My Life/Just A Dream You Had/Find Your Own Way/September Breakdown/Beyond The Pale/Crash Landing/Bad Caroline/Landslide Coda
Highlights: Chemical Landslide, Crash Landing, Every Night's A Story, Now Is The Winter
Lowlights: None, dammit!
Available Now: www.godslonelymen.com; album/CD downloads at: www.amazon.com, www.cdbaby.com, www.itunes.apple.com
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