Review by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Album assigned by: Syd Spence
If you ever watch “classic” rock videos on youtube – as I myself quite often do — then you’ll find that if you scroll down to read the comments section, that sitting there amongst the most upvoted comments at the top there’ll usually be at least one extremely self-congratulatory one from someone purporting to be a teenager or adolescent and making a big deal out of his or her preference for the sweaty, hairy, “authentic” music of the past in marked contradistinction to Taylor-Swift-Justin-Bieber-One-Direction fixated peers. These youtube comment sections will also tend to feature a number of variations on the same poignant lament: that of having been cheated out by being born a generation or two too late and therefore having missed on rock’s golden age.
But these outpourings of grief are symptomatic of something much more widespread, a discontentment that arises from the very obvious malaise in which rock now finds itself. And the reasons for that malaise, for rock’s creeping debility and its for ever increasing irrelevance, aren’t too difficult to figure out either.
The fact is that from the 1950s onwards rock music enjoyed an extended, decades-long boom during which it was able to prevail both in terms of the influence it wielded on a wider culture – providing the soundtrack to the hopes, dreams and ecstasies of three or four generations of young people throughout the Western world and beyond – as well as in terms of the sheer, precipitous levels of musical creativity that it inspired: spawning a myriad of artistic triumphs from the likes of the Beatles, Hendrix, Bowie, the Clash, the Smiths, etc, etc. This boom period, it transpired, would only last up until the early 2000s when the whole thing just seemed to run out of steam like that. It was then that it reached a sort of turning point or phase transition where the great bulk of the music produced under the banner of rock essentially just stop sounding “new” – but since the elements of novelty and more especially that of shock go together to make up the foundations of the post-war youth culture that rock music itself helped to create this served to seriously undermine rock’s continued vitality as an artform. How exactly can rock can ever begin to sound ‘fresh’ and new again though when it seems incapable of overcoming its customary sonic ruts — when it keeps on labouring away with the same core set-up of amplified guitars, drums, and bass that were there since the beginning? Because what can you do with that kind of instrumental set-up up that hasn’t already been done at least twice or three times already? What? Immerse everything in feedback or strike out a drone? use prepared guitar? go atonal?…No, it seems that regardless of the lengths that rock musicians go to that they’ll never be able to escape their inevitable fate, which is that of always sounding like the past.
Well what can a poor boy do? Just give up on singing in a rock n roll band? “Not bleeding likely,” I can hear the legions of the dearly devoted scream out in unison. Perhaps you too regard yourself as one of the faithful and are unable to stomach all that hype going around about how hip hop’s stolen a definitive march on rock and roll and assuming its former status as the most exciting, urgent music genre around. Well then you might have also begun to notice how going full-“retro” musicwise no longer carries the sort of cultural stigma that it once did way back when: when well-meaning (but admittedly clumsy and humourless) retro bands like Ocean Colour Scene and Paul Weller — and to a lesser extent Oasis — would get continually ripped to shreds in the music press for being sad, uncool, hoary old dadrockers. And that in fact sounding uncannily like the past seems to carry its own sort of cachet these days, as the success of artists like the Brian Jonestown Massacre or Ariel Pink would surely seem to attest. So then why not make a virtue out of necessity? — Because if you’re bound to sound like the past whatever the fuck it is you do and whatever it is you play, then what’s to stop you from going all out with it and doing it with zeal and bravado?
And this my friends is where Admiral Sir Cloudsley Shovell finally, belatedly, make their entrance into this long and super indulgent review with a tasty little long player entitled “Check ‘Em Before You Wreck ‘Em” — an album that doesn’t so much give off a certain whiff of the past as drag the whole thick, heavy miasma of 70s proto-metal glam back along behind with it. A joyous, glittering, stomping juggernaut of a record, completely unrepentant in its retro-desire to leech out all the best parts out from your favourite Black Sabbath-Led Zep records and to regurgitate them out again in the form of a seamless little gem of a record. And it’s a sheer pleasure to listen to, trust me – so much so that you can’t help but feel a little uneasy at having been so readily seduced by a record that could, after all, have been released at any point during the last 40 years. Band name notwithstanding though, the music lacks the kind of conceptual sophistication and hijinks that other modern retro groups like have brought to the table; it’s just pure straightahead rock and roll. And it’s the love and the enthusiasm that win you over in the end, that make it sound so fresh: even if you can’t help but feel that this is a musical dead-end. That is unless you want rock to ossify into a kind of living fossil, to turn it into a kind of folk music in which every detail of the past is carefully preserved and curated – which for me personally seems to go against the whole spirit of the music. But hey what do I know, I was born about 5 years too late.