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After twenty years, nine studio albums and three bass guitarists, Thunder recently split for the second and final time. As someone who has all of their CDs in my collection and who has seen them play live on something like six or seven occasions, including their final ever show at the Hammersmith Apollo a short while back, I was predictably devastated by this news.
I don't know if their ninth and final studio album was named knowing that this possibility may come to pass, but in more ways than one, they've gone out with a "Bang!" What I do know is that even after all this time, Thunder still manage to come up with things they have never done before and that helps keep this album fresh, even for people who have been fans for as long as I have.
Opener, and the only single from the album, "On the Radio" is a shock for a long term fan in that it contains the only swear word that Thunder have ever committed to a recording, as far as I recall. It's a song that proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, bemoaning the lack of airplay the band have received in recent years and a failure to get the track play listed contributed to the split. In all other ways, though, this is Thunder at their brilliant best. It's a great, up-tempo rock-pop number, with a driving riff and lyrics filled with the band's usual humour. It's the kind of track that the band have made something of a trademark over the last twenty years and if you've been following them for as long as I have, you can hear how much they have come on in that time.
Over the years, it's not often that Thunder have written a song about a specific event, preferring to focus on generalities when they stray from familiar ground, perhaps so the songs don't age so much. "Stormwater" relates specifically to the disaster hurricane Katrina caused in New Orleans a few years ago and whilst the subject may age and be forgotten, this is another great song. Once again, it's a driving up-tempo rock-pop track with a great guitar riff.
On every Thunder album there is a song that shows the band's humour. On "Bang!", that song is "Carol Ann". Seemingly a song about the aftermath of a drunken one night stand, it's a gentle opening that expands later on into a mid-tempo rock-pop number with a touch of funk on the bass line. Lyrics such as "I must have been pretty average / For you to get out of bed and go / Carol-Ann / Are you a babe or do you look like a man?" show that the band are still having some fun and there is the obligatory 80s rock key change towards the end.
Things calm down a little for "Retribution", which is a slower tempo and more acoustic based track. It's not a bad song, but after all the up-tempo rock of the opening songs, it feels a little weak and pale by comparison. It drifts past pleasantly enough, but there's nothing here to particularly grab me. It feels like it's caught mid-way between being a ballad and being something else and doesn't quite work out what it wants to be.
Right from the opening drums and guitar of "Candy Man", you know this is a song without the same issues. Whilst it's not quite as upbeat or as up-tempo as the earlier tracks, it's another decent rock-pop number. Whilst not as powerful, the "na-na-na" section in the middle of the song does make me think of "Dirty Love", one of their earlier singles and that's not a bad place for memory to be taking any Thunder fan.
"Have Mercy" is another one of the slightly weaker tracks on the album, although it's quite an interesting one if you listen carefully to the lyrics. Otherwise, however, it's a mid-tempo rocker than opens gently and then grows into something with a bit more meat to it. It's not a bad track, especially once it's grown into the mid-tempo rock-pop track it becomes, but it's just very standard and there's not an awful lot to it that stands out.
One thing Thunder have always excelled at is the pop-rock stadium ballad and "Watching Over You" is a fine effort, even by their high standards. A gentle acoustic start expands into a lovely pop-rock ballad, with Danny's voice settling beautifully into the lyrics and some decent chorus harmonies.
I love the driving guitar and drum riff that opens "Miracle Man" and it simply gets better from there. Admittedly, the guitar does sound a little like Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" in parts, but that's not a bad song to be imitating. This is the ideal up-tempo pop-rock track, with a driving beat and an incredible chorus. It's a tough choice with so many decent songs on the album, but this one is just about my favourite.
There's time for another shock for the long-term Thunder fan with "Turn Left at California". It's got an almost country sounding guitar riff, nearly heading into bluegrass territory. However, it is a jaunty little riff and once the drum beat comes in, it's a wonderful song to be walking down the road to. It's not one of my favourites, but it is a peppy little tune and it's nice to hear something a little different.
Another one of my favourites from the album is "Love Sucks". Much like "Miracle Man", there's a great guitar riff, although this track is a lot more down-tempo and with the bassline, has a slightly funkier feel to it. The title and a section at the end remind me of J. Geils Band's "Love Stinks" and once again, being a song I love, that makes the comparison a very good one, as far as I'm concerned.
"One Bullet" is back to the ballads, but this time with a little more of a social conscience. Way back in 1992, the lead single from the "Laughing on Judgement Day" album was a beautiful ballad called "Low Life in High Places", which talked about drug selling on the streets. Things have moved on in the sixteen years between the albums, but this is the twin to that track. It's another well crafted acoustic ballad with a hard hitting lyrical content.
The album and, as it turned out, Thunder's recording career, closes with "Honey". This isn't perhaps one of their best ever songs, but it's a decent enough moment. It's another mid-tempo pop-rock number with a backing riff that, in parts, reminds me of Def Leppard's "Hysteria" album. The lyrics are worth a listen as there are a couple of amusing lines in there as well, in typical Thunder style, including one which will bring a wry smile to the lips of any man who has ever been dragged around the shops by a wife or partner.
Whilst this isn't Thunder best ever album, it is certainly a very good one from them and a great example of 1980s style pop-rock. It's a must for any fan of the band or genre and whilst it's not available particularly cheaply, with a cheapest price of £4.59 plus postage from the Amazon Marketplace, these 12 tracks of classic pop-rock spread over 54 minutes are still great value even at that price. The only disappointment is that there will never be another Thunder album.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 On The Radio
3 Carol Ann
5 Candy Man
6 Have Mercy
7 Watching Over You
8 Miracle Man
9 Turn Left At California
10 Love Sucks
11 One Bullet