It's not often these days that a new album hits me right between the eyes, but this did. Frankly, it's the best thing I've heard in ages - just as I thought all the really good ones had been made long ago.
London were a quartet formed at the end of 1976, made two singles and an EP which nudged the Top 50 the following year, and an album just as they were about to disband in early 1978. Thirty years later they were back, with new guitarist Hugh O'Donnell and drummer Colin Watterston joining lead vocalist Riff Regan and bassist/vocalist Steve Voice from the original line-up. Several gigs and an official live bootleg later, here comes the second album. And it really is magnificent.
About 30 seconds of single-note feedback, gradually building up until the drums and bass kick in, open up the collection. 'When the Night Falls', a sadly almost-forgotten 1966 single by freakbeat/early psych UK band The Eyes, is the only cover version to be heard. Controlled yet storming guitar and a powerful vocal from Riff, sounding uncannily like early David Bowie at times, makes for a great start.
'Pop', a three-second sort of instrumental (OK, a sound effect - they wanted to record the world's shortest ever track), leads into 'Minute Man', powered by an almost ridiculously infectious guitar riff and tongue-in-cheek lyrics which I can't say much more about on a family-friendly website. It's similar in feel to Status Quo at their most urgent, or even classic mid/late-60s Who, Move, Rolling Stones.
Next up, 'Every Dog' is more relaxed, with added colour courtesy of 12-string guitar, a tambourine accentuating the drums, and a slight nod to The Jam in 'That's Entertainment' mode.
A chugging guitar intro reminiscent of early U2 kicks off 'Rebecca', a tale of 'A girl I know, flame red hair, gets hearts beating, drives you to despair.' By the time it reached the short but sweet and gutsy guitar break, I was starting to think Quo's 'Paper Plane' - although this one uses more than three chords! The pace continues likewise with 'Animal Attraction', which was conjuring up memories of the Undertones, Buzzcocks, the Boomtown Rats (at their early best, that is). Musically it's given an extra lift not only by the basic hook, but also - one for the guitarists among you - the way the tune effortlessly moves up one pitch with each succeeding verse.
'Like It Never Happened' will instantly have those of us of, er, a certain age smiling at the lyrics. To some extent, it's a song based around Steve namechecking everything he liked from years gone by - 'Small Faces - going places - feeling free - Simon Dee.' (Own up, a few of you might just remember Mr D).
An interesting drum pattern from Colin drives 'Celebrity Crash' along - think of a cross between The Sweet's 'Ballroom Blitz' and Golden Earring's 'Radar Love'. Combined with extra guitar parts laid down on a trip to New York by Hugh, who also taped some street sounds there that can be heard during the drum break, it's quite an epic - and they take less than three minutes to say it all.
'Standing Alone' is the real surprise on this album, not to mention bringing with it a piece of musical history. A ballad (yes, they can do it - and they have) co-written by Riff, Steve and Hugh, with reflective lyrics, it adds a new dimension with trumpet and strings effects produced by a mellotron, an early analogue tape sampler superseded in the 1970s by synthesisers, but not before it was used by prog-rock deities King Crimson on 'In the Court of the Crimson King' and the Beatles on 'Magical Mystery Tour'. And remarkably, according to studio logs, London were using the very same mellotron that those groups themselves used.
The high energy rock'n'roll returns on 'Get Out of London', the lyrics in part an angry riposte to some fool who came to a gig when they were 'playin' their home town and havin' a blast' and complained that the show was a farce. 'Get Out of London' was the retort, 'we don't want you around...get out of this town today.' Finally, '77 Dreams' is another brisk, powerful buzzsaw guitar-driven number that ends on some dynamic feedback effects.
An eight-page booklet designed by Hugh the guitarist containing a short biography of the band and notes about the recording of the album, plus a centre-spread of photos taken onstage, and an eye-catching pic of an astronaut on the moon. Look closely at where his face ought to be, and you will see the band.
Whereas their first album 'Animal Games' (later reissued on CD with bonus tracks as 'London - The Punk Rock Collection') was basically punk with the odd slight deviation, this second album shows more of a progression towards more mainstream pop-rock. Had it been released ten or fifteen years ago when singles ruled, several tracks would have been obvious contenders, with 'Minute Man', 'Animal Attraction' and 'Get Out of London' topping the list. Take a few strong infectious hooks, ensure the adrenalin is there, and you can't go wrong. These guys certainly don't.
I was lucky enough to catch the band at a gig earlier this year in a packed club in - well, London, actually. They played about half a dozen of these tracks, alongside older material, and the result was a scorching performance which had the punters in the palm of their hand almost from the opening chord.
It's on a small indie label, so you'd be lucky to find it in the high street. Go online (well, who doesn't buy CDs online these days?), and you will be well rewarded. And if they have a gig at a venue near you, make sure you're there on the night.
Oh, and some of us can't wait 34 years for the next album. Rumour has it that they won't make us hang on that long, thank goodness. Meanwhile, enjoy this one!
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]