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I don't understand the hype and popularity surrounding this debut release from Northern Ireland blues-rock throwbacks the Answer, acclaimed by Classic Rock as the best new band of 2005 and praised by the old-skool bands they were sent to tour with. It's a decent enough album of hard rock with a significant blues influence, in some songs more than others, but really offers nothing that can't be found from a brief overview of seventies rock. Paul Mahon's laid-back blues riffs and solos are there, vocalist Cormac Neeson is powerful and capable of a fair wail but doesn't have any distinctive character of his own, and the only real sign that this was made after 1978 is the crystal clear production and mixing job, which really captures the full range of the studio performance.
This is hard rock in a distinctly American tradition, specifically the Southern United States, and bears no traces of the band's native Ireland, which I personally find a little disappointing, but is at least an ironic parallel to all the people living in America who still claim to be Irish. The pointlessly abbreviated song titles and lyrics all reference typical aspects of Southern livin', from sleazy Memphis to no-good preacher men, and it's easy to see why Def Leppard and others would enjoy these newcomers as a loyally nostalgic reference to the past. I'm just left a little confused how it could be one of the most acclaimed albums of that year.
The songs are all fairly typical, as you'd find on pretty much any blues-tinged rock album of the seventies. Most are medium speed affairs with cool, repetitive riffs and an energetic vocal performance, others are slower and softer, and others ever so slightly longer and more complex. Some such as 'Come Follow Me,' 'Into the Gutter' and 'Sometimes Your Love' are almost insultingly archaic for being so stuck in the past without the modern chorus and vocal styles found in the other songs, while the aforementioned homages 'Memphis Quarter' and 'Preachin'' are both tediously overlong, their lethargic blues riffs becoming tiresome before the six minutes are up. The latter is at least slightly experimental for including additional musical sources, but the mistake it makes is in utilising a group of gospel singers, hand clapping and a Hammond organ rather than instruments that don't sound terrible and daft, which would have worked slightly better.
The cheeky Hammond works its way into other points of the album, notably the otherwise impressive 'Be What You Want' that includes perhaps the best guitars of the album and manages to carry off a slower and more thoughtful pace with dignity this time, as do 'Never Too Late' and the final, entirely soft offering. I enjoy this album as a simple blues rock offering in the same vein as the superior Clutch and other modern blues rock bands, but I really didn't know what to expect when I first approached it. After reading the hype I was inevitably disappointed to find a series of adequate but uninspired songs that no one seems to notice are merely harking back to the seventies, even the people who were around in the seventies and playing music like this. But then, you know what they say about people who remember the seventies... or is that the sixties? I forget.
1. Under the Sky
2. Never Too Late
3. Come Follow Me
4. Be What You Want
5. Memphis Quarter
6. No Questions Asked
7. Into the Gutter
8. Sometimes Your Love
9. Leavin' Today
11. Always On My Mind
My Oh My My My. Have Mercy On This Poor Mortals Soul, Lord. Ive Gone And Got Me A New Religion. Praise Be Indeed
The Answer - Rise
Released on the Albert Productions label 2006
£9.99 from Virgin
My oh my my my. Now heres a fine thing.
They are a funny lot, the Irish. For centuries, Ireland was the cradle of education in Europe, and then they allowed their society to be ridden apart with political and religious division. The English? The Irish hate em. Their politicians are incapable of giving a straight answer. Heard of the Glasgow Kiss? Try a Belfast Knee-capping. Moreover, on top of all that, it never stops raining on them.
Then they produce bands like The Answer who knock out absolute little gems like Rise at the first time of asking.
Ysee; every now and then rock, in any of its guises, will throw out an album that becomes a must-have item for any self respecting rocker. And here we have the latest. Not quite up there with the likes of Montrose or Van Halens debuts but thats only because their debuts were new, original. I mean, Van Halen 1 turned Eddie into a God overnight. Bad Motor Scooter and Space Station No 5 had air guitars thrashing all over the place. Metallicas black album (or even their debut too) any one?
No, what the Answer have done is taken a barrow full of influences, thrown them into the clans stew pot, added a big juicy dose of that Celtic something special and hey presto! We get an absolute stormer of an album.
Big and riffy, they sound is fat and chunky. There are not too many obvious overdubs and the production work is exceptional. Very polished. Still keeps the edge though. That sound only the Brits can get is retained aplenty.
And the music? Well, its just far enough inside this side of the hazy dividing line from da blues to be called rock. But it does get very bluesy in places, straying into Govt Mule territory on occasions (Never Too Late). For a four piece they make a hell of a racket. Thankfully, the guitarist is not a shredder and the rhythm section is mean, tight and solid. The vocals are stunning.
As you listen to this album youll find yourself spotting the influences of other outfits. The Answer sound like they have studied John Mayalls Bluesbreakers album (yes, the Beano one), then rocked it up. Try Memphis Water or Preacher. Now, the blues can be pretty anonymous, which is not really a surprise if you think about it. But The Answer stand out by setting their singer about the stuff. Sounding like a Zepp II era Robert Plant one minute and then coming close to Family era Roger Chapman the next. The man is a revelation.
The guitar player evokes the spirit of Kossoff and Gallagher. Its been a long time since Ive heard such a restrained style. And a rocker who can play blues slide has my vote every time. Yeah, you may sneer, but you try it. Yep, scraping a metal tube up and down the strings is easy, yes? Now get the attitude. Not so easy now is it? No.
These boys have made an album that screams to be played at 11. What does it sound like though? Now theres a question. Ok here goes, take a deep breath, and throw in a bit of Gun (Under The Sky), Zepp, Free, Cry Of Love, Steve Sallas, Sass Jordan (Be What You Want), Lizzy, Gallagher (No Questions Asked), Thunder (Come Follow Me, Sometimes Your Love) and Nazareth (Preachin). Phew. Give it a damn good stirring, chuck in a bit of the old blues (well a lot actually) and hey presto, we get The Answer. And do you know what makes this album so much better? They are not an American band. Excellent.
To be honest. Just as Brits have never been able to pull off the sleaze convincingly, so it is the Americans cannot play the Blues/rock ticket with any degree of success.
There are a lot of spooks who have dipped their sticky fingers into this beast. Yep, there is a definite air of magic about this album that only the Irish could achieve.
Now, Im gonna tell yall something here. If this record were a woman, as the good lord above is my witness judge and jury, Id be moving heaven and earth to get into her knickers. Yknow what Im saying. Im talking major one-eyed action here. Hhhmmmmm! And you can stick me in as many pits of hell as you like for sayin it too.
Heres an analogy. My wife hates the blues. She hates blues slide guitar even more. Yet, Preacher had her jigging about when we saw The Answer live recently. She loves it. The track gets her swinging her hips whenever she hears it. A new woman. Ill tell you, for a young band to do that to a streetwise biker chick in her fortys is no mean feat.
As for standout tracks, there arent any. They are all good. The ones already mentioned are of particular interest though.
If there were any justice in the world this album should be considered a classic, and sell like one too. Better still; the boys have created a shed load of directions to go for the second album. It will be interesting to see what they do with the monster theyve created for themselves. However, for now, this will do.
To sum up then. Yep, this record is good; very good.
Thanks lads. Youve made an old man, and his wife, very very happy.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Under The Sky
2 Never Too Late
3 Come Follow Me
4 Be What You Want
5 Memphis Water
6 No Questions Asked
7 Into The Gutter
8 Sometimes Your Love
9 Leavin' Today
11 Always On Your Mind