In these days of flash in the pan musical acts, its refreshing to be able to review a bands eighth studio album; a band that have been together on and off for nearly two decades. Knowing the fickle nature of music fans, it does give me a little proud moment to be able to say that Ive been a fan since the debut album, Backstreet Symphony, was released in 1989.
Always a pop-rock band with a blues edge, thanks to Luke Morleys writing, this time the band have named the album after a legendary blues singer, who influenced both the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. Robert Johnson supposedly died after being poisoned and there is a legend that says he sold his soul to the devil in return for being able to play the guitar better. Regardless of whether this is true, it is his blues roots that give a clue towards the sound of this album.
His story is told in the opening and title track, Robert Johnsons Tombstone. A gentle opening soon gives way into a stomping mid-tempo rock track with a blues undertone, which has very much been a Thunder trademark over the last two decades, although this does perhaps have more of a nod towards blues-rock than the rock-pop sound fans might be used to; maybe edging towards the more blues influenced sound of Luke Morleys solo album, El Gringo Retro.
Dirty Dream is perhaps a little closer towards the Thunder sound, being a little more up-tempo and a little more towards the pop-rock side of things. Lyrically, this has a nod towards Whitesnake but the song is unmistakably Thunder, especially with Dannys distinctive vocal over the top. This is one of my favourites from the album and will prove to any Thunder fan that the band hasnt lost anything over the last twenty years.
Given that Thunder produced one of the greatest rock ballads of all time with 1989s Love Walked In, its no surprise that they should keep trying to emulate it. A Million Faces is another ballad from the band which, like many of their efforts since, is a decent attempt but pales in comparison with what they can do. It has all the hallmarks of a soft rock ballad, with the harmonies in the chorus, the acoustic start leading into an overblown stadium rock style ending and a big guitar solo, but its nothing special in terms of stadium rock ballads.
Dont Wanna Talk About Love starts off sounding like its going to be much the same again and it does prove that way. Its a little more rock influenced than the previous track, with less of the overblown stadium rock touches. Again, its a decent enough rock ballad, but nothing more than that.
The album picks up with The Devil Made Me Do It, which was the first single from the album. Its a mid tempo pop-rock track with Thunders trademark humour all over it. Theres a bluesy influence to the music that has a hint of Whitesnake, but the song is the closest thing to one of their earlier Backstreet Symphony style rock songs than theyve had in ages, although the bands harmonies have improved greatly over the years. Its obvious why this was the first single and its my favourite track on the whole album
Theres a much darker influence to Last Man Standing than is usual for the band and makes me think of some of their Behind Closed Doors era tunes. This is pretty much a straight out rock song, without the usual softer pop-rock edge and its one of their more political songs, relating as it does to sending people off to war. Although its not a bad song, at nearly seven minutes it is the longest that Thunder have ever done and it does go on a little bit.
My Darkest Hour returns to the soft rock ballad that Thunder do so well and has a very stripped down feel, just being a vocal, an acoustic guitar and some strings. I keep expecting the song to break out into a soft rock stadium ballad in the style of their 1990 track Until My Dying Day, but it stays the same all the way through which does make it a bit dull after a while and this isnt one you could play too often.
Over their last couple of albums, Thunder have shown their distaste with the way reality TV is creating celebrities out of nothing. Andy Warhol Said worries that Warhols Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes quote has suddenly become true. The song returns to Thunders strengths, being a great pop-rock song, stretching Dannys impressive vocals and with a touch of humour in the lyrics. I love this one as much for the message as the music and its another immediate favourite.
They stick with a winning theme for What a Beautiful Day, which is another up tempo pop rock track, although not as intentionally fun as Andy Warhol Said. Its still a great foot tapping song, with all the stadium rock rules being followed, with a great driving rock riff that expands into the bridge and chorus, although the chorus isnt really one you can sing along to. I wouldnt say this is one of the best tracks on the album, but its not far behind the best.
Unusually for Thunder, Its All About You has a piano intro rather than a guitar one. However, the band have put on some great ballads starting this way before and this is up there with them. Its a great pop ballad with a slight pop-rock edge and has the thoughtful kind of lyrics that were last seen on Numb from 1999s Giving the Game Away album.
Stubborn Kinda Love is an up tempo finish to the album and proves what has seemed the case for most of the album, that Thunder are on form this time around. Its a mid-tempo pop-rock track with a slightly darker feel to the music, but with a decent groove to it. As with What a Beautiful Day, its a decent track, but doesnt quite live up to the best on the album.
Whilst this isnt quite Thunders best album, it certainly stands up well next to any of their other releases. Whilst a little darker musically than some of their earlier albums, its full of the effective ballads and the stadium rock tunes that have helped them keep a strong and dedicated fan base for the best part of two decades. Its an album any existing Thunder fan should own a copy of.
If youre not a fan of the band, there is a greatest hits album which may be a better place to begin, although this is an album that will give a pretty indicative idea of their sound. Any fans of soft rock and stadium rock music could well enjoy this.
About the only down side to the album is that Thunders music does tend to be quite expensive, as they dont have a record deal and havent done for several years. However, at 11 tracks and 51 minutes long, its good value even at the Amazon and Townsend Records price of £11.99, thanks to the high quality of the album. Cheap copies are hard to come by, with eBay offering copies at £9.99 and the Amazon Marketplace having a best price of £9.ces are always subject to change.
They may write songs about tombstones, but Thunder arent dead and arent ready to be buried yet. Their eighth studio album is nearly as good as anything theyve produced and is a treat for any pop-rock fan.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Robert Johnson's Tombstone
2 Dirty Dream
3 Million Faces
4 Don't Wanna Talk About Love
5 Devil Made Me Do It
6 Last Man Standing
7 My Darkest Hour
8 Andy Warhol Said
9 What A Beautiful Day
10 It's All About You
11 Stubborn Kinda Love