Any album that features Mark Lanegan is usually worth checking out. Queens Of The Stone Age and Soulsavers have all benefited from Lanegan’s tobacco stained vocals, and now Creature With The Atom Brain have enlisted him to help out (albeit in a fairly minor role). Not that Lanegan’s presence is particularly surprising; after all, mainman Aldo Struyf and drummer Jean-Philippe De Gheest are often to be found in Lanegan’s backing band.
It’s fair to say too, that this Belgian outfit are as well versed in the ’90s US alternative scene (where Lanegan first found his feet with Screaming Trees) as they are QoTSA’s Desert Rock. Creature With The Atom Brain tap into a range of musical influences, but almost all of them are tinged with the laid-back, stoned vibe that Homme and company are well renowned for. Stoned doesn’t always work out for them, and it’s rarely a good idea to noodle about with Reggae unless you know what you’re doing. The hamfisted workout of The Beauty Of The Rain proves this point perfectly. However, when they keep things on the rock path they are far more convincing, if not always particularly interesting.
Unsurprisingly, their collaboration with Lanegan is one of the highlights of the album and wouldn’t sound out of place on one of his own solo efforts. A rolling riff rumbles on relentlessly as Lanegan drawls deliciously over the top; it’s exactly as you might expect. Elsewhere the band taps into ’60s psych-rock and shows an apparent fondness for the likes of Neil Young (Southern Wind sounds not unlike Heart Of Gold), The Doors (Break Me Blue) and the odd hint of Pink Floyd thrown in for good measure.
Just in case it gets a little too weird there are moments where they just stick to straight forward Rock n Roll. Opener Hit The Sky for example is essentially an early Black Rebel Motorcycle Club single with a little Peyote thrown in for flavour. Wolf Eye meanwhile could have quite happily found its way onto The Stone Roses‘ Second Coming album and nobody would have batted an eyelid, until the horn section kicks in.
Most intriguingly though, it’s when the band completely drop the pretence of being a straight up Rock band and head into unhinged territory that they are most effective. R-Frequency stands out a mile on the album by simply being at odds with everything else that surrounds it. Slightly Dub-influenced bass, rampaging drums, and seething organs accompany guest vocalist DDV in exploring a more colourful and engaging world. To most, R-Frequency will just appear as an exercise in folly, but there’s genuinely something exciting about it. Perhaps it’s the singular, bloody mindedness of the riffing that populates every other moment on the album. Proficient it might be, but thrilling it isn’t. Getting in DDV (a performance artist) and flying close to something that Butthole Surfers might lend their name to provides a little light relief, and an indication that Creature With The Atom Brain are capable of a lot more.