“It’s just a shame you missed out on rock and roll,” says Lester Bangs to the young journalist in Almost Famous, “it’s over”. That was, fictionally at least, some forty years ago, yet there still exists a sizeable population, some old enough to remember, some not, who still mourn the loss.
Musical demigods. The underage entourage. Contracts signed in blood. Chaos – but not the sanitised, scripted chaos of the modern arena tour, real mindless hedonistic abandon with no press release at the end of it but a hefty fine and a swift bus out of town. What band will bring it back? It won’t be Macclesfield’s The Virginmarys, but they play the part so well that they will fool a healthy proportion of the hopeful nostalgics. And good for them, too.
First of all, they play like a real band, like the legendary power trios of old – the Experience, Cream, Motorhead. A going concern since 2006, and yet only releasing their debut album now, they display all the hallmarks of a seriously impressive live act. Their drummer has clearly been studying videos of Bonham, Ward, and Moon in their prime and pomp, and singer Ally Dickaty has a real howl to behold, a voice to rival – really – Plant, Cobain, or Bon Scott.
With such a voice, it would have been easy for him to take the easy route of cover bands, the nostalgia circuit, maybe taking over the frontman spot for some faded outfit still touring their greatest hit. But he has a little edge, a stubborn northern accent, that lifts it from the generic blues rock shout and hints at a genuinely interesting phenomenon. In his softer moments, he’s a dead ringer for Alex Turner – except without so much attention paid to the words he’s belting out.
Oh, the lyrics. And they were doing so well. What is it that makes men so easily mix up vulnerability and self-pity? The whole album is an archive of pedestrian pain, inflicted by some terrible femme banal. “Do me some harm”. “Twist that knife into my heart”. “I got them blues when you played me well”. “She cuts like a knife”. “Just like a personal punchbag”. “She’s breaking my heart”. Every single one of them from different songs.
When they’re not licking their wounds, they’re either peddling cliches – “sunset rests on a dirty road” does not describe a Macclesfield most residents would recognise – or aiming for clever and missing, as in Dressed To Kill’s unmathematical description of a candle being burned “at three different ends”. And they’re so retro they even pre-date paedophilia, addressing one song to “My Little Girl”.
But it would be unfair to dwell further, because if you were able to imagine that they were hollering words of imagination, subtlety, and originality, you’d be hearing a near-classic. Nearly every chorus is tailor-made for a lusty live singalong, yelling and yearning in equal measure. The obvious ’70s influences are played through a more modern, punky prism, allowing the fresher sounds of Nirvana, Foo Fighters, and Queens Of The Stone Age into the mix. There are riffs here – Dead Man’s Shoes and Bang Bang Bang notably – that could still be raising an arena roof a decade from now.
This is as good as hard rock gets. And they’re welcome to that quote, as long as they spend just a few minutes more on the poetry next time round. Deal?