How much mileage can there be left in the good old guitar, bass and drums three piece? Surely all the combinations of chords, tempos and styles have been exhausted ‘til all we’re left with is scrapings from a particularly well-mined barrel? Band Of Skulls think not.
This Southampton trio follow their 2009 debut Baby Darling Doll Faced Honey with this Ian Davenport produced effort. The fruits of their labour are a tighter, shorter progression into more streamlined harmonies and near-perfect three-minute power-rock than their debut.
Never threatening to defy expectations this is a solid, likeable record full of satisfying chunky guitars and sweet harmonies, a bit like The Vines, The White Stripes or the band they are supporting this year The Black Keys. Seemingly uncomplicated, but by no means dull.
While there’s no doubting this is an album of many charms, that bear repeated listens for many a moon to come, you have to wonder if Band of Skullls have the killer tracks to get them elevated from sound-alikes to influences in their own right. Title track Sweet Sour sets out their stall in all its finery. Beatles-y harmonies rebound over a less bitter Sebadoh-lite base, guitars twiddle in ‘Bill and Ted’ rock style, like Come Together plugged into a scuzzy garage band in California.
But this is no denim clad heads-down three-chrod rock-athon, although there are plenty of six-stringed thrills. The interplay of his and hers harmonies of guitarist Russell Marsden and bassist Emma Richardson is a thing of simple beauty and lends the album some blissed-out California-dreamin’, highway cruisin’ material that transcends its humble origins in Southampton.
Lyrically themes don’t veer much from boy-girl, outsider-dom, freedom, and don’t offer a radical political stance, but subtle lines (from recent single Bruises: “You’ve got more to give than you first thought to give, we’ll have to make a pact, or something like that”), delivered in a fagged-out harmony belie a wry humour behind the hair and metal moves.
Lay My Head Down shines a light on the weary twin harmonies to give the impression of two lovers singing the same words straight at each other over a gentle almost jazzy track. Similarly Hometown’s acoustic prettiness and yearning echoes Simon & Garfunkel without cringing away from the mention of love and all its accompanying beastliness and beauty.
This is an album of contrasts, so before you get too comfy with the sweetness (Navigate, Close To Nowhere) there is an alternative ‘sour’ track hot on its heels, such is the case with the rockin’ The Devil Takes Care Of His Own, You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Goin’ On. Tellingly, titles give the game away; if they sound introspective and reflective they will be; if they demand to be hollered on repeat whilst cruising with your head in American sun but your Punto in Norwich, guess what – they will be.
So, leaner and more focused than their free-wheeling debut, Sweet Sour is a little gem in a sea of tired guitar bands looking for ‘something new’, when the ‘something new’ they seek is in their own rock history, lovingly tweaked, stolen from and reformed into a familiar but shiny new beast, with shiny metal horns and a bleeding, beating heart.