The Answer return to the music scene after several year’s hiatus. Under such circumstances, bands often claim they’re retracing their roots and influences, seeking to find the fire that put them on the map in the first place. Often, we think; well, isn’t that more of the same, have you ever really changed? Yes, the band took a few turns along the way, not so much wrong-footed, perhaps just not in line with whatever the new vogue was, or not enough financial clout behind them to get them further up the slippery rope to fame
For those who would claim The Answer were at the forefront of what got termed the new wave of classic heavy metal, they’d been there and bought the t-shirt by the time the tag line came into fashion. But it cannot be denied, that on Sundowners they’ve dialled back the clock and re-found both their bollocks and their passion.
While the record rocks, and heavily so, these are not the young Irish lads we first met. Guitarist Paul Mahon is often heard playing blues riffs, rather than blues rock inspired ones, there’s a subtle difference; he’s more restrained in places but it’s about placement and arrangement than a need to become this year’s Rory Gallagher. Despite which, his slide work on the opening track bears considerable listening. This shapes the songs outwardly, but it’s in drummer James Heatley that the changes can really be felt – he is recorded loud in the mix, but it’s what he does that moves, shifts and underlies the emotional contexts of the album as a whole. He is tribal, even somewhat orchestral, the pulse from which the songs emanate – these actions are punctuated by bass player Micky Waters, and there are embellishments with someone playing organ and harmonica across the album.
Vocalist Cormac Neeson’s voice remains undiminished and it has to be declared, that if anyone has taken inspiration from those who’ve trod the boards before on this record, it’s The Answer’s singer: the throaty nuanced timbre of his voice remains his own, and there are gospel arrangements that have always been there, while the more tender reflective folk attributes of his White Feather solo album play their part not least lyrically, but across certain tracks you feel he’s been listening to a lot of Robert Plant – not the parodied squeals and moans but the inflections, more passionate deliveries that have given that singer a lifelong career, beyond the rock god antics.
Asking listeners to patiently sit through a six minute opener may be a big call, but ‘Sundowners’ rumbles with potency, invoking magic realism by way of the Mississippi river. It’s followed by a huge turnabout in sound, and unlike the blues-inflected record I’ve previously implied. Here, ‘Blood Brother’ is a stomping Goldfraap glam rocker with gospel vocal touches, the latter also found later on ‘California Rust’, a blues-encrusted rewrite of Mother’s Finest Mickey’s Monkey’, a song that comes from the same source as Led Zeppelin’s ‘Trampled Under Foot’.
‘Want You To Love Me’ strides out firm and determined. A bottom-ended ball-breaking blues rocker, Neeson begins with a deep narration, but he’s soon squealing away in exasperated torment, with added crowd harmonies, then halfway through goes into a fun double-time Blues Brothers-style rumble. It’s also around here, you notice how little actual soloing, certainly to any great extent Mahon applies across Sundowners, again, his playing is about what suits a song. If anything, it’s Waters who stands out as his bass pummels alt.rock funk lines throughout ‘Oh Cherry’ where Neeson does in fact try out some more-metrosexual lemon squeezer turns of phrase, and forgiveness for such is denied in the country gospel of ‘No Salvation’, a beautifully played wistful tune by the band, that fans of The Black Crowes are likely to appreciate. The harmonies will have you joining in, but don’t ignore those cascading guitar chords tossed out weepingly, and some three minutes in one of Mahon’s few solos, that’s barely a bar or two long.
‘Cold Heart’ brings the tempo back-up. Rocking, semi-boogieing, one of those foot-stompers you’ll see on some vintage Top of the Pops clip and think: who the hell were these? So much music, so little time, this macho strutter’s The Answer’s modern spin. ‘All Together’ comes on like The Who in bed with Stevie Wonder, while ‘Living On The Line’ is more crowd harmonies, big drums, and a touch Def Leppard in places. Those Stevie Wonder vibes are back with some more bass heavy semi-funk lines akin to Extreme, for ‘Get Back On It’, the kind of tune built for singing bare-chested at Madison Square Gardens.
Then, an acoustic guitar skips into play for final number ‘Always Alright’, that calls to mind Neeson’s solo work but the band imprint evident, once more you must not ignore what Heatley brings to the table, his softly played shifting shuffle moves the work forward. Pretty, thoughtful, it builds gently, love’s light glimpsed beyond dark thoughts sung, then halfway through an organ plays like some Island Records’ progressive rock throwback swinging more towards rhythm ‘n blues, group gospel vocals, and a slight return to how it began with a feedbacking guitar the last thing you hear.
The same but different; emboldened by the past but ready to walk beyond that. This album continues to grow on me, and the only thing I could ask for right now is more extended guitar solos. Next time, maybe.
- Reviewed by Paul H Birch
- Sundowners is available now via Golden Robot Records
- Official Website
- Blood Brother
- California Rust
- Want You To Love Me
- Oh Cherry
- No Salvation
- Cold Heart
- All Together
- Living On The Line
- Get Back On It
- Always Alright