Rock

Driving Mrs Satan – Popscotch (Review)

Driving Mrs Satan – Popscotch

Image

In a musical climate where precious few seem to have a unique selling point any more, Driving Mrs Satan stand like a beacon of unique-ness amid a sea of the turgid and the grey. It’s quite a USP too; hailing from London and Naples, they share a love of heavy metal. Not that unique, I hear you cry – but there’s more. They turn that love into shimmery indie-pop versions of tracks by some of metal’s greatest acts. To quote the sleeve notes for Popscotch, Driving Mrs Satan “Make room for quiet in the history of heavy metal”. If you’re curious, I don’t blame you – I certainly was too.

As Popscotch is a covers album, I came to write this review facing a bit of a quandary. To review it as being the covers album that it is, drawing the inevitable links between the source material and the band’s versions, or to review it as an album in its own right? The answer in short is neither; it’s perhaps better to approach Popscotch as an album of not cover versions, but one of re-imaginings. A little like Hollywood’s never ceasing desire to remake almost every decent film made in the last thirty or so years.

It’s undoubtedly an interesting idea; taking classic tracks by some of the world’s best metal acts cov… er, re-imagining them as breezy indie folk numbers. Sadly though the resultant eleven tracks give very mixed results and most suffer from the same unfortunate affliction; in nearly every case the lyrics are stripped of any conviction and substance. At worst, they are rendered cringe inducing. The worst offender is the cover of Metallica’s ‘Battery’ which in the hands of the recent Glastonbury headliners is an aggressive exercise in the art of the rhyming couplet, but in the hands of Claudia Sorvillo the song’s barrage of harsh adjectives are completely stripped of any menace and as a result sound downright peculiar. This point isn’t helped by the overtly twee instrumentation on the track either; it opens with a breezy flotilla acoustic guitars and la la la’s fluttering into your ears, clashing horribly with the opening lines of “Lashing out the action, returning the reaction, weak are ripped and torn away”. It sounds like the soundtrack to a particularly cheesy shampoo advert.

Popscotch mercifully doesn’t get any worse, although in places it comes perilously close. Anthrax’s ‘Caught In A Mosh’ is mutated into something that sounds like a Panic At The Disco B Side, Motorhead’s ‘Killed By Death’ sounds like Massive Attack on a bad day and ‘Hells Bells’, when stripped of AC/DC’s usual OTT bombast, is turned into something rather dull.

Happily though, it’s not all bad news. The album opens with the band’s take on Helloween’s ‘I Want Out’, and whilst the music is forgettable, Sorvillo somehow manages to retain the urgency in the source material’s lyrics and you really believe her conviction when she reaches that self affirming chorus. The breathy, seductive quality in her voice too makes Iron Maiden’s ‘Killers’ into something rather good, at least until the chorus arrives. Mercifully, the second half of the disc is sparse on moments that make you want to reach for the skip button (although you won’t be reaching for the repeat button either.) Iron Maiden’s ‘Can I Play With Madness’ is passable, although it lacks the harmonised, multi tracked vocals that gave the original its appeal. Slayer’s ‘South of Heaven’ is transformed into a soulful, mellow tune that could easily be performed in a smoky jazz club, as is Faith No More’s ‘From Out Of Nowhere’.

Whilst the concept behind Popscotch is an interesting one, it sadly doesn’t quite work. Whilst the instrumentation and song arrangements are mildly interesting, they aren’t unfortunately engaging – and whilst I have no doubt there are people out there who would levy the same criticism at the material Driving Mrs Satan have used as inspiration for Popscotch, these original versions all have two things in common. Energy and attitude – absolute sackfuls of it. It’s these attributes that makes them great, and sadly they haven’t quite made it into Driving Mrs Satan’s versions.

What the band do have, though, is enthusiasm – listening to Popscotch, you can hear it bursting through each immaculate chord and each sleepy chorus. Also they crucially have a real love for both genres they’ve mashed together here, and this too becomes vividly apparent from the first listen. Ultimately though, that doesn’t rescue the album entirely from the doldrums. At the very least Popscotch is a great conversation starter and a reasonable record to chill out to if you don’t fancy the balls out aggression of the metal versions. These two points alone save it from being relegated to back of the shelf status.

2.5/5

Popscotch is out now via Agua Loca Records.

Thanks once again to Ellie Clarke from Prescription PR for sending me the album for review.

Introducing – Universal Law.

Every so often, I’ll feature an unsigned band I reckon people should know about. Here’s the first.

Introducing – Universal Law.

universal law logo

Lincoln based punk/funk/rock/hip hop crossover act Universal Law are a little like a Jamie Oliver recipe. Combining the finest moments of Rage Against The Machine and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, chucking them into an industrial sized blender with white hot riffs, a ton of explosive energy and a bucket of personality and serving the whole lot millimetres from your face to create one of the most exciting live acts to come out of the east midlands backwater.

Sod your identikit shoegazing indie bands that litter every pub on a Friday evening, catch a Universal Law gig and you KNOW the party is just getting started. *Slightly* unhinged frontman Will delivers his expertly crafted rhymes with an irresistible conviction and confidence that’s hard not to get caught up in, and he’s not shy to get the audience involved either – which he achieves without anybody in the room cringing, something I haven’t seen in any live band at all in recent years. Flanked by the effortless cool of supremely talented guitarist Ed unleashing the aforementioned orgy of white hot riffs and effortless funk and bassist Eddie, whose bass lines give funk overlord Bootsy Collins a run for his money, minus the dodgy dress sense. Behind the whole thing is local thubthumping legend Perks – one hell of a drummer, laying down complex offbeat grooves that try as you might, you will NOT be able to stop yourself moving to. The thing that unites all four of these guys though, apart from raw talent, is the sheer love of what they’re doing. None of them hide it either, a welcome change in a world of po faced frontmen and drummers who look like they’re about to shit themselves.

I’ve not even got on to the best bit yet. The tunes. Sweet jesus, the tunes. Whether it’s the mid tempo funk of future anti-establishment anthem ‘Freedom’, the catchy riffing of ‘Fighting the Virus’ or ‘Running Round All Day’ or the tailor made for sing-alongs ‘Universal Law’, there’s something here for everybody to love. No, really – everybody.

Don’t believe me? Check the guys out for yourselves on their Soundcloud Page: https://soundcloud.com/universallawband

Like what you hear? You can follow the guys on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/universallawband

Grand Cafe ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ – Review.

Grand Café ‘Elm Tree Gardens’.

Image

Grand Cafe (L-R) – Richard Opsal-Engen (Guitar), Thomas Pytterud (Drums), Kenneth Sandberg (Bass), Christer Krogh (Vocals/Guitar), Didrik Lund (Piano/Organ)

So, a few days ago I received an email from a guy with an excellent name – he’s also called Chris – asking me to have a listen to his band’s album. I was of course more than happy to oblige. That band is Grand Café and the album is ‘Elm Tree Gardens’, released on April 26th this year. Drawing heavy influence from the Detroit rock scene of the sixties, ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ is a hugely dynamic record, effortlessly alternating between raw rock muscle a gentler instrumentation. It’s a fiercely inventive record too and makes no apologies for it. This is the band’s sophomore release, following 2008’s ‘Put A Little Grease On My Axe’ (now there’s a euphemism if ever I heard one), and by all accounts they haven’t done things by halves, electing to enlist Taking Back Sunday and Turbonegro producer Lars Voldsal to helm the sessions.

’26 Days’ kicks off proceedings, and it’s a compelling album opener. The mood here is both contemplative and slightly creepy, in the same sense that Sting’s ode to the joys of stalking ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ is; although frontman Christer Krogh seems to be a little more aware of himself than The Police frontman ever was when he describes spending “26 days on your bedroom floor, I spent days and nights just to a little get closer to you, in my mind where I’m ruined, just because of you”. An eerie, repeated guitar pattern and skittering yet relentless drums draw the song towards a cataclysmic, discordant chorus. Superb.

‘A Hole In Your Soul’ is next, opening with wave after wave of clashing drums against the shore that is the listener’s ears and stabs on a Hammond organ, and Krogh, who informs an unseen antagonist that he’ll “follow your lead like a dog”. First single ‘Million Miles Away’ veers further towards indie sounding not unlike ‘Antics’ era Interpol, intricately weaving piano and guitar whilst leaving room for Krogh’s superbly emotive voice. You can see the inventive side of the album clearly here too as the Hammond organ makes an appearance again here too, and it works incredibly well when it perhaps should not. Slow burner ‘No Bridge Unknown’ opens with a classic eighties power ballad lead guitar and builds to an almighty chorus. Lyrically the song is a lament for one of those broken souls we all encounter from time to time; those whose lives have burned out in a blaze of chaos.

Title track ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ loosely continues this theme; a discordant tale of a man “walking round in the wind and the rain in the Elm Tree Gardens” who is a “shame a disgrace and he’s locked in his mind” all accompanied by military drums and crystal clean guitars. ‘Lust’ talks of a (possibly autobiographical) one night stand ending in unrequited love; “you came out of lust, as I wanted you to – as you wanted me to. You came with your heart, you held it up high but I was too blind to see”, Melody on ‘Lust’ comes from a mournful flute, immaculately underpinning Krogh’s unfortunate tale with delicate majesty. It has to be said at this point that the aforementioned experimental instrumentation on this album is superbly executed and utterly fearless. Experimentalism in music is something that in the wrong hands can completely destroy and album, but on ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ Grand Café have got it spot on.

‘The Captain Roams’ is a bombastic rock track, rammed fuller than Kerry Katona with driving rhythms, insistent guitars and a superbly sleazy bassline, and the declaration that “these chains are yours to own”. Kinky. ‘Headsman’ is the clearest example of the band’s sixties influences, sounding like a fuzzed up homage to Led Zeppelin (yes, I know they weren’t a sixties band!) – and it’s utterly awesome. The thing I love most about ‘Elm Tree Gardens’ is that no two tracks are the same; and ‘Murdergame’ is no exception. A moody, churning number about addiction to murder that features the startling revelation “my medicine is death, that’s why I’m sane”. One of the most addictive (and in turn, ironic) tracks on the album. ‘Killer Bee’ is a chorus drenched musical family tree, with some of the finest guitar work I have heard on an album in a while, and ‘A Sign Of Love’ – it may not surprise you to know – is a piano led love song, with Krogh urging the subject of his affections to “open your eyes and let me be with you, let me just take your hand and we’ll walk together”. It may not be Shakespeare, but it’s still beautiful.

So, thanks to Chris for sending me ‘Elm Tree Gardens’. Grand Café are a band that at the time of writing have had very little recognition in the UK, and this is a crying shame – however, on the strength of the wonderful ‘Elm Tree Gardens’  this will hopefully become a thing of the past.

4/5.

Here’s the video for first single ‘Million Miles Away’. Enjoy!

Earworms for August.

Something I intend to post on a semi regular basis (i.e. when I can be bothered) are five tracks I’ve been listening to repeatedly at a given time. Here’s August’s…

Garbage – Automatic Systematic Habit.

From 2011’s post hiatus ‘Not Your Kind Of People’, this relentless track melds squelchy basslines with irresistible drums and features frontwoman Shirley Manson at her acidic ‘f**k you’ best.

Garbage – Automatic Sytematic Habit

Deadmau5 ft. Gerard Way – Professional Griefers.

More infectious than a nasty case of genital warts, one of the standout cuts from ‘Album Title Goes Here’ also features a snotty, cryptic vocal from former My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way.

Deadmau5 ft. Gerard Way – Professional Griefers

The Primitives – Crash.

If ever a song could be described as perfect, this comes pretty damn close – a three and a half minute mix of scuzzy guitars and immaculate pop hooks that’ll stick a dirty great grin on your face. Just try and remove this one from your cranium before the dawn of the next millenium. It’s impossible. The band are about to embark on a tour to mark the 25th anniversary of ‘Lovely’, the album this track is taken from – I suggest you check them out.

The Primitives – Crash.

Nine Inch Nails – Came Back Haunted

A track from forthcoming LP ‘Hesitation Marks’, skittering along on an insistent drum machine rhythm and bleepy synths with an immediate, anthemic chorus, Came Back Haunted proves Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails are still as vital as they always have been. Few acts have this much longevity.

Nine Inch Nails – Came Back Haunted.

UB40 – Getting Over The Storm

One of the highlights from the band’s upcoming album of the same name. Lively horns abound on reggae-tastic Getting Over The Storm cements UB40 as kings of the genre.

(Irritatingly, this one isn’t available on YouTube – so no link for the moment!)