Every once in a while a band comes along who take a genre of music and invigorate it, making it sound fresh and vital again. The Strokes did it with indie rock on “Is This It”. The New York drawl and leather jacket cool were stolid archetypes no one could be shocked by but somehow the band made it exciting again. How? Well, good songs and great musicianship help but there is an alchemy involved that can never be fully explained. The Black Crowes managed it by going back to the source on “The Southern Musical Harmony Companion” and made classic rock and rhythm & blues sexy again, and it’s The Black Crowes that The Temperance Movement most resemble on their incredibly accomplished debut. But accomplished musicians don’t make a grown man stomp around the house, hollering like a sexed-up rooster and make him wish he was halfway down a bottle of whiskey rather than just about to put the kettle on. Alchemy. Magic. That indefinable something that makes goosebumps on the arm of the believer who knows a band’s time has come.
And now to the music itself and my only gripe. Fans who have already purchased the “Pride” EP released earlier this year, may feel like they are listening to some sort of extended collector’s edition of that release during the opening stages of this album. All five tracks are present here, mostly at the front end. If, like me, you’re very familiar with the EP then you’re itching to hear new material. Still, it’s a minor quibble as the opening quadruple salvo of ‘Only Friend’, ‘Ain’t No Telling’, ‘Pride’ and ‘Be Lucky’ constitute as fine a start to any album as you’ll hear this year.
‘Only Friend’ sets up a stomp that echoes through the ages, carrying with it the spirit of everyone from Chuck Berry to AC/DC. It’s a classic storytelling song, the likes of which are too rare in rock, and when the astonishing Phil Campbell emotes the lyric: “Oh, all of my trouble/Trouble was my only friend…” – he takes the blues staple and buffs it up to a convincing good-as-new shine.
‘Ain’t No Telling’ repeats the trick with a more soulful groove and builds to a crescendo, the guitars of Luke Potashnick and Paul Sayer both choppy and plangent and Campbell declaiming, with fire in his eyes.
Now, I’m not much of a man for ballads but The Temperance Movement have several in their repertoire and I can honestly say every one of them is fantastic. Heartfelt, soulful and almost entirely lacking in cheese, they are a revelation to me. Best of these is ‘Pride’, a country-fied tale of a tough man made to fess up to his failings by the woman he’s loved and lost. With it’s ghostly backing vocals and the thumping crescendo where Campbell scats and riffs are a pretty obvious pinch from The Black Crowes‘ ‘Remedy’, but it’s done so brilliantly you won’t care.
‘Be Lucky’ sample lyric – “Be lucky, be happy, but most all won’t you be mine” – nails one of the band’s lyrical themes to the mast. It’s the tale of a bad man who wishes the woman in his life well. There is a refreshing lack of macho posturing in the band’s lyrics, something that can mar many blues rock based band’s songs. The characters in the band’s songs are neither wholly good nor wholly evil; just people trying to get along and live with their mistakes. God, I’m tired of hearing songs about wicked women doing their poor men wrong! I blame Led Zeppelin, but anyway it’s ‘Midnight Black’ time and finally, a track not on “Pride”! It’s a tear-up, great fun and benefits, for me, in not already wearing the mantle of greatness. Another stomper and a guaranteed live favourite.
I could go on about every track, but I’ll try to summarize for brevity’s sake as, rest assured, there is not a song here that won’t be playing on your stereo for many, many years to come.
‘Chinese Lanterns’ is a mournful, Gram Parsons-esque country ballad which seems slight, but the vocal refrain will stay with you much longer than the running time. ‘Know For Sure’ has a cocky swagger that reminds me of Thunder and features jaw- dropping changes of mood and pace in the bridge that threatens to take the song somewhere darker, but ends up with a big crowd-friendly sing-a-long. There is also great work here by bassist Nick Fyffe who, bizarrely, used to play with Jamiroquai ! Quite masterful in it’s manipulation of the listener this may well go on to be one of the band’s classics.
I’m going to shut up in a minute but I just want to mention ‘Smouldering’, which mixes the melancholy of Ronnie Lane‘s ‘Debris’ and the passion of Jimi Hendrix‘s ‘Angel’ – two great numbers for the price of one!
This is the work of what is currently the best rock band in Britain, bar none. Join the movement.