Sunday, 8 March 2015

Thunder's 'Wonder Days' - Album Review

Thunder are one of the UK's best-loved classic rock bands. Since their hugely popular 1990 debut album Backstreet Symphony, that - in my opinion - they have never really bettered, they remain held in extremely high regard by many rock fans, including myself. Wonder Days, the band's tenth studio album, is their first since 2008 when Bang! was released. I have not heard Bang!, so cannot compare the two, as it has only been recently that I have really started to explore the band's back catalogue beyond their classic debut and other well-known songs from compilations and live albums. This exploration has been rewarding and, as a result, the band are going up in my estimations all the time. Wonder Days is the first Thunder album I have pre-ordered, and I was awaiting it's arrival for sometime. In my last review, of Blackberry Smoke's Holding all the Roses, I was talking about chart positions. It is not often I review albums that make it into the Official UK Album Chart, and it is very rare to review two on the trot that have done so. That album made it to number 17, and this one has reached number 9! It is great to see rock getting back into the charts, and I hope to see others throughout the year! This chart position is the band's first top ten album since 1995's Behind Closed Doors (which reached number 5). The band's 2009 break-up would only last for two years, and they have been gigging again since 2011 - albeit in a reduced format. Big tours do not seem to be the name of the game anymore, but the band make enough live appearances to satisfy the long-term fans. I never really expected another album so the announcement last year was a pleasing one. Thunder's albums are always enjoyable, so it would be a shame if the band were to really hang it up for good. The band's long time line up of frontman Danny Bowes, guitarists Luke Morley and Ben Matthews, bassist Chris Childs, and drummer Harry James are still as tight as ever, although it is unclear exactly how much input Matthews had during the recording of this album due to his ongoing health concerns which, thankfully, seem to be improving now as he will be joining the band on tour later this month. Morley has again written and produced the whole album, and has ensured the classic Thunder sound is present. From the opening notes, there is no doubt that this is a Thunder album, and Bowes' bluesy voice is a rich as ever. It is also worth noting that some versions of the album come with a bonus disc containing the band's whole set at the 2013 Wacken Festival, and some versions ordered directly from the band's website come with a bonus EP called Killer which contains four extra songs. Both of these discs are excellent and well worth the extra money!

The album's title track gets things off to a good start with some classic Thunder bluesy riffing for Bowes to croon over. It is clear that Morley has lost none of his mojo, and his three albums with The Union has not totally overtaken his songwriting outlook. The chorus is a much more laid back affair with gentler guitar lines as opposed to the distorted verses. About half way through, the song descends into a piano-led piece with some lovely lead guitar lines over the top and Bowes' gentle voice. The Thing I Want is a proper Thunder rocker. The upbeat nature of this song brings back memories of their stunning debut album with a catchy vocal refrain in the pre-chorus, and some lush guitar arpeggios in the chorus. This is uncomplicated rock and roll at its best and is a reminder of why Thunder found so much success early on in their career. The Rain brings things down a bit, and we have a song that is more reminiscent of Morley's other band The Union than Thunder. That being said, Thunder have always had slower, bluesy songs on their albums, so this song should not come as a surprise. Bowes' voice is made for songs like this, and it sits nicely above the acoustic guitars, mandolins and subtle keyboards. Black Water is another winner. Co-written with Lynne Jackaman (Saint Jude), this is a strident bluesy rocker that is full of fluid guitar leads and packs a punch with a killer chorus. It has that classic Thunder groove that permeates their whole discography, with a guitar tone and style that only Morley can really achieve. The solo in this song is really melodic and has all the hallmarks of a great classic rock moment. The Prophet is similar, but features a machine-gun rhythm to the riff that would make it a good driving song. There is a certain urgency to this number, with the long, ringing chords that fit in between the aforementioned riff still having a certain energy to them. James' drumming never lets up throughout, and his tightness holds the whole thing together. There is even a great slide guitar solo towards the end. Resurrection Day has quite a summery feel to it with some lovely ringing guitars and a nice, upbeat vibe that you can imagine it being blasted on car radios in the summertime. I can hear a little bit of Foreigner in this song, and I am sure that many fans will take to the accessibility of it. It is an easy to song to get into and sing, and this will probably become a live favourite.

Chasing Shadows is another bluesy rocker, but mid-paced riff means that the song never really gets going like the previous songs on the album. The gospel-type singers that sing in a call-and-response style with Bowes during the choruses work well though, and give the song a bit of an early Black Crowes feel (although maybe a Black Crowes b-side!). That being said, this song is not bad, it just pales in comparison to all the great songs that come before it. It is saved though by a rather tasty solo from Morley that showcases his talents and style. Broken is a piano-led ballad that possesses a fantastic chorus that is sung with real passion by Bowes. The rest of the band join in after the first chorus but the song never loses it's roots, and even a slide guitar solo does not damage to mood, in fact it really adds to it. All rock albums need a good ballad, and this is this album's! When the Music Played is the album's longest song at just over six minutes long, but it does not overstay it's welcome because it is a really enjoyable tune with some slightly discordant riffing and a soaring chorus. Morley's solo in this song is surprisingly fiery, moving outside his usual bluesy comfort zone and into a semi-shredding one. After the solo, the song morphs into a real rocker with a riff that sounds like mid-period Led Zeppelin and another cracking solo. Serpentine is an acoustic-led song, but this is no drippy singer-songwriter drawl, this still rocks and is sure to get your foot tapping as you listen to those catchy acoustic chords and Bowes' playful melody. It does not stay acoustic for ever however, and electric guitars soon replace the acoustics and the song gets a chance to rock out properly. This song should definitely be included in the band's set for their upcoming tour, as it is sure to get everyone moving and singing along. The album comes to an end with the bluesy rocker I Love the Weekend which is built around the traditional twelve bar blues formula and ensures the album ends in familiar fashion. Childs' prominent bassline really holds down the groove, and Morley's Chuck Berry-esque guitar playing is a real homage to all the great early blues rockers. Bowes has a great voice for blues, and he belts this one out fantastically. Overall, Wonder Days is a great addition to Thunder's catalogue. While I am still not wholly versed in their complete discography, I think this is probably their most cohesive work since their debut album all those years ago. Any rock fan should give this a go.

The album was released on 16th February 2015 via earMusic. Below is the band's promotional live video for Wonder Days (N.B. This features Pete Shoulder on guitar instead on Matthews).

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