Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Answer's 'Raise a Little Hell' - Album Review

When it comes to bluesy hard rock, no modern band out there is doing it better than The Answer. Since forming in 2000, and releasing their debut album Rise in 2006, the Northern Irish band have been working relentlessly: releasing five great studio album and touring all over the world. Despite the fact the band have never really broken through into the big time like they threatened to at one moment (supporting AC/DC on their Black Ice world tour never really paid off for them), they have remained true to their roots and continued to rock. Given the smiles on the faces of the band, and audience, every time they play live in the smaller rock clubs, the fact that they are not a bigger band does not seem to bother them one bit. The fifth of their studio albums, Raise a Little Hell, was released last month and was lapped up by their fans as is to be expected. The band's last album, 2013's New Horizon, was a back-to-basics hard rock record. It was short and to the point, focusing again on big riffs and foot-stomping rhythms - which was a contrast to 2011's Revival which came before it. Revival was a more experimental album, featuring more songs and a more diverse musical pallet. Well, diverse in a limited sense, there was no free-form jazz to be found; but the music seemed to branch out more than previously. In some respects, Raise a Little Hell seems to be the natural successor to Revival, and sees the band once again branch out slightly and try a few new things. No matter what it is they do, The Answer almost always seem to get it right. I love the Revival album and I love New Horizon; and I also love Raise a Little Hell - this is a band that can rarely do wrong by me. Those who struggled with Revival (and I know there were some people) might also struggle with this album but, given a chance, I am sure this album will impress. The big riffed, blues rockers are still here in spades, but some songs have a slight funk or psychedelic influence which helps to keep the album interesting and the band's sound from becoming stale. I recently saw the band live in Exeter and, judging by the reaction the large crowd gave the many new songs that were played, it seems that Raise a Little Hell has already been accepted by the fan base as a future Answer classic. Unfortunately, I cannot see this album as being the one that makes others stand up and take notice, but as long as the fans enjoy it then that is all that matters!

The album gets off to a good start with the powerful Micky Waters bass line that opens Long Live the Renegades. The song is pure Answer through and through, and focuses on frontman Cormac Neeson's gritty but melodic vocal lines and Paul Mahon's organic bluesy guitar riffs. The pounding bass in the song's chorus will get heads nodding and hands clapping, and Mahon's solo that plays with the chorus vocal melody is really strong and soon becomes a fluid blues workout that will please the guitarists in the band's fan base. The Other Side is a real riff-based song. The song's opening is more gentle some clean guitars, but when Mahon really gets going it becomes a real melodic treat. Waters' bass playing stands out again, and his tuneful bass lines drive the song as Mahon and drummer James Heatley lock in well together. I love the song's summery chorus that brings out the cleaner side of Neeson's vocals. Opening with some effects-laden guitars, Aristocrat is another strong song. The opening might fool you into thinking this is going to branch out a little, but it is another great slab of heavy blues rock that follows on perfectly from the opening couple of songs. Neeson's raspy vocals and harmonica playing are the highlight of this song, and he is given plenty of chance to show his harmonica skills - even duelling with Mahon's guitar leads at one point! It is only short, so whizzes by, but really grabs your attention as it does. Cigarettes & Regret is the first real change of pace on the album. While not quite a ballad, the song has that feel of it, with some nice acoustic playing from Mahon in the verses and the summery feel from The Other Side returns in the twangy, melodic chorus. The talk-box driven guitar solo is pretty interesting, and gives the song a classic blues feel for a time. This is quite a varied song, and shows the band is willing to try something a little different at times. Last Days of Summer is a heavy, psychedelic rocker that brings to mind artists like Cream and Jimi Hendrix. Waters' bass guitar dominates the song, giving it a very deep tone that makes it stands out from the rest of the album. Part-way through however, Mahon really lets rip with some killer guitar work, and the song has a real jam feel to it during these sections. Again, this shows the band are willing to deviate somewhat from their usual formula. Strange Kinda' Nothing is an acoustic-led ballad. It is a beautiful song with some lovely guitar work from Mahon and Neeson really delivers in the vocal department with some excellent lyrics and melodies. The band harmonise with him well, and despite being only an acoustic number - the song still has a big, full sound.

I Am What I Am is next and it is probably my favourite song from the album. It is a true rock classic with an AC/DC-esque riff and some real earth-shattering bass lines. The song's real catch however is the huge chorus, that employs a slight funk influence with lots of big backing vocals and snaking bass guitar. This is in contrast to the real swagger of the verses, which creates a dynamic and interesting song. When I saw the band in Exeter they opened the show with this one, and it really worked well to get the crowd moving! Whiplash is another back-to-basics rocker that would have fitted nicely on New Horizon or the band's debut album. It is quite a punchy little song, which helps to keep the album moving along at a nice pace. There are certainly better songs here than Whiplash, but the Eastern-sounding guitar solo does stand out somewhat, and the vocal melodies are still pretty catchy throughout. Gone Too Long is another song that I really like. It has a slightly more commercial feel to it than many of the band's other songs, and the highly melodic nature of it makes it stand out. It has the feel of a classic 1980s power ballad which, again, is something new for the band. The Answer have always been rooted in 1970s blues rock, and have never really had a song that sounds like it could have come out of the 1980s before this one. I would be interested to know how popular this one is, as it really does not sound that much like The Answer, but I love it! Red gets back to the classic blues grooves the band are known for. Apart from I Am What I Am, this is my favourite on the album and it was a great choice to release as a single. It is a real hip-shaking number with some seriously tight grooves and an infectious chorus that will not leave your head for days after first hearing the song. This song epitomises everything that I love about The Answer, from great vocals to excellent lead guitar - this song has it all. I am Cured is one of the more forgettable songs here. I really like the flourishes of slide guitar throughout the verses, but the song's chorus is a bit of a dirge that does not contain any real hooks or big melodies. It feels like a distant cousin of Last Days of Summer, but it fails to reach the bluesy heights of that tune. The album's title track brings the album to a close, and the big chorus is really memorable despite the fact the song is a bit of a sludgy blues number. As a whole though, it just seems to work much better than I am Cured, maybe helped by the lashings of excellent blues harmonica and the aforementioned soaring chorus. Overall, Raise a Little Hell is a great album from a band that are always consistent. I am sure they will continue to impress me, and I am sure this will not be their last great album.

The album was released on 9th March 2015 via Napalm Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Red.

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