Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Quireboys' 'Twisted Love' - Album Review

It could be argued that The Quireboys are one of the hardest working rock bands on the touring circuit at the moment. There seems to be very little time where the band are not on tour somewhere in the world, and their large fanbase is a testament to this commitment. Since 2013 and their new partnership with Off Yer Rocka Recordings, the band have poured some of their relentless road energy into new studio ventures and released three albums in that time - one each year. In a world were bands now often leave large gaps between studio albums, this streak from The Quireboys was pretty remarkable. Both 2013's Beautiful Curse (which I reviewed here) and 2014's Black Eyed Sons (which I also reviewed here) were good enough to get into my Top 10 Albums of the Year lists for their respective years, and brought fresh energy to a band that had not released an album since 2008. Last year's St Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul (which, yet again, I reviewed here) was a different beast. While the previous two were albums in the classic Quireboys vein, and every bit as good as their classic 1990 chart-climbing debut album A Bit of What You Fancy and the rest of their raucous catalogue, St Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul was a rawer, acoustic-driven work that showed a different side of the band. That album missed out on a place in my end of year list. but it is still a enjoyable piece of work and seemed to be the final album in the band's new trilogy. I certainly was not expecting a fourth new album in as many years, so when Twisted Love's announced came out of the view I was surprised. Surely no band can be this prolific without invoking the law of diminishing returns, but any fears of that were quashed as soon as I heard this album for the first time. This is certainly up there with the quality of Black Eyed Sons at least, and it set to become another Quireboys classic! Returning to the studio in Klippan, Sweden, with producer Martin Ekelund (Bonafide) were St Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul was recorded was clearly a good move, as this is possibly the best sounding Quireboys album of the recent haul. The now-established line-up of frontman Spike, guitarists Guy Griffin and Paul Guerin, keyboardist Keith Weir, bassist Nick Mailing. and drummer Dave McCluskey are firing on all cylinders here with everyone doing their bit to make this album a success. This is The Quireboys' 'blues' album, with a strong dose of that music genre in each of the ten songs here. Many songs feature the gospel-esque backing vocals of Lynne Jackaman (Saint Jude) and Jenny Palm which really helps to broaden the band's sound and aid that bluesy feel. This is a technique the band have not used much since their first couple of albums, and it is a welcome addition to Twisted Love. It is also the 'heaviest' album of the recent horde too, with only one recognised ballad and plenty of raw rock 'n' roll riffs from Griffin and Guerin.

The blues elements of the album are on display right away with the rollicking opening number Torn and Frayed. McCluskey's rolling drum beat provides the rhythm of the piece. while the guitars dance above with a slight country twang that gives this song a unique sound. Pär Jansson toots harmonica throughout, further adding to the bluesy feel of the song. Spike sounds reborn on this song, with his gravelly delivery fitting perfectly with the overall vibe. After the slightly left-field opening, the album returns to familiar Quireboys territory with the keyboard-driven rocker Ghost Train. Weir's electric piano leads and heavy organ stabs characterise the song and give it weight, with more than a little hint of early Whitesnake. Spike rules the song however with a commanding vocal performance. He has not sounded this good on record for a while, and has some of his early power back. The female backing vocalists help though, giving the chorus a big sound, and it is one of the catchiest moments on the album. Everyone delivers on this song, with the classic Quireboys sound coming to the fore with huge slide guitar lines. Killing Time is a guitar-driven rocker with a riff that sounds like a bastardisation of the Faces and AC/DC. In many respects, this song is probably the closest on the album to the sound that originally found them fame. Spike spits the vocals out with real venom, and Griffin and Guerin lock in together with a perfect looseness that only they can manage. Mailing shines here too, with a fluid bassline throughout that is more complex than the brash guitar chords and helps to provide a slightly funky subtle under-rhythm that gives the song real depth. I imagine this song will become a future live favourite, helped by the foot-stomping chorus and lengthy guitar solo. The album's title track is a song in the vein of those written for Beautiful Curse and Black Eyed Sons. Weir's keyboards provide the perfect atmosphere while Spike croons the lyrics in his distinctive style. This is not as heavy as the previous three songs, but still has a great rock feel with the rhythm section locking in perfectly to create a tight beat for the surprisingly spiky guitars to sit on top of. Jackaman's vocals are quite prominent here, harmonising well with Spike and providing a smooth equal to his rough delivery. Breaking Rocks is one of those songs that took me a few listens to appreciate. Most Quireboys songs are pretty instant, but this one took it's time to bed in. It is a very deliberate, mid-paced rocker which makes it's mark with a strong groove that all starts with Mailing's bassline. The rest of the instruments have a slightly claustrophobic feel, with harsh keyboard sounds mixing in with the classic Quireboys guitar sound. There is a strange guitar solo part-way through too which has a tortured tone which sounds strange at first, but over time begins to sound right.

Gracie B (Part 2) is not so much a sequel, but more of a re-working of the song that opened St Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul. The raw acoustic rock of the original version is replaced here by a raw hard rock version, with lashings of retro keyboard sounds and growling guitar lines. I am not sure this remake was strictly necessary, but it works well in the context of the album with this heavier sound. This version is closer to the live version the band have been playing for a while now, and it is good to have this version to compare to the sparser original from last year. Lifes a Bitch is classic Quireboys, and one of the standout tracks on the album. The perfect strut of the main guitar riffs is matched by an inspired vocal display from Spike who really owns this song. The chorus is a real winner too, with southern rock-style piano chords, and a catchy vocal melody which sees Spike ably assisted by the ladies. There is even a great piano solo towards the end, that shows Weir to be a formidable player with real skill. Stroll On is a great contrast to the raucous previous song, and adopts a much more laid-back rock vibe with shimmering organ sounds and a prominent bassline. This is another song that totally encompasses the sound the band have been pursuing since Beautiful Curse, with a storytelling vibe with Spike's signature style stamped all over it. There is a real class about this song, with a great old-school feel and a mix of sounds that works well. There is even a prominent harmonic section at the end, which brings the blues vibe back to the fore. Shotgun Way picks up the pace again, with a great bar room boogie feel, with a hint of Status Quo. Weir's keyboards once again dominate, with driving piano lines backing up the guitar riffs perfectly. This song is very similar to Torn and Frayed actually, with a similar drum pattern and melodies, but slowed down for greater purpose. It also features one of the best guitar solos on the album which is packed full of bluesy melodies and a great sense of character. The album closes with the only true ballad featured here, Midnight Collective. The Quireboys have always written beautiful ballads, and this is no exception. Spike's vocal style is perfectly suited for this sort of song, and his lyrics are perfect. Subtle piano chords and bigger keyboard sounds dominate, while the guitars sink to the background to provide the rhythmic elements. The guest female singers add their magic here too, for the last time, with some excellent wordless vocals to help Spike and create catchy little interludes. A slow guitar solo, which actually is the best one on the album, drips with emotion and is the icing on the cake. This is one of the band's best ballads yet. and works really well to close what is a relatively heavy album on a calm and sombre note. Overall, Twisted Love is another strong album from one of the hardest working bands around. Few could release four albums in four years with very little drop in quality, but The Quireboys have managed it, even throwing in a few new ideas to help keep things fresh.

The album was released on 2nd September 2016 via Off Yer Rocka Recordings. Below is the band's promotional video for Twisted Love.

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