FEATURE: 2017: The Year of Rock?





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IN THIS PHOTO: The Amazons


The Year of Rock?


IN the past couple of weeks…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age)

I have questioned whether Rock is dead – and whether there are any signs of a resurgence. Depending who you speak to depends on what they say: maybe there are fewer great Rock bands or perhaps music is undergoing some shifts and taste changes. To me, I feel the regency of Rock happened in the 1970s and sort of came back in the 1990s: the Britpop era and American bands like Pavement and Nirvana really helped put guitar music firmly in the public precipice. Over the last decade-or-so there has been the odd band that has excited me but I feel this year is the most-promising we have seen in a long time. The Amazons are one of my favourite new bands and have shown they are capable of producing crowd-uniting anthems and presenting that instantly-appealing Rock sound – their debut album is out on 2nd June. They are bountiful with their riffs and have the chemistry and connection to ensure any song gets straight into the forebrain. Outlets like BBC have lauded them and tipped for success: they are one of those groups who has not got the attention they deserve. There is still a feeling other genres and obsessing critical minds. I understand why there is still attention paid to Pop stars and the finest of the genre. I feel some of the mainstream-approved are rather weak and commercial. If you look at the more credible options on the market – Zara Larsson, Lorde and Louisa Johnson, for instance – you have a trio of names who can provide some beautiful and thought-provoking music. They have long careers ahead and show you do not need to shred it to get respect and attention. I have mentioned Folk artists like Billie Marten: there are so many great young (mainly female) artists providing something proper and pure to the Pop charts. Of course, it is the majority of the charts that are causing me to yearn for something hard and gritty. There are so many new artists who produce boring, marketable music that is directed to teenagers and those whose musical collection doesn’t go further back than One Direction. Newcomers like The Amazons were brought up on a mix of classic Rock bands and the best of the new breed.

Through the touring circuit, they have sharpened their performance skills and on-stage chat: they can banter and hold the crowd in their palms. What I have noticed, from the live performances I have seen online, is how they have grown in confidence and assurance. They are never cocky or swaggering: professional and completely in-control of what they are doing. That seems to be a common thread bonding the brightest and boldest Rock acts at the moment. Of course, there is nothing quite as simple as ‘Rock’. There is all sort of sub-genres and complexities that mean two bands who, on the surface, seem alike might play two different genres – one might be Alternative whilst the other is Indie. To be fair, last year was not the most productive for truly great Rock albums. There has been a bit of a shortage the last couple of years. Of course, unsigned acts have been keeping busy but what of the established order? 2016 was very much a bumper year for Urban artists and black artists coming through strong – career-high records from Beyoncé and Chance the Rapper stealing much of the spotlight. I will put a little playlist at the end of this feature – something that collates songs from all the new acts; a few songs from artists I am expecting to define the mainstream best this year. Goat Girl is a South London band whose debut singles Scum and Country Sleaze have been compared with Fat White Family. They put their debut L.P. out this year and are one of the most talked-about bands in London at the moment. Cabbage, like The Amazons, were spotted by BBC and evoke the baggy, psychedelic spirit of Stone Roses with the rawness and Punk clatter of The Clash. Put Estrons into the mix and you have a group that puts you in mind of Wolf Alice. There is that comparable explosion and animalistic bite: they have aggressive drums and punch-drunk tracks; angst-ridden vocals that will thrill the Festival Republic stage at this year’s Reading Festival. The Molochs have a 1960s-vibe to them and remind you of The Rolling Stones with even more sybaritic swing and lip-smacking sexuality. It is groovy and cool; beckoning and hypnotic. Expect them to go far and make a big impact on the mainstream very soon.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Goat Girl; PHOTO CREDIT: Holly Whitaker Photography

That is just a collection of bands that show there is plenty of genuine Rock talent waiting in the wings. The mainstream is proffering and promising some big albums at the moment – few epic Rock albums are among them. We have already seen phenomenal efforts from Laura Marling, Elbow and Stormzy. In the coming months, there will tantalising treats from Fleet Foxes and Gorillaz. It seems like it is a year for big returns – more on that later. It will be great seeing Gorillaz showcase a new album – their last was 2011’s The Fall. They recently premiered four new tracks and proof that they have lost none of their game. The sound of songs Andromeda and Hallelujah Money seems like they are mixing their eponymous album with Plastic Beach. It will be interesting to see how the album, Humanz, resonates and what sort of subjects are covered. London Grammar are preparing their sophomore album, Truth Is a Beautiful Thing. The London-based trio have showcased new tracks like Rooting for You and are adding their special touch to the music of 2017. Aside from that, we have some rumoured albums and other big releases but, as you can see, there is more Electronic and Pop/Soul sounds than all-out Rock. It is a great year for music and carries on from 2016’s incredible legacy. I am seeing so much variation and potential for the remaining months. Apart from the fact there are some excellent Pop/Soul/Folk/Experimental albums afoot: what can we expect when it comes to the arenas of Rock and Alternative? Those new artists are likely to cause some commotion in the underground but not in the position to make a huge impact on the mainstream in the coming months. To be fair, you do not need to have an acclaimed, visible album to prove you are a force to be reckoned with. It is clear Rock is going strong and given birth to some sensational acts. What I am desperate to see if the charts – the obnoxious Pop acts and awful offerings – given a real shaking. Where will those earthquake rumbles emerge from?

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Luckily, and without any fully-formed songs coming to light, two of the world’s premier guitar-owning acts have come to light. Royal Blood have been all quiet and secretive since their debut back in 2014. A year after they formed (in Brighton) they brought us that incredible, instant eponymous album. As soon as that arrived, critics went crazy for the incredible riffs and teeth-snarling cuts. Songs ripped through the speakers: the drums were punchy and big whilst the guitar (a bass guitar made to sound like an electric guitar) caused all sort of excitement. Although Royal Blood wore its influences heavily on its sleeve – The White Stripes, Led Zeppelin and Rage Against the Machine among them – you could not fault the sheer excitement and rush you got when listening to the music. It was a solid and proper British band (duo) producing a world-class Rock album. Many had pined for that for years and got their wish. Touring demands meant the fabulous duo were a little tied-up and itinerant. That being said, you would expect something between 2014 and now, right? The guys have left a three-year gap. I was worried they had burned-out or disappeared off the face of the planet. Fortunately, they have found time to get into the studio and lay down some tunes. They are being sneaky and only disclosed a very brief video – a snatch of a song from the as-yet-untitled album. To me, their forthcoming album will send the necessary shockwaves through the music world that will inspire the underground bands to band together and charge. There are a lot of great acts in the mainstream but few who rock quite as hard as Royal Blood. There is going to be a lot of buzz around the album and just what it will contain. I am expecting something similar to their debut: songs about love and daily slices of life set around buzz-saw riffs and avalanche-huge drums. It is a simple recipe that recalls The White Stripes on full attack. There is no shame employing that sound at all. So many people, who had strayed away from a rather tepid and intermittent Rock scene, have been coaxed back by Royal Blood.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Cherry Glazerr (a band set to ignite 2017); PHOTO CREDIT: Janell Shirtcliff http://janellshirtcliff.com/

I hope the boys’ absence has not turned people away but guarantee they will flock back is something suitably meaty and substantial is delivered. I have little doubt that will be the case: Royal Blood bringing a healthy dose of Rock into contemporary music. Another one of Royal Blood’s influences is Queens of the Stone Age. A few days ago, it was revealed (leaked more like) the Californian band were adding the final touches to their new album. With big-hitters like Fleet Foxes readying new material, Queens of the Stone Age are likely to give them some healthy competition. …Like Clockwork was their last album and was, like Royal Blood, recorded a few years ago. 2013, in fact, was the last taste of Queens’. The circumstances of both acts is rather different. Royal Blood had that demand off the debut that meant touring duties ensured studio time was rather limited. Queens of the Stone Age put a lot of soul and tears into …Like Clockwork. It came out of a black period for their leader, Josh Homme. Suffering deep depression – he almost died after botched surgery on a back injury – and was incapacitated for a long time. The songs and sounds on that album reflect anger, darkens and doubt. If previous Queens’ albums have been them in the desert with the convertible roaring: …Like Clockwork was the scorpion flicking its tale against the cold chill of the night breeze. Some more upbeat, ‘traditional’ Queens’ songs were on the album – My God Is the Sun and Smooth Sailing providing epic choruses and incredible shredding – but there was an abiding sense of introspection and openness. We have heard no new Queens of the Stone Age material from the forthcoming album. They will release more information in time; but you just know they have created a thunderbolt of a record! Given the political and social division in America right now: might we see an album that reflects that turbulence and disgust? I think we will, and what’s more, Homme has been honing his skills whilst working with Iggy Pop – he was on-board for his album, Post Pop Depression.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Promotional Image from Queens of the Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork

You know Josh Homme and his crew – maybe some collaborators appearing on the album? – will bring the good. Having Royal Blood and Queens of the Stone Age preparing new albums gives a lot of hope for modern Rock. The albums might not completely make up for a lack of standout Rock albums the last couple of years but go to show Rock is, most certainly, not dead. It might be a bit limp and not as productive as it once was. Like Mick Jagger has shown: age is no barrier when it comes to productivity and fertility – still able to ‘produce’ into his dotage. We cannot truly return to the glory-days of the 1990s or 1970s. Modern music is defined by its variation and eclecticism. So many promising Rock artists are coming through that suggests a solid wave is about the hit the mainstream shores. I am really curious seeing what the rest of this year provides us. I am encouraged to see some genuinely original and hungry Rock bands touring hard and setting their sights on longevity and success. I have little time for people who say Rock is extinct and relying on its past glories. If your standards are THAT high – and you expect the kind of scene we were seeing in the early-mid-‘90s – then you will go away disappointed. The fact things aren’t as strong and busy as past years does not mean there is little to recommend. Queens of the Stone Age and Royal Blood are just two acts that are going to unveil big and purposeful Rock albums. The Amazons should be ready to bring their debut out – so many of their contemporaries are thinking of releasing L.P.s. There is hardly a shortage of brilliant Rock bands to get your teeth into. There are some smug media types sitting around laughing at themselves: where have all those great Rock bands gone to? Pop and mainstream tastes are taking over and threatening to overshadow all the wonderful albums already released this year – the likes of Laura Marling and Dutch Uncles, for example. Fear not because all we need are a couple of albums to drop that show what brilliant Rock music can do. Whether Queens of the Stone Age are bringing their album out this year or next – the fact a single can’t be too far away is more than enough. Same goes with Royal Blood but one imagines their new album is mere weeks away. Once the seismic calculations are figured and digested, that will give the po-faced critics imperative proof Rock is waking up and in unforgiving mood. After a rough few months for us all, we need the sort of motivation and kick only Rock can deliver. Prepare for some big arrivals that will give music the dinosaur-tail-swipe it needs. The preening and sneering doubters…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Royal Blood

WON’T know what hit them!

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