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Rock And Awe

Not On Your Radio (2008)
Rating: 8/10

My favourite Texans come storming back with what, rather tragically, became their second and final album before they disappeared off the face of the planet. Their 2004 debut opus Mouthful Of Love was, admittedly, a hard act to follow, as it was a searing hot melting pot that mixed the raw energy of the MC5 with a classic metal feel, and a two-pronged vocal attack from Chris Hodge and Jennifer Stephens that was part early Mötley Crüe and part AC/DC in its fiery nature.

I waited with baited breath for Rock And Awe and was even more intrigued when I found out that Jennifer Stephens would not only be adding her two-pence worth in regarding the lyrics and songs, but also featuring more in the vocal department.

The title cut kicks in on a driving guitar, with Hodge’s distinctive rasp almost caressed by Stephens’ more laid back wail, and once more I‘m praising these guys as the next big thing, praying they don’t split up again (having previously disbanded in 2006) just when us fans are left chomping at the bit.

‘Hell On Earth’ gives us a more 70s style of groove. Classic in its feel, the song kicks us with a crunching riff, but then an unexpectedly, almost poppy chorus. Stephens is in her element as the rock chick, swaggering all over this opus; one moment bearing a resemblance vocally to Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil, the next a more sneering Joan Jett.

‘Munki’ is as catchy as hell, with Stephens again taking over. But this isn’t a searing hot Young Heart Attack. Instead, we’re treated to a melodic pop-tinged style of rock, only given extra meat by the guitar attack of Chris “Frenchie” Smith.

‘Runaway’ is pure AC/DC at its heart, featuring a hooky riff and once again a melodic chorus caressed by Stephens who accompanies Hodge perfectly. To some fans however, the stronger presence of Stephens is a negative, the band seemingly losing their harder edge for the sake of a more accessible sound. It has been argued that Australia’s Jet succumbed to the same disease. They began life as a raw rock ’n’ roll band, but then with their sophomore effort became derivative. I wouldn’t accuse Young Heart Attack of wimping out, far from it in fact, but the fire in the belly seemed to have dissipated by the time this record was released.

The slow, moody chug of ‘Jump Into The Picture’ seems a prime example of the band preferring a more lengthy, bloated exercise instead of those infectious short sharp shocks of the first album. Now the band is dealing in a more Oasis-style groove rather than anything remotely Led Zeppelin-ish.

‘I Love This Town’ is another highly melodic tune with Stephens taking over vocal duties once again, and while I’m finding this more subtle style of pop-tinged rock infectious, I can see some of the fans shaking their heads in dismay.

‘Vacant Love’ follows the bubblegum rock theme. Hodge nails the rasp, but one can’t deny the catchiness even if the band is continuing their quest for melody rather than potency.

Strangest track on offer is the pop shuffle of ‘Jackboot Goons’, which I’m guessing is another Stephens influenced track as her velveteen tones soar above the waves. I’m now starting to hope for a Jennifer Stephens solo album!

Those seeking a sturdier number have to wait patiently, because ‘Welcome To My World’ is again infused with Stephens’ lively tones, with Hodge taking a back-seat before his more glammed up croon edges itself into play. But again we are bereft of the raucous melodies of the debut album.

‘Drums Of Revolution’ is just as melodic; a mid-tempo glam rocker which is part David Bowie, circa “Heroes” (1977), in that guitar, with the drums never once motioning beyond a crawl. And then we reach the final track, ‘Good Love’, which as its title suggests is another mid-tempo 70s style rocker featuring a bluesy riff and twin vocal attack.

Hardcore rockers expecting the flame grilled delights of the Young Heart Attack debut main meal will no doubt be disappointed. As for me, well the extra sprinkles of sultry Jennifer Stephens are infinitely rewarding, and while the sound in general is more of a glittery Oasis-groove than anything else, it’s still rock ’n’ roll… and I like it.

Neil Arnold

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