Review Summary: Zeppelin rides again as these Ozzy Oz-born rockers show us what all the fuss was about.
In late 2003, the Australian music industry unearthed a new beast. Hailing from the small town of Dingley, near Melbourne, critics claimed they were just the musical vehicle to bring rock back into the fore mind of teenyboppers everywhere. Colliding the styles of seventies pub-rock and sixties swagger, they succeeded with a multitude of hit singles, an award winning album, and a plethora of diehard fans. It wasn’t long however, before the chants of mass praise turned into throngs of hoarding critics, labeling said band unimaginative, uninspiring, and simply unoriginal. This band was Jet. 2006’s band, is Wolfmother.
Much like the aforementioned Dingley crew, Wolfmother blossomed from a small town in the suburbs of a thriving city. Melding classic rock with a twist of psychedelic thrown in for good measure, Wolfmother appealed to fans of old and boppers of new. After releasing a solid EP to quiet fanfare, they set off to America with producer Dave Sardy and created a hotly anticipated LP displaying their musical influences in full salute. Sound familiar? Add constant radio-play, various industry awards and television appearances, and what we have is ‘Jet-Revisited’.
The influences are a little different to their 2003 counterparts (for Rolling Stones and The Beatles, read Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath) but ring loudly all the same. Furthermore, under the surface Wolfmother boasts an almost inexhaustible amount of musical inspiration. Rather than waste valuable web space by recreating every classic rock band from 1967 onwards to provide an example of their sound, it would most definitely be more efficient for me to list all of the bands they don’t
sound like in place. The list reads;
- The Wiggles
- Hayseed Dixie
- That band with the guy who got shot on stage
Now, while providing a veritable smorgasbord of musical assortment should prove beneficial to the listener, this variety does come at a cost of sheer banality. Nothing
on this record has never been heard before. From the simplistic riffs, and fantastical lyrics, Wolfmother are simply going through motions older bands carved years ago. The flamboyant hairstyles, the tight pants, the band proudly brandishing a bottle of hard liquor whilst accepting an award at the 2006 ARIA’s – I can’t help but feel these Jo Blows from Erskineville seriously believe they have it all over Plant, Page and company in the musical stakes.
Now, surely you’ve already taken a peak at the score accompanying this review and I know what you’re thinking. Why – after all this bashing – do I still believe this album warrants a solid 4 out of 5? My dear brethren, the simple reasoning is that when providing a fully rounded, unbiased evaluation of a record, there are many contributing factors to consider. Originality is but one of many!
Wolfmother – Wolfmother
Album opener Colossal
kicks off the proceedings. As Myles Heskett’s drums thunder in, Wolfmother arrive at our speakers with little pretension or instrumental self-indulgence - it’s straight down to business, like any self-respecting rock band should be. You can almost feel the sweat on the fret board as Stockdale’s simplistic, yet grandeur riff drags the rest of the song along in its tow. Technically, it’s hardly inspiring. But it creates excitement, and that’s what any good opener should strive to achieve. Second track Woman
maintains the adrenaline and was a radio mainstay for quite some time. With a driven riff, it cranks up the pace compared to its earlier EP counterpart and proves – if anything – Wolfmother have the power to truly excite.
However, it’s at this point Wolfmother’s obvious unoriginality begins to present itself. Stockdale’s vocals seem to linger somewhere between the flare of Robert Plant, and the nasal delivery of Jack White. The riffs are fun and catchy, but wouldn’t hold a proverbial-sized candle to Page or Hendrix, and while the percussion is above adequate, it is only ever just that
Album highlight White Unicorn
is a perfect example of this accused plagiarism. Any fans of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir
will find instant parallels here. This is a shame, because in its own right, it’s a fantastic rock track with a great riff. Keyboardist/bassist Chris Ross describes it in an interview;
“It’s an emotional song. When I got that riff for the chorus, I thought, if I could marry a riff, I would marry that one! I think some of our songs are as good as sex.”
Chris Ross, interview by Maxim, 2006
For what they lack in innovation, they obviously make up for in enthusiasm. Enthusiasm which can also be found in tracks such as Pyramid
- with it’s undemanding yet all-too infectious bass-line – or Witchcraft
- with it’s all-too bizarre flute solo. From start to finish, there’s a constant energy that permeates throughout the record and never lets up. This is highlighted by the fact that there is little balladry taking place on Wolfmother’s mostly driven debut.
What would constitute as “balladry”, would most likely be eerie addition Where Eagles Have Been
. An acoustic guitar is brought into the fray, and for the first time in eight tracks, a pleasant, tranquil calm presents itself. Before too long however, this serenity gives way to more stiff rocking. Similar track Tales From the Forest of Gnomes
operates in the same way, yet also sounds like a blatant Oasis knock-off. It proves its worth however, once the actual head-banging begins, and all allegations of copyright breaches are forgotten. Again – who cares about originality when there’s fun to be had?
It’s not all fun and games, though. Indie-rocker Apple Tree
is mostly atrocious, and gives no clue as to how it managed to make its way from the original EP to what is a very solid record. Stockdale’s voice grates, the instrumentation is foolishly outlandish, and the song only warrants passing admiration when it breaks into it’s more “measured” moments between Stockdale’s highly reverberized - and generally incoherent – ramblings.
“Dear Sir, can you remember me,
I'm the one that picked the apple tree
Dear Sir, can you remember me
I'm the one that picked the apple tree
Dear Sir, can you remember me,
Have a look inside the family tree,
Dear sir, can you remember me
Have a look inside the family tree”
In its defense, the song isn’t supposed to be taken seriously - by any other band, this kind of nonsensical buffoonery would be let off the hook. But by a serious rock act with epic musical undertones, it doesn’t quite suit. Better to leave The White Stripes and The Violent Femmes to The White Stripes and The Violent Femmes, boys.
These “epic musical undertones” are mostly prevalent in ambitious single Mind’s Eye
. Through the mist of a ghostly organ, a poignant riff emerges and gives way to a haunting verse. What follows is a by-the-book yet thoroughly exciting marathon through an imposing chorus and a ballsy outro. Considering it’s ambitions, Mind’s Eye
managed to crack the Australian charts, and pave the way for following singles to reach even higher. Psychedelic track Joker & the Thief
reached as high as #8 on the Australian singles charts, and still lingers today.
This is marginally irrelevant though, considering Wolfmother have managed to deliver an album that actually provided exactly what the hype predicted – classic, uncompromising rock that’s as tough as nuts, and as shallow as a toddler’s wading pool. Constant references to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin are obviously justified, as the record does little to stray from what these hugely popular bands had already achieved when Wolfmother was merely a cub with teat-in-mouth. However, when a band manages to convert squeaky-clean teenyboppers into mini bedroom rockers, some credit must be given. In foresight, perhaps Wolfmother are merely opening a door that future – more original – bands will eventually kick down?
It may not mean anything however, as one can’t help but feel a sense of deja vu when witnessing Wolfmother’s rise in popularity. It’s been seen in Australia before, with the likes of Silverchair, The Living End and the already-mentioned Dingley crew all being placed on a pedestal in rapid time for all to pick at - some faring better than others. But unlike Jet and it’s cesspool of raging critics in tow, could Wolfmother supersede all before it, and stake the claim for Australia’s best rock act? With a debut as solid as this, it’s certainly arguable. It’s just a shame one can’t help but feel they’ve heard it all before.