Review Summary: Sadly, more of the same here as Australia’s favored sons look ever more inseparable from the bands they helped spawn.
The saga of Wolfmother is one that any hard rock aficionado has heard time and time again, so I’ll try and be brief here. Long ago, in the year 2005, the loud rock community was suddenly captivated by a group of up and coming musicians who operated under the moniker Wolfmother. Their self-titled debut was a significant critical and commercial success, containing a number of hit songs like “Woman,” “Joker & the Thief,” & “Love Train.” Finally, after spending the last few years on a relative cold streak, mainstream rock music had an act to get excited about again. It was clear that these Aussie guys were Sabbath reincarnated, or Deep Purple, or T. Rex, or whoever the person you were speaking with decided to name drop. Heck, even Mike Patton gave them a shout out! Unfortunately, the music gods have a foul habit of unleashing their wrath upon the unwary, and Wolfmother was about to experience the full brunt of their fury.
In 2009 they released their sophomore album Cosmic Egg, the album that most people use to mark where it all when wrong. Now Cosmic Egg was actually not that bad; it had a number of charming songs that were progressive enough while sticking to their roots, and its grand scope could please those with the right taste. The problem really seemed to be that the album came a full four years after their first, and the music industry had changed a lot since then. Legions of new artists were trying to play a similar throwback sound that audiences had mostly moved on from by this point, and standing next to these young guns made poor Wolfmother look like dinosaurs, especially now that they were being criticized for not changing their sonic template enough. Now we come to the real turning point, where front man Andrew Stockdale’s ego flew off the rails. Cue Stockdale disbanding the group, releasing a piece of trash solo album, reforming the group, releasing an even worse comeback album, (recorded using just an old potato and some spare electrical wires, fun fact), and now we arrive at present.
Wolfmother wisely decided to not go the self-release route with this release. They had long since lost the indie cred that they would have needed to make that decision work and their sound was much better suited for a real label with an actual budget to play with. They enlisted producer Brenden O’Brien, known for his work with Pearl Jam, Korn, and most recently AC/DC. This proved a wise move, as O’Brien understood what appeal there was in their bare bone style of playing and knew how to make the performances pop. This left Wolfmother, ah screw it, Stockdale free to try and make an album that would restore his brand in the hearts and minds of the listening populace.
And try he did. Unfortunately, that ends up being the problem with this release. It relies far too heavily on the established heavy/stoner rock sound that the band could play in their sleep. Now that it’s 2016, and we can look back on a decade and a half’s worth of throwback bands spawned from the likes of Wolfmother and the White Stripes, we see that that sub sect of music has been given to strikingly little originality. Bands try to play this rugged sound and end up adding nothing new to the genre, a problem which seems to irk listeners more and more every year. By now we have long since passed the point where it stopped seeming genuine and started to feel like groups of teens were just getting thrown together by these labels to make a few quick bucks. I believe there is a special circle in musical hell for the untrying throwback artist, somewhere between the city of Dis and that place where Chiron and Pholus play target practice with peoples’ heads. Wolfmother make little to no attempt to deviate from this formula, and as a result, Victorious ends up sounding like it could have been made by any of the dozens of other neo-psychedelia acts out there today.
To get to the music, the album starts off on a promising, if somewhat predictable note with “The Love That You Give.” The song has a catchy riff rather reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave” and is smart enough to rush to the ending so that the listener finds themselves on song number two before their foot can stop tapping. With “The Love That You Give,” those who are completely fine with Wolfmother sticking to their garage sounding style will likely have found their favorite track on the album already. Unfortunately, the next song off the album, title track “Victorious,” is everything that the last song was, but without that enjoyable qualities that made the opening cut bearable. It is a chugger of a song with a verse that only seems to be filling time until it gets to the underwhelming chorus. The riff to this song reminds me of “Children of the Grave” by Black Sabbath. For those of you who just got confused and had to backtrack through this paragraph because you thought you heard me say that already: I did. This song reminds me of the exact same tune that the first one did. That’s not a good thing.
While this unfortunate trend continues throughout the album, it would be wrong not to talk about the high points here, because there are a few. The first, which absolutely saves the day when it starts, is “Baroness.” Though it opens like another standard chugger song, the music for once seems to compliment the vocals, rather than the other way around. Stockdale hits the high notes during the chorus, and while the actual merits of his voice can be debated, it suits the music well enough here. “Best of a Bad Situation” serves as a nice blend of some unexpected styles, and it’s good to hear the band letting the song breathe and actually having fun with it. Album closer “Eye of the Beholder” also stands out, for though they have tread this loud, anthemic territory before, that doesn’t mean we don’t like it when it gets done the right way.
Yet ultimately, this album is weighed down by the fact that all of the ground Stockdale and Co. seemed to want to cover on this release has been tread already. It seems that Wolfmother have arrived at that tragic point in their career where they don’t even try to hide the fact that there is nothing more to say. Tracks five through ten, with the exception of “Best of a Bad Situation,” could be changed out with one another and the listener might not even notice. “Pretty Peggy” is the only stylistic deviation not mentioned yet, but it unfortunately just seems like Wolfmother is pandering on this one, trying to score an easy single with a sing along in it that airwaves can just eat up. It’s a lot like what The Dear Hunter did with “Waves,” but this song isn’t pulled off nearly as convincingly. That is roughly the extent of the album, a lamentably brief ten song, 35:20 run through the motions, though I suppose the short length can be an asset with this type of music.
Though I read back on this review and notice that it tends to be on the negative side, it should be noted that if you are into straight forward, heavy stoner type music, Victorious should satisfy your cravings. However, for those who focus on the fact that Wolfmother are now more than ten years into their career and have seemingly made no forward artistic motion whatsoever, this album will only cement your stance on the matter; Wolfmother sound the same as they did on their blockbuster debut. No better, no worse. While one might like to see Wolfmother delve into the more psychedelic side of early rock music and begin to stretch out their sound, they clearly have a nice little fan base that will ensure that they retain a level of modest commercial success. Should they stick with those perks, expect more albums like this: a rather enjoyable deviation to maybe brighten your afternoon, but one that will surely fall out of regular rotation before long.
Best Tracks: “Baroness,” “Best of a Bad Situation”
Worst Tracks: “Pretty Peggy,” “Happy Face”