We are in a weird and awkward time of year. That bubbling festive period is over: we’ve returned our christmas gifts, given up on our diets and taken up smoking again. We’re back at school or work, plugging away with little respite in our sights. This is most likely the month of takeaways, binge watching Oscar movies and a healthy dose of good old British cynicism. Spring will probably never come. Leo probably won’t win the Oscar. Hell, I’m not even relying on Game Of Thrones EVER COMING BACK. We need a collective slap in the face, something to reenergise our pale English complexions. Weirdness, wonder, wacky chords and big voices. An injection of cool.
I present to you Alabama Shakes, a band that you may have heard of back in 2012 when they released their kick ass debut album “Boys and Girls”. They made quite a splash, and rightly so. It was a fearlessly badass explosion of Southern soul. Brittany Howard’s massive, unbridled vocals construct tales of teenagehood with irresistible drama. It’s a dance around the room shaking your hair and screaming into a hairbrush microphone. Angry, wounded, hormonal, but most of all outrageously fun.
After the release of this album, the band toured voraciously before heading back to the studio in 2013 to work on producing another record of immeasurable greatness (which I’m assuming takes a lot of perspiration and chewing of pencils). And hark! In 2015 they released “Sound & Colour” which DEBUTED AT NUMBER 1 on the US Billboard charts! Finally some justice in the turbulent world of popular music. GO THE PEOPLE! Sound & Colour is a huge birthday cake with one of those ridiculously ostentatious sparklers on top. It’s even bigger-bigger guitars, bigger vocals, bigger subjects. It’s got an edge as well with some experimental elements that make it wildly daring enough to blow our February slippers off and make us want to put on a leather jacket and take the city. If you’re looking for something to dust away the cobwebs that have built up in your record collection, look no further than here my friend.
“Sound & Colour” eases you into proceedings with it’s psychedelic feel. The opening sounds like that jingle that plays before an announcement at a train station. But there’s that familiar razor sharp drum riff and Howard’s powerful vocal to remind you that these guys aren’t fuckin around. “Don’t Wanna Fight” is a perfect example of the contradictions in this album. Just when you lulled yourself into a feeling of dreamy otherness, this track comes to bite you in the ass with its venom. Bringing back the rock for a bit of ass kicking with a major wiff of eau de Black Keys to galvanise proceedings. I hope you brought your cowboy boots because “Future People” wants a duel. It’s bluesy but it’s unconventional. It won’t bow to the stereotype of the Southern ballad. Cause it will hit you with some distortion up in this bitch and then, oh look, they hit you with some high, dreamy vocals. Hell yeah we’ll have some shouty refrains! And then we will follow it up with such a powerhouse love song as “Gimme All Your Love”. For me, this is the highlight of the album. It is bigger than big. Sexy verses give way to a megawatt chorus that has Howard working her full power, deploring: “Gimme all your love,/Gimme all you got”. The bridge is unbeatable in the way it builds to the final KAPOW chorus.
The album goes on in weird and twisting ways, as if through the rabbit hole to Wonderland. “The Greatest” is punktastic and reminds me of early Vaccines, whilst “Gemini” is over 6 minutes long and takes them to new psychedelic terrain. Also in the blender are some way more characteristic soul tracks “This Feeling” and “Guess Who”. The latter has such an old timer vibe that it could’ve been pulled out of an old Motown compilation. A relatively hidden gem is “Miss You” which has Howard at her most vulnerable. It’s got that 60s heartbreak vibe without being soppy or predictable in the slightest. It explodes at times and pulls back at others. Definitely my surprise pick for the album.
All in all, the album has us rocking and rolling, and not just because of the gale force winds outside. Cause sometimes you need a reminder that sunlight does exist in lands far away, where people drive down dusty highways in pick up trucks and smoothly serenade the drunk crowd of a smoky bar. Where dreams are still alive and Donald Trump is STILL in the presidential race. So get up off that thing and put this record on. (Hairbrush microphone mandatory).
Peace out y’all