|Butch Walker and the Black Widows - 'Self Titled' (Lojinx)|
|Written by Gaz E|
|Monday, 15 August 2011 05:00|
If music to you is for the background, if you have never felt a connection with a band, a singer, an artist, then you have not fully lived. Like dying a virgin or without ever having your heart broken, never feeling like a song is being sung solely for you, for your mood, your predicament, is akin to living a stunted life.
Luckily for me, except, possibly, the heartbreak part, a gentleman named Bradley Glenn Walker made a connection with me many years ago, like a switch being flicked on in my soul. Okay, we're probably talking post-Southgang (my hair metal switch had been long since disconnected at that point) but everything from that moment on that the man also known as Butch touched, eventually, touched me too. Whether it be funked-out, power popped-in, Seventies glam-afflicted or sombre soul searching, the back catalogue of Butch Walker has been a high-water mark in my music collection.
While these songs spoke to me personally, deep down, I knew that they spoke to others too. I knew that at every gig almost every person in the room, both male and female, knew almost every damn word to every damn tune, no matter how obscure. This cult, this gathering of every different kind of person, made a connection with these songs and, however criminally overlooked this artist appeared to be, commercially at least, the simple fact that he shared these aural works of art, of hope, of joy, of sadness, with all of us was all that mattered, like they, we, mattered. It's why a song like 'Summer Of '89' can be sung back at its creator, word for word, before it has officially seen release. It's why anticipation is fevered as the release of the second album from Butch Walker and the Black Widows approaches, in joyous fashion, just a year and a half on from the release of the band's debut.
Yeah, you read that correctly - band. If anyone thought that, following that great debut, 'I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart', the Black Widows were just a 'phase' Walker was going through, Let's-Go-Out-Tonites style, then this sophomore release will firmly put them in their place. This self-titled second album, nicknamed 'The Spade', Metallica "Black Album" style, due to its cover photograph, showcases a progression, a warm, organic, natural progression, befitting a band growing more accustomed to each other with every live performance.
Album opener 'Bodegas And Blood' might not be the biggest curveball in regards to that first album's content but it soon becomes clear, over the course of ten glorious tracks, that this band have matured into an outfit who revel in this loose, relaxed, countrified Americana that belongs, not only in a different decade, but also in your record collection, ear buds, whatever it is that houses your favourite music these days.
The most noticeable difference between this album and its predecessor is tonal, rather than aural. This second record is certainly more uplifting, more fun, even. Not that there weren't elements of this on 'I Liked It Better....' of course; 'She Likes Hair Bands', for example. The thing is the air of melancholy present over that last album has been replaced by, well, mischief. The pop culture references - Kiss, Bryan Adams, Duran Duran, Iron Maiden, Frank Poncherello (Erik Estrada's character in CHiPS) - and the outtakes and banter residing at various points throughout the album's running time guarantee that this is not a record that will leave you with a frown on your face. Fans of Walker's tales of heartbreak and salvation should not despair, however - this shift is more of a side-step than a 'Left Of Self-Centred' to 'Letters' leap.
Despair, honestly, is not a word that will dare be uttered by any Butch Walker fan upon hearing this new album. This will satisfy on many levels. There are the usual auto-biographical lyrics, the expected level of romanticism expected of a Walker-related record. 'Closest Thing To You I'm Gonna Find' will jerk tears from lovers' eyes, without doubt - just one example of timeless songwriting that appears to flow from Walker and the Black Widows with startling ease. Want another? You won't have to look very far, those lovers forgetting the tears and doing what comes naturally to the sound of 'Sweethearts', a sexy, simple, future classic blessed with wonderful female backing vocals - a more perfect three minutes you will struggle to find on any album this year.
'Every Single Body Else' revisits the retro glam stomp of the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites with a Bolan-esque vocal line and hook that, although belonging of a record released four decades previously, still sounds as gorgeous as it did in the Seventies. This, along with the album's last two tracks, 'Bullet Belt' and 'Suckerpunch', shows the positive attitude that this record has absorbed perhaps more than any - shit-eating grins of songs, awash with sumptuous hooks and cheeky, self-assured lyrics. Add the great 'Day Drunk' to this list too.
'Synthesizers' almost snatches the title of song-most-likely-to-be-talked-about, with its sarcastic, oft-comedic, lyrics and awesome tempo change, but it is the aforementioned 'Summer Of '89' that takes the crown - forget most likely, this is already a fan-favourite.....even before official release. I dare you to find a more infectious hook in 2011 - go on, I dare ya! Ain't gonna happen. Talking of fan favourites....there's just one song I have yet to mention - 'Dublin Crow': listen to this mixture of subtle folk tune and anthem and tell me you can't imagine every single fan singing it back at the band the next time they get on stage. Fantastic.
It's easy to be cynical in the world we inhabit today. It's easy, given Butch Walker's history of reinvention, to be cynical of just how long this glorious musical relationship with the Black Widows will last. Doubters, though, should take a sour step back and try to remember just why they got into music in the first place. If you want music to move you, to connect with you and truly touch you, then you will find few albums this year, if any, that will do it better than this. Highly recommended.