ALBUM REVIEW: BLUES PILLSLADY IN GOLD (Nuclear Blast, 2016)

Swedish psychedelic rockers, Blues Pills announced their arrival on the hard rock scene in 2014 with the release of their self-titled debut album which served notice that this band were a force to be reckoned with.

Building on the positive word of mouth and subsequent encouraging reviews of that first album and their powerful live shows, the band have delivered an impressive sophomore album with Lady In Gold, released this month on Nuclear Blast Records.

Lead singer, Elin Larsson, has an irresistible voice which channels the power of Grace Slick, the bluesy range of Beth Hart and the funky sensibility of Mother’s Finest vocalist, Joyce Kennedy, and is the focal point on every track – and she is a revelation. The Voodoo Choir who provide backing vocals here, are excellent too.

The main thing you notice on first listen is that the band seem to be strangely muted and rendered secondary in the mix. At first, I thought it was just the speakers on my computer, so I plugged the download into the car sound system and cranked it up – only to find that the effect was the same. That’s not to say that the contributions these guys make are not essential to the listening experience, but they obviously know that they are there primarily to let Larsson shine. They are aware that is where their future fanbase will come from, from those mesmerised by this talented woman’s vocal pyrotechnics.

Blues Pills 1

In fact, the rhythm section here – Zack Anderson on bass, and Andre Kvarnstrom on drums – form the most basic unit I have heard for quite awhile. Anderson’s basslines often consist of a single repeated note thumping through an entire track without variation or virtuosity, but then, it is hard to argue with the view that rock music is often at its most compelling when delivered in its most unadorned and elemental form.

Guitarist, Dorian Sorriaux, plays a variety of classic rhythm riffs throughout the album. He is, at times, adopting a Stooges-like style, in other places it seems he is borrowing from Cream, and other bands of similar ilk, to create an aptly sympathetic sonic bedrock for Larsson to revel in.

When he does get the chance to solo, such as in ‘Elements & Things’, it is not some showy technical indulgence, but is more in synch with the atmospheric demands of the song.

Larsson apparently just demands that these boys plug in, shut up…and drive.

And they do, so becoming her chauffeurs on a journey into the past, travelling back to visit a number of recognisable classic rock touchstones: here a plaintive electric piano a la Free, here the wah-wah pedal of so many great psych classics, and here the employment of some classic phasing, suggestive of half the singles that appeared on the influential ‘Nuggets’ garage band compilation  – and it all works a treat.

The lyrics here, are often simplistic and, could be, by modern standards, judged as possibly being clichéd and tired, but they actually fit the band’s retro sound perfectly.

The title track is the lead single and provides an excellent homage to the sound of prime seventies blues rock – and it is as catchy as hell, even if it is about Death (the ‘Lady In Gold’ actually being the feminine equivalent of the Grim Reaper).

Other standout tracks here are the delicate ballad, ‘I Felt A Change’; the slow burning, ‘You Gotta Try’; and the more frenetic and soulful, ‘Bad Talkers’ – but there are not really any low points here at all, each track has its strengths and all combine to make a cohesive and consistent album.

Listening to this album will be a transporting experience for those listeners of a certain age; conjuring up the primal joy of a late afternoon set at Sunbury, perhaps? When the beer was warm and the dope cloud was hanging just above your head. Life was good then, wasn’t it? This band are not headliners yet, but they lock onto the vibe and play with an appealing earnestness. The ‘heads’ around you, all tripping and grooving, know they going to have to buy a ‘Blues Pills’ bumper sticker and display it on the rear window of their Kombi van as soon as they find out where the merch tent is located. All new listeners are converts…

Blues Pills are an addictive experience that will get your adrenaline pumping and re-energise weary classic rock somnambulists who have found themselves sleepwalking through the over-produced musical soma of recent times.

Get your prescription filled now!

Rating: 4 stars

Reviewed by Ken Grady

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