Band of Skulls‘ third record immediately gives the impression of beer commercial rock. It’s not particularly surprising – bands loved in the UK have leaned that way for the better part of a decade. However, when the chorus on “Asleep at the Wheel” drops in after exactly a minute, the tempo sags a bit – in order to optimize the blindsiding, “Manic Depression“-inspired haymaker of a riff behind lyricist Russell Marsden’s aimlessness: [LISTEN]
From then on, the track just slays. It’ll turn out to be the peak of the album, but they make a concerted effort throughout the record to either throw in tasteful surprises or fuse together multiple staple subgenres. “Cold Sweat” is a token old-school rock ballad, with a heroin-withdrawal metaphor for love that we’ve all heard in some variation before:
However, they end the choruses with a sort of hellish reverse cymbal noise section that breaks it up. While the first few tracks could’ve been Wolfmother b-sides (save for that “Asleep at the Wheel” chorus), “Nightmares” addresses overcoming paralyzing fears with a more indie, synth-friendly style – somewhat like The War on Drugs:
It’s a smart choice, because the simple fact is that there are only so many blues riffs out there. The blues scale itself is only six notes, and while it is steeped in centuries of tradition, it’s also been farmed for commercial and artistic gain for several decades. The sentiment behind “Brothers and Sisters” may be a welcome one (“We’re all brothers and sisters in the end”), but the riff is just too plain – the drummer tries to disguise this fact by repeatedly reversing the beat, but the distraction ultimately fails.
One other folly of the album is that while its influence pool draws fairly wide across the recent radio rock spectrum (Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys, plenty of The Black Keys and Kings of Leon, plus a hint of Portugal. the Man), sometimes the inspiration is pulled too much from one source. Pardon the terrible joke, but “I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying” sounds just like nine identical songs I can’t name, and “Riders on the Storm.” “Hoochie Coochie” uses the same ’60’s innuendo as “Hanky Panky“, and so on.
It’s arguable that these tracks are probably more interesting than their predecessors in most cases. Still, the only one that achieves in saying something new with something old, is that opening shot: