The propulsive march of the lead track that takes charge of Southampton’s Band of Skulls third album is more proof that the U.K. still has some fantastic imports. ‘Asleep at the Wheel,’ is ripe with swagger, squeal, and bluesy abandon – reconciling 70’s power chords across the simplest of lines ‘…because where we are going is anyone’s guess.’
The power trio knows exactly where it’s going though, as their sleeves are full of their influences. The title cut, ‘Himalayan,’ finds Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson harmonizing across Prince worthy funk keyboards and a guitar solo that makes you wish you had a few more quarters for the jukebox to play the song over. I mean, in my minds eye, I can see Bootsy Collins and G.E. Smith jamming this track out, 10 years ago.
‘Hoochie Coochie,’ – I literally had to look around to verify it wasn’t a T.Rex cover. Complete glam and strut. There are a few things that separate Band of Skulls from their contemporaries (I would utter The Black Keys, BRMC and The Whigs in the same breath). For example, Emma Richardson’s vocal presence and musical input. ‘Cold Sweat,’ is a ragga-blues slow burner with strings, and a pace changer after the rollicking opening trio.
‘Nightmares,’ is one of the band’s most commercially accessible tunes, to date. Everyone’s got to have their U2 moment, right? This one was stolen from the early 8o’s post-new wave landscape right down to Bono’s ‘Ooh-Ooh-Oooh-Oh.’ It’s a tip of the cap and as such, is slightly head-bob worthy for the four minutes of space it takes up.
Drummer Matt Hayward brings the album bopping back on ‘Brothers and Sisters,’ navigating underneath Marsden’s guitar lines and laying nifty percussion changes across the bridges and chorus. Everything about this album has a familiar vibe to it. ‘I Guess I Know You Fairly Well’ is probably the closest to aping the Black Keys that occurs, though. The band has enough creativity, enough of a respect for what’s come before them, to both honor and admire those sounds in creating something bold and new.
On ‘You’re All That I’m Not,’ the band lopes through its first three minutes before taking a progression through Snow Patrol to Spirtualized to Eric Clapton (circa 1989’s Journeyman). The ghosts of Jack White and Marc Bolan rear their heads on the noir-ish southwestern ‘I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying.’ It’s a rip-off but in a post-White Stripes world, one happily accepts. Three quarter’s into Himalayan one realizes that not only was there no sophomore slump on 2011’s Sweet/Sour, but Band of Skulls keep getting better with the passage of time.
Shimmering, foreboding strings open the Richardson-led ‘Toreador,’ before it picks up into a gallop. The word alone evokes strong imagery – a toreador of course, being a bullfighter. The guitar solo puts you in the arena as one imagines the eyes of the bull, steam billowing from it’s nostrils and it’s front hoof digging it’s position in the dirt. The matador in gold sequined attire, the colored cape and shoulderblade betraying the banderillas hidden and waiting. Ah. Love truly is blind, sometimes.
‘Heaven’s Key,’ follows and, in some ways, reminds me of a great band out of Wokingham, Berkshire, entitled The Cooper Temple Clause as well as pretty much anything by Black Rebel. It’s a great moody piece with some edgy guitar. ‘Take my head/or/Take my heart/and keep your conscience clean/well/I got a feeling/it’s a burning desire/and I don’t know what it means/so ‘F’ it/are you looking at hell/for heaven’s key?’
On the album’s closing track,’Get Yourself Together,’ it’s pure homemade love. It’s dreamy, mopey British pop at it’s finest, recalling Bowie and The Doves.
Himalayan really is a collection of mountains – all impressive peaks, with very little bottom. I look forward to catching these cats live, hopefully in the not too distant future…