333 Records [Release date 16.09.13]
‘Cracking The Code’ is an apt title for an album that counter balances some retro sounding material with a contemporary production. There’s something lying underneath the frisson busting energy levels but you have to dig deep to find out just what it is. SDP’s sprightly young band gives this guitar driven album both real power and some edge, though at times its almost the triumph of bluster over the kind of deep blues that its author often refers to.
This big sounding, riff driven album, is exemplified by the opening ‘Holla’ which is given its impetus by Ray Davies and Edgar Broughton style riffs tempered by a booming production. It’s the perfect example of the dichotomous tension at the core of SDP’s music. On the one hand he’s drawing on the Brit blues invasion influences and on the other he’s searching for a contemporary sound, which if truth be told, is rooted somewhere in the mid 90’s.
‘Wonder’ for example is a combination of familiar riffs and some snarling Noel Gallagher style vocal phrasing, with lascivious lyrics of which: ‘coming like a freight train in the sun’, is one of the better lines. A beautifully sculpted, long drawn out sustained note re-invigorates a song that ultimately relies on bluster and a big crescendo to drive it to an impressive riff-driven resolution. Like much of the album as a whole, the songs may not be very original, but SDP sure makes his mark with his tonal range and subsequent dynamic impact.
There’s a similar big ending to the angst ridden ‘Slideway’, which suggests this is a production rather than song driven album. ‘Muzzle’ for example, makes its impact but it’s almost the triumph of sonic overload over substance.
Happily, Stephen falls back on his tonal possibilities on ‘Approximately Perfect Heartbreak’. Having got some electric feedback out of his system, he settles for the closest he gets to the blues, with an edgy, weepy toned guitar figure over Jon Moody’s Hammond. It sounds like a conversational piece written for the guitar and is easily the album highlight.
The rumbustious ‘Get You Off’ features a sleazy spoken word intro from Dr. John and is one of Hubert Sumlin’s last performances. It’s an interesting cut with an arresting Beefheart style vocal and a pulsating riff, but while the sludgy tempo change re-emphasises the power of the riff, the song never quite creates the sexual tension that its lyrics might suggest. ‘Hard To Love You’ similarly draws you in to sundry possibilities that its Bowie/Eno wall of sound and the Oasis style vocal gives it, but it never quite delivers its epic pretensions.
The frenetic ‘Riot City’ and ponderous co-written ‘Shotgun Venus’ can’t disguise a notable dip in the album , before more fractured electronics lead to an organ led sweep and Stephen’s Alice Cooper style vocals on ‘Slideway’. ‘My Friend Bob’ is a welcome mid-tempo acoustic break. It’s flanked by a tremolo figure, features notably better lyrics and skips along like a Texas tumbleweed.
The album finishes with a cleverly arranged ode to Hubert Sumlin on ‘Hubert’s Blues’. Chris Barber adds a sonorous,New Orleans dirge on trombone and SDP bids farewell to Hubert with a deeply honed solo, before the piece is finally resolved with a gospel and then celebratory ending.
In many ways ‘Cracking The Code’ is all about the bigger picture rather than the minutiae of the songs, though repeat plays reveal underlying structures and the potency of the guitar work. But there’s a slight over reliance on the huge sonic quality and sledgehammer riffs to the exclusion of real feel. That said, if you want to blow cobwebs out of the bedroom, this is the album for you. Simply crank up the volume and enjoy. ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 September 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 22 September 2020.
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