Album review: NAZARETH – Tattooed On My Brain

NAZARETH - Tattooed On My Brain

Frontiers [Release date 12.10.18]

Scottish classic rock legends Nazareth celebrate their 50th anniversary with their 24th studio album, their first without original vocalist Dan McCafferty. The new line-up, featuring new singer Carl Sentence (ex Don Airey, Krokus, many others), guitarist Jimmy Murrison, drummer Lee Agnew and original bassist and founder member Pete Agnew, are hitting the road to promote this marvellous new album, their first for Frontiers, and it also coincides with the Loud & Proud mammoth box set.

Formed in 1968 (from the ballroom cover band The Shaddettes), the original line-up featured guitarist Manny Charlton and drummer Darrell Sweet alongside Pete and Dan. A few changes of guitarist, including the addition of guitarists Zal Cleminson and Billy Rankin, with keyboard players John Locke and Ronnie Leahy passing through the ranks. Sadly Darrell Sweet died in 1999, and Dan McCafferty’s health forced retirement.

The work with Dan’s immediate replacement, Linton Osborne, is sadly glossed over. But if you don’t own Razamanaz, Rampant or even No Mean City, you’re seriously missing out. ‘Bad Bad Boy’, ‘Broken Down Angel’ and ‘Love Hurts’ are all radio and live staples (although the latter I wish they’d drop).

So to the new album. The opening track ‘Never Dance With The Devil’ is a great start, there’s a very decent riff. But I do have to issue the spoiler alert – don’t go expecting the classic or traditional Nazareth sound. It’s 2018 and the band have come along way since Razamanaz, line-up changes or otherwise.

The post-Boogaloo (1998) albums I found a little dry, here the band’s new line-up are cutting a new identity. Carl’s upper vocal range is good, solid, and quite clean – a far cry from the whiskey-soaked McCafferty years.

The title track is even further removed from the sound many fans will be used to – the guitar sound and riff are both verging on punky or early 80s new wave. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great track, it really does rock, and there’s a punky catchiness too. Over the riff there’s a decent guitar solo too.

In a confused way, the guitar intro to ‘State Of Emergency’ works better than expected. A hint of an AC/DC twiddle and a serious nod to Girlschool, the rhythms and riffs work well. Just what a rocker wants from a modern take on classic rock. More balladic is ‘Rubik’s Romance’, more country rock without all the strumming. Very melodic and radio friendly. Not as slow as your typical Naz ballad, a nod back to Sound Elixir.

More rocking is ‘Pole To Pole’, that’s had an airing already, a touch of a Naz/AC/DC crossover. Again Pete and Jimmy combine well. ‘Push’ is an all too rare nod back to the blues that the band did so well in the early and mid 70s, something that’s been lacking for too long. A little moody, and I’m not sure it’s totally suited by the vocal phrasing, but still a good and solid feel. ‘Don’t Throw Your Love Away’ has a hint of 80s bluesy glam (think Cinderella), but with a dirty Zeppelin-esque edge.

The tracks here are written (or at least credited) individually, which is rare compared to the historical 4 or 5 way credit. That did lead to tracks going off-piste got Nazified. There’s a little less evidence of that here, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of the songs. And it’s great to see Pete write a couple of songs, including the very gentle and mellow closer ‘You Call Me’, on which he handles the vocals. More acoustic, it brings things down nicely, and a song I will return to.

I’ll admit it is a lot more different to what I expected, but there are some excellent tracks here.

I know this is a bit cliché, but it’s either an excellent album, just not Nazareth, or an excellent album for a very different Nazareth. I’ll let you decide, but it’s still well worth checking out.

Razamanaz or No Mean City it isn’t, and I’d never expect (or want) it to be anyway. That was then this is now. Nazareth are still rocking, and given that Pete’s still up there playing his arse off to this (still high) ability, I feel proud to have known him, interviewed him and worked with him. Actually, in places, it’s an excellent listen.  ****

Review by Joe Geesin

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