Album review: DORIS BRENDEL & LEE DUNHAM – Mass Hysteria


Sky Rocket Records [Release date 01.09.20]

A new Doris Brendel album is a bit like Christmas coming early.  That moment when your Aunty Doris invites you to dip blindfold into a tub of Quality Street, only to discover she’s mixed in several handfuls of Heroes and Celebrations for good measure.

Since 2012 her regular ‘partner in crime’ has been guitarist and producer Lee Dunham and Mass Hysteria is their fourth studio album together.  This time, for the first time, using the same set of musicians for the entire album – Sam White on drums, Jacob Stoney on keys, and Ewan McIntosh on bass, with John Mitchell (Lonely Robot/It Bites and a hundred and one other projects) mixing and mastering.

These two factors bring a more cohesive vibe to affairs than on previous outings, but as with any Brendel release it’s as well to expect the unexpected.  And Mass Hysteria is no different – from the opening hard hitting blues rocker ‘Takes One To Know One’ (one that would give Blues Pills more than a run for their money and surely destined as a future crowd pleaser), the excellent ‘Gary Moore’ style slow blues of ‘It’s Never Too Late’, and the jazz infused Bond/Bassey-ish title track – it’s a non-stop rollercoaster ride.

At the risk of repeating myself from earlier reviews, vocally Brendel falls very much into Sam Brown territory.  Quirky, with the same husky tones and god-sent ability to let rip a wail that would stop a clock at 30 paces.  And like Sam, you’ll find her highly regarded by rock royalty – most recently providing backing vocals on Fish’s latest opus Weltschmerz.  Mass Hysteria finds her in very fine vocal fettle.

And while previous outings have embraced a cornucopia of styles, Mass Hysteria never strays too far away from rock.  That’s not to say Messrs Brendel and Dunham don’t some throw curve balls into the mix – there’s Celtic (and Brown) undertones to ‘You Took My Breath Away’ replete with more evocative guitar work from Dunham, a power ‘ballad’ – ‘You’re Everything’, ‘It Can Only Get Better’ (one of three, CD only, bonus tracks) veers towards pop with a big, infectious chorus that you could easily imagine Bonnie Tyler belting out, and there’s Eastern threads to the sumptuous ‘Other Side Of The World’ (another stand out).

But no Doris Brendel release would be complete without the odd proggy twist thrown into the mix.  And usually when you least expect it.  The broody ‘Wrong Time Wrong Place’ is a typical example, another powerful number but with a chaotic, bewildering mid-section break that leave you thinking ‘where the f*** did that just come from?’  It’s enough to make you press replay just to be certain your ears didn’t deceive you.

But then she goes and closes the set with three relatively ‘straight’ numbers – the powerful ‘Take Me To The Edge’ (more great vocal and guitar work), ‘Hard Heart’ – a song you could imagine someone like Céline Dion taking to the top of the charts in years gone by, and the anthemic rallying call ‘The People Are Going To Rise Up’ – a future live set closer?

It all adds up to Mass Hysteria being Brendel’s most focused, consistent, and powerful offering in a decade.  A seriously impressive album, and one that rewards repeated listens.  ****

Review by Pete Whalley

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