Sunday, May 14, 2006

WOLFMOTHER: Their natural Seventies gifts are poor

While I think they'll be chaff this time next year, it's timely to cope with Wolfmother. The Australian trio's US label is running a significant tab on the band, one it is presumed the powers-that-be hope will rapidly pay off. At this juncture, the expenses are in non-recoupables, like press linked to major city appearances and promotional placement, which has been significant.

A Lex-Nex search of the last six months returned over 400 citations for "Wolfmother" in the western news, over half of which have appeared in the States. Peaks of interest radiate out from a feature in the Los Angeles Times coupled with its LA showcases, a quick hype tour of the US prior to album release, an appearance at Coachella and other high profile dates like SXSW.

While the quantity of it is worth noting, a more interesting facet of it can generally be applied to how hard rock music is vended and promoted in the United States at a time when media channels have multiplied towards infinity.

A multiplicity of information sources does not result in multiples of opinions and adequate description. In fact, the opposite occurs. With Wolfmother, it's seen in many narrow reviews and notices which say the same thing: The band sounds like Led Zeppelin, secondarily Black Sabbath, and Seventies hard rock. Practically speaking, they could be replaced with a central server which employs a software machine to concentrate the collection into one 120-word amalgam.

The flavor of this is conveyed by some quotes: "Its songs could be covers of Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath B-sides (Denver Post)," "... you'll recognize Stockdale's sex crazed yowl (born of early Robert Plant), his doomy declarations derived from a young Ozzy Osbourne ( New York Daily News)," "Blending '70s psychedelia, Led Zeppelin-like riffs and mythic imagery, and even throwing a toss to Black Sabbath ... (Billboard feed to Reuters)," " ... the Zep-meets-Sabbath-meets-the-White-Stripes fun of the self-titled debut from Australia's Wolfmother ... (OC Register), " "The rhythm-section thunder and Andrew Stockdale's guitar-hero playing and Ozzy-cum-Plant wail touched on Cream, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath (Los Angeles Times)."
A couple of blurbs are totally ridiculous. Someone might think even the band would be embarrassed by the nature of them.

One, from The Austin-American Statesman, claims "These Australians play blistering, Afro-rockin' hard rock in the AC/DC tradition" and another, from Associated Press, compares them to the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream. The two couldn't be farther apart. First, Wolfmother don't sound like AC/DC and, second, guitarist Andrew Stockdale is very far from being a virtuoso. That excludes all comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Angus Young.

As for being like Seventies hard rock and Led Zeppelin, in a fuzzy vaseline-coated image from a backward-looking lens sense, Wolfmother do sound retro.

But all the early Seventies hard rock acts, obscure and famous, and I have 'em, were more bluesy and built upon R&B combo forms that made them funky. Spreading out from the Brit white boy blooz boom, most flashed heavy doses of guitar and drums boogie, the kind of rhythm which is virtually absent from Wolfmother's debut. Deep Purple boogied and played a lot of blues jams. Jimmy Page employed many basic boogie figures and composed off the blues so much he was awarded the reputation of a clever thief. Stockdale's guitar line are not even close to being in the same ballpark as Pagey's. In fact, he does not adorn Wolfmother's songs with the kinds of hard rock fills and solos which were present on almost every single record made by such genre bands in the Seventies.

Wolfmother sounds retro in the way "stoner" bands sound retro. Stoner bands are retro in that they play thick and fuzzy single note riffs which they insist are inspired by Black Sabbath but which only rarely bring the funk that Bill Ward and Geezer Butler were able to furnish in a song like "Fairies Wear Boots."

Where Wolfmother surpasses the average stoner band is its possession of a singer. Andrew Stockdale can hold a tune. No one in stonerland sings, they shout and growl like angry he-men getting ready to lift heavy weights.

In common with stoner bands, there is little groove on Wolfmother's debut. Led Zeppelin packed funk and groove. "Love Train" and "Joker & The Thief" are the only two tunes that work in the way early Seventies hard rock made for the radio was supposed to work. The former is catchy and funky and deserves airplay, the latter has a comfortable groove to it. While the rest of the album is not leaden, none of the numbers have much stickiness. A B3 organist adds color and swirl to the dynamic of tracks but it's not quite enough to make them memorable.

This is not Wolfmother's LP
Which leaves Wolfmother's cover art by Frank Frazetta. Yes, it's cool, like Nazareth's "Expect No Mercy." "Expect No Mercy" was one of the Nazareth albums fans did well to avoid. Nazareth, like Wolfmother, didn't show a great aptitude for writing catchy songs. They knew that and often effectively used the talent of others to help cross the great crevasse of song-writing. "Love Hurts" is the most obvious example, but "Teenage Nervous Breakdown" (Lowell George), "Beggar's Day" (Nils Lofgren), "Alcatraz" (Leon Russell) and "This Flight Tonight" (Joni Mitchell) are other good ones.

This ain't the Wolfmother LP, either
Molly Hatchet was very big in Frank Frazetta and Frazetta-style album art, too. They were a southern boogie act and sold quite a few records on the back of brute-force touring in arenas and the delivery of a relentless three-guitar stage attack. They were never very well-liked by music journalists.

Nope, still not Wolfmother's LP
Dust, a late Sixties/early Seventies hard rock act, also employed Frazetta. Dust was big in St. Louis.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you said, but I still think that they're better than most new hard rock out there today. Unfortunately, the new Jimmy Page's and Jimmy Hendrix's of the world aren't making it into the limelight anymore. And it's weird because I find it hard to believe nobody is out there to be worthy of that status anymore. Is the talent really out there? Is the next Led Zep sitting in a basement somewhere? Or does the record company stock holder totally control what we hear?

I'll take this band over any hard rock band that's been on the MTV or Grammy awards in the last 10 years. Personally, I'd like to see this new generation of white boy stoner rock knock the hip-hop/baggy pants/rapping wiggers of this world off the map.

12:10 AM  
Blogger George Smith said...

Is the talent really out there?

Yes, I hear lots of records that are almost entirely classic hard rock based. They're mostly done by insularly local and regional acts on their own dime. They simply don't get wide distribution and promotion anymore because of media bias against it in favor of indie rock and major and indie label indifference to the style.

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They're a huge step up from what's out there now. What would you rather listen to Jay Z? Green Day? U2? I'd rather drink urine than have to listen to any of those. Though, people comparing the band to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath isn't completely true, I do hear a tone of Black Sabbath in there, but nothing of Led Zeppelin. You shouldn't judge the band on what other's are judging them by, just judge them on the music, and the music isn't bad. It does have the signature things you'll find in a 70's rock band, but I'm sure you know all about that.

Now, on to the rest of your critique, my previous statement was sarcasm. "Wolfmother sounds retro in the way "stoner" bands sound retro. Stoner bands are retro in that they play thick and fuzzy single note riffs..."
Obviously you've never played the guitar, in that most of Led Zeppelin's riffs are composed of single notes. Black Dog? The Ocean? Many Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath songs have single note riffs, and chord riffs as well. I would also like to quote a band member.."I don't pretend that we're... There's similarities in our sound, but we're not trying to emulate them at all. We're totally honestly and earnestly the three of us getting in there and playing what feels good for us."

They're not trying to copy off anything, they're playing what's good to them, they grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and such, so they'll play music like it. Then, if it's a good band, they'll evolve their music and it will become something new. That's how it has always worked.

The only thing I'd say to Wolfmother is "Thank you, and please, play what you want to play. Don't listen to other people, write what you want and play what you like. That's the only way to become good."

3:08 PM  
Blogger George Smith said...

Obviously you've never played the guitar

Good try, but not quite a hit.

Dick Destiny plays geetar.

Anyway, Wolfmother fans, they're playing "The Joker & The Thief" as background for some electronic commercial widget now. Would've helped sales more if somehow the band had been able to get its name and pic tacked on ala Damone for a TV spot shilling the network. "Everybody Wants Some" by Billy Squier, a Zep fan.

So if you're drawn to this like candles to the flame, Happy New Year, folks, and best wishes for 2007. Let's hear a second Wolfmother LP.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you guys might wanna check out nick vivid, he's a real 70's inspired rocker from nyc. he's been getting really solid reviews for a while now. google him.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

> Andrew Stockdale can hold a tune.

Eh? Have you heard him sing live?

On record it might sound like he can sing [probably autotune?] ...but for example : is typical live and his singing is terrible.

If you think that's holding a tune, I trust you at least use a guitar tuner?

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so sick of people saying they sound like Zeppelin. The singer uses some of Plant's mannerisms and sings in a high voice, and that's about the only thing they have in common as a band.

Musically they are almost a clone of black sabbath. Power chord riffs, even his solos, they are very similar to Iommi's. Zeppelin is totally second to Sabbath if you absolutely need to compare them to these bands.

The thing I like about Wolfmother is they come up with their own melodies instead of using recycled progressions as almost every modern rock band seems to do today. I don't care if they are using the same chord the entire song if they can give it a good groove. Sabbath did it in probably most of their songs. War Pigs, Iron man, The Wizard, so on and so on. Why was sabbath so good, they were great at giving that same power chord rhythm and groove.

I also disagree with claiming they have no groove as well. Groove is the only thing they work off of because Stockdale's guitar knowledge is so limited. And it is my opinion they do a mighty fine job of it.

Solos, Apple tree, Where Eagles have been, Pyramid, Love train, hell, witchcraft has a flute solo. Live he even gives both Woman and Dimension a solo. they might not be as advanced as a Page 20 minute long solo but they DO solo more then just about any other band out there. Well, other then shredding some screamo metal solos, but thats in a sense a totally different kind of solo.


He may not sound like he does on the studio live, but that post above me is just ignorant. All you did was find the worst performance of him singing, clearly after having his voice beat up from hard touring as you could find and then judged every single live show they've done off of that. He has done some good singing live, it may not sound like the album, but it's still got that epicness.

To each his own I guess.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really think stockdale's guitar knowledge is limited. he rocks some good solos and he is the only guitar in the band so he has to rock power chordz too. most of the time. especially if you want them to be Sabbath-esque :)

11:19 PM  

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