Four years ago, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell released their debut full-length record, “Don’t Hear It…Fear It!” which was a quirky collection of retro fuzz rock mixed through with some bizarre but creative interludes to make the music sound fresh. It was a truly great record, one that I named Album of the Year (though there were two other albums that maybe deserved a longer look,) and it was with barely constrained patience that we all waited for the follow up.
2014 brought us “Check ‘Em Before You Wreck ‘Em,” which was….not quite the follow up we were waiting for. So now two more years have passed and we see the The Shovell (as the kids call them,) embarking again to find inspiration in their creative blend of psychedelia and old school rock and roll.
New album “Keep It Greasy” does away with the superfluous punctuation and special title characters of its predecessors and delivers on the promise of a back-to-basics rock performance. It admittedly sounds a little duplicitous for this band to go back-to-basics when they never engaged in the basics in the first place, but as a permutation of the larger universe of rock and roll, this new record is borne from the experiential sensibility of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
What strikes first and foremost about The Shovell as they continue to evolve on this record is that they’ve nailed down the proper balance between venturing into margin-bending bridges and cutaways and going completely off the rails into the abyss of semi-progressive wanker rock. That’s a mouthful, but it’s an important point, as the band’s sophomore album struggled to fit their own ill-cut puzzle pieces together in many instances.
To listen to “Hawkline Monkster” is to hear all that makes the Shovell great – a throaty, proto-Black Sabbath bass riff that’s stacked at the bottom of a pile of a whole bunch of throwback distortion and noise. The subject matter is, as is generally the case with Shovell songs, secondary to the music, which gives the listener ample opportunity to drink in the concoction of riffs and swagger that characterize the best of this genre.
This same blend appears again about halfway through the solid “I’m Movin’” which unleashes a massive guitar solo, breakdown and second solo into a Who-like creation that eschews standard form in favor of creativity. It’s a dice roll to slam so many disparate elements into a single song, particularly when the bookend riffs and rhythms of said song sound very different than the sampling in the middle, but much as they did on their first record, The Shovell delivers in places where most artists would struggle. And it’s not that they are so well studied in the forms and machinations of music that they can spin silk where others can’t even locate the spinning wheel – it’s really that the band completely discards the rule book and just has a knack for throwing the right paint at the wall to match the paint that’s already there.
For all that though, it’s hard not to sit back and enjoy the easy, rolling rhythms, especially those of “Tired’N’Wired’” which, axiomatically, is this album’s ‘broken clock’ – it just happens to be right rather than being planned that way.
While “Keep It Greasy” is a strong improvement over its predecessor, its one weakness is that the tone of the album is starkly singular. Many of these songs maintain the same pace and basic cadence, which coupled with the warm, rounded distortion of the guitars, means that it’s not always easy to walk into the room and know which cut you’re hearing. As a listener who’s investing in this record (and it’s worth it, if you value my opinion at all,) make sure to properly familiarize yourself with the cuts before it just becomes part of your shuffle playlist.
So the third time may be the charm...again.