Thursday, May 3, 2012
Stubb - S/T
Tenacity and perseverance…two of the most essential personality traits to have as a rock musician in this day and age. As the old saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. This is no more pertinent than when discussing a certain Jack Dickinson. In 2006 Jack put together the initial line-up for Stubb; a hard rocking stoner/psych/jamming three piece. Fronting the band and cranking his guitar, Stubb very quickly built up a strong live reputation in the UK scene but no sooner had the train started rolling when the wheels fell off and Jack found himself without a band. The erratic Stone Turner briefly filled the void until Jack was thrown a lifeline by two friends and fellow musos. Enter the Trippy Wicked duo of Chris West and Peter Holland. Chris is easily one of the finer drummers in the UK stoner/doom scene and his easy, fluid yet hard hitting style was to be the rhythmic kick Stubb needed to rejuvenate their sound and breathe them back to life. Peter Holland, Trippy Wicked front man and guitarist may have seemed un unusual choice to fill the bass slot but his perspective as a guitarist now allows him to jam on the bass alongside Dickinson with ease as well as providing some very welcome backing vocals to add extra dimension to the core sound. And so it came to pass, Stubb were reborn!!!
It turns out West is not only a fine all round musician but also an enterprising bastard who, when labels failed to deliver, decided to form his own and this Stubb album is the first fruits of this…and you may be hard pushed to find a better album with which to kick-start the whole shebang.
Firing up the engine with old favourite “Road”, it’s clear from the outset that West and Holland’s rolling groove and Dickinson’s Hendrix inspired lead playing were destined to meet in some form of psychedelic supernova. This song as always a highlight of the original band’s set, in no small part to Dickinson’s syncopated and synchronised guitar vocal runs. The song writing is simple and effective built around an easy free flowing riff but bound up in a ton of groove. Holland’s bass playing adds an extra level of diversity that the band missed before playing around the riffs under the solos as opposed to just maintaining the riffs. The fact that he’s playing his bass through a guitar amp in an old school style just adds to that authentic 70’s vibe.
“Scale The Mountain” eases back on the pace but retains the weight and groove of the previous track and allows West free reign to open up on the drums and display some deft jazzy touches. Here also, Holland’s vocal contributions prove to be a perfect counterpoint to Dickinson’s own. Whereas the latter has a rougher, more bluesy tone, Holland punctuates the song with his higher register, Chris Cornell-esque wail that pulls the song up into a higher plain.
Holland kicks off “Flame” with a nice elastic bass line before being joined by the rest of the band. The vibe here is easier and more relaxed pushing the band’s blues influences to the fore. The live instrument recording serves to accentuate the inherent soul of the song keeping it clear and unfussy and allowing the groove to do the talking. It also has to be said that, throughout the album, Dickinson displays some very tasteful chops on the guitar that have barely been touched by the last 40 years of influence…the guy has a very old head on pretty young shoulders.
“Soul Mover” offers a welcome step up in pace with its acidic, early Monster Magnet reminiscent punked up psych rush. Here Dickinson tells us “Oh Baby I don’t know what you like, but I’ll keep you satisfied”. Presumably there will be an element of trial and error and guesswork in the lad’s love making!!! I was initially worried that the new Stubb album may be given over too heavily to aimless jamming but it couldn’t be further from the truth. The songs are all tight and concise and the jamming elements stay on the right side on tolerable offering just the right level of unpredictability without ever crossing over into self indulgence.
On “Crosses You Bear” the band offer their first respite from the fuzz overload with a delicate, folk driven acoustic ballad that shows that Dickinson is not only a tasty finger picker but capable of delivering a vocal with some true emotional depth. Melodically this is a clear stand out track…and over far too quickly.
The Big Muff muscles its way back onto the scene on “Hard Hearted Woman”. Another tale of heartbreak and loss, a theme that seems to run through many of the lyrics here. Musically this draws less from the psychedelic end of the heavy spectrum and plants its size 9’s firmly into muscular 70’s hard rock with yet another killer riff before playing out with some mellow, bluesy yet tasteful axe heroics.
Next up we have the potential album stand out. “Crying River” is a Neil Young flavoured mid paced ballad featuring dual lead vocals from Malin Dahlgren from Swedish folk duo the Polly Tones. This is an achingly beautiful song that also features Dickinson’s most emotive playing on the whole album and shows that the band are so much more than just a bunch of heavy rocking hairies!!!
The seven plus minute “Galloping Horses” plays the album out on another fat, rolling groove that is almost literally dripping with 70’s testosterone. It practically smells of Denim aftershave and chest hair before changing tack at the mid way point into something altogether more esoteric and spacey.
Do I have any criticisms? Yeah a couple but they’re most certainly far from being deal breakers and more a question of taste than anything else. Firstly, although Dickinson shows a real flair for a vocal melody and has a decent set of pipes with which to put this across, his delivery doesn’t yet show the same level of confidence as his guitar playing, occasionally sounding a little awkward. It is still relatively early days for Dickinson as a vocalist and in time he will grow deeper into the role and really define his personality as a singer. It is also something of a shame that, given Holland’s ability as a singer, his skill isn’t utilised to a greater degree to provide counterpoints and harmonies with Dickinson to create a vocal breadth that could be truly spectacular. When the technique is employed here it provides a major lift and could prove to be a real selling point for Stubb lifting them above their contemporaries. Lastly, don’t come into this album looking for divine lyrical inspiration. The lyrics, for the most part are ridden with clichés that either drip with psychedelic mysticism or broken hearted melancholy but come across as fairly uninspiring, meaningless sixth form poetry. Fortunately I rarely take much notice of a band’s lyrics and let them gloss over me unless they really carry some form of intrigue or weight like Neil Fallon’s from Clutch. So in this case the lyrics didn’t prove to be a major distraction.
On the far greater plus side, this is an excellent debut album from a supernaturally talented bunch of musos who know every trick in the book when it comes to creating some awesome, kick ass heavy rock and roll with true passion and guts. Stubb’s debut album is definitely a triumph of, not only dogged determination from all involved, but of sheer class! You will be hard pushed to find a better debut album this year…so don’t bother looking, just get this.