Usually bands try their best to avoid being lumped into the “novelty” category. Alabama 3 seem to relish walking a hair-thin line between novelty and legitimacy. First, each member goes by an alias, such as the Reverend D. Wayne Love or drummer L.B. Dope. Then, there’s the band’s music, a hodgepodge assortment of acid house, blues, techno, and gospel. Not to say that fusing multiple styles into a sound is considered novelty, but when a band mash so many seemingly incompatible sounds, the risk of falling into novelty status seems to rise. And using wordplay on classic album titles for your own titles (e.g. Exile on Coldharbour Lane, or their latest, Revolver Soul) can also be a strike against being taken seriously.
But one listen to most any Alabama 3 song and you know the band are dead-ass serious in their craft. Just listen to their cover of John Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”, or the rolling gospel funk of “Ain’t Goin’ to Goa”. On top of being able to legitimately fuse elements of techno, blues, and gospel into their music without making sounding gimmicky, their live shows have silenced many doubters.
Much credit can be given to the fact that the band have been able to remain almost unchanged since their inception in 1998. After their most successful commercial break so far, having “Woke Up This Morning” chosen as the theme song to The Sopranos, the band have maintained their cult following by continuing to make a name for themselves through their live shows and making a few minor tweaks to their sound from album to album.
Alabama 3 goes fully independent by releasing Revolver Soul on their own Hostage label. Though the label has changed, everything else is Alabama 3 by the numbers, for the most part. Larry Love’s voice still has a husky seductiveness akin to Matt Johnson of The The. Influences are on full display, such as the early Cure vibe of “Fix” and even Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone” on “Bad to the Bone”, but keyboardist Orlando Harrison (The Sprit) and Mark Sams (Rock Freebase) are gifted enough to not make these homages devolve into being pure ripoffs.
While no doubt much of Revolver Soul will sound great live (sadly, the band haven’t opted to schedule too many dates outside the UK for the past few years) or in a busy club, the album itself is a frustrating listen. It’s easily the most schizophrenic record of this year, so far. The songs are either amazing, playing perfectly to the band’s strengths, or borderline awful. The best example of the former is “She Blessed Me”, backed by a mournful piano chord. Love growls through the verses, but the chorus has a beautifully worn soulful charm. As for the latter, “I Was a Bad Girl” sounds like it could be on a compilation of bad acid techno mixes that record store clerks can’t give away.
The inconsistency of Revolver Soul is slightly maddening, partly because almost half of the album is Alabama 3 at their best. If anything, it makes for fun listening, as for every failed experiment, a great track will follow one or two tracks later. As an EP, Revolver Soul would have been nearly flawless, but it could be argued that the lesser tracks on Revolver Soul just make the stronger tracks all the more rewarding.