Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1989
Some people spend too much time musing about the past. Northern Ireland quartet The Answer has taken up permanent residence there, playing a brand of Guns ‘n’ Roses-esque hard rock that would fit right in on a 1989 radio playlist. From the bouncy-but-rough guitars to singer Cormac Neeson’s raspy vocals, The Answer has all the moves down pat, sonically at least. They’re a great nostalgia act, and they’ve been churning out moderately-successful albums since 2006’s Rise, and who knows, maybe 14-year-olds who feel as if they missed out on their Dads’ music will like it. But is there anything fresh on offer?
The short answer: Not really. The slightly longer answer: not really, but so what? Given that so much of rock and roll exists as a result of recombination and reinterpretation—white people stealing from black sources, Brit musicians stealing from American ones, everybody copying riffs and samples and rhythms and beats—does this lack of originality matter? Which brings us back to: not really. As long as the tunes are cooking and the riffs get the job done, The Answer will remain a serviceable rock band, if not an outstanding one.
“Serviceable” describes this album perfectly. From the opening, feedback-laden chords of lead track “New Horizon” through the final strains of closer “Scream a Louder Love”, The Answer is a band that makes few wrong moves: the riffs are thunderous, the solos explosive, the rhythms thudding. And okay, the lyrics tend to be vacuous and dumb – “I’m a dead man walking / But I’ll walk for miles” – but hey, that’s just another convention of plenty of hard rock bands that have gone before.
Despite this predictability, or maybe because of it, “New Horizon” ain’t a bad track, and it’s a pretty serviceable (that word again) way to open the album. There are enough vocal surprises to keep your ear happy, and when the guitar rips out a lead, well, things feel pretty good, in a loose, I’ve-heard-this-a-thousand-times-before-but-I-like-it-anyway kind of way.
One the heels of this comes “Leave With Nothin’”, by far the best song on the record, which makes good use of its snaky, wah-wah-inflected riff and a bass line that’s pumped up to 11. For a few minutes there, it almost seems as if the band is going to transcend their roots and turn into something more than a very good mimic of older bands.
Alas, that never happens. After the promising one-two opening salvo, mediocrity sets in, with the requisite “sensitive song” in the form of “Spectacular”, a tune that seems to say, essentially, that we’re all wicked awesome. It’s a nice thought but, you know, doesn’t really go anywhere. (The possibility that the band was maybe aiming for a David Bowie “Heroes” vibe elevates the lameness to near-tragedy.) Connoisseurs of ridiculous lyrics will want to add “I was once told I would be what I’d become” to their collection of all-time classics.
The rest of the album meanders along in generic hard-rock territory. “Somebody Else” is pleasantly storming, and “Concrete” gets a nice little off-kilter riff going for a few minutes, but for every mildly engaging tune there’s something lame like the watery power ballad “Call Yourself a Friend”, or “Baby Kill Me”, which aims for a lighthearted take on relationship issues but just ends up sounding stupid. But hey, that riff is—how should I describe it?—serviceable.
Ultimately, The Answer is just another band. There’s no shame in that; we need average bands in order to throw the really great ones into focus. It’s tough to recommend this album, though, when there are so many more compelling alternatives out there.
// Notes from the Road
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