Solas is the Gaelic word for light and some light does indeed come shining through on this, the latest effort from the Answer.
It’s also a fitting title for a record that has its origins in darkness. When group returned from a jaunt opening for AC/DC, the members discovered that they were in dire financial straits and maybe wondering if all they had done to that point was worth the sacrifice. Then, vocalist Cormac Neeson’s son was born premature; the boy struggled to live, as did his father’s band. The question as to whether there was a future hung in the air all along. In the end, the quartet rallied, wrote material that comprises this latest release and came back with a determination to, as Bruce Cockburn once said, kick the darkness until it bleeds daylight.
Some things have changed and some things have not. The group still focuses on melodic hard rock, though some might find this new record heavier on the melodic side of that. The truth is, a sometimes quieter, more contemplative approach suits the Answer well. Neeson gives a clear, focused performance throughout, though he shines especially bright on “Thief of Light”, one of those songs that seems to have been received more than written. A gift. It’s heavy on the acoustic guitars and sweet vocal harmonies and suggests, once more, that to be born Irish is also to have been born a poet.
“Being Begotten” features guitarist Paul Mahon delivering some of his best Rory Gallagher-style licks amid a storm that doesn’t so much build but instead hovers above us like an impending storm while Neeson tells the story of a soul slipping into despair. It’s all the proper material for a blues song, even if it doesn’t exactly sound like a blues song ripped from the back roads of Mississippi. That says more about the band’s tendency to dodge clichés than its tendencies to toe the party line and that, alone, is enough a basis upon which to build a recommendation for this record.
“Real Life Dreamers” finds the group digging deep into its rock roots with walloping drums (courtesy of James Heatley) but the tune takes a somewhat unexpected turn, becoming a full-on piece of pop that may leave a few punters scratching their scalps. Doesn’t matter, though, because there, too, the band demonstrates its stubborn independence and singular resolve with a flair and soul that’s far more interesting than what would happen if every knob on their amps were rolled up to 10 and the sound could only blow back our hair.
“Untrue Colours” finds a happy medium between the outfit’s quitter and louder talents, rocking like some previously unheard Bad Company tune while remaining rooted in 2016; “Left Me Standing” rocks with Thin Lizzy-style tendencies that will leave the listener with no other choice but to crank the volume and sing along. “In This Land” is a heartfelt tribute to the Answer’s musical forefathers, the ones who suffered in show bands, who broke down boundaries and remained true to the Irish spirit while giving the world some of rock’s most enduring songs.
It’s possible that some future band may record its own take on the tune, offer some observations about the Answer and this group’s vision and spirit. Time, of course, will tell. Time, right now, asks us to consider the fate of Solas and the truth is that it may prove a polarizing record among Answer stalwarts. It’s varied and mature in ways that may seem out of character when compared to earlier records. For other listeners it will serve as a fine introduction to all that the band represents: the poetry and the madness, the pounding anger and frustration, the gentle, reflective nature of the quieter moments. It’s all there and all given us to with an honesty and clarity that cannot be denied. What more could one want from a rock ‘n’ roll band? In that sense alone it seems that the future of the music is in fine hands with the likes of the Answer steering ship.
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