The Blue Van: The Art of Rolling

[21 April 2005]

By Jason MacNeil

The Blue Van want you to conjure up images that come close to resembling those musical moments in Austin Powers flicks, with the psychedelic swirls, the neon paint on the scantily clad go-go dancers and the totally un-hip dance steps compared to what is considered hip today. These four guys from a small town in Denmark started honing their retro sounds and groove since Grade Six. And for the course of these 12 songs, the Blue Van does indeed keep rolling, although hitting the occasional pot hole from time to time.

Led by singer and guitarist Steffen Westmark, the group tears into the mid-tempo groove of “Word From the Bird” (not to be confused with that inane ditty of yesteryear entitled “Surfin’ Bird”). Here the band nails the track with a whirling bit of Doors-ian flair. “What do you think what’s going on?” Westmark sings while Soren V. Christensen works overtime on the Hammond organ. It doesn’t have a great amount of punch to it immediately as the rave-up begins at just a hair over two minutes…ideally it should’ve started sooner, but thankfully the Blue Van downshifts into overdrive and salvages the effort. The band hits more closely its mark with the rowdier, funky “Product of DK” (no, not Donna Karen!). Evoking images of a modern Eric Burdon and the Animals, the band puts forth the type of song perfect for a dark and dreary small club where not everything fits on the cramped stage but everything seems to flow.

From here they up the retro ante with a glorious return to form, “I Remember the Days”, led by drummer Per M. Jorgensen, who hits the skins with the same fury as Soundtrack of Our Lives’s drummer Fredrik Sandsten. It’s also instantly infectious thanks to the melody and harmonies sprinkled throughout. This is purely an old-school pop rock tune that should have you doing the swim, the boogaloo or some odd dance step in your crushed velvet smoking jacket. The only problem with the track is how mildly it goes out, not with a bang but with a whimper that is too gentle for such as loud, menacing and powerful tune. The band closes with a dirty psychedelic/blues effort that isn’t necessarily needed. “I Want You” returns to the same intensity though, albeit in a vein of Elvis Costello doing an old blues tune in the style of Zeppelin. “I need you / And nobody else but you / Please, please don’t go / Cause girl I need you so”, Westmark says prior to a better-than-average keyboard solo.

This momentum continues with the blazing “The Remains of Sir Maison” which brings to mind a polished Mooney Suzuki. This foot-stomper is a nice bit of work that would be best experienced mere inches from the lip of the stage. The concluding banshee-like screams and wails seem legit also, not just done for the sake of doing so. However the Van seems to hit the wall with the slower, “breather” tune entitled “Baby, I’ve Got Time” which would fit better on a Black Crowes’ album and not here. Driven by an acoustic guitar and a slight Americana feeling, Westmark sings about “getting a pack of steaks”. Er, okay…. As he asks about having the time, listeners might be having second thoughts. However, the song tends to improve the further it goes along. It’s definitely the album’s low point.

The homestretch kicks off with “Revelation of Love”, a tight and sugar-coated pop tune that the Soundtrack of Our Lives would pass on simply because it is almost too sweet. And “Mob Rule” is probably the highlight as Westmark and company capture the live essence that comes up from the floorboards. “Okay, take 1, the tape’s rolling,” somebody says as the track lays low before shifting into overdrive, sort of like an early Sun Records tune amplified greatly. Add another boogie tune entitled “What the Young People Want” and you have yourself a pleasing look back at what once was a great sound coming around full circle again.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/bluevan-art/