March 23rd saw the rather unexpected digital release of Wolfmother’s new album, “New Crown” via the online music site Bandcamp. Shortly afterwards it was avaliable for download via iTunes and a CD and vinyl release are expected soon.
This marks a change for Wolfmother in more ways than one, not just musically, but professionally as well. The band had recently parted ways with their record label, Universal Music, with Andrew Stockdale (vocals and guitar) saying on Australian rock radio station Triple M, that “it’s a very long process getting anything done”, obviously referring to the way and speed at which a record gets made at a big record label. So by not being on a major label, this allowed the band the freedom to quickly and easily record and release their third album.
As a result, there was hardly any marketing or promotion for the album and is why the CD format will only come out after the digital stream and subsequent download versions. Musically, “New Crown” is a step in the opposite direction to their previous two studio albums (2005’s self-titled debut and 2009’s “Cosmic Egg”) and not necessarily in a bad way. While their previous albums were immaculately produced and had “big record label influence” all over them (which again, isn’t a bad thing), this time round, without any pressure on them, they released an album independently and rather quickly, which seemed to surprise critics and fans alike.
The album itself is an 11-song record that, while retaining an authentic Wolfmother sound, has veered away from the long(ish), epic ballad-esque “feel” of their previous two studio releases. The album sounds a lot more raw and a lot less refined, which does offer a glimpse into what Stockdale and his bandmates Ian Peres (bass, keyboards) and Vin Steele (drums) wanted to achieve this time around. It almost seems as if they were relieved to be free from their record label and wanted to record an album to showcase their freedom, their inspiration, their unhindered creativity and their pure, raw energy….and they may have just succeeded.
The album kicks off with the upbeat, hard-rocking “How Many Times”, with fuzzy guitars, raw bass and pounding drums – the simple, standard garage-rock formation – and with Stockdale’s high-pitched vocals echoing through the speakers. “How many times I find myself wandering, How many times down this road, How many times I find it’s time to go,” is the chorus and one can’t help but feel this is Wolfmother’s “freedom song”, depicting their relief at being able to make a record on their own terms and making it sound they want it to sound.
“Enemy is in Your Mind” and “Heavyweight” get even more raw and rougher with harder guitars, fuzzy keyboards and sporadic drum solos tying it all together. The brutal guitar solo in “Heavyweight” is a mixture of Page and Iommi, but isn’t as refined as either. It lacks fluidity and structure….but in the overall scheme of the album and song, that’s what makes it such a blisteringly good solo. It doesn’t NEED to sound clean and “perfect”.
The title track on the album is the longest, coming in at 5:36, and may perhaps be the only ode to anything resembling their first two albums. Although even this tried and tested method is pretty much thrown out the window half way through the song when, after a fading guitar chord indicates the presumed end of the song, a distortion-riddled bass kicks in with a groovy beat…and the song continues in a completely different direction. Drums come in, providing a solid rhythm and after a while Stockdale’s ghostly voice creeps in with added vibrato for an extra weirdness factor. A mystical guitar solo then slides in and fades away again. Hard guitars come crashing back and bring the song to an abrupt climax, ending this roller coaster of a ride.
“Tall Ships” adds a classic rock, psychedelic flavour and “Feelings” is a gritty nod to punk rock with short and catchy verses and chorus and a dominating bass line and vocals that seem to mesh together a little bit of the Sex Pistols and The Clash. “Talk is cheap if you can’t walk the walk” is the first line of the verse in track 7, “I Ain’t Got No,” and reflects Stockdale’s dissatisfaction with hearing the same old lies and same old stories from people who don’t deliver on their promises and “You gotta make it happen man I can’t listen to you talk.” The opening riff and the manner in which he sings the chorus seems like an obvious and intentional “borrowing” of musical influence from the Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)”, but it’s so intentional that it kind of makes you smile and nod in approval when you hear it.
“She Got It” is another short, riff-orientated punk song with gritty vocals that provides a stark contrast to the next track, “Tangerine Dream” which is a modern-day hippie song about winding roads, ringing bells and burning suns. This song is another in a line of “I didn’t expect that” reactions, when it breaks into an acoustic number with deep, bluesy vocals serenading over it. “Radio” and “I Don’t Know Why” bring the album to a close, with the latter being a funky, psychedelic wah-wah accentuated ballad about “feeling so good and [not knowing] why.”
There are no two ways about it, “New Crown” is not a glamorously-produced, multi-mixed well-refined album. It’s raw, gritty, chaotic at times, melodic at times and is a garage-rock roller coaster ride that has allowed Wolfmother to break free from their shackles of major label bureaucracy and make the album that will probably define their direction in the future. This doesn’t mean that all future albums will follow this recipe. Maybe it’s just what they needed to let loose, make an album that goes back to basics, revisits the bands they grew up listening to and will give them new perspective and direction in the future.
Speculation that they had broken up was quelled by Stockdale, saying that the had just taken a break while he recorded his solo album in June of 2013. And with “New Crown” already creeping into the Billboard 200 at number 160, reaching 46 on the Top Rock Album Charts and 9 on the Hard Rock Albums chart, without any marketing and being independently released, it’s a sign that the album’s rawness and mixture of rock elements and no frills, no fuss, gung-ho attitude is maybe just what rock music needs today.