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THE BLACK CROWES – HAPPINESS BASTARDS: REVIEW



THE BLACK CROWES

Happiness Bastards (Silver Arrow)


THE SIBLING RIVALRY ANGLE to a band story is neither new (hello Phil and Don Everly), nor particularly interesting on its own (Nancy and Ann Wilson), not to mention rooted in childishness for both protagonists and reporters (I will concede that any time Noel Gallagher trashes Liam, and on those very rare occasions when Liam returns fire with something approaching equal wit, the best lines will have my inner 13-year-old chortling and a little bit jealous. And I love my sisters about as much as I loathe Oasis.)


Sure, sometimes that friction can lead to – as the cliché has it – creative sparks, but usually it’s tiresome, destructive and useful for not much more than a reconciliation story to write when bad debts overrule bad feeling a decade or two after an unreleased split.


So the mere fact that The Black Crowes’ Rich (the guitarist) and Chris (the singer) Robinson stopped hitting each other, quit badmouthing the other, and cooperated long enough to have written and released their band’s first studio record in 15 years, isn’t enough on its own to make Happiness Bastards worth your attention.


They haven’t become dramatically superior songwriters to the pair who offered us The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion as the quintessential “wow, look what we did bigger and louder next” second album. They haven’t noticeably strayed from the wellspring of REM-meet-Rolling Stones-meet Otis Redding either. What might bring you to the table however, is a batch of songs that remember and recreate the looseness – of rhythm, of delivery, of hips – that defined them in their first, giddy incarnation between 1990 and 1995.



Wanting And Waiting marches in on a swaggering riff and foursquare beat that promises some heft, but the thick beef is garnished by a more flamboyant handclap rhythm and almost flouncing vocal flourishes, the soul sisters backing voices giving it a bit of the “oohs”, and rather than some hairy, hatted Southerners we are teetering on the edge of New York (Dolls) and Hackney (diamonds). The New Yorkness, in this case via the lower east’s punk-oriented bars – possibly hosting some leather-and-denim Brits – surfaces in Rats And Clown which comes across as a heads down/fists up small-brainer but exposure reveals it’s got a dancing (across the bar) heart too. Dumb but fun.


Good times could be had when Dirty Cold Sun strikes you as something that might have come out of Alberts Studios in the first half of the ‘70s – Vanda and Young vamping keys and guitars, Chrissie and Lyndsay Hammond wailing behind, and boogie remade as beer barn pop – Bleed It Dry takes its blues slide literally but not seriously: Chris Robinson roughhousing, pianist Eric Deutsch barhopping, and drummer Brian Griffin strongly suggesting he might throw it in at any point and get himself that beer.


And if the buoyant Bedside Manners opens the album with keyboards chasing guitars like it’s 1971 and everyone’s heading to see The Faces, or at least to crack open some bourbon in the carpark while the wind blows the sound their way, then Kindred Friend ends the record like the end of night’s perfect summation of lying down with a croaky friend, a rollie and the bloke next door blowing on his harp like he’s called Little this or Junior that.


Like the sibling rivalry stories, Happiness Bastards is not new, it’s pretty niche in a post-rock world, and it doesn’t bear too close attention. But that’s ok, there are worse things to see (hello again Liam Gallagher, and John Squire).



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