Eye To Eye (Hellsquad/MGM)
Seven years since we last heard them, all new all change? Um.
After the first two songs of the new Datsuns album you’ve clocked them: chunky heaviness, some weighted swing, Dolf De Borst’s voice pitched high, drummer Ben Cole pitched fast and faster and guitarists Christian Livingston and Phil Sommervell chasing some dragon, and catching up to it too.
(A side note/interjection: I kinda miss them all having the Datsuns surname, as they did when we discovered them in 2002. Dumb and witty, and so easy for reviewers who were more dumb than witty.)
Those two songs, Dehumanise and Warped Signals are the New Zealand four-piece comfortably in classic-era Deep Purple, letting the swirl engulf the speed then burn itself out, only to rise from the ashes like some avenging open side flanker sniffing the leather under a muddy ruck. Power? Yeah, and the rest.
But The Datsuns, who after all landed two decades ago as part of a renewed garage rock scene which stretched from Sweden (then, home of The Hives; today, also home of De Borst) to New York and Melbourne (hello Jet!), have never been quite so easily packaged as retro-hard rock – even as album #2, Outta Sight/Outta Mind gave a damn fine interpretation of it.
So, track three, White Noise Machine, reins in the power a tad – while still frying the guitar amp in the climax - amps up the woozy psych overlay a tad, swaps organ for electric piano, and as De Borst almost croons, the backing voices aah and ooh like they’ve borrowed the Mamas from the Papas.
From then on it’s Datsuns all the same and all different with, for example, Bite My Tongue landing halfway between Motorhead and Thin Lizzy (so, you know, fast and furious but wickedly smiling at yoou), and Raygun bringing some soul to a determined grind rhythm, while Other People’s Eyes leans into a motorised/militarised Stooges barging effort, and Moongazer leans back on what might legitimately pass for a trippy hippie’s dream.
Long past the wave of cool which brought them forward, and over the hump of uncool which some consigned them to, The Datsuns have emerged as remarkably consistent – if not necessarily prolific and frequent – band. And one with a single change in personnel in 20 years. All of which suggests if not a single brain then at least a shared brain at the core.
The principles remain burning rubber songs that offer both puckish and punkish attitudes, mixed with songs that suggest both a flamboyant AC/DC and a less pompous Deep Purple. (And for the three Purple fans reading this, that’s not an insult; it’s merely suggesting the Kiwis are not really into grandeur and scale in the same way Lord and Blackmore liked to parade, or quite the same raising the demons vocals of Gillan.)
Which isn’t to suggest the song remains the same – and yes, that’s something for those who think Greta Van Fleet are the bee’s knees even though they seem still too much the pastiche the Datsuns merely toyed with, without the glint of humour in the eye Dolf and friends always had.
In Record Time, which closes the album, warps the highway star rhythm in ways that feel like art rock guests have joined the band both on the studio floor (getting oddly funky in a European way) and in the control room (twiddling the knobs to freaky). Interestingly, its only flaw is that it eases out just short of five minutes when I reckon it had a good couple of minutes left.
New Zealand understatement? Knowing when to leave us wanting more, more likely. And yes, I most certainly would like more.