When Gentlemen Rogues released their ‘Do The Resurrection!’ 7″ at the tail end of 2020, they gave the year one of its finest rock tracks. The melodic riffs, straddling a fine line between melody and distortion, harked back to the very best college rock of the 90s. The three minute banger carried elements of ‘Lick’ era Lemonheads, a massive love for The Replacements and even a bit of Sugar at their most melodic. For lovers of the style, it surely sounded like an instant classic – a reminder that so much retro sounding 90s rock is now capable of creating a wave of nostalgic feelings.
Like any band with a long history, Strawbs have gone through many changes over the decades. Musicians have come and gone; they’ve seen dozens of members come and go since their inception in 1964 – including legends Rick Wakeman, Sandy Denny and Curved Air’s Sonja Kristina – with each one bringing something different to the band. Through it all, Dave Cousins has been there to steer the ship. In fact, aside from very occasional silences, Strawbs have always existed in one form or other even though a lot of people would believe they threw in the towel some time during the mid 70s.
Back in 2015, Keith Emerson and Robert Berry hatched a plan to follow up their album ‘To The Power of Three’. That album (released in 1988 under the band name 3) became a cult classic, beloved by prog rock devotees and AOR fans alike, so the mere idea of a second record (no matter how belated) seemed to be cause for celebration. Various musical ideas were set in place for the new record over the next few months. Unfortunately, any future plans for the reborn 3 were put on hold in 2016 after Emerson’s untimely death.
Berry eventually paid tribute in the best way possible by ensuring all of Keith’s final musical ideas finally came to light. The resulting album ‘The Rules Have Changed’ (released under the 3.2 moniker) captured so much of the spirit of the original 3 with it’s melodic rock/prog crossover sound, but despite some great press, some of the fans seemed less enthusiastic. Those who viewed the album negatively insisted there couldn’t be a 3 album without Emerson, completely ignoring the fact that Berry had painstakingly structured a whole new work from Keith’s ideas. As always in prog circles, those who would never be pleased – no matter how good the outcome – made far too much noise and showed themselves to be wholly un-progressive in their attitudes. Those fans who seemed absolutely appalled by the idea of Berry releasing a second album based on Emerson’s ideas will surely explode with anger at the audacity of a third release, this time created solely from Berry’s own compositions.
For Australian rockers The Mercy Kills, there has to be a sense of relief in finally seeing ‘New Rule’ gain a full release. Recorded back in 2010, the EP reached promo stage – a few copies were even handed out at gigs – and then got cancelled. The material then spent the next ten years sitting in someone’s personal archive, always hinting at what could have been.
After finally seeing the light of day via Golden Robot Records (home to Michael des Barres and one incarnation of LA Guns) in 2021, it’s clear that it wasn’t an obvious lack of quality that caused the plug to be pulled prematurely way back when. The five tracks that make up ‘New Rule’ are a little rough vocally speaking, but by and large, are very good: there’s enough of a hard rock edge to please fans of an 80s rock style and there’s even a slightly sleazy undertone that suggests a love of glam. There are also several flashbacks to a more alternative 90s ensuring everything never sounds like a bad 80s throwback. Most importantly, some really fat basslines often give the material a fair amount of muscle. For a DIY release, ‘New Rule’ had – and still has – a fair amount in its favour.
Over the past couple of years, Kent based blues rockers Big River have really grown as a band. Their early singles suggested a lot of musical weight, but not always much long-term substance. That was more than fine for some listeners, obviously; those who love big riffs instinctively seemed to like Big River from the get go and the lads never shirked in terms of commitment.