Back when I was a callow youth, I remember The Blow Monkeys as being one of those smooth 80s bands with a big snare drum sound, plenty of horns and a good looking frontman with an interesting name. Much as a friend of mine is going to hate me for saying this (The BM’s are one of her favourite bands) I knew a couple of their singles and wasn’t sufficiently interested to find out any more. Their new album “If Not Now, When?” is released on April 6th and MusicMuso was given a copy to check out.
Having been asked to review this album, I wasn’t expecting great things for precisely the reasons that the press pack sets out: The Blow Monkeys are strongly associated with their 80s hits – “Digging Your Scene” and “It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way”. I didn’t think that much of those two white soul-boy styled singles but on listening to the opening track – “OK! Have It Your Way”, the requisite Blow Monkeys horns were still present but this had more of a stomp to it and….. wait….was that a rock riff I could hear? I thought I was listening to a lost Primal Scream track – it reminded me of “Rocks Off” in both feel and tempo whilst retaining an originality of its own. I had to check that I was listening to the same Blow Monkeys that I remembered – a really strong opening track. Yes I was listening to the right band – so let’s try the second song – “The Sound of Laughter”….. opening with a riff that mixes Status Quo, Slade and T. Rex, it’s another really good glam rock song – am I really hearing this right? This is the Blow Monkeys, right? How come it’s so good? The third song – “All That Glitters” changes the pace a little but it still fairly rocks although the piano is a little more to the forefront - but it’s a wonderful ballad-style groover. “Think Again” starts with some weird synth noises, one of a few nods to their 80s years before the rhythm section locks into a tight groove before the full band kicks in with – check this out – hammond organ and dirty sleazy guitars, yet another winner of a tune. “The Guessing Game” follows and is another glam rock style tune – the boys are obviously giving free rein to the music that would have provided the sound track to their formative years. It has a riff that is reminiscent of “Blockbuster” and unsurprisingly as Bowie admitted to nicking it – “The Jean Genie”. Halfway through and this album is starting to sound like it could be an earlier contender for album of the year.
The second half of the album begins with “The Sun is in The Sky”. It starts life as a gentle, piano led ballad but gradually increases the layers, sounding not unlike some of the more mellow output of the likes of The Stones. “Stay Now” is also a slow ballad-y type of song, with almost a country feel to it. Like the rest of the album this sounds like a guitar based band – not like the keys/sax version of the 80s at all. Similar to Snack Family (reviewed late last year) – this wouldn’t sound out of place being played live in a smoky basement. “Shadow Boxing” hints at their heyday a little, with its insistent cowbell, sounding like a sample from a Roland drum machine but that is forgivable because the rest of the song is a sleazy grinder with some lovely lowdown guitars and sax. It’s another highlight in a really strong album. The penultimate song is the title track which references early Bowie and T. Rex again – another strong song. The album closes with another slow based song – “The Lions of Charing Cross” which features acoustic guitars and a fair bit of side stick drumming. It’s the longest song on the album, weighing it at just under 7 minutes and to be honest is the only criticism I have of the album – and that’s only because I think it’s a half decent song that outstays its welcome.
I didn’t expect to like this album that much and was a tad worried how to word a review to that extent - but I was more than pleasantly surprised to be completely blown away by it. Anyone into their rock/glam rock really needs to give this album a try and whilst I can pick out bits of all the glam rock hall of fame (Slade, T. Rex, The Sweet Bowie and even a touch of Queen) I hear this more as an influence than a direct rip-off of ideas. I almost think they would be better off trying to market this as a new band rather than as The Blow Monkeys due to a lot of people having (incorrectly, like myself) got them pegged with one style of music. Apparently The Blow Monkeys are in a rich vein of form and lead singer Dr. Robert claims (like every other artist releasing “new product”) thinks this may be the best thing they’ve ever done. On what I hear, he may just be right this time – but with songs this good further investigation is most definitely required.
Ok! Have It Your Way, The Sound Of Your Laughter, The Guessing Game, Shadow Boxing
Review by Adrian Grainger