It is almost 25 years since I first saw the Quireboys supporting the mighty Aerosmith at the equally mighty Hammy O. One of the new breed of UK bands along with the likes of Thunder that were poised for greatness until the abhorrence known as grunge reared its ugly head.
They have had the odd break since then of course but for the last ten or so years they have been back, doing what they did best and what they still do best – writing damn fine songs and strutting their stuff on stages big and small. Quireboys always were unmistakeably themselves, no pretentious heads stuck up their arses like far too many in the music industry.
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So what about their first studio release for all of five years? As guitarist Guy Griffin told me, the album title 'Beautiful Curse' sums up life on the road with music, a wonderful thing for those that get to live it tinged with long periods away from home. Curse it may be but beautiful it most definitely is.
On first listen the album is just what you would expect from the band – not that they are predictable but you can guarantee shooting from the hip rock 'n' roll that brings a smile to the old boat race and gets your feet twitching. But there is a lot of depth to this one, they are quite clearly doing what they want to without any outside interference (yes execs, that's you) and the result is as good as anything they have done since the seminal 'A Bit Of What You Fancy' back in 1990.
Spike is, well, Spike, his voice always instantly recognisable but you get the sense that on this one he is more relaxed, more passionate and the emotion flowing from that gives even more gravitas to his voice. His voice may not seem to be a powerful as it was but that is more than made up for by the passion. Musically it is a clever album with something new on nearly every listen, a sign of seasoned songwriters and musicians but never detracting from what the band is all about.
First up is 'Too Much Of A Good Thing' and there is nothing like a good old fashioned bit of rock n' roll to kick things off. Guitar riff to get your body shaking, vocals causing more foot stomping than is healthy, chorus inducing even the most lethargic to leap around like a rabid wolverine on heat.
This is the Quireboys doing what they do better than anyone else and if they ever gain independence it would suit well as their anthem. There is a moral too – you definitely can't have too much of a good thing.
Health advice comes next in the form of 'Chain Smokin''. Another classic riffing piece of rock, sleazy undertones pulling it along by the proverbials. "Don't preach to me, I'm chain smokin'" - personally I'm off down the pub and if anyone complains about my smoking habits, I'm happy in the knowledge I have Spike on my side.
'Talk Of The Town' slows things down just a little, more a meander than a torrent. The keyboards on this one adding an extra level especially on the chorus, guitar perfectly leading the track into a slower tempo before it rises back at the end.
'Mother Mary' is next to hit my ears and starts off with a melody full of remorse and sorrow, thoughts echoed by the lyrics and Spike's delivery just reinforces the feeling. Don't listen to this if you are prone to slipping into the melancholy – it will get you. Ain't that what music is meant to do? Music, vocals and lyrics combine to talk to you, suggest... this is a true ballad, not the all too common lightweight pap that doubles as a filler. A very memorable song.
'King Of Fools' takes us back up to the sound probably most associated with the band, rock and roll keys a plenty, bar room boogie thrown in. It must be party time and they are buying.
'Homewreckers And Heartbreakers' starts off with infectious keyboards, riff getting down, dirty and funky, vocals pulling it along before the slide guitar adds even more and it is beautifully done. Musically this is a masterpiece, the transitions are almost imperceptible and there are plenty of them here, but none of them are forced. The Quireboys were once described as the UK's answer to Poison – Poison in their wildest dreams couldn't come close to this.
'Diamonds And Dirty Stones' does actually have a bit of the Stones about it, that's the Rolling ones rather than anything sparkly. Funky guitar coming in over the drums, vocals sliding in – Spike involved in a six-string conversation, a song in a song, before it settles into its rhythm before the chorus brings it back out again, catchy lyrical melody backed by equally memorable guitar, the two perfectly in tune, emotionally and musically. You get the feeling these guys know what each other is thinking without needing a conversation.
Guitar goes off on a monologue, a great solo, before filtering back seamlessly to the song. This is a very well written and crafted song but it could have gone stratospheric if the production matched, but more about that later. Suffice to say it's a case of class coming through in spite of, not because of the production. Simon Hansen's drumming on this one too is the perfect foil, leaving room for the guitars to do their business without ever overloading the song.
So to the title track 'Beautiful Curse'. Cowbell initiating the song, guitar riff piling in, organ completing the sound as it swoons, breaking through before the vocals kick in. A superbly smooth intro, musically complete. "Searching for some piece of mind, searching for the truth, heading to the promised land... I've been blessed, I've been cursed." Spike sums up the mixed sentiments of what they do, what musicians do.
The infectious riff and keyboard patterns stamp their mark on the song all the way through, vocal melody and lyrics filled with the genuine feeling of a double edged sword. It's not all wine and roses but you can't go against what is inside you.
'Don't Fight It' starts off slowly, piano letting you know the mood, vocals tinged with sorrow and pain, organ again filling the space during the chorus, understated guitar pulling on the heart strings. This type of song is hardly a new concept but where Spike and co do so well is by keeping the song simple, keeping it under control and not going in the templated rock ballad direction.
Hell I wouldn't even call this a ballad. This talks to you from the heart as only music can, music that comes from the heart.
'For Crying Out Loud' lifts the spirits from the first riff and from the first growl of "Hey" you know what is coming. Drums build, bar room keys and rock n roll guitar again doing what they do best. Pure Quireboys this one, and it is sometimes easy to forget just how hard this kind of music is to get right. They just do it so well it is easy to get blasé about it, and the best bit is this crosses all genres.
'Twenty Seven Years' is an intriguing song, straightforward on the surface but there is a lot to this one. Guitar kicks straight in, upbeat musically, reflective vocally and lyrically. "I've made it through the tears of 27 years" is tinged with both relief and sadness about those who didn't during that time – 27 years is about the time the boys have been together as a band. Stirring stuff indeed.
So to the closer, 'I Died Laughing', a medium pacer, organ again coming to prominence during the intro, guitar changing down, vocals again packed full of thought and emotion. This one just goes to show how mature the band now is, how they have grown and how varied their musical resume now is.
So there you have it, the first one for FIVE years and if the result were the same with every band I would strongly suggest that is the perfect interval between albums. In truth though this has not been five years in the making, they spend so much time doing what rock bands live to do, touring, and armed with new management and label, the time was right. As Guy told me the chances are they won't be waiting five years for the next one. Cue loud cheers and sighs of relief.
The most impressive aspect of this album is the immense diversity on offer, this is an album for both musicians and music lovers. Even more impressive is that it is transparent none of the songs are anything other than from the band's heart, from the very soul of who they are and that is refreshing in these days of corporate entanglement. Honesty in music is as important as anything else and this is integrity personified.
From a personal point of view, this has put a smile on my face in the same way that the latest Queensryche offering did. Both bands and their music went hand in hand with my depraved youth and it's of great comfort to know my middle aged depravity (yes I am old enough to know better but I choose to ignore that) is being accompanied by some familiarity.
Down sides? Musically nothing whatsoever, but I do have an issue with some of the production. In some places the drum sound is almost as lifeless as a Coldplay gig and there is that feeling that the live sound of the band that is an essence of them has been dumbed down – it is all a little flat on occasion. It is not badly produced as such, just not to my mind suited to this band. But I don't want to dwell on that too long and distract from what is a damn fine album. Neither am I going to dwell on the well publicised rhythm section departure.
Most of you know all about The Quireboys but if you were in any doubt about their credibility now, then you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
This is as good as any album I have come across this year so get hold of it however you can and get out and see them, twice. Superb songs, down to earth guys, great musicianship – don't you just hate some people!