There’s some great tracks and one not so good.
Our singles column fires up for another fortnight with spots for Shade Ray, Royal Blood, B Wise featuring Sampa The Great and Milan Ring, and The Wombats. We’ll let you decide which artists hit the spot and which ones didn’t.
Shade Ray – ‘Witches’
London trio Shade Ray are gifted in the art of tension-building. ‘Witches’ is a lively and animated recording – it sounds like the band rigged up a PA system in your lounge room – that constantly hints at explosion. The band keep the big bang just out of reach, however, as they juggle time signature changes, rhythmic syncopation, spectral vocal melodies and fairy tale-influenced lyrics.
‘Witches’ is an astute rock song with a heck of groove; a minor-key fable with a cheeky disposition. Eventually, the tension release comes, but it takes on the most unexpected form – rather than a Hendrix-style freak-out, we’re showered in thick, stoner rock sludge. Glorious.
Royal Blood/Metallica – ‘Sad But True’
Metallica’s 1991 recording of ‘Sad But True’ is a chunky package of riffs, more hard rock than thrash, that feels oddly rigid. The lyrics, apparently an allegory for James Hetfield’s addiction struggles, are cleverly composed, but there’s very little verve in their delivery. Essentially, the whole is less than the sum of its parts, suggesting the song could flower if placed in the hands of another.
Thirty years later, UK duo Royal Blood have released their version – in fact, it’s the fourth ‘Sad But True’ cover to come out this year, following go-arounds from Jason Isbell, Sam Fender and St. Vincent. Royal Blood’s is easily the most faithful of the bunch and the band does succeed in getting the song to move at a more agile pace. However, the riffs now feel sanitised, or “stock” to use a Lars Ulrich-ism.
Royal Blood’s version is also the longest, clocking in at five minutes and 29 seconds. That’s longer than any song on the band’s three full-length albums, and there’s a lesson there: keep it short lads.
B Wise feat. Sampa The Great and Milan Ring – ‘Ezinna’
‘Ezinna’ closes out B Wise’s new album, Jamie. In the Sydney rapper’s own words, he wants to “bring you closer” with Jamie, to show you who he is “as an artist and also as a person.” This supplies an extra layer of resonance to the West African guitar playing that both decorates and drives ‘Ezinna’.
See, Wise spends a significant portion of Jamie feeling torn between his dual identities, going from the “Southeast of Nigeria back to that 2170.” 2170 – the rapper’s hometown of Liverpool in Western Sydney – is where he’s spent most of his life, but Ezinna’s two core vocal hooks – “Looking for the old me” and “Said I’m coming home” – gesture toward a different concept of home entirely.
Sure, B Wise might be talking about Igboland in south-eastern Nigeria, but he could also be summoning something more elusive, such as a harmonious feeling of selfhood. In any case, with a standout verse from southern Africa’s finest MC, Sampa The Great, ‘Ezinna’ is an excellent work in its own right and a stylistic left turn that bodes well for Wise’s future.
The Wombats – ‘If You Ever Leave, I’m Coming With You’
It’s fair to assume the creative juices weren’t exactly flowing the day The Wombats whacked this one out. That’s not necessarily a drawback – there is nothing wrong with having to work for it. But it makes you wonder what drives The Wombats’ creative excursions nearly two decades into their career.
Here’s my guess: to make music that sounds like The Wombats. And if that’s the case, then bravo, they’ve done it again! But the returns are diminishing, and the creepy “If you ever leave me, I’m coming with you” refrain does not help matters. Let her go, man, let her go.