Thee Michelle Gun Elephant – Gear Blues – 4/5
Rarely will a band make such a large impression on me so rapidly, and with a name that sounds as though each member randomly chose a word to use, it comes as no surprise that this band doesn’t have English as their first language. Yes, you’ve already guessed it, hailing from Japan, their poor English simply serves as a source of amusement, with track titles such as ‘Satanic Boom Boom Head,’ and ‘Free Devil Jam,’ this is a punk rock album with all the attitude of the Ramones and the creativity of the classic rock bands that disappeared with the start of the 70’s.
This album attempts many things, and pulls most of them off with ease. With a thick rasp, the vocals energetically layer a passionate range of aggression, with the catchy rhythm provided certainly not to be understated, but coming second to the actual energy used. In true garage rock style, it feels gritty and dirty, to be played in a leaky basement at full volume until the neighbours complain (and then a bit longer). The bass is heard, but spends most of its time working on the foundations, and letting the rest of the band proceed, making a noticeable – almost jazzy – groove from time to time (e.g. Hotel Bronco), he contributes more than most bass players in such a position.
The drums too succeed in contributing, with a good variation, not only between tracks, but also within them he can be clearly heard smashing the cymbals and providing plenty of fills to break up any monotony that may arise. But all of this comes in second fiddle to the impeccable guitar work; this is where my hat comes off, for he straddles a fine line, with a thick, deep and noisy distortion he lends his own brand of rhythm, with a plentiful repertoire of solo’s, never sounding too muddy or unclear, he sets the pace for the track to be played. Whether that requires the riffs to be slow and sludge-filled, simplistically punk or all out fury, he nails it every time, and never fails to provide a toe-tapping riff that’s sure to stick in your head.
In fact, the only real problem is that of longevity. Particularly towards the end of the album, it begins to feel as though their bag of tricks is running thin, and some tracks feel like filler. This however is offset by the sheer fact that every member clearly knows their instrument, and none are made to feel redundant. Even if you only listen to the first half, you shall be delivered a punk intensity that hasn’t been seen for years. Japan may be a little behind on the times, but all that means is they haven’t forgotten how things used to be done.
Highlights: Smokin’ Billy, Satanic Boom Boom Head, Free Devil Jam, Boiled Oil