Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Focus On ... Retro Rock: Glam Slam or Bell Bottom Blues?

Johnny Bravo to the rescue! Lenny Kravitz has spun bell bottom Gold for nearly twenty years.

The Answer? It just may be The Answer, a band I hadn't heard about until recently when they got the opening act slot on the AC/DC tour. Now this Irish band is gaining a lot of buzz as the latest in a line of retro rockers. If recent history holds true, The Answer may be good for about one corker of classic rock riffola like The Darkness' I Believe In A Thing Called Love or Wolfmother's Woman before fading back to obscurity. Which made me wonder, how much value is there in Retro Rock?

It's a fine line between finding inspiration in a classist sense versus aping the past just because it can be done. Watching an artist dip heavily into the Zeppelin, Deep Purple or Queen vein can just be a reminder of how great those acts were more than present anything new. Or it can serve as a tool for self expression. The Retro Rock genre is epitomized by a man who often does both - Lenny Kravitz.

Lenny Kravitz filching of 70's jams can be impressive when he combines the right guitar riff with a strong hook and fine sentiment a'la Are You Gonna Go My Way or Fly Away. But in my opinion Kravitz is inconsistent, if any of the three elements listed are substandard the whole enterprise falls apart. And that's what lies at the heart of the Retro Rock issue for me, these retro artists can come up with the goods but too often its easy for them to fall into pastiche. Though to his credit Kravitz has managed to come up with memorable songs from the present and dating as far back as 1989.

It is possible to morph past being merely a copy of the Old School as The Black Crowes can attest to. Starting off as a band mocked for being slavishly contrived, The Crowes steadily evolved into a Southern jam band with its own style and authenticity. Yet they are the exception to the rule. Most of the Retro Bands I've heard don't have enough creativity to fill a whole album or career with prime material.

So where does that leave The Answer? I think they will be like The Darkness or Wolfmother once they come up with their piece d' resistance (is that spelled right? I don't speak or write French). For now, their renewed exposure is gaining attention for them and I've checked out the videos from their sole 2006 release and was sufficiently impressed. So I plan to enjoy their probably short but wild ride until after they hit their peak. Because when that magic formula of 70's guitar and melodies hit the right way it's pure nirvana (not the band). To check out The Answer for yourself, here's two fun clips - one reminds me of 70's glam rock mixed with a bit of Spirit in the Sky and the other strikes me as pure Purple. Great fun!

The Answer "Under The Sky" & "Come Follow Me"


Some Kinda Wonderful said...

I have not ever heard of this band, either. Listening to them was almost like entering a timewarp machine. Weird. Good, but weird. :)

I know what you mean about some Retro-Rockers. Some bands just sound better in a bar.

Jeannie said...

I'd have to agree with our friend SKW. It's a weird timewarp. Good though.

P.S. You know my feelings on Lenny Kravitz. :P

Mr. Mike said...

Timewarp is a good phrase for this, hopefully we can do the timewarp again.