From Without (from within)..
After a pretty full-on weekend of Ferocious Dog and a Monday morning fresh after the school holiday it was always going to be a bind to get to work this morning. Once I’d arrived and grabbed a sneaky breakfast I was settling down to get my to do list beaten into shape when my phone rang. It was Dan which was rather unexpected so I grabbed the phone and excitedly said yes when he offered me the chance to listen to a few rough-cuts from the new album recordings.
A link to Dropbox was duly texted through and after some faffing around I fashioned a way to have a crafty listen to the tracks whilst finishing off a Powerpoint presentation. Some were already surprisingly familiar from the live performances, some less so – one mentioned in a teaser post by Waggy on Facebook a few days ago. My remit is to review them without giving too much away – particularly the tracks that have yet to be aired on the tour as yet.
I’ve not quite decided how to tackle this so I’m free-typing on my keyboard in the hope that inspiration strikes. I posted earlier about listening to Ferocious Dog giving you the urge to drive fast – this evening I was home from Solihull in around 42 minutes – normally I’m happy if I’m not too far north of an hour. The new stuff, even pre-mastering, is clearly pretty heady stuff… I get the chance to hammer it to death over the next few hundred miles I drive to start to learn some of the words. I’d best start watching out for speed cameras.
Even without the final polish being applied what struck me first was the extra maturity in the songwriting – despite what disparagers might have posted on social media in the past Ferocious Dog are, as we know, far from one-trick ponies when it comes to their songs. In this collection though I detect different tones and types of singing from Ken – sometimes urgent, sometimes gentle. Different paces, both in-song and between songs – the songs we know and love often change pace within, but one at least here retains a more sombre gait throughout.
In many ways I’m the worst person to ask to review music – I’m ten-thumbed, tone deaf and have little or no comprehension of the complexity (or lack thereof) in creating it except that even the simplest chord transition feels like a miraculous feat to me, when I watch Ellis I’m convinced he is actually a wizard. Then again, I know what I like to have a good mosh to, and what makes a normally tedious drive up the motorway turn into an enjoyable partial singalong partial curiosity-smashing magical mystery tour.
Soooo.. I’m allowed to mention tracks by name that you’ve had the opportunity to hear at gigs or on YouTube videos from the tour, and one Dan and Waggy have been busy teasing folk about on Facebook. I’ve no idea what the eventual running order of the album will be so decided to use the set list from Bodega as my guide in listening order – sort of, one track landed in Dropbox a little after I’d nearly finished this and then I had a chat with Dan that has given me loads more colour to add to the piece.
Poor, Angry and Young is a barnstormer of a track that’s been nestling in the number two spot on recent set lists. I mentioned before the intro reminding Roger of ‘Rock Lobster‘ – now I’m likening just the intro to a kind of hybrid of that and ‘Vengeance‘ by New Model Army. Reminiscent of both but with its own style too. The vocals are frenetic and insistent – the lyrics call for a rising – it’s very apt considering we’re in the run up to a general election – it’s probably the poor, angry and young who are most prone to political apathy.
Possibly not intended for the final cut there’s also a treat of I think Ellis yelling something at the end of the track.. which is reminiscent of the rowdy version of Paddy on the Railway which Waggy uploaded on to YouTube, which I think has Dave and Ellis providing raucous backing vocals. Anyway.. I digress…
Living on Thin Air has an immediate fiddle driven intro and a fast pace with almost chanted vocals with a steady moshing-rhythm backing track before picking up pace again for the instrumental. Co-written with Nick Burbridge of McDermott’s 2 Hours fame there’s a strong folky influence enhanced by extra orchestral strings but with the unmistakable rawer electric energy that Ferocious Dog bring to most of the full band songs. This is a fun track at gigs and that translates well so far to the recording.
I can’t help but sit and nod in time I get bitten by one of my pet birds as a result. This track has the lovely section where the music drops (Dan informs me this is a middle eight, and features additional orchestral strings, which I was tempted to drop in to sound all musical and knowledgable, but frankly I don’t think I’d ever get away with it!) and Ken’s vocals take some deserved limelight with minimal backing – it works brilliantly live, it’s great on record too, and just when you think it’s petered out you get another blast of the frenetic instrumental to finish off.
Next up is Crime and Punishment – it sets out with a bit of a turbo-country-and-western feel – I’m dying to get some Hell Hounds to try a bit of line dancing to either the intro or the reprise of it in the middle of the song! It’s pacy and charts the fate of some poachers getting transported to Australia, including a chap called Bill Sykes who evokes memories of Oliver Twist for me! However, being a geek I did a bit of Googling and found this article which basically gives you the background for the song.
I mentioned this to Dan this evening and the plot thickens even more because it turns out that William Sykes is actually a distant relative of Ken’s, and after researching his ancestry Ken’s dad unearthed letters from him out in Australia – estranged from his wife and kids – which suggested he was somewhat of a scapegoat for a larger group and made an example of. A really sad tale, only to be compounded by Dickens picking up on his name in the press and forever associating him with one of literature’s most famous villains – apparently it was common practice for writers to pinch names of real convicts for their own literary villains.
It is a great moshing song with the potential to add a new amusing routine into the hell hound armoury of silliness in the form of a mass line-dance – although when you listen to the lyrics and dig beneath the surface to glean the back story there’s some historical commentary to be gleaned as well – what more could you want from a song really?
Ruby Bridges is a charming short little number – with a muted backing track initially it’s Dan’s lyrics that take centre stage, playing the part of a sympathetic classmate of Ruby Bridges who at the age of six years old was placed in an all-white school at a time of racial segregation in Mississippi. On her own. How brave is that? Ken sings pretty much the same thing to her in his song – and makes the prophecy of a better future, which I guess is true – albeit if not perfect!
Dan and Maelor Hughes were planning on writing a song together just as Ruby Bridges hit the news last year – this nearly was that collaboration but unluckily for the talented Mr Hughes it turned out that Ruby was such a potent muse for Dan that he’d got the song pretty much nailed before Maelor even had an opportunity to get involved. There’ll hopefully be another opportunity for that collaboration though because Maelor is a bloody excellent song writer.
Next up is Marikana Massacre which from live renditions is already nibbling on the potential list for becoming a proper favourite song. It has a fast pace opening, and angry vocals befitting the subject matter, the brutal slaughter of striking platinum miners in South Africa in 2012. Then you get a reggae-Freeborn-John-ish interlude before the rage – that has never left Ken’s vocals throughout – kicks back in with the spiralling fiddle and guitar driven full pace. It’s been a real highlight for me on the full tour and the recording hasn’t let me down on that score either – this will be a highlight.
There’s three more songs in my fledgling pre-release version of the album Slow Motion Suicide is well known to us as an acoustic number and has translated really well to full band at gigs – I’ve loved it as a track for a number of reasons since I first heard Ken singing it, it’s a harrowing tale. It doesn’t lose any of the feeling with the full band but gains a lot of depth – there’s not much more to say that that really – because of its prevalence in acoustic sets it’s a good singalong song in the moshpit so it feels less like a new song.
The final named song on my list is one that has been teased about before on Facebook so you probably know that Mairi’s Wedding now has a third part to it – this is a wonderful swirling dervish of a track with mesmerisingly warm orchestral strings. Since it’s yet to be played live I’m not going to give away too much more – I’m not sure what I was expecting from it, but it’s not what I got – and I’m not disappointed in the slightest.
The string quartet ends this song with an odd phenomena (something to do with cadence, my musical correspondent Dan tells me. My understanding is that it sounds a bit odd, it was a studio accident that stuck). I joked with him that implies the story isn’t finished and it implies that there’ll be a Mairi’s Wedding Part IV – so if that happens you heard it here first and it was my idea! Haha!
I won’t give away the identity of the final recording I’ve got my grubby mits on so that there’s some surprise left when your CD or LP arrives with your friendly post man or woman. It’s another snortingly good song that will be sure to get you foot-tapping at the very least. It will be exciting to see how the songs develop with mastering and finishing or whatever other technical shenanigans they will undergo – as for now, I’m driving up to Leeds in the morning and I know what will be providing the soundtrack already!
I’m almost looking forward to getting up early!