The Answer – Solas

Ten years ago, The Answer stood proud with their album ‘Rise’- an album that epitomised a band pretty much on its own, flying the flag for a full-octane, authentic rock sound that, to many, just wasn’t “this week’s thing.”

A decade on, following the 10th anniversary celebrations of what is now widely regarded as a landmark rock album, we have Solas. It would have been all too easy for the band to have given us a fresh helping of more of the same; but they haven’t. They return with Solas, a mesmerising new album that takes the band somewhere new, as they confidently charter new territory and do something different …. again. At a time when some people are talking about a classic rock renaissance – The Answer are doing what they did ten years ago: They are redefining and reinventing the boundaries rather than sitting comfortably within them. And that’s why they and their music still matters.

Solas feels like an album the band had to make. Whilst the album title (the Gaelic word for ‘light’) gives a nod to the band’s Irish roots and influences – this album, to me, combines excellently a seamless interplay of past influences and new ideas, with songs that are both haunting and reflective and those that are rousing and uplifting. The warm, involving beauty of Thief of Light contracts with Battle Cry – which has an unashamed directness that makes you just want to get up, jump around, wave your arms and sing out loud. These are songs that connect and demand a reaction. This is not predictable, commoditised rock to do the ironing to!

Whilst a copy of the title track Solas arrived at my local station some weeks ago for radio play, my feeling is it works better in the context of framing the album at large and is best appreciated within the range of musical colours and shades the album goes on to deliver. ‘Untrue Colour’ immediately struck me as a fine stand-alone single for radio. As someone that sifts through dozens of singles promos each week, this song has the ‘double-take factor’ and it is a song that could easily have mainstream listener appeal beyond a dedicated rock-only audience.

The final track ‘Tunnel’ is my stand out track from the album. Whilst a very different song to Rise, to me it has a similar qualities, but perhaps with a more contemporary feel and contextual relevance to the challenging times so many of us are living in – and questions many people are asking. I think ‘Tunnel’ is a song for the ‘now’ – a song many will connect with at a time of economic uncertainty where, for millions of families, the tenacity to carry on and to endure is something that frames their daily lives.

The Answer hit the road this November with The Dead Daisies and Jackaman and there is no question the Solas songs will translate wonderfully on stage, sure to give the older classics a real run for their money when the set list is drawn up.

The Answer’s new album and touring comes at a time when the Irish rock scene is looking particularly exciting. From my Great Music Stories interviews with bright new bands this year, I have been struck by how many exciting rock acts are emerging from Northern Ireland. The killer vocals from The Screaming Eagles, the power riffs from Gasoline Outlaws – and their career-best ‘Breathe Again’ – the bluesy masterclass from Lo Mejor, Baleful Creed’s album promise, the intensity of Triggerman and the drama of Safire … none of this is a fluke. The Answer’s confident self-belief a decade ago has been cited by many young Irish bands I have interviewed as an inspiration for them in believing in their own dreams and creative ideas. As Northern Ireland fast becomes one of the hot incubators breeding not just talented but interesting new rock bands, The Answer must accept a toast for helping to inspire a new generation of Irish bands on what is possible: Quality above fashion, authenticity not hype – and creative self-belief beyond what is expedient.

With Solas – and perhaps because of Solas and what it represents – The Answer confirm their status as an iconic band for the modern age, for a rock genre that needs new heroes to inspire the next generation of bands. With Solas we once again see fresh evidence of a band at the top of their game, shunning the predictable and producing something fresh, challenging and original. For a band that can never be accused of making the same album twice, Solas crowns the 10th anniversary of Rise in, perhaps, the most fitting way – with the delivery of The Answer’s finest album for a decade.

Solas is released 29 October.
The Answer play Concorde 2, Brighton with The Dead Daisies and Jackaman on 20 November 2016.

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