AUGUST ALBUM OF THE MONTH
No modest calling card here. No vague promise of hope for the future, no nonchalant call for this being an act to watch for an unspecified, future rainy day. Here is music fit for stadiums. Having recently seen a few artists play Wembley Stadium, I was reminded of a very simple thing: whilst every band probably dreams of playing the biggest venues, you actually need to have the songs for them. With some acts the songs grow into the stadiums, whilst others get lost in them. A stark reminder that it is all about the songs – always has been and always will be. With ‘Show Your Colours’ we have an album of expertly crafted and beautifully produced songs. Not tunes, not music, not commoditised-stream-likes, not stuff – no, here we have songs. And fine songs at that – with drama, natural craft and depth, this is music that can effortlessly scale. In commercial terms, Scarlet Rebels may be some years away from playing a stadium, but there is an emphatic statement of talent, song writing ability and tight performance here that wakes us all up to a band that are long overdue their moment in the spotlight.
Scarlet Rebels were formed out of the spine of the band V0iD, a band I played heavily in 2016 and 2017 – ‘Let Me In’ and ‘Practice Run’ both enjoyed sustained runs on my Friday show over the last two years. V0iD were one of those bands that on first listen you would be puzzled as to why this band wasn’t already huge. With a boosted line up and a new name, Scarlet Rebels present the best of the old and the new: That intense almost orchestral quality of V0iD, very British sounding rock with an indie rock edge, coupled now with a new American guitar-rock dimension – and one has a sense that Scarlet Rebels cast more than a nod of inspiration to Bruce Springsteen when it comes to songcraft and storytelling. Put all these ingredients together and this is probably Britain’s best kept secret exploding onto the scene with an album of high drama and infectious melody that will have you playing this album over and over all through the summer.
‘No One Else To Blame’ opens the album with immediate attack, a song bursting with focus, energy and purpose. The urgency of the music frames lyrics that call for people to open their eyes. In the age of fake news and polarised blame-culture politics, this song has a timely relevance. There’s nothing classic, nostalgic or backward-looking here – this a rock song for the year 2019, a song from, for and about the now. It’s a perfect album opener and a perfect rock radio single. it’s got everything packed in – in just 4 minutes!
There’s an art to picking the running order of tracks for an album – a bit like the ebb and flow of a well-conceived live set-list – and track 2 ‘You Take My Breath Away’ builds on the opener: A more guttural feel but the vocal chorus lines, as with the early V0iD material, elevates the song beyond the normal. With the effervescing guitar solo we have a superb example of how great solos quite naturally flower out of a song. It’s when a solo isn’t just dropped in but naturally grows out of the evolution of a song (think ‘Sweet Child of Mine’) – that’s when you have real moments of magic and the sign of a band that knows how to work well as a creative unit.
‘Head’s In The Ground’ completes the solid attack from the openly trilogy of tracks, the change of vocal approach starts to broaden the album’s creative bandwidth. For me, it’s a song where the bass and drums shine, bringing depth and solidity – even a dash of menace – to the song. Too often, bass and drums are overlooked in reviews but on this album they are a real differentiator – a real anchor throughout the album and they give the music a greater sense of both depth and width.
With ‘Part Of Me’ we have a change of pace, an anthem with more than a nod to Bruce Springsteen - the heavy drums giving the chorus lines a marching sense of drama – the guitars here give an American rock character to the song. Again, the song is focused, driven and intense. The music is very much alive – the studio recordings have captured a spontaneous performance character from the band. ‘Heal’ is one of my standout choices from the album – it’s the song that really opens up the album. And a nod back to those earlier V0iD songs that so well combined vulnerability with an almost symphonic power. As with ‘Practice Run’, the old listener favourite from my Friday rock show, ‘Heal’ showcases the masterful way the band can intuitively take a song up and down through the gears quite naturally. Moments of restraint and tenderness are balanced seamlessly with sonic power. Some call this light and shade; it’s more than that – it’s how the band works the interplay between light and shade that is so impressive .
With ‘Let Your Love Go’ we’re back into another signature rocker, virtuoso guitar work lifts this one. And then things bang with ‘Nothing To Say.’ Intense and angular, it’s a prefect rally cry rocker. There’s no restraint on this one, it’s direct, primal and emotive. Based on simple riffs, this is a great example of songs sometimes not needing to be over-complicated or dressed up. With song-writing, I guess sometimes the art is knowing when to stop with a song. This is one of the simpler songs on the album but in terms of impact it’s also one of the better ones.
We’re on to track eight now. So far, every song has stood on its own feet. There’s been no filler and, despite being quite a long album, there’s no listener fatigue. There are not many albums out there that hold attention into track eight – and make you look forward to what’s still to come!
With ‘Save Me’ we have another gear change and here we have a song that could cruise into the radio mainstream. It’s pop, indie, rock – if genre labels actually mean anything anymore. In simple terms, this is a pop song and we need more songs like this if rock is to really push back into the radio mainstream. There’s maybe also some fun karma in the name of this song. I remember doing a radio show a year or two ago on all the artists that had done cracking songs called ‘Save Me’ – from Queen, Big Country, Screaming Eagles and into the indie world and pop mainstream, the list of ‘Save Me’ crackers was huge! This could well be the latest addition to that vein of great radio songs and, whilst not my favourite from the album – I think this song has legs for mainstream radio. Singles that work on rock radio often don’t on other radio and the difference between the two is something to understand and move towards.
‘Blinded By The Pain’ will be special for fans of V0iD-era ‘Practice Run’ – a very British feel to this one, almost symphonic in its range and melodic texture. Again, immense use of range and control in building this song, it’s one of the standout album tracks for individuality and originality. For me a measure of a great song over a good song is whether a band can capture a song that others couldn’t write. This is one of those songs. It’s particular to this band. It pays homage to their beginnings and the talents they have in the band today. ‘Shattered Dreams’ brings a new burst of energy, bouncing waves of rhythm that energise – and with ‘Can I Open My Eyes’ we have another rousing song with mainstream appeal. The closer ‘Returning Light’ is a clever counterpoint to the all-rocking, door-crashing album opener. The album closes with control, an emotional song with the impressive vocals front and centre.
I remember a discussion with friends over dinner some months ago, when everyone was tasked to come up with their definitive three albums. The choices varied by genre and age but I remember everyone’s choices related to albums that didn’t have a weak track on them. This is relatively rare, to have an album where the quality never dips from start to finish. ‘Show Your Colours’ is one of those albums. Whether it garners commercial success or not, I have a feeling history will be kind to this bold body of work.
‘Show Your Colours’ is also a good ‘modern’ album at a time when we live on the insecure cusp been the physical album age (where there is an art in the track listing) and the streaming age, where it’s just about songs/singles (as, in fairness, it was in the pre-CD age of the 7” single). This album works well in both contexts. As a physical album, the track listing presents a well curated journey. At the same time, any song – or combination of songs – could stand tall on a playlist as an intro to the new collection of material. From V0iD to Scarlet Rebels, I have followed this band’s journey over a number of years. As other great Welsh bands – such as The Texas Flood, Fireroad and Those Damn Crows – have had their moments of due recognition, I wondered a few times whether this band had been over-looked.
This album is both the arrival of a new band and also the blood, sweat and tears of a band that have worked hard for a long time. The result is more than emphatic; in terms of melody, craft and immersive song writing ‘Show Your Colours’ is quite possibly the most impressive new rock album of 2019 so far. The band members have shown their colours – it’s time for everyone else to open their eyes.
‘Show Your Colours’ is released on 9 August.
Pre-order physical copies here http://www.scarletrebels.com/shop/
Interview Hour Special.
A date for the diary, Friday 26 July I’ll be airing a Great Music Stories interview hour special with the band between 7-8pm on my Friday rockshow. More details to follow on my Twitter page @GuyB_rockshow