OCTOBER ALBUM OF THE MONTH
A second album can be a tricky one, especially under the weight of expectation following a hugely successful debut. ‘Ghosts Of Yet To Come’ was well received across the rock community, serving up a dramatic helping of classic rock that had something for everyone. Whilst the debut album established the credentials and sound of a new band as a brand – this new album is more a showcase of song-writing and the art of good songs. It veers more from the central ground, it’s more prone to take left and right turns: It’s more widescreen, more edgy and it’s brave – and what results is a better album.
Through the emotive lyrics and the moods conjured up by the music, there is a prevailing sense of protest, of questioning – even rebellion – as the narrative unfolds. No movie spoilers here, I’m not giving my take on the story: this is the point of listening to the album yourself – and the messages may mean different things to different people. That’s the beauty of the marriage of music and narrative when it’s done well as art.
‘Any Other Way’ opens the album. It’s the start of a day, the start of a narrative. It builds nicely. There’s spice in the lyric suggesting protest. Whilst the first chorus ushers in the Wayward Son’s personality, it’s clear from the opening verse and chorus line that this is going to be an album of new ideas and the band pushing the boundaries. In a word, it’s going to be an interesting album.
‘As Black As Sin’ has a rough edge – with race and pace, there is a sense of urgency. A short, vital song that starts and finishes well, with nothing unneeded worked in.
Two tracks in, and these songs strike me as a rally cry. They evoke rebel defiance of not being shaped or conditioned by others. With ‘The Truth Ain’t What It Used To Be,’ rock and roll is finally testifying again. In these dark times of doubt, lies, spin and lack of leadership, it’s important not to forget the importance of rock n roll – and for songs to have something to say about the world today. Protest as art isn’t necessarily about politics but having a social relevance and commentary that makes you stop, think and ask questions. These new Wayward Sons songs remind us that the job of the new generation of rock isn’t just to imitate the past but to give the genre new meaning and relevance in a new age.
‘Joke’s on you’ is up next. The first single of the album, as a standalone single it didn’t grab me, but framed by the context of the album it works really well and this one is made for live shows, the final section of the song an obvious call and response for gigs.
Whilst the album starts well, for me it goes up a gear from track 4. ‘Little White Lies’ is a song that took me back to my first repeat plays of the ‘Young Gods’ album but its more than that. A heritage of a theatrical British rock tradition oozes through the heartbeat of this song – and then the 70s Queen guitar solo takes you back to Sheer Heart Attack/A Day At The Races era Queen. It’s a different personality for Wayward Sons but it works brilliantly. After the rebellion of the opening two songs this is the song that underlines the creative bandwidth that is to unfold on this album as the narrative builds.
Any album that gives an intelligent nod to those great Queen albums of the 70s and 80s will always put a smile on my face. As a kid I grew up on Queen. I remember saving my pocket money for those gatefold albums from the age of about 10. I also recall through my teens, Queen were never cool among my circle of friends. U2 were super hip, Dire Straits were clever, the goths were doing their thing, wearing only black, a few chains and looking rather pale. Live Aid reminded the world that this band that had been playing arenas and stadiums through ‘84 and ‘85 were so good because of the structure of those songs they wrote. Forward-wind 30 years and it really makes me happy today that rising bands are revisiting those benchmarks and giving a nod to those fine archive albums. Aaron Buchanan did it with his album in 2017 – and here it is again with the new Wayward Sons album. Its inspiration is subtle, but developed and re-worked into modern musical ideas and, for me, this a greater statement on the legacy of those great Queen albums than the movie – because the legacy is inspiring new music making today. And that’s cool.
Anyway, back to this fine Wayward Sons album…
‘Feel Good Hit’ is a Wayward Sons staple but with a strong message: ‘Feel good hit of the summer’ – buy the album, have a listen and work that one out for yourselves!
And then we have ‘Fade Away’ – unquestionably for me the opus on the album. Blend together the vulnerability of the opening of ‘Don’t Pray For Me’, the vivid storytelling of Billy Joel, Elton’s eye for piano melody and Freddie’s theatrical verve and you have ‘Fade Away.’ It’s the control of the build-up and the structure of this song that makes it shine.
Again, some heavy influences from 70s Queen on the guitar work, but this song isn’t imitation. If feels like the band has gone back to the benchmarks in their own record collections and rediscovered the essence of what it is that makes a song special. Rock music is after all about the songs – always has been, always will be.
In the way I have always regarded ‘Don’t Pray For Me’ is the Angels’ moment, so ‘Fade Away’ is possibly Toby’s milestone song for Wayward Sons. One of the best songs of 2019 without question, it’s worth buying the new Wayward Sons album just for this song.
And without apologising for being retro, in the lost art of arranging songs to fit on two sides of vinyl, ‘Fade Away’ would have been one of those classic ‘end of side one’ songs. Those people that just stream single tracks online won’t have a clue what we’re talking about here, but that flags another point. This record is a real album – there’s a story that unfolds and there’s a point to the order of the tracks. This is part of the art and it reminds me that Wayward Sons have, in the truest sense of the word, given us an album as a full immersive experience.
Next up is ‘Have It Your Own Way’ – good intensity and a bit of an earworm. When you hum a chorus line in the shower, that’s a telling sign you’ve been listening to a good song. This song is followed by ‘If Only God Was Real.’ Again good pace but with this one, the narrative is front and centre. In a world of right and wrong, spin and judgement – a song about belief, questioning of rules and status quo. Not preachy but a questioning of assumptions. Very powerful and starkly relevant.
There’s a lot of visual language on this album – references to light and dark and actually being able to see. Evocative imagery about clowns, suits and authority. It’s not my favourite song on the album, but it anchors the songs that went before and after. Full of arresting riffs and anthemic choruses, the music hooks you and the chorus lines seem to invite you to join and be part of the song, part of the story. The sentiments throughout this album are involving. Toby isn’t preaching from a soap box, he’s narrating sentiments that many people will relate to. In a sense this makes the listener part of the album.
The last two tracks finish the album cleverly – an up-tempo ‘Punchline’ which spits out the narrative – framed by a jagged guitar solo suggesting turmoil – followed by an emotional song, which actually packs more punch despite being a quieter number. Again, the art of good songs.
The album closer ‘Us Against the World’ is classy. There is cinematic menace to the music that builds into the kind of pomp power ballad I remember from 70s Queen albums. Again, with this song, the band draws influence from storytellers like Elvis Costello, David Bowie and Queen but what comes out is very much about ‘the now.’
The emotional resonance on this song is charged, a yearning for what’s real – “I want to feel everything is real.” On first listen I took it as a song of despair and then I thought something else – the power of evocative music to bring people together for a show of strength through protest, sometimes the dark brings out the light – and the hope. Look at what happened last week when a generation of our kids left school and protested against climate change – and ultimately the suits, the mistrusted leaders, the greedy companies that create division and unfairness. In the despair, in the frustration and powered by the anger – there is also hope.
So, in summary ‘The Truth Ain’t What It Used To Be’ is not a rehash of the first Wayward Sons album. For any fans expecting more of the same, you will have to give this one time. Concentrate, really listen and immerse yourself in the story – and what it means to you. This isn’t an album that goes in a straight line, it’s got light and shade, its retro in its inspiration but starkly contemporary in its narrative. It’s music you can enjoy, but it’s more than that: it challenges you, it makes you think, it paints pictures in your mind – and it serves up a few surprises. It’s not as good as the first album – it’s better, and in every respect.
This is the album that confirms Wayward Sons as no vanity project for older rockers. They are pushing themselves, grappling with new ideas and they want their music to testify at a time when the world so needs new rock to have something topical and relevant to say: It’s a brave album when doing something safe do doubt would have been enough to fill the concert halls. The yearning to do something new and better is alive and well with Wayward Sons and – as far as original albums go – history may well judge this to be Toby’s finest.
“The Truth Ain’t What It Used To Be” is released on 11thOctober 2019 on Frontiers Music.
The album will be released on CD, Vinyl and Digitally and pre-order links are http://radi.al/WaywardSonsTruth
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Listen Again audio
Listen again to previous interviews with Toby on the Wayward Sons story over time on the Great Music Stories website
May 2019: Preview on Album 2
November 2018: Autumn Tour interview
November 2018: Toby on Queen: Tribute special
July 2017: Ramblin’ Man Fair: Feature interview
Live Band of the Year 2017
UK tour dates this autumn
- 10 – Bristol Academy (support to Black Star Riders)
- 11 – Cambridge Corn Exchange (support to Black Star Riders)
- 12 – London Shepherds Bush Empire (support to Black Star Riders)
- 13 – Wrexham William Aston Hall (support to Black Star Riders)
- 19 – Newcastle Academy (support to Black Star Riders)
- 20 – Nottingham Rock City (support to Black Star Riders)
- 22 – Bexhill on Sea De La Warr Pavillion (support to Black Star Riders)
- 23 – Bournemouth Academy (support to Black Star Riders)
- 24 – Cardiff University (support to Black Star Riders)
- 25 – Wolverhampton Steel Mill (support to Black Star Riders)
- 26 – Leeds Academy (support to Black Star Riders)
- 27 – Manchester O2 Ritz (support to Black Star Riders)