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“What happened to the bands that actually play instruments? And what happened to the southern-rock genre? Where did all the bands go?” These are questions that I often find myself asking. Futurebirds and Drive-by Truckers remain unabashedly southern-rock bands while groups like My Morning Jacket and Kings of Leon have branched out to test new musical waters. Even more troublesome is the lack of new, southern-rock bands arriving on the music scene, but one band from an unexpected place are doing their part to save southern rock.
Based out of Sydney, Australia, SPOOKYLAND, along with the aforementioned Futurebirds, represent the future of a genre that once filled airwaves with names like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Alabama, The Black Crowes, The Allman Brothers, and Creedance Clearwater Revival. Their debut album, Beauty Already Beautiful, is a fantastic nod to the driving, anthemic rock music of the ’70s and ’80s. And respecting the genre, the album is brilliantly conceptualized in its organization. Like the great southern-rock songs of the past, the album starts off with short mellow and melodic strokes but then slowly builds to its cataclysmic climax before easing back in the finale.
The tender “Abuse” opens the record, where we are introduced the nasally warble of frontman Marcus Gordon, who sings about loss and neglect. The gentle strings and organ in the background add to the song’s enchantment while seducing us into SPOOKYLAND’s world of fallen heroes and lost identities. That world is “Nowhereland”, which follows and is more of what one would expect on a southern-rock album with its mid-tempo pace that will have you noodling your head.
“Big Head” is the first anthem on the album that is highlighted by a fantastic melody and just the right amount of and well-timed blistering guitars. What makes the song, though, are the three bridges in the song that change the tempo and melody and add to the song’s unexpected drama. It’s a brilliant demonstration of pace and transition to create a euphoric rock tune. Whereas “Big Head” gets the blood flowing, “Champions” is a song for the thoughtful. The lyrics are outstanding, as Gordon seamlessly moves from making Biblical references to commenting about Twitter. It’s a song about how our identities are formulated and whether we are all meant to be followers or champions of a cause. The musicianship on the song cannot be ignored, though, as the middle frame consists of a fantastic, rocking, instrumental.
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As it’s election time in the United States, “Discipline” seems extremely relevant about people promoting their own causes or, as Gordon sings, “waving my idiot flag”. The slow-building and brutally honest “Prophet” continues with the theme of finding purpose and relevance in today’s world while condemning the hypocrisy that exists. “So what happens next, Prophet when your fixations aren’t enough? When you’re seeing everything in your gun everything?” It’s a biting critique of the world that we live in – whether in Australia, the United States, Canada, Europe, or the Middle East – that leads Gordon to conclude, “Go to bed Messiah. Go to bed ’cause the world is going to end anyway.”
“Gods Eyes” is the star of the album and is its penultimate track. It is sonically explosive filled with memorable choruses and an awesome instrumental section where the guitars, bass, and drums all come together to form a tidalwave of crushing sound. The power in “Gods Eyes” is such that it could fill even the biggest arenas on the planet. And like the other songs on Beauty Already Beautiful, SPOOKYLAND hold nothing back in its critique in the role that religion plays in the world’s and individual’s problems. This is no more apparent than the lyrics:
When puppets cut their strings and start pulling things themselves
The roof’s off of the meek
Even Gods Eyes have to blink.
The album comes to a close with “Bulimic”. The song encapsulates the album’s entire sonic approach within 6 minutes – gorgeous strings to begin with just Gordon’s voice hovering over the notes before slowly building into a majestic rocker. And like the opening track, SPOOKYLAND challenge us on the song, but this time asking whether we are willing to take control of our lives and fates or live a life that is forever condemned. It’s a fabulous tune to end a truly fantastic album. Musically, lyrically, and emotionally, Beauty Already Beautiful is an album that must be heard. SPOOKYLAND haven’t just saved southern rock; they may have just resuscitated rock music with one of the most powerful albums of the year.
Beauty Already Beautiful is out now via via Play It Again Sam.
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