Cosmic Egg Review – Danleary
Father of the Symphony
Two centuries ago, Joseph Haydn roamed the land inadvertently earning himself a title in history as “Father of the Symphony.” Soon after, Ludwig Van Beethoven would strike the first note of Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 11. Here we are, hundreds of years later, classical having long established itself as a musical genre. It’s as alive now as it was in the 17th century, and it’s still expanding! Let’s face it, as sexy as Franz Liszt’ Hungarian Rhapsody is, it’s only so many times in the sack before the fun bags sag and the love grows stale. Thanks to the artistry of Samuel Barber, John Corigliano, Dimitri Shostakovich, and even the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, anyone yearning for the sonic frequencies produced by an armada of woodwind and string need not look far for fresh poon. And that’s just the tip of the ice berg! Perhaps the largest contributor is the entertainment industry, spawning symphonic soundtracks like a pregnant rabbit.
I suppose my point is this: A lack of innovation does not necessarily mean a lack of creativity, and most definitely not a lack of artistic expression. It was just a decade ago that many considered Rock ‘N Roll a dead genre, a mere 30 years after it’s conception! Maybe not dead, but it certainly lay unconscious in an alley bleeding, used condom freshly thrown from a 5th story window and landing on it’s sleeping brow, victim of a thorough rape by the ’90s. Life support came in the form of Kravitz’ “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” and ironically titled “Rock ‘N Roll is Dead.” Look at it now! The new millenium saw the awakening of rock from it’s seemingly terminal coma. The so called “retro movement” has had possibly the largest effect on Australia, the only nation as of yet where classic sounds have thoroughly penetrated the main stream. Rock ‘N Roll now calls the land down under home, it’s spirit a tangible manifestation in the form of artists like Jet, Tame Impala, Xavier Rudd, and perhaps the mothership of them all… Wolfmother.
Ever since their tsunamic breakthrough in 2004, people have been comparing their triumphant riffs and trippy mid song jams to the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. One thing is certain; innovation is the last M.O. as far as Wolfmother’s concerned. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Thanks to these guys, a new generation can experience the trills of arena rock without the liability of aging, overweight woodstock survivors cramping their space at a Rolling Stones concert.
Then in 2008 – true to the tune of a rock band – Wolfmother had an irreconcilable break-up. With 2/3 of the band gone, there was uncertainty. Could lone wolf Andrew Stockdale produce quality material on his own? After retreating to his den and penning songs at his home studio in Brisbane, the lead singer/guitarist came out of hibernation in January with a brand new four piece band. Having added drummer David “Acousta” Atkins, bassist/keyboardist Ian Peres, and second guitarist Aidan Nemeth, the band did some touring over the coming months, went to L.A. to press a brand new record, and proved to the world that the mother was still a force to be reckoned with. Their new album “Cosmic Egg” has landed worldwide, and while it still offers some of the same classic tones found in the debut, it is also a stern departure from the first album, ripe with experimentation and new audible planes of existance.
The moment the needle hit the turntable – wah wah laden riffages of opening track “California Queen” flooding the room – Stockdale’s progression as an artist became clear. The fundamental formula is still in place… romping rhythms compensating for perversely abused power chords and a primal pentatonic fury, though new variables have been added to the equation. For instance, the multi-tracking on this record is much more frequent and intricate, far exceeding it’s predecessor. Brilliantly executed second and third guitar parts subtly weave their way into the woodwork. On “In the Morning,” a Danelectro 12-string guitar is layered under the lead, creating an elegantly modest compliment to the melody. On “White Feather,” a second guitar adds some contrast to an otherwise primitive verse, and on “California Queen” and “Phoenix” it plays a high octane fuel injected role doubling the guitar during the solos.
Speaking of guitar solos, Cosmic Egg has plenty of them. While the debut has a respectable arsenal, it wouldn’t stand a chance in an arms race against Cosmic Egg. Stockdale’s confidence as a guitarist appears to have blossomed, as nearly all the tracks on the album are climaxed by melodic, finger blistering lines. Combining the isms of Iommi, Page and Hendrix into a single simplified entity, he’s effectively brewed a new stew.
While Alpha wolf Andrew has likely grown tiresome of comparisons to the first record, what better way to gauge his evolution as an artist? Just two years ago, the existence of a track like “Far Away” would have been unfathomable. Trying his hand at keys for the very first time, coupled with an awkward stop-start method of singing, Stockdale has shown he’s not afraid to experiment. While the ice cream truck simplicity of the tune reflects his experience as a pianist, give him credit for venturing. Cosmic Egg is soiled in the stains of freshly spilled chemicals, chemistry set long since removed from it’s packaging. Pianos, heavy metal pedal tones, even a string arrangement courtesy of Mr. Atkins has made it’s way onto the album! Stockdale’s exploration of vocalization beyond his falsetto norm is also worth commendation.
Crafting a compositional success is a controlled chaos on it’s own, songwriting is a different astrological event altogether, and Cosmic Egg holds it’s own as much lyrically as it does instrumentally. Stockdale has made no effort in hiding his fandom of the great Jimi Hendrix, as a recent trip to Electric Lady Studios (slated for the production of Wolfmother B-sides turned tribute) would hint at. Stockdale’s style of writing is that of a raconteur, a midevil jester, a village elder and a wandering gypsy. His words are an odyssey, preferring the sensual over the concrete. Singing about mountains falling, kingdoms turning and sundials wondering, his method of visual storytelling is a page taken straight out of Jimi’s book. As was with his predecessor, many mistake the brilliant as mundane, or as ramblings from a mind ravaged by hallucinogens. You need not be high to make sense of the journeys initiated through Cosmic Egg – each line makes perfect sense when kept in context of the song. All you need is a bit of thought, open eyes and an open mind. (Or should I say, Eyes Open and Mind’s Eye? Har har)
So much has been said about the front man, what about the new blood in the pack? Truth is, there isn’t much to say. According to Stockdale, many of the songs on Cosmic Egg had been written prior to the addition of new band members, leaving their contributions as questionable. Don’t let that discourage you, the talent is promising. Many have compared Atkin’s groove to legendary John Bonham, and his fills are equally intimidating. Ian Peres plays a solid bass and keys, and the mysterious Aidan Nemeth barely makes an appearance, only playing on “one or two songs.” It appears we will have to wait for the next record to truly see what the rest of the band offers.
By now you’re probably wading through a massive pool of positive bias. Unfortunately, I do have some rotten things to say about the egg (Give me credit for resisting the pun as long as I have). Original members Chris Ross and Myles Heskett have departed, and they took an integral part of the Wolfmother sound along with them. While Atkins has done a descent job filling the void created by Heskett, the same can not be said for Ross. The “psychedelic sexual sonic tsunami” – as Ross once described as his sound – has long since washed ashore. Ross had basic skills as a keyboardist, but the way he manipulates synth, delay, and an assortment of other Electro Harmonix effects into a single integrated voicing on the keys borders on genius. Andrew has recklessly thrown the term psychedelic around, he even named the album Cosmic Egg for crying out loud! Truth is, the mellow, trippy side of Wolfmother was rooted in Ross’s 1979 Korg CX-3 organ. The lax amount of keys on Cosmic Egg deeply saddens me. Don’t blame Ian, as it would seem Stockdale was the ultimate authority on this record. Perhaps Ian will open up in the future, his Korg living up to the one that came before it.
Another thing that bothers me is the inconsistency of vocalized melody. Stockdale has made a habit of mucking around syllables, forcefully making words that don’t flow go along with the tune. Almost every song on the record has an instance of this, and most notable is the teeth grinding intro to “In the Castle.” “She could be the answer to-ew yo-or everything.” It’s sounds childish and unprofessional.
I also don’t understand this Deluxe Edition riffraff. The bonus tracks are some of the best songs on the record. Seems like unnecessary complications to me, this is more about marketing than music.
The numbers all go to 11
While some label Wolfmother as plagiarists – a single Wolfmother tune often borrowing from any number of given artists, from the Stones to Niel Young to Dylan Hendrix and Floyd – it’s not so much that there isn’t something new brought to the mix. Therein lies the beauty, effectively blending into a kaleidoscopic soup of the past with a slightly modernized twist. California Queen to Violence of the Sun, Cosmic Egg is a Rosetta stone of Rock ‘N Roll and a solid album through and through. I give it 8 dead rock stars out of 11.