33 years ago, Billy Duffy and Ian Astbury embarked on a journey that would see their band lose words from its title as it sought to find a settled identity in the early days; they would go through drummers in a manner that would make Spinal Tap jealous; and they have had more reinventions than the Apple iPhone series.
This week saw them release their 10th studio album, Hidden City. This is the final offering in a trilogy which started in 2007 with Born into This and also featured 2012’s Choice of Weapon. It is in my opinion also the strongest trio of albums the band has ever brought out. There has been a sense of continuity throughout and whilst Love to Electric to Sonic Temple was also a trio of great releases, these most recent albums feel like they belong together.
For Hidden City the band brought back super-producer Bob Rock to oversee the production. And right away his influence is palpable. As is the drum work of John Tempesta, and that is literally from the off as the opening track Dark Energy gets the collection away to a thumping start and sets the scene for what lies ahead: emotion, passion, politic.
An immediate change of pace and direction hits the listener as the a brooding No Love Lost gives way to what is arguably the most commercial sounding song the band has done since Sonic Temple in the sing-a-longable Dance the Night.
Again, and unlike say Electric where it is a collection of high-octane riff rippers, Hidden City surprises us with the menacing In Blood which whilst seemingly easy to listen to has a dark subject matter that can leave you breathless if you let it.
Birds of Paradise follows and is probably the weakest track on the album. But…
…then Hinterland. This is already a classic. A fantastic riff, a bass sound that would split atoms and Astbury absolutely destroys the lyrics and delivery. It just throbs with intent right from the start, and only gets better as it goes along.
After being transfixed by Hinterland the album gets into a De Lorean and takes us back to the early 70s with the brilliant G O A T – which I swear should have been on the American Hustle soundtrack. Duffy is at his majestic best on this one, playing / jamming a bunch of brilliant ripostes to Astbury’s ‘greatest of all time’ shouts.
I’ll admit, when I first heard Deeply Ordered Chaos a few weeks back I was a bit disappointed. The I did something important, instead of putting it on YouTube in the background, I listened to it. You should too. Do it.
Much like Dance the Night being a commercial sounding track, Avalanche of Light is in the same vein. A brilliant blend of verse-verse-chorus, and repeat till happy, with a sprinkling of riff that has the head involuntarily moving back and forward and there is nothing you can do about it.
‘Blooms eventually decay…’ says more about Lilies than I could in a million words.
The penultimate track Heathens has been my go to one since Friday. Maybe it is ’cause I am heathen too, or maybe it is ’cause its subject matter resonates with me. Or perhaps it is simply a brilliant track, now 1-2-3, ‘Che Guevara in a garbage can!’
All good things come to an end, and after a journey that is fast and furious at times, it is the aptly titled Sound and Fury which brings the album to a thoughtful close. Piano heavy, slow and morose, this song wouldn’t be out of place in a smoky club as the house band sings about her, her fury and the end outcome of that fury. Astbury croons Holy Mountain style here. You can drift out of Hidden City thinking more about your place in the world and the unfairness of it for many as a result of this track alone. Sweet surrender indeed.