Rise to the Challenge
Francis Jones on The Answer's debut album
The early response to Rise, The Answer’s debut album, has been firmly divided. On the one side stand those unashamed stalwarts of unfettered ROCK, publications such as Kerrang! and Classic Rock, who have proclaimed the album an unqualified triumph.
On the other side, the likes of Q and Uncut see the album as a pure 1970's retro retread, exuding perspiration over inspiration. What is deemed worthy of a 5-star ‘Jimmy Page’ rating in one magazine rates a 1-star ‘Jimmy Krankie’ in the other. So which viewpoint is right? Well both actually, it just depends what you’re looking for.
To the charge of 1970's retro plundering The Answer must surely plead guilty. Yet it is exactly this approximation of Led Zep's bombast and archetypal rock standards that will so thrill classic rock devotees. Many others, however, will simply wonder 'what’s the point?'
But let’s get real. To suggest that innovation is common currency in today’s music market is a blatant fallacy. Take a look at the August cover of your favourite music magazine; brave pioneers Q boast a rather dated Madonna picture to front their 1980s issue, The Word lead with an article on hip, young guitar-slinger Keith Richards, whilst Uncut focus on the '100 Greatest Debuts Ever . . .', number one The Velvet Underground’s eponymous 1967 opus.
For a music media fixated on the past to accuse musicians of being similarly obsessed seems well, rather hypocritical. Though it crosses no new frontiers, Rise succeeds in getting those old rock ‘n’ roll synapses firing. It is a seductive rampage of lewd, hard rock, guitar-hero posturing, panache gilded plundering, and take-no-prisoners attitude. The Answer may not have the look that makes them this week’s NME crush but surely that’s reason enough to love them. This is unpretentious, joyous, unshackled rock.
Fuelled by an insane surfeit of testosterone, ‘Under The Sky’ opens the album in a barrage of squealing guitar and apocalyptically heavy rhythms. For a band who have had to travel a long and arduous road, it is not surprising that songs such as ‘Never Too Late’ and ‘Leave Today’ abound with lyrics regarding travel and tribulations.
As with all good rock, there is also a defiantly anti-authoritarian strand to the lyrics - note the refusal to accept received wisdom on the self-empowering ‘Be What You Want’.
Throughout, the playing and production is pristine, karate-chop guitar riffs slicing through the cacophonous rock arrangements and mammoth bass and drum rhythms that kick like a mule. Aside from Zep there are hints of those other irreproachable rock giants Free, The Rolling Stones, Rory Gallagher and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Then there's the voice of Cormac Neeson. It is a full-on howling tornado of ire. His Robert Plant wail could easily have upstaged the playing of his bandmates, thankfully Neeson and the producer have ensured that the voice, for the most part, remains in service to the material rather than hijacking it to demonstrate his lion-lunged prowess.
Are Neeson and company taking us into a brave new musical world? The answer to that is a resounding 'no'. However, the consolation is a splendidly enjoyable retro romp, the sound of musicians making the type of music they know, love and excel at.