Thunder: A retrospective – part three

Three years passed between the release of Laughing on Judgement Day and this, Thunder’s third album. Behind Closed Doors. In those three years, founding bassist Snake Luckhurst left the band to be replaced by Swedish four-stringer Mikael Hóglund.

Behind Closed Doors (1995)

Behind Close Doors
Behind Closed Doors

Three years passed between the release of Laughing on Judgement Day and this, Thunder’s third album. Behind Closed Doors. In those three years, founding bassist Snake Luckhurst left the band to be replaced by Swedish four-stringer Mikael Hóglund. This would be Mikael’s only record with the band, and I was reliably informed by my girlfriend at the time that he was “a hottie” – quite often in fact. Repeatedly, one might say.

Anyway, I digress. Upon release, the record reached #5 in the UK charts, and all 3 singles hit the UK top 40, again with little or no airplay or real media promotion, a trend that would become more and more evident as the years passed. In terms of sound, the record had a harder edge to my ears, and didn’t suffer for it. The cover art is again excellent, and a signed framed poster of it can be found hanging in my hallway to this very day!

Enough of the background info, on to the music itself!

The album opens with the HUGE, grungy hook of Moth To The Flame. This is easily the heaviest track that Thunder had come out with to this point, and still stands up strong to this day. With the impact of grunge on the US and world scene, a lot of people took this as perhaps Thunder’s attempt to subtly shift styles slightly; I don’t see it as anything as blatant as that – it’s just a great hook with darker than usual lyrics. With all the problems that Thunder had in between albums, it’s hardly surprising the lyrical fare was hardly sweetness and light.

Lightening up slightly was the next track, Fly On The Wall. Taking a sly swipe at the paparazzi and the desire for celebrity gossip, this was perhaps a missed single opportunity. It’s got a great strong bassline, big horns, and great vocals as usual from Danny. The backing vocals of Benny, Luke and Harry also shine through on this – the harmonies are slick and polished. All in all, a good solid track, if nothing truly spectacular.

Back to Thunder 101 now with a slow, moody ballad. I’ll Be Waiting is another tale of love gone wrong. Opening with a soft hook and expanding with some keyboards, Danny’s soulful, almost pained vocals take centre stage, and rightly so. Danny’s voice always had power, but this is perhaps the record where the power was controlled and mellowed out into what I regard as the best kept secret in rock music. Honestly, it’s not inconceivable to hold Danny Bowes up with the likes of Paul Rodgers and David Coverdale as the UK’s finest ever rock voices.

Up next, the second single River of Pain, still a favourite on the live shows, and very much a typical Thunder track. Controlled riffing from Benny and Luke back up a solid rhythm from Harry and new boy Mikael – and what else is left to be said about Danny’s vocals? As much as this was a good single and rocks out, there was something just formulaic about this track that still doesn’t sit quite right with me. It’s by no means bad, but just doesn’t stick out like a Higher Ground or Love Walked In does.

Future Train, on the other hand, gets in your brain and refuses to move. From the Eastern flavoured intro, to the chugging riff that really does remind you of a train, this is for me the finest song on this record. Luke’s lyrics on this one were overtly political for the first time, complaining about “a leader with an agenda to hide” and being generally pessimistic about the whole political system and the future in general, this was a departure of sorts for the band, and worked very well.

‘Til The River Runs Dry
remains one of the hardest songs to listen to that Thunder have committed to record. A song about domestic violence and the effect on a young woman, the hugely moving lyrics are backed up with strings and understated playing from the band that allows Danny to carry this song along. If you know anyone that’s been in this situation, it really will bring a tear to your eye. A fine reminder of just how powerful music can be at times, and one of Thunder’s most under rated moments.

Moving swiftly along, we come to the first single from this record, and one of the best riffs the band have produced. Stand Up hit the charts and heralded the first “comeback” that Thunder made from the wilderness of Record Company Hell. The riff is great, and for once Danny’s voice isn’t the focal point, allowing Luke’s guitar playing to step forward. Another live favourite, even to this day.

Controversial moment approaching? Possibly. Preaching From A Chair was the first time Thunder had – and whisper this gently – swore on record, albeit a mere “I can’t stomach bullshit when it’s preaching from a chair”. Being brutally honest, musically, this track just plods along like a mid paced album filler, but the lyrics – dissecting the music business and the sudden fascination for grunge bands and image over substance – are superb. The final minute or so does provide a great funky double guitar synchronised riff and a huge rock scream from Danny, so it does redeem itself!

The third and last single from the record, Castles In The Sand is a strange beast. On paper, it’s just a good old fashioned “love left me, oh woe is me, but I’ll live” kind of song, but it’s transformed into an almost epic tale by some top notch musicianship. The huge chorus is amazing, and that riff gets in your head and melts your brain at times, yet still shifts back into a nice, quiet, laid back number in time for each verse. Very, very good.

Too Scared To Live is by far the lightest moment on the record. A funky, almost 70s porn guitar riff is the basis, and the band seem right on the money with their take on this one. Telling the tale of a man taken in by all the warnings that modern life seems to give us, it’s light hearted, but there are serious undertones to it as well. The sheer unadulterated funkfest that seems to envelope the entire band is infectious, and you can’t help but smile all the way through it.

But back to Serious Rock next with Ball and Chain – another song designed to tell you that hell, your life sucks but you can change. It’s almost Higher Ground part two, to be honest. A big riff, thumping drums and a pounding bassline all contribute to this song, and another huge harmony filled chorus gives this song such a great swagger, it’s an instant foot tapper. Blind Lemon Morely’s harmonica also makes a welcome appearance, although no sign yet of Danny’s infamous Kazoo skills…

It Happened In This Town
closes off the record and it’s a heavy, introspective number. Lyrically, extremely dark and seemingly based on child abuse, it’s another song that, if you allow yourself to be lost in it, could bring you to tears. This is easily the darkest song that Luke has ever written. Even the guitar and organ break in the middle that allows Danny to really cut loose with some venomous vocals serves to make the whole track even more ominous.

So overall, how did Behind Closed Doors fare? It inevitably suffered from the change in the musical scene since Laughing On Judgement Day, but it still stands tall as a good record. However, it just doesn’t have the instant appeal of the first two records, and there are no jaw droopingly good tracks that can compare to Love Walked In or Low Life In High Places.

That’s not to say it’s a bad record – it’s not. But is it Thunder’s best? No. Much slicker than the first two records, and a sign of the band growing in stature and confidence. As such, it’s highly recommended, but not an essential purchase.

/// EDIT: It’s since been pointed out to me that Castles In The Sand also hit the UK singles chart, so that information has been added to the review. ///