Laughing on Judgement Day (1992)
So, 2 years on from what is widely regarded as a great debut – Thunder faced the “difficult” second album… that album would turn out to be Laughing on Judgement Day. Released in August of 1992, it stuck to the same formula of Backstreet – with Luke Morley assisting producer Andy Taylor behind the desk being the only real change.
This would prove to be Thunder’s most commercially viable record, entering the charts at a staggering #2 on release. And all 4 singles released from it hitting the top 40, with A Better Man providing a top 20 hit. For a lot of Thunder fans, it’s one of the most pleasurable albums to listen to and does contain a glut of genuine quality. It is also record that original member Snake Luckhurst would appear on, and without doubt the best cover to any Thunder record until Robert Johnson’s Tombstone.
The record opens up in a similar vein to Backstreet Symphony with a mid paced rocker, Does It Feel Like Love? For me this one of Danny’s best vocal performances ever and a stunning way to set the tone of the record. The production is stepped up just a notch, cleaner and sharper – perhaps some of the songs lose a little with that? When played live, a lot of the tracks here sounded rawer, more urgent and didn’t feel any worse for it.
Following the opener is one of the four singles, Everybody Wants Her – and perhaps Thunder’s most obvious commercial moments. Complete with keyboards and horns it’s certainly not a bad track, but seems to be set out to sound good on a radio station, rather than sit at home on a Thunder record. Having said that, it’s one of the 5 tracks on the record that Luke didn’t write himself, with Benny, Danny and Harry all contributing. Decent enough, if not grab-you-by-the-scruff-of-the-neck spectacular.
Which is where the next track comes in… Given a big budget for the video, Low Life In High Places was the lead off single for the album, and is one of those stone cold Thunder classic songs that should have been huge. Dealing with the issue of homelessness, it starts out with an acoustic intro, before kicking in with a HUGE riff, infectious chorus and an equally huge performance from Danny on vocals. This has become a live favourite, and indeed one of the moments when Danny gets to strut his stuff and demonstrate his vocal prowess. Utterly, utterly brilliant.
The title track, Laughing On Judgement Day, is up next. Following Low Life… is a hard task though and it maybe gets lost in the mix a little. While the subject matter of commercialism and working at the expense of your family is a fine one, the song perhaps doesn’t really have enough kick to remain in the memory for too long. Harry’s drumming is monstrous on this track though, it has to be said.
Empty City is for me, the best track on the record, and right up there with the best work that Thunder have put out over the years. Atmospheric, dark, brooding, sprawling… all of these and more apply to this seven minute monster of a track. Danny’s soulful Paul Rodgers-esque vocals hold your attention while the sublime guitar work of Benny and Luke draw you in further.
The riff that explodes in the mid section is big and bold enough to knock down a house, and would make Status Quo cry into their blue denims and trainers. Seriously, this is one of those “How were they never big?” moments that Thunder records and gigs seem to be full of. Worth looking out this record JUST for this track.
Following on from that was never an easy task, but Today The World Stopped Turning just about manages it. While it’s not a show stopper, it’s not a simple filler either. A nice mid paced moment with a big chorus to ease you back into things. A nice old fashioned pure love song, and no worse for it.
With a hammond organ intro, presumably courtesy of the multi talented Mr. Matthews, Long Way From Home is a slow burning track. Again, Danny’s vocals are soulful and passionate, a trend on this record, and no bad thing. The chorus on those is a huge sing-along moment, and it’s a shame this was never really played beyond the tour to back this record up.
Make sure your volume is up to hear Harry’s comedy intro to Fire To Ice followed by the call to ‘Get On With It’ and a HUGE riff, one of the best Luke and Ben have ever committed to record and a staple of my Thunder playlists. This song about alcoholism is far from a mid record moment, and could theoretically have been another single. The chorus on this is incredible, and Danny’s vocals, again, impeccable.
Another huge riff brings in Feeding The Flame, a simple song about love once lost, but with a typical Thunder twist on it. This record really has some of the best riffs that the band ever produced, small wonder a lotf fans absolutely love it. Not much to really say about this track, it is, while pretty damned good, just… ‘there’.
Onto the biggest hit taken from the record, a #18 stormer! A Better Man features ‘Blind Lemon’ Morley on harmonica as mentioned on stage numerous times by Danny. Ironic, as when performed live, this is often when Danny takes a break and drummer Harry James steps forward with acoustic guitar in hand to take over lead vocals… On record however, this is such a beautiful song, and one of my all time favourites. Simple chords, simple melodies, simple harmonies… not everything has to be technically complicated to provide an amazing song. This is a great, great song and again, should have been a bigger hit than it was.
Following on from that is another one of my personal favourites, another song about love and it’s many woes. The Moment Of Truth will never win any prizes for originality – it does have a distinctly Lenny Kravitz feel in places – but hell, it rocks and the lyrics are truly awesome in my mind… Play it loud and screech along to the chorus, peeps… you know you want to!
Yeah, this next one? Flawed To Perfection is the title, and an apt description. It’s so bad in places that it’s good! “There’s a ladder in her stockings that I’d love to climb / I’m hot under the collar for the hundredth time” – not Luke’s finest hour! The song is carried by a great riff, and the fact you can sense the guys laughing as they’re playing it. It’s just a silly, throwaway little song. Nothing more, nothing less.
Like A Satellite was the last single from the record, and seems a logical, solid Record Company choice. It’s a big, sweeping 5 minute rock ballad that the radio stations eat up. Granted, it’s one of the better examples, with Harry’s inspired drumming backing up an understated riff and allowing Danny’s soaring vocals to carry this one, along with a glorious twin guitar solo that could have been lifted from the Eagles or Thin Lizzy.
To close the record, Baby I’ll Be Gone is a great choice. It’s sleazy, dirty, hook gets in your brain and won’t get out, and as per the norm for this record, Danny’s vocals are spot on. Track for track, I really don’t think Danny has ever sounded better on record than over these 14 tracks. A nice easy way to close out the record.
So does it live up to the standards of Backstreet Symphony that every Thunder record is eventually judged against? Yes. It’s not as good, but it’s not THAT far off it. It’s vastly under-rated as a stand alone record in it’s own right, as far as I’m concerned. It’s got it’s down moments, sure, but it more than makes up for those. Not as an essential purchase as Backstreet… but get it anyway!
“Once in a while, I drift in time…
to a place in my memory that it still hurts to find.
I was takin’ on the world with a see through smile,
but dyin’ on the inside all the while”
— Thunder, A Better Man