It’s December, it’s the end of the year, and to quote Bruce Buffer, it’s TIME! Time for the top seven records released this year!
It’s December, it’s the end of the year, and to quote Bruce Buffer, it’s TIME! Time once again for you to have to suffer my opinion of this year’s music – it’s time for my top seven albums of 2015! And as usual, I’ll answer the “Why only seven?” question with the answer “Why not?”
Following on from what many thought was a disappointing fifth record in “Giving The Game Away” Thunder shocked the fans by announcing their intention to split up. And they did. Luke recorded a solo record (El Gringo Retro) and eventually teamed up with Danny for the “Moving Swiftly Along” Bowes & Morley record in 2002. By late 2002, the rumours were swirling that something might be happening in Thunder Towers. Continue reading “Thunder: A Retrospective – part six”
It sounds crazy, but Thunder gigs are unlike any other. It’s not all about the music – although the well crafted rock songs that they churn out effortlessly are of the highest standard – a Thunder gig is an event; it’s a party that 5 mates throw on the stage, and just happen to invite 1900 people to come round for a beer and a boogie.
The Thunder Christmas Party
21st December 2011
Nottingham Rock City
The usual Christmas festivities in Thunder Towers resumed this year, with the resurrection of what their T-shirts call a great British tradition. And you know what? On this showing, they may just be right. Continue reading “A Thundering Good Christmas”
Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of Thunder, Luke Morley’s new project, The Union, deserves your attention.
Now, as you may know, in a previous life (ha!) I was/am/forever will be a HUUUUGE fan of Thunder. Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and Thunder split up. I have found solace, however, in THE UNION – the new band formed by ex-Thunder guitarist, song writer and all round “top bloke” Luke Morley, and former Winterville main man and Thunder friend Pete Shoulder.
Here’s a sample of what they’re about:
Their debut release is a three track EP, cheaply priced at just £1.99 – and if that’s not persuasion enough, you can download Step Up To The Plate, the first track, free to sample their wares by simply going to their website at: TheUnionOnline.com.
Well worth a few minutes of your time, folks. Go have a listen.
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)
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. ///
The second in my own desire to review every Thunder studio album before they finally disband – this covers 1992’s “Laughing On Judgement Day”
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