Album Review: The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster
Album: Blood & Fire
Label: No Death/Black Records
As refined as Eighties Matchbox’s sound is, it seems that nobody really knows quite what to class them as. I’ve seen a range of interesting punts at forcing this particular pigeon into a tight hole, including psychobilly, psychosis rock, gothic cabaret and my own personal favourite, swamp-rock.
But this is an album that has had one hell of a gestation period, so have things changed at camp B-Line? A five year gap between last release The Royal Society has seen a smattering of rock star stories: members converting to Buddhism, lead guitarist Andy Huxley throwing in the towel blaming a “decrease in musical similarities” and hair styling that is begging for a contract from VO5.
So in comes new guitarist Tristan McLenahan, who doesn’t really seem to add much that is new to the Matchbox sound. The majority of riffs throughout are solid: lead single ‘Love Turns To Hate’ has a punch laden with gravitas and ‘Never Be The Same’ has a sadistic stomping crush to it,
The forefront of Matchbox remains Guy McKnight’s authoritative vocal delivery. Channelling everything from David Bowie-esque theatrics (‘Riptin’) to a slack-jawed drone a la Josh Homme, his performance is wired and effectively weird. It’s in his voice that the psycho element truly stands out, at times sounding like a man on the brink of a paranoia induced freak-out.
When the band scales back the noise, it’s to mixed effect. ‘So Long Good Night’ sees McKnight’s lyrics pay tribute to the wry, tongue-in-cheek sarcasm of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Babe I’m Gunna Leave You’, but the song itself seems out of kilter with the rest of Blood & Fire, a love-tinged soliloquy not exactly being the kind of thing that McKnight excels at putting into words. ‘Don’t Ask Me To Love You’ is a similar experiment that fares better, with McKnight’s preacher vocals pitched perfectly over the drunken swagger of the rhythm section.
The thing is with Eighties Matchbox, is that they’ve always appeared to be a singles kind of band, with songs such as ‘Mister Mental’ and ‘In The Garden’ becoming flash in the pan must-loves. There’s a similar sentiment throughout with Blood & Fire, with the gulf between the sure-fire hits and filler material pretty expansive. ‘Homemade’ sounds totally out of place with its Blondie-esque riff, especially when it’s sat next to the previously mentioned ‘Don’t Ask Me To Love You’.
Having worked with desert-rock pioneer Chris Goss (Kyuss, Masters Of Reality) in the past, it’s unsurprising that some of the material here presses a few of those stoner-jam buttons. ‘Man For All Seasons’ could have come out of the Eagles Of Death Metal camp with its falsetto chorus and wrangling guitar solo, while ‘Monsieur Cutts’ echoes the furiousness of Queens Of The Stone Age’s ‘Quick And To The Pointless’. But despite the latter’s bluster, it struggles to be anything less than repetitive and limp.
All in all this is another solid, if rather uninventive, release from the Brighton band. Perhaps the reason they are so cunningly difficult to categorise is because they relentlessly peddle their own idiosyncratic style. The trials and tribulations of five years haven’t diluted this attitude. But despite its disadvantages in playing the same familiar tricks, Blood & Fire is another slab of heavy rock that will happily soundtrack a couple of lecherous summer nights. Just don’t expect the psychosis to keep you interested for too long.
Originally published on The Line of Best Fit.