Considering that the first de-facto promo single for this album came out 2 years ago, it seems like the Trouble Pilgrims full-length debut has been stewing for a very long time. With the album eventually surfacing on Chiswick records, I’m guessing that it was strategically timetabled to follow on the heels of the Radiators From Space – TV TUBE HEART 40th anniversary edition. Whatever the reality, this has given Trouble Pilgrims the space they need to develop as a standalone entity and not a legacy band. DARK SHADOWS AND RUST virtuously reflects the band’s trajectory over the last few years… They occupy a somewhat chameleonic space on the musical landscape – as comfortably billed at the Kilkenny Roots Festival or annual Levon Helm tribute gig as they are opening for the Undertones or lurking on the perimeter of a punk world they lit the initial fire under 40 years ago.
SNAKE OIL CARNIVAL leads the album in with a dark slice of rock’n’roll hedonism. On the surface it’s a celebratory and burlesque blaze of guitars, but there’s a lyrical duplicity, “We’ve got little elixir bottles, they’re full of darkness, they’re full of light”, that suggests a not entirely fictional spectrum of hoodwinkers and carpetbaggers. A quality start to the album! Next is a more upbeat and swampy ANIMAL GANG BLUES than the version issued as the band’s debut 7” in 2014. Both recordings have their virtues, but here it is advantageously road worn, less cautious in its delivery and has more Theremin… because if in doubt then add more Theremin – obviously. The other single from 2015, INSTANT POLAROID follows and I don’t know whether it’s the album mastering or an extra layer of guitar but it now packs an even greater punch and shines as a slab of psychedelic proto-punk. This is a historical document of Arthur Fields, “the man on the bridge” who photographed pedestrians between the early 30’s and the mid 80’s (switching to an instant Polaroid camera when the technology arrived in the 60’s), ultimately documenting 50 years of street style as it passed by.
DEATH BALLAD and QUEEN OF HEARTACHE are both retro indulgences… 60’s garage power pop songs about love and tribulation. Where the former addresses drastic revenge with Lynchian tones, the later is more of a “the one that got away” anecdote… most likely connected to one of Pete Holidai’s live yarns about a girl, Iggy Pop and a fistful of dollars. REACH OUT is an upbeat, melodic punk predicament where ‘there’s a mad man in the White House” and reality bites. LONG WAY TO THE SUN intravenously connects with a prime substance of garage rock that infected both the Beach Boys and the Ramones – and for that reason it recalls HEADING FOR THE SUN on the Radiators SOUND CITY BEAT album. DEARLY BELOVED is an unashamed exercise in saccharine 60’s pop, and THE VELVET TONGUE makes use of that Seeds style of darkness-disguised-as-light to the illustrate downside of random encounters, alcohol amnesia and the walk of shame. As a standard-bearer or rock’n’roll sleaze, SEX IN A CHEAP HOTEL doesn’t stray far from the themes of libido and loathing. Looking at the track listing before diving into this album, THE GREAT DIVIDE is the sordid stomp I expected from a title like SEX IN A CHEAP HOTEL – It’s a wonderful fusion of whammy bar, spaghetti western and psychedelic spacey dribbles – The DNA is recognisably the Ventures, Morricone and Tarantino.
DARK SHADOWS AND RUST’s heavy hitters are definitely the opener, the singles and the closing track. INSTANT POLAROID, in particular, substantiates the evolution of this band in one accomplished 4-minute chunk. Where present, the album benefits greatly from shared vocal and songwriting duties (a Steve Rapid lead vocal is notably absent) and although it leans heavily into retro for several tracks, the inspirations and executions are distinctive. This album was always going to have somewhat of a responsibility with regard to its ancestry, but the roots approach to loud guitars succeeds on its own terms. Lyrics would have been nice as part of the overall package (you can download them HERE) but other than that, I can find little fault in the conduits that channel the band’s overall vision.