Turbonegro has been lurking so long that it’s hard to believe this is only album number 9. The intoxicating brew of releases that straddled their first break-up seems like a lifetime ago at this point, but the uneasy humour and death punk rock’n’roll riffing of their finest hours still resonate with coarse beauty. Something vital was always being served up in the Turbonegro camp, something that rendered them infinitely more relevant than the sludge of successive Scandinavian punk rock’n’roll trends – so many bands, so little memory of any of them at this point!
ROCKNROLL MACHINE is the band’s second record with Tony Sylvester, who made an admirable debut stepping into some big shoes on 2012’s surprisingly capable addition to the Turbonegro oeuvre, SEXUAL HARASSMENT. Somewhere along the line, Keyboardist Crown Prince Haakon-Marius joined the ranks as a replacement for the much missed Pål Pot Pamparius (the band had been without keyboards for several years). In the 2-year lead up to the album, 2 promo singles, HOT FOR NIETZSCHE and SPECIAL EDUCATION, sufficed as evidence that the band was still moving forward and not about to disappear into a black hole as they’d done in the past.
Where SEXUAL HARASSMENT was presented visually as something that staked its claim as a Turbonegro product, this record takes a different tack. The graphics juggle an early 80’s futurist vibe and a brash day-glo colour palette – If Hawkwind did the Tron soundtrack, this would be the cover. As a Turbonegro statement of intent, it definitely piqued my interest!…
The big intro axis of CHROME OZONE CREATION (THE ROCK AND ROLL MACHINE SUITE PART I), PART II WELL HELLO and PART III ROCKNROLL MACHINE set out to fire the album up with a splendor that the listener expects, only to fall flat on 3rd base. This is typical of Turbonegro. Part I alludes to a sub-Van Halen “1984” intro flavour and Part II is Turbonegro firing the cannons of a much cleaner sound than that which infested the previous album (pretty much the ASS COBRA to APOCALYPSE DUDES trick over again) which is fine…
But the first irritant arrives with the flaccid and uninspired ROCKNROLL MACHINE, complete with AC/DC tropes and overly familiar formula… trite album padding straight from the Turbonegro boilerplate. In its favour, the vocodings and other synthetic flourishes have potential, but these are flirted with rather than indulged. HURRY UP AND DIE fares much better – strong and memorable hooks with the full-blooded personality of Turbonegro at its best (and a trace of the Dwarves!), minus all the unnecessary rock appropriations that this band never really grew out of.
FIST CITY searches for an idea to fit the title, only finding its feet at the synth break… by which time the track is almost over. SKINHEAD ROCK & ROLL finally makes better consistent use of the keyboards, although the dark biting humour Turbonegro might have once attached to such a song is absent and the title says all that the song has to say. The wonderfully titled, HOT FOR NIETZSCHE, the first promo track that surfaced way back in November 2015, was finely crafted, arranged and produced, with a slick video, but unfortunately no great stopgap or shape of Turbonegro to come. The Who keyboard licks at the end of the intro are inspired but what follows simply feels like a tour bus joke – an excellent title someone came up with when stoned that never finds the perfect song to fit it. I was tepid about it then and feel the same way now.
ON THE RAG is trying to do something controversial with humour but is not really funny or despicable enough to pull it off (leave this sort of thing to the Dwarves). Again, LET THE PUNISHMENT FIT THE BEHIND is a title that never found it’s song and serves only as tracklist Styrofoam. JOHN CARPENTER POWER BALLAD, on the other hand is excellent. Turbonegro does early 80’s FM rock! This seems like the strongest example of where the record wanted to go but just didn’t seem to have the balls to embrace to any extent. It’s goofy, tacky, and executed with a knowingness that brings a much-needed sparkle to the band – the undoubted highlight of the album. Closing in style, SPECIAL EDUCATION, the second promo single is a pretty much a Dave Lee Roth indulgence… it may veer into pop overdrive, but at this point, anything that’s not Turbonegro being a Turbonegro covers band is welcome.
Global hordes of rabid Turbojugend will no doubt salute this as yet another glorious return. When you’ve bought into a band that deeply, it’s difficult to admit when they’re not cutting it. With the added dimension of keyboards for the first time in years, this could have/should have been what the cover art alludes to… a sort of mutant deathpunk synth soaked mastication of ELO, Asia and FM rock bands with an avant garde past … That’s a record I want to hear!
In reality, it’s disappointingly business as usual, and not when business was flourishing… instead ROCKNROLL MACHINE is comfortable with a partially enthusiastic reheat of hackneyed ideas from the Turbonegro vault. Everything is beautifully produced and packaged, but far too often, the content is just not that inspiring.
The band that made ASS COBRA would give this lot a severe dead leg, and they’d deserve it.