Wolfmother – New Crown

Wolfmother dropped the follow-up to 2009′s Cosmic Egg out of nowhere on the weekend. But EDWARD SHARP-PAUL wonders if they should’ve taken their time.

Sure, it’s ridiculous, sloppy, and wildly incoherent, but if New Crown is Andrew Stockdale’s attempt to go back to basics (or as close to ‘basics’ as an intrinsically extravagant person can get), then it’s a decent stab at it. His new-ish rhythm section – drummer Vin Steele, and bassist Ian Peres – lack a little of the personality and exuberance of the Myles Heskett/Chris Ross axis, but they’re damned tight, and New Crown is at its best when Stockdale curbs his familiar excesses and allows his band to really sink their teeth into a groove.

When those excesses rear their head, though, things can get pretty irritating pretty quickly. Going for notes he can’t reach and then warbling all over the place in an overcompensatory tantrum? Check. Running a simple idea into the ground, then segueing into a warmed-over outro, and then a ridiculous acoustic coda (‘My Tangerine Dream’)? Check. Way too many sections that go “WHOMP! – iddly-iddly WHOMP! iddly-dee-da”? You’d better believe it.

“Pretty much all the guitar solos, which have a sloppy, meandering, first-take feel”

Lyrically? Well you can probably guess. Stockdale is standing on mountains, staring at the television, looking up at the sky, feeling big feels, thoughting sizeable thoughts, all the rest of it. But who comes to a Wolfmother album for the lyrics? Oh, you did? You poor thing.

Hopefully you didn’t come to New Crown for the production values, either. It sounds like it was recorded on Stockdale’s dime, with “this’ll do” moments abounding. Sometimes, the slightly subterranean production aesthetic works quite well, as on the bizarre pop-punk nugget ‘Feelings’, and the sludgy, radio-unfriendly ‘Radio’. But for every pleasingly dank riff-fest, there’s a head-scratching “Why did they leave that in?” moment. This applies to pretty much all the guitar solos, which have a sloppy, meandering, first-take feel to them – they really are quite shitty.

‘I Ain’t Got No’ suffers not only a botched mix and a grammatically frustrating title, but also a drum groove that just doesn’t align rhythmically with the bass and guitar. It’s the sort of thing any producer worth their salt would spot immediately: of course, New Crown is a self-produced effort. The worst offender in this regard, though, is probably ‘How Many Times’: the opening riff is just wrong. The timing is off, Stockdale’s fingers aren’t quite keeping up, and even the tuning of the guitar is dubious. How does something like that make it through tracking, editing, mixing and mastering? With an (allegedly) dictatorial frontman, I suppose.

Anyway, it does get better. ‘Heavy Weight’ is powered by some gloriously dumb, slow-motion riffage. ‘New Crown’ starts off in typically asexual unicorn territory, then breaks down to an uncharacteristically sensual bass groove. ‘My Tangerine Dream’ may overstay its welcome, but it offsets its inane title lyric with a thundering half-time groove, and guitars and bass that congeal into a sticky mass in the grand stoner rock tradition. Tellingly, the best moments are those where you forget about Wolfmother’s heavy baggage, about the white unicorns and the big hair and the Sabbath and the hubris. At these times, they sound like a very, very good, weird suburban garage band. Maybe that’s what they always were.