Solas by The AnswerRelease date: October 28, 2016
Label: Napalm Records
When The Answer arrived with their debut in 2005, which consequently saw them voted the best new rock band by Classic Rock Magazine, they have been accused, by some rock pundits, of not achieving those early high expectations. But there is an admirable true grit honesty to these Northern Irish lads and their British bluesy classic rock sound. So it’s no surprise over the years they have just rolled up their sleeves and knuckled down with hard work and determination.
Bagging a tour slot supporting the mega huge AC/DC in 2008/09 enabled exposure to a wider audience and paid musical dividends with the consequent trimmed and direct sound of the Raise a Little Hell album. Of course, even when the band lyrically dive into less subtle rock themes of a hedonistic spirit, they still do it with an intelligence and ethically superior moral compass compared to the dumb carefree world of Mötley Crüe.
It could have been tempting to continue along the same path but the premature birth of vocalist Cormac Neeson’s son, along with numerous associated medical complications including requiring major heart surgery at a London hospital, has unsurprisingly been an incredibly stressful and worrying time for both him and his family. This has led to a quite profound change of musical direction seeing the band shed the Kiss, AC/DC inspired 4/4 beat party rock stomp of Raise a Little Hell, replacing it with something more restraint, reflective, and at times, sublime.
The key influences this time around is the work of Robert Plant’s solo catalogue, plus dipping into their Irish roots with deft touches of a Celtic flavour as on ‘In This Land’. The theme of trying to find hope and light (Solas is the Gaelic word for light) through times of immense darkness hangs largely overhead throughout. This has infused a sensitive lightness of touch which transcends to every band members’ contributions. Fine intricate guitar playing by the vastly underrated Paul Mahon to the understated, but effective rhythm section of James Heatley on drums and Mickey Waters on bass. But Cormac’s vocals are the standout performance, extending his style of singing to reflect the measured atmosphere cast by his deeply personal lyrics. This all combines to great effect on the opening two songs, ‘Solas’ and the swooning vocals and guitar in ‘Beautiful World’.
This is by no means a depressing album in fact, they have created songs which float and swoon with hope out of adversity lyrics and heavenly melodies, ‘Untrue colour’ and ‘Real Life Dreamers’ are fine examples. Many of the songs do border on rock ballad territory, and although we are talking about Robert Plant and Chickenfoot style rock balladry rather than the mawkish power ballads of Heart, it does by the end, for this reviewer anyway, long for an all-out ‘Immigrant Song’ style rocker to install greater balance to proceedings. Also, the ridiculously catchy but misguided ‘Left Me Standing’ is just too Journey-esque for my taste.
But there is no denying that in Solas they have written some of their finest yet. Check out the classy ‘Demon Driven Man’ as it incorporates all the best bits of Bad Company and Temperance Movement. And the beautiful acoustic album closer ‘Tunnel’, which truly demonstrates the band’s song writing has grown to reach new heights.
In fact, every track could comfortably be included on Classic Rock Radio playlists, if the said stations demonstrate some unusual bravery to play stuff which may not initially be in their listeners’ music collections. If they don’t, then you wonder what is a band like The Answer is to do because this could and should be the album to take them to the next level in the commercial classic rock world.
There is much to appreciate on The Answer’s 5th record, but it is a bit too heavily laden with my pet hate, the rock ballad. I so want to like this album more because it is crystal clear they have dug deep into their personal and intellectual well to produce an album, which will probably be the most mature rock album of the year. Whatever are my small misgivings, The Answer have definitely come of age.