First Listen: Wolfmother's New Album

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Wolfmother's Andrew Stockdale / Photo by Aliya Naumoff
WRITTEN BY
David Marchese

In the four years since Aussie hard rock outfit Wolfmother released its self-titled debut, the trio toured the world, saw its track "Woman" become a Guitar Hero favorite, and, uh-oh, lost two members.

When a trio becomes a one-o, it's easy to imagine dissolution being the next step. But the Wolf survived, and previewed its new album during an open-bar laser show Monday night at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex in New York City.

Singer-guitarist Andrew Stockdale, who found three even hairier Aussies to replace his old running mates, introduced the band's new album, Cosmic Egg (out Oct. 13), with the ominous words, "Prepare for the onslaught."

To help you do the same, here's a first crack at the Egg.

"California Queen"
Meet the new Wolfmother, same as the old Wolfmother. And thank Satan for that. From the first head-banging riff, to Andrew Stockdale's Ozzy-with-his-balls-in-a-vice vocals, to bongy, fantastic lyrics about "Standing in front of the rainbow" and "Homegrown hydroponics," Wolfmother still parties like it's backstage at a Uriah Heep show in 1972. A sludgy mid-song riff does show the band getting more doomy than we've heard before though.

"New Moon Rising"
The lyrics for this track were handed out to all the guests at the listening party, so I guess we're supposed to take them as some sort of statement of intent. In which case, the lines "Well he's scared of the people / He don't wanna be the whipping boy / But the time has come now / Gotta hit that highway" reads like Stockdale's coming to terms with continuing the band. A very Queens of the Stone Age-y low-string guitar riff fuels this one, which also features some nice unaccompanied drum breaks.

"White Feather"
With it's crunching stop time guitar chording, bluesy lead licks, straightahead drumming, and gleeful refrain of "It's all right now," "White Feather" sounds like evidence that Stockdale's been listening to his countrymen in AC/DC. Where the first two tracks leaned toward metal with their thick distortion and wailing vocals, "Feather" sits more towards the hard rock side of things. Do not be surprised if it pops up in a beer commercial.

"Sundial"
A simple rocker. The song kicks off with a funky, Hendrix-y guitar lick and some one note piano plinking. New drummer Dave Atkins lays down an earthy fatback beat while Stockdale bemoans worldly ignorance. A short guitar solo nods to the main riff, and after the last chorus, there's a chunky lick on the low strings that brings the song to an abrupt close.

"In the Morning"
One for the ladies. On this ballad, Stockdale sings about "My little girl" over a ringing, lightly distorted open-string guitar part. In the background, an acoustic guitar plays subdued harmonies. Of course, this being Wolfmother, a siren-like lead line and descending rhythm guitar part crash in for the chorus while the bass goes dive bombing. The little girl from before? Now her "Words cut like knives." It all fades out in a torrent of screaming guitar soloing.

"Cosmic Egg"
The bluesiest track so far. Stockdale pounds out a boogie riff reminiscent of John Lee Hooker (or ZZ Top's "Tush" or the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues" or Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" -- you get the idea), and then pinpoints a key symptom of modern societal malaise: "People get up / But they don't get down." For the chorus, the rhythm switches to a classic power metal gallop and an ascending organ lick leads into the stomping coda. Heh heh. I said ascending organ.

"Far Away"
Get your lighters out! If "In the Morning" was power-ballad-as-psychedelic-rainbow, then "Far Away" is its prom-friendly cousin. Over an almost delicate music box melody played on, I think, electric piano, Stockdale, in a relatively subdued voice, sings about the one that got away: "I believe that love is gonna last forever / But it's all within my mind." An acoustic guitar gently pads things out. The drums play a laidback shuffle. The bass shadows the guitar chords. A melodic major key guitar solo swoops in to guide the listener to Valhalla.

"Pilgrim"
Very reminiscent of "Woman." An 8th note riff accompanies Stockdale as he spins a tale about a woman who's got "Wisdom in her hand." A swampy lick heralds the chorus, which also features some nicely melodic bass lines. Halfway through, an unaccompanied single-string riff comes in, the rhythm slows to a half-time crawl, and then it's back to the chorus. As per usual, the song winds to its conclusion via some blistering Stockdale lead guitar lines.

"In the Castle"
A sonic changeup, as the song opens with misty keyboard swells and a ringing renaissance faire guitar part. "Would you like to walk into the kingdoms of the Sun?" asks Stockdale. I totally would. "We could walk into the fields to see where it begun." Count me in, Bro.Especially if our mystical journey is gonna be soundtracked by the snake charmer guitar licks, galloping power metal rhythm, and dramatic drum fills on display here.

"Phoenix"
A wiry New Wave ode to the French guitar-pop band? No. But "Phoenix" is one of the album's leanest tracks. A crisp rhythm guitar part chugs away during the verses, a twisting organ riff announces the choruses, and Stockdale sings about "Rising into the sky." The surprising middle eight features an almost Latin percussion rhythm and guitars played in harmony.

"Violence of the Sun"
The album's last track is also it's longest. A tense, mid-tempo keyboard part kicks things off. Guitar licks slither around a skittering hi-hat. On the second verse, a massively distorted guitar slams down on the first beat of each bar. The bass doubles the guitar. "Look into the sky," commands Stockdale. "Never wondered why / Violence of the Sun."Halfway through, the music slows down. Power chords lurch about. The drum rolls come fast and heavy. Stockdale's voice reaches into a higher register as he moans wordlessly and plays slow, arcing bent notes on the guitar through to the conclusion of this fittingly epic album closer.

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