“I’m not happy about that at all, it’s kind of ridiculous”. Those were the words of Scott Holiday back in 2012. Guitar Planet had just asked him how it felt to have the music he was making in the here and now labeled “Classic Rock”. He was right of course; it is ridiculous.
Rock bands are damned with grossly patronizing, feint praise for bearing even a passing resemblance to Led Zeppelin, while an R’n’B diva can openly pay homage to Aaliyah and be exalted as a modernist. Lady Gaga tips her cap to Madonna without anyone whispering the words “classic pop” and no brooding indie outfit aping Joy Division or Depeche Mode has ever been dubbed “ageing indie”. The closest comparison is the “record collector rock” moniker, sparingly used to describe acts like Primal Scream who curate the sounds of the past in order to conjure something new – but the emphasis still leans towards innovation instead of retrospection.
The hypocrisy may be unshakable at this point, but there were no cobwebs to be picked off “Manifest Destiny”. The two-part showpiece from Rivals Sons’ 2012 album Head Down force feeds the listener unconscionably potent LSD in an LA back alley before depositing the hallucinating recipient in the glare of the sanity-stripping-sun of the great plains in 1822. The potential glimpsed on that odyssey is fulfilled handsomely on 2014’s Great Western Valkyrie; an album of crunching lunges and triumphant gallops as well as insular delicacy and prowling sleaze.
Rival Sons manage to shoulder the gleeful peacocking of the album’s first third without undermining the down-and-out severity of “Where I’ve Been” or “Belle Star’s” perception corroding guitar work. The secret to stabilizing this confounding cocktail lies in the Rival Sons’ unshakable musicianship. The cheap thrills aren’t played for hedonistic laughs and no ironic wink threatens to undermine the dwindling lows or portentous highs.
Instead Scott Holiday exudes control as his solo slips between the shadows on “Destination On Course”, offering a perfect, almost insidious, counterpoint to Jay Buchanan’s tonsil-splintering cries. By the time the album has receded into a world of inverted atonal groans which simultaneously recall wall-rattling aircraft engines, gruesome mechanical saws and spectral interference seeping from a malfunctioning wireless, you won’t have the slightest clue how you’ve got here, but you will be on tenterhooks.
Classic rock is meant to be dull and predictable, right? Well, whatever Rival Sons are supposed to be, they, emphatically, are not that. Great Western Valkyrie is the lithe, bestial, reactive and utterly unpredictable music of the moment. The living, breathing, seething, soaring, careening sound of the guitarist of the year: Scott Holiday.
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