When you’re a kid and you first get into rock n roll, everyone seems to be having the best time. I don’t like either band now, but as a little lad, watching Kiss or Queen, they seemed larger than life, and you wanted to be them.
Fast forward a few years, to about 1990, and I was watching Bon Jovi’s “Access All Areas” video. Looking back now, it was kind of groundbreaking, given that for much of it JBJ and the boys look tired, pissed off and pretty much like everyone in a job is.
That thought came to me listening to “All Down Hill From Here”, the lead single from “Wolves.”
The first verse is this:
Spent half of my life
In a rock ‘n roll band
Half the time alive
Most the time dead
Had one too many whiskeys
Too, too many times
But you people keep on giving
And I keep doing time
Those are the first words on the record, and a pretty stark beginning. Is rock n roll a life sentence? Kevin Martin would know, better than most, the highs and lows, I guess. Bursting onto the scene, signed to Madonna’s record label, it is my recollection their success came at a price. Ire, not of their own making was directed towards them because they were lumped into a “grunge” scene that a) never really existed (and that is a hill this website will die on) and b) that they never sonically belonged to in the first place.
Anyway, “Wolves” is what happens when you are free of constraints and expectations, because their first album for five years is stunning.
This is bold, brave, and lyrically brutal American rock. A world away from the dullards of Shinedown and the likes (don’t think I’ve slagged them in 2022 yet, so it was time!) the opener, with its bleak words, also has a groove you can hang your winter coat on, and the follow up “Let Me Down Easy” is even better. A Southern tinged rocker that if Black Stone Cherry did would be a gold record, it begins with the lines: “It ain’t easy, it’s fucking hard in here”. This one was written with Chris Cornell’s brother, Peter and the opener was co-written with Christopher Thorne of Blind Melon fame, and both sound happy with its lot despite it all.
“Riptide” most assuredly does not. “I don’t really want to live” says Martin on the opening words (and it’s a feature of this that it sucks you in with its beginnings) and if that one is an out and out ballad, then most of the others are certainly not.
“Sunshine” is like something the aforementioned Jovi would have had on “Keep The Faith” to prove they weren’t “hair metal” anymore, and the idea that everything here is a anthem is never better shown than on “My Weakness”. One of the best things here, and remember if I say something sounds like Bryan Adams on this site, I mean it as a compliment. This does.
There’s a pulsing kind of lurking feel to “We”, even if it is acoustic tinged. They balance this out with a thunderous “Nothing Left To Lose” which sounds like AIC do when they let themselves go, a hail Mary play, a “lets just go for it” feel – it is the stand out moment and would be on many other records too, come to that.
What is remarkable about “Wolves” is just how it seems to not care about what it should be, and instead does what it wants. “Lost Angeline” doesn’t get made any other way, a brilliant blue collar kind of Springsteen, blue jean and white tshirt era thing, it is followed by “Trip” which will have you screaming “but that’s a U2 song” I imagine, if you’re anything like me.
Most of these songs are impressively lengthy too. As if they were making a statement, whether it’s the stadium shaking “Don’t Count Me Out” or the swirling almost pop epic of “Criminals” this is not an album to shuffle about without being seen.
Instead, its loud and proud and aggressively almost demanding your attention. “Wolves” – and is this no exaggeration – is the best Candlebox record in almost 30 years.