“The idea was: Where can we take this that’s not predictable?” Just a line from Lzzy Hale in a press release that comes with “Vicious”, perhaps. But it’s not, not really. Because there are moments in this – the fourth album from Halestorm and their first in three years – where you sit listening to it and find yourself saying: “did I hear that right……?”
In that spirit, let’s cut to the chase, shall we? There’s a song on “Vicious” about halfway through that has, as a line in its chorus, Hale intoning in her best sultry tone: “if I was you, I’d bring your girlfriend too, two is better than one, but three is better than two.” This is after: “I like your accent, I wonder what it sounds like when you cum.”
And in that moment, right there, there’s enough to keep 14-year boys and girls happy all summer (it’s cool, I didn’t do much else the summer Belinda Carlisle released “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” either, to be fair).
Halestorm are the real deal. Everything about them is the antithesis of the bland, written by a focus group horseshit peddled by the likes of Shinedown. Brent Smith and the boys – and oddly it was as opening act for Shinedown that I first saw Halestorm, who got bonus points that night for covering “Youth Gone Wild” – are about as anodyne as tea with your grandma. Halestorm, on the other hand, are proof of the fact that just like in 1988 when I heard Guns N Roses “It’s So Easy” for the first time and they became my favourite band the very second Axl sang: “I see you standing there, you think you’re so cool. Why don’t you just….fuck off!” that rock n roll can still sound dangerous.
These 12 songs are as confident, classy and sassy as rock n roll can be in 2018. Producer Nick Raskulinecz has helped them craft a collection that will have them in arenas before the year is out.
Right from the stoicism of “Black Vultures” – essentially Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” in rock form – that kicks it off, the riffs soar, the solo’s scream, the choruses are massive and there’s enough in the lyrics to relate to the lives of their audience. That last bit is crucial.
“Skulls” – a condemnation of a society not thinking for itself – swaggers. “Uncomfortable” is muscular hard rock that really should have been on an Adrenaline Mob (Hale sang on one of their albums) but seems to sum up the whole ethos here: “I did it all to break every single preconceived notion” she spits.
“Buzz” is sleazy, but also with its vocoder stuff, sounds like it belongs on “Slippery When Wet”, “Conflicted” takes that sleaze and pushes it to 11, but is still going to see 10,000 fists in the air when its hook hits home, likewise “Killing Ourselves To Live” which amounts to a masterclass in marrying modern sounds with AOR sensibilities.
Actually, that is the reason – above all others – why Halestorm are so very good. “Heart Of Novocaine” is a vehicle for Hale’s astonishing voice, but it belongs in 2018, despite sounding basically like any acoustic ballad ever.
The album carries on this vein too. “Painkiller” explores the idea of sex being an addiction over a riff with big old balls, “White Dress” is an empowering anthem for girls – and boys – everywhere that tread a different path, whatever that path is. Tellingly, the title track is sort of the best of both worlds – as far as this album is concerned – that is to say empowerment and sleaze. “Vicious” is rhymed with “you can call me Miss Malicious”. Enough said?
It is perhaps just right too, that the album ends with a moment of real tenderness. “The Silence” looks back on teenage love with real emotion – and it’ll be the soundtrack to broken hearts for years to come.
In many respects this isn’t much different to the albums I was listening to when I was a kid. It is from the same lineage as Guns N Roses, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Warrant and all the rest. What it does, though, is update the concept with some real modern grit and heart – and the more, shall we say, stark, moments are because people are more open, maybe. “Vicious” reflects its time, but will be looked back on for years.