“The next level”.

It’s a cliché, in sport, in music, everywhere. What does it mean? How do you get there?

I love The Picturebooks. I am a fan, I am even on speaking terms with them, about the only band I am, to be fair.  Hell, the reviews section of the website has their picture on for a reason – they are the utter embodiment of everything rock n roll can be. I’ve literally seen drummer Philipp Mirtschink bleed on stage because he gave so much to the gig.

Their sound was unique in the modern world. The two piece made records in their motorbike garage, on instruments they’d fashioned themselves. Their catchy, primal, visceral blues has seen them play around the world. But was the sound restrictive? After three albums, what was ….next?

The answer lay in a duet on that third record. Chrissie Hynde (apparently a fan of the band) was a guest on “You Can’t Let It Go”, one of the highlights on “The Hands Of Time”. And that, surely, was the genesis of for “The Major Minor Collective”. Each of these has a guest vocalist – there’s some A listers here too – and each of the songs show a different side to the band than you knew they had.

Dennis Lyxzén of Refused is first up. Adding his harsh sounding punk to “Here’s to The Magic” and the interesting thing about it is that it appears, on one hand, to have nothing to do with the music, but on the other it fits perfectly.

If that one was written by the artists, then “Corina Corina” is at least influenced by the Dylan song. It’s all theirs, though and Neil Fallon is sensational at driving this. That a song with Clutch on it (and one of the bands that The Picturebooks have opened for is Clutch) isn’t the best here is surprising, but that’s because “Catch Me If You Can” exists. No one is a bigger Black Stone Cherry fan than me, so when I say Chris Robertson has never sounded better than here, I am not saying it lightly.

The textures of this record are impressive. The indie shuffle of “Beach Seduction” lives on its understatement, and Leah Wellbaum has a beguiling voice, there’s a poetry here. Jon Harvey, of the mighty Monster Truck, adds his trademark swing and groove to the quasi-glam stomper “Holy Ghost”, and in many ways what we might term as the “engine room” of the record is completed by a genuine star turn from Elin Larsson and Blues Pills. You can almost hear her letting her hair down on “Too Soft To Live, Too Hard To Die”. There’s a bit where she sings “Bitch, I checked you out/And no way are you wearing me out” and she’s a match for any urban gangster out there.

The centrepiece of the record? Not sure there’s any doubt about it, frankly. “Rebel” and Lzzy Hale’s vocals. Good lord. That woman can sing. An arena rocker that rivals anything Bon Jovi did in 1989, and my, she owns it!

As if to emphasise the colours and textures here, then there’s the punk rock of “Multidimensional Violence” –  Erlend Hjelvik ex of Kvelertek is harsh and abrasive here, Inspector Cluzo (who have performed with The Picturebooks many times) are suitably quirky and fantastic on “Riders And Farmers” a oddly disco thing, and then there’s a bit of doom thanks to Lisa Alley and Ian Graham of The Well’s appearance on “Blind Riders” – just one of many that you never expected.

And there’s a word on one of the titles you keep coming back to: multi-dimensional. And “Major Minor Collective” is in a way that The Picturebooks are not, usually. It’s still them, though, because of the honesty, the fun and the fact they mean every word.

Rating 9/10