The first band I ever saw in concert was Love/Hate. They opened for Skid Row and the LA Guns on November 20th 1991. They had a song called “Why Do You Think They Call It Dope?”, an anti-drugs thing (to be fair they also had one called “Mary Jane” on the same album which celebrated the same drug).
To paraphrase that title, when it comes to the new one from Thunder: Why do you think they called it “Dopamine”?
The definition of Dopamine reckons [it] plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It’s a big part of our unique human ability to think and plan. It helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting.
Thunder, even way back when (and they are one of the few bands from the 80s that have never made a bad record and indeed are making records just as good as their heyday) had a social conscience. For every “Dirty Love” there was “An Englishman On Holiday” which excoriated the yobs who went to Benidorm looking for trouble, so it was only natural, perhaps that they should emerge from the pandemic with an album that looks at the human cost of what had gone on.
“The Western Sky” is a typically strident opening. At this point, well over 40 years into their partnership Danny Bowes and Luke Morley have a signature sound, but its impressive how they keep refreshing it.
“One Day We’ll Be Free Again” is the first of the “returning to normal” songs if you will. Anthemic, and damn sure, I’d wager, to be in the live set, this is followed up by the acoustic tinged blues of “Even If It Takes A Lifetime”, a rumination on the scourge of racism. More loose-limbed than usual, there’s a bit of a mid-period Stones vibe about it. It’s a superb song on a record of many of them.
And “many” is an operative word. 16 songs, and well over an hour long, “Dopamine” is the longest Thunder album by some distance (their first double disc) – and I’d argue it’s the most varied too, both lyrically and musically they’ve stretched themselves here.
“Black” stomps about like a glam rocker, but its words are dark as the title, “Unravelling” is one of a few plaintive ballads, and the bass heavy rocker “Dead City” with its hook “the dead city is making love to me tonight” must, surely, have been around since the early days, so timeless is it.
Luke Morley makes a rare appearance on vocals on “Last Orders”, a real slow builder. That they follow this up with “All The Way” – one of the most swaggering, Aerosmith like riffs they’ve ever come up with – is in a way, something that sums this collection up. Anything goes. And it never sounds anything less than stellar.
“Dancing In The Sunshine” is, as the title suggests, a big summer thumper. If that has a touch of Bon Jovi about it, then “Big Pink Supermoon” is the biggest departure yet. Jazzy, and the closing brass solo tops it off.
“Across The Nation” underlines two things. First, what a marvellous player Luke Morley is (the slide here is stunning) and also just what a brilliant interpreter of Morley’s songs Danny Bowes remains. Rather like Bob Catley in Magnum, he is just the perfect foil. “….Nation” is about the joy of playing live, and you can feel the warmth through your speakers, but its so typical – and typically brilliant – that “Just A Grifter” (the most folk infused track they’ve ever done) comes straight after and eviscerates Boris Johnson. Not the first overtly political song they’ve recorded, but its up there with “Welcome To The Party” as the best.
“I Don’t Believe The World” is anchored down with some fine Harry James drums, together some soul backing vocals, but asks us to look at what is being done to us by governments, it is thought provoking and yet another example of the idea this isn’t a “normal” Thunder record.
And yet, in many respects it is. It sounds like them, but they’ve blurred the lines. “Disconnected” deals directly with the mental health issues caused by lockdown, and yet still sounds catchy, but the flip side is most certainly “Is There Anybody Out There?” Mostly built around a piano and Bowes’ voice it is fragile and desperately reaching for some answers, from somewhere, anywhere. “No Smoke Without Fire” changes the feel and is as confident as it is classy. Indeed, those words could apply to the album that it ends.
It’s interesting that on Spotify, right next to “Dopamine”, is a playlist of Thunder’s greatest hits. It’s a back catalogue that is better than nearly anyone’s, but in many ways it feels like this new record is almost a Greatest Hits in itself, given that it very neatly boils down why Thunder are so good into one handy album. One of the best they’ve ever done. And that – as is fitting given the title – should make anyone happy.