British rock group Albany Down have been building a name for themselves over the last few years, ever since their debut album ‘south of the city’ touched down in 2011. A band with a wide range of influences from traditional hard rock such as Led Zeppelin through to modern-day preachers of the rock ’n’ roll message such as Clutch, Albany Down are set to truly break cover with ‘the outer reach, an eleven track blast of high octane rock produced, once again, by award-winning producer Greg Haver (Manic Street Preachers & Super Furry Animals). Fronted by Paul Muir, Albany Down are a fiery band who are impressively building on their initial promise, and with Paul’s soulful, gritty vocals powerfully augmented by Paul Turley’s blazing guitar, ‘the outer reach’ is a record that reaches for the stars over the course of its eleven tracks.
The album kicks into gear with ‘feeding the flame’, a sweltering blast of keyboard-augmented hard rock that recalls recent efforts from Europe (think the blistering opener to ‘last look at Eden’ for example) thanks to an effortlessly memorable chorus that is purpose built for huge venues. The band continue to worship at the altar of the riff with ‘do you want me now’, a dynamic juggernaut of a track that slips between smooth, silky verse and explosive chorus. The emphasis, once again, is on a hook so large you could snag a whale with it, and it’s easy to imagine Albany Down finding their way onto the playlist of every rock radio station the world over with this one. The album’s first surprise appears in the form of the funky ‘supersonic girl’, a track that sounds like Jamiroqui being molested by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The parping horns and wah-infused guitar are deftly handled, and the thundering beat is made for the dance floor, but it is a relief when the band get back to business with the Southern-styled ‘Mr Hangman’. Built around a sweet slide riff and with a huge, soulful chorus, ‘Mr Hangman’ takes a look back to the early days of The Black Crowes and the rockier approach feels more natural to the band than its strutting predecessor. The first half of the album concludes with ‘Like a bullet’ which sees the band taking another stylistic shift toward the string-laden balladry of latter day Live. Melodic and impassioned, the arrangement feels smothered, unfortunately, by the weight of the strings which all but drown the chorus, and the song would have benefitted from a touch more subtlety in the studio.
Heading back to a rockier approach after the epic ‘like a bullet’, ‘Home’ digs into the Americana of Bon Jovi’s ‘slippery when wet’ (specifically ‘wanted dead or alive’), and we’re once more in the territory of big guitars, bigger choruses and foot-on-the monitor solos. Better still is the surging rock of ‘revolution’ which opens on a massive riff and cruises on a bluesy groove before opening up to a chorus that will echo from London to New York when played in the open air. This is Albany Down at their best – full of ambition and energy and these songs are tailor made for the live arena. Similarly, ‘the drop’ is a high octane blast of blustery, bluesy rock that packs a hell of a punch thanks to the band’s full-blooded, energetic performance. The band maintain the pace with the horn-enhanced ‘look what you’ve done to me’, another track with a dangerously addictive hook and enough energy to light a small town – just be warned that you’ll be singing along to this one wherever you are at the time. Based around a springy, bluesy riff, ‘I need you’ has a funky underpinning to it, but keeps the hard rock guitars far closer to the surface than ‘Supersonic girl’ which works better in the context of the songs around it. The album concludes with ‘Sing me to sleep’, another track that suffers from an overpowering string arrangement which will hopefully be addressed in the live environment. Nonetheless, the song’s relaxed pace is a fitting closer to the album and, as it builds, everything comes together to recall the epic Guns ‘n’ Roses ballads of the ‘Use your Illusion’ albums. Tellingly, the song’s conclusion, which is stripped to an unadorned vocal and acoustic guitar, sounds that much more powerful for representing the band as a raw rock ‘n’ roll beast rather than a studio behemoth.
At their best, Albany Down are a hugely energetic hard rock band with a penchant for infusing their songs with massive pop hooks, the likes of which will keep you singing for days. However, the album is not entirely consistent – ‘Supersonic Girl’ is a step too far into funk territory that sounds a touch out of kilter with the rest of the album whilst the stifling strings of ’like a bullet’ and ‘sing me to sleep’ almost smother two fine songs. Certainly, when the band nail their groove, as they do in the second half of the record, the effect is incredibly powerful and songs like ‘revolution’ and ‘the drop’ are killer hard rock songs with plenty of attitude. Overall, ‘The outer Reach’ is unquestionably a fine album, but there are moments when the studio polish threatens to overpower the firepower that the band bring to the live arena. Highly recommended for fans of hard rock, ‘the outer reach’ will keep you singing along for days, but for those who like a rock band in the raw, then the band’s live shows are the destination for you.