By rights, the Galactic Cowboys should have been huge. Signed by Geffen (the home of Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Guns ‘n’ Roses), the band certainly had the major label muscle they needed to move mountains, but they also had the misfortune to arrive on the scene almost exactly at the same time as the zeitgeist-defining ‘Nevermind’ with the result that the band were unfairly overlooked in favour of all things Seattle. Yet, whilst the band’s heady brew of prog-infused hard rock and Beatles melodies may not have been the order of the day, it would prove to be remarkably prescient with alternative acts such as Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots heading firmly down that path as the 90s wore on. Now reformed and with a brand-new album out via the Mascot, Galactic Cowboys deliver a somewhat incongruous set that offers flashes of brilliance, not to mention a few perplexing diversions.
Right from the start, Galactic Cowboys grab the attention with ‘in the clouds’, a gloriously chunky opening gambit that blends together elements of Dream Theater, Judas Priest and Alice in Chains to craft a near seven-minute epic that gets the adrenalin flowing. It’s a beguiling web the band weave, with glorious, Beatles-esque harmonies skewing the heavy riffs and propulsive percussive elements and giving the band a distinctive sound that stands contrary to much of what is happening in the heavy music scene at the moment. Next up, ‘Internal masquerade’ keeps the pace taut and the riffs heavy, and we’re once again reminded of Dream Theater at their heaviest as the band dig into a mix of trad-metal riffing and an incongruously psychedelic chorus. It’s a much shorter track, and it gives way to the bruising ‘blood in my eyes’, a staccato track with gruff, barked vocals dominating the verse. In contrast, ‘next joke’, whilst still packing a significant punch, has a much more pop vibe, with the verse sailing smoothly toward the choppier waters of the chorus and the wild, disco beat of the middle eight. The band start to founder a touch, however, as we head into ‘zombies’, one of the album’s angrier songs. It’s a rather straight-forward rocker that lacks the finesse of the other tracks, although there’s no question that it gets the blood pumping; and it marks a mid-album slump that continues over into ‘drama’, another track with a staccato rhythm that is the weaker for its stripped-back vocal as the guitars threaten to overpower.
The second half of the record opens in a proggier vein, with the stair-stepping guitar work of ‘Amisarewas’ giving way to a surprisingly trad-rock track that stands closer to Europe than the alternative rock referenced in the opening tracks. It has a loose energy, but it’s not until the ferocious ‘hate me’, a double-kick monster that flails away with considerable energy, that the album gets fully back on track. Wisely keeping things heavy, ‘losing ourselves’ is a chunky beast, but the band seem unsure whether to opt for layered harmonies, a trad rock approach or rhythmic bark when it comes to vocals, which reduces the track’s impact a touch. It’s all aces, from here on in, however, as the surging, ‘agenda’ sees the album regain the tighter focus of the opening tracks and the result is impressive, the song likely to be a live favourite. Finally, ‘long way back to the moon’ rounds out the main album with Monty Colvin’s growling bass underpinning a riff awash with psychedelic overtones and layered vocals that point firmly to where the Galactic Cowboy’s greatest strengths lie. Two bonus tracks follow, the first being the churning groove-metal of ‘believing the hype’, a song that would fit comfortably in place of the rather more awkwardly-poised ‘Amisarewas’ whilst the hazy prog-metal of ‘say goodbye to Utopia’ is another track that deserved a better fate than simply being consigned to the bonus section of the album.
Although powerful, the production of ‘long way back to the moon’ is not perfect. With a bright, brittle sound in the treble that sees the cymbals wash over everything, it feels as if every instrument has been pumped up to the max, where a touch more restraint might have allowed the psychedelic elements to have more impact amidst the rampaging riffs. It’s a common enough flaw, but it’s still strange that a band with such diverse (and classic rock) influences would allow their music to be so overcooked in the production. As to the album itself, it is often fine, treading a line between the raw energy of Nirvana and the more nuanced hard rock of ‘Use your illusion’-era G’n’R, although a number of tracks see the quality dip as the band experiment with forms that do little to bolster the coherence of the piece. Overall, it’s great to see Galactic Cowboys back together and I have no doubt that the band has a great album in them. This, however, isn’t it. A touch more focus on quality control and production next time round will cement the Galactic Cowboy’s place for sure, but this is something of an uneven return that promises much and only partially delivers. 7