Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pretty Blue Guns shed their skin

Shed Your Skin is album number two from The Pretty Blue Guns, with a cover that reminds me of Black Sabbath's Master of Reality.
This time around the band gets heavier and emphasises the rock over the blues. The mood is also darker, as if the trappings of a sustained career success weigh heavily on the band. On the debut, Cutting Heads, there was a palpable sense of exuberant release. Here the world weariness enervates even the listener.

Shed Your Skin is the kind of record that will have to grow on you before it settles in permanently, whereas Cutting Heads did so instantly. I guess this is progress in song writing and divergence from the influences that drove them in the first place but somehow I miss the general lightness of touch of the debut. Obviously they must not simply retread the same stuff over and over again, yet there could have been more diligence in the tunes department. There is in fact too much of an air of having heard their approach to melody before albeit in a more zesty way than is apparent here. André Leo's distinctive voice needs more artful music to wrap his tonsils around; I have a sense of limitation that presumably does not do him justice.

The first half of the album is a bit of a slog. The first time I listened to it, was while it was playing on the stereo in the corner of the room while I was writing about another topic and after a while my comment was a very simple "I'm not loving it." It took a second listen through headphones to make me reappraise the songs. And a third listen to confirm my first impression.

From track 7 ("The Ride" – a sassy strut of a duet) onwards the album catches fire and the tunes start to take on individuality. "The Ride", "Saturday Night Scream" and "Stability" are by far the best songs here.

"Red Crow" ends the album on a real downer, despite the assertion that "God is with us." If that gloom is the alternative I would almost want to take up any offer the devil may want to make.

About two months after I wrote the above I listened to the album again through headphones and was much more impressed with it, particularly the first three tunes where the bass and sneaky little guitar riffs hit home with more of an impact than my first exposure to the album had revealed. Quite clearly the approach was to enhance the groove and the bottom end to produce more of an insidious rock element. The negative is unfortunately still that André Leo's voice just is not quirky or expressive enough to carry the dirge like tunes that most of the album consists of, especially "Red Crow" that should close the album with on epic note yet sounds more of a drag than ever. Even repeated listening does not yield any more than the wish that the song were a lot shorter and less tortuous.

It seems that the Pretty Blue Guns are in hiatus or something, with Leo promoting a different band. Perhaps Shed Your Skin took them as far as they could go, with no prospect for anything brilliant in the near future. I like the band, and liked their first album very much, and still do, and it gives me no great pleasure to report that the second album does not improve on the first or make one look forward to a third. Sometimes a band reaches a natural end to its creativity and positive energy. If this is it for Pretty Blue Guns, so be it. Not many bands even have that one great record in them. Cutting Heads is a