Okay, so I’m a bit of a musical whore. Perhaps you can tell. In these days of t’net it’s all too easy to dip in and out of whatever you fancy. Unlike my youth, when I’d sit with headphones the size of a small eco car gently braising my ears and listening to every single note of my latest purchase, I rarely listen to albums over and over again. So I’ve picked an album by a band that I saw and loved earlier this year, Last Man Standing, and lived with it for a week or so. Just like I did back in the day. And I’m rather glad I did.
After just a few listens False Starts & Broken Promises already feels like a familiar friend. Like some of those albums that have been with me from those pre CD days of yore. Sure there are loads of influences clearly on show. I’ve no problem with that. It’s the quality of the influences and the way they’re played with and mixed together that makes this album so damn good.
Opening with Variation – an instrumental heart puller that comes on like something out of John Barry’s Midnight Cowboy score – it’s clear that Last Man Standing aren’t your average blokes in a bar kinda band. Just as you’re being gently lulled by the strings you’re woken from your reverie by glam stomper Queen Kong. Loads of deep throbby bass and clanging guitar notes make this one of the album’s standout tracks. Another dramatic change of pace takes things down a notch or two with Waiting So Long, the bastard child of Bowie (John I’m Only Dancing), Nilsson and Mott The Hoople (check out that chorus). Then The Dean Street Stumble boogies along at a fair old pace, sounding like a lost classic from Paul Williams’ Bugsy Malone soundtrack.
Everything Must Go sees vocalist Max Vanderwolf growling like a modern day American Alex Harvey. You gotta love the Prince style yelps scattered through the gospel tinged choruses before the whole thing merges with downright dirty sax. Nasty but niiiice at the same time. Back to the piano and, at first, Bar Room Floor could almost be a prime slice of the night tripper himself Dr John. It’s the tale of a hopeless drunk, left by his star hungry girl, seeking salvation ‘if someone could kindly help me off the bar room floor’. Hopeless and hopeful at the same time. Taking the musical pace down even further, but the voice up several octaves, The Climb is a tale of a man on the edge. It’s do or die time. Perhaps it’s the same guy from Bar Room Floor, just a few hours later as the fog of booze is clearing…
In fact, listening to it again and again (and again) the whole album is like a night on the town. You can almost imagine each track accompanying a different scene. The highs, the lows…and the ever lowers. It’s not something you'd get from the casual listen - one of the victims of living in this ‘shuffle culture’.
Back to the album and A Man Condemned has shades of classic Mott the Hoople. Go Home, the penultimate track is a kind of mini rock opera all wrapped up in one track (neat) replete with backing vocals from Robyn Hitchcock, a mental mid track Brazilian break and a Sergeant Pepper style third act.
They leave us with the seemingly upbeat Theme for a Last Man Standing. If the whole album’s been one long night on the town, then it’s nearly over. We’ve made it. The sun’s ripping through the dawn, life ain’t so bad…whoa…hold on there buddy…it ain’t over yet. Throughout the track, the band brings us back to earth with a bump via dramatic, discordant orchestral chunks of sound. The sort of noise you’d get in silent movies every time the baddie appears from behind his cape. Vocalist Max Vanderwolf returns for the last minute, just accompanied by a guitar. After so many musical styles and sounds it’s a nice way to end, a kind of musical sorbet.
So, there we go. For the first time in years I’ve actually listened and lived with an album for a whole week. The effort’s been well rewarded. It’s become something I can slip on and into. It takes me places. Late nights. Seedy bars. Dark alleyways. It’s the soundtrack to a classic 70's movie that’s never been made. You want to visit the world it occupies, but you know you’d never come back unscathed. Which, despite my natural desire to remain in one piece, is my kind of world...