When I reviewed Blues Pills' “Devil Man” EP last year, I came away from it thinking that they were a rock band that needed to rock less. That sounds odd, but it was their softer songs that floored me, that made me take notice that they were a band with massive potential. There was something special in that sound, something that wasn't captured by their heavier numbers. I feared that they were going to insist on proving their rock credentials, thereby holding themselves back from greatness. For once in my life, I'm happy to say I was wrong.
The full-length album is a more rocking affair than the EPs that came before, but by now Blues Pills has perfected their craft well-enough to be able to infuse those songs with the same elements that initially caught my attention. Blues Pills is the only band in this wave of retro-inspired rock other than Graveyard to understand what classic rock was all about. Yes, they capture the sound of that time, but they also capture the spirit. Listening to this album is more than just hearing ten identical songs that follow a blueprint, it's an experience and a journey.
“Blues Pills” isn't a life-changing record, but it feels like one. Listening to these songs, I was overcome by the power and beauty in the music, at how easily Elin Larsson was able to wrap me around her finger with her voice. That's not to put down the contributions of the rest of the band, but it's an acknowledgment that Larsson is a captivating vocalist, and the biggest weapon the band has in their arsenal. Whether cooing softly, or reaching into the depths for a painful howl, she is a spellbinding presence.
But as great as she is, a singer is only as great as her songs, and that is where Blues Pills puts themselves on another level. Song for song, Blues Pills delivers on their promise, with songs that show expert craftsmanship, building the simple parts into epic slabs of whiskey-soaked blues and rock. “Devil Man” may be the band's signature song at this point, but it takes a back seat to the heft and majesty of “High Class Woman”, “Jupiter”, and “Black Smoke”. “River” is an emotional knockout, every bit as powerful as when I first heard it last year.
“Little Sun” closes the album with a gorgeous bit of powerful melody, exactly the kind of song I was hoping Blues Pills would be able to come up with. They didn't disappoint. What I love most about these songs is that they feel organic, written because that's how the song needed to go, not to fill a pre-destined slot on the album. Key to that is the band's ability to let the songs off the tether of tempo, allowing songs to speed up and slow down to fit the mood of each section. It's a very simple thing, but in an age of Pro Tools, it's a welcome bit of humanity that makes the record feel real.
In fact, the only complaint I can level against the album is the inclusion of the Chubby Checker cover, “Gypsy”. It's a nice enough song, but that spot could have been used for the awesome “Dig In” from the “Devil Man” EP, a song that would have made the album even more formidable. Even so, Blues Pills has made a statement with their debut album that they are a band to be reckoned with, that they have the power to be one of the great bands of their generation. It's hard to play music that's this direct, that's this honest, that's this memorable, but Blues Pills does it with ease. “Blues Pills” is one of the best records of the year, and one of the best debuts in ages. Don't miss it.