Album Review: Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell - "Check 'em Before You Wreck 'em"

The rock and metal revival movement that got off to a running start a couple years ago has continued in earnest, thriving into 2014. With the joyful reception of that material by fans and press in the past, it’s time to produce and prove sustainability. The vanguard of that resurgence was populated by many different bands, and featured in that cadre was Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell and their record “Don’t Hear it…Fear it!” Now that vanguard is starting to release their second statement, and the British trio is right there with a new record “Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em.” Now is the critical time when the band has to prove their consistency after their excellent first strike.

Certain of the basic tenets of the Shovell remain undeniable for this new collection of songs. First, and perhaps most importantly, the band remains committed to the sacred idea of free-form, organic rock and roll (with metal elements.) Everything on this ecord is authentic, from the gloriously warm analog sound to the bending of tones to the infectious, sleazy throwback riffs of cuts like “Don’t Heat It…Fear It!” As if the Shovell needed to provide any more evidence of their musical roots, that song title is not a misprint: the band is taking a Led Zeppelin step and naming a cut after their previous full-length record (fans would know that “Houses of the Holy” is a song on “Physical Graffiti.”) All that aside, this is the best cut on this rew effort – an insightful blend of rock’s riff composition, old-school metal’s throaty hum and a dash of punk’s frenetic pacing. Of all the album’s moments, this is the one you will whistle to yourself later.

The other truism of the Shovell that remains true is that their music is as scatterbrained and challenging as ever. It’s not a totality – the opening cut “Do it Now” rumbles ahead with the palpable confidence of some of Clutch’s older work, so there are clairvoyant moments of lucidity – but the band has certainly turned their experimental dial up a notch or two. Not necessarily in terms of musical style, but rather in how disparate the pieces are and how they fit together. There are more grungy punk moments thrown in, and the editing is less linear, culminating in the fades ins and outs of closer “Late Night Mornings.” The wanderlust demonstrated by “Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em” is every bit as occasionally confounding as its elder brother “Don’t Hear it…Fear it!” (the album, not the song.) Just try to follow “Captain Merryweather” through the shifts changes and phases, and you’ll see a clear demonstration of what makes the Shovell stand out from the pack.

“Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em,” however, lacks some of the cohesive magic of its predecessor. That first record just had the Midas touch in terms of being able to bring together wildly different pieces into cohesion. While some of that persists for this record, it’s not as predictable or reliable. The transitions don’t all click, and the chorus of songs like “The Thicker the Better,” so important in making these songs stick, feel slightly uninspired. In what seems to be an effort to simplify the maze for the listener, the music has also gotten marginally simpler, which limits the boundless creativity of the band.

“Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em” is a good record, but it’s not as immediately compelling as the Shovell’s other work. I read another journalist’s review who called this record good background music but a trying listen if you’re attempting to stay engaged, and that critique seems fair. I must admit, this new album grows on me a little the more I listen to it, so maybe it just takes time to unfold. At the very least, “Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em” is proof that the Shovell, and their writing style, isn’t a fluke.

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