Black Country Communion are less arthritic than your average supergroup. Oh hang-on… the S word: isn’t it about time we put that descriptor to bed? It’s old. If comparing the differences between a ‘market’ and a ‘supermarket’, the latter, more super option, has a lot more to offer to us the consumer – so surely a supergroup should do the same and provide something bigger and better than the plain group? Or actually, maybe the real thing that supergroups have in common with supermarkets is that they are both big, sterile means of delivering a consumer-friendly product that is precut and individually wrapped ready for consumption en masse. Much less organic and raw than the goods being served up by the humble non-super markets and bands. By this inference, Black Country Communion are the very definition of a supergroup – their music is well-packaged and produced, but it’s also shrink-wrapped and not organic.
Analogies between supermarkets beside, Black Country Communion have created a debut album inspired by the pioneers of classic rock. It arrives at an ideal time, what with the growing hard rock revival that we’re in right now.
The band includes lead vocalist and bassist Glenn Hughes; an accomplished singer, once of Deep Purple and a man who also had a not-so-notable spell as Black Sabbath’s singer during the mid 80’s – if you’re Sabbath collection only includes records with Ozzy and Dio then you’re not missing out. On drums is an even more famous name, with Jason Bonham, son of the great John Bonham, and a very good tub-thumper in his own right. Derek Sherinian is a keyboardist with experience supporting the likes of Alice Cooper and Yngwie Malsteen. Guitarist Joe Bonamassa rounds up the line-up; a blues-based guitarist with many plaudits and who at 33 is still on the rise.
On paper it looks like BCC might have the right personnel to pull-off something special and the early signs are good as the album opens up with a stonker. “Black Country” rips and roars with a vibe that is very reminiscent of Led Zeppelin. Glenn Hughes wails and howls with a Robert Plant-like epicness, while Bonamassa’s blues licks could have been taken straight from Jimmy Page’s back pocket. It sounds like a Led Zeppelin B-side. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that the song had been an unrecorded Led Zep song passed down from John Bonham to Jason.
Of similar quality is “Song Of Yesterday”, which at 8:33 is the longest track on the album and one that also manages to be more interesting than some of the ones that are closer to half it’s length. Joe Bonamassa steps up to deliver the lead vocals on this one, for what is the closest to a Led Zeppelin-style atmospheric epic on the record. It meanders along at it’s own pace, with some pretty guitar work complimented by violins and keyboards, even cheekily borrowing the der-der-der ascending riff from “Kashmir” to help amp up the intensity before trailing off into the best guitar solo of the album. The song ends with a very cool outro, with Bonamassa humming along as the tempo rises then falls off. A great bit of classic rock journeying.
The issue with this album is that for all it’s inspired and more creative moments, there are also some mediocre songs that kill the buzz before it ever gets properly going. There are a few duds. For example, track #7 “No Time” comes after “Song Of Yesterday” and for 4:19 manages to bore you with a repetitive guitar hook that will have you reaching for the skip button. This time the inclusion of a orchestral string section is just completely random and does nothing to inject any life into the song. The album would have played better if they’d scrapped this completely and moved straight from “Song Of Yesterday” to “Medusa”; a song which also contains a ‘no time’ lyric, but once again sees BCC get creative with a song that flows by with its own distinct pace and vibe. Oh, and it’s replete with more guitar soloing, of course. I’d also scrap “One Last Soul”, which as the second track on the album sounds dull after the barn-storming opener: and out of place due to Hughes much less intense vocal delivery, and the staler lyrics too.
Black Country is a debut of hits and misses, and never properly manages to flows together as a complete album. It seems like for almost every good, enjoyable song that there is a dud to partner it. Overall, it’s solid but not super. A ground-shaker but not a groundbreaker. There is enough here to make this a worthwhile purchase for anyone with a penchant classic rock: fans of Free, Deep Purple, and yes, Led Zeppelin should find varying degrees of satisfaction. Fans of bluesy hard rock guitar solos will be particularly pleased, while Bonham does his share of drum departures.
The new Led Zeppelin, they are not, but we’ll probably be waiting forever for that airship to fly in.
© Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice