Strange beasts, these classic rock genuflection acts. So well established and road-tested is the genre to which they cling, there tends to be little else to criticise about new entrants to the scene aside from a dazzling lack of originality in general.
A prime example presents itself in the shape of Screaming Eagles’ sophomore album, ‘Stand Up and Be Counted’. A Northern Irish four-piece, the band cite as their inspirations the usual hodge-podge of rock n’ roll influences. The Youngs, Pages and Vedders who have formed the sonic backbone to legions of bands before them are worn not so much on the band’s sleeve as in a flashing neon top-hat atop their collective head. 10 songs later and it’s hard to escape the feeling the band is veering from homage into pastiche.
Of course, this isn’t to suggest ‘Stand Up’ is a bad collection of songs in itself. On the contrary, any of the 10 tracks here are perfectly mosh-friendly juggernauts that someone, somewhere is certain to have the time of their lives banging their head to. But that’s about it.
‘Stand Up and Be Counted’ starts out as it invariably continues. Ready for the Fall sees alternating muted and ear-splitting power chords before a guitar solo invokes the histrionics of Page and Young, with block of success. Save Me, the lead video single from the album, rumbles away with a heavy-as-balls drop-D riff. Adrian McAleenan, the guitarist, seeks here to emulate early ’90s pioneers such as Pantera and Pearl Jam, and again gives a decent account of himself.
Indeed, throughout, the musicianship can not be faulted. It sounds exactly like what you imagine the work of a band steeped in rock n’ roll heritage to sound like. Therein lies most of the album’s problems. It sticks so closely to what an album like this should sound like that the band’s originality and presence are soon lost.
Deviations from the formula are scarce and brief. Now and then, something less than obvious happens, such as the wah-pedal noodling in the verses to Chase You Down, or the Delta-style slide which opens Breakin’ All the Rules. Too often however, the band stray outside the genre-mandated template and furtively look around, only to develop cold feet before the first chorus and revert. The band may well consider it a compliment to hear that there are moments when you could well be listening to AC/DC. Except that we already have AC/DC for that.
It’s impossible to listen to Screaming Eagles and not be reminded of fellow Northerners The Answer, who made waves on the rock scene and ended up supporting AC/DC on tour in the late noughties doing much the same thing. That said, The Answer did manage to deviate from the formula and innovate to some extent, something which the Screagles seem to willfully put beyond themselves.
It’s worth repeating that ‘Stand Up and Be Counted’ does what it does fairly well. Insofar as classic rock has ceased to possess any real vitality or newness and is now more a tradition than a genre that progresses or moves forward, Screaming Eagles fill in the blanks with the requisite Sturm und Drang.
You may well enjoy this album, and the band’s fans surely will. Catch them live and you’ll probably have a whale of a time. But, as far as the album goes, it may not have a lasting impact.