This is no time to be an optimist, for sure. Even those who normally sweat positivity must be somewhere in the slough of despond right now. But no one should ever underestimate the mood-enhancing powers of a thoroughly decent chorus. And that’s where Welsh rockers Scarlet Rebels come in.
As rebellions go, theirs is not the bat-decapitating, pyromaniac sort. Rather, it’s the rowdy, cheerful energy borne from life and love and lust – the kind of rebellion that leads to the mother of old school rackets. That’s given full buoyancy in this seven-track release Live: Made in Sonic One, where the choruses are worthy of hairbrush karaoke but the guitars and drums retain proper neighbour-enraging clout. Really, you’d have to have gone overboard on the Botox not to crack a smile.
Having found themselves unable to tour 2019’s well-received Show Your Colours, the band went back into the studio to give live flavour to some of the album highlights as well as a few new tracks. Their efforts have paid off: everything here really punches along and, happily, they’ve avoided the temptation to pretty things up. What you have is a set of instantly likeable songs where it’s clear the five-piece are having an absolute blast. At a time when we’re all bereft of the live experience, that’s nothing short of priceless.
Formed out of the remnants of VOiD (who already had three albums to their name), the band has been much-touted as part of an emerging ‘new wave’ of classic rock. For those of us old enough to remember the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal (what was ‘metal’ then tends to be termed ‘classic’ now) it’s all exciting stuff. While the melodic rock of recent years has never really hit hard enough and modern metal has often been hopelessly devoid of a decent tune, it’s bands like the Rebels who are finally striking that balance. You’d almost have to go back to UFO to think of a band who’ve got it so right.
What’s more, they’re bringing back the all-important f-word – fun. That much is obvious on Take My Breath Away, with frontman Wayne Doyle giving it full heart and soul: ‘Yeah you – you should come with a health warning,’ he accuses whatever goddess he’s talking to, before hurrying us headlong towards the main hook. While a lot of singers in the genre tend to err within the nasal top range, Doyle isn’t afraid to explore his lower reaches, which gives the whole thing a better sense of conviction.
The other thing Scarlet Rebels have going for them is the might of twin guitars, delivered by Chris Jones (who also provides keys) and Josh Townshend (nephew of Pete). Back when this used to be a real badge of honour within the metal camp, reviewers used words like ‘duelling’ to describe the interaction. But these guys, despite the obvious prowess, are no ego-driven axe maniacs. It’s less a fight to death and more a fantastic night out among friends. There’s some great soloing throughout, notably on Heal, where the pace comes right down and the melodies really take the limelight. But it’s never mindless twiddling. Oldies might well be reminded of the song-making abilities of Dokken and the talents of a young George Lynch.
Where they really excel, though, is on Let Me In, which rollicks along with sure-footed pop-rock bounce and on Not the One, which has all the catchiness and confidence of early Def Leppard circa their High n' Dry album.
As a live experience, it’s a treat that more than hits the mark - though there’s a moment during the a cappella section of Save Me where there’s an obvious gap for a raucous crowd refrain. But that’s something to look forward to. And that’s the real triumph of the whole thing: this is rock that gives us back a reason to grin.
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