By Chris Osifchin
Wolfmother is a band that sits neatly in its niche, and rarely ventures beyond its comfort zone. Maybe that is a product of the revolving door band members seem to keep shuffling through, though you’d think that would surface more diverse musical ideas. Or maybe Andrew Stockdale, the lone member of Wolfmother who has remained for the duration, is just content making music that he’s comfortable with, that he loves – you’ll never misplace the reverence Stockdale holds for 1970s hard rock when you’re listening to Wolfmother. The fact that last year the band issued a 10th anniversary of their self-titled debut, with only two follow up releases to the original debut, should tell you something about the state of Wolfmother.
It’s hard to believe that Victorious is only Wolfmother’s fourth album. It seems like such a long time ago that we heard songs like “Woman” and “Love Train” and “Apple Tree,” which speaks to the middling work the band has consistently put out since their debut. These songs captured a particular mood in early 2000s popular music – garage rock with a side of grunge – but the zeitgeist has changed. It was different, fresh and new. A callback to one of the greatest eras in the history of popular music. Unlike their new millenium counterparts Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, and to a lesser degree, The Black Keys, however, Wolfmother has not found a way to change with the times and challenge convention. Victorious is audio proof.
The album is not bad. But it’s nothing special. There’s just nothing new here. Think of the generic rock station near you that plays a mix of classic and “new” rock and “alternative.” What does that station play? Foo Fighters? Red Hot Chili Peppers? Maybe some Led Zeppelin and occasionally a Deep Purple tune? Victorious would be right at home in this format. It’s one thing to be formulaic, as any good pop star knows. It’s entirely another to never change.
We’ve heard this all before. Victorious’s title track is a perfect example of the Wolfmother sound. A driving, palm-muted guitar riff that chugs along like the oft-used blues train cliche under Stockdale’s signature nasal-inflected yelp. Once compared to rockers like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, it seems Wolfmother, or really Stockdale, is saying these geezers (I use the word geezers lovingly) were the apex of rock and roll as popular music. This stuff is gospel to him.
A line from “Victorious” really sums up the general feel of the album as a whole: “Don’t you ever get tired and feel like giving up?/Don’t you ever feel like, like you’ve had enough?” With such a tired, played out sound to Victorious, it’s hard to find any major positives. However, despite the lack of creativity, there’s definitely something to be said for consistency. Wolfmother is a very dependable band, if that’s what you like.
One glaring weakness is parked right in the midsection of the album, “Pretty Peggy.” Did the Lumineers write this track? Because it sounds like Wolfmother singing a Lumineers song. The triumphant “whoa” and the thick snare drum thwack that’s become the norm for late 2000s and early 2010s folk-leaning anthems are on this track in full force. This song doesn’t fit on this album. Anywhere. Shoved between heavy rock and roll, it’s so out of character. While most of this review is complaining about the fact that Wolfmother isn’t trying anything new, this is something new that Andrew Stockdale should’ve left in the notebook.
There are some songs that you can feel comfortable jamming out to though, like “Gypsy Caravan” with its staccato verses and meandering, manic guitar solo. The song is dynamic enough to keep your foot tapping. “The Simple Life” would sound at right at home in a skate video, or a Tony Hawk video game, which always seem to have good soundtracks. Or you can find some beauty in “Eye of the Beholder,” easily the album’s best track. Though it relies on Stockdale’s old tricks, it seems like the song is close to breaking new ground. In the guitar runs, there’s a bit of Icky Thump era Jack White and the subtraction scales Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age likes to use. A tempo change is used to great effect on the bridge, hammering home the psychedelic picture Stockdale is painting. When Wolfmother employs these types of maneuvers, they are much more successful.
Victorious won’t usher in a new era for Wolfmother. That 1970s rock revival is not happening. While unsuccessful, it’s not an awful effort from a band that likes to generally stay in its lane. You won’t be impressed, but you won’t be disappointed. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Rating: 6 out of 10