We’re pretty sure that out of the millions of people taken by The Black Keys’ slick revivalism, most would be terrified by Gallon Drunk’s indignant, ragged take on the rawer edges of the blues. This isn’t just because the cult London-based band pedal a far grottier, dirt-kicking kind of rock’n’roll, instead of singing about the trials and tribulations of romance and cute chicks in denim cut-offs. It’s also down to James Johnston’s lyrics, which teem with an unforgiving nihilism. They’re far from your typical Grammy Award fodder.
Not that Gallon Drunk would have a problem with scaring the masses. In fact, they seem to relish their outsider bent, drawing a line through fellow purveyors of incandescent indecency and fringe fame, from Howlin’ Wolf and drugstore cowboys The Gun Club to the whiskey sodden Pogues and grating sexbeasts Grinderman. A former cohort of Nick Cave, as a one-time member of the Bad Seeds, Johnston carouses through the eight tracks on The Road Gets Darker From Here – the band’s seventh album since their 1992 debut – in the way only a true punk can. He croons with little concern for the casual listener, like a lunatic shouting at you on the top deck of the night bus. His voice squats, resplendent, in the middle of their Whitechapel by way of New Orleans racket, all staggering, squalling horns and grimy guitars only a mother could live.
You Made Me is Mudhoney goes Motown, with wailing, lawless riffs boosted by the kind of ire not present in Stuck in My Head, the album’s relatively soothing slowie. Featuring guest vocals from Underground Railroad’s Marion Andrau, it’s a satisfying change of pace, as is the psych sequestering The Perfect Dancer. But Gallon Drunk are much more in their element when pushing the death-rattle of Killing Time: “Forget the truth / I’d rather have a lie / And the walls are falling in / and we just lost everything,” growls Johnston over deliciously decaying sonics.
If that all sounds a bit too much, the track which follows, The Big Breakdown, is, melodically at least, a little less forsaken, a little more devious Delta swamp thump. Lyrically it’s still teetering on the fringes of desolation, but there’s a smattering of redemption in its locked-down groove. Black Keys fans, consider this your warning.
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