Sometimes after reviewing all those complex progressive albums with songs over ten minutes in length, unusual time signatures and sudden transitions and pace changes, it’s refreshing to dig my claws into some good old school hard rock in the vein of AC/DC. That’s how The Answer’s new album, Raise a Little Hell, can be described briefly; basically, it’s a set of straightforward songs with their length varying from three to six minutes, ranging from brooding, heavy numbers to the relatively rapidly paced and sometimes anthemic rockers.
The Answer is a hard rock and blues rock band founded in Northern Ireland in 2000 by a guitarist Paul Mahon. The band gained a lot of exposure in 2005, being voted as “Best New Band 2005” by Classic Rock magazine, and received critical acclaim and commercial success with their debut album Rise. They released five studio albums overall, including their latest one, and also opened for AC/DC at their 2008/2009 Black Ice World Tour. Other musicians in The Answer, who are also featured on Raise a Little Hell are: Micky Waters on bass, James Heatley on drums and of course Cormac Neeson, the band’s vocalist.
Raise a Little Hell offers a nice variety of songs, even though they’re mostly in the same style. There are those more or less fast tunes with anthemic choruses, like Long Live the Renegades, the opener, or I Am What I Am. To place one of these songs right in the beginning of the record was a smart decision by the band, because arguably, songs like these are reflecting the essence of the whole record, being mostly lighthearted, offering a good opportunity for the audience to sing along and also including some moving, groove-filled parts, the bass-line in particular. Then there are calmer, moderately paced rock’n’roll ballads like The Other Side, Cigarettes & Regret, which is a curious choice for a rock song title, though those two words are usually linked together in retrospect, or Gone Too Long; and those songs are mostly on the uplifting side too, with some major chords laced throughout the choruses. Then there is a unique ballad, for this record at least, called Strange Kinda’ Nothing, driven mostly by acoustic guitar with some electric guitar licks in the background in the beginning. Cormac Neeson uses his clean singing here, pretty much the opposite of what he does on most of the other songs, adding those raspy notes in his vocals. Overall, it’s a neat little tune, a pleasant surprise and a welcome deviation from the album’s primary course.
That brings us to those brooding songs I’ve mentioned earlier, which are the highlights of this record, in my opinion. First of them, a Deep Purple-esque number Last Days of Summer, is placed near the middle of the record, and just when you think the album won’t offer anything new after the first four songs, this song blasts through the headphones and proves you wrong. This song is positively drenched in distortion, bringing heavier sound to the table and being plodding in a good way. The guitarwork on this song deserves to be mentioned too, both riffs and soloing on electric guitar and the numerous hooks on the bass. The second song of this kind is the title track and also an album’s closer, Raise a Little Hell. In comparison with Last Days of Summer, the sound is less distorted here, but the riffs may be even more pounding, on the chorus in particular. The singer does a great job here, delivering what is probably my favourite performance on the album.
One can’t talk about highlights of this album and fail to mention Whiplash, the most sweeping track in the batch. The riffs are changing in the rapid succession, are they are complemented in by the swift verses, energetic choruses and the brief, yet memorable instrumental section, and for its four minutes, this tune has a lot of fascinating things going on. I wish there were more songs like this one on the record.
All in all, Raise a Little Hell is a good, plain hard rock album, and what’s most important, it’s not pretentious in the slightest. It doesn’t pretend to be an incredibly complex work of art; it doesn’t pretend to convey some intricate, thought-provoking lyrics, not at all. In fact, it shows all its intentions and musical ambitions in the very first song and keeps them straight and true — to deliver a dose of high-quality rock reminiscent of its golden era from the previous century. Don’t expect to find some brilliant poetry or overly technical musical passages; expect to hear some old-fashioned rock’n’roll with all its distinct features, and the listen will be enjoyable, relaxing and rewarding.