Valley Of The Sun transport us to a desert vista with their hard-hitting, classic blues rock fourth album, The Chariot (Ripple Music) The topographical downside is a straight-ahead tendency to skim the surface of the sand without revealing psychological depth or any hints at complicated thinking below.
The song titles allow us to survey the landscape in question – ‘Sweet Sands’, ‘Sunblind’, ‘Colosseum’ … epic terrain for the titular Chariot to career through, mesas like monuments, wind in the hair, the dazzling sun low on the horizon and hope in adventurous hearts. And maybe the need for deeper thinking is asking a bit much when the band produces a noise that feels as if your head is inside a jet engine at the furious point of take-off. Is that enough for you?
From the Jimi-esque opening guitar and thunderous riffing power of ‘Sweet Sands’, the Valley boys – actually from Cincinnati, Ohio – easily rival the likes of Rival Sons while adroitly traversing sweet stoner passages. Singer Ryan Ferrier conjures up memories of Soundgarden’s late, great Chris Cornell and simultaneously seems to be channelling that other grunge-meister, Eddie Vedder. ‘Sweet Sands’ also offers some Blue Oyster Cult ‘Astronomy’ “Hey, hey!” chantalongs among the chugalong, as well as the first of the album’s moshy breakdowns.
Guitarist Josh Pilot is on strong form and ‘Images’ reinforces the absolute commitment to the rock and the rumble, with a wailing, wise and wily solo, before ‘Devil I’ve Become’ takes us into Black Rebel Motorcycle Club territory, buzzy and fuzzy, its opening and recurring riff reminiscent of Muse’s ‘Hysteria’. And by now we are at the crux of the strength/weakness paradox of this record. The power and poise of the band are undeniable, but once the titanic rhythm section kick in and the guys are in full, even flow, you could really be in the midst of almost any track on the album, for better or worse – anywhere in the soundscape/landscape, in that largely changeless desert.
Yes, there are exceptions, and therefore some respite. ‘As We Decay’ is more thoughtful and reflective, offering a chance to contemplate the surroundings. ‘Running Out Of Love’ revs off like an old Cars song before being souped up into a proper banger that could be at home on a Kiss record – welcome variety, and definitely a winner. ‘Sunblind’ lets its hair down a bit, goes for a more relaxed, loosey-goosey approach and is in and out in three minutes plus not too many grains of sand. But normal service is resumed with ‘The Flood’, threatening to become a drum solo at one stage, and the bluesy ‘Colosseum’.
Drummer Lex Vegas is solid and strong on the snare amid exemplary work on the skins and fills throughout while bassist Chris Sweeney contributes swirly keys here and there. In the end, you might well be yearning for a waterhole, seeking out some flora or fauna, no matter how sparse or alien.
7 / 10