February 19, 2013

MUSIC IN OXFORD – EMPTY VESSELS EP REVIEW

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My first ever musical bribe duly arrived just after Christmas, courtesy of local classic rockers The Empty Vessels, in the form of four delicious chocolate coins. So that was one lunchtime taken care of.

In any event, they needn’t have bothered, as their new EP deserves measured praise, independent of irregular perquisites. Everything about this record is bold, hearty and ruggerish, whether it is the sweaty, satisfyingly thumpy rhythm section, the testosterone-charged Paul Rodgers-fights-John Fogerty vocals or the joyously uncool guitar riffing. This is a band that time forgot.

Opener ‘Blood on the Streets’ exemplifies all this, with a guitar riff possibly half-inched from Lenny Kravitz (I did say ‘joyously uncool’, didn’t I?), over which Matt Greenham sings with lusty enthusiasm about some approaching barney, riot or ruck. Whatever it is, The Empty Vessels seem to be up for it. If they ever remake ‘Minder’, (and I mean properly, not the unwatched Channel Five embarrassment. I mean with ‘Gawd ‘elp us, it’s the filth’ and Dennis Waterman singing the theme tune), this song should be a shoo-in for the scratch track.

‘Take a hard look’ boasts equally old-fashioned virtues, coming over like a slightly modified version of one of those really cooking, slow-swinging Free songs. ‘Ride on Pony’ springs to mind. OK, it’s probably a remake of a remake, but it’s swarthily stylish and it sounds like the musicians were having a blast playing it. Greenham is beyond doubt a great rock singer. He has no time for nuance: he is a brontosaurus-bashing caveman and every office-bound, angst-ridden modern male should be cheering him on in his reconstruction of unapologetic masculinity. Jeremy Clarkson sometimes seems to be a parody of that possibly-mythical beast: Greenham is the real deal.

On the later songs, the template is tweaked just a little. ‘It Moves Me’ shows some environmental concerns, not unlike those expressed on MGMT’s ‘Kids’, though the music could hardly be more different.’If All in the World’ shows a bit more rhythmic flexibility than the others, with some prime ‘Mars: the Bringer of War’ drums hammering out below a rather sinister chorus worthy of local indie heroes Spring Offensive. But at no time on the record is the duty to rock like a bastard neglected.

The Empty Vessels seem to perceive the rock of 1969 as marine biologists do the shark. It’s perfect as it is, so why bother with evolution? I think they even rejoice in their out-of-time incongruity, describing their sound on Myspace as “as solid as BA Baracus”. But I for one am glad they’re around. You can’t listen to Grizzly Bear every day.

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