By The Scaramanga Six
I had never heard of The Scaramanga Six, despite the fact they have been a band for around 15 years, before the album landed in my inbox for review. I was instantly keen to get stuck in to the album after reading that it was produced by none other than Steve Albini (Nirvana, Shellac, The Jesus Lizard, Iggy Pop and an endless list of impressive names).
The opening track, "I Will Crush Your Heart" is very Pixies-esque, with a simple bass and drum rhythm driving the track with a couple of scraggly guitar lines whaling away on top. Paul Morricone (vocals/guitar) has an amazing way of combining classical crooning with pop melodies. His voice is very special and something seldom seen in alternative rock. It is very refreshing to hear vocals like this used to their full potential.
If there's one thing I noticed whilst listening to this album, it's that it cannot be pinned down to one style. Every track brings something different to the sound. "I Am the Rain" and "The Bristol Butcher" carry a classic rock sound, reminiscent of The Who whilst "Blunt Force Trauma", "Twist The Knife" and "The Cardinal" have a much heavier, at times, quite punk rock vibe. Twist The Knife shines as a high point for the album. The song tells a story throughout the verses before slapping in you in the face with its harsh chorus. It's in these aggressive moments that Albini's signature sound is most prominent, especially in the drums. If anything, I would say this album would benefit from more songs in the vein, but that would detract from the diversity of this album. The way it shifts direction and doesn't abide by any rules in terms of how it "should" sound is something that a lot of bands could really learn from.
Towards the end of the album, I felt a little drained. The songs seemed dragged out at times and I often felt bits could be taken out, or at least shortened in order for the album to capture my attention easier, which is vital on a first listen. That's not to say the second half of the album dwindles in comparison to the first, just that to listen to the album from start to finish can seem like quite a daunting task.
Phantom Head is a brilliant collection of songs and one that I am sure to revisit multiple times. But it's not an album I can put on from start to finish and enjoy every moment whatever mood I'm in. If I felt the need to listen to fast, brash songs, then there's a few to choose from here. If I felt I wanted to listen to something with a darker edge, again, there are multiple choices within. This album almost feels like a greatest hits. Nearly every track is a winner, but they all carry a different feeling as though they were created for different releases.