Volage – Heart Healing (album review)

Every great artist, and more broadly, every significant musical movement comes with its followers, and as soon as there’s a comparison between a particular well-loved artist and a ‘follower’ of theirs, it’s often not a good thing at all. We usually find ourselves with a pale, watered-down and often one-sided imitation that completely misses the point of the band they’re trying to copy so closely. Nirvana and Pearl Jam gave us Creed. Cheap Trick gave us Poison. One Radiohead song gave us Coldplay and lifetime of Chris Martin’s silly face everywhere.

I’ll get cynical here and say that all music bar the weirdest, most experimental noise involves musical inspiration that to some degree borrows and in many cases even blatantly steals from something else. It’s not always a bad thing. Led Zeppelin comes to mind. But you can’t just rip off one or two artists (or even worse, one particular thing an artist does). You’ve got to bring more variety to it than that, because to whoever’s listening to your music, if you’ve only ever listened to AC/DC, it’ll become pretty obvious pretty quickly that your musical palate isn’t very broad.

It’s not that ripping of (‘closely imitating’ might be a nicer way to put it….anyway….) other artists is a bad thing; it can be done very well, too. Lonerism holds its own against A Wizard, A True Star and basically everything the Ramones did stacks up very well next to the ’60s pop standards that inspired them.

So, when I read that Frenchies Volage’s new album Heart Healing has been compared to White Fence and Ty Segall (rather than something along the lines of ‘it’s a well-written, interesting garage album’) I wasn’t immediately struck with with feelings of ‘I must listen to this’.

Maybe I’ve just listened to too much garage since I started this blog and the novelty is wearing off a bit, I don’t know.

Anyway, I listened, and I’ll eat my words. It’s good. It is very much indebted to Segall (who himself can be a bit hit-and-miss with his crazy prolificacy), particularly his more recent output, and due to this indebtedness, it’s not quite Manipulator-good, but sound wise, it’s in that ballpark. There’s Byrdsy jangle in places, but for the most part, heavier drums and crunchy guitars (and a healthy show of organ), echoing the late ’60s/early ’70s transitional period from garage and psychedelia into protopunk and early hard rock, are what dominate.

The opening track, ‘Owl’, brings to mind the folk-rock of Led Zeppelin III, albeit in a spacier, lower-fidelity package characteristic of the current garage/psych trends. The next song, the old-school garage-y ‘Upset’, reminds me, of all things, of Geelong band The Frowning Clouds in its bittersweet, heartbroken nostalgia. After this, though, we’re pulled in a completely different direction by the title track. What direction is that? Um….well, it sounds like some tongue-in-cheek country to me. It’s piano-driven tractor-driving bliss which (of course) descends into a fuzzy outro, which, yes, is ripe for a Ty Segall comparison, as is track four, ‘Touched By Grace’, with is jumpy guitar riffs, swung, glammy drum beat and slowed-down, deep-voiced choruses.

My initial reaction to the opening of the seven-and-a-half minute ‘Loner’ was ‘oh, time for a meandering Crazy Horse moment’, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The tempo picks up early on, and we’re treated to an epic-length punk song that easily switches between edge-of-your seat ferocity and sludgy Blue Cheer riffs.

The latter half of the album continues in a similar, almost-heavy manner. ‘This Ain’t A Walk’ indicates that Volage were most listening to the same Zeppelin, Purple and Blue Cheer records that appear to have inspired Tame Impala’s self-titled EP and portions of Innerspeaker, and indeed Segall’s Manipulator. ‘This Ain’t A Walk’ takes on theses influences in a way that Wolfmother could only dream of doing. The song’s guitar solo is a great bonus, especially considering how restrained the guitars are for most of the album up until this point.

The folky ‘6H15’ is an interesting follow-up choice; with its numerous pauses and ‘helpless-hopeless’, it sounds like Roger McGuinn singing a solo career-era Jack White b-side to mixed success, as does ‘Wait’, although the latter descends into some heavy riffing and another guitar solo, which is what Volage are better at anyway; on ‘Wait’, and on basically all of the other more restrained tracks, it feels as though the band are holding back, begrudgingly waiting for excuses to rock out, and savouring the moments in which they can. And I admire their patience.

‘Paulina’ appears to be about a girl who talks too much, and the penultimate track, the instrumental ‘Midnight Thoughts’, which could play during the love scene in a ’70s sci-fi film where everyone dies at the end is kinda cool, but seems out of place here.

The album ends strongly, though, with ‘Love Is All’, a driving mid-tempo track that would’ve been right at home on ’70s album rock radio. Cross ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ with ‘The Rain Song’, with again, a slightly modern touch courtesy of latter-day Jack White album tracks (most obviously ‘Hypocritical Kiss’ from Blunderbuss) and you’re there, more or less.

Heart Healing album is pretty solid, even if they do wear their influences on their sleeves a little too much. Way better than Wolfmother, though. Andrew Stockdale, mate, give this a listen.

Best tracks: ‘Owl’, ‘Heart Healing’, ‘This Ain’t A Walk’, ‘Love Is All’

If you like: Ty Segall, Blue Cheer, trash talking Wolfmother for being a bad ’70s ripoff band – this is how it’s done.

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