Graded on a Curve: Wolfmother,
Rock Out

Vinyl? Australia’s Wolfmother should have released 2021’s Rock Out on 8-track, that’s how groovy seventies it is. This baby should be blaring from a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am (bitchin’ hood scoop, dude!) cruising Main Street U.S.A., not from your turntable. Not that it doesn’t sound great on your turntable. But your living room isn’t a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am, now is it?

Its ten tracks make one thing clear; frontman and guitar god Andrew Stockdale is a huge fan of seventies’ populist hard rock. You know, the stuff beloved by kids who’d never heard of the Velvet Underground and would have hated them if they had. It’s like Stockdale disappeared in a thick pall of pot smoke at the end of the seventies only to reemerge coughing midway through the first decade of the 21st Century, unaware that Ted Nugent’s loincloth no longer ruled the world.

No, he was one of those kids who worshiped the likes of Kiss, Black Sabbath, Boston, and Led Zeppelin. Redd Kross turned that period of music history into high, Linda Blair-riffing camp. Stockdale avoids the cheesy pop signifiers and gives you the sound, and if you love that sound Rock Out is a no-lose proposition. Is the music on Rock Out derivative? A bit, but certainly not in the way that of shameless Zep clones Greta Van Fleet is. I prefer the phrase “inspired by,” insofar as Wolfmother captures the spirit of the times, rather than—at least in most cases—apes its artists. That pall of pot smoke may have been a means of time travel, but Rock Out is no time capsule.

Opener “Feelin Love” is Black Sabbath gone upbeat pop—Wolfmother lowers the band’s legendary doom and gloom level, but Stockdale injects lots of Ozzy into the vocals. “Rock Out” is the clincher, what with its Kiss feel and flashy guitars, while “Upload” is less streamlined Boston with lots of echo on Stockdale’s vocals and a riff straight from the spaceship guitar on the cover of Boston’s debut, although the concept of uploading would have been unknown to the zonked out kid in the Uriah Heep t-shirt sitting next to you at the Black Oak Arkansas concert in 1977. “Humble” is a House of the Holy fusion of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin at their dinosaur crush best, while “Only Way” opens with a guitar turning baroque Catherine Wheels over a rumbling bass and features a truly badass riff. And the guitar solo is killer.

The guitar on “Metal & Fire” also has a vaguely baroque feel, and this one would have been a sure fire sing along everywhere you could find a workable bong. “Mantle” is supercharged Rush sans the annoying progressive rock trappings, and we can all breath a sigh of relief that Stockdale sounds nothing like Geddy Lee. “Ego” is that Trans Am on a straight stretch of two lane, with echoed spoken vocals by Stockdale and a guitar so criminally cool there’s a warrant out for its arrest. The primal “Walking” brings to mind the Runaways and Joan Jett—it’s nothing fancy, but its boots will walk all over you.

Amidst the seventies trash “Outside” sticks out like a Britpop thumb because it is, no more or less, an Oasis song. Oasis didn’t write it, mind you, but it has Noel Gallagher’s DNA all over it, from Stockdale’s Liam Gallagher-school vocals to the soaring guitars and “what’s the story morning glory” choruses. Needless to say this champagne superball doesn’t belong within two decades of the other songs on Rock Out, and I haven’t the faintest notion how it ended up on the LP in the first place. My best guess is it escaped from a vault of Oasis’ unreleased master tapes and crept in through the back door of the studio where Rock Out was being recorded. At any rate it’s the album’s sole false note, and one can only wonder what Stockdale was thinking when he included it on the album in the first place.

I like to think of Rock Out as an alternative reality Rhino Records compilation of seventies superhits called, naturally enough, Rock Out, although Rhino would have undoubtedly added an exclamation mark at the end of that title. Wolfmother wasn’t around when Frampton (kinda like Frankenstein!) came alive, but they should have been—they would certainly have made your high school parking lot a far cooler place. The damn thing’s so redolent of seventies weed you should be able to smoke it. As it is it will make you want to rock and roll all night, and party every day. So break out your Trans Am, pop Rock Out in the 8-track player, and roar off into the past to meet your stoner buddies at the mall.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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