REVIEW: BLUES PILLS – “Holy Moly!”
From Midwest dive bars to some of the biggest stages in the world, Swedish rockers, Blues Pills, could easily be considered a musical fairy tale. But that’s not quite how they see things. The quartet’s mutual restlessness has seen them constantly seeking change, and often changing personnel. Not the most marketable of qualities for record companies, but risk more likely to yield some truly interesting music. Their upcoming new album, ‘Holy Moly!’ being a case in point. Embracing a myriad of influences and offering up an irresistible, trippy ride through the devil’s blues, ‘Holy Moly!’ feels like riding a roller-coaster through the troubled mind of a socially conscious soul, wrestling with their own tormented demons. One that preaches best, and with some considerable power, when it doesn’t try so hard to preach.
With a kick-a*s attitude, Blues Pills use ‘Holy Moly!’ to tackle a variety of issues head-on, delivering an album so musically infectious it grants immunity to no one. Part smoke-stained blues, part old-style revival, it features a host of truly great moments, despite getting off to a stumbling start. If “Proud Woman” tries hard to deliver a rallying power anthem, unfortunately, it doesn’t come close. Simplistic rather than simple, “Proud Woman” feels like trying to craft a self-conscious statement bigger than the song. All you end up with is a poor song. If you want a feminist anthem, listen to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, or Amy MacDonald’s “Woman of the World,” where the message doesn’t ask you to excuse, forgive, or disguise a song not being up to standard. Which ‘Proud Woman’ isn’t. Blues Pills can deliver much, much better songs. And you need to look no further than the raw growler “Kiss My Past Goodbye”, which includes a vocal performance from Elin Larsson so good it could light the match and burn the photo album for her.
Like a cleaned-up Joplin strolling down Haight Ashbury, Larsson struts through every groove, her commanding vocals demanding a certain calibre of musicianship. Guitarist Zack Anderson, drummer Andre Kvarnstrom, and bassist Kristoffer Schander meet this demand hands-on, empowering ‘Holy Moly!’ with undeniable, raw energy. Whether it’s Kvarnstrom’s wild drumming on “Low Road”, or the interlocking exchange between Anderson and Schander on “Song From A Mourning Dove” or “California”, Blues Pills succeed in being a united force delivering a musical tour de force, as opposed to four stellar musicians fighting to be heard. Even melancholy moments, such as the gorgeous “Wish I’d Known,” and “My Longest Lasting Friend”, finds Blues Pills digging deep even when stripping back into something subtle and understated.
Initially, ‘Holy Moly!’ can feel like a political broadcast rather than a statement of personal identity with political overtones. But repeated listens reveal a heart-breaking goodbye to the highs and lows of one’s past. Revealing a range of emotions through some versatile and visceral performances, with a lyrical honesty we can only hope to hear more of. If Blues Pills have yet to nail down a voice or sound distinct from their influences, the stories they tell are indisputably their own. Like a blended whiskey, as opposed to a single malt, ‘Holy Moly’ makes a strong first impression that deepens with time, and gets better with age. Much like Blues Pills themselves.