A car made Band of Skulls famous.
The Southampton, England, blues-rock quartet were virtual unknowns when the fine folks at Ford Motor Company wisely chose to use their song “Light of the Morning” in an ad for the 2011 Mustang. The track leads off the band’s 2009 debut “Baby Darling Doll Face Honey,” which was largely praised by critics.
“Light of the Morning” defines that record—it’s a short, loud jam that leaves the listener wanting more. That want is satisfied, as 11 tracks follow it on “Baby.”
The much-anticipated sophomore album, “Sweet Sour,” takes the band’s sound in a different direction, but by no means fails to achieve what Band of Skulls are best at: enticing.
The lead, title track achieves this end most successfully. The opening riff is easily the sultriest and most seductive I’ve ever heard.
Frontman Russell Marsden’s guitar work and the vocal harmony between him and bassist Emma Richardson are hypnotizing, the song’s abrupt, single-chord ending, serving as the snap of the fingers releasing listeners from its spell.
The final four tracks are an equally beguiling group. “Navigate” and “Hometowns” are so despondent and depressing that a song like “Light of the Morning” is necessary to prevent anyone from contemplating suicide.
The band delivers with the penultimate track, “Lies,” an audacious return to the prevalent sound of Baby. The record’s title is even referenced in the lyrics: “How can you not have a little fun/Doll face honey?”
After “Lies,” the only fitting end to the record would be equally vigorous, right?
“Close to Nowhere” is the bleakest of all 10 songs on “Sweet Sour.” Minimalistic guitar work and a dark, chanting rhythm conjured by drummer Matt Hayward partner with almost nihilistic lyrics about not knowing one’s purpose in life to bring back the wave of gloom “Lies” was supposed to send away.
The track is a prime example of the record’s darker, more personal lyrics.
“Lay My Head Down” deals with a reluctant relinquishing of love, and “Bruises” has overtones addressing the adverse, outward effects of mental illness. The stripped down compositions on these more somber songs succeeds at letting their lyrical themes show through.
The album as a whole, as its title suggests, is a bit of a paradox. The loud, forceful sound of “Baby” is staunchly present on Sweet Sour—“The Devil Takes Care Of His Own” sounds like it could have been on an AC/DC record, and the driving drums and swift guitar and bass of “You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Goin’ On” are just plain fun to listen to.
After the first time around the album, the listener is left somewhat wanting.
This could be a result of the contrast of expectations created by “Baby,” or the desperate thirst for optimism after hearing “Close to Nowhere.”
But this aural teasing is what Band of Skulls are best at. After a few more listens ,the effect they create becomes clearer, and the record gets better and better, but there are still no definite answers. Even after hearing it a multitude of times, it is still packed with wonderful ambiguity.
“Sweet Sour” is like a great piece of literature—the first time through it’s apparent there’s an incredible amount of depth and substance, but it’s uncertain exactly what it is.
After examining it again and again, the meaning is still unclear, but that ambiguity allows for the open development of different interpretations.
With “Sweet Sour,” Band of Skulls have definitively proven that they should never be underestimated.