Wednesday, November 08, 2023

The Struts Dazzle and Entertain With Their Fourth Studio Album ‘Pretty Vicious’

To any lover of good old-fashioned glam rock, The Struts will have by now become a household name. The genre is enjoying somewhat of a well-deserved resurgence, of which the four-piece - coming from the West of England, mostly transplanted into the US - have eagerly ridden the very first wave; now that they are releasing their fourth long-player, it is clear that they have not chosen the lazy path of relying on a tested and successful formula, but are still very much one of the spearheads of this new glam movement.

 Enter ‘Pretty Vicious’, a record which from its very title promises somewhat more of an edge than its predecessors, which flirts shamelessly with the old glories of classic rock and confirms the ongoing impression that the Struts have by now truly found their voice and are not at all tired of experimenting with it. 

Gone are the pop leanings which coloured the tracks of their debut and even more so of their second album; on the contrary, this record delves even deeper in the blues and hard rock suggestions which had started creeping in already with the band’s third offering, ‘Strange Days’, a little jewel recorded in the heat of the COVID frenzy which would have deserved a broader audience. There, the band had delighted in playing with an assortment of musical oddities, and a number of them are returning here, more full-bodied and better thought-through, in a more mature form.

The blues influence is particularly strong in this record. Frontman Luke Spiller’s vocal stylings may often have been reminiscent of Freddie Mercury, but here the loudest echo to be heard is that of the Rolling Stones, as they were in the late 70s (and as they are now: graced by a closeness in release date, this album is a perfect listening companion to the rock legends’ ‘Hackney Diamonds’. The family air is strongest in the guitars, which rely heavily on bluesy chords and broad riffs, especially in the more Americana-influenced tracks, like ‘Gimme Some Blood’; but it is in the vocals too, and in general in the atmosphere the album manages to evoke: fast and reckless, drive-by-night rock of a kind that is more often associated with a dazzling past now lost, summoning dreams of smoke and glitter. That this is what’s on offer is established almost immediately, with the anthemic ‘Too Good at Raising Hell’, almost a manifesto for a band that is also very much a live act, and which delights in getting a room riled up. 

Starting on such a high-energy note could elsewhere be a hazard, but the Struts have the charisma to match the energy level throughout the record, and some more classic rock references to support their tunes. On the harder side, there is something reminiscent of Velvet Revolver or Hanoi Rocks in tracks like the album’s namesake, or ‘Do What You Want’, the latter one of the more quintessentially Struts songs on the record. With Velvet Revolver this album shares also the ability to slow down into a more soulful, introspective track: see for instance ‘Hands On Me’, which offers a great occasion to showcase Spiller’s skills as a pianist - another classic highlight of the band’s live shows.

All the preening may become almost unnerving if the band didn’t have a pleasant, and relatable, ability to not take themselves too seriously, and the occasional deep insight into the wear-and-tear of the rock lifestyle. As for the latter, ‘Bad Decisions’, one of the most successful songs on the record, is a touching musing on how wearying and occasionally dangerous it can be to be a rock musician on the road; the former is, delightfully, all over the album, from the opener down. 

Songs like the boppy ‘Better Love’ and the adrenaline-laden ‘Rockstar’ are perfect examples of it; they have a cheeky undertone that makes all the self-confidence charming, the same that used to be the backbone of classic glam rock from T-Rex (also abundantly referenced in the album) onwards. The closing track, ‘Somebody Someday’, is a final nod to the band’s love of broad, soulful rock ballads; it feels less cocky and more earnest than the songs before it, as if the performer’s mask has been, not lost, but deliberately lowered.

Coming as the clear end point of an ascending trajectory, ‘Pretty Vicious’ is easily the band’s best record thus far; and it is a pleasure to see that, after all this time on the stage and on the road, the Struts have not at all lost their love of the craft and their delight in making music. On the contrary, the band’s genuine enthusiasm and almost glee is palpable throughout the album; and it would be very hard, even for the worst of cynics, to not find it infectious.

Chiara Strazzulla


Image: ‘Pretty Vicious’ Official Album Cover

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