Album review – Junkyard – High Water
By STEVE MASCORD
IMAGINE both halves of Guns N’Roses’ genius – the glam metal prance and the punk rock snarl – on the same stage … but in different bands.
Your correspondent was lucky enough to witness just that on the leafy second stage at the M3 rock festival in Columbia, Maryland, in late April.
There was Vain, the “Rocket Queen” band, whose 1989 debut No Respect must surely rank alongside Love/Hate’s Blackout In The Red Room as the greatest ‘lost classics’ of the hair metal era. There was a searing intensity and integrity to their performance; a lack of scars from the quarter-century of wealth and excess that has changed GN’R beyond recognition from the bunch of hoodlums who recorded Appetite For Destruction more than 30 years ago.
In the “Nightrain” corner were Junkyard, whose 1989 debut album is remembered mainly by devotees. If anything, singer David Roach became more “street” since ’87 – he was reportedly living in homeless shelters after the band broke up in 1992.
And so if Guns N’Roses never made it and were playing gatherings like M3, their music would be a lot like a combination of these two bands; if they never moved out of the house they all shared in Hollywood, they’d write lyrics like David Roach.
Could Axl still write about “stealing beer from the Circle K/We got no money and it’s more fun anyway”? Roach can – and you believe it.
High Water, Junkyard’s first album of new material in 26 years, drips with the integrity many of our heroes have steadily lost during that time. It’s phlegmatic and belligerent throughout, kicking off with the punk rock stomp of “Walk Away” which beseeches the listener to “pack up your problems and unpack them in a different town” and not “wait for a flicker that never was a flame” (continued below)
It’s epic from the get-go.
The lyric about the Circle K and kids being “too young to get into the punk rock bars” has been around for a couple of years now but sounds no less punchy than it did then. “Cut From The Same Cloth” is the album highlight; it kicks off like something from Angel or KISS but settles into classic attitude-laden grove with a sentiment undiluted by an ounce of fat or pretence.
But just because this song – what a solo – is the best thing on offer does not mean things fall away afterwards. “Styrofoam Cup” is reminiscent of “Misery Loves Company” with a delicious hook, “Hellbound” is sort of reverse-masked punk, “WFLWF” irresistible foul-mouth bar-room boogie, “Don’t Give A Damn” a country drinking song.
“I’ve seen the sadness in the eyes of the people that I love,” Roach laments on “Hell Or Highwater” – it comes from the same passion-soaked Americana tradition as recent Dan Baird & Homemade Sin. “Wallet” is rockabilly-punk, “Til The Wheels Fall Off” takes us back to Nashville with goosebumps to go and “Kindness To The Dead” rounds things off with a hard rock hell raiser.
How many artists can you think of who sound angrier, edgier, closer to the bone in their fifties than they were in their 20s? Every single track on High Water is a nuanced gem.
If Guns N’Roses put this out in 2018, it would in all likelihood shake the foundations of the music industry and single-handedly resuscitate rock’n’roll as a cultural force.