Welcome release of a brand new album from Strangeways.
The second chapter of the second chapter if you will, sees the somewhat unexpected, if welcome release of a brand new album from Scotland's favourite sons, more than ably abetted by an adoptee from Georgia in the form of one of the greatest voices ever to grace a melodic rock record, Terry Brock.
Age of Reason (check the initials A.O.R.) which of course given guitarist Ian Stewart's penchant for dry humour could stand for a.o.r (album orientated rock), or, indeed as famously quoted back in the day, "any old rubbish". Understanding Ian Stewart has always been a difficult thing to do, however the key part in understanding Ian is the music. As the band leader and keeper of the Strangeways flame for well over 20 years, Ian's primary concern is the music. Not where the band 'fit in' or keeping in with a particular trend or movement. It's about music, pure and simple.
The album kicks off with two absolute snorters in the shape of 'The Sentinel' (think 'Where Are They Now') and 'Run' showing that old dogs, happily, don't learn too many new tricks, Brock's silky voice soaring effortlessly and Stewart's extraordinary wailing guitar ringing out a new era for the Hogback mafia. 'Alive Again' maintains the thoroughly excellent fare on offer as does the gritty, almost rough and ready 'Frozen'. 'Call' takes the plaudits as one of the most heartfelt ballads ever written and deserves all the plaudits thrown its way. 'Long Road' which closes the album straddles the semi balladry that Strangeways seem to do better than anyone else, and once again shows the difference that the song is always king. If I were to level one criticism at Age of Reason I would say that there are too many slow-paced tracks on offer. Most long standing fans of the band would have preferred a few more ass kickers in the shape of ('Shake the Seven', 'Empty Streets', etc. ) but we are dealing with a band that have always done things their way, and writers that always put songs first, everything else second.
So where does this stand amongst the Strangeways catalogue? There is enough here to remind older fans of the 'good old days', but as always there is material in there that is there because this is what the band wanted to do, not were forced to do. 'Perfect World' possibly strayed too far away from the Strangeways 'core sound', but 'Age Of Reason' returns the band to more familiar territory, albeit still far removed from the 'aor by numbers' approach of other bands, or indeed earlier albums. Rootsy, melodic, bluesy, moody, rocking in varying degrees and quantities, but as always the quality shines through...
'Walk In The Fire' it's not; 'Perfect World' it's not, but draws upon influences from both, highlighting a band happy not to retread old ground yet pay a respectful nod to the past whilst moving forward.