CD Reviews

Anvil - 'Plugged In Permanent / Absolutely No Alternative' / 'Plenty Of Power / Speed Of Sound' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     August 12, 2012    
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Re-issues of four Anvil albums.

“The most stirring release of the year so far”, Anthony Lane, New Yorker.
“No matter what travails they face, Lips and Robb remain good company, invariably upbeat no matter how many cockeyed crises come around the bend.” Kennth Turan, LA Times.

Yes, lots of us love Sasha Gervasi's documentary of Lips and the lads. They seemed completely honest, desperate for the fame that eluded them, but not in a grasping way and above all, just loving the Metal as they did all those years ago. They never stopped, funding their addiction and trying, trying, trying. There was a lovely finality when the success of the film reignited their career and garnered them high profile gigs and the longevity they craved.

But ask yourself this; are they back because of the music or because people think they're good blokes? The music would be the really important thing, after all. Lips reels off several albums in the doc, 4 of which are re-released by SPV here, with the 2for1 price busting treatment. There's a train of thought that Anvil faded away after ‘Forged In Fire’ because their music wasn't quite good enough. And their juvenile lyrics and play-the-guitar-with-a-hoho-hang on my sides-haha that's hilarious-dildo was another reason. They might have a point. These four albums underline the overall ordinariness of Anvil's work. Throughout, we get recycled riffs, basic vocal lines and choruses, risible lyrics and sometimes aimless solos. Sorry to say that about such nice blokes, but there it is.

Beginning with 1996's ‘Plugged in Permanent’, the seventh release and first with new 2nd guitarist and bass player, the first thing to strike you is the thin production, which doesn't do justice to Robb Reiner's skin work, although another feature is his excellent fill work: on occasion he sounds like a small avalanche. They do try something a little different here, with Lips singing in a lower register to toughen up and attempting a more dramatic sound, never so clear than on the doomy ‘Destined For Doom’ which stops sprinting long enough to claim a sound; samey, but refreshing. Always hoist on the petard of their simplicity, they actually make it work for them here, when ‘Killer Hill’ aspires to nothing other than a simple chorus and razor sharp solo, it allows you an unadulterated pleasure. Elsewhere though, things are not quite as good; songs run as fast as they can because they think that's what Metal is, with no feel for where they're going. Solos widdle furiously to themselves. The whole thing passes, nothing changes.

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‘Absolutely No Alternative’ followed the year after and continues the anorexic mix and after ‘Old School’ has raised our hopes with a thicker, martial feel, a stop/start jerk and keening solo, they then set about doing exactly what you'd expect. A muddled mix which situates the riff in another street and headlong races to the final chord hamper any talent. They nick a faux Pistols riff in ‘No One To Follow’, but the song almost trips itself up on its speed, Reiner's drums tumble furiously as a riff cuts chunks out of the song on ‘Hair Pie’ (hmm...), but the overriding feel is tedium. ‘Rubber Neck’ rides on a Rainbow riff, making the most of a pretty basic song and is probably the best thing here.

And then of course there are the risible, childish lyrics. Of course, they could be been as hilarious, but arrested development is never attractive. And so onto '99's ‘Speed Of Sound’ we get ‘Mattress Mambo’ and unfortunately more ordinary songs. The title track cheers with a Motörhead riff and a massive, Metallic, solo but the pattern is established pretty quickly: ‘Blood In The Playground’ follows the basic Metal blueprint with a clumping beat, ‘Bullshit’ wastes a groovy riff and ‘Park That Truck’ sucks all of the air out of the room for a lean, battering attack and then makes you yawn with another scant, gang chorus. ‘Secret Agent’ though shows progress. A low-slung riff follows the vocal line and adds melody to the flying solo; this is more like it. Likewise ‘No Evil’ tries something else as it adds chimes and what sounds like a small choir to distract us for the 80's Bay Area banging; there is some drama here as it slows to add light and shade and Lips helps with a vocal performance which is actually linked to the song.

Two years later, ‘Plenty Of Power’ actually shows us something. This is actually about songs rather than Metal, giving us something we can chew on. The mix is again rather gruel-like when drums are in the room, but the energy often stops it becoming a shame; so ‘The Creep’ is almost a blur but keeps it all together for a tough try and 'Computer Drone’ tries some different stuff, slowing to a martial feel, doubling up as power increases and an angular solo kicks in. ‘Ball Of Fire’ actually showcases a bass solo; nothing else is in the song, but it's such a shock that it hardly matters. Yes, there are issues, from the awful lyrics of ‘Pro Wrestling’- it's about wrestling but shouting out holds does not a lyric make - and Lips' vocal lines are just the same whatever speed or size of song. This actually shows some improvement though, some progress. Light and shade? Bass solos? Groove? This is stuff that Anvil have not often shown before. And as such, it's the pick of the bunch.

A quite ordinary bunch. We now know that in this period, Anvil laboured away in Canada, producing albums in spite of the odds. Credit is clearly due for that. It adds to the legend. And in this marketing-led musical world, the legend, the documentary, the likeability adds to the sales. And they may deserve it. But if we strip all that away, if it's just about music, this is only just at the starting gate. Some Metalheads will enjoy this simple ride, will love the familiarity of sound, will love the band for who they are - a bunch of mates.

But this music will take you nowhere outside your bedroom.

Steve Swift

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