The Datsuns have long held something of a special place in my heart - they were the first good rock band I ever saw live. Loud, frantic, tight and heart-poundingly exciting, they were the perfect introduction to live music at the tender age of 15. At the end of that evening one of my friends stated emphatically they were better than sex. I was sure she was right.
This was my watershed moment, my very own lightning bolt cliche, very sweaty, very beer-stenched, very real. I saw them a bunch of times after that, and they were always, ALWAYS a knockout. And then, through the machinations of the gods, my fickle teenage heart or whatever else, I just stopped listening to them. It was around their third album Smoke and Mirrors, and I never looked back. What an ungrateful douche, eh?
Anyway, that pre-amble serves to illustrate the bittersweet combination of excitement and trepidation the prospect of listening to their new effort, the bodaciously-titled Death Rattle Boogie, inspires in me. Like returning to an old love affair, it's not quite the same as it was - but still a hell of a ride.
Let's start with the good stuff - there are some cracking songs on this record, and musically it's a highly accomplished love letter to all manner of classic rock. Lead single 'Gold Halo' is pretty much vintage Datsuns, an unstoppable, solo-laden warhost led by a monstrous, slavering riff. There's even a violin thrown in for good measure.
'Axethrower's orchestral guitar flourishes are reminiscent of T-Rex, while 'Shadow Looms Large' recalls (deep breath) Gary Glitter, in the best way possible. The latter is pleasingly stripped back, at least compared to the rest of the record, saving its fireworks for a big, pulsing chorus.
The Datsuns know what they are, and they know what they like. If it ain't broke, don't fix it - instead strap some extra exhausts on it and let it rip. This is great, but it also means their scope is pretty narrow - there's a sort of predictability to a lot of the songs here, and on occasion it can sound a bit rehashed and stale. Despite dabbling in a number of rock canon styles, there are few moments that really surprise.
One such is the slinky 'Wander The Night', which sounds like the sort of thing you'd find being played in some smoky jazz back room in a Robert Rodriguez film. It's elementally divine, and the band knows it - they give it a full six minutes to squeeze out all its sex appeal. 'Colour Of The Moon' pulls off a similar stunt later on, propped up by some spooky, QOTSA-esque backing vocals.
'Helping Hands' stands out as one of the best of the record's three-minute stompers, propelled along by the theatrical schlock of Dolf De Borst's vocals and Ben Cole's powerhouse drumming.
Then, as if the feel wasn't vintage enough already, 'Goodbye Ghosts' treats us to a jubilant rock'n'roll number complete with some classic piano action. Cheesy by necessity, it's still an undeniably fun romp, and sports one of the best solos on the album.
Death Rattle Boogie gets better the further along it gets (listen to 'Brain Tonic'). With 14 fully-defined tracks fighting for your attention there's quite a lot to get your teeth into.
Does it matter that The Datsuns are slaves to their influences, that they cannibalise a million other bands, that they pig-headedly refuse to develop a completely unique sound of their own? On the evidence of songs as good as this, the answer is honestly 'no'. There has always been a throwaway aspect to their music, but while Death Rattle Boogie hasn't inspired me to revisit their old stuff it has forcefully reminded me just why I loved them so much in the first place.
The Datsuns are 2D, they're hopelessly chained to the past and all their stuff sort of sounds the same. But I really don't give a fuck, because they're still completely awesome.
7Nick Hagan's Score