Well, I picked the wrong week to give up drinking. No sooner had I introduced my newly found holier than thou persona, I played Harder, an album by Portland band Kleveland.
Damn! This is straight on, beer-swilling, sleaze rock with more cutting edge than Johnny Depp’s Sweeney Todd.
Having slugged back my first post drinking drink I then reached for the volume button. You see this is an album that cries out to be turned up and is impossible to turn off. This will get even the most sensibly refined of you doing the air guitar. It's real rock with a large slice of solid seventies glam and sleaze riffs mixed in.
Remember The Runaways? If you don’t, they're the seventies all girl rock band that spawned Joan Jett and had the luscious Cherrie Currie on vocals. Well, take their Queens Of Noise style rock, and mix in massive dollops of The Ramones, New York Dolls, Patti Smith, and top it off with Blondie and you nearly have it. The missing ingredient would be The Pretenders.
I never thought I would say this because to me Chrissie Hynde is one of rock’s high goddesses. Now we have a challenger – Kleveland’s Stephanie Smith has arrived. She has that controlled attitude and that speaker filling voice that so many other pretenders just plain over stretch.
I didn’t get further than the opener on Harder, “Do It Big”, before I was reaching for the beer crate. In an age where everything, including music, has to be packaged, labeled, itemized, compartmentalized, Kleveland defy all that stuff and just rock.
It’s how much authority they do it with that refreshes me. This is gutsy rock the sort you get in a sleazy basement bar where your feet stick to the floor. The girls dress like Cherrie Curry and when you get home your ears are buzzing louder than a hot Marshall.
In truth it has taken me a while to write this review. I just couldn't get past the first couple of tracks without going backwards, in more ways than one. I guess I feared that they wouldn’t be able to maintain that sensational start. Well they do and there is gem after gem of genuine, solid rock to come.
Check out the impossible raunchy “Crutch”. Move on through the title track, a real stand out among a set load. When this one opens out – I’m in rock heaven, or is it the other place? Stephanie is just sensational on stuff like this. A real, all too rare find.
Have a look at the band's video of “You’re Not Sorry” on their MySpace. Not one for the faint hearted, but it shows you just what we have on offer here. “Late Bloomer” is altogether more simple, more straight line, more Pretenders, yet equally effective.
Kleveland are completed by the guitars of Morgan Grace, and Dave Camp on “Sloppy Seconds”, the drumming of Danny Carbo, and the bass of Allen Hunter.
The punk drenched riff of “Low” leads to the off beat acoustic kick off that is “Sloppy Seconds”. This really showcases Ms Smith in all her highly influenced glory in a damned good breather of a track.
“It’s Your Turn” gets that dirty riff back on again, “Golden Gloves” squeezes the punk out of early Pretenders. When Stephanie sings ‘don’t you ever’ you just know she’s not to be messed with.
“It’s Over” brings me breathlessly to an end. The unplugged opening leads to some great lyrics that are best recounted by Stephanie Smith, trust me.
Is February too early to put something up as a potential new rock album of the last year? Maybe. Another problem is that it actually came out in September on In Music We Trust label. However, there is no maybe in the fact that this is a band to watch out for. It's not their first album and I, for one, will be checking out the earlier stuff, once I've recovered.
I’m glad they came my way. Give up drinking? Give up rock n roll? Just give up giving up, rock out, and enjoy. The spirit of The Runaways is alive and well.
Kleveland, the type of band that I thought was on the endangered species list, have just done an, all too brief, tour of Europe, mostly Holland. Well, turn round and get back – we’re gagging for rock here, and rock is exactly what you do.