It’s not often I’ll bother with a band’s special edition release of an album if it’s some time after the general release, much less re-appraise it. However, when the band in question is Aaron Buchanan & the Cult Classics and the album is The Man With Stars on His Knees, I’ll happily wax lyrical about it all over again.
Two years on since it landed and gifted Buchanan and his band several support slots on tours and festival appearances galore, The Man With Stars on His Knees has been re-packaged via Listenable Records. Now, there’s a couple of extra studio tracks, the cherry on top of the magnificent sundae which is this album alongside some live cuts from their shows.
If you’re still unfamiliar with Buchanan’s self-titled endeavours thus far, imagine it like this: take a good helping of Queen’s grandiosity from Queen and Queen II, the ferocity of News of the World and Jazz, chuck in a healthy dose of Alice in Chains and Soundgarden for a dark and grungy tone and sprinkle in some Foo Fighters hooks and melody. What you’ve got is a debut record for the ages. And in the intervening time whilst bands continue to chase the modern hard rock sound to varying degrees of success, Aaron Buchanan & the Cult Classics stand alone with a timeless classic.
It’s an album I’ve had on constant rotation these past two years for two simple reasons: nothing else has been released in the same time which sounds like it and, the important one, the sheer quality of the ten (now full dozen) tracks. There’s simply not a weak track here and it’s a love letter to the album format – it’s there to be enjoyed from start to finish, in full, as it takes you on its journey.
Straight-laced hard rock numbers in the Cult Classics inimitable vein (“All the Things You’ve Said and Done” and “Dancin’ Down Below”) mingle with breathy, clean bluesy moments (“A God is No Friend”) before taking you down a grungier path (“Mind of a Mute”) or sheer grandiosity (“The Man With Stars on His Knees” and “Morals”). However, these sounds mesh together perfectly by being rooted in the Cult Classics’ DNA and Buchanan’s powerhouse voice between its goosebump-inducing whispers and vicious screams. His is a voice which will make you feel whatever it tells you to feel in that moment. It’s tempered with years of experience and a level of robustness other vocalists should envy.
So, what of the new tracks? Well, “Fire in the Fields of Mayhem” will be no stranger to existing fans given the band have been playing it live for a long time and was the B-side to “All the Things You’ve Said and Done” when Buchanan and his band first graced stages. Although he did remark at Steelhouse last Summer that it should have been a single in its own right. For a long time, it’s been the closer on the album for me and it’s everything that makes the Cult Classics great rolled into one beast of a track with its devilishly catchy sound.
Then, there’s “Undertow”. Perhaps the grittiest song on the album, it’s rage-fuelled with a chorus just begging for audiences to sing and a monster of a guitar solo. Loaded with power and danger, you can already picture Buchanan and his band strut across the stage and thrash out their respective parts. Indeed, it’s the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence which is the album. Much like the two tracks which came before it, this a perfect closer to the album and it doesn’t matter which iteration you’ve heard the album up to this point, this is the new standard to close this album. It’s the perfect baton pass to album two.
If you’ve not got a copy of The Man With Stars on His Knees, this re-release is a perfect opportunity to pick it up. If you do have a copy, buy another because the extra two tracks alone are worth a second purchase. Two years on and this is still a magnificent album. Aaron Buchanan & the Cult Classics continue to be one of the most vital bands that rock needs, proving originality in the genre is still very much possible.
Header image by Kezia Wai Yen Tan
The Man With Stars on His Knees (Special Edition) is released on 22nd February