Here’s an irrefutable fact – 2018’s Age of Absurdity was about the furthest away an album could be from being classed as a vanity project, given the circumstances. It could have been tragic. But it wasn’t. Because it’s Phil fucking Campbell. Instead, he and his Bastard Sons created one of the best albums of that year, toured the hell out of it, released his own solo album and toured some more.
Indeed, as it begins, We’re the Bastards sounds like more of what was found on the debut. It’s still laden with riffs and solos which are quintessentially Phil Campbell and packaged up with the youthful exuberance of his bandmates. Opening salvos of the title track and “Son of a Gun” let you know they’re back with a bang and it’s business as usual. However, as you delve further in, there’s a great heap of diversity, much moreso than the debut.
“Born to Roam” has a hint of Aerosmith’s “Hangman Jury” to it with its sludgy bluesy swagger and its revisited on “Desert Song”. Meanwhile, “Promises are Poison”, “Animals” and “Hate Machine” are full-blooded rockers with very obvious, but welcome, hints of Motörhead. Elsewhere, “Riding Straight to Hell” has the boogie of an AC/DC song (its title even sounds like it could be on any of their albums) and far more interesting than anything on the new AC/DC album (both of which share release dates).
And if you’re after more music in the stylings that you’d expect from the Bastard Sons, “Bite Your Tongue” and “Keep Your Jacket On” are cut from that exact cloth. However, it’s the final two tracks of the album that show how diverse the band have aimed for on this release with the two-minute punk-driven “Destroyed” and “Waves”. Dark, sombre and introspective with a pulsing bassline throughout, Neil Starr’s vocals, whilst in top form throughout, run his entire range in this almost seven-minute epic.
While it may sound like they’re cramming as much as they can into a single album, it works wonderfully. Each of the baker’s dozen tracks are true to what a Bastard Sons song should be. Now that they’ve cemented their place in the current rock landscape, they’ve more freedom to experiment. We’re the Bastards is the product of a band who have been touring together for years, brimming with confidence as opposed to the hunger to prove themselves on the previous effort. That’s still present but now they’ve added a fresh ingredient into the mix.
Despite the obvious effort to not retread old ground but in keeping with the spirit of the debut, the need to experiment comes at the sacrifice of length. There’s not a bad track on the album and although each song has its own identity and place in the record, it does overstay its welcome ever so slightly. It’s not an unenjoyable listen, far from it, but with a tighter and leaner tracklist whilst keeping the diversity would have made this an album better than its predecessor. Instead, it’s on equal footing but it’s more Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons so if that’s the only gripe, then they’re doing something right.
We’re the Bastards is out now