Dirty Honey seemingly appeared out of nowhere a couple of years ago with their debut album and in the intervening time have been everywhere due to it being an excellent blend of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, 70s Aerosmith, and Guns N’ Roses. It’s backed up by stellar live performances and why they’ve been all over Europe and from one side of the US to the other all the while sharing stages with some of the biggest names in rock or, you know, making their European headline debut in a rammed Cathouse in Glasgow.
The first album didn’t have an ounce of fat on it with each song a highlight in its own right and was an album that you’d likely have on repeat constantly. Not since The Temperance Movement’s debut has there been such a high standard of classic rock so it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of well-deserved hype going into new album, Can’t Find the Brakes. But ultimately, it falls short of those lofty heights. Not by a massive margin and they’re not the first band to fall short of a brilliant first album, nor will they be the last.
It’s not that it’s a bad album, it’s just a case of the debut being better – simple as that. There’s a number of great songs here but they just don’t have the same oomph. Indeed, having the chance to record the songs in person rather than Zoom allows for a great energy to be captured and you can hear the quartet feeding off each other and the warm production gives it that old-school feel you’d hear on all those classic albums. That lightning in the bottle that was present on the first album may not be making an appearance this time around but it’s still a confident album. Essentially, the first album would be a fresh-faced student at university enjoying partying and enjoying themselves and this would be the same student a couple of years later, nose to the grindstone in assignments as they get ready for the real world. Dirty Honey know they’ve got a lot riding on this and they’re going to prove they’re not a one album wonder.
If anything there’s more self-assuredness in the music. There’s a newfound swagger to them and it’s evident on opening track “Don’t Put Out the Fire” as the blues-drenched guitar of John Notto fires out a hard-edged boogie riff you’d expect on a Bon Scott AC/DC album or one of Bonafide’s early efforts. It’s followed up quickly by “Won’t Take Me Alive” and this upbeat barnburner quickly becomes the highlight of the record. The grit of Marc Labelle’s vocals in time with the march and funk rhythms allow for it to show just enough growth whilst keeping in the vein of what the band are.
Elsewhere, the band find time to fully experiment with “Coming Home (Ballad of the Shire)” as the twinkling acoustic strains allow Labelle to take a softer approach on the vocal. Whilst not an original concept lyrically, the bright melodies do evoke thoughts of The Shire as depicted in Lord of the Rings. Likewise, it’s the kind of slower, free-spirited number you’d find nestled away in the back half of a Rival Sons album. Directly following it is the title track and whilst it’s another meaty dose of traditional classic rock, there’s something different about this one. It’s got a meaty bass line powering it and there’s a darker and grittier tone to it. And with the drums working away in the background, not high up in the mix, allowing the bass to do the heavy lifting, it becomes this filthy groove monster of a song.
There’s also a couple of ballads in “Roam” and “You Make it All Right”. The former pushes the blues up to the forefront with its slow and meandering dulcet tones on guitar creates a subdued mood whilst containing subtle nods to Gary Moore before going for full-on reverence in the solo. Meanwhile, the latter flirts with country and Southern rock. It sounds pretty and is bolstered by Labelle hitting the highest part of his vocal register. It’s sombre and tender whilst showing not only does their sensitive side suits them but a natural maturity to them.
Songs like “Dirty Mind”, “Get a Little High”, “Satisfied” and “Ride On” are very much what you’d expect when you look at the influences cited. They all go in slightly different shades with “Dirty Mind” appropriately getting a bit swampy and “Get a Little High” likewise going for the high-octane thrill you’d want with a title like that. “Ride On” channels the passion of Slash without just going for a straight lift and it’s these songs where the band double down on what caught everyone’s attention on the first album. But like any master of their craft, they’ve saved an absolute gem as a parting gift. “Rebel Son” smoulders and is essentially all the variation across the album carefully moulded into one song which almost hits the seven-minute mark. Drums are powerful yet subtle, a sprinkling of keys brings depth and nuance without trying too hard on the bridge, expressive guitars crunch and grind and they all merge into one explosive crescendo to see the album off in style.
Can’t Find the Brakes had a mountain to climb when it came to living up to its predecessor and one it falls short of fully scaling. There are some great songs in the album albeit they don’t get under your skin quite as deep but it still shows a band on fire; it’s just missing that spark which made the debut so special. And you should absolutely still listen to it because at the end of the day, it’s more Dirty Honey and that can only be a good thing.
Can’t Find the Brakes is released on 3rd November
Header image by Katarina Benzova