Willard Grant Conspiracy “Let It Roll” (Loose, 2006)
“Triumphant and viscerally powerful return for the Dark Lords of Americana”
Welcome to the new sound of Willard Grant Conspiracy. Since “Regard the End” Simon Alpin, guitarist, co-writer and co-producer has left, leaving Fisher with sole writing and production credits. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Alpin was something of a restraining hand, as an awful lot of “Let It Roll” has abandoned WGC’s trademark stately, processional sound in favour of uninhibited and unrestrained music that recalls Nick Cave or John Lydon at their most wired. Not only that, a slight penchant for long songs has turned into a full-blown obsession - only one of the ten tracks here clocks in at under four minutes, and two top nine.
Opener “Distant Shore” is classic WGC. Over a Deguello-esque trumpet and sepulchral piano Fisher intones a powerful and moving story of a soldier’s thoughts on the eve of the battle where he will die. But the title track, up next, is the departure point. It’s one of the nine minute epics and opens with a three minute cacophony of furious and visceral power, and though the main body of the song echoes familiar WGC themes (“Hung up in sunrise/With a crown made of thorns/The windows are mirrored/Like the eyes of the lord”) Fisher’s energy and rage are frighteningly tangible and the players thrash away throughout like speed-crazed chipmunks, before a delicate piano coda brings things to a close. It’s a spectacular statement of intent that succeeds on every level.
Unsurprisingly things quieten down a little after that, and “Dance With Me” outstays it’s welcome a little, while “Breach” demonstrates that just because you can make one nine minute piece work doesn’t mean you can repeat the trick. “Flying Low” though is a lovely melodic piece, hymnal in its power, and though the instrumentation is harnessed rather than released it’s just as effective, while Fisher’s chorus “I dreamed I saw Angels flying low/They encompass all that’s good or so I’m told” encompasses in fifteen words that encompass WGC’s faith, doubt and hope.
“Crush” is cut from the same cloth as “Let it Roll”, though it has a more discernable melody and a surprisingly positive message (“I’m jumping off tomorrow/I’m making up my mind/There’s consequence and sorrow/But it will heal in time”). The penultimate track, a brutal cover of “Ballad of a Thin Man”, is a return to the new sound, with Fisher’s drawl almost physical in its contempt for the hapless Mr. Jones, before “Lady of the Snowline”, a beautiful elegy in classic WGC style, brings things to a close.
So, an even more intense WGC album than usual, with large sections free of all restraints, lyrical or musical. Despite some overlong pieces it’s a triumph and a vindication of Fisher’s decision to strike out into pastures, if not completely new, then certainly relatively unfamiliar.
Date review added: Saturday, March 25, 2006
Reviewer: Jeremy Searle
Related web link: Willard Grant Conspiracy website