Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
2022 begins with an almighty bang as Llanelli’s hard-rocking quintet Scarlet Rebels land their highly anticipated sophomore long-player; their first album for the much-regarded Earache label – home to fellow Welsh rockers Those Damn Crows and the flag-flying Massive Wagons.
Switching from their previous label (ROAR) has borne witness to the Rebels taking yet another huge step in an acclivitous manner.
Initial release ‘Show Your Colours’ is firmly entrenched in a rich vein of songwriting and the Rebels continue to extract from this rock-tastic deposit with just one difference. This time around the yielded grade is a much higher one. It’s one with a sociopolitical awareness that gives the Rebels’ ambrosial output an edgy feel.
Scarlet Rebels are Llanelli through and through; justly proud of their working-class roots. Ethics which course through their very veins and tumble forth throughout this incendiary dozen.
Their name, inspired by their town’s rugby team – the Llanelli Scarlets, the XV having played in red since 1884 – is testament to this. Lead vocalist Wayne Doyle explains “Growing up where we did, you either play rugby or form a band, and I was never big enough to play rugby. We wanted to have that link to where we’re from. Plus it’s a rock n’ roll colour, red.”
This blue-collar offering is a stout reflection upon the current times. Harnessing the captivating, graceful power of the grey-winged harrier, that circles above the Loughor wetlands, whilst engaging the grit and fire of the tinplating industry, that Llanelli was once famed for, is a tough assignment but one which the Rebels accomplish with a energetic flourish. The round twelve is derived from the very same deposit which such modern-day troubadours as Springsteen and Dylan so deftly exploited.
One would have had to be dwelling under a large soundproofed rock in the far reaches of the outback to not have noticed the challenging climate in which we are experiencing of late and it’s the frustration of the politics being peddled that has raised the ire of the wordsmith within Wayne.
Sat at home during lockdown a faceless politician appeared on his TV stealing the credit for Marcus Rashford’s successful enlightening campaign to ensure free school meals for children. The Rebels frontman observes “This guy was basically hijacking something someone else had done,” adding “I was watching these politicians coming on the news every day, trotting out absolute bullshit and using the world’s downturn to make a profit for themselves.
And no-one from the other side was calling them out in it. Politics is so corrupt. It needs a kick up the arse.” Without a doubt this is the forceful foot to the posterior that is required. A thundering rock n’ roll delivery with a large shot of anthemic anti-salacious purpose along with a super-sized twist of enraged passion is what’s afoot herein.
The tone is set by the album’s minimalistic but striking cover artwork; designed by Carl Cozier of Holy Moly Design it depicts a semi-silhouetted Boris Johnson delivering a speech (Peppa Pig optional) at the very fringes of Hell with the flames casting, most aptly, a demonic shadow behind the increasingly divisive Prime Minister. This a recurrent theme throughout the output.
The Rebels roar into furiously glorious action right from the kick-off with ‘I’m Alive’ with Wayne pinning his colours to the flag-pole declaring “I an’t no bluesy wannabe.” The southern swagger throws a delicious swerveball into proceedings being neatly tempered with the glam of the LA strip; this is what happens when Poison and Gn’R shake hands with the likes of Black Crowes and ZZ Top. The deltalands are calling!
The six-string whirling dervish that is Chris Jones hits a precise intro to kick up a ‘Storm’. The first single to be lifted from the album has become a firm live favourite with it’s soaring chorus resonating loudly and firmly. Chris’ phenomenal lead guitar layers atop a thunderous, pounding beat laid down by Gary Doyle, the ‘Animal’ behind the kit, and bouncing bassist Wayne ‘Pricey’ Esmonde with the filling of Wayne Doyle and Josh Townsend’s (yes it is Uncle Peter, but we’ll leave it at that!) rhythm guitaring making for a tasty musical sandwich that is guaranteed to rock your socks off!
The sharply detached notes of ‘London Story’ hark of The Automatic’s 2006 hit ‘Monster’ before ramping up into a full blown rocker that sees ZZ Top wrecking-ball AC/DC headlong in a freight-train of a collision. A capital city-centric love-story within the lyrics gives a wry sense of irony that comes through in waves as Wayne declares “It’s a London Story.” Not sure if the blue-coloured centre of the metropolis will be feeling quite so misty eyed currently though.
Contagious hooks and catchy choruses are a significant part of the Rebels’ trademark; something to which one can now firmly add a sociopolitical awareness to. This emanates none more so than throughout the much-lauded single ‘These Days’. Fluid keys, ably provided by Josh, add a subtle perspective that further enhancing the overall identity of the Rebels as the track hits with an AC/DC-esque riff and a chorus that doffs a cap to Soul Asylum’s emotively-charged single ‘Runaway Train’.
In fact the Rebels are in the ball-park of the emotions of the latter as they tap into the emotionally bereft arena of politics as Wayne reflects angrily “The government didn’t feed their kids”. Something the band have, collectively, taken head on by collecting for various food banks from Gravesend to Llanelli on recent headline shows.
Hurtling along at breakneck pace ‘Take You Home’ is a super-charged V8 muscle car of a track that threatens to send its engine skywards through its own bonnet. Shrouded in the power is a rallying call for the misplaced and lonely with Wayne leading the way “To those who fell alone, Raise your hands.” The sharp staccato utilised to the max in ‘London Story’ is once again used herein; employed, however, more subtly by Chris mid-song this time amongst the energetic riffage of the track’s main body.
A love sought but as yet not found is woven into the passionate fabric of ballad ‘I Can Sleep Now’. To follow the five singles that have preceded this long-player is no mean feat and this tearjerker succeeds in the task superbly. It dims the lights to create a charged atmosphere; tears counted and scars to be lived with. This is ‘Heal’ from ‘Show Your Colours’ multiplied ten-fold; several notches up through the mellflous gears.
With a 70s glam derived beat delivered in typical hard-hitting fashion by Gary and a ferociously chopping riff ‘I Can’t Say’ has a certain wholesome rocking swagger about itself. If The Sweet and AC/DC had kids they’d probably sound something like this! ‘ The distinctive Gibson ‘growl’ of ‘Take It’ underpins a molten rocker fresh out of the furnace as the Rebels get their rocks off.
Second ballad of this fine album ‘Leave A Light On’ strikes a chord with a richness and depth redolent of a combination of Springsteen and Petty’s songwriting delivered with the majesty of Magnum at their finest.
Soaring high upon the thermals ‘We’re Going Nowhere’ is a damning statement of the precarious situation we find ourselves in. This is quality throughout from the delectable harmonies to the sublimely screeching guitars via the weighty riffs and beats; highly polished but not to the point of losing its meaningful connections.
The damning verdict of today’s politicians is clear to hear “Here to stay is their lack of truth and accountability” Wayne sagely observes before adding “When you see the damage people do when you give the power to the royal blue.” This band isn’t merely a shade of red by name; without a shadow of doubt their musical indictment is distinctly ‘rouge’.
In many respects the highly-infectious ‘Everything Changed’ can be considered a song of self-reflection with the star Wayne sings about holding in his hand and passing it along being surely this very long-player. An honest, straight-talking chap he, along with his bandmates, have passed the ‘test’ for sure. Whilst there is a distinctive Rebel feel about the album it does represent a ‘different path’; things are changing and evolving for sure. Stadiums and arenas surely beckon; these tunes are so ready for this environment. The Rebels are continuing the proud tradition of anthemic Welsh rock; the masses be aware!
Titular track ‘See Through Blue’ wraps up proceedings and is the perfect conclusion to this fine album. In the wake of gatherings consuming diary-based nibbles and grape-based beverages these words resound even louder than when the ink first departed the pen.
A private party that colours a nation, See through as blue.” An acoustic driven intro builds up neatly into riffs as hard-hitting as the lyrics themselves; lugubrious ire that reaches a boiling point just before song end.
This release sees Scarlet Rebels truly hit fully cohesive energies on all fronts. For me this is a serious, serious contender for album of the year; even this early in the calendar I’m confident it will be atop my list of favourites come year-end.
See Through Blue is currently available to pre-order at https://earache.com/scarletrebels – signed editions, limited edition colour vinyl (red/green/purple), special merch bundles, plus an ultra limited cassette tape and rare ‘alternative artwork’ version with blue cover and vinyl are all available to pre-order while stocks last.
Follow Scarlet Rebels.
Official site: http://www.scarletrebels.com
YouTube: @Scarlet Rebels