Review by Pete Finn for MPM
On 1st January 1989, Terraplane held their annual New Year’s Day meeting, it would be their last. Vocalist Danny Bowes and guitarist Luke Morley had decided to fold the band, and form a new one, this band would be called Thunder.
The pair recorded a couple of demo’s with Terraplane drummer Gary “Harry” James, and engineer Ben Matthews who played the keyboards and guitar, bassist Mark “Snake” Luckhurst completed the line-up. In 1996 Chris Childs joined the band as the new bass player, and the band have remained unchanged since.
Thunder have become one of Britain’s best known and popular Rock bands, renowned for their hard work, quality music and knock-out live shows. Their iconic 1990 debut album ‘Back Street Symphony’ is likely to be found in every rock fans collection. Prior to this new one, the band have released thirteen studio albums.
Album number fourteen is ‘Dopamine’, it’s a very impressive 71-minutes in running time and contains an equally impressive 16 tracks. I looked up ‘Dopamine’ in the dictionary, this is one of the definitions, and a very appropriate one at that, “Dopamine is known as the ‘feel-good’ hormone. It gives you a sense of pleasure. It also gives you the motivation to do something when you’re feeling pleasure.”
The opening track is ‘The Western Sky’, the first few beats grab you by the lapels and lift you out of the chair. Big beats and heavy riffs seize the attention from the off. Bowes vocals silky smooth, the contrast with the powerful sounds is very slick. The band seem to introduce themselves to the listener, one at a time with a solo. It’s a great start.
‘One Day I’ll Be Free Again’, a bit of a slower intro (is there a subtle nod to The Who in there?), a short cyclic riff and Bowes is speaking the lyrics, slowly adding keys, bass and Harry’s drums, the sound builds, the tempo builds, the harmonies fill the track, a quick Luke Morley solo helps the track along.
Bowes’ vocal and Morley on the acoustic start ‘Even If It Takes a Lifetime’, it reminds me of a Western Saloon, the piano adds character. The underlying rumble of Chris Childs bass carries the track forward. Listening to Bowes’ lyrics, they wouldn’t be out of place if they were coming from The Preacher. It emphasizes how astute Thunder are in their songwriting.
The intro to ‘Black’ has a real 70’s Glam Rock vibe, the rhythm section is pounding out the beats, the keys are adding a subtle electronic sound. This track is melodic and intense, full of purpose. Almost pushing and marching its way to the front to be noticed.
In true Thunder style the pace changes for ‘Unraveling’, it’s gentle and emotional, about some of the challenges in life, and battling through them without giving up. In places, a feel of some of the Beatles songs. Every now and again Luke Morley reminds us that Thunder are a rock band.
All Thunder albums have at least one track that includes powerful chugging guitar riffs, ‘The Dead City’ is one of those tracks. This is classic Thunder, the mid-track solo is blistering, Harry’s drum beat is solid throughout. I’d like to hear this one live.
‘Last Order’s’ is a little bit different, Luke Morley is on lead vocals for the first part, as Bowes takes over, the tempo picks up to a marching beat, the track builds, including a blues/funk guitar break (believe me it works, actually it works very well). It is something different, I liked it.
A big ‘We Will Rock You’ style start to ‘All The Way’, this will shake the arena/hall during a live gig. Heavy beats from Childs and James, sleazy dirty riffs from the guitars, a squealing solo. Classic heavy rock.
‘Dancing In The Sunshine’ could have been named ‘Dopamine’ after the album, this is a real ‘feel good’ track, full of bounce, full of joy. All the instruments sound happy, they want to party. It’s impossible not to nod or tap along.
Next, it’s the fabulously titled ‘Big Pink Supermoon’, it comes in at over 6-minutes long, This feels like a jazz/blues/swing inspired track, Bowes vocal is the prominent feature. The guitar breaks and piano wouldn’t be out of place in somewhere like Ronnie Scott’s, neither would the saxophone solo that occurs during the song.
The pace and style change again for the big riffs and beats of ‘Across The Nation’, this must be part of the upcoming live set, this is full on Arena Rock. Morley and Matthews are let loose with the six strings, whilst Childs and James are pounding the senses. I may even guess a possible show opener. This has Thunder stamped all over it.
‘Just A Grifter’ has a Parisian café feel about it, folky, starting with an acoustic guitar strumming, Bowes vocal is careful and thoughtful, the French vibe continues complete with an accordion and violin.
Harry James’ steady drum beat and Matthews piano/keys starts ‘I Don’t Believe The World’, Bowes narrates the lyrics, the sound develops and fills out, the addition of backing harmonies give another dimension, Morley smashes in with a screeching solo. This is another different track that works superbly.
‘Disconnected’ starts with heavy riffs and crashing drums, a song about life during the pandemic. The tempo changes are precise, orchestrated by Harry James. This track has an instantly catchy chorus that happily sits inside your head.
The penultimate track on ‘Dopamine’ is the ballad ‘Is Anybody Out There’, Danny Bowes is demonstrating his fantastic ability as he sings along with Matthews’ fine piano melody. The two combine perfectly.
The final track ‘No Smoke Without Fire’, is darker, the moody sound creates an almost haunting atmosphere. As the track evolves the mid-section gets quite heavy, more pounding beats, Bowes vocal sounding angry, emphasized by dirty riffs, before we’re eased into the end of the track with Morley’s blues style outro.
A Thunder album isn’t one you just listen to, you take a journey through it, you become part of it. There are rises and falls in tempo, styles, emotions and thoughts.
To tweak a football cliché, “It’s an album of two halves”, traditional Thunder and experimental Thunder, combined, it’s a winning tactic. As with all Thunder albums, they’re brilliantly constructed, with care and consideration to the position of each track within the album. This is no exception, add it to your collection, it will sit very nicely next to ‘Back Street Symphony’.
CD1 / LP1
- The Western Sky
- One Day We’ll Be Free Again
- Even If It Takes a Lifetime
- The Dead City
- Last Orders
- All the Way
CD2 / LP2
- Dancing in the Sunshine
- Big Pink Supermoon
- Across the Nation
- Just a Grifter
- I Don’t Believe the World
- Is Anybody Out There?
- No Smoke Without Fire
THUNDER ON TOUR IN MAY 2022