Surely the funkiest thing ever to emerge from Somerset, The Heavy return with an album of retro rock ‘n’ soul that’s irresistibly catchy
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The Heavy are one of those rare acts that have a song that’s far better known
than the band itself. Over the last decade ‘How You Like Me Now?’ has featured
in countless TV shows, games and ads, as well as appearing in almost as many
movies as the MGM lion.
The song is so
ubiquitous that it risks overshadowing the band’s more recent material and
consigning them to the one-hit wonder status of the likes of the Rembrandts and
With the release of
‘Sons’, their fifth album, they may be able to avoid such a fate. Several of
its eleven tracks replicate the massive cinematic sound of ‘How You Like Me
Now?’ and some are of a high enough quality to match its frequent use in mass
You’d be forgiven for
thinking ‘Sons’ is the work of some obscure 1970s group from one of the
grittier neighbourhoods of Memphis or Detroit. In fact The Heavy formed in 2007 in Bath, a picturesque city not renowned
as a hotbed of funk and soul.
The band’s sound is
unashamedly retro, with James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and George Clinton obvious
influences. But they bring enough fresh ideas to the table to avoid accusations
They signal their
intent with opening track ‘Heavy For You’. It’s a brawny hybrid of rock and
soul that swaggers and stomps its way through three breathless minutes. Out of
all the songs on the album, it’s the one that most closely resembles ‘How You
Like Me Now?’, and it’s easy to imagine it soundtracking everything from boxing
movie montages to cider ads.
The band ease up a
little for the next two songs, but the quality remains high. It’s hard to
believe ‘The Thief’ isn’t a cover of a forgotten Stax gem. The similarly
infectious ‘Better As One’ is a brassy number complete with spidery basslines
and crazed screeches worthy of James Brown.
They’re both prime
examples of the power and versatility of Kelvin Swaby’s vocals. Blessed with
great range, he’s able to swing between the sweet and breathy style of Marvin
Gaye to a huge raspy blare reminiscent of Edwin Starr.
‘Fighting For the Same
Thing’ is a passionate plea for unity that rivals ‘Heavy For You’ as the
album’s catchiest song. In keeping with the rest of the album, its lyrics are
heartfelt without being particularly memorable or original.
The odd track out is
‘Simple Things’, which has a 1980s disco-funk sound akin to groups such as
Shalamar. The squidgy basslines and drum machine are undeniably cheesy, to the
degree that you suspect the track is a deliberate parody. Its inclusion is
jarring, but due to its sense of fun, it’s not unwelcome.
‘What Don’t Kill You’
has a Latin vibe and clear cinematic potential. It’s the kind of song you
expect to hear played over a Mexican barroom scene just before the shooting
starts. At one point it threatens to turn into Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’,
signalling the breadth of the band’s influences.
The album closes with
‘Burn Bright’, a gospel-tinged slab of late-night soul. Female backing singers,
rumbling guitars and Morricone-style trumpets lend the track gravitas and end
the album on a high note.
With most of the songs
hovering around the three-minute mark, they don’t outstay their welcome. This
is an album of lean, punchy songs packed full of hooks, sweat and grit.
‘Sons’ won’t convert
the doubters who consider The Heavy
an irrelevant throwback more interested in music’s past than its future. But
for the rest of us, there’s a lot here to get excited about.
If you liked The Heavy before, you’ll love them now.