Make no mistake Butch Walker is a musical maverick. Despite having worked with some of mainstream pop's biggest names, when it comes to his own music he does it his way. Each record shows improvement from the last and `The Spade' is no exception with musical growth again emphatically evident. With erstwhile cohorts the Black Widows playing a much bigger part this time around, unlike 2010's `I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart' which saw them as a backing band, the Widows have all contributed to the song writing on the `The Spade' and the album is all the better for it. There's an earthy, loose and live feel to the album, no surprise given that Butch admitted most tracks were recorded in `one or two takes' in a recent interview with Carson Daly.
`The Spade' is above all a good time rock `n' roll record. Kicking in with the tight riffs and loose drums of `Bodegas and Blood', the ridiculously catchy `Everysinglebodyelse' and the single (of the year in my opinion) `Summer of 89', the album is an instant hit. The Stones-esque `Sweethearts' showcases Walker's sublime and diverse writing skills and some tremendous backing vocals whilst `Day Drunk' isn't as much fun as the title suggests but instead one of Butch's classic introspective retrospectives. It's difficult with an album of such high quality to pick a stand out track but if I had to then `Synthesisers' just gets the nod. With its nod to 80's kitsch (Duran Duran and Ponch from CHiPs get name checked), big gang chorus and irresistible pop melodies `Synthesisers' encapsulates everything that's great about `The Spade'. The Celtic flavoured `Dublin Crow' sounds as good on record as it did when Butch played it to a small crowd in Soho in June with just his guitar and a small bass drum for company, `The Closest Thing To You I'm Gonna Find' is as close as we get to a ballad - unusual for a man who normally likes to slow things down as much as he rocks out - and is perfectly smoky, late night, melancholy and dripping in self pity and sadness. Finishing off with the double whammy of `Bullet Belt' and `Sucker Punch', BW & the BW's sound like they're having a lot of fun with this set, playing with a tangible sense of freedom and fun that is addictive - you'll have this on repeat, mark my words. A truly authentic rock `n' roll record from a man (and his band) who has always done things well and has succeeded once again in evolving. A bona fide talent.
Did someone coin "the best artist you've never heard of" for Butch Walker, or did someone just apply it to him? Whichever - it's really true. Butch Walker emerged from a haze of Hair Metal in the 80s, survived "post punk" with the slightly college-rock but indisputably exciting Marvelous 3, and has been honing his considerable and prolific songwriting, performing and producing talent for many years now. That chameleon ability to change with the times might in a lesser performer be a weakness, but he makes it his strength, mining his past with wry humour and observant insight. Walker and the Black Widows play with the easy confidence of people who know who they are and where they're supposed to be.
He attracts these incredibly avid fans (er...myself I guess included) but I can see that hardly anyone in the UK seems to buy or review his music, or know about him, or care. I play his music to everyone I know but it doesn't always `take'. Until I get the chance to see this band play live, I content myself with playing these catchy, wordy, smart and punchy songs again and again and again. That's the thing about Walker's brand of music: it pushes all my other varied preferences out of the window - for months at a time songs by this band are almost all I want to hear on my mp3 player. The music just makes me feel good.
"The Spade" is back-to-basics rock musicianship, played with a fresh touch, and combined with the production quality you'd expect from an in-demand producer like Walker. There's a particularly sunny, southern-rock 70's glow about it, and some songs might well seem familiar in their catchy musical phrasing. You might find echoes some well known rock songs from the past; but no one could mistake that intelligent, funny writing style. Standout tracks for me are the stonking "Summer of 89" and the gloriously laid back "Sweethearts" with its fabulously pushing, soaring backing vocals. But there are a lot of great tracks here if this fits your bill. Who knows if it does: I have absolutely no idea who would like this. If you're unsure you could check Walker and the Black Widows out on a certain online clips site first, and decide for yourself. Me, I'm hooked. I'll be buying the next album, and the next, in confidence that they're only going to get wiser and better.