The Scaramanga Six - Phantom Head - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Scaramanga Six - Phantom Head

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2013-04-15

Stalwart Leeds band The Scaramanga Six richly deserve the wider exposure this Steve Albini-produced album will no doubt bring them. Their seventh long-player, Phantom Head, is like a classic rock version of The Wedding Present's Albini-produced classic Seamonsters. Either that, or it presents the band as a scrappy, punk-bleached, no-fucking-nonsense version of The Darkness. Which one sounds like more fun to you? Go with that.

Beginning with a classic prog-rock guitar flourish, opening track 'I Will Crush Your Heart' (fantastic title!) soon slips into a sound one caould describe as 'Pixies gone operatic'. The towards the end, there's a fantastic guitar solo which perfectly treads the line between bluesy virtuoso and gleeful punk amateurism. It pretty much sums this record up. Albini's typically compressed, no-fat recording style immediately suits the band to a tee, rendering them as angry punks rather than ironic pomp-rock enthusiasts.

However, that more knowing side of the band is still very much in evidence, especially on track two, 'I Am the Rain', which begins with, you guessed it, a portentous rumble of thunder. The lyrics are arch ("The clouds conspired to spell my name") but are thankfully delivered with a straight face, and the chorus is as ranging as a sudden downpour. Track three confirms what consummate songwriters these guys are; 'The Bristol Butcher' moves deftly from tense, gospel-inflected verses to the kind of balls-out, fists-aloft chorus you'd encounter on a 70s Judas Priest record.

The one problem with Phantom Head, and the general problem with The Scaramanga Six, is the lack of heart beneath the flash. This is a band for rocking out to, which is fine. It's also a band who allow you to feel a bit smug while rocking out, smiling at the cheesy rock references, appreciating another time-signature-change or shoe-horned-in widdly-bit. None of this is necessarily a bad thing, but it means that over the course of a whole album you become increasingly aware that the concept of the group stretches a little thin.

'The Spider' and 'The Cardinal' are two more in a series of lyrics inspired by pulpy, comic book tales of horrific creatures, supervillains and unnatural freaks. The only time, in fact, when the lyrics touch on anything ostensibly true-to-life is when they sing about the back-stabbing and bitching of the indie scene on 'The Stepford Bands', the lurching final track which switches from Modern Life-era Blur to hysterical wailing and twiddling verging on Muse.

So, what it lacks in soul, Phantom Head more than makes up for in noise, rage, sweat, laughs and weirdness. It's a funny record, and not just because it's frequently outrageous; it never sticks with one chord progression or tempo long enough for you too get bored - 'We Are the Blind', for example, goes from doomy, spoken-word intro to gonzo-punk thrash-about to Ziggy Stardust glam balladry and back again.

The album's energy-levels are frequently manic, and you can positively feel the intelligence of its makers behind the riffs. However, its lack of substance may mean that Phantom Head isn't an album you come back to after the initial crash-band-wallop has worn off.

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