Head Like A Hole - Narcocorrido - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Head Like A Hole - Narcocorrido

by Warwick Stubbs Rating:8.5 Release Date:2015-04-10

New Zealand band Head Like a Hole are 25 years into a career of creating some of the best hard-rock that music has to offer. On this, their sixth outing, they show that music doesn’t need to be complicated or fancy to get your head-nodding and feet tapping. In contrast to their early days, when their music almost seemed like controlled party-chaos with wild drumming and incomprehensible lyrics while still supplying the groove they have become known for, much seems to have cooled-down without losing any of the catchy riffs or power.

It can be odd listening to the first album, 1992’s 13, as it comes across like some weird offspring of RHCP party-funk and industrial rock. Nothing exemplifies this as much as the six-minute ‘Penut’ which alternates between fast, erratic passages and slowed-down grooves. Over the course of three more albums, the funk went out but the groove stayed, the talky/rappy vocals found singable notes, and even some of the nonsensical lyrics became far more grounded.

A guitarist was added, a drummer was replaced, then the band broke up. And then the band got back together, and then the bassist quit. So with the singer and original guitarist still in the band, Head Like a Hole continued on and are now bringing us Narcocorrido as a follow-up to their post-breakup 2011 album Blood Will OutWhere the previous album was a much heavier affair that took the band away from the humour that infiltrated their groove on songs like ‘Faster Hooves’ (Flik Y’Self Off Y’Self), the country rock of ‘Cornbag’ (Double Your Strength...), and ‘Comfortably Shagged’ (Are You Gonna Kiss It or Shoot It?), Narcocorrido seems like the perfect follow-up, expanding on that template with new arrangements and a confidence somewhat unexpected this far through their career.

The album starts off with the anthemic ‘The Great Wall’. Pounding drums and sparse guitar chords support a stirring cry from Booga Beazley as he sings: “The great wall that holds us south/ I remember the day you came into this world/ Your best hope is on open ground/ The wolf it runs into the lion’s mouth.” The lyrics seem a bit random sometimes, but it’s what Beazley is known for and they fit so snuggly into the groove that it really doesn’t matter.

What is different is the sense of unification in those lyrics, so that despite their surface randomness, there’s enough there for the listener to relate to on a personal level, something that wasn’t always possible with those earlier lyrics – often you had to just shrug your shoulders and sing “Even my hair smells like pussy when it’s been in my mouth/ Halfway down my throat not even close to a feeling y’know.../ y’know, y’know, y’know...?” Well no, not really, but ok, whatever.

‘Trouble Again’ harks back to their pre-breakup period when the drums nailed everything down and let the bass and guitars do all the work (‘Hootenanny’, ‘Wet Rubber’), while ‘Rotten’ throws what seems like a clichéd Black Sabbath riff in the washer without any water. What gets wrung out is the same riff but a whole lot dirtier. ‘Maw’ managers to take the listener almost all the way back to the earliest days with chaotic guitars and distorted vocals; the only thing that’s missing is the corresponding sense of abandonment that only the rhythm section can bring – it’s a great song, let down only by a boring drum performance.

And this might be the only aspect that truly lets the album down: where Mike Franklin-Browne does an admirable job of keeping the foundation solid, he also fails to really let loose or be more imaginative with his kit when it comes to adding drum parts that could have helped lift certain songs like ‘The Art of War’ into the heavy-rock masterpiece they were aiming for. There’s nothing that comes close to the propulsive nature of Mark Hamill’s drumming on songs like ‘Dirteater’ from 1994’s Flik Y’Self Off Y’Self.

‘Mexico’ is a slowed-down moment that suits this drumming style so much better. Beazley's voice drawls over the whole thing. Not much changes but the band never loses the listener's attention.

‘The Rise & Fall of the Sun’ sees Head Like a Hole bringing out the more straight heavy-rock approach before settling down into ‘Sunrise’ for the finale with clean guitars, gentle drums, and the vocals lamenting: “Why do you treat me that way?” It's a really nice moment that reminds us of just how much the band has grown without forgetting their roots.

‘The Great Wall’ may be the standout track, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the fun of ‘7000 Days’ and the title track. In fact, most of these songs are just straight-up enjoyable. A song like ‘Man & Steer’ feels like they are suddenly more sombre, thus more 'serious', but don’t be fooled – it’s another of the excellent changes of pace this album provides where the previous album didn’t.

While the album may lack the wild abandonment of earlier releases, it does show that these older gents can still rock a lot harder than most younger bands, and have lost none of their enthusiasm. Narcocorrido exceeds all expectations.

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