Gallon Drunk

The Soul Of The Hour

To say that Gallon Drunk are enjoying a second wind is like saying we’ve had a slightly damp winter – a squally understatement that is way off the Beaufort scale. After the elegiac and reflective quality of The Road Gets Darker Than Here, already a high watermark for the band comes The Soul Of The Hour: emphatically titled, more strident and more rollicking. They’ve come a long way since 1992’s first album You, The Night & The Music but are in ruder health than ever, despite sounding like hell’s own house band.

The core line up remains leader and chief wassail-ant James Johnston, top brass and sartorial saxophonist Terry Edwards and unrelenting skin thumper Ian White. This time they’ve added a new bassist in Leo Kurunis and returned to the banks of the River Elbe to record at the Cloud Hills studio in Hamburg. Here they’ve painted another masterpiece in post-midnight malevolence. Only this time, it’s more hypnotic, with a new-and-Neu-found intransigence.

The album begins with ‘Before The Fire’, led by pained piano strokes that are strafed by staccato rim-shots, a song that builds up slowly but deliberately and vividly. The drums properly kick in after two minutes, and the first time we hear Johnston’s yelps are after a good five minutes. ‘The Dumb Room’ picks up where ‘You Made Me’ from The Road Gets Darkerleft off, with a big shout of ‘1,2,3’ like a cranky drunk shouting his order across heads four deep at the bar. Johnston sounds honestly "glad we’re all back in here again" and in my imaginings it’s like a reunion of friends in the Spanish Bar, down the urine tributary Hanway Street, hidden in the heart of London’s West End. It’s evocative of crushed red velvet, sticky floors and stale ale seeping from every mahogany-stained pore. Johnston still paints a vivid picture with lyrics that stand up to those of his erstwhile Bad Seeds band leader Nick Cave. Poetic lines featuring grotesques "leaning over by the cigarette machine like the Empress Of The Nile" are punctuated by exhortations in controlled exhalation by Terry Edwards.

‘The Exit Sign’ builds with pounding drums and morbid fascination and ends with a pause like the vinyl run-out groove that jolts you back into the moment – even on an iPod it’s like the end of side one. We’re back in the room for titular track ‘The Soul of the Hour’. It starts with an awkwardly shuffling drum and ends with emotion that’s high on the Richter scale. This dark finish is unusually illuminated by flickers of electronic light with a big breakdown of beats and brass which only add to this, the epic centrepiece of the album, the soul of The Soul Of The Hour you could say.

Seeping from menace to melancholy comes the almost unchartered ballad ‘Dust In The Light’. Enveloped in Hammond organ it recalls ‘Strange Little Girl’ by The Stranglers and Johnston exposes a hitherto underused high register. In fact his range is wider than usual on this album, ranging from deep bar-room brawler to light and airy lovelorn chanter via the more modal sounds of Bobby Gillespie’s evil twin, and these new vocal forays are most welcome.

The more familiar garage romp of ‘Over And Over’ is the closest relative to Gallon Drunk’s 1993 classic ‘Jake On The Make’, and it perfectly segues into album closer ‘The Speed of Fear’, where Johnston has made a Faustian pact with Him down below.

As with all Gallon Drunk albums this is redolent of half-remembered alcohol-fuelled moments where things can go either way – end well, or end in the gutter. Given the richness of their eighth record I sincerely hope that however dark it gets, their journey from The Heart Of Town to The Soul of The Hour is one that never ends.

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