review: jeff beck - loud hailer
Words by Sophie Mitchell
In the rock circle, Jeff Beck needs no introduction. Like fellow Yardbirds Clapton and Page, Beck is a pioneer of the genre and inarguably one of the greatest influential instrumentalists of all time. A potential Allah for the modern guitarist. At 72, his greatest challenge in a 50+ year long career now lies in producing music that sounds new. It’s a sizeable hurdle to clear, and Beck’s got scores of spectators cheering, understandably, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ Not that any fan of his would be disappointed in new material. The guitarist’s reached the lofty but stagnant pedestal that equates to any release being deemed a tremendous success. Not a bad place to be, but one that stunts the drive to reinvent. So with Loud Hailer, I commend Beck, for if not a representation of an attempted reinvention in sound, it is demonstrative of his desire to make noise (the behold-my-bold-opinions kind).
Collectively, Loud Hailer is exactly what it sounds like. A heady, wailing collection of roaring Beck guitar riffs and Rosie Bones’ gravelly vocals. It’s loud and it’s hot. Pull It, one of two signature Beck instrumentals on the record, is downright nasty. Grimy bass and revved guitar are echoed in half the album’s songs (star features of Live in the Dark and Right Now) and Bones’ voice is intoxicating, nearly predatory. On the slower tracks, her voice remains intoxicating, but it’s honeyed and gentle, a brilliant match for the Jeff Buckley-esque chords Beck strokes out for the beginning of Scared for the Children and the whole of Shrine. Shrine closes out the record, bringing it full circle with a tender track that pacifies the instrumental chaos of songs prior (‘Who do I pray to? / I think I’ll pray to you / Got faith in the good things that good humans can do’). It’s a beautiful song, one that makes me particularly miffed about Bones’ lack of visible credit. Her name appears in neither of Loud Hailer’s major digital listings (iTunes, Spotify), not under ‘Artist,’ nor in album description, or even trailing after a ‘featuring.’ Being the sole voice of the record, it’s a rather large disservice.
Loud Hailer is loud in the basic auditory sense, but also in its politics. Scared for the Children is a maternal ballad on fear of the current state of affairs (‘What will we leave them with? / I suppose we’ll never know’). Thugs Club antagonises the ‘rich man’s war,’ roping in George Bush and Rupert Murdoch into its political lament, and lyrics to The Ballad of the Jersey Wives read a bit like a conspiracy theorist’s diary (‘You think that I’m mad, but I know to my core / I’ve read the official truth, but there’s a truth worth fighting for’).
Like I said, the record is not quiet by any means, but too much noise lends itself to lack of clarity and in the case of Loud Hailer, to a lack of sensitivity. It’s difficult to see the political agenda not just plainly, but in any serious light, as the overruling tone of the record is rowdy and roaringly seductive. But twenty-first century politics aren’t sexy, and digesting the record as anything but a fun and slightly hubristic exhibition of a master instrumentalist gets tricky. To recognise Loud Hailer’s lyrics as statements against the increasingly cataclysmic forces dividing the modern world, one cannot do so without acknowledging the record’s element of sex and fun, and all its qualities utterly at ends with the real fear and toxicity it alludes to. All together, an uncomfortable disparity.
The record opens with track The Revolution Will Be Televised, a direct rework of and play upon Gil-Scott Heron’s 1971 Black Power lyric poem ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.’ In the wake of events like Baton Rouge, the song is gravely pertinent. But, then again, it’s a sultry, swinging ballad opener, comically distanced from anything grave. Distanced and, yet, perfectly within its rights. Ultimately, Loud Hailer is a rock record, and a fun one. It may verbalise decidedly un-fun political anxieties, and exist in an incredibly real and terrifying political landscape, but at the end of the day, it’s a rock record. Dissecting it further delves into the contentious and convoluted debate over how musicians and artists alike utilise their platforms during periods of revolution and unrest. A debate which deserves a far more extensive and proper outlet than a line or two of what is (supposed to be) just an album review. So let Loud Hailer exist contentedly and let Beck’s politics be messy. Politics were never clean to begin with.