The Internet Age has had a profound impact on South African musicians. And yet, there are both positive and negative sides to this coin. The latter type manifests itself in derivative offences against artistic ingenuity and the former in the likes of eclectic-listeners-cum-niche-rockers, Shadowclub. The Joburg-based tripod cite Blues legends John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters as early influences. However, the music that Shadowclub plays is indebted to these legends on much the same foundational basis that our country’s legal system is based on the writings of the old Roman-Dutch authorities.
Isaac Klawansky, Jacques Moolman and Louis Roux play blues-tinged Rock n’ Roll that is admittedly more a product of 21st century forbearers The White Stripes, Black Keys and pre-Only by the Night Kings of Leon. Early incarnations of the 3-piece would practice their trade by covering Stereophonics and Radiohead songs. This eclecticism translates into the approachable alt-rock lucky-packet that is Goodbye Wild Child.
Shadowclub quite clearly set out to sophisticate their sound in this sophomore outing. The band originally punted themselves as a back-to-basics, blues-y Rock n’ Roll band. This is evident on powerful opener ‘Born In The City’ and equally fuelled ‘The Troops’. ‘Pray For Me’ is the offering’s bluesiest number with the most apparent roots in the early influences cited by the three. ‘Melanielectriclove’ is Jack White-inspired riff-writing à la ‘Air Near My Fingers’ with a groovier twist. Released on an EP with other live cuts a few months ago, the track is the clear-cut single of the bunch. Mid-album statement of don’t-give-a-fuck-ery, ‘Vegas’ starts off like a Stones song intentionally played in the wrong key. The track conveys its message perfectly through the music but fails to inspire this notion authentically through the lyrics. The clichéd American ideal of Vegas could be metaphorical although this is equally unconvincing.
In spite of the record’s more meat & potatoes material, much of the content incorporates the more experimental and approachable sensibilities of modern alt rock and even grunge without steering into the threshold of pop rock. Frenetic jump-about, ‘The Fix’, is charged with the darkened spirit of the Foo Fighters. ‘Suddenly’, the album’s stand-out, commences with the trio indulging Radiohead fantasies with intricate percussion and guitar plucks before engulfing into QOTSA-induced flames circa Lullabies to Paralyse. ‘Dirt & The Rubble’ is Shadowclub’s shot at a lighters up, stadium pleasing ballad. It’s likely to enchant the masses but, due to its formulaic unfolding and lacking sense of purpose the song smacks of an easy way out. Interestingly, Moolman offers a new perspective on his voice – somewhere between The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser and Menomena’s Justin Harris. ‘Back of the Road’ could easily be construed as a grunge throwback before reminding the listener that this is Rock n’ Roll with a brief but scorching guitar solo.
Most of Goodbye Wild Child’s songs would be perfect for radio play: 3-4 minutes, high-octane, wielding ear-worm riffs and “oohs” and “yeahs” in all the right places. The slightly lengthier numbers gives a coherent image of what the band could do if they gave themselves a little more time in their songs. The album displays skilful musicianship from a very tight unit, instrumentally and vocally – illustrated in the effective use of harmonies. Moolman’s staunchly soulful vocals command the listener’s attention and share some similarities in employment with Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale. Indeed, Moolman’s voice might not be as immediately distinctive as Stockdale’s but its appeal carries far greater longevity in cover-to-cover listens.
Both the Black Keys and Kings of Leon underwent grand shifts in career trajectory with the filtration of pop sensibilities into their music. The disparity of the effects this had on the artistic consciences of the respective band-members was astounding. With no judgement passed, it appears that – akin to the path of the Auerbach/Carney duo – Shadowclub want the limelight more than they want to serve tribute to the Blues demi-gods of old. And for that purpose they’re on the right track.