BUDGIE: YOU'RE ALL LIVING IN CUCKOOLAND (2006)
1) Justice; 2) Dead Men Don't Talk; 3) We're All Living In Cuckooland; 4) Falling; 5) Love Is Enough; 6) Tell Me Tell Me; 7) (Don't Want To) Find That Girl; 8) Captain; 9) I Don't Want To Throw You; 10) I'm Compressing The Comb On A Cockerel's Head.
Anyone up for a new Budgie album in the 21st century? I originally had sort of assumed that after the release of Deliver Us From Evil, Shelley just retired the band's name and went on to have a solo career or something — apparently, though, «Budgie» as a touring band functioned all the way into 1988, and even after the last gigs Shelley never did much of anything except for a few collaborations on side projects. But supposedly, boredom got the better of him after a while, and there you have it — a brand new Budgie album in 2006, replete with a typically Budgie title and a typically Budgie album cover.
The music, unfortunately, is not at all typical Budgie. The original post-1974 drummer Steve Williams returns as a loyal servant, but the guitar player is brand new: a guy called Simon Lees, who was actually born one year before the release of Budgie's first album, and began his guitar training at the height of the hair metal era, and it still shows, no matter how much he is trying to hide it. In any case, the guitar sound on this album is largely bad — overcompressed, genetically modified, synthetically treated, and way too much influenced by nu-metal — and the aesthetics of the album is way too heavily rooted in the Twisted Sister / Poison camp, which is all the more surprising considering that Budgie did not even have the proper time to live into the hair metal age. It's as if at least half of these songs were really written circa 1984-85 (and why not?), then given the «modern» production treatment.
The record is not without a certain bizarre charm: Shelley and Lees use the pop metal idiom without subscribing to the pop metal lifestyle — this is not a collection of "let's party" anthems, cock rockers, and power ballads; the approach has elements of unpredictability, surrealism, and Budgie's obfuscated social criticism. But what of it all if the riffs are no good? To be sure, songs like ʻJusticeʼ and ʻDead Men Don't Talkʼ are full of metal riffage, but this is just metal riffage like tons of other metal riffage — no revelatory note combinations, no juicy tones, no personality whatsoever. In addition, Shelley has to really strain his aging voice to outshout the plastic electric noise, and he was never a screamer and still isn't.
Ultimately, the only songs on the record that have a bit of emotional resonance are the quiet ones. The title track is a decent ballad, leaning towards toothless adult contemporary, but with some pretty harmonies in the chorus — pretty enough to make me believe that, perhaps, we are all living in cuckooland indeed, or else why would we have to bother with this record in the first place? ʻCaptainʼ is a bit of acoustic folk that would be 100% filler on a classic Budgie album, but here becomes a highlight just because it is one of the few not-overproduced, not-overscreamed tracks. Is this praise? Doesn't sound much like praise to me.
Strangest of the lot is ʻI'm Compressing The Comb On A Cockerel's Headʼ, a track that sports a trademark Budgie title but sounds like a cross between Devo and Limp Bizkit, spludging along to a martial-industrial-metal rhythm and a particularly ugly vocal melody, as if Shelley tried to imitate the death metal growl to the best of his abilities. Adding insult to injury, almost the entire second half of the lengthy track is given over to a «phone-dialing» synth solo (or is that a synth guitar solo?) the likes of which went out of style at the end of the New Wave era, I think. Again, there's a certain bizarre attraction stemming from the stupidity of it all, but should we give the songs a thumbs up just because they're so ridiculous?
The real bad news is that the record will most likely confuse and baffle veteran Breadfans who'd like to be in for the kill, without attracting any new fans because that task is impossible unless Shelley somehow gets some of his Metallica admirers to guest star on the record. Ultimately, the best thing about this unfortunate «reunion» attempt remains the album cover — yes, the lanky bassist still retains some style, but the substance, alas, is still long gone and can never be recovered again. Thumbs down.