You might be able to attribute The Heavy's
2009 success for their album The House That Dirt Built
on our constant desire for things that remind us of the past (Amy Winehouse and The Dap Kings are nodding silently in the background). On their new album, The Glorious Dead
, The Heavy is certainly still channeling the James Browns and Curtis Mayfields, but in no way is this anything we've heard before. The early 1970s were never this tough or this ambitious. The Heavy is so sonically huge on this album that it almost borders on absurd. Horns stack on horns, electric guitars crunch, and Kelvin Swaby's voice snarls and croons with equal amounts of intensity. They never cross the line though, and that tip-toe act is what makes The Glorious Dead
great. It's like a Quentin Tarantino movie -- nodding to the past; fiercely focused on a direction; and in your face, giving you the finger.
The Glorious Dead
is more of a small step forward than it is a full-on left-hand turn. The beer-commercial-ready
"What Makes a Good Man" is a reincarnation of "How You Like Me Now?" with its anthemic chorus and Black Keys-meets-Sly Stone aesthetic, and the lead track "Can't Play Dead" isn't too far behind. The band is also still keen on building songs around distinctive riffs and hip-hop breaks -- for example, the barking horn riff that carries "Big Bad Wolf" is just begging to be sampled by Dr. Dre. But the British band is also inviting in new influences into their retro R&B abode. More relaxed tracks "Curse Me Good" and "Be Mine" evoke the coastal coolness of artists like Foster, The People and Blood Orange, while "Don't Say Nothing" sounds like The Heavy's take on New Orleans brass.
As for the content, an album this dark has never sounded this fun. The Glorious Dead
(note the title) is quick to open up comparisons to old horror movies, opening with a drive-in theater preview for a new monster, scarier than Frankenstein or Dracula -- the She-Beast. Most of the album revolves around this monster, the problems she causes or the emotions she elicits. The Heavy breathe new life into the old R&B trope of a maneater, the kind who so easily takes the narrator's heart on "Be Mine" only to chew it up and spit it out on "Curse Me Good." The Glorious Dead
ends strongly with a sort of white flag -- Swaby is surrendering to this debilitating addiction. Sure, he's lost so much by loving this woman, but he's not willing to her up. The Shangri Las doo wop that accompanies "Blood Dirt Love Stop" is incredibly bold -- they could have gone with another crunchy barnburner, but instead they throw out something completely unexpected, giving the album a fuller spectrum.
The Heavy isn't afraid of being called retro -- they play the music, they use the themes, they invite the comparisons. It's this fearlessness that allows them to pull it all off. But with execution this strong, sounds this big, structure this seamless, why be afraid of anything?