Look through any rock magazine these days and you’re bound to see some serious hype for a band you’ve never even heard of. The trick is figuring out when to believe it and when not to.
The first time I can really remember some serious rock ’n’ roll hype was back in 1980, when a singer/songwriter named Steve Forbert was dubbed the latest in a series of artists supposed to be the “New Bob Dylan,” a title bestowed upon such singer/ songwriters as Bruce Springsteen, who ended up doing pretty well for himself, and Kevin Coyne, who was apparently known as the “British Bob Dylan.” Ever heard of him?
Forbert had a pretty catchy song on the radio, “Romeo’s Tune,” from his excellent 1980 LP “Jackrabbit Slim,” that hit No. 11 on the pop charts, and it looked like maybe all the hype was justified. But then, after a couple of lackluster albums, Forbert was dumped by his label just a few years after his chart success.
Nobody does hype better than British music paper New Musical Express (NME), which in recent years has published fawning articles and glowing reviews on homegrown bands like Oasis, The Libertines, The Kaiser Chiefs and Kula Shaker, with only Oasis making any kind of mark on American shores.
The latest beneficiary of the NME hype hurricane is England’s Arctic Monkeys, who are set to perform June 4 at Tempe’s Marquee Theatre. The band’s debut album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” was listed as the fifth best British album of all time in a recent NME critics poll, beating out The Beatles’ “Revolver.”
Now, let’s not get carried away, folks. I’ve heard the Monkeys’ record. It’s pretty good, but I can think of dozens of British albums over the past 40 years that are way better than “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” like anything by The Beatles and The Clash. Even in the past dozen years, British records such as Oasis’ “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?,” Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and The Libertines’ “Up the Bracket” blow the Arctic Monkeys out of the water.
The Arctic boys are barely into their 20s, so let’s check back with them in five years. They might just be, after all, the next Kula Shaker.
Another band currently at the front of the hype parade is Australian power trio Wolfmother, who after a reportedly stunning performance at the SXSW showcase in Austin, Texas, have been the talk of the U.S. rock press as they tour the country. They’ll perform Tuesday at Tempe’s The Clubhouse Music Venue.
The group’s self-titled debut disc, which came out last week, is packed with the crunchiest blues/rock, guitar/ bass tandem riffs since the early days of Black Sabbath.
Led by singer/guitarist Andrew Stockdale — whose high, wailing vocals recall a pre-MTV Ozzy Osbourne and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant — Wolfmother’s tunes sound like they belong on the soundtrack to Richard Linklater’s film tribute to the ’70s, “Dazed and Confused.”
With song titles such as “Colossal,” “Dimension,” “Witchcraft” and “Mind’s Eye,” Wolfmother seems to good-naturedly worship at the altar of Zeppelin’s Tolkienesque, fantasy-based lyrics, especially on “White Unicorn.” Reading the lyrics from the CD insert, they look really cheesy (“And I know it’s on your mind/ we’ve been drinking on the wine/ that we drank from the serpent’s vine/ now we live in another time”), but hearing them sung with the bludgeoning riffs makes you a believer.
The Hammond organ during the break on “Woman” sounds like Deep Purple during their “Highway Star” days; the terrific, bombastic, mellow acoustic-into-thundering rock “Where Eagles Have Been” recalls like every FM radio tune circa 1975, and “Vagabond” is an acoustic English folk, Zeppelin-esque “Bron-YAur Stomp”-styled tune.
If anything, Wolfmother brings back the days of Chevy vans, bell-bottoms, gold chains, aviator shades and big mustaches — back when you were only as cool as the rock music you blasted at a stoplight. They may be derivative, but the band never makes the mistake of taking themselves seriously. This renders their debut disc fun as hell, and one of the best pure rock albums of the 2000s.
How’s that for hype?
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The Clubhouse Music Venue, 1320 E. Broadway Road, Tempe
Information: (480) 968-3238 or luckymanonline.com
When: 6:30 p.m. June 4
Where: Marquee Theatre, 730 N. Mill Ave., Tempe
Information: (480) 829-0607 or luckymanonline.com