Imagine if you could be in all your favourite bands at once...
Andy Fyfe 2009
The title of The Heavy’s first album, 2007’s Great Vengeance and Furious Fire, was the perfect trailer. Lifting Samuel L Jackson’s biblical quote from Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction set their stall out perfectly; just like the director’s films, their music picked seeds from the past and ground them into a modern cut ’n’ paste cult classic, part Curtis Mayfield, part Isaac Hayes, part Led Zeppelin, all heart and soul.
The House That Dirt Built nicely builds the plot, opening up whole new musical storylines to explore. By the fifth track they’ve already gone through soul, garage punk, voodoo swamp revue, a bit of James Brown funk, Hendrix and balls-out rock; by album’s end they’ve also kicked rockabilly, reggae and even a closing ballad into the gumbo pot. The most surprising thing, however, is how good they are at making it all sound like the work of just one band.
Holding the centre is Kelvin Swaby’s sweet soul voice, whether it’s his Mayfield falsetto or a more muscular Otis Redding bellow, with just a hint of Cee-Lo’s Gnarls Barkley goofiness. That’s not to say this is pastiche: The House That Dirt Built is a serious business.
The monstrous Peter Gun-meets-The Stooges riff of Oh No! Not You Again! is the kind of garage rock that only gatecrashers play at parties: even the backing vocals from Noisettes’ Shingai Shoniwa sound like a one-woman 60s street gang. How You Like Me Now?, with its James Brown hook, is what the JBs might have sounded like if they’d recorded for Stax; Sixteen moves into Screaming Jay Hawkins/Dr John territory… and so it goes on. About the only time their magpie eyes miss the prize is with the white reggae of Cause for Alarm, but as it’s followed by the dancehall grind of Loved Like That, it’s just about forgivable.
Imagine if you could be in all your favourite bands at once. The Heavy already are.