Charlie Waller has a big mouth! Then again, as lead singer with The Rumble Strips, this is probably a good thing. In fact, it was that same voice and Waller’s rousing rendition of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back in Black’, that first brought Waller to the attention of one Mark Ronson, producer of their latest offering, Welcome to the Walk Alone.
Now, truth be told, I’m not too fond of Mark Ronson. To me, he’s the musical equivalent of Domino’s Pizza – grand once in a while, but too much of him could make you sick. My fear here was that Ronson would completely overwhelm the album, with his trademark big-band sound, leaving a congealed cheesy mess of 60’s nostalgia. On the other hand, orchestral arrangements from Owen Palett, aka Final Fantasy, aka the musical genius who did strings for Arcade Fire, just might be the perfect compliment to Ronson’s over the top production.
The resulting album is a bit of a mixed bag. Gone is the happy go lucky, ska-tinged sound of their debut Girls and Weather, replaced by an altogether more polished and sophisticated affair. Huge orchestral scores and expansive brass sections make you feel like you could be in the climax of a Hitchcock movie. Now, when this works, it’s great. ‘Not the Only Person’ (the first single to be taken from the album), is a triumphant mini-epic. Waller’s vocals soar as he sings about a failed mugging attempt, thanks to his wife chasing off their would-be attackers. ‘Daniel’ comes complete with an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western sound, set against a sea of strings and galloping drums. Those same drums keep thundering along on probably the most Ronson sounding track – ‘London’. It’s an incredibly upbeat and almost nauseatingly chirpy song which is sure to top the charts as well as featuring in a number of British romantic comedies.
At this stage, four songs into the album, I was starting to gag a little on the repetitive sound and style of some of the tracks and was craving something edgier. I hoped this might come in the form of Pallett’s string arrangements, but apart from the sinister opening of ‘Back Bone’ there wasn’t much else to get your teeth into. Tracks like ‘Raindrops’ and ‘Running on Empty’, seem like filler bordering on complete dribble. ‘Dem Girls’ is interesting enough, reminiscent of the original Rumble Strips vintage ska sound – something I was craving for by the time I reached the final track. The perfectly pleasant but completely forgettable ‘Happy Hell’ simply fails to fill the gap.
If you enjoy Mark Ronson and his signature sound -you’ll probably love this album. For me however, there simply isn’t enough here to get too excited about, despite all the bells and whistles.