It seems hard to believe that it was a decade ago that The Datsuns released their self-titled debut album and were heralded as the future of Rock n Roll by the British music press. It's also 9 years since I had my mind and eardrums blown by their live-set at Leeds festival. Their sound was so explosive and authentic that it showed acts like The Darkness (who took to the same stage an hour later) the difference between ironic posturing and true blood, spit and vomit rock music. Anyway… fast forward 10 years and a combination of changing trends, and a less commercially successful second album have seen The Datsuns drop off the radar to an extent. But they are still widely regarded as a formidable force live, one that continues to slay audiences (albeit smaller, and less fashion conscious ones) across the globe, and the New Zealand Quartet are now about to release their 5th album Death Rattle Boogie.
From the evidence of the opening two tracks it would appear that the bands fire and enthusiasm hasn't been dented by time. The album's opener 'God's are Bored' careers in with a caustic mess of cymbals, feedback and fret sliding before locking into a brutal driving riff that Dolph hollers across with his trademark vocal assault. Vintage AC/DC style gang-choruses, and a classic 'foot on monitor' guitar solo complete this initial 4 minute welcome, before The Datsuns somehow manage to rock even harder on the next track, and lead-single from Death Rattle Boogie, 'Gold Halo'. This track boasts a pummeling 200mph riff that is the equal to any of their previous work, a bass & drum jam section, and then an unexpected psych-rock breakdown that shows a certain sophistication that may have come with time. As a statement of intent this is about as emphatic as it gets.
However, this opening seems to set the bar almost too high both in terms of energy and quality for the band to live up to over the course of the following twelve tracks. Indeed whilst there are some exciting moments, such as the QOTSA-esque rhythmic swagger on 'Shadow Looms Large', too many of the songs on Death Rattle Boogie seem to pass without incident. Both 'Goodbye Ghosts' and 'Colour of the Moon' offer up perfectly listenable slices of rock and roll, but don't grab or challenge sonically, which is what makes the band such an exciting live prospect, but doesn't always translate to record on this occasion.
That being said, there are instances on Death Rattle Boogie when The Datsuns move away from their standard bombast and the results are more engaging. 'Fools Gold' offers up Zeppelin blues riffing delivered with a lazy restraint that gives it an authenticity missing from some of the more mid-tempo filler on the album. Elsewhere, 'Brain Tonic' is a slide-Guitar stomp that could have come from the White-Stripes playbook, and 'Wander the Night' is a six-minute Hammond organ-led epic reminiscent of the Doors, had they been permanently drenched in sweat and beer.
Overall then, Death Rattle Boogie has snatches of the fire and magic that made the world fall in love with The Datsuns a decade ago, aswell as some choice slices of deviation from their own template to suggest that the band are also continuing to move forward. For die-hard fans this will no doubt be a welcomed and satisfying set. Yet at 14 tracks, this album contains too much padding and that is what stops it being a truly great piece of work that could perhaps open them back up to the once adoring masses. But that isn't going to stop me cranking up 'Gold Halo' and ruining my hearing on a regular basis.