I feel like I’m a little late to the game in sharing my thoughts on Starcrawler’s great new LP She Said. I think it’s been out a couple of weeks now and I’m just getting around to talking about it. It’s been a crazy two weeks. I had company here at the house so that always blows a hole in the music listening schedule. It’s frowned upon when I hide in the B&V labs listening to obscure B-sides on headphones when the house is full of company. And then, while I was drinking on the balcony with family, we had a flood of great releases: Ozzy’s new album Patient Number 9, CCR had their great vault release At The Royal Albert Hall, and then Beck surprised me Sunday night by releasing a Neil Young cover “Old Man,” on a commercial no less (terrible motive, great song). I had to comment on that one… And of course this week on Tuesday I went to see the Cult who roared into town and blew the roof off the Uptown Theater. How can a poor boy keep up with and listen to all of this rock n roll!! I think fall is going to be great for music!
A lot has happened in the world of Starcrawler since their last LP, 2019’s Devour You. Well, if I’m being honest a lot happened in the world since 2019. After the Rock Chick turned me onto Starcrawler, I actually got a chance to see them live right after Devour You came out. It was a great show and I really like Devour You. But then the pandemic and lockdown hit and like every other band out there Starcrawler was grounded. And like most bands they turned to writing the next album. I read a story about Arrow de Wilde (lead singer) being in her apartment and Henri Cash (lead guitarist) coming over and sitting outside her window, playing her the beginnings of “She Said,” the title track. She sang lyrics at him from the balcony “like Romeo and Juliet.” There were additional changes for Starcrawler since that last LP. Founding member Austin Smith (drums) left the band. He was replaced by Seth Carolina. I always worry a change in the line up can hurt band chemistry. Then Henri Cash’s brother Bill Cash joined the band to augment their sound. Bill not only plays rhythm guitar, he also plays pedal steel which I find fantastic. Tim Franco remains the band’s bass player. Starcrawler carries on now as a five-piece band.
Beyond all of that Starcrawler signed to a major label, Big Machine Records, after being on a small independent label for their first two LPs. I had forgotten their raunchy, punk rock debut was produced by creepy Ryan Adams but I’m off topic here. I couldn’t help but think about Social Distortion, another Cali punk band who made a huge leap forward between their second LP and their major label debut third LP. I mention all of this just to again frame the fact that a lot has happened to this band in the last three years. Not to mention they always seem to be on tour since the lockdown lifted. They’ll go from KC to Minny to NY to the UK to South Korea. They’re certainly putting in the roadwork. I actually just saw Starcrawler again a month and a half ago, before the new LP came out, and they were as usual, sensational. While they remain untamed rock n roll electricity on stage, they’ve toned down the blood spitting antics but they still bring it live. They’re thrilling to watch. Seth Carolina was great on drums and I love the addition of Bill Cash…chemistry intact. I wish I’d seen them right after the LP came out – I totally mis-identified an acoustic track they did and called it “Runaway” and it turns out it was “Better Place.” I didn’t have a setlist to go from. They played two acoustic songs and I do believe one of them was a stripped down version of “Broken Angels.” It was guess work and weak detective skills using the internet that caused the mistake. My apologies for the error.
I really like She Said. While the band has come a long way from the debut, especially in terms of songwriting (there are no songs like say, “Pussy Tower” about “head” on this album), I can still hear their influences: punk rock (maybe a bit of the Runaways), classic rock (Stones/Faces), and a dash of Glam Rock (Bowie’s more butch-y moments). The LP was produced by Tyler Bates who is more well known for doing movie scores. Perhaps he gives the LP it’s more cinematic scope. While I do think this is a step forward for Starcrawler, I see it as more of a consolidation of the large leap they made between the debut and Devour You. Some bands do defy the “sophomore slump.” Although as I think of this as a consolidation of gains made on the second album versus a large leap forward, I can’t help but think of all the new textures present on this album like acoustic guitar and pedal steel. They’ve got a new Gram Parsons/Stones ala “Dead Flowers” vibe that they only dabbled in on “No More Pennies” from the last LP. And I can’t say enough about how much more advanced Henri Cash’s guitar playing has become. The guy gets better each time out and that really helps propel the music forward. Lyrically many of the songs seem to point to a theme of longing – for a lover, for connection – which was perhaps influenced by lock down. I will say the production on this album is a leap forward for the band.
For fans of Starcrawler’s more punky, harder rocking stuff, you need not worry. While they’ve got a much more varied sound on She Said, they blast out of the gate with the lead off track, first single “Roadkill.” It’s a classic meet-me-at-the-finish line rocker. I really like Henri’s riff on this song. It’s fast and hard. There are plenty of songs that just rock out on this album. “Thursday” is another riff rocker. I like Seth Carolina’s drums on that one. Henri Cash’s guitar is kind of Stonesy on this one too with a brief, snarling solo. “You always leave me with nothing…” “True” is another of their hard driving rock songs. It’s got a frenetic energy that reminds me of the first album. “Runaway” is just a great hard rock tune. It may be my favorite of their driving, punk-influenced tracks.
The title track, second up on the LP, is where we start to hear some varied sounds from Starcrawler. I think “She Said” will go down as one of their more iconic songs. It’s more of a chugging rocker than their usual full-tilt attack. There’s so much longing in this song…”Please, please, come back to me…” It would have been a perfect pandemic track and is the first track they wrote for the album during that dark time. Henri’s guitar tone really opens up on this track and gives me that Stonesy vibe. “Stranded,” the following track continues that longing theme. I love the lyric, “I met a racetrack girl at a bus stop.” The chorus is infectious, “Stranded on the side of a one-way street, The stars in her eyes won’t shine on me.” Arrow hauntingly repeats the words “shine on me.” Wonderful track. Henri’s solo here may be my favorite.
Beyond those great tracks we really see Starcrawler expand their sound. “Broken Angels” is a ballad/midtempo track that I just love. There’s a haunting guitar figure and a hint of keyboards. If I’m not mistaken Bill Cash makes his pedal steel debut here. “Broken angel burn your wings, I’ll make you stay.” The wobbly solo makes me think of the Faces’ version of Chuck Berry‘s “Memphis.” “Midnight” is an acoustic based tune that is like nothing I’d heard them do before. Despite being slightly mellower, I heard this in the car and noticed I was driving very fast. “Better Place,” the final track borders on country-rock and is a lovely ending. Henri and Arrow duet on that song like Gram and Emmylou. That track is just a knock out, worth the price of admission.
Finally there’s a track I really like called “Jetblack.” It’s a real change of pace and kicks off the second half of the album. The song is almost dance-able. I’m not saying it’s their “Miss You” or anything It’s just got a funky drum going on. It’s very Glam rocky. I find my shoulders moving in my chair as I listen… I never dance so that’s as close as I’ going to come. It’s just a slinky, groove that I connected with immediately.
I urge everyone to jump on the Starcrawler bandwagon. These guys are putting out great rock n roll, playing real instruments and rocking out with a vengeance. They get better with every album and She Said is no exception. I recommend putting this one on and turning it up to 11.
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