An evolving and changing line-up shouldn’t take anything away from the challenge Aqua Velvas set themselves with ‘Doomsday Bell’ as they ask themselves: How can we take the lounge-rock/ crooner/pop-art extra-ordinariness of second era Roxy Music whilst transforming the setting from St Tropez to the North East of England? How do we retain Roxy’s joie de vivre and make the North East feel like it’s the capital of the world whilst understanding that it’s not?
Orwell would have called the challenge, in part, ‘double-think’. Art critics might have called it macro post-modernism. Everyone else would have called it ‘bloody hard’.
Tinged by the sad passing of saxophonist John McGough during its making, ‘Doomsday Bell’ is an astonishing album which not only meets the challenge, it surpasses it.
Kicking off with ‘Snowshoes Thompson’, the least Roxy sounding track on the album, ‘Doomsday Bell’ is an album with a core message to ‘go man go’ and find ways to carry on when the chips are down. A mid-track solo by McGough provides the central hook on a powerful opening; a technique that’s carried on in ‘Teesside Boys’, a song which brings us fully into Roxy pomp with Russ Teasdale’s vocals providing the Ferry crooner impersonation and Andy Power using his guitar to deliver his take on Phil Manzanera circa ‘Love is the Drug’.
Perhaps the track of the album, ‘Teesside Boys’ takes Roxy’s style, substance and elegance and transports it into a narrative about Teesside. Infused by a strong pop architecture, and a knowing humour, this is a knockout.
‘Valentinos’ carries on with this winning style, adding Eno-styled electronic textures on top of references to ‘dancing the night away’, desirable girls and experimental music; a combination which is furthered on later standouts ‘The Killing Game’ and ‘Tea Drinking’, both of which maintain an energetic pop momentum, perfect multi-instrumental feel, and a knowing wink.
Maybe the Costa Del Tees can exist after all.
‘Doomsday Bell’ by Teesside outfit Aqua Velvas is now available to purchase on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play and can be streamed on Spotify.