STAR SMILE STRONG
The Greatest Living Scouser Still Has a Fire Inside His Soul!
I came to Ian McNabb late in the party; Friday 31st May 1996 to be precise.
His fame (and fortune) with the Icicle Works had somehow managed to evade me, as had his two previous solo albums (including the brilliant Brit nominated Head Like a Rock) but that gig and the Merseybeast album he was promoting totally blew me away – I may even have uttered the words “I have seen the future of Rock and Roll; and it’s name is Ian McNabb!”
Subsequently Ian McNabb is the only act in my collection where I own every album and single they have recorded; including a couple of bootlegs and a Japanese release of Merseybeast too.
I am an unadulterated fan.
Which brings us to STAR SMILE STRONG. Can I actually be objective? Well; yes I can, because the last couple of albums prior to the covers album ECLECTIC WARRIOR in 2013 were patchy at best and only ‘average’ especially when compared to his earlier recordings.
This new album gets off to a strange start with what sounds like static or the wind and the night for nearly a minute on Mystic Age. Then some delightful guitar evolves from the shadows before Ian’s trademark voice purrs from the speakers on a Floydian space trip that includes a haunting Tenor Sax solo, some sublime lap-steel, a synthesiser, an organ and enough guitars to start a small shop….plus an interlude from the sexiest man in Astronomy and Physics. The weirdest thing is…..it works, the whole ensemble never sound overwhelming on this 8 minute opus.
My head was still spinning when track #2 Can’t Get What I Want came crashing at my ears like a souped up Vauxhall Nova.
HURRAY! This is trademark McNabb (with the addition of a kazoo) and even has shades of latter-day Icies about it as Ian and cohorts Roy Corkhill on bass and Dodgy drummer Matthew Priest create a cranked up Rock n Roll noisefest that will send the Kasabians and Kaiser Chiefs running home crying to their Mummy’s if they ever get to hear it.
It’s been a long time coming; but Ian McNabb has certainly got his songwriting muse back with a vengeance.
Lazy Water finds him in a romantic mood, with his acoustic guitar taking precedence over a 12 string electric that shadows it, alongside Corky’s subtle bass-spine around which everything revolves as usual.
This particular songwriter uses ‘love and romance’ as a theme quite a bit; but no ‘Moon in June’ for him; there’s always a healthy dose of cynicism in his bittersweet stories and here the rocktastic Wanna Change My Plea to Guilty and I Kinda Like It Without You will definitely resonate with regular fans; and could even bring in some new fans too.
I certainly don’t want to do a ‘compare and contrast’ with his earlier songs; because Ian is very much about the now and the future; but a friendship that was cast during the Merseybeast days with the legendary Ralph Molina (Crazy Horse) has spawned a fantastic song called This Love I Feel For You; and it wouldn’t be out of place on any of his key albums; but the Tex-Mex trumpets give it a sweet Alt. Country feel and left me wanting a whole album in that vein.
I’ve had the album a few days now and have even played it ‘for fun’; not just for review purposes…..which is something I can’t say for everything I review and two songs caught my attention straight away and have gone onto a playlist for a forthcoming car journey.
Women Love a Bastard (Men Love a Bitch) is Ian McNabb back to his very, very best with a song that isn’t a million miles away from They Settled For Less Than They Wanted from Merseybeast, but brought bang up to date. His eye for detail and his vivid imagination combine in a way very few other songwriters can achieve; yet Ian McNabb is still; sadly relatively unknown to the world at large.
The other, Hotter Than The Sun won’t appeal to everyone (Mrs. Magpie hates it!) as it finds McNabb being louder than ever before, on an out and out, feet apart and head-banging RAWK SONG that will shake the fillings from your teeth. Not just a great song, but it features two legendary members of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Zal Cleminson on guitar and drummer Ted McKenna hitting his skins with hammers and…… the intro is the great man Alex himself….what’s not to like?
Never one to limit himself to the traditional three minute format when writing; the album closes with a wonderful 12 minute short story set to music, Clarabella (Come to the Window) which somehow encompasses everything I love about Ian McNabb’s songwriting style and the way he sings ’em.
If you follow Ian on Social Media you will know he has very eclectic musical tastes; and he appears to have cherry picked bits of Rock, Folk, Country and even the much maligned Prog to take a step backwards to actually move forwards. Thus making STAR SMILE STRONG by far and way his most complete album for 15 years and in many ways he’s throwing down a marker to his contempories; by writing and creating 12 brand new songs that are all worthy of inclusion here; and for you to listen to.
Released April 20th 2017