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I'm Cuckoo for Comebacks - 70%

DawnoftheShred, July 26th, 2014

Man, I could practically start some kind of Back from the Abyss series covering all the obscure, ignored comebacks floating around out there. A whopping twenty four years and countless mini-reunions after their miserable “final” album Deliver Us From Evil was released (after which the group rapidly disintegrated), Welsh heavy metal pioneers Budgie return with a new studio album! Curiously titled You’re All Living in Cuckooland, it’s what nearly every Budgie fan had considered long impossible: a genuine comeback. Not a retro-rehash (Sabbath’s 13), nor a forced modernization (Diamond Head’s 00’s albums), but a brand new album that sounds fairly relevant for its era and, while not the finest thing ever put to tape by the band, is obviously descendant from the band’s original spirit of oddness.

A key factor in this album’s distinct sound is new guitarist Simon Lees, a virtual unknown, who’s clearly made the most of his opportunity in Budgie. Lees is perhaps the most talented guitarist the band has ever featured, capable of both flashy soloing that would leave “Big” John Thomas shrinking in the dust and obtuse riffing that Tony Bourge might even be proud to call his own. His particular style seems married to effect processing; often throughout the album will his tone be altered by some sort of electronic weirdness, phasing, slicing and what have you. He tends to complement Burke Shelley’s bass lines well, and he apparently adds to the overall vocal presence too. A good addition to the band if I say so.

Songwriting is especially diverse on this particular record, with the ballads making a surprise comeback, both in quantity and quality. The title track is a particularly winsome specimen, featuring soft guitars and a nice melody from the aging Shelley. The others, “Love is Enough” and “Captain,” are not as compelling, (though both are stylistically reminiscent of ancient 70’s ballads, see Rush’s “Rivendell” for instance) but the ballads were never a real focus for Budgie or their fans. The almighty groove was what counted, and Cuckooland delivers on that promise. The tracks tend to fuse all the group’s various stylings into a single cohesive flow. “Funky hard rock” might be an adequate description of the overall sound here, but even that fails to take into account some of the spacey, acoustic bits and alternative nuances. Some tracks are fairly straightforward but enjoyable affairs, see “Justice” or “Falling,” but others aim higher, such as “Tell Me Tell Me,” a soft/loud experiment with interesting, clashing dynamics and an especially keen solo. Lees’ oddball guitarwork is just really fun to listen to: less than halfway into the album and I could hardly wait to hear what he’d throw at me next. Shelley’s lyrical contributions, as usual, are just as unexpected and generally unfathomable, but there are occasional moments of poignancy. “It’s like eating a razor sandwich when under your tree while in a lightning storm” Burke offers on “I Don’t Want to Throw You,” before following up with “If my music is dead to your ears and your friends hate it, but I can’t change my form.” Sure, sounds about right to me. All the extraneous weirdness of the album finally condenses into physical form on the extended final track, “I’m Compressing the Comb on a Cockerel’s Head,” which is basically a long jam on a single idea suitably bizarre enough to end an album of theirs.

It’s not exactly essential heavy metal, nor is it the best that Budgie has to offer, but Cuckooland has finally brought that inherent Budgie weirdness back from wherever it ran off to in the early 80’s. That said, it probably won’t fit well into most individuals’ collections. It doesn’t sound like any other Budgie album, or any other rock album that I can think of at the moment, and I imagine that a lot of folks probably won’t care much for it. But unlike a lot of ancient bands still trucking on at the moment, such as Uriah Heep, Nektar, or Hawkwind, it’s as fundamentally Budgie as their earliest releases and hardly a limp-wristed excuse to keep whoring out their legacy. If they never make another one (and they probably won’t), they at least went out on a higher note, something most of their contemporaries can’t claim without sheepishly crossing their fingers.

For that certain individual who claims to have heard all that the modern rock spectrum has to offer, this might pleasantly surprise them.