It was Samuel Beckett who offered a crumb of comfort to struggling rock bands everywhere. “Ever tried. Ever failed,” wrote the venerated Irish playwright in 1983. “Never mind. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” If anyone knows all about trying, failing and trying again, it’s Heaven’s Basement.
For the past decade or so they’ve been the nearly men of British rock, attempting to battle their way to fame only to meet stiff resistance from the great record buying public. Bravely, or foolishly, they greeted every dashed hope not by packing up their guitars and going home but by jettisoning the odd member and renaming themselves in the hope that no one would remember them from last time around. Hurricane Party, Roadstar, now Heaven’s Basement – they’ve had more guises than Carlos The Jackal.
Filthy Empire is their first album under the name Heaven’s Basement, not to mention the first release on the label set up by fizzy drinks company Red Bull. It moves things on from the 70s-indebted rock and heads-down boogie of their previous incarnations, pitching itself in the same postcode as the glossy, arena-sized modern rock of Alter Bridge.
When it hits the sweet spot, it’s terrific. Last year’s skyscraping single Fire Fire is as good a song as any British band has turned out in an age, while Be Somebody is that rarest of beasts, a ballad that’s managed to retain its balls. To their credit, they know how to knock out a chorus. Nothing Left To Lose, When The Lights Go Out – if it’s an anthem you’re looking for, then they’re your men. But then it dawns that that’s all they do: forgettable verse, big chorus, another anonymous verse, another big chorus, repeat to fade.
This one-note approach soon wears thin, a situation not helped by new-ish vocalist Aaron Richardson’s tendency to SHOUT EVERYTHING OUT AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS. Frankly, it’s knackering. All that Red Bull has given them a bit too much in the way of wings. Worse, there’s some real dreck here: the would-be punk snarl of I Am Electric is as confrontational as a Pontins bluecoat, while the half-cocked Heartbreaking Son Of A Bitch couldn’t be less convincing if it had turned up wearing a fake moustache, false nose and oversized glasses.
Filthy Empire is a frustrating record. When it’s good, it’s very good. When it’s not, you can see exactly why they’ve never managed to step up to the big league. They tried. They failed. They’ve tried again. Only time will tell if they’ve pulled it off this time.