Getting the measure of Cormac Neeson didn’t take long. A couple of month’s prior to The Answer’s Rise debut, the Downpatrick quartet were ripping through their set and Neeson, a blurred fireball of hair, blare and passion seemed incapable of restraint. He’s cranked beyond 10, beyond 11, right up to Joplin. His performance pure viscera: larynx, lungs, guts, heart, all torn, all exposed; he’s a blues shouter. Maybe it’s just a live thing, but when Rise arrives, that first impression is set in stone.
Five albums and a decade later, The Answer are established as a band whose albums reliably stall in the UK charts’ mid-40s. When Classic Rock’s Best New Band of 2005 picked up their award they expected more than this. We all did.
With 2015’s Raise A Little Hell having delivered no more than an album with such a title would, hopes aren’t exactly stratospheric for Solas, but its opening title track is nothing short of a revelation.
Something has happened to The Answer, and specifically to Neeson. There’s a new-found sophistication here, an unmistakable quantum leap forward. Where RALH was just another Answer album, routinely rock solid in its honesty, this is something else. Maybe Neeson’s voice has matured, or maybe he’s just found his optimum timbre. Sometimes singers don’t immediately recognise their USP. Iggy only achieved completion when Bowie told him to accentuate his lower register during The Idiot sessions, Daltrey only found ultimate Roger via a prolonged stint as Tommy.
As Beautiful World unfolds, Neeson broods with uncharacteristic dynamic restraint and you find yourself thinking: “Who’s this guy? I wanna hear more of this guy.” Then Paul Mahon’s guitar ram-raids your reverie and it’s clear the whole band have experienced a shared revelation: that less can produce infinitely more.
Battle Cry’s smoothness is Bon Jovi-seductive, while In The Land feels quintessentially American. Neeson’s Oirish bluster has been smoothed away, leaving a voice defined more by rich character than by simple braggadocio. Elsewhere Demon Driving Man swaggers a good fight; but where once was bare-knuckle brawling is gloved-up restraint possibly a little too Marquis of Queensbury in its caution.
The Answer had to mature to endure, but in developing, they mustn’t forget where they came from or who they are. No matter where they choose to go next, they’ve surely never sounded better than they do right now.