This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Genre: Southern Rock, Blues Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Wild Child”
When Alabama Shakes emerged in 2012, their old school soulful blues sound filled a nice niche for yuppie purists who felt slighted by the not quite authentic blues rock of the Black Keys. For your fix of earnest Memphis soul, BOYS & GIRLS delivered nicely and felt like music that had been lived by the musicians playing it. This felt like a four piece that had built up the calluses on their fingertips and vocal chords playing bars across the south and tearing through whiskey and heartbreak along the way. There was a borderline gospel sincerity to tracks like “I Found You” balanced by a catchy sweetness to tracks like “Be Mine”. Both ends of the spectrum of their sound were carried primarily by Brittany Howard’s absolutely stunning vocals. A singer with her range, power, and charisma is a talent that comes about only every few generations; had she been born in the 60s heyday of the Motown and soul her voice is so reminiscent of, there’s little doubt that she would be a legend today.
Howard is alive today, however, with several decades of musical history between her and the music her voice is so immediately connected to. Earlier this year, Alabama Shakes very wisely chose to release SOUND AND COLOR, an album which musically deviated from the R&B moniker they had been connected to with BOYS & GIRLS. The band effortlessly drifts in between more Led Zeppelin influenced rock, funk, and modern indie, and Howard fits right into the new sound. (Just listen to her pained falsetto whine at the beginning of “Don’t Wanna Fight”; it’s a sound you never would have heard on BOYS & GIRLS.)
It seemed exciting, therefore, when it was announced that Howard was releasing a side project under the moniker Thunderbitch. Generally speaking, projects combining “Thunder” and profanity are fantastic (Alaska Thunderfuck, for instance), so Thunderbitch seemed promising. A YouTube promotional video suggested an orgy of leather jackets, mime face paint, and flaming motorcycles and couches; even more promising. Unfortunately, all of this just makes it more painful that the actual album is such a huge letdown.
What should be a sexy, fun tear through Ramones, Joan Jett, and New York Dolls-style debauchery often comes off as a tame gimmick on most of the tracks on THUNDERBITCH (available to stream on thunderbitch.com). The opening track “Leather Jacket” really does encapsulate everything wrong with the whole album, utilizing rock’n’roll cliches and building up crescendos that fizzle out to more laid-back grooves. Almost every track on this album is called something you could find on any other number of albums (“I Don’t Care”, “I Just Wanna Rock’n’Roll”, “Wild Child”, “My Baby is My Guitar”, you get the idea). Every track seems to be building to an exciting burst of pure rock energy, only to settle comfortably and impotently into a more mellow and hollow verse or chorus. “Wild Child” is one of the few tracks that seems to truly want to tear things up at a higher BPM, but unfortunately proves to only be a brief burst of cliched excitement before the album switches back into a bland Creedence Clearwater Revival-style jam on “Very Best Friend”.
The thing that is admittedly interesting about THUNDERBITCH is how much it feels like an artist trying to echo a genre they do not genuinely identify with. Howard has made a career out of effectively sounding like artists from over fifty years ago. When she makes the leap to a genre from forty years ago, it becomes clear that she is playing a part rather than expressing a lived feeling. Alabama Shakes is not the music of New York in the 1970s, and it’s impossible to believe that their lead singer has been a part of a lifestyle even remotely similar, leaving Thunderbitch to falls short of its intentions and leave the listener unsatisfied at every turn.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend