Down N Outz – This Is How We Roll (UMC)
Given Def Leppard’s enduring appeal it’s remarkable that frontman Joe Elliott found the time to conceive This Is How We Roll – let alone write, record and produce the first album of original material from 70s glam throwbacks Down N Outz.
More difficult still, considering his fellow musicians (scooped up from The Quireboys, Wayward Sons and Vixen) hail from far and wide. In fact, how the band rolls is roughly as follows: long distance phone calls, sporadic yet intensive writing sessions, extended periods of frustrating inactivity and a handful of fabled live shows.
It’s far from ideal but what it means is that a new Down N Outz album is a rock and roll event of some significance. This Is How We Roll has been talked about for years and there were those who questioned whether it would ever see the light of day.
Disproving the doubters will have been way down the list when Elliott and co. convened to put the finishing touches to this refreshingly optimistic riot of a record. But it’s likely the band will feel a collective sense of pride when they look back on a project that’s been well worth a long and arduous journey.
Another Man’s War ripples with enthusiastic intent from the moment keysman Keith Weir punches in the powerful opening notes. A wall of Mott-inspired noise – mixed to perfection, of course – envelops an earworm of a song and its canny juxtaposition with the equally bullish title track ensures This Is How We Roll gets off to an absolute flier.
Elliott lays bare his soul – and his voice – on the affective ballad Goodnight Mr Jones and a revelatory vocal performance is just one of the positives underpinning an extraordinary record. In the past Leppard’s frontman has been brutally honest about his limitations as an ‘accidental singer’ but This Is How We Roll reveals a frontman at the top of his game.
Last Man Standing is similarly emotive. Elliott, again, excels but it’s the Crosby, Stills and Nash-styled vocal harmonies, Weir’s sympathetic touch, subtle strings and a wildly entertaining mid-song blast of electric guitar which elevates this delightful tune from contender to standout.
The circus stomp of cheeky instrumental Music Box raises a smile and if Boys Don’t Cry clearly belongs on a lost Leppard album then that’s no criticism of a future live classic. Like so many of the songs here the latter allows Quireboys pair Paul Guerin and Guy Griffin to go to town and the criminally underrated six stringers are central to a sound that does so much more than mimic Elliott’s musical heroes.
Down N Outz might have started out as a star-studded covers band paying homage to all things Ian Hunter. But This Is How We Roll is the sound of the Hunter, hunted. It’s that good.
Main Image By Gordon Armstrong