The Answer — Sundowners (Golden Robot/7Hz Productions)

The Answer to your St Paddy’s Day soundtrack?

Let Sundowners take the strain.

With typically impeccable timing, Downpatrick’s finest have dropped one of the albums of the year.

It’s a bullish, bluesy, bad-ass response to an increasingly banal classic rock landscape. 

And if Sundowners is, perhaps, the least accessible Answer record of them all then give this grower time.

There are surprises aplenty for those brave enough to stick with a set that rewards the committed and challenges the unconvinced.

But after seven years it’s just a treat to hear something — hell, anything — new from one of the finest guitar bands of the century.

Five Prime Ministers have led the country since the last time Cormac Neeson and co. hit the studio to record a full-length album.

There have been two monarchs, one global pandemic and an ugly split from the rest of Europe.

The economy’s in bits and workers everywhere want fairer pay and better conditions.

The world’s a very different place and Sundowners reflects an unprecedented period of flux.

Neeson’s raspy vocal does, of course, guarantee a reassuring level of familiarity.

But beyond that this is not The Answer we know and love.

The riffs are more angular, the lyrical content on a different level and any sense of a tried and tested formula is duly jettisoned.

Rushonrock revelled in the sonic flourishes and expansive creativity of 2016’s criminally underrated tour de force Solas.

But Sundowners ups the ante, sinks any preconceptions and presents The Answer as arch disruptors on a mission to redefine rock.

This is the sound of a band refreshed, reinvigorated and relishing the opportunity to rejoin the music business merry-go-round…on their own terms.

Let’s see how that goes.

Sundowners: A New Dawn

It takes a brave band to introduce a first long player in seven years with a slow-burning six-and-a-half minute epic.

But The Answer’s always taken risks.

And the meandering title track sets the tone for a record that steadfastly refuses to play by the rules.

Whatever they are.

For some, the first taste of Sundowners will be a barrier to what follows.

Such is the obtuse opener’s disconcerting contrast between light and shade, it has the potential to deter even the most ardent of fans.

Stick with it. Or skip it. The choice is yours.

But as soon as brooding lead single Blood Brother, replete with Rival Sons-styled fuzz, comes crashing through the speakers it’s clear this is a record worth hearing.

And Sundowners’ charm is its unashamed unpredictability.

It’s impossible to guess where this brilliant body of work will go next as Neeson and co. take listeners on an enlightening journey through heavy blues, Americana, folk and more.

The glorious juxtaposition between the harp-fuelled optimism of Oh Cherry and the reflective No Salvation says it best of all.

The latter is, without a doubt, the best song here.

And maybe the best song you’ll hear all year.

More pin-sharp harp combined with Neeson’s affecting refrain and some truly sweet vocal melodies make for a modern ballad unprecedented in its emotional thrust.

Leaning on an understated AC/DC-lite riff and the assured frontman’s soaring self-confidence, it’s the track most likely to unite The Answer die-hards with those late to the band’s classic rock party.

All Together and the beautiful, countryfied set closer Always Alright will resonate most deeply with fans of a band much missed and welcomed back with arms wide open.

But after seven long years, Sundowners is the sound of a daring new era.

This is not The Answer we were looking for. It’s a revelation, nonetheless.