Reading the title of the opening track on their fourth studio album, “The Recalcitrant Colonel”, you would be forgiven for thinking that this was just another collection of clever, catchy love/pop tunes. But hit play and “Love Love Love” smacks you squarely in the face with a dirty guitar riff and distorted radio vocals. Lead recalcitrant/voxist, Hugh Wilson, fairly spits the words out. [Side-bar: Is the album title a sly reference to former Australian PM Paul Keating who famously referred to ex-Colonel and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad as a “recalcitrant”, thereby almost triggering an international ‘incident’? Rabid history junkies as they are, King Luan almost certainly uses the word here as an acerbic reference to edgier Aussie political days.]
The guitar knobs stay all the way up on the second track, “Radio”, with Wilson intoning a hybrid Brit-Punk-Pop vocal that conjures up The Clash, The Jam, and a handful of other bygone tragi-heroes of the 70’s-80’s British music pseudo-underworld. Two tracks later, on “Change Rearrange”, Wilson convincingly channels Mick Jagger singing a vague variation of “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (The Clash, again). The frenetic energy relents, but only briefly with “Swamp Boogie Baby”, a medium-tempo piece that calls to mind Marc Bolan and “Get It On” slowed to a Sunday afternoon cruising shuffle. “Thanks for the Sanity” ramps up the crunchy guitar jubilation once again with an unsettling spoken word lyric that quickly yields to an epileptic spasm of synths and drums that evoke anything but sanity.
Bringing up the rear of the album is a quartet of instrumental pieces, all guitar-driven tributes to the history of rock ‘n’ roll. “Free as the Highway” references 90’s anthemic rock, whereas “Black and Chrome” is propelled by ‘black’ thrashy guitars punctuated with ‘chrome’-shiny keys. The third piece in the quartet, “Hot as Cayenne”, almost certainly was co-written and produced by Angus Young: the raw 70’s guitar riff is a throwback to AC/DC in their glorious “TNT”/“Highway to Hell” heyday. You almost expect Bon Scott to reanimate, dust himself off, and snarl into the mike.
The final track, “Big Boy Rockaface”, is a ska-ish piece that sounds as if Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and the lads from Madness hung out in the studio to jam while the Wilson boys hit record and went outside for a smoke. Which they quite possibly did.
OK, King, message received. You won’t be pigeon-holed. You have invoked the rock pantheon to answer your critics and they have been roundly rebuked. They said you were rule-followers; you smashed a metaphorical pint glass and shoved it in their collective face. Recalcitrants indeed!