How do you describe a piece of music that can?t be classified? Howlin? Rain?s newest album, Magnificent Fiend, seems to present this question with its combination of psychedelia, blues, funk and classic 1970s arena rock. The powerful vocals of Ethan Miller (also of noise rock trio Comets on Fire) lend an air of honesty to many of the songs while the multilayered arrangements make listeners want to get off their chairs and get funky. Magnificent Fiend isn?t so much an album as it is a feeling of joyful longing. Picture the carefree days of being young, happy and free of responsibility ? that sensation pervades Magnificent Fiend.
The first single, ?Dancers at the End of Time,? could be easily mistaken as a song from the ?70s. The organ-heavy instrumentation reminds listeners that it?s time to get up and start dancing to the beat. Defying classification, the song features vaguely country blues meshed to a gospel rock harmony. The melody is both laidback and gleeful without being too overpowering. The single would be perfect if not for the fact is that it?s almost too long. Clocking in just short of six minutes, it turns into an extended jam session about three-quarters of the way through. But the song is appealing enough on its own for this not to matter much.
It?s hard to find a single mediocre song on this album. The soulful ?Lord Have Mercy? and the relaxed ?Riverboat? are both slower songs, but they hold listeners? attention. The painful final 30 seconds of guitar feedback on ?Riverboat? do stand out, however, as features that could have been left out of the album. ?Calling Lightning Pt. 2? and ?Dancers at the End of Time? are both similar in terms of their 1970s influences, but neither would be out of place among various Steppenwolf and Steve Miller Band albums.
Magnificent Fiend also contains some surprising similarities to other artists. Take the song ?Nomads,? for example. It starts out sounding like a track from Wilco?s Sky Blue Sky, then it flips back to sounding vaguely blues-rock before converting right back into Wilco territory.
The album?s lyrics also provide the record with some contrasts. That happy feeling that comes from listening to Magnificent Fiend will disappear as quickly as it arrived after looking at the lyrics. The funky ?Goodbye Ruby? contains the lyrics: ?The wind calls the hangman to my name/ My brother said the wild world would feed upon my skin/ And that on that day I would long for the farm/ And an honest simple faith.?
Even the happy flow of ?Dancers at the End of Time? gets taken down a notch with the lyrics, ?A faint sadness hangs about the trees as if our life and times were fruit/ Ripened too quickly into rot and fallen on this stinking spot.?
Howlin? Rain?s Magnificent Fiend is a record audiophiles and casual music listeners alike should consider adding to their collections. The fusion of multiple genres into something unclassifiable makes the sound of this album endearing, and the various influences heard in the songs make this album enduring.
4 stars out of 5