It’s like that feeling when your favourite chippy sticks up the sign that says “Under New Management” and you think, “but I liked the old one just fine….”
Changing singers, you see, is a tricky business. For every one of the ones that saw Bruce Dickinson take over from Paul Di’anno or Sammy Hagar take over from David Lee Roth, there was the one where, well, Gary Cherone took over from Sammy Hagar.
So it was, that when I read that Nick Bowden had left the band – drummer Danny Rigg also went – I was trepidatious. I’d always liked the Stockport mob just the way they were. I’d seen them a few times and was always impressed, and their last record (2015’s “Across The Divide”) was a cracker.
Then, after a about 15 seconds of “Swing Sinner” – the opening cut on “Passenger”, Tom Guyer lets out a primal roar of “Swing, sinner, swing” and you know that he’s the perfect fit.
Working with John Simms, Engineer for Radio X darlings, Blossoms, has freshened up the sonics, so whilst “…Sinner” might have the feel of Rival Sons at their best, then “Choke” – one of a number of acerbic social commentaries that Guyer’s presence has added – has a similar type of vibe to that of The Virginmary’s.
“Emerald Haze” is more mellow and has a lovely, laid back bluesy solo, but generally speaking, this is a more modern sounding record. “Death Rattle” is a superb condemnation of the current trend for venues to be turned into something else: “gentrification, the death rattle of our nation” spits Guyer, “exchanging money for a cultural assassination” and it is noticeable that the tone of the record is darker than ever before to go with this new sound.
“Nowhere Is Home” is an explanation of what it feels like to have no roots. Done in a way that sounds like nothing Federal Charm have done before, there’s something brooding here, while the fact they are a heavier band this time around is exemplified in the primal thoughts of “Get Through”.
Perhaps both sides of this brand new world are best shown in the brilliant “Concrete Creature.” Pretty much their state of the union address, taking in politicians and reality TV, before settling on the destruction of the planet, but done on the bed of a blues song that could have actually been on one of their previous two records. “Can’t Rule Me” though, which follows, very much belongs on this collection. Angular and angry, it is FD right now.
“Halo” is an interesting one. If you’re thinking: do we really need another song about unrequited love? Then the answer is yes. In fact, when the hook of “and it gives her a halo, like a fallen angel, and if I were only able, I’d catch her every time….” Hits, it speaks for the pathetic blokes of this land everywhere– not me, you understand…..
If that one speaks to me, on an emotional level, then you’d best believe that anything that condemns this evil government we are currently fighting, speaks to me on a visceral one. If you are under the misguided apprehension that music shouldn’t do politics, then skip this one. Everyone else, you know what to do…..
“Passenger” ends with a swirl, something a touch psychedelic, maybe, but either way “Parting Words” hides some real pain as it floats around, but what it does do is give another example of the “new” Federal Charm as it were.
I’ve always thought they were well placed for a breakthrough into something mainstream, but maybe with these 11 cuts it is more likely. Not content to observe any longer. Ironic, perhaps, but with “Passenger” Federal Charm feel like they are in the driving seat and firmly behind their own wheel.