“What happened to Audrey Horne?” It was a question that permeated much of last year’s Twin Peaks revival, and one which lingers long after its close. Yet, while the cult TV series’ timely return has brought such bygone contemplation to the forefront of contemporary pop culture, that very same question has been pressing upon my mind with regard to the musical sphere for some time now. Having peaked with their eponymous third album in 2010, this once lively group of Norwegians (who take their name from a prominent character in David Lynch and Mark Frost‘s cult television series, in case that introduction made absolutely no sense to you) seemed to degenerate—much like Twin Peaks itself—from underappreciated semi-cult act to middling pastiche with their two subsequent records. However—again, much like the origin of their namesake—Blackout sees this bunch of retro-rock worshiping ragtags return with their strongest offering in years.
Although it lacks lack the meta-commentary and subversion that has lead Twin Peaks: The Return to become so revered, Blackout is similarly steeped in the nostalgia that rendered it so rewarding on a surface level. There’s no bells and whistles (or disembodied David Bowie tea kettles for that matter) in play here; this is an album made up of nothing but pure ’70s hard rock worship. The major point of reference is Thin Lizzy, whose distinctive tone and style informs virtually every aspect of the album and are especially detectable on “This One”, pining closer “Rose Alley” and the title-track. Nevertheless, the album is also persistently sprinkled with overt references to further classic rock staples. The chorus of “Blackout” also distinctly brings to mind Pat Benatar‘s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” with its lyrics and phrasing, and the same can be said of explosive opener “This Is War” which introduces its chorus by name-checking Rush‘s “Fly By Night” and parodies Blondie‘s “Call Me” in its verse. There are also a few mild departures. “Midnight” is a fist-pumping, stadium anthem, in the vein of Manowar‘s “All Men Play On Ten”, which is exactly the right amount of moronic as to be thoroughly enjoyable; while “Satellite” is a surprisingly effective and irresistible disco-rock number and the super-charged “Light Your Way” comes off across a successor to Deep Purple‘s “Highway Star”.
Whether the collective list of bands referred to in the above paragraph appeals to you should be a pretty good indicator of whether you’ll enjoy Blackout or not. Despite what their moniker might suggest, Audrey Horne’s sixth outing contains no surprises and subverts exactly zero expectations—save for perhaps its remarkable quality. When the album terminates in a shower of bar-room applause it is very much in line with the conclusion of The Return‘s penultimate episode—with the synonymous Laura Palmer whisked away from a life of hardship and eventual death by the noble and heroic Agent Cooper—before she and the show’s reality is ripped away from both him and the show’s desperate audience in its final moment. The baffling twists and turns of the show’s ultimate conclusion are more in keeping with guitarist Arve Isdal’s day job in Enslaved. However, such subversion constitutes only half the show’s appeal. These elements simply wouldn’t work if they weren’t built upon a comforting foundation of welcome nostalgia, and to that end Blackout is the aural equivalent of a cup of strong black coffee and a slice of warm cherry pie—safe, familiar and thoroughly satisfying.
Blackout is, by far, the best Audrey Horne’s release since their self-titled record. While it might lack the metallic edge and subtle variations of that album (seriously, check that one out if you haven’t already) it excels at what it does and is delivered with an energy and conviction that has been sorely lacking from their last couple of records. This is a perfect summer album, and one which is sure to inspire raised glasses and nodding heads for years to come.
Blackout comes out January 12 on Napalm Records. Pre-order it here or using the bandcamp link above.