In what circumstances is halfway good considered a victory? And does the very notion of being modestly acceptable defeat Wolfmother’s purpose? Cosmic Egg, the second album from a band that is now very much focused upon frontman and songwriter Andrew Stockdale, is not the record the title suggests. Instead of the expected heavy duty Tolkien raps it repeatedly allows for intimations of reality; as Stockdale puts it on the closing ?Violence of the Sun?: ?Well I woke up and tried to see me.?
That’s a curious concept – the ?me? – for a project that’s been predicated on absence, on having a void at the centre. Part of the rancour drawn by 2005?s Wolfmother stemmed from the almost comical physical divergence between Stockdale and the sounds he aped. His stratospheric assault on the upper registers was rendered virtually spectral because it couldn’t possibly come from such a frail, ungainly figure. He couldn’t have looked less like a hardened Brummie game for anything rock’n?roll had to offer.
That just exacerbated the fantasy stylings of the first disc, but while the new album moves in a similar direction it just doesn’t have the same conviction. There are still numerous verses where, like Moses, Stockdale comes down from the mountains to extol the possibilities of nature. ?We could walk into the field and see where it’s begun,? he offers on ?In the Castle?, but Cosmic Egg just doesn’t speak so broadly to the utopian ideal that’s been so prevalent in popular music over recent years. The elves simply don’t get a guernsey.
That could stem from Stockdale playing to the strengths of his musicians. Of the three new sets of hands – guitarist/keyboardist Ian Peres, rhythm guitarist Aidan Nemeth and drummer David Atkins – the most prominent is the latter, whose years producing and playing with Resin Dogs have made him an advocate of adept rhythms. On the likes of ?New Moon? Atkins holds down a tight groove, and on the whole there’s few of the showy, chutzpah-laden flourishes that previously denoted tracks such as ?Mind’s Eye?. Also heard is producer Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails) who keeps the tracking relatively streamlined, while playing up grace notes such as the amphetamine dry piano part that repeatedly veers up out of ?Sundial?.
Epic is relative on Cosmic Egg. On the opening block nothing runs over four minutes per track and with the sparring percussion and airy cadences of ?White Feather? there’s even a catchy 45 up front. DNA-wise it lifts Free, which is indicative of Wolfmother’s move from wigged-out psychedelic rock and proto-metal towards ?70s rock. There’s also a pair of autumnal (power) ballads, somewhat reminiscent of The Vines? excursions into The Beatles? songbook, in ?Far Away? and ?In the Morning? that widen their always obvious influences.
The former is the oft heard musician’s lament about the hardship of being away from home, which is wholly predictable as second-albums-after-successful-debuts go, but is still a surprise in Wolfmother’s case, as it puts aside the hobbit hole as a place of residence. Depending on whether you think Wolfmother shuffling towards the real world is a welcome change or a failure of nerve will govern your take on their second album – not ludicrous enough can play out in either direction.
Like Jet’s Shaka Rock*, *Cosmic Egg surprises to the upside. Anyone who says it’s merely a repeat of 2005 is not listening closely enough. If Jet and Wolfmother have both cut albums that bounce back and forth track by track between the bearable and the good, then that’s two targets for easy scorn removed from the firing line. Perhaps it’s time that some of Australia’s sacred cows received that now excess scrutiny instead?