Whenever The Murlocs step out from under King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s shadow they are able to produce something special. Past releases Loopholes and Young Blindness never stray too far from the turntable. Old Locomotive is the band’s most ambitious record to date, featuring what is essentially the biggest leap in the band’s sound; the band layering and exploring their sound with the addition of acoustic guitar elements and piano in sections.
Both Loopholes and Young Blindness are dirty, dark and dangerous affairs of electric blues; wailing guitars, Ambrose’ haunting shriek, and blues harp combining chaotically to drown out the light of day. On Old Locomotive Uncle Murl has seemingly caught his reflection at the bottom of his glass and taken the time to tidy himself up and present a more approachable vision of himself; a sound that is brighter, poppier and more accessible than ever before. Unfortunately, the polish has hidden some of the character with most tracks lacking a point of difference.
Lyrically, Old Locomotive really shines with tracks featuring storytelling exploring maturity, mental illness, and loneliness as well as a call to arms in highlight ‘Wondrous Star’. The polished sound allowing Ambrose’s haunting wail to be more upfront than on previous releases.
Title-track ‘Old Locomotive’ kicks things off with a sample of a locomotive and serves as a well-written introduction to the overall change in sound; with Ambrose’ blues harp on the backburner and the keys playing a more prominent role. ‘Empty Nester’ proves an absolute gem with its dynamic vocal delivery, balanced keys and lead guitar, and expansive rhythms allowing the track to stand out from the opening few tracks. Unfortunately lead single ‘Noble Soldier’ probably suffers from being placed behind the brilliance of ‘Empty Nester’, coming across as filler. ‘Shit Storm’ and ‘Waiting to Rise’ are another point of difference amongst the first half of the record, they’re the two tracks that serve as the biggest throwback to the band’s previous releases. Violent Dreams returns to the tonality and stylings of Noble Soldier, and while it isn’t too similar to the tracks around it, it could have been placed differently in the track listing for a much more satisfying experience.
Second single ‘Snake In the Grass’ kicks off the second half of the record in spectacular psychedelic fashion, the scarcely employed use of Ambrose’ harmonica adds another dimension, with all the other pieces fitting into puzzle nicely. ‘Daily Agony’ follows, lyrically exploring schizophrenia in an interesting manner, featuring sweeping low and high pass filters in parts to create lucid elements to the track. If you ignore the lyrical content, ‘Far From Fine’ is a fun little number featuring acoustic guitar. As mentioned above ‘Wondrous Star’ is a protest song, a call to arms, a genuine sign of the maturity and refreshing lack of cynicism worth celebrating. ‘Oblivion’ is the next cab off the rank, drawing similarities to Rocky Erickson and the Aliens its guitar heavy; one of the faster tracks on the record it proves to be a highlight. ‘Domino Effect’ and ‘Household Hermit’ close out in Old Locomotive that tapers off in the same way Violent Dreams does Side A.
Overall Old Locomotive is a good listen, the highs are high and the lows aren’t a struggle to listen through; rather the victim of congested track listing skewing the record accentuating its weaknesses rather than masking the filler. The complexity of the songwriting and instrumental exploration is a highlight in itself. Old Locomotive is the record which ultimately opens the door for The Murlocs to explore music beyond the realm of rhythm and blues.
Highlights: Empty Nester, Snake In the Grass, Oblivion
Lowlights: Noble Soldier, Domino Effect