And now there’s this. What I know about Welles pretty much fits on the back of a postage stamp. His real name is Jeh Sea Wells, he’s 23, and he’s originally from Arkansas. He’s played in a couple of bands since 2012, most notably Dead Indian, and this is his debut under his current moniker. But what a debut. I mean, really. Wow.
You might remember earlier in the year I called the latest Graham Coxon album a ‘rock and roll almanac’. Well, if that’s true, then this, this, is a rocklopedia. It’s highly original, it’s quite left field, but is so steeped in music history it’s hard to know where to begin. It is literally like Wells has channeled the spirit of every band, every band, I’ve ever been interested in, from the age of fourteen until now.
Ok, album opener: let’s start there. ‘How Sweet it is to Love’ is very Cobainesque. I say that quite deliberately though as it isn’t particularly Nirvanaesque. It has the ghost of Kurt’s instinct for minor key melody without his band’s impulse for anarchy. And Wells’ voice exists in the same raw, tortured universe. He has a great voice incidentally, it’s very rough and human, but so versatile and capable at times of hitting glorious heights. This is the track that initially drew me in. I think it’s brilliant.
Track two, ‘Into Ashes’, has an unusual time signature that initially bugged me slightly. But that’s my bad – after a couple of listens it makes perfect sense. This is great too, it’s like an off-kilter Nothing But Thieves. Reminds me, fleetingly, of Puddle of Mudd too.
Elsewhere there are elements of prog rock, glam rock, classic ’70’s metal. You name it really. You could pluck out bits that remind you of Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Rush, Rainbow, T-Rex, Bowie. But at no point would you think ‘oh, this is a bit derivative’ because it isn’t. It genuinely isn’t. It’s like a whole new vision which just acknowledges those things that have come before it. To give an example without drilling right down into the detail, there is a section of the record, about two thirds of the way through, that illustrates perfectly what this guy is capable of. It starts with the track ‘Seventeen’, which is a gorgeous, slowly building ballad. It sounds, to me, a little like Damian Rice but with a harder edge. Has elements of ’70’s west coast rock to it too. At the end of the song there’s a blissful guitar part that reminds me John Frusciante’s greatest work. This is probably my favourite on the whole album, but it’s what happens next that is truly interesting. The end of this song bleeds into the fifty one second ‘Interlude’ which is essentially a brief guitar jam with a riff that sounds like classic Iron Maiden. I shit you not. And then that morphs straight into ‘Crush 19’ which is thrashy and screamy in parts but with a spine and harmonies that recall Nothing But Thieves again, and Muse.
Let me give you another example of my reaction to this record. I saw there was a track called ‘Rock N Roll’ and I thought, oh, meh. Then it started and I thought ‘oh, the guitar part sounds like a Gary Numan synth, that’s interesting’. Then I thought ‘hmm, the vocal part is nice’. The ‘We Will Rock You’ drum breaks here and there in it made me laugh out loud. And then he hits a prolonged guitar part at the end which had me shouting, in the car, actually shouting, “yes, yes, go for it son”. It’s not your typical rock and roll labelled song at all. It has a heavy dose of irony to it, even including the lyric “rock and roll’s never straight”. The best way I can describe it is it’s almost like a grown up version of Faith No More’s ‘Epic’. It’s really good and bloody good fun.
I’m not going to say any more about the individual songs as I could go on forever. Suffice to say this is great. Truly great. And I know, pretty much every record I review on here I say that about, or something similar. That’s primarily because we only review the things we like. But what I can say about this one, which I can’t about most of the others, is that there is something here for all of you. If you don’t love at least some parts of it, then you really are reading the wrong blog. It’s a rock music masterclass. Listening to it makes you think ‘of course’. In retrospect, it was surely inevitable that somebody, at some point, would sound like this. Welles is simultaneously like the fulfillment of some sort of prophesy and rock music’s bastard son. What on earth is this bloke going to do next? The mind boggles.