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Friday, May 20, 2011

Album Review: Nazareth - Big Dogz

Nazareth - Big Dogz
2011 Eagle Rock Entertainment Ltd.
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

If there's any band in the hard rock ranks who deserves an overdue comeuppance, it's Nazareth. These scruffy Scots have a sizable catalog of recordings in four decades, yet it's Hair of the Dog which has only made a global dent outside of eastern Europe. It's a bit unfair that most of the world only knows this album and its two monster hits, the brash throwdown title song and Nazareth's titanic, heart-scraping interpretation of The Everly Brothers' "Love Hurts."

While Nazareth's early seventies' body of work (i.e. Exercises, Razamanaz, Loud 'n Proud and Rampant) established the group in their own native lands and the UK, Dan McCafferty and his mongrel squad have kept the rockin' faith through the years with a hiatus now and then. On the heels of their well-received 2008 album, The Newz, Nazareth takes another shot at reaching the rocking free world with their latest output, Big Dogz.

Before Brian Johnson, there was Dan McCafferty. At this point in time, you could probably switch Johnson and McCafferty between Nazareth and AC/DC as a cheeky put-upon their fans. While Nazareth has hardly found the same worldwide stature as AC/DC, it's sufficient to say Nazareth has given it all they have like Uriah Heep and Rose Tattoo, other heritage rockers who never got their proper due over the years. Add the return of The Rods to this list, even if The Rods never had the chance to fatten up their catalog.

You'll have to overlook the dreadful cover of Big Dogz, assumedly inspired by the three-headed dog "Fluffy" from the realm of Harry Potter or by ancient mythology, because then you'll skip what's beneath. While Big Dogz isn't exactly a monster jam like some of Nazareth's previous albums, it is a fascinating listen.

Most of Big Dogz plods along like it has snot glued up in its muzzle. This is not a fast-paced album, but it is heavy in the classic sense of the word. Songs like "Time and Tide," "No Mean Monster" and "The Toast" shamble and groove along in retrospection for what McCafferty and company have seen over the years. These songs sum up the rock life, particularly from the viewpoints of guys who've learned to embrace their modest rocker status.

Having settled for the club circuit at this point, their outlooks aren't so much jaded as they reflect an unbroken will to keep pushing for a lifestyle that's a part of them. "No Mean Monster" speaks about the burning fire in their hearts and the ceasless itching in their pants as the music scene grows stuffed with newbies. "The Toast" steps up the tempo and talks about being in a band such as Nazareth who lives on the strange legacy of one hit album out of a tremendous body of work. Slainte mhath, McCafferty growls after literally spitting out the verses, while mocking commentary rolls at his side. The song especially benefits from a peppy melody amidst its inherent sarcasm and ends up being a real hoot. To your health, lads...

As Nazareth is one of those European-based acts who've always understood how American piss rock and Southern boogie operates, Big Dogz picks up the sticks on the loud and sudsy "Watch Your Back," "Sleeptalker" and the chunky knuckle-dragger, "Claimed."

Nazareth does keep their eye on social issues such as gang wars in "Watch Your Back," government corruption on "Lifeboat" and religious proseltyzing on "When Jesus Comes to Save the World Again." There's not much Nazareth speaks of on these tunes that hasn't already been voiced by metal and punk bands, but Nazareth always was a working class roots operation and it'd be unfashionable for them not to keep a keen ear on what matters to people. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Nazareth gets nostalgic on "Radio," which could be a yeoman's summary of their career, while "Butterfly" is a downright weepy love letter that whittles down McCafferty's gruffness to a near-optimistic young buck.

Big Dogz is likely not the album that's going to fill Nazareth's coffers, but it will fill their pint glasses a few rounds as this is a band boasting a larger cult following than you realize. This is a more mature Nazareth less concentrated on ripping their own amps apart than they are making a subdued statement in reverie about who and what they are. Regardless, don't go messin' with these sons of bitches...

Rating: ***1/12


The Mule said...

Nazareth were always pretty big in Canada. Every home came equipped with Nazareth—Greatest Hits. To quote Wayne's World, "If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide."

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

LOL, thanks for that tidbit. Glad to know about that, and I forgot that quote from WW.

Metal Mark said...

The Mule-The WW quote was about Peter Frampton wasn't it? Here in Maryland the quote would probably apply to the first Kix album.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

LOL, true on that, Mark.

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