Let’s get the Queen/Freddie Mercury comparisons out of the way first and move on from there. Mercury was unique and untouchable. Comparisons between him and current day vocalists are few and far between. Adam Lambert naturally, Luke Spiller from The Struts has the yanks going gaga… and that’s about it. Well, spank my ass and call me Charlie, because Aaron Buchanan channels so much Freddie that Adam Lambert should be looking over his shoulder. The stripped back video of his stunning version of ‘Love Of My Life’ (which Buchanan released to celebrate Mercury’s 70th birthday) merely served as a precursor of what treats lay within this genuine five star album. ‘The Man With Stars On His Knees’ from Aaron Buchanan and his band, The Cult Classics, is quintessentially British rock at its very best. Refreshingly hype-free, it has managed to escape the “saviours of British rock” tag that has weighed down quite a few young bands this year.
‘The Man With Stars On His Knees’ features a bit of everything for everyone, glorious melodic harmonies, grunge-tastic riffs and an incredible drum sound that propels the album along at a fair old pace. In places, one might pick up 70’s era Queen (think ‘Flick Of The Wrist’/ ‘Sheer Heart Attack’), and in others a smidgen of Alice In Chains or Soundgarden. Opener, ‘Show Me What You’re Made Of’ is a cheeky little bastard of a track. A smouldering build up lasts for about a minute, then, just as it reaches its climax… the bugger fades out! Talk about leaving you wanting more! Thankfully, it leads into ‘All The Things You’ve Said And Done’, which lasts a few minutes longer. Autobiographical, with a bit of a bite, it begins with Buchanan spitting out, ”You took my life, you took my home, you took my rock, you took my roll”, played out over pounding rhythms from drummer Kev Hickman and bassist Chris Guyatt. The harmonies are spot on, and Buchanan vents his pent up aggression by releasing a few hair-raising screams. ‘Dancin’ Down Below’ is all about the driving, full-pelt guitars from Tom McCarthy and Aaron’s sister Laurie Buchanan. If you are listening to it while driving, be prepared to get pulled over for speeding. ‘The Devil That Needs You’ continues with the higher tempo vibe before leading into the soaring, anthemic ‘Journey Out Of Here’. Buchanan’s vocals are quiet and understated throughout this modern rock masterpiece.
The title track begins Muse-like, but when the vocal harmonies kick in then we are in classic Queen territory. Likewise, the stunning guitar solo towards the end will have you checking the credits to see if Brian May has sneaked in as a surprise guest. Add gorgeous almost choral-like vocals as the song fades out, and it is a pure aural delight. With a title like ‘A God Is No Friend’, you know that you’ll be dealing with something a bit more sinister. Here’s where the Alice In Chains comparisons come in, I feel. A dark, tortured vocal performance from Buchanan has the neck hairs standing to attention. ‘Mind Of A Mute’ is similar in feeling as Buchanan bleeds for his craft by bringing up a darker period in his life. The guitars are huge as both McCarthy and Buchanan deliver magical performances. Hints of Stone Temple Pilots in places, maybe? Everything prior has felt like it was building towards something special. That would be ‘Morals’, then. Christ, the harmonies are massive. Best appreciated by listening to it through a half decent pair of cans, you’ll pick up the natural power behind Buchanan’s voice. Restrained in places, bombastic in others, it’s a stunning, mature performance that will have you instantly hitting the repeat button.
Aaron Buchanan and The Cult Classics have produced a debut album of staggering quality, perfect for a widespread audience. Buchanan has obviously exorcised many demons in doing so, and deserves every plaudit coming his way.
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Review – Dave Stott