Review By Paul Taggart
I nurse a love-hate attitude with a lot of throwback or retro-minded bands, some can come over as crass rip-off merchants or mere copyists. The problem with this area is I turn to each new act I stumble across expecting — what? The very nature of this style, especially in 2023, generally precludes anything particularly fresh or sonically fresh.
The general exception to the rule would probably be some European acts such as Kadaver rather than the bland aesthetics of folk like Rival Sons. My eternal issue with this kind of music and acts is how you approach them honestly. Some critics and listeners will be happy to hear the seven-thousandth rewrite of Led Zeppelin II, personally, I would rather be hurtled into the sun than ever be comfortable with loving nostalgia-driven acts.
But some bands put their own spin on it, merely using the stylings of the past to build a foundation upon rather than just copying shit, which brings us to this album in question. Rather than basic white blues thumpers, however, R.J. Archer & The Painful Memories are more akin to a Southern-fried Replacements shorn of any punk, covering Status Quo or maybe someone like Reef if they were inserted into a giant blender and mushed together into a big smear. It used to be an odd sonic touch to hear British or European acts riff on Southern Rock or Americana stylings but it has become so common it is no longer really an issue for most listeners.
Horseplay! is this band’s second album, following their 2021 debut, Hot Mess. They are a four-piece from Cambridgeshire consisting of RJ Archer on vocals and guitar, Roger James on Bass, Ben Kingsbury playing, and the latest to join Jim Ryder on percussion.
This band describes themselves as hard rock but I do not get that vibe from this record. It does rock in its own way, but it is always in a sort of smoothed-over, rambling, ambling way, rather than punching you in the face with heavy metal riffage. Nothing is wrong with that, but Horseplay! is much like a pleasant walk in the sunshine than anything particularly hard.
The lead-in track ‘Cable Car To Your Heart’ is probably the brashest thing on this album and one of the most memorable, a vague second album era MC5 vibe dominates with a clipped spiky riff driving it along quite nicely. The rest of the album swings between two distinct stylings, one that dominates being mildly rocking numbers and the rest being laid-back pop tunes whilst still jumping around mainly seventies rock touchstones. ‘I Can’t Lose You’ sounds like Creedence jamming with T-rex whilst ‘(You Got Me) Spinnin’ resembles early Black Crowes before they lot themselves in a drug haze, complete with southern rock style organ breaks. ‘Lay It Low’ is a gentler number, but still sprightly, jangling where it needs to with a bright guitar solo to spice things up the second half.
The album is nice, hardly a crime, and maybe I am usually too jaded and cynical to enjoy nice things in general but Horseplay! suffers in spots from seeming like pastiche and from bland lyrics and song titles such as ‘Do You Want My Love?’
Only if you are buying dinner.
‘You Can’t Do That Type Of Thing No More’ goes one of the songs On Horseplay!, maybe it’s just that some bands do this retro thing better than others. and some acts occupy the middle ground. R.J. Archer and his band present the past as the present on this album, but merely as a casual statement rather than a document for the ages. Sometimes that will suffice for a soundtrack to a rainy afternoon.