Once upon a time there was a band called Johnny Zhivago. Not the fictional band from A Clockwork Orange, but a real kick arse rock ‘n’ roll band that served up a most excellent 2001 album entitled Some of the People, All of the Time. Along with the year 2000’s Uppers and Downers by The Yo-Yo’s, it soundtracked many of my drug fuelled piss-ups. The band were short-lived but thankfully Lee Wray took things onto Zen Motel with anthems such as 21st Century Bitch and Rocket 69. Has it really been 15-something years since I last witnessed Zen Motel live; drunkenly gatecrashing the Cardiff Barfly stage for an uninvited shout through Devil Song? Santa Maria!!
Here endeth the history lesson for the uninitiated via my super sketchy brain. 2003’s Transform and Escape and Stations of the Dead from 2007 proudly sit in my collection, but previous album We Want Your Blood from 2012, which was very well received, passed me by. Bad Ginge. Now, Zen Motel are back with the brand spanking new Choking on the Chrome. Some may question, why the long gaps between albums? Well, Mr. Wray has his fingers in many a rock ‘n’ roll pie; the most recent that springs to mind is the collaborations with CJ Wildheart. Lee is now back in his own right with Zen Motel and underground alt. rock fans may rejoice once more.
Right from the get-go we’re headlong into the Brit Rock spirit of the 1990s with Hell or Nothing. Zen Motel infuse the sound of 3 Colours Red meeting The Wildhearts in a dark alley; think the McCormack brothers arguing over who’s gonna have the last dab of whizz at the end of a debauched night at the 12 Bar.
As well as twisty Ginger Wildheart style riffs that pound on tracks such as Choke, there’s subtle variety as I’m Not Sorry takes a punk pop influence for the good. We’re not talking about those whiny American accents that went overground, we’re talking the real stuff here. Darker elements are also added into the mix and they’re most welcome as London is Dead provides echoes of Therapy?.
Album highlight I Want Your Drugs offers some great vocals delivered in Lee Wray’s sleazy style with a faint whiff of Dave Wyndorf. There are drum pattern changes aplenty with a killer repeated middle 8 line of “please shut up and gimme your drugs.” This ex user can get behind these pleading calls. One thing’s for sure, Zen Motel provide mid breakdowns that are equally as catchy as the choruses themselves.
As penultimate track Shatterproof comes to its fuzzy end, we’re into the 30 second Interlude. An interlude at the end of an LP?! This is merely a brief pause as we’re treated to 9 tracks of limited edition CD bonus covers under the guise of Rip It Off. If you wanna categorise Zen Motel then it’s probably best you stick these tracks from the likes of Nirvana, Bikini Kill, Placebo and Art Brut in a bong and inhale deep and hard. There’s a more left field sidestep with versions of Whip It by Devo and Tweet Tweet Tweet by Sleaford Mods. Here, we get a sneaky glimpse into Zen Motel’s influences that many would consider outside of the rock band norm.
Choking on the Chrome is scattered with loud, singalong choruses with monster riffs that hark back to two decades ago but without sounding stale, rehashed or on a paycheque nostalgia trip. If you yearn for real alternative rock that doesn’t hamper to mainstream rock bullshit, then get onboard with Zen Motel’s latest. It would be great to hear these new tunes up and down the UK alongside their impressive and consistent back catalogue. You know what to do, boys! Ginge Knievil