In honor of our esteemed Dr. A.N. Grier’s misplaced love for baseball (and the fact that the season has finally come to a merciful conclusion), I present a baseball analogy for Crippled Black Phoenix. CBP are like big-league sluggers: most of the time they strike out, but every few games they wallop one into the second deck of left field. Such is usually the case with this British/Swedish psychedelic stoner-prog collective of Pink Floyd fanboys (and girls), and Bronze, their sixth full-length effort, is no exception. The question is, how many home runs are on this album, and how many strikeouts?
At the beginning of this year, CBP released the world’s longest EP, the 57-minute New Dark Age. It consisted of one crappy song, one stellar song, and a 38-minute version of Pink Floyd’s Echoes. Bronze picks up exactly where New Dark Age left off, which means it is full of possibilities both good and bad. Things start off with a cheeky pull-quote from the old John Carpenter movie, Dark Star, and “Dead Imperial Bastard” gets going with more of the same Echoes-era Pink Floyd love we were hoping Justin Greaves and company got out of their system earlier. Five minutes of ambiance is probably going to turn off a lot of people — it would have turned me off if I wasn’t being whipped into submission by our AMG Overlords, and thus forced to let Bronze keep playing.
Thankfully, the first proper song “Deviant Burials” is a tasty slab of thick riffage with all eight (eight!) members of the band pulling their weight. Yes, it once again devolves into a quiet psychedelic introspection a few minutes in, but for a while we hear Crippled Black Phoenix tiptoeing around the edge of what they’re best at, namely, taking simple ideas and extending them out into relatively lengthy jams full of spaced-out ideas and spiffy musicianship. “No Fun” takes us into surfer dude space-rock territory, again accompanied by silliness from Dark Star’s Bomb #20 character (in fact, Bomb #20 permeates the album, adding a feeling of levity to the record). “No Fun” is a super little psychedelic number, the second-shortest song on Bronze, and one of the most effective, likely for that very reason. It is one of a handful of standout tracks on the album as far as quality is concerned.
Not every song strikes the right note like “No Fun” does: “Rotten Memories” meanders meaninglessly, “Goodbye Then” is pure OK Computer-era Radiohead, and “Scared and Alone,” despite turning to Belinda Kordic for lead vocals, drags on and on. It’s a change, but really Daniel Änghede does a pretty good job with his Josh Homme-influenced singing. Additional vocalists don’t augment the sound to any degree. What does strike the right note, and is Bronze’s crowning achievement, is the epic “Champions of Disturbance (Pt 1 and 2).” A killer song that starts with, yes, Floyd-like effects but moves quickly into a pulsating jam featuring rolling toms, a simple riff, and swirling synth psychedelia. Think of Swans on a Pink Floyd binge. “Part 1” is a super jam that reaches its climax four minutes in and is overtaken by the most infectious groove of the year in “Part 2.” Simply put, if this song was a whole day long I’d have the best day ever. The song ends with a vocoder solo — a vocoder, for Chrissakes! That is the only instrument that’s cooler than a cowbell (which is also present of course) and in my world earns a bonus half star in a review.
While I can’t say enough about “Champions of Disturbance,” the rest of Bronze just can’t hold up. Unlike the alloy it’s named after, the variety of ingredients here don’t make the end result stronger; rather, I find myself skipping through a number of tracks to get to the best parts — just like I did on New Dark Age. Production and performances are thick, meaty, and substantial, but the songwriting can’t always keep up. When it does, Crippled Black Phoenix are one of the great psych-stoner-prog bands, but consistency isn’t their middle name.