It might not seem it on first listen, but Sheer Mag have always been unafraid to tackle high concepts in their music. Their signature sound might be rooted in feel-good seventies hard rock, but the Philadelphia-based rockers are in fact keenly political, taking on subjects as weighty as the Stonewall riots and the anti-Nazi White Rose movement in their previous work.
Rather than continuing to go big, A Distant Call, sees Sheer Mag setting their sights on the politics of the personal. A concept record of sorts, the album’s loose narrative mirrors a period of profound tragedy for lead singer Tina Halladay. It follows a protagonist who finds herself dealing with the fallout of suddenly being made unemployed, skint, newly single, while dealing with the death of her father, with whom she had a fraught and often fractured relationship. It’s no real surprise then, that A Distant Call is basically an album about alienation. Rather than being a rehash of River-era Springsteen however, the album is an upbeat call to rise up and fight back.
Along with a new focus for the storytelling, the album also finds Sheer Mag throwing more indie/pop sounds into the mix. This, however, results in a record that has some unfortunate patchy areas. When it works, songs like ‘The Right Stuff’ and ‘Hardly to Blame’ come across like a glorious blend of KISS and Fleetwood Mac. However, the addition of jangly guitar lines to gut-punching rock numbers like ‘Blood From A Stone’ is just plain confusing.
All this distracts slightly from a record that feels both timely and vital. In an age where the likes of Trump and Farage have turned perceived social isolation into the politics of grievance, it’s refreshing to hear a band putting a hopeful message of solidarity back into blue-collar rock.
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