The circumstances surrounding The Struts third album, Strange Days, were unique, to say the least. The band had just come off the success of two popular records and had established themselves as one of the “must-see” live acts coming up in the music ranks. The Struts, who had not been together since February, all got COVID-19 tests before moving into producer Jon Levine’s home for the ambitious task of recording a new album in just ten days. The result was a collection of ten songs that include a ton of A-list collaborators in Albert Hammond Jr (The Strokes), Robbie Williams, Tom Morello, and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott & Phil Collen. The material that the band was able to come up with under the pressure of a deadline still lives up to the hype of their earlier material and plays out like a love letter to the glam rock of the ’70s.
The album opens up with the sprawling title track that features guest vocals from Robbie Williams. Lead vocalist Luke Spiller and Williams trade verses throughout the song as they sing on the second verse, “Girls and boys are rushing to be on show /
What’s the hurry children you’re forgetting to grow / Make the best of where you begin in this crazy world / So let’s talk about it
I know you sometimes hate the way that you feel / Life’s tough but that’s what makes you real / It’s worth more than a million roses.” The two vocalists do a great job of summarizing the weird feelings and emotions of living through a pandemic and offer up some advice to help us navigate through it as well. The song is largely organized around a piano, an instrument that the band has not utilized as much on the previous works. It makes for a unique way of opening a record in uncertain times.
”All Dress Up (With Nowhere to Go)” brings the guitars back front and center with a raucous track built around the great playing of Adam Slack. Spiller continues to channel his inner Freddie Mercury with some fantastic and charismatic vocals as he takes full command of the song and allows it reach its intended heights. Spiller croons over the blazing guitars, “You look like a movie star on Sunday morning / In my dreams I see you shining so bright / I hear you calling / I wanna take you out on Friday evening / But In this lockdown babe I cannot go out / My heart is bleeding.” The way he is able to incorporate the feelings of looking for love in the time of a pandemic showcases just how human he is. The stadium-ready anthems continue on other songs such as the KISS cover of “Do You Love Me.”
”I Hate How Much I Want You” starts off with a recorded phone call between Spiller and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott going over the premise of the song and has Spiller recruiting the legendary vocalist for the big chorus. The song ends up being one of the biggest standouts from the set and sounds just as big as the band intended. The pulsating bass line from Jed Elliot really helps the song bounce along with professional ease.
”Wild Child” ends up being one of the unique songs on the record with a sound fully entrenched in the guitar-driven rock of the ’70s. The sound itself is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin-styled guitar parts with a mix of Pink Floyd craziness thrown into the mix. Spiller continues to live up to his reputation as being one of the best pound-for-pound vocalists in the rock scene with amazing range and control.
Other songs such as “Burn It Down” find The Struts experimenting with roots rock in the style of The Black Crowes with a little bit of a modern spin to it. Spiller continues to have the pandemic at the tip of his tongue as he sings on the first verse, “I’m not even six feet / But I’m the man you won’t forget / I’m the one and only virus / That you’ll love when you get / Open up your front door, bonjour / I’m your getaway car / I could tell you my sign / But I’m already a star.” The stylistic choices that The Struts go for on this album only speak to their rich influences, and they have the musical ability to cement themselves right back into that era of music.
”Another Hit of Showmanship” was one of the first singles released from the record and features guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. on the track. The song feels brighter than some of the other songs on the LP and made for an obvious radio introduction to the new material. Spiller sings triumphantly on the chorus, “All I need is another hit / All I need is another little bit / All I need is another hit of showmanship and I will be alright / It gets me and the night never end / But it’s getting harder to mend / All I need is another hit / All I need is another little bit / I’ll be alright.” It’s apparent that Spiller and his bandmates were born to do this for a living, and they’re loving every moment of creating this music together.
”Can’t Sleep” sounds like an updated version of JET’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl,” and rocks with a similar tempo. Drummer Gethin Davies ends up having a nice standout moment on this song with some of his best drum fills to date. The band doesn’t cover too much new ground here, but it still makes for an enjoyable listen.
The jazzy and sexy “Am I Talking to the Champagne (Or Talking to You)” feels ripped right out of the glam rock days of David Bowie, and the band commands the song well enough so that it doesn’t come across clumsily or out of place from the realm of their musical repertoire. It’s definitely a nice take on the trippy, stoner rock genre that has a contemporary twist to make it a worthwhile song in The Struts’ discography.
By putting the adding pressure on themselves to create a record in just ten days, The Struts challenged themselves to create art under a self-imposed deadline, and it still led to a cohesive album that pays direct homage to the bands that made them want to play music in the first place. Not many young bands these days would have been up to this task of making a solid album under such a short period of time, and it only speaks to the band chemistry that The Struts have. Strange Days is not the record that I was expecting to hear on first listen, but it ended up being my favorite in their collection since it hits on so many rich influences that I learned to love from discovering music from different eras. My hope is that The Struts will continue to be a “gateway drug” to get younger listeners to do deeper dives into these influences to see how this record came to be. By appreciating the music that came before them and putting a modern twist on the material, The Struts have created a fantastic statement that should stand as a great example that art can still be masterfully created under the most uncertain of times.