In the late 90’s, modern-rock radio was phasing out the sounds of grunge and embracing ‘alternative’ acts like Radiohead, The Verve, Blur and Oasis. On pop radio, electronic acts like Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk were breaking big on the charts and pop/rock bands like Third Eye Blind, Ben Folds Five and Blink 182 were ruling the airwaves and MTV. There was little, if any, classic rock or arena rock on the radio.
In Canada, things were a little different as guitar-based rock was still as viable as ever with bands like I Mother Earth, The Odds, Big Sugar, Moist and Our Lady Peace delivering arena-friendly guitar anthems. One band that flew under the radar for me at the time was Big Wreck. Their debut album, In Loving Memory Of…, featured three solid singles, including the US top-10 single and Canadian top-5 single “The Oaf (My Luck Is Wasted)”, “Blown Wide Open” and “That Song”. The guitar sound delivered by frontman Ian Thornley was massive as he demonstrated a big voice and some impressive six-string skills that blended classic rock with a more progressive sound.
As the millennium turned, Big Wreck faded away and Thornley returned to Canadian radio with marginal success in 2004 his new self-titled band. Then in 2010, Thornley reunited with original Big Wreck guitarist Brian Doherty and began touring again.
Big Wreck is back with their first new album of material in more than a decade. With the shackles of the traditional record label/artist relationship gone, Thornley and Big Wreck have gone the indie route and it has paid off. Albatross is an impressive collection of tracks that sound as modern as they are retro. The blues-based riffs are a clear nod to Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, but the vocal delivery of Thornley is pure Chris Cornell. One thing that struck me about the album is the virtuosity of the musicianship – this is not Nickelback. The guitars are layered beautifully and the vocal melodies are complex, yet feel familiar. Time signatures are not straight-ahead four-on-the-floor blues-based rock…there’s something complex going on in these songs.
So it makes sense that Thornley and Doherty are not your typical self-taught guitar rockers. The band was formed while the duo was studying jazz music at Boston’s renowned Berklee College of Music and their immense talents and skills are on display throughout the record. While this isn’t Dream Theatre in terms of progressive rock – it’s far more universal in its appeal – the sound on Albatross might best be compared to the pop side of Rush (“Spirit Of The Radio”, “Freewill”, “Limelight”) or even Trevor Rabin-era Yes.
Standout tracks include the melodic title track “Albatross”, the Zeppelin-esque “All Is Fair” and the dirty blues AC/DC-riffing on “You Caught My Eye”.