RETROROCK – WOLFMOTHER

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White Unicorn (A Stockdale/C Ross/M Heskett) and Joker and The Thief (A Stockdale/C Ross/M Heskett) – Wolfmother 2006

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The second single lifted off Wolfmother’s debut album was White Unicorn, the song had been included on the band’s debut EP in 2004, and subsequently included on Wolfmother’s debut album a year later. Andrew Stockdale’s inspiration for the song was a fantasy image of a model and a white unicorn he had seen, and the opening recalls the more restrained, sensitive, chiming guitar riffs evident on the intro to the Zeps Ramble On and Stairway to Heaven. Stockdale croons in his best Robert Plant style, but this charming wistfulness soon gives way to the band’s more typical driving percussion and monster chords, a brief keyboard solo by Chris Ross reminiscent of the Doors Riders On The Storm at the bridge ultimately segued to an addictive acid rock outro, so that collectively White Unicorn was one of the album’s standout tracks.

The music video comprised footage from Wolfmother’s performances at Big Day Out and Homebake Festivals, in 2005, a “defaced version” of the clip, featuring overlaid sketches was released, and initially attributed to an anonymous fan known as “Bandito Bruce”, but the original editor Bruce Gottlieb later revealed himself as the producer, claiming he had been inspired by a defaced reproduction of the Mona Lisa by artist Marcel Duchamp, White Unicorn took the band into the US charts for the first time at #29 and climbed to #25 locally.

Joker and the Thief was the sixth and final single released from the debut album, it was a radio-friendly song with a standout funk and groove to it, which ensured that it became the most popular single issued by the band, charting at #14 locally and #27 in the US. The song was inspired by the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, There must be some kinda way outta here, Said the Joker to the Thief”, a song popularized by Jimi Hendrix in the 60’s. Stockdale had deliberately set out to write a stadium rock song with a big intro and a riveting riff, a la Thunderstruck by AC/DC, and he succeeded, the distinct guitar riff heard throughout the song has also been compared to a section of the song The Cry Eugene by the English progressive rock group The Nice, from 1967.  

Although sometimes lampooned as an “Aussie” Osborn clone, Stockdale is a cut above the average stoner lead singer, he forsakes the standard cave man grunts, and growls, and sings in tune. But there were few guitar solos on the debut album, Stockdale was no Hendrix-like guitar virtuoso and Wolfmother’s songs are not generally infused with the white boy boogie blues of the 70’s genre bands who had been their inspiration, but for a three piece band they produced a solid pedal-to-the-metal sound, which resonated with a global audience.

By now Wolfmother’s music had become a cross- media exploitation phenomena, with their songs featuring in video games (Guitar Hero 2, Motor Storm, Pure, Need For Speed, Project Gotham Racing 4, etc) movies (Jackass 2, Shrek the Third, The Hangover, etc), and commercials (Mitsubishi and Peugeot cars).They played notable gigs at such legendary festivals as Reading, Lollapalooza, Coachella, Big Day Out and Splendor In The Grass in a frenetic touring schedule that was taking its toll on the band.

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In August 2008 co-founding members Ross and Heskett left the band due to irreconcilable personal and musical differences, in short, they realized that Wolfmother had always been an Andrew Stockdale solo project, and so it would remain. Stockdale appropriated the band name, recruited replacements, – left to right above Alex Carapetis (drums), Andrew Stockdale (guitar,vocals), and Ian Peres (bass guitar/keyboards) – to form a new quartet who initially performed some original material under the pseudonym White Feather.

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The re-formed Wolfmother 2 started work on their next album, Cosmic Egg in Brisbane’s Valley Studios, the album title was a reference to a yoga pose of which Stockdale was aware. The album was ultimately recorded at the Sound City studios, Los Angeles, with experienced Brit producer Alan Moulder, it successfully charted in Australia at #4, UK #35 and US #16, and again notched up sales in excess of one million. Two singles lifted off the album failed to impress locally, Back Round at #96 and New Moon Rising #51. The early criticism of Wolfmother as derivative Led Zeppelin clones, despite international critics generally eulogizing their first two albums, had a lot more to do with the Australian national obsession with “cutting down tall poppies” than any valid criticism of the group’s music.

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Rebirthing a riff or melody is not really the issue, it’s what a band does with it that counts, and Stockdale did create some impressive songs which increasingly the band performed professionally and convincingly. The same could be said of other bands who have also been branded Zep-clones, such as Whitesnake, Heart, Aerosmith, Soundgarden etc; and let’s not forget that the masters themselves, Led Zeppelin, have had to retrospectively settle claims of plagiarism with black bluesman Willie Dixon for such songs as Whole Lotta Love and I Can’t Quit You, Anne Bredon for Babe I’m Gonna Leave You  and Jake Holmes for Dazed and Confused. Originality may well be over-rated, and what comes around goes around again, like a record, and will continue to do so, as Wolfmother has so convincingly demonstrated.

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