Shihad - The General Electric

By Russell Baillie

(Wildside)

*****

Review: Russell Baillie

It feels like there's a lot riding on this one. Shihad's fourth is their first offshore-recorded/name-producer album and the band have now based themselves in Australia with a new record deal.

It also follows the "must try harder" report they got on their previous effort, and those impressively belligerent first two albums on which they tempered their initial metal leanings into a muscular, granite-textured rock.

Initially, The General Electric comes on a mixed-up affair - guitars make way for electronics on some tracks; the tempos range from punk-sprints to brooding balladry; the lyrical mood spans barbed anger, missing-you love songs and some that run seemingly on the power of positive thinking.

It can make it all seem intense, dense and not a little overwhelming on early listens. But then it falls into place, quite brilliantly. Sound-wise, it makes for as good as an example as any we're likely to get of how a hard rock record should sound in late 1999.

And spiritually - now there's not a word we like to bandy about - it shows Shihad are that rare beast: A band that care.

Not just about where rock is heading but where their generation is too.

Sure, they might be as cynical as the next twentysomething on the likes of opener My Mind's Sedate, and Jon Toogood might be giving racist rednecks a dressing down on the Thin White Line (something he's done before). But between the thunderous drums, the tough guitars and surging retro-synthesiser touches a strange optimism shines through.

It's not a particularly sophisticated notion - frontman Toogood's lyrics are direct and sometimes built for anthems (as on Only Time and the title track which hollers: "Doesn't it feel just great to be alive?...) but it's certainly rousing, emotive and affecting.

As are, of course, the band's powerhouse playing. Whether it's the electro-boosted churn through Sport and Religion, chugging glam-fashion on Life In Cars, coming over all Devo on Just Like Everybody Else, or giving it some trademark Shihad guitar lurch on the title track.

Has its soppy bits too, but even they just make for an oddly well-rounded affair - an "album" sort of album. A great one too. Whatever is riding on this should buckle up tight.

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