Released: June 2015
Back To Basics is quite a statement of a title for ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman’s first solo album in thirty-three years. In that time one would expect an artist to explore many avenues of music, and in fairness Wyman has done with other projects, yet here at seventy-eight years old the rock and roll veteran has chosen to return to what he knows best. Stomping 4/4 beats and gritty guitar hooks make up an album that defiantly and unapologetically stands its ground, representing traditional rock in an age of post-punk revival and trippy neo-psychedelia.
Guitar music does have quite the identity crisis at the moment, and despite claims by the likes of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner and Kasabian’s Tom Meighan, good old rock ‘n’ roll has been almost completely wiped of the music map. In 2015 you’d do well to find a young band that presents such no-nonsense riffs and lyrically minimalist verses as those found here, and that’s what gives this album its charm. Back To Basics very much does what it says on the tin: it doesn’t expect its listeners to work too hard as Wyman himself plays it safe, presenting twelve instalments of the classic rock style he helped to define as a bassist in the 1960s and ‘70s.
There is a real muscularity to this record, an element that proves to be highly prolific on the opening couple of tracks, as What & How & If & Why & When and I Lost My Ring come stomping in with brutal rhythms and Wyman’s dark, growling vocal style. His voice sounds like it is whispering yet contains such gravitas as every syllable is pronounced with masculine conviction. As a bona fide rock legend one would expect instrumental prowess to be Wyman’s strongest suit, yet here the riffs are short and minimalist and drums stick to simplistic stomping beats as he growls his way through each track, every lyric clear as day and infused with a real cockney twang.
Listeners would be forgiven for confusing some tracks with Ian Dury, as Wyman’s old school London inflections characterise a real British rock record. However whilst Dury’s working class accent is little more than a garnish for his unique poetry and ear for a catchy melody, Wyman struggles at times to give his lyrics character, or even substance. Though simple, dumb rock and roll is all good fun, there’s a reason it is rarely attempted these days, and as the veteran musician tells us “It’s not the fruits, it’s not the flowers / It’s not the sweets, its not the sours” on Love, Love, Love (which apparently, is what it really is all about), that reason becomes clear. This is fun music, but it is absolutely meaningless.
It would be cruel to brand this a poor album, but it is also important to assert that were Back To Basics released by anyone but an ex-Rolling Stone it would probably fall apart quite easily. The guitar work is mediocre at best and the lyrics are meaningless to the point of complete redundancy, yet Wyman’s experienced authoritativeness lends the album a real sense of gravitas. It might seem pointless at first, but Back To Basics is an album that demands that you listen.