„This time I don’t need anyone to believe in me...“
They say it’s easier to stay away than to come back. To go out on a high rather than risk a new low. Hence the return of any band that left the scene at the peak of their powers (and, in this case, with a second consecutive #1 gold album) is regarded with a mixture of excitement and potentially morbid fascination. Can they still walk the walk? Are they ready to come in and rock out?
Rock’n’Roll has a language all of its own, where “musical differences” means more money, mo’ problems and “pursuing solo projects” translates as can’t stand the sight of each other. It’s a high octane cocktail which can explode at any moment. But with a tweak here and a touch of enlightenment there, the chemical balance can be restored with astounding results. We wouldn’t want it any other way. Take the emotion out of music and you are left with silence. Well, it’s about to get loud again. The time has come to welcome back the Guano Apes.
When they leapt onto the scene over a decade ago, the Apes were heralded as a much-needed injection of thrills for a languorous rock scene dominated by old men and the odd rock bride. The Guano Apes sounded as fresh and looked as bright as powdered Alpine snow, an image reinforced by their “Lords of the Boards” single which sold in excess of a quarter of a million copies as they hurtled down the slopes with fearless abandon.
It was almost as if the Guano Apes had created a new brand of guitar song which they promptly claimed as their own and only loosened their grip when the aforementioned difficulties led to their very public disintegration. Unstoppable as they seemed, they stopped themselves – yet incredibly, there did not seem to be any other bands waiting in the wings to take over their position. Which is perhaps why they were so sorely missed and why their return is so hotly anticipated. Probably nowhere more so than in Portugal, where the Guano Apes, it is fair to say, filled some pretty impressive Converse sneakers for the post-Nirvana generation, selling out concerts of 20,000+ supporters, but also in such faraway places as Siberia, where the band are looking forward to playing for a crowd of 10,000 this year.
The Guano Apes – reunited in the line-up which brought them their greatest successes to date (Henning Rümenapp, Dennis Poschwatta, Stefan Ude and Sandra Nasic) – are that rarest of phenomena, a German band which has gone global. “Proud Like A God”, their debut album alone went gold and platinum in various countries on the back smash hitsingle “Open Your Eyes”, seeing the band tour Europe and the USA for an eighteen month period. Even when the Apes had retired from active service, their “Big In Japan” single proved to be a self-fulfilling prophesy, becoming the official theme of the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2009. By this time, the idea of recording together again was taking shape.Of course, if you are planning to come back, then you have to be sure you’re going to be at least as good as before you went away, if not better. You want to be Ali not Foreman. So it’s a pleasure to be able to say that the Guano Apes are indeed sounding more energized, leaner and fitter than ever. And packing a mighty punch.
Bel Air, that most famous of Los Angeles districts (“a part of the city, but apart from it too”, as was once noted in the L.A. Times), lends its name to the album, a clear enough indication that the band is consciously breaking into new territory, no longer walking on a thin line, so to speak. From the anthemic oceans of “When The Ships Arrive” to the playful jaunt of “Sunday Lover”, Sandra’s exuberant delivery is complemented by a laser sharp rhythm section who step back into the arena with renewed vigour.
Bringing Jon Schumann on board as producer has turned out to be an inspiring move. His sterling work with the likes of Carpark North, Mew and Kent has already earned him Grammys in Sweden and his native Denmark. Add in triple Grammy winner Tom Lord-Alge (too many credits to mention, but U2, Coldplay, Oasis and Pink will do for now), Terry Date (Pantera, Soundgarden etc.) and Randy Staub (e.g. Metallica, Nickelback) on mixing duties and you have a revitalized group sounding better than ever before. Not only that, there’s a self-assured quality about the band, as if they have learned from their manic exploits of the past and have created their own serene space in which to write and play music, casting out the doubters, advisors and sycophants who can cause so much confusion in a young band’s formative phase. When Sandra Nasic sings “This time I will make sure you won’t feel insecure“, she’s speaking to herself and her band as well as to an audience that has grown up with them. Maybe “Fire in Your Eyes” is a subliminal cut to The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” – a band not exactly lacking in bravado – and it really does feel like The Guano Apes are ready for anything now. The fire in their eyes is burning bright.