Alabama 3 – Cold War Classics Vol. 2 LP

Alabama 3
Cold War Classics Vol. 2 LP
(Submarine Cat Records)
Before anyone gets nervous about what they might have missed, it’s important to point out that Cold War Classics is not the first Alabama 3 album to feature the erroneous numeric identifier Volume 2 (2002’s acoustic experiment Last Train to Mashville was listed as a Volume 2 as well – although there was no “Part 1” in that case either) – they’ve simply done it again for this album. This time out, Alabama 3 has chosen to diminish the number of “house” and/or “electronic” elements in their overall sound and focus more on the “songwriterly” elements which power both their music and their muse, and the results prove to be pretty impressive; while not exactly aligned with what fans might have come to expect from Alabama 3, it is still a very engaging and exciting experience.

Even though there are still some electronic elements and pastiche production styling present at the top of Cold War Classics‘ A-side in the opening of “Goodbye Glasnost,” acoustic instruments (particularly piano and guitar) do the heavy lifting to present the songs, and the songs are instantly engaging as a result. The early running really seeks to establish an aura around the music that is equal parts political and sociological commentary and folky heart – lines like, “Stirring up hope in a city of ghosts/ A message from the sirens” will have listeners leaning in tightly to hear every syllable and every microtone to ascertain their meanings and, when they find images of, “grown men crying like children” and women standing stoically, they’ll find fascination they didn’t think would be probably so soon. The hook will be set deep in them before “Before The Ship Came In” has a chance to get rolling with the electronic beats which propel it but, when the song gets moving, listeners will find themselves running to keep up with it.

As soon as listeners feel like they’re up to speed with A3 before “…Ship Came In” closes though, the band shifts gears with “Get On This One” in a manner that is genuinely confusing. There, everything seems to get a little darker and more twilight-colored as a multi-voice chorus opens the cut but does not brighten it in any way before Larry Love begins dealing out gambling and playing card references, as well as adding in a bit of sleazy imagery for good measure. That start is solid enough, but the song really only ends up playing like an extended introduction for “California Got You Stoned,” because it really doesn’t progress in any dynamic way in its three-minute, twenty-second running; it builds the idea of a song, but doesn’t deliver one. “California Got You Stoned” immediately adds more energy to the mix with a stronger beat and bluesy guitar figure which enhances the eco- and sociopolitical commentary of the song’s lyric sheet (scan, “You let the green grass fool you/ You let California get you stoned/ And that forest fire that you started last night/ Is burning way out of control”) and dovetails seamlessly into “The Influencer Blues.” Again, Alabama 3 plays against their established strengths with their own kind of pop structure (which is very strong and seamed solid, but still takes a second to accept) before closing with the much more electro-identified “(I Can’t) Keep Calm and Carry On.” There, some listeners who have been waiting patiently for Alabama 3 to do something that resembles the music which appeared on Exile On Coldharbour Lane or La Peste will finally sigh in satisfaction as the beats get more mercurial and are contrasted perfectly by moodier compositional and lyrical fare. The results increase the energy levels in both the song and in those listening and will definitely have listeners flipping the record over excitedly for more when the song ends; that (what feels like first) taste is rapturous.

Listeners will find that, as strongly as the A-side ended, the B-side actually surpasses that strength. “If I’d Never Seen The Sunshine”opens with a chorus of female voices supplied by Sister Ese and Sister Sheena – who expertly reproduce a sound similar to the singers who once backed up Leonard Cohen – and Larry Love rushes in ambitiously to paint pictures of tequila-touched heartache in a tone which stands miles from what fans would normally expect from Alabama 3 – but those fans will still welcome it. Likewise, “North Korea” travels the world in search of redemption on dance floors while “The Girl With Lampedusa In Her Eyes” seethes with a far more understated style that really makes listeners reach forward to find satisfaction instead of clapping them over the head with heavy-handed styling.

As the B-side winds its way to a close, “Thank You” swings close to some soul styling while Larry Love offers listeners his appreciation for helping him find all the trouble he’s singing about, but the real gem to be found is “The Road Goes On Forever,” which closes the album. There, as often happens in the final moments of A3’s albums, the band finds a way to look up and away from all the troubles they’ve seen during an album’s running (which is true here too, obviously) and find a resolution in the place where, “the party never ends.” Now, some critics could scoff and take the way out that Alabama 3 normally takes (and takes here) just entirely too easy and almost mawkish – but the truth is that there is a romance which can be found here, before the needle lifts, and the sound will leave listeners feeling warm and satisfied.

After one has run front-to-back with Cold War Classics Vol. 2, no listener will be able to deny that while the album stands out as very different from the rest of Alabama 3’s catalogue, it is definitely a welcome addition. Granted, it does not make as grand a statement as Exile On Coldharbour Lane or La Peste did and is unlikely to fill as many dance floors, but it might do something even better; after all, the ability to fill concert halls can easily outlast an ability to fill dance floors, and Alabama 3 looks like they’re in place to do exactly that with this album. [Bill Adams]


Cold War Classics Vol. 2 is out now. Buy it here, directly from the band’s official website.

Bill Adams is Editor-in-Chief of Ground Control Mag.