I admit going into this review I did not recognize this band. Despite a three decade long existence, Diesel Park West eluded my rock fandom but, introduced to their work via this release, I am jazzed to acquaint myself with their back catalog. The UK quartet’s new studio album Let It Melt is their ninth release – a clear indication, to me, that the band views themselves as a live act for the most part rather than holing up in a studio and producing a new collection of songs every two or three years. More power to them. They made the right decision if the energy and intelligence illustrated by Let It Melt’s eleven tracks reliably reflects their live prowess. Guitars, trenchant social commentary, a sure sense of characterization, and the rugged DNA of a genuine rock band are evident throughout this release.
That DNA is on full display with the album opener. The title track “Let It Melt” is a definite high point on the release and raises the bar for everything coming after. I can’t help but love the band’s unabashed embrace of traditional riff and roll, but Diesel Park West relies less on outright riffage than they do a synthesis of dueling guitar lines threading into a greater whole. The rhythm section of drummer Rob Morris and bass player Geoff Beavan lay down an unwavering foundation for the track.
The lyrics are a strength on the album opener and continue with the second track “Pictures in the Hall”. Songwriter John Butler has an eye for significant detail that few writers in this genre, regardless of age, share, but he never belabors those details and the words serve the music well rather than risking self indulgence. Diesel Park West largely avoids any instrumental trips – you’ll be hard pressed to find any would-be virtuoso turns on this album. They do, however, layer their songs with a number of brief lead guitar flourishes, never overwrought, that add color to the performances.
“No Return Fare” is a track that will find favor with both rock and songwriting fans. Butler’s look at the current state of human affairs isn’t particularly cheerful, but the band packages it in an entertaining musical vehicle that mitigates some of the gloom. The pensive mood continues on the next two tracks. “The Golden Mile” and “Scared of Time” share some common thematic threads. The former is about, in a sense, the old message that life is more about the journey than any final destination and there’s something gained from every twist and turn we encounter along the way. The title of the latter song is self-explanatory – “Scared of Time” isn’t the sort of track a young rocker looking to prove himself would write, but that doesn’t mire it in middle aged reflection either.
“Everybody’s Nuts” will be one hell of a crowd pleaser. It isn’t difficult, hearing Butler bellow the title, to imagine a rowdy audience shouting along with the track and the dark humor running through the track makes it one of the album’s real winners for me. I’m impressed how Butler and his cohorts manage to balance serious concerns with an often humorously cynical look at life and this tune seems to be the apex for that on this release. “Living in the UK”, “Bombs Away”, and the playfully bluesy “Across this Land” are strong songs late in the album, the first two returning to socially conscious concerns we heard in the earlier “No Return Fare”. Once more, however, Butler never deals with these subjects in a hamfisted way.
“Incredible Things” closes the album on a memorable but brief note and emphasizes the band’s vocal strengths and shares some of the playful lyric spirit we hear in the earlier “Across this Land”. It always has a hopeful note lacking from some of the earlier songs and short swaths of lead guitar putting an exclamation point on the performance. It’s a sturdy closing tune for one of the best rock albums I’ve heard in recent memory.