Hipsters heed Wolfmother's rocking howl

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      As Spinal Tap once sagely noted, there's a fine line between stupid and clever. The Darkness have sparked countless debates about where they stand since they first slipped on the spandex three years ago. Australia's Wolfmother has been far luckier. Based on the lyrical content of its debut disc, the mega-hyped Australian three-piece could easily have been written off as a Stonehenge-sized joke. Check out the band's just-released eponymous debut, where singer Andrew Stockdale howls such straight-outta-the-'70s-rock lines as “Can you see the joker flying over/As she's standing in a field of clover” .

      The outrageousness doesn't stop there. Over the course of 12 tracks, the fabulously 'fro'd frontman rhapsodizes about unicorns, soaring eagles, and the power of witchcraft. All this is set to a sonic attack that makes you want to break out the bell-bottoms, bongs, and black-light posters. If you're the proud owner of a fully restored 1976 Ford van””complete with an airbrushed, medieval-themed mural on the side””the soundtrack for your next road trip has officially arrived.

      What's funny is that, for all Wolfmother's lyrical flights of fancy, no one is suggesting that the band is having a laugh at the expense of its fans. Stockdale is not only happy for that, he also thinks he knows why. Superficially, a song like “White Unicorn”  seems to be about unicorns, he says, but those who take the time to think about the lyrics will realize he's only singing about a tattoo.

      “So the line 'white unicorn across her shoulder' is just about a design; it's not fantasy at all,”  the articulate and thoughtful singer says from a Toronto tour stop. “The rest of the song is about real emotions””things that are relevant to all of us. So I think the reason that the album is a successful piece of art is that you can look at it in many ways. You can look at things on a humorous perspective and enjoy the fantasy element, or you can look at it on a deeper level and find philosophies on everyday life. Or you can put it on if you simply want to rock out and get drunk.” 

      Wolfmother is indeed all about the rock, which means towering walls of dirt-bombed distortion, Zeppelin-strength vocals, and entirely unironic use of the cowbell. The mammoth “Dimension”  out-grunges Mudhoney, “Woman”  updates '70s blooze-boogie for Coachella hipsters, and “Colossal”  is every bit as epic as its title suggests. Although the disc is nothing less than a turbo-charged, retro wrecking ball, there's plenty of brilliant little touches””check out the organ breaks in “Where Eagles Have Been”  and “Mind's Eye” , and, fantastically, the flute solo that springs out of nowhere as “Witchcraft”  crashes across the finish line. Through it all, Stockdale howls like Robert Plant possessed by those bespectacled Chia Pets from Mars Volta.

      Theoretically, Wolfmother should be the new favourite band of every Surrey skid who can't believe that Buckcherry never blew up to become the next Guns 'N Roses. But with emo, indie-rock, and '80s-indebted new wave all officially last month's flavour of the week, the group's been embraced by discerning hipsters looking for the next big thing. Arguments that Wolfmother is indeed just that were bolstered a couple of months back when the group was named one of Rolling Stone's 10 Artists to Watch. Stockdale understands that, at this point, his band””which includes drummer Myles Heskett and bassist Chris Ross””is benefiting from a blizzard of gushing press. And that has him intent on living up to everything that's been said or written about Wolfmother, which spent four years in the practice space before playing a gig or recording a song.

      “All this starts with maybe a good show at South by Southwest in Austin,”  he says. “You get positive feedback from a few people. Then you do a festival in L.A., and Mike Watt from the Stooges is there and he likes it. It spreads from there through all these people that are involved in music or have some sort of influence in the industry. Then you have the opportunity to play for people who are there to specifically see you, and you do a great show and you deliver.

      “And that's the thing,”  Stockdale continues. “When there is that hype, you have to live up to the expectations of people who come out to see you. We've definitely been able to do that. We're three friends who made this music that's true to our vision. People can see that there's nothing manufactured.” 

      While every article written about Wolfmother has suggested that the band has spent more than one midnight mass praying at the altar of Black Sabbath, that's not exactly the case. The goal of Stockdale, Heskett, and Ross when they first got together was to offer an alternative to what they saw on the charts. Whether you're talking garage revivalists the White Stripes, emo kings Fall Out Boy, or '80s obsessives the Killers, pop music has taken itself entirely too seriously for much of this decade. The reason Wolfmother has instantly sold out every show on its current tour, Stockdale suggests, is that the band is making rock 'n' roll fun again.

      “We're not playing melancholic, deeply intellectual music,”  he acknowledges. “We're proof that it's still possible to rock out.” 

      Thankfully, it must be added, without Darkness-issue spandex.

      Wolfmother plays a sold-out Richard's on Richards on Saturday (May 27).