One year and one major personnel change removed from Blessed Is the Boogie, Australia’s Datura4 return with an album well within the bounds of their previous work, but different enough to ensnare listeners searching for more than a hard-rock boogie LP. With the departure of guitarist Greg Hitchcock and the addition of keyboardist Bob Patient, the sound and songs of West Coast Highway Cosmic are more versatile than previous efforts. The dual-guitar attack of Hitchcock and frontman Dom Mariani is missed at times, but the timbres and musical options gained by the new lineup are welcome additions.
There is still plenty of crunch and punch on the album, so fans of the older Datura4 versions should not be disappointed. None of the set’s ten songs are centered around organ or piano. Patient’s work helps to drive a couple of the best tracks, but the prime mover is still Mariani with his riffs and hooks, and the understated but excellent rhythm duo of Warren Hall and Stu Loasby.
“West Coast Highway Cosmic” stays true to its title and is equal parts “highway” and “cosmic.” Referring to their travels between studios in their native Western Australia, the song alternates between an uptempo section well suited to travel on the open road, and a slower Hammond-grind, replete with swirling synths. “Mother Medusa” employs a similar strategy of distinct verse to chorus changes, but without any real contribution from Patient. “Darker Shade of Brown,” lasting only two minutes, is a brief rock-stomp centered around a basic, sludgy riff and infused with a few colorful organ blasts.
The varying importance of Parent’s contributions makes for one approach to categorizing the album’s tunes: songs inconceivable without him, tracks on which he is an afterthought, and those on which he plays a supporting, but significant role. “You’re the Only One” is a nice change of pace with its slower tempo and acoustic feel, owing a large debt to the atmospheric harmonica and echoey slide—but nothing at all to Patient who is entirely absent. The following track, “Rule My World,” is a textbook example of straightforward blues executed perfectly. It is one of the best cuts from the set, and is also notable for Patent’s absence. There isn’t a single misplaced note, over-exaggeration, or any instrumental overkill. The guitar tones are wonderfully overdriven, dirty, and Mariani’s solo work lasts just long enough to leave listeners wanting more.
“Get Out” is an uptempo, rocking, middle-finger-at-full-mast sprint that owes equally to all band members. It’s a tough decision to choose either the crunchy chord progression or the Jerry Lee Lewis-esqe tack piano for track highlight. Paired with the closer, “Evil People, Pt. 1” (“Pt. 2” is on last year’s album—go figure), it makes for a very strong finish. Mariani sings a simple but poignant observation, “Some people are good people. Some people, they’re just evil.” This lyric, sung over a bed of deep organ sounds and flanged-out guitar, eventually makes way for the hardest riff of the album. Combined with additional instrumental fireworks and a decidedly prog-rock tone, it reveals a welcome dimension of West Coast Highway Cosmic and Datura4 in general.
As much as West Coast Highway Cosmic differs from past Datura4 offerings, it contains just as many similarities. Perhaps most important is that like the rest of their catalog, this music is meant to be played at high volume. If there were concerns that the membership changes would result in a softer, unrecognizable sound, this set should dispel them. Mariani and crew show that their command of sounds and the spaces between them has never been better. Fans should find much to enjoy here.
The Review: 8/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– West Coast Highway Cosmic
– Rule My World
– Get Out
– Evil People, Pt. 1
The Big Hit
– Evil People, Pt. 1
Review by Willie Witten