In the late 60s, lead guitar players were beginning to behave like star footballers – so exceptional were their fretboard skills that many of them felt that they transcended the bands for which they played. By 1966 Eric Clapton was so revered in his own right that he was able to hand-pick his favourite musicians and form the world’s first ‘supergroup’, Cream. And just look at the names of some of the bands of that era: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Allman Brother’s Band, John Mayall and the Blues Breakers. The guitarist had become so firmly centred within the band, that the band almost ceased to matter.
Jeff Beck’s solo career grew out of this time of the deified guitarist. In 1968 Beck left the Yardbirds and released Truth, followed by Beck-Ola, followed by another album every three or four years right up to the present. Jeff Beck is thus one of the most prolific musicians of all time, but his latest offering Loud Hailer begs the question of how much his sound has developed and matured since those early days when a guitarist could do no wrong, even if their solos lasted half an hour and bored the hell out of the rest of the band.
Before you even press play, the overtly political tone of the record becomes apparent; a quick look at the names of the tracks – The Revolution Will Be Televised, Scared For The Children, and O.I.L. (Can’t Get Enough Of That Sticky) – suggests that Beck is trying to cast himself as a political activist. Whilst that’s all well and good, it’s worth remembering that he released his first album in 1968, a year of radical social upheaval. Yet, instead of fighting the patriarchy by writing protest ballads like Neil Young or joining the Pickett line with the workers of the world, Beck did little more than happily caress that most phallocentric of instruments in his studio…
So has Jeff Beck finally decided to communicate a real political message to the world? No. The Revolution Will Be Televised is a basic slow blues jam with guest vocalist Rosie Bones talking over the top. Fun fact: Rosie Bones is Bill Oddie’s daughter. You can actually hear it in her voice, she sounds just like her dad. Scared For The Children is an annoyingly preachy condemnation of the modern world, and O.I.L. (Can’t Get Enough Of That Sticky) claims that oil is like a drug because - get a load of this - society is as addicted to fossil fuels as people can get to heroin (mic drop).
To give Jeff his due, Live In The Dark and Right Now are perfectly good blues rock songs with well-crafted guitar tones and strong, head-banging rhythms. The slow blues Shame is the highlight of the record, proving that Beck can still make his guitar wail and weep like the best players of his generation, but this alone is not enough to rescue the album from its overwhelming sense of condescension.
Being told that: “if we all just tut from the safety of our sofas there won’t be much of a revolution to watch” by an artist who has spent the last half-century behind a mixing desk seems a little hypocritical, and being criticised for political apathy by such a man is a bit like your granddad telling you that your generation has done nothing but take from this country and it gives nothing back, before he asks for a lift to the bank to pick up his pension, then to the polling station so he can vote for Brexit. And the irony of playing an eco-ballad like O.I.L. (Can’t Get Enough Of That Sticky) on an electric guitar should require no explanation.
Overall then, Loud Hailer seems to represent everything our generation cannot possibly take seriously about the older generation’s musical legacy. The men who were once guitar heroes and rock gods are now misanthropic old granddads wagging their fingers at a generation they hoped they could still impress. Looks like they were wrong.