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Asteroid No. 4 - Honeyspot

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 26 / 2 / 2005

Asteroid No. 4 - Honeyspot
Label: Turquoise Mountain
Format: CD


Hit and miss third album from Philadelphia's Asteroid No. 4, which finds them moving away from their space rock roots and taking up classic rock and American country

The Asteroid No.4. Trippy name, trippy guys. Or so they were when they first emerged from their native Philadelphia (or “Psychedelphia”, as they refer it) in 1998 with 'Introducing', an album that took as it’s cue Pink Floyd, Spacemen 3 (who they covered on a S3 tribute album that also featured Mogwai, Low and Piano Magic), early Verve, and the bliss outs of the so-called ‘shoe gazing’ movement of the early 90’s, with their heavy use of effects pedals and drone, though with an occasional inclination towards the dark country of Mazzy Star too. What with the front cover of their first album, which echoed 60’s Barrett-era Floyd artwork, and that moniker (why No.4, exactly?), what immediately springs to mind is the kind of cosmic psychedelic freak-out that can be found in similar space cadets such as Comets On Fire, Dead Meadow, the Sunburned Hand of the Man, and the more far-out elements of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. It comes as a surprise, then, that on 'Honeyspot', the band’s third album, the Asteroid No.4 have undertaken a musical U-Turn of sorts, ditching most of their more trippy elements and incorporating pedal steel, harmonica, Hammond organ, and slide. Just as their tour-mates and friends the Brian Jonestown Massacre have embraced a more classic, cleaner 60’s-influenced sound since their heavily effects-laden debut 'Methadrone' ten years ago, the Asteroid No.4 likewise have left behind space-rock beginnings to embrace roots, classic rock and American country on a much more conventional sounding album where there’s barely an effects pedal. We’re talking Lynard Skynard, Crosby Stills and Nash, Buffalo Springfield, Gram Parsons, Dylan, et al. The signs were there with this five-pieces’ second album, 'King Richard’s Collectibles', which added a cleaner song-based feel, inspired by the Brit invasion and the sound of The Who at the peak of their powers, to their droning lysergic pop far more than their debut. As the opening ‘The Preacher & The Setting Sun’ attests, though, they haven’t completely forgotten their past. The album begins brilliantly with shimmering, shifting heavily-delayed backwards guitar, underneath which a hazy rhythm section slowly makes its presence felt. It’s only till eventually the song really kicks in around the two-minute mark, with Scott Vitt’s booming vocals evoking some Deep-South preacher-style fire and brimstone, that you realise that the album has clearly taken a different template than 'Introducing…' It’s an impressive start, and they manage to follow it well with the album’s first real taste of their country-influenced direction, ‘He’s A Fire’, a wistful tribute to a fiery, unpredictable free spirit exiled to Alaska that contains the memorable epitaph, “There’s a horseshoe over his door where there used to be a cross”. Meanwhile, ‘Runnin’ Away’ echoes the Byrds and the Beach Boys with it’s simple jangling melody and affecting harmonies. This is a world away from the inspired, ironic warped 60’s psychedelic aesthetic of the Apples in Stereo and the Elephant 6 collective, however, as the Asteroid No.4 follow a far more conventional route on this album that’s routed squarely in earnest American folk and country, with nary a Beatles influence in sight. These guys mean it, man. Elsewhere, though, the songs simply slip by in the ether, never really making the impact they should, with much of the album morphing from then on into the kind of pub rock that makes Reef sound avant-garde in comparison. ‘Big City Blues’ and ‘Trolley Car Blues’ both seem pretty obsessed with the blues, but disappointingly alternate between wanky funk-rock and the kind of awful barn dance seemingly designed for guys in cowboy hats in Colorado or deepest Texas rather than Philadelphia (though the latter at least contains some welcome anti-Dubya Bush sentiment), replete with tiresome drunken lyrics about getting stoned with waitresses in diners. ‘Like Dogs’ is even worse, a clichéd barroom blues with honkey-tonk piano and mutterings about “cutting some slack” which simply reinforces the feeling that the album would have been much better with a quarter of the songs left out and put on an EP. They partly manage to atone for such deficits with the title track, however, a glorious mid-tempo venture straight out of Exile on Main Street, with a wonderful crystal clear guitar riff that Keith Richards would be proud of. The closing ‘Made Up My Mind’, is a fitting ending too – slow, affecting, and with a great chord progression that compliments the classic chorus of “it’s great to be alive” perfectly. But it’s not enough. 'Honeyspot' is simply too much of a mixed bag to really make an impact. Fleetingly great, but too often pedestrian, it’s simply too much of a hit and miss affair to be truly brilliant. Maybe one day they’ll produce their own 'Pet Sounds', but for now they stop short of greatness.

Track Listing:-
1 The Preacher & The Setting Sun
2 He's A Fire
3 Runnin' Away
4 Big City Blues
5 Fred Interprets Woody (Rye Whiskey)
6 It's All Ok
7 As Soon As Dawn
8 Honeyspot
9 Like Dogs
10 One Time
11 California
12 Trolley Car Blues
13 Made Up My Mind

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