CD Review: Fastway - Eat Dog Eat
All Access Review: B+
|Fastway - Eat Dog Eat 2012|
Comprised of rock and roll gypsies eager to reinvent themselves, the Fastway that churned out the blazing fireball of blues-stoked heavy metal that was their self-titled 1983 debut was very different from the confused jumble of imitators and Johnny-come-latelys that hung around at the end to watch it all come crumbling down. What had been a bona fide supergroup that combined the DNA of Motorhead, UFO and Humble Pie was, by the late ‘80s, a shell of its former self. And so was “Fast” Eddie Clarke, once a fret-scorching dynamo with Motorhead.
Gone was Jerry Shirley, former drum basher for Humble Pie and Fastway’s indefatigable combustion engine. Gone back home to Ireland was singer Dave King and that screaming alley-cat wail of his. And Pete Way … well, ol’ Pete, a man without a country following his departure from UFO, never even made it on that first record, having been shanghaied for Ozzy Osbourne’s band before Fastway ever stepped foot in the studio – this despite starting Fastway with Clarke in 1982.
That left Clarke as the sole surviving original member, and he was having a bad time of it in rehab by the end of the ’80s. In a palace coup of sorts, Clarke was usurped as Fastway’s leader, and without him in the driver’s seat, the fractured unit produced the disappointingly synthetic On Target and Bad Bad Girls. Released in 1988 and 1990, respectively, they were as schlocky and bloodless as the worst ‘80s metal had to offer. Not that Clarke had much to do with any of it. He was focused on overcoming his addictions, leaving “Fast” Eddie little opportunity to join Fastway in the studio on either one of those records, and his absence was felt. All those synthesizers and computer drums – that was clearly not the “Fast” Eddie way
Influenced heavily by the British blues boom of the 1960s, Clarke’s blazing leads and tough, working-class riffs – on display during Motorhead’s most exciting era and found in the kinetic energy of Fastway’s early days – are born of a taste for simple, uncomplicated music that aims straight for the gut and seeps into the soul. Perhaps that’s why he walked away from Fastway in the early ‘90s, covering the old girl with a tarp and letting rust have at its compromised legacy. He could no longer stand by and watch Fastway devolve into a glossy, fabricated mess.
No one could have predicted Fastway’s glorious 2012 return – not Nostradamus and certainly not the Mayans. For two decades, Fastway remained dormant, but Clarke, possibly troubled by how he’d left things, has restored the abandoned vehicle, and the good news is it is absolutely road worthy. Titled Eat Dog Eat, the latest effort from Fastway is, in many ways, a throwback to a bygone age, one that prized the holy trinity of guitars, drums and bass and couldn’t get enough of good, honest songwriting – elements always in abundance in Clarke’s work, here strengthened by some of the most rigorous grooves and ballsy riffage of his career, not to mention his searing solos. From the stomping funk of “Freedom Song” to the nasty, swinging riffs of the hot-wired “Leave the Light On” – the track most reminiscent of Fastway’s earliest efforts – Eat Dog Eat is made of strong stuff, as evidenced by the relentless march of muscular, driving guitars that plow their way through the simmering tension of “Deliver Me.” In similar fashion, though the mood is much darker and the expansive choruses grow and fan out like plumes of black smoke signaling a fire in the distance, “Fade Out” grinds out a rugged, rough-and-tumble existence. Underneath Jepson’s impassioned, powerhouse vocals and flashing, occasionally sparkling guitars, a raging undercurrent of bass lines rumble as if an earthquake is imminent – the same signs of which are evident in the slow-burning “Who Do You Believe?” and those wah-wah effects of Clarke’s that light up the trac
And while “Dead and Gone” is surely no seismic event, it is a surprising anomaly for Fastway and “Fast” Eddie, whose aversion to anything acoustic is well-documented. While the thoughtful lyrics meditate on mortality, the loss of faith and the recovery of belief, “Dead and Gone” opens with a stark, melancholy cycle of acoustic-guitar picking from Jepson before he deftly brushes and strums the golden hair of those strings ever so gently. But, in the end, Clarke just can’t help himself, and when the words turn hopeful and downright uplifting and Jepson’s voice grows increasingly defiant, Clarke provides support in the way of rocky, sharply struck electric chords.
Never one to reinvent the wheel, Clarke is happiest when song structures have good bones – basic elements like undeniable hooks and gripping melodies, such as those found in the hard-charging “Sick as a Dog,” a galloping horse of a track that refuses to spit the bit. By the time “On and On” shuffles ponderously onto Eat Dog Eat’s well-worn stage, however, it’s hard not to be slightly numbed by the sameness of much of the record, or more specifically, the trudging tempos that become a little too routine and predictable while taking their own sweet time to bloom into bigger, more dramatic endings. Thankfully, the closer “Only If You Want It” offers more in the way of soulful, acrobatic dynamics and righteous energy.
On the whole, Eat Dog Eat redeems Fastway. The imagery of a mangy cur on the cover is not only appropriate, but it is emblematic of Fastway itself. Fastway is the malnourished underdog prowling the city streets in search of food, and though it’s been beaten occasionally,the animal is too tough to die and too optimistic to give up the fight. That hunger and desperation, not to mention the desire to restore Fastway’s good name, pushes Dog Eat Dog toward greatness.
- Peter Lindblad