Jamie Mahon’s three piece dirty garage rock / blues outfit continues to sleaze its way through the genre. While there’s a fair few bands mining this sound, St james & The Apostles stand out by the sheer filthiness of their music, making to make most of their competition look sexless. That’s not saying the band has a tedious rock machismo or laddishness, just that the music is filtered through the sweat and sin that makes rock ‘n’ roll great. The heavy use of organs and keyboards gives a Doors sense of teetering on a see-saw of class and excess. The band know how to drawl their songs in the languid, louche manner that Morphine used to possess. It’s late at night, the liquor is flowing and the sex is appalling.
Via Dolorosa is split into a schizophrenic two sides: the dirty, raucous first side then the bluesy second side. Euphoria then regret? Party then hangover?
‘Gimme Some’ starts the ball rolling with a short, stylish, Stones-y gateway to the album that sounds like Devo at a roller disco. The audio equivalent of a rum and coke, it’s cool and over far too soon. ’90 Day Chip’ combines a Morse code signal with a riff raunchier than the dancing silhouettes at the beginning of a Bond movie and Mahon carousing like Jon Spencer on heat. ‘Shavonne’ is where things get filthier: imagine Mick Ronson playing with Roxy Music and soundtracking The Girl In Gold Boots*. Rollicking drums, lascivious keyboard licks and hand claps, it sounds like the kind of parties you wish you were invited to. ‘Rent Boy Blues’ has a rough, bilious, creeping, slow building vibe, like a kerb crawling Komodo Dragon.
‘It’s A Shame’ heralds in side two with a plaintiff ballad ornamented with interesting guitar effects where acoustic plucking would normally be. ‘Paradice Slaves’ is slow, methodical and dangerous: like a crocodile eating a chicken jalfrezi. Employing a sickening lurch it inexorably rattles like a cement mixer full of loose change. ‘Via Dolorosa’ sees Mahon crooning a late night ode. An entrancing midnight trip to a place where the only thing cheaper than life is the moonshine. ‘Lazarus’ wails and caresses in equal measure before kicking into higher tempo jagged riffs and organ shrieks.
The only complaints are that ‘Til Yr Gone’ is too reminiscent of ‘Kiss & Tell’ from Baphomet, which could generously be called exploring a different side to the original song but to these ears sounded like a regurgitation. Meanwhile ‘Cool Yr Tongue’ is a segue between songs, which doesn’t really do much (which was probably the point) but ultimately feels a little redundant.
Not a band to overstay their welcome, St James & The Apostles have delivered a short, intoxicating brew of guttural blues and jagged garage rock. This is a tightly coiled piece that shows a band highly skilled at taking essences from the past but delivering in a way that sounds fresh. Impressively, they sound quietly commanding while sounding provocatively impassioned. If you like your riffs filthy and your blues battered then Via Dolorosa is highly recommended.
*If that reference was too obscure the original was “soundtracking the bit in Duke Nuken: Time To Kill with the pole dancing pigs”. If you weren’t there, don’t ask. Which could almost be the morale behind most of the songs on this album…