5. Rival Sons, Pressure & Time
"I come for revenge for my broken dreams. Didn't come to wait tables or park limousines." (Rival Sons, Burn Down Los Angeles)
Stepping out of the train station, the taxi cab, or the hotel lobby onto the streets of any of the world’s great cities, it’s likely at some point, this line may briefly go through your head. Even, or especially, if there’s no limousine in sight.
Cities. The lifeblood of society? More like the tachycardic left ventricle. Of economies, of revolutions. Of thought, feeling, culture, creativity. Everything that matters, everything that doesn’t. Religion, politics, hedonism, hard work. Destruction, salvation. Pressure. And Time.
Arriving for the first time in a city you’ve heard of but never been to before requires and ignites a certain degree of pace.
I recently read City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg’s debut novel set in ’70s punk scene, New York. A perfect backdrop, a good read. It would’ve been a great read had it not been so damn long. It’s impossible to express in over 900 pages the sheer pace that makes great cities what they are. It misses the point. Our cities will outlive us all, but the magic in cities happens quickly, unexpectedly, in a flash.
The chance meeting of an old friend on the subway. The deal you weren’t expecting which lands you a monkey, the mugger you didn’t see that strips you of it. The first date that leads to a second. The quickie in the park at lunchtime that doesn’t. Even the 3-day benders pass in a blur and are over as quickly as the hit from whichever drug got you through it.
It’s all about pace, and you need to keep up. If you stumble, think you can’t make it, the city will grab you by the neck like a cat picking up its litter and throw you against the wall – ‘keep up, kid’. Loving or laughing, it’s hard to tell.
Don’t like it? Leave
The album on my record player this week is Pressure & Time, by Rival Sons. It’s 10 songs only, over in 31 booming, cymbal-crashing minutes. For me, it perfectly encapsulates what cities are all about. And it brings back all those blistering, awe-inspiring moments you’ve had which remind you why you live in a city, or why you don’t.
Strolling at dusk down the streets of Soho. Remembering to breathe while crossing Fifth Avenue. Haggling your dignity in the souks of Morocco or betting it all on the tables at the Bellagio. The restaurants of Paris, the markets of Beijing. The lavishness of Dubai. Hong Kong’s…well all of it. The sights, the tastes, the smells all rushing through you like Scott Holiday’s defibrillating guitar lines.
The album is fun yet sophisticated, brash but refined. If you were brave enough or stupid enough to ride a gold-plated limo through Marrakech’s Jemaa el-Fnaa, dressed in an Elvis onesie washing down a plate of wagyu beef with a bottle of Chateau Margaux, Pressure and Time is the album that should be playing on the stereo. You get the picture.
Cities can be dark places, they can be scary as hell. At times there’s a menacing edge to Pressure & Time, from burning down LA to graphically showing how the West was won. But it just reminds you that you’re listening to a proper blues-rock album and if you don’t like it, go and live in Chipping Campden.
The city will beat you
An inescapable observation made about Rival Sons is that they sound like they’re trying to sound like Led Zeppelin. But who cares when they do it so well, with Holiday’s non-stop Firebird riffing from the-off with ‘All Over the Road‘ and Jay Buchanan’s larynx-rupturing vocals – the title track being the highlight here. And all without the quiet subtleties that everyone says they love about Led Zep but deep down just want more of the hard stuff.
The final tracks wrap it up fittingly, but it’s over way too suddenly, like the last night of your city vacation; hearing ‘White Noise‘, asking who’s gonna ‘Save Me‘. ‘Face of Light‘ has its ‘date with the moon’ only to ‘wake up with its wings.’ The lyrics on the record, while not masterly, just kind of work, in the same way our greatest cities, with their own inconveniences, just work.
Gypsies, dreams, arson, girls, boys, factory jobs, debt, down, out and up. The album like any city worth its salt, takes a bite, chews you up and spits you out.
No matter what you think, or how hard you try, make no mistake, the city will beat you. But when you’re done scrapping, when you’re broke & broken, coming down and coming home, you’ll brag and boast about your shift and say it was your best yet. You may even raise a smile and turn to the next brave, lucky soul stepping off the plane and say ‘take my keys, kid, go park my limousine.’
Burn Down Los Angeles if you dare. It will rise again, as the Rival Sons surely will.