RT-Zed: Zed Hed (Hypermania Music Company)
Steve Grantley steps out from behind the skins with a new RT-Zed album. Does he deliver the goods? Candace James certainly thinks so.
So – what have Prince, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Lenny Kravitz, Dave Grohl, Phil Collins and Steve Grantley drummer from Stiff Little Fingers all got in common? Well, every single one is a drummer who stepped out from behind the skins and up to the microphone to present their extended musical talents.
Steve Grantley has had his own band, RT-Zed since the year 2000. Their brand new album ‘Zed Hed’ delivers 14-tracks and to be honest I listened with disinterest bordering on disdain but man did I have it wrong! ‘Zed Hed’ has more rock than Gibraltar and more diversity than a Kaleidoscope! Grantley puts anger on a leash – not explosive anger but an intelligent and contained rage that leaves the listener shell-shocked and asking, ‘this is a drummer . . . right?’
Steve Grantley occupied the producers chair, sings all the vocals, plays the keyboards, a Theremin, rhythm guitar plus the drums whilst RT-Zed cohort Jonesy supplies ripping lead guitar solos and solid bass lines; together they make a unique rock ‘n’ roll noise. ‘Zed Hed’s’ blend of musical styles is highly creative with lyrics which at times punch beneath the belt but never subscribe to the making -music-by-numbers format that is all too prevalent these days.
This collection of songs is Steve’s unique, unrushed vision of authentic rock ‘n’ roll. The intro track ‘Invocation’ offers a hint of what’s to come with an eerie vibe created by the Theremin, a building drum roll and electronica noise which landslides into a Sex Pistol’s style riff that warns: LOUD, RAW, UNCOMPROMISING & DISTORTED ROCK is about to cause ABH to your ears, and it does!
Unlike Steve’s contemporaries and their latest releases, for example The Mission, Craig Adams ‘Demon King’, The Alarm, James Stevenson ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ EP, goth-giants The Cult and Celtic Rock band Big Country, RT-Zed sounds different. It’s refreshingly original, freethinking and feels – brand new!
‘Zed Hed’ is contemporary; something like a pre-Raphaelite painting in a time of staid musical formats and safe ditties, or a Damien Hurst conceptual ‘death’ art piece in the land of Jack Vettriano – this album delivers insightful, alternative thinking lyrics (check ‘You Are Free’) mashed up with vivid, avant garde hard-hitting rock music. The intro and the outro tracks alone make you shake your head and smile, wondering what the fuck planet Grantley is on?
As you listen you slowly realise that ‘Zed Hed’ is so much more than a drummer in a legendary punk band making a rock album. Grantley is clearly an artist in his own right offering something unique. If you liked The Hives’ last album ‘Lex Hives’, you will also like ‘Zed Hed’ for its fresh full-on attitude but it also offers plenty of innovation and a different direction to all of Steve Grantley’s other work with SLF or The Alarm. Surprisingly, you’ll hear whispers of disparate influences like Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Who, Prince, Neurotic Outsiders, Funkadelic and even Tangerine Dream.
This album is intensely personal, speaking of unrequited love on the commercial ‘Pretty Ugly’ and the death of a loved one on ‘Room No 5’ amongst other emotional psychodramas. ‘She Was Bad’ features a Bowie-esque vocal that is literally dripping with venom and the cry of ‘Ohhhh’ at the end of the song completely convinced me that whoever was the inspiration for this song was indeed, ‘bad’ – note to self – never piss Steve Grantley off!
‘She Was Bad’ features a stand out guitar performance by Jonesy plus a mint vocal delivery from Steve. Both ‘Jonee’ and ‘Pretty Ugly’ feature Steve’s perfect-pitch vibrato on tunes that will stick in your head and a chorus you will be singing later. The track ‘Too Far In To Get Out’ reminds me of the same vibe that Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave have; monster guitars plus powerful lyrics that deliver a cup of ugly truth to swallow your reality pill with. During the coda of this song I almost expected Cypress Hill to spit a crushing rap as ‘Zed Hed’ totally breaks the ubiquitous rock ‘n’ roll mould. On the pen-ultimate track Deja Voodoo, the hypnotic drums, guitars like ventolin and the Theremin sounding like an ethereal backing singer, make it one of my favourite songs on the album.
‘Get What You Want’ is a relentless rock workout whilst ‘In The Blood’ sounds like The Who on steroids and speed! ‘Beneath The Shadow’ talks of the paedophile rings within the church and much to my approval Steve unflinchingly tells it like he sees it! These three tracks probably deliver some of Steve Grantley’s finest drumming with Jonesy laying down sublime rock ‘n’ roll solos.
‘Zed Hed’ is a rare triumph, a massive surprise – unusual in this tired rock ‘n’ roll age where bands seem to be coasting and going through the motions; few are making records like this anymore – it screams ‘here have some of this!’ It seduced me with its power and made me drop my cynical ‘who cares, it’s just a drummer’s record’ attitude. It offers the directness of ‘Bleach’ Nirvana’s first album, the innovation of Reef, the grit of ‘Nevermind The Bollocks’ and the adrenalin boost of early Zeppelin at full tilt! It breaks the rules and challenges the listener with ‘tough love’ and a ‘think again’ message.
‘Zed Hed’ leaves you feeling satisfied but wanting more at the same time. It’s gripping and after a few listens especially on your MP3 player, you realise that hiding beneath the rockin’ surface is an astonishing attention to detail. Even though this album has commercial appeal it will grab the attention of hard-core rockers, punks, non-punks, classic rock lovers and deep thinkers alike. It is definitely a ‘grower’ and a ‘must have’ album of 2013. It’s RT-Zed’s explosive third album that makes each one 4.33 years in the making; I hope we don’t have to wait that long for the next one!
Steve Grantley states that the album was produced and mixed with the vinyl format specifically in mind. It is currently available as a download and on CD but will be released on vinyl in October. The package will include a free CD, booklet and cover plus ‘Zed Hed’ stickers and other goodies. Both Steve and Jonesy will sign each copy and this limited release will be numbered. Apparently there won’t be many of these so I believe they will become very collectable.
Zed Hed is an important record; I’d go as far as to say a game-changer. It’s a classic in the making at a time when everyone else is playing it safe. It is cool and edgy and a platform for Steve Grantley to reveal he’s an all round musical talent. By the time you’ve finished listening to ‘Zed Hed’ you will forget that Steve Grantley is the drummer with SLF and look forward to seeing RT-Zed when they tour. Who would’ve believed it?
All words by Candace James. This is Candace’s first piece for Louder Than War.