For a band who I have seen live as many times as the Healthy Junkies, I can honestly say I’ve never seen them do a bad gig. Irrespective of the venue or audience size they are an exceptional live act. They’re a hugely hardworking outfit, gigging incessantly and have built their reputation from the ground up. The music they make is an amped up amalgam of raucous punk, rock and roll and vociferous glam, spliced with some goth and New Wave influences in their more subdued moments.
Delirious Dream is their fourth album and it feels as if the band have approached it with a slightly different method to previous efforts. The fizzing energy of earlier releases is still bubbling away in the background but there is a decidedly more polished air to these songs.
No doubt a large part of this is down to the people involved in the recording, mixing and production of the album, who have impeccable credentials, Brian O’Shaughnessy and Pete Maher. The former previously recorded My Bloody Valentine in the same studio as Delirious Dream and there is a tangible sonic imprint of that act’s use of feedback oriented guitar. There is also a touch of the almost dissociated vocal part that slides amongst the surrounding buzz and hiss of some of the songs.
However, as a whole, this 15 track composition is also demonstrative of a band confident in their sound, who have honed their ideas into a cohesive and well-formed article. As you might expect from an album titled Delirious Dream, the songs are shot through with plenty of oneiric ambiguity. This is true in terms of the subject matter which explores altered states, the uncertainty and fluidity of identity and the dreams that inform the impetus to pursue making music and a lifestyle of creative authenticity. This notion is also borne out in the sonic makeup of the songs, with unexpected embellishments and subtle instrumental additions adding colour to the album as a whole. Whether that be the gossamery piano that peppers the songs or the more heavily distorted sonics on tracks like Some Kind of Girl or Part 2.
From the opening piano bars of “All is Said in Done” it is clear that there is a gloss to this record. As an opener, it introduces tropes that are subsequently recognisable across the album. The song is led by an impellent riff, which when laid out over keys and coupled with Nina’s distinctive Gallic enunciation generates a sense of haunting distance. The track is relatively mellow, though it does build up into an echoic finish before trailing out on a piano trill.
Things are a little heavier on the second track “This is not a Suicide” which is always a belter when played live. It bears all the hallmarks of what the Healthy Junkies do well when they really let rip. A killer riff is accompanied by hard-hitting drums and a purposeful sense of urgency in the delivery. The vocals are similarly insistent whilst the lyrics are somewhat ambiguous. The repeated central phrase of ‘This is not a Suicide’ begs the question of what is being referred to. Amongst the swirling guitar and tightly executed interludes, it’s not entirely clear, though a sense of fractious anxiety is palpable. What is certain is that it’s a barnstormer of a song.
One of the interesting traits of this album is its propensity towards allowing a slightly poppier aesthetic to emerge at certain points. Such is the case On the next couple of tracks “Juliet’s Call” and “Johnny Demented”. Granted both veer towards the darker more goth influenced side of pop but there is an undercurrent detectable.
For “Juliet’s Call”, this is most true of the vocal part which is delivered in an almost delicate register in the sparser sections of the track. Johnny Demented manages to inject this quality in the verse section with a grunge-tinged pop sound, akin to the Pixies in their lighter moments. The song also makes use of a favourite technique of that band with the quiet-loud dynamic utilised to great effect. The relatively relaxed air of the first section half of the song gives way to the build-up of relentless drums and a much sharper invocation of the lyrics to ‘never stop being demented’.
“Some Kind of Girl” has some excellent stickwork from Tony, with a nice almost military-like pattern on the snare in the midsection being particularly effective. There are also some really strong vocals which at points channel the viscerality of Courtney Love in their barely contained frustration. “Ghost Without a Soul” has a more strung out brooding feel. Here again, the drumming is excellent and isolated keys are thrown in to add to the sense of the melancholy.
On “The Sound of My Guitar”, the song begins as if it could have a dark Sisters of Mercy edge to it, given the guitar. However, it turns into a much more upbeat number which bumps along nicely with an almost boot boy glam rhythm. There is also an amusing slightly sarcastic and embittered tone to the lyrics, ‘I had everything to gain in life but I ended up with you.’
“Boy or Girl” is a celebration of the freedom to be yourself and escaping overly binary restrictions. The central message has a nod to the Bowie song “Rebel Rebel” and it’s celebration of androgyny, ‘they don’t know if I’m a boy or a girl, I don’t care because neither do I.’ Musically the song also nods to the glam roots of that number with a real stomping backbeat and sing along chorus.
There is a fast-paced rock and roll sensibility to “Meet and Greet” which takes aim at bands who charge fans exorbitant prices to meet them. This is a practice decidedly at odds with the approach of the Healthy Junkies who have remained true to their DIY ethos. It is a relatively simple track which has a powerful central refrain driving it forward.
“This Condition” has a slick quality to it, it feels like one you could listen to while cruising along a highway. Phil takes lead vocals on this track which along with This is Not a Suicide seems a likely candidate for a single. Phil and Nina recently headed to the States and it feels as if this song has a somewhat American air to it. There is perhaps a slight nod to the influence of Blondie in the verse and for me, the guitar in the breakdown conjured up a soaring vision of Americana. Either way, it is a strong track.
The interest in American subject matter is made more explicit in a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walking” and “James Dean Silver Screen”. The latter exploring the enduring legacy of the movie icon. The intimation of fast cars and expansive highways that I felt has alluded to two songs previously is made explicit here. The impossibility of the teenage dream that he embodied refers back to the delirium of the album’s title. ‘Death came with a car crash, he was young but never free, lost inside the movies.’
Penultimate track “Theft” has the feel of Soundgarden to it before descending into a real stoner rock breakdown. This then builds into a frantic wall of sound flurry, accompanied by screaming vocals before disintegrating into its much looser ending section.
This spacey looseness continues into the closing song “Part 2”. The opening here even has the tinges of doom rock in its slow execution. It is quite noodly in parts, though it does retain structure, albeit one more akin to a jam at least for the first two-thirds of the song. Things kick up a notch later on, as the track gathers pace becoming altogether tighter and more pointed. It’s a good way to round off the album, returning to the organised chaos of disassembling instrumentation for the final flourish.
The Healthy Junkies have a launch show for Delirious Dreams at their Spiritual Home the Unicorn on Friday the 12th of October. Following that they’re set to hit up America before returning to their packed gigging schedule in and around Europe.
With such a stellar album to promote it feels as if all their years of hard work are starting to pay off. I certainly hope that they do, as I can’t think of a more friendly and deserving bunch of musicians who really ought to become better known. Do them and yourselves a favour and get a copy of Delirious Dream.