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Thunder – ‘Dopamine’ Review

Hot on the heels of 2021’s ‘All the Right Noises’ comes a double album of 16 songs from UK rock stalwarts Thunder. As we close in on the 35th anniversary of the band’s debut album, ‘Backstreet Symphony’ it’s both comforting and inspiring to find guitarist and writer Luke Morley right in the middle of a creative purple patch. Many of the songs on ‘Dopamine’ were inspired by and written during the pandemic and you can hear an angst and frustration in both some of the heavy guitar riffs on display here and in the lyrics too but, whilst ‘Dopamine’ isn’t as political an album as it’s predecessor, there is an uplifting and hopeful edge to the songs that leaves the album the best project Thunder have done since 2005’s ‘The Magnificent Seventh’.

Album opener, ‘The Western Sky’ ably sets the tone for both the sound and the feel of the album to follow. We recently spoke to Luke Morley about the proliferance and ferociousness of some of the guitar riffage on ‘Dopamine’ and you can read what he had to say about that subject right here. ‘The Western Sky’ is a celebration of freedom and the band’s annual trans-American charity motorbike trip. It’s epic in both the tone and the cinematic nature of the lyrics as it builds towards a searing guitar solo with Zeppelin-like overtones.

There are moments of heavy guitar joy all over ‘Dopamine’ that will delight fans of both the band and the instrument. ‘Black’ opens with some serious 1970’s Gary Glitter vibes before settling into something very intense and melodic that reminds me of the band’s classic ‘River of Pain’ track whilst ‘The Dead City’ is dripping in chugging guitars and comes equipped with a chorus designed for arenas. ‘All the Way’, meanwhile, carries echoes of classic ACDC with its bombastic riff and booming drums and ‘Across the Nation’, a ready-made concert opener if ever I’ve heard one, is a clarion call to arms for life to return to normal that is augmented by honky tonk piano and those damn guitars again!

Thunder Dopamine
Credit: BMG Records

Indeed, life going back to normal is a major theme running through all of ‘Dopamine’. ‘One Day We’ll be Free Again’, ‘Dancing in the Sunshine’ and ‘Disconnected’ all touch upon the loneliness and frustration that many of us felt during the two years of the pandemic but, particularly on the first two songs, Morley and the band try to remain positive and choose to see the good that is coming down the line on a couple of soon-to-be live classics guaranteed to put a smile on your face as you dance like a loon in your dungarees! (easter egg for long time Thunder fans!)

Side two of ‘Dopamine’ or the second of the two albums, if you choose to listen to them separately, is a little more experimental and sees Morley pushing his writing into some newer places. After all, as he recently told me in our interview, who wants to make the same album over and over again? The 7 minute epic ‘Big Pink Superman’ is more ‘Ronnie Scott’s’ than it is ‘The Marquee’ and even comes replete with a 3 minute saxophone solo whilst ‘Just a Grifter’ has some serious French cafe vibes and accordion work on a diss-song about someone who has played a large role in all our lives over the past 5-6 years. ‘I Don’t Believe the World’ will delight fans of ‘Preaching From a Chair’ from 1995’s ‘Behind Closed Doors’ album as Morley goes deep into character as a conspiracy theorist, lampooning that whole mindset augmented by uplifting, searing guitars and funky, female driven backing vocals.

‘Dopamine’ is a raucous, bombastic and loud album. Thunder have produced some terrific ballads over the years, songs like ‘Like A Satellite’, ‘Castles in the Sand’ and ‘I’m Dreaming Again’ spring to mind and there are a couple of quieter songs on ‘Dopamine’ but nothing to really match the anthems of the past. This is a rock album and there isn’t really time for soppiness here right now. ‘Unravelling’ tells a gentle, acoustic story of a man not giving up in the face of adversity set against some Beatles-esque backing vocals whilst ‘Is Anybody Out There?’ begins in true Billy Joel, piano style and builds nicely to a fabulous melody with Bowes singing about feeling and breathing as the rest of the band swap between Journey and Elton John on the instrumentation but it is on the balls-to-the-wall rock songs where the joy of ‘Dopamine’ can be really enjoyed.

Special shout must also go to ‘Last Orders’, a terrific song which sees Morley, himself, helming the lead vocals on the first verse of a song that swings between Pink Floyd, Zeppelin and Metallica. As long as Morley keeps writing anthems like this one Thunder’s future is secure and their legacy will continue to grow.

Nearly 35 years into their career, Morley, Danny Bowes, Chris Childs, Ben Matthews and Harry James have produced something really outstanding. A double album where the flow or the quality never dips. The fact that Morley has no interest in ‘chasing girls’ anymore (see our interview again here) is really working in the band’s favour as first, ‘All the Right Noises’ and now ‘Dopamine’ revels in what Morley has to say about the state of the world and the human condition. No-one needs another ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ right now. We need joy, we need hope and we need biting socio-political commentary from a beloved and trusted source. Oh, and we need riffs!!!!! ‘Dopamine’ has all that and more. What a terrific achievement from a band that still has so much left to say.

Tracklist: Disc 1: 1. The Western Sky 2. One Day We’ll Be Free Again 3. Even If It Takes a Lifetime 4. Black 5. Unravelling 6. The Dead City 7. Last Orders 8. All the Way Disc 2: Dancing in the Sunshine 2. Big Pink Supermoon 3. Across the Nation 4. Just a Grifter 5. I Don’t Believe the World 6. Disconnected 7. Is Anybody Out There? 8. No Smoke Without Fire Record label: BMG Release date: 29th April 2022 Buy ‘Dopamine’ now

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