You honestly can make things happen. You can change destiny,” claimed Wolfmother frontman Andrew Stockdale with regards to the band’s fourth studio album, Victorious. With this new record, Stockdale is endeavoring to change Wolfmother's destiny from that of a continued one-hit wonder to one of critically acclaimed success.
Since the release of their exceptional 2005 self-titled debut record—praised for modernizing the sounds of proto-metal acts like Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath—Wolfmother has gradually been sliding down a slippery slope toward irrelevance. The departure of bassist Chris Ross and drummer Myles Heskett in 2009 effectively reduced Wolfmother to Stockdale’s solo project, and his record Cosmic Egg, released later that year, left an underwhelming impression. The self-released, self-produced New Crown followed in 2014, sadly proving to be a mess of muddy guitars and easily forgettable tracks.
With Victorious, however, Wolfmother returns on a major record label (UMe) with reputable producer Brendan O’Brien, known for his work with artists like Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen. In addition to Stockdale on guitar, bass, and vocals, the record features drum contributions from Devo’s Josh Freese and Atoms for Peace’s Joey Waronker. All the right pieces were gathered, then, and a much-needed return to form was seemingly inevitable for Wolfmother.
With these logistic factors well sorted, though, Stockdale neglected to remedy one key input for his “victorious” resurgence—he forgot about the music.
On Victorious, Wolfmother is shown to be no more than a musical chameleon, and not in the inventive way that David Bowie injected current musical trends with a shot of “Ziggy.” Stockdale merely provides second-rate imitations of well-known rock groups. The opening track “The Love That You Give” features a tasty guitar riff and a menacing rhythmic drive straight out of the Black Sabbath playbook while Stockdale gives his best Ozzy Osbourne impersonation atop the guttural instrumentation. The song itself is not bad, but why listen to a Sabbath cover band when you could instead opt for the real McCoy?
The title track that follows happily sounds more like Wolfmother circa 2005. Stockdale delivers a sweet melody atop a punchy guitar riff in the verses before erupting into a soaring chorus with piercing vocals reinforced by rolling drum fills and Yes-inspired synth arpeggiations.
From then on, however, the cheap imitations continue. The acoustic ballad “Pretty Peggy” demonstrates a sound akin to that of the Lumineers, with a chorus melody seemingly copied directly from Fun.'s “Some Nights.” The song ends with Stockdale’s layered, reverb-y vocals singing anthemic “oohs” that conjures the image of teenage girls waving their smartphone flashlights in the air at a pop concert—a sad departure from the original Wolfmother sound.
The latter half of the album manages to provide a minimal semblance of originality, most apparently on the hard-hitting track “The Simple Life.” The song features a memorable galloping guitar riff and a crunchy half-time chorus, although Stockdale still flaunts his Ozzy vocal impression. The track takes a delightfully creepy turn with a chaotic breakdown complete with thunderous drum fills, clunky woodblocks, and dissonant guitar leads.
From this point on, however, the album is bland, boring, and generic, as most of the songs contain only three or four chords with derivative bass leads to fill in the spaces.
Lyrically, Victorious is trite and predictable. Stockdale makes use of clichéd sayings, such as "The truth is in the eyes of the beholder” and “I made the best of a bad situation” (from “Eye of the Beholder” and “Best of a Bad Situation,” respectively) that lack sophistication or nuance. “Pretty Peggy” is a lyrical low point on the record, with lines like “Roses are red / Violets are blue / I will take them all / And give them to you…”
Thankfully, Stockdale does manage to provide brief moments of lyrical substance. The title track personifies “Wolfmother” as a woman fighting to regain relevance in the musical world. Stockdale’s shrieks on this track can be seen as a battle cry, as he sings: “And can't you see that we are all the masters of our destiny? / And she won't be called the victim of your faded memory.”
Victorious falls drastically short of being the return-to-form that many Wolfmother fans had hoped for. The record shows fleeting flashes of brilliance that are hidden within an imitative, conventional rock record. This third consecutive flop thus suggests two possibilities: their debut record was a fluke or Wolfmother is now simply a way for Stockdale to pay his rent.
While there was hope that Andrew Stockdale would finally succeed in his ongoing endeavor to be “victorious," today—unfortunately for Wolfmother fans—is not that day.