The title and opening track set off with all the sure footing of an X-Factor runner up releasing their second single – the one after the cover of another already successful contestant from a few years ago. The matchup with Robbie Williams guesting on vocals is bizarre enough, but the paint by number lyrics and made for radio production has to raise questions about the bonafides of the band’s glam rock image. Seeing that they’ve already collaborated with Ke$ha reinforces the suspicion and it’s a pity that the band feels the need to employ such a cynical route to mainstream radio. That said, with tours postponed for the foreseeable it’ll be hard to argue with the royalty cheques.
If Slash can struggle to make collaboration albums stick that should be evidence enough that they’re a risky pursuit, but the Struts don’t stop at former Take That members. There are several cringe-worthy spoken word interludes on Strange Days but lead singer Luke Spiller goes full Austin Powers at the beginning of ‘I Hate How Much I Want You’. After apparently receiving a call from Joe ‘King of the Leppards’ Elliot, Spiller tells the Def Leppard frontman “I have this big fat chorus that I need your big old pipes for, baby”. We can only assume the record button failed on the call with Joe’s loyal subject and fellow Leppard Phil Collen who also appears on the track.
In truth, the song isn’t bad and as promised the chorus is huge, but the intro has stripped it of any integrity it might have had and Spiller’s vocals are more than strong enough to have carried it without stirring Joe from his jungle throne.
Elsewhere, Tom Morello guests on ‘Wild Child’ and The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr plays on ‘Another Hit of Showmanship’. Neither song is particularly strong and neither really seems to fit in with the album’s overall sound. ‘Wild Child’ is driven by a saturated and heavy riff, while echoed vocals reminiscent of Robert Plant and Morello’s blistering solo lift things a little. ‘Another Hit of Showmanship’ is jangle pop-rock more like something from a Killers album, and like the opener, feels like it was written with commercial radio play firmly in its sights.
Overall, none of the collaborations really add much to the Struts other than a veneer of success by association. Elsewhere on the album the Struts do more of their own thing and seem to do it better. Despite the Motley Crue intro of revving motorbike and ringing guitar chord. ‘All Dressed Up (With Nowhere To Go)’ is a quick recovery from the ill-judged opening track and boasts an instantly memorable chorus chant. Followed by a cover of the Kiss song ‘Do You Love Me’ there’s just the right amount of sleaze and arrogance to make both an enjoyable listen.
The stomping blues-rock of ‘Cool’ sounds like a cut from a Jet album while ‘Can’t Sleep’ borrows the unmistakable rhythm claimed by the Aussie rockers in their hit ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’. The chorus rescues the song, but it’s not the only time on the album where a feeling of déjà vu will have you wondering where you’ve heard parts of songs before.
Spiller’s vocal takes centre stage with a nicely harmonised second verse in ‘Burn It Down’ which is a really well-crafted piano-driven ballad and probably the album’s stand out track. Final song ‘Am I Talking To The Champagne (Or Talking To You)’ is a sultry blues jam where Spiller recovers from his earlier vocal misfires to channel the sultry allure of Jagger and the Stones at their peak. Guitar and sax exchange fire for a back and forth solo and drive through a catchy R’n’B inspired breakdown. Ultimately we’re left wondering what might have been if more of the album had sounded like these songs.
Between questionable collaborations, explicit references to ‘lockdown’ which instantly date the album and too many instances of songs which lean a little too heavily on their influences, Strange Days is a disjointed and unsatisfying listen.