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Bare bones rock n’ roll is harder than it looks; it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of sounding like a generic rip-off of thousands who came before. Hats off to Will Loomis: his unabashed loyalty to the cult of classic rock, punk and pop on Clean offers a refreshing take on a bygone era. It’s jam-packed with belting choruses and raucous energy that pays faithful homage to heroes Reed, Pop, Bowie and Cobain while maintaining a distinct voice.
Album opener ‘Home’ grabs you with its proto-gothic stomp, barking organs, and baritone snarl in the vein of Berlin-era Iggy Pop. Will wears his heroes on his sleeve alright, but the aural assaults of ‘Panic and Fear’ and the title track, ‘Clean’, do justice to this lineage of rip-off-your-clothes-and-break-shit rockers. Pop sensibilities shine through on radio-ready material such as ‘Take Heart’ and ‘The Waitress in the Sky’. The former is texturally anchored using ambient synths and a wailing, cavernous guitar lead, reminiscent of the signature line from Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. Musically-speaking, the latter is textbook upbeat pop, fit with jangly, psychedelic guitars and an irresistible chorus that’s pure sunshine in a bottle. If there’s one thing to take away from Clean, it’s that Loomis can’t be written off as one dimensional when it comes to songwriting.
The stamp of producer Norm Block and Loomis’s mutual puritanism with regards to vintage gear bears its mark nowhere better than on the bursting, tape-saturated guitar mixes. “Everything on the radio sounds to clean and robotic,” says Loomis. “I really challenged myself to create an album you can listen to thirty years on.” Therein lies a highlight of the album: if Will can’t win you over with his hooks, he’ll get you with his ripping six-string tone. A top example is ‘US of RX’, where Loomis hones in on a Ron Asheton-esque sludgy, metallic fuzz that sounds like Swamp Thing emerging from the goopy abyss.
Will Loomis is never short of a cracking melody, but the lyrics on Clean can sometimes be overly simplistic or unimaginative. For the average listener, this is no fatal flaw, as a great pop tune should let you switch off and just indulge. After all, Loomis’s style is rooted in an unpretentious, shut-up-n’-play-yer-guitar attitude and Clean succeeds at its primary objective: reminding you while you fell in love with rock n roll in the first place.