Time and Death are cruel bitches both. Alumni of Motörhead have seen both, in spades. Pun intended. Phil “Wizzo” Campbell, the constant North Star of Motörhead 2.0 knows this all too well, riding the flaming steam-snorting locomotive all the way from Fast Eddie’s 1982 departure to the very day the train’s engineer Lemmy Kilmister was ultimately Killed by Death. Phil still has the fire in the belly, and seeing the years pass by, and the friends it claims, sometimes inspires a man to “get busy living, or get busy dying,” in the best Shawshank parlance. Campbell dipped his toes into the post-Motörhead pond by way of his Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons project, literally made up of dad and his three sons. A solid band for sure, but it not quite check the “solo album” check box for Phil. “This is something I wanted to do many years before MOTÖRHEAD finished”, he tells us. “I talked to Lemmy about it many times and he always encouraged me. It just never came about because we were touring so relentlessly. But I kept the odd idea and riff from way back and never abandoned the idea. Now I felt the time was right to do it.”
It just so happens that the time is this week, with the release of Phil’s solo outing, “Old Lions Still Roar,” a title requiring no contextual explanation. For anyone thinking it’s just Motörhead sans Lemmy, this is not the case. The album is a mature, sincere, and contemporary mixture of varying rock elements and expressions of Phil’s personal musicality. Let’s dig in.
The album really does not open up how one might expect. Two beautiful unplugged tapped harmonics set the stage for some beautifully mixed steel string acoustic, eventually joined by low-gain slide guitar. The song, entitled “Rocking Chair,” is clearly Phil’s autobiography, a bit like Jason Becker’s recent “Hold On To Love”, a sort of musical letter one can leave behind for the world. As the song unfolds and presents itself to us, its lyrics tell the story of Phil, from his Welsh working-class upbringing and his relationship with his dad, to a variety of career moments, from his band Persian Risk, to learning “The Rain Song” from Jimmy Page, and even connecting with Lemmy after a Hawkwind show, not knowing at the time he was meeting his future best friend. It’s a hell of a song, and probably the best on the album. It would not normally be advisable to kick off an album with the best song, but it sets the stage so perfectly that it really makes sense here.
One fun aspect of this album is the bullpen of guest vocalists. Phil opened up the rolodex and called up some old touring friends, and they responded. In the case of the second track, we are treated to Rob Halford and some old school wide-open Marshall tubes. The song, “Straight Up,” is definitely less Paula Abdul and more Judas Priest. There are no frills to be found on this one, which when one considers it’s a fusion of two foundational members of Motörhead and Priest, it’s made exactly to the recipe. The next track, “Faith in Fire,” showcases Ben Ward of Orange Goblin fame, and the song has the sludgy Sabbath/Corrosion of Conformity doom groove one would expect. The fact that Phil can write to showcase these singers in their element speaks highly of him as more than an everyday hired gun. That being said, the fourth track, “Swing It,” features His Majesty of Metal Alice Cooper himself, and what’s fun is that the beat and groove do not sound like anything from the entire Cooper catalog. No, Alice does not sound like he did in 1975, but for a man in his seventies, he still has it. If you are looking for an old lion still capable of a roar, here you go.
“Left for Dead” has a boiled-down ballad character that manages to be equal parts Guns N’ Roses and Purple Rain, while “Walk the Talk” is just nasty, like a drop-tuned Faith No More meets Pantera (what?). However, just when we thought the A-list all stars were done, Dee Snider treats us to “These Old Boots,” and holy cow, Dee definitely still has power in his pipes. And the song has cowbell. Do you need anything else? The album winds down to a solemn bittersweet end with the piano ballad “Dead Roses,” and the breathtakingly beautiful “Tears from a Glass Eye,” featuring Joe Satriani on clean guitars.
While much of the album is supported by Phil’s “Bastard Sons,” (with the exception of an appearance by Matt Sorum), it is clear this is not a band project like the previous effort. This is Phil Campbell writing for himself, and he does a great job of it. Even without some of the heavy firepower provided by the A-list celebrity guests, the writing, lyrics, and mix are very good, and this would be an album to check out, regardless of if you are a fan of Phil from his Motörhead work or not. This lion is very much its own animal, and Nuclear Blast Records will let it out of its cage on today. You can find Phil online right here.
Released By: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: October 25th, 2019
Genre: Hard Rock
“Old Lions Still Roar” Track-Listing:
1. Rocking Chair (Featuring Leon Stanford)
2. Straight Up (Featuring Rob Halford)
3. Faith In Fire (Featuring Ben Ward)
4. Swing It (Featuring Alice Cooper)
5. Left For Dead (Featuring Nev MacDonald)
6. Walk The Talk (Featuring Danko Jones & Nick Oliveri)
7. These Old Boots (Featuring Dee Snider)
8. Dancing Dogs (Love Survives) (Featuring Whitfield Crane)
9. Dead Roses (Featuring Benji Webbe)
10. Tears From A Glass Eye (Featuring Joe Satriani)
If you are a fan of Motörhead, you may appreciate Phil’s solo record, although it is definitely not Motörhead. In fact, the all-star guest list of Rob Halford, Alice Cooper, and Dee Snider gives a better sense of the eclectic hard rock nature of this very interesting album. In truth, there is something here for almost any fan of old-school hard rock. The writing is solid, the songs are memorable, the lyrics are meaningful, and the whole thing is just plain candy for the ears. Check it out.