The Aristocrats - DUCK

The Aristocrats – DUCK

The Aristocrats… is there really anything left to be said about this obscenely talented band? Guthrie Govan, Marco Minnemann and Bryan Beller have spent more than a decade releasing albums of mind-bending – but always with a point – content and touring the world to frothing acclaim as probably the most dextrous instrumental trio there is. In addition, they bring layers of laugh-out-loud humour to their shows, unsurprisingly after naming themselves in tribute to the world’s dirtiest joke! I’ve seen them several times – they’re amazing; funny, head-shakingly talented and able to pin their collective muse down into intricate works that brim with melody as well as ingenuity.

As a band with such a fearsome live reputation, the albums – although not exactly paling – understandably lack the visual element that makes their shows so essential. Make no mistake, they’re all great albums, and DUCK (their first release of new studio material in five years) is no exception.

As always, the compositional credits are individual and evenly spread around the trio. Minnemann’s drums roll us into his hard rockin’ Hey, Where’s MY Drink Package?, Govan’s stabbing chords laying the foundation before a purposeful solo. The twists and turns whirl around, with plenty of fine drumming and wicked time changes aplenty. It closes on a lilting, spacey groove with bass harmonics from Beller. They’re as tight as the arse of the titular duck, but that’s a given, and should it ever change then the end of all things is probably nigh.

Those of you who have seen the band in the last year or so will be familiar with several of these pieces, including Bryan Beller’s Aristoclub, an unexpected foray into the disco zone. It works its peculiar magic, propelling us toward the nearest dancefloor to throw our best shapes with abandon, whether we really understand what the hell we’re doing it for or not. It’s fantastic; pounding and driving, and if nightclubs had been like this back in the day, I’d have gone more often. Cue Travolta pose!

Govan’s Sgt. Rockhopper is guitar central, but with plenty of opportunities for the others to lay down their often extraordinary parts. Together they’re an unstoppable force, and the moral here is clearly ‘Don’t mess with the Sarge!’

This album sounds as great as you’d hope, and if you have any liking at all for what this astonishing trio continue to do, you should be balls deep from the first note. As I’ve stated, it has all been said, but let’s say it again: Guthrie, Marco and Bryan are the ultimate musicians’ band. Each of them is a personal favourite on their individual instruments; unfeasibly, together they’re even better, and it’s that mystical collaborative force that delivers the magic. There’s no showboating; they play in full service of the music at all times.

Guthrie may be the least flamboyant of the three, a quite reserved and proper chap, but he still possesses a brilliant sense of humour and inimitable delivery. Put a guitar in his hands and it’s like he’s been beamed in from another dimension. This is a talent that defies logic and the human skeleton every time he performs, and it’s easy to imagine him playing the same way whether anyone is listening or not.

The brilliantly titled Sittin’ With A Duck on A Bay is a slinky and rhythmic strutting slide from Minnemann with a kind of film noir snappiness and lots of interesting detours. They clear have fun playing together, and you can sense the smiles and arch expressions, each note eager to be enjoyed within a nice live sound.

But who is this mysterious Duck? Well, it appears that he fled his native Antarctic for New York City, pursued for unspecified reasons by a penguin policeman, where “considerable misadventure and danger await”. Marco came to the studio “with a song about a duck, and we all looked at each other and said, ‘What if all of the stories for the songs on this album happened to a duck? What’s that story about?’ And suddenly we had a concept album on our hands.”

The concept itself is non-linear, following the duck into a big city dance club in Aristoclub and his forcible ejection from a dive bar in Hey, Where’s MY Drink Package, all the while pursued by Sgt. Rockhopper, and it all concludes with a piece enigmatically called This is Not Scrotum

Here Come the Builders opens with Edvard Grieg’s familiar Morning Mood juxtaposed with the sounds of a building site, before the band crash in with an angular stop-start rhythm. Guthrie bends, Marco pounds and Bryan bounces to fine effect. It’s toe-tapping and jaw-dropping all at once; you get down with the groove whilst wondering how the hell it’s possible to play like this. They pull it off with seeming ease, and it’s that confounding stress-free “lets just put the show on right here” sense of fun that makes it work so well. They do it by dint of VERY hard work, no doubt, but you can’t help but suspect that deals have been done with someone big in the ‘downstairs’ world to be able to even think about doing some of this.

Beller’s Muddle Through sees him playing largely the same note, but it’s the fascinating rhythm that makes it work as a beautiful platform for Guthrie’s most melodic and emotional – whilst still outrageous – soloing. Slideshow is just brilliantly dynamic and probably my favourite piece on an album of the utmost quality.

And Then There Were Just Us / Duck’s End takes the tongue-in-cheek Genesis pastiche of the title and uses it to hide often delicate and exquisitely picked out melodies that easily shift around within the framework of the song, wherein our hero appears to meet an upbeat end, yet with a sinister twist. Finally, This is Not Scrotum, which is described as an “action-packed, Balkan-fusion finale,” featuring a rare guest spot from violinist Rusanda Panfili. It pretty much does what the description suggests as a deliciously unexpected way to tie things up. This may not be scrotum, but The Aristocrats certainly have the balls to deliver it in some style.

This is a humdinger of an album, easy to absorb and highly listenable, yet fiendishly complex, and probably The Aristocrats’ best to date – but you know that it’ll get even better when they take to the stage. If the opportunity arises, just go and see them, whether you think you’ll enjoy it or not. You will; it’s an extraordinary experience.

01. Hey, Where’s MY Drink Package? (7:01)
02. Aristoclub (4:46)
03. Sgt. Rockhopper (5:51)
04. Sittin’ With A Duck on A Bay (7:21)
05. Here Come the Builders (6:16)
06. Muddle Through (7:01)
07. Slideshow (7:15)
08. And Then There Were Just Us / Duck’s End (9:04)
09. This is Not Scrotum (5:06)

Total Time – 59:41

Guthrie Govan – Guitars
Marco Minnemann – Drums & Percussion
Bryan Beller – Bass
~ With:
Rusanda Panfili – Violins (track 9)

Record Label: BOING! Music
Country of Origin: U.K./Germany/U.S.A.
Date of Release: 16th February 2024

The Aristocrats – Website | Facebook | Twitter (X) | Instagram | Bandcamp