The Glamour Machine



 "Some people have told me it's a classic rock album," says Jonathan Epstein of his Detroit band the Glamour Machine's eponymous debut album. "I don't know, I kinda think it goes all over the place. A lot of bands say they're going to be goths or country or whatever. Thats not how we approached this. We're just gonna be who we are. Work on the songs for what the songs require. And I worried about it when we were doing the record and asked the producer is this going to sound crazy or be cohesive?" The vocalist/ guitarist need not worry about that last part too much as the record manages to take the myriad influences of their veteran players and synthesize them into a musical chimera at once familiar but fresh enough to remain relevant.
   The collection of 11 songs (12 on the digital version) has the unintended benefit of being slow brewed for extra flavor; recording sessions were separated by years and a slightly different lineup due to the pandemic's quiet hand in 2020-2021. At a little over 40 minutes run-time, the songs succeed in getting in and out without any wear on their welcome. It's a nostalgic rock offering if that's what you are looking for; Epstein, bassist Jason Bowes and pre-pandemic drummer Brian Wimpy played together in an Echo and the Bunnymen tribute band and Jonathan is well known for being in a Smiths touring tribute band, Smiths United. So they tout their influences unapologetically but have also figured out how to channel these classic sounds without tiresome derivative tropes; its a thin line to straddle and I was surprised at how well they kept my interest level high throughout the record.
    "None of us have done anything this disciplined," Epstein gamely admits. His heroes are the aforementioned bands he tributed along with R.E.M. and the Cure. "But we tried to draw influences from the '70s as well. I'm a big Bowie fan, T-Rex, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed. Charlie [McCutcheon, vocalist and guitars, of WCTM Gold!] is more into '70s, whereas I'm more '80s with my jangly Gibson ES." McCutcheon's and Epstein's songwriting partnership benefits from mutual improvisation off each other, with Charlie updating lyrics, hooks and middle 8's for the final product. The first incarnation of the band featured Jonathan's brother J. Paul Epstein on keys and the second is guided by the musical direction of Detroit veteran keyboardist John Hawthorne. Jim Faulker joined to add drums to the post pandemic recording lineup. For all the member changes and large recording time-frame, the album definitely avoids any issues with feeling patchworked. The songs are not presented in order of recording and one would be hard pressed to guess which track was recorded earlier or later.
   On to the album itself. Opener "Your Eyes Keep Holding On" is a propulsive first salvo with well-endowed bass lines and a driving guitar line that wouldn't feel out of place in an early record from the Cult, in their pre-hard rock version. The tasty harmony guitar licks show Charlie's love for the '70s and it has an unexpected Thin Lizzy vibe in an otherwise '80s post punk style jam and I loved that juxapostion. "Glamour Machine" has a totally '90s alt-rock guitar intro that segues into a catchy chorus and trippy keys. Charlie's vocal style ranges around as called for in each song, but in several tracks he brings to mind Iggy Pop and/or David Bowie style crooning and it's a characteristic turn for the song "In the Deep Night". "Opening Doors (To New Worlds)" has a great busy bassline and '60s-style organ underpinning its massively catchy chorus and I'm reminded of seminal keyboard-driven indie band the Last. "Border Crossing" has a nice Mott the Hoople guitar rip, swell guitar solos in general and McCutcheon's vocals remind me of one of my favorite singers here, Chris Goss of Masters of Reality. Side two hits with my favorite of the bunch, "Knavery's Plain Face". With a nice angular post punk guitar riff and epic synth keys, it's a strong example of the textured attack the band employs. According to Jonathan, "John Hawthorne had the ability to orchestrate" and "make things symphonic", with Epstein going so far as telling his co-producer "put the keyboard way the f**k up in the mix". It works and it's a moody rocker with a perfect Robert Smith style one-string solo from Epstein. "The Blind Man" shows off melancholy piano parts and is a stark interlude. "Last Summer of Your 30s" has a Steely Dan vibe with plaintive nostalgic horns and funky synths and bass. Along with the soulful backing female vocalists, it all combines to creative yet another shakeup in what the listener probably expected to hear next. "All is Fear (In Love and War) is easily the most R.E.M.-ish of this batch of songs and will scratch the itch of those who miss those Athens boys. "Song of Catherine" is a jangly college rock number and it continues the cycle of songs about relationships and is, according to Epstein, "about going through a dry spell and meeting a new woman and it's like finding a new song". Album closer "Floating Star" ends with a Mott the Hoople feel and a boozy singalong.

    I originally felt like the album might be front-loaded with stronger songs at the beginning of each side but after subsequent listens, I decided I enjoyed the 'textured' aspect of the track listing choices; it mirrors the songs themselves, which have an array of stylistic virtues and keeps the proceedings from entering stagnation to my ears. The only question the album might ask is that with such a wide palette of players and long times spent songwriting, is if a second release might have a harder time trying to replicate it's special magic; but that's only a possible criticism for potential follow-ups, of which an EP is expected for later this year. Recorded at Black Sheep studios in Novi, Michigan, this album sounds of one piece and never falls into a Frankenstein-monster mode with all of its various recording dates and lineups. If you're a first or even fifth generation fan of '70s and '80s alternative rock, there is something here for you. Never failing at sounding modern as they excavate the vaults of the past for lost gems to dazzle a newer generation of musical thrill-seekers, The Glamour Machine is a hidden treasure that has found its way back into the hands of today's musical listeners.

   You can check out The Glamour Machine on Spotify, buy and stream digital copies at Bandcamp and vinyl copies will soon be available there, as well.
Sean Knight

Sean Knight

Sean Knight is a South Carolina native who has bounced back and forth between Texas and SC most of his life. He has been playing music for over 30 years and writing about it for a decade. Always striving to listen, always striving to be heard.


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