Review by Peter Coates – www.facebook.com/InsideEdgePhotography
LUKE MORLEY – SONGS FROM THE BLUE ROOM
Released – 23rd June 2023
Luke Morley has stood at the very heart of UK rockers Thunder since 1989 as their guitarist, chief songwriter and producer.
He’s been a lynchpin in their 14 albums’ success and served a crucial role in building up these rock heroes’ loyal fanbase and enduring popularity, helping Thunder enjoy 7 UK Top 10 albums and 18 Top 40 singles: impressive metrics, but there’s more to Luke than most know or expect, and his new solo album Songs From the Blue Room brings other less well-known aspects of his talents into the limelight.
Luke had released a solo album, El Gringo Loco, in 2001, which got a re-release as El Gringo Retro in 2014, and this was more in the blues-rock line of the albums done with Thunder’s Danny Bowes,as Bowes & Morley, and the lighter side of Thunder, and clearly recognisable as such. Songs From The Blue Room is something else entirely, and is a most unexpected delight, fresh, melodic, soulfully uplifting, and with much more subtlety, freedom and variation in the guitar-playing than was anticipated.
The album has echoes of The Beatles, clearly an important influence in Luke’s background, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Stevie Ray Vaughan to throw a few names in the ring. I Wanna See The Light is about as straight-up summer radio rock song, with a solid riff and some fantastic backing vocals from the ladies, Julie Maguire and Carly Greene. Killed By Cobain refers back to the time when Thunder were about to launch themselves on an unexpecting USA, to pick up where Def Leppard and others had started off – only for the Seattle Grunge scene to derail the attempt. The track moves from a Nirvana-opening chugging riff to a much more Beatles-style melody, and Luke’s vocal is so mellow, along with some help from Danny Bowes and Ricky Warwick among others.
Luke played all the guitars, keyboards and bass on the album, with Dave McCluskey (Del Amitri, BMX Bandits and The McCluskey Bros) providing the drums. The next track is a country blues ballad, Errol Flynn, that harks back to those 1970s pop-rock icons like Alex Harvey or Steve Miller, and even David Bowie in the vocal delivery. The melody is familiar from the Thunder back-catalogue, but this is all interwoven guitars and piano, and the poetry of the lyrics.
The intro to Damage is a mix of the Beatles and Supertramp, which therefore reminds of Squeeze or XTC in parts, and features some excellent, and very different guitar parts, with a wonderful clean solo from Luke over the ever-more complex backing as the track progresses. This is a beautifully constructed pop song is the true meaning of the genre. A three-beat tempo for the intense ballad Nobody Cares sets this one apart, and Luke’s lead vocal is impassioned and heart-rending, while the song then develops a Mediterranean feel through the strummed guitars and the harmony “La La La” vocals (featuring Bowes, , which gets intensified through the key-change.
The lighter touch and summer vibes are revisited in Watch The Sun Go Down, with the Eagles-style guitars and simple drum-beat, and the laid-back vocal line – seeing Thunder over the years I always felt that Luke rarely bothered with the backing vocals, but there is no doubt he has the ideal voice for this style of jangly guitar-driven music, and there is a corker of a Harmonica solo. Cry Like Rain is another grown-up pop-rocker with a 1980’s feel, with a fuller sound from the Hammond organ and some slick guitar work in the breaks, that turns into a more typical Luke Morley solo, however played in this case by Tony Myers. The song keeps building into the later choruses, which again contain a touch of Thunder’s sound and melodies.
The opening to Lying To Myself is very much a Bob Dylan sound, with echoes of Blowin’ In The Wind in the Harmonica, albeit with better singing, and develops into a raucous Americana-stomp with energy to burn and some exquisite harmony vocals. The mood changes completely with I’m The One You Want, which is the closest thing to a Thunder song on the record, bluesy, rocky, over a solid groove not a million miles from the Black Crowes world, and Luke’s voice could pass for Chris Robinson here, with some great guitar work in the rhythmic riffing in the jamming middle-section and outro, and the superb solo and lead breaks. The track continues into an extended end-segment driven by McCluskey’s super-tight drumming.
The album closes with another surprise, Luke and a piano over a subtle bass-line on Don’t Be Long, very much in the latter-day Beatles style, either as Lennon or McCartney might deliver such a ballad, and the string section just adds to that feeling.
This is such a beguiling record, and so different from what we have known and loved about Luke’s work with Terraplane and Thunder over 35 plus years, and I hope that he feels that he has been able to put on record a real history of his influences. The songwriting is excellent, his voice suits the music perfectly, whether the rockier or more plaintiff soulful styles, and the guitar playing is wonderfully understated throughout. The fact that he has done almost all of the instrumentation as well as producing the album is even more of a credit to his talents – albeit by necessity due to COVID as much as through desire – and has resulted in an album of passion and freedom that all music aficionados can relate to.
A limited amount of signed LPs, CD and an exclusive signed postcard are available to pre-order from Luke’s music store now. Pre-order CD and vinyl formats at https://lukemorley.tmstor.es
Live photos by Peter Coates – www.facebook.com/InsideEdgePhotography