Sound — 9
Imagine the scene: It's the 18th of August, 1990. You just so happen to be at Donington Park for the Monsters of Rock Festival, with world famous bands billed to play, including Whitesnake, Aerosmith and Poison. You've never heard of the opening band but you've heard they released their first album a few months before. Maybe they'll be alright. Before you know it there are five men on stage who look like they've just stepped out of a time machine from the '70s, and as they launch into their 40 minute set, showcasing track from their debut album, you realise that the name "Thunder" is fairly apt, and one you won't forget in a hurry.
On that fateful day, an unknown band from London called Thunder thrilled a crowd of tens of thousands so much that for many, Thunder were the band of the day. To upstage the likes of Whitesnake and Aerosmith is no easy feat but was achieved by Thunder due to their impressive musicianship and, maybe more importantly, their songs. At this point Thunder had only released "Backstreet Symphony," an album of 11 songs produced by Andy Taylor from Duran Duran.
"Backstreet Symphony" is an album of should-have-been hard rock classics, with Harry James on drums, Snake Luckhurst on bass, Ben Matthews on guitar and keyboards, Luke Morley on guitar and Danny Bowes on vocals. Opening with "She's So Fine," a song laden with blues rock guitar, courtesy of Luke Morley and Ben Matthews, and spine-tingling vocals from Danny, it is clear that Thunder mean business, unlike a lot of other guitar bands at the time that got drawn into hair metal. "Dirty Love" follows this up with guitar hero riffs and sing-a-long choruses and has such an infectious quality that it's hard not to get it stuck in your head. Thunder do showcase a more delicate side on some songs, swapping out electric guitars for a more acoustic feel on a few occasions, including "Until My Dying Day," a full blown rock epic, with a soft acoustic intro before kicking into humbucker-powered hard rock. Guitarist Ben Matthews also makes a few transitions from guitar to keyboards to great effect on tracks like "Don't Wait for Me."
The album also features a cover of the Spencer Davis Group's classic "Gimme Some Lovin'" which Thunder truly put their mark on and make their own song. The album is a master class on how to rock, hard and proper, other fantastic rock tracks including "Higher Ground," the title track and "An Englishman on Holiday." However, the pinnacle of the album is quite easily the seventh track: "Love Walked In." Starting with an acoustic intro, reminiscent of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," the song builds up into a huge rock chorus showcasing Thunder at their most impressive, with fantastic rock guitar, thundering bass, crashing drums and impressive vocals.
Lyrics — 8
Looking at the vocals alone, Danny Bowes proves to be an amazing rock singer who manages to maintain his own identity while occasionally bearing similarities to other rock singers. From time to time he'll sound a bit like Robert Plant, or various other famous singers, but overall his own personality shines through. His ability as a singer is staggeringly good and perfectly suited to the hard rock sound of the album. Danny provides constant thrills and plenty of sing-a-long moments that it's hard not to succumb to his charm. Matched with the backing vocals from the other band members, Danny's voice pushes this album to another level of great hard rock and proves himself to be a criminally underrated singer. Standout moments include "Love Walked In" and "Until My Dying Day" but really there is no cause to fault his vocal performance at all.
Lyrically there's very little you wouldn't expect from a hard rock band: love is a recurring theme and though the notion of a rock band singing about love may seem like something of a cliché, they don't make any excuses for it, they just get on with it, do it well and it's all good fun. On occasion the lyrics can even be intentionally amusing, particularly on "An Englishman on Holiday" which documents the bands antics abroad: "I had a fight with this German guy / I saw him give my little girl the eye / while he was trying hard to be so cool / I hit him with a stool." And that just about sums them up: they're just a rock band having a laugh and not professing to be any more than that.
Overall Impression — 9
I had never heard of Thunder before I heard this album. I guess you always assume that if you haven't heard of a band then they can't be as good as the bands you have heard of. Thunder certainly prove this wrong because in many ways they were so much better than a lot of their peers and even a lot of the "old guard." So why didn't they take over the world? Well, it's a sad case of just being too late to the party. By the time Thunder had followed up "Backstreet Symphony," grunge had come and changed guitar music and big classic rock bands were uncool. They were subsequently unsuccessful in conquering an American market and went largely unknown over the last 20 years, despite achieving 18 top 40 singles in the UK.
"Backstreet Symphony" was the start of their career, and what a way to kick it off. Combining influences from Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, AC/DC, Free, The Who, Bad Company, Queen, Aerosmith, Van Halen and Pink Floyd, Thunder successfully created an album of hard rock anthems, brought together by stellar musicianship and song-writing. Thunder are by no means "the original of the species," and really "Backstreet Symphony" doesn't deliver anything we haven't already heard before, but they do deliver fantastic rock songs at a high standard that is quite rare, and ultimately, they're good fun. What more can you ask for?