Album reviews

Thought For Food
Perennially undervalued and unfashionable, Leicester’s Diesel Park West have spent their musical career recreating the swirling melodies of Tom Petty and The Byrds to the great indifference of the British public. Despite a promising start in 1989 with the robust Shakespeare Alabama, they spent much of the subsequent decade falling out with record labels who never quite grasped their oeuvre. Thought For Food finds them trundling on ably, proudly playing all their strengths: rousing choruses, plenty of artful musicianship and vein-straining vocals courtesy of John Butler, a man who clearly has no intention of giving up.

by Nick Duerden, Q magazine, Feb 2001
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Thought For Food

Just as diesel pollutes the air we breathe, so Diesel Park West seek to pollute the often sterile, self-limiting world of rock and roll with dangerously high levels of imagination. This possibly explains why the band is something of a high respected cult as opposed to the megastardom of the world of poodle rock. Definitely true to their nature, Diesel Park Wests’ resilience is captured beautifully on the ballsy, endlessly upbeat Fabulous Child. There is a touch more resignation to the nonetheless punchy Marionettes – neither a tribute to the cast of Thunderbirds nor a song about John Wayne cheerleaders team, by the way – but the idea of staying true to yourself comes through in John Butler’s lyrics. “Marionettes (ah! expert advisors) / Marionettes (conscience dividers)” seems especially topical given the demise of spin-meister Mandy. Also showing fine timing, although hardly with the easy sentiment that sells cards and candy, is Valentine Why?

An altogether less complicated but devoted relationship, that between cavalryman and horse, features in Forever Partners (Balaclava 1854). A superb lyrical number, it catches in strong vocals – lead and backing alike – and urgent chords the essential dependence between man and beast amid the incompetence and horror of the Crimean war. (quick note: check out Cecil Woodham Smith’s “The Reason Why” to find out more – one of the most brilliant and accessible history books ever written.) The bouncy Back In The Box has a feel to it that’s reminiscent of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, while The Big Surprise conjured up late period Beatles for me, but Diesel Park West are their own men and all the better for that.

by DM, Revolutions, March 2001
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Thought For Food
This trio have been doing their jingly jangly west coast thing since 1987, despite a handful of record company bust-ups, long term failure to command much attention from press or public; they’re still ploughing on. It’s all layers of six and twelve string guitars and proper lazy, hazy summer melodies. Front man and songwriter John Butler’s throaty vocals flutter above real musical workmanship. What it all lacks is surprise, invention or fashion, ‘Thought For Food’ is compensated by sheer craft and attention to detail. There are shades of The Byrds and the Beach Boys, of course, but also in rockier moments – The Who. They’re wry and whimsical like XTC, Robyn Hitchcock or The Lilac Time. Stand-outs are the joyful Fabulous Child (“star crossed and wild”), an insanely catchy song which presents the ’90s urge to run barefoot and tangly-haired through a copse, and You St Catherine’ more of the same, really.

by Jenny Parkin, Get Rhythm, March 2001
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HIPReplacement
You may recall this writer went absolutely gaga earlier this year over British roots rockers Diesel Park West, who were pegged for superstardom in the ’80s and never achieved that goal because of mismanagement, bad breaks and other unfortunate mishaps.

But now, Diesel Park West, who are practically unknown in this country, have come charging back with a new album of angry diatribes leveled straight at the music business, cloaked in sixties psychedelia, brimming with piss and vinegar, and wrapped up in a sound that brings to mind their influences American ’60s icons like Moby Grape, The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield plus The Who, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Needless to say, this is powerful music by a great rock n roll band.

HIP Replacement may or may not break Diesel Park West big time either in England or the USA, but its obvious this band will keep on trying until they do. More power to them and an ‘A’ for determination and resilience, not to mention outstanding music.

Of course, you can help by purchasing this disc directly from Thunderbird Records. Contact them at 9 Park End Street, Oxford, OX1 1HH, England. Earliest issues of HIP Replacement include a bonus second disc containing the bands earliest demos for their debut album, Shakespeare Alabama, so act quickly!

by Bob Cianci, River Reporter
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HIPReplacement
Emerging in the mid-eighties as Leicester’s answer to Buffalo Springfield, Diesel Park West were one of many Next Big Things who never quite happened. Which means, according to the Gods of musical taste, they have no right to be The Next Big Thing again now, no way, no matter how good their ringing, rough and tumble psychedelia has become in the meantime. Ageing and cynical, they’ve filled HIPReplacement with enormous, lighter-waving choruses, Roger McGuinn’s old Rickenbackers and a thriving disrespect for the music industry, and done for the Midlands what Tom Petty used to do for the Mid West. Englands best American record of 1998.

The Guardian, Friday October 30th 1998
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Left Hand Band: The Very Best Of
In 1989 a lot of people became tremendously exited by an album called Shakespeare Alabama. The debut LP from a group of Leicester-based Moby Grape fans who’d never see 29 again, it was a carnival of slithery 12-string guitars, four-part harmonies and John Butler’s whacking great choruses. Diesel Park West, need one recapitulate, somehow never convinced the majority of the glory of their coming. Talk of US success proved fanciful; by the 1992 release of their official second album, Decency (it was preceeded by a pretty good Hatful Of Hollow affair called Flipped), The Diesels’ twangy passion was as popular as a four-pound note. They switched labels twice in the ’90s, putting out Diesel Park West Vs The Corporate Waltz and FreakGene – neither is represented on this Food Records-era compilation – before disbanding in 1995. But although they never had a top 40 hit (All The Myths On Sunday, the blissful anti-Tory lament that begins this 16-song collection, reached 66 in 1989), time has been gracious to their music. Few groups since have shown such an orchestral attitude towards harmony vocals, and even fewer guitarists have bent their strings as imperiously as Rick Willson. As these songs will prove, those who held them in high esteem were not wrong.

by David Cavanagh, Q Magazine, May 1997
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FreakGene
Although dogged by a continual lack of any significant success and history of reluctant label-hopping that now finds them on to their third deal, Diesel Park West have seemingly not become disheartened by their ongoing obscurity. FreakGene is their fourth album in a six-year career and finds singer/guitarist John Butler’s tunesmithery skills and wonderfully expressive vocal character in assuredly supple form. Throughout the 15 tracks here, he fronts his band’s tight, chiming guitar rock with a confidence and flair that rarely lets up, and displays a knack for a knowingly wry lyric that on this occasion often in the direction of the ’60s prime of Ray Davies- most significantly in the tumblingly confessional Get Ready and the witty attack of Hippie Gonna Get You. With FreakeGene, Butler diserves to be considered a worthy contemporary of Ian McNabb or Karl Wallinger and is without doubt ripe for more widespread attention.

by Tom Doyle, Q magazine, June 1995
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Diesel Park West Verses The Corperate Waltz
From the rousing vocal yelp, swagering guitars and thumping drums of this album’s swashbuckling opener Here On The Hill, it’s clear that Diesel Park West’s impassioned approach has suffered not a jot from their apparently acrimonious divorse from EMI subsidiary Food. Always something of an anomaly alongside Jesus Jones and Blur, and handicapped by a failure to reach the instant world domination to which their stadium sound aspires, they’ve retreated, regrouped and come back for more. This third album is ahead on musical charge that will leave fans satisfied, critical supporters vindicated but probably everyone else unmoved. Recorded quickly, cheaply and with rough edges left on, the album isn’t all bile and venom despite it’s resentful title. Ranging from the Beatles-style semi-acoustic strum of The Cat’s Still Scratching through the soaring waltz, Wonderful, to the Springsteen-like title track, the album confirms Butler’s knack for killer choruses and, despite a maudlin moment or two, his band’s zest for a continuing fight.

by David Roberts, Q magazine, July 1993
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Decency
It’s still a struggle for Diesel Park West. They’re out of place on the Food label – home of Jesus Jones and Blur – by vertue of using technology no more exotic than guitar, bass and drums and by not being bright, young, shamanistic things. Worse, they’re in the embarrassing position of sounding like they regulary sell out Madison Square Garden, when in the real world they couldn’t half-fill Blackpool Winter Gardens once. Decency is their second album; it boasts a shiny, happy Laurie Latham production and clearly much rests upon it’s broad shoulders.

In the main, Diesel Park West deliver. Singer, guitarist and songwriter John Butler is a traditional songsmith: he writes sturdy tunes with proper verses, anthemic choruses which soar towards the end to signify extra passion and with space for a brief instrumental break. it’s what “real” acts from Springsteen to Cutting Crew, from Bon Jovi to Thousand Yard Stare, do and Diesel Park West do it better than most.

They almost blow it though. Butler has an unhealthy Buffalo Springfield obsession. it’s probably more useful than a Lurkers fixation, and when it works, like Fine Lily Fine’s scrumptious harmonies, all is well with the world. When it doesn’t, as on the hopelessly dated and twee Till The Moon Struck Two with it’s talk of “looking for the mojo man”, they’re just a hipper Bootleg Beatles.

Still, there is much to be commend here. Butler is a sucker for a lovely melody which, added to his wrought, wracked vocals, makes a convincing case for his taking-on-the-world stance. Walk With The Mountain threatens to be a U2 B-side from it’s title alone but is firmly reined in by a weary lyric, “it’s late and I’m yawning, let’s sleep until the morning”, yet more harmonies and a lean keen tune. Best comes last with Clutching At Love, with it’s flab-free ending which stops dead after making it’s point, just like that, with no epic frills.

Lyrically, Butler isn’t above the clumst analogy (“anger coils as the snake does” indeed), but he’s more at home with chatty vignettes (“here we are, kicking through the mainstream, making treasure on demand”), the odd, frankly useless, homily (“some things you can’t change, you’ll sleep ’til you wake”) and the occasional self-aware joke – “like John Phillips at Monterey…”.

There’s much hot air and the odd insight, but it’s how Butler puts the package across that finally wins – he simply sounds like he means it. They won’t shake the world, but with a hit single – the splendidly uplifting The Boy On Top Of The News ought to do it – Diesel Park West will be on their way and Decency may yet enable them to play Madison Square Garden.

by John Aizlewood, Q magazine, March 1992
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Flipped
Having waited almost a decade for their first slice of major league action with last year’s critically aclaimed drooled-over debut, the Diesels should be more familiar than most with the long march of rock’s historical process, and this mid-priced colletion of B-sides, covers and out-takes litters a breadcrumb-visable trail back to their primary sources of inspiration – a sparkling ’60s magnum of pop, West Coast rock, R&B and psychedelia. Aside from the charging melodic rock shapes of the self-penned Above These Things and King Fluid, it is the splendid range of off-beat and unexpected cover versions which linger longer in the memory. The best of this bunch include the spacey paisley-patterned soul of the Young Rascals’ Find Somebody, a jagged driving version of Buffalo Springfield’s Mr. Soul, and a gloriously raggedy-arsed electric blues treatment of Memo From Turner, a Jagger/Richards/Cooder composition lifted from the soundtrack to Performance. Topping all these though is the cover of the buzzing sonic boom of Jesus Jones’ Info freako – slowed up and stripped down to a barbed-wire electric groove.

Paul Davies, Q magazine, November 1990

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Shakespeare Alabama
Workaday Leicester may not be the stuff – as New Jersey so clearly is – of rock ‘n’ roll dreams, but it’s home to Diesel Park West, originaly known as The Filberts after the town’s less than legendary soccer ground. since forming at the decade’s turn they’ve served a lengthy live apprenticeship while honing their ’60s rock sensibilities, and awaiting that big break. It may now have come.

With major label distribution (EMI), this is big passion music-all expertly charming, powerchording, shiny Rickenbacker guitars, alternately pleading and preaching vocals, and rock hard percussion; powerful production job stuff, with a hefty promotions buget to match.

Offering 10 self-penned songs, the band’s debut album comes awash with ’60s influences: The Kinks, Byrds, Beatles, and Stones are never far from these exuberant sketches of love and life. Yet the five piece also offer more than a nice line in retro-rock: on songs like When The Hoodoo Comes they fuse tradition with the energy of such modern stadium style performers as Springsteen. A bit more of the latter’s pomp and circumstance, and Leicester could be almost as big as the palace where he used to live.

Henry Williams, Q magazine, March 1989