Review: Venomous Concept ‘The Good Ship Lollipop’

There’s a saying that’s something about triumph coming out of adversity, which is clearly the case as far as The Good Ship Lollipop is concerned. Conceived and recorded in the middle of the COVID pandemic and subsequent lockdown, it’s the result of founding members Shane Embury and Kevin Sharp deciding to make an album that they wanted to make, regardless of perceptions and consequences.

Venomous Concept 'The Good Ship Lollipop'

What started off as a hardcore punk supergroup homage has certainly developed legs of its own as the years have gone on. However, if you’re coming to this record after only hearing Venomous Concept’s angsty debut Retroactive Abortion, you’d struggle to identify it as the same band. Sure, there’s been a few experimental forays on their most recent releases, (2016s Kick Me Silly VCIII and 2020s Politics Versus The Erection) but it’s safe to say that their latest effort is a big departure. Gone are the blast-beats, grindcore screams and sub two minute hardcore bursts of noise, replaced by catchy harmonies and big rock choruses.

Living scene legend Shane Embury has laid down bass on enough projects over the years to open his own niche vinyl store. However, as far as Venomous Concept is concerned, up until now, he’s always played guitar, handing bass duties to the now semi-retired Dan Lilker. On this album though, he straps on the four-string once again, handing the guitar over to his Napalm Death bandmate John Cooke, while announcing his ubiquitous presence with some crushing low-end as the album opener and title track kicks things of in brooding, yet powerful style. The slick-sounding production puts me in mind of Ministry, with long-time lungster Kevin Sharp pulling off an Al Jourgensen rasp with aplomb. Indeed, the Brutal Truth frontman sounds great on this record, playing to his strengths throughout.

It’s the band’s first album without Napalm Death skinsman Danny Herrera behind the kit too, and the involvement of Carl Stokes, late of 90s death metal legends Cancer, was another surprise, primarily because his playing on this is so far removed from what I expected. Admittedly I’m out of touch with his later work, but I was still surprised to hear him busting out some serious rock grooves like it’s the only thing he’s ever done. There’s nothing overly flashy, just an accomplished and solid backbone that supports this record perfectly.

the sound of an established band of experienced veterans doing whatever the hell they like and doing it well…

Slack Jaw picks the pace up with Cooke making his presence known in the line-up with some classy leadwork throughout that lends the track a Motörhead feel in places. Clinical has an epic rock vibe which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Foo Fighters album if Dave Grohl was channelling his songwriting through his experiences as part of the Washington punk and hardcore scene. It’s one of the album’s highlights for me and would stand up to blind testing from the most learned of hard rock fans. Fractured follows in similarly impressive form, with a divine clean vocal that put me in mind of a Jaz Coleman at his most melancholic. Indeed, there’s plenty on this album that will appeal to Killing Joke fans, reminiscent of how that band has always embraced modern production values whilst keeping a hand on its punk roots.

Voices brings things back to the pit with gang shouts and chugs galore, while So Sick ups the ante to give us some welcome d-beat speed, and reminds us where the band came from in convincing style. It also showcases the album’s most frenzied fret work, with a blistering lead from Cooke, who’s clearly having fun being a tad more bluesy than his Napalm duties would permit. Flowers Bloom meanwhile, is like the bastard child of a jam session between Monster Magnet and The Cult which carries the listener along on a gloriously catchy wave.

Later tracks like Humble Crow and Can’t Lose are mid-paced and competent enough but do lack the hook of the other material. There’s nothing wrong with them but they don’t shine like some of the gems on here. Life’s Winter however, ends things in an exhilarating way, with some nice guitar/bass interplay and an uplifting chorus that still manages to capture the record’s angst and drama. It’s a fitting way to end the record, featuring a little of everything that makes this album such a surprisingly engaging listen.

I was taken aback by how slick and classy this record is. I think I was expecting more hardcore-by-numbers, with an anger-fuelled-by-lockdown narrative, but instead The Good Ship Lollipop showcases a band that’s used it’s time wisely, stepping away from the touring and recording treadmill of its members’ collective projects to construct something thoughtful, that has both longevity and purpose. Though it may well leave a few fans crying into their Black Flag collections, this album is the sound of an established band of experienced veterans doing whatever the hell they like and doing it well. That’s a refreshing thing in an age of endless trends and industry pressure.

Label: Extrinsic Recordings
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Simon Brotherton