But while Jack White stayed behind the drum kit with latest side project The Dead Weather, it was left to Andrew Stockdale to fulfil the role of guitar hero with Wolfmother. Not that the Australian quartet really fill a White Stripes-shaped hole in the market; at heart, they’re more interested in taking those Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page licks into the realms of 1970s heavy metal.
Back in 2006, Wolfmother revved on to the airwaves like an unreconstructed rock juggernaut with their self-titled debut album. Grammy Award-winning single Woman summed up everything that was great about the band: a return to classic guitar riffing, topped with Stockdale’s near-falsetto vocals, a sound that would make Ozzy Osbourne’s blood curdle and Robert Plant’s hair curl. And then things took a turn for the worse. In August 2008, drummer Myles Heskett and bassist/keyboardist Chris Ross left due to “irreconcilable differences”. Stockdale soldiered on, unveiling his new line-up – now boosted by a second guitarist – earlier this year, with follow-up album Cosmic Egg finally arriving after a sizeable gap.
At a fundamental level, it’s more of the same – Led Zep-inspired riffs fired with MC5 attitude that head into Black Sabbath territory every time Stockdale opens his mouth. But along with the expanded line-up comes an expanded repertoire which somehow dilutes the rock purity of their acclaimed debut. On that first album, the likes of Woman, Dimenson and Joker & The Thief had a no-nonsense likeability that transcended their metal trappings. Wolfmother wore their influences on their sleeve, like band-name patches sown on to a demin jacket, but the powerhouse riffs had a timeless appeal that crossed over to a wider fan base.
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Certain tracks on Cosmic Egg, on the other hand, seem consciously designed to grasp further afield. There’s a Stones-style Start Me Up snap to the guitar chords of White Feather, a hippy hangover to In The Morning, and Rush-like pomp and pretensions to In The Castle. With its shifting time signatures and musical grand designs, Eyes Open – one of four extra tracks that grace the album’s deluxe edition – would make Wolfmother the heavy Radiohead, if Muse hadn’t already pitched their tent on the very same ground. Wolfmother are better when playing back-to-basics, and Cosmic Egg may be too derivative to matter in the greater scheme of things.