“I’ve seen it before/I can tell/If you want to help…/Let it melt”
There are bands that go the distance. And then there is Diesel Park West. In a tale of Homeric proportions, the group from Leicester, England have kept faith throughout a career that stretches back, unbroken, to the era of major label deals, MTV and music industry excess. Now, 30 years after their first album Shakespeare Alabama, a new chapter begins with the release of Let it Melt, an album of savvy, street-survivor, sign-of-the-times rock & roll that only a band with their immense experience, resilience and know-how could have written and recorded.
“We’ve never lost the spark,” says singer, songwriter and guitarist John Butler. “We’ve never stopped writing, recording and gigging. We’ve never let the setbacks encroach on our creativity. We’ve only ever judged ourselves by the standard to which we are performing. And we’ve pushed on through.”
The band now comprises three members from the 1980s line-up – Butler, Rich Barton (guitar/vocals) and Geoff Beavan (bass) – together with new boy Rob Morris (drums), who joined 15 years ago.
Let it Melt is their debut album on Palo Santo, a hip, independent label located in Dallas, Texas and although it is actually the ninth studio album by Diesel Park West, it feels like a debut in another sense as well. On the first day of recording Butler asked Morris what kind of album he thought the band should make. “One that we like,” the drummer shot back.
“Out of the mouths of babes and drummers comes the truth,” Butler says. “We spent a lot of time in the old days being pressured by our paymasters on the major labels to do this, don’t do that. This album is simply made up of new songs that we like to play and more to the point, that we like to listen to. It’s almost as if we had to do nine albums to get to this starting point. And I’m not saying that in a flippant way. There’s a deep seam of truth in that statement.”
With a title that cleaves an appropriate passage between classics by the Beatles (Let it Be) and the Stones (Let it Bleed), Let it Melt is a masterclass of wry, observational lyric writing and wiry, anglo-americana riffing. Songs such as Living in the UK, Bombs Away, Across This Land and Let it Melt chronicle the state of the modern world with a louche swagger and a wry, incisive wit.
“When you’re 19 or 25 or even 35, you can’t really write from the standpoint of someone who’s been around for a long time,” Butler says. “It’s only now that I’ve got the experience to write a song like The Golden Mile – a metaphor for finding yourself on the last stretch. It doesn’t have to be a dark, grey, end-of-the-line hurtling towards the final curtain situation. It’s actually a blast to get this far.”
How have they done it? Diesel Park West were born in the era of music business plenty. Signed initially to the small, independent Food Records, they were acquired by EMI, who signed the Food label, simply to get their hands on Diesel Park West. The band’s epic first album, Shakespeare Alabama, produced by Chris Kimsey, received glowing reviews, established a solid fan base and made a promising dent in the UK album chart at No.55. They subsequently placed no less than six singles in the UK chart, but the breakthrough to a level of commercial success commensurate with the band’s talent and potential, remained elusive. As the 1980s drew to a close, the baggy scene in Manchester was sweeping all before it, and then as the 1990s got underway Britpop took over. But Diesel Park West never hitched themselves to any passing bandwagons.