When I was 17, I spent a foreign-exchange summer in Norway. I signed up for the Scandinavian jaunt mainly for a fantasized processional of hot, topless Norse women. Imagine my delight when, lo and behold, that teen-sex-comedy trope turned out to be somewhat accurate. Someday I'll tell you about the native pastime of the Naked Bicycle. But alas, this is a music column.
Two pivotal things occurred in Norway that would help convince me, 22 grownup years later, that Wolfmother (yes, Wolfmother) is the greatest band of the 21st century. While staying with a host family in the Oslo suburb of Grorud, I refused to get my hair cut. At the end of three months, I owned a phenomenal mushroom-cloud 'fro. My ballcap no longer fit; instead, it merely perched on my head like a wee beanie.
Man, I loved that hair.
During that time, I roomed with my host brother, Tor, whose primary indulgence was great greasy slabs of '70s rock 'n' roll. I was raised on Elton John and Billy Joel, so Tor's crunchy guitar scrum was ear-opening for me. Tor's curvaceous older sister was named Trine. In the bedroom next door, Trine was vavoomish and, it should be noted, adept at the Naked Bicycle. Trine's hairy, scrawny boyfriend, Fruta, loved AC/DC — probably more than he loved Trine. So the poor girl could only roll her eyes as these three goofs headbanged their mighty coifs to testosterrific thunder, the kind of music best accompanied by fake-wood-paneling and a bong made out of a Granny Smith.
Man, I loved that summer.
Which brings us, ultimately, to Wolfmother, a furry Australian quartet that has no interest in: (1) subtlety; (2) modesty; or (3) anything created after 1973 — or whenever Zeppelin made that deal with the devil. Tor and Fruta would have loved 'em!
Wolfmother's 2005 self-titled debut, featuring the hit Woman, was one of the best albums of that year; sophomore disc Cosmic Egg, released last week, might be better. It's heavy, metallic and utterly ridiculous, but it has more shimmery sheen than the inaugural disc. The layered guitar parts come in industrial sizes. A stoner organ swells with B-movie drama. And the drums go from hard to harder — even on the ballads. First single New Moon Rising is a howler's delight, with cascading power chords, schizoid rhythms and lyrics that revolve around busty mystics, a favorite Wolfmother topic ("Oh she don't mind / She got the time / I see the new moon rising").
The only member of Wolfmother you really need to know is Andrew Stockdale, 33, who's maniacal, perpetually randy and topped by an unruly puff of hair that generates gravitational pull. He's chasing that great, groovy endless summer, too. As well as writing and playing, Stockdale takes the lead vocals, banshee-wailing not unlike Robert Plant's snotty kid brother. The randy fantasy White Feather (presumably about having sex with a busty mystic) and In the Morning (presumably about having breakfast with a busty mystic) lean closer to "radio ready" than Wolfmother's last batch of complex sludge — that is, if you could consider the Beatles' Me and My Monkey "radio ready."
Cosmic Egg reminds me of the hazy old days, of Norwegian summers and beyond, when our hair was long and our libidos were chugging full tilt boogie. It reminds me of Trine and Tor and Fruta and that awesomely expanding head of hair I grew in the summer of '87. I'm not sure if I can still muster a mighty 'do like that, but I'll say this: The new Wolfmother album makes me want to try.