In late 2009 guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford of Genesis announced he was working on a new album with his long-standing side project band, Mike + the Mechanics. The band had scored a string of hit singles and albums from 1985 to the late 1990s with songs like “All I Need is a Miracle,” “Silent Running,” and “Over My Shoulder.”
The untimely passing of Paul Young in 2000 changed this dynamic. Rutherford and Carrack soldiered on, however, with the brave 2004 album ‘Rewired.’ Its sound was more modern and pop than the previous Mechanics albums, and it was criticized by reviewers and fans alike. After the tour, the Mechanics’ future was questionable, and a Genesis reunion tour in 2007 seemed to signify the end of the side project.
However, Rutherford’s motto is “Never say never,” which led to his decision to resurrect the Mechanics in 2009. With Paul Carrack working on a solo project, who would be the new singer or singers? Would the album be a return to form or another ‘Rewired’? With a string of showcase concerts in late 2010 and the release of new album ‘The Road’ in 2011, at last these questions have been answered.
In a return to the spirit of 1985’s eponymous debut album, ‘The Road’ involves a large cast of characters, some of whom fans will recognize from previous Mechanics albums and tours. Neil returns to the production chair and co-writes several of the tracks with Rutherford. Also prominent among the song co-writers are the three new singers: British R&B/soul star Andrew Roachford, South African-born rocker Arno Carstens, and Canadian actor/rock singer Tim Howar. All three began their careers no earlier than the mid-1980s, so they bring a promise of vitality to the lineup while never straying far from the classic Mechanics sound.
At least three guitarists other than Mike Rutherford have cameos on the album, which throughout is typical of his style based more on the riff, feeling and emotive playing rather than flashy lines or guitar solos. The most prominent of these guitarists is Anthony Drennan, who played bass and guitar alongside Rutherford on Genesis’ 1998 Calling All Stations tour and will join the new Mechanics lineup in the same role. Rutherford himself handles all bass guitar duties on ‘The Road.’ No less than four different keyboardists are featured, and whether they are on piano, organ, or synthesizer, their presence creates a great atmosphere and warmth. The drumming, handled mostly by longtime Mechanic Gary Wallis, hearkens back to a more acoustic sound, quite different from the programming and drum loops heard on ‘Rewired.’
Track 1 – The Road: What strikes the listener first is the bouncy acoustic drum sound and lively guitar riff leading into a bluesy song sung appropriately by Andrew Roachford. The lyrics are an optimistic take on the road of life together with a partner or friend, and has a very summery feel like many of the Mechanics’ upbeat tracks. Adding to this is a catchy sing-along chorus and guitar solo that calls to mind Rutherford’s often-bluesy playing on 1999’s “M6” album.
Track 2 – Reach Out (Touch the Sun): In contrast to the first track, Reach Out is a keyboard-driven, calmer piece with a more modern sound that calls to mind the title track of 1995’s “Beggar on a Beach of Gold.” Again sung optimistically by Roachford, the lyrics speak of finding the metaphoric light in the darkness, just in time for spring.
Track 3 – Try to Save Me: This track returns to the guitar-driven, livelier vibe of the opener with a light, atmospheric keyboard overlay. These contrast with Roachford’s soulful vocals and thoughtful lyrics seemingly about family and helping each other. Here is the first track with what many may deem a “classic” Rutherford guitar riff, enhanced by the rhythm lines of former Mechanics touring guitarist Jamie Moses.
Track 4 – Background Noise: Here listeners are introduced to a second singer, Arno Carstens, whose deeper, slightly rougher voice would fit in with the alternative rock of the 1990s. The slow yet flowing track is led by acoustic guitar lines that create a lighter sound next to the steely vocals.
Track 5 – I Don’t Do Love: This song, which tells of feeling reluctant to get into a relationship after bad experiences, is sung beautifully by Roachford, with Tim Howar on backing/duet vocals. The searching quality is heard even in the introductory piano riff and guitar-driven verses, possibly making it the most emotional song on the album.
Track 6 – Heaven Doesn’t Care: Rutherford is no stranger to socially-charged lyrics, and this soaring, catchy track is dedicated to a girl who became a martyr in the 2010 Iranian uprisings. Tim Howar takes the lead vocal, enhanced by a children’s choir that no doubt will remind listeners of the Mechanics’ biggest hit “The Living Years.” Like its predecessor, the guitar riff throughout is in Rutherford’s signature arpeggiated style.
Track 7 – It Only Hurts for a While: Carstens hauntingly takes the lead on this smooth mixture of 1990s R&B and alternative rock that details the pain of a broken relationship and the hope that one can survive it. Roachford’s airy Wurlitzer organ and Rutherford’s guitar lines lighten the track.
Track 8 – Walking on Water: Two other common themes in Rutherford’s songwriting are water imagery and the need to believe in someone, both of which Roachford vocalizes here. The verses are driven by a “clapping” drum sound, piano, and reverberating guitar vibes, leading to a soaring chorus with a loud, crunchy guitar riff. Again this track calls to mind the classic feel of “Beggar” and “M6.”
Track 9 – Hunt You Down: This is no doubt the most unique track on the album, calling to mind both modern indie rock and the garage rock of the 1960s. The musicians on this track are also unique: Rutherford’s son Harry plays drums, while two members of his band Stereo Son play the Farfisa organ and lead guitar. Carstens sings this upbeat, fun track.
Track 10 – Oh No: This song may remind many of the dance-pop song “Now That You’ve Gone” from “M6,” both musically and lyrically. Howar takes the lead, powerfully yearning to know what went wrong in the relationship. The warm, glittery synth lines which drive the song and rockier vocals call to mind Paul Young’s performances on the Mechanics albums of the 1980s.
Track 11 – You Can Be the Rock: The album closes with this soothing ballad sung sensitively by Roachford. The lyrics speak of having a strong person in one’s life to lean upon. Rutherford’s signature riffing styles predominate once more, culminating in a lengthy, flowing, emotionally-charged guitar solo that may be one of the best of his career.
FINAL THOUGHTS; TOMORROW?
The Road clocks in at 46 minutes, with the longest track “You Can Be The Rock” just over five minutes. Some may believe this short, but in fact it is the perfect length for this album, as a listener can tell that much time and thought was expounded on each of the eleven tracks. In the tradition of the best Mike + the Mechanics albums, the lyrics are relevant and universal, and the music is stylistically varied with a mix of both modern and classic sounds. The result is a band and songwriter/musician revitalized. It is a triumphant return to form with echoes of Mike Rutherford’s most successful and well-loved works both in Genesis and his side projects, while never forgetting to stay current and look toward the future. The renewed, vibrant energy has also been felt in recent live performances by Rutherford, Roachford, Howar and company.
The only question left to answer is whether there will be further collaboration between this group of musicians. If history repeats itself, then one may suspect so. Rutherford has always expressed a love of songwriting and is ever ready to work on new material. Carstens, while not joining the touring lineup, is open to working with Rutherford and/or the Mechanics again. As Roachford co-wrote more than half of the tracks on ‘The Road,’ one can surmise that he and the group’s leader have established an excellent rapport as collaborators. Whether or not fans hear from some or all of these musicians together again, they can certainly be proud of the stellar effort that became ‘The Road.’
by Andrea Leigh Mitchell
Mike Rutherford: the Mechanic of Genesis