Holiday Manor
Big Wheel
Mammoth Records

By Bob Bahr

Remember the childhood game where you take a giant step back then a baby step forward? Big Wheel seems caught in this trap with Holiday Manor, their first album for Mammoth Records. For every bewitching lyric, there is a dismal power chord. For every attention-grabbing guitar line, there is a song-length trudge through Seventies hard rock.

Wunderkind vocalist Peter Searcy has embraced a traditional-rock singing style that is a bit hard to swallow. One can almost trace his vocal explorations and finger his influences, and your opinion of his new vocal sound is dependent on your feelings about arena rock. Holiday Mano looks to the past too much for comfort, although the musicianship lifts the tunes up a bit.

In general, fine writing percolates through the retro swamp, then suffers from malnutrition when it reaches guitarland. It is revealing that the most gripping song, Sleep, is one of the most stripped down. Almost acoustic, Sleep's lyrics lay bareboned, the mood is set up: Searcy tells us that the noise of a window fan is the loudest sound other than the song subject's buzzing brain.

Guitarist Glenn Taylor pulls us in with some interesting guitar work on Thoughts, Arms & Legs, showing a sense of freedom that is refreshing. The most adventurous cut, Thoughts, Arms & Legs is a teaser from the powerful band that is lurking somewhere deep in Big Wheel.

For much of the rest of Holiday Manor, the music alternately chugs with a heavy metal insistence, then goes to college with some progressively ringing guitars. The band and the album have a vitality that seems indomitable, despite the hard rock armor that weighs things down. Big Wheel has produced a piece of evidence that mostly just proves their potential. Their next batch of songs will paint a better picture of their fate.