The reshaping and restructuring of rock music is something that often gets brought up in relation to how the genre has evolved over the years, and for all the household names that find themselves peppered into that particular conversation, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s done more in modern times than Jim Davies. That might sound like some intense hyperbole, but as the former guitarist for Pitchshifter and on some of The Prodigy’s absolute biggest tracks, it could definitely be argued that Davies’ presence was one of the first on the frontline in incorporating electronics into heavier music. And given that crossover material is not only embraced but actively encouraged in all forms of rock nowadays, you’d think that an artist like Davies would be given more credit, especially given that he’s now three albums deep into a solo career that’s looking to push the rock and electronica cross-breeding even further to the fore.
But that’s part of the issue, in that, when put into perspective of other albums and musical projects in the same vein, Headwars feels distinctly behind with the times. What would’ve probably been seen as unthinkably boundary-pushing in the ‘90s hasn’t aged all that gracefully now, and the throughlines drawn between that and this album are pretty bold indeed. There’s something that’s really dated about Headwars, and while it’s a sound that’s always been ultimately prominent in Davies’ wheelhouse, it doesn’t translate all that smoothly to a modern musical landscape. It’s audibly clunky in almost every way, and despite the odd moment that gets in spitting distance of falling back on track, Headwars as a whole just feels pretty unnecessary.
It’s generally the fault of a lot of the electronic tones that Davies opts to gravitate towards, and how they’re either deeply rooted in the more industrial ‘90s sound that he made his name in, or akin to how a lot of those acts have achieved their diminished returns nowadays. It hardly feels like a coincidence that Control + Z is anchored in the slow, heavy beats that have coloured so much of The Prodigy’s underwhelming late period work, and when that’s buffered by the gloomy plod of Shadows and the loosened, fizzed-out filter that’s been draped over a punk song on Caged, it highlights the problem with forward motion this album has. It’s not devoid of kinetic drive, as shown by the two collaborations with Tut Tut Child Trigger Finger and We Set The Pace that easily notch themselves as some of Headwars’ highlights, but they don’t hit with enough consistency to do all that much in the long run. In fact, the album as a whole doesn’t really have a set direction, not helped by the crop of guest artists leave very little impression (a sleeker instrumental is really the only reason that Milly Rodda is elevated so highly on Now You Know), and a scattershot approach to tone really struggles to get itself moving. There’s a muddiness to the guitar production that slices through the electronics even more awkwardly, not aided by the fact that there’s little memorable to go off. It’s no surprise that there’s more to become engrossed by with the more contemporary sounds on Defector or We Set The Pace, but besides them and the odd moment of presumably accidental inspiration (whether Ticking Timebomb was intended to sound like a digitised version of Born Jovi’s It’s My Life in places is unknown), a lot of this just doesn’t take off or sound all that compelling.
And when that’s so ruthlessly compounded by anti-technology and anti-social media screeds in the writing, the datedness and lack of subtlety comes rocketing to the surface. Putting aside the idea that denouncing reliance of technology on an electronic album barely connects whatsoever, when it’s envisioned with such a thudding lack of tact like on the title track or Zombies, there’s no real connective point to the issue at hand. It just makes the whole thing feel out of touch, especially when there’s such a dated slant to the sound that just underwhelms profusely. Again, the comparisons to The Prodigy make themselves apparant almost immediately; there’s a core idea that’s outlined, but rarely is anything substantial placed within that outline to set anything meaningful in motion.
Thus, what’s left is an album that’s not precisely rushed, but doesn’t feel as though it’s been given the forethought needed to get the most from it. Some decent ideas only go so far, and when they’re propped up against misguided or just unworkable decisions, it makes for the sort of attrition that’s hard to prevail from. Ultimately what comes out of it is an album that isn’t awful, but primarily feels like a relic of another time, when Davies’ ideas would’ve been able to capture more air rather than sputter out after a while like they do here. It’s hard to judge that too harshly, especially when he’s got a career as an underrated innovator under his belt, but this isn’t one of the shining lights of that career by any means.
For fans of: The Prodigy, Jayce Lewis, Gary Numan
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Headwars’ by Jim Davies is released on 10th April on Extreme Music.