There is something refreshing and honest about Retribution Gospel Choir’s second album, 2. A fitting title not just chronologically but thematically, 2 finds the trio, fronted by Low’s Alan Sparhawk, strengthening the simple vision presented on its 2008 self-titled debut. What is so admirable is that on 2, the band doesn’t refine its essential core of Crazy Horse-style rock or smooth out the edges. The songs, instead, are dirtied, beaten up a little. It’s a more than suitable treatment.
Retribution Gospel Choir’s sound is best exemplified in “Your Bird,” which follows raucous album opener “Hide It Away.” In less than three minutes, Sparhawk, backed by bassist Steve Garrington and drummer Eric Pollard, delivers a crushing, concise symphony: four ascending chords, two verses, and a minute-long outro that gives Pollard a chance to absolutely tackle his way through the cranked distortion.
Though Sparhawk is a starting point — his delivery here is passionate and unleashed, raw in a way rarely heard in Low’s glacial melodies — 2, more than its predecessor, starts from the bottom up, the drums headlining as much as the vocals. Check the inspired two-minute intro to “Something’s Going To Break” for confirmation, or album standout “Poor Man’s Daughter.”
If there’s any criticism of 2, it’s that several songs, particularly “White Wolf” and “Workin’ Hard,” stick too close to the formula the band established on “They Knew You Well” and “What She Turned Into” from its first album. Or that Retribution Gospel Choir keeps too close a watch on itself, only dabbling with longer forms and improvisation on the aptly titled “Electric Guitar,” or subdued, gorgeous closer “Bless Us All.” But this is a band that is confident and self-assured, giving itself 10 tracks to start and finish its mission. And isn’t that a mark of a great band, that it knows its strengths and continues to deliver on what it does best?