THE SURFIN’ WOMBATZ: Night Bus To Skaro
Release year: 2022
Label: Western Star Records
UK act The Surfin’ Wombats are one of the numerous psychobilly acts who emerged during the second wave in the late 80’s, released an album (Lager Loutz, 1989) and pretty much faded into obscurity. Remembered as a curiosity for hardcore psychobilly fans or a footnote at most, one really can’t say the band had a major impact on the genre.
I doubt there were throngs of fans screaming for a comeback after the band faded in the first half of the 90’s. However, fast forward some 20-25 years, to the 2010’s, and come back the wombatz did. Since then, they’ve released three more full-length albums (including this one), thus quadrupling their discography.
Night Bus To Skaro is, then, the group’s fourth album, third since the comeback. I wasn’t too thrilled with the previous album, More Macabre Monstrosities (2018), so I wasn’t honestly expecting much from this either. And, to tell you the truth, after the first spin I felt that the band pretty much delivered what I expected: not a whole lot.
Partly it is because the first track on the album, Bank Holiday Punch Up On The Planet Of The Apes, is one of the lesser songs on it. So when you’ve got few expectations, and the album starts on a low note, it’s easy to write it off haughtily. Further spins redeemed the album to some extent.
Night Bus To Skaro is a prime example of what I’d call “middle-aged psychobilly”. Compare this to the late 80’s and early 90’s second wave albums, and you’ll discover a distinct lack of that over-the-top wildness, of playing at the very limit of your skills; that feeling of reckless danger and endless enthusiasm. Instead, the overall feel is a bit… well, geriatric. The tempos are slower, the playing isn’t wild, the vocalist doesn’t go ape. I find myself repeating what I said earlier: it’s easy to write the album off haughtily.
After a couple of spins, you start seeing beneath this sort of lukewarm approach to the wildness of psychobilly. And start discovering an album that isn’t actually half bad! The toned down approach helps reveal the roots in original rockabilly and old English rock & roll (Screaming Lord Sutch in particular – Monster Ravin’ Looney is a homage to him), and there are actually some pretty fun songs here. Nothing to write home about, but songs you don’t mind spinning a couple of times every now and then.
And some fun lyrics. Hey Poe Diddley (on which the wombatz steal – or borrow – from Bo Diddley) is a fun romp about Edgar Allan Poe, Pickman’s Pin-Up Model puts a rockabilly spin on H.P. Lovecraft’s classic story, and so on. Deep poetry this isn’t, but fun stuff nonetheless, revealing a love for sci-fi and horror culture.
The top moment on the album is a rather weird one. Psychobilly Daleks is a fun, catchy romp about quiffed killer robots – but very soon you’ll discover it’s just a re-dressed Rockabilly Rebel (originally by rockabilly revival legends Matchbox). Shamelessly the wombatz have credited themselves with writing this song… well, I guess that’s long-standing tradition in roots music, eh!
Anyhow, it’s an energetic and fun take on a great song.
At the end of the day, Night Bus To Skaro is a stronger album that the first impression might have you believe. It’s not an album that will put the band at the forefront of the genre, nor an album that stands a chance of becoming their hallmark album. But it’s a fun, relaxed album of middle-aged psychobilly. The kind of music fit for us middle-aged gits, who have to grab their back when standing up and who feel a mysterious urge to comment on how much their knees ache at least a few times day.
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