The Pharmacy Prophets are back, after years of absence. There were some stirrings a year ago, with the release of the song “In Dallas I Gave My Heart to a Killer,” but now they have a six-track, the first of a three album (EP?) cycle called Fantome’. Part I: Needle, kicks off with “In Dallas…,” and it’s clear that everything that made the Pharmacy Prophets a cool, kick-ass rock band are still in evidence. I should be honest and say that this band is personally very important to me. When I was in middle school, my dad was friends with their lead guitar player at the time, a Texan named Trey, and we went to as many shows as we could get my 14 year-old ass into. Trey and Steve, who is the singer and rhythm guitar player, were always super cool to me, and that meant something to a kid who had his own aspirations of rockstar-dom. One thing that I was always bummed about, however, is how many of their songs were not on a CD. After many years, that is changing.
Enter Fantome’, Part I: Needle.
The production sounds dark, like their 2005 EP Pan into the Grayscale, but it is a bigger, more open sound. Impressively, it sounds a lot like best parts of Pan into the Grayscale and their first record, Songs of Death and Happiness: the verses are dark, brooding, and heavy while the choruses are big and anthemic. Front man Steve Bowes is up to a lot of his same tricks: ghosts and whisky and grungy, dirty storytelling. Some of the songs are very clearly echoes of earlier ones: people die to live and live to die, and “Amelia Pride” reminds me a lot of “So She Said,” off of Songs of Death and Happiness.
Speaking of “Amelia Pride,” I remember hearing this song live back when I was in middle school and thinking it was one of their best. I’m happy to report that the recording absolutely does the track justice, and the big vocal arrangements are a welcome addition. This is a song you can’t help singing along to.
The standout track, however, is “Let me Sleep,” a big, nasty bluesy number that swaggers across the soundstage. The grit in Steve’s voice is chilling as he howls “She’s only been a ghost for a while,” and I might be in love with the snare drum sound they got on this record. I do wish there was a track in between “Let me Sleep” and “Miracle Road.” They’re both great tunes, but for basically the same reasons. They don’t sound like one is a copy of another, but they’re both heavy blues songs. Fortunately, both tracks are strong enough that by the first chorus of “Miracle Road,” I’ve forgotten to be annoyed and am instead just rocking the fuck on out.
Needle closes with the track “Lightening (the Ghost of Pride),” that also saw a release on Grayscale. This time around, it’s faster and more metal-tinged in the way that makes you turn your stereo up as soon as it starts, no matter how cranked it already was. There are some pretty solid double-kick accents, and the wah-laden guitar covers the whole track in much more aggressive way than the prior version. The lyrics on this update have been changed from being from the point of view of a John finding a prostitute that reminds him of the girl loved, who died (I think). In the new one, the lyrics I think are from the point of view of Amelia Pride (or, rather her ghost). I’m not sure which version I like more. I think ultimately, the heavier update, while badass, lacks a bit of the blues stomp the earlier release, and the faster tempo doesn’t leave quite enough space for Steve’s vocals to sink in. I fully admit to the bias of nostalgia, however; I’ve been listening to Pan into the Grayscale for the last ten years and been loving it that whole time.
I really, truly hope that we’ll see more shows from these guys, as well as the completion of the other two phases of Fantome’. In Needle, The Pharmacy Prophets have put out a compact, powerful record. The sounds flit through blues, touch on country and heavy metal, and ultimately embody that ambiguous genre we call “rock.” You could do a lot worse than to drop six bucks on this album, and I’ll be surprised if you’re not singing along by halfway through track one. Go buy it, go crank it, go break something.
Look for it on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, or whatever