The hand that rocks the plectrum A meander through the guitar world of Rikki Glover Much of the nuanced darkness and light which feature in every Skinny Machines song emanates, of course, from the power-dressed guitar of Rikki Glover. Rikki’s guitar is an artist’s palette of rainbow colours which he can choose from at will to impart warmth or cold, love or hate, anger or contentment, fear or composure or, in the case of the opening to the solo in Superhappy, the sound of a fish gargling. And it’s all so deftly done. Rikki is fully in command of his ship, seemingly so at home around the fretboard that you feel he could play along quite happily to songs that haven’t actually been written yet. And the variety he brings to his craft is spectacular – not for him any routine strumming away at dull chords in the rhythm bits and the trotting out of tired clichés in any available solo. No, his rhythm work is a widescreen smorgasbord where single line melodies morph into chords and switch into frantic riffs at the drop of a semiquaver, and always to the benefit of the song. His solos sparkle, spit and yelp, swirling like a cobra ready to strike. Looking just at the introductions to the songs you can find, at one end of the scale, the punchiest of riffs, whether the chained-dog lunges of Superhappy or the neo-prog banquet of Like David. At the other end of the scale, the dancing moonbeams of Laid Out Cold and the rapid laser fire of Wrong Side of the River. Somewhere inbetween, a journey into a black hole a few seconds into 5 to 12. And this is all before the singing even starts. To take a whole song from the first CD, One Step at a Time opens with a nicely faltering, rather fragile, single line melody featuring a lovely glide up to and back down from a quivering high note. He plays this through twice, softly and delicately, until, all of a sudden and without asking, the rest of the band pile in, requiring the guitar to crank up a few notches and the melody to grow louder, greasier and nastier if it’s still going to make itself heard. Moving into verse 1, the guitar can pause for breath: other than some quiet stirrings in the undergrowth there’s not much by way of a guitar part here. Not much, that is, until the vocals are gently perforated by a big, bountiful chord, a slow, lazy one with plenty of time on its hands which loiters around the ear until it transmogrifies into a hypnotic, single line
melody largely comprising repeated notes – a great foil for the vocals. Then it’s back into the intro melody (loud, greasy version) as a backdoor route into verse 2 where, this time, instead of a breather, there’s a beautiful, intricate arpeggio section before the return of the repeated notes passage. Verse 2, unlike verse 1, does not lead back into the intro melody, leaving Rikki free to play the final note 16 times in a row. This ought to be very boring indeed but is, in fact, quite mesmerising. Then, after a misleadingly tranquil lull, it all gets very messy. As Jay sings “It’s all over so quick” Rikki’s guitar stares into the abyss and faces its own mortality. Rallying slightly as Jay starts “rolling on the bed”, it’s not until the point where the vocals finally conclude that the guitar begins to seek out a degree of emotional release by embarking upon a punishing solo. Including One Step at a Time, there are six guitar solos on the album, all short and to the point: Rikki is an ensemble player and his guitar is there to augment the songs, not to be self-indulgent (more’s the pity!). There’s the solo in Wisdom of the Aged, a blues-rock work-out reminiscent of heyday Stones. There’s the sing-along, bagpipe call to arms of 5 to 12. There’s the screech-fest in Wrong Side of the River, a solo with a migraine and an attitude problem. There’re the subaqua antics of Superhappy, mentioned above. And there’s the quickfire slash and burn of Like David. The solo in One Step at a Time, though, is different again, a howl of anguish as demons are exorcised from deep within a guitar you know will feel a whole lot better for it afterwards - a great solo, saying a huge amount in only half a verseworth of time. After the solo in One Step at a Time, we gratefully retreat back into the intro melody (loud, greasy version, obviously) and slow things down for the big final chord. A hint of discreet feedback (a mere wisp compared with the wail at the end of Wrong Side of the River) and the tapestry is complete. Even on a non-pedantic level there are at least eight distinct guitar sections in One Step at a Time and it’s all done and dusted in just over four minutes. Seriously magnificent. Harnessing all of these variations of tone and mood, of course, requires quite a lot of kit. Guitar-wise, Rikki favours those rock
stalwarts the Gibson Les Paul and the Fender Stratocaster (and, when he can get his hands on it, Jay’s Fender Telecaster). In addition, he employs a barrage of effects pedals sufficient to control a nuclear power station. How he remembers which pedal to stomp on (and when) while playing live is a complete mystery. Other highlights? The descent into the vortex in Laid Out Cold (starting 3 minutes 32 seconds in) and the keyboard-like arpeggios coming at you over the horizon about 15 seconds later. The sneering, evil riff in Muzzle Me, buttressing the savage vocal onslaught (first heard at 1:31). The thumping crashes (2:24) and the marvellous “waahs” at the end of the solo (3:37) in Superhappy. The nimble shifts of gear in The Piper at 1:08 and 1:18. The will o’ the wisp shimmer, just out of reach, in Wisdom of the Aged (starting at 2:13 and lasting for about 30 seconds). The snarling solo in the live recording of Doghouse (2:01).…. Too many, frankly, to know where to start or stop but, suffice to say, it is clear that rarely in the field of joint plastic/ human endeavour has the humble plectrum been twanged with quite such proficiency and poise. And, in rock and roll nor anyplace else, you cannot say fairer than that.