Tough Love starts in blistering form. Big single V.E.N.O.M. is like being dropped into a thundering vortex, with its sudden jolting start and fierce ‘spelling bee’ chorus – Hudson’s vocals screaming the letters as a prelude to stomping guitars. While this is not the best songwriting, the whole execution packs a mighty punch even into the third minute ‘80s metal’ instrumental – a slow deliberate dirge metamorphosing into a frantic burst of thrash. Brilliant.
Elsewhere, no song matches this incredible start but a few come close. Bromance Ain’t Dead is glorious pop-metal and Hudson’s best vocal performance: mesmerisingly combining insane laughter with an effective tuneful delivery. A neat late guitar solo divides the action. Some Mothers is short but excellent, packing in as many ideas as possible in fewer than two minutes. And Epic Myth, with sedate harmonising vocals matching sedate guitars then exploding into life due to a spectacular vocal performance from Hudson and more furious guitars, is also excellent. We continue to fear for the long-term health of his voice.
Late on, Give Me A Reason sounds like another single; a good structured arrangement and a terrific guitar solo is a winning combination. In spite of these high points, Tough Love falls off the rails in the middle. The start/stop vocal/guitar arrangement of Night Of The Living (I’m Scared Of People) with its horrible uninspired chorus fails on all levels. And Wildfire, Smoke & Doom is a great twenty-three seconds of rampant guitars with two minutes of average build-up.
The rest is more hit and some miss. On Wolf Hand, Hudson sings, “When I was a kid, I was a dick. But nothing changes”. A surprisingly melodious chorus and epic guitars save the song. The drumming on Shake Off The Curse is a constant driving force in an otherwise unspectacular effort. A shame as the writing is adventurous: “You won’t send me back to the dark place”, Hudson spits. Into the third minute, a great gliding guitar solo is cut short. Degeneration Game revisits old ground musically while Hudson provides another stupendous performance.
Tough Love closes with Everything Dipped In Gold, the album’s longest song at four minutes. Although the band sound in control, the wealth of ideas get away from them, falling apart slightly around a decent pop chorus and into an elegant instrumental finale. Another two minutes with a thrash-metal crescendo and it’s a great song – but maybe there is more to Pulled Apart By Horses than this predictable formula.
On the strength of Tough Love, Pulled Apart By Horses should be the most exciting new band since Nirvana. One is reminded of the raw power of Bleach before the magnificence of Nevermind yet to come. This is a much improved second effort from a band who know they have more to give – and touring has made them better musicians: a template for any new band. Fully aware of their own ambitions Pulled Apart By Horses have made an album as challenging as it is fascinating, taken a few risks and confirmed their place in an exciting music community. Guitar music is dying? No way.