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After more lineup changes, Wolfmother emerges with its fourth proper album. Guitarist, frontman, and songwriter Andrew Stockdale remains the only founding member. On Victorious, he plays all guitars and basses, with hired studio drummers Josh Freese and Joey Waronker, and Ian Peres on keyboards. This is a messy collection that attempts to expand on the scope of the swaggering, bluesy hard rock of the band's first two albums. It was recorded in Hollywood with producer Brendan O'Brien, whose signature drum-heavy sound seems to saturate these proceedings with phase-shifted sonic effects. There are moments here that touch on the unabashed energy and swagger of Wolfmother's past, but they are few and far between. Opener "The Love That You Give" contains an over the top hard rock riff that gives way to equally strident psychedelia with a nice textural touch in the guitar interplay. Second single "Gypsy Caravan," with its Robert Plant-style vocal and Simon Robinson-esque production (Deep Purple à la Machine Head), showcases massive organ chords that blitz a manically throbbing bassline as Stockdale's voice roars over it. The title track, with its chunky guitar vamp and slamming snare fills, works well enough to warrant attention. But these songs are subsumed by attempts at '80s hair metal ("Baroness" could have easily been an outtake on a vintage Whitesnake album), and the insipid "Pretty Peggy," where Stockdale's attempt at an acoustic, Marc Bolan-inspired love song ends in far less clever adolescent blathering. There's a hook in the track, but it's lost amid the lyric syrup and cheese, O'Brien's clouds of reverb and overblown backing chorus. The acoustic guitar charts on "Bad Situation" are ripped straight from Rod Stewart and the Faces circa "Every Picture Tells a Story." Stockdale's falsetto vocals are excellent, but massively amplified handclaps, an unnecessarily distorted bassline, and a sloppy organ all try way too hard to make a catchy, minor, barroom rock & roll song an anthem. "Happy Face" is a riff -- not a song -- that drones on far too long. Closer "Eye of the Beholder" almost shares the same fate, but the sheer heaviness in the instrumental attack makes the monotony less apparent. Victorious is anything but. Without a creative and forceful rhythm section giving him creative pushback, Stockdale is lost in half-baked songs and uninspired arrangements. He needs a real band, not hired hands. His guitar and bass playing occasionally take hold of his reckless muse, offering hope for the future. That said, Victorious amounts to little more than a thrown-together mess.

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