Back in 1990, I knew people who were really excited by Thunder’s debut album, ‘Backstreet Symphony’. While it sounded like a decent British rock album, aside from a couple of standout tracks, it didn’t do much for me. Their sophomore album ‘Laughing On Judgement Day’ was a great improvement over the debut (if a little long), I thought, but there was still a niggle: while Danny Bowes’s voice was amazing, it owed a great debt to Paul Rodgers – and as such, as much as I liked Thunder by that point, I always ended up feeling that time spent listening to them could be time better spent listening to Free’s ‘Highway’ LP.
When I first heard ‘Behind Closed Doors’ upon its release in 1995, it literally blew me away and it still remains my favourite Thunder disc. Of course, the end result is still heavily influenced by 70s rock bands, but the songwriting is largely stronger than before - and there are a few new tricks to be heard.
The album’s opening number is one of the heaviest tracks in the Thunder catalogue. It has a strong Zeppelin influence, both in the pounding drum style and the way keyboards are used to give things a slightly Eastern flavour. Danny’s voice still holds strong, even with the slightly harder approach and Luke Morley’s guitar riffs are simple but effective. ‘Fly On The Wall’ and ‘Too Scared To Live’ have strong funk/blues influences: the former makes excellent use of a horn section and soulful backing vocals while the latter has a slightly bluesy vibe during its brief chorus sections, but the verses show a far funkier style than Thunder have previously attempted. Mikael Höglund’s bass work is the main driving force and, again, Bowes is in decent voice. The track’s bluesiest vibes come courtesy of a couple of really smart guitar solos.
There’s plenty of other stuff from ‘Behind Closed Doors’ that’s instantly familiar. It’s lighters in the air time for ‘Castles In The Sand’, a big stadium number, very similar to ‘Love Walked In’ (from ‘Backstreet Symphony’). While very much a tried-and-tested formula, it represents one of the things Thunder were always best at. The slower blues-rock of ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ and ‘Preaching From a Chair’ feature Bowes’s strongest vocal performances (again tapping into his inner Paul Rodgers); ‘Preaching...’ is a particular stand-out thanks to some great reflective lyrics, where Danny sings about his “flannel shirt and an old tattoo”, before claiming that “clothes don’t make the man”, and asking “maybe [he] should grow a beard”. Great stuff...
‘Ball and Chain’, ‘River of Pain’ and ‘Stand Up’ are full-on punchy rockers, while ‘Till The Rivers Run Dry’ features a more acoustic, laid back band. ‘Future Train’ begins with a slightly Zeppelin-y acoustic flourish, before developing into one of the album’s best hard rock workouts. It makes use of a swaggering guitar riff, which works excellently when coupled with fantastic harmony vocals on the chorus. Danny Bowes’s vocal, with its blues-rock feel is superb throughout.
In February 2010, ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was reissued as a deluxe 2CD set. If you like ‘Behind Closed Doors’, the bonus material (sixteen tracks in all) is worthy of investigation. If you’re a Thunder fan, you’ll already have lots of these extras on your dusty old CD singles, but it’s always good to get things rounded up and released in one package. The best of the bonus materials, live acoustic renditions of ‘River of Pain’, ‘Stand Up’ and ‘Castles In The Sand’ really highlight the strength in Thunder’s songwriting when they’re on form, not to mention the effortlessness behind Danny Bowes’ vocal delivery.
With or without the bonus material, this album is first rate, even though it’s still often derivative of many of Thunder’s influences. For me, it represents a band which has honed all their previous styles to perfection and has then become confident enough to expand their sounds. The record buying public at large obviously wasn’t as enthusiastic; ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was the first Thunder album not to achieve gold-selling status, marking the beginning of a downturn in the band’s album sales. It really needs to be as fondly remembered as Thunder’s two preceding albums. 'Behind Closed Doors' may not have yielded the hits, but it represents a band at their absolute strongest.