Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Design Of A Decade Pt 1: Devil Horns To The Sky!

The future is the past. The past is the future. Chickenfoot keeps arena rock alive in 2009!

The first decade of the 21st Century is almost over, makes me feel like I'm Buck Rogers living in this space age of microwave ovens and high definition sunglasses. And with any landmark of time there must be Best Of lists because hell, if you can't list things you like in an arbitrary order then why have an internet? So this is my list, in order of genre, of my favorite CDs of the past ten years. I wish I could say every album on my list is a flawless gem but I'm old, most new music (even by old artists) don't hit me like that. This is part 1 of a series that I'm naming after a Janet Jackson album because as she would say, what have you done for me lately?

We're at the stage of life for 70's / 80's rock bands to discover that sadly rock and roll does not come with a pension plan. As a result these groups keep chugging along on the road to make dough for their IRA. Or maybe they just plain love what they're doing and meant it all those years ago when they gave interviews saying "I'll play live til I die whether it's to 20,000 people or just one guy in the room." In any case, these road warriors hit the stage to rock out annually and occasionally release new material to keep things fresh. Here's my favorite Arena rock releases of recent past.

Rock The Half Sold Out Arena!

My favorite of all music genres headed up by my favorite band, Journey. The 21st Century era of this group will forever be in dispute because for some Journey begins and ends with Steve Perry. Though Perry is my all time favorite singer, I was a fan of the band as a whole which included Jon Cain, Neal Schon and Ross Valory and was happy to see them continue. Arrival (2001) is the best of the bunch with Steve Augeri on the mic, Journey rocked hard on cuts like "Higher Place", "To Be Alive Again" or the strutting "I Got A Reason". Naturally this had to be offset by soft soaring ballads such as "Lifetime Of Dreams" or "Signs Of Life". Only the "When You Love A Woman" rewrite "All The Way" feels like a misstep although it isn't bad. Augeri allowed the group to rock its hardest since the Escape / Frontiers era. After drafting Arnel Pineda a year ago, the bay area band recorded Revelations (2008) which brought back some needed soulfulness to the vocals (Augeri was a better rock belter, Pineda a better crooner). The strong mix of rockers and ballads continued with the high flying "Change For The Better" offset by the soft "Turn Down The World Tonight".

Recent Journey tour mates Heart and Cheap Trick both had good albums to back up their noise. Heart delivered Jupiter's Darling (2004) that found middle ground between their Zepified 70's persona and slick 80's model. Meanwhile, the Tricksters have spent decades trying to recapture their early magic with hit and miss results. On 2006's Rockford they hit the right balance of catchy power pop brilliance and power chord thunder.

Other early 80's survivor Loverboy strapped on the head bandanna one more time for Just Getting Started (2007). One of the few successful attempts to meld modern sensibility into an established 80's rock sound. The fired up title track has plenty of Loverboy's famous freewheeling fun, the bluesy "One Of Them Days" swings and the power ballad "The One That Got Away" is first class.


The Hair Metal bands of the 80's have some renewed interest thanks to the Guitar Hero / Rock Band phenomenon. Still, no one is willing to reproduce their classic spandex pants with wall of hair look. Instead they opt for leather pants and a shaggy shoulder length hair cut that says "Hey, I'm old and won't look out of place shopping at Wal Mart but still know how to rawk!"

It took a band not from that era to hand down the truest (and at same time mocking) expression of this maligned art form: The Darkness. They came out of nowhere to throw down "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" establishing a heady mix of Queen and hair band euphoria. Their album Permission To Land (2003) backs up their hit tune with other material that is silly and playful in its excess. Too bad drugs and a delayed follow up caused them to crash and burn.

Whitesnake proved David Coverdale could still howl in the still of the night with the excellent Good To Be Bad (2008). Copying your own hits over again usually seems lame, in the hands of a master like Coverdale remakes of "Slow and Easy" or "Is This Love" (titled "Good To Be Bad" and "All I Want All I Need" respectively) are downright inspired. I got to see them live just before Coverdale's voice gave out, he rawked!

Marketing king Jon Bon Jovi spent much of this decade serving up streamlined pop rock to the masses with success. Although I liked the hit songs he's had lately, as a full album statement the disc I liked the most was the hitless Bounce (2002). I wish I could say this was a great album, it's just pretty good, yet as an album it blends the faster and slower material evenly and cleanly. Plus I love that title song.

It's A Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock And Roll

Two bands that were virtual outlaws in their hey day compared to where they landed now are AC/DC and Metallica. AC/DC were shunned as being "Satanic" and represented all that was "evil" in rock music during the late 70's and early 80's. Raunchy sexism hammered down with a heavy guitar riff and a jolt of humor made them easy targets for God fearing parents wrath. How weird is it now, nearly 30 years later, you can buy AC/DC memorabilia at department stores and see little kids decked out in the Aussie band's branded merchandise? Times have changed making AC/DC classics like "Let Me Put My Love Into You" or "Let's Get It Up" tame by comparison.

AC/DC didn't do a whole lot the last ten years to necessarily earn this boon, though they did turn in the enjoyable Black Ice (2008). Black Ice had some catchy stuff such as the slick "Wheels" or the menacing title tune. I'd like to say 2000's Stiff Upper Lip was great as that was the disc that got me into the band beyond a casual interest. Just can't say that because too much of the CD has songs stuck in the same groove making it repetitive.

Metallica is another band that rocked so hard they couldn't get any recognition from mainstream media for the first third of their career. They managed to hit it big on their own terms initially, since the mid 90's they have continuously watered down their image to ensure lasting popularity. Even if it reeked of career move-itis, last year's Death Magnetic was the bay area thrashers throwback to basics CD. Lengthy songs, pummeling rhythms, spiraling solos and dog bark vocals came back with a vengeance. Admittedly some of Death Magnetic rings hollow, still I'll take this over most of what the band has done the last fifteen years any day. I have no favorite individual songs from this disc, I like it as a whole.

Oh Yeah!

The last CD I have under this style is 2009's Chickenfoot. The supergroup made up of half of Van Hagar (Michael Anthony, Sammy Hagar), guitar god Joe Satriani and funky drummer Chad Smith cranked out shameless hard rock. Playing to their strengths, straightforward AOR performed with inspiration produces an adrenaline fueled feeling of power. Would have been nice if the songs were a touch better, what is here is good enough anyway.

That's a wrap on part one of this series, think I'll tackle the 90's stars next. Until next time, same Bat time, same Bat channel!

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