Foreigner - Can't Slow Down
Creed - Full Circle
Been away longer than I thought, I have some stuff to blog about so lets get to it!
The essence of hard rock is about being a Viking, puffing out your chest and letting the world know a simple basic sentiment with resounding force. Two hard rock bands from different eras released new material in 2009 which I was given as gifts for the Holidays. One is a hard rock band from the 70s that mellowed in the 80s, the other is a post grunge group looking for a comeback after flaming out a few years back. Both bands have multiplatinum albums in their catalog. Both bands haven't released a new album in a long time. Both bands have been accused and belittled for formulaic songwriting and trite lyrics. Both are bands that I am longtime fans of.
The first is one of my favorite bands of all time, Foreigner. After witnessing Journey's come back in '08, Mick Jones took note and signed a deal with Wal Mart himself. Like their arena rock peers, Foreigner's Wal Mart exclusive is a 3 CD set with one disc new songs, a second disc of greatest hits and a live performance DVD. The set is called Can't Slow Down which is a bad title as it will always make me think of Lionel Richie sitting on a chair in a comfy room. Why name an album Can't Slow Down and have an album cover of Richie sitting in a chair I wondered? He's running with the night and dancing all night long but sitting on his ass on the record cover?? Well, now I'm off track and need to get back.
Can't Slow Down, the first full album of new Foreigner material since 1994's Mr Moonlight, is a surprisingly good if slightly generic affair. New lead singer Kelly Hansen does an admirable job of covering the gravelly clenched teeth grit that original vocalist Lou Gramm brought to the party. Hansen is a less distinct singer than Gramm, but like Journey's Arnel Pineda part of the gig is to sound like the original vocalist anyway y'know? The classic Foreigner sound is largely absent from Can't Slow Down except for on the arch rocker "Too Late" (originally released as part of their recent greatest hits album) and on the ballad "When It Comes To Love". But Mick Jones is too good a craftsman to let the rest of the album suck. Whether its the sturdy AOR of "Ready", surging Coldplay rock of "Living In A Dream" or the racing title track Foreigner delivers the goods. And unexpectedly they remake an album cut from the first Foreigner album, "Fool For You Anyway".
The second disc is a remix of the bands greatest hits, the mixes emphasize more of the groups rhythm section from their hit making era. Other than giving a greater appreciation of Dennis Elliott's solid drum work and the supple bass lines of Ed Gagliardi / Rick Willis, the mixes don't do a whole lot. And it gets downright annoying on "I Want To Know What Love Is" where the beat now overtakes the synths.
It's on the DVD where Foreigner falters a bit, not in performance (Jones has an ear for selecting backing talent) but in style. Where the new album is effective at putting a modern sheen on the band, the DVD highlights how old these vets are. Or at least how old Mick Jones is, his crown of pointy white hair and sparkly glasses are flashier than anything he wore in Foreigner's hey day making his age that much more apparent. Much of the DVD is cut together like one of those old school VHS tapes you used to see late 80's metal bands make. You know the type, with the mugging, "unexpected" practical jokes and scenes of empty stages mixed with various location shots. Every cliche in the book is used to scream "WE ROCK!" right down to the "fancy" visual effects like blurring hands during a guitar solo. It's a bit of an embarrassment really, though the group's sound (which seemed cleaned up in post production) was tight and punchy. Mick Jones may look like your Grandpa on ecstasy, but he can still rip on guitar. One last point of distraction, singer Kelly Hansen may sound like Lou Gramm but he looks and moves like Steven Tyler. It's weird, like two things that should not be together but are. Walk this way but talk that way.
If I remember right, Foreigner was rewarded with their best chart showing in a long time and I say good for them. I like the new album, which is more than I can say for the second band in this post: Creed.
Creed. The band name that strikes fear in the hearts of tastemakers and music critics. Lost amid a cloud of controversy (which included a law suit for a bad concert...you can sue for these things?), Creed split into two factions a few years back - those that were Scott Stapp and those who were not. Those who were not formed Alter Bridge while Stapp found his way into a sex tape (to which I ask, who would want to see that?). Following Alter Bridge's lead singer briefly being touted as Robert Plant's replacement in Led Zeppelin, those who were not Scott Stapp buried the hatchet with he who is Scott Stapp to put a full on reunion.
Which brings us, ahem, Full Circle. Creed sounds fired up on the new disc, much more lively than the dour Weathered. Despite this newfound energy, the songs on Full Circle are sub par. The riffs and drive are there and Stapp can still howl like a man trapped in a bear claw, but the hooks that mark their best work is largely absent. By the fourth track with yet another itchy guitar and strident chorus it all starts to sound the same. It's too bad because they come across as truly inspired. Just to show Creed hasn't totally lost it,on the one song where the power of the tune matches their moxie, "Overcome", they hit like a battering ram.
Which is too bad because I like "Overcome" so much I spend the rest of the album waiting for something just as good to show up. And it never does :(
So its a split decision for these members of the Viking rock club. Foreigner gets a pass while Creed is left at the train station as I search for more half baked mixed metaphors. Oh what a feeling when you're dancing on the ceiling.