Redline, 2009

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


So, first things first.  Chickenfoot.  Yes, it’s a ridiculous name.  That’s the point.  Clearly the last thing these four guys wanted to be is a blaring-all-caps-headline supergroup with all the accompanying expectations and pressure.  They wanted to goof around and have fun, and guess what?  They did.

Bottom line, that’s what Sammy Hagar’s been about for years and years anyway, and in the process he’s made himself into the Jimmy Buffett of hard rock, with juvenile yet iconic songs like “I Can’t Drive 55” and more recently his own tequila line and Cabo Wabo club chain. 

So what do you get when you put Hagar together with bassist Michael Anthony, drummer Chad Smith and guitar-slinger Joe Satriani?  You’ve got half of the 80s-90s version of Van Halen, a quarter of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and one of the greatest guitarists ever to pick up a six-string.  In that sense, it’s a little inevitable that it has a bit of a Van Halen vibe to it, but do try to get over it. 

On the whole, this album can feel obvious in places – as in, “of course this is what an album featuring these four guys would sound like.”  You’ve got throbbing guitar lines with some technically brilliant riffing and squirrelly solos and “how did he make that sound?” moments.  You’ve got Anthony delivering his trademark background vocals -- the day that the Van Halen brothers kicked Anthony out of the band was the day they ensured they would never again sound as good as they once did.  Smith is just a hell of a drummer; he wails on several songs and often with a lot of panache.   And Sammy is Sammy.  He’s never really changed and it’s pretty clear he never will.  His lyrics are goofy and predictable, but whenever he’s matched up with a great guitar player he responds and takes his vocal game to the next level. 

Opener “Avenida Revolucion” is a bludgeoning assault whose spacious, flashy arrangement reminds me of “Everybody Wants Some” in places even as its muddled immigrant melodrama narrative exposes Hagar’s every weakness as a lyricist.  It also goes on a minute and half too long, but the music, it must be said, is fairly spectacular.  Next up, “Soap On A Rope” opens with a fat, pulsing riff that really reminds of the first Montrose album, a wide-open, strutting groove that flattens everything in its path.  Hearing Satriani strut is kind of a trip, but when he does it, he does it with authority, and sounds like he might just be having the time of his life.  (Geez, I wonder if these guys would play a Montrose tune live…  “Rock Candy” with this lineup could be a little bit amazing.)  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Sexy Little Thing” is classic Hagar, the shaggy party-hearty dude with the big dumb grin who says stuff that just makes you laugh because it’s so over the top you can’t take a word of it seriously.  “SLT” is also one of those cuts where Anthony’s background vocals are the secret glue holding the chorus together.   Satriani does some somewhat un-Joe-like blues riffing in the middle, no effects, very simple clean blues riffing, but elegant.  And the core riff the song is built around is big and fat, but the verse riff has this sort of eastern, delicate tone to it which is quite cool.

First single “Oh Yeah” is a song I’ve listened to three or four times without gaining a clue as to what Sammy’s screaming about.  Every other line seems like a non sequitur, but it’s a sweet, rather Zeppelin-ish riff over a steady blues groove, and the gang background vocals again bring the chorus home. On the otherwise unremarkable “Runnin’ Out,” Satriani’s solo is like the laser hitting the mirror ball and going everywhere, an amazing bit that highlights the tightest song on the album at 3:53. 

“Get It Up” is a propulsive number with Anthony and Hagar doing tandem vocals that help give it an open, spacy feel.  The lyric is more Hagar nonsense, but the music, the vibe, the groove, is pretty smokin’.  Smith also gets to show off some in the middle, even if he does sound suspiciously Alex Van Halen-like when he does.  Speaking of VH, “Down The Drain” starts out with Hagar talking to Joe about the riff he’s playing and it sounds so much like David Lee Roth needling Eddie back in the day that it’s almost hilarious.    

Heading into the final curve, in quick succession we get: “My Kinda Girl,” a classic late ‘70s Sammy party tune updated to be a little more age-appropriate; “Learning To Fall,” in which Joe Satriani plays a power ballad (that’s all I’ve got); and “Turnin’ Left,” a full-on rampaging Zeppelin-AC/DC bundle of big thunder.

Closer “Future In The Past” is a scorcher too, but with a nice build to it.  The opening features Satriani doing some very pretty, gentle, almost ballady riffing with an urgency under it that builds until the whole thing just explodes.  The last three minutes feature all four guys cutting loose in a big way.

Overall, Chickenfoot is a fun listen, and suggests Satriani sounds as good if not better in a band context than he is solo.  It’s great hearing him matched up with a band that (a) can keep up with him and (b) and really knows how to build that good-time vibe, which is something that’s been missing from a lot of Satriani’s solo music – he’s a great player but some of it feels a little passionless.   The weak link here is Hagar, who still has a strong hard rock voice but whose lyrics are an unending string of ham-handed clichés.  (And that’s just the purposely goofy songs; the straight ones are worse.  The harder he tries to get us to take him seriously, the harder it gets to do so.)

This gets an A- for the music, but once you work in the Hagar factor…

Rating: B

User Rating: A



© 2009 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Redline, and is used for informational purposes only.