CMC International Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/06/2000
I've always wondered what happens when a legend in the world of heavy metal decides to start a new career. But I don't think anyone would have expected what Ross Friedman chose.
Oh - you've never heard of Friedman? Maybe you know him better as "Ross The Boss," the guitarist for Manowar during the height of their popularity in the '80s. His guitar work on tracks like "Blow Your Speakers" and "Defender" are literally worshiped in some circles.
So what's so shocking about Friedman's new band, The Spinatras? Well, it's not that they're not a metal band, and it's not surprising that their debut disc, @midnight.com, is entertaining from start to finish. It is surprising, however, to hear that this group sounds a lot like Cheap Trick - and that's the last thing I'd expect to hear from anyone who was deeply entrenched in the metal world for any time.
Friedman seems like he wants to tone down his guitar work on this disc - and it's a pleasant surprise to hear that it's an idea that works (though I would have liked to have heard some more guitar solos; often, it seems like the solo is sacrificed for the overall song). The rest of the band - vocalist Brian Corley, bassist/cellist/vocalist Ron Giordano and drummer Richie Fazio - all add their own signatures to make sure that The Spinatras is a band effort in every way possible.
What The Spinatras have in abundance is a good sense of humor, even if it's occasionally a bit of a back-handed slap against some institutions, as "Mrs. Cindy's Mom" is to the world of culture. "Dog" is a surprisingly good track about one's love for a pet that tends to go one step too far. (Censors, relax, I'm not talking about beastiality. Read the friggin' lyric sheet, and you'll know it's a joke.) Other tracks, like "Anti Depressant" and "You Like It," all take a lighter look at life in the serious lane - and "Michelle" is a letter of worship to actress Michelle Pfeiffer and the desire to just hang out with her. (Memo to Friedman: Did you ever get your wish?) And maybe this says too much about me, but "You Like It" is forever endeared to me because of the reference of farting in a sealed car. Hey, I grew up on the campfire scene in Blazing Saddles, whaddya expect?
Don't think for a minute that @midnight.com is all kicks and giggles; this is a serious pop-rock album with some catchy songs. "My World," "Ketchup" (here's a hint: it ain't about Heinz) and the title track all have the combination of skillful playing and excellent songwriting that make the listener want to hear these tracks over and over again. Yes, there's more than a splash of Cheap Trick in their sound, but I don't think that The Spinatras went out of their way to clone Rick Nielsen and crew.
The only mis-step I'd point out - and I admit this is personal taste here - is the "hard rock" version of Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages". Sorry, but I'll always prefer the Byrds's version - but even so, I'd have preferred a little more of a straight-line cover than the sped-up cover that's presented here.
@midnight.com is the kind of album that should get a lot of attention - and seeing that most people might not know Friedman by his real name, they can't be prejudiced against The Spinatras because of his metal past. If you listen to this with an open mind (and, if you happen to know Friedman's musical past, don't enter into this disc with any preconceptions), chances are you'll find this disc could well be one of the most exciting releases of the year.