Chickenfoot – Chickenfoot
June 5, 2009 (Best Buy Exclusive)
Victim of Loudness War? Yes
While most of them look extremely promising on paper, modern-day rock supergroups usually prove to be a letdown. The whole is never greater than the sum of its parts and the various styles and personalities involved never seem to fully mesh into a cohesive unit (Audioslave, Velvet Revolver, Army of Anyone). So, when it was announced that former Van Halen band mates Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony were teaming up with guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani and funkified drum extraordinaire Chad Smith, the excitement of the prospect was certainly blended with some apprehension. After all, the four came from some seriously varied stylistic backgrounds, ones that wouldn’t be considered for combination despite their collectively residing under the rock umbrella. Luckily, the four went ahead with the plan anyway, bestowing Chickenfoot upon the listening public.
Don’t get carried away, though. Chickenfoot is not a perfect album, but that often proves to be part of its charm. In a band comprised of four of rock music’s most key players, it’s nice to see they’re not afraid to fall on their face once or twice throughout the proceedings. Listeners have come to expect Joe Satriani’s guitar playing to be flawless, especially on a studio recording. But here, Satriani lets some of the warts remain, which provides a much more suitable backdrop for the ever-gritty voice of Sammy Hagar. Otherwise, songs like “Sexy Little Thing” and “Soap On a Rope” might not have the raw, spontaneous musical backdrop it takes to carry off some of Hagar’s often-silly lyrical lines (“I got a woman, she fine too/Let me do anything that I wanna do/Got it all, still want more/Come on, baby, show me what I’m lookin’ for” from the latter, for example).
But the real magic of Chickenfoot comes when the band hits the mark. When these four giants are on, they are on, a fact which is evidenced on such thrilling tracks as “Down the Drain.” Allegedly recorded in one take of a spontaneous in-studio jam, the track features one of Satriani’s meanest riffs to date, smothered with a snarling vocal line from Hagar. It’s tracks like “Down the Drain” that make the whole project worthwhile, showcasing not only the individual but the collective talent of the band. In fact, if the entire album relied on the improvisational, off-the-cuff approach used on this track, the album would certainly rank as a masterpiece.
That’s not to say that Chickenfoot isn’t enjoyable when more calculated. After all, it’s hard to ignore such great tracks as “Learning to Fall” and “Future In the Past,” which also include great guitar lines and convincing vocal deliveries. But their sound is more akin to Satriani’s solo work – precise, pristine and without any bumps in the road. Hopefully after a few months on the road supporting this release, some of Hagar’s looser sensibilities will rub off on Satriani’s approach within this setting and get him playing a little further from safe on the next release.
And that’s the key thing: Chickenfoot leaves the listener wanting more from the band. While most supergroups can’t hold either the listener’s or their own attention for more than one record, Chickenfoot seems to have the potential, passion and collective admiration to keep the momentum going well into the future. That’s what makes it easy to overlook their flaws – you don’t get the feeling that this is a cash grab or a half-hearted attempt at relevancy. As is the case with the more successful supergroups, Chickenfoot is a genuine article, formed out a desire to make music they care about. If they were in it for a buck, Chickenfoot would be blatantly obvious. But they’re not in it for the money, they’re in it for the music – and hopefully there’s much more of that to come.
– Ian Rice
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