chris cornell

Playlist: August 2015

KADAVAR, “Last Living Dinosaur” (2015)

Did you feel that? That was the earth rattling beneath your feet. Kadavar’s third album, Berlin, was released this month and it’s a wonderfully meaty slab of riffing, roaring rock ‘n’ roll, and while it doesn’t have the immediate charms of their debut it’s a lot better and tighter than previous album Abra Kadavar. “Last Living Dinosaur” is an early highlight that sets the pattern with a simple but infectious riff riding a terrific, headbanging groove. The vocals are a little murky in the mix, though, which makes the lyrics difficult to hear – an ongoing issue I have with Kadavar albums – but regardless it’s a great little number.

BLUES PILLS, “High Class Woman” (2014)

I took a trip out to Liverpool recently to see Blues Pills perform at the O2 Academy 2. I’ll tell you something: these guys are something else. Guitarist Dorian Sorriaux might be young but he’s already on another level of playing, not just in terms of skill but the sheer electric atmosphere he conjures in a crowded room, and if you thought Elin Larsson kills it on record, wait till you see her on stage. Weird venue, though, the Academy: the floor in front of the stage was raised slightly, so half the time I could barely see the band over a sea of silhouetted heads.

Anyway, I thought I’d revisit their debut album, released last year, while I was at it. I put it at #4 in my Top Albums of 2014 list back in December and, despite the samey-ness of some of the bluesier songs, I think it deserves to keep that spot, partly on the sheer trippy thrills of opener “High Class Woman”. They opened the gig with this as well, the band transcending the restraint of the recorded version and pulling it apart into what felt like a fifteen-minute storm of psychedelic electricity (psychedelictricity?). The record gave me a glimpse of their Sixties influence and that performance took me right back in time to the decade. If you haven’t already, go check them out live.

BUCKCHERRY, “The Madness” (2015)

This isn’t the first song to be released from Buckcherry’s new album, Rock ‘n’ Roll. That would be “Bring It On Back,” but I decided not to include that in a playlist because I haven’t yet decided whether I like it or whether it’s the worst lead single Buckcherry have ever released. It’s not bad, I guess. It’s just so average that I have nothing to say about it.

“The Madness” is a little better. It’s faster, certainly, which always works in their favour, with a touch of menace conveyed by those descending chords in the riff, and the rhythm is just the right tempo and beat to stomp your feet and bang your head to, provided you’ve downed enough Stellas in preparation. The verses aren’t too memorable but the chorus is pure Buckcherry, striking the neat balance between rock rawness and pop infectiousness of their last great album, 15.

RUBY THE HATCHET, “Heavy Blanket” (2015)

A recent discovery for me and one I’m thoroughly glad I made, Philadephia stoner/doom rockers Ruby the Hatchet released their second album, Valley of the Snake, back in February. The album immediately grabbed me with opening track “Heavy Blanket”, a massive, groovy and insanely catchy number that sets the bar high straight away. The fuzzy marching guitar riff is accented nicely by the electric organ, but it’s Jillian Taylor’s haunting and strangely soothing vocals that take the charge. A lot of bands in this genre go for a more sinister, ominous sound (Mount Salem comes to mind), but there’s something wonderfully warm about Ruby the Hatchet’s approach that makes for an epic and psychedelic journey that would fit both dark and sunny days.

CLUTCH, “X-Ray Visions” (2015)

Remember in last month’s Playlist when I said that Jackaman’s “You Can’t Take Back” was my favourite song of 2015 and that it was going to take something “extraordinary” to replace it? Well, I think I might have found it. The song wastes very little time with its opening, pounding chords before bounding right into a raging, rip-snorting blinder of a heavy rock tune. The Earth Rocker template of no-nonsense riffage is very much in place, but seeing as it’s the template that arguably brought Clutch back to relevance in the rock community I don’t fault them one bit for sticking with it. The chorus is surprisingly catchy but it’s Neil Fallon’s glorious bellow that sells it for me, riding that galloping riff like a Norman warrior charging across the field of Hastings on his majestic steed. Fun with a capital F-U to anybody who thinks otherwise.

GRAVEYARD, “The Apple and the Tree” (2015)

Hm. Well, this is certainly a change of pace. The Seventies vibes are still there in the ringing guitar and cooing backing vocals, so this is still unmistakably Graveyard, but even the moodier, mellower Lights Out wasn’t as laidback as “The Apple and the Tree”. Joakim Nilsson takes a very different approach to his vocals on this track, too, opting for something approaching spoken word rather than his usual, glorious bluesy bluster (which, to be fair, does come in towards the end of the song). I don’t mind it too much, but Graveyard work best when they’re either conjuring an atmosphere or kicking up a storm, neither of which I hear going on here. Yeah, yeah, I know, “musical evolution”, but if that means sacrificing the strong melodies that make listening to this band such a joy then I don’t want any of it.

IRON MAIDEN, “Speed of Light” (2015)

The new Iron Maiden album, The Book of Souls, has been getting extremely warm early press, as has lead single “Speed of Light.” At first listen, though, I’m not sure how I feel about this. The opening riff has promise but the verses feel a little off to me, though the chorus is tremendously catchy and feels a lot like classic Iron Maiden – perhaps a little too much, actually. I also have to give credit to the dual guitar solo, which isn’t just a great bit of noodling but also comes off as a dead ringer for Thin Lizzy’s signature sound (which puts Maiden in with The Sword and The Strypes for bands taking a more-than-generous dose of Lizzy influence recently).

People are calling this one of the best Maiden singles in years but I’m not quite hearing it. I do like it but  there are parts that feel a little too Maiden-by-numbers for my tastes. It’s also caused a weird number of people to start dumping unceremoniously on 2010’s “El Dorado“, which personally I think is a far better and more interesting song than “Speed of Light.” Kudos to Bruce Dickinson, though, for still delivering the goods with a then-undiagnosed tumour on his tongue.

CHRIS CORNELL, “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart” (2015)

We all remember Chris Cornell’s last venture as a solo artist, right? Or has your brain deleted those memories to save you the grief? Well, it’s been six years now since Scream and… this, and one Soundgarden reunion later Cornell is back with a new solo album, Higher Truth. It’s said to be mostly acoustic, so already we can see a different direction being moved in here, but it also helps that the song is just so freaking lovely. The guitar is gentle but crisp and sharp while Cornell’s voice is as commanding as ever, albeit with its new husky tone, but the song’s strengths lie in its folksy swagger and simple, Beatlesesque melody, resulting in probably my favourite Cornell solo song since “Mission“. Terrific stuff.

SHINEDOWN, “Black Cadillac” (2015)

You might recall my gripe about “Cut the Cord”, the lead single from Shinedown’s new album Threat to Survival, in last month’s Playlist and how I worried it was going to set the precedent for the album. Well, thankfully that fear has been assuaged by new song “Black Cadillac”, a complete departure from not only the rap-rock of “Cut the Cord” but the typical Shinedown sound in general. The electric organ, Brent Smith’s spacey vocals and the thumping drums all cry change for what ends up being a moody but weirdly uplifting song, a little like Slash’s “Back from Cali“. I’m actually having a trouble coming up with a reference for this style they’ve gone with, though. I know I’ve heard it done before but I can’t put a name to it, so for now let’s call it “space cowboy homesick honky-tonk.”

In all honesty I wish they hadn’t released this as a preview track. That’s not a comment on its quality… well, actually it is, but in the best sense, because this is such a cool departure for Shinedown I kinda wish I’d been able to discover this as I listened through the album for the first time.

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Playlist: May 2015

W.A.S.P., “Babylon’s Burning” (2009)

W.A.S.P. have been talking about their new album, Golgotha, for a while now and it looks like it might finally see the light of day this summer. I’ve really been digging W.A.S.P. recently and, although my focus has been largely confined to those first five albums, I’ve heard good things about their last LP, 2009’s Babylon. For some confounded reason the album is now out-of-print, despite only being six years old, but the video to its lead single is still available on YouTube. Every time I hear it I’m reminded that W.A.S.P. never really deviated too far from their OTT metal sound, which for many I presume is a sticking point. As someone who hugely enjoys that sound, though, I’m fine with this. The band are tight, Blackie’s sounding great… it’s all good.

MILLION DOLLAR RELOAD, “Roll the Dice” (2015)

Million Dollar Reload holed themselves up in Rockfield Studios (in Wales, boyo!) for what we were originally told was an EP, but given that the band hasn’t released a new studio record in three years I’m hoping they might have changed their minds in the meantime and put together enough material for a full LP. The L.A. Guns-style hard rock template is still in place but the addition of piano to the band’s sound really expands the music nicely as well as adding to the sense of drive, making for a rollicking little number that promises good things for the upcoming release, whatever it turns out to be. Plus if you like the song yourself you can download it for free from their website here.

FAITH NO MORE, “Superhero” (2015)

So that new Faith No More album finally came out. As I expected in my post about the announcement from last year it largely expands on the moodier sounds of their last record, 1997’s Album of the Year, but to call it a direct progression wouldn’t be doing it justice at all. There’s some great stuff on here, particularly “Separation Anxiety”, “Cone of Shame”, “Matador” and this song, “Superhero”, which stands as one of the punchier cuts on an album of dark and sombre textures. It fits in well here but it could have also slotted in nicely on their 1992 masterstroke Angel Dust, which is always a good sign.

QUEENSRŸCHE, “Jet City Woman” (1990)

I’ve made up my mind: this is going to be the first song at my wedding. Sorry, future bride. You can have the rest of the playlist to put in whatever disco hits from yesteryear you want the in-laws to shift about to on the social club dancefloor but we’re kicking off proceedings with this. If gran wants KC and the Sunshine Band then gran can wait.

HALESTORM, “I Like It Heavy” (2015)

The first in a quartet of tracks in this playlist where my prevailing sentiment has been “hm.” I talked about Halestorm’s new album in last month’s playlist but its vaguely pop-rock direction is still bugging me, particularly this closing song. It has enough of the trademarks of bro-country, like a cod-Southern stomp and inane lyrics that namedrop “big bass drums” and veteran artists for no good reason, to raise red flags in my head. In fact I half-expect Lzzy Hale to start dropping rhymes about sun tans, dirt roads, tail gating and Daisy Dukes any minute. It could also do without that weird bit at the end where Hale waffles on about being taken to church (but it’s a church of rawk, or something). It’s still one of the best songs on the album and I still enjoy it immensely – how could anyone not? It’s catchy as sin – but I’m no less bugged.

ART OF ANARCHY, “Small Batch Whiskey” (2015)

I’m torn on this – not just the song but Art of Anarchy in general. It’s a “supergroup” similar to last year’s White Appice Mendoza Iggy project, though instead of one famously self-destructive singer and one guy from Guns N’ Roses backed by a bunch of nameless hands, that project featured as its talents a trio of highly competent veteran session musicians as well as a young rising talent. So naturally that project sank without a trace while this one rides its little wave of controversy all the way to… well, wherever it’s going.

In fairness I don’t mind this song. It’s got a decent grind to it and Bumblefoot puts in some good guitar work but Scott Weiland just sounds bored, which does tie in with his out-and-out rejection of this band. I do like that album artwork, though. Couldn’t tell you why, just do. In fact I might pick the album up sometime just for that.

THE STRYPES, “Eighty-Four” (2015)

The Strypes released another EP this month, Flat Out, and the two new studio songs it features (alongside a cover of M5’s “Kick Out the Jams”) are softer, smoother and more melodic than their previous material, which kinda worries me. I like The Strypes for their rowdy, throwback rhythm and blues sound, not whatever this is trying to be. We have enough faceless indie bands aping The Replacements right now. I do like the funky bass work, even if it is a little derivative of Arctic Monkeys’ earlier work, and the chorus is certainly infectious, so overall I’d give it a thumbs up. They’ve also got a new album, Little Victories, coming out in July and I anticipate there’ll be some rawer material on there. I still worry, though – if they’re not careful they run the risk of turning into the Vaccines, and nobody wants that.

ZAC BROWN BAND, “Heavy is the Head” (feat. Chris Cornell) (2015)

I don’t know what to make of this. I’m not a country guy so I’ve never really given the Zac Brown Band too much attention, but it seems the guy’s trying to appeal to people like me with his/their new album, Jekyll + Hyde, which from what I gather is a strange mixture of country, alt-rock and dancier tunes. This is the big scratchy alt-rock number of the album – they even finagled the mighty Chris Cornell into doing some vocal work – and honestly it isn’t too bad. The initial triumvirate of distorted bass, climbing riff and Cornell’s vocal hook is admittedly sick (I also really appreciate the Soundgarden-esque shifting time signature), while Brown has a decent stab at playing the rocker, but ultimately something about it doesn’t quite click for me. And yet I couldn’t count how many times I’ve listened to it this month. Weird, that. It’s almost as if you can criticise a piece of art while still earnestly enjoying it. Anybody mind telling the rest of the internet about this breakthrough?

WOLFMOTHER, “Colossal” (2006)

I find it strange that Wolfmother were criticised for openly displaying their heavy Sabbath/Zeppelin influences back when they first hit the scene, even though nowadays everybody in rock music is doing that and nobody cares. I mean, how did it turn out that a band with such a “retro” sound made the mistake of being too ahead of their time?

Anyway, Wolfmother have been writing their fourth album recently with plans to put it out on Universal later this year after the independently-released New Crown hit Bandcamp and iTunes back in 2014. I’m not sure how much good that’ll do them – after all I was one of the three people who bought Stockdale’s 2013 solo album Keep Moving, which was also a Universal release – but if it means they can start rebuilding a wider audience then I’m all for it. Let’s just hope they can write more songs like this instead of the raw stoner jams that characterised New Crown. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed those jams, but they still can’t beat the craft, the fullness and the epic scale of that first album.

STEREOPHONICS, “C’est La Vie” (2015)

The ‘Phonics recently announced that their latest album, Keep the Village Alive, will be released this September. It’s their ninth studio record and first since 2013’s Graffiti on the Train, hopefully returning them to their classic biennial release schedule, as well as their second album whose title begins with “keep” after 2009’s Keep Calm and Carry On. This is the lead single and it’s probably the loosest, most fun thing they’ve put to plastic in quite some time.

NOTE: The song starts about a minute into the video, so just skip past that douchey Welsh bloke and enjoy.

ROBIN ZANDER, “Say You Will” (2011)

I finally got around to “locating” Robin Zander’s mysterious second solo album Countryside Blvd., an album that was out for a whopping two days in April 2011 before it was pulled from sale. Why? Nobody knows. Well, maybe Zander and his management do. It has more of a country sound than his previous solo record, released nearly twenty years earlier, and this is one of the livelier songs on what is, as it turns out, a rather lethargic set of music.