Sunday, October 2, 2011

III - Chickenfoot - 2011

God bless Sammy Hagar. The man never stops. Van Halen and Montrose's best albums behind him (not to mention a slew of solid solo slabs), he has continued to crank out unapologetically big and loud rock and roll regardless of what happens to be en vogue at any given moment. And kudos to Michael Anthony, Joe Satriani and Chad Smith for going along for the ride as together they have created what, at the moment, may be the only big American rock and roll band standing that remains absolutely invulnerable to subgenre trappings.  Only their cross-pond cousins, Black Country Communion, offer a nearly identical trajectory and comparable discography.

While Chickenfoot denies any significance of the naming conventions surrounding III, their second album, one may suspect that IV (its working title) may have been too close to Zeppelin legend for comfort (territory they've wandered dangerously near before) and that II may have drawn the same comparisons  - or with Van Halen's own '79 triumph. III instead seems to me at once a sign that, in a Traveling Wilburys sense, the band is not taking themselves too seriously while also poking fun at Eddie and Alex's own '98 disaster, a record that Chickenfoot's own III eclipses in every possible way (not that it would have been difficult for any band to do so). III successfully builds upon 2009's eponymous debut, expanding its sound and further cementing this supergroup as a bona fide band.

III offers no surprises aside from how swimmingly big, dumb, fun rock can still succeed and, more importantly, connect. This is all testosterone and muscular swagger that knows exactly what it is and where it belongs from four guys each smarter than the subject matter. They know exactly how far to push the envelope, delivering a high-quality, hook-soaked record that neither insults nor flies over the head of all possible fringes of its potential fanbase.

Sammy is Sammy and delivers exactly what you'd expect vocal-wise (and, unfortunately, lyric-wise), having not lost any power in his pipes at all. Michael Anthony continues his role as the perennial stoic sideman and, beyond bass, offers backing vocals and harmonies that, in my opinion, brought more to Van Halen than blindly loyal fans may ever be willing to admit. Chad Smith is a powerhouse, plain and simple, leaving Joe Satriani with the most to prove, oddly. Satch demonstrated his ability to step back from interstellar solo wizard on Chickenfoot and even more so on III shows that he can function flawlessly in a group setting and distill that magic into chunky riffs and leads that leave the listener dazzled as opposed to dizzied.

III is full of rockers and anthems, with "Last Temptation," "Different Devil" and "Up Next" all infused with what seems to be infinite replayability and destined for the Chickenfoot best-of I dream we'll see after another four or five records across the next decade. Where it falters, as usual, is in Sammy's lack of lyrical prowess and hamfisted efforts at sincerity, political commentary and connection with the common man all fall flat on "Three and a Half Letters," "Dubai Blues" and "Something Going Wrong," distracting from the uncanny fusion this foursome have cultivated and ultimately killing momentum on the album's second half, buoyed only by the kick-off single "Big Foot."

All in all, though, Chickenfoot III is fun. That simple. Where current heavy rock is either gloriously complex and original or ridiculously, soullessly rubber stamped, Chickenfoot offer a straightforward, accomplished alternative. There's not deep insight to be gained from dissection and analysis apart from the louder it is, the better it sounds and, based at the volume I've been keeping this mother cranked to, it sounds just fine.

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