Classic Rock’s New Release Round-Up
This week we’ve got new albums from Them Crooked Vultures, Bon Jovi, Foreigner, Mastedon and Alberta Cross – plus a hot-off-the-presses autobiography from Ozzy Osbourne. Come inside for our verdicts…
First out of the bag this week is the hotly anticipated self-titled debut from the so-called supergroup featuring Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones. Of course, we’re talkin’ ’bout Them Crooked Vultures (Sony BMG). On first listen the album sounds like Grohl and Homme living the dream of their own private Rock’n’Roll Fantasy Camp. (Led Zeppelin, lest we forget, are likely the reason both men chose a musical career.) But this isn’t just mere indulgence. There’s an endlessly inventive, dizzying range of ideas here, often rammed into a single song. Zep, as you might expect, offer a kind of fixed point to proceedings, but then it’s carte blanche. Top stuff indeed.
Surprisingly, Bon Jovi’s The Circle (Mercury) isn’t as bad as we’d feared, being redeemed by some tremendous stadium rock tunes. The biggest of those – and there are several big ones – is When We Were Beautiful, but perhaps the best are a couple of (relatively) less heated moments, Fast Cars and Love’s The Only Rule. But the same ol’ problem remains. Where someone like Bruce Springsteen is able to express his feelings in a nuanced, personal manner, Jon Bon Jovi’s problem is his clodhopping way with words. Throughout The Circle, dreams are shattered, stars fall from the sky, people are pushed down and knocked around and reminded to live before they die. You know the sort of thing.
On Foreigner’s Can’t Slow Down (Rhino/Atlantic) former Hurricane/Unruly Child singer Kelly Hansen does an admirable job of filling Lou Gramm’s shoes, notably on the energetic title number and a more leisurely Living In A Dream. But at other times, such as the sultry In Pieces and the album’s first single, When It Comes To Love, he proves to be his own man. The key to the album’s validity lies with the quality of guitarist/mainman Mick Jones’ songs, written largely in tandem with Hansen and, occasionally, Aerosmith/Def Leppard hitmaker Marti Frederiksen. This record is damn good – but whether it will bring back Foreigner’s glory days is open to question.
Mastedon are led by John Elefante, who Kansas fans will remember as vocalist/keyboarist on two of the band’s albums: Vinyl Confessions (1982) and Drastic Measures (1983). Post Kansas, Elefante and his brother Tino got involved with Christian rockers Petra before forming Mastedon circa 1987. 3 (Frontiers), as the title cunningly implies, is Mastedon’s third album after It’s A Jungle Out There (1989) and Lofcaudio (1990). Nineteen years in the making, the brothers are back – and it’s been well worth the wait. In fact, there are so many highlights it’s difficult to know where to start. There are also numerous reference points – Nowhere Without Your Love recalls the best of Boston; Questions (It’s About Time) sounds like The Moody Blues play Led Zeppelin’s Tangerine; That’s What You Do is classic, keyboard-heavy Yes, albeit with Trevor Rabin instead of Steve Howe on guitar. But somehow Mastedon have a sound – better make that stomp – of their own. Better still, they’re no relation to the overrated Mastodon.
Alberta Cross are shamelessly influenced by everyone from Neil Young to Hendrix with a dash of Zeppelin thrown in for good measure, but nevertheless the quintet – who hail from Brooklyn-via-London-via-Sweden – manage to sound incredibly now. Yes, they’ve already been tagged as heirs apparent to Kings Of Leon’s throne (and, had you only heard the single Taking Control with its radio-friendly poppiness, then that’s totally understandable), but there’s far more depth to them than that. The defining hour on the band’s album Broken Side Of Time (Ark Recordings) is the title track. It slowly burns around a monstrous riff into a southern rock anthem, replete with Skynyrd-style piano refrain and guitar freakout. Highly recommended.
Finally, it’s time to get to grips with Ozzy Osbourne’s long-awaited autobiography, I Am Ozzy (Sphere). The book has been written in cahoots with a guy called Chris Ayres, who has done a noteworthy job in dredging up a decent sum of memories from his subject’s addled brain. Nevertheless, despite Ayres’s best efforts, you can’t help but feel short-changed. Ozzy’s time in Black Sabbath – his finest hour – is rattled through at a furious pace. You get little sense of the pioneering nature of this most seminal of metal bands; there’s just a host of well-worn anecdotes and complaints such as: ‘Even after our first album went gold, I never got any good-looking chicks.’ Ozzy’s befuddled likeability is ramped up to the max while his dark side is never fully explored. Like The Osbournes TV show, there’s always another pratfall just around the corner.