Chickenfoot – III (2011)

Posted: September 20, 2011 in Music
Tags: , , , ,

When Chickenfoot released its first record in 2009, it pretty much snuck up on the world. There wasn’t much advance notice given that the ‘supergroup’ had even formed – let alone had an album release. It didn’t take long for the band to start making some noise with fans and critics alike, but – honestly – it would have been pretty hard for them to miss. After all, there are ‘supergroups’, and then there’s Chickenfoot. You know the names – Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony, and Chad Smith – but what you might not know is how well these rock gods pulled it off. The 2009 self-titled release reached ‘gold’ status, and peaked at #4 on the Billboard album charts. Considering the lack of respect hard rock gets these days, both those statistics are pretty astonishing.

The band toured hard after the release, and while many suspected the album was potentially a ‘one-off’ project with a short shelf life, the fans came out in droves to see them. And with good reason. The album was a fine piece of work, but the live show was something special.

On top of all that, however, something even more important happened during the band’s touring – they became a band. A real band. Sure, they have a hell of a time getting together and jamming, but since the first album, the band has steadily meshed together into one of the most cohesive units in rock. A unit that treats each other like family. There are, surprisingly, no egos battling back and forth. Instead, the cement that holds Chickenfoot together is based on respect, companionship and trust.

So much trust that the band allowed Smith to return to his day gig drumming with the Red Hot Chili Peppers to tour in support of their new album, I’m With You. Smith tracked all the drums for III, but will be replaced – temporarily – with Kenny Aronoff (who drummed for John Mellencamp and John Fogerty). Instead of this causing drama and rumors, Hagar and Satch simply wished Smith the best on his tour and maintained a ‘see ya soon’ attitude.

This ‘brotherhood’ is even improving the band. In the early recording stages of the new record, III, Satriani approached Hagar with an unusual request. “I want to hear you sing differently,” he told Sammy. “You have light and shades to your voice that have never been on record. I want to hear you do new things.”

Usually this type of request would create a rift in a band, but not here. Instead, Hagar accepted the challenge and upped the ante with his own request. “You’ve got to bring it too, Joe. I want to hear you play guitar like you never have.” With a handshake, the two agreed – and the end result shows both lived up to their end of the bargain.

III – which is actually only the band’s second album – has all members firing on all cylinders. The songs have taken a more serious – and more expansive – approach and could easily vault Chickenfoot to the top of the hard rock scene. In a day and age where most of the leaderboard has been releasing ‘watered-down’ versions of their former selves, Hagar and company opted for a more aggresive, fist-pounding effort. And the results are damn good.

The album opens with “Last Temptation” – a Hagar-heavy stomp that incorporates a blues-rock vibe. You can’t help but immediately notice the lyrical improvement over the last album, as well as a better structure. Where the first album felt more like a ‘feeling-out’ process, III shows instant signs that the band has pulled it together a bit tighter this time around.

“Alright Alright” is a more stripped-down party rocker, but don’t let the easy demeanor fool you – it’s one of the album’s stronger tracks. What I like here (and through most of these tracks) is the absolute lack of any type of Van Halen sound. Considering the ‘familiarity’ of Hagar and Anthony’s harmonized vocals from time to time, it had to be difficult to not fall in to the trap of writing OU812-styled songs along the way – but Hagar manages to steer clear of it with ease.

Sammy has always had a soft-spot for the slower tracks. Even his solo albums from decades past had the obligatory mid-tempo track or two. “Different Devil” fits this criteria, and showcases Hagar’s vocals while the rest of the band churns along with a dedicated hush. Sammy sounds as strong as ever, and the perfectly-placed instrumental accents have ‘radio-success’ written all over this bad boy.

It’s Satch’s turn to shine in “Up Next,” as he fires off an introductory riff, and never really lets up throughout the track. Lyrically, the song has an interesting take. Hagar gives his laid-back opinion on the afterlife, showing up to the pearly gates with “swimsuit on, flip-flops and a pair of shades.” The track is one of those best of both worlds scenarios – you can either rock out to the infectious music or delve deep into the lyrics and get a different experience altogether. It’s magic.

The Satriani show continues in “Lighten Up,” but this time the shred-master takes things to the next level. Joe has always been considered on of the top dogs around – and this track proves his bite is still as sharp as his bark. Every turn gives us another trick, another effect, or another face-melting solo. It’s no-holds barred guitar rock, and even Hagar seems to side-step a bit to let the dog howl.

So far, the album has been incredibly on target, so I’ll consider the lackluster “Come Closer” as more of an intermission than anything else. It’s a syrupy ballad that really doesn’t bring much to the table other than a respite from the first half of the album that killed it and an introduction to the second part of the album that – believe it or not – is even better.

I’m usually not big on ‘message’ songs, but “Three And A Half Letters” tugged at me a little more than usual. With unemployment in the U.S. at an all-time high, Sammy essentially reads letters (presumably sent to him) from a myriad of people in different situations but all needing help. The poignancy of the lyrics is only amplified by Hagar’s angry vocals – and it’s a perfect tale of just how fucked up our country really is.

After such a serious tone, “Big Foot” adds just the right amount of touch of playfulness to lighten the mood. Chances are you’ve seen this video on the internet or heard this song on the radio, as it is working its way close to the top of the charts as I type this. It’s a funky number that slams its foot down as the most bombastic track on the disc. Thick bass and guitars accompany a sexy drumline and solid vocal harmonies. It’s best served loud, so roll the windows down and crank it up while the weather still allows.

The pinnacle of this album comes late in the session, as “Dubai Blues” is easily the best song on the album, and just goes to show you how big of a monster can be created when four awesome rockers put their heads together. Every aspect here is bigger-than-life. Pissing-matches like this usually end in disaster, with one part trying to smother the others, but it comes off as powerful here and nothing else. Everyone gets their turn, and the balance is rich and heavy. It’s got a sexy swagger to it, and my guess is you’ll be coming back to this track first on repeat listens.

The album’s wrap-up comes in the form of “Something Going Wrong.” It’s a little Zeppelin, a little Eric Clapton, and a lot of 70s-infused blues/rock. It builds itself from a slowed-down intro into a steady rock tempo that is highlighted by a intricate Satch solo and some great backing vocals from Anthony. It’s middle-of-the-pack as far as the rest of the album goes, but it stands tall as a song built right – from start to finish. If you need a reminder of what great rock songs ‘used’ to sound like, this provides that legitimate refresher.

From a ‘start-to-finish’ perspective, this album is as good as it gets. Each track had its perfect place, and the full experience was unmatched. There won’t be a better ‘rock’ album release like this for a very long time, so do yourself a favor and get on board. If you don’t believe me, believe the Red Rocker

“It’s the best record Ive ever been a part of,” Hagar says unashamedly. “Songwriting-wise, playing-wise, we reached a level I’ve hoped was possible. There’s nothing this band can’t do. I’m convinced of it.”

And after listening to III, so am I…

9.5/10

Tracklist:
01. Last Temptation
02. Alright Alright
03. Different Devil
04. Up Next
05. Lighten Up
06. Come Closer
07. Three And a Half Letters
08. Big Foot
09. Dubai Blues
10. Something Going Wrong

Buy at Amazon

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