Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Chickenfoot Puts The Foot Down
Chickenfoot released their self-titled debut album on Friday June 5th, 2009. It all started as a casual jam session between Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony in post-Van Halen bliss, and drummer Chad Smith during a hiatus from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They called up guitar legend Joe Satriani to join the fun, and this album is the culmination of the inspiring sessions.
Hagar, Anthony, and Satriani had previously united for what would have been Planet Us, a supergroup including Neal Schon and Dean Castronovo of Journey. The project was terminated when the Van Halen brothers invited Sammy and Michael to record new tracks for a beefed-up hits collection and tour in support of the release. Planet Us only made a few appearances and recorded only two tracks, "Vertigo" and "Peeping Through A Hole". Vertigo was considered for the first Spiderman film before being turned down by Sony for being too heavy. Both tracks were renamed and included on Hagar's "Cosmic Universal Fashion" album which came years later.
Leading up to the release of the album, which was originally slated for June 9th then moved to June 5th and dubbed "Foot Day" by the band, a preview of every track was available on Facebook in a series called "The 12 Days of Chickenfoot". In each installment, a new track was previewed after each member discussed their take on its sound and conception. The slow reveal process used by the band was genius, giving fans just enough to wet their appetite and keep the buzz strong.
The album opens with Satriani tooling around on the guitar, leading into opening track "Avenida Revolution" which was written about people crossing the border. It's a good track but for me it's the second track, "Soap On A Rope", that really opens things up and shows what these guys can do and I feel it would have made a better opener. The agenda is clear from the start: upbeat, fast, loud rock and it keeps its pace all the way through the first eight tracks, including "Oh Yeah!", "Sexy Little Thing" and "Down The Drain" which are my favorite tracks on the album. After the onslaught of steady rock, things slow down for "Learning To Fall" which Sammy considers the best love song he's ever written. The song is about learning to love again after being burned and it's a good track with a guitar solo that is signature Satriani. However, I think Sammy made far better ballads with Van Halen and with the kind of chemistry they have on the early tracks, a ballad seems out of place on this album. They bring the rock back with "Turnin' Left", which is made for the road and features fast chunky picking on the guitar with an aggressive vibe. They end the album with "Future In The Past", a track that starts as a ballad but gains speed quickly. It's the only track that features some funk influence from Smith's regular gig. In the song, the band claims to be "savin' the best for last" but that's hardly the case as most of the early tracks are the standouts.
This is truly a collaborative effort and each member's talents are put right out front on every track on this album. The vocal harmonies between Hagar and Anthony are stronger on this album than they were on any Van Halen album. Chad Smith may be known for the funk-laden rock he produces with Red Hot Chili Peppers but he is a hard rock drummer to the core and it shows in full force. Chad and Michael lay a solid foundation upon which Satriani unleashes his collaborative genius which has been hidden until now. As a solo instrumental artist, Joe has released an impressive catalog of perfectly layered music with very few vocal tracks that stands on its own. To hear him lend his style to a project like this will open many eyes. Unlike Roth, who failed to move on after Van Halen and hung on to every chance to revisit the past, Hagar has never stopped making music and at 61 he sounds better than ever. Sammy Hagar is the Energizer bunny of rock and shows no signs of slowing down.
It's an unfortunate pattern that most "supergroups" follow as they fizzle out after a couple of releases, Damn Yankees and Velvet Revolver being prime examples with two albums each. Audioslave gave us three albums although I think the middle one is a throwaway. Typically, these unions are formed as an escape when creative differences get in the way and some members need to do their own thing. I'm hoping that we'll get at least one more album from Chickenfoot, which Sammy has already alluded to. For now we have this great album to enjoy and with any luck we can see the guys when they "put the foot down" on tour. The current setlist is pretty exclusive to Chickenfoot material and a few covers including "Bad Motor Scooter" from Sammy's Montrose era. According to reports, the setlist may open up to include songs from each member's resume.
I give this album "nine on a ten scale" and it ranks among my top 3 favorite albums in the supergroup genre along with Audioslave's debut and the one album released by Temple Of The Dog, both groups featuring Soundgarden's Chris Cornell on vocals. Sammy once compared the strength of Chickenfoot's music to that of Led Zeppelin; until Zep reunites I think Chickenfoot is the next best thing.