Chickenfoot, ‘III’ – Album Review
True to lead singer Sammy Hagar‘s recent promises, Chickenfoot‘s new album ‘III’ finds the rock supergroup expanding their sound considerably beyond the range of their slightly awkward self-titled 2009 debut.
Of course there’s a fair share of Zeppelin-inspired stomp to be had on ‘III,’ but the band also tries out a few surprisingly direct heartland-style rock songs, as well as a sultry, R&B-influenced bedtime come-on, during the record’s compact 45-minute running time.
Not everything fits together perfectly, but an impressive amount of the material connects in a very strong manner, and it’s clear that the time the band spent touring together in support of their first album has resulted in a much more cohesive sense of chemistry.
For one thing, who knew Joe Satriani could be this much fun, or fit so well into a band dynamic? Every minute you turn around on this record, the instrumental guitar whiz is up to something creative that legitimately contributes to the song in question, without ever overstaying his welcome or overshadowing his bandmates.
He heads deep into ‘Physical Graffiti’ territory on the album’s standout track, ‘Dubai Blues.’ As Hagar lays it on extra-thick, even for him, in the role of a lovestruck billionaire sheik, Satriani busts out an ever-evolving series of funk-heavy hard rock riffs while bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Chad Smith percolate away in double-time underneath. As the song builds to it’s impressively complex and compelling climax, you realize Chickenfoot won’t easily be swept under the rug when the mighty Van Halen returns to the airwaves.
It’s now extra-interesting that Chickenfoot chose former John Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff as Smith’s temporary replacement on drums, because a few of these songs — album closer ‘Something Gone Wrong,’ the impressively textured and touching ‘Different Devil,’ and to a lesser degree, the straight-ahead guitar-pop of ‘Alight’ — abandon hard rock convention altogether in favor of the more rootsy, country and blues-influenced sound of songs like ‘Paper in Fire’ and ‘Check it Out.’
By far the biggest, and most successful stretch on the record, though, is the flat-out soulful, world-weary romantic plea ‘Come Closer.’ It features perhaps the slinkiest bass line ever from Anthony, and an subtle, exotic and hypnotic chorus guitar figure from Satriani. Hagar demonstrates a natural, impressive confidence in his weathered but not weakened voice as he begs his partner to make time for him during their busy days.
What about the rock, you say? It’s covered. If you’re reading this, you’ve most likely already fallen for ‘Big Foot.’ Well, he’s got a couple of worthy brothers on ‘III,’ most notably the twisting riffs and gang-shouted vocals of ‘Up Next,’ and the Deep Purple-referencing introduction and “can’t wait to see it live” breakdown of ‘Lighten Up.’
There are some slight sour notes. The rhythm section builds up a big head of steam (think ‘Pleasure Dome‘) as Hagar reads letters from victims of the economic decline on the verses of ‘Three and a Half Letters,’ but the simplistic chorus doesn’t drive the message home as convincingly. Also, for the second time Chickenfoot opens with less than their most melodically-grabbing tune, in this case the lurching but slightly clunky ‘Last Temptation.’
Regardless, overall Chickenfoot’s ‘III’ finds a creative and hungry group of experienced and talented musicians making a loose and surprisingly wide-ranging album full of songs that we can’t wait to see performed live.