Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 8 Feb 2019
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I remember, back when tribute bands were a new concept, some people threw a standard negative put down: "Why can't they play their own music?" Beyond failing to acknowledge the point of tribute bands, those people also missed the fact that many musicians they saw in tribute bands did indeed play their own music in the sort of struggling groups that people like them couldn't be bothered to see live because they hadn't heard of them. Hello, you negative feedback loop, you!
I point this out because Stripwired are a band who absolutely play their own music, but they grew out of a successful tribute band who have performed for almost two decades. Their name, Back in Black, gives away that influence in no uncertain terms and you won't be shocked to discover that this Stripwired album sounds very much like AC/DC in every way but, as pastiches go, this is a pretty good one.
Of course, given that naysayers (probably the same ones) would decry AC/DC for making every one of their songs sound the same, the challenge here for Stripwired is to pastiche their style without falling prey to that routine criticism. They do about as well on that front as they could, their target here being Brian Johnson era-AC/DC but with a neat ending in Big Bob Steel, in which Stripwired turn back the clock even further and Caperna aims for Bon Scott instead. It's Big Balls-style double entendre all over again.
There are ten tracks before that, each of which could have made it onto an eighties AC/DC album. They're riff-driven throughout, of course, because an AC/DC pastiche without memorable riffs would be pointless. There are plenty here, at least a couple per track, courtesy of guitarists Michael Mroz and Ramiro Noriega, so that vocalist Darren Caperna has something to sing over. Sheldon Conrad gets a few bass intros with Ken Schiumo accompanying on drums, so everyone gets their moment.
Lyrically, they're as ruthlessly generic as AC/DC always were. Expect songs about drinking, songs about raising hell and songs about cheating. Of course there are songs about sex, couched in the expected double entendres. It's probably fair to say that you can imagine the entire set of lyrics just from the song titles. What do you think Back Door is going to be about? Or Drop the Bomb? Or Raise Your Glass? The only real surprise is that Run gets a little more rude than I expected with its chorus of "She's a crazy bitch, you'd better turn and run." But, given the history of AC/DC lyrics, that's hardly surprising.
The good news is that there aren't any bad songs here, because everything is enjoyable, even on a second or third time through. The bad news, if you can call it that, is that there's only really one standout track. Usually, AC/DC can be relied to knock out two or three classics per album, even on a weaker release.
Here, the one classic is The Underdogs, which has a particularly strong but patient riff to build everything off. It adds a memorable solo, a gorgeous slowdown and a fantastic swell towards the finalé reminiscent of the end of For Those About to Rock (We Salute You), with catchy lead vocals, escalating backing vocals and wailing guitar all combining joyously.
If you're one of those tribute band naysayers I mentioned at the beginning, this ought to be the standard response. If you don't want to pay to see Back in Black, because they don't play their own music, then shell out your money to see Stripwired instead. They do and they do it well.