Monday 4 May 2020

Cherie Currie - Blvds of Splendor (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 28 Apr 2020
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It looks like Cherie Currie, best known as the lead vocalist and pianist for the legendary Runaways, got busy last year. Even though her first solo album came out as far back as 1978, it took her until 2015 to issue a follow up, a few albums with her twin sister Marie during that period notwithstanding. It seems strange that she'd suddenly reappear with not one but two new albums, but I'm happy to see new material.

In the absence of information to the contrary, these two albums technically came out last year, but this one only as a limited edition for Record Store Day in April. I'm reviewing it on its wide release, which features another three tracks, meaning fifteen on offer instead of twelve. The other album, for those eager to hear it, is The Motivator, recorded as a partnership with Brie Darling, known for her work with Fanny and American Girls, and it did see a full release in August of last year.

To complicate that further, it seems that this album was recorded quite some time ago, with a host of major collaborators, and was originally slotted for a release in 2010, soon after the film adaptation of her autobiography, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, but that never happened and it got bounced on down the road. I could easily see the goal as being to capitalise on a good moment in time and mount a long overdue comeback, but it seems that Currie's pretty happy with a different life as an award-winning chainsaw artist.

At fifteen tracks, this is a generous release, not just because it runs over fifty minutes but because it covers the musical spectrum, presumably to give new fans and old a good idea of just how versatile she can get. The opener, Mr. X is a rocker that gets our adrenaline pumping from moment one, but then we dip into classic glam rock with Roxy Roller, move into pop punk with You Wreck Me and add electronica for Black Magic. There's a soft rock ballad, a country pop cover and a full on grunge song. Eventually there's even a bit of reggae on What Do All the People Know?

I don't have details on which musicians Currie has to back her, but I do see a number of guests. The album opener, for instance, Mr. X, does a solid job at getting our adrenaline pumping immediately, an urgent guitar leading into a perky song. I believe the band behind her is pretty much Guns n' Roses, at least Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, and the latter produced the album too. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins shows up on the title track. The closer, a cover of the Runaways classic, Queen of Noise, apparently features Australian singer/songwriter Brody Dalle, the Veronicas and, of all people, Juliette Lewis.

I also don't have details on just how many songs here are covers. Some are pretty obvious, though maybe not for listeners who might be a generation or two younger than me. Queen of Noise was the title track of the second album from the Runaways, which came out in 1977. Draggin' the Line is even older, as it's the Tommy James song from 1971. The Air That I Breathe may well be the most recognisable cover, originally recorded by Albert Hammond in 1972, but best known from the huge hit the Hollies had with it a couple of years later. Apparently Roxy Roller is a Sweeney Todd song (the Canadian band not the musical) and What Do All the People Know? is an eighties song by a band called the Monroes.

I wonder why Currie chose to cover so many songs, given that what I presume are originals sound fine, and why she chose to cover these. I wonder if her take on Draggin' the Line is a personal statement, given lyrics like "I feel fine. I'm talking peace of mind. I'm gonna take my time. I'm getting to good times." Neon Angel talks about a lot of what she went through. The Air That I Breathe is the oddest, because Allan Clarke's vocal on the Hollies version is so iconic. This is well done but it doesn't add anything.

Frankly, I prefer the originals, whether they're rockers like Mr. X; ballads like Shades, which she wrote with her son, Jake Hays; or unexpected grunge songs like Force to Be Reckoned With. It kicks in just as powerfully and in a rather similar way to Nirvana but gets quieter during the verses. Then again, Nirvana did that too. It's no rip-off, but it's another musical direction taken on an album full of them. I wonder who guested that time.

I quite liked this album and I appreciated Currie's versatility, though it's a little overdone. It surely does enough to warrant that potential comeback earlier in the decade, but I doubt that's the goal now and there's no movie in 2020 to tie it into. Now, it's a welcome release from a pioneer who has a surprisingly skimpy discography. She clearly still has what it takes and I'd have said the same thing even if none of the megastars she knows had showed up to help her out.

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