Tuesday 29 December 2020

Enuff Z'Nuff - Brainwashed Generation (2020)

Country: USA
Style: Power Pop
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 10 Jul 2020
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I've always had a soft spot for Enuff Z'nuff, who are still struggling three decades on against many of us thinking that they're a hair metal band. They aren't and never really were, however it seemed back in 1989 when they put out their first album. They prefer us to call what they do power pop and it's not easy to disagree with that because it's getting completely obvious. The bands that spring to mind as I listen to this aren't Poison, Guns n' Roses or Faster Pussycat, even if they'll be touring with the latter next yer. They're Cheap Trick, ELO, Queen and, at the root of the band's sound, the Beatles.

The hardest rocker here is Drugland Weekend, which chugs along nicely and features a powerful solo I believe comes courtesy of Ace Frehley. He's certainly here somewhere, as are drummers Mike Portnoy and Daxx Nielsen, son of Rick and touring member of Cheap Trick in his own right. Original guitarist Donnie Vie is here too, albeit only on one song, which I believe is Strangers in My Head, so this really isn't a reunion for the fans to leap too hard towards, even if it's a start.

The band nowadays are founder member Chip Z'nuff on bass and, as of 2016, lead vocals, with a trio of other musicians who are much more recent acquisitions. Lead guitarist Tory Stoffregen has a decade with the band, albeit in two stints. Drummer Dan Hill joined in 2016. Alex Kane only joined last year, on rhythm guitar and keyboards, so wasn't on 2018's Diamond Boy, but a long time ago, back in 1987 before the first album, he spent a year on lead guitar.

The whole album is solid, because Chip Z'nuff has always written catchy songs and the nine songs here are no exception. The only forgettable piece is the forty second intro. Once we're in Fatal Distraction, we realise that nobody else writes songs this catchy nowadays and how good they are needs to factor in how they stay in our heads. This one could be up there with Cheap Trick classics, though Z'nuff isn't remotely as emphatic a vocalist as Robin Zander. I Got My Money Where My Mouth Is follows suit and we're off and running in style.

While there isn't a huge gap between Cheap Trick, ELO and Queen, differing uses of vocal harmonies being a good part of it, Enuff Z'Nuff do explore that gap. It's All in Vain, which I believe is the song to feature Portnoy on drums, plays out differently to the Cheap Trick-infused earlier tracks. This one is a Saigon Kick kind of take on ELO for most of its running time but there are quintessential Beatles bits and it ends up very much like Queen. Most of the later songs also play in ELO/Beatles territory, with Queen never too far behind.

All in all, this is very likeable material. It's soft and melodic and catchy, with enough of a back end to mean that it's still rock music rather than straight pop. That's a neat riff on Winding Road to wrap up the album, but however seventies rock it seems, what plays around it is softer. Imagine Joe Walsh in a guest guitarist slot for the Beatles. Drugland Weekend rocks. The only valid thing I can throw out on the negative side is that these songs might bite more with a dedicated vocalist. Chip Z'nuff was the bass player and songwriter long before he ever stepped up to the mike and he has a passive voice for a lead singer.

Depending on how you count, this is either Enuff Z'Nuff's tenth studio album or their fifteenth. Yeah, that's a big difference. It's because they put out a lot of archive material that was technically new and relabelled at least one non-Enuff Z'Nuff album under that name. It's not been a smooth ride for them, even though they ought to be much better known than they are. Somehow I know that this album will not suddenly catapult them to superstardom, but it really ought to.

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