Tuesday 7 December 2021

L.A. Guns - Checkered Past (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 12 Nov 2021
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I liked L.A. Guns back in the late eighties, even if I liked other bands that the key members were in more. After what seems like decades of legal wrangling, the old name is back with Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis again, so they're the focus. I preferred Lewis in his earlier band Girl and Guns in a later one, Contraband, but the first couple of L.A. Guns albums were excellent and they'd probably be a lot better known today had grunge not arrived and wiped the charts clean of hair metal.

As with other successful throwbacks to that era, this is a gritty hard rock album that reeks of beer and bikes and tattoos but not mascara and hairspray. In fact, when Better Than You kicks off with a neatly vicious metal riff, I realised that I'd listened to five songs without even thinking of metal. It really does fit much better into the hard rock bucket, even on the up tempo opener, Cannonball. It slows down to bluesy rock on Bad Luck Charm, gets sassy on Living Right Now, soft and alternative on Get Along.

The highlight from the first side is If Its Over Now, which has an Alice Cooper sort of swagger to it and that's not entirely absent from Better Than You, but it feels more like an Ozzy solo number. I certainly expected his recognisable voice to show up after the guitar but no, it's Phil Lewis with an odd hint of autotune that vanishes almost immediately but reoccurs at points. If that's for effect, it didn't work for me. The guitars did and maybe they save the song, but the end result is off.

And while the rest of the album isn't off, it didn't really engage me. I'm not sure if I'd call a lot of these songs filler or just overdone. I listen to a lot of music that's clearly a throwback to an earlier era in rock music and that's fine, but a band either needs to do something interesting with an old style or to take on an old style that's not frequently mined and do it well. This is neither. It's good enough for the die hard fans; Lewis and Guns still have it, even with the latter about to qualify for his old age pension next month. They sound fine and the songs aren't bad. They just don't have an extra something to make them must listens as we wrap up 2021.

While the band attempts the Alice Cooper swagger again on the closer, Physical Itch, it can't fully engage and it isn't remotely up to If Its Over Now, even with a tasty solo from Guns late on. I'd say that the only other song that grabbed me here was Let You Down, which is definitely something a little different. Initially I felt that it didn't fit the band's style, with its ominous intro and odd and slow build, but they got me on board with it. It plays rather like a Great White cover of a new wave deep cut by a band we've never heard before. I hadn't realised I would want that until now but it turns out that I really do. It also has the best solo on the album and the best underpinning to it.

So this is a 6/10 for me, with a couple of 8/10 tracks. If you're a die hard fan of the Guns, then add a point to at least the former and probably the latter too.

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