Chickenfoot – ‘III’ Album Review

Chickenfoot understandably caused a stir when they were first announced thanks to the remarkably high regard its individual members are held in. Sammy Hagar’s luminous personality tethered by the gloriously tight rhythm section of Chad Smith and Michael Anthony and then the whole thing given the finishing touch by Joe Satriani’s stunning guitar work; it seemed like the perfect match if only egos could be kept in check and a balance achieved. On that first record balance was achieved and more – the whole thing played like a shout of joy, a celebratory whoop from a group of musicians delighted to be playing together and songs such as ‘soap on a rope’ and ‘sexy little thing’ proved to be as engaging and as heavy-hitting as anything being produced by the hungry new breed of rockers out there. It was as passionate and thrilling as could possibly have been hoped for and the subsequent live dates (documented on the excellent ‘get your buzz on’ DVD showcased a band who were in this for the fun and excitement of four musicians who’ve found a sound that works rather than the tawdry trappings of a fame they’d long since found and grown tired of.

It’s been two years since the band’s debut. Touring aside, Chad Smith, in particular, has been busy with the latest RHCP’s album(and indeed on the upcoming tour he’s had to be replaced by Kenny Aronoff due to his commitments elsewhere) but the band found time to reconvene and – perhaps wary of the journalists love of ‘difficult second album syndrome’ – they launched into the recording of ‘III’, an album that takes the basic premise of the debut and develops it with new twists and an occasionally reflective bent. Thus, with the energy and the love still firmly intact, and the sense of humour that allowed them to name the band Chickenfoot in the first place, the four-piece sidestepped the second album and arrived squarely at their third – an amusing piece of fancy footwork that their combined years in the business has assuredly allowed them to use.

‘Last temptation’ opens this latest disc and it sees the band playing a heavy Led Zeppelin card with vocals in the upper register and Joe’s gritty guitar backing up a chorus that is pure pop brilliance. Typically memorable and yet imbued with a panache that comes from the band’s gritty determination to utilise all their years of experience of playing heavy rock, it takes the blueprint laid down by the debut and runs with it to go straight for the jugular with wild solos, layers of effects and Chad Smith’s relentless percussion keeping the thing moving ever forward. It’s a great opening and a clear signal that Chickenfoot are here to get your body moving whether you like it or not. ‘Alright alright’ is equally brash and colourful although with a blues edge only hinted at on the first record. Once again the band unleash the sort of chorus that is painfully difficult to dislodge from the cranium whilst Joe seems to have spent a fair bit of his time absorbing the atmosphere at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads festival albeit siphoned through the spirit of Hendrix. ‘Different devil’ is a more mature effort than the band have attempted previously  – a contemplative song with the driving feel of eighties pop-rock, it is an unexpected diversion that works thanks largely to Sammy Hagar’s stunning vocal delivery. ‘Up next’ sees business back to normal via a HUGE, swaggering groove and Sammy’s insistence that he will arrive at the pearly gates and that he has a host of plans to put into place when he gets there. It’s classic Chickenfoot with a massive grinding riff, massed vocal choruses and more soul than you can shake the proverbial stick at, and that’s without mentioning Joe’s jaw-dropping display on the bridge – check it out yourself, you’ll see what I mean.

‘Lighten up’ heads back in time to a suitably seventies-esque groove – part rock and roll, part gospel – and instructs the listener to relax a little via a gnarly guitar riff and a taut rhythm. It’s a typically brash combination of vintage Rolling Stones and AC/DC all filtered through the Chickenfoot machine to create what can simply be termed great rock ‘n’ roll – free from agenda or desperation to succeed it’s every bit as joyous as the debut album, even if it is less a whoop of joy than a confident, self-assured band doing what they love most in all the world and comfortable in the knowledge that they have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone. ‘Come closer’ is another contemplative number that places Sammy front and centre to provide a smoky, rather beautiful blues/soul number that gives the listener breathing room to unwind after the guitar pyrotechnics of the first half of the album. Up next is the highlight of the album – the brutal social commentary of ‘three and a half letters’ which perfectly encapsulates the frustration of the educated massed in America struggling to get even the most basic of jobs and desperately trying to provide for families without help, hope or encouragement. It’s the sort of agit-rock that Pearl jam have often employed so well and it’s good to hear the subject being handled intelligently and powerfully. ‘Big foot’ is a gloriously heavy-handed stomp worthy of its name with a grinding guitar riff set to Chad and Michael’s lock-tight rhythm section while Sammy pushes his vocals to the max, howling the lyrics like a man possessed. ‘Dubai blues’ is unreconstructed blues and Michael Anthony’s fluid bass runs are sublime, but it’s the follow up (and final track) ‘something gone wrong’ that  is possibly the bravest, best track the band have attempted as it lays Sammy emotionally open with a beautiful delta blues lick and restrained performances from the whole band. It’s a wonderful closer for the album and a gem of a song that is both haunting and memorable.

Before we close this review something must be said about the innovative packaging. Never ones to short-change their fans, here Chickenfoot have really pushed the boat out with some stunning 3d packaging (glasses included) that is chock-full of hidden messages (much like the packaging on the old Transformers toys) and crystal clear 3d photography of each band member all housed in a rather neat digi-pack. A special edition even offers up a DVD with the album’s EPK (essentially a brief bio piece on the band) as well as promo videos and a live track– but with an album of this quality extras aren’t really necessary – Chickenfoot have proved once again that they have the fire and the fury to craft relevant, exciting and beautiful songs and the follow-up to ‘III’ can’t come soon enough.

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