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Shotstar – What the Hell is Rock N’ Roll?

Shotstar can take comfort in the notion that if they handed their CD over to a certain face painted, leather wearing, merchandise whoring, tongue wagging front man; he’d probably give it a “thumbs up”.

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Shotstar pose an interesting question; one that the throngs of highly paid A&R/label head/fat cat folks across the globe seem unable to answer. What the hell is rock n’ roll? Is it the gyrating hips of Elvis or the wagging tongue of Gene Simmons? Is it Angus Young’s too short shorts or that pretentious flair those wacky Swedes are famous for? Unfortunately I don’t have the answer to that and neither to do the lads of Shotstar; who are seemingly lost in their incursion into “hazardous-for-career” territory. But before you discount this as simply answered questions, take this out for another spin and it’s highly likely that there will be some hip gyrating and tongue wagging to be had.

It takes a few listens but those sweet Weezer “woah woah woahs” found during “Tied to the Tracks” and the chocky rhythmic lumps of “Deadline” are as infectious as a hapless drunk partygoer at Mardi Gras. Vocalist Andrew Taillole appears to be vehement about his savvy rock influences, vocally resulting in a freak mutation of Gene Simmons and a cargo load full of power pop singers. Listening to his monotone dithering and guitar heavy leanings in “Class of ‘74”, you are swashed with weird hallucinatory montages of the 70’s and black spandex pants (don’t ask).

One of the album’s alluring qualities is its welcomed tendency not to labor through the songs. While the tracks are lengthy enough (averaging about 3.20 each), they ooze a certain “understanding” – as if the band recognizes that they aren’t all that good, but they’re going to have fun anyway. Pop sensible melodies and happy-go-lucky-mop-top-Beatlesque playfulness aside, Shotstar boasts a certain modern characteristic; it results in a passable partnership when teamed with their “retro-fixation”. While their work is calculated and innocuous, it is overflowing with sharp kooky fun-filled ennui.

Yes, I understand the contradictory nature of the previous sentence, but take the track “Slowdriver” as a model: rock heavy guitar twanging, bittersweet vocal work, cushy hand clapping, meager lyrics (“Her flight comes in at nine / and I’ll make sure that I’m on time / [import] her to my town / cause I ain’t got plans to settle down”) and a distinct bordering of 70’s rock with modern melody – a routine that has been done more times than Pamela Des Barres – and you get an adequate dose of passé merriment.

Oh, it seems we may never know the answer to the question; our musical landscape will forever drudge through the piles of hackneyed trends who are briefly labeled as the flag bearers of rock n’ roll. But as we trudge through it with everyone else, musicians who exude model naiveté like Shotstar can take comfort in the notion that if they handed their CD over to a certain face painted, leather wearing, merchandise whoring, tongue wagging front man; he’d probably give it a “thumbs up”.

(Down Fall Records / Sunset Alliance)

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Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP

Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper

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Alice Cooper Breadcrumbs

For a large number of Alice Cooper fans who didn’t experience everyone’s favorite snake-adorned shock rocker at the height of his powers through the ’70s, most probably were introduced to Cooper through 1989’s hair-metal infused generational breakout album Trash. That was at least, my introduction to Vincent Furnier, at the age of 9 years old, seeking for something to satiate my love of hair metal and shock rock. Trash was everything Bon Jovi’s New Jersey was- big, radio-friendly- but had that added sense of danger and darkness that didn’t come with the pretty side of hair metal. However, as sure as songs like “House of Fire“, “Bed of Nails“, and the ubiquitous hit “Poison”, are still great today, long-time Alice Cooper fans know that Cooper is at his most enthralling is when he taps into his garage rock lineage, cut from the same mold that was paved by bands like the MC5.

So for those born in the early 80s like myself, the initial foray into the world of Alice Cooper meant that you had to work your way back into this long-running discography to find the rich, often timeless work Cooper is best known for. In 2019 Alice Cooper himself is working his way back on his latest EP, the aptly titled Breadcrumbs. The 6-song EP finds Cooper revisiting music and artists connected thematically by what ties them all together- the Motor City. This Detroit-centric EP features Alice Cooper’s take on songs by Suzi Quatro, The Dirtbombs, Motown soul singer Shorty Long, and of course, The MC5 (the EP also features guest guitar and vocal work from Wayne Kramer). Included in the mix are a reworked version of the 2003 Alice Cooper song “Detroit City” and one new cut, “Go Man Go”.

On his reworked “Detroit City”, the song is given a rawer makeover, sounding far less produced than the original. Gone are the orchestral overdubs with the song relying more on the loud bluesy guitars- perhaps the way it was meant to sound. Suzi Q’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stays fairly faithful to the original, but Quatro’s vocal sneer is replaced with.. well, Alice Cooper’s vocal sneer. MC5’s “Sister Anne” is almost as great as the original 1971version, with the added benefit of today’s production qualities.

The EP’s one new track, “Go Man Go”, is very much Detroit, and very much Alice Cooper. It’s rock n’ roll roots are coated with a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of garage, a lot of attitude. Like this EP, the track should be a precursor of Alice Cooper’s anticipated next album. The hope is that he continues this work of keeping things dirty rock n’ roll as the results are more often than not, pretty great.

Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper. Breadcrumbs is a noble effort meant to tease and build anticipation than satisfy your craving for all new Alice Cooper material. It’s done just that, hinting at what could be around the corner. On top of which it shows that there are few rock stars who will ever reach the status and longevity of everyone’s favorite rock n’ roll snake charmer.

(earMUSIC)

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Goo Goo Dolls – Miracle Pill

The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good

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Goo Goo Dolls Miracle Pill

One of the most remarkable things about the Goo Goo Dolls is their steadfast consistency amongst the ever-changing backdrop of popular music. Six years ago when they released Magnetic, I wrote that the band remained unchanged in the face of their supposed “waning popularity” in the eyes of pop culture and radio charts. It’s true that many of their contemporaries that made it big alongside them in the late 1990s are long gone, but for the Goos, they’ve quietly continued to be above everything else, themselves, just older, wiser, and continuingly more refined. Miracle Pill is their 12th studio album and is the natural progression from 2016’s Boxes. Like their previous release, Miracle Pill continues their musical evolution away from alternative rock to the more serene territory of adult contemporary. Sure, it may sound like a bad thing, but like everything the Goos have done over the past 25 years, it’s supremely confident and composed.

They may not write songs with the caustic bite like “Here Is Gone” anymore, but they have been finding comfort in the more introspective pop-strewn melodies found in songs like “Lights”. Similarly, in the new album’s lead single and title track, the Goos tap into bouncy, easy-to-digest pop empowerment. Songs like “Indestructible” show that the band haven’t put down their guitars just yet, constructing songs that are still fond of their alternative rock roots but have found comfort in grander, more expansive sounds.

The album’s best moments are when the Goo Goo Dolls unashamedly tug on the heartstrings like they’ve done so many times before. The quiet jangly nature of “Over You” does this particularly well, while the bigger, electronic-infused arena rock of “Lost” shows that this type of music is just done extremely poorly by bands like Imagine Dragons. “Autumn Leaves” is a throwback to the kind of songs found on Let Love In and Dizzy Up The Girl, sounding organic and wistful, while the closing of “Think It Over” is the kind of song they’ve been hinting at since Something For The Rest Of Us. It’s part quintessential Goos, but contemporary and timeless at the same time.

Credit to the Robby Takac songs of the album too- “Step In Line”, “Life’s a Message”- both some of the finest songs Takac has written. He is often cast in the shadow of John Rzeznik’s more recognizable sound, but on Miracle Pill, his work is the best its sounded since Dizzy.

The Ringer recently wrote a piece titled ‘The Goo Goo Dolls Were Never the Cool Kids, but They’re Still Standing’. I echoed these sentiments in that Magnetic review years ago, but if there was anything long time Goo Goo Dolls fans know is that the band were never concerned about popularity or being “cool”. The problem with being cool in music is that it fades. The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good. Not much has changed in that sense, and really, that’s much better than being cool.

(Warner Bros.)

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