Throughout rock history "supergroups" do not have a stellar track record. A list of the most noteworthy ones from the past 25 years reveals more misses than hits: The Traveling Wilburys, Asia, Damn Yankees, Zwan, Broken Social Scene, A Perfect Circle, The Firm, Audioslave, Temple Of The Dog, The Postal Service, Velvet Revolver, etc. Two more outfits, Chickenfoot and Tinted Windows, join the supergroup ranks with new releases.
Chickenfoot consists of Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani and Van Halen alumni Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar. The Anthony and Hagar connection makes obvious sense...the two have been close friends since Hagar replaced David Lee Roth as Van Halen's singer in 1985 and have collaborated and toured together since both left Van Halen (more than once) under less than amicable circumstances. Satriani, after 20+ years of highly successful (mostly) instrumental solo work, finally fulfills his dream of joining a "conventional" band environment. He had been offered many similar gigs over the years, but none felt right until this one. And Smith? Well, he was just looking to play and have some fun, beyond the casual jamming he was doing at Hagar's Mexican nightclub, as the Chili Peppers take an extended vacation. The trouble with supergroups is that the expectation level is normally heavily outweighed by the end result. You'd think that dozens of spotty albums in this field would temper that but memories can be short, as I came to be reminded (again) after digging into this release.
Chickenfoot's lasting impression is that it sounds like a decent Van Hagar album, perhaps a suitable follow-up to the last studio album Hagar did with them in 1995, Balance. One might interpret that statement as a not so flattering comment on the album's dated sound it shouldn't be taken that way. Even with a couple of oddball pieces in Satriani and Smith, this is about what I was expecting - straight ahead, meat and potatoes rock. One of the most interesting aspects of the album comes from Anthony's backing vocals, revealing his voice was apparently much more a part of VH's signature background vocal sound than originally thought. Satriani's guitars get a chance to rip once in awhile, further reinforcing the Van Hagar similarity ("Future In The Past" and "Down The Drain" - no surprise that they're the album's two longest songs at over six minutes each). Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani are two of the most technically gifted rock guitarists ever and it'd be an insult to say they sound similar...still, their "shredding" style does invite the comparison.
"Avenida Revolution" opens the album with a propulsive momentum, shoving each band member's musical attributes right in the listener's face while the lyrics comment on the Mexican drug wars and illegal immigration. Said momentum hits a wall with the next track, "Soap On A Rope", with lyrics as bland as the title is silly and a stop-start style that frustrates more than tempts. Things get back on track with the excellent "Sexy Little Thing", featuring Hagar at his horndog best. Other standout tracks are the fine ballad "Learning To Fall" and the smooth, swampy blues-tinged "Runnin' Out".
Chickenfoot emerges as a solid, unspectacular album while instilling a seed of hope that any further releases from this veteran collective can improve upon the competency of their debut (does anything scream "backhanded compliment" more than use of the word "competent"?). Anyway, it's a damn sight better for Hagar fans than his most recent solo releases, particularly 2008's atrocious Cosmic Universal Fashion.