Oh my God, the L.A. Guns are back. Again. I didn’t mean that as an insult to the band, I meant that this is a band I haven’t even thought about for years and years and years. That’s probably because I have never been much of a fan of this band in the first place. When they – Tracii Guns and Mick Cripps on guitars, Phil Lewis on vocals, Kelly Nickels on bass and Steve Riley (Ex- W.A.S.P.) on drums – released their self-titled debut album in 1988, I found it underwhelming and the same went for the follow-up Cocked & Loaded (1989). I still hold Hollywood Vampires (1991) as their finest disc to date and even that one is, in my opinion, just good. After that, I haven’t heard a note from this band if you don’t include that I saw them live, opening for Dokken in Anaheim in 2004, without founder Tracii Guns. And speaking of members, this band has changed members more often than I change socks, so I won’t get into that. Let’s just say that both Lewis and Guns have been in and out the band and at one point there were two versions of the band touring the States.
L.A. Guns started back in 1983 by guitarist Tracii Guns and in 1985, some guy named Axl Rose became their singer. Fresh from the disbandment of his band Hollywood Rose, Rose joined L.A. Guns and the band changed their name to Guns N’ Roses, combining the names L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose. But that didn’t last long and Tracii and Axl went their separate ways and Guns took back the L.A. Guns moniker and reformed the band with the line-up listed above (however drummer Nicky Alexander played on the debut album but was gone and replaced by Riley before the album was released). Since Lewis left the band in 1994, the band has had singers like Jizzy Pearl (Love/Hate, Ratt, Quiet Riot), Ralph Saenz (Michael Starr in Steel Panther), Chris Van Dahl and shitloads of other musicians. Today the line-up consists of Guns, Lewis, guitarist Michael Grant, bassist Johnny Martin and drummer Shane Fitzgibbon, so it’s not a reunion of the original line-up we’re getting here. But I think most fans are ok as long as the band features Lewis and Guns.
The first album to feature both Lewis and Guns in 15 years opens with “It’s All The Same To Me”. It’s a punky influenced metal track with both its feet in sleaze rock. It kicks and screams and scratches and bites but it leaves me totally cold. There’s nothing catchy at all with the song and it feels more like it’s built on attitude rather than melody. This is not a good song and this come back sure could have started better. First single “Speed” follows and again, attitude seems to be the most important thing here. It’s an upbeat, sleazy and dirty rocker and it sure sounds like LAG but I just can’t make it stick even though they send a nod to Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” with it. Two songs in and it sure doesn’t feel like they have made the come back they should have. “A Drop Of Bleach” is better, though and sounds more like I had expected from the band. It’s more melodic and not as noisy as the two previous songs. Still, it’s not catchy enough to keep my interest up all the way. Not bad, but not great either. An okay song.
“Sticky Fingers” (both the title of a legendary Rolling Stones album and a really cool rock club in Gothenburg, Sweden) is the best tune so far. It’s a bit moody but it sports a killer groove and the melodies are very direct. It’s a sleazy and pretty hard arena rocker but still very memorable and the refrain really holds up – a very good tune. “Christine” is the first ballad on the album. What we get here is a groovy, 70’s Rolling Stones influenced slow number, completely cheeseless and very emotional and memorable. A power ballad like “The Ballad Of Jayne”? Nope. This tune is more rootsy and much better. Great! “Baby Gotta Fever” is a good time rock n’ roller right from the Sunset Strip when glam and sleaze ruled. This is Guns N’ Roses meets Poison and while that might sound like a cool thing, I just don’t feel it. It’s not bad but not that awesome either and it is just not memorable enough. “Kill It Or Die” is a swinging rhythm n’ blues influenced 70’s rocker with a big Led Zeppelin feel. It’s very groovy and will probably do well live and I like it even though it doesn’t rock my world.
The guys provides us with some neat metal riffing in the hard rocking “Don’t Bring A Knife To A Gunfight”. It mixes raw, late 80’s Sunset Strip sleaze with some slicker melodies and a very catchy chorus and it fits like a glove. Great stuff. Ballad # 2 is called “The Flood’s The Fault Of The Rain” and no power balladry this time either. What we get here is a heavy, dark and blues-rock laden ballad, very earthy, raw and with more substance than the usual “I love you, baby” ballad that many 80’s rock bands like to come up with. I have never big a big fan of Lewis’ voice but he really nails this one brilliantly. Awesome! After a ballad, it’s time to spice things up again and spice things up, they sure do. “The Devil Made Me Do It” is a fat rocker that rocks, rolls, stomps, groves and then it kicks you in the nuts. It’s a punchy, fuel-injected sleaze rocker with a chorus that knocked me out down for the count right from hello.
Then it’s time for the title track and I must say that the song blew me away completely. The song is a big ballad, epic and grand with its feet in seventies hard rock, very atmospheric, bluesy and solid. It’s built from the same wood as Led Zep’s “Stairway To Heaven” even though the two songs don’t sound the least alike. It also contains some really cool orchestration arrangements that makes the tune even more grandiose. Easily the best song LAG has ever written, in my book. They close the album with “Gave It All Away”, a pretty heavy mid-paced rocker with a slight symphonic and psychedelic feel. There’s an obvious late 60’s influence here but the it’s based on mid 70’s hard rock. It holds a darker vibe but it’s also very distinct and catchy, a very good tune and a very good way to close the album.
As you might have guessed, I didn’t have the highest of expectations on this record, but I did my best to not let their past affect my judgement and keep an open mind about this record. The album’s more or less disastrous opening didn’t bode well at all and I thought that this album by then ran a great risk at being the flop of the year. But the album shaped up and mixed a few fillers with a few really good ones. But it is the four last tunes that really saves the album by being nothing short of awesome and easily the best stuff I have ever heard by this band. Ever. Sound wise, this record will provide no surprises – it pretty much sports the same sleazy and edge hard rock sound that the band’s first records had, only for 2017 instead of 1988. I’m not floored by this album by any means but many of the songs have at least built an interest for me to check them out the next time around with a little more anticipation and expectations.
1. It’s All The Same To Me
3. A Drop Of Bleach
4. Sticky Fingers
6. Baby Gotta Fever
7. Kill It Or Die
8. Don’t Bring A Knife To A Gunfight
9. The Flood’s The Fault Of The Rain
10. The Devil Made Me Do It
11. The Missing Peace
12. Gave It All Away