The reviewer of the following album would like to invite his readers to participate in the following drinking game: grab a shot glass, grab a bottle of whatever alcoholic beverage you wish to imbibe (for those in AA or under 21 years of age, feel free to use whatever is handy - remember, thumb off the carb) and take a shot every time you read the word "supergroup." Enjoy!
There are supergroups and there are supergroups. Let's forget the fact that the word "supergroup" has become all but meaningless as anytime a band is formed with two or more members of previous bands, regardless of popularity or pop culture context, it apparently qualifies for supergroup status. Let's begin with the most literal example - Rockstar: Supernova, a television show based on finding a frontman/woman for a so-called supergroup consisting of Jason Newsted, Gilby Clarke, and Tommy Lee. This is not a supergroup - this is a group of unemployed quasi-talented currently unemployed flunkies televising the most expensive want-ad ever. Did the experiment work? Well, the tour went bankrupt halfway through and had the remaining dates canceled, so you do the math.
Chickenfoot is a band comprised of popular and talented musicians that may or may not be a little past their prime, but have built a consistently strong career on their music. Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony from Van Halen on vocals and bass respectively, guitar legend Joe Satriani, and Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on drums. With this eponymous titled debut album, they show that regardless of what levels of success they may have enjoyed separately, it's how a band gels as a single unit that makes the difference. Chickenfoot works, if only on a superficial level. The album is undoubtedly timed as a summer release, which is to say - look elsewhere if you want anything deeper than a wading pool. How shallow are we talking? Well, there's song titles like "Sexy Little Thing" and "Oh Yeah." We all know not to judge a book by it's cover, but with titles like this, there's no need to turn the page to discern the quality of the lyrical content.
This is all of course, moot. Anyone who is considering buying an album featuring Sammy Hagar knows that lyrics don't mean shit to a tree - it's all in the delivery. Van Halen made unapologetic party-rock albums which people either loved as escapist fare or loathed as bubblegum bullshit - a roll of the dice regardless of talent involved but Chickenfoot clearly has no ambition to move beyond these parameters despite the overall consensus by the music-buying public that the era of party-rock is long since over. Party-rock denotes self-indulgent guitar solos. People don't want self-indulgent guitar solos these days. They want full-metal-jacket riffs or nothing at all. We'll be hearing this on Sirius Buzzsaw and other retro-hard-rock stations, but the shelf life of this album should be that of a banana on a windowsill.
Granted, this is somewhat of a pessimistic view not of what that album is, but how it will be perceived. On it's own merits there are certainly positives worth mentioning. Those scrabbling for the nostalgic piece will love hearing Anthony's backing vocals behind Hagar's again. Regardless of the Hagar-Roth debate that still rages on in certain circles, everyone HAD to be rooting for Anthony. This poor bastard was a victim of nepotism the likes of which no one had ever seen - replaced by a teenager that couldn't even play his instrument before being hired. I don't care where you come from, after over twenty years of loyal service, that shit would have to hurt.
The guitar-geeks will love that Satriani finally after all these years has put out a no-holds-barred rock album consisting of great work, but let's be honest - he could probably do most of this shit in his sleep with eight fingers tied behind his back. The most surprising inclusion in the album in general is that of Chad Smith. The success of the Chili Peppers has probably wavered the least of any of the members' previous projects and it would seem that he would be the least in need of this project at all, which is to say that in the grand scheme of relevance in 2009, he would be the one with the least to prove. Anyone else might have turned on the autopilot for this album, but Smith provides bone-solid work that gives the album both weight and legitimacy shown in tracks like "Down the Drain" - one of the albums' standouts - that is, if you can get past the fake-as-shit-so-cliche-yet-so-welcoming Hagar studio babbling. He's managed to remain the good times master of ceremonies (without going Vegas) for many, many years and shows no signs of letting up. Look, the real bottom line here is that if you're waiting for the next Van Halen album, just buy this one because it's safe to say that unless Eddie goes into therapy to work out whatever issues keep him from keeping his own frigging band together, we won't be seeing a new Van Halen album for a long, long, time. Or at least until Eddie's other kid takes some singing lessons.