Wednesday, 9 May 2018

The Dead Daisies' 'Burn it Down' - Album Review

I am not quite sure how the 'supergroup' The Dead Daisies, formed in 2013 by guitarist and songwriter David Lowy, have suddenly become unavoidable in the UK rock press. Over the past few years the band's stock has grown immensely, so much so that recently the band completely sold out a UK tour that took in some good-sized venues across the country - a feat which many real classic bands fail to achieve these days. I would not be so surprised at this achievement if The Dead Daisies were a genuinely interesting band but, being totally honest, they are fairly one-dimensional and generic. I first came into contact with the band back in 2013 when I saw them supporting Black Star Riders in Bristol, and I had also been given a copy of their self-titled debut album (which I reviewed here) by a friend as they had got it free with an issue of Classic Rock Magazine. The album itself was fairly enjoyable, with basic hard rock songs with an AOR tinge, but really paled in comparison with other rock albums released that year. Their live show was a similar experience, despite the incredible talent on stage, and were promptly blown away by a fiery performance from Black Star Riders. Lowy has always managed to recruit great sidemen for the band, which seems to be his project, and on the stage in Bristol that were, among others, two members of Guns N' Roses and a long-time sideman to The Rolling Stones. None of these three guys are a part of The Dead Daisies now, but Lowy seems to have found a settled line-up in the last couple of years with frontman John Corabi, guitarist Doug Aldrich, and bassist Marco Mendoza now seasoned band members. These are three very experience and well-travelled musicians, who certainly bring a lot to anything they are a part of, but something about The Dead Daisies still does not really work for me. This core four-piece has been recently joined by the equally-seasoned drummer Deen Castronovo (Cacophony; Bad English; Hardline; Ozzy Osbourne; Steve Vai; GZR; Journey; Revolution Saints) after Brian Tichy announced his departure from the band last year. That means that the band's newly-released fourth album Burn it Down is the first to feature the current Dead Daisies line-up and, incidentally, it is also the first of their albums which I have bought on release. Both 2015's RevoluciĆ³n and 2016's Make Some Noise are albums I own, but both I picked up cheaply long after their release. Neither has made much of an impact on me, as the band's fairly generic brand of bluesy hard rock just does not really stand out from the crowd - especially given the considerable songwriting talents of people like Corabi and Aldrich (Whitesnake's 2008 masterpiece Good to be Bad this ain't!). I will be seeing the band later in the year however at Steelhouse Festival, so I thought it was only fair that I gave Burn it Down a fair hearing. Saying that this is a bad album would be unfair, and fairly ignorant, but it is just pretty unremarkable. There is definitely more that has grabbed me here than on either RevoluciĆ³n or Make Some Noise however, which is an encouraging sign, but there are just so many better examples of the genre being put out by bands that do not contain the 'named' musicians that The Dead Daisies can boast.

The album opens with the drawn out riff of Resurrected, before the song explodes into a strong mid-paced rocker driven by a snaking bluesy riff from Aldrich and Lowy while Corabi's whiskey-soaked drawl snarls the lyrics. Songs like this, while basic, show The Dead Daisies to be a fun outfit. The raw production, courtesy of veteran studio hand Marti Frederiksen, helps with Castronovo's drumming having a booming, hollow quality to them which helps to drive the song forward - especially during the verses. Sadly however, listening to the album through headphones, reveals some quite bad clipping on the drums at times which is a shame. An album of this nature should not really suffer from issues like that, and the distortion that comes from the drum compression can be distracting at times. When playing the album through my stereo this is far less noticeable however. Rise Up is similar to Resurrected, but it has a much greater emphasis on groove with Mendoza's bass cutting through the mix and Aldrich throwing in some occasional bluesy note bends. The chorus is quite a memorable one, with Mendoza and Castronovo harmonising nicely with Corabi for some big notes, but does not pack a really heavy punch. That is probably my main complaint with the band's overall sound, as many of the songs here just lack that real hook to take them to the next level. The guitar work is excellent here, with Aldrich unleashing his inner blues demon, and showing a different to side to his work with Whitesnake. He has always been one of my favourite modern guitar players and it is great to hear him doing something different throughout this album. The album's title track opens up as a raw bluesy stomp, with the guitars sounding like something from a 1960s American blues album with a punchy percussive backing, and this sound dominates the verses. The stripped-back sound works, especially in contrast to the powerful chorus which is one of the album's best. Corabi's snarl works particularly well here, atop a swinging groove of a beat, as he delivers some of the album's best vocal melodies. The song contains a great guitar solo too, which ensures this is one of the best offerings found on the album. There is a looseness to this song which just works perfectly, which is encapsulated in the song's instrumental outro which is led by a huge bass riff from Mendoza. Aldrich solos atop this twisting melody, and it is moments like this which show The Dead Daisies at their best. Judgement Day has a more organic sound, with acoustic guitars dominating the verses with a simple percussive backing. The band are definitely taking a few cues from Led Zeppelin here, with the warmth of the acoustic instruments contrasting well with the bludgeoning choruses that see Aldrich and Lowy cranking their electric guitars up to eleven. The guitar tones throughout the album are great, which fit in perfectly with the raw sound described earlier, but it does lead to a rather dense feel at times. There is no brightness to the guitars at all which, although fitting in well with Corabi's deeper voice, certainly makes the album feel more one-dimensional.

The Led Zeppelin influence can also be seen throughout What Goes Around. With a riff that sounds a little like a slowed down version of Black Dog, and a song structure to match, it definitely sounds like a song I have heard many times before. Originality is certainly not The Dead Daisies' strong point, and songs like this one fall down by never truly standing on their own. Again there is no real hook to hang the song off and it pales in comparison to the two strong songs it follows. Bitch is a cover of The Rolling Stones' classic, and the band have the chops and sound to do it justice. Aldrich and Lowy wrap their fingers around the song's muscular riff with ease, and Corabi's voice is more than up for the task of standing in Mick Jagger's shoes. Corabi is a very underrated singer in my opinion, and while his voice certainly lacks any king of subtly or variety, he is very good at what he does. His bluesy snarl is perfect for a song like this, and he really shines here. Set Me Free is the album's ballad, and it is actually one of my favourite songs here. Producer Frederiksen contributes some subtle organ sounds throughout, which helps to add depth to the piece, and the guitar work really helps to enhance that atmosphere - rather than attempting to dominate proceedings with a big riff. Corabi is the star of the show here easily, with a passionate vocal display that sees him sing slightly cleaner than usual which works given the song's context. There is less of a snarl from him here, instead letting the melodies shine through nicely. I think the reason this is one of my favourite pieces on the album is because there is much more depth here than on many of the album songs. The more prominent keyboards help, and provide a break from the dirty guitar tones, and the melodies seem to have been pushed the fore as a result. Dead and Gone is another strong effort, with a choppy riff driving everything, and the keyboards once again getting a bigger role with some Hammond organ washes throughout for that classic 1970s hard rock feel. The Dead Daisies have not had a keyboard player since Guns N' Roses' Dizzy Reed stepped down from the band in 2015 and I feel this is something they have been missing. Most of the band 1970s bands had creative keyboard players to ensure a variety and depth of sound, and The Dead Daisies really need that at times. Bludgeoning bluesy riffs are great, but the novelty can wear thin after a while, despite my fondness for Aldrich's playing. It also helps that the song has a cracking chorus, packed full of classic rock swagger, which ensures the song sticks in the mind. Can't Take It With You carries on this string of strong songs, by ramping up the pace a little and turning in an energetic piece with Castronovo's drums really driving everything forward. It is great to see him back in a touring band after his personal issues in recent years, and the raw rock 'n' roll of The Dead Daisies is different from his usual AOR sound. This is not a subtle song, and in fact it is over almost as soon as it starts, but the energy that it creates gives a bit of kick to an album which mostly sticks to the mid-paced feel.

Leave Me Alone, the album's last original song, is definitely my favourite cut here. Songs like this show that the band can write anthemic rockers, which is also frustrating as there are too many songs here that just pale in comparison to it. The chorus is great, with a proper vocal hook to latch onto, and the energy the song creates feels like that created by some of the all-time great classic rock tunes. An excellent bluesy guitar solo, with lots of wah, presumably from Aldrich is the icing on the cake makes up for the rather simple guitar riff - but with an attitude like that that is presented here, the chugged riff manages to work. One final cover closes out the album, with a decent version of The Beatles' Revolution bringing The Dead Daisies' fourth album to a close. It has never been a favourite song of mine, and the band's tough blues rock sound is a bit ham-fisted for The Beatles' more intricate and layered sound. They certainly sound more comfortable covering The Rolling Stones than they do covering The Beatles, but it rounds the album off nicely all the same. Overall, Burn it Down is a bit of a mixed listen. Many of the best songs are pushed towards the end of the album, which certainly makes the album's first half a bit of a chore to sit through. There are some excellent songs here, but there are also some bland, uncreative efforts that fail to hit home. I am still struggling to understand the band's sudden popularity, but with many of the band members being particularly interactive with their fans (my Twitter feed is often full of fawning tweets by a handful of the same few women who have been retweeted by Mendoza and Castronvo) on social media so it is easy to see why people can get sucked in! I think the fact that every song on this album has such a generic name does not really help the memorability of them either. How many songs are there called Set Me Free or Rise Up? I just feel the band need to be more creative, but in truth only Corabi and Aldrich are true proven songwriters - and even then as part of bands who had already made their impact a long time prior to their arrivals. As much as Mendoza and Castronovo are recognisable figures in the rock world, they are not known for their songwriting. The Dead Daisies seem to lack that real creative vision that great bands have, often through one main songwriter who drives everything, so have to rely on a more basic and generic sound. On the whole I enjoy this album, despite the slow start, but I feel there are plenty of similar hard rock albums released by lesser-known bands in the past couple of years that deserve the sort of credit this album, and band, are currently getting.

The album was released on 6th April 2018 via Spitfire Music/SPV GmbH. Below is the band's official visualiser for Rise Up.

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