I thought long and hard how to start this review as this really is an unfortunate situation for those of us who have liked L.A. Guns throughout the years. I added the * to the name here as I really don’t consider this L.A. Guns. The legal system can work out who owns the name, and I understand the line-up changes throughout the years as I remained a fan throughout them. When L.A. Guns released their debut self-titled album many years ago, I became a fan and loved the record more than Appetite by that “other” Guns band at the time. The band never shied away from trying new things over the years, and things really did not go sideways until after the release of ‘Vicious Circle.’ Records like ‘American Hardcore’ and ‘Shrinking Violet’ really served as a band trying to find their way through a musical world that had completely changed and took recording budgets and major labels with them. I cannot tell you the last time I listened to either album outside of a song or two. ‘Man in the Moon’ started to right the ship and found Phil Lewis singing again. The band then released the very good ‘Waking the Dead’ which I continue to play quite a bit. Of course, this is L.A. Guns so all kinds of line-up shuffles took place over the years with there not being one constant member throughout everything. Lewis and Tracii Guns though are who I think of when I think of L.A. Guns. When I found out that Steve Riley and Kelly Nickels were going to perform under this band name, all I could do was shake my head and wish they would have named it something different. With Guns and Lewis already recording and touring together again as L.A. Guns, this just seemed pointless, especially since those new L.A. Guns records have been very good. Alas, I am here with ‘Renegades’ and dealing with the dilemma of treating this like a brand new band or in the shadow of L.A. Guns. Does it matter at the end of the day? Perhaps, it doesn’t because every album should be judged on its own merits, but the past is always there too. I will also add that I really had no intention of ever listening to this record because it is “not” L. A. Guns. I wanted to at least acknowledge that bias on my part because, as it turns out, I would have missed out on a record I enjoy.
I hate starting out with something that works against the band and album, but one of the items that hinders them is starting with a song that has more of a L.A. Guns feel without that extra spark to make it a special song. By now, many people have heard the song in question- ‘Crawl.’ I don’t mind Kurt Frohlich’s vocal here, but my gut tells me I should be hearing Lewis whose voice is L.A. Guns in my book. Nickels though has written a song that really taps into the L.A. Guns spirit. It has grown on me with multiple listens but goes back to trying to treat this album in a vacuum. The album kind of stays in the traditional hard rock mode with ‘Why Ask Why.’ It faired better on my first listens because it felt more like its own thing, and I really like the guitar work by Scott Griffin and Frohlich here. It helps change the tone of the album with ‘Well Oiled Machine’ feeling more like a L.A. Guns rocker. This song has been another grower for me. Frohlich does not have a wide vocal range, but his vocals work with the music which is what is ultimately important. I have no doubt that Riley and Nickels are enjoying themselves as the rhythm section is a great team with plenty of experience working together.
Next though is when the band really starts to find its stride with ‘Lost Boys’ mixing things up as a mellower rocker in the verses before kicking it up a gear for the pre-chorus and a cool singalong chorus. The guys have crafted a great song here with Frohlich delivering an excellent vocal. Griffin delivers a solid solo as well. This is also the longest song on the album but seems to go by in a blur. ‘You Can’t Walk Away’ then comes in as a soft rocker with the band going for some big backing vocals more in line with the likes of music from 60 years ago. This was where the band tightened their grip on me during my first listens. In the past, lighters would be swaying in the air during this one throughout the chorus… Back when we had live music… It closes the first half of the record in style.
Starting the back half, the guys maintain their momentum with the hard rocking ‘Witchcraft’ being another highlight from the album. This currently stands as my favorite from the album with the band combining perfectly on every level. The chorus is addictive and completely different from what they have done elsewhere with great work by Frohlich. Riley and Nickels push the rhythm in some excellent ways with Griffin adding some brilliant guitar. This would have been my first single from the album. ‘All That You Are’ continues the hard rocking and keeps the body moving to the music. The beat by Riley and Nickels gets props again with Frohlich delivering another really good performance and using some different techniques throughout the song. The band then go acoustic with ‘Would’ which gives the album a different texture. This feels more like a 70’s hard rock ballad. It is definitely not my favorite from the album, but it is also not one that I am going to skip when the record is playing. I think Frohlich is better served with the other songs here though as this one kind of swallows him in my opinion.
As we reach the end of the record, we are greeted with the title track which gets us back to a hard rock tempo with some guitar accents dancing around the beat. The chorus here doesn’t hit the mark for me, and I think the band could have delivered some backing vocals around Frohlich to help him. Wrapping up the album is ‘Don’t Wanna Know’ where the band strut to a hard rocking blues beat that ends the album on a good note. Vocals here fit like a glove as they feel down and dirty. Griffin lets loose with some classic rock n roll guitar notes. In some ways, the comparison that comes to mind here would be Tora Tora. It ends the record each time with a favorable impression.
As I said at the beginning, the context of this album presents some challenges, and I never intended to give it a listen. That would have clearly been a mistake, and I think fans of the genre will find an album they enjoy. They have some definite bumps in the road, but I do enjoy the album overall. Production wise, it is pretty raw which helps at times but also serves to the detriment of the title track where I think some finesse and added elements would have really helped. I am not changing the * beside the name as I really don’t see them as L.A. Guns. I see them as a band of experienced musicians though who are having fun, and we get a good record in the process.
‘Renegades’ is out November 13th.
Author: Gerald Stansbury