18/10/2012

Blackbird

Alter Bridge
2007

I love the sound of a heavily distorted guitar as much as anyone, whether it's punching a heavyweight rhythm (think QOTSA's "Go With The Flow"), carpet-bombing a song with compacted layers of sound (MBV's "Only Shallow" a winner here), squalling on the edge of feedback (try "Down In The Woods" by Richard Hawley), shrieking unearthly squeals (Smashing Pumpkins' "Stand Inside Your Love" being a notable example), or just plain wailing ("Safesurfer" by Julian Cope is one of my favourite solos ever). But whatever it's doing, it must exist - as these examples do - in the context of a superb song.

Mark Tremonti - widdler-in-chief of Creed and Alter Bridge - gets lots of mentions in Guitarist magazine and although I find their coverage pretty well balanced compared to other titles, usually this would mean that he's another metal man, noted less for his song-writing than for his ability to execute ear-piercing 64th-note runs above the 20th fret on his signature PRS while driving those Bogner Shivas into meltdown. What distinguishes him is that, last year, his solo on Alter Bridge's track "Blackbird" won a Guitarist poll for the best guitar solo (ever!). I'm sure there was some fan forum mobilisation, but still, it makes it worth a listen, eh?

I have to say I've been very pleasantly surprised. There is some jaw-droppingly astonishing playing here but, more than that, the songs stand up to repeated listening. It's good hard rock - big crunchy guitars, heavy rhythms, tunes you can actually sing along to (an all-too frequently forgotten ingredient), all good stuff. The icing on the cake is Tremonti's ability - he sounds like he can make his instrument do just about anything.

My current favourite track - I've had a few since I started listening to the album - is "Brand New Start". In structure, it's a dead ringer for all-time axe-classic "More Than A Feeling"; the quiet start with clean picking, building to a huge chorus that also contains a hint of Bon Jovi. The solo is stunning - starting slowly before working up to a fantastic, wah-driven climax, with some really nice tricks thrown in for the guitar geeks out there (hi!). Album opener "Ties That Bind" is cool too, a crushing, speeding, double-time riff (in 12/8 - bit of a bitch to play, I'll tell you) breaking to a flag-waving chorus. Lyrics are typical teenage self-realisation "I'm going to be all I can be" bollocks, but hey, nothing's perfect.

And what of the "best solo ever"? Well, "Blackbird" is nearly eight minutes long and consists of several sections but never outstays its welcome. And in fact it contains two guitar solos, the first by singer Myles Kennedy, showing that as well as possessing a fine, warm voice, he's no slouch on the guitar either, the second by Mark Tremonti. The difference in styles is really interesting; Kennedy's is a slower, more bluesy, richer sound, while Tremonti's is more technical and somewhat shriller - which isn't to say it's all 100mph though, it's nicely constructed.

There are several other very enjoyable songs too. All through, the guitar playing and tones are superb. A couple of the songs towards the end of the album could have been dropped without loss, but that's a minor quibble. Overall, a real keeper for guitar lovers.

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