This L.A. Guns features the drummer (Steven Riley) and bass player (Kelly Nickels) from the best known late 80’s/early 90’s line-up of the band, augmented by another former bass player from a 2010’s line-up (Scott Griffin) and a completely new lead vocalist (Kurt Frohlich).
L.A. GUNS – Renegades (Golden Robot Records)
Release Date: 13 November 2020
Words: Alex Eruptor
It is the latest instalment in a soap opera already a few years old. Indeed, the line-up changes and the dramas surrounding the various incarnations of the ‘Guns over the years cannot be summarised within one album review. Suffice to say that L.A. Guns are in a way a sort of North American equivalent of UK Subs (a substantial back-catalogue and an almost constant rotation of band members….only in the case of the L.A. Guns the band has morphed into two simultaneous and competing versions).
The reason for this seems to have something to do with the band’s name being registered as a trademark to two people: Traccii Guns and Steven Riley. Being no expert on the US legal system other than observing that Americans seem to sue each other as a national pastime, I won’t dig any deeper into the ins and outs, or rights and wrongs of that.
At this point if you are an L.A. Guns fan, you will most likely react in one of three ways:
1. “Brilliant now there will be even more chances to enjoy LA Guns”
2. “Oh no! I love the music but I cannot afford to now spend twice as much money on gig tickets/albums/merch, so I’ll have to think carefully about which new LA Guns album I buy.”
3. Confusion and/or disillusionment
Either way, we are, where we are and as a long-time fan I was eager to hear something new. I was as confused as anyone though; like many I didn’t realise that this album WASN’T anything to do with Phil or Tracii, whose melodies and leads provide the top-line to the L.A. Guns sound that most of us are familiar with.
So, to avoid any more confusion, let’s say it in the simplest way possible: ‘Renegades’ is an album that does NOT feature Phil or Tracii but it DOES include the rhythm section of Riley and Nickells (and Griffin…but on guitar not bass). All clear?
With all of that out of the way and wordcount almost busted. I’ll spend no more time hashing over the legal/business bulls*t. So, on to the music.
Steve Riley told us: “Hey guys, here it is!! We can’t wait for you all to hear the full album Renegades.
“We are so proud of it and we hope you all have a great time rocking out to it. Hope to see you soon on the road.
“In the meantime, enjoy the album.”
Opener ‘Crawl’ was the first track released on Spotify ahead of the album – it revisits a few ideas familiar to anyone already into the L.A. Guns back catalogue, patching together riffs and phrases that hint at vintage ‘Guns cuts such as ‘Dirty Love’ , ‘My Koo Kachoo’ and ‘Don’t Look at Me That Way’.
‘Why Ask Why’ has an interesting title and cool bass line, as you would hope from this line-up. Riley and Nickels were for sure one of the best of Sleaze Rock’s rhythm sections, providing a cool low-slung and at time almost funky underpinning to those classic albums. It is good to hear them back together. Overall, this was a solid mid-tempo rocker with some decent guitar tone from Griffin.
Another song released on Spotify ahead of the album, ‘Well Oiled Machine’, has all of the car/sex metaphor cliches that you could imagine, and in places suggest that they are taking a cue from the ‘other’ line-ups recent(ish) single ‘speed’.
Vampires are mentioned and there is a sort of gothic organ sound behind the chorus, which is kind of cool and brings to mind Lords of the New Church It is a chugging Rock/Punk/Goth hybrid played by black haired dudes in leather jackets with their guitars scraping the floor.
After a few listens it starts to catch on.
Perhaps the ending hints at another classic L.A. Guns track ‘One More Reason’, but maybe that is just me.
I am missing the changes, breakdowns and flair that I had associated with classic L.A. Guns. It presses some of the right buttons but I am not sure that it completely scratches the itch.
But it is with the fourth track, ‘Lost Boys’, that I am really hearing what this line-up can do. Hell, this is genuinly a really cool song.
They tap into the Californian Vampire thing which is a hallmark of L.A. Guns, but it is also vaguely reminiscent of ‘Last Command’ era WASP (I’m thinking perhaps ‘Widowmaker’) but also something new.
One of the best moments on the album for sure. Cool and confident, dark, brooding and dramatic, this song is a standout.
The chorus is an instant classic “Oh-oh, the lost boys, since we were born we’ve never had a choice” and there is a cool middle and guitar solo. Yes, I really do like this one.
How can they follow it? Well, with an ‘80s style rock ballad ‘You Can’t Walk Away’ which some will really like, but for me, it breaks the pace too much just as the album was gaining momentum.
Fortunately, ‘Witchcraft’ takes the energy levels up again and it has a cool riff and gnarly lead guitar that is a little discordant and suitably mean. It’s as good a showcase as anything so far for Scott Griffin as a lead guitar player.
The sequencing is pretty good here as the next song ‘All That You Are’ has an opening riff that grooves, then follows a few twists and turns, and is one of the most structured songs on the album, containing plenty of different parts and hooks. It has a contemporary sound, but with some ‘nah nah’ and ‘hey! Hey!’ chant backing vocals to keep one foot in the ‘80s. Pretty cool.
‘Would’ begins with strummed acoustic guitar and builds up gradually. You could say that it smoulders, but my first impressions were maybe a little schmaltzy, and closer to the sort of thing that Extreme were having big hits with in the early 90s, in contrast to L.A. Guns’ own acoustic rambles such as ‘Magdalaine’ or ‘Ballad of Jane’.
‘Renegades’ was another single on Spotify ahead of the album – the biker / vampire / gypsy cliches of hallmark L.A. Guns are present and correct. It is a reasonably catchy mid-paced Rocker, with a steady beat. But, like the other ‘early release’ songs positioned earlier in the album it does not really go anywhere other than straight ahead. Nothing wrong with that, but badged ‘L.A. Guns’ you might be expecting a bit more.
Closing the album ‘Don’t Wanna Know’ is blessed with a down and dirty sleazy riff, cool bass/drum interlock and the sort of Hollywood biker boogie Metal that L.A. Guns fans will be familiar with. Actually this is possibly my favourite track on the album….either this or ‘Lost Boys’.
Great stuff and a strong way to finish the album.
So, what have we got? Well, after listening to everything a few times and reflecting over it for a few days, I would conclude there are two or three standout songs that are dynamic, interesting and offer something new but in the ‘vein’ (vampire pun intended) of the L.A. Guns aesthetic: ‘Don’t Wanna Know’, ‘Lost Boys’, and ‘All That You Are’.
Those three are genuinely worthy of a place on my L.A. Guns playlist, regardless of who is in the band.
There are also a few which are solid enough and do no harm (‘Renegades’, ‘Witchcraft’, ‘Well Oiled Machine’, ‘Why Ask Why’, ‘Crawl’) and are an enjoyable enough listen. They are pretty good and in familiar L.A. Guns territory.
For me, the strengths of this band are when they groove and when they mix up the songs a bit and add drama and tension to the music.
The good news is that Scott Griffin is a genuinely good lead guitar player, and Kurt Frohlich has a good voice and phrasing.
Which begs the question “why put this out as an L.A. Guns album?” Like I say at the start of this review I do not know the legal ins and outs, or the business deals that were presented. But from a fans’ perspective, and under the assumption that this is Riley’s band, I’d see value in badging this something different, perhaps ‘Riley’s Last Command’.
That could be a decent concept, particularly as a festival draw: Play two or three highlights from the new record to keep things fresh and to prove a point, then dedicate the rest of the set to a straight split between the genuinely impressive pedigree of the LAG and WASP albums that Steve Riley played on.
Nickels on bass is a great foil for Riley and brings authentic credibility to the project. From time to time, maybe some other LAG and WASP alumni to join in and jam. From ‘Wildchild’ to ‘Rip and Tear’ it could be a great set, all killer no filler.
Anyway, that’s all speculation.
The facts are that there are currently two versions of L.A. Guns.
This version has put out an album with some genuine highs. But buyer beware: There is no Phil and no Tracii and I can’t remember there ever being another album by L.A. Guns that didn’t feature at least one of them.
So exactly how much this sounds like an “L.A. Guns” album is open to debate, even if, for us fans, it is great to hear those drums and that bass re-united.