Sunday, June 7, 2015

Album Review: Art Of Anarchy - Art Of Anarchy

There are many reasons why musicians will make records.  For some, the songs are the end result of a passion for playing, their statement to the world about who they are as artists.  For others, an album can be a way of stepping out of a bad situation and maintaining their identity as creative beings.  And for others still, an album can be a job they use to keep themselves relevant.  I'm not going to denigrate any of those approaches, first of all because it's often impossible to tell what category the artist falls into, but also because that decision has no bearing on the end product.  An album can be looked at as a contractual obligation and still be amazing, so why would I fault the means that created the end?

Art Of Anarchy is the new band that somehow manages to meld all of those things together.  The core of the band are making their name for themselves, while collaborators Bumblefoot and Scott Weiland are trying to escape their own recent pasts.  Bumblefoot is stepping away from his role in Guns N' Roses to show that he is indeed capable of playing in a band that releases music, and Scott Weiland is the singer who took this on as a mercenary.

After an obligatory introduction piece, "Small Batch Whiskey" opens the album with post-grunge grooves, a guitar sound that will beg further discussion, and Weiland singing a lyric that seems ill-advised, in light of his history with substance abuse.  However, you can also hear why the band hired Weiland, because for all his faults, he has a charisma as a singer that always comes through on record.  There isn't a single thing about the song that will make you turn your head in amazement,but when it's over, you realize just how much fun it was.  That sly ability to worm into your head is the album's best selling point.

A song like "Get On Down" should have been the first single, with it's layered guitar parts and a chorus from Weiland that recalls bright 60s pop, but with a hint of weary darkness creeping around the edges.  It's the kind of subversive little song that shows the band firing on all cylinders, and is easily my pick for the best song on the album.

Like a lot of rock bands, Art Of Anarchy is least interesting when they're being heavy.  The hardest rock songs on the record don't have the same energy, with riffs that are just a bit to simple and predictable, and less room for melodies to be laid over the top.  It's the softer, more atmospheric songs that put the band in a better light, because the nuance of their playing and songwriting are allowed to come to the fore.

Perhaps part of this reason has to do with the tones chosen for the electric guitars.  In the pursuit of heaviness, the tones chosen sound like they have too much distortion put on them, with a scratchy quality that makes them sound thinner and more brittle than they should.  Instead of sounding massive, the chords slice through the mix as though the speaker wasn't quite projecting properly.  It's not distracting enough to take away from the songs, but it's a choice that doesn't let the music quite live up to its possibilities.

I don't think "Time Everytime" or "Superstar" show the band in the best light, but the record still has a group of great songs to build around.  In addition to the one I mentioned before, "Til The Dust Is Gone", "Death Of It", and "Aqualung" are all clever little bits of melodic modern rock, with choruses that you'll find yourself humming before long.  "Aqualung" in particular is a sly, yet gorgeous, bit of melody. It's surprising, somewhat, that Weiland sounds so invested in elevating these songs with his melodic work, given that he has already tried to distance himself from the project.  His vocals are the strongest part of the experience, and this is easily his best work in many a year.  He is doing himself a disservice by focusing on his own less interesting solo work.

Not many albums are flawless, and "Art Of Anarchy" is no different.  There are a few moments where the record drags, but that's to be expected.  The remainder of the album is some of the best modern rock I've heard that stands a real chance of garnering airplay in quite a while. I laughed a bit to myself when I heard about this album, with this lineup, but the music shut me up. Art Of Anarchy may have some turmoil behind the scenes, but if anything, that drama has bled into these songs and made them that much better. I don't know if they will be able to put this version of the band back together for another record, but I hope they do, because "Art Of Anarchy" sounds like the opening salvo in what could be a phenomenal second (or third) act for these guys.

"Art Of Anarchy" is easily the best mainstream record so far this year, and it's also one of the best records of the year, full stop. I'm serious. Check this out.

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