Wednesday, January 8, 2003 @ 10:39 PM
We never did get to use chainsaws in woodshop, although we used just about every other kind of saw you can imagine. We mostly did stuff like making butt-joints, which was when you nailed two pieces of wood together. Honest! Or we took turns carving our names into a piece of wood with an electric router. Or we tried to avoid sanding our knuckles with a belt-sander. And as time went by, I lost the urge to pick up a chainsaw, or any of the other tools I had once been so enthusiastic about. Luckily, I never got tired of Jackyl. Which brings me, finally, to their new album, Relentless. This is Jackyl’s first full-length album of all new material since 1997’s rather disappointing Cut the Crap. In the meantime, they put out a nice but unnecessary greatest-hits CD (Choice Cuts), and a slapdash assortment of leftovers (Stayin’ Alive). After their record-setting 100 shows in 50 days in the fall of ’98, they didn’t really do much of nothin’. Bassist Tom Bettini and guitarist Jimmy Stiff found religion and left the band, prompting mouthpiece Jesse James Dupree (the only member of the band known to possess the powers of speech) to pick up the guitar himself, and Roman Glick, formerly of Brother Cane, stepped in to play bass. The Worley brothers, Jeff and Chris, still round ou t the band on guitar and drums. And yet, Jackyl has only just now gotten around to releasing an album.
Okay, I lied. It’s been out since October, but given my perpetual flat-ass-brokeness, I only bought my copy a week or so ago.
But, it was well worth the wait, because Relentless is Jackyl’s best album since 1994’s Push Comes to Shove. It definitely has the best production job since the debut. The guitars have finally regained their snarl. Tthe drums smack convincingly, and you can even hear the kick-drum! Roman Glick’s bass is also easily audible, just as Bettini’s was in the days of yore. And Jesse James Dupree is in his usual fine vocal fettle. (This is where the sniping starts. Hey, Jesse sounds more like Jesse than anybody else!) And before I forget, the chainsaw makes an obligatory appearance as well. And for all the chainsaw-haters out there, it’s just in one song, keep your pants on!
The proceedings get underway with “If You Want It Heavy (I Weigh a Ton),” a boastful and belligerent way to start the album. You’ve already been hooked by the time Jesse heads into the chorus with a jubilant “Hell yeah!” Glick gets a moment alone before each chorus, punctuating the verses rather than detracting from them. Taken altogether, it’s the perfect opener, and reminds you of why you like Jackyl to begin with. “Yes! This is JUST what we need!” It’s followed right up with “I’m On Fire,” although it took me a bit longer to get into this swingin’ ass-shaker. Good song, once I got into it. The riff in the verses is punctuated by shrill guitar screams, just to piss off the haters even more. Speaking of screaming, Jesse might want to think about cutting back on his own screaming just a bit, as it gets a bit excessive here and elsewhere on the album.
“Kill the Sunshine” is the much-vaunted and highly-anticipated collaboration with Brian Johnson of AC/DC. And frankly, I wish people, Jackyl included, would stop making such a big deal out of it. Any association with another band or outside party tends to overshadow the actual quality of the work, and in this case, that would be a shame, because “Kill the Sunshine” is a hell of a song, with a pulloff-riddled riff, relentless stomping rhythm and the trademark gang-style vocals in the chorus. Tom and Jimmy must not’ve ever sung backup, because these vocals here sound like the exact same voices you heard crooning “Down on meeeee,” ten years ago. This was a wise choice for first single, with or without Brian Johnson (Oops! I wasn't going to mention him again!) who only co-wrote it, after all, and doesn’t sing.
A little later on, we get the romping, slyly sexual “Vegas Smile,” sounding like a distant, horny cousin to Ted Nugent’s “Hey Baby.” If Jackyl ever gets tired of playing ‘Dirty Little Mind” in concert, “Vegas Smile’ will be the song Jesse will insert his patented sex lesson into.
And you were wondering about the chainsaw, weren’t you? I know you were. It shows up without much fanfare in “Billy Badass,” a song which was originally said to have the parenthetical subtitle “(I Am a Motherfucker).” This one is all about chest-thumping braggadocio, and given the attitude, the title, the over-the-top boasts and Jesse’s delivery, it makes you think immediately of the pimp-hat-wearing scourge of rock radio, Kid Rock. Yet you wonder, who’s ripping off whom here? Jackyl have been doing the fast-singing/semi-rap thing since the debut, and I hear Jesse is now going around telling people that “Dirty Little Mind” was one of the first rap-metal songs. He even speculated that Puff Daddy, or P-Doodle, or whatever the hell his name is, might have drawn influence from it. Unfortunately, if you were to ask Mr. Combs about it, I’m sure you’d draw a blank look and a puzzled “Who dat? Dey hip-hop?” Speaking of outrageous claims, Jesse asserts in “Billy Badass” that “I was the first to stand up against the PMRC.” Uh, no, Jesse. I’m going to give him the benefit of a doubt here and assume he’s talking about a fictional character, the consummate rock ‘n’ roll badass, and not any one person in particular.
“Sparks From Candy” is a balls-out rocker with lyrics rather more subtle than you’d expect from Jackyl. Jesse says this was their intention, which only goes to reinforce my already-firm belief that this guy is a lot smarter than he lets on, content to play the ignorant redneck so people will leave him alone.
Take a listen to “Curse On You” and tell me what AC/DC song it sounds suspiciously like.
Did you guess “Hell’s Bells?” Aha! I thought so! Hell, they could’ve picked worse ‘DC tunes to rework. Hell, it’s only a passing resemblance anyway, I just wanted to see if you heard it too.
And the album concludes with an anthem for all the Smirnoff Ice-sipping, Gap-wearing, neo-yuppies who think they’re too good for Jackyl: “The More You Hate It.” “The more you hate it, it makes me like it more,” Jesse wails, somewhat ungrammatically. “The things you think are crap are things that I adore! You have opinions but you haven’t got a clue, and as for those opinions, well, whoopty-fuckin’-doo!” It’s a clear message directed at all the detractors: “You don’t like us? Fine! We don’t like you either! Better yet, we don’t even NEED you!” I find it a fitting response to the surprisingly vitriolic criticism Jackyl often receives. They have to be one of the most reviled bands in all hard rock. Shit, even Poison fans bash Jackyl! Maybe they’re intimidated by men who don’t pout or wear a pound of makeup. Perhaps they just feel safer with Bret Michaels, the Captain Kangaroo of Cartoon Metal. Even though I’m biased, I’ll guaran-goddamn-tee you that Relentless beats the living shit out of Poison’s latest.
That being said, the album does have it’s weak spots. “Heaven Don’t Want Me (And Hell’s Afraid I’ll Take Over),” begins with a hokey country-AM-radio intro to go along with the hokey title, but soon switches to a sluggish, forgettable grinding. Throw in a couple more mediocre tunes, without the silly intro, and the ubiquitous attempted ballad. Note that Jesse says he doesn’t do ballads, only “country songs,” like “Secret of the Bottle.” And is it any surprise that “Down This Road Before” sounds oddly similar to that beer-drenched weeper?
Oh, and “Sparks From Candy” contains the line “If you want it heavy, baby, I weigh a ton.” If I were a scholar, I’d call it a “recurring theme,” but I’ve come to realize, after nearly flunking out of college, that I am no scholar.
Even with these shortcomings, Relentless is sure to please all the Jackyl fans out there, and it’s my belief that there’s a little tiny Jesse James Dupree inside each and every one of us, just kicking and clawing to be let out. And if there’s not? Hey, who needs you anyway! Go listen to Bright Eyes and leave us the hell alone!
* * * *
Hey you kids, gather ‘round ol’ Cousin Kip for another story from out of the murky depths of my misspent youth! It was way back in 1992, and I was but a wee schoolboy. To broaden our horizons, we were required to take a number of different elective courses, and it eventually befell me, after tours of duty in music (where we dutifully clanged triangles and warbled out such favorites as “Cripple Creek”), health (where it was hinted that the endocrine system was somehow, in some way, related to that mythical beast, SEX), and gym (where I hid in the locker room to avoid the indignities of floor hockey), to put on my safety goggles and take woodshop. This suited me just dandy, because I had recently become deeply enamored with chainsaws. The shrewd reader has already deduced that this newfound love of power tools was a direct result of “The Lumberjack,” the then-current single from Jackyl. I dearly loved this song and was forever trying to capture it on tape, from the radio, without some bubble-headed deejay prattling over it or running the songs together. When a neighbor cut down a tree, I actually stood at the property line and recorded the chainsaw and wood-chipper noise, for God knows what purpose. I was already a fan of Jackyl’s first single “I Stand Alone” (which would later become my anthem), but the addition of the chainsaw only made me love them more. And don’tcha know, they had a whopping FIVE singles off that album!
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