I had never heard of Cheetah Chrome before now and found his first solo record, entitled Solo, to be on the whole quite disappointing. According to his press release, he comes from a background of punk and although this EP has echoes of his past I generally found it clichéd and watered down. The songs lack imagination and I think this is due to a lack of any real song-writing prowess. Having said this, my favourites are the EP’s opener ‘Sharky’, the bluesy ‘Rollin’ Voodoo’ and ‘Love Song to Death’. His voice has an aged and knowing character like he has seen a hell of a lot in his life, but with this in mind it seems a bit of a cop out to release an EP of a session from 1996 and a session from 2010 in that it’s a bit sporadic and there’s no consistency here. If it was my first solo material, I would want more thought to go into my work and not just a mish-mash of my material from the distant and recent past. Having said that I’m sure this EP’s a grower but I want more from you next time Cheetah.
Anyway, here’s a look at this EP track by track:
Track 1: ‘Sharky’
The first offering on Cheetah Chrome’s new EP is an up-tempo instrumental, which features a backbone of organ sounding like Ray Manzerek has returned to the land of the living. This track, called ‘Sharky’ is very 60s sounding, in the mould of surf music, and could easily be heard within the context of a film like Pulp Fiction. The guitars play a repetitive riff around a handful of chords and the drums and organ are both high in the mix while the bass just follows the root note of the chords. It sounds a little like The Doors crossed with Neil Diamond, but I must admit the song stagnates pretty soon as you realise that it’s not going anywhere particularly interesting. That is until the lead guitar kicks in with a dynamic and spirited solo.
Track 2: ‘East Side Story’
This radio friendly little ditty reminds me a little of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – owing much to the jingle-jangle of the guitars, although I don’t think they’re necessarily Rickenbackers. Cheetah’s voice sounds like it has sounded better, although I have never heard his music before. His voice is strained and not exactly melodic sounding but he carries it off as a man who is telling a tale like he has lived it and still has the scars to prove it – namely in his vocal chords. The instruments are produced beautifully and the sound of the rhythm guitars pack a nice punch. The lead guitars complement each other nicely in the songs and a nicely played acoustic concludes the song.
Track 3: ‘Rollin’ Voodoo’
The steady build up of this very atmospheric track starts with fuzz bass, which is joined by a tribal sounding drumbeat featuring a lot of floor tom and tom-tom work with some great percussion. Acoustic guitars join the mix playing a riff until a lead guitar soars over the top. Right from the start of this song I am enjoying it, feeling it under my feet. It is the first song on the EP that makes me want to turn it up and enjoy it and rock out. It has a euphoric sound and it makes me want to plug my guitar in and jam to it. It has a really dynamic feel to it and it’s produced really well. I like the way that it goes back to the intro and slowly builds again for the final verse and he really puts his all into his vocal performance while his lead guitar work really cuts like a knife. He sounds like he enjoyed singing this one. I certainly did and it’s my favourite track on the EP.
Track 4: ‘Stare Into the Night’
On first listen ‘Stare into the Night’ sounds like a serious version of a Darkness song. It’s a big rock cliché without the only bit I like about the Darkness – the comedy factor! Needless to say it’s okay. If you haven’t heard a rock record before then it’s probably a revelation. This being said it’s played with enough conviction and energy that it grows on me over time. The lead guitar is pretty infectious and his vocals are intense, but the song is over before it really gets started and I’m left wondering where the Middle 8 is and how much better the song would sound with the inclusion of one. There’s a task for all you would be songwriters – insert one at your leisure!
Track 5: ‘No Credit’
Easily the worst track on the EP. Quite frankly Cheetah sounds off-key and like a frustrated rock star scraping the bottom of the song-writing barrel for this number. I don’t think he ‘sang’ an interesting lyric on this song and his observations that his rock ‘n roll life has provided him with are really dull. The result is moronic lyrics and heard-it-all-before music. Sorry Cheetah, now give us a couple of good tracks so I can end your review on a high.
Track 6: ‘Nuthin’’
This is better. The lyrics here are very real and this song’s autobiographical nature makes me believe him more, unlike the previous two tracks which were steeped in cliché. The song captures his frustrations well and provides a dark, sordid landscape where there is little else to do but get high, all the while he knows he has made mistakes and uses this song to confess to them. Musically it’s very atmospheric. The acoustic guitars provide an organic, natural feel, which seams to lie in direct opposition to the dirty, harsh sounding electric guitars. It’s almost as if the acoustic guitars reflect all the positivity he has while the electrics sound menacing and negative. I might be off my face but it sounds like there is definitely a conscious effort to make that distinction. Well that’s what I think – what do I know!
Track 7: ‘Love Song to Death’
This sounds even more like a Tom Petty track than ‘East Side Story’. I love the guitars on this track. I like the huge amounts of chorus on the guitars, there is some nice riffing going on and it again is nicely produced. His lyrics are confessional and it’s nice when an artist can be honest and bear his soul a little. The guitars are clean and are comprised of jingle jangle electrics and earthy acoustics. The lead solo has a unique style on the whole until Cheetah pays homage to Chuck Berry for a couple of bars which he repeats later on in the song. A piano features buried fairly deep down in the mix, which provides a nice flowing rhythm.
The song reaches a point ready for the last verse where everything is played minimally and the guitars strum single chords marking each change when he sings/speaks the line “I have a hard time on a good day; just some days I just don’t try”, and I think what a great line. It’s the sort of honesty I really like in a songwriter – an honesty that forms a sort of meeting of the minds and I think this was my favourite line on the EP. Oh yeah, and the flowing line “I do know I’m really lucky, lucky I don’t have you”. I know we can all say we’ve said that at least once in our romantic lives!