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The remastered version of "Hear My Train A Comin' " also comes off as contrived. In general, the song resembles, a little too closely for me, Hendrix's earlier, more commercially successful and certainly more brilliant work, "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)." The major-to-minor change in the bridge of "Hear My Train" is cribbed almost note for note from "Voodoo Child," and the way "Hear My Train" begins slowly, quietly -- as Hendrix's voice harmonizes with his instrument, "I hear my train a-comin', yes, I hear my train a-callin' me" -- explodes into heavy noise, slows down again for Hendrix to sing in his best bluesy style, then bursts into a raucous guitar solo, shows how an artist, deadened by popular expectations, will resort to what worked in the past for inspiration. Sometimes new and beautiful things result. Other times "Hear My Train A Comin' " happens.
Of course, Hendrix's playing is for the most part exceptional, though not wholly progressive. There's nothing on these tracks to indicate he was taking the guitar solo down ever more crazy routes. But also bear in mind the fact that heavy metal, as it is known today, was taking shape across the pond in the form of a quartet called Black Sabbath, nee Earth. Hendrix's strong intro riffs and prominent power chords on then-new tracks such as "Power of Soul" and "Stepping Stone" prefigure Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Sabbath by about six months. Though Hendrix was not "metal" per se, because his lyrics were still about getting stoned or "together," traces of his guitar work would ultimately end up in the licks of Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page and Sabbath's Tony Iommi. Hendrix's reflecting in his music the spirit of the times -- the great disillusionment felt by flower children on learning that drugs and all-encompassing social programs weren't end-all panaceas -- reveals his uncanny ability to react artistically to his surroundings. In this case, Hendrix's guitar playing didn't become harder because he was such a well-informed citizen; it became gloomier, darker, louder and harder because he was somehow (mystically?) in touch with the social mood and cultural zeitgeist and could translate that into artful noise. If anything, Live reinforces the Hendrix myth of man-as-pop-prophet.
Hendrix's fascination with the war, probably nurtured during his time in the service, is also evident in his playing at around the time Live was recorded. Sounds of battle cries, moans, jet planes and rockets explode from his Fender Stratocaster, juiced up more than ever with a handful of distortion gimmicks. In the intro on the second of two new versions of "Machine Gun," which Hendrix dedicates to the soldiers in Vietnam, the guitarist imitates the sound of gunfire by chopping muted eighth-note tones and mimics the presence of human cries by striking high-pitched notes, which he feeds through his wah-wah pedal for extended counts. As the song reaches its pinnacle, drummer Miles simply rat-a-tat-tats beneath Hendrix's introverted soloing. Otherworldly growls linger in the air seemingly for hours as Hendrix stretches his strings beyond their limits with his tremolo bar and cues feedback at his whim. Bluesy phrasings interspersed with quick and dissonant accents ultimately move Hendrix's solo from shock to earnest music-making toward the end of the 13-minute cut.
It may be that Hendrix was truly interested in making good music and that the countless posthumous releases over the years have merely made him appear self-absorbed. The same way a contract dispute came back to hurt Hendrix after he had become famous some 30 years ago, so is documentation of his every sound coming back to dilute his legend today.
Looks like Buckcherry's cruising for a lawsuit. By what's on this disc, the band's Dreamworks debut, it seems these bad boys from L.A. have lifted entire guitar lines and parts of lyrics from songs written by the gods of thunder, KISS. Knowing that the arena-rock giants are surrounded by $2,000-an-hour lawyers who live to sodomize little folk with rolled-up subpoenas, Buckcherry's members may be dead long before they ever perform live. (Or at least before they perform live in front of people other than Rainbow Room groupies.) But then again, a lengthy courtroom rumble would produce some good press for the band, especially considering the fact that its "music" won't.
Brazenly, Buckcherry opens its 12-song CD with the most notable theft: the primary rhythm guitar riff from the 1977 KISS tune "Shock Me," written and sung by KISS lead guitarist Ace Frehley. And as Space Ace, as he's affectionately known among KISS Army foot soldiers, did lo these 20-odd years ago, so does the Buckcherry guitarist (either a guy named Keith Nelson or Yogi, it's not clear who) begin the song with a two power-chord run that hiccups three times in the beginning, shifts to two staccato chops, full stops, then returns to its free-swinging two-chord charm but at a higher pitch.
Though Space Ace has freely admitted pilfering preexisting work to suit his needs (i.e., on the ending solo of the KISS song "She," Frehley recreates almost to the note Robby Krieger's solo from The Doors classic "Five to One"), he's never referenced stuff so blatantly, let alone from the same genre. As expected, the Buckcherry song of concern, "Lit Up," becomes brainless braggadocio after the best part of the tune -- the part written by KISS -- loses steam. Not even the redeeming quality of lyrics about cocaine and getting fucked up can save this track from Wasp wannabeism and, consequently, my trash can.
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