Guitar rock is back. It's rising like a phoenix from the ashes of what was once alternative rock. But too bad, like alternative rock, it's becoming corporatized, which means big labels are noticing this new sound's appeal and are lining up to cash in on it. But until record companies completely commodify the fad, hard-rock fans will have a lot of fun watching the return of long hair, long guitar solos and songs about being on the road, booze and hell on earth.
John Sullivan, drummer for Chicago-based heavy rockers Loudmouth and co-producer of the band's self-titled Hollywood Records debut, needs no convincing. And like other new old-school style bands (e.g., Buckcherry and Soil, to name two), Loudmouth is first and foremost a live musical experience. You get the feeling the band has been playing forever (in fact, it has been just six years) and would continue forever, whether major labels ever come calling or not. Loud, guitar-driven rock and roll pours out of Loudmouth just that naturally and sincerely.
But there have been a lot of bands to come down the pike with a bucket of riffs and some semblance of street credibility. What sets Loudmouth apart is the songcraft behind all the bluster. Whether it's the tight, nearly radio-poplike structure of such songs as "No Heroes" and "What?" the rock anthem leanings of "Lucky No. 7," (complete with psychedelic instrumental meltdown) or the string-bearing epic finale of "End of the Century," melody is simply everywhere.
Sullivan says Loudmouth's approach to making music is "a mixture of a lot of stuff."
"Definitely," he continues, "we're fans of all the heavy stuff. At the same time, I think that a lot of bands sacrifice melody for the sake of heaviness, but we just never saw that as something that needed to be done. You can be as heavy as you want to be, but still have melody."
Singer/guitarist Bob Feddersen and Sullivan (who, along with bass player Mike Flaherty, have known each other since kindergarten) wrote the bulk of Loudmouth's repertoire and can therefore take much of the credit for making this blend work. But a big part of what keeps everything on track is the guitar-hero stylings of the remaining member, Tony McQuaid. The gutterlike attack of "No Heroes," the simple chug demonstrated on "The Road" or the pop-into-stoner riffing dealt out on "Where Have We Gone" all lead to a burning yet somehow tasteful solo never far behind.
McQuaid, who the rest of Loudmouth claim was hired in late 1992 based on his attitude alone (he never played them a note), deals not in flash for its own sake and prefers the well-delivered uppercut to the long-bomb haymaker. And the one song he wrote solo that made it onto the record, "Maybe," encapsulates Loudmouth's guitar-inspired power nicely. It moves from a whisper to a scream in a style at once classic and contemporary. Feddersen chants the lyrics of what might have been (maybe), while Sullivan and Flaherty switch tempos together seamlessly.
In a manner similar to McQuaid's guitar histrionics, drummer Sullivan employs his entire rhythmic arsenal, from bell to shaker to monolithic slam and back again, without ever stepping on the song itself. And when all of this controlled freedom was put on tape with Joe Barresi (the Melvins, Queens of the Stone Age) and then mixed by Chris Lord-Alge (Orgy, Hole), the result was one of the "live-est"-sounding big production records you're likely to hear all year. And when Feddersen bellows at the end of the chorus to "Lucky No. 7" that no matter what else is dragging you down, "You've got a soul, brother / You've got a lot," the power is such that you have to believe the man, regardless of how hackneyed the sentiment might look standing alone on newsprint.
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A look at some the other song titles -- "Not Free," "Rats in the Maze" -- and the general attitude becomes clear. "A lot of these tunes, like even [current single] 'Fly,' there's a motif of freedom, either searching for it or experiencing it at the time," says Sullivan. "I think everybody in the world wants to feel free. And that's what rock and roll is supposed to be about: being able to express yourself and get out of the daily confinement of everyday life."
It seems as if this approach is starting to work. Loudmouth, once looked upon as "unhip" back home in Chicago for engaging in such criminal acts as playing solos during its club shows and encouraging crowd participation, is now so hip as to have had "Not Free" covered by the current kings of the heavy pop heap, Metallica. And Loudmouth has just wrapped up some dates with punk rockers Bad Religion. But getting fickle fans to accept white-boy rock again won't be as easy as letting mainstream metal appropriate your sounds or touring with punkers. Of the Bad Religion tour, Sullivan says: "I can't really say any of us are fans of punk at all. I mean, we don't even like it. The Bad Religion guys were really cool, though, and hopefully someday we'll do a big rock show and they can do a big punk show, and we'll just leave it at that. But punk rock started out as bands rebelling against all the bands we love. They hated Black Sabbath. They hated Led Zeppelin. So, needless to say, their fans probably weren't big fans of ours, and our fans weren't big fans of theirs.
"It wasn't the ideal tour. We tried it, and now we're going to go back on our own." The ideal road, according to Sullivan, is as simple as this: "We'd rather play with more rock and roll bands, because that's what we want to see happen, is more rock and roll."
Loudmouth performs Friday, June 4, at midnight at Instant Karma, 1617 Richmond Avenue, (713)528-3545. Call (713)629-3700 for information and tickets, $7.