Wednesday, December 17, 2008

CD review> Musictap

Mark Squirek


This is floor stomping, anthemic music and Todd is on a roll. His last release, Liars, brought him back to melodic pop which he mixed with funk and experimentation. The songs titles were often one word and the message was very direct, he wasn’t happy with a lot of people. Four years later on Arena he tackles a slightly different, but similar, subject. Anger. Only this time he wraps everything in loud, bludgeoning guitars, memorable riffs, forceful choruses, distorted guitars and lyrics that that occasionally approach screaming. As angry and loud as he is, Todd never looses hope for something positive in the end.

Intentional or not, Arena might be considered the second, broader-based half of Liars. Like that release, the title clearly and succinctly explains where Todd is coming from. This time he may be encasing his message in arena-style rock, but more often than not he is addressing the arena of the world. Where Liars may have seemed to be more internal with an occasional touch of finger pointing, Todd is now trying to make us think about where we are in the bigger picture, both physically and spiritually. The idea is laid out on the very first song title, Mad. It doesn’t stop there either. Other songs include Courage, Weakness, Strike and Panic.

Nothing about the message would stand up if the songs themselves weren’t there. Todd’s songwriting skills have seldom been sharper. A lot of artists are disgusted with love and can write a song about heartbreak. But how many can write a song about the danger of kids with guns and make it so damn hummable? Gun starts off with a Paul Kossoff/Free riff and than jumps into a Z Z Top-esque boogie. Somewhere in the middle of the song Todd even references his earlier work with stacked vocals and a hushed question/answer bridge that leads to a screaming guitar solo that would have fit in Utopia. It is a stunning movement across song styles that holds a funny but true refrain which wouldn’t be out of place in a musical number on South Park.

In an odd way the CD could be considered an almost perfect encapsulation of popular hard rock over the last forty years. Years ago Something/Anything was able to reflect the world of pop-masters of the fifties and sixties with the style of the singer songwriter while mixing everything with spacey rock and fun. During Arena Todd again looks outside himself and incorporates the styles of others to create his own personal vision. There are echoes of Queen, Kraftwork and Boston throughout the entire release. Sometimes you think you can hear The Cars, Judas Priest, Robin Trower, Zappa, Genesis, Def Leppard, AC DC or a pop hit from the eighties that you just can’t put your finger on (Bourgeois Tagg anyone?), but Todd somehow manages to always bring it back to being Todd.

Which is where it should always be. Todd is a singular talent in the history of rock. Few artists come close to the man’s skill in the studio. Not to mention his guitar skills. The idea that all this noise came from one, single individual is something that is hard to wrap your head around. Arena was produced, performed and written by Todd. It takes 5 people in AC / DC to do what he does by himself on the song Strike. This isn’t a slam at AC DC, it is meant to serve as an example of how much talent this one man really has.

Arena is the hardened, wiser and reflective book end to Something / Anything. Once again Todd has done it all. The chorus of Weakness, when it finally gets there, may be close to the most beautiful and understanding music he has ever made.

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