L.A. Guns is a peculiar band. Considering everything that has gone on with the band since its inception way back in the 80s and where it stands today, audiences are left almost feeling like they need a program to know what is going on with the group. Between the breakups, band members coming and going, reunions and then legal issues that led to the formation of two completely different L.A. Guns bands, the band has had more changes than a pop singer at a live show. Yes, this critic went there. Through it all, the band – collectively and separately – has managed to somehow keep L.A. Guns’ legacy going for more than three decades, releasing 13 albums so far and still managing to keep at least some fans along the way. Now Friday, the Tracii Guns-led L.A. Guns lineup will release its latest album, Checkered Past, bringing the band’s album total to 14. The record will come less than a year after the Steve Riley-led lineup released its latest album, Renegades, and is its own enjoyable offering. The musical and lyrical content featured in Checkered Past gives audiences plenty to appreciate throughout the album’s 43-minute run time. That is evidenced right from the record’s outset in ‘Cannonball,’ which will be discussed shortly. ‘Knock Me Down,’ which comes later in the record’s run, is another example of how that combined content makes the album notable. It will be examined a little later. The contemplative ‘Let You Down,’ which comes even later in the album’s run, is another example of how the record’s collective content makes it worth hearing. When all three of the songs noted here are considered along with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole makes Checkered Past an album that will have a strong future, given the right support.
Checkered Past, the latest full-length studio offering from the Tracii Guns-led L.A. Guns lineup (it’s really sad that such distinction has to be made for clarification’s sake) is a strong new offering from this lineup. The record’s musical and lyrical content collectively support the noted statement throughout its presentation. The record’s opener, ‘Cannonball’ is just one of the songs that serves so well to make that clear. The song is a powerful first impression for the record, with its intense energy and pure guitar rock approach. As noted, this arrangement is high-energy. Right from its outset, the guitars grab listeners and keep them fully engaged and entertained throughout with their driving approach. Phil Lewis’ vocals and drummer Shane Fitzgibbon’s time keeping join with Lewis’ work on the bass to enrich the song even more. The whole is a completely infectious work that is everything that guitar rock purists enjoy and have enjoyed for years.
The full-on energy featured in the song’s arrangement does well as it pairs with the song’s lyrical theme to make for even more appeal. The lyrical theme featured here seems to center on someone who is facing off against another person who has caused a lot of trouble for that protagonist. This is inferred as Lewis sings in the song’s lead verse and chorus, “You’re rollin’/Rollin’/You’re on a tidal wave/Floating/You’re floating/Right into an ocean raid/Say hello to Davy Jones/Watch you sink down like a bag of stones/Get your crew down for a mutiny/Today’s the day/Surprise you in the night/I don’t give you time to think/Shot you with my cannonball/And your ship’s about to sink/Shot you with my cannonball/And I’ll watch you drown.” Again, this really seems to be someone saying he has no remorse for going after that secondary figure. That is especially inferred through the mention of the mutiny. Crews only mutiny against leaders who are less than positive in their personalities. One has to wonder if – considering the album’s title and the band’s past – if this theme is any reference to the band’s past. The repeated mention of a mutiny (“Now’s the right time for a mutiny/Today’s the day”) in the song’s second verse leads even more, to that curiosity. The added mention by the song’s subject that “I went down with my ship to die” makes one wonder if that is a reference to the good “captain” sticking with “his ship” to the very end. The whole thing really comes across as one big metaphorical statement about two sides facing off and even ultimately going down in the end, the one captain would go down with it all. Again, it is only a supposition, but this certainly seems to be an allusion to the band’s past and present (and maybe even future). Regardless, this and the song’s musical arrangement come together to create plenty of engagement and entertainment among audiences. It is just one example of what audiences have to look forward to from Checkered Past. ‘Knock Me Down,’ which comes later in the record’s run, is another example of what audiences have to appreciate.
‘Knock Me Down’ is the polar opposite of ‘Cannonball’ in regards to its musical and lyrical content. The song’s musical arrangement is a driving composition, but its mood is so much different than that of ‘Cannonball.’ In this case, the mood set through the arrangement is more serious and somewhat firm. There is a sense of specific purpose here; almost a frustration of sorts. The modern rock style approach throws in some comparison to works from AC/DC interestingly enough, making for an even more unique overall musical presentation. The overall arrangement is sure to keep listeners engaged and entertained throughout the song’s four minute-plus run time. The unique approacj taken here and the song’s energy do well to help translate the noted seeming sense of frustration in the song’s lyrical theme.
The song’s lyrical theme is another work that hints at frustration with another person. It goes right along with the theme noted in the album’s title, too. In this case, the checkered past seems to be that of a broken relationship. This is inferred as Lewis sings in the song’s lead verse and chorus, “How bout you rethink/How you been messing it around/Don’t need no middle man/You got the top of the mount/You knock me down/Knock me down, baby/I’m ready to rise/You knock me down/Take your shot, baby/I’m ready to rise.” As the song progresses, the song’s subject tells that other person that despite what the “antagonist” has done to him, he has not been knocked down permanently as he sings, “Say my name/’Cause you’re in my house/I’m a long time gone/Working my way back here/And I’ve never been stronger/Stand back/’Bout to get a smack/Think you can hold me down/Like that/Teach you how to act/I don’t wanna see you now/Don’t come around/What are you doing/Doing to me/You never get me to stop a thing/I know your demons/Your boogeyman/You know that gives me the power jack.” Again, what audiences get is a subject referring to some kind of checkered past. This time the checkered past is with another person close to him/her. At the same time, the song’s subject is fully defiant, letting that second person know that what he/she did in the past is not keeping him/her down. The confidence and certainty in these statements is enhanced and translated very well through the energy and approach taken to the song’s arrangement. The whole makes the song another notable addition to the album and that much more proof of what makes the album in whole successful. As noted, it is just one more way in which the record’s lyrical and musical content comes together to make it so worth hearing. ‘Let You Down’ is yet another key addition to the album.
‘Let You Down’ changes gears again in regards to the album’s musical side. In the case of this song, the band gets even more contemplative. The whole of this song’s arrangement is so reserved through that contemplative nature. It is only in the song’s choruses that things really pick up. What is really interesting here is that considering L.A. Guns (in each of its lineups) rose to fame in the 80s so that the band went this route here instead of just going the typical power ballad route makes for its own share of appeal. It makes the song’s musical arrangement that much more engaging and entertaining.
As much as the musical arrangement does for the appeal of ‘Let You Down’ it is just one of the items that make the song stand out. The song’s lyrical theme adds to its appeal. Looking through the album’s lyrical content, it would seem to be that it is another song centered on a broken relationship. This is inferred as Lewis sings in the song’s chorus, “Maybe you’re a lovesick kind of girl/You might be just confused about it/You’ll love me tonight/You’ll hate me tomorrow/I’m a let you down/Oh, you’ll love me tonight/You’ll hate me tomorrow/That’s how it goes around.” From there, the song’s subject notes that, “No I’m never, never, never gonna change/So top asking why/I’m acting awful strange.” Considering the note in the song’s lead verse of the feelings held deep inside, that would seem to hint at a lot of deep personal demons that are going to prevent the song’s subject from being able to maintain a relationship. That admission, together with the painful realization in the song’s chorus, makes this overall approach its own unique take on such a familiar brooding topic. Keeping that in mind, the whole here makes clear why the song is another interesting addition to the album. When it is considered along with the other songs examined here and with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole makes the record in whole another positive effort from the Tracii Guns-led side of L.A. Guns.
Checkered Past, the latest entry from the Tracii Guns-led L.A. Guns lineup, is a strong new offering from the group. Its appeal is proven through its musical and lyrical content alike. Each of the songs examined here serve well to support the noted statement. When those songs are considered along with the rest of the album’s entries, the whole makes the album overall a record that every L.A. Guns fan will appreciate.
Checkered Past is scheduled for release Friday through Frontiers Records s.r.l. More information on the album is available along with all of the latest news from the Traci Guns-led L.A. Guns lineup at: