Perhaps the least loved of the three guitarists who worked on Ozzy Osbourne‘s classic studio albums Jake E Lee returns after falling off the planet since his dismissal by Ozzy post “The Ultimate Sin”. I met news of his return, in Red Dragon Cartel, with surprise but little expectation. A scan of the song titles on this self-titled album hardly held much promise as far as I was concerned; ‘Shout It Out’, ‘Wasted’, ‘War Machine’. Sounds pretty humdrum doesn’t it?
Then ‘Deceived’ storms in like classic “1984” era Van Halen and kicks my low expectations into the blue. It’s everything you want from an opener, punchy, a no nonsense sentiment, whilst flashy enough to let you know these guys have serious skills. Craftily the staccato riff recalls ‘Bark At The Moon’ and the vocals of D.J.Smith during the bridge slur and whine like classic Ozzy. A calling card from the past – “yeah, I’m THAT guy” it says.
The following two numbers don’t take any prisoners either – ‘Shout It Out’ and ‘Feeder’ literally tear out the speakers, the guitar playing is insane. Jake sounding like a man possessed and determined to impress. Robin Zander of Cheap Trick guests on vocals on ‘Feeder’ and is in fine form too, as are all the various guests present here, including Paul Di’Anno and Maria Brink of In This Moment.
‘Fall from the Sky’ slows it down a notch and is a bit Def Leppard, with raspy Joe Elliot style vocal from Smith, but is mournful enough to keep the Sheffield syrup mountain from smothering them.
Now if you’re asking me ‘Big Mouth’, with Maria Brink on vocals, is the best rock song and vocal performance of the year thus far. Next fucking question! Why? Well it has a breathless, gritty sexuality that only Deftones share when they get all psycho sexual on stuff like ‘Digital Bath’ and ‘Sextape’. Brink snarls and struts with terrifying conviction on her put down “you gotta big mouth for a small man” and it deserves to be a rock chick anthem forever more. It is total sleaze heaven and makes the hairs stand up on my arms every time I play it! Sooo good.
Jake pushes his luck a bit with the Black Sabbath referencing on the intro and outro of ‘War Machine’, it teeters on the verge of piss taking, but once it gets into the song proper it has a nice low slung groove and is like a cross between Alice In Chains and Black Label Society. It’s not the strongest song but even the less spectacular ones have strong melodies, hooks and of course immensely powerful performances. What is pleasing about this album is that it sounds like a proper band, not a guitar hero wanking away whilst his famous guests struggle through some half assed songs (listening Slash?). The rhythm section of drummer Jonas Fairley and bassist Ronnie Mancuso are just as important as Jake and are all over this album like a never ending flurry of punches from a heavyweight boxer. The power and fluidity is undeniable and again really reminds me of Van Halen in their pomp.
‘Exquisite Tenderness’ closes out the album and is a perky but romantic piano composition which sounds spookily like something I reviewed by Italian rock band Belladonna recently. It’s pretty classy but it just reminds me of Spinal Tap‘s ‘Lick My Love Pump’ moment too much to ever listen to with a straight face. Don’t let me put you off though, this is still gonna be hailed as one of the rock albums of the year.