If we’re brutally honest – and why shouldn’t we be? – Quiet Riot really haven’t mattered in the grand scheme of things for twenty years or more. Indeed, their one universally-acclaimed record, Metal Health, which their press releases will still tell you was the first heavy metal record ever to top the Billboard charts in the US, came out in 1983, meaning it’s actually thirty four years since they were kings of the hill.
The record they released with Rough Cutt man Paul Shortino in 1988, titled simple Quiet Riot, was pretty special too, especially the best Whitesnake song David Coverdale never wrote, Stay With Me Tonight,but since then… not so much.
All of which makes it amusing that there’s been a fair old storm on social media surrounding the release of the latest Quiet Riot long player, Road Rage. People really shouldn’t care about this band by now, but they do, which I guess is full credit to the tenacity of drummer Frankie Banali, who has kept the QR flag flying all this time despite losing fellow traveller (and band focal point, vocalist Kevin DuBrow) in 2007. Benali has installed American Idol alumnus James Durbin as the latest vocalist to take on the DuBrow mantle, and this is where the main bone of contention amongst the digital masses lies.
Lovably, gumby metalheads still fear and resent the taint of ‘mainstream’ culture, and Durbin, who proved himself capable enough as a vocalist on Idol… is crucified by association on Blabbermouth message boards and twitter shitstorms alike. The man can sing, let’s get that out in the open from the start; whether his voice is suitable for QR is another matter. And then there’s the other music…
Road Rage is almost uniformly mediocre musically, and when it does manage to drag itself out from the swamp, as it does on the bluesy raunch of Roll This Joint, Durbin’s nasal, slightly reedy warble just doesn’t do it justice. DuBrow was an asbestos-throated belter of songs in the best Steve Marriott tradition, and he would have simply owned this song. Shortino, similarly, would have destroyed it. Durbin just about holds his own but that’s as far as it goes.
Freak Flag sounds like watered down LA Guns, and Durbin, despite clearly putting his heart and soul into Wasted, just doesn’t have the ballast in his voice to carry it off. But then again the song, which sounds like something Nikki Sixx might have rejected in the mid eighties, is so lightweight it probably gets the performances it deserves.
Still Wild opens up with some nice Bonhamesque drumming from Banali, and the chorus is a little more interesting than others on the record – a lot more in fact, and Durbin unleashes a fine scream mid-song, but real items worthy of praise are few and far between. Guitarist Alex Grossi knows every trick in the hair metal playbook and deploys them accordingly but doesn’t really draw attention to himself, and Chuck Wright does what bassists do, unencumbered with the need to shine by a mix that barely acknowledges his presence, save for the slightly funky outro of Renegades.
Elsewhere Make a Way is noteworthy not because it’s a great song but because Durbin sounds completely comfortable on it. This is the style of music he sings best, and if he’s to continue in the band in the future a concentration on straight ahead hard rock of this kind might well bear interesting fruit. However power ballads like The Road, with Durbin’s Vince Neil phrasings, are probably best avoided.
I’ve tried to remain positive in this review, if only to distance myself from the dolts who reject Durbin’s presence simply because he had the temerity to try and further his career by appearing on American Idol – but at the end of the day, a Lemon’s a Lemon, and there’s enough vitamin C packed into this album to keep a fairly large ship’s company safe from scurvy for a pretty long time…
The new Quiet Riot Album, Road Rage, is out now on Frontiers Music