Lynyrd Skynyrd – [Album]

Friday, 25 September 2009

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, “Huh? Lynyrd Skynyrd – that band responsible for writing a song which has become the butt of the most enduring joke in the rock book, that band who told Neil Young where to go in one of their other greatest hits – that group of perennially loveable goobers have a new album out? How? Didn't they join the third-string nostalgia circuit after the death of most of their founding members as well as a significant portion of their secondary line-up (guitarist Gary Rossington is the only surviving original member, and many of the other instrumental positions are being manned by tertiary personnel)? How could it sound even a little like the same band?”

The answer to that last part is easy – it doesn't. This band calling itself Lynyrd Skynyrd sounds exactly nothing like the group that wrote “Free Bird,” “That Smell” or “Sweet Home Alabama.” To be fair, it sounds like a band inspired by Lynyrd Skynyrd, but that's where the similarities end. In fact, on their first album in six years, Lynyrd Skynyrd sounds an awful lot more like those chicken-fried pastor-patered hard rock bands like Creed that were ruling radio airwaves a dozen years ago with a healthy helping of New Country mixed in for good measure. That mix will continually shock listeners expecting the more folksy and understated guitar-rock bombast that used to fuel the band, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a diminished return.

For the right set of ears, God + Guns will come on like a godsend because it is a strong, countrified rock record (think Allan Jackson and you're on the right track) as well as updating Lynyrd Skynyrd for a younger audience. The record crashes open with the spitting and swaggering hard rock pounder “Still Unbroken” that, on the surface, sounds about as far from Lynyrd Skynyrd as one can get; with thick, heavy electric guitars, lyrics that seem both personal and (in a cocksure, 'hard but not hard enough to not cry' way) nostalgic, and an arrangement that appears to be spliced together from the establishments of Garth Brooks and Oleander, the song presents an entity so far removed from classic Lynyrd Skynyrd as to be almost comical and doesn't exactly instill much faith that these proceedings are going to be worth much (I've seen better chops hanging in a food stamp butcher shop window). Happily, the band doesn't stay too long in those climes though. After the initial thud, the band quickly reverts to something that makes a little more sense for them.  “Simple Life” and “Little Thing Called You” recall the the basics of Skynyrd's muse as they get back to family values and uniquely southern worry, and the band makes the most of the familiarity even if it still doesn't sound one hundred percent genuine.

The going gets great – if only briefly – at “Southern Ways.” While the songs that precede it will hook young fans looking for a cross between new country and rock with the added bonus of an established name and also get seasoned new country fans interested, “Southern Ways” will appeal to seasoned Skynyrd fans because it has at least a shadow of the old, tattered glories. With piano lines reprised from “Sweet Home Alabama,” a familiar homesick, 'how did we get so far from where we started?' theme, the song has all of those elements that made Skynyrd universally accessible in the first place and, when they get there, the vibe slides on easily; it's a bit of magic that, for time it takes to play through “Skynyrd Nation” and “Unwrite That Song,” Lynyrd Skynyrd actually returns with some new songs that do their reputation justice.

Unfortunately, those three songs are all she wrote for any vestige of the vintage Skynyrd sound on God + Guns. From there on out, all that remains is a series of mawkish misrepresentations. “Floyd” re-writes “Amos Moses” pretty obviously (so close it's possible Jerry Reed's estate has already been in contact with the band) while “That Ain't My America” wraps the band in the American flag to score points, but, truly, the most abhorrent song on the record is the title track; with comparatively light instrumentation, Lynyrd Skynyrd bemoans the idea that any politician would try to take away their “God and guns” because, according to singer Johnny Van Zant, that's what his country was founded on.

Ronnie must be spinning in his grave.

On that note, it's difficult to look at anything on God + Guns the same way. The album simply does not have any of the band's history to it and, while it's understandable why things would have changed (artists grow and do so even more greatly when most of the original membership is absent) over the span of thirty years, some of the values and sounds that the band has shucked here would have been worth holding onto. The album will probably find a place in the hearts of younger fans as well as among fans of new country, but older fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd will not be satisfied by God + Guns at all.



God + Guns
comes out on September 29, 2009 on Roadrunner Records. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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