Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Coyote's Big Music Howling: Saliva's "Under Your Skin"

Few bands make me have to grab their latest slab the day it’s released. Memphis-based hard rock unit Saliva is one of them. Their latest slab, “Under Your Skin” (Island Records, producer Howard Benson), released last month, was worth the wait. And while, the band is officially one less member (minus Jonathan Montoya, who departed last August), you sure as hell wouldn’t know it as Josey Scott (vocals), Wayne Swinny (guitar), Dave Novotny (bass) and Paul Crosby (drums) have no less momentum moving forward in this new ten-song effort. Sans Montoya, Swinny holds down all the crunch and leads with flawless aplomb as Novotny and Crosby continue to prove themselves as one of the most underrated, underappreciated rhythm sections in this genre. As for Scott, the darkness is still dominant, letting in the light only when he’s damn good and ready. The formula still works and is very much in play here.

Every Saliva album has something pulse-pounding to offer; some less than others but that’s just the way things are with any band. You might disagree and that’s perfectly fine. To this writer, the most effective Saliva albums were their major label debut, “Every Six Seconds,” 2002’s “Back into Your System,” 2007’s “Blood Stained Love Story” and this new release, which doesn’t disappoint with ass-kicking rockers, heart-wrenching ballads and contemplative life lessons. In this review, I offer my views on the album’s strongest cuts.

Right from the gate, “Skin” opens up with “Badass,” an explosive rock jam that reeks of the band’s raucous, threatening signature style, sneaking up on you like an assassin that’s been hiding in your bushes for days, just waiting for you to poke you head out the door. “Badass” is one of the songs that makes me hit the “back” button on my MP3 player as soon as it ends. I never get tired of it. It’s of little surprise that “Badass” was included in the final film of the “Saw” saga, “Saw 3D,” but it’s even better seeing it attached to a video featuring the evolution of a child to a young man to an American soldier ( Like “Click Click Boom” and "Your Disease" (“Every Six Seconds”), “Always” (“Back into Your System”), “Survival of the Sickest” (“Survival of the Sickest”) “Ladies and Gentlemen” (“Blood Stained Love Story”) and “Family Reunion” (“Cinco Diablo”) before it, “Badass” is the leader of the pack on this slab.

The first single, “Nothing,” opens up with a sustained note that sets the mood of sadness and solitude- not unlike most songs of heartache- sliding into the tortured commentary of a man who just can’t escape the spectre of a lost love. Even being with a new woman in the closest of ways can’t erase the impact of the previous one and adds further weight to the question that’s not answered in the song: Who dumped who? Who made such a grievous error in judgment? Whatever you decide, “Nothing” remains an infectious statement of crippling loss.

There’s no question to be asked in the mid-tempo joint “Hate Me.” Scott’s vocals couldn’t put it any simpler: “I love you but I’m gonna f**k up your world somehow because that’s all I know how to do.” On the other end is most likely a defiant woman who knows- like any other- that she has the key to tame him and make him decent. Ambiguous? Nope. Single-ready? Yep.

Another of my favorites, “Never Should’ve Let You Go” could’ve easily been titled “The Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Done.” Unlike, “Nothing,” there’s no question who walked out on who. “Never” is soaked through and through with regret and the sick feeling that another man gladly gave the woman Scott pines for everything she ever wanted. It fuels the imagination and if you’re anything like me, creates the little music video in the mind of what went wrong. Did she want commitment? A child? Whatever the case, the vision of life before losing her vs. the scenario of her being part of something more fulfilling, through Scott’s eyes, can almost be too much to take, if you truly lose yourself in the song and put yourself in his shoes.

“Burn it Up” bring us the patented shouting style of rap Scott is renowned for, spiraling into a scathing rant, laden with enmity, rivaling “Cinco Diablo’s” “Hunt You Down” in terms of pure focused ire. It is a little chorus-heavy but still a throttling effort.

“Spotlight” is definitely this album’s “Raise Up” (the latter featured on “Back into Your System”) and that’s not saying it’s some sort of copy. “Spotlight” carries that same “Go get ‘em” mentality, though on a slightly more upbeat tip. No typical metal doom-and-gloom here but positive reinforcement to music and some insane backing vocals. It’s basically a  message we should share with everyone we know who has some sort of talent, gift or ability (and we know everyone has one), from friends to relatives to our own children: Seize that opportunity to shine but don’t let it get to your head. Be great at what you do; rise above the hype and secure and own your humility.

“Under Your Skin” isn’t rocket science. Last time I checked, good old American rock and roll wasn’t supposed to be. We’ll leave that to the Coldplays, Arcade Fires, Radioheads and U2s of the world. Here, you get good old American rock and roll storytelling in that signature Saliva style. Your job is to simply kick back and enjoy the ride.

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