RUDE ROOSTER – Step Up
(2005 Gniotunes/Jamot Music)
Written by John Payne
The currently accepted version of rock history suggests that the grunge rock of the early 90s destroyed the hair metal of the 80s. Milwaukee rockers Rude Rooster suggest that the two need not be mutually exclusive. Their new album Step Up incorporates the slickly produced clean guitar sounds and shredding solos of eighties hard rock into songs with sludgy, anthemic choruses more reminiscent of grunge greats Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, while filling the rest of the material with heavy riffs indebted both to Seattle and Los Angeles. And though the music can be broken down and heard as separate musical elements that have been used many times before, those elements have rarely been combined together in such an effective way (if at all), and the result should be a pleasing one for fans of classic hard rock.
For the first part of the album, Rooster’s combination of 90s alt-rock and 80s hair-metal balladry makes them sound kind of like Velvet Revolver; a sharp fusion of two supposedly different styles. But unlike Revolver, it doesn’t come off as fabricated. A whole record full of songs like this would have sufficed, but that would have been the easy way out. Rooster chose to take a riskier, more ambitious and more rewarding path. Instrumental “CROI” is an almost-classical piece featuring only an unaccompanied guitar. Technically sophisticated guitar playing abounds on the album, but it is with this song that guitarist Jamey Buencamino really outdoes himself. More excellent guitars with little accompaniment are featured on the reprise of “Into Me,” and the next track, “October,” continues in that vein until the drums finally kick in after about two minutes. Even with the return to more conventional rock, the song is still a genre-bending thrill, incorporating some beautiful backward-tracked guitar into the verses and featuring one of singer Michael Gniot’s best choruses. Cumulatively, these three songs represent about ten minutes of downtime for drummer Mark Altergott. It’s a bold arrangement and a lesser guitarist would’ve made it excruciatingly boring, but Buencamino executes it brilliantly.
As ambitious and impressive as much of the album is, there are a few missteps that prevent it from being a truly classic hard-rock album. First and foremost, though his vocals are superior at times, Gniot on several occasions, most notably on the rock version “Into Me,” chooses to use the well-worn Vedder/Weiland/Staley impression that has made bands such as 3 Doors Down, Default, and (ugh) Creed so insufferable. And while the guitar playing is superb, there is almost more shredding on this album than on a Joe Satriani full-length. Buencamino is really, really good at guitar. Okay…got it; he can relax from time to time. Most tragically, album closer “Yesterday” could have been a spectacular six-minute song that somehow managed to sound like Pink Floyd in the best way possible. Instead it’s a spectacular six-minute song mixed with six minutes’ worth of tiring shredding.
Of course, having a sometimes too-flashy guitarist is far from the worst problem a band can have. And listening to Rude Rooster beats the hell out of listening to Yngwie Malmsteen. They blend different eras and genres expertly, and are willing to take chances that reward both themselves and their audience.