L.A. Guns! I first heard the name sometime in 1987. It was likely in the pages or Circus or Hit Parader. Which honestly comprised the bulk of my teenage reading time. The fact that I had not heard a single note of music was of no consequence. Their look, logo and image had me curious enough to be down at the record store in January of 88. That debut album was the perfect blend of sleaze metal with hints of punk and a “fuck you” middle finger kind of vibe.
It was pretty perfect! The classic lineup of Tracii Guns (guitar), Phil Lewis (vocals), Mick Cripps (guitar), Kelly Nickels (bass) and Steve Riley (drums) would follow up the debut album with 89’s Cocked and Loaded and 91’s Hollywood Vampires. The chemistry of Tracii’s fretwork and Phil’s unique voice set framework for what would become one of my favourite bands of all time!
From there the revolving door of musicians that can add “LA Guns” to their resume is dizzying. In fact, for a few years, there was two completely different versions of the band co-existing. The Phil Lewis/Steve Riley version and the Tracii Guns version. For me, this was agonizing. I was like a child who longed for their parents to get back together. Tracii and Phil just have a special magic sound when they play together. An intangible je ne sais quoi.
Although both versions soldiered on, this “magic” was missing. Until news broke that Tracii and Phil were back and working together on what would become 2017’s “The Missing Peace”. The universe was once again re-aligned and LA Guns would be forever removed from the list of bands with multiple versions (see Great White, Queensryche and Ratt). For me personally, this was as monumental a moment as when Kiss reunited in 1996 or when Dio returned to Sabbath in 2007.
A world with only one version of LA Guns turned out to be short-lived. It was announced that on May 4th, 2019 the band would be taking the stage at the M3 Festival. It turns out that drummer Steve Riley decided to take his portion of the “legally” shared name and Frankenstein a now third version the band. Holy bouncing, baby, Blotzers Batman? It seems Riley reached out to (classic lineup bassist) Kelly Nichols. They
recruited former Gunner Scott Griffin and new vocalist Kurt Frolich. The one-off, festival appearance somehow became a record deal. Golden Robot Records came to bat and this alternative lineup went into the studio to record Renegades.
Review Side One
I will be perfectly honest here, I had virtually zero interest in even hearing this record. In fact, I guess part of me kind of wanted to hate this record. So, with a strange reluctant curiosity, I decided to give this album a spin. Then another and then again. It pains me to admit but I am actually digging Renegades. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me. Kelly Nickels has been credited with penning some of the band’s classics. So I maturely decided to separate the art from the artist and really give this album a fair, unbiased and open
Renegades kicks off with the lead-off single from the album “Crawl”. I will admit that at first, I called out this track as “meh”. In fact, I may have said so publicly on my podcast. This may not have been totally fair as I was mentally comparing it to “Speed”, the lead-off single from The Missing Peace album. I promised to set personal bias aside. After some quality time spent with Renegades, I fully admit that “Crawl” could very well have fit nicely on the Hollywood Vampires era Guns catalogue.
Cruising through this album gives me the feeling I am cruising on the Strip on a Friday night. The first three songs, the aforementioned “Crawl”, “Why Ask Why” and “Well Oiled Machine” deliver ample amounts of melodic sleaze and raunch and set the tone very nicely. Before I get completely enamoured with the album, “Lost Boys” almost derails the experience. This song did absolutely nothing for me. Completing side one is the first ballad. “You Can’t Walk Away” is a decent tune but nowhere close to the magic of Jayne.
Review Side Two
The second half gets started with “Witchcraft” crunchy, melodic and groovy. “All That You Are” starts with a decent riff but fails to really get off the ground from there. I will give it a half-point. The second ballad on the record, “Would” should have been called “Don’t”, as in don’t put it on the record. It’s an absolute snore fest and has already been forgotten. The title track “Renegades” is an ok mid-tempo rocker, half a point there. The album does end on a high note as “Don’t Wanna Know” kicks things back into gear with a snotty little rocker that totally saves the back half of the record.
Don’t be delusional. Renegades lacks the aggressive, high octane, punch to the face energy that oozes from The Missing Peace and The Devil You Know. The songs are there though and Renegades delivers a pretty solid sleaze rock record. It’s almost a shame that it will always suffer when compared to the intangible chemistry, but that comparison fair or unfair lies squarely on Steve Riley‘s shoulders.
I have never met the members of LA Guns, nor do I presume to be an expert in the legalities, contracts and business side of being in a professional band. What I do know is that apparently, Steve Riley at some point acquired a 50% ownership in the name LA Guns. Presuming this is true, it seems that he legally has every right to tour and record using the name. It does not mean that he should!
There is an expression that “things in life aren’t always fair”. This rings very true with regards to bands. Generally, a rock band’s sound is defined by the vocalist/guitarist and most often those two roles comprise the main songwriters in most bands. Lennon/McCartney, Richards/Jagger, Page/Plant, I could go on all day. For L.A. Guns, it’s Guns/Lewis. They are the magic! As a fan though I have supported every version of this band but the albums without Tracii and Phil together simply lack. This may not be fair but if you have ears that function, it rings true.
Let’s be perfectly honest here. The only reason he is clinging so tightly to the name is cash! As LA Guns, he can negotiate higher guarantees and get the band booked into bigger rooms and better slots at festivals. I would respect this if he would come out and simply admit this. I honestly believe that if he owned half the legal name of WASP, Renegades might be filed under W. Regardless, Renegades stands strong on the back of some well-crafted songs. It deserves a fair listen.