Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lynyrd Skynyrd: God & Guns (47%)

With their roots in the mid 1960's, and their heyday in the mid 1970's, Lynyrd Skynyrd has reached a status that few bands can even hope to attain. A plane crash, killing three band members and a roadie, stopped the band in it's tracks in 1977. In spite of this (or possibly because of it), Lynyrd Skynyrd has become an icon. In 1987, the band decided it might be a good idea to enlist Johnny Van Zant (Ronnie Van Zant's younger brother) for the position of lead vocals/frontman. They began touring, and have since produced a handful of albums. Unfortunately, the only original band member still alive and playing with Lynyrd Skynyrd is Gary Rossington.

In 2009, Lynyrd Skynyrd released an album entitled 'God and Guns'. I'll be honest, Skynyrd was never my 'favorite' band, but I liked them. I respected them. I enjoyed their southern rock sound, and their sometimes political and sometimes just plain funny lyrics. But God and Guns has come along and tarnished the name of Skynyrd.

The album kicks off with a tune called 'Still Unbroken'. From the title, I'm sure you can figure out that this is one of those 'raise your fist in the air because you're still alive and kicking' songs. It's a fast driving song full of thudding drums and splashing cymbals and distorted guitar chords. Okay, so far it sounds like I'm describing a typical rock song, but actually it sounds like I'm listening to a hard edged Montgomery Gentry. A commercial country track with a slightly harder bite. It's hard to decide if I'm listening to country radio, or a Nickelback CD.

Track 2 starts up, Simple Life, even more mainstream country than the last. The first line, a little too many syllables but jammed in there just the same, sounds something like this, 'Hey when was the last time you sat down and had dinner with your kids, talked about what's goin' on in their lives'. And then on to 'well a lot of people are saying we're changing for the better, but that don't interest me. I like the simple life, the way it used to be...' and so on. The lyrics in this album, for the most part, are awful. They're blatant, obvious, and often painful. And this isn't the only time in this album when we learn of Van Zant's aversion to 'change'.

The third track, Little Thing Called You, almost tricks you into thinking you might actually be listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd. It opens with a southern rock sound, some interesting guitar. But then the vocals come in and destroy the illusion. Surely the next song, 'Southern Ways' will redeem the album. It's about a young man who decides to leave home, but then misses his green grass and tall pines, and the southern winds kissing his face, and punctuated with the odd 'yyeahh' from Johnny. It's amazing how many songs a person can write about how they miss the old days and the simple life.

And track 5, Skynyrd Nation, comes next. This song actually does have a classic southern sound. It brings to mind several southern rock bands from the 1970's, but one band it does not bring to mind is Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Song 7, Floyd, is actually not so bad. It's got an interesting feel, at least until it gets to the chorus, where it just turns into another Nickelback clone.

Track 8, 'That Ain't My America', pretty much sums up the feel of the whole album. These guys don't want change. The first line talks about how he wants to light up underneath the no smoking sign,and then, 'You can take your change on down the road and leave me here with mine, cause that ain't my America, that ain't this country's roots. You wanna slam old uncle Sam but I ain't letting you. I'm mad as hell, and you know I still bleed red white and blue'. Then there's the obligatory line about an old man saying thanks to a soldier returning from war. And here's a line... honestly, it's really a line in the song; 'It's to the women and men in their hands they hold a bible and a gun, and they ain't afraid of nothin' when they're holdin' either one, woooahhh, uh huhhh'. I'm pretty sure these guys all voted for Bush. I wonder how they feel now that uncle Sam is of ethnic background.

The album's tenth track, also called God & Guns, is yet another proclamation of just how much the modern Lynyrd Skynyrd hates the idea of change. They inform us that 'God and guns keep us strong, that's what this country was founded on'. Then, for the second time on the album, he let's us know that there was a time when you could sleep with your doors unlocked. But this time he adds something about a peacemaker in the dresser drawer that makes him feel safe. This song is a far cry from the original band's 'Saturday Night Special', which was actually an anti-gun song. This album defines the term narrow minded.

God & Guns is a commercial album aimed toward right wing conservatives who believe only in God and country, and who blindly believe that 'uncle Sam' shouldn't be questioned or condemned. I long for the simple life as much as anyone, and sure, policies and red tape government crap sure ticks me off from time to time. But I'm not narrow minded enough to believe that time should just stand still, or reverse. We have to try and move forward while still retaining the simple things that we enjoy.

My dislike for the political and social messages in this album are not my only reasons for putting it down. It's overproduced, it sounds way too much like a clone of twelve dozen other rock/country bands, and it is NOT Lynyrd Skynyrd. Being that only one original band member remains, they probably shouldn't be using the name at all. Lynyrd Skynyrd should've been put to rest when half of the band tragically passed away in that fateful plane crash in 1977 so these replacements wouldn't be able to tarnish such an iconic name.

(footnote: Let me clarify this as well. My aversion to this album is actually based very little on what I think a Skynyrd album 'should be'. If this was a completely different band with no relation to Lynyrd Skynyrd at all, I still wouldn't like it.)

Release year: 2009

Click here to check out Skynyrd's wikipedia page.
To hear some samples from this album, click here.

1. Still Unbroken
2. Simple Life
3. Little Thing Called You
4. Southern ways
5. Skynyrd Nation
6. Unwrite That Song
7. Floyd
8. That Ain't My America
9. Comin' Back for More
10. God & Guns
11. Storm
12. Gifted Hands

Rating: 43/90 (47%)

1: Lyrics: 3/10
2: Significance: 2/10
3: Music: 6/10
4: Freshness: 3/10
5: Production Quality: 8/10
6: Composition: 5/10
7: Dynamic Range: 3/10
8: Humanity: 5/10
9: Cohesiveness: 8/10

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