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Music Review: L.A. Guns – Shrinking Violet

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I never thought that I would live in a world where there were two L.A. Guns on the go. After all, based on the eighties when they were at what passed for their peak, there scarcely seems the need for one. But that’s the sort of crazy assed world we live in.

So let’s try and get our heads around where we’re at. The very first L.A. Guns was formed by guitarist Tracii Guns in 1983, although that band split when he left to join the early Guns n’ Roses. A new L.A. Guns emerged a few years on, culminating in the classic lineup of ex Girl / New Torpedoes / Torme vocalist Phil Lewis, Tracii Guns, Mick Cripps on rhythm guitar, Kelly Nickels on bass, and drummer Steve Riley, although Riley actually joined after the first album was recorded. Regardless, they managed three platinum and gold albums on the trot – L.A. Guns, Cocked & Loaded, and Hollywood Vampires – while the sleaze/ glam metal bandwagon was still going strong.

Then came the years of line-up changes and diminishing returns, culminating in the departure of vocalist Phil Lewis in 1995. The band managed to get through four different singers including fellow sleaze rock survivor Jizzy Pearl from Love/Hate, who sang on this 1999 album Shrinking Violet before the inevitable return of Phil Lewis, shortly after its release. Now things get even more confusing.

2002 saw Tracii Guns leave his own band to link up with Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue in the putative super group Brides Of Destruction. Unfortunately, for him, drummer Steve Riley owns 50% of the name, so he quite happily continued L.A Guns with Phil Lewis. However, 2006 saw Tracii Guns, post Brides, touring a "Best Of L.A Guns" tour with former L.A. Guns members Paul Black (who was vocalist before Phil Lewis), Nickey Alexander on drums, and former Brides live member Jeremy Guns on bass. It didn’t take long before the Tracii Guns band became the second L.A. Guns. It’s a crazy world.

Meanwhile, for some strange reason, Steve Vai has decided to put out a deluxe reissue of that 1999 release, Shrinking Violet, with Jizzy Pearl on vocals, on his Favored Nations label. And by "deluxe" he means with an additional five live tracks. It actually sounds more like a grunged up Love/Hate than it does L.A. Guns, but I was a big fan of Love/Hate back in the day, so that gets no complaints from me.

Opening numbers "Girl, You Turn Me On" and the title track are excellent tunes, harking back to the eighties with the obligatory hint of down tuned guitars, but it‘s the moody and magnificent "I‘ll Be There" that is the standout. The legally obligatory power ballad "Dreamtime" is excellent, and although there is some filler mid album, the band really throw in a curveball with the slow blues of "Bad Whiskey," and somewhat amazingly pull it off.

Now, you might have thought that the live tracks would be from the 1999 lineup, but they’re actually from the 2009 return of Jizzy Pearl, who arrived back in the band via Ratt (yes, really) in a move which saw the sixth L.A Guns vocalist replacing the seventh L.A Guns vocalist who’d replaced the returning first L.A Guns vocalist. Still with us? I thought not.

As befits the veteran musicians on display, the live tracks are really excellent, even if the first one, "Decide," is the weakest by far. But once they get their blues on for a blinding version of "Rip And Tear," a powerful spin through the

big lighter in the air hit, "The Ballad Of Jayne" and a final, electrifying version of "One More Reason," you’ll find yourself rooting around for those spandex trousers you last fitted into circa 1989. Me, I stuck to a bandanna and some inspired air microphone twirling.

An odd choice for a reissue, but an oddly enjoyable one.

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About Stuart A Hamilton

  • Kelly

    Every thing recorded as ‘LA Guns’ without Phil and Tracii, at the same time, on the same song, on the same record is absolute SHITE. And every rock fan worth his salt knows it.