I'm going to shy away from music news this week because, frankly, I don't really care about anything that's going on in the music world, rather the music that's coming out of it. Plus, who wants to keep reading about senseless threats and acts of violence in concert settings? Let's keep things more lighthearted, shall we?
Driving down Interstate 10 earlier this week, I popped on my Neil Young: Greatest Hits collection. A warm day, the sunny Southern Californian weather - it all seemed fine for some chill rock jams with a slight country vibe. On came Cowgirl In The Sand, a brilliant song with a strong, hypnotic performance from Young's backing band, Crazy Horse. Windows down and picturing Ruby in the dust, I was a singin' along.
But after the first few extended jam sections played through, I remembered how meandering and aimless Neil Young's solos tend to be. The Cowgirl solos come off spastic, elementary, harmonically harsh, and pretty much limited to one or two blues scale positions. Not exactly the most satisfying rock jam, I'll admit. Even though I'm a longtime Neil Young fan, he isn't a very good lead guitar player at all. But despite a lack of lead chops, it doesn't really matter because he's Neil F--kin' Young and the song still rules.
That got me thinking... how many successful, esteemed, and legendary guitarists are actually sloppy players?
If you think about it logically, I think we'd agree that most guitarists want to eliminate sloppiness. As guitarists, we spend hours upon hours practicing riffs, licks and solos to slow tempos in order to become more efficient. Sloppiness isn't exactly an admirable quality for a musician to have, right?
In metal, tightness and rhythmic precision are paramount; in pop music, everything sure as hell needs to fall neatly into place and vocals must be pitch-perfect. In classical music, you bet your ass musicians dedicate years of their lives to minimize the likelihood of mistakes.
So while the strive for musical perfection (although a subjective term in a musical sense) is what most hard-working musicians aim for; there are still highly successful musicians that manage to make sloppiness work; these are the guys whose musical strengths fall in other areas, making it permissible to be sloppy on an instrument. They can get away with it, basically. In lieu of what you could describe as bad timing, out-of-tune bends, erratic vibrato, missed or flubbed notes, ugly, oversaturated tones, unrefined techniques, or improvisatory styles in which a player just noodles around a scale aimlessly, other factors can contribute to a guitarist's overall presentation, such as charisma, stage presence, songwriting skills, reputed sexual prowess, etc.
A lot of guitarists don't need acute technical precision or a thorough knowledge of musical theory to be great, sure. And ironically, many of the most famous and iconic players out there could be considered as sloppy.
So here's a list of some of the best Sloppy Joes out there. And just to note, when I say sloppy, I'm not saying they suck; I'm saying their style is generally looser and less precise overall. These guitarists are all great in their own rightand they aren't listed in any particular order, so there's no need to get all worked up about that.
Here we go.
The Best "Sloppy" Players That Still Rock
Neil Young's strength is his brilliant songwriting, and although vocally he's no Freddie Mercury or Bruce Dickinson, the shrill, piercing, honest character in his voice mixed with his folk rock tunes have made him a legend in his own right.
As a guitarist, Young sure has a unique, recognizable and percussive attack on the guitar, but, let's face it, his lead work isn't exactly precise. You could say his lead work relies more on expression. as evident in his famous one note solo in Down By The River.
And as I mentioned earlier, check out his solos in Cowgirl In The Sand and you can hear how sloppy his lead work is.
Kurt Cobain - Nirvana
Kurt Cobain wrote some catchy-a-s pop songs. He did so in a gritty, fresh (at the time) style that appealed to pretty much everyone pop disguised as hard rock but without hairspray and glam lipstick. But I wouldn't call him a guitar legend.
On Nirvana's breakthrough record Nevermind, Cobain's guitar work came off a little more polished, but on the band's follow up, In Utero, Cobain's sloppiness and unpredictable style became more apparent, but for good reason.
That album showcased Nirvana with a more of a gritty, garage rock aesthetic. Wild, and at times utilizing some harmonically disgusting riffs Cobain wasn't about efficiency; he was about expression.
Plus, take a look at any track off Nirvana's live album From The Muddy Banks Of The Wiskhah and you'll hear a lot of imperfection.
Jack White - The White Stripes, The Raconteurs
Jack White, inspired by classic blues, plays with conviction, passion, and aggression... whatever you want to call it. He's no virtuoso, shredder or master improviser, but like others on this list, his songwriting skills and unique voice carry more weight than his guitar skills. His performances can be hit or miss though...
Omar Rodríguez-López - At The Drive-In, The Mars Volta
In short, the dude is a visionary. Crazy. Convulsive. Out there. Omar's manic and effect pedal-heavy guitar playing is certainly unique, but he's probably never practiced in his bedroom with a metronome. I'd say this guy is pretty sloppy, but damn, is he creative and original.
Kirk Hammett Metallica
Unless you just discovered Metallica for the first time last Tuesday, you're probably aware that Kirk Hammett is widely considered to be an overrated guitar player. Compared to precision metal machines like Chris Broderick or exotic soloists like Marty Friedman, Hammett's styling is relatively simplistic; he can't seem to escape his beloved pentatonic boxes and he evidently has a perverted fetish toward his wah pedal.
I'll go on record saying that Hammett's early solos were pretty amazing, but I suppose his tried-and-true soloing methods and the extreme coinage that poured into his pockets made him satisfied with rehashing the same Penta-Wah solos on later Metallica records. Oh well.
Great shredding or mindless wanking? You be the judge:
Jimmy Page Led Zeppelin
I was seriously debating putting Jimmy Page on here because he's essentially a guitar deity, but I've heard many people describe his playing as sloppy. I'll agree, Page's technique is not very refined by today's standards, and some of his later work is, in fact, sloppy due to his excessive drug use in the late 70s.
But then again, because Page had the luxury of having the thunderous rhythm section of John Bonham and John Paul Jones behind him, Page had some wiggle room to play a little loose. I'd say bottom line, his rhythm work is impeccable and brilliantly expressive, but his solos tend be a little on the sloppy side. But who cares though? He's one of the greats!
Many consider Bob Dylan a poetic mastermind and prolific songwriter. At least that's what the critics say. (I've never gotten Dylan). His voice isn't exactly a soothing, velvety instrument that spews out perfect pitches, but it's definitely is unique.
In terms of his guitar playing, check out Don't Think Twice, It's All Right and notice some of the flubbed notes within his finger picking pattern. Inconsistent playing, but it's honest, raw, and emotional. That's folk music, after all.
Nigel Tufnel - Spinal Tap
You know, Nigel is right; his trademarks are his solos. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the greatest sloppy player of ALL TIME!
All in all, this list is entirely my opinion. I'd like to hear yours. Who are some the other great sloppy players? I'm probably leaving out a ton of punk guitarists because I'm not a punk rock guy, but I'm curious to hear some more names.
And for extra thought provocation (I know you all love to think), what ideology do you subscribe to as a guitarist? Do you want to master techniques to become efficient, knowledgeable, and versatile, or do you value feel and emotional conviction over precision?
Pick of the Week: TesseracT - "Concealing Fate" (EP) 2010
Moving away from musical slop, we're getting tight and precise for the Pick of the Week.
While as of late, I wouldn't say I'm quite into modern progressive metal per se. I just don't feel any attraction when I want to satisfy my metal jollies; however, I stumbled on this EP by TesseracT, and I've surprisingly given it repeated listens due to it's fresh, crisp production, melodic vocals and rich instrumental layers.
There are plenty of clean, spacey guitar effects that lend a relaxing ambiance, and overall, TesseracT does a commendable job mixing more straight ahead metal conventions with the more modern (sigh) djenty parts. (I hate using that word in a sentence...)
Anyway, Concealing Fate certainly has some ear-grabbing moments and is pleasant for a smoke and a listen. Check it out if you prefer more tightness on the bottom end.
That's all for now. See y'alls next week.
On The Next It's The End Of The Week As We Know It:
Additional charges are filed following singer Shifty Shellshock's arrest on cocaine possession stemming from his participation in the band Crazy Town, which legally equates to a crime against humanity.
Aware that Slayer's music is now part of the fabric of America, the band decides to shake things up and write its upcoming album exclusively in major keys.
Kirk Hammett announces a solo classical guitar album, entitled Trill 'Em All.
By Zach Pino Twitter: @zachpino