Sound — 8
Known for being one of the most diverse and celebrated shredders of our era, Paul Gilbert returns with his new release (well, new for anyone outside of Japan, who have been treated to this album for about six months now), "I Can Destroy." While the title of "shredder" is enough to turn off a certain number of people, it's important to note that this album is not like a Steve Vai or Joe Satriani affair. There is not one completely instrumental track on the album. The solos are peppered throughout the album without overtaking the vocal sections, and many of his solos are quite restrained, something which may make people who were more familiar with Gilbert's work in bands such as Racer X and Mr. Big take notice.
Opening with the humourous and cantankerous "Everybody Use Your Goddamn Turn Signal," this album kicks right into things with a totally memorable and funky riff, and amazing soaring vocal harmonies. Paul trades solos with fellow axe-slingers Freddie Nelson and Tony Spinner. The song is short, snappy, and concise. "I Can Destroy" turns things up a notch with a more Racer X-style guitar lead, and a proclamation that his guitar is "built to play." The production is crisp and clear on the track, with a lot of breathing room between the instruments. The vocal hook in the chorus is amazing, and the guitar leads in the middle are nothing short of perfect. "Knocking on a Locked Door" has a great power-pop stomp to it, as well as a great solo. It's the kind of track that would not sound out of place on late-'70s rock radio. "One Woman Too Many" continues the trend, but also features some of Paul's trademark "drill guitar" techniques (including revving the motor near the pickups and using a custom drill bit with guitar picks attached for some extreme tremolo picking). While a lot of shred guitarists would find some way to make a technique like this seem overused and tired very quickly, Paul uses it rather sparingly, and it fits the track perfectly.
"Woman Stop" is a slide-infused bluesy rock tune with huge vocal harmonies and a stomping rhythm. "Gonna Make You Love Me," a track penned by Freddie Nelson, has a fun classic rock-and-roll vibe to it, and another great ripping solo. "I Am Not the One (Who Wants to Be With You)" is a fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek hard rocker. "Blues Just Saving My Life" is about as close to a traditional bluesy rock tune as I've heard in a long time (and it seems like everything's trying to kill Gilbert... except for the blues). His guitar tone is excellent throughout this tune, as well as the rest of the album. "Make It (If We Try)" is another great pop-rocker with an excellent solo. Paul pulls out the acoustic for "Love We Had," the album's sincere love ballad. The track is buoyed by some very sweet harmony vocals and acoustic guitar harmony flourishes. "I Will Be Remembered" and "Adventure and Trouble" both sound very much like throwbacks to the classic AOR of the '70s, and the latter features Paul's wife Emi on keyboards. "My Sugar" closes the album on a "hard pop" note, sounding like a mix of classic '60s rock-and-roll with its huge vocal harmonies and whimsical chord stabs, and the very '70s AOR throwback sounds with its huge guitar tones during the choruses.
Paul's playing and tone throughout the album are very good, definitely nowhere near as saturated or overly ambitious as some of his contemporaries in the shred guitar scene, but absolutely fleet-fingered. But this album has far more to it than just some shred guitar playing, and the songs themselves are fun and catchy, and definitely a bit of a far cry from some of the more overly serious music being released in this day and age. While the two are very far apart in many ways, I'd almost compare this record to one of Frank Zappa's many 1970s releases, in terms of there being lots of excellent musicianship on display, very whimsical and fun musical themes, rather silly lyrics, and a very blues-driven backbone. The production on the album is surprisingly dynamic and raw for an album made in 2015, with every instrument sounding very organic, and a mix that almost suggests some live-off-the-floor tracking. It's a very refreshing listen compared to much of today's rock and metal.
Musically speaking, I was a little surprised not to find any instrumental tunes, and I almost kind of wish there had been one or two purely instrumental fret-burners to sink my teeth into, though the album's title track does whet my appetite for a more Racer X-style "metal" tune.
Lyrics — 7
Paul Gilbert may well be credited one day with creating the genre of "cantankerous rock," if songs like "Everybody Use Your Goddamn Turn Signal" are anything to go by. This rallying cry for people who are dismayed at the driving habits of others ("If you're gonna go so slow, tell me which way you go") is almost a public service announcement served up as a lyric, and while it's about as far from deep as you can get, it's absolutely silly and fun. But there are tracks with a bit more depth to them, like the title track, which was inspired by Paul's infant son learning about objects in his world by destroying them, and comparing it with the process by which scientists are learning about the nature of the universe by shooting photons at each other at near-light-speed and recording the bits that fly off in the collisions. Don't worry, the song's not going to fill your head with science mumbo-jumbo, and it has somewhat cringe-worthy lines like "This guitar was built to play/it was not born just yesterday," but the inspiration behind it is actually pretty incredible. "I Am Not the One (Who Wants to Be With You)" seems to be a bit of a stab at his former Mr. Big bandmates, and as mentioned above, everyone tries to kill Paul in "Blues Just Saving My Life." There are even some rather poignant tracks like "Love We Had," a rather sincere love song. But for the most part, these are pretty humourous and silly lyrics, and sometimes the joke seems a little forced or it just doesn't hit the mark, but Paul more than makes up for it with his musicianship, and it's clear that this album's lyrics are not meant to be taken entirely seriously. Vocally, Paul (along with co-guitarists and co-vocalists Freddie and Tony) pretty much hit the mark as far as classic blues rock goes, and perform some especially nice vocal harmonies throughout each track.
Overall Impression — 8
This quirky collection of bluesy rockers isn't going to go down as Paul's most important release, since there's not much he can release that will out-do "Technical Difficulties" or "Lean Into It." But there's no denying that "I Can Destroy" is going to be an enjoyable listen for anyone into classic rock or blues, or just anyone who wants to hear some kind of silly, funky songs with incredible guitar playing. It's the kind of album that makes you come for the solos, but stay for the wacky and fun songs. And even though the album doesn't quite hit the mark lyrically sometimes, and it lacks some of the bit instrumental shred moments we're used to from Gilbert, it's still one of the most fun rock releases of 2016 so far. And it's also a rather diverse record, from Crosby, Stills & Nash-style folk ("Love We Had") to blues ("Blues Just Saving My Life") to '70s power-pop ("Knocking on a Locked Door") to almost quasi-power metal ("I Can Destroy"). It does feel a little disjointed at times, but the individual tracks are pretty great. The big standouts for me are the first three songs, "Everybody Use Your Goddamn Turn Signal," "I Can Destroy" and "Knocking on a Locked Door," which I think individually represent the album's diversity and musicianship pretty well. Interestingly, while the album has been out since December in Japan, it hasn't been released worldwide until May 27th of this year, meaning that it's perfectly timed for the beginning of summer, and this album does have a particularly summery feel to it, meaning it would probably be a great album to blast while you're barbecuing or camping out.
All in all, this release is great for a bit of light-hearted fun, and a bit of a wacky look at the mind of one of the most beloved guitar players of our time. Definitely give this album a spin if you're looking for some good, catchy hard rock.