American guitarist Paul Gilbert‘s latest studio effort, I Can Destroy, is a fun, uptempo rock album. The record’s 12 core songs (and one bonus track) are a treat to listen to. Jam-packed with good notes, for the legion guitarists anticipating the disc in hopes of busting their chops, it delivers in spades. I Can Destroy is also a career-spanning, retrospective, and introspective album. The songs offer a variety of experiments with tone, key changes, and vocal techniques, without straying from the establishment of conventional hard rock and blues rock.
The album is crisp and clear. The presentation is modern: the songs may have been recorded (mostly) live in the studio, but they have a cool, digital, contemporary sound. Instruments all get plenty of airtime, but most noticeable are the vocals, especially from frontman Gilbert. The instruments are well balanced. Due to the orchestration (the way each instrument’s part for the songs are written), sometimes it can be a little difficult to hear the bass guitar’s exact moves, although the tone is audible. The subtle dynamics and interplay between instruments encourages deeper listening, so this isn’t to be taken negatively at all. Produced or guided by Kevin Shirley, the songs themselves are varied and cluster around a few of Gilbert’s established strengths as a composer and performer. Like AC/DC, Exodus, or Slayer, what Gilbert and his team accomplish with this release plays into the expectant hands of extant fans. Having found his formula, Gilbert bolsters an already strong catalogue without trying to reinvent the wheel or experiment with unfamiliar genres.
“Everybody Use Your Goddamn Turn Signal” is a lyrically relatable and brutally honest tune, in that, how many times have you been driving, only to be frustrated by ‘the car next door’ rudely cutting you off, without even a hint of intent or remorse? The song offers a brief, wider critique on society – “…use your mind, to find out what’s real”. Here, Gilbert encourages independent and free thinking. Musically, it’s closest to work from Vibrato: mid-tempo and progressive, it features extensive modulation, plus what Gilbert’s been calling “adult notes”. Many have praised the ‘turn signal’ clicking emulation underscoring some verses, and many have missed Gilbert’s aggressive, heavy metal inspired “switch to minor” kick into high gear accenting his “make the tires peel” lyric. This one’s fun and well done.
“I Can Destroy”, complete with lots of flash and flourish, most clearly and closely recalls “Olympic” from Fuzz Universe. Rock-savvy listeners might call it heavy metal, and modern metal listeners may call it rock, so it’s stuck in a bit of a genre purgatory. Regardless of what shelf it ends up on, it’s got lots of notes on show, laden with knuckle-buster power. A dynamic, slower bridge moves back into double-bass drum laden rock. The turbocharged guitar solo coda is pure shred goodness.
Unusually, triple lead vocals switch off for “Knocking On a Locked Door”‘s verses, and guitarist/vocalist Tony Spinner takes the bridge. This is a shorter, classic rock steeped tune, channelling the energies from Gilbert’s Alligator Farm era: lively and engaging. The key modulations and tempo shifts offer lots of variety to the ear. It’s a conventional tale often heard in pop and rock: frustrated guy looks for love in all the wrong places. Eventually discovering his love has moved a short distance away, he apologizes to whoever dwells in the unaddressed home, and moves up “to 223” to continue his pursuit.
“One Woman Too Many” seems a 70s inspired, shorter, progressive rock tune. It’s one of the songs with the bass guitar more easily noticeable: we get to enjoy bassist Kevin Chown. Like “I Can Destroy”, this song has a real hustle to it. It sounds polished, mature, and just crazy enough to tweak the ears of the innumerable “harsh critics”. There’s a juxtaposition between clean sounding electric guitar strumming and the Makita drill, now made “one pick faster”. The drums are almost jazzy in their shuffle.
“Woman Stop” starts with Thomas Lang’s drums. While Gilbert’s used slide on his guitar very sparingly in the past, this is the first song where he makes extensive use of it to add lots of tonal colour, sway, and sashay to a syncopated, but otherwise very conventional blues and southern rock themed tune. Gilbert, Nelson, and Spinner offer nice, three part background vocal harmonies in the bridge. The song has an effortless, virtuosic feel, a hallmark of the volumes of talent in this “band full of killer players and also intelligent players”, said guitarist, vocalist, and co-arranger Freddie Nelson. The solos, especially the slide guitar, are much more restrained in this tune.
“Gonna Make You Love Me” was custom written for the album by Nelson. As Gilbert’s collaborator for 2008’s United States record, his input here recaptures some of that disc’s energy and ambition. Chuck Berry infused, ‘just plain good rock and roll’ chord progressions meet the danceworthy hip sway of classic southern rock. Gilbert sings the second verse, emphasizing that this is his album, not a collaboration. Even built on a proto rock foundation, the modern-sounding guitar flourishes, with lots of fast-played and pleasant notes in the solo.
“I’m Not the one (Who Wants to be With You)” begins with Gilbert’s voice a Capella, and then just his guitar, channelling his vaguely Muddy Waters esque alter ego. Then it kicks in to a tune that sounds like something Mr. Big would have recorded. This is the “cantankerous rock” “anti song” to, of course, Mr. Big’s power ballad #1 hit, “To Be With You”. That it doesn’t fall too far from the “Addicted to that Rush” tree is all the better. The break to a much slower blues at the end is interesting, and a perfect segue into the next song…
“Blues Just Saving My Life” shows that life isn’t as bad as it seems first pass: at least Darwin or the music industry didn’t try to kill him! It’s a fairly standard, extra-clean blues tune, with lovely slide work, the dual lead vocals of Gilbert and Spinner, “gospel” harmonies, and very catchy verses. Besides “…Turn Signal”, this might have the most memorable lyrics on the disc. Dual solos from Spinner, then Gilbert, bring extra character and dynamic into the song. “He said he wanted to do a blues record”, mentioned Nelson. Lang’s pocket is more obvious in this slower song. There’s plenty of flash, flourish, and fill work, but it’s mostly a tune to drive via groove, and Lang performs it well.
“Make It (If We Try)” is another uptempo song, reminiscent of 70s rock. Organ work makes a brief appearance to add texture and ambiance. It’s like the pre disco era rock, a little progressive. Most of the melody is concentrated into the bridge. As with most of the songs, there’s a fairly speedy guitar solo. Lots of flange and a little subtle stereo panning recreates that swirly tone so embraced back then.
“Love We Had” is a stereotypical 80s power ballad. This will be a smash hit in Indonesia and Japan. For fans who remember the heyday of the power ballad, this is a reminder that these songs still exist. For all that it is, it’s a very faithful edition: a well performed song, very true to form, and quite likely very successful in it’s intent. Possibly because Kevin Shirley produced Mr. Big’s last album, again Gilbert’s smash hit band appears as influential to his solo career. It’s also an “answer song” or “travel mate” to Mr. Big’s “To Be With You”. If you like music aggressive, uptempo, flashy, quirky, or angry, this one of a very few Paul Gilbert songs to skip.
“I Will Be Remembered” has a lovely melody, engaging tempo, nice guitar tones and layering, and rich background vocal harmonies. The song has only slight overtones of 80s melodic hard rock or AOR, until the bridge kicks in, which is steeped in that decade’s melodic, “big” presentation – where a few well chosen notes hit harder then a flurry of shred. At least two guitarists take leads in this song, with a third providing rhythm. A very slight keyboard undertone, along with the ‘cleaner’ rhythm guitar, keeps the gentle touch of the tune going.
The slide guitar in “Adventure and Trouble”, a richly melodic, moderately paced tune, coupled with the swirly organ and bass guitar tones, is one of those rare “music chills” tunes so endearing, and so welcomed into playlists and mixtapes everywhere. The guitar work is great, of course. It’s a very bluesy number at it’s heart, like most of Gilbert’s non metal work. There are lots of washy cymbal overtones. About halfway through, there’s an exciting southern rock change-up, morphing character and tempo – at first abruptly, but then gradually building into a fire-breathing classic rock monster. The most well known song to compare it to is Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird”, but with a lot more guitar.
“Great White Buffalo”, originally recorded by Ted Nugent, is performed in the same genre and style as the original, with flashier, less noisy guitar work. The song has a pretty melody, and some really nice, trilly guitar accents. A tune meant to leverage and showcase the full band, it’s well chosen and nicely performed. An error of Nugent’s, not Gilbert’s, is that both “Indians” and “buffalo” live on the Indian subcontinent, halfway around the world from the United States. The Americans have indigenous tribespeople (the ill-named Bureau of Indian Affairs excepted…) and bison. Gilbert stays faithful to the original’s lyrics, passing on the musical genetic error. And so it tinkers, it evolves. What Gilbert does with the guitar is what’s really important, and lyrics be damned, the whole song is extremely enjoyable.
The distilled, musically autobiographical legacy of I Can Destroy is it’s strongest feature. Every song contains reflective glances into Gilbert’s past recorded works. For seasoned fans, figuring out each song’s glimpses into the past is fun and enjoyable. For new fans, this disc is a nice, peppy introduction to the wild and wacky world of Paul Gilbert, consummate musician. The album doesn’t venture into danger territory – Gilbert courts no real controversy, and doesn’t really attempt to go beyond what he’s already accomplished. As a practically peerless artist, he doesn’t need, or have, to: this album is excellent as-is, already on repeat. For music fans looking for some of the best guitar work this side of hard rock, pick up or stream I Can Destroy at once.
Everybody Use Your Goddamn Turn Signal
I Can Destroy
Knocking On a Locked Door
One Woman Too Many
Gonna Make You Love Me
I Am Not the One (Who Wants To Be With You)
Blues Just Saving My Life
Make It (If We Try)
Love We Had
I Will Be Remembered
Adventure and Trouble
My Sugar (bonus track for Japan)
Great White Buffalo (bonus track for everywhere but Japan)
Band Lineup, Studio:
Paul Gilbert – Guitar, Vocals
Freddie Nelson and Tony Spinner – Guitars, Vocals
Kevin Chown – Bass Guitar
Thomas Lang – Drums
Emi Gilbert – Organ on “Adventure and Trouble”
Recommended Tracks: “Adventure and Trouble”, “Gonna Make You Love Me”, “I Can Destroy”