Hurtsmile – s/t (2011, Frontiers Records)
- Just War Theory
- love Thy Neighbor
- Kaffur (Infidel)
- Painter Paint
- Tolerance Song (edit)
- Set Me Free
- Jesus Would You Meet Me
- Beyond The Garden/Kicking Against The Goads
- Just War Reprise
- The Murder Of Daniel Faulkner (4699)
Gary Cherone – Vocals
Mark Cherone – Guitar
Joe Pessia – Bass, Mandolin
Dana Spellman – Drums, Percussion
Produced by: Gary Cherone & Joe Pessia
Total Time = 49:50
I’m a big Extreme fan from way back in the beginning so when Gary Cherone’s new project, Hurtsmile, was announced, I knew that it would be something unique. The problem with a Gary solo project is that sometimes he gets way too experimental and deviates from the Rock sound that made him a success in Extreme and Van Halen. Take a listen to the Tribe Of Judah album from 2002…..if you can sit through it! That album was horrible (I can’t even explain how bad it was!) due to it’s highly experimental direction and lack of Rock. I’m all of artistic expression and exploring new music avenues but a Rock album should be a Rock album when it’s promoted as such. Now I was really into the last Extreme album, SAUDADES DE ROCK (2007), and their live CD & DVD, TAKE US ALIVE: BOSTON 2009 (2010), so I knew that I was going to buy the Hurtsmile CD but I was crossing my fingers that I would like it.
The album starts out well with the Hard Rock of ‘Just War Theory’ and ‘Stillborn’ and you can immeadiately hear that Gary’s voice is still top notch and his brother, Mark Cherone, has some serious guitar going. You could almost put these songs in either the last Van Halen or Extreme album because they have that modern, edgy flavor. Actually, the sound is almost Grunge, especially on ‘Stillborn’, and I can hear traces of Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots…..influences that will permeate all the harder and/or faster songs on the record.
‘Love Thy Neighbor’ starts out with a 1950s a capella intro but moves into more more familiar modern Rock territory as does ‘Kaffur (Infidel)’, sans intro. Four songs into the album and so far things are going along a modern Hard Rock path with some serious guitar work but the band throws us a curve with the Beatles-inspired acoustic ‘Painter Paint’. This is Gary’s showcase without a doubt, you can really hear his singing voice and how great it really is, kind of like you can do with the Extreme classic ‘More Than Words’. I don’t want to put Gary in a certain box but this guy can sing ballads with the best of them and have great success, I’m surprised that there aren’t more on albums he records.
One of the reasons Gary was hired to replace Sammy Hagar in Van Halen is because he has a very similar sounding voice at times and there is no better example of that with the beginning line of ‘Tolerance Song’…..you swear that’s Sammy! The song follows the same formula as the first four rockers but there’s a little more experimentation with different tones and effects on Gary’s vocals to make it sound more current. The vocal effects almost remind me of some of the ones Motley Crue used for Vince Neil on parts of GENERATION SWINE (1997). The songwriting here isn’t that great and I’m not really digging the song at all. ‘Set Me Free’ continues that thick guitar driven grungy sound mixed with more quiet parts where Gary’s voice carries the song, I like the solo break and Mark Cherone really shines, he plays well through the entire album. ‘Jesus Would You Meet Me’ sounds a bit like Extreme’s ‘Hole Hearted’ instrumentally but the song takes an acoustic/Bluegrass/church hymn direction. I wasn’t really sure about this track the first couple of times I heard it but, after multiple spins, I like it for it’s simplicity and it’s similarity to the Extreme hit. A quick bass intro with some vocal effects open ‘Slave’ and continue throughout the track except for the chorus. The song takes a few twists and turns stylistically and I think it’s really too varied. The band gets back to what I think is their strong suit: the ballad. I was really impressed with ‘Painter Paint’ and ‘Beyond The Garden/Kicking Against The Goads’ also leaves a lasting impression with it’s soothing arrangement and Gary’s smooth vocal.
Unfortuately, I have to kill ‘Just War Reprise’. I get that Hurtsmile is an experiment in sound but it stays mostly on the Rock side of things…..’Just War Reprise’ is a Reggae version and it just doesn’t fit. I’m not bagging it because it’s Reggae, I like some Reggae, but on a Rock record? I give the band credit for trying something new but it doesn’t work for me. The final track is ‘The Murder Of Daniel Faulkner (4699)’, a tribute to the Philadelphia police officer who was killed in the line of duty in 1981, his badge number being #4699. The song reminds me of a Bob Dylan or a Tom Petty song (is there any sonic difference between the two anymore?) and it tells the tale of Officer Faulkner and the incidents involving Mumia Abu-Jamal resulting in his death on the night of 12/9/1981. The song is best described as a folk ballad, more of a musical story if you will, with excellent acoustic guitar and focused vocals. I guess you could maybe call this Ballad #3 of the album but there’s a little more to it than a straight up ballad, there’s a lot of emotion invovled as Gary recounts the story. Bagpipes mark the end of the song in tribute to a fallen officer.
I have to admit, this album didn’t really grab me after the first couple of spins, the songs were too grungy and a complete mix of different styles. I kept listening though because I’m a big fan of Gary Cherone and Hurtsmile grew on me. I was ready to lump this in with the industrial Tribe Of Judah (a huge mess!) as another experimental failure and send the message to Gary in this review to just stick with Rock but careful listening proved that there’s a lot more to hear. Extreme fans might not get into this album because it’s different than the traditional Hard Rock you expect but, if you’re looking for something different, Hurtsmile might do the trick. I’m not going to put this album at the top of the heap but I’m not going to cast it to the bottom of the 2011 pile either. This CD is a grower and there are a few songs that rise above the rest, particularly the ballads.
‘Just War Theory’, ‘Painter Paint’, ‘Jesus Would You Meet Me’, ‘Beyond The Garden/Kicking Against The Goads’