It takes a special band to maintain a consistent sound without sounding stale. L.A. Guns show they’re one of those bands on Checkered Past, a modern-ish album that’s equal parts hook-tinged metal and metallic glam.
It’s an impressive feat because of the band’s personnel changes over the past 40 years. The iconic version of the band features Tracii Guns on guitar and Phil Lewis on vocals, but the L.A. Guns history is littered with various members, including Guns and Lewis, floating in and out of the band, with offshoots guaranteeing that both everyone and no one is a member of L.A. Guns.
Despite the past turbulance, Checkered Past is Lewis and Guns, who have been together since 2017’s The Missing Peace. While L.A. Guns were certainly glam in look (I say this with no judgment, as the person who owns—and probably still has somewhere—this Tracii Guns trading card), their sound was always rooted in good old-fashioned rock and roll. Guns famously, and temporarily, united L.A. Guns with the band Hollywood Rose, to form an early incarnation of Guns N’ Roses. L.A. Guns and Guns N’ Roses both leveraged the glam metal moment long enough to catapult themselves onto MTV, but neither truly internalized the hair and make-up the way other Los Angeles bands did.
The beauty of Checkered Past is that L.A. Guns aren’t trying to do anything new. They know the sound that locked in fans, going back to their self-titled 1988 debut and 1989’s hit Cocked & Loaded. Checkered Past doesn’t sound stagnant. This is a band that knows how it wants to sound and creates songs that move them toward that goal. “Cannonball” is driving, with a relentless, chugging groove, and a huge, poppy chorus. Lest you worry that metal is dead, the tune features a harmony guitar solo, right out of Iron Maiden, that leads into a more contemporary ripping solo. “Bad Luck Charm,” another catchy-yet-heavy track also features harmony guitar, one of the few tells of the band’s age.
L.A. Guns also knows how to slow things down. “Get Along” is the requisite ballad, a sweet song that provides a reset for the band and the listener. “If It’s Over Now” has a grunge energy, almost like Alice in Chains, a Seattle band that started in glam. The tune slowly builds on a sinister guitar riff, releasing into an anthemic chorus. “Knock Me Down” is similarly engrossing, but relying upon an infectious drum beat.
Lewis and Guns sound the same, in a good way. L.A. Guns fans will appreciate another album that’s true to their classic sound. And fans that missed out on L.A. Guns the first time will enjoy hearing a band that understands how to be both heavy and melodic, capable of writing sugar-coated choruses, and then, moments later, unleashing jaw-dropping guitar solos. L.A. Guns is old school, but not outdated. We still need music like this because so many of us still love it.
The Review: 8.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Get Along
– If It’s Over Now
– Knock Me Down
The Big Hit