The fundamental question for each supergroup is whether it represents a one-off side project or a long-term collaborative commitment.

With their sophomore release, the deceptively-named Chickenfoot III, Chickenfoot have not simply established that they are in it for the long haul- they’ve released a monster of an album.

Chickenfoot is the bizzaro conflagration of the arena rock vocals of Sammy Hagar (Van Halen, Montrose), the jacked-up funk of drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), the 18-wheel grooves of bassist Michael Anthony (Van Halen), and the jaw-dropping virtuosity of Joe Satriani- arguably the greatest guitarist in the world. Hagar and Anthony galvanized their friendship during their stints in Van Halen and began jamming informally south of the border at Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina. Smith jumped in and the trio decided to formalize their efforts with an album. Realizing the need for a full-time guitarist, they opted to approach the unapproachable- the world’s most acclaimed guitarist, to join their little band. To say that Satriani’s acceptance of their offer was unexpected is an understatement. If anything could attract the attention of intelligent life on other planets, it was this announcement.

As news of the collaboration spread, questions arose. While Sammy could deftly donate his time-defying vocals to any classic rock-rooted band, whether the other three could find common ground remained murky. It’s not simply that Smith, Anthony and Satriani come from  different rock and roll neighborhoods- it’s that each has been honing their sound for so long, one wondered if any of them subjugate their individual prowess to the greater good of Chickenfoot?

Chickenfoot, their 2009 self-titled debut, clarified little in this regard. To be fair, the album was one of the few rock albums to be certified platinum that year and it served as the launching pad for a stunningly successful tour, if speed of ticket sales is a reliable factor. The blistering funk bomb “Oh Yeah” bullied its way past the skinny ties and $200 haircuts that were clogging up rock’s airwaves, establishing Chickenfoot as a legitimate commercial heavyweight. “Sexy Little Thing” and “My Kind of Girl” prolonged the album’s run, although they lacked the edge and force of the first single. Ultimately, without a depth of quality or cohesive sound, Chickenfoot felt like a side project.

What happened next was surprising. They became a real band. Touring like their mortgage payments depended on it, they saw venues get progressively larger and more importantly, they tapped into an organic and abundant songwriting process. No longer were four accomplished musicians contributing sonic swatches to patchwork songs- they were honing a new sound. This of course, is how any band gets better, but when the musicians are as vastly accomplished as the boys in Chickenfoot, the improvements are exponential.

Which brings us to the name of their second album- Chickenfoot III. “I think Chickenfoot III fits,” says Hagar, “I feel like it is our third record. The maturity, the depth, the power of these songs, the musicianship – we’ve already jumped over having to make a second record. It’s like we did it already.”  His warranty is no empty promotional boast- Chickenfoot III is every bit the mature, tight manifesto that one would expect from a band that started out twenty years ago. This album easily goes toe-to-toe with anything the members’ have put out individually in the last decade.

Lead single “Big Foot” sees Hagar revisit his disdain for automotive lethargy with a sleazy, driving (pun intended) rhythm that couldn’t be restrained with retro rockets. Anthony and Smith are locked into a ferociously tight groove that would threaten even the sturdiest concrete foundation, while Satriani delivers a clinic on using melody to propel rhythm. “Big Foot” also showcases Satriani’s matchless ability to unleash leads that are at once precise and bluesy. Many a guitar legend has forfeited soul in favor of mathematical speed, but Satriani’s lead work on this album is a stunning reminder of why even legends like Kirk Hammett seek him out for continuing education.

“Last Temptation” is another iceberg-melter of a track, sounding closer to a Van Halen song to anything else on the disc, although the rhythm is far looser with Smith behind the skins. Indeed the whole vibe of the album is stripped down, loose and organic, making it one hell of a fun listen. Rockers like “Lighten Up” and “Alright Alright” are standouts, and “Up Next” features a guitar solo that defies the laws of physics.

While most vocalists Sammy’s age are pulling back the reins after decades of filling up stadiums, Sammy’s vocals are astonishingly potent, reflecting depths beyond anything he’s attempted in past lives. With Michael Anthony’s ever-reliable harmonies, the songs take on rich and vibrant hues on sparkling ballads like “Different Devil” and “Come Closer.”

As the band prepares for the release of this instant classic, I had the opportunity to chat with Michael Anthony about the new sound, the songwriting process and the challenges of running from old ghosts.

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JOE DALY writes for a number of publications, including the UK's Metal Hammer and Classic Rock magazines, Outburn, Bass Guitar Magazine and several other print and online outlets. He is the music and cultural observer for Chuck Palahniuk's LitReactor site and his works have been published in several languages. When he is not drafting wild-eyed manifestos, Joe enjoys life in San Diego's groovy North County, teaching music journalism, doing yoga, running, playing guitar and spending tireless hours in deep and meaningful conversations with his beloved dogs, Cabo and Lola. You can check out his rants at http://joedaly.net and follow him on Twitter: @JoeD_SanDiego

One response to “Chickenfoot: Second (or IIIrd) Time’s a Charm”

  1. Al says:

    Great review! I like the album (much to my surprise, since i dont like Satriani or Hagar usually) but i like Up Next a lot! What an awesome song, and Michael Anthony’s vocals are incredible. It seems like this post is incomplete, because you mentioned that you talked to Michael Anthony, but what did he say??

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