Being that I don’t listen to Greece’s Firewind, the first time I heard of guitarist/songwriting Gus G. was when he replaced Ozzy Osbourne‘s Zakk Wylde. So, naturally, I hated the guy. I know, it’s not his fault, it’s the circumstances. Like when the Yankees dropped Don Mattingly in favor of Tino Martinez. He filled the position well and achieved some great things, but it’s hard to replace someone who’s been the face of an organization (or a band) for so long. At the end (as far as the Yanks go), it wasn’t a complete bust. And, for Ozzy, it didn’t fucking matter anyway. Regardless, both sets of shoes are big shoes to fill. But, before all this, Gus G. was the dude that released the guitar wanking “masterpiece,” Guitar Master. It’s no secret, I’m not a fan of that sort of thing. But it’s made worse when nothing feels like a song and one has to endure that masturbatory guitar-work for forty minutes.
That was 2001. Thirteen years later, Gus Gus put together a slew of guest vocalists and a more radio-friendly sound for 2014’s I Am the Fire. And then followed it up the next year with the hard-rocking Brand New Revolution. Taking the guest vox one step further—this time, incorporating a variety of male and female voices—Gus G. chiseled out some catchy licks and choruses that resulted in a memorable—if long—album for 2015. Three years later, Pink Cream 69‘s Dennis Ward sits behind the mic for 2018’s Fearless. Following on the tail of the diverse (I know, that’s a stretch) Brand New Revolution, Fearless aims to one-up its predecessor.
But, there are approximately four songs here with repeat value: opener “Letting Go,” closer “Last of My Kind,” and midfielders “Fearless” and “Chances.” That said, these are hard-rocking pieces and not at all metal numbers. That, of course, doesn’t make them shit. But, like the band’s two previous releases, Gus G. has opted to reel in his whirly guitar-work in favor of something that’ll appeal to your local radio station. Of the album’s ten tracks, the most impressive—guitar-play, I mean—would be the rocking Spock’s Beard-like instrumental title track. In comparison to its vocal-less twin, “Thrill of the Chase,” it has more substance and a memorability that even some of the vocal tracks lack. The other three songs tie in some wild guitar leads and vocals that focus more on hard-rock groove and hooking choruses. The opener and “Chances,” in particular, aim for the latter—creating a festering air outside your wannabe metalhead’s driver-side window during summer rush hour.
Like the heavily-riffed “Letting Go,” with its tinges of melody and a big chorus, “Don’t Tread on Me” helps keep up the album’s energy. But it’s not quite enough to come back to again and again. The same goes for “Mr Manson” (I bet you can guess who this song’s about). It has hooks but I can’t get myself to listen to its bland chorus. These songs do have some slick guitar soloing throughout and scores of melodic moments, but they don’t sink in.
That said, Ward’s varying vocal styles are what make some of these songs intriguing. Like the Ozzy-esque moments of “Letting Go,” the power-metalness of “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Last of My Kind,” the ballady soaring of “Nothing to Say,” and the country twang of the mid-album Dire Straits cover, “Money for Nothing.” But his vocals can sometimes hurt. For instance, the cheesy, almost-Creed-like “Nothing to Say” and the abomination known as “Money for Nothing.” I wasn’t a fan of the Dire Straits song to begin with, but now I loathe it. For reasons that are beyond me, Gus G. decided the song needed a pop-country approach to match its atrocious lyrics. But, in their defense, I can picture a music video played four-dozen times a day on CMT. Fans of the classic are going to fucking hate this and I can hear Hank III now: “They should have gone with a Bon Jovi cover.”
In the end, Fearless is like Brand New Revolution but below it. There’s nothing spectacular here and, as far as rock albums go, its far from top tier. There are a couple peak moments but the album is rather inconsistent and loaded with filler. I can’t say I walked into this with high hopes but the man’s guitar-work is worth hearing. I only wish the end-product had a little more going on.