One need only look at the chintzy Photoshop-style cover art to get an idea of what’s offered.
As the story goes, Quiet Riot’s new album, Road Rage, was finished with former singer Seann Nicols, but after a handful of shows Nicols was fired in March. The rest of the band—drummer Frankie Banali, guitarist Alex Grossi and bassist Chuck Wright—then found “American Idol” finalist James Durbin to replace him. This included having Durbin write all new lyrics and vocal melodies to replace Nicols’ contributions (in Nicols’ words, to “wipe me off the entire record”). Nicols called Banali’s behavior from the outset “absolutely horrific” and said Banali was verbally abusive towards him.
When asked about Nicols’ firing, Banali made it clear that Nicols was the issue: “There were some serious creative and personal differences. I’m not the type of person who will stay in a bad marriage for the kids. It was unanimous it could not go any further.” Both parties even disagree over songwriting credit. Nicols claims he was involved in the songwriting, while Banali claims everyone except Nicols contributed.
The accompanying press release confirms the re-recording, albeit in diplomatic terms: “[W]ith the injection of newfound energy for the band with the addition of ‘American Idol’ alumni James Durbin in the vocalist slot, the band decided to scrap the original sessions and record a new version of the album with the new and improved line-up.”
It’s just unfortunate the finished product isn’t anywhere near as compelling as the backstory. Comprised mostly of limp rockers like “Getaway” and “Freak Flag”, Road Rage feels rushed and is almost uniformly bland as a result. Few of the riffs or melodies are memorable past a few minutes, and Durbin’s lyrics are insipid and clichéd (sample line from a road song called “The Road”: “Cities and streets fading in the night/ Colors and noise and raging light”).
When the band does stumble across a worthwhile idea, they trip and faceplant instead of running with it. “Make a Way” starts off promisingly with an ‘80s arena rock intro, but an odd stutter-step in the middle of the chorus destroys the scraped-together momentum. Likewise, “Still Wild” has one of the only hooks to be found on the entire record but suffers from an awkward quasi-psychedelic bridge that feels shoehorned in.
Only on “Renegades” does everything click. The immediacy of the opening riff and the chorus, which recalls Quiet Riot’s heyday better than any other song here, suggests that this iteration of Quiet Riot can write a solid tune when it bothers to actually try. When the band lets loose at the end with the rhythm section playfully strutting around, you wonder why the band didn’t break free from the album’s banal rigidity more often.
But playfulness isn’t representative of Road Rage. Instead, one need only look at the chintzy Photoshop-style cover art to get an idea of what’s offered: a numbing blur (not unlike the experience of a touring band stuck in a van) that makes you wish you were doing something else.