Big Al's Metal Shop

Is it just me, or does Chad Smith look way too much like Will Ferrell? Every time I thumb through the liner notes of a Chili Peppers disc, all I can think of is how those two must have been separated at birth. I only bring that up because I’ve been jamming to the latest Glenn Hughes disc, which of course has Smith bringing the rhythm to Hughes’ soul. In every interview by the man whom many call the “voice of rock,” Hughes makes no secret of how the two are now musically wedded at the hip.

It may seem like an odd couple, or at least one of those L.A. marriages between the gum-snapping pneumatic blonde and sleazy record exec with the ponytail on his toupee. I mean, Red Hot Chili Peppers meets a band member from Deep Purple? Yeah — but it works. To be fair, Smith has a penchant for classic rock à la Kiss and Zeppelin, and, in retrospect, it shows with RHCP.

In any case, there aren’t many iconic voices left now back from those days when dinosaurs ruled the earth, and it shows from the amount of work Hughes has had these last two years. He reunited briefly with Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, for which Hughes was once the singer. (Actually, their effort was more of an Iommi solo album, not to mention a lost gem in my opinion.) Since then, Hughes has released two solo albums with Smith on drums. On Music For The Divine, Hughes and Smith sit high upon their perch in the Hollywood Hills and infuse their common love for soul and funk into heavy, groovy riffs.

The latent joy shared by Hughes and Smith in having found each other is apparent throughout the recording. That intimacy is the most valuable asset these gentlemen have in their approach to working together. It’s fun to listen to what some may term experimental tracks like “This is How I Feel,” — it’s almost as if you’re with them in the studio, and you want to reach into the speakers and tweak a few knobs to get it juuuuust right for them. Engaging the listener like that is no easy task, and what makes it even harder is that, individually, these two are already quite established — each with his own previously distinct fan base. With the rock world clamoring for bands to get back together and reclaim the magic they once had, perhaps Hughes/Smith have got an idea here: Finding your musical soulmate isn’t necessarily reuniting with the guys you shared success with before.

The lyrics aren’t always joyful; for example, “Black Light” speaks to the anger and sadness over the loss of a friend of Hughes. Still, there’s a feeling that this album has yet to explore all that Hughes/Smith have to offer as a pair. In their melding of rock and soul, “Steppin Out” and “You’ve Got Soul” even remind me of an early Lenny Kravitz, but tipping more toward early Motown. It’s all wonderful stuff, which may or may not be commercial material — but then again lots of good music isn’t.

While we’re on the subject of art and experimentation in rock, Slipknot has put out an exhaustive film/concert DVD that I’m still working through. Many listeners have a strong opinion on this band as a gimmicky Kiss and Alice Cooper derivative. However, after seeing them own the second stage at Ozzfest ’98 and then headline the Tattoo the Earth festival two short years later, I can surely say that, firsthand, these men have something that many musicians lack. And it isn’t showmanship. Rather, it is a form of communicating with their audience — live or living room — that resonates long after the music has stopped.

It is that primal connection that I find the most fascinating, and I have a feeling that this new film is going to be just as uneasy to watch as their music is to hear. The DVD’s interviews, though, all delve into each of these nine men’s unwavering opinions, many of which aren’t even commonly held throughout the band. It is that tension of a nine-way marriage that could be the catalyst for the spectacle that is Slipknot. We’ll see as I keep working through the film.