It’s a proven fact: sometimes all anyone needs for fun is some hard-rocking, loud, guitar-based rock and roll. Fortunately, when that rock is the product of guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert, there’s a pleasant pop edge to the music, a variety of styles, and some intelligence and wry humor thrown into the mix. Space Ship One is just under an hour’s worth of music, but it’s at least a year’s worth of good guitar fun.
Guitar prodigy Gilbert was raised in Greensburg, PA, where he began playing music at age five. By 15, he was featured in Guitar Player magazine (already playing local clubs with his then band Tau Zero). At 18, he headed west to attend Los Angeles’ Guitar Institute of Technology—within a year’s time, he was added to the faculty as an instructor. Lest those shredding skills go to waste, Gilbert formed a band that would evolve into Racer X. Long story short, after two albums with Racer X, Gilbert left to join Mr. Big (which disbanded in 1996). Since 1997, Gilbert has continued as a solo artist, making fine music for a cadre of loyal followers. Known and respected by other musicians, Paul Gilbert’s music remains somewhat under-appreciated in the US, though he has a popular fan base in Japan (where this newest album has been released). Gilbert has assembled a fine power trio for the new CD, joining forces with the talents of Linus of Hollywood on bass and Marco Minnemann on drums.
The title track opens the CD with the ultimate “pimped up car” song. Tongue firmly in cheek, Gilbert relates the thrills of driving his space ship: “This little number’s gonna say goodbye to all the gravity and unleaded fuels / Yeah my car’s pretty good but Space Ship One just rules”. Needless to say, Gilbert’s guitar skills are in fine evidence here—there’s no doubting his speed and agility on the fretboard.
There is a lot of similar likeability to Gilbert’s songs. “Every Hot Girl Is a Rockstar” is a simple enough concept that should appeal to the teen-aged boy in all of us—observing those hot and unobtainable girls from a distance and feeling the mixed fear and admiration as if viewing rock stars.
A trace of Gilbert’s heavy metal past find its way into “On the Way to Hell”, in which he slyly couches wry social commentary into hard rock trappings (name-checking Sid Vicious along the way), delivering lyrics like: “On the way to hell / It’s a City like L.A. / They got a new Hard Rock Café / We’ll buy a T-shirt on a holiday / Because your friends will wanna see it”. Gilbert knows this genre well, and he masters it easily, yet it’s worth the closer listen his lyrics demand.
Sometimes fun is just lyrical simplicity—witness “SVT”, a love song to a bass that will “vibrate your whole damn face” and “melt your ears like ice cubes”. I think the point is obvious: When you can play guitar like Paul Gilbert does here, who needs lyrical profundity? The man delivers jaw-dropping leads, and if that’s in the service of loving his loud bass, then so be it.
There are two instrumental tracks included. The first, “Jackhammer”, is a hard-driving five minutes of rock, a fast-tempo piece that veers into jazz fusion territory at times and allows all three players to show their respective (and most impressive) chops. Marco Minnemann’s solo here is a percussive delight. The second instrumental, entitled “G9”, is a softer number, a pleasant aural excursion.
A serviceable “Terrible Man” is a condemnation of rockers, a musical confession that he’s done his baby wrong, etc. There’s plenty of lyrical repetition (hey, okay, I believed you at the ninth “I’m a terrible man”), but the guitar leads redeem these faults. “Interaction” hearkens back to strong metal tunes of decades past (think Blackmore’s Deep Purple years), only with even stronger guitar. Gilbert makes the instrument drive the song in a strong way, then lets it wail with powerful leads. You get plenty of riveting guitar for the buck in this four-minute-plus track.
One of the best songs here is “Mr. Spock”, in which the man incapable of emotions actually breaks down, and denies it to the hilt: “Now I’m a big strong man so don’t you think that I’m crying / No it’s the rain outside getting on my face / Or the foam from a glass of beer / Or the water fountain was misplaced / It is anything but a tear”. The harmonies and delectable melody of pop meet metal here, and it’s a totally happy combination.
In deference to his popularity in Japan, Gilbert has written a song in Japanese here. The very infectious “Boku No Atama” is accessible in any language, short but sweet. Another genial harmony-laden tune is “Good Man”. This is exactly the kind of song I wish would get played on the radio—sadly, it won’t be. Gilbert has a real gift for creating harder rocking songs, but his softer pop side is impressive too. Here, he crafts a solid love song that will soon have you singing along. Linus of Hollywood delivers some fine bass lines here as well.
Lest you think Gilbert would get too serious for too long, there’s the buoyant standard blues cut of “Wash My Car”. Girls and cars and rock and roll are the main ingredients to this fine simmering stew—and frankly, don’t we all just feel better after washing our cars? There’s a pride to it, sure, and here it’s expressed via consummate guitarmanship on Gilbert’s part.
The longest track here is a fairly straightforward cover of George Harrison’s “It’s All Too Much”. There’s a sense of reverence here, from one fine guitarist to another, and it’s a pleasure to hear. The CD closes with the mellifluous “We All Dream of Love”, the only keyboard-based song here. It’s an optimistic, harmony-laced homage to how we all hope for love, asking: “What else can you do, until you meet that one who hopes for you?”
All told, Gilbert presents another strong solo collection that serves up a variety of impressive guitar sounds, from melodic pop to harder metal-tinged rock. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better guitar player anywhere, and what’s great about Gilbert is that his music is always a fun listen. He not only has talent, he tempers it with humor and intelligence. By surrounding himself with musicians capable of keeping pace with him (both Linus and Marco shine here), Gilbert also ups the ante. On Space Ship One, the band is tight, the songs are right, and the sounds emanating from that small army of Ibanez guitars are “heavenly”.
If you love guitar (and I do), you’ll have to admit the truth of the lyrics: Space Ship One just rules.
// Notes from the Road
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