There seems to be fewer bands that utilize antics and theatrical mayhem. To be honest, when I go see a rock band and they all kind of mope around like emotionally troubled vampires staring at their Sketchers, it doesn’t do shit for me. The fastest way to disconnect from an audience is to act like you don’t care about what you’re doing on stage. Unless you’re Morrissey or Wilco, the whole melancholy, “Woe is me” thing just doesn’t cut it.
That’s why I love Scarlet Carson. Steeped in the historical bad boy swagger of Mötley Crüe and Aerosmith, Scarlet Carson brings the excitement of that music into the now with their updated sound, look and presence. Tim Louie found ‘em first, and I’ve been watching them for over a year, waiting for this disc. You’re probably saying, “Yo, Pfeiffer, since when do you care about visual presence and style?” Well, I always have watched for that combination, there just isn’t a whole hell of a lot of it on display anymore. Scarlet Carson embraces the schmaltz and pomp of their Les Paul wielding heroes, blending the shtick and flash with genuinely bone-crunching music.
Watching these guys onstage recently at the Stone Pony during the Asbury Music Awards, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the pure rock and roll attitude of this band. Jumps, guitar riffs galore and smart-assed audience banter had me and my friends cheering them on as they ploughed through a dozen distortion-laced tunes ranging from angst-ridden, love gone wrong ballads to the gritty, country skronk of outlaw worship.
Their latest record, titled Foreverless, was co-produced by the band and Jeff Wallace (End Of An Era). Slick and heavily influenced by old school masters like Jack Douglas (he did the untouchable Aerosmith album Rocks), Scarlet Carson step away from the local yokel circuit and into a focused, attention grabbing arena of rock and roll brilliance.
Songs from the disc are multi-influential and range from metal to blues. Not an easy thing to pull off and make genuine unless you can focus the continuity of those styles in a solid direction as done on Foreverless. Songs that stand out on the disc are the 1980s feel of “Blood.” Complete with time signature changes, double time guitar chugs and blitzkrieg drum beats, “Blood” brings back the progressive days of Queensryche and Iron Maiden. Double harmony guitar lines slither between the sonic, Linkin Park screams of vocalist Santino, who is an untouchable rock and roll vocalist.
If one song fails to impress on this disc, it’s the familiar D, C, G progression of a power ballad called “The Canyon.” The problem here isn’t the production or the obvious talent (background vocalist Cocoa Sarai is amazing) but it’s the lack of original structure at large. Imitating ones idols can be a flattering form of tribute but paying attention to the outcome of that worship is vital. “The Canyon” also borrows heavily from Guns N’ Roses territory in the lead break, which isn’t a bad thing, but in the long run, “The Canyon” slows the disc unnecessarily.
And just as fast as that happens, “American Outlaw” pulls the record back out of the chasm and back into focus with buckets of rock and blues attitude. Guest harmonica player Will Scarlett tears into the side of this song with corn pone, down home moxy as the boys throw the hammer, down-shifting their four on the floor rock and roll Hemi into overdrive. Think Aerosmith (before they got sober and pathetic) meets David Allen Coe and you have dirty tone all day long.
Other cools cuts are the frenetic wail of “You,” a tear and thrash tune that builds to a simple but addictive chorus. Guitarists Tommy and Stone layer overdrive–laced perfection here, spreading wide on specific parts, never heading for the same notes and giving this monster spatial clarity for Santino to rip straight down the middle under the heavy-duty rhythms of Mayhem (bass) and the mighty drum thunder of Raab.
“Jane Did It” is the disc hit as far as I’m concerned. Mixing the lethal combination of attitude, melody and snarl, “Jane Did It” does it up well. Monster guitar riffs a la Slash at his absolute best blow over the top of Santino’s sleazy vocal sneer while Raab and Mayhem nail this bitch to the floor. Think Kiss or Black Oak Arkansas at their best and you’d be close to this filthy gem of a hit.
“Moving On” is a strange mix of Marshall Tucker drawl and Poison-esque showmanship when it comes to overall style. Once again, I’m not a ballad guy, and the bravado of “guy leaves girl” angst is so-so but “Moving’ On” has a saving grace in its super strong chorus and guitar work. Slide work between choruses breaks it up and adds that down-home Sons Of Anarchy vibe while retaining its bratty cock-rock statement.
“Rock And Roll Lover” combines the dirtiest of guitar riffs with the best use of horns this side of The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.” Arrangements come courtesy of Andrew Caggniano and Terri Lyncheski, who definitely did their homework as far as coming up with highly original pads that not only work, but are an actual hook in the song. Kudos to the producers on that move as it puts this song in the top three on Foreverless.
“Underdog” is a cacophony of time signature stick and jab. Santino roars the eternal question as he says, “Why are you so fucking worthless?” Why indeed? I don’t know who he’s actually singing about but they aren’t one of the good girls. The middle eight explodes and feathers down into syrupy-smooth Les Paul lead lines before merging the two guitarists into a double-edge duel of harmonic overtones not heard since Faith No More and their monster masterpiece Epic.
“Come December” closes the disc and it once again brings back the old style of focused guitar work from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Beautiful and telling, “Come December” is a smart, commercial vehicle in the vein of Bush that tells me Scarlet Carson could easily sell millions of records if they had a label that focused on this style. It’s still out there and the combination of these songs with their live show would make this band unstoppable. The string work of Sean Clarke is yet another production high point on this record.
Sure, I’ll get some comments from wise guys that beat off to Iron & Wine or My Morning Jacket telling me that I’m a crazy, commercial sellout, but it doesn’t matter, Scarlet Carson are well on their way to places those other guys will only read about while they take their lunch breaks at the Home Depot.
If you’re looking for rock and roll that still includes passion, fun and no-holds-barred bombastic reality, check out Scarlet Carson live, the band is numero uno when they hit the stage. And while you’re at it, pick up Foreverless on their site, scarletcarson.com. It’s a win-win scenario for rock and roll lovers here in the Shoreworld domain.