In April 2011, 80s rockers King Kobra (featuring Carmine Appice and Paul Shortino) released their fifth studio album. While some praised the disc for containing rousing, anthemic choruses in an old-school rock style, in 21st Century terms what this actually meant was King Kobra peddled out a bunch of songs which were very clichéd and a little embarrassing. The King Kobra guys were never the most sophisticated songwriters, but for all of the album’s faults, at least they made an attempt at writing their own material.
That’s more than could be said for Appice’s second release of the year. This collaboration with his old Vanilla Fudge bandmate Tim Bogert and Spanish rock/blues musician Javier Vargas finds the stalwart musicians ploughing through a bunch of cover tunes. Most of their chosen material is very well known, so that alone means this album often appears inferior. …And by the time guest vocalist Paul Shortino trudges his way through most of the songs in his usual second division (often unsubtle) style, this album generally becomes destined for failure.
These musicians may have been in the business for decades, but longevity doesn’t always equal effortlessness and, as such, their takes on most of these tunes are bad. The band almost completely misunderstands what made (and continues to make) Cheap Trick’s ‘Surrender’ a genre classic. Gone is the glammy feel good streak of the original 1978 cut, and in its place, Vargas and co present a bloated bar-band run through which sounds like mud. Deep Purple’s ‘Black Night’ works better, with some of Vargas’s lead work hitting the mark during an unexpected bluesy intro. Once things settle into the main riff, though, it becomes no more a workmanlike rendition, with an uninspired vocal and heavy-handed, ever-so-slightly slow drum part. A rendition of AC/DC’s ‘It’s a Long Way To The Top’ has nothing going for it whatsoever, with the band choosing to play it as faithfully as possible but still managing to lose all of the original’s buoyancy in the process. Still, at least it’s not quite as bad as Mickey Thomas’s attempt at AC/DC on his 2011 covers disc…
Some things are sacred, and the original version of ‘Parisienne Walkways’ could well fall into such a category. The pairing of the legendary Gary Moore and equally legendary Phil Lynott was magical, with Moore’s soaring guitar work providing the perfect foil for Lynott’s distinctive, charm-filled voice. Unbelievably, Vargas, Bogert and Appice think they’re worthy of covering such a musical milestone… Vargas’s guitar tones are fine (not a patch on Moore’s mastery of the instrument, but fine nonetheless), but beyond that, it’s horrible. Shortino sucks the life from the lyrics like the work-a-day vocalist for hire he is and Appice’s rock drumming just has no real class. There’s no excuse for this. Excuse me, I may have a bit of sick.
Moving away from the hard rock chops of most of the chosen material, the album includes a couple of left field choices. While Shortino’s slightly gruff delivery seems reasonably in tune with Rod Stewart’s trademark rasp, there seems to be no other reason for these guys covering ‘Tonight Is The Night’. The end result isn’t the worst thing on this album, but even so, could only ever be described as okay. Or at least it could be, had the musical arrangement been approached in a slightly more sophisticated fashion. The “live in the studio” sound gives the mood of a band rehearsal and Tim Michell’s synth is far, far too loud. Vargas’s slide guitar work is about the best thing here. Naturally, it takes more than a bit of slide guitar to rescue something so flawed… Bad it may be, but any attempt at covering Rod Stewart is not quite as misjudged as their attempting to tackle a well known tune by Mike + The Mechanics. Yes, seriously! ‘Over My Shoulder’ loses its well-crafted pop sheen and almost timeless radio appeal. Someone has decided that the song could be improved with the addition of choppy guitars and an overtly loud drum kit. Surprisingly, though, Shortino’s vocals are half-decent as he taps into a slightly soulier vibe. He’s no match for Paul Carrack, obviously, and Mike Rutherford will probably welcome the royalty cheque to top up his millions (even though he’s not likely to earn too much from the twelve copies this album will sell), but nobody with any sense would ever prefer this awkward piece of ham-fistedness over the original.
The only time this collaboration rises above the doldrums is on a cover of Ray Barretto’s 1972 cut ‘Right On’. Firstly, given Vargas’s musical background and time playing with Santana, he’s more than adept at salsa styles. Secondly, although the production and general rock posturing is still somewhat stodgy, the addition of horns gives things a lift. However, although it’s probably the best thing on this release, it’s still not great. Between them, Vargas, Bogert, Appice and Shortino manage to make Barretta’s once bustling Santana-esque tune sound a bit heavy-handed. Things are rounded out with takes on Beck, Bogert and Appice’s ‘Lady’ and ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ (in the Vanilla Fudge mould, but still inferior). Neither are particularly inspiring, but at least Bogert and Appice have, at least, some small claim to these tunes.
Since the performances rarely rise above middling and the album comes with awful, awful production, this is only ever going to be of interest to a select few. While it’s likely Vargas, Bogert and Appice had fun making this record, it’s really not too much fun to listen to. Having said that, as bad as it is, it’s marginally better than Vanilla Fudge’s 2009 collection of Led Zeppelin covers, ‘Out Through The In Door’.
Carmine Appice is supposedly a well respected musician. In his sixth decade as a recording artist at the time of this album’s release, you have to wonder why he is so respected when so many of his career choices have been questionable. Oh well… Compared to this, at least some of the praise heaped upon that dodgy King Kobra record seems justified.