If the Almost Home title is a foreshadowing that Guardian is planning on dying as a band, it’ll be our loss. The scary thing about an old band getting back together and recording new material is the potential that suckness will have somehow creeped in. When attrition sets in and the finger joints don’t hold the guitar strings down firmly enough, the old knees don’t support the bouncing bass player’s onstage romping, the elbows rust out and prevent the drummer from whipping around the toms and ride cymbals in swift motions left and right. And what if those vocal cords are not as limber? What’s a band to do if their key focus is off? These are legitimate fears and ones that old bands have to face when pursing the old comeback. Intuition tells us, though, that a band with a special chemistry — that Choi that’s unteachable — when they return, they’re likely to bring that with ’em. The good news here is Guardian has still got it.
Not sure if the fifth guitar player being added (what?! That’s like Zeppelin bringing in a second guitar player. What’s the purpose?), but Jamey Perrenot certainly didn’t hinder the band. Guardian sounds like they just stepped off the train between stops at Swing, Swang, Swung and Bottlerocket. They haven’t missed a beat. Jamie Rowe’s pipes sound as smooth and strong as ever.
This is a good album. I can’t quite say it’s great, however. I could listen to these tunes five to ten years from now and they’d still stand up, but I wouldn’t be compelled to do so. The Guardian I want to hear is captured here, yes. But — and I probably sound like Gene Simmons here by saying this — I don’t hear a hit. It’s really good. Perhaps even excellent (there’s no slop and no throw-aways), but it’s not classic — not the stuff of legends. It’s got the laid-back groove and tasteful leads (take the song “Wonderful,” for example) and even Latin-influenced brilliance (“California Rain” could’ve been lifted from any Eagles album).
Maybe it’s missing the aggressive knock-out punch from Guardian’s metal roots. “King of Fools” certainly has a punch — even an opening vocal wail — and an uptempo akin to “I Will Follow” (from Buzz, my favorite album from the Steve Taylor produced era, second to their classic Fire & Love album), and it’s followed-up with “Paranoia Kills,” which has a romping beat that could fit somewhere on a Marilyn Manson album. Heck, maybe this is just one of those made-for-vinyl albums and things don’t get aggressive and loud until you flip the LP over for side two.
I’ve been living with this album for over a month on my trusty iPhone and the song “Free” is the tune that shuffles up the most often and gets a pleasant reaction from me. I think it’s probably the best chorus on the album, and it’s just so simple. And that perty lil’ guitar lead that accompanies it is magic.
The album ends with the band probably doing what it does best — the ballad. Jamie Rowe was just made to croon a ditty like this. What it is, lyrically at least, is a blues lament that acknowledges the bumps and bruises of life — and confesses that the believer in Christ has a hope beyond this life. As an elder musician thinks back on his or her experience, this wisdom and hope brings sustaining power to the soul. If I was in the band, I don’t think I could’ve come up with a better theme to wrap the album title around.
The artwork has some nice additives, too. The back of the CD digi-pack shows a suited character wearing a la Dia de la Muerta (the day of death) mask that is opening someone’s mailbox. Is that like the Grim Reaper knocking on the front door? The back of the CD booklet has a photograph that looks like someone opening a Dia de la Muerta card and the inscription underneath that says, “NON OMNIS MORIAR,” which means “I shall not wholly die.” This is the hope we have in Christ. It’s nice to have a little depth with our rock and roll.