For so many people, they hear Gary Cherone's name and immediately think about the failed Van Halen album III that he fronted. I get it. How can you not? It was such an unbelievably bad effort, and really should never have had the Van Halen name on it at all. Unfortunately though, Cherone has always been the blamesake of that release, even though it's pretty much recorded history at this point that III was Eddie Van Halen's attempt at experimentation at the same time he was using or drinking himself into oblivion. Still, for most VH nerds, it's always impossible to admit that EVH could ever do anything badly. So blame it on the new guy, right? The sad truth though is that both before and after Van Halen, Gary Cherone has proven to be a pretty damn great frontman. I'm sure I'm near alone with this, but I look at PORNOGRAFFITI from Extreme as one of the top 10 albums of hair metal history. They followed with another brilliant release in III SIDES TO EVERY STORY, and then bested all of that with the widely underappreciated WAITING FOR THE PUNCHLINE (one of the top 10 albums in my entire collection). When Extreme reconvened, they put out another great release with SAUDADES DE ROCK. Simply put, Cherone has proven to be a great rock song writer over a long career.
In 2011, Cherone teamed with his brother and some other cats to release HURTSMILE, a project that at once feels a bit like Extreme, but is starkly more political and, dare I say, heavy. That album rocked, and paved the way for this latest release RETROGRENADE. I have to give it to Cherone. He knows how to play with A+ guitar players. Nuno Bettencourt, Eddie Van Halen, and now Marcus Cherone. The non-famous brother of Gary should be a star, as anyone that has now heard the two Hurtsmile release can attest to. This guy can flat out play. His tone is very rich and heavy, powering songs like the politically charged "Big Government". Cherone teams with Tantric bassist Joe Pessia and an unknown drummer named Dana Spellman to provide the music. They do a great job. So many songs on RETROGRENADE are full musically, almost like Extreme but with an upgraded touch. Listening to songs like "I Still Do" will naturally remind people of "Hole Hearted", although it's more updated and a bit darker so as to fit in with today's more modern rock sound.
As for Gary Cherone, he sounds like he always has. He's always had one of the strongest and easily recognizable voices in rock. That hasn't changed. Listening to him on songs like "Where Do We Go From Here", you realize immediately that he's every bit the singer he ever was. This song is particularly strong (probably the best of the disc), as brother Marcus opens the song with an almost 70s sounding groove to open the track before kicking loose with a riff that would make Richie Blackmore smile after Gary leads him up the proverbial mountain. In a lot of ways, this song reminds of a dark, bluesy Whitesnake song. It's a slow, driving blues number that was so successful in the classic rock days of the late 70s.
PITRIFF RATING - 96/100 - Hurtsmile is a great band. With far more diversity than it's predecessor and a heaping helping of talent from both guys with the last name of Cherone, you can't help but love this release. As someone that just loves to rock out, Hurtsmile now takes it's permanent position in my "rock out" playlist. Great stuff here.