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Chain Reaction: Electric Playground

Bar band in the states. Pub rock in the UK. Call it what you will it's the breeding ground of aspiring careers, and the ending place when looking back at what might have been. Michiganders Chain Reaction are in the latter camp, older guys long-since stripped of the illusions of achieving rock glory, delivering solid bar band twin guitar original rock. Playing for love of the music, and little else.

Probably the biggest influence would be the aggressive rock trio approach pioneered by Cream and Hendrix, with its lineage extending down to the strutting Southern power-blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Both guitarists exhibit a lot of dexterity without going for super-flashy chops. This is the kind of workmanlike playing that is found on Friday and Saturday nights in dives all over the states – the kind of steady hard-won rock knowledge that Dire Straits talked about in the classic "Sultans Of Swing".

Mixed into the brew one finds elements of psychedelia, west-coast style, and a healthy dose of gritty soul. All of which is needed to counteract the glaring weakness of Chain Reaction: the vocals. If one's idea of a good time is listening to Lou Reed attempting to harmonize off-key, perpetually flat, stuffy-nosed, then the singing on Electric Playground may not bother you. But it bothers me since it is placed front and center in the arrangements, high in the mix. Lord knows prog-fans are forgiving about less than stellar vocals, but these are bad enough to warrant a failing grade come exam time.

So what's good here? There's not much to recommend the band to prog-fans, unless you want something to throw on and blast next time you have a kegger for classic rockers. Best bests amongst a mediocre set of compositions are "Burnin' Midnight Oil" and "If You Only Knew", both of which feature fluid lead guitar work that wouldn't be out of place on a Dave Mason album. Flashes of prog ambition surface on "Where's The Beauty", which threatens for a few minutes to save the day…except for those damn vocals again. Biggest disappointment is the stab at the Cream classic "White Room" which completely loses both the grandeur and the dark ominous desperation of the original. Boo Hoo.

Production-wise there's also not much to get gussied up about. Perhaps if the axes were allowed to bite more (as they do in "Where's The Beauty"), the guest bass and kick drum were punchier in the mix, and above all the vocals were mixed a bit lower, the overall sound would be palatable. Maybe bringing in the one really good soulful female backup singer to sing lead would be a smart move.

When all's said and done I wish I could find a reason to recommend buying Electric Playground. I can't. I'm also wondering why it was sent to Sea of Tranquility for review. Be that as it may, I bet these guys burn it up live in small clubs on a Saturday night. Which is their rightful domain. Better luck next time guys.

Track Listing
01. Shallow Valor (4:44)
02. White Room (5:22)
03. Burnin' Midnight Oil (5:07)
04. The Party Principal (6:14)
05. If You Only Knew (4:01)
06. Honey Child (3:25)
07. Where's The Beauty (6:43)
08. Star Spangled Banner (2:55)

Added: July 20th 2005
Reviewer: Steven Davies-Morris
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 2359
Language: english

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