Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Trouble - Trouble (1990)
I know I’m a heretic and it suits me fine. Hearing Trouble for the first time hooked into me as deeply as Black Sabbath. No exaggeration. “At the End of My Daze” riffed with the same inexorable force, swung like a mother, and boasted a singer who put an exclamation mark on it with a deceptively soulful yowl and canny phrasing. I rushed out and bought the 1990 self-titled album. Every song scored big with my fifteen year old imagination and deepened my appreciation. It poised the band for a major run that never quite materialized despite Rick Rubin’s production and rating as the band’s biggest commercial success. No matter. It resulted in one of the finest rock albums twenty-five plus years.
Many of Trouble’s best songs are distinguished by melodic riffing. If you can hum it, you’ll keep coming back to it. Trouble rarely develops these riffs at a typical pace, concentrating much more on feel, and achieves their effects through accumulation rather than throwing everything at the listener in one fell swoop. “At the End of My Daze” certainly fits the bill for melodic riffs. The steady trajectory of Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin’s guitars lodged itself in my brain for the last quarter century ago and shows no signs of fading. Eric Wagner’s vocal mixes the personal with Jeremiah on a mount apocalyptic fervor. The lyrics are elliptical, but steeped in dread and Wagner puts that claustrophobic desperation over with every line. “The Wolf” kicks off as the opener ends without even a moment to breathe. This is much more uptempo than “At the End of My Daze”, but the subject matter is more imaginative and less personal on an album where Wagner’s voice emerges like never before. The differences between this track and others are real.
“Psychotic Reaction” cops a song title from legendary 60’s garage rockers Count Five, but the two songs couldn’t otherwise be more different. The mid-tempo bulldozer riffing Trouble unleashes on listeners methodically charges ahead from the outset and only pulls back some for an instrumental break coming out of each chorus. “A Sinner’s Fame”, the first of the band’s two slower and reflectively charged numbers, has a patient and deeply emotive Wagner vocal, but the real transcendent gem of the pair is the second track “The Misery Shows (Act II)”. It mixes softer textures with the band’s fiery two guitar attack and Wagner turns in a well-tailored vocal drawing the most from his lyrics. There is just an intangible quality carrying these songs reaching beyond the guitars, drums, arrangement, lyrics, and vocals. Trouble, at this point, has brought all of the disparate strands together in a sustained way. The Skull is, undoubtedly, their youthful masterpiece, but the self-titled album is the work of a band reaching full maturity. The two aforementioned tracks set the stage for comparable and arguably higher peaks on future albums.
“R.I.P.” is another blazer with an assortment of well-placed and pivotal tempo changes. It’s another brash and commanding vocal from Wagner as well – there’s a reason why this song has figured frequently into the band’s live set and often served as a concert opener. It’s buried relatively deep in the album, but one of its best overall tracks. “Black Shapes of Doom” certainly owes a lyrical debut to Edgar Allen Poe, but it’s a personal and loving approximation of his language keying Wagner’s vocal. The rhythm section of Barry Stern and Ron Holzner makes everything go here. Holzner’s bass line, in particular, counterpoints the guitars quite nicely. “Heaven on My Mind” is Eric Wagner longing for redemption from a fallen world and his voice answers the uptempo performance with an equal amount of energy. Press from the eighties characterizing the band as “white metal” because of the religious imagery in their lyrics never rang true; the blossoming reality on albums like 1987’s Run to the Light is Eric Wagner’s growing lyrical talents reflected his own upbringing and boasted themes questioning our own lives in fundamental ways. “E.N.D.”, an acronym revealed in the song’s chorus, is top shelf musically while shifting the lyrical focus away from overt spiritual concerns towards the subject of substance abuse. Wagner writes about it without a drop of sentimentality and his vocal backs up the words with an emphatic performance.
It’s easy to hear Judas Priest’s influence in a song like “All Is Forgiven”, but once again, Trouble transcends its influence thanks to the unique chemistry between Wartell and Franklin and how it reacts with Wagner. The band further sets themselves with the uniquely melodic flights on guitar and the extraordinary twin lead attack they so often bring to bear. There are greater glories ahead for the band, or at very least similar peaks, but this album still stands as one of the era’s finest and a creative turning point in the history of tremendous rock band.