By Sarah Hayes, A & E Editor
Jeff Beck has a new album out. Heard of him? Maybe you know his old band better—the Yardbirds, which also had Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page in its rotating roster. Beck has also been listed on the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” by Rolling Stone, which is no small feat. One thing is seemingly indisputable about this man, and that is he can play a mean guitar. At the age of 72 and with two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions under his belt, Beck can pretty much do whatever he wants and still thrill fans. So what does a rock god do when the possibilities are endless and no one can rightly tell him what to do?
Enter “Loud Hailer,” his 11-track LP entry for 2016, in which he keeps the guitar rolling at a heavy buzz through every rock- and funk-soaked track while the lyrics pound away at the shores of our modern political conscience. In a summer of social and political turmoil, “Loud Hailer” has perfect timing, although some of its references (is that really a Lawrence Summers name drop?) belong to an era just barely in the distance but growing fainter every day.
“Loud Hailer” features Beck on electric guitar, Carmen Vandenberg on guitar, Giovanni Pallotti on bass, and Davide Sollazzi on drums. Rosie Bones is the vocalist; UK music fans may recognize her talents from the rock duo Bones, in which she performs with Carmen Vandenberg, and if not, her sharp, thick accent should give her origins away. Her producer, Filippo Cimatti, also happens to be a co-writer and collaborator on “Loud Hailer.”
Starting with the first track, “The Revolution Will Be Televised,” Beck’s guitars rip into life and do not let up until the very end. Most of the songs are vehicles for pointed political commentary, although other songs like “Live In The Dark,” “Shame,” and “Shrine” put the more personal narrative first. Most of the grievances contained in the lyrics should be painfully familiar to American listeners, from capitalistic corruption to war crimes, but some of the more UK-specific bits will go over most Yank heads.
But the real drive of this album, outside of the spectacular vocals by Bones, is Beck’s guitar work. Listen to “Pull It” and try to deny how fantastic Beck makes that guitar sound, transforming it into a terrifying electric beast of the air. Or listen to “Thugs Club” and how Beck’s guitar turns into a wailing siren. “Scared For The Children,” which may be the weakest song on the album lyrically (not to mention a simplistic vision of how class and poverty work in reality), has some of the most haunting chords on the LP. Even when Beck is not trying to show off on the track, his guitar is impeccable and always backed up in harmony by his band.
Admittedly, some of the songs hit you on the nose a little too hard. As much as I enjoy “O.I.L. (Can’t Get Enough Of That Sticky)” for its chord-based catchiness and clever lines, it has zero subtlety in message or meaning; same with “Thugs Club” and “Scared For The Children.” But the album ends on “Shrine,” which turns an extroverted album about society into a love letter to the individual, and one can almost forgive all the previous blips in the track list. Beck does his best to tackle the social ills of the new generation with fire and bite, and certain songs work better than others, but at the end of the day it is still a solid rock album with some of the best guitar solos you will hear all year. If this is the first time you listen to a Jeff Beck album, with or without the Yardbirds, make sure it is not your last.
Beck’s “Loud Hailer” was made available for streaming through NPR’s First Listen series. It can be bought on iTunes, Amazon, or at your local record store.