CD Cage Match: Jeff Beck vs. Ratt

Jeff Beck: Emotion and Commotion vs. Ratt:Infestation
I like Wednesdays. Besides it being Hump Day, it’s the day after Tuesday. As Tuesdays are the traditional “new music release” days, on Wednesdays I head on over to my preferred music subscription provider, Rhapsody, to download the latest releases that interest me into my mp3 player.

But I’ve gotten a little behind in listening to what’s in the download queue. Set on shuffle play, it’s always a surprise which albums get mashed up against one another. This makes for some interesting, sometimes jarring, listening experiences. Take the past week, for example. Two recent releases played one after the other – Jeff Beck’s “Emotion & Commotion” and Ratt’s “Infestation.”

In a disc-to-disc battle, one is not better nor a clear winner over the other. You may exclaim “What?!” and argue that Beck is a virtuoso guitar god, while Ratt is a cheesy metal band past its 1980’s prime. Or alternately, that Beck is a temperamental, overly hyped stylist, while Ratt makes your world go ’round and ’round. Valid arguments all, depending on your perspective, but a listen to each reveals…

“Emotion & Commotion,” Beck’s first studio album in seven years (since the self-titled “Jeff”), picks up where he left off – pogoing all over the stylistic map. Highlights include the opening “Corpus Christi Carol,” an unexpectedly pretty album opener with orchestral backing. From there “Hammerhead” has a heavy groove & horns; a cover of Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” matches the original’s vocal expressiveness; Joss Stone contributes sultry vocals on “I Put A Spell On You” and “There’s No Other Me”; the orchestra reappears for the Puccini aria “Nessun Dorma” as well as album-closer “Elegy For Dunkirk” (with singer Olivia Safe).

It’s a disparate collection of songs on this album, but what threads them all together is Beck’s stellar guitar work. He does what he does – play lead – very, very well. The tones and expressiveness are what you would expect, and to die for if you’re a guitarslinger. The interplay of Beck’s playing with all the musicians is worth repeated listens.

Meanwhile, “Infestation,” Ratt’s first studio album in 11 years (since the self-titled “Ratt”), goes right back where they (may have) left off in the early 80’s – serving up an updated batch of catchy pop-metal tunes. Highlights include the anthemic “Best of Me,” the chugging “A Little Too Much” and way-cool “Look Out Below,” the metallic call-and-response of “Garden of Eden.” In fact, it’s a non-stop, nine-song Headbanger’s Ball of great riffs, risqué lyrics, solid rhythms and shredding solos before a quick breath for the requisite near-power ballad “Take Me Home,” the album’s penultimate song, which has a break that’ll stick in your head for days.

It’s a great, trashy collection of songs, smeared together in whole by the killer dual-guitar work of Warren DeMartini and Carlos Cavazo. DeMartini does what he does – play lead – very, very well, and co-guitarist Cavazo gets his licks in as well. The tones and expressiveness are what you would expect and to die for if you’re a guitarslinger. The guitar interplay between the two and the rest of the band is worth repeated listens.

So there we have it: Beck’s album is another tour de force of an Englishman’s musical garden, while Ratt heads straight for the Strip, with iPhone concert lighter app raised.

There are other happy accidents. Consider that:

  • Jeff Beck has been described by some as a guitar god, although he was never officially tagged as such like Clapton was. Come to think of it, I’m sure something has been written about Ratt somewhere, perhaps along the line of “Ratt Rulz!” on some Sunset Strip club men’s room wall.
  • Jeff Beck has won five Grammys for his guitar prowess; Ratt’s first album covers featured pretty hot babes, who may now be called “Grammy.”
  • Beck was probably one of the earliest influences on heavy metal, paving the way via Beck, Bogert & Appice; Ratt helped pave the way for the influential LA glam rock scene, along with Quiet Riot and others. (Early on, Quiet Riot featured guitar hero Randy Rhoads, who went on to play with a reborn heavy metal giant, Ozzy Osbourne. Carlos Cavazo – who replaced Rhoads in Quiet Riot – is the current rhythm guitar player with Ratt )
  • Jeff Beck was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We’re still waiting to hear on Ratt…

The point is… in the case of both releases, tone & tunes are the bones that the dog is digging. Just like any of Beck’s releases in the past 20 years, it’s best to listen to his latest through a good set of headphones on a Sunday morning with a nice cup of tea. For Ratt, it’s just like 1984 – best to listen to this album cranked through that aftermarket system in your customized van with a six-pack of cheap beer close by.

Reviews by Andy Gregory

  1. LiLi says

    RE mp3 player

    Now that’s one thing I don’t have. Instead I loaded my entire music collection on a 16GB flash memory stick and take it with me. It plays on Tim’s car radio (through a USB port), the computer at work, the computer at home, and I have a special boom box with a USB port, so it’s kinda the same idea as the MP3 player without the ear buds. And true, it’s funny how things come out in shuffle – Geoge Jones “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and Sean Kingston “Fire Burning” for example. I like it that way though, keeps it fresh.

  2. Daniel Ross says

    Nicely put Andy! Great arguments with a twist of humor!

  3. David Wright says

    Jeff Beck is somebody that seems to always be on the short list of the five or so greatest guitar players of his time, regardless of what time we are talking about. On the other hand I saw him on the cover of Rolling Stone with Eric Clapton wearing an ascot. Well despite that Jeff Beck still leads the pack in cool points.

  4. LP says

    He is in my top 5 all time, a live performer that I wish would go more toward jazz in the future

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