Now everyone is pissed..."
One Word Review: Surprising
To put this review into context, I'll start by mentioning that Enuff Z'Nuff has remained my favorite band for almost three decades now. Ever since discovering them in the early nineties with their second album, Strength, their music has made a huge impact on me, and their musical output is so varied, eclectic and simply, stunning, that they have no rivals, in terms of good songs and pure feeling. This is a band who has a song for every mood.
Enuff Z'Nuff's enigmatic ability to craft long lasting songs, has constantly made me favor the band, when mentioning my favorites, in front of other incredible bands like Savatage, Virgin Steele, The Beatles, Manowar, Dream Theater, Pain Of Salvation, Queensrÿche, X Japan and many more. However, the band has challenged me on this statement several times, as the quality of their albums has slipped through the years.
With the release of the brilliant "Welcome To Blue Island" in 2002, their tenth studio album, I found that they had never released a bad song on any of their official albums, which made me compare the genius ability of the songwriting duo Chip Z'Nuff and Donnie Vie, to that of Lennon/McCartney.
Yet, after this point, things started to slip. The album ? (Also known as Question Mark) was a bunch of old demo songs thrown together with a few new songs of lesser quality. Then the band released Dissonance, a perfect 9-song album, in it's never officially released limited edition, but in its official state, added 4 extra songs of questionable quality. These extra songs completely ruined the flow of the album and resulted in an album that felt unfocused. Dissonance is the ultimate example of "Less is more".
Donnie Vie had left the band's touring activities in 2002 and though he returned briefly, at some point after the release of Dissonance, he left the band for good. Then came the release of Clown's Lounge, another collection of old demos with a few new songs. To me, it was a low point in the band's career, and even I started questioning the decision of co-founder Chip Z'Nuff to continue the band without Donnie Vie. It was clear to me that the actual songwriter of the band had left and with his departure, the magic was all but gone.
Add to that, several embarrassing YouTube videos (especially the cover of Billy Squier's The Stroke), followed by the announcement of a new line-up of the band, with Chip now handling vocal duties, and I honestly shook my head in despair and thought to myself "Oh no, please don't destroy the legacy of the band more than you already have, man".
This may sound harsh, but those were my honest thoughts at the time, and I hold Chip Z'Nuff in higher regard than you can imagine. I was challenged by, what seemed to me, to be complete and utter misdirection. Nobody wants Enuff Z'Nuff to succeed more than me, but with that said, it is clear to me when something doesn't work, and as much as it hurts, I have to mention it.
So, as you can imagine, it was with much hesitation and little excitement that I put on Diamond Boy for the first time.
Imagine then, my total surprise, when I found a hint of that same old magic, buried deep in the grooves of the album. That magic isn't immediately evident. You have to dig through several layers of muddy production to find it, but listen beyond the sound of a band stuck in a glass dome somewhere far beyond, and you just might discover these sweet melodies, excellent guitar licks and vocal harmonies to die for.
I am sitting here, writing this, totally stumped that Chip has the touch, which I always imagined was Donnie's sole primary talent, but of course, and this album proves it, their collaboration was always two-fold.
On his own, but with a new band in tow, Chip has created something special, and it is an album which is really hard to pin down. On one hand, it is irrevocably retro in its musical inspirations and execution, yet it feels current due to its spirited delivery, and in the end, the album feels like an Enuff Z'Nuff album.
The opening title track, Diamond Boy, doesn’t make it easy to like the album, as it has a hideous production. Of all the songs, it is strangely, but clearly, the worst sounding of the lot. Chip’s voice sounds electric, totally compressed and really hurts my ears. The other instruments are not much better and I find it strange that this track has a dip in production, when compared to the rest. There is probably a natural explanation for this, but Ahhhh, it’s not good. I compared the sound of the album on TIDAL with the sound of the Vinyl version, and it is clear that the Vinyl has a much better sound and remedies some of the issues. In fact, event the Official Youtube version of Diamond Boy, the song, sounds much better than the TIDAL version and the artifacts on Chip's voice are all but gone. Not sure what went wrong in the production of the CD version of the album, but something surely did.
The actual song itself redeems it though. It is a straight ahead rocker with an addictive drive to it, as verse, bridge and chorus flow into a tight union.
Fortunately, already by the second song, the sound has improved greatly. Where Did You Go takes the tempo down a notch and amps up the atmosphere, conjuring up memories of songs like Stoned and L.A. Burning.
What I really dig about the album is that atmosphere. The album has a special groove, where the songs are short and sweet, but they also take their time to develop. Take Fire And Ice for example, it delivers this incredibly cool vibe, totally relaxed and in control, whilst rocking semi-hard, striking a perfect balance. It is a special blend and I find it rather intoxicating.
There is melancholy here too, as showcased in Down On Luck, where it feels like the lyrics come straight from the heart. This is a personal favorite, as it captures a very special vibe.
The opening lines of Metalheart always makes me laugh. I find "You've got a metal heart, now everyone is pissed" so incredibly funny, I cannot get over it. It was the first song I heard from the album, on YouTube, and I was instantly disappointed, but with time and in the context of the other songs of the album, it actually works and turns out to be another little cool-aid.
I also love it how Love is on the line instantly conjures up the feeling of having had a late night on the town, out drinking, roaming around the streets, just trying to get home, but getting caught up in something else. This one has grown to one of my album favorites.
All the songs have actually grown on me since the first listen, and with the exception of Faith, Hope & Luv, I find them all excellent. The static chorus just kills that song for me, even if the verse sections keeps up the hope that something excellent will arrive shortly, it never quite does.
Ending the album are two highlights. Dopesick just nails a fantastic atmosphere of hopelessness and longing. Wrap this around a song with a splendid melodyline, Chip's most expressive vocal performance of the album and a perfectly fitting guitar solo, and you have another Enuff Z'nuff classic.
Imaginary Man ends the album on a high note, yet it holds, what I can only discern, as several references to former singer Donnie Vie and his behavior in the context of the band. Seeing this song as a final goodbye from Chip to Donnie is heartbreaking for an old fan like myself, but I guess all good things come to an end at some point. In saying that, I will keep the hope that someday, Chip and Donnie find the strength to forgive each other for their shortcomings and move on together, in some sort of collaboration.
This review has mostly focused on the history of Enuff Z'Nuff and the songs, but what about the rest of the guys? Well, it feels to me like Chip has gathered a really great bunch of musicians and together, this actually feels like a new band, and one I would venture out to see live.
There are great performances all around and they feel like a tight unit already. Special mention goes to Tory Stoffregen on lead guitar, who delivers short and sweet guitar moments all over the album. Daniel Hill delivers a relaxed, groovy performance on the drums and suits the music extremely well. Tony Fennell provides solid rhythm guitar and flavors the music with a touch of keyboard from time to time, fortunately, the keyboard element doesn't get out of hand, mostly bringing a Beatles vibe to the music. I hope the instruments are allowed to shine even more in future releases, and productionwise, I hope they will drop, what appears to me to be an effect applied to Chip's voice, making it muddy on purpose.
The magic that is Enuff Z'nuff, and made their first ten albums + Dissonance absolute sizzlers, is still here, albeit in a slightly less cooking way, but it is clearly here, and that makes me monumentally happy. I am sitting here with a wide smile, as my least favorite song of the album plays, questioning whether it really is only that good or I should give it another few chances. It is a prime example of the fact that Diamond Boy is the kind of album that slowly gets under your skin and then, suddenly, one of its branches blooms.
So to sum up, in fairness Diamond Boy may not be among the best, nor the deepest albums the band has released, but it is also far from their worst and what is most important, it has the soul of the band engraved deeply into its grooves and feels like a new beginning. A beginning with great potential. Though cynically unexpected, that is what I had hoped for deep within, and I am so happy that there is still magic left in a band I continue to recommend to anyone I meet. Here's to another 30 years!
Written By Steen
Online: Tuesday, November 20, 2018
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