Oh, how I wanted this album to be bad. I could taste the blood in my mouth just
waiting to be spewed simply from the title. How I was expecting this disc to be
a cheeseball trip back into hair metal land with no hope at all at getting even
three stars from my heavily opinionated Musical Opinions. Even the album cover
and PR sheet (“Slayer meets Steely Dan in a dark alley”) had me ready with the
Et tu, Brute? knives.
Oh, how I was sorely mistaken. Majorly. It seems that this Swede known as
Mattias Eklundh knows how to make one helluva rockin’ disc. He knows how to play
his guitar in ways that I’ve not peeped since Frank Zappa was alive, folks. Very
technically astute yet willing to throw out the hooks and melodies to keep those
of us around who aren’t into an album’s worth of guitar masturbation. Oh those
wacky speed and hair metal licks are there, but Eklundh is the only guitarist
I’ve ever heard to use both in an enjoyable fashion.
That Steely Dan comparison is correct on the title track, which opens up the
disc. Mechanical chain saw licks suddenly give way to a Becker and Fagen chord
structure that makes one think Eklundh could be part of the Dan indeed if he was
strictly playing Dan guitar. But since he isn’t, the juxtaposition is alarming,
funny, and sophisticated. It works, what can I say? So I was sucked right into
Freak Guitar from the start.
But apart from that track, it’s hard to really put into words what Eklundh is
doing here without listening to it yourself. Undoubtedly the grooviest thing on
here is “Fletch Theme”. That’s right, a cover of Harold Faltermeyer’s them to
the movie “Fletch”! How can I knock a guy for choosing that tune? I can’t. It
was a left-field surprise that brought a smile to my face. There’s also a quite
trippy run through of “Smoke on the Water” here that’s also worth listening to.
Imagine that: a cover of that song that doesn’t make you want to hit the skip
But the original material shines just as bright. “There’s No Money in Jazz”
alternates speed freak licks with obtuse, Zappaesque melodies. “Father” is a
beautiful semi-acoustic tribute to Eklundh’s deceased parent. “Caffeine” sounds
like a cross between a Russian dance and a cartoon theme. And “Happy Hour” is an
honest-to-God commercial pop song that would sound fantastic on the radio.
Suffice it to say that there are plenty of surprises on this CD, all of them
Even the album’s centerpiece, the nine-minute “The Woman in Seat 27A,” is so
fluid and intoxicating that it hardly seems like a long song. Yet Eklundh has
the chops to make all this work in a way that seems so easy. Probably the nice
thing about the songs here is that plenty of them are under or around the
two-minute mark. So you get a taste of what the guy can do before it becomes too
much, and therefore it inevitably becomes addictive since he isn’t ever doing
the same thing twice.
There are 23 songs in all here, and frighteningly enough that almost doesn’t
seem like it’s enough. Still, it’s nice to know that songs called “Ketchup is a
Vegetable” and “White Trash Hyper Blues” live up to their imaginative names. If
Zappa were still alive and had a touring band, I have no doubt in my mind that
Eklundh could be a part of it. We should all be happy that he’s not just another
Steve Vai or Joe Satriani. That Eklundh has such imagination behind his playing
is enough to highly recommend this disc. So get out there and score yourself a
copy of Freak Guitar as well. I might have to start up a Mattias IA Eklundh Army
if enough kiddies groove to this crazy sound.