Frank Marino : Juggernaut
(CBS - 1983)
Category : underrated
Canadian guitar master Frank Marino has yet to release a bad album, but as far as I'm concerned 'Juggernaut' captures the man at his creative peak. It's an absolute killer album. Marino sounds unleashed like never before. The music is every bit as muscular as the sleeve suggests, the song writing is just perfect, as a vocalist Marino never sounded better before (and after) and the production is among the best I have ever heard (clean but not cold).
Out of the eight songs, there's only one track that's merely above average. That's the lightweight (in terms of song writing) 'For your love'. There's nothing wrong with it persé. It just falls flat in comparison with the seven towering pieces accompanying it on this album. I'm focusing on just four of those now, but don't forget that the three remaining tracks are just as good.
'Ditch Queen' is a Hard Rock song with a Funky undertone. Marino's guitar is all over the place, but doesn't get in the way of the groove that makes you want to move your upper body in that slightly sensual, sexy way, if only you weren't that fat.
'Free' and 'Juggernaut' are both frantic and muscular Hard Rockers with energy to spare. With both these tracks Frank Marino comes dangerously close to Heavy Metal territory. Simply finger licking good. The angry parlando in the middle of 'Free' is a nice touch, that serves to underline the defiant nature of the song.
'Stories of a Hero' is a very sad sounding ballad, a story of a young soldier who's heading for war, but who's never to return. When I mention the word ballad, don't think it's the kind of sappy triviality you might know of certain hair metal bands. No, this ballad has essence. It sounds honest and evokes real emotions. Marino's voice, although he is not an acrobatic singer, lends itself perfectly for this. On top of that his solo guitar always comes in at just the right intensity at the right time. With restraint most of the time, but fiery whenever needed, so the song can slowly build up towards the end. One of the best ballads I have ever heard.
This album comes heavily recommended to anyone who's into Guitar gods. Marino is just as skilled as Steve Vai or Eddie Van Halen (who he both precedes) but his playing sounds more natural and it has an easily recognisable style. It's also probably a treat for people who like bluesy Hard Rock à la Jimi Hendrix, although in that case his earlier albums might be better suited for you, as he started out as a sort of Hendrix imitator. But fans of Robin Trower and Pat Travers too should find lots to enjoy here. At the same time, thanks to the often very catchy vocals and the clean production, it's standing with one leg in mainstream Hard Rock, rubbing shoulders with Foreigner and other such Album rockers, but without losing one bit of personality. And thanks to 'Free' and the title track I can even imagine some old school metalheads turning their heads.
All this variation and different influences gives the album a very wide appeal, as it can be enjoyed at different levels and for different reasons. For one person it'll just be an enjoyable listen, while others will be charmed by the technical side of things; the way the songs are built, the guitar technique...
In short, everything was in place to make this a huge commercial succes. But alas... It's not the quality of an album, but the marketing machine behind it that sells. Otherwise the Britney Spearses of this world would've been out of a job at day one. Maybe CBS just didn't understand what a gem this was. Who knows. Whatever the case, 'Juggernaut' would prove to be Marino's last album for the label.