|Musical Style: Metal/Hard Rock||Produced By: Stephen Smith & Greg Troyan|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2017||Artist Website: Lipstick|
|Tracks: 15||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 54:26|
Musically, the independently released January of 2017 sophomore album of Lipstick, appropriately entitled Lipstick II, is not that far removed from the ‘theatrical rock’ of its self-titled predecessor from 2015 (also independent). Yes, ‘theatrical rock” can be an open ended statement, but as it applies to Lipstick encompasses a joining of the seventies and eighties in terms of melodic metal, commercial hard rock, hair/pop metal, glam rock, classic rock and light AOR nuances. Where Lipstick steps outside the box on Lipstick II comes in the form of its willingness to imbue its already well-rounded sound with occasional forays into pop wave, punk and even ska. Diversity is the first word that comes to mind when describing the group, the least of not which being its refusal to be pigeonholed and conform to any type of specific mold or predicable norm. In other words, expect the unexpected!
Lipstick remains a partnership between founding member Greg Troyan (lead vocals & guitars) and Stephen Smith (bass, guitars and lead vocals). The group actually got its start as a project of Troyan, whom following a Kiss concert in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio developed a vision for a band that is ‘fun, exciting and optimistic’. Later relocating to Nashville, Tennessee to ‘take on the world as Lipstick’, Troyan joined forces with Smith (also known for his work in Regdar & The Fighters) and began work on new material in addition to solidifying the unforgettable Lipstick stage show. The Lipstick debut actually comprised mostly of demo tracks that Troyan recorded with guitarist Billy Morris (Warrant, Quiet Riot), which the band released at the insistence of its loyal fan base.
Similar to the debut, on Lipstick II Troyan and Smith have surrounded themselves with a host of talented guest performers that in addition to Morris includes guitarists Eric Penticoff (The Stoves), Chase McCutcheon (Trigger Digit), Phil Shouse (John Corabi) and Steven Edwards (Blue Matches) along with keyboardist Jace McLain (Nuclear Bubble Wrap). Where Lipstick II diverges from Lipstick is in the area of production from featuring the tighter and more polished sound- not that the debut sounded bad (which it does not) but rather with added experience behind it, the band has taken things to the next level production wise.
The Lipstick theatrical rock roots reveal themselves on opener “On The Eve Of The Attack”, a minute long interlude type piece running the gamut from acoustic guitars to heavier rocking rhythm guitars. As “OTEOTA” fades out, “Fight Back” cuts in to full on energy and vigor. What we have here is a trademark Lipstick anthem arena rocker with catchy guitar rhythms to spare and the commercially viable hooks to match. Lyrics deal with ‘fighting back’ against child abuse:
Daddy, daddy, you think you’re stronger than me
Daddy, daddy, I won’t rest until I’m free
I’ll break these chains and I’ll stand my ground
Reveal your crimes and steal your crown
I’ll fight back…
“Cha La Head Cha La” follows and allows Lipstick to show off its polished vocal harmonies. The song represents melodic hard rock manifest, with layer upon layer of tight guitar harmonies leading the way in setting an inspirational if not uplifting tone: Go after your impossible dream / There’s nothing you can’t do. In case you’re wondering about the offbeat title, “Cha La Head Cha La” got its start as a progressive rock song by Hironobu Kageyama and later served as the theme song for the television show Dragonball Z. Lipstick also recorded a video to “Cha La Head Cha La” in the style of Dragonball Z, complete with flying, laser blasts and people being punched through mountains.
“Stop” is another above the line melodic hard rocker. As its name suggests, “Stop” features its share of start and stop time signatures - stop (pause in the music) wait a minute baby / I think I might have fallen in love with you - along with decided bluesy signatures to its guitar tones. Similar to much of the material here, impression left is upbeat, infectious and fun to listen too.
On “Girl Dressed As Sailor Moon”, Lipstick slows the tempo and mellows things in allowing for some AOR underpinnings. The result is a moody and emotional facet to the group in which its vocal melodies again allow for an understated accessible quality. Also of note is how Troyan takes a smoother vocal approach, as opposed to his signature gritty and raspy facets.
Despite the clichéd title, “You Can’t Stop The Rock” returns things to melodic metal territory. What we have is another anthem rocker in the vein of “Fight Back”, brazen with its unadulterated guitar tones but infectious in light of the accessibility to its unfaltering chorus. Phil Shouse provides the bluesy lead guitar work. Lyrically, this one allows Troyan and Smith to touch upon their faith:
I’ve been around since the dawn of time
I’ve witnessed a million crimes
I’ve seen it rain for forty days
I’ve seen red death and the plague
You can’t stop the rock
It’s gonna keep on rolling
“Stop, Drop & Rock N Roll”, also of the clichéd title, rates with my albums favorites. This one brings a simple (but effective) pop metal allure not unlike Poison, with overwhelming commercial sensibilities defining the radio friendly refrain and bluesy slide guitars conveying the rollicking verses. In my opinion, it does not get much better as far as the genre is concerned.
Lipstick approaches ballad territory on the seven minute “Love Of Some Kind” and nails it. Gently done guitars convey the songs first minute until acoustic guitar and cello take over for the subsequent five, including the beautifully haunting refrain in which the group’s emotional vocal melodies again assert themselves. Momentum picks up as heavier guitars play a lead role over the decisive final minute.
Whereas the preceding eight cuts would form the basis to any quality melodic hard rock album, Lipstick II features an additional seven, and any album of such length presents with the potential for not only variety but chaff as well. Hence, how that Lipstick refusal to conform to any type of mold or norm comes into play from the albums pop-wave-punk tracks, “Fake Nerd Girl” and “Rock N Roll Anime Girls”. Yes, the pair present with fast-paced tempos, high energy and hooks galore but… are not my cup of tea either. Fact is the two could be the best songs ever recorded within the genres, but I would fail to know due to not being a connoisseur- so by suggesting I hit the skip button reflects less on quality and more on personal taste.
The album also presents with a couple of ‘joke’ songs. “Gotta Eat When You Can” stands out more for its lyrics as opposed to music, at least in light of a subject based around food and eating:
Sushi & reubens
Doesn’t matter where or when
Gotta Eat When You Can
Burgers & French fries
Someone’s eaten all the pies
Gotta Eat When You Can
While not bad musically - “GEWYC” is another upbeat hard rocker - it also wears thin with repeat listen. It reminds of the old Deliverance cut “Chipped Beef”: you get a laugh initially but down the road comes across a bit contrived. Besides, you know you have been listening to the song too many times when you cannot keep the chomp-chomp-chomp-chomp-chomp-chomp-let’s eat! melody out of your head!
When I first read the following on the back of the CD, I thought it was a disclaimer from the band to its fans:
“Lipstick Encourages You To Have Fun At Our Shows But Not At The Expense Of Other Concertgoers”.
Actually, it is a song title- and a very long one at that (is this some type of record?). I kind of like it despite the ska influences, which come joined with hooks to spare and plenty of hard rocking guitars (not to mention killer guitar solo). Give the group credit for its outside the box thinking and use of irony to get the point across: have fun at our shows but be safe at the same time!
Three songs remain all of which lyrically reflect time travel themes. Now, writing record reviews is challenging enough without having to figure out where each cut falls within a bands space-time continuum, but I am going to give it my best shot…
“Electric Pussycat” delivers the hard rocking goods mixed with inherent punk energy. It works from containing some of the albums heavier moments along with a fantastic every bit catchy as it is aggressive chorus. Lyrically, the song talks about a character (the Electric Pussycat?) that’s …sent from the future to destroy the past / Melting our hearts with her laser eye blasts. I have no idea what is going on here - Lipstick is known for its use of anime - but credit the group for its imagination.
Melodic rocker “Teenage Girlfriend” is written from the standpoint of a high school kid who does not so much want a ‘teenage girlfriend’ but rather a ‘time traveling teenage girlfriend’. Am I out of line to suggest that - as the old adage goes - sometimes you have to lower your standards? LOL! Regardless, the song otherwise conveys meaning from talking about finding your first love:
Maybe there’s something special about that first love
When you are still young and innocent
I didn’t date, so I missed it, I need a volunteer
A strong and brave young woman to be sent
Album closes to six-minute magnum opus “Christmastime Machine”, which (far as I can tell) makes travelling back in time to be part of the first Christmas its theme. Musically, it amalgamates all the styles presented - metal, hard rock, glam, punk, pop, etc - into a concise grow with you on repeat listen package. Lyrics are self-explanatory:
In a town called Bethlehem
The Messiah He is born
He is born a virgin birth
To one day wear a crown of thorns
In this town of Bethlehem
I observe Him from afar
I see wise men give Him gifts
Guided by the stars
One arrives at a crossroad when it comes to summarizing Lipstick II: glass half-full or glass half empty. In terms of the latter, the album (depending on my mood) features 3 to 4 skip buttons. From the former standpoint, it (again, depending on my mood) features 10 to 11 good songs. Now, if Lipstick II encompassed 10 songs with 3 to 4 skip worthy, it would influence a downward trend when it comes to assigning a final grade; that said any album with a minimum of 10 good songs meets expectations in my book. Hence, the very commendable score of 80%.
Fact is, when at the top of its game, Lipstick is capable of creating art of a highly respectable quality. The group, at the same time, are not afraid to push it creative boundaries, even if that means approaching certain musical forms not always associated with metal and hard rock or using humor and irony to get its point across. Yes, Lipstick could have played it conservative by recording an album of 10 good melodic hard rock songs, but that would also mean the group is not being true to itself either. In looking ahead, I anticipate even bigger things from Lipstick, but I also am not going to be surprised to see them (much to their credit) continue to color outside the lines as opportunity presents. As already noted, expect the unexpected!
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “On The Eve Of The Attack” (:56), “Fight Back” (3:46), “Cha La Head Cha La” (3:25), “Stop” (3:24), “Girl Dressed As Sailor Moon” (4:33), “Fake Nerd Girl” (2:23), “Gotta Eat When You Can” (3:25), “You Can’t Stop The Rock” (3:34), “Love Of Some Kind” (6:56), “Rock N Roll Anime Girls” (2:03), “Electric Pussycat” (2:53), “Stop, Drop & Rock N Roll” (3:36), “Teenage Girlfriend” (3:16), “Lipstick Encourages You To Have Fun At Our Shows But Not At The Expense Of Other Concertgoers (3:35), “Christmastime Machine” (6:39)
Greg Troyan - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Stephen Smith - Bass, Guitars & Lead Vocals
Mr. Cool - Guitars
Morgan Bosman - Vocals
Chase McCutcheon - Guitars
Steven Edwards - Guitars
Casey Horn - Guitars
Dougie Lixx - Guitars
Eric Penticoff - Guitars
Phil Shouse - Guitars
Billy Morris - Guitars
Tom Pappas - Guitars
Chris Lambrick - Guitars
Jace McLain - Keyboards & Organ
Josh Dent - Cello
Greg Loyacano - Drums