TED NUGENT – Shutup & Jam! (2014 Frontiers)
I first reviewed this album earlier in the year, when fellow reviewer Deke over at Arena Rock gave it to me digitally. However I’m a physical product kinda fella. Now that I have a CD in my hands, I had the urge to re-review. Follow along, won’t you? The original review can be found here, but this one is about 50% brand-new. The CD is sonically superior anyway.
Some rock fans have a love/hate thing with Ted Nugent. He’s a proud hunter (“kill ’em and grill ’em”), but a conservationist. He loves the right wing of the political spectrum and has nothing but loathing for the left, all the while taking great glee in offering his opinions. The second amendment is sacred to him…but so is rock and roll. It’s hard to outright hate a guy who has rocked so damn hard over the years, and non-stop at that. You gotta give him credit for the tunes.
Upon first listen, it is clear that the years have done nothing to Ted. The opening title track is faster, meaner and more fun than 99% of the flock. The great Gonzo still shreds a chaotically perfect solo as if the studio is Cobo Hall. “There just comes a time when you just gotta rock,” he sings. Sounds good to me Ted, I’m on board for that! Ted keeps it rolling with a vicious riff on the excellent “Fear Itself”. What a killer song. The message is pretty straightforward: he got nothing to fear but fear itself. “I get up every day, with a smile on my face, happy to be alive and I’m back in the race.” Ted offers no apologies, but tries to keep it positive. “Positive energy makes me smile,” he sings, but “victory makes it all worthwhile.”
Old pal Derek St. Holmes lends lead vocals to “Everything Matters”. A whole album of Ted’s shrieking has never been easy to swallow, so I’m always glad to hear Derek’s smooth pipes. By the slippery bluesy rock, you might think it’s ZZ Top. Early ZZ Top, at that! Somehow, Derek and Terrible Ted found a time machine back to 1972 and captured the sound on “Everything Matters”!
Speaking of old friends, Sammy Hagar (who is friends with everyone, except the current members of Van Halen) shows up to sing lead on “She’s Gone”. It’s a ball-crusher of a song (basically just a variation on “Going Down”), but I road tested the guitar solo, wailing with the car windows down this summer. It passed the rock test. Sammy haters are gonna hate, but I don’t how you can hate him when he’s rocking like this with the Nuge. Even better though is the pure fucking joy in the riff for “Never Stop Believing”. Ted has been quite a riff merchant over the years, but “Never Stop Believing” is another triumph, as big as ever. Strap on your air guitars, folks: you’re gonna need ’em. The song ends on some really nice laid back picking from Ted, reminding me that he is one of the most underrated players from the classic rock era.
“I Still Believe” indicates to me that Ted really wanted to get his point across when he said he’d “Never Stop Believing”. The opening riff apes “Helter Skelter” shamelessly, but the rest of the track is pure Ted…with twang. I like that Nuge is singing fairly tame things like “I still believe in America” and “I believe in liberty” rather than “fuck the Democrats”. The sentiments are more inclusive.
My favourite track has turned out to be the silly titled “I Love My BBQ”. I do love to barbecue, and I absolutely dig the shout-out to us Canucks: “I love my Barbeque, it’s what Canadians do, pull up a chair I’ll get a beer for you,” sings Ted in the first verse! A small minority may be offended but my mouth is drooling. But I really don’t think it’s Ted’s primary intention to upset you. He’s just being funny on this one. I mean, come on: “Tofu might just kill you babe, a tossed salad’ll make you weak.” Nudge nudge, wink wink. Poking the bear a bit. “Well the animals, they got rights…right next to my mashed potatoes, baby.” It is obviously intended as comedy, and that’s fine.
I love my BBQ, too.
Kicking ass is Ted’s business and “Throttledown” is a full-throttle, pedal-to-the-metal rock instrumental. As always though, there is a twang to Ted’s dexterous picking. That’s what makes this different, and better, than middle of the road rock. Having said all that, I have no idea what “Do-Rags and a .45” is about. It sounds like Anvil, except for that title. Keeping the pace fast, “Screaming Eagles” doesn’t give up an inch, guitars fueled and ablaze. None of these songs overstay their welcome. Shutup & Jam features five songs in the 2 minute range in a row! “Semper Fi” is the last of these five, a stomper rather than a screamer. I come from a military family so I have no issues with Ted paying tribute to those in uniform. Some might find it all a bit too much; that’s up to you. Fear not, the song has just as much guitar shred as it does singing. Ted then tells us he’s going to “Trample the Weak Hurdle the Dead”. “War is not the answer,” sings Ted. “I only know evil has got to go.” It’s a great tune and it’s not hard to swallow. And that’s the key. All of these tunes are immensely catchy with lyrics you can sing without having to worry about being considered a right-wing radical by your neighbours.
A bluesy reprise of “Never Stop Believing” closes the album; a rough recording appropriate for the gritty blues approach. It’s a bit of a throw-away compared to the regular version, decent but not nearly as special. Ted’s playing is always the main reason to listen.
I have maintained that if only I heard Shut Up & Jam in the year 2014, it would have been a contender for the Top Five list that year. It’s not hard to understand why — it’s a killer record showing Ted is still in fine form today and hasn’t let the politics get in the way of a good rock song.