Back in 2000 instrumental guitar-orientated music was heaven on earth to me. In that year I got hold of Mike Campese's second album Full Circle. The one thing that convinced me to buy this album was the extraordinary craftsmanship and the impressive guitar shredding, which was kind of hot at the time. The vocal compositions were a bit disappointing, although they could have been fine songs if a good singer had done the honours. Now they tended a bit too much towards pop music. Once in a while I play that album again, but to be honest I didn't find the need to pursue other albums by this American guitarist. A bit sad perhaps, because I really liked several songs and Mike Campese seemed a nice musician to me.
Surprisingly Chameleon, Mike Campese's eighth (!) solo album landed on my desk. This is a well-chosen title for a musician who has so many faces: from a guitar shredder, a melodic pop singer to the funk that can be heard on this album. Well, fast guitar playing can still be found in the album's opening piece To The 9's, in Raise The Bow and in Kilauea. These are compositions that combine the speed of Michael Angelo Batio with the solid melodies of Joe Stump. I think Kilauea belongs to the more interesting compositions on this album. Beside the shredder elements, we also find fusion passages and some parts that come fairly close to Race With Devil On Spanish Highway by Al DiMeola.
The vocal pieces Chameleon, She Burnt The House Down, Funky Monkey Man and Firefly In A Bottle are of a different, order. The title track is a sort of electronic version of a song by Ozzy Osbourne. All instruments have been programmed with loads of guitar parts and solos and completed with slow and mellow vocals that definitely reminded me of Osbourne. The same vocals return in Firefly In A Bottle and in She Burnt The House Down, but in the latter the blues guitars prevail. I think this combination gives a strange effect: the cool blues guitars with a voice you can hardly regard as typical blues. The other non-instrumental song is Funky Monkey Man, a composition that goes in the direction of Extreme, but with a sort of spoken words. With a stronger voice this piece could be suitable for an album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Beside the aforementioned Kilauea, my highlights of the album are the last two songs. Do It For The Cats is another funky composition which has a guest appearance of Vernon Reid, who is famous for his band Living Colour. Meant To Be is a more relaxed composition that might have been influenced by Eric Johnson. Unfortunately Mike Campese still wants to show us how many notes he can play within a second. Sometimes less is more, but nevertheless this is a cool composition, something that I just can't say about Vegas (Playing The Slots), a song Campese is very proud of according to the accompanying information. It's just a horrible guitar piece that annoyed me every time I heard it!
So, it has been fourteen years since I bought a Mike Campese album and it seems to me as if time has stood still for this musician. His guitar playing is flawless, but he's still focussed on the speed of guitar playing and the amount of notes he can play. His singing is nothing to write home about, but the compositions at the end of the album compensate a lot.
*** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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