Not many musicians could be involved in two high-profile bands and still find time to release solo material. But, when your primary band is not nearly as active as it used to be, and on hiatus to boot, and your secondary band is only active during the holidays, that certainly clears up your schedule. Such is the case with Savatage/Trans-Siberian Orchestra guitarist Chris Caffery who, having little to do these past few years aside from TSO’s seasonal tours, has put together his first ever solo recording. Almost indicative of that downtime, Faces clocks in at a staggering 80 minutes comprised of 16 tracks – and there’s a SECOND disc here, God Damn War, that adds another 40+ minutes to this thing, for a combined two hours of music. Already, for the right price, you’re getting your money’s worth.
Now lets digress for a moment. What are you normally getting when you buy a 2CD, 2+ hour collection of music? Often it’s a live album; perhaps it’s a greatest hits collection; maybe it’s a rock opera; or it just might be a concept album. Well, Faces is none of the above. It’s just a great big butt-load of music. I smirk at using that phrase, since much of the album is 80s-style metal/hard rock, or as that style’s detractors might refer to it: “butt rock”. Caffery, on guitar and vocals, is joined by Savatage drummer Jeff Plate, TSO/ZO2 bassist Dave Z., and journeyman keyboardist Paul Morris. Together the 80s-style foundation is combined with elements of more modern power metal to create a moderately diverse recording. Caffery’s vocals are reminiscent of Savatage leader Jon Oliva, particularly on the album’s heavier tracks. The music thankfully strays far enough from the Savatage/TSO mold that this doesn’t sound like a half-assed clone recording, and rather one that can stand on its own.
Caffery’s skills as a songwriter, unfortunately, are brought into question here. Lyrically, several of these tracks are weak for various reasons, and at times his vocals don’t seem to have the power needed to make these songs memorable. Musically, there is no doubt that he is an excellent guitar player, but there is quite a bit of deadweight here: intros, outros, and interludes that sounds out of place or just too long. Cutting back on that would likely have trimmed at least 10 minutes off this mammoth recording. Ultimately that is what brings this album down – it’s just too damn long, and it feels like it. Combine that with tepid material and it makes listening almost an exhausting experience.
(OK, I can’t review this album without discussing the track “Pisses Me Off”, which finds Caffery rattling off a list of things that piss him off. I admit, the title had me groaning and rolling my eyes, but despite the lyrical cheese, it is well constructed and easy to sing along to. It could almost be the “Break Stuff” of the metal scene , although I don’t know why he’d want to sing “My life pisses me off/it’s killing me/it’s killing me/it’s killing me/it’s killing me”. That TSO money would make me pretty damn happy!)
Now I don’t want you think this is all bad, like some of my colleagues here may want you to believe. Tracks like “Faces”, “Fade Into the X”, “The Fall”, and “The Mold” are all heavy numbers with some memorable riffage. “Music Man” is an acoustic track that sounds straight out of the 80s, and while I’m sure it’s very personal for Caffery, it’s hard to get through that one without skipping. However, the acoustic “Bag O’ Bones” is a bit more upbeat with just a bit of Southern flavor, bringing to mind Van Halen’s “Finish What Ya Started”. Straight from the Dr. Butcher (Caffery’s project with Jon Oliva) book of silly lyrics is “Evil is as Evil Does”, complete with a Forrest Gump impression at the beginning. Disc one ends with “Abandoned”, the closest thing here to a Savatage song.
By now, I was almost dreading listening to God Damn War, but what the hell. This seems to be a concept piece based on recent happenings in the Middle East – how else do you explain a song called “Saddamize”? This is actually a very cool track that incorporates a sitar to give it that Middle Eastern feel. But why the hell did Caffery feel the need to record “Amazing Grace” with just himself and a piano? I for one don’t want to hear this song EVER, and it really points out his vocal limitations. Fortunately, it’s the only weak link in these nine tracks, with the rest being various degrees of metal, largely expressing his disgust with the war, or perhaps just Iraq and terrorists in general (although I can’t be sure if “Fool, Fool” is about one of them or our own Dubya). Overall, though, I think this disc is actually stronger than the first one since it’s a bit more linear and devoid of much of the filler found on the first disc.
Overall, not a bad first time out for Chris Caffery on his own. It’s obvious that he’s worked hard on this set of songs, and has a lot of music brewing in him, especially since his Savatage and TSO probably don’t give him the opportunity to write a whole lot of the music. Those who celebrate the catalogs of those two bands will likely find a whole lot to like about this two-disc collection. Others might find a track or two they can rock out to, but that’s about it. So I’ll recommend it to fans of Savatage and 80s metal/rock, and tell the rest of you to save your money for the new Usurper album. As for me, I’m gonna put this one back on the shelf and pull it out the next time something “Pisses Me Off”.