Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Lost Classics: Spread Eagle
Though rap and hip-hop are today synonymous with urban music, New York-based Spread Eagle were one of a handful of heavy metal acts who accurately depicted the grime and crime of city living more than a decade ago. The seedy songwriting and melodic metal riffs of their 1990 self-titled disc did a lot to raise their profile as the Big Apple’s answer to early Guns N’ Roses.
While Spread Eagle wasn’t an unabashed success in its day, it’s since been labeled a ‘classic’ by headbangers everywhere. However, the band’s follow-up, 1993's Open to the Public, is often criminally overlooked. With the recent news of the group’s upcoming reunion tour, it’s a good time to take a look back at Spread Eagle's underrated sophomore effort.
The songwriting on Public is less gritty and perhaps less focused than on its predecessor, yet it’s more expansive. Guitarist Paul DiBartolo ditches excess distortion in favor of clean electric tones on several songs, including “Fade Away” and “High Horses.” Meanwhile, frontman Ray West—noted for his usually bleak, nihilistic tales—gets an attitude adjustment on tracks like “Shine” and “Faith,” which find him exploring relationships and the lighter side of life. The latter track, in fact, is the real standout here with its warm Hammond B3 organ tones and gospel-inspired vocals. It's a perfect way to end the album.
One caveat about “Faith”: Despite the title, it is not a religious song. Instead it’s an upbeat paean to the dreamers of the world who transcend ugly reality. The refrain includes the lyrics, “Faith is gonna set me free/Faith is gonna let me be/When everything is falling down on me now/Well I sit here and dream, well I set myself free.” West & Co. craft the song with an uncommon attention to melody and detail, giving it all the emotion and beauty of a Motown ballad. It’s a fitting final statement from these gritty Big Apple rockers with even bigger hearts.
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