Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Little Steven - Born Again Savage (1999)

Guns, drugs and gasoline....


Released on 10 September 1999

Running time 1.01.01

Over ten years since his previous album, Revolution, this was Steven Van Zandt's heaviest, densest album to date, leaving any of his Asbury Park-isms way behind to give us a grungy, raw, garage rock album similar, to an extent, to his 1984 Voice Of America offering. It is much more powerful, however, and is a bit of an acquired taste. John Bonham's son Jason is on drums and U2's Adam Clayton plays bass throughout. The album's theme are political, as was now usual for Van Zandt - corruption, crime, wealth imbalances, governmental incompetence and dodgy financiers. The stuff that always seems to need confronting. Van Zandt certainly approaches the album, as the title suggests, with a certain savagery. The are no Asbury Park horns and saxophones anywhere within earshot, no romantic "little girl so fine" lyrics either. This is a full-on, abrasive guitar and angry vocals album.

There are loads of influences on the album - Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, U2, Green Day, Nirvana, sixties pysch rock and freakbeat, post-Revolver Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Thin Lizzy. Van Zandt wears his influences shamelessly on his sleeve and tells the world exactly what he thinks in his hard-hitting, no compromise lyrics. Good for him. He never betrayed his principles. This album is a bit of an undiscovered gem, actually. Even I, as a Van Zandt fan over many years had somehow allowed it to slip under my radar until recently.

Check out the freaky cover too, man.


1. Born Again Savage
2. Camouflage Of Righteousness
3. Guns, Drugs And Gasoline
4. Face Of God
5. Saint Francis
6. Salvation
7. Organize
8. Flesheater
9. Lust For Enlightenment
10. Tongues Of Angels                                      

Born Again Savage blasts the album into action with a huge, chunky riff backed by Bonham's sledgehammer drums. Camouflage Of Righteousness begins acoustically, before crashing into action with a visceral, punky energy. Van Zandt hammers out the power chords and the lyrics with equal venom. A huge drum intro kicks us into Guns, Drugs And Gasoline, together with some Springsteen-esque Light Of Day guitar riffage. Steven's vocal is punky and abrasive, like Green Day have walked into the studio. A bit of Hendrix guitar "wah-wah-ing" comes in around 3:20. The track is a huge slab of industrial, grimy, thumping rock. The pace calms down slightly for the menacing Face Of God. Only slightly, however, as the song still has a mightily powerful backbeat to it as Van Zandt sort of merges Dylan with U2, Willy De Ville, Lou Reed and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Saint Francis begins slowly, with some mysterious acoustic guitar mixed with a swirling, scratchy U2-esque guitar. It is a brooding, sombre eight minutes long and eventually kicks into a slow, heavy beat as Bonham pounds away like his Dad. The lyrics are questioning and optimistic in their "don't have to be this way..." outlook. This was as serious and introspective a song as Van Zandt had ever laid down. You have to say its guitar is very U2-influenced. Salvation has a Brian May Hammer To Fall-style gigantic, kick-ass riff that is matched by Van Zandt's great vocal. His voice has got a lot better as he has aged - deeper, raspier and less whiny. He can play a killer lead guitar solo too, and duly does on this track. Bonham's drums are mighty once again.

Organize carries on with the frantic, heavy punch of the previous songs. It hits you right between the ears and takes no prisoners. The bass, drum and guitar attack is unrelenting. Flesheater is another superb, crashing, energetic rocker. It certainly continues blowing away the cobwebs, that's for sure. I cannot reiterate enough that Van Zandt is as in your face and committed as I have ever heard him. He contributes a searing guitar solo to this one too, together with some sixties vibes. A bit of Green Tambourine in the riff at one point. Plus bits of Zeppelin's Rock And Roll. If I'm not way off the mark either, it also reminds me of The Beastie Boys' You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party.

Lust For Enlightenment is a remarkable track, full of sixties psychedelia vibes, dripping with them in fact. Hey man, light up some more incense.... . Van Zandt had never done anything like this before, or since, for that matter. The track fills its last few minutes with some seriously deranged guitar. There also something very Lennon-esque about it. The album's closer, Tongues Of Angels begins with some drill-like guitar before embarking on a mid-pace, solid rock beat, packed full of riffy Zeppelin-style power. It has a great guitar solo from Van Zandt half way through. The track duly ends with some guitar feedback fade-out. Phew! That was some ride.

Van Zandt had this to say about the album. From the horse's mouth, it pretty much sums up everything I have wanted to say about it, actually -

"This is the record I would have made in 1969 had I been capable. It took twenty more years to write it and another ten to get it out but chronological time is overrated anyway ain`t it? It is a tribute to the hard rock pioneers that kept me alive growing up. The Kinks, The Who, The Yardbirds and the three groups the Yardbirds spawned -- Cream, The Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin. It is additionally a statement of profound gratitude to George Harrison, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Jefferson Airlane who first turned me on to Eastern melody and philosophy and forever expanded my cross-cultural consciousness. I must also thank Bob Dylan from whom all lyrics flow, and Allen Ginsberg for being a Buddhist among other things. This is the fifth and last of the political albums I outlined when I decided to make my own records. I wanted to learn about what was going on and write about it, talk about it, and hopefully learn something about myself in the process. After 5 albums and 7 years of traveling and studying and looking around I wrote the following liner notes intended for the original release of this record. We live in an insane asylum. A barbaric, merciless cesspool. And in this purgatory filled with disease and ugliness and violence and hatred and injustice and greed and lies and pain and frustration and confusion there are brief, fleeting moments of peace and love and truth and beauty. They are rare. They are years and miles apart. But they are so meaningful that they make life worth living. Those moments give you strength to face the insanity with your balance intact and your eyes focused and you endure and tolerate and survive. And if you`re lucky, real lucky, you can tap that strength and hold on to it long enough to, in your own small way, try to make it all a little bit better. Just a little bit more civil and just. To serve. And you don`t do it for anybody else because no one is going to thank you or reward you or even notice. Don`t kid yourself. You do it for you. For your own soul. Because in this world that`s all the salvation you`re ever gonna get....".