I’ll be honest: I never really got into CKY. At the time their popularity peaked, they were far too weird for my tastes. Looking back now, they have made some great music, often because of just how weird it is. Vocalist Deron Miller was a huge part of that, with his wide array of vocals being the signature of many CKY songs. This is important because on The Phoenix, CKY‘s first album of all-new material in nearly a decade, guitarist Chad I Ginsberg has stepped up to claim lead vocals after Miller’s departure, and he has a style all his own that, for better or worse, colors the 8 tracks contained within. Not that to say that drummer Jess Margera and bassist Matt Deis don’t also have their fingerprints all over this album, but Ginsberg’s vocals may be a point of contention for longtime CKY fans.
Different isn’t necessarily bad, however: Ginsberg’s style blends elements of Danzig, Ville Valo, and especially Dick Valentine (of Electric Six) into a theatrical, devilish croon. On opening track “Replaceable”, CKY ride a Monster Mash inspired synth hook and Ginsberg’s smooth, smirking vocals through one of the best choruses of the year, and the verses pound with a pulsing riff sprinkled with handclaps, coming across a bit like Clutch if Clutch ever had fun. Lead single “Days Of Self Destruction” is another highlight, with a groovy guitar line dueling with a throwback organ synth on the chorus riff and Ginsberg’s lower register getting a workout, with some downright evil sounding cleans. This song is proof that even if Ginsberg’s delivery is a bit more limited in range than Deron Miller’s, when the songs click, he can write a vocal hook with the best of them. There’s also an extended and flashy guitar solo that serves at the surprise third act and helps make the song as great as it is. “Unknown Enemy” blends horror and disco, and Matt Deis’s bassline is a hell of a lot of fun, but the chorus isn’t very distinguished much from the verses, and is completely forgettable. “Head For A Breakdown” is a softer song focused on a shrill synth riff and Ginsberg’s vocals. He really isn’t far off from Corey Taylor, and his vocals bolster the otherwise bland chorus. There’s also a phenomenal guitar solo that steals the show more than a little.
The back half of the album kicks off with “The Other Ones”, which has a bouncy riff reminiscent of Finger Eleven’s hit “Paralyzer”, but much like Unknown Enemy, the chorus is completely forgettable. “Wiping Off The Dead” sounds heavier, albeit mostly due to the excessive distortion rather than the notes being played (it actually sounds a little bit like angry Muse). Margera and Deis have a blast playing with some twisting rhythms, although aside from the main riff, there isn’t much else to the song. “Lies From You” may actually be the best track here, with one of the most fun riffs in recent memory and some unexpected turns between sing-along choruses. This is a song built around Ginsberg’s specific vocal habits, and it pays off big. Closing track “Better Than Get Even” has a lot of good elements: another gyrating riff, another sinister performance from Ginsberg, and a simple but groovy rhythm courtesy of Deis and Margera that channels classic Powerman 5000. When the song strays from that all-encompassing chorus, though, it flounders a bit and feels a little over-long.
CKY are making a statement with The Phoenix. This is a new CKY, risen from the ashes of the old CKY, both the same and radically different. When they are at their best, they can deliver some of the best songs of the year. They managed to do so with about half of The Phoenix, and the other half is still pleasant even if it’s less memorable. New fans will find a lot to enjoy, and old fans willing to give this a chance just might as well.