Album Review : L.A. GUNS – Checkered Past

Review by Peter Coates –

L.A. GUNSCheckered Past
Released – 12/11/21
Frontiers Music

Long running hard rockers L.A. Guns have announced the release of their new studio album, Checkered Past.  Written and recorded while the world was still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, the new studio album sees Tracii Guns, Phil Lewis, and company continuing with the darker lyrical tone of the preceding studio albums, The Devil You Know and The Missing Peace, while incorporating their classic rock influences into the mix.

The band’s history is steeped in the LA Glam Rock scene, with the first incarnation spawning Guns N’Roses, before Tracii Guns left and reformed L.A. Guns, recruiting Girl vocalist Phil Lewis in 1987.  These two have been integral to the band ever since, despite the 2002-2012 separation when Guns and Lewis did their own versions of the band, and they finally buried whatever hatchets there were in 2016, played a few shows together, and then officially re-united in 2017 with the release of The Missing Peace.

There have been way too many glam rock luminaries who have been in and out of the various L.A. Guns line-ups, but Johnny Martin on bass was part of the Tracii Guns version as well as the initial 2016 line-up, producer Adam Hamilton on drums, and Ace von Johnson (Faster Pussycat) on guitar complete the line-up. Scot Coogan (Brides of Destruction / Ace Frehley / Lynch Mob) had been in the touring band but could not get involved in the recording, so Shane Fitzgibbon has come back into the crew.

What you get with Checkered Past is a collection of 11 tracks that take you back to the wild rock’n’roll days of the 1980’s and provide a fresh updated mix of the LA sleaze scene with London’s glam rock era, and includes 2 slamming riffs in Cannonball and Dog which are just wonderful!  The album kicks off at breakneck speed with Cannonball – which features a somewhat dodgy video, but has all the elements designed to thrill – the aforementioned riff, rock solid bass and drums, catchy chorus, contrasting middle-eight before a ripper of a solo, and a brief stop……before it all rocks out again through to the wonderfully over the top ending!  You just know this is going to be something special!

Phil Lewis still has that cocky, London strut and swagger in his voice, which seems to have matured with age, and it fits the tone and tempo of Bad Luck Charm wonderfully, with the drawl in the vocals, and the crowd-shouted backing, with the driving bluesy guitar melody under the verse, full of cheeky lyrics full of innuendo – the sort of thing Lewis has always carried off well!  Living Right Now has a chorus to die for, and Phil snarls the vocals in the verse and builds it up each time into the chorus before the punky middle-eight and then a glorious solo from Tracii.

Get Along slows it down and provides an acoustic guitar driven trash-rock ballad that sees both guitarists offering some contrasting styles over the blues-rock backing from the bass and drums.  This has a slight Everclear feel to it, and Tracii delivers another impeccable solo before relapsing into the final verse / chorus combination.  An echoing guitar melody opens up the darker-sounding If It’s Over Now, that sees Phil deliver a menacing sound to the verses, with an epic-sounding chorus that has a slightly eastern Tea Party type sound, before screaming into the solo, after which the guys just deliver a couple of massively overblown choruses with guitars wailing around the vocals.

Gentle interlude mid-album over, and Better Than You crashes out of the speakers with a powerful riff with subtle little guitar-licks, and a snarling lead vocal.  The guitar solo is certainly different and leads into a big-sounding prelude to the final choruses.  Knock Me Down is a solid blues-rocker with another catchy chorus, and a short sharp solo.

There is a blistering opening to Dog which makes me want to go back and listen to Girl’s Hollywood Tease or Overnight Angels at full volume – this is straight-up flat-out 1980’s trash rock at it’s very best, and I cannot wait to get the chance to hear this live!  Phil is on top form, and for any Aussie’s this makes me hark back to those glorious Hell City Glamours live shows.  Tracii rips into the intro and the riff, then delivers a reverb-laden solo before a great piece of off-beat drumming behind that riff takes us to the close!

There is something of a GnR feel to the epic ballad of Let You Down, with a terrific lead vocal from Phil, crashing powerchords in the chorus under the howling voice, and an all-round feeling of power and passion.   The swagger is back in spades with That Ain’t Why which is all pout, sneer and cock-rock strut, twinned with some stunning guitar work!  The album comes to an end with a snarl and a roar in Physical Itch which epitomises the duality of the Lewis / Guns partnership – the voice and guitar line are tied together through the deliberate, dark and grungy verse and the punchy pre-chorus.  Tracii launches into an up-tempo segment before the solo, over some solid rhythm chords, and then we get a final chorus to wrap things up.

I often go back and listen to those classic Girl albums even now, having been released at the height of the glam rock era, and having a British edge to them, rather than the out and out sleaze of the LA scene, and there was something there in the Phil Lewis / Phil Collen pairing, that was still very raw and rough at the edges – much like Axl and Tracii in the early GnR days.  Lewis has clearly developed a really strong connection with Tracii Guns, over many years, and while both have certainly matured, they have retained enough of their early raw edges to give this new L.A. Guns record something to set it apart from the pack.

Roll on 2022 and the start of international touring, and let’s get this band back to Australia!

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Pic – Dustin Jack Photography