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Racer X were one of the foremost groups when it came to pure unadulterated 80’s shred metal, but then POOF! They disappeared from the face of the earth. Guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert went off to form Mr. Big (blech) while drummer Scott Travis went and joined Judas Priest (hoorah). And the others…well honestly I wasn’t even paying attention. But then, just as suddenly as they dissipated, they returned sans second guitarist Bruce Bouillet to release 1999’s Technical Difficulties. Despite over a decade of inactivity, their third album surprisingly proved to be a worthy, if commercially ignored, comeback.
The funny thing about this album is how remarkably consistent it is with the earlier Racer X albums. It’s as if the band members were cryogenically frozen in some freak stage accident way back in 1989, only to be unfrozen some ten years later, and then set about recording this album as if it never happened. The songwriting is total 80’s metal: the hook-laden riffs you’d expect from Racer X, Dokken, Van Halen, etc. are available in surplus, all sales final. There’s the rampant speed metal of old, the brain-bending instrumentals, the catchy anthems, a touch of balladry, everything. Gilbert and bassist John Alderete are still one of the most complementary instrumental forces in shred (both of them are fucking ridiculous at times) and Scott Travis is just as titanic a performer as you’d remember him from Painkiller. Only singer Jeff Martin seems to have aged at all; utilizing a generally lower-range than on the old albums. He still gives it the old college try though, so only those rigorously acquainted with their early material will have cause to complain. Altogether: a third dose of that good ol’ Racer X brand speed metal that many of us have come to enjoy.
However while the band members have been fairly well preserved, their equipment has been given an overhaul for this recording. The biggest advantage to this is the benefit of modern production. Their old albums suffered from that thinner “80’s sound” that resulted from technological limitations. Technical Difficulties, either from being born too late or proper immunization, avoids this pitfall, featuring a beautiful mix that highlights the talents of all four members equally for the first time in their career. The biggest disadvantage associated with the album’s late 90’s release date is the low-tuned guitars that Paul Gilbert uses for many of the songs on here. Whether this was done to accommodate Martin’s diminished vocal range or simply because Gilbert had developed a fascination with those thick modern-sounding guitars (it was bound to happen eventually, just as with Satriani, Vai, and Petrucci before him), his use of them might be a turn-off for some. If it’s any consolation, they’re only really evident for a few tracks (“17th Moon” particularly) and besides, he’s still shredding and writing actual riffs as opposed to noise solos or chugga chugga bullshit. You can take Paul Gilbert out of the 80’s, but you can’t take the 80’s out of Paul Gilbert. Hopefully this will continue to ring true for future efforts.
Did you enjoy the first two Racer X albums? Do you enjoy guitar-intensive metal songs that are as heavy as they are catchy? Then you’ll probably enjoy this too. I could have done without the “Children of the Grave” cover (it’s not awful, it’s just….not a song they’re suited for) and the gimmicky samples that appear from time to time, but it’s otherwise a solid release.
After a couple years of being disbanded and two live albums, Racer X hit the metal scene again with a cd that has the same potential as the first two albums. Technical Difficulties, being judged by cover appearance -this album looks pretty stupid. But, this is why we do not judge a book by its cover, let alone a cd. This album has a lot of potential, a lot of heavy riffs, a lot of laid back rock n roll feeling, and a lot of throw away songs.
Musically this album sounds like previous Racer X albums. The riffs are fast and heavy; Gilbert rips up the songs with his shredding skills. Travis delievers a nice drum perfromance on this album. There are a lot of songs that start off with some wicked drum solos. There are also some songs, like Techincal Difficulties, where the drumming sticks out over everything else, but it manages to clash with all the other music forming great music. Alderete also gives a good performance with his fast action bass playing. It's kind of like shredding on a bass guitar, which equals pure talent and awsome headbanging delite. One thing I've noticed about the music is the singing. Martin, dosen't have the same edge as he did in the 80's. It's not as straight forward, and he hardly hits those real high pitched notes anymore.
Overall it is an awsome album. There are the real heavy songs, with killer riffs and awsome shredding. Then there are throw aways that sound to rock n rollish and not heavy enough. Musical wise this album owns, but it's not an essential album for metal heads. Maybe essential if you like fast shredding or have been a long time Racer X fan. Some cool songs to check out from this album are: Phallica Tractor/Fire of Rock, Technical Difficulties, Posion Eyes, and B.R.O.