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Better in Theory than in Practice - 35%

thomash, February 18th, 2009

Everybody’s had a few conversations about how utterly and completely AWESOME it would be if all of their favorite musicians from a bunch of different bands got together for an epic, mind-blowing collaboration of sheer talent. This sort of fantasy is bound to disappoint if it actually occurs, though, as is demonstrated by the tendency of super-groups to fail to deliver on their promise. Hear ‘N Aid, while clearly formed for a noble cause, is no exception. The idea of a collaboration of titans with Dio, Halford, and Geoff Tate leading the vocalists and guitarists from Iron Maiden, Yngwie Malmsteen, Dokken, and Quiet Riot breaking out some shreds would make many metalheads quiver with anticipation. However, it’s clear that this collaboration was just too bulky and unwieldy to totally deliver on its promise; instead, it delivers only a decent and enjoyable, albeit overwhelmingly self-indulgent, single.

As you can probably tell from the lineup, the band really focuses on guitar and vocals. The bass is laid down competently by Jimmy Bain but it’s not very noticeable at all; he doesn’t even get a solo! This is surprising since even the single version of “Stars” has more than its share of solos. Since the extended version has enough solos for an entire album, I had hoped that there would at least be a bass solo in that version. Unfortunately, my hopes were cruelly dashed. Bass takes a serious back-seat to everything else in this song; the bass plays some very simple patterns that just flesh out the sound while the vocalists and guitarists each take their turn with the spotlight. There’s very little of interest to be found in the bass part, really.

Similarly, the drums generally take a bit of a back-seat. Most of the time, they’re simply pounding out a rock beat. The drums do manage to find a couple of opportunities for short drum fills throughout the song and actually have a short solo after the guitars. However, the drum fills generally consist of pretty simple rolls and basic syncopation. The parts are competent, if unremarkable. Considering Vinny Appice’s talent and the intricate drum patterns he put together for Black Sabbath, this is pretty disappointing. That said, there’s not too much that the drummers, Appice and Frank Banali, could do without sounding out of place; the song adopts a pretty simplistic rhythmic sensibility in keeping with its hook-heavy composition. In effect, the drums are competent but they don’t really get much opportunity to show off.

The guitars, on the other hand, have more than their share of shredding. It’s absolutely ridiculous how many guitarists they gave solos on the song, particularly on the extended version. Some of the solos are better than others, but I wouldn’t say that any of them are that memorable largely because the solo tends to transition rapidly from one guitarist to the next, giving them little opportunity to really develop their ideas (on the single version anyway). On the other hand, the extended version has some interesting melodic solos that aren’t present in the shorter version but it gets to be a bit too much. The solos would probably be more exciting otherwise but, unfortunately, the chorus riff is really not very interesting and it’s repeated ad nauseum, by which I mean that you will literally be nauseated by the end of the song. It’s too bad, really, because the introductory acoustic riff is really quite good; Murphy’s Law thus dictates that it must last for all of ten seconds. They really could have used the acoustic section to resolve the song, too, but it seems that, instead, they chose to make the chorus literally interminable by fading out at the end. The rest of the song is left to simplistic chord progressions. At the very least, they did include some nice noodling at the end to make the chorus more palatable but, altogether, the guitars are disappointing. In short, the guitars seem to be exaggerate the failings of cheesy 80s metal without enough of its strengths.

The vocals also get some opportunity to show off, although not as much as I had expected. During the verses, the all-stars take turns showing off their pipes, but it’s too early in the song for them to justify any really dramatic vocal performances. That said, you can’t really go wrong with singers like Halford and Dio. Even the lesser stars among the lead vocalists give quite competent performances, so the verses sound pretty good. Unfortunately, the chorus is just too simple to be catchy. With as many in the chorus as there were, I can understand that the group really couldn’t manage any complex parts. However, the song would be a hell of a lot better if the chorus melody was made up of more than two or three notes ad infinitum. (Have I driven home how annoying this chorus is yet?) Again, what could have been really awesome instead ends up being rather bloated and directionless.

Lyrically, the whole production is exactly what you would expect from a charity project. There are some words about children, crying, hunger, “calling YOUUUU,” etc. I think that ultimately this is the song’s problem; for a collaboration involving as many great musicians as it does, it’s much less ambitious than I would have expected. It’s easy to tell that nobody involved really cared too much about the music – even the soloists just seem to be going through the motions and showing off their technical abilities without really giving their performances any emotion. With the exception of some of the vocalists, nobody on this single actually seems to care about the starving children in Africa which is pretty ironic. Consequently, there’s really no point to buying this now that the money isn’t going to charity. This is a forgotten footnote of metal history for good reason.