Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sitar Heroes

From "Paint it, Black" and George Harrison laying the basic groundwork, up to A.R. Rahman's recent American success, nothing stirs up rock n' roll quite like a sitar.

Alice in Chains, "What the Hell Have I" (from the Last Action Hero soundtrack)

Someone forgot to tell Alice in Chains that soundtracks are meant for songs that weren't good enough to make it to studio albums. "What the Hell Have I" stood out among solid tunes from giants like AC/DC by showcasing Sean Kinney's unpredictable drum phrasing, Jerry Cantrell's haunting, understated guitar solos and previously unheard sitar chops, plus the late Layne Staley expressing his drug-addled torment with a voice that could shudder William S. Burroughs.

Guns N' Roses, "Pretty Tied Up" (from Use Your Illusion II)

Izzy Stradlin's dominatrix fable is one of G n' R's most underrated numbers, throwing a barrelhouse piano, a propulsive bassline and one of the band's best choruses under Axl's fantastically twisted narration. The live version unfortunately omits the sitar, which is propels "Pretty Tied Up's" intro and spices up the verses on record, but the song doesn't need it to sound depraved.

King's X, "Out of the Silent Planet" (from Gretchen Goes to Nebraska)

King's X's full-length masterpiece opens with perhaps its most subtle number, which is like saying Warwick Davis was the tallest Ewok. Biting it's title from C.S. Lewis, and barely indicating where King's X's soaring melodies, layered harmonies and impeccable musicianship would take the listener during Gretchen's adventure, "Out of the Silent Planet" is a fine example of how King's X's, as catchy as they are, never sound like any other metal band.

Metallica, "Wherever I May Roam" (from "The Black Album")

James Hetfield's self-empowering anthem depicts a vagabond entirely unbound by commitment, material possessions or any authority: Invictus as a headbanger. Employing an electric sitar and twelve-string bass over an undeniable hook, Metallica's unconventional arrangement still sounds like a single entity, and it emphasized the idea that Metallica could streamline their music without conforming to anyone else's standards.

Queensryche, "I am I" (from Promised Land)

Always the metal band that would rather be Pink Floyd or U2, Queensryche were releasing bombastic and ambitious hard rock up to their last few listenable songs. One such track was "I am I," a grinding, sitar-laden slice of proto-├ćnima prog that doesn't say much but sounds incredible. Geoff Tate's stereophonic vocals makes "I am I" ideal for headphones listening, and fist-pumping isn't far behind.

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