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SEPTEMBER 5, 2020

ROCKWiRED REWiND: PAT BENATAR - GO (2003)

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he post 9/11 world desperately needed the cartoon toughness of PAT BENATAR. After the collapse of the World Trade Center, American society had become stifled. It was no time for jokes and it was the beginning of much of the political divisiveness that has taken hold of our cultural landscape today and in the aftermath of the terror attacks by Al-Qaeda forces entrenched in Afghanistan, the country went to war...with Iraq. In a strange way it all sounds like a piece of cake now given the fact that we are in the rows of a global pandemic. We may not have had to wear masks and we may have been able to move freely, but culturally, the years that followed 9/11 were bereft. There was a sanitization that took place in music with artists like DIDO, NORAH JONES, JOHN MAYER and DAMIEN RICE putting out material that was heavy on wistfulness and pop psychological heartache, but nothing terribly punchy. Hell, even a punchy, alternative rock band like NO DOUBT went pop that year with that HEY BABY shit. This clean cut approach to pop was irritating. Thank god for PINK. Oh and there was that band EVANESCENCE with that breakthrough hit of theirs, but that got on my nerves quickly. The musical landscape of the time could've used BENATAR's pyrotechnic vocals and fighting spirit.

Ever since she came onto the scene in 1979 with her platinum selling debut album IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, BENATAR's tough girl approach has always been a source of contention with music critics. I find it hard to believe that no one could find the pint-sized rock chick's stiff upper lip pretty damned sexy. Clearly millions did. And let's not even talk about that four octave range of hers. For much of the REAGAN era, BENATAR filled the airwaves with rock anthems such as HEARTBREAKER, HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT, FIRE AND ICE, SHADOWS OF THE NIGHT and INVINCIBLE. On deeper cuts she took the time to address social ills such as child abuse on the chilling HELL IS FOR CHILDREN. Yet for all of her hard rock histrionics, she knew how to get into the groove as she did with the dance rock classic LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD and embraced marital bliss and pending motherhood on the thunderous power ballad WE BELONG. She could play both tough and tender but make no mistake that the battlefield was where BENATAR belonged and her bellicosity earned her seven platinum albums and four GRAMMY wins.

When the nineties came along, things were different. BENATAR and husband/guitarist NEIL GIRALDO took a chance at expanding there repertoire into big band blues music with the 1991 album TRUE LOVE. The unexpected shift from hard rock to blues was panned by critics and despite reasonable returns for a blues album, TRUE LOVE signaled the end of BENATAR's days as a rock n roll force to be reckoned with. The GIRALDOs would return to rock n roll form on 1993's GRAVITY's RAINBOW and the album earned BENATAR something she had never received before – critical acclaim. However critical acclaim didn't mean that sales were through the roof which is too bad considering that GRAVITY'S RAINBOW is BENATAR's strongest album. You can read more about that album here.

After parting with CHRYSALIS RECORDS, the label that had been their home for almost twenty years at that point, PAT and NEIL began touring the country with their fiery catalog of songs for every summer since 1995 with the exception of of 2020 due to the current pandemic. In 1997 they released the album INNAMORATA on the now defunct independent label CMC INTERNATIONAL. It was clear upon the album's release that CMC didn't have the pull of a major label like CHRYSALIS and the rootsier acoustic guitar and fiddle drive INNAMORATA made little impact and its single STRAWBERRY WINE (which bore a strong resemblance to TONIC's IF YOU COULD ONLY SEE from that same year) never found a home on rock radio. However, critics were quick to applaud the woman for abandoning her tough girl persona for a more adult perspective on love and romance.

But wasn't the "tough girl persona" the whole point? Wasn't that BENATAR's allure in the first place? It was her practically trademarked toughness that made her brand of rock n roll the punchy affair that it was. No one ever dreams of telling a band like KISS to grow the hell up. And imagine what would happen if AC/DC had embraced a gentler approach to their albums. It wouldn't happen. Rock n roll is all about energy and people forget that in a musical climate where hip hop and the creation of beats - as opposed to a natural kinetic energy among musicians - is favored.

***

https://www.rockwired.com/CapitalSTimes.jpgix years after the release of the plaintive and quaint INNAMORATA, the GIRALDOS self-financed and self-released their thirteenth album GO on their own label BEL CHIASSO ENTERTAINMENT and the album was a curious edition to the woman's length discography. A quick scan of the   album's striking cover showcasing BENATAR's manic vampiric visage gives you an indication that the listener is in for the kind of hellraising that had been sorely lacking from BENATAR on her previous release. Rootsy gentility has been cast aside in favor of the rip roaring sounds of nu metal on GO's opening title cut. I WON'T continues the melodrama established by the title track and leaves a sting it's tail with the chorus "I'd rather die than love you" and HAVE IT ALL is a mid tempo rocker with the kind of chorus that only BENATAR could turn into an anthem. Of course, the GIRALDOS' bag of tricks isn't limited to heavy metal power chords. Their pop smarts come through on the Latin-influenced pop rock of SORRY and their singer-songwriter-y instincts across on the moody TELL ME. Gooey sentiment shouldn't have a place on this album but it shows up in the banal CASIO-powered trip hop ballad PLEASE DON'T LEAVE ME and  the ghost track - the horrid 9/11 tribute CHRISTMAS IN AMERICA. This self-released album deserved a bigger push than it got.  So far, it is the only album to be released by BENATAR in this century.

GO
The thirteenth album from BENATAR delivers on the bombastic rock n roll that people expect from the singer, but the nu metal approach of the album's jarring opening title track is a double edged sword. On one hand BENATAR's attempt to stay current with the times should be applauded. There was no reason, other than finances, for why the track didn't become a modest mainstream rock radio hit. However, a long time fan might be wishing the GIRALDOS had taken the nostalgic path. GIRALDO's power chords are meaner and slicker than ever and BENATAR is issuing the kind of venom we haven't heard issued in quite a while. And the nu metal flourish just makes it all sound more venomous. The queen of hard rock is angry and betrayed again, but instead of worrying about the GIRALDOS' married life, a listener should feel right at home.

I WON'T
Oh the drama! But would we have it any other way? Marital bliss is all well and good, but BENATAR putting that primo voice of hers to expressing betrayed is the kind of spectacle that we all want to see and hear. "I'd rather die than love you!" goes the chorus and it is pitch perfect for the the burgeoning reality TV culture. I WON'T is another track that could've done a little something on mainstream rock radio and in the age of LINKIN PARK and INCUBUS and that bit of praise is really saying something about the GIRALDO's pop music instincts.

HAVE IT ALL
BENATAR's career has heavily depended on a  series of sturdy choruses. That being said, HAVE IT ALL boasts one clunkily worded chorus ("Have it all/Take it all/Use it with no stake at all...Lead it just like sheep it all") that looks silly on the liner notes but when PAT sinks her fangs into it, not only does it work, the mid tempo rocker comes alive. There is nothing new here thematically and that's alright.

SORRY
Sometimes the betrayed heroine is able to accept responsibility for her part in the unravelling of a relationship. And she does so with an infectious Latin-rhythm and GIRALDO's strumming and fingerpicking on an acoustic guitar. The auto-tuning of BENATAR's purring vocals is unnecessary and sounds like a production decision designed to make the already mordern sounding album sound more modern. It's an enjoyable and welcome pop moment and doesn't take a colossal effort of the imagination to hear its potential on pop radio at that time.

GIRL
Its too late to mention that all of the songs on GO were written by the GIRALDOS save for GIRL, which was the proposed title for the album prior to release. Songwriter HOLLY KNIGHT, who penned such hits for BENATAR as LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD and INVINCIBLE, returns to camp BENATAR with this mid tempo rocker. The song made its premiere on BENATAR's live album SUMMER VACATION 2001. With backing from a live band and BENATAR's growl, GIRL was a BAD COMPANY-esque rocker that could've been a live single a'la FLEETWOOD MAC's SILVER SPRINGS. Unfortunately on GO, the effort feels like mere filler and the lack of a live feel is to blame.

IN MY DREAMS
The irony of a couple married for decades releasing an album full of romantic discord isn't lost on anyone so it's nice to hear the couple chill and act like beach bum teens in love on IN MY DREAMS. Strangely, BENATAR's coo on this track recalls the late CHRISTINA AMPHLETT of THE DIVINYLS but it is GIRALDO's electrifying surf guitar that steals the show here. The album could've used more moments of him cutting loose.

TELL ME
The GIRALDOS' songwriter-y instincts from their previous album INNAMORATA kick in on TELL ME, a moody tale of a couple choosing to stick it out no matter what harm they've done to each other in the past. Balanced between gentle acoustic verses, rock out choruses and a fiery bridge , TELL ME is a return to the pop rock formula that the GIRALDOS' established on their 1981 album PRECIOUS TIME.

THE BROKENHEARTED
Heartbreak proves to be the bookend for BENATAR's discography. HEARTBREAKER was the opening track on IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT in 1979 and closing out GO in 2003 (I won't mention the awful ghost track CHRISTMAS IN AMERICA) is THE BROKENHEARTED, a haunting elegy for the disenfranchised. Instead of romantic disillusionment, the trembly ballad showcases BENATAR's big juicy heart when it comes to social issues and this moving moment does so without coming off as preachy or righteous. 

***

https://www.rockwired.com/CapitalATimes.jpground the time GO was released, a funny thing happened to the LP. It became a dying art thanks to the internet and file sharing. For an artist like BENATAR that was unfortunate given that the long play album was the medium where she truly shined as an artist. There is also the matter of the GIRALDO's releasing the album themselves on their own dime, a feat that absolutely no music consumer out there truly appreciates. Fans may have complained about the lack of promotion for the album or the absence of any of it's fine songs from rock radio, but that is why you need a record company to do the heavy lifting. Despite such obstacles, GO did manage to perform well in the BILLBOARD INDEPENDENT ALBUMS chart by placing at #9. If sales for the album were lackluster, at least the GIRALDOS had their lucrative annual touring to fall back on.

RICHIE UNTERBERGER of ALL MUSIC GUIDE had this to say about GO:

"For her first studio album in half a dozen years, Benatar returned with a fairly characteristic and varied set of mainstream rock, longtime cohort Neil Giraldo in the producer and co-songwriter chair (in addition to playing much of the music). While her voice is in fine shape, capable of hard rockers and more measured ballads, there isn't anything all that memorable tune-wise. Most of the songs are preoccupied with romantic disillusionment, which might be an odd state of affairs given the long Benatar-Giraldo personal and professional partnership, but maybe they're just doing what comes naturally to them as commercial music-makers. Hard, arena-styled rock is perhaps the element most to the fore here, particularly in the title track, with its waves of distorted guitars. But the pair seem to be wanting to cover several bases, with MOR balladry ("Brave" and "Please Don't Leave Me"), more acoustic singer/songwriter-shaded stuff ("Sorry" and "Tell Me"), and anthemic pop present as well. The CD also includes an unlisted bonus track, the awful post-9/11 2001 tribute single "Christmas in America." 

JOSH TYRANGIEL of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY took a similar tone in his summation of GO in his C- review:

"Benatar seems well positioned for a comeback. You can almost see her dueting with Gwen Stefani — Benatar 2.0 — and making an encore leap into the top 10. But she won’t get there with the tunes from ”Go.” Neil Giraldo — Benatar’s husband, guitarist, and producer — cowrote all 11 tracks, and you get what he was thinking. His wife has always been at her best mining a slender emotional vein: anger at being betrayed. (See ”Love Is a Battlefield,” ”Heartbreaker,” ”You Better Run,” etc.) So Giraldo gives her a bunch of songs about that exact feeling. The most successful of them — ”Go,” ”Brave,” ”Please Don’t Leave Me” — allow Benatar to show off her wonderfully elastic voice, and it’s fun to hear her stretch out on the choruses until she gets that familiar gravelly purr at the bottom of each breath. The problem is the production. ”Go” is so full of slick power chords and bloated guitar solos that it sounds like Benatar wandered into a Steve Vai session. This is a particularly weird flaw. You might expect Benatar to make a nostalgia album, but you’d think the nostalgia would be for her own era, not the days of Mötley Crüe and Poison. The few tracks that don’t build toward cheesy guitar moments have frantic pace changes, as if to cover for their absence of a melody."

GO remains BENATAR's only album to be released so far in this century and is not available on any online music platform. In articles such as this I often include YOUTUBE videos of the tracks discussed. I couldn't do that for this article. It was even mentioned casually by BENATAR in her 2010 autobiography BETWEEN A HEART AND A ROCK PLACE that GO isn't exactly NEIL's favorite album due largely to the fact that the album was recorded digitally - a first for the GIRALDOS. In her autobiography BENATAR has also expressed disinterest in wanting to make another album and that is really too bad but understandable in the age of the .99 download.

Despite not releasing a follow up album to GO, BENATAR did release two singles in 2017. The first was SHINE, a plaintive anthem written for the Women's March that resulted after the election of DONALD TRUMP and the equally anthemic DANCING THROUGH THE WRECKAGE which was the theme song for the documentary film on homeless female veterans called SERVED LIKE A GIRL. The latter song became a top 20 Adult Contemporary hit, her first on that chart singe WE BELONG. Both songs were produced by LINDA PERRY and perhaps an outside producer is what is needed for future success.



FOR MORE iNFORMATiON GO TO:
https://www.benatargiraldo.com


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http://www.rockwired.com/CapitalB.jpgrian Lush is a music industry professional and entrepreneur. In 2005 he launched the online music site Rockwired.com to help promote new music artists in conjunction with the weekly radio show Rockwired Live which aired on KTSTFM.COM from 2005 - 2009. In 2010 He launched the daily podcast series Rockwired Radio Profiles which features exclusive interviews and music. He has also developed and produced the online radio shows Jazzed and Blue - Profiles in Blues and Jazz, Aboriginal Sounds - A Celebration of American Indian and First Nations Music, The Rockwired Rock N Roll Mixtape Show and The Rockwired Artist of the Month Showcase. In 2012, Brian Lush and his company Rockwired Media LLC launched the monthly digital online publication Rockwired Magazine. The magazine attracts over 75,000 readers a month and shows no signs of stopping. Rockwired Magazine also bares the distinction of being the first American Indian-owned rock magazine. Brian Lush is an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe. Brian Lush's background in music journalism, radio and podcast hosting, podcast production, web design, publicity, advertising sales, social media and online marketing, strategic editorial planning and branding have all made Rockwired a name that is trusted and respected throughout the independent music industry.

CONTACT BRiAN LUSH AT: djlush@rockwired.com

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