Thursday, June 2, 2011

Review: Three Thirteen, "Full Tilt"

I so rarely get a physical product these days with review copies that I think I get way too excited when I get a nice one in the mail. The trappings of Three Thirteen’s Full Tilt aren’t all that elaborate – it’s a folding slipcase, designed a bit like an old LP cover, with a three-page insert. But it’s still pretty damned cool.

The band is a throwback to the classic 1970s and ‘80s days of hard rock and metal, and the packaging celebrates that era.
Song titles on the back are printed in band logo fonts, including Iron Maiden, Kiss, AC/DC, Metallica and others. There’s even one in the Star Wars font. The folding insert conjures up all kinds of memories from my youth with plenty of ‘70s and ‘80s style images, and the album credits are printed out on the sides of cassette tapes. There’s even a sticker included. But the coolest part of the packaging to me is the disc itself. It’s a black-bottomed disc, painted on the top to look like vinyl. It’s not just any vinyl, though. The label is designed to look a bit like one of Kiss’ Casablanca Records releases.

Maybe I’m taking the packaging a little too serious, and maybe I’m just delirious because it’s been years since I got a review copy with packaging that really spoke to me. But this record had me from the time I opened the cover. If they had put the disc in a little paper sleeve like an LP, I might not have even needed to hear the music.

OK. OK. I’ll calm down now. It’s sad, I know, but I can’t help it. (Any label types out there reading this, you now know how to instantly pique my interest in a release).

On to the music, and as it turns out the packaging is a perfect fit. Three Thirteen doesn’t try to break any new ground on Full Tilt, but they accomplish exactly what they set out to do – have fun and tip the hat to some of their favorite bands. You won’t find any weighty topics in their songs, but neither will you find any sappy ballads about lost love. They put the pedal to the metal and party like it’s 1980 from start to end.

The songs are divided into two sides. To me, the first side has more of a 1980s rock feel, but with a little bit more edge. “Blaster” and “One for the Road” are both great highway songs with big choruses. The title track, while being the most lyrically challenged of the songs, is undeniably catchy, and one of the higher energy tracks on the record. The early video game sounds in the background at beginning and end add to the 1980s vibe. “Skool Daze” opens with about the only slow moment on the record, a clean guitar lick that quickly gives way to a bouncing glam rocker that reminds me a little of Love/Hate.

“Side Two” of the record, to me, has more of a late 1970s flavor to it. “The Dark of Yesterday” is a poppy number that reminds me a bit of Cheap Trick, or maybe the Foo Fighters for a more modern reference. “Watch It Go” has kind of a Thin Lizzy feel with some nice guitar work from Randy Weitzel. “Living in Stereo” opens with a funky wah-wah guitar lick that’s one of the best moments on the record. It’s got a great groove and offers a lyrical tribute to influences like Randy Rhoads, AC/DC, Metallica, Ozzy, Judas Priest and others. I’m not normally wild about songs that just drop names, but this one is incredibly fun.

The record closes with the most aggressive track, “Death’s Head,” with some Steve Harris-style galloping bass, a few thrash riffs and a little bit of industrial sound, too. It’s the heaviest number and lets Weitzel work out his Kirk Hammett worship on the solo. It’s good, but it also lacks some of the fun of the earlier party tunes.

The members of this three-piece outfit know what they’re doing and they do it well. They’re well-versed in the classic hard rock style, and Full Tilt is an absolute blast for folks like me who grew up in that era.

If you’re looking to hop into your Trans-Am, pull out the t-tops and crank some tunes as you blast down the highway, this is the record. You may even wish it were available in 8-track.

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