As much as it’s a necessity to go into any new music with an open mind, sometimes expecting the worst just can’t be helped. With what Josh Todd has been associated with in the past, that’s one such case. Buckcherry haven’t really been relevant or beyond middling in, well, ever, and the less about his abysmal Spraygun War side project, the better, and with an ’80s rockstar persona that ranges dated to downright embarrassing, it can be difficult to not have any future efforts coloured by that knowledge. So enter Josh Todd & The Conflict, which sees him teaming up once again with partner in crime Stevie D, alongside bassist Gregg Cash and former Everclear drummer Sean Winchester, and with a notable lack of real buzz and a return to a more conventional hard rock sound, there’s every reason to believe that this is just another piece of shovelware for the pile.
But here’s the thing – Year Of The Tiger is actually an enjoyable listen, as for a pretty basic hard rock album, it does almost everything to a high enough standard to really work. Most surprisingly, that starts with Todd himself, and while vocally he still sounds like Layne Staley being imitated by a cartoon cat – something that can definitely become obnoxious as he brays over Story Of My Life – Year Of The Tiger actually breaks down the regular facade, and actually delivers something of an introspective and – brace yourself – mature viewpoint. There’s acknowledgement of his own shortcomings on Inside and real vulnerability on Good Enough, but the realisation on Rain that knowing what these vices are ultimately isn’t going make them go away, and that he’s still living in the same way regardless. It might circle back to the same character that Todd has embodied for pretty much his entire musical career, but it’s framed in a way that’s a lot easier to empathise with, and it still feels like development. This is definitely a more visceral performance than frequently comes from him, too; the title track and The Conflict come through in whirlwinds of screams, and the clinking bottles and cries of anguish that open Fucked Up show just how effective of a performer Todd can be when the artifice is stripped away.
Even on a much broader scale, Year Of The Tiger is a much simpler album, even by Todd’s standard. Gone is the unnecessary sleaze and stickiness of Buckcherry and any trace of Spraygun War, replaced by a straightforward hard rock template that’s familiar but not dated or stale. Even in the slight deviations, like the acoustic Good Enough or the synths and farty guitar fragments of Erotic City (which, for the record, is nowhere near as bad as its title suggests), it’s not an overly experimental album, and for what Todd and The Conflict want to achieve, that’s perfectly fine. Besides, there’s enough heft to these tracks to make them stand out regardless, with the thick, vintage riffs of Push It and The Conflict, and the low-hanging blues of Rain. It can admittedly waver in spots, like the rather pedestrian radio-rock of Story Of My Life, but Year Of The Tiger reveals itself as a surprising consistent and high quality listen.
Perhaps most impressively is the considerable progression made on this album from virtually any other point in Todd’s career. Pushing boundaries isn’t on the agenda, but when there’s such an uptick in quality and entertainment value, that’s an easy factor to overlook. And while it’s all too easy to sneer at Josh Todd for being a one-trick pony, credit must be given here for making such a step in the right direction. It’s definitely not perfect, but to disparage Year Of The Tiger and ignore everything that it does right would simply be unfair.
For fans of: Buckcherry, Mötley Crüe, H.E.A.T
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Year Of The Tiger’ by Josh Todd & The Conflict is released on 15th September on Century Media Records.