Album Review: Snakes and Ladders – Alan Merrill


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Snakes and Ladders – Alan Merrill (2012) < Buy it here

Snakes and Ladders is the third in the “Collections Series” by this versatile, extraordinary artist.
I feel the arrangement of the earlier tracks intentionally serves to tell Alan Merrill’s story. He has been in the music business since the mid 1960s and has lived quite an interesting and unusual life. His lyrics can sometimes reflect ideas and situations that some people might find themselves less than easy with, but this isn’t about making people feel comfortable, this is a candid view of a real life, honestly told.

The title track “Snakes and Ladders” speaks of Merrill’s rollercoaster career, sometimes up, sometimes down and sometimes switching back on itself; the easy going country style making it seem like he is dealing with all of life’s hard knocks with humour and good grace, but you can still feel the pain.

Moving on to the song “Me You” which tells of the agony of an unrequited, almost obsessional passion for a woman, who is playing with his emotions. It’s so easy to relate, we have all been in a similar situation I’m sure and recognize the sickening heartbreak of it. This is one of my favourite Alan Merrill songs, because it is so honest and humble, but what an amazing rock song! It’s empowering to anyone who is disappointed in love

“Restless Soul” is a sophisticated ballad that represents a sense of mortality, and the acceptance of change and loss and how he has to keep on moving on.. . Its such a beautiful song and coming after a country song and a rock song it really provides a mellow zone before the insane rocked out frenzy of “TNTeenager”

“TNTeenager” is a tour-de-force of crazy sparkly rock’n’roll, watching a girl dancing, celebrating the sexual energy of youth with great humour and a recognition that it’s a look and dont touch situation. It is as powerful a song as Merrill’s much better known composition “I Love Rock’n’Roll” (that he wrote for his “British” band The Arrows, back in 1975 and which has become one of the top rock songs of all time via famous covers by Joan Jett, Britney Spears and others.)

“Monitor” is a song written when Alan was young and it was recorded by his Japanese band Vodka Collins on their Tokyo-New York album, a classic in Japan. Monitor is a chunky slice of 1970s Glam, and like the song that follows it, “Fire In A Wax Museum”it has a great tune. The second is a more recent composition but shares that same strutting Bolanesque feel.

“Lost In Lust” is a glorious great shout of a rock song. Basic premise. Alan likes girls. You may have worked that out already.
“Cat’s Eye Moon” which follows it is another pounding slab of neo-Glam. Then on to”Radio”, an upbeat simple slice of happy-go-lucky pop rock as is “No Speed Limit” Between these two is the beautiful “Illusion”
The haunting “Cold Cold September” is one of the greatest songs anyone has ever written. This one deserves to be world famous too.

“Rain Chasing Dreams” expands on the Snakes and Ladders theme of the illusory nature of perceived success, and contains the lyric “Love is lost and won by the heart, buy the gun” which appeals to me as an observation. Then comes “Freewheeler” a poetic reflection of the sinister side of city life. “Wait For It” is a wonderful song. I’d love to hear a few other acts take that on. This and the next two “Somebody Special” and “Dead End Zone” have a lot of cover potential
“Everyday All Night Stand” goes way back to Alan’s first album, Merrill 1 in 1971. A lovely jangly rock’n’roll road song; and another personal favourite (Buy Merrill 1, it’s amazing)

“Phoenix and The Renegade” is a class apart, a Spartan, Gene Clark inspired jewel of a song, acoustic, personal and heartbreaking.

The strength and depth of Merrill’s songwriting is so evident throughout this album (and his others) that you find yourself surprised that his name is as little known as it is. This is the man who wrote “I Love Rock’n’Roll”, so why isn’t his catalog being raided constantly by every singer out there?
All his very commercial mainstream style songs each have a unique feature that makes them memorable above the general background hum of popular music, and all his stand-out exceptional masterpieces represent so much potential for more chart-busting smash covers to happen. People really need to wake up to Alan Merrill and dig a little deeper. I hope they will be as blown-away as I was by this phenomenal talent.

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