Hot off the skillet!
Or maybe hot from Skillet.
Though, the debut album from Skillet needed more time over the fire.
Skillet didn’t raise the thermometer much with their eponymous debut album, at least in the secular rock world. And, I’m not so sure in the Christian rock world, either. Mainstream success didn’t arrive for another few years as GMA Dove Awards and Grammy nominations trickled in and then they seemed to focus on their sound and really became a hard rock force to reckon with.
Today, Skillet tours with the who’s who in rock music, have Gold and Platinum albums all the while embracing their Christian faith as a Christian band and buck the judgement that all too often comes with a Christian band.
Point being – these guys (modern) rock.
Make that guys and gals, at least today.
Twenty-five years ago Skillet began as the Memphis-based trio of singer John Cooper also on bass and piano, drummer Trey McClurkin and guitarist Ken Steorts. Only Cooper remains, now joined by wife Korey Cooper on rhythm guitar, keyboards and backing vocals, guitarist Seth Morrison and drummer Jen Ledger who contributes on vocals offering a welcome contrast in pitch to Cooper.
You may know Skillet because of the smash hits “Hero,” “Monster,” and “Whispers in the Dark” among several others but their first album had some gems too, unfortunately, also one too many that washed out when doing the dishes. But not for lack of trying or skill(et) set.
Skillet First Album Review
Lots of credit to Cooper, McClurkin and Steorts for developing a sound a bit ahead of their time. Certainly, you hear 90s alternative rock but seeing as Skillet’s first album was released in 1996, before other well know post-grunge and nu metal acts hit the scene, they were already headed in the right direction.
Skillet opens their first album with a solid entry in “I Can.” If you weren’t the wiser and this came across the radio today you’d think it was a new single. Rocking hard to begin then some softer, more melodic elements entertained, give “I Can” serious life. “Gasoline” keeps the charge going with a thumping bass line before reality sets in on Cooper’s vocals.
He hasn’t developed his chops yet.
Hey, who wants to sing? Oh. I guess I can.
Only for the band to find someone who can sing for the second album and beyond. Clearly not the case as Cooper holds the mic today but he sounds way better now and contributes to Skillet songs rather than take away. Unlike on this album.
“Gasoline” gets annoying fast partly because of the vocals. A ballad approach to “Saturn” helps this one with a decent acoustic guitar but Cooper again overshadows the delicate melody that should offer some sit-down introspection for the listener. “My Beautiful Robe” takes it back up a notch with a quicker rock pace but Cooper’s attempt on the softer side sounds like he’s overdoing a whisper just to be heard. By the time “Promise Blender” rolls around to finish off the first half of the album, it’s enough already. Musically they have it going on. Guitars, drums, bass – it’s all there but I can’t handle the vocals.
But things slowly change with “Paint.” An upbeat rocker with that nu metal sound and the vocals not so grating. Still on the annoying side but now Cooper works with some different ranges as if trying to figure out what works because…
On “Safe With You” Cooper channels the Psychedelic Furs and this ballad works for the most part. It could have been a slow dancer at proms in the 80s, for sure, and after a few more spins the vocals stop at annoying and commence with acceptable. “You Thought” kind of returns to form (in a bad way) but dang, too bad, these three clearly have an overall musical ear.
Post-grunge excellence for “Boundaries” with some time signature changes and varying arrangements all handled by Steort’s guitar. Finally, “Splinter” bookends the album with a gem, vocals and all. Great 90s alternative rock fare a la the Lemonheads.
All the elements of a great band exist on Skillet’s first album. Solid musicianship, well-structured akin to a veteran band and none of the songs sound regurgitated. The second half salvages this record but overall had Cooper not figured it out behind the mic I’m not so sure Skillet would have 10 albums and a 25 year track record to their name.
Debut Album Grade: B-
Overall Grade: C
Skillet Debut Album Track List:
- I Can
- My Beautiful Robe
- Promise Blender
- Safe With You
- You Thought