First, the title. It’s a neat joke to tease latecomers. And, as Sammy Hagar notes: “The songs are so tight it’s like we jumped right past having to make a second record.” This is a sly allusion to the cautionary lessons of rock’n’roll: second records are difficult; for supergroups they’re very often terminal.
There is also a third, and more subliminal reference in the numeral, towards Led Zeppelin, whose rock-blues Chickenfoot on occasion summon, at least in echoes.
Sammy Hagar has something special, and it’s not just that wonderfully taut voice, still so good in its seventh decade. He has worked with Ronnie Montrose, Eddie Van Halen, Neal Schon and Joe Satriani, and found the key to channelling their instrumental virtuosity in a way that best serves the whole. He is a man who understands why content must always win out over style.
Satriani, for all of his rare and revolutionary guitar skill, has rarely sounded better than he does on Come Closer, a glorious ballad midway through the record that’s built around a simple, but beautifully sustained, guitar figure played over and over. He and Hagar blend almost perfectly here. Satriani has found a voice of his own within Chickenfoot.
Those familiar with the best moments of their debut album – Sexy Little Thing or Soap On A Rope – will recognise those same hard-driving grooves on Big Foot, Alright, Alright and Last Temptation. Playing on top of a watertight rhythm section not tempted by the evils of musicianly extemporisation or reputation-boosting time signatures, he shows a different kind of mastery of his trade, teasing out tremendous little riffs that rip and burst and stomp.
These are the parts that deliver the echoes of Led Zep, pure, posing fun for the good times. Hagar is far too smart, and too artistically self-contained, to attempt to draw the comparison further. His sensibility as well as his vocal style is far removed from Robert Plant’s. There’s no mysticism about him, no whiff of the occult. He remains the same woozy rock’n’roller he’s always been, a party guy with a conscience, something he expresses here on Three And A Half Letters, a lyrical experiment that is not quite as timeless as the rest of the record.
Ultimately, Chickenfoot III is about fun, with the odd moment of melancholy to reflect those quiet moments we all find ourselves having at parties. It’s smart, sharp and not overly concerned with ego, and if not an all-time classic it’s one that will certainly stand scrutiny in an era when the real thing is often hard to find.