BY JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
NUCLEAR VALDEZ – I AM I (1989)
I’ve had the Nuclear Valdez album I Am I hanging around ever since I got it when I purchased the Big Box of Cassettes a few years back. I’d never gotten around to listening to or writing about the album and that led to me making an assumption about the album that turned out to be pretty much wrong on all counts. While most of the albums in the box are from the 80’s metal genre, the Nuclear Valdez album is clearly more of a straight up rock album. It may have come out in 1989 when heavy metal was still in it’s prime years but the band certainly didn’t go chasing too hard after that particular vein of glory.
So you can understand I was initially rather surprised when I listened to the album. Those wrongheaded expectations meant I had to work just a little harder to fully get into the album in order to write about it. But once I did that work, I had a much clearer picture of I Am I.
The band had a minor hit with the video for the opening song “Summer” and as I listened to it, I could understand why. It’s pretty uptempo and upbeat with a catchy hook that will draw you in. The music’s pacing is pretty relentless (and melodic) throughout. It will definitely grab your attention.
I thought the songs “Hope” and the side ending “Unsung Hero (Song For Lenny Bruce)” were decent enough but I definitely had to work at developing an appreciation for them. That didn’t happen at all with the ballad “If I Knew Then” which was simply a painfully drawn out exercise for me.
But the intriguingly titled “Trace The Thunder” was a fantastic song. Another faster paced track, I also found that the song sounded like something you might’ve heard from Canadian rockers Honeymoon Suite. This is most evident to me in the vocals from singer Froilan Sosa. It actually took me a while to figure out what band this song reminded me of but once I did, the song became even more of a winner in my eyes (I’m a big fan of Honeymoon Suite).
The second side of the album felt a little bit stronger to me. While “Strength” was decent enough, Nuclear Valdez really found a groove starting with the track “Eve”. Lyrically, the song might feel like it should’ve been a ballad, but I thought the much quicker rocking pace to the music elevated the song as a whole. The song “Apache” is a full on rocker that really appealed to me as well.
The band took a deeper lyrical turn on the songs “Run Through The Fields” and “Where Do We Go From Here”. For “Run Through The Fields”, the song moves from mid-to-uptempo in terms of musical pace. Musically, the song is excellent and assuming I’m not overthinking the lyrical content, the band is quite keen on driving a point home. (I’m going to let anyone who checks out the album figure out the specifics of what the band is singing about on their own). Oh, and that Honeymoon Suite sound seemed in evidence on this song as well.
As for “Where Do We Go From Here”, the song tempo moves a bit faster even with that same deeper lyrical take. And like “Run Through The Fields”, the song really takes hold of you.
The last song on the album is listed as a bonus track, but however you designate it “Rising Sun” is a solidly crafted uptempo number (with a guitar solo that I enjoyed a lot) that brings the album to a fitting conclusion.
I had some ill-conceived notions about the album before I listened to it but being a bit challenged by what I did end up listening to turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable in the end. While Side One of the album is not quite as strong as the second side, Nuclear Valdez’s I Am I is quite the new discovery for me!
NOTES OF INTEREST: The I Am I album was the band’s debut but they have released three more albums over the years: 1992’s Dream Another Dream, 2000’s In A Minute All Could Change and 2017’s Present From The Past.
The band got their name from a co-worker of bassist Juan Diaz. The co-worker reportedly had an explosive temper. Original guitarist Jorge Barcala left the band after the Dream Another Dream.
The I Am I album featured guest appearances by Bruce Brody (ex-Lone Justice) and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) on keyboards. Singer Meredith Brooks provided backing vocals on the song “Rising Sun”.