Here’s a strange one. I’m reviewing a relatively recent documentary film about the electric guitar which should appeal to the very essence of my being. When I first got into the electric guitar Jimmy Page was my absolute, top-dog hero. I had a poster of his ’59 Les Paul on my wall. I would watch The Song Remains the Same and soak up his out-of-this-world guitar solos. I thought he could do no wrong and I would hold him aloft as a god at every opportunity.
This is a film that purports to be the recording of a meeting between three ‘guitar heroes’… Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White. Now… let me first say that if you are into the guitar in a big way you will probably enjoy this documentary. However… there are some notable flaws. I’ll start with this one: The film is built on very shaky ground. This is supposed to be the meeting of three great guitar players? So why does most of the film consist of separate interviews conducted all over the bloody place? It might be interesting and all… but it’s a bit of a con. If, like me, you really wanted to just see three (/two) iconic guitar players sitting down and having a chat about the where’s, when’s, how’s and why’s of the guitar you’re going to be pretty disappointed. This film just isn’t focused. It’s almost as meandering as this review! Ha ha!
So we open with Jack White building a makeshift guitar… to prove you don’t need to buy one. The suggestion is that we could all string together a couple of baked bean tins or sculpt our mantelpieces into instruments. Well… this is a bit of a tall story. ‘Cause let me tell you all right now – if you want to play the guitar… you’re going to need a damn guitar!!! And if you don’t buy one then you’re going to have to steal one?!? I can’t condone that!
The sections with Jack White and his mini-me remind me of the ‘character’ sections in Led Zep’s Song Remains the Same – the sections which as a teenager I found slightly embarrassing to watch. (John Bonham just about got away with his bit… but the others? Pretension beyond compare). Perhaps this similarity is done on purpose? – that would certainly make sense given that much of this film is darkened in the shadow of Jimmy Page.
We are introduced to the three guitar players. Now, here’s another flaw with this film – the choice of the guitarists. Jimmy Page. Fine. Jimmy Page is an icon and a good choice to eavesdrop on a chat with. He represents old school rock. He represents virtuoso guitar skills and everything that was bloated about the concept of the ’70’s guitar hero. He represents the evolution of blues playing and he is one of the ultimate blues/rock guitar players of all time. Fine. Boxes ticked… I’m relatively happy.
Jack White. I think Jack represents in some ways the rebirth of the guitar in the last decade. He seems to have the blues flowing through his veins and he does show how the blues has moved on through the decades. But he is a very similar player to Page. Both quite raucous in style and arguably (have to say arguably!) quite messy. White comes across in his interviews as quite avant-garde and rebellious and whilst this is in some ways a breath of fresh air… it also sounds very similar in practice, to Jimmy Page.
Then we have the Edge. Okay, I don’t own any U2. I like a few songs and I’m sure I’d like more if I heard them. I’m always slightly put off by the stadium pomp and coffee table sound, but most of all I’m put off by the singer. This is probably the first time I’ve heard the Edge speak. And I’ve got to say… he comes across as a pretty nice, down-to-earth guy. Yeah… I know. “Down-to-earth”. I can’t believe it either. Maybe it’s an act? How can he have his feet on the ground when he hangs out with Bono? But the Edge is here. He is one of the three. And the Edge isn’t steeped in the Blues. The Edge comes from a more punk/new-wave background. And that is good in a documentary which is supposed to be a chat about the electric guitar. It should allow differences in style to be discussed. Should. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. See… another thing. The Edge is almost frowned upon by the others for his use of effects. Perhaps over use of effects. I don’t think it’s ever said… it’s just a feeling that I got from watching. The Edge plays a very simple set of chords, and his delays do the work and produce a multi-faceted performance seemingly from nothing. And people (well, guitar players) mock. Well… that’s bollocks for a start. A guitar, even with effects, will only play what your fingers tell it to play. And if U2 have sold a trillion records then the Edge’s fingers must have been doing something right. Bloody hell… I just stuck up for the Edge! Ha ha!
Anyway… I was going off on a tangent there again. So… the Edge uses effects. And the other two come across in this film as blues purists. Well… I remember the Death Wish 2 soundtrack which Page composed for Michael Winner’s ’80s film. Using a guitar synthesizer. For a while back there it appeared Page had lost faith with fundamental blues and was trying to push a few boundaries. This does not even get hinted at in It Might Get Loud.
So, what’s my point? Well… I just think the balance of the players is wrong. And therefore the balance of the film is wrong. A flaw which the film never recovers from. This is a film in which the Edge often comes across as lost. Gazing on with child-like eyes whilst Jimmy and Jack riff on the blues. Jack should have been replaced with a different type of player. You could have had Page represent the old guard… the Edge represent the FX-laden middle ground and… Well… we could argue all day about who the alternative third guitarist could have been (Satriani, Vai, Van Halen, Graham Coxon, Matt Bellamy etc).
Crucially, the film lacks conflict. You have a guitarist inspired by punk who states he was sick of the ’70s guitar hero extended guitar solos. That is one of the Edge’s most important statements. A frame of mind that fuelled him in his youth to become the guitarist he is now. And… so… the Edge sits next to Jimmy Page… LORD OF THE EXTENDED ’70’S GUITAR SOLO… and says nothing about it. Nothing. Not a question. Nothing. No “Jimmy, if you could go back in time would you have played any of those moments differently?”. No “Jimmy… I thought your guitar solos went on too long and bored the shit out of me.” Nothing. Now… I’m not saying extended solos are good or bad. I think some of Page’s were, in fact, inspired. But this is a subject that should have arisen in a supposed conversation about the electric guitar between two so diametrically opposed players. Don’t you think?
The film sets itself up as an ode to the electric guitar. There could have been great conversation about what it is that is so special about the electric guitar. Jeff Buckley always played electric. Even for songs that practically the whole of the rest of the world would have played on acoustic… he played electric. I saw an interview with him once where he said that the electric guitar can convey all emotion. It can whisper and it can roar. This kind of insight was missing in this film. And how does the film end??? With a big final song from the three stars all playing acoustic guitars. Yes… acoustic guitars. In a film about the electric guitar. Very strange, and again unfocused. For me some of the best bits were not guitar related at all. There’s a moment where Jimmy Page stands in the hallway where Bonzo recorded When the Levee Breaks. This is a really cool part and is monumentally important in the history of rock drumming. Drums not guitars. And another cool bit is Page using the theremin to recreate some of the iconic sounds he pulled off in the Song Remains the Same (a legendary concert vid of a ’70s Madison Square Garden show that I keep going on about!). The theremin is not a guitar. Deviation. See?
A strange film to give a verdict on really. I already know Page’s life story. So a lot of the anecdotes and footage were old hat to me. I could have done without them. However… if you haven’t seen the footage of Page as a kid playing skiffle, or you didn’t know he was a session musician… then this film may fire you up. For me there was too much Jack White. I honestly do appreciate his talent… and I am in no way denigrating any of his achievements… but it’s all just a bit too noisy. Yes… I know… it might get loud. Hmmmm. Maybe they have a point? And in White’s defense, to be fair, the little segment of Seven Nation Army is pretty cool!
The film could do with a re-edit. Some of the ‘deleted scenes’ should be stuck back in and some of the introspection should be removed. This film should have got right the one thing that I was looking forward to – the meeting of three great guitarists to discuss guitar playing. On a positive note, I now hold the Edge in much higher regard as a person… and marginally as a guitar player. I have the urge to buy a U2 album. No… wait… the urge has just left the building. Ha ha! The Urge. I might change my name to the Urge for future recordings. Hang on… actually that reminds me of something. In my first band, for a little while I was known as the Huge. I think. Or was it the Hedge? No… I think it was the Huge! Ha ha! Yes… on our first tape we had our pictures with our names underneath and I’m pretty sure I was called the Huge. Must have been a riff on the Edge even back then! Ha ha! Anyway… It Might Get Loud is only average where it should have been soaring. Now… get that guitar out and sing the blues!