RECORD STORE TALES
- RECORD STORE TALES MkII:
GETTING MORE TALE
Music, Movies, and more
It’s Epic Review Time! The fourth review from Mike and Aaron Go to Toronto…Again! Yet another score from Sonic Boom! I bought this one new, for $24.99. Warning: image heavy!
LENNY KRAVITZ – Are You Gonna Go My Way (2013 Virgin deluxe edition, 1993 vinyl edition)
Man, I love this record. This was the last legitimately great Lenny Kravitz album. I’m pleased that with a fresh 2013 remastering job, it still sounds vital and raw. Back in those days, Lenny was recording on vintage equipment all but exclusively. In the included interview track, Kravitz discusses the collection that he and drummer Henry Hirsch had acquired, including gear that dated back to the 1940’s and 50’s. The upkeep of said equipment is a nightmare, he states, as you can imagine. The results that it yielded, especially on Are You Gonna Go My Way, justify the antique gear and maintenance costs.
I first got this sucker on (clear vinyl) LP back in ’94, which came with a stellar 8-song bonus CD. I didn’t even have a good way of playing vinyl back then. My turntable was pretty crap, so I never actually played the LP. I got Are You Gonna Go My Way on CD a bit later, used, when I started working at the Record Store. Now I can discard that old CD, because this deluxe renders it obsolete. (But not the vinyl; more on that in a bit.)
Hopefully everyone knows the energetic title track, a massive smash hit single. The simple repeating guitar riff is nothing but classic. The track itself is basic blues-based classic rock, albeit with the tempo maxed out. This track convinced that Lenny was ready, willing and able to be a rock hero, filling the shoes of his forebears such as Zeppelin and Hendrix. Yet it was actually the second single, the organ-based ballad “Believe”, that shows what Lenny is truly capable of. I consider this his best song, bar none. The 2001 influenced video was so cool, but the delicate song stands on its own. Its ending is epic in quality.
The other singles on the album included the frighteningly good soul-rock song “Is There Any Love In Your Heart.” The guitar riff is pure rock, the falsetto vocal pure soul. The song is deceptively angry. Though Lenny does not sound enraged, the lyric is pretty clear:
“Babe you say I’m the only one,
But you’re fucking all my friends,
Baby all that you care about,
Is Gucci and Mercedes Benz,
You’re just the kind that’s up on all the latest trends.”
The last single from Are You Gonna Go My Way was the gentle love song, “Heaven Help”. The amazing acoustic track was softer than I generally liked, but it’s hard not to. It spawned a five-track CD single (or EP?), which we’ll get to shortly.
Singles aside, the album is loaded with incredible deep cuts. One of the best is the emotional “Sister”, which really knocks you out by the end. “Sugar” boats some cool, funky retro horns. “Eleutheria” is reggae; I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s also a standout, and probably could have been a single in its own right. “My Love” is psychedelic, while “Just Be A Woman” is simply lovely. There is plenty of variety on Are You Gonna Go My Way, without sounding fragmented. It still sounds completely unified.
There’s only one tune I still don’t like, which is “Black Girl”. It’s one of the softer numbers, but I just don’t find it catchy at all. But it’s the only one.
The deluxe edition is jam packed with value. Disc one boasts seven bonus tracks, all of astounding quality for B-sides. These tracks had been previously issued on the aforementioned “Heaven Help” single and vinyl edition, so I am well familiar with each. The upbeat “Ascension” should have been a hit. “All My Life” is as strong as any of the album cuts. “Brother” is the funkiest thing here, and maybe should have been included for that reason. “Someone Like You” is a cool, 60’s-style droning rock song, a bit more upbeat than “My Love”. “For the First Time” is a quiet slow dance, so for that reason, I can see why it was excluded. On an album, it could kill momentum. On a dance floor, it would result in many babies being conceived later in the evening.
Without a doubt, the most hilarious moment is the song “B-Side Blues”, a dirty spontaneous sounding song with spiteful lyrics. In the words, Lenny complains that he’s been working hard, and only has six days off. Yet the record company wants new songs! This is what Lenny presumably gave them. “Take this song and shove it up your ass,” croons Lenny. Fortunately there’s enough Zeppelin-y blues here to keep the party going. “Top 40, yeah!”
The second CD has some great hotel room acoustic recordings. Sounds like cassette to me! “Believe” is one I had previously, on the vinyl edition. The rest are new to me, but every bit as raw and plaintive as the acoustic “Believe”. Then there are some fantastic unfinished songs and demos. I could not believe the quality of his throw-aways. I don’t know if these tunes surfaced later on or not, but they certainly should. “Work Like the Devil” has elements that sound like “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, but it’s definitely not the same song. It only has about half the lyrics in place, but damn. If it was on the album, it would have been a highlight. Most of these demos are loud rock jams. “Getting Out” though is a pure funk jam, sounding similar to Zeppelin’s “The Crunge”. The best of these songs is the instrumental “Blood/Papa (A Long and Sad Goodbye)” which, once you get past the name is a 10 minute slow jam. In my opinion, this one doesn’t need to be finished. I think it’s perfect as-is.
The last three songs are rough demos of songs written for the album Vanessa Paradis, which Lenny wrote and produced. These are a bit soft for my tastes. They are very unlike the rest of the material on this deluxe edition. I know that “Lonely Rainbows” was on the album, but I don’t know if the other two were used under different names.
Finally, I want to mention two songs that I know of that are missing from this deluxe. From the vinyl’s bonus CD is a live version of “Sister”. This take is absolutely epic and it sends shivers up and down my spine at the end. Just an incredible, raw live performance. I assume somebody made a decision that live stuff wasn’t going to be on the deluxe. That means you’re also missing the live medley of “Freedom Train/Always On the Run” from the “Heaven Help” single. Too bad. I think most fans would rather have those than the BBC interview. The interview is good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also 15 minutes long.
I wholeheartedly recommend this deluxe edition of Are You Gonna Go My Way to anybody who wants to check out Lenny Kravitz on the harder side of rock. You will not be disappointed with either the album, or the deluxe. In the meantime, I suggest die-hard collectors find the vinyl too, just for that astounding live version of “Sister”.
PINK FLOYD – The Endless River (2014 Columbia CD/Blu-ray deluxe edition)
Sometimes you just have to take a chance.
Perhaps that’s the theme of The Endless River, but I’ll warn you in advance that it’s the theme of this review. Sometimes, you have to take a chance, and buy an album on pure faith. Sometimes you want something to be good, just because you liked the idea of it. I took a chance on it, not really expecting too much, but liking the concept enough to try.
The Endless River is an intriguing idea with successful execution. Even though these recordings were made 20 years ago during The Division Bell sessions, David Gilmour gambled that there might be something worth salvaging here in memory of late keyboardist Rick Wright. When they recorded Division Bell, they actually thought they might have two albums’ worth of material. The second album, which they never finished, would have been more instrumental and ambient in nature. Less song-oriented, more meandering and scenic. Not too far off from what The Endless River is, perhaps.
Unafraid of a little work, Gilmour and Nick Mason got back together and finished what they had started with Rick. According to David, “We listened to over 20 hours of the three of us playing together and selected the music we wanted to work on for the new album. Over the last year we’ve added new parts, re-recorded others and generally harnessed studio technology to make a 21st century Pink Floyd album. With Rick gone, and with him the chance of ever doing it again, it feels right that these revisited and reworked tracks should be made available as part of our repertoire.”
I will state for the record that there is no comparison between the CD and 5.1 surround Blu-ray listening experiences. The Blu-ray enveloped me in electronic warmth from the start, occasionally startling me with an unexpected bit of guitar here, or sax there. By comparison to the 3D experience of 5.1 surround sound, CD is flat and tinny. Having said that, the CD is one of the best sounding CDs out there right now. Sonically, this is absolutely flawless. The keys, organ, and drums are warm and genuine, sometimes wrapped up in dreamy synth.
The Endless River is divided up into four sides, but is best experienced in one sitting. The four sides have distinct “song” sections within them, but everything flows with a purpose. Some of the more composed sections really stand out as potential fully-fledged songs: The chugging “Allons-y (1) & (2)” for example, or the guitar showcase of “It’s What We Do”. A track like “Sum” takes a while to build, but when it does, it’s into another impressive Gilmour show piece. (Then on the same side, Nick Mason gets his own moment on the percussive “Skins”.)
Other memorable moments include “Talkin’ Hawkin'” which reprises the Stephen Hawking voice from The Division Bell‘s “Keep Talking”. I love the haunting church organ on “Autumn ’68”. There is also one vocal song, “Louder Than Words”, which was chosen as a single. It’s not a particularly special Pink Floyd song; I think the instrumental pieces are far more interesting than “Louder Than Words”.
A number of bonus tracks are included on the DVD and Blu-ray deluxe editions. These include unreleased studio jams and unfinished tracks, as well as a couple rough album tracks. “Anisina” and “Evrika (a) & (b)” are cool, relaxed jams. “Evrika” is similar in nature to parts that made it to the finished album. The most interesting unreleased song is easily “Nervana”, a basic guitar riff jam that doesn’t sound anything like Pink Floyd at all. It does sound cool though, a detour into what might have been…if only Gilmore had taken a chance. Some of these bonus tracks are accompanied by 1994 black and white behind the scenes footage and stills. Very cool stuff, if you’re into watching the best musicians in the world getting the job done.
The deluxe comes in a box with some post cards (one with lenticular art), a hardcover booklet with more photos, credits and lyrics, and individual sleeves for the discs. Nothing overly fancy, it’s the Blu-ray disc itself that is the selling feature of this set. Some of the bonus tracks are cool and worth having, but it’s that awesome dreamlike 5.1 surround mix that is the clincher. If you’ve ever wondered, “What’s the big fuss about surround sound anyway?” then see if you have a buddy who can demonstrate this album to you in surround, on a good system with a decent subwoofer. Strap yourself in.
I think Rick Wright would have been very happy and proud of the finished product, all these years later. Take a chance on The Endless River and see if you too will be swept away.
MARILLION – Less Is More (2009 Intact)
I’ll be honest here: I haven’t been into Marillion much, post-Marbles. 2004’s Marbles is my favourite H-Marillion album, and I wasn’t into the two studio followups. I found Somewhere Else to be a rushed and somewhat uninspired, and the sprawling Happiness Is The Road all but impenetrable. Therefore I’m not as familiar with Marillion’s recent more live output as I am with the pre-Marbles stuff, so that’s my problem reviewing Less Is More. The song “Wrapped Up In Time”, I couldn’t tell you how the song goes until I hear it again.
I am, however, extremely enamored with Marillion’s previous acoustic CDs, the double Live At The Walls, and the fanclub exclusive A Piss-up In A Brewery. Marillion are a band that truly shine in an acoustic setting, but I wasn’t all that excited about another one. How badly do we need more acoustic Marillion? I didn’t think I needed another one, but I bought it anyway, because…the collection you know?
I was wrong. Less Is More (a studio acoustic recording instead of a live one) is just as great as Live At The Walls, with many songs given a fresh arrangement. Some, such as “The Space…”, are the same acoustic versions that the band has been playing for a long time, but others are fresh and inspired. Truly, this album sounds like a labour of love to me. The band’s lust for experimentation has come out beautifully in an acoustic setting, with a song like “Interior Lulu” actually quite a bit better than its original 1999 (marillion.com) counterpart. The songs are subtle, with slight percussion additions, but not a lot of bells & whistles. One of the best songs is the one new one, “It’s Not Your Fault”, which outshines some of the classics. I found the acoustic version of “Hard As Love” to be even more enjoyable than the original rocking version, and quite a surprise too, because I didn’t think it would lend itself well to an acoustic arrangement. Other highlights for me included “Memory Of Water” and “This Is The 21st Century”.
The two bonus tracks on this CD, “Runaway” and a cover of “Fake Plastic Trees”, have been released before on Live At The Walls. (“Fake Plastic Trees” was also a bonus track on the CD single for 1998’s “These Chains”.) I have always been fond of “Fake Plastic Trees” and I prefer Marillion’s version to Radiohead’s. (I’m not a big Thom Yorke fan, but Hogarth really sings his heart out on this one.)
This album is so good, it really revamped by interest in Marillion. I’m glad I bought it! For non-fans, this is a great accessible introduction to a band that by all rights should have been huge. The quality of their songs, as displayed on Less Is More, is simply world-class.
We have a winner! Check out the big brain on Brian Zinger (AGAIN!) who nailed this one!
Here are the four tracks:
- Van Halen – “Oh Pretty Woman”
- Van Halen – “Little Guitars”
- Van Halen – “Secrets”
- Van Halen – “Jump”
And here’s my original email to Craig explaining the answer:
“Only the real fans will get this one. I thought it was real cool yesterday when you did the “five play” with “Little Guitars (intro)”. So, here’s 4 VH songs…and when you play them, fans will realize that on the albums, all songs have INSTRUMENTAL INTROS!” 1. “Intruder” 2. “Little Guitars (intro)” 3. “Cathedral” and 4. “1984”
RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale
#338: Unreleased 4-Play Quiz No. 2
At the conclusion of Record Store Tales, I told the story of how I earned the nickname LeBrain. It started with a contest on the Craig Fee Show (on 107.5 Dave FM) called the 4 O’Clock 4-Play which I dominated. I also sent Craig numerous 4-Plays of my own creation.
The challenge is to figure out the common thread that ties all four songs together. The theme could be anything: lyrical, musical, background trivia, artist related…and I liked to come up with unique themes.
Play the tracks in order as a listener would, and make a guess in the comments section! Be specific.
- Van Halen – “Oh Pretty Woman”
- Van Halen – “Little Guitars”
- Van Halen – “Secrets”
- Van Halen – “Jump”