RECORD STORE TALES & REVIEWS: Complete Table of Contents

February 1, 2012 7 comments

REVIEW: Tonic – Sugar (1999)

September 2, 2014 22 comments

TONIC – Sugar (1999 Universal)

Why did Tonic never make it big? Maybe they didn’t have enough of their own identity, maybe it was the 90’s, maybe it was the “one hit wonder” stigma. Whatever it was, I tweaked onto this band in April of ’96 thanks to a positive review in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record (probably by Robert Reid).  I thought their modern rock take on their classic roots was interesting and full of integrity. Indeed, this band didn’t seem to be about following the flavour of the week, but by reaching back to 70’s rock roots in a modern context.

Sugar, the second album, was the one where it all came together. Not one weak track on the whole bloody CD. The slow songs are sweeter, the hard songs are angrier. Something must have happened to Emerson Hart to really tick him off. Girl problems. From “Knock Down Walls”:  “So don’t tell me that I’ve gone crazy, you’re the one who tried to fucking change me…”  Emmerson also begs the question, “Why do you have to be so fucking mean to me?” on the track “Mean To Me”.

Whatever his inspiration, the anger struck a chord with me. Yet the slow songs like “Waltz With Me” were beautiful, gorgeous, full of love.  It’s not a heavy album, but it rocks and has a level of quality that was often absent in the mainstream rock music of the late 90’s.  Sugar is loaded with layers of electric, slide and acoustic guitars, great drumming, great singing, and relatable lyrics. The songs themselves are packed with variety and quality. Really, this should have been a huge album in 1999, and the biggest hit of Tonic’s career, but they were never trendy. Shame. They deserved more than the one hit.

Highlights:
The whole album, but I especially love “Drag Me Down”, “Mean To Me”, “Knock Down Walls”, “Sugar”, “Future Says Run”, “Waiting For The Light To Change”.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: AC/DC – Back In Black (2004 DualDisc edition)

September 1, 2014 37 comments

AC/DC – Back In Black (originally 1980, 2004 Epic DualDisc)

How many times have I bought Back in Black?  How many times have you bought it?  I know that I purchased it on CD first in 1990, and then four more times since.  I currently own two copies:  this DualDisc, and the one that came in the Bonfire box set.  I don’t think I have it on vinyl, but I could be wrong.  The DualDisc has a DVD side with some neat stuff including a documentary.

“The Story of Back In Black” begins in 1979, with Highway to Hell,  fame and glory.  New interviews with all five AC/DC members (Angus & Malcolm Young, Cliff Williams, Phil Rudd and Brian Johnson) provides a little bit of insight.  We all know the story: February 19 1980, the death of Bon Scott, and the brave decision to carry on have become rock legend.  But according to Angus, it was Malcolm who kept the band playing, if only to distract them from the pain of their loss.  The band continued to jam and write without a singer, but producer Mutt Lange knew of one from a band called Geordie.  Brian recalls a hilarious story of being invited to audition for the band.  He went down to London and played “Whole Lotta Rosie” with AC/DC for the first time.  They then went to the Bahamas with Mutt to record.

ACDC BIB DUAL_0005The band tells the stories behind several songs:  “Hells Bells”, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Back in Black”, and “Shoot to Thrill”, while Angus and Malcolm demonstrate the riffs up close.  Brian reveals “Back in Black” was a challenge, since it was intended as a tribute in song to Bon.  No small feat to get the mood right.  The 30 minute mini-doc ends with Back in Black selling 10 million copies.  I guess they got it right!

You know the songs.  You’ve heard ‘em the radio, seen ‘em on the video, hummed them in your sleep.  “Hells Bells” is one of those archetypal AC/DC songs.  When one pictures the “ominous AC/DC headbanger” song, “Hells Bells” should certainly come to mind.  Then you can get your stompin’ shoes on for “Shoot to Thrill”.  I do miss Bon Scott’s sly playfulness, but there’s nothing wrong with Brian Johnson’s full-speed-ahead screech either.  “What Do You Do For Money Honey” is as catchy today as it was then, and has the benefit of being one of the songs that doesn’t get played every single day on the radio.  I’m not as burned out on it.  Same with “Givin the Dog a Bone”, but on that song all I can do is wonder what Bon would have done with that groove.

One truly outstanding track is the last song on side one, “Let Me Put My Love Into You”.  Yes, that title is hardly clever.  But the song kicks ass all over the place.  It’s one of those late night prowls that AC/DC do so well, and it perfectly closes the first side.

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The title track opens the second side with a bang.  Then “You Shook Me All Night Long”, a classic that also needs no introduction.  If you don’t know this song then you probably don’t listen to rock music.  I can’t add anything to the discussion there.

“Have A Drink On Me” and “Shake A Leg” are both fine AC/DC songs.  Nothing wrong with ‘em, nothing exceptional about them.  Thankfully they saved one of the best songs for last:  “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”.  This has been my favourite track since first getting the album 24 years ago.  It’s an anthem, the kind of thing we can all agree on.  Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution, baby.  I’ll drink to that.

I don’t think Back In Black is the best AC/DC album, but it might be the best Brian Johnson album.  It’s certainly the most important AC/DC album historically, and it’s a must for any serious rock fan to own.  Choose your format according to your own wishes, but this DualDisc edition satisfies me fine.

4/5 stars

For those times when you can’t use the internet to tell you what songs are on what albums.

Part 316.5: 6 Happy Years

August 31, 2014 54 comments

LEGO JEN
Happy Anniversary to my beautiful soul mate Jennifer.  Every day gets better and better, and you look younger and younger!  I don’t know how you do it.  Meanwhile I’ve turned into a grey-bearded old man with a bad back and lactose intolerance, and you still keep me around!  Must be love.  It’s the only possibly explanation why you live in a house full of Transformers, CDs, and records.

The last six years have been the happiest of my life.  Thank you for being the puzzle piece that was missing all that time.

Love you, sweetie. Here’s one of the songs we danced to six years ago, on the best day of my life.

REVIEW: Mark St. John – Magic Bullet Theory (2003)

August 31, 2014 17 comments

MARK ST. JOHN – Magic Bullet Theory (2003 Loch Ness Monster Records)

Mark St. John (1956-2007) is best remembered as the lead guitarist on Kiss’ 1984 Animalize album.  He was however much more than just a Kiss guitarist.  His exotic shredding was the basis of an instrumental solo album, Magic Bullet Theory.  Thanks Lemon Kurri for hooking me up with this CD.

“AWOL” blasts the doors open wide: high-octane tempo, high-speed shred, high-tech tricks.  There are Yngwie-like moments, Van Halen harmonics but also enough melody and song structure to keep it interesting.  Mark’s solos feature a number of different sounds and styles.  Intricate flamenco and electric guitars open the title track “Magic Bullet Theory”.  Then it turns into a melodic instrumental with lead guitar center stage.  Next, out of left-field comes the jazz workout of “Bourbon Street”.  This delicate number features non-stop jazz guitar shredding, full speed ahead, which some will find to be just too much to absorb.  “Too many notes,” some might say.  I am not one who would say that.

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It’s back to instrumental heavy metal with “Slave Driver”, which reminds me of Yngwie’s “Leviathan”.  “Utopian Trip” is more laid back, and I can hear mandolin on this one.  Mark lays a blistering lead guitar line over the largely acoustic track.  “Communicator” offers plenty more shred, perhaps resembling the high pitched screech of some 60’s sci-fi communication device.  “Baghdad” has guitars that sound like air raid sirens, certainly appropriate given the title. But the song itself is Arabic is style, with a lot of very complicated acoustic guitars.

“Wait No More” is more melodic instrumental hard rock, but with complex rhythms and tricks aplenty.  “Between the Lines” is ballad-like, with layers of shimmering guitars,until the song gives way to a nice rock riff.   This is of course accentuated by plenty of lead and melody guitars.  Finally “The Lone Gunman” closes the album on a heavy note.  (Notice how this title ties in with “Magic Bullet Theory”.)  The is a riffy track, which frankly the album could have used more of.  It’s also the longest song on the album, and probably the most epic emotionally.

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Although Magic Bullet Theory is not as song-oriented as I prefer instrumental albums to be, it has plenty of memorable moments and tracks.  It certainly shows off the talent that Mark had, that the world doesn’t know enough about.  Magic Bullet Theory comes recommended to all dyed-in-the-wool Kiss fans, and those who enjoy intelligent shreddery.

3/5 stars

…But wait, it’s not over!  After a five minute silence is an unlisted classical guitar rough recording, melodically lovely and astonishingly fast!  A nice coda.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Snoop Lion – Reincarnated (2013)

August 30, 2014 37 comments

SNOOP LION – Reincarnated (2013 Vice films)

Directed by Andy Capper

What the hell?  It’s not April 1.  Are you on the wrong site?

Nope, it’s me, LeBrain.  And today we’re going to be talking about a Snoop Lion movie.  Snoop Lion, aka the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg.

It may surprise you to learn that Snoop Dogg/Lion entertains me.  It was one of my old staff guys, Matty K, who exposed me to Snoop’s music.  I enjoyed the humour in the lyrics and his smoove voice.  He’s funny. And, let’s face it, who didn’t think he kicked ass as Huggy Bear in Starsky and Hutch?

Reincarnated is a documentary that chronicles Snoop’s transformation from gangsta to peaceful Rasta.  This process included a visit to Jamaica, to record his first ever Reggae album (Reincarnated) with such talented artists as Bunny Wailer, Damien Marley and Stewart Copeland of The Police.  (Snoop: “We got the drummer from The fuckin’ Po-lice!”)   He also had the last surviving Wailer.  The creative process of the album is observed, and it’s always fascinating to me, to watch songs evolve.  Snoop’s singing voice does well with Reggae.  He is a natural fit, and he had some damn good guidance there in Kingston.

Snoop discusses his early adult life as a pimp bluntly and honestly, but says that he wasn’t comfortable with that lifestyle and image any longer after his friend Tupac Shakur was killed.  The night Tupac died is described in full detail; a heavy moment in the film.  After this, Snoop decided on a change of lyrical direction, under the guidance of Master P of No Limits records.  Louis Farrakhan became a guiding force to Snoop at this time, and Snoop was inspired by the Nation of Islam to clean up his act.  The process of transformation led him to many moments of epiphany, but the death of his friend Nate Dogg in 2011 really hit him hard.

I won’t lie to you, there’s a shit-ton of weed in this movie.  One memorable scene involves a trip up a mountain with some local Rastas (where they grow the herb) to smoke the herb.  While climbing down the mountain, Snoop’s cousin falls down laughing, and can barely stand, having smoked so much.  You will even see Bunny Wailer smoking a pipe made out of a carrot, I shit you not.  It’s there, it’s part of it.  If that’s not something you need to see, fair enough.

As fascinating, sincere and transformative the movie seems, I did wonder if Snoop has maintained his Rasta values and practices?  Or if this too was a phase?  In researching for this review I found that Bunny Wailer has since accused Snoop of “outright fraudulent use” of Rastafari.  This issue comes up in the film itself in a segment with Bunny.  He does not seem to like the commercialization of Rastafarian culture, through popular music, images and style.  It seems that since the movie, he lumps Snoop into that category.

Be that as it may, I’m only going to review the film, regardless of that controversy.  I enjoyed it, quite a bit actually, and I’m putting the album on my Amazon wishlist.

4/5 stars

Part 316: Oh What A Feeling

August 29, 2014 25 comments

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 318:  Oh What A Feeling

In 1996, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Juno Awards, a box set titled Oh What A Feeling was released.  It was four CDs loaded to the gills with Canadian music, from all corners of the country and all styles of music.  It was a great set and one which sold regularly in our stores.  The original run of the set sold out briskly.  We had a hard time keeping it in stock new, and a few years later, used copies were somewhat scarce.  We sold it at a very reasonable price of $19.99, used.

We had one customer, who I never gave a name to except for “Eastern European Guy”.  He had an accent and broken English so that worked for me.  He pulled Oh What A Feeling off the shelves and asked to listen to it on one of our six crappy listening stations.  I popped in all four CDs, handed him the headphones and remote, and left him to listen.

One thing that always pissed me off was people who constantly need help on the listening stations.  It’s not hard.  Volume controls were right there in front of you.  The remote was like any remote that people would have had at home.  People who couldn’t figure out how to skip tracks pissed me off.  How do you listen to music at home?  I didn’t get it.

Eastern European Man motioned with his hand for me to come over.  “This song…there is a problem with it.  Listen please.”

“Hey, I have an idea. Let’s stick the lead guitar player behind the bassist for this video.”

I placed the headphones on my head.  It was track 1, disc one.  “American Woman” by The Guess Who.  I listened for a few seconds, nodded my head in approving time with the song, and removed the ‘phones.

“Sounds good.  What problem are you having?” I asked as politely as I could manage.

“This song…there is strange sound.  Listen again.”

I placed the headphones back on.  Dah da da da da, dah da.  American Woman, stay away from me-hee.  Sounded fine.  I heard no strange sounds.  I told him I heard nothing unusual.

“There is a sound…ticking sound.  Tick tick tick.  Listen please.”

I put the phones on for the third time.  Finally I got it.  I heard the ticking.  It was the cymbal.

“Oh, OK, I get it.  Yeah, that’s not a defect.  That’s the drummer playing cymbals.”  I made a drumming motion to get my point across.

“No, no.  There is ticking sound.  Tick tick tick.  This not right.”

I explained again, “I hear the ticking sound you’re talking about.  It’s part of the song.  It’s the drummer playing cymbals, it’s a percussion instrument, like this.”  I made the drumming motions again.

“I not like.  Can you order me other copy?”

Man, I freaking hated ordering shit in when I didn’t have to.  There was nothing wrong with Oh What A Feeling.  If I ordered in a copy, it would be coming from another store in our chain.  We carried this item as a used item, but they were all going to be the same.  When we brought in this item from another store, we wouldn’t make any money on it.  The store that sent it to us gets the sale.  So, even if he buys it which was not guaranteed since the next copy would have the same tick tick tick, I would be losing the sale.

He insisted.  I ordered in the box set, we called him, and inexplicably, he bought the new one even though they were identical.  He never even returned it, which I completely expected.

SAM_1244Later on, the same man came in and picked out Bruce Dickinson’s album Balls To Picasso to listen to.  Once again, I brought him over to the listening stations, and left him to listen.  Once again, he signaled me over with a hand gesture.  I made my way to home wondering what the hell could be wrong this time.

“Did you put in correct CD?  I know this singer.  This is…not him.”

I put on the headphones and turned it up.  It was Bruce singing “Cyclops”, track one.

“This is the right CD.  This is Bruce Dickinson,” I told him.

Puzzled, the man said, “He changed his style!”  Well, win some lose some man.  I left him to listen once again.  I got back to my work, I had lots of customers to deal with that day.  About 10 minutes later, he motioned me over once again.

“The player…it not working.”  This happened quite frequently.  Our stuff was used and abused by the lowest scum and passersby who needed to kill 10 minutes while they waited for the bus.  Tire kickers.  They like to try things, but not to buy things.  Eastern European Man was not one of these, he did buy things.  However our stuff took a lot of abuse from others and was always on the verge of failure.

Attempting to joke around with him, I put on a happy voice and said, “Oh, did you break it man?”

Not understanding the humour, he answered, “Ehhh…perhaps.”

He bought the disc.  After a while, I never saw him again.  It’s funny.  You dread people like this coming into your store, and you having to wait on them hand on foot when they want to listen to something.  You hate them constantly signaling you over when you’re busy with other customers.  But, then you miss them.  You miss that eastern European accent because hey, he might have been annoying but at least he wasn’t a dick, and he did buy things.  He might have treated you like a servant to him, but technically that’s what you were.  You might have been a manager but to these guy you’re serving them, and they’re the customer, and that’s it, and I don’t begrudge it anymore.

But what happened to him?  Did he return to Eastern Europe?  Did he go online and start listening and downloading there?  Who knows.  After all, I never caught his name.  He was just Eastern European Man.

CUPFACE

 

Part 315.5: Bitches

August 28, 2014 59 comments

BITCH

I like to listen to the radio at work. On today’s Craig Fee Show on 107.5 Dave FM, a caller named Roy phoned in to complain. His reason was that Craig used the word “bitches” on the air.  (The context was, “If you don’t turn down your radio when you call into the show, I will hang up on you bitches.”)

I’ve heard Craig use the word periodically in the past. For example, to him the Boston Bruins are the “Boston Bitches”. (He’s a Canucks fan.)

Roy said that he had already called Corus head office in Toronto, and that he was going to call the CRTC next if Craig did not apologize sincerely for using the word “bitches,” by the end of his show. That was the deadline Roy set.  He was quite upset, and quite emphatic about the demand for an apology. His reason was that he had his grandchildren in the car, and they repeated the word. Roy reminded me of some of my old customers at the Record Store, who would call and complain because they didn’t like your face. I hate to go for such an obvious pun, but it’s rather bitchy, isn’t it? (I wonder if Roy lets his grandchildren listen to Nickelback – “you look so much cuter with something in your mouth”.)

I don’t know why Roy was listening to Dave FM with his grandchildren in the car, during the 3 o’clock Tedious Tiresome Trivia in the Tri-Cities, since most of the questions are sexual in nature. But rather than question his grandparenting, Craig simply responded by playing the Rolling Stones’ “Bitch”, followed by Sir Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back”. The list could have gone on, just do a Google search for songs with that word in the title! (And that’s not even including rap music.)

Do you think Roy had a point, or should he have simply chosen more appropriate programming for his grandchildren? What’s your favourite “Bitch” song? (I have two others: “Love’s a Bitch” by Quiet Riot, and “Burn Bitch Burn” by Kiss.)  Comment and let me know!

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