RECORD STORE TALES MkII:
Getting More Tale
Music, Movies, and more
GETTING MORE TALE #549: E-Commerce Dawning
I had been trying to get out of the storefront for a while. As a manager you can only take so much retail in a lifetime, even in the Record Store. My reservoir for dealing with the public in a buy/sell situation only had about five or six years in it before I was running on pure fumes. Fortunately e-commerce was becoming a dominant force and I was chosen to manage our new website. It was a good website. The boss knew what he wanted, and didn’t settle for less. He listened to feedback and relentlessly tested the site. It was a challenge since our inventory was changing minute by minute, and technology hadn’t caught up to our needs yet. When it was finally ready to go live, it was a slow start. It began as a one man operation.
I was sent out to do some research. The boss sent me to an e-commerce convention at the Waterloo Inn in mid-2000. I returned with plenty of notes and information about how laws would protect buyers and sellers in online sales.
When we first started e-commerce, the website was a part time job. I was still in the store most of the time, because we were only getting 10-15 orders per day. I would have time allotted to go in the back room and get the e-commerce stuff done: processing credit card orders, responding to customers, keeping the books. Customer complaints were infrequent but fun. Often it involved somebody whining that they couldn’t return something because they lost their receipt, or complaining that something was taking too long to come in. Then I’d investigate and get the other side of the story. There was one guy we all remember that was a constant complainer. He picked up his orders in-store. He carried a briefcase with him, and inside that briefcase was a printout of every order he ever placed.
The boss told me, “This is your baby, run it however works best for you.” So I did and it went well until it was just too busy for one person to run alone. Then they decided to run the e-commerce thing full time. I was given a small staff of about three people, all people who also worked in store. We had a tiny office to work out of. It had a computer, printer, its own VISA machine and all the supplies needed to ship CDs by FedEx. We learned as we went.
I had a really good staff back there and it was fun juggling that with the store. I worked a lot of double shifts, but I was enjoying it. Things were going well, and over time we got busier and busier. They decided they wanted a full-time manager for the position. I was frozen out, and landed back in the store full time. I heard that oft-repeated mantra: “Your time is more valuable to us in the store.”
A couple years’ of work on that website, and suddenly it was pulled away and I was back where I didn’t want to be. My goal was to get out of the store, and I worked hours and hours above and beyond the call of duty to do it. I voluntarily came in on the morning of my Christmas Eve off (year 2000) just to process online orders, so we wouldn’t be slammed by too many when we re-opened. I poured all my energy into it knowing the goal of being out of the store was not far away. Then the floor fell out from under.
They had me transitioning into a new position of being a trainer for new staff and franchisees. That would have been fine except that was a small portion of my time. The franchising stalled and that meant most of the time I was running a store. Promises of ever getting out had evaporated.
Like many things from the formative years, I had plenty of fond memories of toiling away on that website. Most satisfying was the feeling that I was climbing the ladder and working towards the goal of getting away from the front counter. Apparently the bosses felt that the front counter was the thing I was best at, and didn’t consider other factors such as morale and personal growth. It was like being kicked back to highschool after I’d already graduated and moved on to university. The ironic thing was one person who eventually ran the website after me was fired for theft. Change isn’t always good. Maybe they should have left things as-is.
The only song related to e-commerce I could find.
In the early 1970’s, a new young band was rumbling out of Europe with a fresh, sludgy heavy rock sound. With a debut album produced by Rodger Bain under their belts, they peddled that new style of music often called “heavy metal”, known for its loud distorted guitars and long-haired musicians.
Black Sabbath? Not this time. Let’s not forget Cardiff’s own Budgie.
Budgie’s 1971 self-titled debut album demonstrates that the band had already found their own niche. Lead throat Burke Shelley had the looks and the voice of a young Geddy Lee, but three full years before Rush’s first album in 1974. They had obvious Sabbathy elements, but without the doom and evil overtones. They wrote long, groove oriented songs unlike anything Ozzy & co. were writing. Shelley’s lyrics and song titles ran from unusual to bizarre. The opener “Guts” is a great example of the strangeness and groove coming together in one addictive sludgy confection.
Budgie were also known for soft acoustic interludes. “Everything in My Heart” is one, clocking in at less than a minute. (According to the liner notes, Shelley recalls he wrote this for some girl he liked.) This acts as a sort of prelude to “The Author” which combines the quiet side with the sludge. The droning heavy riffage, switching lanes with softer sections, make for a pretty epic Budgie track. As a power trio, Shelley’s bass becomes the deliverer of many hooks. However on “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” the bass joins forces with Tony Bourge’s distorted axe to build a wall of riff. Both the album and single versions are included on the 2004 deluxe CD edition. One is over twice as long as the other! The album cut contains a long Purple-like instrumental section.
“Rape of the Locks” (a satire about a hair cut, get it?) commences with a very Blackmore guitar freakout. The riffs are more Sabbath, while its jammy aspects remind of the first album by the Scorpions. Burke Shelley continues the groove on “All Night Petrol”, both punishing and catchy. “You and I” is another acoustic interlude, 1:42 of Burke trying to be lovey-dovey. It acts as a reset before the final onslaught: “Homicidal Suicidal”. Soundgarden covered this one in 1991 on an obscure B-side. Perhaps it is the definitive example of the early Budgie sound. Almost seven minutes of heavy Budgie, drums hammering at the walls while Burke rumbles the foundation. Meanwhile there’s Tony Bourge with the riff of riffs.
The bonus tracks on this edition are well worth seeking. In addition to the above mentioned single edit of “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman” there is its B-side “Crash Course in Brain Surgery” which Metallica covered. This is an unreleased alternate mix of one of Budgie’s best known metal thrashers. Finally there are 2003 re-recordings by the reformed Budgie composed of Shelley, Steve Williams and Simon Lees. “Parachutist Woman” and “Guts” are very different from the originals, although the arrangements are pretty much the same. It’s just a matter of different musicians and 32 years!
The Budgie remasters can be expensive to track down, but well worth it. May as well get all the extra tracks if you’re going to hunt for some Budgie.
Previously on mikeladano.com….
Faith No More’s deluxe edition reissue program began in 2015. Two years prior to that, we reviewed two editions of Angel Dust: An Australian 2 CD set with a bonus EP called Free Concert in the Park, and the 2 LP version with a “MidLife Crisis” remix. For this Angel Dust deluxe edition review, we will be incorporating old text from that review into this new one. We also reviewed the 2 CD single for “Everything’s Ruined”. Those tracks are also on this deluxe, and we will borrow text from that review as well.
Incredibly anticipated, and massively misunderstood: Angel Dust separated the fans from the wannabes. Reviews were mixed. M.E.A.T Magazine’s Drew Masters awarded it 2/5 M’s and failed to grasp the genius that is the chaos within. It certainly is an ugly duckling and will take more than a listen to reel in anyone. Faith No More wearied of the “funk metal” tag and sought to distance themselves from it. Importantly, Mike Patton dropped the nasal tone he utilized on The Real Thing. Instead he unleashed his full voice in all its extremes. With enviable range and power, Patton pushed his capabilities to their furthest limits. Meanwhile, guitarist Jim Martin and the band were butting heads, and most of the songs were written without him. Mike Bordin, Roddy Bottom and Billy Gould would send him virtually complete songs, which he then “grafted” guitar parts onto. In a guitar magazine interview, Martin stated that he thought some of the songs were better before he added his own parts.
Angel Dust commenced with double shot of weirdness: “Land of Sunshine” and “Caffeine”. Patton pieced together the lyrics to “Land of Sunshine” from a collection of fortune cookies. Musically it is dramatic, keyboard heavy and foreboding. “Caffeine” is dark and aggressive, but is Patton’s first bonafide knockout vocal on the album. From the ominous, gravelly lows to off the wall screams, Patton delivers it. His voice knew no limits on Angel Dust. A year prior, he released the debut album by Mr. Bungle. There is little question that this must have demolished any vocal inhibitions he had with Faith No More.
The first single “MidLife Crisis” was about as close as it got to a commercial track. You can certainly hear every nu-metal band in the world (Korn! I’m looking at you Jonathan Davis!) ripping off Patton’s gutteral vocal stylings. But he lets it soar in the choruses. The bizarre pseudo-rapped verses, the samples, and the anthemic, layered choruses all pointed to new directions for Faith No More. The ingredients had never really combined like “MidLife Crisis” before, although 1991’s “The Perfect Crime” hinted at some of these elements.
Perhaps the most bizarre song (there are many more coming) is “R.V.” The lullaby-like piano backs a grizzly soliloquy from Patton, via Tom Waits, playing a trailer park trash character. “Somebody taps me on the shoulder every five minutes. Nobody speaks English anymore! Would anybody tell me if I was gettin’…stupider?” Once the novelty value wears off, it’s still a memorable tune due to the powerful choruses. Patton nails another awesome lead vocal. “Smaller and Smaller” returns somewhat to more conventional song arrangements. A repetitive piano hook backs a hypnotic Patton vocal. The choruses are a bit on the insane side, and then the song deviates into a sample-laden section of challenging rhythms. Yet somehow the song remains memorable and catchy. This is followed by the single “Everything’s Ruined”. It must have been chosen because it is a solid mix of aggressive rapping with a memorable soul-influenced chorus. While it doesn’t sound like it would have been on The Real Thing, it’s about as close as Angel Dust gets.
“Malpractice” is one of the most delightfully messed-up tunes on the album, a mixture of disjointed sections, noisy guitars, smooth keyboards, feedback, all simmered to perfection. By the time Patton’s screaming, “Applause, applause, applause, APPLAAAAAUUUUUUSSSSE!” we’re already clapping. This song was a Patton baby, which explains it. Certainly, the lullaby after the two minute mark is designed to lull you in before they hammer you with more guitars, samples and screams. This closed side one.
“Kindergarten” introduced side two with the sound of Patton barking thoughts about the ol’ schoolyard. There’s no guitar solo, but Mike Patton muttering musically into a megaphone fills the void where the solo would go. This is followed by Billy Gould throwing down a bass solo, and into the final verse. The weak-willed will shudder before “Be Aggressive”, a graphic series of metaphors about swallowing. This discourse is accompanied by a cheerleader chorus. Jim Martin turns in a sloppy, Pagey guitar solo, the only one on the album.
After assaulting the listener with a song like that, “A Small Victory” is a welcome respite. Its simple but bountiful melodies are perfect to soothe the ear canal. This is also to prepare you for “Crack Hitler”, another bizarre sensory overload. Funky bass meets distorted rapping, until it swerves into this weird, evil march. Patton’s vocals run the gamut from light, to dark and monstrous. Even so, Jim Martin’s contribution “Jizzlobber” is the most extreme song of them all. It has those creepy Friday the 13th keyboards, heavy guitar riffs and pounding drums, and Patton’s most aggressive lead vocal yet. You don’t know what the hell he’s singing without the lyric sheet, so just be enveloped. It’s just a pummeling assault, and unprepared listeners may find themselves overwhelmed and perhaps turned off from the album by this point.
The standard album ended with “Midnight Cowboy” supposedly because of some obsession that Billy Gould had with its storyline. It’s a perfectly appropriate ending given the rollercoaster ride that preceded it. It’s you, wandering off into the sunset, too wasted to really know if you’re headed in the right direction. Just keep walking. Some editions of the album (including this deluxe) added the cover of The Commodores’ “Easy” as the final track. There are a couple different mixes of “Easy” out there, and this is one is from The Very Best Definitive Ultimate Greatest Hits Collection. The horns are missing, the drums have more echo added, and Mike Patton speaks at the beginning. The song is rendered remarkably straight, and it’s a performance like this that truly demonstrates Mike Patton’s vocal mastery. The original version (the “Cooler Version”) with horns opens disc two, the bonus tracks. It can also be found domestically on the EP Songs To Make Love To.
Also from that EP is the bizarre German-language speed-polka “Das Schutzenfest”. This is a novelty track, shits n’ giggles, nothing more. A good laugh but unimportant. The Dead Kennedys’ “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” was also released on the Songs To Make Love To, but it was originally on a compilation called Virus 100. Jim Martin wasn’t there and the song is performed as a quartet. An underwhelming acoustic performance, it sounds a little like the Faith No More of the future as Patton adopts a lower singing style.
The real treasure on disc two and rarest of the all is “As the Worm Turns”, a Japanese bonus track for that long out of print edition of Angel Dust. “As the Worm Turns” was one of the most stunning songs on Faith No More’s debut We Care A Lot, with Chuck Mosely on lead vocals. A full-throated Mike Patton re-recorded it for this bonus track. Sacrilege? It is the superior version now.
A couple included remixes are only a sampling of what is actually available on singles. The “Scream Mix” of “MidLife Crisis” is the extended, bass-heavier mix from the 2 LP edition of the album. The “Revolution 23 (Full Moon) Mix” of “A Small Victory” is only one of four versions from a remix EP they released. Then it is on to the live material, and there are some treasures there. The live EP Free Concert in the Park, (recorded in Munich) is expanded from four to six tracks. Mike Patton dedicates “Easy” to “everyone with hemorrhoids this evening!” The guitar solo spot in “Easy” remains a Jim Martin favourite. Even heavier and more chaotic versions of “Be Aggressive” and “Kindergarten” follow, replete with surprises. The early obscurity “Mark Bowen” is another Mosely song given the Patton treatment live, adding his own spin and abilities. Two tracks are added to the proceedings: “A Small Victory” and “We Care a Lot” from the same show. These live versions really hit the spot, as they are really cranked up, and “We Care a Lot” contains a segue into “Jump Around” by House of Pain. It’s a shame the live recording is so tinny. These tracks were also released on CD singles for “Easy” in Europe.
Up next are the four live songs taken from the double “Everything’s Ruined” single, all recorded in September 1992. “MidLife Crisis” is growly and impressive, and “Land of Sunshine” is amped. “Edge of the World” is the point when the audience is asked to sing along, with Patton yelling “Fuck me harder!” The trailer-trash-talk of “R.V.” sounds a little laid back live; something’s missing. It would be much better with the full visuals of a Mike Patton performance.
The deluxe edition concludes with an outtake finally restored to the album it was written with: “The World is Yours”. It was originally made available on Who Cares A Lot? The Greatest Hits in 1998. Like Angel Dust itself, it is sample heavy. Marching soldiers and trumpeting elephants join Roddy Bottom’s ominous keyboards in a symphony of WTF. It is a fully formed recording, with effects-laden vocals fully mixed and finished. It would have fit the more experimental and anti-commercial direction of the album perfectly, but not without making the album overlong.
Angel Dust, unlike the more successful The Real Thing, has a timeless sound. It is a once in a lifetime album, a perfect meeting of disparate elements. Jim Martin was ejected after this, and never again would his heavy metal guitars be grafted onto the sonic experiments of Faith No More. A pity, but they have since moved on even more expansive sounds. Angel Dust in some respects can be considered the real debut of Mike Patton in Faith No More. A triumphant one it is.
Did you watch cartoons in the 1980s? If you, you probably remember the Transformers. Think back, and picture the cassettebots. Remember them? Soundwave (Decepticon) and Blaster (Autobot) were the cassette recorders, each with an arsenal of cassette mini-robots to back him up. Using an advanced alien technology called “mass shifting”, these giant robots could shrink down to the size of an actual cassette, thereby enabling them to spy unnoticed on human and robot alike. As affordable toys, you may have had some yourselves. The neat thing was these cassettes designed by Japanese company Takara were designed to perfectly mimic the size and shape of actual micro cassettes. On the TV show and in the pages of the Marvel comic book, they were depicted as standard sized cassette tapes.
Third party company Toyhax (also known as Reprolabels) has come up with some fun ways to enhance your cassette-bot toy collection. Recently they released a set of plastic engines and stickers for the current Buzzsaw and Laserbeak toys in the 2016/2017 Hasbro Titans Return line. This time they transform into little media players. Fans always complain that Hasbro toys “don’t look enough” like the original 80s toy they are an homage to. Toyhax has created the labels and engines to enhance the current toys, and enhance them they do. The new accessories even enable new modes, like the “Star Trek communicator” see below.
Toyhax have also released a sticker set that enables you to use ordinary Lego bricks to create you own shrunken-down cassette versions of characters both popular and obscure. All you need are those small 1×2 flats. You know the ones I mean?
Don’t have any of those just lying around anymore? Get this. You can buy them, picked to order, for just pennies a piece. You can pick as many of any colour you like. Mix and match the stickers to get the best looking mini cassettes around, and perfect for your Masterpiece scale figures to hold.
They look great, and it’s a fun little project you can do with very little cost. They enhance any solid Transformers Masterpiece collection as scale accessories. See below with Fans Toys’ “Tesla” (aka Perceptor), they look just perfect!
GETTING MORE TALE #548: Bad Boys
I was speaking to a friend’s son the other day. He’s in his late teens. We chatted about parents and rules and chores and I realized, “The ‘bad’ stuff I used to do as a kid is nothing compared to what teenagers think is ‘bad’ today.” When I was teenager, I had never seen a drug. I didn’t know any kids who drank. None of my friends had tattoos. We liked heavy metal music, which had an aura of evil, but that was just the image. Our lives were pretty mundane…but we did have our fun.
My buddy Bob was the leader when we were growing up. He was creative and had all the best ideas. We invented our own games. A version of street volleyball with no net was one. A backyard obstacle course made of chairs and sprinklers was another. I have a book full of drawings we made for video game ideas we planned on selling to Atari. There is a huge binder (3″) filled with action figure ideas — we called it “Death Team” It was a years-long project that included written story lines and an audio sketch. We imagined the AC/DC instrumental “D.T.” was their theme song. We even made an elaborate board game using old cardboard, a lot of tape, and a bag of army men. Making things (or modifying them) was a big part of our creative process. In 9th grade, we made elaborate cardboard guitars for air guitar purposes. We used yardsticks as the guitar necks, and the bodies were cut from old boxes. We then painted them, using my mom’s workshop with dozens of colours to choose from. We really let it loose for Halloween. We started preparing for Halloween in late August. We began by making heads out of papier-mâché. Ours were crude, but when dressed up with sunglasses, hats or wigs, did the trick. Then we would begin working on an audio tape. This was a 60-minute long compilation of scary bits from Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden albums. We hid some speakers outside and would play the tape on a loop for background scary sounds. Kids loved it. Really small ones were scared, so we had to stop the tape and turn on the lights for them, but 95% thought it was awesome (including parents). We’d see kids across the street, and they’d make a beeline for our house as soon as they saw it. My favourite costume was the one I made in grade 10: Alice Cooper.
We also did a bunch of things that we didn’t tell our parents about. My mother is about to read about some of these things for the first time.
We loved to make prank calls. In the days before call display, Bob and I were the kings. My parents went out every single Wednesday night to take my sister to dance classes. Bob came over, we watched music videos, ate chips, and made prank calls. We didn’t dial random numbers like most kids. We looked up names that we thought were funny in the phone book, and called them. There was one name in the phone book that Bob found especially amusing: Hans. So Bob called up Hans and sang him a little song. “Hans, hans, hans and feet, I have hans and feet.” Somebody named Price was met with the phone call, “Come on down, the price is right!” We really thought we were the most hilarious pair in the world. Then we started pretending we were calling from the Coca Cola company and asking people if they preferred “New” Coke to old Coke. Only Bob had a deep enough voice to fool anyone.
Then, there was the time I nailed “Phat Curtis” in the back of the neck with a projectile I named “The Killerang”. When I was really young, I know I hit Mrs. Reddekopp’s car right in the middle of the hood with one of Bob’s lawn darts. Bob reluctantly retrieved my errant dart, because I was too scared to get it. “You can never ever tell anyone about this,” he cautioned me. We knew that if we kept quiet, everybody would assume another neighbor kid, George, did it. That’s exactly what happened.
Like many other kids of the 80s, we recorded comedy sketches on tape. I have seven volumes of “Mike and Bob” on cassette here. Having played them recently, I can assure you that you are missing out on nothing. We sure did have fun making those tapes, but I can see why Bob found them embarrassing a few years later. The recordings usually took place at my house, in the basement or garage. His parents were pretty strict.
On recording nights, we had to stock up on snacks. The only place within walking distance was the Little Short Stop at Stanley Park Mall, long gone now. We spent many, many days and nights at the Short Stop over the years, pouring over comic books, Star Wars (or Indiana Jones) cards, and candy bars. Later on it was rock magazines. Our snack fix during this period was ketchup flavoured potato chips. The thicker that ketchup dust, the better. When we didn’t get ketchup, we got dill pickle. It was only a 10 minute walk to the mall, but on those recording nights, we probably took half an hour each way. We were busy ringing doorbells.
“Nicky Nicky Nine Door” was what they called it, but we were just being little shits. We would choose houses on the way to the store, ring the doorbell and then hide in the bushes. Once or twice, Bob was almost caught. Sometimes we’d find a house we really liked and hit him up on the way to the store and on the way back. And sometimes, a third for good measure.
We bored of “Nicky Nicky Nine Door” and soon found a new night time occupation: walking around the nearby public school. Stanley Park Sr. Public School was not locked at night. At least, it wasn’t until we were caught. Bob and I would wander the hallways, and buy a pop from the Pepsi machine inside. We didn’t vandalize, and we didn’t steal. All we did was go in and buy a can of soda for each of us. The custodian never seemed to be around, but one night, they were. They told us to get out, we were trespassing! Bob asked, “But can I buy my can of pop still?” The custodian said sure, so Bob walked over to the pop machine, bought his soda, thanked the guy, and left! Is it still trespassing if you buy merchandise? We didn’t think so!
That school was the site of many of our escapades. Most of them were benign: baseball in the park, basketball on the courts, and later on, tennis. We had many late night tennis matches. We ran sprints, we did the long jump, we rode our bikes. When we didn’t have a ghetto blaster playing, we were probably singing. George would often provide the boom box, loaded up with Kiss, Black Sabbath, or Iron Maiden. When boredom set in, our activities became more mischievous. Bob and George were skilled at climbing up to the school’s roof to retrieve lost tennis balls and basketballs. One cold Sunday afternoon, Bob decided he wanted to throw his old bike off the roof. We got a rope, Bob climbed up onto the roof, and then hauled the bike up by the rope. He backed up, made a running start, and tossed the bike off. There was barely any damage! He went for round two, and the front wheel was heavily dented. As he hauled it up one more time for round three, a man in a car drove up to us and told us to leave. Bob asked, “So I can’t throw my bike off this roof?” Wordlessly the man shook his head. Who knew you couldn’t just throw a bike off a roof? It was his bike, right? No harm no foul?
It’s funny to look back at these moments and realize, these were the best times of our childhoods. I don’t think Bob would want his kids to read this. For that reason, I’m leaving out other sordid details and I’ll deny everything else. For example, we may or may not have spelled the word “FUCK” on the lawn of the school in strips of fresh sod. I can’t confirm or deny that we scratched KISS and IRON MAIDEN in the school doors with paper clips. Both of us had pellet guns, and I may or may not have fired a round through George’s mom’s laundry. My dad found pellets in the fence. He knew what we were up to. We denied. We water-ballooned George’s bedroom window. We would hide behind the fence, laughing, listening to him singing “Love Gun” loudly and out of key in his room.
We knew that not all these activities were particularly “good” behaviour (that’s why we didn’t tell our parents), but we considered it all pretty innocent. We did well in school. Both of us got into the schools we wanted to go to. He has a large family and I’m happily married to a beautiful wife. That leads us into the last story.
At my wedding, Bob decided he wanted to make a short speech, and tell a story about us. It was so true, and so funny, that I had tears in my eyes. I mentioned earlier that Bob’s parents were stricter than mine. As such, Bob was not allowed to eat any sweet cereals for breakfast. He complained and complained of shredded wheat. He also was not really allowed to indulge himself in snacks at home, and he really loved our microwave oven. This is how Bob invented some of his classic foods and beverages:
Those were the times of our lives.
Today is Part 2 of a Harem Scarem double-header!
Against all odds Harem Scarem kept on givin’ er. They were big in Japan but couldn’t get arrested in Canada anymore. Their fourth album Believe (following the monumental Mood Swings and the experimental Voice of Reason) saw release in the Land of the Rising Sun, but in Canada the track listing was tweaked and put out as Karma Cleansing. Original bassist Mike Gionet was out, replaced by Barry Donaghy who was also capable of singing lead. And while three of the guys now had short hair, drummer Darren Smith stubbornly left his long. Awesome.
Although their entire discography has highlights and standouts, many fans feel that Karma Cleansing was at once a return to sound of Mood Swings, and also the last Harem Scarem album before they began adding pop-punk elements. There is nothing wrong with albums like Big Bang Theory and Rubber, and you can’t blame the guys for trying out some changes for greater success. Fans who have stuck around since the start prefer the more progressive elements of Mood Swings and Karma Cleaning.
One can see parallels between Harem Scarem and bands such as Extreme and Van Hagar. “Karma Cleansing”, the title track could have been an outtake from Van Halen’s Balance LP. However, Harry Hess has a unique and powerful voice that is identifiably him. When the band join him on those thick Harem Scarem harmonies, they hone in on that sound that makes them special. “Karma Cleaning” kicks it off hard, melodically and with just a touch of exotic progressive influences.
One after another the strong songs roll on: “Cages” hits the heavy buttons that you wanna hit to get the blood pumping fast. Then “Hail, Hail” has Queen verses with pompous hard rock choruses. And while one can hear that Harem Scarem continue to bring new and interesting elements to their songs, you can also identify that the guitar work is simplified. It’s less busy, less showy. This was a trend that continued into the next albums.
“Morning Grey” then conspires to bring Beatles sounds into the picture, but like its title, it’s dreary though hugely complex. The adrenaline starts to flow again on “Die Off Hard”, a brilliant anthem that kicks every ass in the room. Harem Scarem managed to write a few of these over the years, usually a couple per album. Songs like “Die Off Hard” are immediate, but never get old. Interestingly, the bridge to the song (“It’s been a long time coming…”) is ancient. It appeared on Harem Scarem’s earliest demos before their first album as a part of other songs. It only took four albums to finally use it! Fortunately it found a home in “Die Off Hard”, making it one of the most luminous diamonds in the Harem Scarem catalogue.
This sounds like a nice place for a side break. “Rain” is a light ballad, refreshing and cleansing the palette. The mood gets darker on “I Won’t Be There”, somewhere between ballad and mournful dirge. The band’s knack for melody keeps it all above the water: yet another brilliant song. The beat gets harder on “Victim of Fate”. Chunky guitars and a groovin’ foundation make this a winning combination. Unmistakable Harem Scarem harmonies bring the chorus to the top level. Then comes the Van Halen style boogie of “Believe”, an unexpected twist. There are no words to describe how much this song kills it. It also feels like it’s building up to an ending, as the side plays on. That finale is “The Mirror”, a theatrical ballad which serves to end the album with a musical statement. Not a ballad in the “radio hit” sense, but that it’s a slow track with light and shade, keyboards and emotional singing.
What an album. You can see why the fans in Japan got it. A lot of the rock artists that make it big in Japan are melodic rock bands with incredible musicians. Harem Scarem fit that bill, and Karma Cleansing is another jewel in their crown.
Today is Part 1 of a Harem Scarem double-header!
Most bands have that one benchmark album. You know the one: the album that all others are compared against. Every time the band releases a new album, you usually hear, “Best album since blank!” For Harem Scarem, Mood Swings is that album. Only two records into their long and prolific career, and they already put out their magnum opus.
Harem Scarem were (and are) better than the average hard rock band. With Pete Lesperance on guitar, they had a guy who was able to do Nuno-like shreddery. They had two guys — Harry Hess and Darren Smith — who can sing lead. They also had two great backing singers, Lesperance and Mike Gionet. (Darren “DJ” Smith was even the oft-criticized frontman for Jake E. Lee’s solo band Red Dragon Cartel.) Together though, the four guys were able to create Queen-like harmonies that added depth to the music. Fact is, Harem Scarem put out a better album in 1993 than many of the top selling rock records of that year. I saw the band live in early 1992, and they were still doing covers in their set at that time. They really impressed with two unusual covers that showed off their talents: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. Impressive stuff. The prospects for the next album were promising.
As if to say “Check THIS shit out,” Lesperance opens the CD with some pretty impressive licks, before diving head first into the riff to “Saviors Never Cry”. (I’m sure Negan agrees with that sentiment.) With the pomp and circumstance of a band trying to expand its horizons, “Saviors Never Cry” provides the thrills & chills. Slight keyboard accents and tricky licks proved that this was not a band of pretty boys, but a group of musicians taking no prisoners. When “No Justice” commences with those layered harmony vocals, your ass will be sore from all the kicking. You can’t find a stronger chorus anywhere, but it’s not wimp rock. As a first single, it drove home the band’s growth since LP #1. Their trajectory was much in line with their American counterparts, Extreme, who were growing album by album.
Backwards guitar lulls you in for “Stranger Than Love”, a radio ready track with more of the powerful patented Harem Scarem vocals. Hess looks like a lion with that curly mane of his, and he roars like one too. While songs such as “Stranger Than Love” are completely accessible to anyone, “Change Comes Around” is full throttle. With the speedometer in the red, yet harmonies intact, Harem Scarem blazed the tarmac clean. Unlike their grunge opponents, Harem Scarem focused on the positive in their lyrics. “When all your faith is gone, don’t let it pull you under. Change comes around, sail on to higher ground.” Generic inspirational rock nonsense? Absolutely. Great fun to sing along with? Definitely.
Harem Scarem are a diverse rock band, and “Jealousy” is the first change of pace. A sparse arrangement allows the instruments to stand out more, which Lesperance uses to lay down bluesy lick after bluesy lick. It’s not a blues song, but it’s influenced by blues. It was a brilliant side closer, fading out and making way for the lead vocal debut of Darren Smith. The drummer nails “Sentimental Blvd.” He sounds a bit like the late Eric Carr (Kiss) on this pop rocker. Boppy piano provides even more melodic backbone to an already strong song.
Lesperance is a talented enough player to earn an instrumental solo track, which is the ballad “Mandy”. A good guitar instrumental should be both melodic and adventurous. It should be memorable, but hopefully the soloist is pushing their own talents. “Mandy” succeeds in both technique and songwriting. It gives way to one of the heaviest album tracks, “Empty Promises”. Without losing their sound or harmonies, Scarem’s “Empty Promises” manages to crack the concrete with a wrecking ball of heavy rock.
“If There Was a Time” is one of the most impressive ballads on the album, possessing both darkness and light sides. Once again the harmonies sell it. The musicianship isn’t busy but it’s eloquent just the same. At this point the CD really seems to be building towards a conclusion. The climax is acappella: “Just Like I Planned” is as splendid as it is ingenious. That’s “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” rubbing off on the album, I’ll wager. How many rock bands outside Queen attempt full-length acappella songs?
You just need to blow off some steam at the end, and all this builds up to “Had Enough”, a bright track that reeks of Van Halen (or Hagar). It has a great bottom end and some final thrilling chops from Pete Lesperance. This completes the journey of Mood Swings, which is an apt title given the diversity of the songs. Not only are the tunes all great numbers, but the album does have a start, middle and ending. There are sentimental moments, and action packed interludes. It’s more than the sum of its parts, and that’s one reason why Harem Scarem keep having to live up to it.
So much so, that they even went as far as re-recording Mood Swings. According to Superdekes, in his review of Mood Swings, “In 2013 Harem wanted to release a 20th anniversary edition of Mood Swings, but their old record company said ‘Nope’. So Harry and Pete said ‘Fuck you’ and re-recorded Mood Swings with three extra new songs.” That’s why today you can look for the original Mood Swings, or the reasonable facsimile and update, Mood Swings II. It is so close to the original in sound and even lead vocals that conspiracy theorists believe that Harry Hess has indeed finally solved time travel.
No matter which version you ultimately choose, Mood Swings will continue to reveal new joys every time you play it. If there is such a thing as a perfect hard rock record (smart, memorable, surprising, exemplary) then Mood Swings is one of them.
HONEYMOON SUITE – The Singles (1989 Warner)
In the mood for some good old fashioned Canadian AOR rock, but don’t know where to turn?
Easily solved. Just drive down to Niagara Falls and take a left at Honeymoon Suite.
The Singles compiles all their best tunes from the first three LPs (Honeymoon Suite, The Big Prize, Racing After Midnight). If you are a native of the Great White North, chances are you have already heard all 12 of these tracks. Honeymoon Suite have been radio staples ever since their 1984 debut single, “New Girl Now”. Even when they dropped off the face of the earth for much of the 1990s and 2000s, they got consistent radio play and gigs. T-Rev and I saw them at Lulu’s in the 1990s when they were supporting a live album. Even though singer Johnnie Dee seemed a lil’ tipsy they pulled out all the stops for an enjoyable gig.
When Honeymoon Suite kicked it off with “New Girl Now”, they tapped into a rock/new wave hybrid that earned them tons of video play in Canada. Derry Grehan was (and is) a fine guitarist, certainly one of the most respected in the Great White North. He gave the band the rock credibility they needed, meanwhile Johnny Dee had the pipes and the heartthrob looks. The 80s angst of “Burning in Love” landed them another hit, with one foot a little more firmly in the rock arena. Bonus points for the very 80’s chorus echo. “I am still (still! still! still!) a lonely man burning in love,” sings Dee, and you know many ladies swooned. The sound is not too distant from the Bon Jovi of the same period, burning up the clubs many miles away in New Jersey.
Filmed on location in Niagara Falls Ontario
“Stay in the Light” captures the same vibe, a keyboard-y tension with guitars providing the edge. A sharp rhythm and indelible chorus keeps “Stay in the Light” burning in your memory long after it ceased playing. “Wave Babies” is a bit hokey but that hasn’t kept it from airplay 30 years later.
Album #2, The Big Prize, edged their sound further into keyboard pop, which provided more hits but also turned some fans off. “Feel It Again” maintained the guitars without straying too far, but the ballad anthem “What Does It Take” was a full-on 80s pop ballad. The band had some serious firepower in the studio control room this time out. The success of the first album gave them a shot with Bruce Fairbairn, and a young engineer named Bob Rock. You can hear their impact in the improved sound of the drums, and the sonic clarity overall. The production values help make “What Does It Take” palatable, but there is too much syrup for some. “Bad Attitude” has some crunch but it’s overshadowed by those omnipresent keyboards.
Racing After Midnight returned rock to the forefront. There were a couple lineup changes including on the keyboards. The captain’s chair was manned this time by veteran Van Halen producer Ted Templeman. With him they recorded “Lethal Weapon” for the film soundtrack of the same name. Because it was written by Michael Kamen for a movie, we can forgive Honeymoon Suite for another soft rock ballad. The guitar laden “Love Changes Everything” was a more proper introduction to the new album. Derry has a chance to show off his enviable chops at the start, and has a good crunchy sound. One of Honeymoon Suite’s most memorable choruses made it easy to love. “Lookin’ Out for Number One” was equally powerful, especially when it comes to Derry Grehan’s impeccable shreddery.
Any good greatest hits album needs new material. The Singles had two new songs: big hit “Still Loving You”, and “Long Way”. For a big anthemic ballad, “Still Loving You” nails it with class. “Long Way” finishes it with a dark edgy acoustic vibe. These two tracks do not negate the album title The Singles, because both were released as singles.
Factor in some great liner notes and lots of band photos, and The Singles is a pretty easy purchase to justify.
Over the course of his solo career, Kim Mitchell kept on givin’ ‘er even though some albums are cloudy in the collective memory today. Aural Fixations made less of a hullabaloo than Rockland, and many of its tracks are forgotten by the Canuck masses. Public amnesia does happen to deserving songs sometimes, and there are a few on Aural Fixations that merit dusting off.
Kim really made a niche of good time summer party songs: “Rock N’ Roll Duty”, “I Am A Wild Party”, “Lager and Ale”. “World’s Such a Wonder” assumed that duty on Aural Fixations. His picking is impeccable, but fans in the know noticed something was “off”. The quirky poetry of Pye Dubois was gone; he and Kim had a falling out during Rockland. Others such as Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness – review at Boppin’s Blog) and Andy Curran (Coney Hatch – review at Stick It In Your Ear) filled the lyrical void instead. This meant that one of the qualities that made Kim special, Pye’s unique wording, was gone. Also departed was bassist/singer Peter Fredette. Peter still provided backing vocals for this album. That said, most in the Great White North probably did not notice or care.
“Big Smoke” is a bluesy grind, good stuff for guitar enthusiasts. A couple upbeat tracks got radio play, such as “Hullabaloo” and “Find the Will”. Both sound like what we had come to expect from Kim Mitchell: rock and roll guitars, big hooks, and choruses built for shoutin’ along to. The most outstanding one of the bunch is “Hullabaloo”, a real Canadian good time summer song.
“There’s a lot weekend doin’ on this hullabaloo,
Honey’s on the beaches, Monday back in old ‘T.O.’,
Showin’ off her sunburn.”
The song is perfect from the ground up. Verses, bridges and choruses all line up for one quintessential Kim Mitchell classic. “Take a walk on that wild guitar, it’s such a wild guitar…”
Aural Fixation also shifted towards lighter sounds, perhaps a bit too far. “Pure as Gold” is the best of the softies, a quiet, slow smouldering bluesy ballad. “Some Folks” steers right into the pasture, a keyboardy country ballad that could have been left in the barn. The twangy “America” isn’t as bad. It carved out another hit video, following in the footsteps “Easy to Tame” (1986). Other tracks just simmer without ever really cooking: “There’s a Story”, “Flames”, “Dreamer”. The musicianship is above reproach, but the songs don’t all meet expectations. “Dog and a Bone” has the rock, but the chorus lacks impact.
One of the most interesting tracks is the final one, an instrumental called “Honey Forget Those Blues”. A total of six guitar players are credited on it, creating a massive guitar harmony part. It sounds like a guitar orchestra playing the blues and it’s brilliant. Its cheeky creativity hearkens back to the glory days of Max Webster. It is in fact Kim’s first instrumental song as a solo artist.
Aural Fixations has those sparks of brilliance that makes you wish it consistent throughout. “Hullabaloo”, “World’s Such a Wonder”, “Find the Will” and “Honey Forget Those Blues” could all be on a hypothetical Kim Mitchell “box set”. Is that enough to add this album to your collection?