#732: Where the Hell Am I?

GETTING MORE TALE #732: Where the Hell Am I?

What is the most important information to possess when you’re shopping?  Is it your shopping list?  Is it money?

No friends, that is not what matters most.  What you need to know most of all is where the hell you actually are.

I was working at the Record Store in the late 90s.  We had big red gift certificates in different denominations.  They had our logo printed on them.  You could use them at any of our locations.  They were pretty standard gift certificates, like any other store might have.  Today virtually everybody has switched to magnetic gift cards instead, which undoubtedly saves on paper.

A family came in one afternoon looking to spend.  They had over a hundred dollars in gift certificates.  Enough for the whole family to enjoy.  Collectively they had numerous questions, but were courteous and friendly.  I spent roughly an hour with them, helping them find songs and retrieving CDs for them to listen to.  They narrowed down their pile of CDs to the discs they wanted most.  Then we got to the checkout counter.

I made sure each case had the right CD inside, and I made sure each one was clean.  I rang them up and told them the total, when the man handed me a little blue HMV gift certificate.

My heart sank.

“This isn’t us, this is for HMV,” I informed the man.

“This isn’t HMV?”  He was stunned!

No!  This isn’t HMV!  Didn’t you notice all our massive signage?  Also, all our CDs are used!  When was the last time you saw a used CD at an HMV store?  My mind was screaming all of these things silently as the man.

What bugged me the most wasn’t all the wasted time on these people, it was that he was actually angry!  Angry at who?  If it were me, I’d be super embarrassed but I sure as hell wouldn’t be angry.  I would also be sure to buy something — anything — to make up for all the time the store spent on me.  This guy escorted his family out, leaving all the discs with me at the counter.

I’m sure the boss man was thrilled when I told him this story, and how effective all our store signage was!


Now a story of my own, but without the temper tantrum.

As many of you know, my friend Jason and I collect Transformers.  There are not really any decent toy stores in Kitchener.  We have a Toys R Us and an EB Games.  Up in Waterloo, there’s a good store called J&J’s, but they don’t carry Transformers.  (I did, however, buy up their GI Joes.)  Cambridge is the place to be for toy shopping.

I took a day off work to go toy shopping with Jay.  First we hit a place called The Toy Society, which is an excellent store for vintage action figures.  A little bit of every genre.  It’s hard to leave without spending money.  But Jay and I had a specific goal that day, which was to check out our friend Dan’s new store.

Dan owns B&K Collectables, which if you collect Pops, is now the place to go to get ’em.  He also carries vintage G1 and new Masterpiece Transformers.  His prices are high but when I buy a vintage figure from him, I know it’s complete and in working condition.  He’s never let me down, and I have scored several rare boxed G1 figures from him over the years.  He used to sell by mail, but in 2016 he opened an actual storefront, in a shared space with a computer store.

Jay and I hadn’t been there yet, and so partially planned this day to check out Dan’s store.  We knew roughly where it was, on Queen Street down by Len’s Mill Store.  We parked and started looking.

“This must be it,” said Jay as we entered a toy store.

We looked and took it all in.  There was a guy working near the back.

“BIG DAN!” shouted Jay.

The guy turned around.  He was big but he was not Dan.

“Did Dan hire someone?” I whispered to Jay.

“Sorry, is Dan around?” said Jay to the started toy store guy.

“No,” he answered simply, but probably confused.

“OK, thanks,” we said as we looked around for a bit.  The store was cool but he didn’t have any Transformers.  We had to be in the wrong place.  Turns out, it was a store called Playin’ Around.  B&K Collectables was still a few more doors down!

Once we found Dan, we had a laugh at our embarrassment.  As usual, his assortment of vintage figures was impressive.  I had my eyes on a complete G2 Megatron, but Jay was more excited about G1 Blitzwing.

“Holy shit you have Blitzwing!” said an excited Jay.  A customer over in the computer half of the store was amused by his excitement.  “I can’t believe you have a G1 Blitzwing, is he complete?”

The computer customer walked over.  “OK, I have to see what a G1 Blitzwing is, if it’s this exciting.”

Jay explained to him, “He’s a triple changer!  He changes into a plane AND a tank.”

“Ahh,” said the guy.

You have to have fun with shit.  Here I am with Jay, two guys in their 40s buying toys in the hundreds of dollars.  The computer guy thinks we’re nuts.  We also walked into a store and accidentally scared a guy by yelling “BIG DAN!”  It’s funny.  The guy with the HMV gift certificate could have made that experience so much better for everybody if he just saw the humour in it (and bought something for all my efforts).

Don’t be angry.  If you’re a dumb shit, just own it and laugh it off.  Ponoby’s nerfect, nam.

 

 

 

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Just Listening to…Styx – The Serpent is Rising

Just Listening to…Styx – The Serpent is Rising

For Christmas this year, my beautiful wife bought me not one, not two, not three, but four Styx albums!  This was easier than it sounds, because 1) I have an Amazon wishlist, and 2) the first four Styx albums were handily reissued together in a 2CD set called The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings.  I hadn’t heard any of these albums in full before Christmas.  All four albums were quite good, but the third, The Serpent is Rising, was especially intriguing to me.

I played the four albums in order, recognising a few songs and absorbing others for the first time.  After two full albums and over an hour of progressive rock, I was struck by a song so odd that I had to remove my headphones and check my computer to see what was going on.  Did a Youtube video somehow start playing in the background?  What I was hearing…did not sound like what I had heard!

Would you believe that way back in 1973, Styx were playing around with hidden tracks on albums?  On CD, the track came up with the name “As Bad as This”, written and sung by guitarist John Curulewski.  It is a low, bluesy lament, contrasting some of other more complex songs like “The Grove of Eglantine”.  When “As Bad as This” comes to a close, the last thing you’d expect to follow is a song about plexiglas toilets.

“Don’t sit down on de plexiglas toilet, said the mama to her son.  Wipe the butt clean with the paper, make it nice for everyone.”  All done acoustically in a really bad Caribbean accent.  I am not joking.  The hidden track “Plexiglas Toilet” is over two minutes of pure silliness.  I admit that I love it; it fits my sense of humour.  But this never, ever, ever should been on a progressive rock album!  How?  Why?  And it’s right smack in the middle!  It sits at the very end of side two of The Serpent is Rising!

Toilets aside, The Serpent is Rising is otherwise a pretty strong Styx album.   They were getting more diverse record by record, and their chops kept getting better.  Depending on the kind of Styx you like, the best song could be “Winner Take All” for its pop choruses, or the prowlin’ “Witch Wolf”.  But they really didn’t have a direction yet.  There’s rock, pop, blues, weird spoken bits, plexiglas toilets, and Handel’s Messiah.

The album is not cohesive at all, but a lovely gift it is!

Side one
1. “Witch Wolf” 3:57
2. “The Grove of Eglantine” 5:00
3. “Young Man” 4:45
4. “As Bad as This”
a. “As Bad as This” – 3:45
b. “Plexiglas Toilet” (Hidden Track) – 2:22

Side two
1. “Winner Take All” 3:10
2. “22 Years” 3:39
3. “Jonas Psalter” 4:41
4. “The Serpent Is Rising” 4:55
5. “Krakatoa” 1:36
6. “Hallelujah Chorus” 2:14

Sunday Chuckle: A Snotty Pile

When heavy gauge steel is formed, coolant is used because of the tremendous force and friction is involved.  At work, we have green coolant.  It is now very cold outside, so when we move the material out, any leftover coolant freezes just like water.

The other day, conditions were perfect for a green “snot-sickle” to form on the edge of a piece of piling.  We thought it was funny enough to snap a picture.

 

REVIEW: Jim Crean – Greatest Hits (2018)

In a surprising turn of events, Jim Crean has been named the new singer for Vinnie Vincent! So it is a perfect time to review Jim Crean’s Greatest Hits.

JIM CREAN – Greatest Hits (2018 Visionary Noise)

Buffalo’s Jim Crean has four solo albums under his belt.   That’s a good minimum before you release a greatest hits.  There is enough material here for a solid listen, including two new songs from Crean’s forthcoming fifth album.

Several of the best tracks are hard rockers from Crean’s Insatiable. “Touch” remains a standout, a great song any rock songwriter would be envious of.  Not to mention Crean’s power-pipes lay waste to the chorus.  Check out the metal riffing on “Follow Your Heart”, too.  These taffy-sweet tracks claw into your cranium via your ear canal.  All you can do is surrender to it.

Crean’s also capable of standout ballads.  “Make It” and “Can’t Find My Way” (a duet with Mike Tramp) are fantastic.  Then he goes vintage Aerosmith on “She Goes Down”, a song that could have fit nicely on an album like Toys in the Attic.

There are a handful of covers on the 16 track album, and interesting choices too.  “Caught in the Middle” is, of course, Dio, performed with Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice.  “Over the Edge” is early 90s L.A. Guns, an excellent groove.  Crean also covered fellow Buffalo band the Goo Goo Dolls with the acoustic “Cuz You’re Gone”, one of the Goo’s finest ballads.

What about the new songs?  “Scream Taker” sounds like a Ronnie Dio tribute, with the lyrics cut and pasted from Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio songs.  “Scream Taker” indicates that Crean has gone heavier on his fifth record.  The other new song, “Conflicted” has a strong traditional metal riffy vibe.  (Is that Billy Sheehan on bass?)  Both these new songs hint at a great album to come.  Guitarist Steph Honde, who plays on both new songs says that while the new Crean album will be a bit heavier, there will also be some great ballads.

Don’t have any Jim Crean yet?  Pick up his Greatest Hits to catch up.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman (2015 vinyl box set version)

As we gear up for this year’s release of the next Queensryche album The Verdict, let’s look back at a different edition of their last album Condition Hüman.  For our original 2015 review of Condition Hüman, click here!

QUEENSRŸCHE – Condition Hüman (2015 Century Media 2 LP, + 7″ single coloured vinyl box set)

It is almost customary now.  When a band comes out with a new album, there has to be a crazy deluxe edition with vinyl and CD.  The best of these editions are the ones that include exclusive music.  In the end, all the posters and booklets in the world add up to only paper.  Exclusive music is the thing of real value.

Queensryche did well with their Condition Hüman deluxe.  It was available in a variety of colours.  This one is yellow, number 659/1000.  There’s a cool turntable mat inside, and a double sided poster.  For music, the album is split onto two coloured 180 gram vinyl records, including the Japanese bonus track “Espiritu Muerto” on Side D.   (The D-side is also etched with the Queensryche logo in the empty space.)  For your convenience, the entire album including Japanese bonus track is duplicated on the CD inside.  Then for the diehards comes the true exclusive:  two more songs on a 7″ single, not on any other version of the album.  This is the real reward for spending the extra money on the deluxe.

“Espiritu Muerto” chugs heavily along, punishing the skulls of unbelievers.   On the 7″ record, the two exclusive songs are fairly non-descript. “46° North” is B-side-ish, like a leftover written for Empire but dropped in favour of something more commercial.  “Mercury Rising” is on the other side, with a vaguely psychedelic metal vibe and science fiction lyrics.

Condition Hüman itself is a strong metallic album, though with hindsight perhaps too “metal” for its own good.  There was a time, not so long ago, when fans would have begged and pleaded with Queensryche to write just one new song in the vein of Condition Hüman.  Now that we have two albums solidly back in the metal genre, it would be nice to hear real diversity in Queensryche again.

That said, Condition Hüman is a damn fine album for what it is.  The Queensryche of today, fronted by Todd La Torre, has been determined to retain trademark elements from Queensryche’s 80s heyday.  That includes strong riffs, dual harmony solos, and screamin’ vocals.  These are all delivered with gravy on top.

The vinyl experience of Condition Hüman is actually superior to that of CD.  It was always a long album, with the standard edition being 53 minutes of pretty relentless stomping.  On vinyl, you’re forced to pause and flip the record three times before even getting to the single.  These brief respites allow you to breath and absorb.  What I’ve absorbed is that Condition Hüman is still a damn fine collection of songs, if a bit too single-minded.  One gets the impression from this album that, though good, Queensryche can still do better.

4/5 stars

LP-A1 Arrow Of Time
LP-A2 Guardian
LP-A3 Hellfire
LP-A4 Toxic Remedy

LP-B1 Selfish Lives
LP-B2 Eye 9
LP-B3 Bulletproof
LP-B4 Hourglass

LP-C1 Just Us
LP-C2 All There Was
LP-C3 The Aftermath
LP-C4 Condition Hüman

LP-D1 Espiritu Muerto

7″-A 46° North
7″-B Mercury Rising

#731: Do as I say, not as I do

There are a few stories I held back from the original Record Store Tales because I didn’t want to get anyone into any trouble.  In this case, 24 years have gone by so I think it’s too late for this story to do any damage.  I was 21 years old, and as green as spinach.

When I first started, one of the earliest lessons I was taught was “Do as I say, not as I do.”  That came in handy the one time I witnessed a customer get physically hit by staff!

He was a kid.  He didn’t get hit hard.  It was a light smack on the brim of the hat.  And it was still shocking.

This kid came in wanting to return a CD.  I was still in training.  The guy behind the counter wasn’t too happy about the condition it was in.  He concluded the kid was trying to rip us off.  There was a bit of an argument about it.  The kid threatened to go downtown to “Mister Disc” from then on, and that’s when he got smacked in the head and called “Junior”!

“Do as I say, not as I do,” indeed!  So I never hit any customers!  The kid never came back, but could you imagine if that happened in 2018?  You’d have vigils and boycotts and Twitter going into overdrive.  In 1994, you just had an embarrassed kid leaving with his tail between his legs.

 

DVD REVIEW: The Orville – The Complete First Season (2018)

THE ORVILLE – The Complete First Season (2018 20th Century Fox 2 DVD set)

We like Star Trek: Discovery, we really do.  At the same time, we wonder, “Why do studios insist the only way to do Star Trek today is to modernise it into a gritty action drama?”  Does it have to be so?  Is Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future somehow outdated?

Though CBS Paramount seem terrified of anything “too Trekky”, others have not been timid.  Sensing the wide-open void for something styled in the old spirit of Trek, Seth MacFarlane (of all people) made his move with The Orville.

Before you scoff, let’s not forget that MacFarlane clearly knows his Star Trek.  1) Patrick Stewart regularly appears on his shows.  2) He reunited the entire Next Generation cast for the first time on an episode of Family Guy.  3) He cast Michael Dorn in Ted 2 and dressed him up as Worf.  It should surprise no one that The Orville is closest in spirit to Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  In fact, not even Deep Space Nine or Voyager are this close.  From the gentle pastel sets including conference rooms, hallways and holodecks, to the techno-babble, to the minimal use of violence, The Orville is the NEXT Next Generation.  It is the Enterprise D, but if Captain Picard allowed the crew to crack wise when opportunity knocked.

It would take only the slightest nudge to turn The Orville into Trek canon.  Change some names and terminology, tone down the humour slightly, and you’re there.  Humour on a starship?  Yes, of course, but The Orville is not a comedy.  It is first and foremost science fiction, and indeed some of the best science fiction on television since Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled.  The episodes are generally commentary on modern society, much like Star Trek has always been.  Change the setting to outer space and suddenly it’s parable.  Topics covered include the “court of public opinion” seen in social media today, gender reassignment, underachievers, religion in society, and making the most difficult decisions.  The biggest difference between the voyages of the Orville and the Enterprise isn’t even that big:  on the Orville, there are no transporter beams.

The crew of The Orville is obsessed with Earth culture circa 1980-present, but that is to be expected given Seth MacFarlane’s own interests.  References to movies and TV shows of today are rampant.  Jokes are toned down from the usual modern fare, but the pilot episode sets up a comedic premise.  Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) catches his wife, Commander Kelly Grayson, in bed with a blue alien (Rob Lowe).  When Grayson is assigned as his first officer on the Union ship the Orville, the entire crew learns of their marriage issues.  Captain Mercer’s best friend (and best pilot in the fleet) is Lt. Gordon Malloy played by Scott Grimes of American Dad.  Seth’s buddy Norm MacDonald also shows up as Lt. Yaphit, a gelatinous yellow blob based on Odo from Deep Space Nine, but played for comedy relief.

Too much science fiction today has flimsy barely-there characters.  The Orville’s crew are more fully formed than the usual, with a few receiving interesting story arcs.  They are all new versions of classic archetypes.  The robot Isaac (Mark Jackson) is the twist on Data.  He is still immensely curious about humans, but knows he is vastly superior and considers everyone on the Orville his inferior.  Bortus (Peter Macon) is your “Worf”, a deep voiced, strong alien species with head ridges.  His unique trait is that his race is single-gendered, and much of his character development is in tandem with his partner Klyden (Chad L. Coleman).  Halston Sage plays the inexperienced security chief Alara Kitan, a young alien from a planet with such high gravity, that their species have evolved tremendous physical strength.  Though small she can easily throw a punch to send Bortus flying, or re-shape a cube of titanium with her hands!  Yet she lacks the confidence that her crewmates have in her.

More casting genius:  Penny Johnson Jerald, Deep Space Nine‘s Kassidy Yates, as ship’s doctor Claire Finn.  In cameos or recurring roles are Ron Canada (Next Generation), Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson (A Million Ways to Die in the West), Victor Garber (Titanic), Mike Henry (Family Guy), Robert Picardo (Voyager‘s Doctor), and Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development).  One has to respect both the sheer talent involved, and the willingness of Star Trek actors to participate.

As the show grows during its first season, comedy takes a back seat to science fiction.  In the bonus features, MacFarlane states that he paid attention to fan feedback, and he noted that fans were discussing the legitimate characters and science fiction tales.  Episodes feature a new twist on classic sci-fi (and even Star Trek) themes:  living in a simulation, a space zoo, Flatland, a civilisation living in a generation ship without its own knowledge, interference with space-time and developing cultures, and many planets with Earth-like societies that act as a mirror for us to view our own.  Ray guns are rarely used, and monsters are usually misunderstood.

It’s remarkable but not untrue to say that The Orville is Star Trek, but without infringing any copyrights.  Dig a little further in the credits and you’ll have a better understanding of how they managed to play The Orville so close to classic Trek.  In the director’s chair:  Jonathan Frakes, AKA Riker, and director of Trek on both TV and in cinemas.  Also directing:  Robert Duncan McNeill, AKA Tom Paris and also director of many Voyager episodes.  Behind the scenes is Brannon Braga, a producer on The Next Generation, Voyager, Enterprise, Cosmos…and The Orville.  Jon Favreau even directed the pilot episode.  With a team like this in place, MacFarlane and friends were more than capable of making a show truly within the optimistic Roddenberry philosophy.  Guys like Braga, Frakes and McNeill spent years living in that universe.

The DVD includes your traditional special features, the best of which is a Q&A session with the cast and creators of the show.  Another interesting featurette is about the physical model of the Orville spaceship, used for those slow “beauty shots”.

The Orville is the show that Trek fans have wanted for years now, at least since JJ Abrams brought it back to movie screens.  The true Trek on TV is not Discovery.  It’s not Short Treks.  It is The Orville.  If that pisses off CBS Paramount, then too bad.  If they won’t make the Trek that fans want, then someone else will — and did.

5/5 stars

Just Listening to…Voivod – The Wake

Just Listening to…VOIVOD – The Wake

My first CD purchases of 2019 were based on lists:

  1. Tenacious D – Post-Apocalypto (Iron Tom’s list)
  2. Voivod – The Wake (Uncle Meat and Tom’s lists)

Tom and Meat both praised the new Voivod, so was a must.  The Meat Man happened to be online when I was giving first spin to both.  I struck up a conversation about the new Voivod, which went something like this:

Meat : Its The Voivod.

LeBrain : What do you mean?

Meat : Its a thing. Its The Voivod. Nothing before them was The Voivod. The phrase “one of a kind” is thrown around a lot, but is quite accurate about them in the literal sense. They are The Voivod.

LeBrain : I get you.

Meat : Sex Pistols meets Queensryche.

LeBrain : Yeah but more too.  Rush.  It’s really amazing they were able to carry on after Piggy. He didn’t play “normal” at all.

Meat : It’s still The Voivod. Even with a different writer. It lives within somewhere.

He said it way better than I could.  They are The Voivod and even with two “newer” members (guitarist Chewy and bassist Rocky), they still sound exactly like The Voivod.   A large part of this is singer/lyricist Snake, who has a voice identified with Voivod.  Away (drums) is also a vital component, always supplying the quirky rhythms and sci-fi cover art.

The Wake is a concept album but the story isn’t obvious on one listen.  “Scrolling down in paradise, absorbed by your next device.”  The setting is certainly familiar.  What The Wake does is bring classic progressive melodic elements into The Voivod.  This creates a swirly metal landscape, past present and future.

This is going to be an album that requires several spins before a deeper analysis.  Voivod’s icy brand of Quebec heavy metal can be cold as a Canadian winter.  Voivod will be getting plenty of play before it warms up again.

1. “Obsolete Beings” 5:35
2. “The End of Dormancy” 7:42
3. “Orb Confusion” 6:00
4. “Iconspiracy” 5:16
5. “Spherical Perspective” 7:41
6. “Event Horizon” 6:11
7. “Always Moving” 5:12
8. “Sonic Mycelium” 12:24

Sunday Chuckle: A Shaft & Two Balls

This one comes from sometimes-contributor Thussy!


Do companies not pay people to look at what products look like before they release them?  I can just hear them all in the boardroom.  “See, you hold it by the shaft and rub the balls on your face.”

 

 

REVIEW: The Buddy Holly Story – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1978)

THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1978 Epic)

The Buddy Holly Story was a remarkable movie, not because it was terribly accurate (it wasn’t).  Some of the best music biopics, like The Buddy Holly Story, feature the movie cast doing the singing and playing.  In a rare stroke of fortune, Gary Busey was cast as the perfect Buddy Holly.  He could sing enough like the rock and roll legend, and with some curly hair and glasses, Busey fit the bill.

The “Clear Lake Medley” is made up of Buddy’s greatest hits like “Peggy Sue”, “That’ll Be the Day”, “Oh Boy”, “Maybe Baby”, and “Not Fade Away”.  They’re amped-up, made to sound like the live concert experience.  Busey’s more manic in this setting than the old familiar studio versions.

The most interesting track, possibly, is the a-Capella “I’m Gonna Love You Too”, with just Gary Busey’s voice.  You can’t fake it in that setting.  The guy managed to sound enough like Buddy Holly through this whole soundtrack that you often drift away and forget that’s what it is.  The suspension of disbelief is complete.

All this and you’ll get a collection of some pretty amazing songs too.  You’ll know most of ’em, including “Everyday” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”.  As seen in the film, “Everyday” is a slow, ballady version.  That is certainly compensated for by the “Roller Rink Medley”, another adrenaline-pumped live set.

Truly a great soundtrack and a worthy addition for Buddy Holly fans.

4.5/5 stars