REVIEW: Max Webster – Universal Juveniles (1980)

Scan_20150717 (3)MAX WEBSTER – Universal Juveniles (1980 Alert)

“1980 will be a year long remembered.  It has seen the end of Max Webster, and will soon see the end of Led Zeppelin.” — Darth Vader

All good things must indeed come to an end.  If there was one band — just one band! — out of the Great White North that truly deserved better things, it was Max Webster.  Much like their soul mate, Frank Zappa, Max Webster had successfully inserted humour into complex progressive rock songs.  The big difference was that Max tended to keep it to guitar-bass-keyboards-drums.  Their musicianship was unimpeachable.  Much like Bubbles shouted out “Geddy Lee! Neil Peart! Alex Lifeson!” to emphasize the awesomeness of Rush, I shout “Kim Mitchell! Terry Watkinson! Gary McCracken!”

Maybe it was the skinny balding front man in the tights, the weird but deep lyrics, or the goofy keyboards.  One way or another, Max Webster never saw the success that their friends Rush did, and Universal Juveniles would be the last Max record.  Genius keyboardist Terry Watkinson was out of the band, although he did play on the album.  Kim Mitchell folded the band mid-tour after the record, unable to hack it any longer.

Kim’s smoking chops open “In The World of Giants”, perhaps the world that Rush occupied and Max failed to enter.  Max sound stripped back, with minimal piano and keyboards.  What a song though.  Surely “In the World of Giants” is one of Max Webster’s most breakneck rock songs, albeit with the complexity of riff and licks that you would expect.  At the same time, do I sense a certain amount of fatigue, between the grooves?

There’s no detectable tiredness on “Check”, which will wake you right the fuck up!  There’s nothing like a good, joyous, loaded-with-all-the-guitar-fixin’s Max Webster romp.  Want some shredding?  “Check this out!”  At only 2 1/2 minutes, “Check” is all it needs to be — in and out, the mission of kicking ass all complete.  Yet Max Webster was not about simply rocking, so “April in Toledo” brings some funk.  The classic refrain of “I wanna run to Niagara, I’ll cry and cry in the dark” is joined by gleeful guitars, to create the picture perfect mixture of Max confection perfection.  I’m still sitting here scratching my head wondering how Kim got that weird guitar sound in the solo so perfect, but I’m soon distracted by another awesome chorus.

“Juveniles Don’t Stop” is a Max party anthem; not as memorable as “The Party” itself, but still good to crank with some cold ones.  Don’t get too loaded though — you don’t want to miss the double barrelled blast that is “Battle Scar”.  What could be more epic than a duet with Rush vocalist Geddy Lee?  Oh, how about doing the whole song with Rush — a double trio!  That’s two bass guitars opening the song.  That’s Neil Peart and Gary McCracken providing the dual beats.  (You sure can tell when it’s Neil doing a drum roll, that’s for sure!)  That’s Alex Lifeson accompanying Kim Mitchell in a legendary guitar team-up.  Geddy Lee, in peak voice, provides the vocal chills necessary to top off such an epic alignment.  Truly, “Battle Scar” is not just an important song for Canadian rock, but a track that any serious rock fan should seek out and own.  You simply owe it to yourself to do so.

There’s some sneaky understated goodness in “Chalkers” but I find it to be one of the less memorable tracks.  It’s notable for containing the phrase “universal juveniles” in the lyrics, lending it for the album title.  “Drive and Desire” is a bigger song, a sizeable rocker with a nice bluesy vibe.  McCracken’s drums on this one are purely delicious.  Even better is the slow mournful “Blue River Liquor Shine”.  It foreshadows some of the songs on Kim’s excellent solo EP, Kim Mitchell.  A proud achievement, “Blue River Liquor” does indeed shine with Max classics of the past.

“What Do You Do With the Urge” is a wreckless Max party rocker, just in time to set us up for the final Max Webster song — the last one ever, sadly.  “Cry Out for Your Life” lurches like a wounded soldier crawling to the warmth of safety.  Loads of Max class abound, but there does seem to be less glee, less shimmer.  Perhaps the end was inevitable.  Although Kim and the gang turned in another jaw dropping Max Webster record, something was wrong and it sounds somewhat forced at times.

Kim Mitchell had tremendous success with his solo career in Canada.  Anthems such as “Go For Soda” have been immortalized in our memories, and on our TV sets.  Who can forget the moment in Season 7 of Trailer Park Boys, when Bubbles goes to “rock a piss”, and Ricky responds, “You go rock a piss, I’m gonna get ‘er going with the Mitchell!”  Then: Bubbles peeing to the tune of “Go For Soda”, bopping his head in time with the music!  Just classic.  On the more sentimental side, Kim appealed to the adults in the crowd with “Patio Lanterns” and “Easy To Tame”.  He really aimed to please everybody….

…Except the fans of old, goofy Max progressive rock.  Universal Juveniles is its capstone.

4.5/5 stars

Advertisements

49 comments

  1. Nice job. I love all of Max’s stuff. I wish I had jotted down a few notes the night I saw the reunited Max Webster at Lulu’s. I remember it being awesome.
    I am also still curious aboit the whereabouts of Pye Dubois, and what became of the other members of Max.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was at the Lulu’s reunion show too, in all it’s glory. Was a huge thing for me. A long time friend and ex-bandmate of mine…. Him and I went and saw a Max tribute act (fittingly called Universal Juveniles actuallly).. and have loved them and always dreamed of actually seeing Max live. Dream cone true show indeed.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, forgive me for not catching your clever Max Webster lyrical wordplay from a song I’ve never heard and would have no way of knowing that’s where it was from. I am clearly not as in-the-know as you are (already admitted). I only read the words you posted and took them at face value, which created internet drama. You win. You are superior. Congratulations. Again, I hope you enjoy your day.

        Like

        1. You are all fine gentlemen and I am sure no harm was intended. It’s the internet, people say stuff and it comes out wrote or gets taken wrong.

          Anyway I’ve decided to grab the second Max album High Class in Borrowed Shoes and give that one a spin tonight to see if I can crank out a review. I’ve already done Max’s first and now last. May as well keep going.

          Like

    1. Ladies and gentleman if you look to your left you will see an endangered species. The mammal known as Non Universal Juvenilesus. There are less than a handful left in Canada. They are known to love Lager & Ale, oftrn Go for a Soda, but also end up with a Hangover. It is the only mammal on the endangered species list that people are hoping become extinct.

      ;)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh I dunno about endangered. Just because I don’t always listen to the same types of music as other people, doesn’t make me endangered. I didn’t even grow up on the rock, like you guys did. So from your perspective, I’d say call it a massive game of catch-up more than any sort of ignorance.

        I’m listening to it on the youtubes now, if that helps.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I just assumed(you know what happens when you assume) that.all Canadians grew up knowing and loving Max. Maybe I’m the endangered one. I think Kim Mitchell tunes backtracked many into the Max.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. My own musical past included some Kim (on the radio, mostly), but not the Max. That might make me an anomaly, but I don’t tend to think of it that way. I just followed my own path through things. That I’m getting to this stuff now is at least better late than never.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Here’s my Max story.

          I had heard of the band. MuchMusic mentioned them. I had never heard any tunes. When I started at the record store, a copy of Max’s first album came in. Trevor grabbed it immediately but let me listen to it. “If you like Kim, you gotta hear the first Max! It’s his best album!” Something like that.

          So I put it on, and HATED it. Hated. Didn’t get what Trev was about at all. I took it off after Toronto Tontos. Like what the fuck was that.

          Then about 3 years later, Universal Juveniles came in store and this time I dove in, and it clicked!

          Like

        1. So Scott tells me to buy a remaster, and you get my original. I just figured out a good way for AAAA to get more free CDs. Just get Scott to convince me I need to upgrade mine.

          Like

  2. I often see this in the second hand vinyl bins… but I’m still unfamiliar with this band. I guess I’ll have to take the plunge eventually and I’ll probably start with this one when I do, after reading this! There goes “Useful Mike” again!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Totally. I feel like I’ve got more of an excuse with this one cause I’m not Canadian. But yeah, there’s too much music around to have heard everything. I’d hate to think I had already heard everything worth hearing! That’s why sites like Mike’s are so… USEFUL.

        “What’s my name? Useful Mike
        That name again it’s Useful Mike”

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You’ve been an honorary Canadian for 2 1/2 years though.

          It’s a that even to this day, Max are just not recognized around the world the way Rush are. In many ways Max could have been bigger. I think neither band is especially accessible, but Max are infinitely more fun. Rush wore kimono, Max wore tights. There is a lesson there somewhere.

          I like being useful. I AM THE ANTI-JAR JAR!

          Liked by 1 person

    1. What does a Max album go for in a second hand bin?

      I have a David Lee Roth review coming up, that has a Max connection. Guess who played bass for Max for about three weeks near the end of the band? Billy Sheehan. But it goes further and I hope you enjoy it.

      Liked by 1 person

Rock a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s