Author: mikeladano

Metal, hard rock, rock and roll! LeBrain's Record Store Tales & Reviews!

REVIEW: Queens of the Stone Age – Villains (2017)

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – Villains (2017 Matador double vinyl)

At my heart, I am a skeptic.

I was skeptical that Star Trek: Discovery would be any good, and that it wouldn’t piss all over the fans.  (It was and it didn’t.)  I like to share light doses of my skepticism with social media followers.  One record I have been consistently skeptical about is the new Queens of the Stone Age, Villains.    The first single, “The Way You Used to Do” did little for me.  It sounded more like Eagles of Death Metal than my beloved Queens.  Craig Fee over at 107.5 DaveRocks dubbed it “The Way You Used to Write Good Songs”.

Skepticism remained high, but vocal friends such as the trusted J at Resurrection Songs urged me to be open minded and give it a listen.  Fast forward to September 2017.  While browsing at my local Sunrise Records, one of the new Queens songs came on.  I liked it.

“I’m going to ask her if this is the new Queens,” I said to myself, “and if it is, I’m going to buy it.  On vinyl.”

It was and so that’s what I did.  The song was called “Fortress”.

My fears were assuaged on first listen.  “Mark Ronson’s a pop producer,” I thought.  Ronson has probably never recorded anything as heavy as “Song for the Dead”, but the songs on Villains have their own heaviness.  It comes from a deeper place.  It’s not about the volume of the guitars and the speed of the drums, but the melding of parts in a simmering cauldron.  Even “The Way You Used to Do” has grown on me.  The stuttering guitars are layered brilliantly within that dance beat.

Villains‘ nine songs  are a unique concoction, like Queens meets Faith No More meets David Bowie at the Apple store.  You might miss Nick Oliveri or Mark Lanegan (who doesn’t?), but the current Queens are still lethal.  Be lulled into the pulse and fuzzy landscapes of these new songs, and be slowly drawn to their unmistakable melodies.  They have always been eclectic, and Villains is the latest in that tradition.  With “Un-Reborn Again”, Josh Homme quotes from the Georgia Satellites “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”, on a song that sounds crafted from the leftovers of Van Halen’s “Sunday Afternoon in the Park”.

Why vinyl?  For the gatefold vinyl and the graphic etched fourth side.  Also for the rich sound and included mp3/Flac download.

If you are one of those who has a general “No Josh Homme” rule, this album will not convert you.  If you merely skeptical like I was, then be fearless and delve right in.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Mr. Big – Defying Gravity (2017 deluxe edition)

MR. BIG – Defying Gravity (2017 Frontiers CD/DVD edition)

I can still remember, very clearly, my thoughts about “To Be With You” when it finally became a hit in 1992.

“It’s a deserved hit,” I thought, “But that’s the end of Mr. Big having any chance of being seen as a serious band by the general public.”

Serious indeed.  Eric Martin had a previous career as a blue-eyed soul singer.  Paul Gilbert was in shred band Racer X with future Judas Priest drummer Scott Travis.  Pat Torpey was a well-known drummer for appearing on several shred rock albums, like Impelliteri.  And Billy Sheehan, of course, is generally listed as one of the top bassists of all time, with a period at the end.  These guys were not slouches.  But they did form a commercial rock band, and suffered the consequences that most commercial rock bands did in the 1990s.  They faded to obscurity.  Everywhere but Japan, where they continued to thrive as rock heroes.

It’s gratifying that 25 years later in 2017, Mr. Big have an album out that’s as good as any of their first four.  They even reunited with their original producer Kevin Elson.  But it’s all not peaches and cream.  Pat Torpey suffered a setback in 2014 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Undaunted, Torpey still worked with his loyal bandmates on Defying Gravity.  Just as before, he participated in shaping the songs, even though he was unable to play on them.  Ace Frehley’s drummer Matt Starr* has taken over live and recording duties, while Torpey wrote and produced the drum parts.  In the accompanying DVD, it’s very gratifying to see the band adapt seamlessly to this new reality.  They even have fun with it in the music videos, as Starr and Torpey play together and switch instruments.  Check out the lead single and title track for a great example of making it work.

Speaking of the lead single/video…holy shit, what a hook! Gilbert’s tricky and exotic timing and note choices are somehow bent and twisted into a pop song! It’s that schooled approach that makes certain Mr. Big songs completely unlike whatever is on the radio, but just as catchy.

All the songs have spark, and the solo work is untouchable.  Bluesy and funky hard rock is the basis of “Open Your Eyes”.  The second single (“Everybody Needs a Little Trouble”) stomps out a heavy blues rock beat.  On to “Damn I’m In Love Again”, Mr. Big take a drive into the country.  “Nothing Bad ‘Bout Feelin’ Good” is a hybrid, using the acoustics in a heavier way.  There are plenty more hit-quality highlights:  “Forever & Back”, and “She’s All Coming Back to Me Now”.  For the fans:  “Nothing At All”, the heavy rockin’ “1992” (a brilliant look back at the glory days), and “Be Kind” which is just a jaw dropping example of what these guys can do with just their voices, instruments and a song!

For a deeper understanding of this album, check out the deluxe edition with bonus DVD.**  Not only will you get all the music videos, but also behind the scenes segments on set, and the EPK (“electronic press kit”).  Finally there is a track by track analysis of every song featuring each member, and more behind the scenes footage.  This is where you’ll find the most insight.  Influences abound from the expected to the  unexpected.  From doo-wop to Christina Aguilera?  Why not.  The one with the beat cribbed from Aguilera is actually one of the heaviest and solo-dense tracks (“Mean to Me”).

Defying Gravity isn’t really a surprise, because Mr. Big have put out plenty of good albums over the recent years.  Perhaps it’s a bit more inspired.  It certainly has potential to be on a few “top ten of 2017” lists this year.

4/5 stars

* Matt Starr may in fact be a Klingon.  In the Original Series, Klingons looked much like humans, without their trademark head ridges.  What gives away Starr’s possible Klingon status is his dead ringer of a Klingon moustache and beard.

Matt Starr is the one with the drum head.

** I know what you’re thinkin’. “LeBrain, why didn’t you buy the Japanese edition with a bonus track?” This time out the only bonus track is a radio edit of “Defying Gravity” which, cost considered, I can live without.

Sunday Chuckle: Saddam Will Always Love You

Courtesy of Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader calendar.

#599: Tagged

GETTING MORE TALE #599: Tagged

 

Let’s say you’re in a store and you need help.  Who do you ask?

There are usually three good answers to this question:

  • Look for the checkout counter and ask the person there.
  • Find a person wearing obvious store uniform/gear.
  • See if someone is wearing a “STAFF” tag.

We had “STAFF” tags in the Record Store days, as well as store shirts and hats.  Fortunately they didn’t have our names on them.  Wearing one of these was compulsory, but lots of people hated wearing the tags.  They were printed on card stock paper, laminated and punched with a hole for a lanyard.  Ugly and cheap.  They were quite large – about 5” x 7”.  They bent, frayed and ripped quite easily.

“See, they look like a backstage pass,” the boss used to say to assuage us.  They did not look like a backstage pass, except maybe for some crappy highschool band.

People hated wearing them because they made us feel like walking billboards.  The boss used to say he’d walk in the store and see the staff immediately put their tags on, because they hadn’t been wearing them.  It was true!  And some stuff refused to wear the T-shirts or hats too.  Presumably for fashion-conscious reasons.  One higher-up in particular always got a free pass on wearing tags and shirts.  I wore mine all the time, because there was nothing wrong with our staff shirts.

In fact I still have one.  My blue store sweatshirt was amazing, and it has come with me on many adventures since.  I slightly modified it after I quit the store.  I sewed on a patch for the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology (which I visited in Drumheller, Alberta), over where the store logo was embroidered in.  That didn’t fool guys like Tom, who immediately recognized the shirt from the store.  It did fool lots of other people!  “Where did you get the cool Tyrrell sweatshirt?”  I donated the rest of my old staff shirts and hats to Goodwill, but I will always keep my old “Tyrell” sweater from the Record Store.  It has a hole in it and I do not care.  I have always loved that shirt.

Regardless of comfort or style, I think there was one overwhelming reason why staff hated wearing those tags.  It’s because you’d be out working on the floor, when some goof asks, “Do you work here?”

Once I answered, “Nah, I just wear this for fun.”  Fortunately the guy got the joke.

I will say this.  Wearing a staff tag is still a hell of a lot better than an apron for flipping burgers.

 

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – The Ritz, NYC 12/08/1988

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 34

 – The Ritz, NYC, 12th August 1988 (from 4 CD set Radio Waves 1974-1988) (2015 American Icons broadcast release)

At last, we are at the end of the Crazy Nights era.  Radio broadcasts are the next best thing to a bootleg.  Actually, strike that.  Radio broadcast CDs are often better than bootlegs.  The audio is usually decent because it’s a professionally recorded broadcast.  They are almost always cheaper than an equivalent bootleg CD too.  Broadcast discs are easily found on various Amazon sites and all over Ebay.  Thanks to their abundance, sometimes you can even choose from multiple releases of the same concerts.

One such show is Kiss’ 1988 performance at the Ritz in New York in 1988.  It’s a tight, hot Crazy Nights recording, but there are pros and cons to the different releases.  There was a 2013 Gold Fish release of the Ritz concert, called The Ritz on Fire, reviewed here.  Fans immediately noted that “Reason to Live” was missing, although others had “Reason to Live” on different releases.  In fact The Ritz on Fire is missing two songs:  “Bang Bang You” is the other.

To get all the songs, one recommended version is the 4 CD set The Very Best of Kiss – Radio Waves 1974-1988.  Inside you will get:

  • Disc 1:  Agora Ballroom, Cleveland, April 1 1974.  We reviewed a better version of this show with bonus tracks from ABC In Concert and the Mike Douglas Show.
  • Discs 2 & 3:  Animalize Live Uncensored 1985.   Missing some of the stage raps, but including all the songs from the original VHS release.
  • Disc 4:  The Ritz NYC 1988.  All the songs, but missing some of the stage raps.

Nothing’s perfect.  These broadcasts are quirky that way.  You can buy Radio Waves 1974-1988 to get all the songs from the Ritz show, but not all of Paul’s stage raps.  You could, of course, compile the best of the two versions together into one custom complete concert.  The sound quality is virtually the same.  What about an official release?  The only Kiss-produced media of this concert is a rare 11 song bonus DVD that came with Kissology Vol. 2, but only at US Best Buy.

Regardless of which version you buy, this concert has a good reputation with fans and it is easy to hear why.  Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick rose to the challenge and gave a Kiss a hard, professional sheen.  Meanwhile, behind the curtain stood Gary Corbett, thickening up the sound with additional  keyboards and backing vocals.  Paul Stanley was in his prime, hitting notes only dogs could hear.  Meanwhile Gene Simmons was present in body if not spirit.  Notably, “Shout it Out Loud” was performed at the Ritz, making it a rare 80s appearance of that song.  “Dr. Love” was also something of a rarity at the time.

Choose according to your own preferences, but don’t be afraid to pick up some version of Kiss at the Ritz.

Today’s rating:

4/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2014/01/27

GUEST REVIEW: Rush – “Distant Early Warning” (1984) by Aaron Lebold

I asked Aaron Lebold if he wouldn’t mind throwing in a few words about “Distant Early Warning” for my Grace Under Pressure review.  He sent me 772 words!  So here’s an entire separate post for you — Aaron Lebold on “Distant Early Warning”.

 

RUSH – “Distant Early Warning” / “Between the Wheels” (1984 Anthem)

by Aaron Lebold

Mike has asked me to do a review on the song “Distant Early Warning” by Rush.  When I first met Mike I quickly realized that Rush was one of his favorite bands,* and though he showed me a lot of their work, this song was the one that always stuck out to me the most.

My interpretation of the song may be a bit different now than it was when I first heard it; one of the greatest things about music is that its personal meaning can shift depending on what is going on in your own life.  I find musical interpretation to be completely personal, and what you take from it may be completely different than what the artist even intended.**

I was always reluctant to hear the artists of the songs I enjoyed explain them, as it could feel very crushing if the impact it had on me was not the actual meaning. I will explain what this song means to me, but that doesn’t mean I’m right.  It does mean that I am able to see why it had relevance to me, and if you have found a different interpretation, you are not wrong.

“An ill wind comes arising, Across the cities of the plain, There’s no swimming in the heavy water, No singing in the acid rain, Red alert, Red alert”

To me this is the ability to foresee an event, there is a metaphoric storm on its way, and it is serious enough for us to stop our own distractions, and unhealthy coping strategies in order to prepare for what is ahead.

“It’s so hard to stay together, Passing through revolving doors, We need someone to talk to, And someone to sweep the floors, Incomplete,  Incomplete”

This talks about the separation among us as people to me; we all tend to find our own paths and some of us become relevant to each other, where others become lower class, and we may see them as nothing more than the person who is sweeping the floors for us. This type of discrimination makes us incomplete as a human race.

“Cruising under your radar, Watching from satellites, Take a page from the red book, And keep them in your sights, Red alert, Red alert”

This again is a reference to having greater insight than others may possess. Being able to observe a situation undetected and being able to gather forethought about what the results may be.  The Red Book is a reference to Psychology, and this suggests using that manner of thinking as you move forward.

“Left and rights of passage, Black and whites of youth, Who can face the knowledge, That the truth is not the truth, Obsolete, Absolute, yeah”

To me this makes reference to our way of thinking, and things we may have misinterpreted as priority.  Rights of passage is the idea of moving from one group to another, and relates to social classes and advancement. Separating the races of children is another method of creating a divide.  The truth could refer to the idea that we are all one class and one collective  group of people, and that a lot of our perceptions are obsolete in the big picture.

“The world weighs on my shoulders, But what am I to do? You sometimes drive me crazy, But I worry about you”

To me this means that even though I may have my own problems, and I don’t always agree with someone’s actions, I still care for them and can’t help but notice when they seem to be heading in a bad direction.

“I know it makes no difference, To what you’re going through, But I see the tip of the iceberg
And I worry about you”

This basically means to me, that I am aware that my insight does not change your situation, but I can see the bigger picture and it makes me worried about how it may end up affecting you.  The Tip of the Iceberg is of course a reference to the Titanic, and how there is much more lurking under the water than is visible from the surface. The results can be potentially devastating, as they were for the historic vessel.

I can’t recall exactly what drew me to this song when I was younger, and I may have interpreted things differently back then, but the bottom line is that I found relevance and importance in the lyrics.  You may have a completely different take on this song, which is great.  The best thing about music is using it to find our own connections, and get us through our own lives.

Aaron Lebold


* So he thought.  In 1994 I was still a Rush poser.  I only owned Chronicles.  

 

** “Distant Early Warning” was written about the loneliness of someone who worked the DEW Line- a system of radar stations in the far northern Arctic region of Canada set up to detect incoming Soviet bombers during the Cold War, and provide early warning of any sea-and-land invasion. – wikipedia

REVIEW: Rush – Grace Under Pressure (1984)

Part one of a two-parter.

RUSH – Grace Under Pressure (1984 Anthem, 2011 Universal remaster)

When Rush followed 1982’s synth-driven Signals, they said goodbye to producer Terry Brown.  The band weren’t satisfied with the sonics of Signals and wanted to try working with different people.  They chose Steve Lillywhite, who wasn’t available, and so used Peter Henderson.  The album Grace Under Pressure was one of their most difficult to make.  Perhaps this is why it has such a cold, dark aura.

Even if Grace Under Pressure has a downer vibe, the first side is excellent.  Few albums have a strong an opener as “Distant Early Warning”.  Rush’s recent penchant for keyboards is front and center.  It also boasts one of their most catchy choruses:  “I see the tip of the iceberg and I worry about you.”  This single is a perfect storm of hooks, tension and biting guitars.

The album as a whole shows new influences.  “Afterimage” has a contemporary 80s new wave sound, but “Rushified”.*  Alex Lifeson in particular seemed to draw new influence from Andy Summers of the Police.  Reggae and ska became a part of the band’s arsenal, with Lifeson deftly handling those enigmatic chords.  “The Enemy Within” is one track that shows off these tricky new rhythms, in a frantically rocking way.  Synths and sequencers are a part of the picture on “Red Sector A”.  This post-apocalyptic track utilizes robotic rhythms to paint a picture of a future world.  “Are we the last ones left alive?  Are we the only human beings to survive?”  The lyrics are actually inspired by Geddy Lee’s mother, a holocaust survivor.  With the digital pulse beneath, you could just as easily imagine it’s about The Terminator.**

The second side also has memorable tracks such as “The Body Electric”.  This number definitely has a Blade Runner-like future setting.  “One humanoid escapee, One android on the run, Seeking freedom beneath the lonely desert sun.”  And how many songs can you name with lyrics in binary?  A lesser Rush song, “Kid Gloves”, is upbeat but not legendary.  “Red Lenses” is also somewhat forgettable, except for Peart fans who will savour every little moment of exotic and electronic percussion.

Rush saved the longest track for last, “Between the Wheels”, a melancholy but challenging track that reminds of the old school progressive Rush.  Backing guitars are exchanged for keyboards, but Lifeson uses the guitar to make unorthodox sounds.

It’s unfortunate that Grace Under Pressure has a brittle and icy production.  While that definitely works on “Red Sector A” and “Distant Early Warning”, one wonders what side two would sound like if it were a little fuller.

4/5 stars

 

* “Rushified” is a word coined by Paul Rudd in the film I Love You Man.

** Aaron Lebold will return tomorrow to discuss Rush lyric interpretation.

REVIEW: KISS – In the Land of the Rising Sun (live 1988 bootleg)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 33

 – In the Land of the Rising Sun (Big Boy Records bootleg from 1988 tour)

If you are in the mood for some live Kiss from the late 80s, then your journey might just come to an end here: Kiss at the Budokan, Tokyo Japan, April 22 1988. It’s not the last live Kiss from 1988 that we’ll examine, but it’s decent.  This 2 CD set boasts a more extensive track selection than Monsters of Rock, recorded in Germany in August.  It’s an audience recording, but above average quality.  It sounds like it is sourced from a previous vinyl generation.

In Germany, Kiss opened with “Deuce”, but in Japan, they didn’t even play it.  Instead they opened with “Love Gun”, chased immediately with some “Cold Gin”.  Therefore, it’s cool to have a couple bootlegs from this tour, to get a broader range of songs.  Japan also heard “Bang Bang You” from Crazy Nights.  Not a highlight to be sure, but a rarity that Kiss fans will want in their bootleg collection.  In a strange twist, “Fits Like a Glove” is split into two tracks, just like it was on the Germany CD, made by a completely different company.

Bruce Kulick’s solo before “No No No” is much longer, leading us to think that the solo on the Germany CD was edited for length.  This is the one to check out, to hear what kind of solo Bruce was playing in 1988.  Kulick is continuously impressive.  He always does justice to the original Ace Frehley (or Vinnie Vincent) ideas, but by playing his own solos with the right feel.  His technique is all but flawless.  This disc also has the Eric Carr drum solo and Gene’s bass solo intro to “I Love it Loud”.

There are plenty of tunes here that either weren’t played in Germany or just weren’t on that CD:  “Bang Bang You” (see above), “Calling Dr. Love”, “Reason to Live”, “War Machine”, “Lick It Up”, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”, “Shout it Out Loud”, and “Strutter”.  “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” hadn’t been played live since 1980.

Almost every bootleg CD I own has some amusing mistake or quirk that I enjoy picking out.  This has a couple.  The label can’t decide if it’s named “Big Boy” (inner sleeve) or “Big Apple” (disc itself).  There are three “producers” and two “engineers” credited, for a bootleg CD.  I guess Eddie Kramer wasn’t available.  Kiss is credited on the disc as — not Kiss! — as the “Metal Boys of New York”!  Finally, in order to appear that nobody was making money off Kiss’ back, it is claimed on the CD that this “promotional copy” is “not for sale”.

Don’t let that deter you.  Buy it if you find it.

3.5/5 stars

 

#598: “Seven”

Here’s a very special story for a very special day. September 18th is the day I met my wife! Happy “meetaversary” sweetie.

GETTING MORE TALE #598: “Seven”

When dating, there are many rites of passage on the road to a long term relationship.  For either sex, one of the usual hurdles is meeting the “best friend”.  If the best friend doesn’t like you, your whole relationship could be doomed.  It happened to me and it could happen to you!

I met Mrs. LeBrain on Sept 18 2005.  We made contact like most people these days, first online and then in person.  Meeting people online in 2005 wasn’t as mundane as it is today.  Jen had never met someone from online before.  We’ve told the tale of meeting before – from both perspectives.  Mine was Record Store Tales #111:  The Girl in the Sam Roberts Shirt.  Her version was Getting More Tale #434:  The Man in the Bob Marley Shirt.  Needless to say, music is important to both of us.

There was one thing Jen failed to do, and that was inform her best friend Lara that she was meeting someone over the internet.  She knew Lara wouldn’t approve.  Once we started dating regularly, she had to come clean.  As predicted Lara wasn’t impressed that she would go and meet some random internet dude without telling her.  She was in trouble!  And so was I, just for existing secretly!

Jen arranged a coffee meet up.  We picked up Lara and her friend Dave, and headed over to the nearest Tim Horton’s.  I was pleasantly surprised by Lara.  Jen had made her out to sound evil and dangerous.  She seemed anything but!  Funny, smart, and clearly someone who cared deeply for her best friend.  We got along immediately.

At one point in the evening, Lara asked me, “On a scale from one to 10, how pissed off would you be?”

I didn’t understand.  “Pardon?”

“On a scale from one to 10, how pissed off would you be?” she answered.

“Well, I’m a pretty easy going guy, so I’d say about a three.”  Hypothetically, of course.

Secretly, inside, Jen was worried what this meant.  She said nothing, nor did Dave.

We continued to drink our coffee and chat.  Lara liked science fiction, so we had that in common.  In Canada, sitting around a Tim Horton’s all night drinking coffee (or tea in Lara’s case) is a pretty common pastime.  My wife can really drink coffee like a champion.  If there was a Stanley Cup of Coffee, she would win it every season.

We made tentative plans for a future meet up, when suddenly –

RRRRRRRIIIIIP!

Lara reached over, grabbed my soul patch hair, the part right below my bottom lip, and YANKED HARD.  I looked wide-eyed to see my own facial hair in her fingers.

She asked again, “On a scale from one to 10, how pissed off would you be?”

My answer was immediate.  “SEVEN!  DEFINITELY SEVEN!”

And that is why to this day, all of Lara’s kids and their friends call me “Uncle Seven”.  My nickname became Seven, irreversibly and permanently.  It’s been over ten years and I’m still Uncle Seven.  In fact, here is an actual conversation that I had with her son Tyler, and his girlfriend.  It was Tyler’s 19th birthday:

Mike:  “Tyler, you’re an adult now, you don’t have to call me Uncle Seven anymore.  Just call me Mike.”

Tyler:  “OK Seven.”

Girlfriend:  “Wait…your name is Mike? I thought it was Seven.”

Mike:  “…You thought my real name was Seven?!  Who the hell would name their kids a number?!”

Girlfriend:  “There’s a girl named Eleven.”

Mike:  “Yeah!  On a TV show!  And it wasn’t her real name!!”

 

The fact that I took Lara’s little “test” as a joke meant that our friendship was solidly guaranteed.  I passed!  We’ve been tight ever since.

 

Sunday Chuckle: Oh, Nevermind!

Because “the innocence of babies” and “the pain of childbirth” are exactly what I think of when it comes to Nirvana’s music.