Author: mikeladano

Metal, hard rock, rock and roll! LeBrain's Record Store Tales & Reviews! Poking the bear since 2010.

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Pandora’s Box (1991)

AEROSMITH – Pandora’s Box (1991 Columbia box set)

Aerosmith were out of the gates fairly early into their career when their first anthology style box set was released in 1991.  They were still going strong, at the peak of their popularity.  Their career had two distinct eras marked by the record labels they were signed to:  first Columbia, and then a resurgence with Geffen.

There was also a long gap between Aerosmith studio albums.  Pump was released in ’89 but it took them four years to come up with Get A Grip.  While Geffen waited for Aerosmith to complete Get A Grip, their old label Columbia was allowed to release compilations.  In late 1991 they put out a brand new video for a remixed “Sweet Emotion”, although ironically the remixed version wasn’t included in the forthcoming Pandora’s Box set.  Regardless, there was a stop-gap.  November saw the release of Pandora’s Box just in time for Christmas, with three CDs of music, including a whopping 25 rare, unreleased, or remixed tracks.

Disc 1

They hit you right from the start with a rarity:  Steven Tyler’s “When I Needed You” from 1966 and his band Chain Reaction.  You can barely tell it’s the same singer, but this quaint number is a great opener for a box set with this kind of scope.  Basic 60s rock with a hint of psychedelia.  Onto the first album, it’s “Make It” with an unlisted false start — another cool touch.  “Movin’ Out” is a completely different take than the one from the debut.  It’s superior because it’s harder and more raw.  (Did Pearl Jam rip off part of the guitar lick for “Alive”?)  “One Way Street” is the album version, but an unreleased “On the Road Again” is a fun laid back jam.  Clearly B-side material, but it’s Aerosmith and light and loose.

A sax-laden “Mama Kin” from the first album is the first bonafide hit presented, and like most of the hits in the set, it’s the original version.  It is immediately obvious from the upbeat groove just why it was a hit.  Up next, it’s the slick “Same Old Song and Dance”, the heavy “Train Kept A Rollin'” and haunting “Seasons of Wither”, all from Get Your Wings.  Major props for including the underappreciated “Seasons of Wither” in this box as the song has never had the exposure it deserves.  According to the liner notes, it was written by Steven Tyler on a guitar found by Joey Kramer in a dumpster.  The fretting on the guitar was “fucked” but it had a special tone.  The tuning of that guitar “forced” the song right out of Tyler.

An unreleased live version of “Write Me a Letter” from 1976 is overshadowed by the song that follows it.  It’s the “big one”, the ballad “Dream On”, and usually the centerpiece of any side that it’s on.  The random placement on the second half of CD 1 is a little puzzling.  The title track “Pandora’s Box” follows, a dirty slow funk.

The first disc closes on a trio of rarities.  A 1971 radio jam on Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake”  goes on for 10 awesome minutes and dominates the disc.  They swiftly follow that with “Walkin’ the Dog” from the same radio broadcast.  Finally, a slinky “Lord of the Thighs” from the Texxas Jam closes CD 1.  Two more Texxas Jam tracks can be found midway through CD 2, which is mildly annoying.

Disc 2

The second disc represents the musical growth of Aerosmith.  A massive “Toys in the Attic” builds on the past:  more energy, better production, more speed.  “Round and Round” is Sabbath-heavy, a sound the band rarely explored.  Only “Nobody’s Fault” (which comes later on this disc) stands as a heavier Aerosmith monolith.

Behind the scenes Aerosmith were suffering from drug-induced absences in the studio.  One day when Joe Perry and Steven Tyler were late, the core trio of Joey Kramer, Brad Whitford, and Tom Hamilton just  jammed.  The result is “Krawhitham”, a menacing unheard jam.  It’s a testament to the “other three” guys in the band and features some stunning playing even if the riff is a bit lacking.  This rough and ready track is followed by four slick Toys in the Attic hits in a row:  “You See Me Crying”, “Sweet Emotion” (the original mix), “No More No More” and “Walk This Way”.  Each song different, each song perfect.  “You See Me Crying” may be the most underrated Aerosmith ballad ever released.

Two more Texxas Jam tracks occupy the middle of disc two:  “I Wanna Know Why” and “Big Ten Inch Record”.  These jams are a blast, but why not bunch all the Texxas tracks together?  Next, “Rats in the Cellar” from Rocks has the same energy as “Toys in the Attic” but with a nastier bite.  “Last Child” is a remix, a slight one at that.  The bass sounds deeper.  An unreleased Otis Rush cover follows called “All Your Love”.  This electric blues is fully formed with a satisfying mix and could easily have made an album.  Why didn’t it make Draw the Line?  That album already had a cover, “Milk Cow Blues” (included here on disc 3) so it is unlikely they wanted two.  Did they choose the right song?

The aforementioned “Nobody’s Fault” is preceded with a snippet of the demo, called “Soul Saver”.  It truly is a monster of a track and one of the band’s few true heavy metal songs.  Nuclear holocaust is a perfect theme for metal, but Tyler’s lyrics are more thoughtful than many of his competitors.  His tormented vocal is one of his career best.  “Sorry, you’re so sorry, don’t be sorry.  Man has known, and now he’s blown it upside down, and hell’s the only sound.  We did an awful job, and now they say it’s nobody’s fault.”

“Lick and a Promise” is a necessary speedy shot in the arm.  Though “Adam’s Apple” is replaced by a live version from 1977, it is the sonic blueprint for a million bands that tried to copy Tyler’s sleazy antics.  Two Draw the Line tracks close the CD:  the title track itself (remixed), and “Critical Mass” .  Again the remix is slight.

Disc 3

The final CD is the decline, but not without plenty of high points.  (“High” points, get it?)  The first high point is a 1978 live version of “Kings and Queens”.  “Good evenin’ boss.  Been a long time coming,” greets Tyler to the hometown Boston crowd.  Live versions don’t usually surpass their studio counterparts, but this one might for its seasoned, raw vibe.”  Joe Perry’s backing vocals make it.

The previously mentioned “Milk Cow Blues” from Draw the Line is an upbeat shuffle, getting the blood pumping once more.  A snippet of a demo called “I Live in Connecticut” leads directly into “Three Mile Smile” from Night in the Ruts.  It allows you to hear how a tune evolves from an idea into a complete song.   You get to hear that again on “Let it Slide” and “Cheese Cake”.  If you love when Joe Perry pulls out his slide guitar, then you will love this pairing.  We’re well into the Aerosmith stuff that doesn’t get enough credit when it’s good.  “Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)” is another unsung gem…and the liner notes will tell you exactly what a “Coney Island white fish” is.  The autobiographical “No Surprize” is pretty fine too.

The Beatles cover “Come Together” was one of the very few worthwhile tracks on the awful movie soundtrack Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Fortunately for Aerosmith fans, it has long been available on their 1980 Greatest Hits.  And it’s not the last Beatles cover on this box set.  But it’s the last real hit before the disc takes a serious detour.

“Downtown Charlie” is really ragged; punk rock energy with nobody at home in quality control.  It sounds like one of their “drunken jams” according to Joe Perry in the liner notes.  Wicked playing but no cohesion.  And then they split — Brad Whitford with Whitford/St. Holmes, and Joe Perry with the Joe Perry Project.  Even this is documented.  “Sharpshooter” by Whitford/St. Holmes is a box set highlight, even though it sticks out like a sore thumb by sounding nothing like Aerosmith at all.  This is straight hard rock, with Derek St. Holmes on lead vocals.  Though an astounding vocalist, he is the Antityler and the song does not fit in any way on the tracklist.  Too bad since it’s such a great track.  More at home is Joe Perry’s “South Station Blues” from I’ve Got the Rock N’ Rolls Again.  It’s preceded by an Aerosmith demo called “Shit House Shuffle”.  Aerosmith didn’t use the riff, so Joe did on his solo album.  It totally works with his lead vocal, though it’s a shame Aerosmith never used the idea themselves.  Another wasted jam, “Riff and Roll”, had potential as the kernal of a song, but Tyler’s voice is completely shot.  You can hear what they were going for.  It could have worked on Done With Mirrors had they finished it.

Aerosmith carried on in 1982 with Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay replacing Perry and Whitford.  The resulting album Rock In a Hard Place was inconsistent but not without some gems.  “Jailbait” doesn’t indicate anything was out of place, a worthy followup to frantic manic blasts like “Rats in the Cellar”.  But they only lasted one album before cooler heads prevailed and the classic lineup reunited.

With Perry and Whitford back again, Aerosmith began recording new albums for Geffen.  Columbia still released Aerosmith albums regularly, like Classics Live and Classics Live II.  A previously unreleased oldie from the Get Your Wings days called “Major Barbra” was included as a bonus on Classics LivePandora’s Box includes a second version of “Major Barbra”, a rougher alternate take.  It’s a full minute longer than the version of Classics Live, including harmonica solo.  Another track Columbia released was the classic “Chip Away the Stone” (written by Richie Supa), on 1988’s Gems.  This obscure single never had a proper album release until then, despite its awesome nature.  The Pandora’s Box version is an alternate version, with noticeably less piano in the mix.

The penultimate track is the unreleased Beatles cover “Helter Skelter”, dating back to 1975.  This one got a bit of airplay in 1991 when the box set was released.  It is undoubtedly rough but with suitably aggressive and heavy hitting groove.  The box set is then closed by “Back in the Saddle”, an apt way to describe Aerosmith’s career since.

But wait, what’s this?  “There now, ain’t you glad you stayed?” asks Steven Tyler after a few seconds of silence.  Why, it’s the hidden bonus track!  The unlisted instrumental was written by Brad Whitford and actually titled “Circle Jerk”.  It is very similar to the previous “Krawhitham” instrumental on disc two, but heavier.

Now, what about that remixed “Sweet Emotion” that was released to promote the box set, but wasn’t actually on the box set?  The remix was done by David Thoener and featured some structural changes.  The music video was a smash hit.  You could buy it as a standalone single, with “Circle Jerk” and another unreleased instrumental bonus track called “Subway”.  All three were re-released again as bonus tracks in 1994 on the massive Box of Fire.  The Thoener remix has been issued many times over the years on compilations and movie soundtracks.

There’s little doubt that Pandora’s Box was good value for the money.  For the fans who didn’t have the albums, most of the hits are included in studio versions.  The remixes are minor enough for them not to notice.  For the rest, the wealth of unreleased bonus material justified buying three CDs.  Unlike other box sets like Led Zeppelin’s four disc airship, Pandora’s Box is not designed to be an ecstatic listening experience from start to finish.  It is a study in early Aerosmith from the roots to just before the reunion.  It is the rise and fall, and still fighting to get back up.  It is uneven with mountainous peaks of spontaneous rock and roll chemistry, and also the tired struggle to keep producing music.  Much like its subject, Aerosmith, Pandora’s Box is a flawed portrait.

3.5/5 stars

Sunday Screening: Coney Hatch – “Devil’s Deck” live at Maxwell’s

Live from Maxwell’s in Waterloo Ontario, it’s Coney Hatch with “Devil’s Deck”! Andy Curran – bass & vocals. Carl Dixon – guitar & vocals. Dave Ketchum – drums. Sean Kelly – guitar. Rock n’ Roll!

#896: Plans

RECORD STORE TALES #896: Plans

Plans.  Gotta make ’em, but sometimes nothing goes according to them.

Winter is over.  We made it through.  I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately acronymed as SAD), so winter is always a hard time.  It feels good to be on the other side of it, and not have to put on layers of warmth just to take out the garbage.

Last fall I made some plans to make it through the winter.  I completed some, and I left others unstarted.  That’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and what was winter 2020/21 but a shitty stale crumbled up cookie?

As we hunkered in for the winter, I gave myself a couple projects to keep me occupied.  One was continuing with the VHS Archives.  I accomplished very little on this.  I did not play any video tapes at all this year, and only uploaded videos I already had on my hard drive.  This season I only posted six videos.

I also wanted to teach myself Photoshop this winter.  I didn’t get anything done there.  As it turns out, I didn’t really have to, thanks to the generosity of friends.  Good ol’ T-Bone has donated his time and made plenty of great artwork for the LeBrain Train live show.  Plus our artist friend Saige did some great work too.  I’m so lucky that we have built such an amazing community of artists and writers together.

Speaking of the live show, I had one plan that I thought would be easy, but never came to be.  As a proud Canadian boy, I wanted to show some of our American friends (especially the one in Hawaii!) what a Canadian winter looks like.  I planned on doing a live show outdoors in a snow storm.  I thought that would be an absolute hoot.  The weather never really aligned with a good live stream day.  It was kind of a mild winter compared to others.

Looking back at the goals from the fall, there are two I did accomplish. One was to make a dashcam video of a shitty winter drive, set to the music of Max the Axe. I did that with “Magnum P.I.” and it is a great example of a typical winter commute.  The second mission accomplished was to keep on live streaming.  I still haven’t missed a week — knock wood.

I couldn’t have done it without my friends.  You know who you are.  Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re one of ’em.

Andy Curran + Mike Fraser = Epic Four Hour LeBrain Train!

That. Was. Epic!

0:32:00 Andy Curran (Coney Hatch/Soho 69/Caramel/Leisureworld) joined us with a flawless connection!  We picked up where we left off last week.  We also got a couple exclusives from Andy!  Stories you won’t read on the internet.  Stuff like:  auditioning for Doro Pesch in the mid 80s.  A project with Adrian Smith that never came to fruition.  Playing tennis with Steve Harris.  Working as A&R with Rush.  A wealth of information!

1:49:30 – Get ready to have your minds blown.  Mike Fraser joined the show, and we got to sit and watch as he and Andy bantered back and forth — old friends reunited.  This was truly a special moment to watch.  From there we questioned Mike on the new Lee Aaron, and his work with Thunder, Dio, Satriani, Malmsteen, Black ‘N Blue, Power Station, The Wild!, Jackyl, the Crue, Metallica and AC/DC among many.  This was Mike’s second appearance with us and we still had so much ground to cover!

I hope you enjoyed this supersized show.  Four hours of rock and roll for you!

NEXT WEEK:

List shows return with Desert Island Discs!  Featuring:  Harrison Kopp, Uncle Meat, John Snow, Rob Daniels and a bonus list from Holen.   Don’t miss it!

April 30:  T-Bone is back to talk Van Halen’s 5150 with myself and the Meat Man.

May 7:  Paul Laine with your co-host John Snow!

May 28:  Dave Lizmi of the Four Horsemen!

All aboard!

#895: Toxicity

RECORD STORE TALES #895: Toxicity

I get it.  I understand why people are surprised.  When a guy like me boasts about owning about 4000 CDs, you kind of expect certain things.  Surely, one of those 4000 CDs has to be so-and-so, right?

I’m fond of the saying “better late than never”.  There are always a variety of reasons for missing an important band in my collection.  Sometimes a band’s image turned me off.   That was true of Skid Row for a year or two.  I couldn’t get past Rachel’s nose chain.  In other instances, they weren’t what I was into during a younger phase of my life.   But on a couple of occasions, I avoided bands because they reminded me of people that I didn’t want to be reminded of.

I’ll give you an example:  The Boy Who Killed Pink Floyd.  Even if he didn’t burn me out by playing Floyd every single shift, he was such a shitty worker.  It took me years to finally take the plunge on Pink Floyd.   But I did, and I have most of the albums now.  Certainly all the critical ones and then some.  I mean, I even own Ummagumma!

So, better late than never.  I have my whole life ahead of me to keep discovering your favourite bands that I haven’t got to yet.

Recently, I really discovered The Band.  It started with “The Shape I’m In”.  The local radio station changed up the songs they repeat every year or two.  Thanks to CanCon, there’s always at least one Band song.  Several years ago, they used to spin “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” frequently, but this year it’s been “The Shape I’m In”.  And suddenly I was grabbed like never before.

Maybe it’s that I’m not feeling in the best shape myself, mentally and physically.  Robbie Robertson’s lyrics weren’t written about someone like me, though.  “The Shape I’m In” was written for the late Richard Manuel, singer and piano player.  As I often do, I googled the track and read up.  Richard Manuel’s tragic life story struck a chord with me.  Drugs, alcohol, and ultimately suicide.  Every time the song came on the radio, it inspired me to read a little bit more about Richard Manuel, The Band, and the rest of their members.

I watched a bit of The Last Waltz on YouTube and was absolutely blown away.  The vocals!  The musicianship!  The keen lyrical throwbacks to a time before we were born.  It transports you!  This is what I love in music!  What took me so long?

The most toxic person in my life at the Record Store loved The Band.  I don’t know how often we listened to them at work, but I began to strongly associate The Band with this person.  I couldn’t look at a picture of Garth Hudson without a feeling of this person’s presence.  For some reason poor innocent Garth Hudson became the face of The Band in my loathing mind.  It really is unfortunate.  Some of you will read this and say “pffft, snowflake.”  We each respond to stress according to our strengths and what I dealt with at the Record Store drove others to quit when I just kept going as long as I could.

I didn’t know a lot about The Band, and I remember having a conversation with this person about who their lead vocalist was.  I assumed Robbie Robertson, since he was a big solo star in Canada in the late 80s.  I had no idea that they had three main singers, and my impression was that this person thought less of me that I didn’t know.  Either way, our conversations didn’t make me want to listen.  You attract more bees with honey rather than vinegar.  This person was vinegar to me.

On one of the Taranna trips with Aaron, I found Music From Big Pink (remastered) at Sonic Boom for $7.99.  It had “The Weight”, so I bought it.  Still, I only played it a couple times and then put it on a shelf.  It didn’t connect.  Yet.

Suddenly it’s 2021 and “The Shape I’m In” is speaking to me like nobody’s business.  I pulled out Music From Big Pink again, ordered a reissue of Stage Fright, and put The Last Waltz on my wishlist.

It’s not just Richard Manuel.  Yes, something about his voice is sweet and weary and powerful at once.  Rick Danko’s voice was also very special.  The high notes!  Wow.  And Levon Helm?  Watching him drum, he was so physical!  And singing so expressively all the while.  As for Robbie Robertson, the best word I saw used to describe his guitar playing was “stinging”.  That nails it!  But I owe the deepest apologies to Garth Hudson, whose inventive multi-instrumental wizardry is key to the sound of The Band.  Mr. Hudson, I am so sorry that I used to associate your visage with this evil person in my life.

Still, it’s Manuel’s story that I find myself reading most.  So heartbreaking, but his struggles are  common with so many people.  I empathize.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that he was from Stratford, just 30 minutes away.  In fact he’s buried there and I thought maybe it would be cool to visit his grave this summer.

People can be toxic, and they can poison the things you associate with them, but here’s the cool thing.  Toxins can be worked out of the body.  Finally, it is time:  no more toxicity with The Band.  I welcome them into my heart.  They are now becoming part of my being, and that’s the best part.

REVIEW: Paul Stanley’s Soul Station – Now and Then (2021)

PAUL STANLEY’S SOUL STATION – Now and Then (2021 Universal)

Reviewing Paul Stanley’s new album, Now and Then featuring his new band Soul Station, is probably the most challenging task I have ahead of me this morning.  It’s difficult for several reasons, primarily three.  Full disclosure.

 

 

 

  1. Paul Stanley might be my favourite artist of all time.
  2. His voice is in decline and this is always evident.
  3. How can I review Paul’s soul covers without comparing to the originals?

The truth is I like soul just fine, but the bulk of my collection is made of different grades of rock.  I have an Etta James CD.  I’m far from qualified to review this.  But I have to, so I’ll try.

Paul’s band is 10 members (excluding himself) augmented by a horn and a string section.  18 musicians are credited total, with Paul as “lead singer”:  the first time on any of his albums where Paul plays no instruments.  Unexpectedly, Paul’s Kiss bandmate Eric Singer is Soul Station’s drummer.

There are 14 tracks:  nine covers, and five originals.  You can’t accuse Paul Stanley of taking the easy route.

Remember when Kiss were accused of going Disco in 1979?  “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” really sounds Disco, and certainly there’s nothing wrong with the flawless arrangement, from the lush strings to the punchy horns.  In fact, Paul’s diminished voice is the only noticeable weakness.  He covers for it pretty well.  He used to belt it out all time; now he usually holds back in a soft whispery falsetto.  A performer has to adapt to their limits at every age.  Good tune.  But this is a new Paul Stanley and he’s not the best singer in his band.  He’s just the lead singer.

The first original, “I Do”, sounds like the real thing.  It’s a light ballad, arranged with the strings and full band treatment to sound pretty much just like the covers.  But the really surprising original is “I, Oh, I”, a terrific upbeat dance-y number.  Not only does it sound authentic but it’s also catchy as hell.  You could imagine it in a rock arrangement, and Paul points out in the liner notes that he wrote, arranged and orchestrated all his originals.

“Ooo Baby Baby” is a Smokey Robinson cover, and like the original it’s in falsetto.  It’s one of the harder songs to listen to.  “O-O-H Child” is better, though no substitute for the original.  Paul does well on the upbeat tracks with plenty of melodic hooks.  One of his backing singers take the lead on a few lines.  And although Eric Singer does a mighty job on the drums, he is a rock drummer playing soul, and that’s evident in the fills.  The groove of the 70s just isn’t something that can be recreated easily.

You can tell by the title that “Save Me (From You)” is a Paul original.  Sounds like a leftover from the Live To Win album, jazzed up for the Soul Station.  That said, it’s a pretty good track.  It’s a nocturnal rumble that does really well standing up to the classics.  It cannot be denied that Paul Stanley has a knack for writing a melodic song.  All of his writing credits on Now and Then are solo credits.

“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” is not bad.  It’s the falsetto again, but massaged in the studio, and backed by the Soul Station, this one makes the grade.  Nobody doubts Paul’s genuine love of this music.  In the liner notes he takes ample time explaining his roots with Detroit soul.  And it was him that was hanging out in New York Disco clubs, when he decided he could write one of those songs for Kiss.

“Whenever You’re Ready (I’ll Be Here)” is a duet with one of his backing singers; upbeat, well done.  “The Tracks of My Tears” exposes the weaknesses in Paul’s voice but there are plenty of backing singers to cover for him.  That aside, it’s another great Soul Station cover.  “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green) underwhelms; I mean how can it not?  The best thing I can say is that it’s better than Michael Bolton’s version.  “La-La — Means I Love You” also kind of just sits there, threatening to send the listener off to sleepytime land.  Fortunately, Paul’s original “Lorelei” revives the album, with upbeat melodic charm.  Cool guitar solo on this one too.

Two more covers to get through — “You Are Everything” (no thanks) and “Baby I Need Your Loving”.  Fortunately the latter song closes the album, on an earnest upbeat note with Paul giving the lungs a little exercise.  Solid ending.

Observation:  I enjoyed Paul Stanley’s Soul Station more the first three or four times I played it — as background music.   When it comes to listening intently, it didn’t capture me.

Observation 2:  Peter Criss got shit all over for trying to make an album somewhat like this back in 1978.

If Paul had released a mini-album (or extra large EP) with only seven or eight tracks, I think we’d be praising his originals and taste in covers.  Unfortunately chinks in the armour appear too frequently on the bulk of the album.  Good background music, but not an outstanding set.

Paul’s originals – 4/5 stars
Covers – 1.5/5 stars
Kiss Fan Fanatic Score – 100/5 stars
Realistic Score – 2/5 stars

Double Header! Andy Curran and Mike Fraser – Back on the LeBrain Train

The LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike and Superdekes

Episode 60 – Andy Curran and Mike Fraser double header

It’s the first ever double interview show on the LeBrain Train this Friday night!  Warm up your coffees.

First up, we have Andy Curran back from last week to finish up our chat!  The focus will be on the latter part of his career that we didn’t get to.  Caramel, Leisureworld and beyond.  Andy will be on at 7:00 PM E.S.T.

Second, it is the return of engineering wizard Mike Fraser!  Although we quizzed him for a couple hours last time, we only scratched the surface.  We didn’t get into Dio, The Wild, Satriani or Chickenfoot.  Expect lots more great musical memories with Mike this Friday at 8:30 PM E.S.T.

Friday April 16 on Facebook:  MikeLeBrain and YouTube:  Mike LeBrain.

Gallery: Iron Maiden “Eddie” Reaction figures — full set

Check out the photo gallery below for a gander at all 19 Iron Maiden “Eddie” figures by Super7.  This is their line of 3 3/4″ ReAction figures.  Same size and articulation as classic Star Wars.  For a little bonus content, check out the video instead.  Some havoc broke loose during the photo shoot.

 

REVIEW: Minoru Niihara – One (1989)

MINORU NIIHARA – One (1989 Triad)

Original Loudness vocalist Minoru Niihara was let go in 1988 so they could have a stab at a success with an American singer.  While they went their way (and did not cross over onto the charts as they hoped), Niihara recorded his first solo album appropriately titled One.  He worked at Cherokee studios in Hollywood, where there must have been a lot of rock stars hanging out.  The credits on One include:  Mark Slaughter, Reb Beach, Doug Aldrich, the rhythm section from Journey (Steve Smith and Ross Valory), Kal Swan, David Glen Eisley, and the Tower of Power horns!

That being said, you might expect a straightforward hard rock album right out of 1989 like so many you remember from that year.  You’d be partly right.  However the lyrics are mostly in Japanese, and while the intent might have been to make a straight-ahead commercial rock record, it goes a bit sideways on some tracks.

It sounds like some of the same opening sounds as on Alice Cooper’s Trash album (also 1989) are used on first instrumental “Overture”.  Then it goes soft rock, with guitar strings tinkling like a fragile piece of glass, backed by heavenly keyboards.  In a jarring shift, the first proper song “Let’s Get Together” doesn’t meld well with this intro.  It also sounds a bit out of time, a relic from a couple years prior.  But Minoru is on top of it.  “Let’s get together! Have fun tonight!” goes the boppin’ English chorus, with plenty of the expected thick backing vocals from the Hollywood cast and crew.  Although it already sounded dated for 1989, “Let’s Get Together” is a fun track clearly aiming for a party concert vibe.  Not bad — production is clunky, and there are a couple key changes that sound off, but it’s otherwise a fun song that does what it’s there to do.

American rock vibes dominate “Stand Up to the Danger”, sounding a bit like “Loud and Clear” by Autograph.  That could be Reb Beach just rippin’ it up on the solo, but the track is very standard for the genre.  A neat ballad follows, the Journey-like…ahem…it’s a case of a language barrier, I’m sure, but the song is called “Come Over Me”.  Very much like a Journey ballad, and it’s probably Valory and Smith on bass and drums respectively.  Maxine and Julia Waters on backing vocals.

A cool 80s bass groove sets the tone on “I Can’t Wait”.  This mid-tempo car-cruiser is an album highlight, and a track worth getting in your ears.  Great solo too (Doug?).  Coincidentally, Minoru’s replacement in Loudness was a fellow named Mike Vescera, and he later recorded a different song called “I Can’t Wait” with Yngwie J. Malmsteen.  One of Minbru’s weaknesses (and it probably comes down to English as a second language) is a reliance on cliche song titles.  “I Can’t Wait”, “Stayin’ Alive”, “Dynamite”, and “Fool For You” are all song titles you’ve heard before.

Speaking of “Dynamite”, the next track on the disc — it’s a little more unique.  With a bluesy opening, it soon lets loose with a blast of saxophone.  The chorus is full-on pop.  A little clunky in construction and production, but different and still cool.

A soft keyboard ballad called “You Can Do It” sits right in the middle of the album.  Even though vinyl, and  especially cassettes were big in 1989, One only saw release on CD.  No “side one” or “side two” with this album.  Once more the ballad would sound appropriate on a Steve Perry album, and the guitar solo is really smooth.  Good song; Minoru’s style of singing is a bit overblown for a soulful ballad, but you can certainly tell he loves singing this way.

“Bluest Sky” is cool, acoustic and stripped back but “Stayin’ Alive” really scorches.  It’s the closest thing to classic Loudness.  It is the only clearly heavy metal track on the album.  Probably Reb Beach ripping up his fretboard and whammy bar on the solo.  Definitely Mark Slaughter on the chorus.  The horn section returns on “Fool For You”, but Minoru’s over-the-top singing does not suit the funky metal stylings.  He does well on “Too Long Away to Reach”, a little more restrained.  But it is the third ballad that really does sound like Journey.  So much that you’d assume it was Neal Schon on guitar.

Finally Minoru closes his solo debut on one more ballad, “I’ll Never Hide My Love Again”.  This time it’s a big power ballad with a massive chorus, and because it’s dramatically different from the earlier ballads, it works.  Definite vibes of King Kobra’s “Dancing With Desire” (1985).

See what I mean when I say that One sounds dated already even for 1989?  That doesn’t make it bad, but not all pieces fit.  There are some obtrusive keyboard overdubs, some of the ingredients just don’t mix.  While Minoru is a fine vocalist, and he gives 110% here, some of the songs sound like they would work better if he laid back a bit.  Then again, that could be the language barrier; the words he is singing might be totally appropriate to his vocal output.  Everything in music is subjective anyway.  Regardless of interpretation, Minoru Niihara’s effort is no less than his whole heart, and you have to give credit for that.

3/5 stars

 

 

Sunday Chuckle: Doug Ford explains “lockdown” vs. “shutdown”

The premier of Ontario explains what a “lockdown” is vs. a “shutdown”.*

 

*satire