Just Listening

Just Listening to…Aerosmith – Permanent Vacation

This revisit is due to your Heavy Metal Overlord, who told me that Permanent Vacation is his favourite go-to album for reunited Aerosmith.  Due to the tremendous respect (and fear) I have for HMO, I decided that I needed to give it another listen.

My conclusion after hearing it again is that I had it dead wrong in my album review.  Yes, there are a couple filler songs.  “St. John” and “Girl Keeps Coming Apart” still don’t resonate with me.  But, man, there are some bangers on Permanent Vacation.  I didn’t remember how awesome “Heart’s Done Time” really is.  I forgot about the cool Beatles cover “I’m Down”.   I didn’t give due credit to the terrific title track. But most important of all is “Magic Touch”.  Is Joe Perry playing a whammy bar in the beginning?  What a song.  Could it be the best song on the album?  It certainly has a chorus that goes on for miles.

Permanent Vacation, as an album, might be overshadowed by its own singles “Dude”, “Angel” and “Rag Doll”.  But I’ll be damned if “Angel” doesn’t still make the hair on my arms stand up to this day.

I’ve been unfair to Permanent Vacation. It’s far better than I thought it was.

 

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Just Listening to…Aerosmith – Nine Lives

It’s been a while since we’ve been “Just Listening” to an album here, but this one’s always good for a revisit.  The last truly great Aerosmith album was 1997’s Nine Lives.  I stand by that, because it’s a killer album.  We reviewed it back in 2015, so if you’re looking for a more in-depth analysis, check that out.  Today we’re just appreciating an album that is too often overlooked for the strengths it has.

The heavy stuff was heavy enough, and the ballads had balls.  Songs like “Nine Lives” and “Taste of India” are juggernauts.  Drummer Joey Kramer really took them to the next level, which is remarkable since he was sidelined for part of the making of the album.  His partner in rhythm, bassist Tom Hamilton, is also on top of things with his lyrical bassline meanderings.  You’ll rarely find a better guitar tag team than Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, but Steven Tyler’s words are also noteworthy.  The guy is a poet with a dirty mind, and Nine Lives has some of his better lyrics.   “‘Cause love is like the right dress on the wrong girl, You never know what you’re gonna find.”

Most people think of Pump or Get a Grip as the last decent Aerosmith.  Although it didn’t have as many great singles, Nine Lives is actually a better album than Get a Grip.  It has less filler, and rock fans don’t really care about singles anyway.  The fact is, from beginning to end, Nine Lives is just a smoother ride.

 

Just Listening to…Whitesnake – Unzipped (Deluxe)

Just Listening to…Whitesnake – Unzipped
Acoustic Adventures – Unplugged in the Studio and Live on Stage 1997-2015

I thought this was going to be a boring listen.  5 CDs and a DVD of acoustic Whitesnake?  The same songs over and over?  It sounds pretty dull on paper, but in practice it’s another story.  So far, Unzipped has been a blast!

It turns out, a lot of my favourite Whitesnake songs are acoustic.  “Sailing Ships” is a fine example.  When David Coverdale is in a philosophical mood and busts out the acoustic guitar, he has the ability to make magic happen.  (But damn, he sure does like to re-use lyrics and imagery.  “Circle ’round the sun” again!)  Other tunes, such as and “Summer Rain” are less intellectual, but still leave a lasting impression.  Then you have acoustic arrangements of old familiar songs.  Whitesnake, Deep Purple, and even Coverdale-Page are revisited, and not just the hits.  These are songs to warmly enjoy when in a laid back mood.

The discs also include a remixed and expanded version of the first acoustic live Whitesnake album, Starkers in Tokyo.  The differences are audible; the album finally comes alive.  As a bonus, there is a off the cuff version of David’s solo song “Only My Soul” done a-cappella.  There is also a disc of “unreleased acoustic demo ideas”.  They are very raw — one track even begins with David calling it a “very rough idea”.  Some are written on the piano.  It’s hard to say if any of these ideas could have been made into hits, but they’re not bad.  Points must be awarded for the best song title:  “Another Lick While the Missus is Busy in the Kitchen”, a swampy blues riff.

Man, this one’s gonna take a long time to review!

For a fully detailed review, check out this one by John Snow!

 

 

Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

This is the first Just Listening post for an album I’ve already reviewed in full.  I tackled David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper back in 2013, rating it 4/5 stars.  However a recent conversation with singer/songwriter Derek Kortepeter led me to try to listen with new ears.

It started with Derek’s message to me.  “Unpopular opinion:  Skyscraper is better than Eat ‘Em and Smile,” he said.  “Better songs, better guitar, tons of awesome synth…when you have tracks like ‘Perfect Timing’ and ‘Knucklebones’ how can you go wrong?”  Derek says “Perfect Timing” might be his favourite song on the album.

Derek definitely has some good points.  It’s easily arguable that Skyscraper has better guitars.  Steve Vai was in the co-producer’s chair, and he layered his guitar parts as if he was building one of his own solo albums.  They’re very dense, yet melodically intertwined.  As for the synth, he has a valid observation with some songs like “Skyscraper”.  That song verges on progressive rock; it’s got so much going on, including synth and layered Roth vocals.  However I think the synth was overdone on tracks like “Stand Up“, which doesn’t even have Billy Sheehan on bass.

Skyscraper is an almost absurd album in some respects, with Dave pouring on that “charasma” to the nth degree.  There are so many “woo’s” “wow’s” and “oh’s” that you could make an entire song of just that.  Steve Vai was the star on Skyscraper, and as I said in my original review, how much you like Skyscraper will depend on how much you like Steve Vai.  I like Steve; I think his music and playing is fascinating.  Rock fans often don’t want “fascinating”, they just want the riffs and the choruses.  Eat ‘Em and Smile was much more about the big guitars and choruses, but it’s also just a fabulous record.  Skyscraper is colder sounding by comparison, and often drifts into experimental pop rock excursions.  It also suffers for the lack of Billy Sheehan, who wasn’t given a lot of creative freedom.  Where there should be bass, often you will hear synth.

Sorry Derek, you have made some really great points, and Skyscraper really is a great album.  It’s brave and fun and experimental, but it’s also cold with little bit of filler (“Stand Up”).   I’ll always rate it high…but not as high as Eat ‘Em and Smile.

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

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

Just Listening to…RIOT – Restless Breed

Just Listening to…RIOT – Restless Breed

This remastered CD, complete with six spine-piercing bonus tracks, was a gift last summer from the one and only Superdekes.  I never owned any Riot before, and frankly didn’t even know much about the band besides the track “Born in America”.  A young pre-teen LeBrain said, “Who is this band?  They stole their name from Quiet Riot and their song title from Springsteen!”

Yeah…no.

Deke knew what I was missing and so sent me his remastered Restless Breed with Rhett Forrester on lead vocals.  Riot was right in my wheelhouse.  This is quintessential 80s, riding that fine line between hard rock and heavy metal, but leaning further towards metal.  Solid riffs, memorable tunes, guitars out yer anus!  It’s one of those albums that turns out to be exactly what I liked then, and still like now, even though I missed it for 37 years.  The key, to me, is the powerhouse vocals of Forrester, who was murdered in a carjacking gone wrong in 1994.  What pipes this man had!  He could even make songs about a “Loanshark” sound cool.  “Collecting payments overdue!  Yai-yeah!”  That gets a big “fuck yeah” from me.

I’m spinning Restless Breed for the first time in a couple months.  “Loved By You” was the standout track last time.  This time, it’s still the most obvious “hit” of the bunch.  It’s extended to eight minutes on the bonus CD, called the Riot Live EP.  Although it suffers from repetition, “Loved By You” is an easy song to love.

Thanks for the CD, Deke.  It certainly is Loved By Me!

 

Side one
1. “Hard Lovin’ Man” (Rhett Forrester, Doug Salomone) – 2:48
2. “C.I.A.” (Forrester) – 3:43
3. “Restless Breed” (Mark Reale) – 5:11
4. “When I Was Young” (Eric Burdon, Vic Briggs, John Weider, Barry Jenkins, Danny McCulloch) – 3:25
5. “Loanshark” (Reale, Forrester, Kip Leming) – 4:10

Side two
1. “Loved by You” (Rick Ventura) – 5:37
2. “Over to You” (Ventura) – 3:42
3. “Showdown” (Reale) – 3:49
4. “Dream Away” (Ventura) – 3:43
5. “Violent Crimes” (Leming, Forrester) – 2:30

2016 CD edition bonus tracks
11. “Hard Lovin’ Man” – 3:09
12. “Showdown” – 4:30
13. “Loved by You” – 8:02
14. “Loanshark” – 5:27
15. “Restless Breed” – 5:11
16. “Swords and Tequila” – 3:57

Just Listening to…RUSH – R40 Live

Welcome to Just Listening!  This is a new series of shorts, just talking about whatever I happen to be listening to at any given time!  These are not reviews, just a few words.  Join me have a listen?


Just Listening to…RUSH – R40 Live

I’ve been meaning to get to this release for a long time.  It’s been sitting here sealed since…a few Christmases ago?  Sometimes I don’t get around to reviewing these massive sets for a while due to the time you need to invest.  This one got lost in a pile, lonely and unloved. Because it has 3 CDs and a Blu-ray, I set it aside for a viewing day that never came!  Since the eventual full-on detailed review will take time, R40 Live is the perfect release for us to talk about for this first instalment of Just Listening!

Eddie Trunk recently complimented Geddy Lee on how great he sounded on the R40 tour.  I gotta say…and don’t hate on me for this…I disagree.  Geddy’s voice is the biggest stumbling block to my full enjoyment of R40.  Rush haters always rag on Geddy’s voice, but as age takes its toll, it’s really not a pleasant voice anymore.  He does better on some songs, worse on others.  Musically Rush is still top notch and you can’t detect any signs of physical ailment even though all three guys are in pain up there.

Rush knew that their time was up if they wanted people to remember them as the best band from the Great White North.  So they packed the set with all kinds of great songs, going backwards from the most recent to the oldest.  My favourite was “Losing It”, performed live for the first time ever!  This is how you do a final tour.  Shine a light on every part of your career and pick songs that are not just hits, but true album classics.  Are you listening, Kiss?

CD 1

1. “The World Is…The World Is…” 2:11
2. “Workin’ Them Angels/The Anarchist” 7:07
3. “Headlong Flight/Drumbastica” 8:45
4. “Far Cry” 5:31
5. “The Main Monkey Business” 6:07
6. “How It Is” 4:45
7. “Animate” 6:15
8. “Roll the Bones” 6:05
9. “Between the Wheels” 5:58
10. “Losing It” (with Ben Mink) 5:55
11. “Subdivisions” 5:48

CD 2

1. “Tom Sawyer” (Peart, Lee, Lifeson, Pye Dubois) 4:59
2. “YYZ” (Lee, Peart) 4:41
3. “The Spirit of Radio” 5:03
4. “Natural Science” 8:31
5. “Jacob’s Ladder” 7:34
6. “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres: Prelude” 4:19
7. “Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage: Part I/The Story So Far (drum solo)/Part III” 9:21
8. “Closer to the Heart” (Peart, Lee, Lifeson, Peter Talbot) 3:07
9. “Xanadu” 10:39
10. “2112: Part I (“Overture”)/Part II (“The Temples of Syrinx”)/Part IV (“Presentation”)/Part VII (“Grand Finale”)” 12:15

CD 3

1. “Lakeside Park/Anthem” 5:29
2. “What You’re Doing/Working Man” (Lee, Lifeson) 9:35
Bonus
1. “One Little Victory” 5:47
2. “Distant Early Warning” 5:24
3. “Red Barchetta” 7:08
4. “Clockwork Angels” 7:46
5. “The Wreckers” 5:39
6. “The Camera Eye” 10:21
7. “Losing It” (with Jonathan Dinklage) 6:13