Reviews

REVIEW: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Let’s Face It (1997)

THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES – Let’s Face It (1997 Mercury)

Once upon a time I thought Dicky Barrett was the most ridiculous singer I ever heard.  That still might be true.  His low growl is part Tom Waits and part Sherman tank.  Fortunately the three piece horn section of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones is capable of delivering all the good clean melodic hooks.  This leaves Barrett to deliver verbal gut punches while gargling glass mixed with sandpaper.  1997’s Let’s Face It was their breakthrough.  It’s a fine honing of their frantic ska-punk rave ups with a commercial understanding.

All the tracks are dance-able, it’s just a matter of slow or fast.  Most are fast!  “Noise Brigade” starts the party with some serious skanking, but the Bosstones give you a chance to breathe on hit “The Rascal King”.  You can sing along while you get down:  “The last hoorah?  Nah I’d do it again!”  Gentler reggae picking soon gives way to a chorus full of punch.  The horns (Tim “Johnny Vegas” Burton – sax, Kevin Lenear – sax, and Dennis Brockenborough – trombone) are a major part of another big hit, “Royal Oil”.  Great trombone solo, and upbeat chorus despire its dire anti-drug message.

This cluster of hits concludes with the big one, “The Impression That I Get”, #1 on the Canadian rock charts, was all over the place in ’97-’98. For good reason. If you could distil the Bosstones down to a chewable concentrate, it would probably taste exactly like “The Impression That I Get”.  Written by Barrett and bassist Joe Gittleman, it’s simply impossible not to move to this one.  The hooks that the horns deliver are just important as the chorus.  Both are equally timeless.  Nate Albert on guitar is the rhythmic master of ceremony, with the tricky offbeat reggae stylings mixed with metal pick slides.  While we’re handing out kudos, drummer Joe Sirois hits hard, but check out his cool shuffle at the end of the song.  Meanwhile, dancer Ben Carr makes his biggest impression (that I get) in the music video, as the newspaper-reading dude in a suit just dancing through various shots.  Brilliant video, too — cool use of backwards photography at the start.  The stark white background with the sleak dark suits matches the whole image and vibe of the Let’s Face It album.  Barrett looks about to burst of blood vessel when delivering that yell before the chorus.  The video was always in heavy rotation in Canada that year.

It doesn’t matter that there aren’t any singles left, because this is an album of great songs from top to bottom.  The title track could have been a fourth single.  Upbeat with hooky horns and a very important message:  “We sure weren’t put here to hate, be racist, be sexist, be bigots, be sure.  We won’t stand for your hate.”  Two decades before “woke” culture”, the Bosstones were already leading the charge.  And the message is as true then or now.

They take it heavy again on “That Bug Bit Me”, but with the horn section to the melodic rescue.  Nate Albert’s penchant for the odd metal hook makes a return, but the horns dominate “Another Drinkin’ Song”.  It starts slow and ominous but picks up and turns on the party hooks once more.  “Numbered Days” lets a guitar riff stand out, but Barrett’s barrelling baritone is a force to reckon with here.

Through to the end, there are no low points.  It’s just a matter of style and what hooks are the ones that stick.  “Break So Easily”, “Nevermind Me”, and “Desensitized” all hit the mark.  But closer “1-2-8” is mental.  And that’s the party in 33 minutes.  Over before you know it.  A perfect album.

5/5 stars

 

#883: Live! Bootlegs – the Prequel

A prequel to Record Store Tales #286: Live! Bootlegs

 

RECORD STORE TALES #883:  Live! Bootlegs – the Prequel

 

I didn’t discover “bootlegs” right away.  But inevitably, I had my first encounter and was confused by what I saw.

The setting:  Dr. Disc, 1988 or ’89.  Downtown Kitchener.  In the store with best friend Bob and one of his friends.  Browsing in the cassettes, I had worked my way over to Guns N’ Roses, a band I was still learning about.  Something about an EP that came before Appetite?  But what I saw was not that.  In fact, there multiple Guns bootlegs in their cassette section, only I didn’t know they were called “bootlegs”, or what that even meant.  Each one seemed to have a different member on the front.  One had Slash, one had Axl, one even had Izzy.  They were printed on different coloured paper.  They had songs I never heard, like “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.  Live shows from the last few years.

Were they official releases?  They had to be if they were sitting there in a store, right?  But A&A Records at the mall didn’t have these.

I didn’t get of the Guns tapes.  I didn’t have the money, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have taken a chance.

My knowledge of bootlegs was limited.  In my mind, I associated the word with the kind of bootleg records they had to buy in communist Russia.  Since you could not buy American music in the Soviet Union in the time of the Iron Curtain, fans got creative.  There is a famous series of Beatles bootleg records, etched into X-ray photographs.  It was the right kind of material to cut the music on.  Like a flexi-disc.  When I heard the word “bootleg album”, I associated it with an album that was illegal to own, but somehow you got a copy of a copy.  Not live recordings smuggled out of a gig and sold for profit.

I finally put the pieces together when I bought the book Kiss On Fire on December 27, 1990.  In the back:  a massive list of live Kiss bootlegs, from Wicked Lester to the Asylum tour.  Tracklists, cover art, the works.  Suddenly, it clicked.

“These must be bootlegs!” I whispered to myself in awe.

“We must have them,” said my OCD to my unconscious self.


I acquired my first live bootleg from Rob Vuckovich in 1992.  It was David Lee Roth live in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour with Steve Vai.  It was just a taped copy on a Maxell UR 90, but it was my first.  My sister got an early Barenaked Ladies gig on tape shortly after, including the rare “I’m in Love With a McDonald’s Girl”.  Then in 1994 she bootlegged her own Barenaked Ladies show on the Maybe You Should Drive tour!

Around this time, my sister and I also started attending record shows a couple times a year.  Bootlegs were now available on CD.  And there were many.  Who to choose?

Black Sabbath with Ozzy, or with Dio?  Def Leppard before Rick Allen was even in the band?  Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue’s final gig with Vince Neil…so many to choose from!

Interestingly enough, the idea of one band member being on the cover art carried into the CD age.  By my side at one show was Bob once again.  I flipped through the Kiss.  There were so many!  I picked one out with Gene on the cover.  Not knowing what bootlegs were himself, Bob thought they were solo albums.  “Don’t get one with just Gene!” he advised.  It wasn’t something I wanted anyway — it was from the Animalize tour, which I already had represented on VHS at home.  I wanted something I didn’t have anything from yet.  There it was!  The Revenge club tour!  Unholy Kisses, they called the disc.  Stupid name, great setlist.  I only hoped it sounded good when I got it home.  They used to let you listen to it before you bought it, but I think I was too shy and just bought it.  As it turns out, I loved it.  Every thump and every shout.

That’s the thing about bootlegs.  You really never knew what the sound was going to be like.  Or even if the gig advertised was the gig you were buying.  Or just because it sounded good at the start, will it still sound good at the end?  Or did the guy recording it have to move to a different seat next to a loud dude?  A soundboard recording was almost a too-good-to-be-true find.  One thing you were certain not to hear:  overdubs.  No overdubs on a bootleg!  They were raw and authentic.

I had made a good “first bootleg” purchase.  A whole new world opened before me.  There were not just live bootlegs, no!  Also demos, remixes, even B-sides.  And among them, some great, and some dreadfully bad choices!


Hear about some of the great ones this Friday, February 26 on the LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

DAVID LEE ROTH – Big Trouble Comes to Toronto – Maple Leaf Gardens 10/31/86 (bootleg cassette)

This cassette is a second generation, recorded from a buddy (with good equipment at least) in 1992.  My first bootleg.  It opens with a Van Halen-era interview with David Lee Roth about “precision rock”.  The crackle of original vinyl is audible.

A nice fade-in brings Steve Vai’s guitar to the fore, and then it’s wide open into “Shyboy”.  High octane, even though it’s just an audience recorded cassette with not enough volume on the guitar.  Without pause they rock into “Tobacco Road”. Gregg Bissonette’s toms a-thunderin’.  Vai certainly needs no help in hitting all the guitar hooks that he baked into the vinyl, just with more flair and energy.

Dave has never shied away from Van Halen hits or deep cuts.  “Unchained”, “Panama” and “Pretty Woman” are the first three.  The bass rumblings are unlike anything Michael Anthony played on the original.  The backing vocals are far more elaborate.  Like in Van Halen, “Unchained” is interrupted part way, but this time it’s so Dave can ask what you think of his new band!  Pretty hot.  After “Unchained” he stops to talk to a “pretty Canadian girl”.  “Panama” sounds a little odd with Brett Tuggle’s keyboards so prominent in the mix.  And it’s also way way way too long, with Dave trying to figure out who is reaching down between whose legs, but that’s Dave.  You don’t go to the show just to hear the music.  You go to see the whole schtick.  You put in the quarter, you gotta let the jukebox play the whole thing out.

“Pretty Woman” is zipped through fairly quickly (with one audience participation stop), going into Dave’s rabid “Elephant Gun” and the slick “Ladies’ Night in Buffalo?”  “Elephant Gun” features solos galore that would have been pretty awesome to see up close.  It sounds like there’s a vinyl side break before heading into “Buffalo”.  Vai’s guitar is the star here, in an extended solo backed only by Tuggle.  This turns into a dual bass/guitar call-and-answer.

When Bissonette starts on those tribal beats, you know it’s Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!”  This great version includes a drum solo.  Next it’s “On Fire” from the Van Halen debut.  Dave asks for the guitars to be turned up – we agree.  “On Fire” with keyboards and Vai noodling is a different animal.  After Dave’s original “Bump and Grind”, it’s time to flip the tape.

Side two opens with some of Dave’s acoustic strummin’, and a story called “Raymond’s Song”.  It’s just an excuse for him to say “Toronto” a whole lotsa times before introducing “Ice Cream Man”.  Which completely smokes.  Vai puts his own space-age spin on it, and Tuggle adds boogie piano, but this is one wicked version!

Dave’s solo track “Big Trouble” has plenty of atmosphere and fireworks for the Toronto crowd, but “Yankee Rose” is just nuts.  Nothing but the hits from here on in:  “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, “Goin’ Crazy!”, “Jump” and “California Girls”.  The heavy riff of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” sounds great in Steve’s hands, who doesn’t go too crazy with it.  Of course there has to be another long break in the middle (too many breaks at this point now).  This time it’s so Dave can get Stevie to make his guitar say “Toronto kicks ass, because the chicks are so fine”.  The rest of the songs are somewhat fluffy, the pop stuff, and rendered a little sweet with the added shimmer of Brett Tuggle.  “Jump” misses the deeper tone of Eddie’s Oberheim OBXA.

It’s worth noting that Roth closes with “California Girls”, not “Jump”.  His solo career is the point, not Van Halen, he seems to be saying.  This is the cherry on top.  Roth hands it to his new band several times in the show — he knew they had to deliver, and they did.  And he wants people to know that he has a band that can compete with his old group.

The show is complete,  and apparently Dave didn’t play “Just a Gigolo” on this tour.  The opening act in Toronto was Cinderella, supporting Night Songs.

Sometimes you wish Dave would get on with it and play the next song, but that’s only because this is a cassette bootleg being played on a Technics RS-TR272.  If you were there in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour, you’d be eating up every word Dave laid down.  He is the master of the stage.  Sure, it doesn’t always translate to tape but that’s the nature of Dave’s live show, isn’t it?  It’s precision rock — visually and audibly combined.

4.5/5 stars (for what the show must have been in person)

 

REVIEW: Loudness – Live-Loud-Alive – Loudness in Tokyo (1983)

LOUDNESS – Live-Loud-Alive – Loudess in Tokyo (1983 Columbia)

Like many classic rock bands, Loudness waited three studio albums before going double live.  The Birthday EveDevil Soldier and The Law of Devil’s Land were ripe and ready for live album immortality.  English is minimal, but you don’t need a Japanese dictionary to enjoy the metal within Live-Loud-Alive.  It is the most galvanized of the metal; Loudness’ integrity uncompromised, with Akira Takasaki in lead shred mode.

With a double length album so early in Loudness’ career, they played plenty of non-album material to fill it.  And it’s good!

Opening with a recording of Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War” the band rip right into the riff for “In the Mirror”.  That guitar sounds so classic, you’ll be questioning which Scorpions or Metallica album it’s from.  A heavy chug named “Road Racer” (originally a non-album Loudness single) is paired with one of Minoru Niihara’s most melodic lead vocals.  Only the thick and shimmery (probably embellished) chorus is in English.   On guitar, Akira Takasaki’s solo sounds like he is re-entering the atmosphere after an alien/robot conference in space.  “I Was the Sun” has a slower beat, pounding sheet metal into lethal form, with an elementary riff.  Ordinary as the riff may be, it isn’t the highlight this time.  The chorus takes center stage.  The first side of the original vinyl ended on “Fly Away”, a mammoth of a song mixing the delicate and the heavy.

“Black Wall” opens on what sounds like bass synth, but Akira soon takes command with a melancholy and precise guitar pattern.  Then, like any good Sabbath song, he breaks into a completely different lick, just as catchy.  An instrumental track from Akira’s solo album follows, including a wicked drum solo by Munetaka Higuchi.  This side of the record blows out with “Mr. Yesman”, a complex track like “2112” crossed with “Children of the Damned”.

On side three, a new song is previewed:  “Exploder”, a Van Halen-like guitar instrumental destined for album #4.  This transitions into another instrumental called “Heavenward”, similar to Akira’s solo work.  It’s all just good music that flows track intro track.  Guitar shrieks tell us that “Loudness” is next, a brilliant mid-tempo rocker of radio-ready nature.  It sounds like vintage, early 80s Scorpions.  Another killer riff in “Sleepless Night” brings the side to a solid close.

“Speed” does what it says.  That’s no surprise.  What may be surprising is the quality of the non-album B-side “Shinkiro”.  This cool track has some great melodic twists and an absolutely brilliant and varied Akira solo.  One of his best!  From volume-knob twists to full-on speed, it’s brilliant.  The only way to end it is by going back to the beginning, and “Burning Love”, the first non-album single by the band.  It’s a blistering way to go out.

Though not singing primarily in English yet, their musical influences were clearly the same ones from North America and Europe that we know and love too.  While you may not recognize the songs, many will sound familiar because they draw from the same pool.  It’s the best of early Loudness, void of commercial ambition.  While you do lose the ability to sing along, you can at least slam to the riffs.  One can hear why this album is held in such high esteem by the faithful.  It sounds like an experience.

4/5 stars

GUEST CONCERT REVIEW: Chantal Kreviazuk – Friday, February 12, 2021 (Sessions Live) by Dr. Kathryn Ladano

Review by Dr. Kathryn Ladano

CHANTAL KREVIAZUK – Friday, February 12, 2021 (via Sessions Live)

I’m going to preface this review by saying that at the start of the pandemic, I spoke openly about how I didn’t like virtual concerts and didn’t think they could ever replace live concerts. While I still feel that virtual concerts can’t and won’t replace live concerts, now, after viewing a number of virtual events, I’m seeing that they are simply different animals. And the best virtual concerts I’ve seen are the ones that embrace the fact that it’s a different and new platform. In other words, the ones that aren’t trying to be replacements for live concerts. Friday night (February 12 2021) I attended Chantal Kreviazuk’s live-streamed concert presented by Sessions Live, which definitely falls into the category of digital concerts that embrace the platform, and in the process give you something new and innovative, and in this case, really intimate as well.

Chantal’s concert was streamed from her own home. We got to see her perform on her own piano with a simple black background with three of her own paintings in the background with a couple of candles in front (we learned during the concert that the artwork was all painted by Chantal and put on display for the live concert by her husband, Raine Maida of Our Lady Peace). There was a single camera being used that allowed the audience a side view of Chantal and her piano as she performed. The format was very unique: She had no pre-determined set list going into the concert. Instead, she asked for audience requests via social media leading up to the concert, and then also took requests via the chat option on the Sessions Live platform. You really felt that you were witnessing something new and special. Nothing was pre-planned, which meant that Chantal would get requests for songs that she hadn’t played in decades. What I loved about this was that instead of just skipping over those requests, she tried to play the songs anyway – even when she couldn’t remember the lyrics and wasn’t sure of the melodic or harmonic material either. As an artist myself, I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t have even attempted to play something for an audience that I wasn’t 100% confident in my ability to do – so I really, really admire her for doing this. The music was all about the fans – not her image, not her vanity, not to display her skills as a pianist or singer. I feel that this is exceptionally rare, and it was one of the things that made the night so special.

In addition, doing the concert from her home meant that you got a little glimpse into Chantal’s life. At one point she wanted some water, so she grabbed her phone and texted Raine upstairs, asking him to bring down a glass (during the middle of her live stream!). Raine arrived a couple minutes later with a glass of white wine instead of water. While Chantal wanted him to appear on camera, he refused and all we saw was his hand as he handed over the glass of wine. During her performance of “Before You”, which she sang right after receiving the glass of wine, and she referred to as Raine’s song, she tried to keep herself composed as her 12-year old son mimicked and did impressions of her off camera. These are the types of things that may seem trivial, but you’ll never see them as a part of a live show. As I said earlier, this show was just about the fans and what they wanted to hear, as well as creating an intimate and unique experience from home.

While I am most certainly fan of Chantal’s music, I must be perfectly honest and confess that I am primarily a fan of her first two albums. I own the first four, but I mostly just listen to the first two. When she first emerged in 1997 with the album Under These Rocks and Stones, her music hit me hard at a pivotal moment in my life. I was in my early 20’s and the raw and angst-filled themes in those songs resonated with me in a way that no other music did. The first album does have some happier themes, but it also deals with loss, low self-esteem, feeling that one lacks in social prowess, death, unhealthy relationships, and feeling like one doesn’t deserve to be treated well by others. Chantal is only 2 years older than me, so I believe she was likely writing about what young women of that age feel and experience – and boy did it speak to me. Her second album, Colour Moving and Still was also a big favourite of mine. At this point in her life she was with Raine (she got married to him the same year the album was released), and you could begin to hear the influence of those “happier” themes in her music (such as in the song “Before You”). While this album wasn’t as dark thematically, it still had some very powerful material and still dealt with themes of death, loss, separation, and uncertainty. While the first album was more emotionally raw, the second album was more musically strong. Chantal is a classically trained pianist and you can really tell – there’s no doubt that she has chops. As someone who was studying music performance in university at the time, this was another reason why her music resonated with me. The music and the piano playing were so much more sophisticated than most of the other popular music I was hearing at the time. As I said earlier, the first two albums are what I’m mostly a fan of. That’s not to say her later music isn’t as strong, it just didn’t impact or resonate with me the same way, so I’ve found myself less attached to it (even though I love many of the singles from her third and subsequent albums). Chantal writes from within – from her own life. And I think that when she got into a happy marriage and had kids, her music shifted along with her lifestyle, and I just didn’t exactly shift with it. I couldn’t relate to it the same way.

That being said, last night’s concert was a real treat because many of the fans sending in requests were asking for songs from the earlier albums. While I think I may have forgotten a song or two, I do recall the following songs being performed: “Feels Like Home”, “Time”, “Green Apples” (she couldn’t quite remember all of this one), “Souls” (she also couldn’t quite remember all of this one), “Before You”, “Unforgivable”, “All I Can Do”,  “What if it All Means Something”, and “Surrounded”. She also sang a rendition of “Happy Birthday” to an audience member named Jennifer. This is where I learned that Chantal’s real name is Jennifer, and Chantal is actually her middle name. She mentioned that this concert was one in a set of three that will be coming up over the next little while. She also ran out of time and promised that the next performance would feature “Wayne” from the first album (the song that hooked me as a fan), and “Wings” from her most recent album. I also have a song named “Wings” on my latest album! But they couldn’t sound more different from one another.

In addition to the concert ticket, I also purchased a one-on-one meet and greet with Chantal following the show. It was very brief, but really great (each person had only 3-minutes, but she did go a little over with most people I think). I was very nervous and while I had several questions and comments pre-planned, I didn’t actually get any of them out. Instead I asked her about her dog who jumped into her lap during our chat. She is very personable though and I really appreciated even just having a couple minutes to talk to her like anyone else. I did want to tell her how much her first two albums impacted me, but I didn’t get that out either. All in all, it was a fantastic experience and I will definitely be attending the next live-stream in mid-March.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Loudness – World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo (2019)

LOUDNESS – World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo (2019 Ear Music)

In an unfortunate twist of events, Loudness drummer Masayuki Suzuki was sidelined by stroke and could not perform on the Rise to Glory tour.  Ryuichi “Dragon” Nishida filled in beat-for-beat and appears on the live album World Tour 2018 – Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo.  This 2 CD/1 DVD combo set is compiled from three days in Tokyo, with a bonus:  the DVD features one track with Masayuki Suzuki from the fourth day.  His performance on “Loudness” is as if there was nothing wrong with him, and he appears delighted to be playing live again.

Live in Tokyo is an energized performance, focusing almost entirely on early Loudness.  This being a hometown crowd, many of the songs are performed with their original Japanese lyrics.  1985’s Thunder in the East takes the early focus on disc one with the first six tracks all being sourced from the “big” album.  These tracks are intense, with solos by Akira Takasaki that melt the face.  Classic Loudness with jagged riffs and still-powerful vocals from Minoru Niihara.

Oldies abound.  Disc 1 also includes “Loudness” (the version with Ryuichi Nishida on drums) from the 1981 debut The Birthday Eve.  A slick, well-received version.  There’s also a punishing “In the Mirror” from third LP The Law of Devil’s Land, and the memorable “Crazy Doctor” from 1984’s Disillusion.

The second disc spotlights two lesser-known albums.  First is The Law of Devil’s Land from 1983.  The first five heavy numbers (including a second version of “In the Mirror”) all come from that platter.  This is the heavy proto-thrash that Loudness were peddling at the start of the 80s, and vicious stuff it is.  But not without hooks!  The last five originated on Disillusion, regarded by some aficionados as Loudness’ best.  From “Crazy Doctor” through the ballad “Ares’ Lament” and the finisher “Esper”, these are some great metal songs.

 

Impressively, the third disc (the DVD) highlights another batch of songs missed on the first two discs:  newer material.  “Soul on Fire”, “Go For Broke”, “Until I See the Light”, “I’m Still Alive” and a pair of instrumentals from the new Rise to Glory (2018) stand up to the earlier material.  The awesome “The Sun Will Rise Again” from the 2014 album of the same name rounds out the freshest material.  The new tunes are still heavy, riffy and melodic, but with a very slight modern edge.  “I’m Still Alive” goes thrash metal, but that’s part of Loudness’ origins.  Besides the return of Suzuki on drums for one song, the highlight of the DVD is a ballad.  After so many brutal songs, Minoru breaks out an acoustic guitar for an unplugged “Ares’ Lament”.  This is completely different than the version on CD 2, which was done fully electric.

Any classic band from the 80s or earlier, still trying to pull it off today, has the same question to answer:  How good is the singer?  Minoru Niihara is excellent.  As if no years have passed.  None of the material presents a challenge.

Considering the mixture of material over the three discs, Rise to Glory – Live in Tokyo would be a suitable entry point for any rock fan wanting to check out Loudness.  You’ll get the hits from Thunder in the East, ample early deep cuts, and a sampling of quality new stuff.  Value for the money and time invested.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Tesla – The Great Radio Controversy (1989)

TESLA – The Great Radio Controversy (1989 Geffen)

Tesla came right out of the box with two great studio albums in a row.  Their debut Mechanical Resonance is close to perfect.  Two years later they came into their own even more with The Great Radio Controversy which saw them stretch it out further.  The dropped some of the more overt heavy metal influences that were heard on “Modern Day Cowboy” and went for the roots.  The Great Radio Controversy provided Tesla with their biggest hit, “Love Song”, the track that got me into the band for good.

1989-90 was peak power ballad time and I loved ’em as much as any lonely highschool boy wouldBob Schipper was the Tesla fan first, but once I decided to take the plunge, I went all the way and got both albums on CD instead of cassette.  Though the big hit was the ballad, The Great Radio Controversy is a tougher album overall than the debut.  Once hooked by “Love Song”, other tunes made themselves immediately prominent.  Unfortunately the ballad probably didn’t convey an accurate image of Tesla to the general public.

Tesla were great at writing hooks, and opener “Hang Tough” hits right away with a killer little bass intro by Brian Wheat.  This hard-hitter is a killer song with dual guitars, and Jeff Keith just givin’ ‘er at the microphone.  It’s a defiant tune with the kind of shouted chorus that a concert crowd could get behind.  Guitars galore courtesy of Mssrs. Hannon and Skeoch.  Continuing the lyrical theme of “hangin’ in there”, it’s “Lady Luck”.  The punchy chorus, “Lady Luck took a walk,” has a Def Leppard vibe circa Pyromania.  Jeff Keith’s convincing rasp is like a blunt instrument for delivering hooks.

The first track that really showed Tesla were a cut above the Hollywood trash was “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)”, a track ahead of its time.  With a grungy, chunky groove and acoustics layered with electrics, wah-wahs and slides, it’s Tesla doing their own thing.  It has one foot in southern rock and another in molten lead.  At this point, Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch were on their way to “serious guitar duo” status.

Tesla lighten up a bit on “Be a Man”, catchy and simple enough for the radio.  Nicely composed for easy consumption, complete with a considerably canorous guitar solo.  The skies grow dark again quickly on “Lazy Days, Crazy Nights” which sounds like it should be a party rocker, but is not.  “I’m doing fine right here on borrowed time,” sings Jeff on this memorable dirge.  Things get hot again on “Did it For the Money”, a slammin’ track with another riff reminiscent of a certain British band from Sheffield.  They don’t slow down on “Yesterdaze Gone”, the side closer, which is only faster and more intense.

A solid side-opening “Makin’ Magic” brings the tempo back to centre.  Chugging along with guitarmonies aloft, this is a nice rocker to reset the tone.  This leads into another single, “The Way It Is”, which is a light rocker but not quite a ballad.  Tesla’s southern side shines through.  It sounds like a celebration with a little bit of Skynyrd on the side.

I have one memory regarding “Flight to Nowhere”.  It was September of my last year of highschool, and for the yearbook, they wanted to take a big aerial photo.  I believe we stood in the football field spelling the letters “GRCI” while a plane flew overhead taking the pictures.  I remember standing near my friend Danesh, who also owned a CD of The Great Radio Controversy.  This song came to our minds as we jokingly imagined doomy scenarios of plane crashes and our imminent deaths.  “Goin’ down!  I’m on a flight to nowhere!”  Anecdote aside, this killer track is a deep cut tragically ignored over the years.  As it blasts through the skies powered by the chug of electric guitars, it only gets more intense.  My favourite line to repeat:  “Now the headlines read all across the lands, ’bout the motherfuckers gettin’ way outta hand.”  It seemed to genuinely apply to the world we lived in, as Iraq invaded Kuwait and created a powderkeg in the middle east.  More importantly it captured my youthful anger at the situation the world found itself it.  Motherfuckers.

The one weakness that The Great Radio Controversy has is its length.  We’re on track 11 and only now getting to “Love Song”.  Like “Little Suzi” on the previous LP, this one opens with a unique acoustic instrumental passage.  It is a mini composition of its own, unrelated to “Love Song” with a vaguely neoclassical vibe.   Yet it’s still a part of it, as one seems incomplete without the other.  Either way, “Love Song” is a powerhouse, a definitive power ballad, and one of the best from a period that suffered from a glut of them.  Midway it goes to a whole new level with a gut-busting Frankie Hannon lead.

Everything after this unfortunately feels like anti-climax because of the massive presence “Love Song” has on the second side.  “Paradise” is a good tune, which actually sounded better when it was redone acoustically on the next album Five Man Acoustic Jam.  The original is a tad overwrought, like heavy-handed Aerosmith.  The final song is, appropriately enough “Party’s Over”.  The riff bounces from the left speaker to the right in a cool effect, and once again I’m reminded of another five-member band from across the pond with the same management (Q-Prime).

Though song for song, The Great Radio Controversy seems the equal of Mechanical Resonance, it’s just a hint more uneven due to its longer running time.  Minor quibble.  Tesla had made two outstanding rock albums in a row by now and were still growing.   Some say The Great Radio Controversy is the best Tesla album.  I say, you be the judge.

4.25/5 stars

 

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “First, Do No Farm”

AMERICAN DAD! – “First, Do No Farm” (Season 17, episode 14)

American Dad continued to expand its sonic palette in 2020.  In a season that already included The Weeknd, the show pulled off its biggest musical “get” in 2020 with Weird Al Yankovic.

The setup:  Stan Smith thinks his daughter Hayley is getting “soft”.  Fed up with her overly sensitive and lazy ways, he takes inspiration from the humble farmer.  Stan bulldozes the family home and sets up a “micro farm” on the property, with only a shed for everyone to live in.  Everyone adopts the Waltons-like surname “Boy”.  “Steve-Boy”, “Jeff-Boy”, and “Mom-Boy” for example.  Creature comforts are banished.  Violators are shunned.  Needless to say, Roger the alien is the first to be shunned.  He soon takes up with the “varmints” — rabbits.

This, reasons Stan, will make Hayley-Boy “farm tough”.

To make a short story shorter, Stan screws up big time by building a secret basement with all the food, TV and video games you could desire.  He too is shunned, and moves in with Greg across the street.  But he has already created a monster in Hayley.  Yes, she got tough, but she also lost her heart, turning into a cold, farm working machine.  This is not what Stan intended, and so he must undo what has he done.  With sabotage.  Varmint sabotage.  Rabbitage!

“Let’s do it!” says Roger.  “And do we contact Weird Al’s people?  See if he’s interested in ‘Rabbitage’ as a song idea?”

Cue up Weird Al Yankovic with my favourite Beastie Boys parody yet!

As Al says, he didn’t write the lyrics, but he sure did nail that vocal part!  “Listen all a-y’all it’s a rabbitage!” wails Al, as Roger and his rabbit allies destroy the farm.  Sure makes you wish they recorded a full song, doesn’t it?  Pretty cool collaboration.  Roger, dressed as a rabbit, destroying that farm in sync with Weird Al, is worth a repeat watch.

In the B-story, Klaus the goldfish has joined Scientology, which involves unsubtle Battlefield Earth jokes.  South Park did it first and better.  Scientology jokes are like shooting ducks in a barrel.  Fun, but way too easy.

4/5 stars for the episode

10/5 stars for “Rabbitage”

 

REVIEW: Triumph – “Spellbound” (1984 special promo 12″)

TRIUMPH – “Spellbound” (1984 MCA 12″ radio promo disc)

1984’s Thunder Seven was a big one in Canada, with “Spellbound” and “Follow Your Heart” both hitting the top 100 singles chart.  Triumph singles rarely offered up much in the way of non-album material, but the odd curiosity could be found.  This Triumph single for “Spellbound” was acquired by a friend, from Jerry’s Records in Pittsburgh back in 2013.

On the A-side, the standard 5:12 single version of “Spellbound” without edits.  You can really hear why this was a hit in 1984.  Triumph had learned to marry keyboard and guitar riffs for a bigger radio-ready sound.  With Gil Moore on lead vocals, “Spellbound” had huge chorus.  The track was also made into a cool video.

The B-side was specially designed for radio airplay.  Each track on Thunder Seven is given a brief special intro by the three band members.  You could look at this as an interview disc.  It’s nine minutes in length and not without value.  By listening we learn that “Spellbound”, for example, changed much from conception to release.  It was once titled “White Lies” before it was rewritten.  “Time Canon” was made up of 18 parts over 66 tracks.  Amazing stuff.  Their Canadian accents are adorable.

An excellent purchase for Triumph fans who have it all and need a little more.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: The Stone Gods – Silver Spoons & Broken Bones (2008)

THE STONE GODS – Silver Spoons & Broken Bones (2008 Pias UK)

…and from the ashes of the beast came The Stone Gods, and they did lay waste to the land.

The “beast” from whose ashes that the Gods rose was The Darkness, an extremely talented band who were looked upon (either fairly or unfairly, you decide) as a novelty act. They split in twain, with singer Justin Hawkins forming the very Darkness-sounding Hot Leg. The rest of the band (guitarist and brother Dan Hawkins, drummer Ed Graham, and bassist Richie Edwards) stuck it out and renamed themselves The Stone Gods. Edwards, a fine singer in his own right, dropped the bass and became the frontman. New member Toby MacFarlaine was brought in on bass.

The lead single “Burn The Witch” was shocking in its metal ferocity.  This was not expected from 3/4 of the Darkness.

What made this band special is twofold. First, the undeniable writing talents of Dan and the band, proving that Justin was not the be-all and end-all of the Darkness.  Second, the voice of Richie Edwards. He truly has his own unique voice, something unusual in today’s soundalike music scene. It is part Bon Scott, part Halford, with a little bit of early raspy Joe Elliot thrown in, and 100% awesome. As a frontman, he was no Justin, but who is?  (Nobody!)

The band stuck solidly to a hard rock/heavy metal direction.  Ed Graham’s got his trademark cave-man drum fills, and it fits like a glove.  Dan’s guitar howls and shrieks like a thing possessed.  Above it all, Richie wails.  These songs rock.  Some, like “Defend or Die” and “Burn the Witch” are scorchers.  Others are hard rock classics.  Three tracks in particular fully qualify as Darkness-level rock anthems.  “Where You Comin’ From”, “Start of Something”, and “Wasting Time” each boast numerous hooks and arena-level choruses.  A track like “Wasting Time” has suitable weekend-ready lyrics.

My friends have all joined the rat race
It’s all suits, shirts and novelty ties
I’m not a fan of retirement plans
I refuse to change my way of life

Just about every song here is a winner; no losers.  It is important to note, however, that the album takes a turn for the lighter around the halfway point.  Indeed, the first three songs are a pure metal bludgeon.  After that, a few early-Def Leppard moments are thrown in (“Making It Hard”).  However it is never out of place, never too soft, never embarrassing.  It is simply a good time.  A well-rounded rock album with fists-a-flying, then a smoke break, and then some ass-kicking.  If you’re wondering why it sounds so good, I blame Canadian engineer Mike Fraser, who just nailed it.

Shortly after the album’s release, Ed Graham departed and was replaced by Robin Goodridge of Bush fame.  That’s him in the video for “Start of Something”. This great lineup recorded a yet-to-released second album.  But the Hawkins brothers could not be kept apart.  Robin returned to Bush, and the Darkness have enjoyed a very successful second era with brothers Dan and Justin back in action together once again.

Dan has indicated that the second Stone Gods album will eventually see release. If so, then this debut truly was the “Start of Something”.

5/5stars