Reviews

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Breadcrumbs EP (2019)

ALICE COOPER – The Breadcrumbs EP (2019 Edel)

Alice Cooper wanted to do a Detroit garage rock record and pay homage to his roots.  And so we have The Breadcrumbs EP, six tracks of stripped down goodness, ironically produced by Bob Ezrin.  The 10″ vinyl is limited to 20,000 copies.  Somehow, by the grace of the black widow, we scored #48!

For these special songs, Alice is backed by the MC5’s Wayne Kramer, bassist Paul Randolph, Grand Funk’s Railroad Mark Farner, and Detroit Wheel Johnny “Bee” Badanjek. A remake of Alice Cooper’s “Detroit City” (from The Eyes of Alice Cooper) is an appropriate starting point:

Me and Iggy were giggin’ with Ziggy and kickin’ with the MC5,
Ted and Seger were burnin’ with fever,
and let the Silver Bullets fly,
The Kid was in his crib, Shady wore a bib,
and the posse wasn’t even alive.

That’s some rock and roll poetry right there.  Not one of Alice’s finest songs but worthy of a second chance.  Then “Go Man Go” is a new original composition co-written by Wayne Kramer.  It’s punk rock Alice, as authentic as the bands he’s paying tribute to.  Bob Seger’s “East Side Story” closes the side on a steady groove, right out of Hendrix’s version of “Gloria”.

A really funky “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” (Suzi Quatro) is the centrepiece of the EP.  Horns blastin’, Alice hasn’t been this funky since his dance-oriented Alice Cooper Goes to Hell in 1976.  “Devil With a Blue Dress On” (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels) is the soulful side that Alice occasionally shows.  It’s merged with “Chains of Love” (J.J. Barnes) which pulls everything back to rock.  Finally “Sister Anne” by the MC5 puts the snot on the nose and the grime in the rock.  Kramer’s simply awesome riff is perfectly complemented by Cooper.

If copies are still available, get one.  Cooper fans will love the change of pace, while rock and rollers will adore the authenticity.

3.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: The Cars – Anthology: Just What I Needed (1995)

THE CARS – Anthology: Just What I Needed (1995 Rhino)

Ric Ocasek was cool.  Whether it was the sunglasses, or the black hair and leather jacket combo, he was just cool.  The Cars were birth attendants to MTV.  “You Might Think” was arguably the greatest music video on this side of Michael Jackson.  And The Cars were far, far more than just a one hit band.  This Cars Anthology proves just how much gas they had in the tank.  With 40 songs including a number of rarities, this anthology is just what YOU needed.

The first four songs in a row, all from the Cars’ self-title debut, are radio staples.  “Just What I Needed”, “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Let the Good Times Roll” and “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” still rock the airwaves, proving their timelessness.  The Cars could write a song, and whether it was Ric Ocasek or Benjamin Orr on vocals, the hits kept rolling in.  It’s a combination of choppy guitar hooks, keyboard candy, and plain ol’ songwriting ability.

The Cars were also consistent.  There is no dry spell for hits, not until we get to 1987’s Door to Door.  When you listen to a cross section of material in chronological order like this, it’s quite noticeable when Robert John “Mutt” Lange takes over production duties.  Heartbeat City and its synthetic drums are the prototype for Def Leppard’s Hysteria album.  The backing vocals, the bass tones, and impeccable production all foreshadow the sound of things to come in Mutt-ville.  Roy Thomas Baker didn’t put so much of his own fingerprints on the Cars (although you can definitely hear a Cars influence via Baker on Alice Cooper’s Flush the Fashion).  Mutt sounds like Mutt, for better or for worse.  The album sold four million copies.  Whatever Ric learned from Mutt and Baker, he put to good use as a producer himself.

There are some songs that are just special.  Even though their fellow tunes are unique, important and classic, some rise even higher.  One is the legendary ballad “Drive”, written by Ric and sung by Benjamin.  Soft and gentle, “Drive” has been our companion for decades now, through lonely nights and happy days alike.  Another immortal song is the aforementioned “Just What I Needed”, for all it’s pop-punk perfection, before that was even a term.  I believe they just used to call it “New Wave”.  Finally “You Might Think” must be remembered as not only an important video, but also an ageless pop song that still grabs you today.

Rarities in this set include single B-sides, demos and previously unreleased songs.  Some have since found homes on the Cars’ deluxe reissue CDs, but some seem to still be exclusive to Just What I Needed.  One interesting outtake is a bang-on cover of Iggy Pop’s “Funtime”.  The liner notes are also exemplary, as Rhino usually do.  You could consider this to be a miniature box set for all the care put into it.  While buying The Cars by the album will not lead you astray, there is much to be said for a really good anthology.  You’re looking at one right now.

5/5 stars

Rest in peace Ric, rest in peace Benjamin.

 

REVIEW: Smoke on the Water – A Tribute (1994 cassette)

SMOKE ON THE WATER – A Tribute (1994 Shrapnel cassette – tribute to Deep Purple)

This baby can be expensive to acquire on CD, so let’s give ye olde cassette tape a spin.  It’s not been played in over 20 years.  This review is with fresh ears.

The backing band on this tribute to Deep Purple consists of:  Deen Castronovo (Hardline/Journey – drums), Jens Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen – keys), Todd Jenson (Hardline/David Lee Roth – bass) and Russ Parish (Fight/Steel Panther – rhythm guitar).  Each track has a featured singer and lead soloist.  Let’s dig in.

First up:  “Speed King” by Yngwie J. Malmsteen with Kelly Keeling on vocals.  Keeling is on the sandpapery side of Joe Lynn Turner here, while Yngwie gets to jizz fanboy style all over the fretboard.  The star might actually be Jens Johansson’s keyboards but this is an unfortunately very cheesy version of “Speed King”.  Woah, Keeling just nailed an Ian Gillan scream!  Nice.

Kip Winger and Tony MacAlpine team up for “Space Truckin'”.  Tony goes his own way with the solos, innovating as he goes.  This is…pleasant?  There’s some kind of spark that’s missing, and when you’re playing “Space Truckin'” you need to put accelerant in the tank or you’ll fall flat.  Studio sterility has replaced spontaneity.

You gotta hope Glenn Hughes and John Norum can shock some life into “Stormbringer”.  They can!  Of the guitarists so far, John Norum (Europe) is the one who has the right feel for Deep Purple.  Glenn’s great, but doesn’t get to play bass, and here’s part of the problem.  You can hear that the backing band recorded the songs and then the featured players recorded their parts over them.  In a perfect world you’d have Glenn plotting the way on bass too, gelling with the backing band in a united groove.  That can’t happen when you record this way.

One guy who manages to inject his song with personality is Richie Kotzen.  He’s got the funky “Rat Bat Blue” and is granted both the lead vocals and guitars.  Yngwie returns on “Lazy” and he’s teamed with former Deep Purple singer and his own former bandmate, Joe Lynn Turner!  Yngwie plays appropriately on this strong but fairly bland track.  And that’s the cue to flip the tape over.

Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big) gets the vocal and guitar honours on “Maybe I’m a Leo”, which frankly is too slow and lacks groove.  Paul’s vocals, however, absolutely nail Gillan’s on the original.  Things turn stale quickly when it’s time for “Smoke on the Water”.  Russ Parish takes the guitar slot while Robert Mason (Lynch Mob/Warrant) sings.  Far more interesting is “Fireball” with Don Dokken and his future Dokken bandmate Reb Beach.  Don sounds a bit overwhelmed by the demanding song, but hits all the requisite notes.  The brilliant Jeff Scott Soto takes the driver’s seat on Mk I’s “Hush”.  This veteran vocalist (Yngwie/Journey/man more) makes mincemeat of your ears, absolutely killing it.  Soto is absolutely the vocal star on this album (one that includes Glenn Hughes)!  The final song goes to Tony Harnell (TNT) and Vinnie Moore (UFO).  They busy-up “Woman From Tokyo” a bit too much with unnecessary fills, but Moore does some really cool picking during the quiet section.

Though interesting, Smoke on the Water is far from an essential addition to your Purple collection.  There are already so many tributes out there.  The most interesting was T.M. Stevens’ Black Night which re-interpreted Deep Purple according to his New York sensibilities.  He had Joe Lynn Turner, Vinnie Moore and Richie Kotzen on his album too!  Then there is the more recent Re-Machined, featuring Iron Maiden, Metallica, and more Glenn Hughes.  Considering the CD prices these days, place Smoke on the Water fairly low on your priority lists.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Jim Crean – Gotcha Covered (2019)

JIM CREAN – Gotcha Covered (2019 Visionary Noise)

Jim Crean is steeped in hard rock tradition.  He’s worked with some of the legends, and he’s covered the rest of ’em.  Atypical covers.  Not the usual “hits” but interesting tracks you might know and remember, or will be exposed to for the first time.  In 2019, Crean’s come out with an original album The London Fog, and a covers CD called Gotcha Covered.  Lets see what surprises there are in store.

Right out of the gates, it’s a shocker:  “Hall of the Mountain King”.  You don’t hear Savatage covers every day, and fortunately Crean has the necessary scream abilities.  He sounds like a man possessed by lust for the Mountain King’s gold!

Unpredictability is the theme for this album.  Up next:  Melissa Etheridge.  It’s an oldie from her landmark first debut, “Like the Way I Do”, and you’ve never heard it so heavy.  It sounds as if it was written to be played this way because it’s completely natural.  White Lion are a little more centerfield, and “Hungry” is a killer choice.  Jim Crean can easily handle mid-80s Mike Tramp songs, as they are right in his pocket.  John Corabi is another singer who Crean is naturally suited to cover.  The Scream’s “Outlaw” is definitely an obscure but inspired choice.   Tasty riff.  Badlands get the next nod, with “The Last Time”, the first single from the second album Voodoo Highway.  The high notes are no problem, and the chorus goes on for lightyears.

Then it’s back to left field, with Bryan Adams’ old (pre-Reckless) classic “Lonely Nights”.  You don’t hear Adams covers very often, and usually they suck.  Not this one.  Crean transforms it into a hard rock anthem, something Sammy Hagar could have recorded.  Another shocker is Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”, converted into a classy rock ballad, utterly different from the original.  The Cars’ “Bye Bye Love” is another brilliant choice (not that you can go wrong with any Cars).  It works well as hard rock.  “Falling In Love”, a Scorpions oldie written by Herman Rarebell, adds a heavy kick at the right time.

“Saved By Zero” is the only track that doesn’t sound overly metalized.  The Fixx cover reveals some more new wave roots, and a good song choice it is.  The complex backing vocals sound fantastic.  Crean does justice to his hometown boys The Goo Goo Dolls next with “Lazy Eye”.  This non-album Goos song was on the soundtrack for the ill-fated Batman & Robin.  As you’d expect, it boasts a strong chorus, but the chunky riff may surprise you.  Another obscurity is “The Warning” by Victory, a strong 80s chug.  Onto the 90s next:  Ratt’s Stephen Pearcy and Cinderella’s Fred Coury had a band called Arcade.  “Cry No More” is a ballad from their debut.

The last few songs include Dokken’s slow burning “When Heaven Comes Down”.  Nothing wrong with some Back for the Attack era Dokken.  The Sweet’s classic “Love Is Like Oxygen” brings that pop edge back.  But it’s the closer, Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” that really slams it home.  No horns, just guitars and heavy beats.  The original arrangement is untouchable, but a heavy rock version?  Sure, why not.

A good covers album is hard to come by.  It all comes down to song selection.  In this regard, Jim Crean knocked one out of the park.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Operation: Mindcrime (1988/2003 remaster)

QUEENSRŸCHE – Operation: Mindcrime (1988, 2003 EMI remaster)

After Pink Floyd made history by releasing The Wall in 1979, concept albums fell out of fashion.   Almost a decade later, two heavy metal albums brought the artform of the full-length story back:  Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche.  Of the two, Mindcrime had the more coherent linear story, but both remain high water marks for each band.

The Queensryche album sold slowly at first, as the band refused to make music videos to let the album speak for itself.  They changed course in 1989 when “Eyes of a Stranger” made it to MTV and MuchMusic.  Fortunes changed dramatically for Operation: Mindcrime.  The album eventually went platinum.

The reason Mindcrime was better suited as an album than music videos was the connected storyline running through each song.  Employing a classic frame technique, we begin at the end with “I Remember Now”.

“I remember now.  I remember how it started.  I can’t remember yesterday.  I just remember doing what they told me…”

The anti-hero Nikki is an angry, aimless addict who fell in with a radical political group called Operation: Mindcrime.  He is a disheartened young American. “The rich control the government, the media, the law.”  Mindcrime’s modus operandi?  Using drugs and brainwashing, would-be assassins are sent out to kill strategic political targets, building to revolution.  Inequality, corruption and the media have made the country an ugly place.  Dr. X, the mastermind behind Mindcrime, has total control over Nikki.  He also uses the nun Mary, a former prostitute, to feed Nikki’s needs.  Nikki and Mary grow closer until he receives the order:  “Kill her.”  She knows too much.

The first two tracks are just setup before you get to the meat.  “I Remember Now” and “Anarchy-X” create a powerful set of images, with anthemic guitars and the sound of massive crowds rallying to a cause.  “Revolution Calling”, the first real song, begins the narrative.  “Then I heard of Dr. X, the man with the cure, just watch the television, yeah you’ll see there’s something going on.”

Nikki is indoctrinated on the title track, an ominous riffy behemoth of a song.  Dr. X uses Nikki’s drug addiction to control him.  With nothing to lose, Nikki falls for the doctor’s words.  “There’s a job for you in the system boy, with nothing to sign.”  Nikki has no use for the government or politicians.  It all sounds good to him.  On “Speak” he receives his first assignment.  “I’m the new messiah, death angel with a gun.”  On a blazing fast track with a thick chorus, Nikki falls into his new life.  “Eradicate the fascists, revolution will grow.”  On “Spreading the Disease”, another kickass track with a chorus that goes on for miles, Nikki tells the story of Mary and his distaste for the church.  “Religion and sex are power plays, manipulate the people for the money they pay.  Selling skin, selling God, the numbers look the same on the credit cards.”

Queensryche take it slower (though not soft) on “The Mission”, as Nikki starts to feel disillusionment.  “I look around, my room is filled with candles, each one a story but they end the same.”  He keeps telling himself that he’s doing what’s right.  “My mission saved the world, and I stood proud.”  But then he is given the order he dreads:  Kill Mary.  This instruction opens album epic “Suite Sister Mary”, 10 full minutes of riffs, choir and orchestra (by Michael Kamen).  The riff alone stands like a monolith.  Vocalist Pamela Moore sings a duet with Geoff Tate as the character of Sister Mary.  As for that riff?  Chris DeGarmo was the master riff composer in this band, a hole they have never quite filled.

The second half of the story commences with “The Needle Lies”.  Nikki wants out, but finds that it doesn’t work that way.  There is no “out”.  Meanwhile Queensryche strafe the speakers with a thrashy blitzkrieg.  Drummer Scott Rockenfield cannot be contained.  Then on the quiet filler track “Electric Requiem”, Nikki discovers that Mary had made his choice to disobey orders irrelevant.  Dead by her own hand, Nikki is broken and tailspins into a mad depression.  This is portrayed on “Breaking the Silence”, another stone cold winner of a song with a mighty chorus.  The chunky guitar riff is to die for.

With his memory failing him, Nikki doesn’t even know if he killed Mary himself or not.  He questions everything on the ever-cool single “I Don’t Believe in Love”, one of the most remarkable of all Queensryche songs.  Once again the writing partnership of Tate and DeGarmo struck heavy musical gold.  Two shorter tracks (“Waiting for 22” and “My Empty Room”) fill in some story points, and Nikki is eventually caught.

Operation: Mindcrime’s biggest song is its final track and first single, “Eyes of a Stranger”.  Memories are but fragments.  “I raise my head and stare into the eyes of a stranger.”  It’s one of Queensryche’s most incredible recordings, a perfect storm of guitars, vocals and melody.  It’s neck deep in drama, with Geoff Tate at his most emotive.  The story ends with some questions left unanswered.  At least until 2006’s unnecessary Mindcrime II….

Operation: Mindcrime took Queensryche to an artistic level that fans and critics always knew they could achieve.  Their debut EP showed promise.  They didn’t live up to that potential until Mindcrime.  Though good, The Warning album wasn’t a stunner like MindcrimeRage For Order was brilliant but alienating.  Even when it was first released, Mindcrime did not blow all the critics away.  Only after it had been digested slowly over time did the masses realize they were sitting on something very special.  Queensryche had done conceptual work before, but more abstract.  Nothing as well-hewn as Mindcrime.  Musically it was like they distilled everything they had accomplished thus far, and concentrated it into pure rock majesty.

The 2003 CD reissue had two live B-sides as bonus tracks.  “The Mission” was originally released in 1991 on the B-side to “Silent Lucidity”.  It is a different recording from that on the live album Operation: LIVEcrime.  “My Empty Room” is a later acoustic recording, released in 1995 as a B-side to “Bridge”.  It’s interesting for its acoustic setting and percussion, but is best heard in the context of the “Bridge” single with its other acoustic counterparts.

Is Operation: Mindcrime a masterpiece?  The story is a bit Hollywood and a tad juvenile, but the broad strokes are remarkably still valid today.  Mindcrime is rivalled by only a few.  It’s a worthy, nay, important addition to any metal collection.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche (1983 EP/2003 remaster)

Part I of a Queensryche two-parter.

QUEENSRŸCHE – Queensrÿche (1983 EP/2003 EMI remaster)

Sometimes a reissue is done so right you just gotta “Take Hold of the Flame”.

The 1984 debut EP by Queensryche is one such release.  The original vinyl runs shy of 18 minutes, leaving plenty of space for bonus tracks.  For this, they included the audio for all 10 songs from their first home video, Live in Tokyo.  Wishes fulfilled.

The original four track EP put the quintet from Seattle on the map.  Opening with “Queen of the Reich”, the young band showcased their knack for riffs and screaming vocals.  Geoff Tate’s opening scream cannot be touched.  Tate seemed embarrassed of these songs later on (all written by Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo with one lyric by Geoff).  Though the songs are clearly a starting point, they’re nothing to be embarrassed by.  “Queen of the Reich” remains simple, majestic and powerful.

The “Nightrider” sails away but the riffs go on with pneumatic precision.  Early Queensryche were not that dissimilar from early Iron Maiden, but at least they were doing that sound well.  Curiously enough this self-produced EP was not recorded with the intention to release it.  Queensrÿche is actually just a demo, but the band were starting to make waves on the live scene and so the four songs were released as an EP.  It eventually went gold; very rare for an EP.

Flipping over to side two, “Blinded” is screamy and raw.  Not one of the bands’ most memorable tunes, but soon arrives “The Lady Wore Black”.  This is a metal ballad in the classic vein of “Beyond the Realms of Death” or “Remember Tomorrow”.  Tate’s voice cascades while the band weave a backing track of guitar thunder.  Along with “Queen of the Reich”, it still turns up on live setlists.

The live set in Tokyo, recorded in 1984, contains all the tracks from the EP, a non-album song called “Prophecy”, and several from the debut full-length album The Warning.  Opening with the “Nightrider”, Queensryche don’t let up through a generally fast and heavy set.  “Prophecy” keeps up the brisk pace, with a chorus that is miles ahead of “Nightrider”.  And this DeGarmo-penned smoker was a non-album track!  “Deliverance” from The Warning follows in its ashy footsteps.  It’s an onslaught of Warning tracks:  “Child of Fire” and “En Force” rolled out in heavy fashion.  This trio of Warning songs might be considered the slow part of the set.  They have a soundalike vibe as they steamroll the ears.

“The Lady Wore Black” brings a slower, dark atmosphere.  Tate’s sustain is unbelievable!  Then it’s a blast of classics to close the set:  “Warning”, “Take Hold of the Flame” and “Queen of the Reich”.  Magnificent metal through and through, with “Take Hold” being an unequivocal high point.  From Tate’s vocal to the exalted riffing, Queensryche nail it.

Don’t just get the EP.  Make sure to get the 2003 CD reissue with the glorious Tokyo show included.  You’ll be happy you did.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Jim Crean – The London Fog (2019)

JIM CREAN – The London Fog (2019 Visionary Noise)

Vocalist extraordinaire Jim Crean is back with two new solo albums.  Not only is there a 16 track covers album called Gotcha Covered, but also The London Fog, a new original CD.  As usual, Crean boasts a killer hitlist of special guests, including Carmine & Vinny Appice, Mike Tramp, Rudy Sarzo, Chris Holmes, Steph Honde and plenty more.  Buckle up — it’s a heavy duty trip.

The London Fog goes wide open from the start, with the two new songs Crean released on last year’s Greatest Hits:  the excellent “Scream Taker” (tribute to Ronnie James Dio) and the riffy “Conflicted”.  “Scream Taker” features Dio alumni Vinny Appice and Rudy Sarzo.  These tracks follow the traditional blueprints of classic 80s metal, particularly “Conflicted”.  (The dexterous bassist that I initially mistook for Billy Sheehan is actually A.D. Zimmer.)

Want more riffs?  Then get “Broken”!  There’s a great chorus here: Melody and power, with some tasty licks from Steph Honde.  “Aphrodisiac” takes things to a more nocturnal place, but more menacing.  Still, there’s always room for some dirty rock, and that would be “Lady Beware”.  If Dokken’s classic lineup released another song today, it would probably sound a lot like “Lady Beware”.  This is the kind of rock we all miss, and have a hard time finding today.

Jim Crean is equally at home on rockers and ballads.  “Let It Go” (with Honde on piano and keyboards) has an epic quality for a ballad.  It might be a bit Scorpions, Whitesnake (circa 1987) or Guns N’ Roses…the comparisons are up to the listener.  The keyboard solo is a cool touch.  Then heavy sounds circulate on “Loaded” (more Zimmer on bass), but yet Crean maintains a knack for melody.

A familiar voice welcomes you on “Candle”, a Mike Tramp (Freaks of Nature) cover featuring Tramp in a duet.  The song is new to these ears, and I like how the parts shift and change moods.  A riff for the ages follows, on an original track called “1981”.  Again I’m reminded of Dokken, the classic era.  It’s hard to recapture a time period with such clarity, but Jim Crean has a talent for writing that way.  Some of his originals could very well be from another time.  (Drummer Colleen Mastrocovo gives “1981” a serious kick.)

Another obscure cover:  Robin Zander’s 1993 solo track “Time Will Let You Know”, a classy ballad from an underrated album.  Jim doesn’t try to sound like Robin Zander, but does it justice.  Then it’s Rod Stewart’s dance classic “Passion”.  Very few singers have the right rasp to do Rod Stewart justice, but Jim Crean is one of them.  That’s the always slick Tony Franklin on bass.  And get this!  Franklin’s Blue Murder bandmate Carmine Appice, the same guy who played on the the original “Passion”, also plays on this cover.  He approaches both versions very differently.  Rod’s version is slick dance rock, and this is more like metal that you can dance to.  Same song; familiar but a completely different arrangement.  If John Sykes ever played with Rod Stewart, maybe this is what they could have sounded like.

“Passion” could have closed the album and you’d be completely satisfied, but there’s more.  A funky “Fool” sounds like Aerosmith, and who’s that on guitar?  Ray Tabano, the original Aerosmith guitarist before Brad Whitford joined the band!  This song is more Aerosmith than anything that band has recorded since 1993!  Then it’s another lesser-known cover and duet:  Angel’s “Don’t Take Your Love” featuring original Angel singer Frank DiMino.  Great melodic rock songs are always welcome, and this one is truly great.

Finally comes the metallic closer “Tears” featuring Chris Holmes (W.A.S.P.).  The contrast between the heavy riffs and Jim’s melodic vocals is what makes this style work so well for him.  The riff has a W.A.S.P. vibe, but Crean takes it in a totally different direction.

Another fine album from Jim Crean and friends.  Fans of hard rock “the way they used to make it” will thoroughly enjoy.

4.5/5 stars

Check back for a look at Gotcha Covered, coming soon.

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Stanny Slickers II: The Legend of Ollie’s Gold”

AMERICAN DAD – “Stanny Slickers II: The Legend of Ollie’s Gold” (Episode 15, season 3)

As we review our way through significant American Dad episodes, several outstanding musical numbers emerge.  When it comes to memorable TV tunes, there’s the Simpsons and then there’s American Dad.  A highlight of the earlier seasons was the song “Ollie North”, sung for one of Stan Smith’s heroes, the scandal-ridden Colonel Oliver North.  Done in an after-school-special style, the song is meant to educate!

As a kid I remember a summer of waiting through Oliver North hearings just to watch an episode of The Transformers.

Stan’s tune succinctly summed up the entire scandal.

In the 80s there was Cold War drama,
We fought the Commies inside Nicaragua,
Our friends were the Contras, Freedom was their mantra,
So we sent them lots of money for guns, and landmines.

But Congress stopped the Contra money flow,
Just ’cause they moved a teeny bit of blow.
But then a hero came forth, His name was Oliver North,
He and Reagan went around the sissy Congress.

OLLIE NORTH! OLLIE NORTH!

(Spoken) You see, North secretly sold missiles to a harmless country called Iran who would always be a grateful ally. Then he gave the profits to the Contras. Genius!

But the sales were uncovered by the press,
Reagan and North began to stress,
‘Cause what they did was technically high treason! (But it was totally justified.)

North volunteered to take the blame,
To save Reagan from prison rape shame,
The truth he did bury with his hot secretary,
Thanks to her shredder, he got off totally scot-free!

OLLIE NORTH! OLLIE NORTH!

He’s a soldier!
And a hero!
And a novelist!
And now he’s on Fox News!

But that’s not the story here.  Working for the CIA, Stan Smith has access to information.  He knows that North had a secret cache of gold, and he buried it somewhere on his property. The very house that the Smiths live in today! Ollie North’s gold has long been an obsession for Stan.  He named his first child “Hayley Dreamsmasher” because having kids meant giving up his quest for the gold.  Now, Stan thinks he has decoded secret messages left by North. When Stan begins actively pursuing Ollie’s gold again, the family grows concerned. Then a giant pit mine is dug in their living room.

In a separate storyline, Roger the alien tries to prove that he is sexually harassable.  So he invents two new characters (Laura Vanderbooben and Luke Fondleberg) to make that happen.

Will Stan find Ollie’s gold?  Will Roger win a cash settlement?  It doesn’t matter because that Ollie North song is so damn catchy!

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Kick Axe – Rock the World (1986, 2016 remaster) – Kick Axe series Part Six

Part Six – the final chapter of the classic KICK AXE series!

KICK AXE – Rock the World (1986, 2016 Rock Candy collector’s edition)

Though Kick Axe had the power of the Matrix on their side, it could not conjure up sales without support from Epic, the record label.  With only one music video and no real marketing plan, Welcome to the Club fizzled out in sales.  This resulted in three major changes.  First, the band were dropped by Epic, though still signed to CBS in Canada.  This resulted in an end with their relationship with producer Spencer Proffer.  Guitarist Raymond Harvey quit, eventually joining up with Bob Rock and Paul Hyde in Rock & Hyde.  Kick Axe decided to carry on, but as a four piece with guitarist Larry Gillstrom handling all the six strings himself.

Without big label money, the quartet produced and mixed their third album alone.  The record, initially titled Fuck the World, is bassist Victor Langen’s favourite to this day.  Ultimately, the album called Rock the World was met with split opinions among fans.

Lead single “Rock the World” opened the album with an intense blast of guitars, drums and bass.  On the verge of thrash, Kick Axe had obviously abandoned the overtly commercial tone of their last LP.  First comes the guitar histrionics, then a blast of stampeding drums, and a blitzkrieg bassline.  Shrieking in peak form, singer George Criston and his perfect pipes maintain the melodic metal standard.  Somewhere between Maiden and Motorhead lies “Rock the World”.

Every Kick Axe album has a cover tune, and for this album they bravely selected Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”.  Though the album generally suffers from a stuffy, echoing sound (due to the low budget production), “The Chain” manages to make that work to its advantage.  It adds to the ominous, foggy tone.  According to the liner notes, Kick Axe still play “The Chain” live today.

Finally going for that good-time rock and roll sound that they were founded on, it’s time for the “Red Line”.  This track proves that Kick Axe could write quality, catchy hard rock classics without Spencer Proffer or Randy Bishop’s help.  Then it’s the ambitious “Devachan”, a Maiden-esque volley of fire with multiple riffs and tempos.  It’s a very busy song, far more advanced than you’d expect.  It’s highly unlikely Spencer Proffer would have let them release a track this far left of mainstream rock.  With the band in control they were able to explore more epic arrangements like “Devachan”.  The side one closer is a track called “Warrior”, with Criston’s steely vocals leading the battle cry.  Its deliberate stomp is similar to a much later Rainbow song called “Hunting Humans”.

“We Still Remember” leaves smoking ruins in its wake on side two.  It seems like Kick Axe were aiming for something more than just melodic heavy metal.  There are intricate bass parts, well written solos, thoughful lyrics and complex changes.  Cookie-cutter metal, this is not.  It’s intelligent rock, the kind that fans of the genre take pride in owning.  And then, “the chase is on”, it’s “The Great Escape”.  This hurried rocker borders again on Iron Maiden, but things go slower for “Medusa”.  A rolling bass riff is the main feature for this slightly progressive composition, perhaps a bit too highbrow.

“The Dark Crusade” is, appropriately, more metal.  The beat, courtesy of Brian Gillstrom, is Priest-like circa Defenders of the Faith.  It’s a sound representative of the era.  Meanwhile George Criston takes the vocals to near-operatic levels.  A clever bass-led song called “Magic Man” ends the album with an atmospheric tone, and George Criston even ends it with some Ian Gillan screams a-la “Child In Time”.

Unfortunately but predictably, Kick Axe broke up in 1988 and the members went their separate ways.  After a number of side projects, a remarkable thing happened:  Kick Axe reunited.  They even made an album, called Kick Axe IV.  The only catch:  George Criston didn’t participate.  Instead, Victor Langen’s brother Gary (who happened to also be the original drummer in Kick Axe) stepped up to the microphone.  That era is outside the purview of this series, based on the classic original period, though perhaps after a few Discogs purchases, we’ll continue the story.  Today, Kick Axe continue with capable young singer Daniel Nargang.

As the final album in the original Kick Axe triumvirate, Rock the World delivers on a lot of promise.  Most bands tended to go more commercial album to album in the 1980s.  By being dropped by Epic, Kick Axe were able to unlock some serious heavy metal ideas, combining them into something a little more original.  The sonics could have used some more tender loving care, but they only had a month to make this thing.  It is the best thing they could have produced by themselves at the time, and probably the most pure.  The right producer could have tightened up the songs just enough to make each one a classic unto itself.  Rock the World is an indulgent Kick Axe album, just going for it, and fuck the world!

4/5 stars

 

 

Part One:  “Reality is the Nightmare”
Part Two:  “Weekend Ride”
Getting More Tale #773:  Rock Candy + Internet = Kick Axe!
Part Three:  Vices
Part Four:  The Transformers soundtrack (as Spectre General)
Part Five:  Welcome to the Club
Part Six:  Rock the World

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – D23 special look

What is this?  A surprise twist?  A mere tease?  Or is it…destiny?

Let me know what you think of Rey’s “new look”.