Reviews

REVIEW: Sloan – “Kids Come Back Again at Christmas” / “December 25” (2016 single)

SLOAN“Kids Come Back Again at Christmas” / “December 25” (2016 murderecords 7″ single)

This record arrived at LeBrain HQ almost a year ago — too late to include with last year’s Christmas reviews.  So, not only did I wait until today to review it, I actually waited until today to even open it!  This record is courtesy of James from the KMA, a superfine guy who always hooks me up with the latest Sloan rarities.  This 7″ single released on murderecords certainly qualifies.

The record is packaged not only with a download code, but also four unique Christmas cards and even little red envelopes for them.  I would never deface these collectables and send them out; to me they are part of the single.  Each card has a relevant Sloan lyric inside, such as “I’m just walking around, I made that snowsuit sound.”

Both seasonal songs are originals.  Chris Murphy takes the first lead vocal on “Kids Come Back Again at Christmas”, a bright piano-based Sloan number.  Bells and chimes make it sound seasonal, but otherwise it’s good old mid-tempo Sloan pop rock.  “December 25” is led by the vocals of Jay Ferguson.  Jay’s material is often laid back and more contemplative.  Both tracks have certain Sloan trademarks, such as strong melodies, backing vocals, and an old-fashioned no-frills approach.  All instruments are played by the band, with nothing extraneous added like you often find in Christmas rock tunes.

Two catchy songs, a cool limited edition package, and vinyl.  Sounds good to me.

4/5 stars

Advertisements

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home for Christmas” (1994 single)

BON JOVI “Please Come Home for Christmas” (1994 Mercury single)

Christmas of ’94 was a good one for Bon Jovi.  Their first greatest hits Cross Road was a smash, returning Bon Jovi to the charts.   It spawned two hit singles:  “Always” and later on, “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night”.  With all that going on, it is understandable if you missed another Bon Jovi single that was just under the radar.

“Please Come Home for Christmas” is billed as a Bon Jovi single, but in actuality it’s a Jon Bon Jovi solo track.  It was first released exclusively to the album A Very Special Christmas 2 (1992), billed to Jon Bon Jovi and not performed with the band.  By ’94, solo and band Bon Jovi were becoming blurred.  Jon’s solo track “Blaze of Glory” was on Cross Road even though it’s from Jon’s first solo album.  Nowhere on the “Please Come Home for Christmas” single is it indicated that this is a Bon Jovi solo recording, further blurring the lines.

None of that really matters; Bon Jovi is Jon’s band and this single gathers together his first three Christmas recordings in one place.  It’s actually a great value.

The old Charles Brown seasonal classic has been covered over and over, notably by the Eagles.  Jon’s version isn’t bad either.  You either like Bon Jovi or you don’t.  If you like Bon Jovi then this will probably be right up your alley.

Next up, one of the B-sides from Keep the Faith and an original song too:  “I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas”.  This has the vibe of Keep the Faith, with full production by Bob Rock.  Why can’t everybody be kind to each other every day like they are on Christmas?  It ain’t easy to write an original Christmas song, and Jon did an excellent job on this one.  I’ve always preferred it to “Please Come Home for Christmas”.

Finally, from the first Very Special Christmas album (1987), it’s a live take of “Back Door Santa” (Clarence Carter).  That means it’s from the Slippery When Wet tour.  Vintage Bon Jovi with cheesy keyboards right out “Social Disease”.  It’s not good but it’s here!  Meaning, Bon Jovi fans don’t have to look for A Very Special Christmas to complete their collections.

Two for three decent songs isn’t bad.  All are non-album tracks, so that’ll make this single worth it to you.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion – A Piss-Up in a Brewery / Christmas 2000

MARILLIONChristmas 2000A Piss-Up in a Brewery (2000 fan club CD)
MARILLION A Piss-Up in a Brewery (19 track download version released 2010)

Being a member has its advantages, and when joining the official Marillion fan club entails a free exclusive CD, you can always count on me to be on board.  Marillion’s third, A Piss-Up in a Brewery, was my first.  The original 12 track Racket Records printing (WebFree 03) is a treasure.  It was made available again to members of the Front Row Club subscription service in 2003, as Bass Brewery Museum, Burton, UK – 17th November 2000 (FRC-011).  CD has space limitations, but in 2002 a DVD of the full 19 song show was released.  Then in 2010, the audio (mp3 or FLAC) of all 19 tracks was made available for download.  Anyway you want it, you can get the complete performance as it was.

Marillion were invited to perform intimate gigs at the Bass Brewery and get their own signature beer.  They chose an acoustic format with new material, special covers and a guest.  They were hard at work on their new album Anoraknophia, “which you’ve already bought” said Steve Hogarth, referring to their innovative pre-ordering scheme.  The second gig was recorded for the fan club-only Christmas CD.

A quiet “Go!” begins and gently builds to the throbbing chorus, “Wide awake at the edge of the world.”  The second song also quietly builds from calm beginnings.  “After Me” is one of their most memorable pop melodies, infused with integrity from the start, and stripped bare in the brewery.  Then from their 1994 concept album Brave comes the single “Alone Again in the Lap of Luxury”.*  Intense songs for an intimate show.  “Lap of Luxury” smoulders, and as it burns, Steve Hogarth blasts for all he’s got.

The first big surprise of the evening was the Fish-era B-side “Cinderella Search”, albeit the shortened 7″ version and not the full-on five and a half minutes of brilliance from the 12″ single.  The amusing thing is when a spoiling audience member blurts out the title having attending the night before.  “Oh, there’s always one,” says Hogarth.  The singer had never performed the song before these gigs.  The acoustic setting alleviates any pressure to be like Fish.  It also enables them to seamlessly meld the song onto “The Space”, already popular in acoustic form.

“A Collection” is another B-side with dark subject matter.  It’s about “an uncle” with an interesting hobby, but it’s also an ironically bright tune.  “Beautiful”* and “Afraid of Sunrise”* both date back to 1995’s Afraid of Sunlight, a pair really made for the intimate setting.

New friend Stephanie Sobey-Jones on cello is invited onstage for a sombre “Sympathy”, both a single and a Rare Bird cover.   Cello also features on the new song “Number One”.  It had simple beginnings, explains Hogarth.  “I had some words, and Mark had some chords.”  Interjects Mark Kelly, “Three, actually. I’m not joking!”   The track takes a stab at the artificiality of modern pop music, but was only included on the pre-ordered deluxe edition of Anoraknophobia.  Simple, but extremely intense.  The cello stays for “Dry Land”, a favourite ballad from 1992’s Holidays in Eden (and even earlier).  The voice of Steve (Hogarth) rings true on even the most difficult note, while the guitar of Steve (Rothery) makes for a sweltering solo.

Back to 1987, and the old favourite “Sugar Mice”.*  Of all the old Fish classics, “Sugar Mice” is the one that Hogarth most easily adopts.  The scars that he is nursing at the end of the bar sounds like his own.

Yet still the humour is always there.  As they warm up for the Mexican-sounding “Gazpacho”, Mark Kelly asks “Am I in the wrong band?”

“You have been for years,” deadpans Pete Trewavas.

“Gazpacho” gets you moving as the concert enters its final third.  Away, yon darkness; the music stays largely celebratory from here, though the lyrics maintain some bite.  Elvis Presley, O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson were mentioned as inspirations for the lively song.  Celtic sounds invade “80 Days”,* an ode to the audience who clap along to every beat.  “80 Days” was always acoustic, and “The Answering Machine”* has existed in a popular acoustic alternate arrangement for years.  The brewery crowd clearly liked both very much.

A slew of covers are encore treats.  Crowded House’s “How Will You Go” (from 1991’s Woodface) is a brilliant song and choice.  There’s one more original (drummer Ian Mosely smokes on “Cannibal Surf Babe”) before they do Carole King’s “Way Over Yonder”* and The Beatles’ “Let It Be”.*  Rothery gets a bluesy guitar showcase on “Way Over Yonger”, though Hogarth has the soul credentials too, as “Let It Be” ably proves.

For a long time, I felt that the original Christmas 2000 release of A Piss-Up in a Brewery to be one of the best Marillion live albums, period.  It’s still magnificent in its full length, though perhaps they should have just made it widely available to everyone in the first place.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been a hit, but if they were on Santa’s good list that year, you never know.

5/5 stars

* Indicates this song was not on the 2000 Christmas release of A Piss-Up in a Brewery, but only the DVD and download versions.

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – A Twisted Christmas (2006)

TWISTED SISTERA Twisted Christmas (2006 Razor & Tie)

One thing I love about Christmas time is the ability to knock out all these Christmas album reviews.  I can only listen to this stuff seasonally, and I wouldn’t subject you to it otherwise.  In my quest to Review Everything I Own and Then Some, we must occasionally delve into Christmas music.

Rock bands doing Christmas tunes is…well, I mean it worked out OK for Elvis, and then later on Twisted Sister and the guys from Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  Each of those artists had success with Christmas music for good reasons, but I think Twisted Sister’s was purely the novelty value of it.  The humour.  The nudge-nudge-jokey-ness of it.  It wasn’t that they made a Christmas album laden with integrity.  It’s a joke album as the intro implies.

The album commences with Dee & company singing a traditional acoustic version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.  They are then interrupted by someone saying “This isn’t Twisted Sister!”  It then goes metal with a dash a punk.  “Ho ho ho!  Let’s go!”

The biggest joke is that, apparently, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was always just “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” in disguise.  This was the big Christmas hit that put Twisted back in the spotlight, and it’s certainly the most enjoyable track on the CD.

Songs follow vague heavy metal blueprints.  “White Christmas” is imbued with an Iron Maiden gallop and a couple chords from “SMF”.  One thing is clear, and that is Dee Snider’s voice still has it.  The guy is a hell of a singer, period.  He’s joined by Lita Ford on “I’ll be Home for Christmas”, in the style of Twisted’s original epic ballad “The Price”.  Unfortunately this one stinks like Christmas cheese that should have been thrown out last year.  A shouty “Silver Bells” is done with a splash of AC/DC, but ends up sounding more like Poison.  Bassist/producer Mark “The Animal” Mendoza has a pretty kickass bass solo, though.

Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” is the foundation of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, and it is at this point that you realise a whole album of this stuff is a bit too much.  “Let It Snow” is given the doomy treatment, as an amalgam with Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave”.  I suppose the doomy direction does go better with lines like “The weather outside is frightful”.  Maybe Dee & company are on to something here, but I’m not too sure about the Sabbathy version of “Deck the Halls” with echoes of “War Pigs” and “Never Say Die”.

“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” is a little dull, and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is too long, as it often is.  The only version of “Twelve Days of Christmas” anyone needs for a novelty is Bob & Doug McKenzie’s classic.  That’ll make your party pop a lot better than Twisted’s version.

Let’s check some boxes.  Is this album:

  • Fun?  (sometimes)
  • Heavy?  
  • Twisted?  
  • Creative?  

All well and good.  But will you:

  • Listen to it more than once a year?  
  • Enjoy as much as something else you could have played instead?  
  • Be able to use more than one or two songs for your Christmas party?  
  • Ever really look forward to hearing it again?

It is good that A Twisted Christmas brought the band the kind of success they deserved, but it is truly a shame that it is the final Twisted studio album.  They were always considered a joke to the critics, they shouldn’t have gone out on vinyl as a joke.

2/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: ECW Extreme Music – Various Artists (1998)

Welcome to…
…Hosted by Vinyl Connection

ECW Extreme Music (1998 CMC)

There are way too many CDs in my collection that I don’t like, but I own for one or two rarities.  ECW Extreme Music is one of those many.  I have never watched an ECW wrestling match in my life.  I only know one of the wrestlers pictured inside, Bam Bam Bigelow, because he was in the WWF when I was a kid.  I don’t like the 90s version of wrestling with the blood and barbed wire.  And I don’t like much of the music they used.

First is the generic riff/loop combo of Harry Slash and the Slashtones, whoever that is.  Skip that repetitive crap to get to a White Zombie remix. “El Phantasmo and the Chicken-Run Blast-O-Rama” was a great groove from Astro-Creep: 2000.  The “Wine, Women & Song” mix by Charlie Clouser is from their remix CD Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds.  It’s an enjoyable remix, which is something best appreciated on its own rather than on a remix album.

Somebody named Kilgore did a carbon copy cover of “Walk” by Pantera, presumably because using the original would have cost more?  It’s embarrassingly copycat.  Your friends who don’t know will assume it’s Pantera.  Fortunately a great Megadeth tune is next.  Cryptic Writings is an underrated album, and “Trust” was probably the second best track on it (right after “A Secret Place”).   This instrumental mix is an exclusive and has emphasis on Marty Friedman’s lead guitar which replaces the vocals.

Bruce Dickinson (and Roy Z) is next with a lacklustre cover of “The Zoo” by the Scorpions.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, it’s just a cover, but it’s also a non-album track that collectors will want.  Too bad it’s not exceptional like most of Bruce’s output.  It’s just good not great.  Another cover follows:  Motorhead doing “Enter Sandman”!  It’s as bizarre and weirdly perfect as you’d expect it to be.  Grinspoon are next with their fairly stinky version of Prong’s “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck”, robbed of all its snarl.  John Bush-era Anthrax are more impressive with Metallica’s “Phantom Lord” from Kill ‘Em All.  It’s breakneck, and also very cool to hear a Big Four thrash band covering another Big Four group.

Pantera, minus Phil Anselmo, are here for their cover of ZZ Top’s “Heard it on the X”.  It’s both ZZ Top and Pantera at the same time, and that’s kind of remarkable.  That’s it for this album though — nothing worthwhile from here out. What’s the point of having a cover of “Kick Out the Jams” (courtesy of Monster Magnet) but then beep out the naughty words?  Somebody named Muscadine decided to do “Big Balls” by AC/DC, a pretty obvious bad idea.  Just awful.  Then it’s more of Harry Slash to end the CD with some more pure filler.

CMC International released a lot of low budget crap over the years, and this CD is pretty poor.  There are five pages of merch advertising inside, including one for a ECW Extreme Music 2.  I skipped that one.  This CD is collectable for the Bruce Dickinson, Anthrax and Motorhead tracks.  But these are cover tunes we’re talking about, so tread wisely.

1.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Merry Axemas – A Guitar Christmas – Various Artists (1997)

Welcome to…
…Hosted by Vinyl Connection

MERRY AXEMAS A Guitar Christmas (1997 Sony)

Do you have a favourite Christmas album? Perhaps you need some Merry Axemas in your life.  The first one, in particular.

I used to have an annual tradition of making a Christmas mix CD.  I dropped it because after a while I ran out of good Christmas tracks. Something from Merry Axemas used to make the list every year.  Not only are there great traditional songs, but also the finest guitar slingers in the world.  For an album of (mostly) instrumentals, this one really rings the bells.

Louisiana blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd gets things started with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  Anyone on board with the blues should enjoy the solid jamming going on here!  This isn’t for grandma.  This is for guitar maniacs!  Progressive stylist Eric Johnson has a beautiful “First Nowell”, on a classical and electric guitars with accompaniment.  Grandma won’t mind this one at all, in fact she might want a copy for herself.  The wizard of the wires, Jeff Beck, then presents his slide guitar version of “Amazing Grace” complete with choir.  A different mix of elements, but not too hard to digest.


Not the version from this CD, which is instrumental

The Brian Setzer Orchestra comes out swingin’ with their instrumental “Jingle Bells”.  If you ever needed reminding how awesome the former Stray Cat is on six strings, then check this out.  Brian keeps it all accessible while simultaneously blowing off your nuts.  The big band is icing on the cake.  Joe Satriani is next up to the plate with an adventurous “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam”.  This one is strictly for guitar-heads and players, as it’s more a Joe showpiece than anything else.  Picture Joe circa Flying in a Blue Dream and you’re in the right place, but not very Christmas-y.  This is the only song that has never made one of my annual Christmas mix CDs.  Steve Morse’s “Joy to the World” is far more successful as far as the Christmas theme goes.  Steve does do it his way, but at least you can tell which carol you’re listening to.  If anyone can capture angelic Christmas guitar tones, it is Steve Morse.

How big can these names get?  Try Steve Vai on for size.  You might recall “Christmas Time is Here” from the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special.  Vince Guaraldi made it popular for all ages, and Steve does a playful take on it, using his guitar like a voice.  And the names keep getting bigger.  Heard of Joe Perry before?  The Aerosmith guitar hero does Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” as a Hawiian guitar instrumental which suddenly goes surf rock.  Rush’s Alex Lifeson then brings “The Little Drummer Boy”, with a low-key and quiet instrumental.

“‘O Holy Night”, performed by Richie Sambora formerly of Bon Jovi, swings and just barely misses.  It just doesn’t have that Christmas feel.  The Japanese guitarist Hotei has the final track, John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, which is actually a traditional that Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote lyrics to.  He goes a little over the edge partway through, but it mostly maintains the right feel.

Here’s the great thing about Merry Axemas.  Even if you don’t care for Christmas music, there is usually a need for it around, once a year.  Merry Axemas, with some modest editing, could suit your needs.  Don’t celebrate Christmas?  No problem — if you’re a fan of these players (particularly Morse, Vai, Perry, and Johnson) then you’ll want to hear what they did with these tracks.

4/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Hit Zone 4 – Various Artists (1998)

Welcome to…
…Hosted by Vinyl Connection

HIT ZONE 4 (1998 BMG)

“If You Could Only See” the reasons I own this CD.

Nobody buys a CD like Hit Zone 4 and likes every single track.  Stuff like this was popular because it gave kids an easy way to get a bunch of one hit wonders from the rock and pop genres without buying the albums.  There were also big names on board.  CDs like this were always on the charts, year ’round.  Today, kids just go to Youtube or Spotify.  But even a curmudgeon like me can find a few songs here to enjoy.

In particular, I bought this CD for a rare non-album version of “If You Could Only See” by the underrated Tonic.  This was their big hit, and the version on Hit Zone 4 is an alternate recording with a slightly new arrangement.  The liner notes lie and say it’s from their album Lemon Parade; this is obviously false.  In fact there’s no obvious way to tell it’s a unique version without listening to it.

What else is good?  “All Around the World” by Oasis (from 1997’s Be Here Now) is one of their more Beatles-worshipping moments.  Here it’s in the form of a radio edit (4:50).  I’ve never felt “All Around the World” was one of Oasis’ best tracks, and it works better in the context of its grandly overblown album.  However, “All Around the World” is like freaking gold, compared to Boyz II Men….

Other decent music:  I have a soft spot for Chantal Kreviazuk’s ballad “Surrounded”.  Jann Arden too, and “The Sound Of” is one of her very best tracks.  I’ve seen Jann live, and she did a fantastic show with stories and jokes and unforgettable songs.  Then there’s fellow Canuck Bryan Adams, with his excellent acoustic rocker “Back To You”, from his Unplugged album.  Few Adams albums from the 90s on are worth a full listen.  Unplugged is.  “Back To You” was the “new” track used as a single.  It’s bright and alive in a way that Adams’ later music is not.  Fiona Apple’s dusky “Criminal” is classic, of course.  Finally, who doesn’t still love The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “The Impression That I Get”?  They were one band that truly deserved their hit.  They’d been at it for so long, and this song is really just that one perfect tune for the right time.

Unless you were a kid in the 90s, you’ll find yourself skipping over ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys, All Saints, Robyn, and even Hanson.  Young Hanson can be tough to listen to.  I mean, they were kids, making music that kids liked.  It couldn’t really be helped.  I also find myself breezing past Mase, The Verve Pipe and Imani Coppola.  One hit wonders, right?  Shawn Colvin’s OK, but Boyz II Men can fuck right off.  “4 Seasons of Loneliness”?  Maybe because you guys are all wearing matching sweaters.  You can’t win friends with sweaters.

Hit Zone 4 is the kind of thing you buy in a bargain bin if you find it for $1.99.  These were once front racked at the old Record Store for $16.99 because they had so many hits from the late 90s.  It really was great value, because really, are you going to listen to Imani Coppola’s whole CD?  Be honest!

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Raw M.E.A.T 1 – Various Artists (1990)

Welcome to…
…Hosted by Vinyl Connection

RAW M.E.A.T 1 (1990 M.E.A.T Magazine)

Drew Masters’ legendary metal magazine M.E.A.T took a lot of pride in promoting Canadian talent.  The next logical step was putting out a CD featuring the best of the best in unsigned Canadian rock and metal.  The flagship band was Toronto’s Slash Puppet.  On this first volume, only groups from the province of Ontario signed up.   Even though the talent all came from a small region in and around Toronto (with one exception), it’s a surprisingly diverse selection of styles.

I look at Raw M.E.A.T as a first tapping of an oil reserve.  It was a gusher.  So much untapped raw talent, unheard in suburbs.

“Slow Down” by Slash Puppet was previously issued on their indi tape, but Raw M.E.A.T 1 was its first issue on CD.  The track has been described as Motorhead meets Faster Pussycat and that still fits the bill.  Lead singer Anthony J. Mifsud was the sandpaper throat to go with the rough and tumble music.  You can hear why there was such a buzz around Slash Puppet.  They had pro-level tunes and performance. All they needed was a break.

Most Raw M.E.A.T buyers knew what they were getting with Slash Puppet. The rest of the tunes were uncharted territory.

Eiffel Power, from Taranna, knocked it out with “City Action”.  Singer Lionel Lois  had ample range and lung capacity for this fun metal shuffle, very current for the time.  Think of Extreme’s first album but with more muscle.  Then there’s the instantly likeable “Feel Me Sweet” by Brampton’s own Ragadee Anne.  Yes, it’s true:  coming up with names for bands isn’t always easy, but “Feel Me Sweet” kicks.  One reason they sound so professional is due to the production by Tom Treumuth (Triumph), surely an advantage in the studio.  Glam rock with bite and youthful innocence sure sounds good.

Blackglama (Toronto) take it to the streets with the rock/rap hybrid of “Playin’ Hardball (With the Big Boys)”.  This was just a year or two ahead of its time, though director Bruce McDonald used it in his 1991 film Highway 61  (but not the soundtrack CD).  The next group, Washington Wives, bring it to immaculately composed AOR rock.  “Memoirs, Etc.” has backing vocals from Phil Naro, from just across the border in Buffalo.  Naro is best known for Talas and his work with Kiss’ Peter Criss.  “Memoirs, Etc.” is vaguely familiar, as if you’ve heard its like on the radio before (Journey? Night Ranger?), but there’s no question this track was hit-ready.  Zero fat content, this is all meat of the most melodic variety.

Short Avenue has another “name” attached, that being “Scarpelli”.  Guitarist Gene Scarpelli is the son of Gino, of Toronto’s Goddo.  Short Avenue sounds nothing like Goddo, rather more like some tough street punks ready to mix it up.  With hindsight, they sound like precursors to The Four Horsemen.  “Push Comes to Shove” is right in the same vein as the Horsemen’s “Rockin’ is Ma Business”.  From the Horsemen to the Cult:  The Cult have always been big in Canada.  First impressions are that Trouble In Mind (Toronto) were very inspired by Ian Astbury.  Regardless, their track “Sweet Addictions” is album quality.  Lead singer Beau (just “Beau”) turned up on a later instalment of the Raw M.E.A.T series, but that’s another story.

We depart Toronto momentarily for a trip to the nation’s capitol.  Ottawa’s Antix had been self-releasing vinyl since 1986, and “Kick It Up” was a new track.  With a Van Halen shuffle, their track hits the right spots, but suffers from inadequate production.   It’s unfortunate that the most experienced band has one of the poorest sounding tracks on the CD.

Russian Blue received their first major exposure via Raw M.E.A.T, and thanks to their incredible song “Once a Madman”, they gained a cult following.  They were a double threat:  a magnificent singer and a terrific guitar player.   Vocalist Jo E. Donner found himself compared to a young Robert Plant.  Richard Gauci backed that up with memorable guitar hooks.  “Once a Madman” gets the job done in just 3:15, leaving behind an unforgettable and unique rocker that begs for repeat listens.  One reason it sounds so good?  Produced by a pre-fame Harry Hess of Harem Scarem.

The next band, Zyle, sound like they were going for a traditional metal sound.  The Scorpions come to mind immediately, as does fellow Canadian rockers White Wolf.  They needed a bit more originality.  The guitar solo directly quotes Randy Rhoads, too close for comfort.  But then it’s The Remains with something a little more street punk.  A variation of the classic Peter Gunn riff, “Too Much” is actually never enough.  It’s the right mixture of middle finger and middle eight.

Hanging out just down the QEW are Hamilton and Oakville, from which come the last two groups.  Cathouse prove that you can never have enough permutations of the classic Van Halen shuffle.  “In For the Kill” nails it, with a vocalist who seems like equal parts Skid Roper and Rob Halford.  Finally, Oakville’s Johannes Linstead is best known today for his flamenco guitar albums.  He didn’t start there!  Wildside (later to become Gypsy Jayne) are about that sleaze rock.  You can hear that the guitarist is something special, though you wouldn’t predict the future from this one track.

It’s difficult to be objective, even though so many years have passed since Raw M.E.A.T 1.   Many (if not most) of these bands had potential.  Toronto in the early 90s was ready to explode as “the next Seattle”, but there was no “next Seattle”.  12 of these 13 songs are really fondly remembered, with one just needing a little more originality.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Steve Vai – Alien Love Secrets (1995)

STEVE VAI – Alien Love Secrets (1995 Relativity)

You can always count on lil’ Stevie Vai to deliver something completely off the wall…except when he’s trying to play it straight.

Compared to Passion and Warfare and Sex & Religion, Steve plays it remarkably straight on the stripped back mini-album Alien Love Secrets. Remarkably straight for Steve Vai, that is. This is a guy who is known to make his guitar sound like anything except a guitar.  There’s plenty of that here (check out “Bad Horsie”, which sounds like some kind of bad horsie at times), but there are also actual grooves and riffs too.  Alien Love Secrets is an instrumental mini-album that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Steve’s music has always been an alternative to the mainstream, but grunge and heavy rock play an influence on “Bad Horsie”, one of the heaviest Vai riffs in existence.  Former Ozzy/Journey drummer Deen Castronovo is there to help cement the grooves (Deen also played on Ozzy’s Vai-written song “My Little Man”).  Alien Love Secrets is the ideal starter for people who don’t think they’re Vai fans.  The heavy rock continues on “Kill the Guy With the Ball”, featuring Deen doing some serious steppin’.

It’s wall to wall shred, but if you’re looking for something even more straight-ahead, you’ll dig “Juice” which is just a classic Van Halen shuffle done a-la Steve.  What about ballads?  From the very beginning, Planet Steve has included ballads.  “Die to Live” is a stock Vai ballad, melodic with tricky lead parts.  Some of the licks remind of “Hina” from David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper.  “The Boy From Seattle” would also be pegged as a ballad, but it’s definitely a bit more challenging.  Then there’s the beautiful closing track “Tender Surrender”, which is blues for the intergalactic age.

People who don’t like Steve’s goofy side will loathe “Ya-Yo Gakk”, a duet between infant child and lead guitar.  Steve has always experimented with guitar imitating the melody of a human voice, like “So Happy” from Flex-Able.  This is more of a song, but still a matter of taste.

Alien Love Secrets will still be incomprehensible to some, but it’s probably Steve’s most accessible release overall.  Without the layers upon layers of tracks, you can get in there and just listen.  If you want more, there is a cool DVD release, with a video for each track on the album!

3.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Lies (1988)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Lies (1988 Geffen)

Do you remember your first Guns N’ Roses?  I sure do.  I skipped Appetite and went straight to GN’R Lies.  We were heading to the cottage one spring weekend and my parents offered to buy me a new cassette.  “Patience” hadn’t even been released as a single yet.  I knew no songs.  But I was intrigued by the idea of a half-acoustic EP.  I fell in love with the acoustic guitar around that time, and I wanted to check out Lies as my first Guns.  I’m kind of proud that my first Guns wasn’t Appetite.

The acoustic side was the second; first I was assaulted by the jet-propelled electric “live” side.  Which wasn’t really live.  It was recorded in the studio with crowd noise dubbed in from the 1978 Texxas Jam.  If you listen to the vocals, knowing that Axl is always in motion on stage, you can tell they are not live.  This is, of course, with 20/20 hindsight.  This electric side was a reissue of the first Guns EP, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide.  Fans had been paying ridiculous amounts of money to acquire it, so Guns decided to beat the dealers by simply reissuing it with some new songs on top.

“Reckless Life” dated back to Hollywood Rose.  Even though it’s not from Appetite, it sure could have fit on that album.  It had the energy and the hooks to make it.  It speaks to the strength of the album that songs like “Reckless Life” were left off.  A slick and groovy tune, “Move to the City”, is also included on Lies.  It’s obviously different from the direction of Appetite (horns!), but not all that dissimilar to the Illusions albums.   The electric side is rounded out by a couple covers, something we later learned that Guns really excel at…or fail completely.  There is no in-between with Guns N’ Roses covers.  They either rule or suck.  Both covers on Lies rule:  “Nice Boys” (Rose Tattoo) borders on punk, foreshadowing the future.  Finally, Axl announces that “This song is about your fuckin’ mother!”  Not exactly the kind of thing parents enjoy, but a killer track:  “Mama Kin” introduced many youngsters to the Aerosmith classic for the first time.

That first side felt dangerous.  We were used to bands like Def Leppard.  Suddenly this guy is talking about our fuckin’ mothers?  Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide aka “side one” is also catchy as fuck, so we kept going back for round two, three, and more.

 

It was actually quite genius of them to pair Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide with four acoustic tunes on side two.  The contrast works, and when you flip the record it feels fresh when you drop the needle again.  In fact it’s easy to just flip back to side one and listen again.  The quality of the acoustic songs didn’t hurt.  The side progresses from softest to hardest.  “Patience” is first, which eventually became one of Guns’ greatest hits.  You didn’t hear acoustic guitar solos often back then, or a ballad with no drums.  Even though ballads were all the rage, few bands had a song like “Patience”.  The brilliance of “Patience” isn’t the melody or the whistling.  It’s the minimalist arrangement.

I still remember my dad watching the “Patience” video with me.  “That guy’s not a very good guitar player!” he scoffed as Slash solo’d.  He never liked Guns N’ Roses.

“Used to Love Her” was always a bit of a novelty, but even so, a good novelty track.  “A joke, nothing more,” according to the cover.  It’s about a dog, in case you didn’t know.  “Used to Love Her” is upbeat, catchy and easy to sing along to.  Regardless of what my dad may think, Slash’s (electric) solo work on it is tops.

One of the most interesting songs is “You’re Crazy”, a re-recording of the Appetite for Destruction favourite.  The cover states that it was originally slow and acoustic, before being cranked up on Appetite.  Because it’s unique, the Lies version is the better of the two.  It was notorious in the highschool halls for its refrain of “You’re fuckin’ crazy.”

Even more notorious however was the closer, and for good reason.  Certain words in certain contexts are unpalatable.  Context is the key.  It matters who is saying the word, and why.  Words in themselves are not offensive, it is their usage that can be hurtful.  “One in a Million” is an ugly, angry song.  Axl’s pissed off at the cops, religion, and seemingly homosexuals and the black community as well.  Some of the harshest words are levelled at foreigners:

Immigrants and faggots,
They make no sense to me.
They come to our country,
And think they’ll do as they please.
Like start some mini-Iran,
Or spread some fucking disease.
And they talk so many God damn ways,
It’s all Greek to me.

Later on, Axl has the gall to state, “Radicals and racists, Don’t point your finger at me.  I’m a small town white boy, just tryin’ to make ends meet.”  Here we are in 2017, three decades later, and the world is still infested with angry, small town white boys.  Although Axl smugly apologized for the lyrics in advance on the front cover, “One in a Million” can’t be excused that easily.  Axl has since worked with gay and African American artists…hell, Slash’s mom was African American.  As a fan of the music, I would like to hope that Axl has learned more about the world since 1988.  We are shaped by our experience, and I hope Axl has had more positive ones.

Moving on from the lyrics, the interesting thing about “One in a Million” is that it was album debut of Axl Rose’s piano, on a song solely written by Axl.  It’s simple and guitar based, and Slash’s acoustic solo is utterly fantastic.

Finally, one of the most appealing aspects of GN’R Lies is the cover.  Taking a cue from Jethro Tull, the cover looks like a newspaper replete with dirty articles.  Open it up, and there’s a naked woman inside.  “The loveliest girls are always in your GN’R L.P.” says the headline.  I quickly folded up the cover to hide it from my parents.

Lies was a good stopgap for Guns, considering the five year gap between Appetite and Illusions.  It demonstrated growth, and cool roots.  It will always be remembered for “Patience”, but also a couple ill-advised words that had lasting repercussions.

4/5 stars