Reviews

REVIEW: Styx – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004)

STYX – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004 A&M)

Styx need to get their albums remastered and reissued pronto.  In the meantime, you can Come Sail Away with The Styx Anthology.

The great thing about the Styx Anthology is that it covers virtually all Styx history, even the first four albums on Wooden Nickel records.  Each one of those early albums is represented by a track (two for Styx II).  Those early albums had some good material on them that usually only diehards get to hear.  “Best Thing” and “You Need Love” are bright and rocking, just like you expect from Styx.  “Winner Take All” and “Rock & Roll Feeling” are consistent toe-tappers.  The jovial harmonies, and lead vocals (by Dennis DeYoung and James “JY” Young) on these tracks could easily be mistaken for later, more famous Styx.  Don’t forget the original version of “Lady” from Styx II, their first big ballad.  Styx’s flair for the dramatic was there right from the first.  (Remember “Lady” as performed by the Dan Band in the movie Old School?)

Shortly thereafter Styx signed with A&M.  1975’s Equinox boasted hits galore.  You should know “Light Up” and “Lorelei”.  But Equinox was their last with founding guitarist John Curulewski.  He was replaced by a guitarist with prodigious talent and a voice to go with it:  Tommy Shaw.  Shaw’s “Crystal Ball” is one of the best songs from the album of the same title.  “Mademoiselle” and “Shooz” are not far behind.

Styx enjoyed an abnormally long period of great, classic albums in a row.  After Crystal Ball came The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight, Cornerstone and Paradise Theatre.  With a solid lineup they continued to crank out radio staples.  Their music became grander and more conceptual thanks to Dennis DeYoung.  Tommy Shaw and JY tended to provide balance with rockier songs.  Songs like Dennis’ “The Grand Illusion” are balanced out by Young’s “Miss America” and Shaw’s “Renegade”.  Sure, Shaw could write a ballad or two, but his are more rootsy like the acoustic “Boat on a River”.

Through “Come Sail Away”, “Babe”, “The Best of Times” and “Too Much Time on My Hands”, it is impossible to understate how hit-laden this CD set is.  “Blue Collar Man”, “Rockin’ the Paradise”…it’s seemingly endless!

Until it ends, right after “Mr. Roboto”.  Though their lineup was stable, Styx were volatile.  DeYoung was fired at one point for being too controlling.  Shaw threatened to quit if the song “First Time” was ever released as a single (it wasn’t and it’s not on here).  It came to a head for real with “Roboto”, from 1983’s Kilroy Was Here.  Though it went to #3, the tour did poorly and the band were not happy with DeYoung and his rock operatics.  Tommy Shaw stated that he couldn’t get into songs about robots (long before he wrote an album about Mars).  The Styx Anthology cuts you a break by not subjecting you to their last single before splitting, “Music Time”.

When Styx reformed in 1990 it was without Shaw, who was doing very well in the supergroup Damn Yankees.  He was replaced by singer/guitarist Glen Burtnik.  Burtnik’s single “Love is the Ritual” is a jarring change.  The seven years between it and “Roboto” are audible, as Styx forged a clear hard rock sound with the single.  Sporting synth bass and shouted “Hey!’s”, you couldn’t get further from the core Styx sound than “Love is the Ritual”.  With the new member singing, it’s hard to hear any similarity to Styx at all.  Dennis’ “Show Me the Way” has proven to be a more timeless song.  Although it resonated with Americans at the time of the Gulf War, today it is just a great song about keeping the faith.

Styx split again, but reformed with Shaw in 1995.  Unfortunately, founding drummer John Panozzo died from years of alcohol abuse and was replaced by the incredible Todd Sucherman.  “Dear John” is Sucherman’s first appearance on the disc, a tribute to Panozzo.  The somber Tommy Shaw ballad (from 1997’s Return to Paradise) simply had to be included on a Styx anthology.  The only Styx studio album ignored on the set is 1999’s Brave New World, and rightfully so.  Instead we leap ahead in time for the final song, featuring yet another lineup change, and one of the most significant.  Dennis DeYoung was let go and replaced by Canadian solo star Lawrence Gowan.  This has proven to be a fortuitous undertaking for both Styx and Gowan.  Gowan plays keyboards on “One With Everything” (from 2003’s Cyclorama), an epic six minute Tommy Shaw progressive workout.  It’s a brilliant song, and a perfect indication that for Styx, a whole new chapter had opened.*

Do yourself a favour. Go and buy Styx’s new album The Mission, and put The Styx Anthology in the basket too.  Then enjoy, and congratulate yourself for a great start on your Styx collection!

5/5 stars

* Two more lineup changes:  when bassist Chuck Panozzo fell ill, he became a part time bassist for Styx.  Glen Burtnik returned on bass this time and played on Cyclorama.  When he left again, he was replaced by Ricky Phillips from Coverdale-Page.

 

Advertisements

REVIEW: Blotto – Collected Works (1994)

BLOTTO – Collected Works (1994 Blotto Records)

Blotto’s discography was dominated by singles and four track EPs.  They had one album, the supremely entertaining Combo Akimbo (1982), and that was that!  So, when the CD age rolled around, the suits over at Blottones publishing must have decided to get in on that!  Almost all Blotto’s output was reissued in a single CD collection, including the complete album Combo Akimbo.

Blotto’s Collected Works is probably the most logical pit-stop to check out the band on your musical journey.  We begun with their hit “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard”, from their debut EP Hello, My Name Is Blotto, What’s Yours?.  “Lifeguard” represents the hopes and dreams of a shoe salesman who really just wants to get paid to hang out on a beach all day.  Done in the surf-rock style of course.  Then “(We Are The) Nowtones” is a musical advertisement for the band you should hire for your next event.  “We are the Nowtones!  We do Top 40!  We wear matching outfits!  We look real sporty!  Like a living juekbox, we play the hits.  Appear in nightclubs that are the pits.”

At this point the compilation presents the Combo Akimbo album in sequence.  For my money, I prefer the vinyl.  Not only is it a self-contained work, but it’s got way more beef to it.  Comparing LP to CD, there is no question which sounds better.  Combo Akimbo is blast of an album, but we’ve already reviewed it, so check that out for more detail.  The key takeaway for most people will be the song “Metal Head” featuring Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, which received some MTV and MuchMusic play in the early 80s.  For a certain generation, this is the only Blotto song they know due to its presence on the legendary compilation LP Metal For Breakfast.

Blotto’s second EP Across and Down (1980) is also presented in sequence.  “She’s Got a Big Boyfriend” has a riff similar to the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer”, but the song goes in another direction — 80s pop rock.  Then “Gimme the Girl” is tropical reggae vibes via Albany NY.  It’s supremely fun for parties.  Run for cover if you’re overly sensitive when “My Baby’s the Star of a Driver’s Ed Movie” begins!  The classic ballad stylings contrast with the words.  The final Across and Down song is the punk rock scorcher “H.S.H.” — “High School Honey”, a clear winner in any race.

“Lightning Strikes” is a real rarity, from a 1982 indy compilation called Hudson Rock: Fifteen Bands From Albany. It’s an also-ran with nice harmonies but is otherwise largely forgettable.  A live version of “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” is better than the studio original, and it’s another rarity.  It was originally released on a low quality flexi-disc that came with a 1987 compilation LP also called I Wanna Be a Lifeguard.  Then there’s an amusing song called “The B-side”, from the single for “When the Second Feature Starts”.  “The A-side gets all the glory, the B-side, that’s another story…and you’re probably not even listening to this right now!”

The only serious skipper is the cover of “Stop! In the Name of Love” with lead vocals by former singer Blanche Blotto.  This B-side from the first EP is campy but not particularly good.  The overwrought vocals ruin what might have been a cool disco arrangement.  Another dicey inclusion is a “karaoke” mix of “Lifeguard” (eww).  A better song to include would have been “Bud…Is After Us” from the first EP which otherwise would have made the CD too long.

Yes, it’s the Collected Works, but there’s still a bit more out there to collect.  There’s even another compilation CD called Then More Than Ever from 2000, all unreleased material.  Still more to explore; but in the meantime consider Collected Works as a great way to get really, really Blotto.

4/5 stars

 

VIDEO REVIEW: Blotto – Tonight at Toad’s (1982)

BLOTTO – Tonight at Toad’s (1982 television broadcast)

Since finally “discovering” Blotto this summer, I’ve already viewed their concert Tonight at Toad’s (3/25/82) numerous times, so much that I know the whole broadcast by heart.  The comedic rock band took the stage at Toad’s Place (New Haven, CT) for a TV broadcast.  The amicable, well-rehearsed group kept things at all times entertaining.

Blotto opened with the satirical “(We Are) The Nowtones)”, an oldies-style advertisement for a band who’ll play anything you want; and they’ll say “thank you” at the end of every song!  It’s a clever little pastiche with even the stage lighting being part of the story.

The second broadcast song, “It’s Not You” was from their then-forthcoming album debut, Combo Akimbo.  Guitarist Bowtie Blotto has to tell his girl that it’s all over, but it’s not her fault.  “It’s not you, it’s your family that I can’t stand.”  With a catchy guitar lick, Bowtie tells it how it is.  As soon as Bow takes the girl home, her family goes right into him.  “I try, and I try to be cool when they start.  But girl, they’re the ones who are tearing us apart!”

Your mother wants to know if I am on drugs,
Your brother shows me his collection of bugs,
Your aunts don’t like me and your uncles are a bunch of thugs.
Your father coughs and blows smoke in my face,
He still believes in the superior race,
He says if he was president, the world would be a better place.

Dear God, that sounds like a nightmare.  But it gets worse!

Don’t take it personally,
It’s just all those little things,
Like when I come over and your father tells me, “don’t park in the driveway ’cause your car drips oil on the new white pebbles!” And then when I come inside, the cat jumps all over my lap, and gets hair all over my shirt and pants! And your grandmother sits on the newspaper and gets it all wrinkled and balled up, I can’t even read it. And your sister brings out her scrap book, she wants me to look at all of her old prom pictures. I mean, who cares! And your brother wants me to help him with his science project, dissecting frogs! Oh, what a mess! And then when I go in the bathroom, and wash my hands, and all they have is soft soap, and my hands smell like coconuts, and I can’t dry ’em on those little guest towels, so I gotta dry ’em on my shirt, which is already covered with cat hair!

What a great little pop rock tune, though.  That’s the thing about Blotto.  Even if mixing comedy and rock (a dicey proposition to be sure) isn’t your bag, there’s no denying Blotto were top-notch.  The musicianship and especially their singing was always spot-on.  They could tackle multiple styles easily, and had an arsenal of three lead singers (Bowtie, Broadway and Sergeant Blotto) to harmonize.  They also just wrote good songs.

Broadway goes next with “Occupational Hazard”, also from the forthcoming album.  Enjoy this decent rock n’ roll track about the dangers of being in a band.  Another good tune:  if the songs were not good enough, the lyrics wouldn’t carry the show alone.

Blotto’s big hit was 1979’s “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” from their debut EP.  Sergeant Blotto leads the charge to the beach in this surf-rock new-wave anthem.  Poor Sarge, stuck working in a shoe store all summer.  His dream job?  Being a lifeguard of course!  “I want an ocean, and some sunscreen lotion.  Take me to the beach with a thousand pretty girls in reach!”  Sounds awesome Sarge, sign us up.

The show takes a break for an interview with the five Blotto members, including bassist Cheese and drummer Lee Harvey.  They talk about the still-untitled album and banter about naturally.  Why were Blotto not huge?  Watching this video, it’s easy to imagine Blotto appealing to many.  The legend goes that they were once offered a major label deal but would have lost creative control.  They chose to put out their album on Blotto Records instead.  Maybe if they had signed with the label…?  Who knows.  Watch this interview yourself and see a band that coulda woulda shoulda.

 

Back to the music.  “Goodbye, Mr. Bond” is sung by the evil villain “Dr. Bow”.  Any Bond fan will take delight in this spy adventure.  Will Bond escape this time?  “I could kill you right now, but no!  There’s a better way…”  That usually doesn’t go well for the villain, but the song goes on the verge of progressive rock during an instrumental breakdown.  “Goodbye, Mr. Bond” flows seamlessly into a cover of “Secret  Agent Man” with Sarge on lead vocals.

Kids of the 80s remember Blotto for one song:  “Metal Head”.  Sergeant Blotto’s friends are gettin’ worried.  He’s turning into a heavy metal head!  It has all the necessary ingredients for a metal song:  Solid riff, howlin’ vocals, ripping guitar solos, thunderous drum fills, and screams aplenty.

This great little show is a wonderful way for you to enjoy the next 45 minutes of your life. Get Blotto.

4/5 stars

 

    1. (We Are) The Nowtones (from 1979’s EP Hello! My Name Is Blotto. What’s Yours?)
    2. It’s Not You (from 1982’s Combo Akimbo)
    3. Occupational Hazard (from Combo Akimbo)
    4. I Wanna Be a Lifeguard (from Hello! My Name Is Blotto. What’s Yours?)
    5. Interview
    6. Goodbye, Mr. Bond (from Combo Akimbo)
    7. Secret Agent Man (Johnny Rivers cover)
    8. Metal Head (from Combo Akimbo)

 

 

 

REVIEW: Blotto – Combo Akimbo (1982)

BLOTTO – Combo Akimbo (1982 Blotto Records)

Blotto were just too much fun!  A variety of rocking styles and amusing lyrics makes Combo Akimbo, their only studio album, a blast to listen to front to back.

Singer Sergeant Blotto takes lead vocals on “Too Much Fun”, a punky vintage Alice Cooper rock and roll romp, powered through a particle accelerator.  For track two, guitarist Bowtie Blotto leads.  “It’s Only Money” is just pure and simple rock and roll:  Kiss with a hint of early Beatles.  Broadway Blotto (guitar) takes over lead vocals on “Scream”.  It’s a pleasantly New Wave 80s-sounding rock song with a great chorus, aided and abetted by Sarge and Bowtie.  “I Quit” (vocals by Broadway) is a perfect rock anthem for those who wanna take this job and shove it.  Sassy, fun rock and roll.

The most legendary of the songs is of course “Metal Head”, lead vocals by Sarge.  It’s a funny and uncomplicated story of what could happen if you too inadvertently become a metal head.  Done in the metal style, Sarge complains that “suddenly there’s an endless void where I used to keep my brain”.  It plays on the 80s brain-dead metalhead stereotype, but for a comedy song it works.  “Wanna customize my van, and I don’t even own one.”  That’s Buck Dharma from Blue Oyster Cult on lead guitar (and in the video).  Dig those four (count ‘em!) false endings.

Side two is just as much fun as side one.  “It’s Not You” boasts chiming, jangly guitars and catchy everything.  Bowtie proclaims that “It’s not you, it’s your family I can’t stand!”  It’s just a quick blast of gleeful complaining.  “Occupational Hazard” sounds, strangely enough, like an outtake from Peter Criss’ first solo album…if it was the best song on the album.  It has that old-timey style that Pete was so good at back then…but better.  Then the very New Wave rock-styled “When the Second Feature Starts” is a memento of the old drive-in days.  Kissing through the cartoons, fogging up the windows…remember what it was like?

Possibly the most intriguing and entertaining song on the album is closer “Goodbye, Mr. Bond”.  From the perspective of the villain who has just captured 007, it’s a brilliant homage to the greatest spy of all time.  “We’ve been expecting you, monsieur Bond.”  The bad guy invites him to sit and chat before discussing how Bond should die.  “This is your last interference.  I could shoot you right now, but NO!  Hahahaha, there’s a better way!”  We all know how it goes from there!  “Goodbye, Mr. Bond” is a treat whether you like the super spy or not.  The music captures the Bond essence and the lyrics pay tribute to both the good and bad Bond clichés.

What a blast Combo Akimbo is.  It’s not an outstanding classic album by any stretch, but it’s fun, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and every song is good.  Worth tracking down if only for “Metal Head” and “Goodbye, Mr. Bond”.

4/5 stars

 

GUEST REVIEW: Jane’s Addiction – Jane’s Addiction (1987)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

JANE’S ADDICTION – Jane’s Addiction (1987 Triple X)

In 1987, the stage was set for a new exciting sound to challenge the successful glam metal scene. Some thought that metal had become gluttonous and bloated, filled with commercial aspirations that betrayed the genre’s roots. The alternative revolution started not with Nirvana’s Nevermind, but four years earlier when Jane’s Addiction chose to begin their recording career in an unorthodox way. They decided to make their debut LP a live album. Several of the songs on this live album would never be re-recorded for a studio LP, leaving these the only official versions of the songs. At the height of the glam metal craze, Jane’s Addiction was a much needed breath of fresh air in the rock world. Many different styles of rock were being played on the Sunset Strip, but up to this point only the more pop-oriented groups were receiving mainstream attention. This self-titled album at points is a heavier, more aggressive album than a lot of the stuff that was being passed off as “metal” at the time, without actually being metal. At other points, it displays an emphasis on songwriting depth over quick catchy gang chorus melodies. The ballads on this album are of an organic nature, and acoustic guitars play a dominant role in the proceedings.

Jane’s Addiction is an emotionally honest offering. It is a very passionate and energetic recording that shows the full dynamic of the band better than any of their later releases. While their first two studio albums are superior efforts overall, they don’t display the many different influences of the group’s sound as clearly as they do on this record. While they would distill those influences into something truly unique and original on Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual, this eponymous album shows the influences spread out further into different songs, offering a unique glimpse into what makes the band’s later material tick. Compare the brash speedy opener “Trip Away” with the earnest bass driven ballad “I Would for You”. Or the dirty distorted Zeppelin style struts of “Pigs in Zen” with the acoustic roots rock of “My Time”. It’s a unique experience that doesn’t at all feel like a band trying to find their footing, but one that is about to achieve their full potential.

This concert at The Roxy Theatre captures them as raw as the band would ever be. The recording isn’t stellar, but the production fits the music quite well. The music is emotionally raw and open, so the recording should and does match. Some studio overdubs were utilized during post-production, but these don’t bother you in a way that they would on another live album. Despite being recorded live, Jane’s Addiction doesn’t feel like a conventional live record in the way it progresses. This recording was meant to be an introduction to the band, and it seems as though they thought that the best way to capture the pure power of their sound would be to record the basics in a live setting, while enhancing the recordings with additional guitars, drum parts, and things of that nature to create a hybrid. You get the power of a live recording, with the addition of multiple guitars to hold down the rhythm when Dave Navarro takes a solo. These overdubs aren’t deceitful, because the band doesn’t make any effort to conceal them. They are simply meant to augment to original recording, to give the songs the best possible presentation on the band’s first outing.

The songs themselves are superb. Jane’s Addiction had a well of talent from all four members. In the inspired tribal beats of Stephen Perkins, who is better described as a percussionist than as a drummer. In the urgent bass lines of Eric Avery, whose playing propels the songs along and keeps them from plodding. In the great feeling of Dave Navarro, who isn’t the flashiest player, but knows how to fill space and throws in some of his tastiest soloing to the aggressive punkish “Whores”, one of the heaviest tunes on here that blends the aforementioned punk influences with a metallic sheen and a good portion of spirited melodic vocal chants from Perry Farrell that call to mind a world music influence. Perry Farrell’s voice is more aggressive and gravelly on this recording compared to his screechy sound on later albums. He’s not a great singer, but he possesses a unique voice that sells the material with conviction. His lyrical abilities are also superlative, with many of them being very personal.

Nowhere is this more evident than on “Jane Says”, an early version of the song that would later become their biggest hit on Nothing’s Shocking. The song is just two chords, yet the words tell a tale that is so entrancing that it maintains attention throughout its entire run time. It’s a song about a real life woman that Perry Farrell knew named Jane, and her struggle with drugs and abusive relationships. The re-recorded version is superior, but it’s interesting to hear how the song got its start. It conveys a message that many living in modern society can relate with. The feelings of being so overwhelmed and disenfranchised with your current way of life that simple change is not enough to satisfy you. You feel as though you need to completely overhaul your life, and leave what you have behind to start a new beginning in a foreign land “…Jane Says I’m going away to Spain…”, but practical reasons keep you from fulfilling that daydream “…when I get my money saved…”. It’s truly an alt-rock classic, proving that you don’t need hundreds of layers of backing vocals to write a song that connects with people.

To offer their fans an even greater connection to the music, they use familiarity in two spirited covers. Lou Reed’s “Rock & Roll”, and Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”, known here as simply “Sympathy”. These cover versions are done in the band’s style, and actually expand upon the originals thanks to Dave Navarro’s perfectly melodic playing in “Rock & Roll” and the unmistakable percussive backbone from Stephen Perkins in “Sympathy”. All the band’s strengths come together on“My Time”, one of the finest selections on the entire album. It’s a folksy rock song with acoustic guitar and harmonica parts, complimented by the perfect amount of percussive flair. This song is more melodic than many of the others on the album, and gives the listener a transcendent feeling. It’s one of those songs that is so beautiful and so moving that it makes the listener feel as though they’ve broken through some new musical barrier, and are floating in a state of emotional and sonic bliss. “My Time” is even more potent when listened to on headphones, and under the dark cover of the night.

As the night wears on, the record bookends “Trip Away” with “Chip Away”, containing some tribal beats and appropriate African influenced chanting from Perry Farrell. While Jane’s Addiction would garner endless acclaim for their first two studio efforts for Warner Brothers, this independent live debut on Triple X would go sadly overlooked. The band can be considered the alternative spiritual successor of Led Zeppelin. However, their music and style is clearly their own. They capture the transcendental sprawl, intensity, and intimacy of listening to a Led Zeppelin album in a way that copycats like Kingdom Come or Greta Van Fleet cannot.* Those two bands and others like them can ape Zeppelin riffs, vocal styles, and stage moves, but they don’t capture that unique and adventurous feeling that listening to one of their records always brings. Jane’s Addiction manages to capture that feeling three times over, with the first of those three times being on this absolutely enchanting live outing.

4.9/5 stars (only because the next two are even better)

1. “Trip Away”
2. “Whores”
3. “Pigs in Zen”
4. “1%”
5. “I Would for You”
6. “My Time”
7. “Jane Says”
8. “Rock n Roll” (Velvet Underground cover)
9. “Sympathy” (Rolling Stones cover)
10. “Chip Away”

* LeBrain agrees

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Bronx Boy (2018 EP)

 

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 46: Ace Frehley solo

We’re doing this one out of order because it’s a brand new release.

ACE FREHLEY – Bronx Boy (2018 EOne EP)

Original  guitarist Ace Frehley has been more active in the studio than his former band of late.  In the last decade we’ve had some great Ace originals (Anomaly and Space Invader) and a much better than expected covers album (Origins Vol. 1).  This week, Ace finally announced the title of his next solo album:  Spaceman, due October 19.  Kiss hasn’t been interested in recording an album since 2012’s Monster.  At least Gene Simmons will be making a cameo on Spaceman.

Spaceman is preceded by the limited, numbered Bronx Boy EP.  This four track record spins one new song and three you may have missed.  “Bronx Boy” will be on the new album.  It’s a shorty (under 3:00) but it packs the signature Ace punch.  Killer riff, blazing solo, great chorus, and plenty of balls!  Lyrically it’s Ace revisiting his street punk persona from his youth.  “You better look out!”

Also on the A side, you will find an unreleased remix of “Reckless” from Space Invader.  It’s a little longer and more dynamic.  “Reckless” is a brilliant tune, probably better than “Bronx Boy” itself when it comes down to brass tacks.  It’s a little more unique, in that Ace way.  It is exclusive to this EP.

On the B-side are two of the best covers from Origins Vol. 1.  Cream’s “White Room” features drummer Scott Coogan helping out on backing vocals (singing that high part).  Really though, it is a showcase for the Ace’s incredible guitar work.  Thick, thick harmonies and plenty of wah-wah will make you drool in envy.  The old Kiss classic “Cold Gin” has Mike McCready from Pearl Jam on guest guitar.  Seems like just about everybody in Seattle was a Kiss fan at some point.*  Just as important though is having a studio version of “Cold Gin” with Ace singing — the guy who wrote it!

In the grand scheme of things, do you need to buy this?  To the practical fan, no.  The album will be out in October and most practical fans don’t care so much about rare versions or physical media.  What about the fans who do care about those things?  Do they need Bronx Boy?  The answer is fuck, yes!  Limited and numbered on grey marble vinyl, with an exclusive remix — these things matter.  It means the price will go up in the coming months.  Plus, you’ll just enjoy spinning it.  And there’s a free download card if you can’t spin the vinyl!

4/5 stars

For another great Bronx Boy review, check out 2loud2oldmusic!

* Nirvana covered “Do You Love Me”.  Alice In Chains have performed in Kiss makeup.  The Melvins had three Kiss-inspired solo albums.  Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) names Ace Frehley as one of his earliest inspirations to play guitar.

 

 

COMPLETE FREHLEY REVIEWS

ACE FREHLEY – 12 Picks (1997 Megaforce Worldwide)
ACE FREHLEY – ACE FREHLEY (KISS solo album) (1978 Casblanca)
ACE FREHLEY – Anomaly (2009 version)
ACE FREHLEY – Anomaly (2017 deluxe edition)
ACE FREHLEY – “Cherokee Boogie” (1996 Attic)
ACE FREHLEY – Frehley’s Comet (1987 Megaforce Worldwide)
FREHLEY’S COMET – Live + 1 (1988 Megaforce Worldwide)
ACE FREHLEY – Loaded Deck (1998 Megaforce Worldwide)
FREHLEY’S COMET – Milwaukee Live ’87 (radio broadcast CD)
ACE FREHLEY – Origins Vol. 1 (2016 eOne)
FREHLEY’S COMET – Second Sighting (1988 Megaforce Worldwide, 1998 reissue)
ACE FREHLEY – Space Invader (2014 E One/Victor Japan)
ACE FREHLEY – Trouble Walkin’ (1989 Megaforce Worldwide)
Return of the Comet – Tribute to ACE FREHLEY (1997 Shock Records)
Spacewalk – A Salute to ACE FREHLEY (1996 DeRock/Triage)

 

REVIEW: Styx – Styxworld Live 2001

STYX – Styxworld Live 2001 (2001 Sanctuary)

There are plenty of live Styx albums, the majority with current singer Lawrence Gowan.  2001’s Styxworld is as entertaining as the title implies.  It really does represent the world of Styx:  oldies, solo hits, and obscure tracks too.  Because the Styx lineup in 2001 included guitarist/singer Glen Burtnik, there are a couple songs he wrote that Styx don’t play anymore.

Styx have had a credible career, post-Dennis DeYoung.  Adding Gowan, a solo star in Canada, was a brilliant move.   Though Gowan and DeYoung don’t sound alike, Lawrence is capable of performing Dennis’ more dramatic hits like “Come Sail Away”.   You wouldn’t want that song dropped from the set!  But Gowan also adds his own solo material:  “A Criminal Mind” (from 1985’s Strange Animal) is more than welcome.  A great song is a great song, and “A Criminal Mind” has since become a part of Styx.

Credit should be heaped for including lesser-heard classics like “Boat on a River” in the set, just as good as any of the missing songs.  You’ll also hear “Rocking the Paradise”, “Miss America”, “Sing for the Day”, “Crystal Ball”, “Half-Penny, Two-Penny” and “Lorelei” (James “JY” on lead vocals).  Essentially the setlist was whittled down to songs co-written by Tommy Shaw or James Young, with “Come Sail Away” being the only solo DeYoung-written song.

You could fill a whole other album with missing songs like “The Grand Illusion” or “Renegade” but what makes Styxworld strong are the songs included in their place.  Like it or not “Love is the Ritual” was a minor hit for Burtnik-era Styx, and an effort seems to have been made to include everybody’s material.  A big hit (though not by Styx!) is “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” by Patty Smyth and Don Henley…written by Smyth and Burtnik.  It’s cool to have a Styx version though it’s shortened for the stage.  Of course there’s “Criminal Mind” by Gowan, and even the ballad “High Enough” by Tommy Shaw’s Damn Yankees.  Though it seems like a ballad-heavy set, there is plenty of rock and roll.

Check out Styxworld for a taste of this period of Styx history.  If you like Gowan, it’s a win.

4/5 stars

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS My Ass – Classic Kiss Regrooved (1994)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 45

 My Ass – Classic Kiss Regrooved (1994 Polygram)

When reports surfaced that Kiss were in the studio working on a song with country star Garth Brooks, some assumed this was to be a bonus track for the forthcoming Kiss Alive III.  Little did we realize that Kiss were actually working on their own tribute album.

In the early 1990s, tribute albums were all the rage.  Common Thread: the Songs of the EaglesStone Free: a Tribute to Jimi HendrixOut of the Blue and Borrowed Tunes:  tributes to Neil Young.  There were many more, and Kiss were not on the trailing edge of this trend.  They beat Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to the market.

Kiss My Ass was the clever title, but it was not the first.  1990’s Hard to Believe: A Kiss Covers Compilation featured soon-to-be-famous bands like Melvins and Nirvana.  The ever-enterprising Kiss decided to corner the market with their own official tribute to themselves.

To toot their own horn, Kiss included a list of not only the musicians who appeared on Kiss My Ass, but even the ones that didn’t.  Nirvana is on the list.  According to the Melvins though, the truth is that they only dropped Kurt’s name as a guest on their track, because Gene didn’t seem too interested otherwise.  Nine Inch Nails were going to do “Love Gun”.  Both Ugly Kid Joe and Megadeth wanted to tackle “Detroit Rock City”.  It’s hard to imagine what songs Run D.M.C. and Bell Biv Devoe were supposed to record, or Tears for Fears for that matter.  Take this list with a grain of salt!

Kiss My Ass (or A** if you bought it from Walmart) is a weird album.  It’s scattershot and not immediately likeable.  It collected 11 (12 if you include the bonus track) covers by a diverse assortment of 90s artists.  The cover art sucks and lacks the Kiss logo and Ace’s real makeup (which Kiss did not have the rights to in 1994).  The only cool gimmick the cover had was the background flag was unique to the country of release.  A Kiss album with a Canadian flag is neat to own.

The album hits the ground running with some 70s cred, as Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder do “Deuce”.  Lenny funks it up while Stevie brings the harmonica.  This is an example of a simply terrific cover.  The artists put their own spin on it, changing its style but not its drive.

“Hard Luck Woman” was already up Garth Brooks’ alley.  His version doesn’t stray from the Kiss original, and even features Kiss (uncredited) as his backing band!  That makes it an official Kiss recording, just with a guest singer of sorts.  Arguably the biggest country singer of all time, and a closet Kiss fan.  The Garth Brooks track threw a lot of people for a loop, though it’s an easy song to digest.

Kiss only participated in two songs:  the Garth track, and Anthrax’s “She”.  Anthrax insisted that Paul and Gene produce it, and they did a great job of it.  Anthrax are brilliant at doing covers anyway.  John Bush-era Anthrax was truly something special, and “She” slams hard.  Heavy Kiss songs made heavier are such a delight.

The Gin Blossoms turned in a very mainstream, very mid-90s version of “Christine Sixteen”.  It kicks about as hard as the original, but something about it is very tame.  After all, singer Robin Wilson is not Gene Simmons (which is probably a good thing), and guitarist Scotty Johnson is not Ace Frehley.  Far worse through is Toad the Wet Sprocket’s soggy “Rock and Roll all Nite”, a buzzkilling country fart.  “Calling Dr. Love” by Shandi’s Addiction (a collection of assorted big names) is also a hard pill to swallow.  This quartet consists of (are you ready for it?):  Maynard James Keenan – lead vocals.  Tom Morello & Brad Wilk – guitar and drums.  Billy Gould – bass.  So, it’s Rage Against the Machine with the singer from Tool and a bass rumble right out of Faith No More.  And the track is just as schizophrenic as you’d expect.  It’s both brilliant and annoying as fuck.

J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. used his unique vision on “Goin’ Blind”, turning Gene’s murky song into something even darker.  Then bright shimmers of a string section break through the clouds, shadowing everything dramatically.  It’s a brilliant track.  Much like Kravitz, J. Mascis took the song and changed the style but not direction.  You could say the same for Extreme who do a brilliant spin on “Strutter”.  Though by 1994 Extreme were well over in the public eye, they continued to push their own boundaries.  “Strutter” became something slower and funkier, with Nuno Bettencourt slipping all over the fretboard and Gary Cherone pouring it all on.  This is primo Punchline-era Extreme (Paul Geary still on drums).  And listen for a segue into “Shout it Out Loud”!

The Lemonheads chose “Plaster Caster” from Love Gun, a sloppy garage rock version, and score a passing grade.  It’s an admirable effort, but they are quickly overshadowed by their fellow Bostonians, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  The Bosstones had the balls to open their track with a phone message from Gene Simmons advising them to pick another song.  “Dicky, about Detroit Rock City…”  Ugly Kid Joe had dibs.  Any other song would be fine…and then WHAM!  The opening chords to “Detroit Rock City”.  Gene was gracious enough to appear in the video.  Their disciplined ska-punk horn ensemble lays waste to the town.  Dicky Barrett’s gravelly throat is like a sniper taking out anyone left standing.  The Bosstones win the whole CD, hands down.  There is little doubt that Dicky Barrett would have shaken unfortunate Kiss fans unfamiliar with the Bosstones.  Today it’s clear that they stole the show with their mighty, mighty cover.

The closest match to the Bosstones in terms of excellence, is a polar opposite.  It’s Yoshiki (from X-Japan) and his orchestra version of “Black Diamond”.  This is performed instrumentally with piano in the starring role.  In this form, “Black Diamond” would make a brilliant movie theme.  Yoshiki closes the album in style, unless you choose to go further and get the LP.  Proceed with caution.

The vinyl bonus track by Die Ärzte is the only non-makeup Kiss track included: “Unholy”. This is a garbage version (in German no less) that you don’t need to spend your money finding. It’s only interesting when it briefly transitions into “I Was Made For Loving You”.  Want a good version of “Unholy”? Check out the 2013 tribute A World With Heroes.

By 1994, Kiss needed a boost.  Grunge was omnipresent and Kiss looked silly and outdated, even with their beards and scruffier appearance.  Kiss My Ass was clearly a transparent attempt to try and latch onto some fans of the newer breed.  Maybe some Lenny Kravitz fans would like it.   If a few Garth Brooks followers bought a copy too, then bonus!  But Garth Brooks fans didn’t buy the album, turned off by the cover art and tracklist.  Likewise, fans of Lenny Kravitz, Tool and Rage Against the Machine didn’t run out en-masse either.

Fortunately Kiss had plenty of cards left in their deck.  There was a Kiss My Ass spinoff video, a tour, and a coffee table book all in the works.  This seemed to distract from the oft-rumoured next Kiss studio album.  More next time.

Today’s rating:

3.75/5 stars

 

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/13

 

REVIEW: Solo – A Star Wars Story soundtrack (2018)

SOLO: A Star Wars Story original motion picture soundtrack (2018 Lucasfilm/Disney)

The second Star Wars spinoff movie, based on that ol’ scoundrel Han Solo, is also the second Star Wars movie with a soundtrack by someone other than John Williams.  He still helms the main “Saga” films, but this time out John Powell had the difficult task of writing new Star Wars music.  Powell’s career has mostly centred on kids’ movies like Antz and Shrek.  He had an Oscar nomination for How to Train Your Dragon.  He’s also known for action scores, like the Bourne movies and and X-Men: The Last Stand.  Though Solo has plenty of action, Powell doesn’t go for tired action cliches in his score.  And of course, there are plenty of callbacks and reprises of old Williams themes that you’ll never forget.

The opening cue “The Adventures of Han” begins sounding like an old film reel, before settling into something Marvel-like and heroic.  This track was actually composed and conducted by Williams himself, providing the essence of a new theme for Han.

Solo is a different kind of Star Wars movie, even from Rogue One (conducted by Michael Giacchino).  Likewise, its score is different too though still living in the same universe.  Modern percussion and instrumentation can be found alongside the traditional.  Han comes from a dark corner of the galaxy, and the score is fraught with tension over oceans of calm (“Flying with Chewbacca”).  The characters of Han Solo and Lando Calrissian are loaded with panache, and so are parts of the score.  Some of the best tracks are the dark “Spaceport”, which is contrasted by the rhythmic action of “Train Heist”.

“Marauders Arrive” features a children’s choir and a clue.  At this point in the film, the masked pirate Enfys Nest enter the scene to pilfer the score that Solo’s crew was in the process of stealing.  Later on, [SPOILER] we discover that Enfys Nest is actually a young girl.  A Rebel, in fact.  Some of her crew were first seen with Saw Gerrera’s rebels in Rogue One.  The quite awesome sound of the children’s choir in this scene is a clue to Enfys’ true nature — a child herself.  [END SPOILER]

Much of this score just sounds like a heist film.  “Is This Seat Taken?” has that kind of quiet tension (with some peaks of themes in the background).  It’s all very appropriate for sneaking around and trying to steal stuff like a scoundrel.  There there are some more familiar sounds, like when the Falcon shows up.  When it does, expect more hi-jinks, excitement and drama from this soundtrack.  It rarely gets dull, but strap yourself in for “Reminiscence Therapy”.  It’s a virtual greatest hits of themes, including the ones from Solo.

To be charitable, two tracks don’t work as well as others.  Star Wars movies tend to have a lounge or bar scene with a band.  “Chicken in the Pot” has annoyingly modern R&B beats, just not right for Star Wars, weird languages aside.  “Dice & Roll” is also a bit too close to home for a galaxy far, far away.

Solo turns out to be one of the pleasant surprises of 2018.  It’s a soundtrack far better than expected.

4/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Hot Wire (1991)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 5 in his KIX series

KIX – Hot Wire (1991 Atlantic)

It took the almighty Kix three years to follow up their commercial breakthrough Blow My Fuse. When they did, they had a new record contract, and an assload of debt from their first three albums. Being that this was 1991, the clock was ticking before that putz from Seattle would change the face of rock music forever by replacing talented musicianship and fun with glorified punk songs about deodorant. The resulting album Hot Wire was the band’s heaviest album to date, with their hard rock influences taking over their sound completely. While Hot Wire is still an entertaining listen, it’s not as consistent as the albums that preceded it, and is a little derivative at times.

Hot Wire is jumpstarted by the title track, which starts off with a riff that sounds like Ted Nugent’s “Just What the Doctor Ordered”, and ends with a loving homage to “Have a Drink on Me”. The sonic annihilation in between is a whole hell of a lot of fun, and has Kix playing some of the most aggressive music of their career. Steve Whiteman in particular is taking no prisoners with an absolutely electrifying vocal performance that commands attention and respect. The song juggles the head banging verses with a trademark melodic Kix chorus that will blow your mind. Maybe Kurt Cobain was listening to this when his Kurt Cobrains hit the floor in April of 1994. It’s a great choice to open the album with, as it dispels any notion that Kix has become less hungry as a result of their platinum success.

Kix follows it up with what could only be described as a tribute to AC/DC’s “Big Balls”, complete with a Bon Scott impression. In lead single “Girl Money”, Whiteman channels Scott while talking about a woman of low moral fibre across the bar. The chorus is an absolute explosion of melody, literally. If you listen carefully, you can hear cannons going from the left to the right speaker after the lyrics “bang boom party”. The attention to detail is not only amusing, but it reflects the sonic identity of the record. The production on this album serves to polish the rough edges while retaining all the sonic power that Kix have to offer. It sounds good, but there are no frills to be found. This is a rock and roll record, and the band is going to treat it as such. No more Cool Kids new wave pandering, the group is out to rock your world.

 The fourth slot on the album is left to “Tear Down the Walls”, a weak ballad that was probably recorded to capitalize on the success of “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. It’s pleasant enough, but one can’t help but compare it to superior ballads on past Kix records. While it’s not nearly as iconic or enjoyable as “For Shame”, “Walkin’ Away”, or “Don’t Close Your Eyes”, it’s still a much better decision to listen to it than to marry Courtney Love, in my opinion only of course.

Kix only has one ballad again, and gets away with it by preceding it with the hook laden “Luv-A-Holic”, which has a similar structure to “Get It While It’s Hot” from the previous record, done in a heavier style that is more representative of the Hot Wire sound.  It’s one of the best songs on the album, and the deal only gets sweeter when “Rock & Roll Overdose”, (a song title I believe Kurt took too literally) greets the listener after the lacklustre ballad. One of the heaviest tunes Kix have ever done, it’s a nice ode to rock and roll itself with Whiteman bringing back his powerful raspy vocals from the title track. Guitarists Ronnie “10/10” Younkins and Brian Forsythe really get to shine on this track with each getting a chance to show off their solo chops. It’s much more enjoyable than listening to nursery rhyme melodies over three chord punk songs and pretending like you hate any band that has reached any kind of success, including your contemporaries that praise you.

What sinks the album is a sense of monotony. Some of the lesser tunes begin to sound the same, and some of them are lyrically lacking. “Hee Bee Jee Bee Crush”, “Bump the La La”, and “Same Jane” were in desperate need of penmanship reform. There’s also not as much variety as you would normally expect from a Kix album, as they seem to be firmly rooted in a hard rock sound. Choruses lack some of the staying power that they had on earlier albums, and the songs begin to run together.

While by no means a bad album, Hot Wire comes as a bit of a disappointment after the quality of the two previous outings. Unfortunately, due to shifting (shitty) tastes, Kix would only release one more album on their major label (1993’s appropriately titled Contractual Obligation Live!) before being pushed to the indie world. The mighty titans would regroup for one more studio album with the original lineup.  They disappeared for the better part of twenty years before reemerging with a new bassist as strong as ever.  As for Hot Wire…

3.5/5 stars

Authors note: I don’t really hate Nirvana, but they’re just so easy to poke fun at. I would take Badmotorfinger, Ten, & Ritual de lo Habitual over Nevermind any day of the week though.