Reviews

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Best of MusikLaden Live at the Beat Club

BLACK SABBATH – The Best of MusikLaden – Live at the Beat Club (1970 television performance)

When Black Sabbath released their Black Box in 2004 featuring all the original lineup’s studio albums in remastered form, they also included a bonus four-song DVD.  This disc was the oft-released television broadcast of a German show called Beat Club (later MusikLaden).  Sabbath made two appearances in 1970, and the Black Box was the most official release of them.  Before upgrading to the Black Box, I owned an earlier, unofficial DVD release.  I taped that DVD to cassette, and that’s what I’m listening to right now.

“Black Sabbath” is torrential, as intense as the young band was able.  Ozzy sounds as if possessed, truly terrified and warning us that something foreboding and terrible is coming.  “Paranoid” is strangely echoey and distant, but still as incendiary as 1970 Black Sabbath should be.  Interestingly, in this version it really does sound as if Ozzy is singing “end your life” instead of “enjoy life”.  A sparse “Iron Man” announces its arrival with evil Gibson guitar sonic bends.  This version of “Iron Man” is a little stiffer than others, but not for long.  Towards the end, Geezer Butler unleashes the hordes and the song stampedes to a close.

Finally and most notoriously is “Blue Suede Shoes”, a performance pretty much everybody has since disowned.  It’s not terrible, although it’s certainly uncharacteristic.  It’s as if Black Sabbath were suddenly encroaching upon ZZ Top’s territory.  Tony’s speedy solo is interesting if not typical, and the band really stepped it up.  I get why some would mock it; it’s kind of goofy and definitely not as impressive as the Sabbath originals.  But it’s…fun?  Is Sabbath allowed to be…fun?

3.5/5 stars

TV REVIEW: Star Trek – Picard (2020)

“Please, my friends.  Choose to live.”

STAR TREK: Picard Season 1 (CBS All Access 2020)

It truly is a shame that the most Star Trek of all the current Star Treks isn’t Star Trek at all.  It’s a goddamn show by Seth MacFarlane, and it is more true to the spirit of Gene Roddenberry’s vision than any of the three modern Trek incarnations.  If Seth can do it, why can’t CBS?  The newest series (which wrapped up its first season on Thursday March 26) is Star Trek: Picard, based on Jean-Luc of course.  It’s closer to the feel of Trek than Discovery or the Abramsverse, but only by small margins.

Warning:  This review will be light on major spoilers, but there will be spoilers, so proceed only if you don’t mind.

Short Treks:  “Children of Mars”

As set up in the final episode of Short Treks season 2: “Children of Mars”, 14 years ago a devastating attack occurred on Mars.  Mars is close to home, Earth, the seat of the Federation.  The attack, by a new line of androids with a golden skin like Data’s, was devastating.  Jean-Luc Picard was blamed for Starfleet’s inability to respond.  He had taken the fleet to Romulus to save their race from the supernova that would destroy the Romulan homeworld in 2009’s movie, Star Trek. To make matters worse, the Romulans blame Picard for not finishing the job and leaving their people behind when the fleet is urgently recalled to Mars.

Jean-Luc at home at Chateau Picard

In a last-ditch attempt to muster some relief for the Romulan race, Picard offered Starfleet a choice:  help assemble a new rescue fleet or accept his resignation.  They chose not to help.  The broken hero went home to the family vineyard of Chateau Picard while Romulus died and Mars burned.

With all this now in the past, a retired and shunned Picard bears a heavy burden.  Because of the attack on Mars, androids have been banned by the Federation.  The only people that seem to appreciate the former Admiral are his two Romulan housekeepers and bodyguards.  At age 94, Jean-Luc is not as spry as he was when he took command of the USS Enterprise-D decades earlier.  And not all Romulans blame Picard, for some understand that he was powerless when the fleet was sent back to Mars.

Picard’s quiet existence is soon shattered by the appearance of Dahj (Isa Briones), an android who thinks she is human.  Dahj has come to Picard for help.  Someone (Romulans!) tried to kill her in her home, and she somehow knows Picard’s face as one she can trust.  It doesn’t take long for Jean-Luc to recognise Dahj for what she is:  an artificial lifeform, created by unknown means as an offspring of Commander Data.

Dr. Agnes Jurati and Jean-Luc Picard

After a visit with Dr. Agnes Jurarti (Allison Pill) at the Daystrom Institute in Japan, Jean-Luc learns that Bruce Maddox (remember him from “Measure of a Man” in The Next Generation?) was working on a technique called fractal neuronic cloning to create a new kind of android.  Using a single neuron taken from Data’s prototype B-4 (remember him from Nemesis?) Maddox apparently succeeded despite the ban on synthetic life.  Interestingly, fractal neuronic cloning always results in two androids.  Meaning, Data had twin daughters — Dahj has a sister!  Due to her familial relationship with Data, the android that gave his life to save Jean-Luc, he decides he must find and protect the sister.

We have a mission!  To find Dahj’s twin, he needs to locate Bruce Maddox who disappeared when the Federation banned synthetic life 14 years ago.

It takes Picard a few episodes to assemble a crew and get the hell back into space.  Once more, Starfleet refuses to help, and drops the first of many unnecessary F-bombs when asked.  “Just because you can swear, doesn’t mean you should,” says Rob Daniels.

Lieutenant Commander Raffi Musiker

The first three episodes of the show move slowly, as we are spoon-fed dribbles of information about this new Star Trek world.  Jean-Luc had another another first officer after Riker; Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd), and guess what?  Preposterously, here’s yet another individual who blames Picard for a whole bunch of things related to the Mars incident.  She’s hooked on booze and smoking “snakeleaf”, but she does have a lovely little motorhome-looking place right near the Vasquez rocks.  Due to the slow moving nature of the writing, it takes a while for Musiker and her motivations to come out.  Apparently she’s a conspiracy theorist, and when Jean-Luc (or “JL” as she calls him) reveals that Romulan agents are running wild on Earth looking for androids, that’s right up her alley.

Raffi is very much correct about her conspiracies, and they go deep.  Dahj’s identical twin sister is named Dr. Soji Asha, and she has been on Romulan radar for some time.  She is blissfully unaware of her own true nature.  Tal Shiar agent siblings Narek and Narissa plan to manipulate her to reveal information they need to wipe out the android homeworld once and for all.  Wait — homeworld!?  That’s right.  Apparently Maddox, on an unknown planet, has been very busy making Data babies.

But why do the Romulans care so damn much about androids?  Things get complicated when you ask that question, and the slow-coming answers never completely satisfy.  It’s all a little too Battlestar Galactica.  “All this has happened and will happen again.”  Cylons uprising against their creators.  Picard digs itself into a pit with this whole storyline, the ancient and previously unmentioned Romulan hatred of artificial life.  A sub-sect of the Romulan Tal Shiar secret police, called the Zhat Vash, is sworn to end all synthetic life — before it ends them, as they have mysteriously foreseen.

Captain Cristóbal Rios

As we slowly piece this information together, Picard also gradually picks up the pieces of the crew in sloth-like fashion.  Next is Captain Cristóbal “Cris” Rios (Santiago Cabrera), yet another former Starfleet officer with a dark, hidden past.  What, are there no happy people left in this world?  What would Gene Roddenberry say about this?  Rios drinks, he smokes cigars — vices that Roddenberry thought most people would recognise as dangerous.  Additionally, Rios has a whole series of holograms of himself, all with different accents and nationalities, to help out around the ship.  Wait…what?  Holograms of himself, with different accents? What the hell is that?  While it’s fun to see Cabrera play five or six “characters” together in a single episode, this makes no sense whatsoever.  Who has that much ego, that they want to be surrounded by holograms of themselves all the time?  With different accents?  Though he’s portrayed as a dark and mysterious captain on an existential journey to heal his broken past, apparently Rios is also a raging narcissist.

OK, are we ready to launch yet?  At the last minute Dr. Jurati from the Daystrom Institute decides to join the crew.  We board Rios’ ship La Sirena and we’re off!

Wait, wait, hold on.  Hit the brakes.  We still have to make a stop.  Once upon a time ago, we learn that the once child-hating Jean-Luc Picard befriended a young Romulan boy named Elnor during the attempted rescue.  Now an adult and fierce warrior raised by an obscure sect, Elnor (Evan Evagora) becomes another of Picard’s new allies.  Needing muscle, we make this one last detour at Vashti to pick up the adult Elnor.  Here we find that…oh, come on — Elnor has a grudge against Picard, too?  It takes one episode (a really good one, admittedly) to introduce Elnor and the Roluman warrior nuns (Qowat Milat) that raised him and taught him those awesome ninja skills.  Only for Elnor to be underused in the instalments that follow.

Elnor

“Please.  Choose to live.”

You will love every time those four words are heard on screen.  You would choose to live too when you see what Elnor can do with a sword.  Those warrior nuns mean business, and they do not like the Tal Shiar one bit.  Elnor practices a lifestyle called the Way of Absolute Candor — total honesty in every word.  This results in some of the lighter, more humourous dialogue in the series.

Picard excels in this first season when going deeper into Romulan culture.  It was never really explored in detail during The Next Generation.  No, instead TNG took it upon itself to define the Klingons.  Deep Space Nine did that with the Ferengi.  And Voyager greatly expanded upon the Borg.  It’s about time the Romulans were fleshed out onscreen, and it’s quite well done.

Because of its setting in time, Picard is also the first exploration of the galaxy post-Romulus.  Its destruction in Star Trek (2009) was established but the repercussions never seen until now.  And guess what — those Romulans have been busy.  They’ve established a colony on a derelict Borg cube, cut off from the collective.  This cube, called the Artefact, and its Borg drone inhabitants are harvested for technology.  And that’s where we find Dr. Soji Asha, assigned to work and study.  Zhat Vash agent Narek (Harry Treadaway) has her wrapped around his fingers.

Seven of Nine

The ties to the Borg story allow us to revisit a couple old friends:  Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco).  These characters are shoehorned into the plot just so that they can be in a new Picard series.  Though once upon a time they were all connected by the Borg collective, Seven’s never met the other two on screen before.  Hugh’s storyline is warm but short.  Seven is…oh man, not again?  A broken soul searching for meaning.  Why can’t any of these damn characters have had a happy life after their series ended?

At least there’s Riker and Troi (Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis).  They seem happy on planet Nepenthe, with their daughter Kestra Riker-Troi.  Riker’s making pizza, and there’s grass and trees and nature and…oh come on!  They have a tragedy too?

Listen, tragedy strikes.  It hits us all.  Lord knows it does.  Star Trek has been building characters on tragedy ever since it killed Sisko’s wife in the DS9 series premier.  It doubled-down when it murdered Kirk’s dad and Spock’s mom in Star Trek (2009).  But why can’t some of our heroes just have life turn out the way they wanted it to?  The way we hoped it would?  Just one character?

Frakes, who directs several episodes of Picard, is still Riker.  The booming voice is augmented by a bigger stature.  Captain Riker has several great moments in this show, in some of the best episodes.

Jean-Luc’s adventures take him from a glitzy Vegas-like planet, to an apprehensive reunion with a Borg cube.  They put our hero in great danger and shine a spotlight on his highest moral standards.  Though the galaxy may have fallen into disarray since we last visited it, Picard himself is just as dedicated to his principles as before.  Perhaps now he is truly able to act according to his moral beliefs, freed of the yoke that was Starfleet command.  Patrick Stewart, as if without pause, has simply become Jean-Luc Picard again.  He still inspires that sense of greatness and meaning that we should all strive for in our lives.  When the adventure concludes, we are reminded that all events set in motion happened because of Picard’s loyalty to his friend.

Commander Data

The lynchpin of the series is Data (Brent Spiner).  Though the beloved android sacrificed himself for Picard in Nemesis (aka Star Trek X, the 10th film), there was always a thread left behind for him to return.  The comic books depicted his return in one way.  Picard takes it in a different direction, one which could either make fans cry or seethe in anger.  Personally speaking I found it to be appropriate and incredibly well performed and directed.  Nemesis was not a great film (perhaps the worst of the original 10) and Data’s farewell was not nearly as impactful as Spock’s was in The Wrath of Khan.  Perhaps this series helps set things right.

We already know a Picard season 2 is in the works, which means we know that the titular character was never in any real danger.  I anticipated one plot twist that happened in episode 10, but a full episode earlier.  It’s a shame they can’t just leave such things unannounced and let the story unfold in surprising ways, not predictable ones.

By season’s end, Picard is a new man again.  With a family-like crew by his side, bonded by life and death and life, the future is promising.  Fans have campaigned for a season featuring Q (John DeLancie) as an antagonist.  This does not seem impossible given that Q’s nemesis, Guinan (Whoopie Goldberg) is confirmed for season 2.  But there are still unresolved threads left hanging in Picard that might be picked up in the second season.  One might even directly tie into Star Trek: Discovery or its spinoff Section 31 starring Michelle Yeoh.

Here’s something else the writers should consider doing next season:  standalone episodes.  We’ve set up Picard’s new ship and crew, as if the season was one 10-hour long pilot episode.  It would be cool to visit strange new worlds every once in a while.  Discover new civilisations.  To boldly go!  To do something more akin to the Seth MacFarlane show, because he’s proven you can do it.  If standalones aren’t likely because overarching seasons are the current fashion, then at least feed us information more quickly and resolve questions sooner.  Picard took forever to get off the ground and moving.  Once that happened…they still spoon-fed the audience in drips.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  To quote Jean-Luc himself, “To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination.”

Soji Asha

Most valuable players:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes (as director and actor), Evan Evagora, Jeri Ryan, Jonathan Del Arco, composer Jeff Russo, and newcomer Isa Briones.  In key dual roles as Data’s daughters Dahj and Soji, and even as a singer in the finale, Briones never ceased to impress.  Welcome to Star Trek, Isa.  You’re in it for life now.

Star Trek series typically have rough first seasons.  The Next Generation‘s first season was quite awful.  Deep Space Nine took several years to get moving (literally since it was a space station and they used a new starship to expand horizons).  Discovery underwent a complete re-jigging after its controversial first season.  It would be nice if Star Trek would stop being afraid of its own shadow.  Be what you are, Star Trek.  Don’t try to be Star Wars, or Battlestar Galactica, or anything else that followed in your footsteps.  Writers have always complained that Star Trek is hard to write for, since it has such a long and extensive canon.  Well, Picard is how you avoid those problems — by moving forward into unknown territory, instead of trying to shoehorn your series between others in the timeline.  The future is wide open.  Not only did 2009’s Star Trek create a new playground for the franchise to exist in the cinemas, but it also allowed a “reset” of sorts in the original Picard timeline.  Something bad happened, and the galaxy changed.  This enables freer writing of stories.

It was a good season.  Now run with it, and be intelligently true to Trek at the same time.  It can happen.  To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination!

3.5/5 stars

The next Next Generation.  Engage!

TV REVIEW: The Mandalorian (2019 Disney+)

“Look outside. Is the world more peaceful since the revolution? I see nothing but death and chaos.” — The Client

THE MANDALORIAN (2019 Disney+ series)

2019 might have been the biggest year ever in the history of the Star Wars franchise.  Not only did the original Saga finally come to an end after 42 years of wondering if it would ever happen, but even the very first Star Wars live action TV series came to be.  This comes a full 15 years after its aborted predecessor, Star Wars Underworld was announced.  Headed up by Jon Favreau, The Mandalorian Season One was a commercial and critical success.

But was it as good as its hype?

Pedro Pascal headlines as the mysterious Mandalorian, a bounty hunter trying to make ends meet about five years after the battle of Endor.  The New Republic rules the roost and times are lean, but the Empire is not gone.  Not yet.  The Imperial Client (Werner Herzog) needs a very important asset.  The Client leads a run down, rag-tag Imperial force in hiding on a backwater world.  Via Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), the Client acquires Mando’s services.  Deliver the package alive, but dead will suffice if necessary.  Bounty hunting, after all, is a complicated profession.

Today in 2020, the entire world knows what came as a tremendous surprise back when the pilot episode first aired.  There are no spoilers.  The asset, though claimed to be 50 years old, is just a child.  An alien child with a familiar green hue and large, pointed ears.  The internet quickly dubbed it “Baby Yoda”.

Through the course of eight episodes, we learn that Mandalorians are almost extinct, “purged” by the Empire like the Jedi were.  Those remaining live in secret.  We also discover that the Child the Empire wants so badly can use the Force; powerfully so.  Instinctively with no training.  The implication here is that Yoda’s species are uniquely strong in the Force.  The only other members of the species that we have seen were on the Jedi council.  The Child can do things that only one Jedi in the entire history of the Saga (Rey) has been shown to do.  What isn’t clear is what the Empire wants with the Child.  The Client is just as happy if it ends up dead.  Dr. Pershing, a scientist under his protection with cloning insignia on his uniform, clearly wants it alive.

The Mandalorian is not the average bounty hunter.  Though hard on the outside, he has a soft spot for “foundlings” (orphans), since he was orphaned by a droid army during the Clone Wars.  This also left him with a strong distrust for droids.

Mando’s quest takes him, in his gleaming pre-Empire ship the Razor Crest, all the way to planet Nostalgia in the Fan Service sector.  Every alien species and reference from Saga and spin-off films will await you.  The animated series are likewise plundered for references and threads to pull.  Don’t ask yourself how the scavenging Jawas managed to spread through the galaxy, ask how they brought a sandcrawler with them.  Also ask how the Mandalorian, who lived through both the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War, has never heard of anything resembling the Force in his life.  Not impossible, true, not impossible.  But certainly unlikely?

To the show’s strength, Mando surrounds himself with allies including the wise Ugnaught Kuill (Nick Nolte) and the former Rebel shock trooper Cara Dune (Gina Carano).  He even reluctantly forms an alliance with bounty hunter droid IG-11 (Taika Waititi).  Each one of these bring out another aspect of Mando’s disguised personality.

Unfortunately, the show’s weaknesses are apparent by the second episode.  It lacks a consistent tone and even the soundtrack is all over the board.  Mando’s path is too twisted by side missions and quests, like a video game biding its time before you’re back to your main story.  A few episodes play out like actual video games, particularly the sixth. Some such as the fourth suffer from substandard acting and poor direction (which came as a surprise, being directed by Bryce Dallas Howard).  While there is nothing low-budget about the Mandalorian, some of the performances are pretty cut-rate.

The meandering season finally returns to form when Mando and the Child encounter the Imperials once again.  And guess what — they’re not as poorly equipped as we were led to believe.  Giancarlo Esposito, who was unforgettable on Breaking Bad as drug kingpin Gus Fring, menaces our heroes one more time as Moff Gideon.  With a squadron of crack Imperial Death Troopers and a custom TIE Fighter, Moff Gideon is willing to sacrifice his own men to get the Child back.

The show is a hit.  “This is the way” is a phrase that has entered our modern lexicon, along with “I have spoken” and “I can bring you in warm or I can bring you in cold.”  To say that season one was successful is an understatement.  Season two is already locked and loaded, bringing in Rosario Dawson to the fold playing former Jedi Ahsoka Tano.  She will likely be the first protagonist on the show to understand who the Child is and what Moff Gideon wants it for.

Hopefully season two will cut down on the obvious fan service.  (Did Bill Burr really have to do a Gungan impression in episode six?)  With one season down, we look forward to a tighter story with fewer episodes where nothing really happens.  And we certainly anticipate what Pedro Pascal will bring to the role next time.  His performance, limited to voice and body language, was without flaw.  The set must have been electric any time he was together with Werner Herzog.

Episode highlights of the season:  four out of of eight great episodes.

  • 1. “The Mandalorian” directed by Dave Filoni
  • 3. “The Sin” by Deborah Chow
  • 7. “The Reckoning” by Deborah Chow
  • 8. “Redemption” by Taika Waititi

The rest don’t bring much to the story and can be skipped with little lost except most of the fan service.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man (2020 Japanese import)

OZZY OSBOURNE – Ordinary Man (2020 Epic Japanese import)

Expectations were low at LeBrain HQ for a new album by Ozzy Osbourne.  In that regard, Ozzy delivered.  Ordinary Man is an ordinary album.  It is Hard Rock 2020 distilled down to 50 minutes.  Nothing on this album comes close to challenging anything from the first six Ozzy albums.  It’s most comparable to 2001’s Down to Earth, an overly-modern affair put together by suits.

This time out, the suits assembled a band consisting of Duff McKagan (GN’R) on bass, Chad Smith (RHCP) on drums, and Andrew Watt (California Breed) on guitar.   These guys, plus a smattering of strangers, are responsible for the songwriting.  The melodies are very deliberate and calculated rather than natural sounding.  While things with Zakk Wylde were getting stale, at least Zakk tried to keep Ozzy on track.  I’m not sure Ozzy is on track here.  “I’ll make you scream, I’ll make you defecate.”  Who wrote that?

The glossy production covers up some pretty stellar playing.  Watt is fantastic when soloing, but sounds a bit like he’s trying to ape the Zakk vibe.  In the vocals department, you can hear some telltale signs of autotune, which I guess is OK now in 2020.  If Paul Stanley can lipsynch live and get away with it, then Ozzy can autotune his albums.  I suppose.

Some of the better tracks include the ballads, and the surprising “Scary Little Green Men”.  This one features some awesome lickity-licks from Tom Morello.  Slash appears elsewhere, not sounding at all like Slash.  The single “Under the Graveyard” is not bad.  The worst track has to be “It’s a Raid”, possibly an outtake from Blink 182’s Neighborhoods CD.

Elton John sings on one track, and it’s not bad at all, sounding like a classic Ozzy ballad from the 1990s.  I didn’t recognise Reginald Dwight’s voice at first.  It’s deeper these days.  Regarding Post Malone, he’s fine, has a decent voice albeit also autotuned.  I don’t know what the guy sounds like without enhancement, but he sounds like he’s probably a better singer than Ozzy recently.  I could do without his song “Take What You Want”, but at least the Japanese edition of the album ends on a better note.  A blues track called “Darkside Blues” is brief, but actually sounds like something more real, more genuine.

Think about your favourite Ozzy albums.  How often to do you spin Blizzard, Diary, or Tears?  Now think about how often you play Down to Earth, Black Rain, and Scream.  In two years’ time, you’ll be spinning Ordinary Man about as often as Black Rain, but you won’t be getting Wylde.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – Thunder in the East (1985 US version)

LOUDNESS – Thunder in the Easy (1985 Atco, 2003 Wounded Bird reissue)

1984’s Disillusion album turned some heads, especially when Loudness re-recorded the vocals in English.  Now they were signed to an American label and worked with an American producer (Max freakin’ Norman), ready to break into that lucrative market.  Thunder in the East was their debut to many fans outside Japan.  For the occasion, the band shed some of its more challenging heavy metal arrangements in favour of mainstream rock and metal.

Out of gates first, “Crazy Nights” is a virtual sledgehammer.  The riff is trademarked “heavy metal” and the chorus has the galvanised sheen expected from a song like this.  The lyrics were designed for the concert stage, with lines like “Let me hear you all go wild,” and “Come on get on your feet”.   But the line that confused fans worldwide was the chant “M! Z! A!” after every chorus.   It turns out that “M-Z-A” stands for nothing.  It’s just some filler lyrics that were meant to be replaced in the final version, but left in because it sounded cool.  Fortuitous for Loudness, as it became a bit of a catchphrase.

Regardless, “Crazy Nights” is the one Loudness song you need to get if you only want one Loudness song.  The riff just bites, like a mean old dog.  It’s the “big hit” and deservedly so.  Lots of chances to sing, shout and headbang.  You are the heroes tonight.

A blistering “Like Hell” turns up the temperature in short order, with a fast blitz including melodic verses.  The chorus however is a simple shout:  “Like hell!”  Loudness founder Akira Takasaki is not only a master of the six string (usually compared to Eddie Van Halen) but also a hell of a songwriter (pardon the pun).  His knack for riff and melody resulted in a collection of songs running the gamut from vintage Priest to Dokken.  “Like Hell” could have been on Defenders of the Faith.  More on the old-school Scorpions side of things is “Heavy Chains”, a metal dirge with a foothold in early Maiden territory to boot.  This brilliant track showcases singer Minoru Niihara’s impressive range and power.  A frantic “Get Away” takes its speed and melody from Van Halen, but cranked up to 11.  Takasaki’s multitracked guitar solo is neoclassical nirvana right up Malmsteen Avenue.  Sheer melodic thrills embody “We Could Be Together”, a song Don Dokken could have felt at home singing, and with some licks that sound positively Lynchian.

The second side commenced with “Run For Your Life”, a complex track that sounds at times like a ballad and others like a heavy metal hurdle through a minefield.  It’s the first track that doesn’t have the same structural integrity as the others, though it challenges in other ways.  “Clockwork Toy” is more straightforward, solid riff and chorus, but not as memorable.

Things take a cool, funky turn on “No Way Out”, a very different track but also very addictive.  The guitar playing on tracks like this proved Takasaki could do a lot more than people assumed.  Impressive too is the chugging “The Lines Are Down”, which is located right in Dokken Town.  Except heavier, because make no mistake, Loudness are heavier.

The final track “Never Change Your Mind” is harder to categorize.  Ballady, with light and shade, it’s unique.  It sounds like an anthem at the halfway point…an anthem with guitar divebombs. It’s a dramatic way to end an impressive metal feast.

Since Thunder in the East contains Loudness’ best known hit, it comes highly recommended.  It’s a solid piece of metal history.  It might not be their pinnacle but it’s a damn fine album indeed.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Los Angeles 1992 (bootleg)

Gifted to me by the notorious Aaron of the KMA!

DEF LEPPARD – Los Angeles 1992 (Red Line bootleg CD)

It’s the Seven Day Weekend tour!  Def Leppard brought back the “in the round” stage concept from their previous tour and played a set of hits with a few deeper cuts.  This audience recorded bootleg captured the Los Angeles date permanently.

Wasting no time, it’s straight into the first single “Let’s Get Rocked”.  I have never particularly felt this song was as strong as past efforts, but Def Leppard had overcome such tragedy.  I was willing to forgive them for painting by numbers a bit with the new songs.  One thing apparent on a bootleg with no post-production sweetening:  Def Leppard’s vocals are 100% live.

Right into something better, it’s “Tear It Down”, better because it’s originally a B-side from the inspired Hysteria sessions.  Speaking of Hysteria, onto “Women”!  You can hear that new guitarist Vivian Campbell fit right in, seamlessly.  A couple seriously great tunes follow — “Too Late for Love” from Pyromania and Hysteria‘s title track.  Two of Leppard’s most accomplished singles.  Slower, ballady, and not at all weak.  “Hysteria” live begins just a little differently, but quickly becomes familiar and authentic.

I never cared for “Make Love Like a Man”, but it’s a temporary speedbump before a deeper track.  “White Lightning”, the tribute to the late Steve “Steamin'” Clark is very hard to find live.  This is the first version I’ve owned.  It’s every bit as epic as it deserves to be.  The stone cold classic “Foolin'” follows, and the Los Angeles crowd goes nuts when the track explodes.  They are just as excited for “Animal”, sounding brilliant in live form, although hampered on audio by a loud talker in the crowd.  New guy Vivian Campbell gets a big showcase solo next.  I’m sure this show is edited down to fit on CD, since Phil usually gets a big solo too.*  Viv’s is impressive and he gets to show off his shred a little bit, though his solo is more of an instrumental composition that sounds delightfully Vai-ish.

Another big epic, “Gods of War” from Hysteria is a serious thrill and chill.  Say what you will about Leppard’s more pedestrian material.  When they wanted to do something a little more challenging, they nailed it.  A big long version of “Rocket” including the “Whole Lotta Love” segue closes the CD prematurely, which is a shame, and one can hope that the second half of the set was issued elsewhere.

4/5 stars

*Here is the full setlist that night according to setlist.fm:

  • Let’s Get Rocked
  • Tear It Down
  • Women
  • Too Late for Love
  • Hysteria
  • Make Love Like a Man
  • Guitar Solo (Phil Collen)
  • White Lightning
  • Foolin’
  • Animal
  • Guitar Solo (Vivian Campbell)
  • Gods of War
  • Rocket (
  • Acoustic Medley Section
    Enter Sandman (Metallica cover) (Vivian)
    Back in Black (AC/DC cover) (Phil)
    Tonight (acoustic)
    You Can’t Always Get What You Want (The Rolling Stones cover) (acoustic)
    Bringin’ on the Heartbreak (acoustic/electric)
  • Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad
  • Armageddon It
  • Rock of Ages
  • Pour Some Sugar on Me
  • Encore:
    Love Bites
    Photograph

Sunday Chuckle: Freudian Thuss

Sometimes the chuckles to come to me and I don’t have to do any work!  Last week, sometimes-contributor Thuss sent me an email titled “Don’t read while listening to music.”  In Getting More Tale #819:  Early to Rise, I expounded on the benefits of being an early riser.   “I’ll do laundry or I’ll review a box set,” I wrote.

He explained, “I read it as I’ll do laundry or I’ll review a sex bot.”
“I actually laughed out loud and I’m at work.  Everyone looked at me like I had two heads.”

Man, that’s a great story.  That would be cool, reviewing a sex bot.  If any Gazorpazorpians want to send me a free sample (deactivated of course, we don’t need any half-alien kids) then I’ll be happy to review it for the readers out there.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: ZZ Top – That Little Ol’ Band from Texas (2019)

ZZ TOP – That Little Ol’ Band from Texas (2019)

Directed by Sam Dunn

Banger Films have never released a dud, have they?  Their latest documentary, ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas is another well made, entertaining film to add to your collection.

And it’s about time, isn’t it?  50 years?  And not just that, but the same three guys for 50 years solid!  The only thing that changed were the grooming habits.  Frank Beard tried to grow one but just couldn’t pull it off.  I think it’s better that way.  Two guys with beards plus a moustache guy in the back on the drums.  Although it was completely accidentally, it’s so genius it seems planned.  The beard tale, and many more like it, make up the backbone of this film.

As it turns out, there isn’t a lot of craziness and drama in the official ZZ Top story.  We never learn much about their personal lives outside the band.  Beard is quite “frank” about his past drug situations, but Aerosmith they were not.  This movie is actually mostly about the music.  Imagine that!  About the influences — both blues and rock.  About opening for the big boys like the Stones.  About Texas.

Texas plays a huge role in this film, and in ZZ Top.  That unique blend of forces that spawned ZZ Top came together in Houston.  But then they got too big to be just a Houston band.  Things were about to happen.  Their sound is half nurture, and half nature.  Yes, Texas (the nurturer) had its influence on the three, but so did their sheer talent and chemistry (the nature).  Hill and Beard talk of playing together for the first time, and it was obviously just meant to be.  As much as ZZ Top rocked, their down-home country image certainly confused people in the early days.

What really comes across is the music.  Via the old recordings, and brand new footage of the boys playing in the studio, you can hear just how little they have lost over 50 years.  What a tight, yet thick sound.  Overdubs were a part of the ZZ Top studio sound early on (though not without some doing).  Of course, we know that ZZ Top made a massive sonic change in the 80s with Eliminator.  This is briefly discussed, as is the MTV revolution and just how ZZ Top came to dominate in that era.  Unfortunately that is where the film ends.  Potentially you could have added another hour just talking about the seven albums that followed Eliminator, some of which were pretty big.  Or another hour getting to know the three guys a little better. That Little Ol’ Band from Texas goes no deeper than just the bare surface when it comes to the guys and their interpersonal relationships.  Surely in 50 years there must have been some drama.  You won’t find much of it in this film.  Clearly, that’s the way ZZ Top want it.  Maintain the mystique.  Never reveal too much.  Hone the mythology.

As with any music documentary, other stars must be interviewed in order to gush and add context and detailed observations.  These include Josh Homme (what isn’t he in?), Steve Miller, Billy Bob Thornton (?) and Dan Auerbach.  But you’ll also hear from Tim Newman (director of those classic videos and brother of Randy Newman), and Robin Hood Brians, a studio owner who helped shape their early sound.

Any Banger film is going to be a quality product going in.  It’s not so much “will it be good?”  It’s more “what nits will I pick?”  Because any serious fan will have some with any rock film.  I have very few to pick with this film.  Just that I wish it was an hour longer.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Van Halen – Selections from LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 promo EP) “Van Halen turns 15!”

VAN HALEN – Selections from LIVE: Right here, right now. (1993 Warner promo EP) “Van Halen turns 15!”

Stuff like this is in my collection not because it’s valuable to me, but because at one point in time I got it for free.  We ran across promos like these all the time, and couldn’t sell them, so they were free to take.  Because it was Van Halen, I hung onto it even though all five tracks are taken from the live album Right here, right now.  It disappears in your CD collection due to the jewel case without a back cover or spine.  For the sake of simplicity (and a shorter title), we’ll just refer to this EP as “Van Halen turns 15”.

It actually plays really well.  Without any filler or solos, it’s a tight CD packed with some of the best songs.  “Dreams” serves as a connection to the earlier pop rock sounds of 5150.  Live, it rocks with higher octane than the studio version.  “Judgement Day” was one of the better representations of the then-new For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge material.  Its modern groove was predictive of the kind of music people would want to hear in the 90s:  heavier with more edge.  “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” is the one token DLR track, and then seemingly to balance things out, it’s Sammy’s “One Way to Rock”.  Whatever — the listening experience is perfect.

Because “Right Now” was the biggest thing since Crystal Pepsi, it’s inevitable that the live version was included on this CD.  If you find “Right Now” to be vomit-inducing, you can just hit stop.

Since this is a promo and should only be sought as a freebie, appointing it a score out of 5 stars is meaningless.   Radio stations are always ditching boxes of old CDs so it’s bound to turn up somewhere.

Whatever/5 stars

REVIEW: Tenacious D – Post-Apocalypto (2018)

TENACIOUS D – Post-Apocalypto (2018 Sony)

I don’t know how this is supposed to work. Do you have to watch an animated series in order to “get” Post-Apocalypto?  I’m not doing that.  I’m listening to an album; I’m reviewing an album.

21 tracks, half an hour.  Most of the tracks run a minute and a half.  So what’s the concept?  Humanity has destroyed the Earth in a nuclear holocaust.  Tenacious D survived, though their songwriting abilities did not.  Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Yo-Yo Ma have been saved, and now live on a space station.  Kyle Gass wasn’t good enough to make the cut and now has a two-headed dog named Hope to keep him company.  Unfortunately the KKK seems to have taken over security on what’s left of Earth.

Post-Apocalypto is part uninspired sketches, part uninspired songs.  Some are decent, or half-decent, like “Take Us Into Space” and “Woman Time”.  Most are too soft, light and forgettable, and the sketches are tired.  Jack Black’s “Arnold” accent isn’t bad, but the joke wears out.

Bottom line:  as stated by Uncle Meat, “18 minutes of music isn’t an album.”  Iron Tom adds, “Although I’ll listen to some tunes individually, I don’t see myself listening to it again as an entire album.”

1/5 stars