Reviews

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews (2006)

Part Thirty-Two of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews (2006 Walmart exclusive)

Hard truth:  A lot of the Yeah! bonus tracks were better than the album itself.  Bonus tracks were issued to iTunes, Best Buy, Target, and Japan, but Walmart received an entire bonus CD.  If you could only afford two versions, Walmart would have been the way to go.  Sold separately, their bonus CD included both Japanese bonus tracks, three exclusive songs, and three exclusive backstage interview tracks.  That means if you owned this CD, you didn’t have to track down the Japanese printing to get all the songs.  You just had to buy three other different versions too!

The five songs on the Walmart set are as follows:

  • “American Girl” (Tom Petty)
  • “Search & Destroy” (The Stooges)
  • “Space Oddity” (David Bowie)
  • “Dear Friends” (Queen)
  • “Heartbeat” (Jobriath)

Because these tracks are included on a disc called Yeah! II in The CD Collection Vol. 3, we will review them individually (along with the other five bonus tracks) when we get there.  For now we’ll just give you some spoilers.  The Petty song is incredible, surprisingly so.  “Dear Friends” features Rick Savage on vocals and all instruments, and is completely different from Queen’s original (in a good way).  In fact all the songs tend to spotlight one or two members without the full band.  When we get to that disc in The CD Collection Vol. 3 then we’ll spill all the beans.

The CD Collection does not include the interviews, which isn’t surprising.  They remain exclusive to the Walmart CD.  They are in the 2-3 minute range and total just 7:55 combined.  Still, that’s better listening than 45 minutes of Lars Ulrich in the Metallica box set.

Backstage interview #1 is compiled from all five members, and concerns the 2005 tour, and Leppard’s longevity.  It was Joe’s first tour as a non-smoker, though they didn’t get around as much as they would have liked.

Interview #2 is about the Yeah! album.  Joe is credited with the idea by Phil, having wanted to do his version of Bowie’s Pin-Ups album.  Coincidentally, someone at the record label thought it would be a good idea to do right at the same time that Joe felt the same way at the end of the X tour.

In interview #3, Joe discusses the reasoning for picking the songs.  There were three rules:  all songs had to be hits, British, and pre-date Leppard signing their record deal.  Clearly, these rules applied to the core album only and not the bonus tracks!  When it came down to the members agreeing on covers, things went much more smoothly than anyone expected.

With the very cool exclusive songs here alongside the interviews, this Walmart CD was a must!  It’s less so today due to the songs now being reissued in box set form, but Leppard fans will certainly enjoy giving it a spin.

4/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!

Next:

33. Yeah…Nah!  (Record Store Tales)

REVIEW: Seagram Synth Ensemble – “Ephem” (2022 single)

SEAGRAM SYNTH ENSEMBLE – “Ephem” (2022 single)

How many formats do you own?  I know many of you own 8-track tapes, cassettes, CDs, different types of vinyl, DVDs, Blu-rays, and hybrids of said discs.  But do you own any music that comes self-contained in its own electronic box?  The Seagram Synth Ensemble’s new single “Ephem” only comes in this format, but it’s not that simple.  “Ephem” is more than a piece of music.  It’s a statement, an experiment, and an interactive art piece.

First let’s discuss the actual song “Ephem”.  Much like the group’s 2019 album No Moving Air, this track has an atmospheric though melodic quality.  A light beat backs up a couple of recurring and very enjoyable keyboard melody lines.  A sound like a flock of seagulls soaring overhead comes into play.  Things then get upbeat, and a nice fat bass synth sinks the hooks in.  The track builds with more fun melodic accompaniment, and then strips it all back to something like it was in the beginning.  It’s a great standalone song.


Learn more here in this extensive interview with Seagram Synth Ensemble

Here’s the catch.  You can plug in a battery and a pair of headphones, power up, and hit play to enjoy “Ephem”.  But you better pay attention because each time you play the song, it changes.  Like an old cassette tape, each play degrades the sound ever so slightly, almost like the wear and tear that comes with physical media.  Each time you press play, the track becomes slightly more distorted, thin, brittle.  Eventually it will deteriorate and become unplayable.  The point is to listen with intent, pay attention, and absorb the music.  Now, there is a reset function, which is awful nice of the guys, but they discourage using it.  At least that way you won’t be throwing your money away when it’s toast.  Don’t forget the whole point of it though.  To listen; to pay attention, because it will never sound exactly the same twice.  Every single time you play “Ephem” will be a unique experience.  Even the artwork on the box reflects this.

“Ephem” cost just $20 but is now sold out.  (A reissue is possible but not certain.)  Don’t expect these to turn up on the second hand market quickly.  And if it does, pray that it comes with the instructions so you can hear “Ephem” like it was brand new.

A+

 

 

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Yeah! (2006)

Part Thirty-One of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Yeah! (CD Collection Volume 3 Disc 1) (Originally 2006, 2021 remaster)

Yeah…nah!

Why Def Leppard, why a covers album?  The idea seems to have come from Joe Elliott, who had been pushing to do something like this for over 20 years.  Upon the completion of promotion for the X album and the two greatest hits that followed, Def Leppard had no new songs to put toward another album.  Therefore, Joe’s cover album concept seemed like the right move.

We had sneak previews of two songs, “Waterloo Sunset” and “No Matter What” on Best Of and The Definitive Collection respectively.  After nearly two years’ wait, we finally got the Yeah! album in 2006.   All told, 22 different studio covers and two additional live versions were released over the many different CDs released to various retailers.  That’s a total of 24 songs to collect.  Fortunately, every single one of those tracks is included in the CD Collection Volume 3.  There are three bonus interview tracks that are not included, and we will discuss those next time.  For this review, we will focus on the core album; the basic 14 songs.

Opening with T-Rex’s “20th Century Boy”, there’s little question that Leppard nailed the authenticity vibe.  The guitar tones are perfect.  So why is my finger itching to reach for the skip button?  Doing covers is like performing magic.  It either happens or it doesn’t.  The highlight of this song is Canadian singer Emm Gryner’s awesome backing vocals.

“Rock On”?  No thanks.  I’ve never liked this track.  Blame Michael Damien for that, but…skip.

“Hanging on the Telephone” (The Nerves) is awesome!  Hard rocking, full speed, really kicking ass.  It takes Def Leppard a little further out of their comfort zone and it rocks!

From Def Leppard’s Best Of (UK only) comes “Waterloo Sunset” (The Kinks), which was an awesome bonus track but feels diminished among the other covers here.  It jumps out less in this context.  Still buttery smooth, still tasty.  They picked an excellent song to cover here.

The Sweet’s “Hell Raiser” was covered previously by Motley Crue, except they called it “Kickstart My Heart” I believe.  The instantly recognizable Justin Hawkins from The Darkness joins Joe Elliott on the microphone.  By the books, this should be a slam dunk.  Maybe it’s just a tad sterile.

One of the most pleasant surprises on the album is ELO’s “10538 Overture”.  They captured the lushness, the complexity and the many melodies.  It sounds very little like Def Leppard; another example of them stepping outside the box and absolutely nailing it.

Roxy Music appears via “Street Life”, which fails to make much of a lasting impression.  As the album progresses, most of the tracks seem to just inhabit this nondescript Glam Leppard vibe.  It happens again on Bowie’s “Drive-In Saturday”, and it really shouldn’t.

Free’s “Little Bit of Love” is highly polished, but sounds awesome just the same.  It’s like a jolt after being sleepy for the last couple songs.  Another jolt comes next.  Ian Hunter himself appears on Mott’s “The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, and it’s not his first time with Leppard either for those who remember the Retro-Active album.  That’s Emm Gryner on piano too.  This song truly does recall the golden age of rock and roll.  Well done.

The previously discussed “No Matter What” by Badfinger is slotted in here, previously heard on Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection.  Pop genius, rendered well by the Leppard.  They take some chances on “He’s Gonna Step On You Again” by John Kongos, a different kind of rhythm for Leppard.  It’s memorable and tends to work more often than not.  Sounds a bit like what got their engines pumping in the Hysteria days.

Covering Thin Lizzy, now that verges on sacred ground.  And the good news is “Don’t Believe A Word” doesn’t sound bad.  Joe Elliott has worked on Thin Lizzy remixes in the past and he knows what he’s doing when it comes to this band’s music.  It’s not bad.  That’s accurate.  It’s not Thin Lizzy but it’s pretty close.

Phil Collen takes the lead vocal on “Stay With Me”, and he actually nails Rod Stewart’s voice.  Rod was a real screamer back in the Faces days, not the crooner he is now.  Phil probably needed about a thousand lozenges after singing “Stay With Me”.

Yeah! is uneven and unnecessary.  We mentioned earlier that context is important.  “Waterloo Sunset” made a much bigger impact on the Best Of album.  Here, it struggles to be felt among 13 other covers.  Had these tracks come out on the B-sides of singles, some would probably be cult classic covers.  If anything, Yeah! got Def Leppard back into rock and roll music after the meandering X and Euphoria records.  Too many ballads, right?  That’s what we said.  So here’s some rock and roll for you like you ordered, right?

2/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection

Next:

32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews

REVIEW: Fu Manchu / Fastso Jetson – “Jailbreak” / “Blueberries & Chrome” (1998 split single)

FU MANCHU – “Jailbreak” / FATSO JETSON – “Blueberries & Chrome” (1998 split Sessions Records 7″ single)

Fu Manchu turn Thin Lizzy into Thin Sludge…and it works!  Though it’s downtuned and slammin’, it’s still “Jailbreak”.  Fu Manchu went to the effort to mostly duplicate the familiar lead guitar melodies.  The hooks you remember are there.  Vocally, considering that Phil Lynott often liked to speak/sing, Scott Hill from Fu Manchu’s natural approach works just fine.  He’s different from Phil, more than you’d expect.  He doesn’t really attempt to sing the vocal melody, he just applies his own style to it.  Few people will pick this as their favourite Lizzy cover of all time, but Fu Manchu fans should adore it.  Produced by J. Yuenger of White Zombie.

On the B-side, it’s Fatso Jetson with their own brand of stoner rock.  “Blueberries & Chrome” rocks heavy with riff in your face and vocals buried deep.  It doesn’t shy away from dissonant chords but it does allow the vocals by Mario Lalli to explode on the chorus.  “Baby want sugar!”  Let’s just say it’s probably better that you can’t really hear the lyrics.  “He’s about to unwind, and it’s stuck in your face.”  Good tune though, sludgey and heavy.  The chorus is an awesome blowout.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Hard Skool (2022 Nightrain club clear 7″)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Hard Skool (2022 Geffen 7″ Nightrain club clear vinyl EP)

Back in February, Guns N’ Roses released the Hard Skool EP (or single, or whatever!), containing the first two new Guns songs since 2008’s Chinese Democracy.  With five tracks total (two studio, three live) over three separate formats (CD, cassette, 7″), it was already a pretty good listen.  Axl’s voice has adapted to singing these demanding songs, 35 years after.  But there was always the promise of more in June 2022, and now it has come.

Members of the Guns N’ Roses Nightrain club received a brand new Hard Skool release on clear vinyl, with one exclusive live track added.  The cover art colour has been changed from red to dark charcoal grey, and a “Nightrain Limited-Edition Clear” notation has been added to the front.  This wasn’t cheap, costing $60 Canadian ($45 US) dollars to join.  There are other perks but really, the truth of the matter is I paid $60 for one song.

They had better not reissue this track!

The new exclusive song is “Shadow Of Your Love”, a recent live version recorded with Axl, Slash, Duff, Dizzy Reed, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer, and Melissa Reese.  If you cast your minds back to the recent Appetite For Destruction super deluxe edition, “Shadow Of Your Love” was released as a single and it got a bit of airplay.  Live with the new version of the band, it does recapture that Appetite vibe and let’s face it, the song was possibly superior to a couple tunes that did make the final album.  You can hear Melissa on backing vocals, a touch that isn’t on early live versions of the song.  That backing vocal part is present on the studio version from the third disc on the Appetite box, but not the others included.  It’s cool that they’ve brought it back.  This version is just as fast as the old ones too.  It’s awesome to hear Frank Ferrer playing the drum part originally recorded by Steven Adler.  As for Axl, he adapts.  This is one of the most high and raspy of the original Guns repertoire.  Axl delivers it smooth without the rasp and still manages to get his voice way, way up there.  Say what you want about Axl Rose, he’s sounding better than many of his contemporaries.  Of course the real treat is just hearing Slash wail on it, as he should.

As for the other songs on the single; we’ve discussed them before so we won’t spend much more time on them.  “Hard Skool” is a Chinese Democracy outtake that has been reworked with Slash and Duff McKagan.  The duo have writing credits on “Hard Skool” along with Axl Rose and former members Robin Finck, Josh Freese, Tommy Stinson and Paul “Huge” Tobias.  Formerly known as “Jackie Chan”, this song comes closest to capturing the classic Guns vibe – think Illusions era GN’R.  Slash imbues the riff with his trademark snakelike style, and Axl is in full-scream mode on the powerful chorus.  The cowbell brings us back to the 80s a bit, but the experimental solo section is more modern.  The other new/old song “ABSUЯD” is much more Chi-Dem, and more divisize.  Formerly known as “Silkworms”, Guns started playing “ABSUЯD” live after a 20 year absence last year as a surprise.  Axl’s voice is pretty strange here, sounding a bit muppet-ish.  (The screaming portion sounds like tape.)  This live track will take some getting used to.  It’s not that Axl’s voice is bad just…different than what you’re used to.

Both vinyl releases came with a sticker.  This fan club edition also comes with a Nightrain 2022 pin.  The pin comes packaged in a little mini-folder.  It is made of metal and heavy for a pin.  Made for a jacket, not a shirt.  For a higher tier, you could sign up for four pins and a hoodie.  But I really only wanted to shell out for the exclusive track.

You can’t blame Axl for wanting to get some of these old songs out since he laboured for years over them.  It’s fitting that only now with Slash and Duff back in the band, the songs are “finished”.  Keep the releases coming guys.  It doesn’t have to be an album.  It just has to be Guns.

4/5 stars

All cautions made
Every chance was given
No effort spared to save what we had
All in good faith
I would not hesitate
To extend myself and lend you my hand

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

As tempers fade
And lies forgiven
No cause embraced could break what we had
In its place
A storm is lifting
I would’ve thought you could be more of a man

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

REVIEW: Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection (US 2005)

Part Thirty of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection (2005 Universal)

The Def Leppard’s Best Of released in the UK in 2004, North America followed suit in 2005 with Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection.  We’re not going to comment on that “definitive” claim, but this new compilation covered a bit of ground that the UK version did not.  With ten years and three albums since 1995’s Vault, it was a logical time to put out an updated collection.  With the musical Rock of Ages hitting the stage in Los Angeles, everything seemed to be lined up for Leppard.

Disc One is much the same as Best Of and Vault.  Same tracks in the same order with some slight variation.  The big difference here is that Disc One closes on something very special:  The High N’ Dry instrumental scorcher  “Switch 625”.  It was a side closer on High N’ Dry and so fits the role of ending Disc One very well.  It’s the heaviest song on the disc by a mile, and the only one that was not a single somewhere.  A brilliant surprise especially to those who didn’t know Leppard’s heavy side.  This version fades in from “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” just like it did on album.  Really, it’s a one-two combo.

Disc Two is a larger departure from that on Best Of.  They both begin with “Rock Rock (Till You Drop)” and then diverge.  Here, we carry on with a killer streak of early tracks from High N’ Dry and Pyromania.  “Let It Go”, “High ‘N’ Dry (Saturday Night)”, “Too Late For Love”, all rifftastic tracks of Clarkian proportions.  “Let It Go” isn’t on Best Of.

The key “bait” on these new greatest hits compilations was the inclusion of one new cover song.  On Best Of, it was “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks.  Here it is “No Matter What” by Badfinger, a truly poptastic inclusion that benefits from Leppard’s vocal prowess.  According to Phil in the liner notes, the band started playing it live on the X tour and therefore decided to record it.  With two great covers in the bag and on the shelves, we’d certainly expect the band’s forthcoming covers album to knock the socks off….

More great songs follow the Badfinger cover, beginning with the hit “Promises” from Euphoria which does deserve the spot.  “Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)” (which wasn’t on Best Of) and “Another Hit and Run” sandwich the hit “Women” from Hysteria.  It’s just a constant stream of awesome.  “Slang” follows, which although a great song indeed, sounds out of place next to these riff rockers.

The excellent ballad “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)” is a disc highlight.  So is the early track “Rock Brigade”, a blazer from On Through the Night.  “Now”, from X, could have been left off.  It is however the only representation of the X album here.  The superior “Long, Long Way to Go” was included on Best Of, but not here.  Instead, we get a great epic track that was not on Best Of called “Paper Sun”.  A universal favourite from Euphoria, it really deserved to be on a compilation of some kind.  Then “Work It Out” from Slang is a modern sounding track that might not be heavy, but sure is worth uncountable listens over the years.

The closing trio of rockers are a delight.  “Die Hard the Hunter”, “Wasted” and “Billy’s Got a Gun” are beloved Leppard non-singles that have been cherished by fandom for a long time.  Particularly “Wasted”, likely the heaviest Leppard track of all time.  It’s all riff!  As for “Billy’s Got a Gun”, it gets the closing position that it should have had on Best Of.  They got the running order right this time.

Similar to the UK Best Of, this compilation has ample photos and liner notes inside.  The band track commentary remains, as does the opening essay.  For overall listening, this is probably the better of the two.

3.5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)

Next:

31. Yeah!

REVIEW: Ugly Kid Joe – Menace to Sobriety / “Milkman’s Son” single (1995)

UGLY KID JOE – Menace to Sobriety (1995 Polygram)

Let me tell ya folks, this album ain’t bad. Ugly Kid Joe made it hard to take them seriously sometimes, but on their second full-length Menace to Sobriety, they did what most jokey bands eventually do: Get serious. Get heavy. With former Wrathchild America drummer Shannon Larkin replacing original member Mark Davis, perhaps this was inevitable.  If not, co-producer GGGarth made it inevitable.

The first single “Tomorrow’s World” was dark-edged modern metal. No jokes, no wit, just Whit, givin’ ‘er at top lung. The album would pretty much follow suit. It felt like they got one side of their personalities out of their systems for the moment and wanted to do something a little more true to the heart.

An instrumental intro just called “Intro” gets a couple heavy riffs out of way in short order. The new drummer’s thick presence is felt immediately. This intro jumps right into “God”, a heavy wade through the mosh pit, spilling hooks all over the floor in violent celebration. Whitfield Crane sounds more menacing, but he’s still obviously the charismatic frontman. Cool wah-wah inflected solo too, which was one of the only ways you could make guitar solos work in 1995.

When “Tomorrow’s World” first hits, it’s with a beat and a rolling bass line, perfectly on brand for the 90s. After the quietly tense opening verses, Whit and the band rip it wide open with another ferocious riff and chorus. It’s well within Black Sabbath’s backyard (U.S. campus), while keeping a foot in 90s. A perfect mix of integrities.

Tempos get faster on “Clover”, with Whit taking his throat even further. The riffs are still the foundation, this one a little bit Priest-like. If the lyrics to “God” were a little on the nose at times, they’re more interesting in light of this one from “Clover”. “I was tempted, but the apple made me stronger.” Whitfield then screams that he’s here to free us. There’s more going on here than a guy who just hates “everything about you”.

The funky side returns on the speedy “C.U.S.T.” (“Can’t You See Them”).  Whit speed-raps through the impressive verses while the band jams hard underneath, wah-wah now back center stage.  Great tune and in fact better than some of the competition’s songs in this genre at the same time.  There’s a killer, clever percussion break in the middle that differentiates Ugly Kid Joe from the bands who were leading the pack.

“Milkman’s Son” was the single, an electric ballad and rightfully chosen.  It’s not soft, there’s a tasty jagged riff to keep it cool, but this is clearly the one that fills the part of prior Ugly Kid Joe hits such as “Busy Bee”.  Great tune, if a bit doomed.

The grind of a bass groove returns on “Suckerpath”, which seems about to about avoiding the ego and big head of rock stardom.  “Never goin’ down a suckerpath, baby,” insists Whit.  Unlike a lot of the tunes on Menace to Sobriety, “Suckerpath” never really explodes with power the way they have so far.  It remains in this wallowing groove, which rocks but never quite satisfies.

Another ballad:  “Cloudy Skies” has the kind of twang where you could called it “Western Skies”.  Still electric; no acoustic softness to be found, but quite excellent.  Crane seems to have tapped into something heartfelt here, and his singing is excellent.  Sticking to tunes with broad appeal, “Jesus Rode A Harley” is one of the most straight ahead and upbeat tracks on the album.

There’s an AC/DC vibe to the opening of “10/10” but then it goes pure grunge groove.  Suitably dark, impressively heavy, and utilizing tricks like conga and slide.  There’s a direction on this album and “10/10” is right down the middle.  Not an outstanding track overall but one you can headbang along to quite easily.  At the end, Whit tries to go full metal scream and does pretty good. This actually leads pretty well into the Priestly vibes on “V.I.P.”.  Priest circa Hell Bent, with a touch of Halford’s Fight.  The lead vocals are Jon Oliva from Savatage to a tee, whether intentional or not.

Finally, the jokey side emerges on “Oompa”, which is exactly what you think it is.  A heavy metal version of the Oompa Loopma song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  And why not?  Green Jelly were having hits with this kind of song.  It’s only two minutes long and hey…it’s Ugly Kid Joe. And just misdirection.  That’s not how the album’s supposed to end.

After long last, the acoustic guitars come out on the tender closer “Candle Song”.  There’s more than a hint of western twang, but if you wanted a traditional hard rock ballad closer, here you go.  “Candle Song” is excellent way to take the listener down after such intensely heavy rocking.

The band isn’t entirely done with their sense of humour.  Open up the booklet and you will find a rental house bill for damages including a food fight.  Total cost:  $12,896.81.

4/5 stars


UGLY KID JOE – “Milkman’s Son” / “Tomorrow’s World” (1995 Mercury CD single)

This single seems kind of like a double header between “Milkman’s Son” and “Tomorrow’s World” which was the music video getting all the play on MuchMusic at the time.  Two of the best tracks from the album, they are a terrific one-two punch for this CD single.

The bonus tracks are quite cool.  There’s a 1994 version of “God”, which is structurally the same but rougher sounding.  Amazing how close to the final mark it was.  Then there’s a really rough demo of “C.U.S.T.” but still very close to its final form.  Hearing these somewhat flatter sounding early versions after listening to the album is really interesting, since it is so consistently pounding, especially in the bass.

Great single for bonus material and a good score if you can find one.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Best Of (UK 2004)

Part Twenty-Nine of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Best Of (2004 Mercury UK)

Nine years after Vault, why not another “best of” collection?  And why not make it a double?  And a “limited edition” too?

The approach was all but perfect for Def Leppard’s double Best Of.  Except when you look at it in hindsight.  You always need some bait, and this time the bait was an unreleased new track.  Suggested by Phil for a forthcoming covers album, Leppard recorded “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks, and quite well in fact.  The problem was it was going to be re-released in two years on 2006’s Yeah!.  So we spent all that money on one new track that we were going to end up re-buying in two years.  Hard to justify.

Fortunately, “Waterloo Sunset” is an excellent version.  It defies expectation in fact.  Phil and Vivian sound absolutely stellar on guitar, with warm tones.  It’s soft, laid back, and Joe Elliott nails the lead vocal in his own style.  It does sound like Def Leppard, but it does not sound like them bastardizing the Kinks in any way.  It sounds just fine, like a Waterloo sunset!

The compilation kind of plays as if disc one was the “greatest hit” and disc two is the “bonus disc”.  The first disc is almost an exact repeat of the UK version of Vault., with only slight differences.  It opens with the “video version” of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, and then rolls through a what’s-what of Leppard hits.  Every song, in order, from the UK Vault, until you get to track 10.  Originally “Foolin'”, track 10 was swapped for “Action”.  Then for track 11, they inserted the recent ballad “Long, Long Way To Go”, a good selection.  “Make Love Like A Man” is also wedged in here, which let’s face it, most of us can do without.  The Vault tracklisting then resumes, with “Armageddon It” through to the end, but minus “Miss You In A Heartbeat”.  “Foolin'” eventually appears on CD Two, but “Miss You In A Heartbeat” does not.  In the end, CD One is two songs longer, and overall a better listen than the original UK Vault.

CD Two is the one that hardcore fans will enjoy more.  “Rock! Rock!”, what an opening number.  “Promises” is the only inclusion from Euphoria, and justifiably so.  Then you get “Slang” for a double dose of fun, and then the melancholy “Foolin'”.  An unfortunate inclusion is the morose “Now” from the X album, but it’s worth sitting through to get to “Rock Brigade” from the debut.  That’s an odd transition, by the way.  From Lep’s latest with programming and loops and bleeps and bloops, to their early hard riffing stuff.  Very weird.  Sounds like two different bands presented that way.

Every single track after the dull “Now” is a killer.  “Women” wasn’t on Vault.  Strange, right?  Rectified here.  Then onto “Let It Go”, the killer “Too Late For Love”, and “High ‘N’ Dry”.  A trifecta of perfect right there.  The disc takes a turn to the modern side again on “Work It Out”, but at least this track isn’t a waste of space.  It might not fit with the early Lep songs so well, but it has integrity and wickedly choppy guitars.  When it fades, we go into “Billy’s Got A Gun” which ups the Pyromania factor a notch.  “Hit and Run” and the ever-loved “Wasted” bring more of that old-school vibe, but sandwiched between them is the ballad “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)”.  A great ballad and highlight of the disc, but in an odd setting to be sure.

Following “Wasted”, the disc closer is “Die Hard the Hunter”, another strange choice.  Would “Billy’s Got A Gun” not made for a better closer?  Or even “Wasted”?  Probably.  Good song, but in the wrong position for sure.  It’s just not the kind that closes an album.  It’s more the kind that closes a side (which it did on Pyromania).

Sonically, the second disc is the most uneven since it combines tracks from both the first album and the most recent.  It’s also a much more fun listen just because it includes a couple deeper cuts and some lesser heard gems.  I mean…”Wasted”, right?  Just wish it was the closer.

On the plus side, Best Of Def Leppard has a nice booklet with track commentary from the band members.  There’s an essay and a few photos.  It also comes in a nice cardboard slipcase with an embossed Def Leppard logo in shiny black.  The cover art, with that slate background, is simple, cool and effective.  There’s even a picture of Steve Clark inside (but no Pete Willis).

So what about that covers album?  In the liner notes, Joe says it’s recorded, but it took them until 2006 to release it.  In the meantime, the US would put out their own 2 CD compilation album, with a slightly different running order, a few different deep cuts, a Badfinger cover instead of the Kinks, and a better closing track.  How does the US compilation stack up against the UK?  Check in next time.

3/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X

Next:

30. Rock of Ages: The Definitive Collection (US)
31. Yeah!

REVIEW: Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral (1994)

NINE INCH NAILS – The Downward Spiral (1994 Interscope) halo eight

“Trent is God!” shouted the chorus of ’94 kids.  Who, Trent Reznor?  From that electronic band?  Why was he God all of a sudden, and what happened to Eric Clapton?

The Downward Spiral happened, and Trent Reznor had a legitimate claim to genius now.  Though not as immediate as Pretty Hate Machine, nor as heavy as Broken, The Downward Spiral was complex and layered beyond those other two albums.  At 65 minutes it was ambitious, stratified and diverse beyond Reznor’s earlier works.  It is an angsty semi-autobiographical concept album about a literal downward spiral, through drugs, religion, violence, ending with nothing left.  Most importantly it was magnetic.  You could not stop listening to it.  Its impact was inevitable.  Angry young kids got it.

Opening with the sound of a severe beating from the movie THX-1138, “Mr. Self Destruct” soon explodes with guitars, static, whispers, and vocals buried deep in the mix.  All ingredients expertly mixed in a jarring cacophony that is anything but.  Whatever is going on in this song, the riff kicks ass and the soupy mix just makes it heavier.  Then suddenly, everything drops out and Trent whispers “You let me do this to you (I am the exit),” an abstract lyric that still manages to chill the bones.  It all explodes again, with layers of heavy building and building until once again they suddenly stop, and loops of guitars take you out.  Adrian Belew contributed guitar.

The most minimalist song in construction was also one of the more popular:  “Piggy”.  It’s a sparse construction of bass and beat, with some adornment from keyboards and samples of what sounds like screaming.  This song increases in tension.  There’s no serious release of the tension until “Heresy”, which explodes once more with heavy.  A distorted, underwater Reznor sings in a creepily catchy falsetto while the fattest of synth beats pound in behind.  Then suddenly he bellows, “God is dead, and no one cares!  If there is a hell, I’ll see you there!”  And the 1994 children of nihilism raised their fists in gleeful despair.  An album highlight.

First single “March of the Pigs” is sloppily heavy; a staggering beat and a lot of distorted yelling.  A big fat keyboard lick in behind, and suddenly the tune just blows up.  The samples create the ambience of a screaming audience.  Trent’s distorted singing (different on every song) is strangely compelling and it makes it that much more powerful when he sings clean.

We arrive at the most irritating song, and also one of the most popular:  “Closer”.  Notable only for the chorus of “I wanna fuck you like an animal”, it has a danceable quality but this song is really only for the novelty.

“Ruiner” is an interesting deep cut with a solid beat and catchy synth.  Trent seems really pissed off, just before the song transforms into a synthy anthem of destruction.  A cool distorted backwards-sounding guitar solo defies convention.  The refrain of “nothing can stop me now” recurs from “Piggy”, reminding us that this is indeed a concept album.  Then the sound of screaming backs “The Becoming”, another deep cut with intense lyrics of internal struggles.  There’s a haunting acoustic chill-out, but it doesn’t last.  This is some of Trent’s most twisted and brilliant production.

Drums, piano and heavy riffing create an uncomfortable balance on “I Do Not Want This” and Trent’s chorus of “Don’t you tell me how I feel!” resonated.  A wild drum beat and another guitar riff brings on “Big Man With A Gun”, the shortest song at only a minute and a half.  But it’s a hell of a minute and a half.  A bit heavy on the phallic references, but hey.  Then suddenly everything cools down on the instrumental “A Warm Place”.  Truly one of Reznor’s greatest constructions, “A Warm Place” quietly comforts us after all the shouting and screaming.  The layers of audible warmth have melody and delicacy that other songs tend to avoid.

“Eraser” spits and whines, before the drums wake the dead and some odd sounding guitars make their entrance.  “Eraser” slowly builds, until Reznor comes in screaming with a riff from hell.  There is so much going on in some of these songs that it is easy to forget how riff-heavy they can be.  On Broken, the riffs were often the main feature.  On Downward, the riffs are accompanied by other major parts to the whole construction.

The lengthy “Reptile” uses the sound of a Polaroid camera to great rhythmic effect.  This sound is a pounder with a nasty bite.  “You have the blood of reptile, just underneath the skin,” accuses Reznor to someone he clearly does not care for anymore.  It’s an angry song among many angry songs, but also a clear standout.

A familiar melody from “Closer” recurs on the acoustic portion of “The Downward Spiral”.  To say “acoustic” is of course silly; that refers only to the acoustic guitar sitting among the Beatles-esque soundscape of loops.  Just past halfway, the song goes completely nuclear with screams, whispers and distorted instruments, all buried as if underwater.

This symphony of cacophony transitions into the most famous song.  Reznor once acquiesced  that “Hurt” was now Johnny Cash’s song, but they can certainly co-exist as uniquely brilliant, each in their own way.  Nine Inch Nails utilize piano, strange guitars that sound out of tune, and wind-like samples that make it sound as if you’re on the surface of Mars.  Like many of the songs on The Downward Spiral, “Hurt” builds and builds and builds like a tantrum.  Reznor’s pained lead vocal is only one of many enticing pieces of the whole.  What Cash did, remarkably in fact, was to take “Hurt” and figure out how to make it work as an acoustic ballad.  What Reznor did was conclude his magnum opus with its best song, and most impactful.

On a personal anecdote, The Downward Spiral was one of the more irritating albums for us to stock as a used CD back in the day.  It is housed in a slimline CD single case with its own inner sleeve, and outside that was a different cardboard sleeve and a gorgeous lyric book.  The lyric book itself is loaded with cool imagery, but it seems a lot of people lost or tossed it, along with the outer cardboard sleeve.  We had two or three different price points for the album depending on how complete it was.  The worst were the customizers who would cut out the outer sleeve to fit it inside a standard jewel case.  Eventually we just started to pass on copies that didn’t come with all the stuff.

The Downward Spiral is industrial music, progressive rock, heavy metal, and punk rock filtered through the unique ear of a man getting out some serious deep-down kind of stuff.  There’s a lot of audible pain.  Yet it is certainly more complex than that, both lyrically and sonically.  Is Trent God?  No — but he is an artist and this is a brilliant piece of art.

5/5 stars

The Downward Spiral is also available in a 2 CD deluxe edition that we will look at in the future!

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – X (2002)

Part Twenty-Eight of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original ReviewX (Japanese import) (2002)

DEF LEPPARD – X (CD Collection Volume 3 Disc 1) (Originally 2002, 2021 remaster)

In a word:  “desperate”.

The opening boops and bops of lead single “Now” sounded like some pop band from Sweden, not Def Leppard.  Worse, they sounded desperate.

The last studio album Euphoria was sonically calculated to bring back the good old days, but only sold half a million copies in the US, in a case of diminishing returns.  To turn the ship around commercially, professional hitmakers Marti Frederiksen, Per Aldeheim and Andreas Carlsson were employed to help produce. Songs from professional songwriters were used.  The band’s core sound was watered down and only now and then does the real Def Leppard surface for air.

It has been argued that eliminating the first single (and first track) “Now” would strengthen the album.  While may be, we simply cannot ignore this track co-written by pro Marti Frederiksen.  While opens with clicks and wheezes like a life support machine, acoustic guitars and keyboards set up the tune.  Dark, soft and unimpressive until the main guitar hook kicks in at the chorus.  But the chorus is lifeless and uninspiring.  Only the chunky guitars have any impact, unfortunately hobbled by more clicks and sonic idiocy.  At least drummer Rick Allen, who co-wrote this and a number of the album tracks, sounds lethal.

The sonic blemishes go unabated on the ballad “Unbelievable”, written entirely by hitmakers including Max Martin.  The drum and sound effect programming is irritating and adds absolutely nothing to do the song.  Only on the chorus, where Leppard drown it out with their harmonies, do we get relief.  On X, Def Leppard had reach Peak Ballad, and that’s not a good thing.  Their reliance on them was hurting their credibility as a rock band.  If their voices were not so recognizable, you would not have been able to identity “Unbelievable” as a Def Leppard song.

Fortunately “You’re So Beautiful” has some spark.  This upbeat pop rocker has a nice, laid back chug and very sweet harmonies. It’s not overly encumbered by programming.  Phil Collen sings a chunk of it which adds another element.  It’s decent.

More acoustics abound on “Everyday”, making us wonder if Leppard ever intend to rock on this album.  As far as pop rock goes, “Everyday” is pretty good, with some pretty undeniable hooks.  Expertly constructed with the aid of Frederiksen, “Everyday” is a keeper.

One of Leppard’s softest ballads is “Long, Long Way to Go” written by One Direction hitmakers Wayne Hector and Steve Robson.  Fortunately it’s a song that Leppard makes work.  Rich strings and heavy production do not impede this time.  There’s an acoustic version included on the Japanese version of the album that lacks a lot of the excess, and is actually superior.  Fortunately, that version is included on a later CD in The CD Collection Volume 3.  “Long, Long Way to Go” is an album highlight.  Even though they didn’t write it, it deserves to sit up there with some of Leppard’s best balladeering.

“Four Letter Word” is the first actual rocker, even though it steals part of its riff from the superior “Armageddon It”.  Decent song, but unfortunately a knockoff.  Better is “Torn to Shreds” which is ballady, but still boasts a pretty tough chorus.  This song has a pop sound that implies it was cowritten by a hitmaker, but it was not.  This is all Leppard.  They were reaching for pop but at least they let it loose a bit on the chorus.

Irritating sound effects return on “Love Don’t Lie”, like ants at a picnic that just won’t go away.  Not a bad song, with a nice stuttery guitar part that would be nice to hear breathing on its own.  It’s not a total loss but the production is really un-rock in every way.  Now, let’s not get into an argument about being open minded, or categorising Leppard as a “rock” band.  Leppard have long called themselves a pop group, and that’s fine.  There’s that, and there’s a step too far into sonic indigestion, and that’s where we are.  Having said all this, the single “Gravity” is one of the most offensive of the songs.  It could have been Backstreet Boys or N*Sync with guitars.  Or worse.

“Cry” introduces the concept of a “guitar riff” to the X album.  Too little, too late, on an unremarkable song.  “Girl Like You” is a better song, but the programming and digital gunk are still there hovering in the background like a computer virus.  At this point, patience is wearing this and we just want this album to end.  One more ballad to endure, “Let Me Be the One” is over quickly, but what is the point?  There are so many ballads seeping into the Leppard catalogue at this point in time, and few of them are notable.

Fortunately, X ends on the best song, “Scar”.  Though not as heavy as “White Lightning” or as memorable as “Gods Of War”, “Scar” has that kind of dark edgy vibe.  It checks pretty much all the boxes.  It has a riff, a good melody, some very vintage Leppard-y guitar work, and great harmonies.  One of X‘s strengths is the care put into the deeply layered vocals, a Leppard trait unheard to this degree since Hysteria.  It truly is a cool sound.

There were a number of bonus tracks and B-sides available to augment your X experience for better or for worse.  Japan had two bonus tracks:  the aforementioned acoustic “Long, Long Way to Go” and “Kiss the Day”, another slow pseudo-rocker.  The official website used to offer a song called “Perfect Girl”, which is a better demo of “Gravity”.  All these and more such as “10 X Bigger Than Love” are now in the box set, and we’ll take a closer look at those songs when we get to disc four of The CD Collection Volume 3.

Oh, and why X as the title?  Counting Retro-Active and Vault, it’s their tenth album.  Yeah, Vault shouldn’t count, but what can you do?

If you were making a Def Leppard Best Of CD set (which, nine years after Vault, was Leppard’s next move), you could make a good case for including two songs from X, those being “Scar” and “Long, Long Way to Go” (preferably the acoustic version).  Is that what Def Leppard did?  Find out next time.

1.5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)

Next:

29. Best Of (UK)
30. Rock of Ages: The Definitive Collection (US)
31. Yeah!