Reviews

REVIEW: Max Webster – The Party (2017 box set)

MAX WEBSTER – The Party (2017 Anthem 8 CD box set)

Normally when we review box sets like this, we prefer to review each album individually.  Three of the eight discs have already been covered here:  Max Webster (their debut), High Class in Borrowed Shoes, and Universal Juveniles (their final album).  The rest of the Max Webster albums will be reviewed in due time, so for now we will take a general look at their brand new CD box set, The Party.

The Max Webster catalogue (and to a lesser extent, the solo Kim Mitchell discography) has been well overdue for a remastering.  The original Anthem CDs are thin and tinny.  Rock Candy did a fantastic remaster of the first album with better sound and a generous booklet, but what about the rest?  I first heard about this project via Uncle Meat this past summer at Sausagefest.  It was one of those “know a guy who knows a guy” stories, but the bottom line was, Max Webster’s catalogue was being remastered.  And now we have The Party in hand as proof!

The contents include all five original Max studio albums, their concert opus Live Magnetic Air, Kim Mitchell’s very rare solo EP, and a bonus disc of rarities called The Bootleg.  Those who buy the forthcoming vinyl version will also receive a booklet with rare photos and other goodies.  The CD version has no booklet, but it does have nice gatefold packaging for each album.  It’s affordably priced, so we forgive the lack of a booklet on the CD edition. Vinyl owners can look at it as a bonus for buying vinyl.

If improved audio is what you are longing for, then you should be very satisfied with The Party.  It’s not overdriven, but it sounds fuller and deep.  They didn’t go for loudness.  This is all very good.  You can safely ditch your old CD versions, rendered obsolete by this box.

The Bootleg will be the main draw for many.  It does not disappoint.  In fact, it intrigues, because it teases that there is more.  Unreleased demos are listed as “Contraband” — reports suggest this refers to a collection of unreleased material still in the vault.

Max Webster apparently recorded their 2007 reunion show, or at least “Let Go the Line”.  It sounds brilliant and makes you pray for a live album of the show.  Terry Watkinson’s classic ballad sounds a little older, a little wiser, but just as brilliant as ever.  Other live stuff from 1979 was recorded in Oshawa.  “Oh War” simply smokes, and was not included on Live Magnetic Air.  Then there’s the crazy jam centred on “Research (At Beach Resorts)”.  These insane live sessions really show why Max Webster is held in such high esteem, almost like a second coming of Frank Zappa himself.

The unreleased demos include some songs that didn’t make Max’s albums.  Fans know “Deep Dive” from Kim Mitchell’s solo live album, I Am A Wild Party.  Max’s original 1982 demo is completely different.  Same melody, same words, but a vastly different arrangement.  It’s like rock and roll bluegrass, fast as possible, and insanely good.  It was likely deemed too different to be on the Universal Juveniles LP, but there’s no doubt it’s awesome and the highlight of this box set.

Another standouts from the batch of demos is a version of “Battle Scar” without Rush; just Max!  It’s a revelation; an interesting work in progress.  There are also two songs you’ve never heard before, “Walden 5” and “Better”, both from 1979.  Let’s just say that the quality of these unreleased Max songs is album level.  “Walden 5” just needed some editing.  A demo version of “In the World of Giants” from 1979 has way more guitar soloing.  Kim fans will love it!  Oh — and stay tuned for a surprise unlisted bonus track.

The box itself is just a cardboard sleeve, but at least an attractively packaged one.  Yes, a booklet would have been appreciated.  In lieu of that, we recommend Martin Popoff’s brilliantly detailed book Live Magnetic Air: The Unlikely Saga of the Superlative Max Webster to accompany this otherwise perfect set.

Oh, one last thing:  The two “new” songs that were included on the hits compilation Diamonds Diamonds are not in this box set.  So, to be a completist, you’d still need to track that one down.  Vinyl is recommended; and then you’d own “Hot Spots” and “Overnight Sensation” to complete the picture.  Just a word to the wise.

4.5/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: QUIET RIOT – Live at the US Festival (2012 CD/DVD)

QUIET RIOT – Live at the US Festival (2012 Shout! CD/DVD set)

This was a long awaited release, since the US Festival was way back in 1983!  The Holy Grail would be an official Van Halen release of their legendary performance, but I digress.  There aren’t a lot of really great live Quiet Riot albums out there, with one called Extended Versions being the best package.  Live at the US Festival is brief at just seven songs (plus a 4:38 guitar solo that also includes a sneak preview of a song called “Scream and Shout”).  It does capture Quiet Riot at their peak, at a critical gig, and includes a DVD of the whole thing for the complete package.  (Come on, Van Halen…)

Let’s have a look at the DVD first.  The crowd is vast, the costumes ridiculous, but there’s some kind of fire in the air.  The atmosphere is electric and the band are absolutely great visually, particularly Rudy Sarzo.   DuBrow is the consummate glam frontman, and an underrated one at that. Have a giggle at the old style giant screens displaying the band logo.

The CD itself sounds good, no complaints there, and the recording sounds untampered (evidenced by a messy Carlos Cavazo guitar solo in “Cum On Feel the Noize”).  Sarzo’s bass is mixed nice and audibly.  It would have been better if more of a booklet was included, but it’s just a simple fold-out with no liner notes.  This set is sparse and just over 40 minutes long.  A lot of that time is taken up by talking.  You get the big hits though, and the non-album track “Danger Zone”.

Live at the US Festival is a pretty easy Quiet Riot purchase to justify because of the included DVD.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Make A Difference Foundation – Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell (1989)

Make A Difference Foundation – Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell (1989 Polygram)

In 1989, I proudly sported my Moscow Music Peace Festival T-shirt in the highschool halls.  It was cool to see the rock bands on the forefront of heavy metal bringing music to the Soviet Union.  Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Ozzy Osbourne and Skid Row joined Russian metal band Gorky Park in the name of peace and being drug free.

Drug free?  Ozzy?  It’s true that this was a little strange, but Motley were at least clean for the first time in their lives.  The Scorpions had played behind the Iron Curtain before, and Sabbath were huge in Russia.  Meanwhile Bon Jovi were one of the few bands to legally release an album in the USSR, and in return they brought Gorky Park to the US.  I was lucky enough to have a girlfriend who recorded the televised part of the concert off MTV and sent me a copy.  It was a pretty mindblowing video.  Those Russians were going absolutely nuts, seeing their idols on stage.

Later on, the bands each contributed a song to a compilation album called Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell, each covering an artist who had been touched by substance abuse.  The CD was produced by the biggest name at the time, Bruce Fairbairn himself.  The proceeds went to an anti-drug charity, for all the good “just saying no” does.  The album itself was a pretty great compilation of mostly exclusive music.  Though almost all of it is now available elsewhere, that wasn’t the case in 1989, making this a tempting buy.

Gorky Park, the up and comers, started off with “My Generation”.  Some find it too putrid to stomach.  It’s virtually an original song with only the lyrics recognizable.  The riffs and melodies seem otherwise new.  So give Gorky Park some credit for at least not attempting a carbon copy, but then you gotta take off some points for turning “My Generation” into a Bon Motley song.  Unfortunately for Gorky Park, their momentum halted when singer Nikolai Noskov quit in 1990.

Skid Row surprised the hell out of everyone with the Pistols’ “Holidays in the Sun”.  It was the first indication that Skid Row had punk roots.  “Holidays” was very much a look ahead to where they would go on Slave to the Grind.  They were on the punk bandwagon a full two years before Motley decided to cover the Sex Pistols.  It’s always strange to hear flashy metal guitar solos on a Pistols song, but it’s sheer joy to hear Sebastian spitting and screaming up a storm.

Scorpions had a new compilation out called Best of Rockers ‘n’ Ballads.  Another Who song, “I Can’t Explain” was taken from it to be used on this CD.  It is by far the better of the Who covers, as Scorpions really made it their own.  Next, Ozzy’s track is quite interesting.  It’s the only studio recording of the lineup including Zakk Wylde, Randy Castillo, and Geezer Butler.  Geezer quit the band shortly after, and this incredible lineup never recorded anything else.  I consider it the strongest band that Ozzy had after Randy Rhoads.  The quartet did a live sounding cover of “Purple Haze”, unfortunately not the greatest version.  It is at least a showcase for Zakk Wylde to go nuts on the wah-wah pedal.

I will argue that the best track on this album came from the band that was riding a brand new high:  Motley Crue.  Clean and mean, they were incredibly strong in 1989.  They the balls to choose an obscure Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple) solo tune:  “Teaser”.  Motley put on that Dr. Feelgood groove, and Mick Mars laid waste to the land with his slidey guitar goodness.  It’s no surprise that “Teaser” has reappeared on Motley compilations several times since.  It has balls as big as a bus!

Another strong contender is Bon Jovi’s take on Thin Lizzy.  “The Boys are Back in Town” fits seamlessly with that small town New Jersey vibe that Bon Jovi used to have.  Lynott must have had some influence on a young Jon Bon, because all his old tunes are about the boys – back in town!  Dino’s bar and grill could be in Sayreville NJ.  Of course, Bon Jovi are a competent enough band to be able to cover Thin Lizzy and do it well.

Another surprise:  Cinderella doing Janis Joplin.  Singer Tom Keifer suited Joplin, though you don’t immediately associate the two!  “Move Over” takes advantage of that Keifer shriek that isn’t too far removed from Janis.  From there on though, it’s filler.  Jason Bonham, Tico Torres and Mickey Curry do a pretty boring “Moby Dick”.  It’s funny how John Bonham sounds bigger on the original, than three drummers on this remake.  Then it’s a bunch of live jams from the Moscow concert:  “Hound Dog”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Rock and Roll” (Bonham on drums again for the latter).  Vince Neil is hopelessly out-screamed by Sebastian Bach on the Zep tune.  All the singers participated, but Sebastian Bach and Tom Keifer blew ’em all away.

This disc has been out of print a while, but isn’t too hard to find.  80s rockers need to have it for its historical value.

3/5 stars

VIDEO REVIEW: KISS playing cards

Not really a part of the The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES 

 

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Greta Van Fleet – Black Smoke Rising (2017 EP)

GRETA VAN FLEET – Black Smoke Rising (2017 Republic records EP)

Sometimes a tune just comes outta nowhere and takes over.  Greta Van Fleet’s very Zeppelin-like “Highway Tune” is one such song.  Who are Greta Van Fleet?  Three young brothers and a buddy from Frankenmuth, Michigan of all places!  (These guys weren’t even born yet when I was last in Frankenmuth singing Zeppelin karaoke, so I cannot claim to have influenced them at all.)  They describe themselves as “a blues influenced rock n roll band picking up where classic rock left off”.  Black Smoke Rising is their second EP, after the very rare Greta Van Fleet: Live in Detroit (2014).

They call themselves “blues influenced”, but the truth of the matter is that they sound like the second coming of Led Zeppelin.  That’s not a terrible thing, and given their ages, certainly forgivable.  They have a whole career ahead of them in which to grow.  The good news is that regardless of the various shades of Zep, all four tracks are excellent.

Singer Joshua Michael Kiszka is a born star.  At times he’s a dead ringer for young Robert Plant.  At others he’s more like Andrew Stockdale.  He also shows his own character and lung power.  The point is, this guy is special.  Not that anyone in the band is a slouch, but there is one obvious immediate standout.

It’s easy to compare these tracks to earlier ones.  “Highway Tune” is a bit of an amped-up “The Rover”.  Zep bleeds into “Safari Song”.  You can hear “Down By the Seaside” and “Your Time Is Gonna Come” at the tail end of “Flower Power”.  Their most unique song is closer “Black Smoke Rising”.  If anything it sounds more like “Fight the Good Fight” by Triumph than anything like Zeppelin, but it’s more than that.  It sounds like a hint of what this band can progress into.

Keep an eye on Greta Van Fleet and by all means, get this EP.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape (remastered)

FOO FIGHTERS – The Colour and the Shape (Originally 1997, 2007 Sony Legacy edition)

Sometimes, an album is just perfect.  Nothing needs to be added or taken away.  It is simply right the first time.

The Foo Fighters got it right the first time when they released The Colour and the Shape in 1997  At 47 minutes, it was already a bit longer than the average album, but what a towering 47 minutes they are!  There is a reason that The Colour and the Shape is consistently the album that all others are compared to.  It’s that one magical, flawless album that can never be equalled no matter what Dave Grohl & Co. come up with next.

The Colour and the Shape was a product of its time and all the things Grohl was going through.  The drummer (William Goldsmith) was fired mid-way and Dave re-recorded all the drums himself, bar two ballads.  Maybe that’s one reason that the album is so special.  When Dave plays the drums, the energy level goes through the roof and comes out the speakers.  That’s what happens on “Monkey Wrench”, “My Hero”, “Everlong”, “New Way Home” and “Hey, Johnny Park!”, five of the most exciting tracks.  The energy simply cannot contained.  The Law of Conservation of Energy dictates that it all comes out of your body as you rock to this album!

Of one were to give a negative critique to any of this album, it might be Grohl’s screaming on “My Poor Brain” and “Enough Space” among others.  It is true:  Grohl chips the paint with his voice from time to time.  This works though, as an appropriate contrast to the soft melodies of “Walking After You” and “February Stars”.  The album is well rounded.  It joyfully careens from those heavy blasts, to quiet acoustic bits of pop glory.

The Colour and the Shape has the songs, it has the riffs, and mindblowing drums.  It has the vibe, and it reeks of passion.  Whatever Grohl was going through at this time, it ended up in the music.  The production by Gil Norton is a bright contrast to the lo-fi of the debut album Foo Fighters.  It simply cannot be improved upon.  Even the lyrics go full circle.  Listen to “Doll” and “New Way Home” and see if you catch it.

When Sony Legacy added seven bonus tracks, it beefed the album up to well over an hour.  If you listen to the CD as a whole, it completely changes the listening experience, and not in a good way.  It’s Coke vs. New Coke.  Adding essentially a third side of B-sides doesn’t make it better.  It would be advised to collect the original Foo Fighters singles from which these tracks were taken.  And if you do, you’ll get more songs that weren’t included on the Sony Legacy, such as live and acoustic versions.  Of the bonus tracks, the Gary Numan cover “Down in the Park” is particularly exceptional.  The new liner notes by bassist Nate Mendel are quite cool.

The Colour and the Shape is one of the best albums of 1997, if not the very best of that year.  It’s tough to beat and adding bonus tracks didn’t do the trick.  Therefore, The Colour and the Shape gets two ratings:

Original 1997 CD:  5/5 stars

Sony Legacy 2007 CD:  4/5 stars

 

#604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

GETTING MORE TALE #604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

Now that vinyl is back in a big way, you may have noticed more and more heavy vinyl in your local record store.  180 gram vinyl records are very popular, particularly for reissues.  You’ll notice the front cover stickers touting the weight, but what does this all mean?

As it turns out, not very much.  Heavier weight vinyl is a preference, but not one that particularly pays off in improved sound quality.

Typical records are pressed on 120 grams on vinyl.  It starts as vinyl pellets, which are melted and expertly pressed between two plates.  A record is plenty thick enough to accommodate grooves pressed into both sides.  Thickness is not the issue.  Sound quality depends on other factors much more.  Virgin plastic, not recycled, is preferred by connoisseurs.  The quality of the presses, the experience of the engineers, and of course the mastering of the music for vinyl are all critical.  Thickness, not so much.  The groove in a record depends more on surface area in order to get a good sound, and that comes from width.  Sound issues arise when a side of a record is so long, that the grooves need to be squeezed onto that 12″ diameter.  Then you lose clarity and distinction.  A thick record might cut down on vibration from the turntable, but a good platter will do the same job.

200 gram vinyl.  Notice the thick edge.

Heavy vinyl feels amazing in the hand. 180 grams or even 200 grams are very common today.  Like buying a heavy-duty vehicle, you feel the weight and sturdiness and associate it with quality.  Generally, you would be correct.  When a label presses a release on 180 gram vinyl, it’s often the case that this is some special reissue.  Perhaps it’s been specially re-mastered for vinyl, or manufactured in limited quantities too.  Sometimes these come in special gatefold packaging.  If the remastering is done well and not overdriven like a lot of modern releases, chances are you’ll be getting a good sounding record.

120, 180, 200 grams…how heavy can these things get?  Is there an upper limit?  I asked Gerald McGhee, vice-president of Precision Pressing in Burlington Ontario.  He also sings in Canadian band Brighton Rock.

“You can go higher.   200 is in vogue right now.  140 is standard,  and 180 is getting more traction, but very little difference in sound quality,” says McGhee.

In theory you could take vinyl to absurd limits, but what would be the point?  Maybe if you’re Blink 182, you could do a special 182 gram release.  (Make sure I get my cut for the idea if you do.)  If you as a consumer buy heavy vinyl, you’re doing it mostly because you enjoy it for reasons other than sound.  Perhaps you buy them because you are used to getting a good mastering job with such releases.  Perhaps, like me, you also enjoy the satisfying feeling of handling such a record.  Perhaps you just like to collect variations.  But if you are not one of those, you may just want to save the extra few bucks and buy a cheaper version.

 

STAR WARS: The Last Jedi – Trailer #2

So much here to absorb and analyze. It’s clear that the danger this time is that Rey is headed down a dark path. Will be the beacon of hope for the galaxy be extinguished forever?

Find out December 15 2017.

BOOK REVIEW: KISS Still On Fire – Dave Thomas & Anders Holm (1988)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 37: bonus book review

 Still On Fire – Dave Thomas & Anders Holm (1988 Melody Line)

In the 1980s, there were generally no Kiss books on the market.  If you found one, you bought it.  The only widely known Kiss book back then was 1978’s paperback Kiss by Robert Duncan.  I was lucky to find Kiss Still On Fire in Stratford Ontario on December 27, 1990 in a great little store called The Book Vault.  Still On Fire is very very unofficial, but it was unequalled in its time:  130 magazine sized pages, mostly in full colour, loaded with pictures, facts and a few errors.

Peppered with old interviews and article snippets, Still On Fire takes a balanced look at the band and isn’t afraid to get critical when it’s warranted.  It also attempts to take a crack at who played what on some of those tracks where it wasn’t quite clear.  For example, Ace Frehley is pictured on the front cover of Killers, but didn’t play on any of the new songs.  Still On Fire quotes a Paul Stanley interview.  Was it Bob Kulick playing lead on these tracks?  “Bob did come out, yes, but he didn’t play.  When I couldn’t handle things — and I don’t consider myself the ultimate lead player — another friend of ours came in and gave us a little help.”  The book states this friend was Robbin Crosby of Ratt, a claim that is not backed up in other sources.  Did Crosby play on Killers?  Who knows, but according to this book, he did.  Other books such as Julian Gill’s Kiss Album Focus claim Bob Kulick did play some on Killers.  In other words, if you read something interesting in this book that contradicts what you’ve read elsewhere, take it with a grain of salt.

There’s a bit of content here about what Gene was doing in the 1980s outside of Kiss:  producing bands such as Black & Blue and EZO.  Gene was responsible for EZO’s fantastic single “Flashback Heart Attack”, co-written by James Christian of Simmons Record act House of Lords.  Gene was also working on movies but was having trouble finding the time.  Apparently Sergio Leone really wanted Gene Simmons for Once Upon a Time in America in the role of Max, ultimately played by James Woods.  Can you imagine?

Besides the ample photos, the most impressive feature of Still On Fire is the discography.  Though incomplete, Still On Fire attempts to document myriad Kiss bootleg recordings, including cover art.  There are also interesting promo and foreign releases, such as the Special Kiss Tour Album and Kiss – The Singles.  Side projects and solo albums are included, from major (Frehley’s Comet) to obscure (Bruce Kulick’s band The Good Rats).  A variety of singles, picture discs and videos are on display, fully illustrated.  All of this was completely new to me then.  Not to mention the titles of unreleased songs!  What the heck were “Don’t Run” and “The Unknown Force”?  (The Elder demos.)  This is also where you’ll find the most typos and spelling errors.  (I really want to hear this song called “Pick It Up”.)

Still On Fire isn’t definitive nor is it definitely 100% accurate, but it should still prove to be a valuable resource for your Kiss library.

3.5/5 stars

 

VIDEO REVIEW: Rush playing cards

4.5/5 stars