Reviews

REVIEW: Play It! ROCK – An EMI In-Store Play Compilation (1997)

Play It! Volume Seven – ROCK – An EMI In-Store Play Compilation (1997 EMI promo)

“Woah!  I own ‘Song 2’.  How about that.”

That was my first reaction upon revisiting this old promo CD from the Record Store days.  I really didn’t know that I had that song, and I’m sort of glad that I do.  This was a freebie, and not a bad one as it had some rarities on it.  In fact there’s only one artist on this disc I’d flat-out skip.  Let’s dive on in.

The first track is a rarity:  an unadvertized single edit of “Temptation” by the Tea Party.  “Temptation”, crossing the new sample-driven sounds of the late 90s with classic exotic Zeppelin, was huge.  The single edit snips off the extended intro.  Industrial rock band Econoline Crush is up second, who also had a big album (The Devil You Know) at the time.  “Home” was a memorable fast-paced single, but their big single “All That You Are”  is also included as track #14.  Far more mainstream, “All That You Are” was omnipresent in 1997.  It’s still a little too over-familiar to be enjoyable.

Skip Meredith Brooks.  I’ll be happy if I never hear the novelty song “Bitch” ever again.  Brooks has a second track on this CD, “I Need”, which suffers due to the spoken word verses.  No thanks.  Skip ’em both.  “I Need” reminds me of what I hated about 90s music.

Foo Fighters’ “Monkey Wrench” and “Everlong” were two of the greatest singles of 1997.  Fast paced, drums-a-blazing, and perfectly rifftastic.  In ’97 Grohl could do no wrong.  He released one of the few perfect albums of the year.  ’97 was Peak Foo — prove me wrong.  Flawless songs, still not taxing on the ears.  Probably never will be.

Queensryche had a new album in 1997, the ill-fated Hear in the Now Frontier.  “You” wasn’t one of the most notable songs, and here on this mainstream compilation, doesn’t fare well.  I don’t think EMI knew what to do with Queensryche, so hey let’s pick a song with 90’s intonations and throw it on this store play disc.  A second Tea Party song, “Transmission”, is its full unedited length, combining the same ingredients as “Temptation” but at lower velocity.  “Song 2” follows that, I song I’m admittedly not bored with at all.  A second Blur track later down the line, “M.O.B.” boats a cool riff and pop sensibilities.

I Mother Earth were riding a wave with their second album Scenery and Fish.  I’m not a fan of that disc and I can usually do without “Used to Be Alright”.  Fortunately Megadeth bring some metal to the proceedings.  From the underrated Cryptic Writings comes “Almost Honest”, a hard rocking single with nary a glimmer of thrash.  Great song from a period when Megadeth were quite adept at writing mainstream metal.

Rarities ahoy!  Moist’s “Tangerine” is remixed here, a mix that is far more industrial than the album, but that’s why remixes go on weird compilations I suppose.  Always fascinating, Glueleg are up next with “Dragonfly”, one of their catchiest numbers, still maintaining their weird genre-bending tendencies.

Alice Cooper steps in with a live version of “School’s Out”.  This being 1997, that automatically means it’s the one from A Fistful of Alice.  It’s a little strange hearing “School’s Out” on a compilation of all-new material, but I suppose EMI didn’t have confidence that a new Alice song (“Is Anyone Home?”) would attract new buyers.  But they were more likely to hear Radiohead’s “Let Down” and buy OK Computer instead.  It’s a stunning ballad that might have been unfamiliar to those who hadn’t bought the album yet — the exact people this CD was aimed at!  The CD closes on the slide-inflected “Faded” by Ben Harper.  It’s choked by unnecessarily grungy production.

Record companies rarely sent us free CDs, because we were a used CD store and they assumed we’d sell ’em.  What they didn’t realize was that it was usually guys like the asshole at CD Plus that would be selling their free CDs.  We’d try to be educated about what we bought, and avoid the promos like this one.  If a customer left it behind for us to take for free, it was up for grabs.  As a store-play disc, this would have been pretty good, assuming we had all those albums in stock to sell.

2.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: The Tragically Hip – We Are the Same (2009)

THE TRAGICALLY HIP – We Are the Same (2009

“Later” records by bands are often overlooked in favour of a handful of classics, usually released early in a band’s first decade.  Here is one that should not be ignored:  We Are the Same, The Tragically Hip’s mellow 2009 offering.  Sure, the Hip had plenty of late career highlights.  But something about We Are the Same just connects.  It’s like plugging your soul into the great wide Canadian open, autumn-coloured maple leaves tossing in a cold breeze.  The rustling is accented by a softly wafting smell of coffee.

We Are the Same sounds (for a largely acoustic album anyway) absolutely massive.  Thank you, Bob Rock.  Perhaps there’s even a concept to this Gord Downie-driven album: it opens with a song called “Morning Moon” and ends with “Country Day”.  From the beginning, the chords of the Canadian prairies jangle on acoustic guitars.  Familiar hints of Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot fill the room, while Downie sings of a golden Labour Day.

You’ll hear lush string and piano accompaniment all over We Are the Same (piano by Barenaked Ladies‘ Kevin Hearn).  Take second track “Honey, Please” which is as pop as the Hip were ever likely to get.  Johnny Fay’s snare drum splashes are the only recall from the old days.  Then, one of the most luxurious tracks.  It’s also one of the best: album highlight “The Last Recluse”.  It delivers strange melodies wrapped in lonely imagery.  “Who are you? The last Canada goose”.

Geoff over at 1001albumsin10years says “I  have argued it is the best side 1 in the catalogue.”  I wouldn’t dare disagree.

“Coffee Girl” with its loop-like drums and trumpet solo is one of the more unusual, but also most successful compositions.  Downie had a miraculous way with words.

Your favourite mixed tape,
You popped it into the deck,
Don’t care if it’s out of date,
Old Cat Power and classic Beck.

The first big rock chords come crashing down on “Now the Struggle Has a Name”, also adorned with regal strings.  As great as it is, it’s just preamble to a Hip epic:  “The Depression Suite”, a multi-parted masterpiece.  It sparkles and growls, brilliantly and eloquently through a maze of quintessential Gord travelogue lyrics.

Peaking with a track like “The Depression Suite” only means the second half of the album has much to live up to.  An Aerosmith-like “The Exact Feeling” (can’t you just hear “Jaded”?) is the first song that feels like a drop.  But then “Queen of the Furrows” is a gentle acoustic song with delightful picking.  Until an explosive chorus kicks in, drawing your attention again.  Cool noisy guitar solo to boot!

The final four tracks are consistent, with “Frozen in My Tracks” being the strangest and heaviest, and “Love is a First” the strongest.  Its’ beat poetry and sharp bassline are the main hooks, but the chorus is a blast.  Yet it’s still clearly a case of the final few songs living in the shadow of the first.

An album this brilliant needs to be enjoyed over time, but do be sure to add it to your collection.  [See below for our recommended edition.]

4.5/5 stars

…Since you’re going to need this album one way or another, our recommended version if you can find it, is the “Kollector’s Krate”.  Kool Krate’s were an inconvenient way to store discs, but here’s one with a Tragically Hip logo on it.  Stuffed inside: a We Are the Same T-shirt, and a rare live bonus CD.  Whether Live From the Vault Vol. 4 is worth over $300 or not, that’s between you and Discogs.  (And that’s just the CD, without the Krate or T-shirt!)

 

 

REVIEW: British Whale (Justin Hawkins) – “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” (2005 single)

BRITISH WHALE – “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” (2005 Atlantic CD single)

In 2005, while we anxiously awaited a new Darkness album (and they changed producers from “Mutt” Lange to Roy Thomas Baker), Justin Hawkins decided to do something on his own.  The rumour mill was going on about how the new Darkness was going to be an 80s-fest.  Justin’s solo single under the name British Whale certainly conveyed that sound.

“This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both Of Us” is a Sparks cover, previously tackled by Faith No More.  The original track was from 1974, but Justin’s rendition really did sound like the 80s.  Russell Mael’s high pitched vocal was exaggerated by Justin, with the cheese-whiz poured on thick.  It’s the kitchen sink approach.  But a classic pop song cannot be sunk and it’s quite listenable.  Faith No More’s cover would win in a one-on-one competition, but Darkness fans will obviously want to hear Justin’s take. The music video was popular because it featured world darts champion Phil Taylor (no relation to the Motorhead drummer).  Some fans expressed disappointment that the music video wasn’t included on the single, but in 2019 it matters not.  (The video was included on a DVD single, along with a “making of”, but that DVD did not include the B-side “America”.)

Perhaps better than the A-side is the more Darkness-like B-side.  It’s a tribute to the USA, its weather, and trees.  According to “America”, Justin really likes the scenery!  He sounds very sincere in his high-pitched praise.  There’s gui-board (or “keytar”) and a guitar solo that sounds like a cross between Brian May and Thin Lizzy.  It’s a bit of goofy fun.  Actually an excellent track, even containing some music from the “Star Spangled Banner” in the well-constructed solo.

These two songs really seem to convey that Justin really wanted to have some fun, blowing off steam with pop music in 2005.  In a way these songs are “peak Justin”.  You just can’t imagine anything more Justin than this!  (British Whale did another single called “England” in 2006 that never saw a physical release but we’ll cover that another time.)

British Whale can be bought on CD for ridiculously low prices.  If you’re a Darkness fan, you have no excuse.  Dive on in!

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Come Out and Play (1985)

“Twisted Sister…come out and play!”  Happy anniversary to Come Out and Play released on this day 34 years ago.

 

TWISTED SISTER – Come Out and Play (1985 Atlantic LP & Spitfire CD remaster)

What was a band at the proverbial crossroads to do? Continue along the commercial path of the 3 million copy selling Stay Hungry?  Or revert to the tried and true heavy-as-an-SMF sound of yore?

There was only one dissenting vote.  Bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza felt that putting “Leader of the Pack” on the new album was a mistake.  The other four voted “yes” but some grew to regret it.  Both Dee Snider and J.J. French have since realized the error of their ways.  Today, Come Out and Play is acknowledged as the beginning of the end, though it has its fans and some sturdy tracks to support it.

Twisted Sister recruited Scorpions producer Dieter Dierks and enlisted high profile guest stars like Alice Cooper, Billy Joel, Brian Setzer and Clarence Clemons.  They were top-loaded onto a old-time rock and roller called “Be Chrool to Your Scuel”, and the gamble backfired immediately when MTV banned the music video for its zombies and ghouls.  It’s an interesting track at least.  You don’t hear a sax solo on a Twisted Sister song every day, nor the kind of plucking that Brian Setzer deals in.

“Leader of the Pack” was a failure as well, actually a re-recording of a track that debuted on the Ruff Cuts EP.  The video (starring the then-hot Bobcat Golthwaite) further painted Twisted Sister as a novelty band.

Tensions, especially between Mendoza and Snider, were amplified.  The songs that sound like they were meant to be “hits” fall far short.  The impression you get from “You Want What We Got” is that it was intended to be a specific kind of hit.  Unfortunately it’s just a repetitive anthem.  “Lookin’ Out for #1” is similarly filler, a song that never quite clicks.

Some tracks maintained a heavy rock presence. They include the anthem “I Believe In Rock and Roll”.  It’s a manifesto for the PMRC generation; a decent attempt that just misses the mark.  “Come Out and Play” features A.J. Pero nailing down a speedy beat, but the production of Dierks neutered the powerful drummer.  Dierks introduced keyboards to some of the tracks, watering them down needlessly.  “The Fire Still Burns” works better than some of the other songs, and despite the production you can hear A.J. is just crushing the kit.  If the backing vocals sound unusually lush, that’s Don Dokken and Gary Holland.  “Out on the Streets” trades the speed in for plaintive melodies, and is the better for it.  Finally “Kill or Be Killed” does what it promises.  Unbelievable that A.J. could play at such a relentless velocity, but he was an absolute beast.

Strangely, some of the best tracks are the ballads.  Dark ballads.  Ballads of depression, of loneliness, of alienation.  “I Believe in You” is the first of two, bolstered by strong melodies and Dee Snider’s enviable pipes.  The one that impresses the most is the CD and cassette bonus track “King of the Fools”.  Although “Kill or Be Killed” ends the album just fine, this coda adds some substance.  Sounding like a man destroyed, Dee sings the melancholy lyrics.

What kind of kingdom has no throne?
No crown or castle do I own,
I don’t have silver gold or jewels,
Yet I’m the king, king of the fools.

It’s surprisingly thoughtful songwriting, complimenting the mournful melodies.  Yet there is a defiant, powerful streak in the choruses.

King of the fools,
Who are these people to cast stones?
King of the fools,
Better a fool than just a clone.

Dee Snider has always resonated with the underdogs, the bullied, the downtrodden.  “King of the Fools” might be the most honest of all those songs.  Some regal guitar melodies by J.J. French and Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda show that they were picking up what Dee was laying down.

Here’s the catch though.  If you’re buying this album, you need “King of the Fools”.  To get it, you’ll want the CD.  But Come Out and Play might be most notable for the album cover you can only get on vinyl.  Open up that manhole cover and out pops Dee Snider in all his…all his…rags.

Heeere’s Dee!

Do what I did.  Get CD and LP, just for the cover.  Everybody needs a pop-up Dee Snider.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Little Caesar – Little Caesar (1990 cassette)

LITTLE CÆSAR – Little Cæsar (1990 DGC cassette)

I missed their first EP, Name Your Poison.  None of the local record stores knew who Little Caesar were, but rock magazines like Hit Parader were already tootin’ their horn.  When their major label debut Little Caesar hit the shelves, it was none other than Bob Rock in the producer’s chair.  “Chain of Fools” was selected for the lead single/video, which was probably a mistep.  It did show off Little Caesar’s knack for crossing Skynyrd’s southern rock innards with soul, but a more mainstream rocker like “Down-N-Dirty” would have been less of a shock to the uncultured longhairs of 1990.

Soulful blues rock was all the rage in 1990, with the likes of the Black Crowes and The London Quireboys hitting the charts.  Was Little Caesar just one too many bands?  They didn’t have the impact of the other two, though they certainly stacked up in the quality department.  Lead howler Ron Young’s lungs are enviable, with a southern gritty drawl and authenticity to go.*  The rock continues through “Hard Times”, which puts out a killer street rock vibe, able to tangle with any Hollywood competition.  “Chain of Fools” serves to show off Young’s limitless talents, but as a hard rock adaptation, falls shy of their original.

Diversity points are earned for a stellar ballad called “In Your Arms”, delivering on a solid soul vibe.  Young’s voice is the focus, revealing depth track after track.  There’s a darker turn on “From the Start”, foreboding but with anthemic chorus.  The first side’s closer puts you in a “Rock and Roll State of Mind” with a harmonica-inflected blues burner.

Gotta big monkey and he’s on my back,
It’s warmer than China, it’s better than crack,
It’s burnin’ like fire, it’s takin’ my soul, yeah,
So damn addicted to rock ‘n’ roll.

You may as well call this one my theme song.  The history of rock is delivered in under five minutes.

White boys stole it back in ’55,
Turned in to disco in ’75,
Said it all started with “Blue Suede Shoes”, yeah,
For years brothers called it just rhythm and blues.

Tell it how it is, brother!

Money can’t buy it ’cause it can’t be sold,
If you say it’s too loud, then you’re too fuckin’ old.

Flip the tape.  “Drive it Home” takes the car/sex metaphors to a dirtier level.  On, Ron, I bet you’d like to drive it home!  Another dusky ballad called “Midtown” changes the mood and the groove.  A ballad with balls and a banjo?  Then, “Cajun Panther” is its own descriptive, but the slippery guitar will hook you right in.  Greasy slidey goodness from Creedence county.  The next song, “Wrong Side of the Tracks” is actually closer to the mainstream and doesn’t stand out amongst more unique material.  Unique like “I Wish It Would Rain”.  It may be another ballad but its southern flavouring make it clearly different from anything on the radio in 1990.  “Little Queenie” nails the soul-rock vibe one last time, going out in style, but also with a song that doesn’t really sound like a closer.  Perhaps a little song shuffling would have put “Little Queenie” in a better spot to showcase its strengths.

Sonically, since this is a Bob Rock production, you already know what it sounds like.  It’s a big sounding album that captures the band in top shape and presents them in an appropriately dressed frame.  It’s a 12 track album and although that was becoming the norm, Little Caesar would have been a more effective debut if it were 10 songs, focusing on the ones that made it unique.

3.5/5 stars

 


* Tragically, Ron Young was killed in 1991 by a time-travelling Arnold Schwarzenegger, in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. **
** Fake News.  But he was in the movie and did get his ass kicked.

#792: The Summer of ’93 – Live Album Explosion

GETTING MORE TALE #792: The Summer of ’93 – Live Album Explosion

Keeping up with new releases is challenging for anyone.  Today, every band is releasing a box set, live album, compilation, EP, or even (gasp) new material!  This is not a new phenomenon.  As a young collector in an earlier time, 1993 was particularly challenging.  I was suffering from “live album burnout” due to a number of double lives that year.  I dutifully picked up the most important ones to me, as much as I could afford.

I plotted things out.  The first batch of live albums on my radar that year were as follows:

Four of my favourite bands in one brief chunk of time, with two of the four being doubles.  I had to budget this out somehow.

I’m not sure when I bought Van Halen’s album, but I most likely bought it first.  The dual CD set was at Costco for thirty-something bucks so I put it in the cart.  I know it was early in the year because I remember listening to it in the car while driving to school for final exams, which occur in April.  Specifically I remember listening to the live version of “Cabo Wabo” on my way there.

I found the Van Halen album underwhelming.  Too much stuff from For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and some clattering solos made it a struggle to finish in one sitting.  Sammy Hagar would later comment that the album sucked because too much of it was re-recorded in the studio.  I just thought it was a drag.

Kiss were (and are) my #1 band, so I dutifully bought it as quickly as I could.  I didn’t get it on the day of release (May 18), but I do know the exact date that I purchased it:  May 20.  I know this because I remember that we had to get home from the mall (Fairway Park Mall’s HMV store) in time to catch the series finale of Cheers.  I got the free poster with my cassette copy.  I chose cassette for strategic reasons.  Double live albums were a bigger investment, so I liked to get those on CD.  I was already starting to distrust the cassette tape format.  I’d hate to buy a double cassette set and have one of the tapes go bad.  Alive III was a single tape, so I went for that and stayed with that until I got a double vinyl reissue a couple years later.

The Ozzy was a limited edition package.  I needed that special grille cover with the two “tattoos” inside.  I couldn’t afford it so I put it on my birthday list.  I accompanied my mom to HMV to make sure she got the right one.  Killed the surprise, but also the anxiety of not getting the exact version I “needed” for my collection!

Ozzy Osbourne had already supersaturated the market with live albums, and his was tedious to listen to.  I gave it more it than a fair shot, as I wanted to really hear how Zakk approached the live versions differently than Randy or Tony had.  It was an exercize that paid minimal dividends, wading through minute after minute of numbing “extra extra crazy” Ozzy monologues.

I decided to hold off on Iron Maiden as long as I could.  The idea of a single disc live Maiden album was a little off-kilter for me.  An album of tracks from 1986-1992 didn’t sound all that appealing to me.  Maybe I should wait until the second disc, due in October, came out so I could listen to both equally.  Maybe I should skip A Real Live One entirely.  The album seemed a hasty entity, being released so Maiden could tour to support new product.  The cover art was also lo-fi sketchy, compared to predecessor Live After Death.

Good or bad, I decided to hold off on Maiden for the time being.  I had enough live metal to digest anyway.

Kiss was the only album I was happy with, though it was clearly an inferior offering to Alive I and II.  Unlike Osbourne, it wasn’t too long, and kept the filler to a minimum.

When the next batch of live albums rolled out, I was weary.

The Bon Jovi live disc came with a pricey special reissue of Keep the Faith, a limited edition.  I immediately put that one on my Christmas list and did my best to pester my mom into buying it.  I had to make a decision about the others.  I scratched Satriani and Testament off my list.  They weren’t going to be priorities this time.

As for the final call on Iron Maiden?  The decision was made for me when I found Live at Donington, once again at HMV.  What was this?  It looked like a bootleg, but wasn’t.  It had no liner notes.  Absolutely bare minimum packaging.  Nary an Eddie in sight.  It was a “limited edition“, and a double CD with a complete concert.  The easy choice was to buy this instead of the other two albums.  For the time being, at least.  I finally did get all three albums, when I was working at the Record Store, in 1996.  The Boxing Day sale enabled me to get both live Maidens and the recent Tesla greatest hits for a reduced price.  It took me three years to get ’em!

That busy 1993 list doesn’t include live home videos released that year (Ozzy, Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Kiss) or the albums that I didn’t even know about (Live Cult).  I had to draw the line and audio has always been my priority over video.

Too much is too much, and in 1993 we just had too much.

Do you remember what live albums you bought in 1993?  Comment below!

 

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Slip of the Tongue (6 CD/1 DVD 30th Anniversary box set)

WHITESNAKE – Slip of the Tongue (originally 1989, 2019 (6 CD/1 DVD 30th Anniversary Rhino box set)

There’s a theme you may have noticed every time we review a Whitesnake box set:  David does it right.

Here’s another one:  Coverdale cares.

Slip of the Tongue gets the super-deluxe treatment this time, the third of the “big three” to go that way.  This is the album that divided fans the most.  Replacing Vivian Campbell was none other than ex-David Lee Roth stringbender Steve Vai.

“What the hell would that sound like?” we all wondered.

Longtime Whitesnake fans felt it was a step too far into the world nebulously defined as “hair metal”.  Others loved the guitar mania inside, with Vai stretching out in ways different from his prior bands.  Not the “definitive” Vai record that they still wanted (and would get a year later), but certainly a platter they could sink their teeth into.  And it was a weird reason that Steve was playing on Slip of the Tongue at all.

As you’ll see from a feature on the included DVD (“A Look Back: Whitesnake Chronicles with DC and Adrian Vandenberg”), the album was written and thoroughly demoed with Adrian.  They wouldn’t need a guitarist until it was time to tour.  At this point, Adrian injured his wrist and was unable to finish.  Steve Vai and David Coverdale found that they got along famously and the seven-string wizard brought his unique and advanced stylings to the blues-based Whitesnake.

What the hell would it sound like?

It sounds absolutely mental.

With the benefit of now hearing all the demos that Adrian laid down, it’s obvious Steve Vai didn’t just pick up his guitar and play the parts.  It’s clear right from opener “Slip of the Tongue”.  Compare the album to Adrian’s demos on the other discs.  Vai changes one of the chord progressions to high-pitched harmonics, and, let’s face it, improves the song.  Elsewhere there are unique trick-filled runs and fills that add another dimension to the music.  If Whitesnake was always 3D rock, Vai upped it to 4.  The guitar work is blazingly busy, never cliche, and always to the advancement of the song.  With all respect to Adrian Vandenberg who wrote these great songs, Steve Vai was more than just icing on a cake.  Slip of the Tongue arguably sounds more a Vai album than Whitesnake, even though he didn’t write any of it.

The beauty of this set is that if you’re more into ‘Snake than alien love secrets, you can finally hear the purity of Adrian’s vision in the multitude of early demos included.

Unfortunately, if you’re familiar with the album you’ll hear something’s up by track 2.  “Kitten’s Got Claws”?  That song used to close side one.  What’s up?  The album running order has been tampered with, and so has “Kitten’s Got Claws”.  It’s now missing the Steve Vai “cat guitar symphony” that used to open it.  It could be a different remix altogether.  My advice is to hang on to your original Slip of the Tongue CD.  You’re probably going to still want to hear the album and song as they were.

This running order puts “Cheap An’ Nasty” third, a song that structurally resembles the ol’ Slide It In Whitesnake vibe.  Of course Vai’s space age squeals and solos modernized it.  Listen to that whammy bar insanity at the 2:00 mark!  Up next is “Now You’re Gone”, a classy rocker/ballad hybrid that has always been an album highlight.  The demos on the other discs allow us to hear how much this song was improved in the final touches.  That cool answering vocal in the chorus, and the hooks that Vai added, came much later.  Strangely, this box set puts the other ballad, “The Deeper the Love”, up next.  Keyboard overdubs made it a little too smooth around the edges, but a good song it remains.

The Zeppelinesque “Judgement Day” is a track that used to piss off some fans, who felt it was an abject rip off from “Kashmir”.  The Vai touch of sitar (replacing guitar in the early demos) probably aided and abetted this.  Regardless it succeeds in being the big rock epic of the album, and a favourite today.  Another strange choice in running order follows:  “Sailing Ships”, formerly the album closer.  It’s quite shocking to hear it in this slot.  Again, Vai replaced guitar with sitar, and David goes contemplative.  Then suddenly, it gets heavy and Steve takes it to the stratosphere.

“Wings of the Storm” used to open side two; now it’s after “Sailing Ships”.  Some tasty Tommy Aldridge double bass drums kick off this tornado of a tune.  Vai’s multitracks of madness and pick-scrapes of doom are something to behold.  Then it’s “Slow Poke Music”, a sleazy rocker like old ‘Snake.

The new version of Slip of the Tongue closes on “Fool for Your Loving”, a re-recording of an old classic from Ready An’ Willing.  The new version is an accelerated Vai vehicle, lightyears away from its origins.  Coverdale initially wrote it to give to B.B. King.  Vai is as far removed from B.B. King as you can imagine.  The original has the right vibe, laid back and urgent.  This one is just caffeinated.

The only album B-side “Sweet Lady Luck” is the first bonus track on Disc 1.  By now it is the least-rare B-side in the universe, having been reissued on a multitude of Whitesnake and Vai collections.  Valuable to have to complete the album, but easy to acquire.  It’s basically a second-tiered speed rocker with the guitar as the focus.  Other B-sides from this era were remixes, and they are included here as well.  The Chris Lord-Alge mix of “Now Your Gone” is the kind that most people won’t know the difference. Vai said that Lord-Alge could make the cymbals sound “like they have air in them.”  Then there’s the “Vai Voltage Mix” of “Fool for Your Loving”, which has completely different guitar tracks building an arrangement with way, way, way more emphasis on the instrument.  The rest of the disc is packed with four more alternate remixes:  “Slip of the Tongue”, “Cheap An’ Nasty”, “Judgement Day” and “Fool for Your Loving”.  These mixes have some bits and pieces different from the album cuts.  Vai fans will want the alternate solo to “Cheap An’ Nasty”, though it’s less whammy mad.

Of course, “Sweet Lady Luck” wasn’t the only song that didn’t make the album.  In old vintage interviews, Coverdale teased the names of additional tracks we didn’t get to hear:  “Parking Ticket”, “Kill for the Cut”, and “Burning Heart”.  They’ve been safely buried in Coverdale’s vault, until now.  Additionally, it turns out that Whitesnake also re-recorded a couple more of their old songs:  “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” and “We Wish You Well”.  They’re all here in different forms on the demo discs.

Perhaps “Kill for the Cut” would have been one dirty song too many for the album.  It ain’t half bad, and has a unique little bumpin’ riff.  “Parking Ticket” had potential too.  Rudy Sarzo gave it a pulse that might have taken it on the radio.  The 1989 monitor mix would have been perfect for B-side release.  Why did Cov have to hold out on us all these years?  “Burning Heart” was a special song, a re-recording of an old Vandenberg track that David really loved.  Unfortunately the monitor mix is is only a skeleton of what could have been a sensational Whitesnake ballad.  “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” is heavily modernized, with keyboards sounding like they were trying to recapture “Here I Go Again” (which they were).  “We Wish You Well” is more contemplative, with piano as the focus.

All of this previously unheard material is scattered over several discs.  “Evolutions” (Disc 3) is a familiar concept to fans of these box sets.  Demos from various stages of completion are spliced together into one cohesive track.   You will be able to hear the songs “evolve” as the band worked on them.  Every track from the album plus “Sweet Lady Luck”, “Parking Ticket” and “Kill for the Cut” can be heard this way.  Disc 4 is a collection of monitor mixes with all the album songs and all the unreleased ones too.  These discs are the ones that allow us to really hear the album the way it would have been if Adrian didn’t hurt his wrist.  We would have got an album that sounded a lot more like Whitesnake.  It was audibly different even if familiar.

Perhaps the best disc in the entire set is “A Trip to Granny’s House:  Session Tapes, Wheezy Interludes & Jams”.  It’s just as loose as it sounds.  Enjoy the funk of “Death Disco”, the funkiest David’s been since Come Taste the Band.  If you’ve always wanted to hear David sing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree”, now you finally can!  There’s a lot of goofing off in some of these tracks, but also a lot of rock.  It’s live off the floor as they rehearse the songs, as a four piece band with Adrian.  Not all the final lyrics or solos are set, but the songs are so raw and fresh.  Some of the jams show a side of Whitesnake we rarely got to see.  Kind of Purple-y in the way they just could take off and rip some blues.

 

Given all the rich audio extras, it’s OK if one of the CDs is a little impoverished.  That would be disc 2, “The Wagging Tongue Edition”.  This is a reproduction of an old promo CD, featuring the album Slip of the Tongue with a Dirty David interview interspersed.  This was meant for radio premieres.  It has the entire album in the correct order, but because it’s faded in and out of interviews, it’s really not a substitute for a proper copy of the original album.  At least the vintage 1989 interviews are interesting.  It saves collectors from buying a copy on Discogs.  (Coverdale claims “Judgement Day” was originally titled “Up Yours Robert”.  Ooft.)

There’s another disappointment here and it’s difficult to forgive.  In 2011, Whitesnake released the long awaited Live at Donington as a 2 CD/1 DVD package.  This brilliant performance finally gave us a permanent record of Whitesnake live with Vai.  In our previous dedicated review, we had this to say:

Musically, it’s a wild ride. It’s not the Steve Vai show. Adrian gets just as many solos, and his are still spine-tingling if more conventional. It is loaded with ‘Snake hits, leaning heavily on the three Geffen albums. In fact there is only one pre-Slide It In song included: The Bobby “Blue” Bland cover “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”.  And, since it is also the pre-grunge era, there are plenty of solos, which today seems excessive.  Aldridge does his drum solo at the end of “Still Of The Night”. Vandenberg gets his “Adagio for Strato”/”Flying Dutchman Boogie”. Most excitingly, Steve Vai performs two songs from his then-brand new (and top 40!) album Passion And Warfare: “For The Love Of God” and “The Audience Is Listening”, with Aldridge on drums. Coverdale even introduces him as “Mr. Passion and Warfare!” so I imagine there was no sour grapes that Vai’s album was doing so well. And lemme tell ya folks — the audience WAS listening, and going nuts too!

Unfortunately, to save a little bit of plastic, this set was reduced to a single CD for its inclusion here.  The Vai and Adrian solos were cut, though Tommy’s drum solo in “Still of the Night” is retained.  To cut the guitar solos in such a guitar focused boxed set is not only unwise but unforgivable.  Fans who don’t have Live at Donington are going to want to shell out again just to get the solos.  Fortunately, the whole show is uncut on the included DVD.

The DVD has plenty of added value; it’s not just a reissue of Live at Donington.  You’ll get the three music videos from the album (“Now You’re Gone”, “The Deeper the Love” and “Fool for Your Loving”).  There’s even a brand new clip for “Sweet Lady Luck” cobbled together from existing video. Then, you can go deeper into the album. The aforementioned sitdown with David and Adrian is really enlightening.  Another behind the scenes feature narrated by David is fantastic for those who love to watch a band create in the studio.  Coverdale’s not a bad guitarist himself.

These Whitesnake box sets also include ample extras on paper.  There’s quite a nice miniature reformatted tour program with the majority of cool photos.  A large Slip of the Tongue poster can adorn your wall, or remain safely folded up in this box.  Finally, there is a 60 page hardcover booklet.  This is a treasure trove of press clippings, magazine covers, single artwork, and more.  Lyrics and credits wrap it all up in a nice little package.

Because we know that David puts so much into these box sets, it’s that much more heartbreaking that this one is so slightly imperfect.  The shuffled running order and lack of guitar kittens on “Kitten’s Got Claws” is a problem.  The truncated live album is another.  It means I have to hang onto old CDs that I was hoping to phase out of my collection in favour of this sleek set.  Alas, I’ll keep them as they are my preferred listening experience.

Otherwise, in every other way, this box set delivers.  It makes a lovely display next to its brethren and it justifies its cost.

4.5/5 stars

MORE Slip of the Tongue?

REVIEW: Audioslave – Audioslave (2002)

AUDIOSLAVE – Audioslave (2002 Sony)

The brightest always burn out the quickest.  Audioslave lasted a mere five years but unleashed three albums in the same time most bands can only crank out one or two.  It was a collaboration that bore sweet fruit.  Ronnie James Dio used to say that when it came to collaborations, the first album was usually the best.  That’s true of Audioslave.

Their first, self-titled album checks all the boxes:  monster grooves, soaring vocals and wonky solos.  Since it’s produced by Rick Rubin you know it’s gonna be loud.  You can also count on a clear, big drum sound which Rubin achieves.  At 14 tracks, the album is swollen, but despite its long runtime there is nary a dud.

There are some who, at the time at least, felt that Rage Against The Machine’s style of abnormally funky rap-metal could not be adapted to hard rock.  They felt the fit between Chris Cornell and the Rage guys was forced and resulted in something that would only appeal to Soundgarden’s fans while alienating those of Rage.  While there is a smidgen of truth to that assertion, Rage have proven time and again that they can pretty much do anything.  No boundaries.

No tracks to skip, either, but some you may want to focus extra attention on.  “Cochise” about the revered Indian warrior, has a groove that can crack concrete.  Same with “Show Me How to Live” and “Gasoline”, heavier than the proverbial lead balloon, but infested with melodic vocals.  Audioslave could even pull off slower material, though you’d be hesitant to call them “ballads”.  “Like A Stone” is essential:  precision, smoky rock crooning.  The spare arrangement allows Chris’ vocals to make the impact, though the bass is certainly earth-moving.  As if that wasn’t enough, Tom Morello’s solo combines his trademark noisy note-work with epic composition.

Despite the quality tracks before and after, the best may be the angry “Set It Off”.  It slams. It’s closest to Rage’s anarchist tendencies.  It’s just pissed off.

He was standing at the rock,
Gathering the flock,
And getting there with no directions,
And underneath the arch,
It turned into a march,
And there he found the spark to set this fucker off.

A 14 track album this good could earn a 2000 word analysis, but we’ll save that for an inevitable deluxe edition.  There are lots of B-sides and bonus tracks from this album that need to be properly collected into a set, like the download-only “Give”, a rhythmic little extra.  Suffice to say, Audioslave is an essential album for anybody who ever liked rock music. There is a purity to it.  As the liner notes say, “all sounds made by guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.”  Even the weird squonky shit, so be ready for your mind and soul to be blown.  Sit back and absorb it a while, because there’s a lot here to assimilate into your blood.

5/5 stars

 

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: Eraserhead (1977) – Holen’s Halloween Extravaganza

Review #3 in Holen’s Halloween Extravaganza 2019!

ERASERHEAD (1977 Libra Films)

Directed by David Lynch

“That was even more unsettling than I remember,” said Holen after viewing Eraserhead for the first time in many moons. You see, I hadn’t planned to review this surrealist masterpiece for my Halloween reviews, but then a funny thing happened. Criterion Collection had a 50% off sale, so I decided to order the Blu-ray of Eraserhead, finally adding one of the few missing pieces to my David Lynch collection, and securing one of my favorite films of all time in the process. I’m in pretty good company calling it a favorite, as it’s beloved by talents as diverse as Mel Brooks, Crispin Glover, and Stanley Kubrick. As a matter of fact, Kubrick screened this film on the set of The Shining in an attempt to express the mood he was trying to capture with his own film.

If you’ve never seen it and you believe that the following tidbit is giving you a solid idea of what to expect, you’d be pretty wrong. Eraserhead and The Shining may share similar abilities to cause tension, but that’s about it. Eraserhead honestly has more in common with 2001. It’s an overwhelming barrage of images and ideas, rather than concrete dialogue or relatable characters. Filmed in hazy black and white, the movie can best be summed up as a dream. Not dreamlike, but a dream. There’s very little in this film that we can connect back to our own world, and even the things that we recognize act in ways that we’ve never seen before. That process of making the common seem alien births fear. Like the chickens that come alive on their plates as you try to cut them.

But this fear is anchored in a sense of wide-eyed wonder. We’re unable to turn away, and much like a dream, we’re helpless to resist the unsettling events we’re seeing on the screen. The plot is simple. A man on vacation from his printing job in an industrial town learns he’s impregnated his girlfriend. She gives birth to a premature baby that doesn’t look humanoid at all. She doesn’t have the endurance to take care of the child, so he’s left to deal with it on his own. We see our “hero” Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) struggle with the realities of being a new father, and all the fear and repressed emotions that accompany this time. The film takes an unflinching look at the ID surrounding fatherhood. Henry fears being usurped by his own son, and worries that his status as a father will make women turn away from him in fear. He struggles with whether he should kill his “child”, being egged on by a woman that lives in his radiator with swollen cheeks

None of this is dealt with in a traditional way, and none of it is expressed through dialogue. It’s a visual film that manages to deal with the harsh realities of these subliminal primal feelings by masking their brutal nature in the ambiguous whimsical wrap of dream logic. It would be impossible to feel any empathy towards Henry in a traditional film, but this movie gives us a disturbing look into the inner psyche of a man pushed far outside of his comfort zone, outside of his sanity. None of Henry’s actions until the end of the film could be considered sinister at all, as his worries are almost entirely projected out through the world around him.

At first, Henry seems to be quite caring to his child in every way. He’s there when the mother is not, is concerned when the baby is sick, and generally seems to be a polite mild-mannered man. Like many David Lynch films, Eraserhead searches past the shiny surface into the dark underbelly of reality, however unpleasant it may be. He did the same thing with small town American suburbs in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, and Hollywood in Mulholland Dr.

For my money though, he never created another picture as personal and as inimitable as Eraserhead. It achieves what it sets out to do with no fat, no moment wasted in its brief 89 minute run-time. I don’t understand everything in Eraserhead, but to me that’s part of the charm. It’s a riveting picture more disturbing than most horror, it forces you to be an active viewer by constantly engaging your brain, and it explores aspects of fatherhood most of us would rather deny existed. The 4K restoration done by Criterion looks and sounds wonderful, as the soundtrack is as much a part of this movie as the visuals are. I didn’t know that industrial noise could be so involving and manipulative, but the oppressive sounds reinforce the images on screen with masterful synchronization. The minutes on end of heavy bass make your entire body clench up until it suddenly ceases and you sit wondering what the hell just happened to you. It’s truly a masterpiece of cinema, and an extraordinary debut film. If you can stomach the supreme tension, seek one out today!

5/5 Pencils

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: Jack’s Back (1988) – Holen’s Halloween Extravaganza

Review #2 in Holen’s Halloween Extravaganza for 2019!

JACK’S BACK (1988 Palisades)

Jack’s Back is the little thriller that couldn’t. It never had a chance with the shoddy distribution that it received. This is the feature film debut of Rowdy Herrington, who was also responsible for a film called Road House. Unfortunately, his debut didn’t receive a fraction of the recognition that Road House did. It got two thumbs up from Siskel & Ebert, and that’s about all the attention that it garnered in its original theatrical run. Nowadays, its status has hardly risen, but I believe that this has the quality to rise to cult status. As a matter of fact, I believe it’s quite a bit better than most thriller/horror films that have gained such distinction, and much more intelligent as well.

Despite sounding like an exploitation film, being shot on a shoestring budget, and a shitty trailer, Jack’s Back succeeds as an intelligent crime caper with enough twists and turns to keep the audience from ever completely solving the mystery or losing interest. The most invaluable asset to this movie may be leading man James Spader, one of America’s best, brightest, and eccentric actors. The man is so well-spoken that you find yourself clinging on to every single word, a true silver-tongued devil. It makes sense that one of his most memorable turns (as Alan Shore on the fantastic Boston Legal opposite William Shatner) was as a lawyer. Here, he has a dual role as twin brothers, and he turns in an impressive performance in each instance. Even more impressive is how the two are so different. The first is a sensitive, caring, hospital worker. He’s a goody two shoes social activist, too good for this world it seems. The second is a tense, rebellious rapscallion, not afraid to break the rules, or get his hands dirty to get the job done. He’s not particularly selfless, and he doesn’t particularly give a shit.

The premise of this film is that it is one hundred years after the original Jack the Ripper murders, something fucky is going on. A copycat killer is recreating these killings, down to every minute detail. The gentle and measured brother (John Wesford) is suspected of being the killer posthumously. The cops are determined to pin it on somebody to calm public fears, so they jump the gun in declaring the culprit. They suspect John because he has the medical know-how to recreate the killings, and because of that fact that he mysteriously ends up hanged at his place of employment one night. They assume the guilt was too much to bear, and he took his own life. The only person that doesn’t believe John is Jack Jr. is his twin brother Ricky. Ricky saw his brother’s death in a clairvoyant dream, and it was not suicide at all in that vision. John was murdered. Ricky races to the scene of the crime minutes after it happens and finds his dead brother, leading the cops to view Ricky with suspicion. They believe that he may have killed his brother. Ricky then has to clear his name, and the name of his deceased brother. He knows that his brother’s killer will surely be the real Jack copycat. Or will he? Who knows? I do, I’ve seen the movie. You probably don’t, because you probably haven’t. Hardly anyone has.

What ensues is a wildly engrossing mystery that keeps you on your toes until the very end. There are moments of cheese of course, this film was released in 1988, but not once does this movie feel like the novelty that its title and tagline would suggest. For its modest budget, Jack’s Back hardly ever feels cheap, tacky, or undercooked. It’s suspenseful, charming, occasionally funny, and unlike many films today, it breathes. There’s life in this picture, and it’s clear that the participants are having a blast making it. Due to the modest budget and its incredibly fast shooting schedule, there was no time to mess around with this picture. That brisk controlled chaos contributes to the manic energy of the film, underscoring the tension of the second act. As of right now I believe it’s free to watch on Amazon Prime, so if you wanted to venture out to something spooky you haven’t seen this year, I’d highly recommend this one. Also the whole thing is on YouTube in HD.

But if you’re a physical media guy like me, and you have a Region A player, you can pick this one up to hold in your hands. The first time this film made it to disc in North America was a Blu-ray/DVD combo release a few years back done by Scream Factory. Surprisingly, I have nothing but praise for this disc. The special features are a little bare, but that’s to be expected for such a minor entry (commercially) in the careers of all involved. The video was meticulously restored in HD from the original negatives in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the picture looks better than anyone had any right to expect. It’s a low budget film from 1988, so temper your expectations, but I don’t see any evidence of print damage, excessive DNR, or shitty compression artifacts. I said surprisingly given that Shout! Factory has been very spotty in my opinion with regards to video quality. I appreciate everything that they do to bring us films that wouldn’t see a release by any other means, but some of their discs have been rather disappointing when it comes to their HD sources (here’s looking at you Wild at Heart, desperately in need of an updated 4K restoration).

Fortunately Jack’s Back had no HD transfer prior to this, so they had no choice but to do it with modern tech, and it’s clear that Pinewood (the dudes that restored this) handled this task with care and attention. The audio track is the film’s original mono mix rendered as a DTS-HD 2.0 track, and it’s as good as you’re gonna get out of such an old low budget film. It’s presented here accurately without any dropouts, pops, or clicks, and that’s all you could really ask for. Overall, I give major props to Scream Factory for this one, it’s a great disc, and well worth the $14.99 they’re asking for it.

4/5 Clairvoyant Spader Visions

And if you don’t trust me, take their word on it. They’re professionals, eh?