Reviews

REVIEW: Yngwie Malmsteen – I Can’t Wait (1994 Japanese EP)

YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – I Can’t Wait (1994 Pony Canyon Japanese EP)

Immediately following the Seventh Sign album, new Yngwie Malmsteen material surfaced in Japan.  Three songs and two live tracks served as a nice dessert after a pretty good studio album.  Mike Vescera remained on lead vocals.  The lineup is largely the same as The Seventh Sign, but with Barry Sparks added on bass (probably just for the live songs; it sounds like Yngwie on the studio cuts).

Title track “I Can’t Wait” is one of Yngwie’s strongest ballads.  Though it starts with uncharacteristic acoustic strumming, the song transforms into the kind of epic ballad that you expect from the guitar god.  Vescera’s range and power are on display.  Great song.  And you don’t always say that about Yngwie tunes.

“Aftermath” is a pounder.  Slower, determined, great drums.  Lots of shredding come solo time.

The two live songs are “Rising Force” and “Far Beyond the Sun”, hits from the days of yore.  Recorded live at the Budokan earlier in the year, it must have felt something like home for Mike after his stint in Loudness!  “Rising Force” is an ass-kicker, pedal to the metal, and the whole band rising to the occasion.  That’s it for vocal tracks though.  “Far Beyond the Sun” is one of Yngwie’s best known guitar compositions, familiar and beloved for its exquisite neo-classical stylings.  As for this version?  Flawless and inspired.

The final track is a studio instrumental called “Power and Glory (Takada’s Theme)”.  This was done as a theme for a Japanese pro wrestler and few will be familiar with it.  Slow, plodding, with the repeated chant of “Ta ka da!”, it is hard to really like.  Yngwie’s acoustic work is always brilliant, but difficult to digest here.

Good EP overall.  Hard to find.  Snag if you find for a good price.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Yngwie Malmsteen – The Seventh Sign (1994 Japanese import)

YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – The Seventh Sign (1994 Pony Canyon Japan)

Former Loudness singer Mike Vescera can be forgiven for moving on with Yngwie J. Malmsteen.  The Swedish guitar wizard was on his 6th lead singer, and despite lacklustre sales, the gig was one that came with a certain amount of prestige.  Fortunately it was a winning combination.  Their first album together, The Seventh Sign, boasted a dozen tracks with most of them pretty good.

Opening “Never Die” recalls the fire of “I’ll See the Light Tonight”.  If you’re familiar with Yngwie, you know what to expect.  Blazingly fast neoclassic guitar licks, speedy riffs and aggressive vocals.

“Like the sky, I’m perpetual, I never die!”

It’s a good opener, in the fast-paced Dio vein of rock.  Fortunately Yngwie slows it down for the wah-wah inflected bluesy rock of “I Don’t Know”.  The main riff here is catchy enough and Yngwie adorns it with plenty of licks.  Vescera has a powerful set of lungs, an absolute requirement when singing with Yngwie.  He gets to show off his abilities a bit on the decent power ballad “Meant to Be”.  “Forever One” makes it two ballads in a row, though the second is less “power”, and employs some acoustic portions.

For heavy, don’t miss out on “Hairtrigger”.  Vescera is in top form here, and the sputtering speed rocker satisfies to the end.

An instrumental slow blues called “Brothers” follows, and you might think “this album sounds overloaded with ballads”.  But yet that isn’t the impression you get listening.  These are not wimpy songs.  They have power and loads of guitar.  The actual effect you get is that of a heavy album.

The awesome title track gets it cranked on side two right from the start.  There’s some intricate classical guitar but then, wham — the mighty riff.  It’s a blur but it smokes.  “The Seventh Sign” is one of Yngwie’s best tracks of ’em all, if you like ’em heavy.  Vescera rises to the challenge.  As for the playing, even when we’re focused on that heavy riff, Yngwie still has time for some whammy bar nuttiness.

“Bad Blood” is a heavy blues, maybe going for a heavy Purple vibe (check that organ), but without a memorable melody behind it.  Vescera is the star here; the guy can sing anything.  It really gets stinky on “Prisoner of Your Eyes”, the worst of the ballads.  Amberdawn Malmsteen is responsible for the fetid lyrics.  This is rotting limburger cheese topped with surströmming as a garnish.  Would you like a side of industrial vinegar?  One word:  “cringe”.

Back to quality, the sitar introduces “Pyramid of Cheops”.  Insofar as Egyptology in metal goes, this is not a top track.  It does crush, but up against classic Maiden, Dio or Blue Murder, it’s no competition for the champs.  One has to admire Yngwie’s restraint for the most part, as he just grinds at the riff.

Another album highlight, “Crash and Burn”, really goes for the neoclassic vibe.  The faux-harpsichord is a delightfully baroque touch, but then the song takes off for the skies.  Great Yngwie riff, a fine example of neoclassical gone right.  Vescera keeps it heavy.  Then it’s the final instrumental, “Sorrow” which sounds like it should.  Sparse classical guitars pick out a mournful melody.  It’s a comedown from “Crash and Burn” and works brilliantly in that regard.

The Japanese, of course, got a bonus track.  Called “Angel in Heat”, this unremarkable song features Yngwie on vocals.  He’s going for a Hendrix vibe again, but the song is pretty atrocious.  Without Vescera to save the song, it’s for collectors only.

Like any Yngwie record, you could objectively state that most of the songs on The Seventh Sign would be better with less playing.  But then it wouldn’t be Yngwie, would it?  He’s often been criticised for not coming up with enough memorable material, but most of the songs on The Seventh Sign are above average.  Having a great singer didn’t hurt either.  It’s one of the guitar madman’s better records.

3.75/5 stars

THREE-VIEW: Def Leppard – Hysteria (1987)

Part Nine of the Def Leppard Review Series

Deluxe edition review:  Hysteria deluxe (2006)
30th Anniversary edition review:  Hysteria 5 CD 30th (2017)
Classic Albums DVD review:  Hysteria (2002)
Historia VHS review (1988)

Note:  This being the third Hysteria album review, we will be taking a different approach.  The first two reviews were detailed and comprehensive so please check those out for all the nitty gritty.  This one will be more nostalgic in nature.

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria (1987 Vertigo)

Kiss were always my “favourite band”, but the majority of my highschool years from 1987 to 1989 were all about Def Leppard.  Although they wanted to be the biggest band in the world with this album, many of us were cheering for them to win.  The band had endured years of adversity since the triumph of Pyromania.

Most obviously was Rick Allen’s car accident.  It was hard to imagine how the drummer was going to come back from it, losing his left arm and almost his right as well.  But he did.  He frickin’ did it.  Rick Allen, the Thundergod, returned and Joe Elliott said it was biggest “up” the band ever had.  How could you not want them to win under those circumstances?

The biggest change on Hysteria (so named to characterise the last four years of their lives) was obviously the drum kit.  Rick Allen had a style, employing classic grip and wicked rolls.  Now he had a new electronic kit, with samples triggered by foot pedals and an arsenal of modern sounds.  Allen adapted with a fresh style, leading the charge with a chugga-chugga and some bam-pow.  His new style is one of the defining traits of Hysteria.

The first single here, and first taste of the new Leppard, was “Women”, an unorthodox pick.  A slow grind led by a synth-y sounding bassline from Rick Savage, it is neither a ballad nor a scorcher.  It’s not immediately catchy either, but it drew us all back in for a second third and fourth lesson until we were hooked.  The sound:  clean, precise, with layers of vocals and assorted melodic tones.  But shit, did the band ever look cool in the video.

Hysteria arrived on my tape deck Christmas of 1987.  It quickly monopolized my listening time, though it took a couple spins to “get it”.

“Rocket” threw me for a loop.  I considered it filler; too contemporary and not enough rock.  Bogged down with samples, backwards vocals and tricks.  It sounded like the kind of song that would be impossible to perform live (though they did).  Over the years I’ve warmed up to “Rocket”.  The tribal beat inspired by Burundi Black makes it quite unique in hard rock, and the lyrics are delightful once you realize that Joe’s just naming all his favourite bands and albums.  The meticulously recorded chorus really illustrates the intricate kind of process at hand.  Each voice recorded separately and mixed down to the final product.  Then there’s the long droning middle section, a unique construction worthy of a detailed listen.  “Rocket” was another odd selection for a single, but it was a hit as the seventh and final one almost two years after the album was released.

It was hard to resist “Animal”, even though it was a blatant sonic declaration that Leppard were going for hits.  As the second single from the album, it made some impact with its circus-themed music video.  Light rock, with a punchy chorus, “Animal” was a well-written track with yet more of those immaculately recorded backing vocals.  In the lead singer department, Joe was content to sing more and scream less, a trend that would continue.  The fact is, the guy didn’t have to scream, though he’s terribly good at it.

Hysteria has a variety of tracks, but only two are ballads.  “Love Bites” was selected as fifth single, and a smash hit it was.  I wondered why they used a Judas Priest song title, but the song actually has country origins.  Producer “Mutt” Lange brought the bones of it to the band as a twangy country song.  The end product is nothing like that, with odd computerized voices and a slow dramatic build.  Like every song on the album, the chorus kills.  The band (with Lange) had really honed in on writing and recording technically perfect songs.  There’s a lot going on in the mix on “Love Bites” but none of it is wasted.  Everything’s necessary for the right vibe.

“Step inside, walk this way!  It’s you n’ me babe, hey hey!”  Shakespeare it ain’t.  A hit, it was!  “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, the fourth single, was the breakthrough smash that launched this album on the charts for two years.  Def Leppard had ripped off a couple classic rock tunes here, but they were selling them to kids who never heard the originals.  Mixing rap and rock, Leppard sold a bajillion singles and umptillion albums to kids worldwide.  It wasn’t even an obvious hit.  The genre-bending song took some getting used to initially.

Closing side one, the sixth single:  “Armageddon It”.  The stuttering guitar riff made it easy to like, if a bit light.  This tune is fun to listen to with headphones on, to help break down all the different tracks of guitar.  The cool thing that each guitar part is catchy on its own.

The North American videos for “Sugar” and “Armageddon It” were filmed live, and showed off Leppard’s innovative “in the round” stage.  From the TV in the basement, it sure looked like the ultimate concert experience.  We’d get a full taste of it on the In the Round: In Your Face home video (1989).  Today you can get this concert on both CD and DVD.   The CD version is included in the comprehensive Hysteria 30th Anniversary box set.

Opening side two is the track we all thought should have been a single:  “Gods of War”, an epic in its own right, from the same lineage as “Overture” from the 1980 debut album.  With Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher sampled in the tune, it just sounded cool.  Steve Clark’s E-bow opening drone sets the stage for a dramatic tune full of riffs, hooks and guitar action.  It’s not political, just anti-war like many Ozzy tunes of the time.  Its length probably prohibited it from being a single…but they did edit down “Rocket”.

The first non-single on the album is the hard rocker “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”.  Some odd vocal effects keep it from being a standard guitar rocker; almost every song on Hysteria has some strange twist in the mix.  Though more laid back in groove, this is the first tune that hearkens back to old Leppard.  Slicker, sugar coated and easier to swallow though.  It is paired with “Run Riot”, a similar track with a faster tempo.  Tasty guitars from Collen and Clarke, chugging drums from the Thundergod.  Screamin’ Joe sounding like the Joe from Pyromania, and Savage sounding less synth-y than the other tracks.

The last single on the album was actually the third single released:  the brilliant title track “Hysteria”.  The diamond-like flawless ballad was laid down literally one note at a time, giving it a precise but delicate nature.  It was arguably the most pop Leppard had ever been, and that’s just fine.  When you have a song this good, it doesn’t matter what you call it.  Best tune on the album?  Arguably.  The precise picking is delectable and Joe has one of his best vocal performances right here.  Unlike other songs on the album, it’s low on sonic gimmicks.

If there was one song to eject from the album, it’s the penultimate track “Excitable”.  Back to gimmicks, it relies too much on samples and weird digitally manipulated vocals.  It sounds like it was intended to be a crossover hit.  It could have been replaced by a superior B-side (which we’ll get to).

The album closer is a majestic mid-tempo not-quite-ballad-thing called “Love and Affection”, possibly the second best tune on the whole album after “Hysteria” itself.  It’s all about taste, but this deep cut is one of the strongest.  It’s all about the song, no extra trimmings, just melody and arrangement.  It easily could have been a single.  There’s this one chunky Steve Clark lick that just slays me.  Rick Allen’s pound has never been more suited to a track as it slams through the chorus.  A really triumphant track that I would have released as ninth single after “Gods of War”!

Although it took a year (until the release of “Sugar”) to recoup its costs, Hysteria was an undisputed win for the band that worked so hard for it.  Their loyalty to their drummer was not to lost to fans and media alike, and actually worked in their favour creating a new and exciting 80s rock sound.

But there was more to Hysteria than just the 12 tracks.  Remixes and live material aside, there were five notable B-sides.  All excellent in their own right.

Backing “Women” was the straight-ahead rocker “Tear It Down”.  These B-sides were not produced by Mutt and therefore have a more raw edge, akin to older Leppard.  “Tear It Down” rocked relentess, hard but mid-tempo cool.  After a one-off live TV performance, the song was earmarked for re-recording on the next album….

On the flipside of “Animal” we find “I Wanna to Be Your Hero”, with a ballady opening and hard rocking middle.  How did this song not make the album?  Clearly one of the best tunes, it has both a chugging riff and a pop-smart melody.

The heaviest tune backed the softest.  “Ride Into the Sun” was the B-side to “Hysteria”, and what a smoker it is.  A re-recording of a song from the Def Leppard EP, it is also re-arranged with new lyrics and new chorus.  It’s far superior and kicks every ass in the room.  The B-side to “Sugar” was “Ring of Fire”, just as heavy as “Ride Into the Sun” but not as immediately catchy.

Finally, the last of the B-sides was a cover.  A very confusing cover indeed.  “Release Me” featured their roadie Malvin Mortimer doing something that might be considered singing.  To add to the mess, the band all switched instruments with Joe on piano, so nobody really knew what they were doing.  The band credited the song to “Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys” and in the liner notes, Joe claimed “Rarely in my travels have I come across such a monumental talent as Stumpus Maximus.”  Only when Stumpus unfurls his unholy screams at exactly 2:36 did I get the joke.

The Hysteria sessions yielded some unfinished material as well, that Leppard would finally release in the 1990s.  One of these tunes, a screaming “She’s Too Tough”, first saw the light of day on Helix’s 1987 album Wild in the Streets, released two months ahead of Hysteria.  Brian Vollmer is one of the few singers who can do justice to Joe’s challenging vocal.

Hysteria is available in a comprehensive 5 CD/2 DVD box set with all the B-sides, remixes, and live tracks.  It includes the Classic Albums “making of” documentary, all the music videos, and the entire In the Round: In Your Face concert on CD.   It is, without a doubt, the best way to own the most important Def Leppard album.

But before you buy, some perspective.

There’s a legendary 0/10 review by Martin Popoff that I’d like to share some quotes from.  If I’m over-enthusiastic about Hysteria, then consider this.

  • “High tech, tasteless, and devoid of life whatsoever.”
  • “Even Elliott’s vocals, probably the last vestige that hasn’t completely been swallowed by robots, sound like some kind of dry-wheezing mechanical lung wired to the man’s death bed.”
  • Hysteria is a major assault to anyone’s intelligence.”
  • “An offensive kick in the head sent straight from the rock ‘n’ roll bored room.”

Take my rating with a grain of salt.

5/5 stars

 

Gallery of single covers

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

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 10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia (Record Store Tales)

#968: Go For the Songs From the Electric Heart

RECORD STORE TALES #968: Go For the Songs From the Electric Heart

Trapper is Emm Gryner, Sean Kelly, Frank Gryner and Tim Timleck.  For those who know, Trapper is also one of the best hard rock bands going, if you happen to like that retro-catchy sound done with expertise and skill.  This style of music never died, but it was definitely harder to find after grunge hit the “reset” button.  Bottom line though:  a good song is a good song.  Trapper write and play good songs!

Joe Elliott is a fan. Isn’t that enough?

I’ve been into Trapper since first hearing about the band in 2015, when they released their first cassette.  I knew Emm Gryner by reputation and quickly became a fan of her solo work.  Of course, I was will familiar with Sean Kelly from his many recordings with Helix, Lee Aaron, the Metal On Ice CD/book project, and so on.  But I missed out on that limited edition tape.  I also missed the five track CD release Go For the Heart, of which 300 copies were made.

I’d been listening to the band quite a bit on the weekend, since getting their newest tape Songs From the Electric North in the mail.  Only 50 were made, and this time I managed to get one!  Sean sent it to me with a nice note.  He’s a great guy.  Not only did he take the time to appear on the LeBrain Train in May 2021, but even before that he was instrumental in helping me identify MuchMusic personalities on my VHS tapes.  I always like adding more of his music to my collection.

And that is the point of this story:  the collector’s disease.  It’s a real thing, and I have the actual receipts.  I decided I wanted “all the Trapper songs”.  I looked on Discogs and much to my amazement, they had a copy of Go For the Heart for $75 plus shipping.  $100 total.  Last copy sold was $71, two years prior.  It had been on my wishlist for some time.  I did the math, and decided this was my best chance to own it.  Go For the Heart has “Grand Bender” and “The Warrior” from the debut tape, so this would get me “all the Trapper songs” in physical form.  Still flush with Christmas money, I decided to pull the trigger.  Collector’s itch:  temporarily scratched.

I felt quite satisfied with my myself!

The next day, I noticed my good buddy Aaron from the KMA had left a comment on my Friday January 14 live show, during which I unboxed my brand new Songs From the Electric North cassette.  “Jealous you got the new Trapper,” he said.  “I only have the one CD here.”

Wait…the CD?  They only have one CD and it’s Go For the Heart.  The one I just paid a hundred bucks for.  And Aaron’s was signed by Emm and Sean!  He paid a buck.

I had to tell Sean this story.  “No regrets!” I said.  And it is true.  I paid a lot — maybe the most paid yet for that particular CD.  But I wanted it.  I wanted it for a while.  I know what the last guy paid, and I paid $4 more.  Will it appreciate in value?  Not the point!  I collect music from artists I like in physical formats.  I wanted it, so I bought it.

Hey, I’m a collector and sometimes we splurge!

REVIEW: Trapper – Songs From the Electric North (2022 limited edition cassette EP)

TRAPPER – Songs From the Electric North (2022 limited edition cassette EP)

One gets the sense that, although Trapper take the quality of their music very seriously, Emm, Sean, Tim and Frank are doing it for the pure enjoyment.  They must be!  Trapper is a top-notch band honouring their 80s roots by writing that kind of catchy rock song with singalong hooks.  Each track on their brand new cassette EP, Songs From the Electric North (limited to just 50 copies!) sounds assembled with great care, and genuine zeal.

Fear not if you missed out on the cassette, for you can download the EP on your iTunes!

Songs From the Electric North consists of four originals and two covers.  The covers,  “Illégal” by Corbeau and “Bye bye mon cowboy” by Mitsou, were previously reviewed here so you can check that out if you want to know more about those two excellent tracks.  In particular, we praised “Illégal” for a beautifully chunky riff that Sean Kelly captured with a nice crunchy guitar tone.  We also singled out Emm Gryner’s lead vocal, with depth, grit, power — the whole package.  This is the first physical release for these tracks.

The four originals vary in flavour, so picking favourites will also widely vary from person to person.  On side A, “Winterlong” opens, hitting the ears on a nice tense Sean Kelly riff with a Campbell-era Dio feeling.  This track has it all, from the powerhouse vocals to thundering drums n’ bass.  “Winterlong” also boasts a lyrical guitar solo, carefully composed and executed.  This track is a rocker!  Heavy as metal, yet sweet as saccharine at the same time.

Power ballad territory ahead!  Perhaps “Almost Forever” is in the vein of ‘87-era Whitesnake or albums of that direction?  Whatever your inkling, “Almost Forever” is memorable, and done to perfection.  It’s a hard sound to get just right.  The keyboards and especially Emm’s melody put it exactly in the right ballpark.  A winning song, that you will be coming back to again and again when you want a new ballad with that nostalgic feeling that sends you back in time.

Opening side B, “You Need An Angel” has a nice chunky rock groove.  Here Kelly reminds me at times of Ratt’s Warren DeMartini in tone and feel.  Another fabulous classic rock composition, laden with hooks and punchy drums.  And completely different in direction from the other tunes.

The last of the originals is the pounding metal of “New Year’s Day”.  This track has an epic quality, harder to describe, except to say it’s different again from the previous songs!  Solid riff/groove combo, with Emm delivering a vocal that just divebombs you with hooks from the sky!  How’s that for a description?  Just listen to it.

I’m very grateful to score one of the 50 copies of this tape.  To give you an idea of demand, Trapper’s first cassette “Grand Bender” / “The Warrior” was limited to 100 copies and never turns up for sale.  Their CD EP, Go For the Heart, runs about a hundred bucks total with shipping these days.  I should know, because I bought the last one!

You can get your copy on iTunes, so head on over and get rocked by the Songs From the Electric North. 

5/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

Part Eight of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Pyromania deluxe (2009)

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983 (2009 deluxe edition)

Leppard were riding high when they hit the L.A. Forum in 1983.  Pyromania was selling hot enough that every kid in the neighbourhood had heard at least one of its singles on the radio.  MTV was factoring in now, and its impact can’t be understated.  Leppard had some high budget and good looking videos on offer.  Their live show was just as impressive.

Widely bootlegged, the second night in Los Angeles must have felt like a victory lap, even though there were still months left on the tour.  They hit the stage psyched to perform.  Earlier, Frank Zappa phoned up to ask if he could score some tickets for his kids, Moon Unit and Dweezil.  Members of Van Halen and Heart were in attendance.  Best of all, Queen legend Brian May was in town, and he surprised  Leppard by playing them the twin guitar part of their hit “Photohraph” all by himself!

Remixed and remastered, the second L.A. show is now easily available on the Pyromania deluxe edition — the first official release of a live album with Steve Clark, although it did not come until 2009.

“Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” is a natural opener.  Since it already opened Pyromania itself, it was well suited, but its extended (taped) intro made for a dramatic band entrance.  Joe’s road-worn scream is employed to great effect.  Even so slightly faster than LP, “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” defined the mood.  Rock rock till you drop indeed!  Keeping with the “Rock” theme, “Rock Brigade” was locked and loaded for the second spot.  It sounds fresh with Phil Collen on lead guitar and backing vocals.  His solo is balls-out technical, and completely unlike those of Pete Willis.

Joe pauses to say “good evening”, and then it’s straight into “Saturday Night (High ‘N’ Dry)”.  This ode to getting wasted from 1981 is not a vast departure from the album version despite Phil amping up the guitar work.  Into “Another Hit and Run”, it’s pure adrenaline and foot on the gas pedal.  Screaming into the ether, Joe sings of youthful self-destruction.  It turns into a jam towards the end, before careening through the finish line.

“Billy’s Got a Gun” is one of those songs that can get a bit rickety live, but this version is solid.  The excellent “Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes” follows, and it’s very slightly revised to increase the tension.  Some won’t notice the differences.  As usual, the chorus kills.  It’s been all album cuts thus far, and no hits.  But then Joe invites Steve Clark to the spotlight to play an acoustic guitar solo, which becomes “Foolin'”, the first of the three massive hits rolled out in a row.  This might be considered the center of the show:  “Foolin'”, “Photograph” and (a slightly fast) “Rock of Ages”.  Each one a perfect gem, but with the live edge intact.  To take it over the top, a ragged “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”, Leppard’s other recognisable hit, is rolled out immediately after.  What do you do for an encore?  We’ll get to that.

“Switch 625” follows “Heartbreak” as it should.  With the hits behind them, Leppard spend the end of the set rocking really, really heavy.  “Switch 625” is already a steamer, but it’s followed by “Let It Go”, “Wasted” and an encore tease, and then “Stagefright”.  Clearly, this setlist was designed to rock!  “Wasted” in particular stands out from this trio.  Phil’s blazing solo technique adds that extra dimension to the song, but it is just as amped up and the best versions from the early years.

But “Stagefright” isn’t the real encore.

“Right, I said we got a surprise for ya.  And we have a big one at that.  Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome all the way from England — Queen’s Brian May!”

Queen were not on tour, but they were in Los Angeles recording their 1984 album The Works.  The long friendship between Leppard and Queen began right here.  A cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelling Band” is the earliest recording of Joe and May together, but certainly not the last!  This is not only a piece of history, but it’s a brilliant track!  Joe’s screaming voice is strangely well suited to an overblown CCR cover.  But hearing the guitar trio solo together, each with their own style, is the real icing on the cake.  May is so creamy!

There are no other live releases from the Pyromania era, and the band’s sound transformed permanently when they next hit the road.  This live album is the end of an era, and an excellent good time of it too.

5/5 stars

The Pyromania tour wrapped up 18 December in Dortmund Germany, another two-nighter.  Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, Rick Allen had the car accident that severed his left arm.  In a heartbreaking twist, the arm was reattached, but after an infection set in, had to be removed again.  This devastating tragedy united the band.  Ambulance-chasers were ready and waiting to take the drum stool away from Rick Allen, but the band refused to see it as the end for the drummer.  We all know what happens next.  It was total Hysteria!

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  • Hysteria

REVIEW: Aerosmith – The Road Starts Hear (2021)

AEROSMITH – The Road Starts Hear (2021 Universal RSD vinyl)

Are Aerosmith kicking off a series of official bootlegs too?  That would be just swell!  The label on this record indicates it comes from the “Vindaloo Vaults”.  It seems likely there would be more in the vaults besides this October 1971 recording.  But even if this is all there is, we sure got lucky.  This tape from Boston is Aerosmith’s earliest known recording, and sounds bloody great.  Currently it’s only available on RSD vinyl, but don’t be surprised if it gets a CD reissue when Aerosmith re-release their entire catalogue.

Aerosmith’s first LP was different.  Tyler hadn’t found his voice yet.  The distortion wasn’t cranked up.  But there is certainly a fondness for that period, which birthed “Dream On” and a number of other classics.  That’s the setting for The Road Starts Hear.

This record commences with some slow, laid back guitars jamming on “Somebody” while the people in the venue chit and chat amongst themselves.  Then it really starts – Tyler kicking it up, but drummer Joey Kramer being the real driving force.  This recording is clear!  There is some minor distortion on Tyler’s microphone, but you can hear both guitars distinctly, along with bass, drums and cymbals.

The blues cover “Reefer Head Woman” wasn’t recorded by Aerosmith properly until 1979’s Night in the Ruts, but this version predates the familiar by eight years!  They’re very different but both boast a Steven Tyler harmonica solo.  This transitions into “Walkin’ the Dog”, slower and bluesier than the other versions out there.  This is a long jam, and for the brilliant guitar work, it’s likely the best take of “Walkin’ the Dog” that you’ll hear.

“Moving Out” leads side two, definitely edgy and sharp.  Tyler is at the top of his game and the rest of the dudes provide the momentum.  Then they lay back on “Major Barbara”, another song they didn’t release until much later.  Though they did record it in a proper studio in 1974 for Get Your Wings, it didn’t get a release until it was added as a bonus to Classics Live in 1987!  On this version, listen for a detour into “Hail to the Bus Driver”!

“Dream On” is fully realized, Tyler tinkling on the piano, but the guitar solos still in prototypical form.  This brilliant version is probably the heaviest.  Finally “Mama Kin” closes the record, a bit different than the way it sounds on the Aerosmith album: more garage-y.

What a band Aerosmith always were!  The chemistry is evident on their earliest recordings, as is their hard edged approach to rocking the blues.  You cannot go wrong with this record.

4/5 stars

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RE-REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (Bonus tracks)

Original review:  2016-09-27

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By (Reissue with bonus demos)

By the time the Four Horsemen managed to get a second album on the shelves, it was already far too late.

It didn’t matter how good the album was; the climate was completely different in 1996.  Not only had grunge come, but it had already gone!  Sadly, so had original T4H drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery.   He was not the only casualty.  Struck by a drunk driver in late 1995, their charismatic frontman Frank C. Starr fell into a coma he would never come out of.  (Starr finally passed away in 1999.)  The Horsemen had a second album in the can with Starr, but were all but out of action.

Even though the debut was produced by the biggest name in 90s rock, Rick Rubin, the mercurial Starr had always been the key.  When the band first arrived, his shriekin’ AC/DC mannerisms earned the band some series MTV play.  The frontman had a whole lot to do with that.  Then he blew it.  Starr wound up in jail for a year while Kurt Cobain took over, something addressed in the lyrics on several tracks.  Horsemen guitarist Haggis attempted to move on with new singer Tim Beattie and, through trials and tribulations, recorded a southern rock album called Daylight Again that was not released.  Then guitarist Dave Lizmi tried to give the can one more kick, and reunited with Starr for what could have been an incredible second ride.  They had the tunes to back it up, and Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By is the proof.  With Canadians Randy Cooke on drums and Pharoah Barrett on bass, they finally had a second Horsemen album on the shelves.  But with Starr in a coma, they were stuck in the mud once again.  They toured with Little Caesar vocalist Ron Young doing an admirable job of it, but it was the end.

For shame.  A forgotten album that could have been mega was largely ignored.

You can’t really tell that Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By was made through such hardship.  The songs are largely upbeat and party-hardy.  The exceptions are the contemplative “Song for Absent Friends”, dedicated to the passed Dimwit Montgomery, and the angry “Back in Business Again”.  This ode to Seattle was certainly not a love letter to Kurt or Eddie.  Singing about his year in jail, Starr says he “heard a bunch of whining, little wussy rock n rollers, complaining about how fame and fortune’s got them down.”  Ouch.

Otherwise, this a rip roarin’, liquor snortin’ good time.  “Lots of whiskey and beer!”  Starr’s singing style had changed too.  No longer was he trying to be Brian Johnson (one has to assume doing that is hard on the voice).  Singing in a more natural throat, Starr could still pull it off, just shoutin’ instead of screamin’.

Here’s something else:  13 tracks, and no filler.  Not one skipper, and more variety than the first LP.  Most of the tracks are fast or mid-tempo rock n’ rollers, adorned with some absolutely stunning lead guitar work from Dave Lizmi.  The man has not seen a slide or a wah-wah pedal he couldn’t master, and the album is drenched in that kind of feel.  It also sounds more loose.  Frankie seems to crack up laughing mid-sentence on “Drunk Again”.   “It’s been 40 days since I looked at my face (laughs)…ah shit…”

Some of the tunes that deviate from the norm are the highlights.  “Song For Absent Friends” hits hard, right in the feels.  “And I know that you all are out there somewhere, on a leave of absence from this place.”  Then there’s the aforementioned “Back in Business Again”, probably the heaviest tune the Horsemen have put to tape.  The anger is palpable, but it’s not without a smile and a wink.  It’s more a declaration of the kind of music the Four Horsemen represent in the era of “wussy rock n’ rollers” from some “nowhere town”.  As Frank sings, they’re a “trail blazin’, skin lovin’, whiskey drinkin’, motherfuckin’ rock and roll band”.  The exact opposite of the kind of groups Frank seemed to despise.

There are a couple singalongs (“My Song” and “Hit the Road”) and the traditional Horsemen album closing epic.  Seven minutes long, Frankie asks “What the Hell Went Wrong”, and I’m sure there are many different answers to that question.  A slow blues rocker with some sweet organ, it’s kind of like two songs in one.  They pulled a similar trick on the debut album with a track called “I Need a Thrill / Something Good”.  Regardless, when Lizmi starts soloing it goes into epic territory.

Like other Horsemen releases, Gettin’ Pretty Good was reissued on CD by the band with bonus tracks.  These are 1995 demos for “Livin’ These Blues”, “Keep Your Life” and “Hit the Road”.  All three tracks differ in some ways from the album versions, either in lyrics or solos. These feature Canadian Ken Montgomery’s brother, Chuck Biscuits, on drums.*  Surprisingly, the soulful backing vocals on “Livin’ These Blues” was there from the demo stage.  The demo of “Hit the Road” is even looser than the already pretty lubricated album version!  More twangy, too, with a wicked dobro solo.  The demo of “Hit the Road” is probably the superior take for its genuine party atmosphere.

These albums are finally available from the Horsemen shop on CD once more.  You know what to do.

5/5 stars

* Drum credits confirmed by Pharoah Barrett.

COMPLETE FOUR HORSEMEN:

  1. Record Store Tales #224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business
  2. Welfare Boogie (1990 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  3. Nobody Said It Was Easy (1991 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  4. Nobody Said It Was Easy (2018 double vinyl LP)
  5. Daylight Again (1994 “lost” album – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  6. Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By… (1996)
  7. Left For Dead 1988-1994 (2005 – CD/DVD set)
  8. Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners 1991 (2012 CD)
  9. Death Before Suckass – Live at Miami Arena (DVD)

 

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania (1983)

Part Seven of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Pyromania deluxe (1983)

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania (1983 Polygram)

Disruption!  Midway through the recording of Def Leppard’s crucial third album, guitarist Pete Willis was fired.  It had been coming for a while.  His alleged alcohol consumption was causing problems and the band had their eye on Phil Collen from Girl already.  They were lucky to get Phil, as he had already been approached about joining Iron Maiden to replace Dennis Stratton.

This was serious.  Once again working with “Mutt” Lange, whose schedule was booked solid, time was money.  And music, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a business.  The third Def Leppard album was critical.  The potential of the band was not underestimated.  “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” made the top 20 in the US and the new album was intended to do better.  Lange has a songwriting credit on every song, indicating the level to which he was involved to make the album as perfect as could be.  It took 10 months to record, a mind-numbingly long time to the young band.  If only they knew….

Pete Willis had writing credits on four songs, including two singles.  With rhythm guitars laid down on all tracks by Willis, Collen just needed to whip up a few solos and finish off some bits and pieces.  He and Steve Clark made a formidable duo.  Collen had a more schooled sound than Willis and the contrast added a new dimension to Leppard’s solos.  Meanwhile, the songs were streamlined.  Sleaker, more hooks per minute, more direct…more commercial.

Some feel this is where Def Leppard started to go over the cliff.  The majority probably see it as Def Leppard becoming the real Def Leppard.

The opening music would have been familiar to anyone who caught Def Leppard live in the early years.  “Medicine Man” was an early track with an absolutely killer Clark riff.  With Mutt’s help they re-wrote it into the now-esteemed “Rock! Rock! Till You Drop”, but that riff is still the main feature.  After the headbanging commences, a screamin’ Joe Elliott lays down one of his most raging lead vocals.  Collen’s style is audible from the solo; a fretburner.  “Rock! Rock!” isn’t really that far off from High ‘N’ Dry, but you can tell it’s spent more time at the polishing wheel.  The production also seems colder and more clinical.

The triumphant “Photograph” really showed where Leppard were going.  Sure there’s a riff, but the main features here are the vocal melodies and harmonies.  Noticeable keyboard accents de-clawed the Leppard, and the sweetened harmonies have the full-on Mutt Lange treatment that you hear elsewhere with Bryan Adams and Billy Ocean.  None of that is necessarily a bad thing, but this is where Def Leppard decidedly left the New Wave of British Heavy Metal behind them.  “Photograph” went to #1 in the United States.  Mission accomplished.

Track three, “Stagefright” opens with a faux-live intro and a biting riff.  Credited to Joe Elliott, Mutt Lange and Rick Savage, it’s surprisingly one of the heaviest songs.  Back then Joe’s voice could deliver both menace and melody simultaneously, and he does that here.

While not a deep cut (#9 US), “Too Late For Love” is a lesser-known classic.  No music video was made though they did a lip-synched TV appearance that later ended up on their home video Historia.  A dark ballad with edge, “Too Late For Love” has cool atmosphere and just the right amount of scream.

“Die Hard the Hunter” opens with synthesised war sound effects and a soft guitar melody that deceives into thinking it’s another ballad; but no.  This rocker burns hot, but damn those drums are really sample-y sounding.  Rick Allen had a better sound on High ‘N’ Dry, but of course the times were changing.  Eliminator by ZZ Top was out the same year.

One of the big singles (#9 US once again) is the undeniable “Foolin'”.  Mixing rocker and ballad formulas, it set a template for bands to attempt to copy on their way up the charts.  The stuttering chorus is now a Leppard hallmark, and not a second of the song is boring.

You can imagine, spending 10 months in the studio, how monotonous some tasks must be, take after take after take.  The simple act of counting in a band — one, two, three, four — must be tedious the hundreth time.  Perhaps the next time, to stave off boredom, it’s uno, dos, tres, quatro.  Then something else, language by language until finally you end up with “gunter, glieben, glauten, globen”, a nonsense phrase that sounds vaguely Germanic.  And suddenly, without knowing it, you’ve created a catchphrase.  At least that’s how it happened for Mutt Lange on “Rock of Ages”!

That’s the story of “Rock of Ages” (#1 US), one of Leppard most irresistible hits, and also one indicative of the shift in Leppard’s sound.  A very synth-y bassline and tech-y drums stamp out a a robotic 80s groove that was destined for radio and video stardom.  The chorus was even more potent.  “What do you want?” yells the band in harmony.  “I want rock and roll!” you respond, fist in the air.  It all seems very contrived, and perhaps it was.  Is that so bad?  Back then, it really felt like you had to fight for rock and roll.  It seemed every church and every politician wanted to neuter rock bands.  A good, defiant, radio-ready smash hit like “Rock of Ages” tapped into the 80s.

The killer deep cut here is called “Comin’ Underfire” which, had there been five singles, would have made a fine fifth.  Tapping into the angst and tension of earlier tracks like “Lady Strange” and “Mirror, Mirror”, this is nothing but awesome wrapped up in a taut chorus like a bow.  Steady, strong, and loaded with hooks.  Pete Willis had a hand in writing it, demonstrating the guitarist’s often overlooked value.

Another wicked deep cut is the terrifically fun “Action! Not Words”, which, if there was a sixth single… Anyway, the slippery slide-y riff is reinforced by a simple and effective chorus.  Let’s face it, there’s very little fat on Pyromania.

If anything, perhaps it’s the closing track “Billy’s Got a Gun” that might be the the only one that could be argued as filler.  Laid back and emoting a dangerous vibe, it’s less exciting than the preceding material.  It is, however, the closer, which has to draw the album to a proper close, and end it on the right vibe.  “Billy’s Got a Gun” does the job.  The album concludes with a song that feels like an ending, especially with that “bang bang” at the end.

A brief record-spinning coda is tacked at the end of the album for those who let it play all the way to the end.  It probably fooled a few kids into thinking their turntable was broken, as the record seemingly spins fast and slow, over and over.

There were no B-sides or bonus tracks recorded.  No extras, no unreleased songs.  Talk about having your eye on the prize!

Pyromania had broad appeal.  The numbers showed it.  It put Leppard in the big leagues.  To date it has sold 10 million copies in the US.  It was the end of obscurity.  The band toured relentlessly.  Though they did not release a live album, the 2009 Pyromania deluxe edition contains one from the L.A. Forum in 1983.  We’ll look at that next time.

5/5 stars

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  • Pyromania bonus disc Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Rocks Donington 2014 (CD/DVD)

AEROSMITH – Rocks Donington 2014 (2015 Universal 2 CD/1 DVD set)

Aerosmith enter the stage as the sun at Donington makes its final descent.  Opening with the stalwart “Train Kept-A-Rollin'”, Steven Tyler leaps, covered by a traditional native headdress.  (Strangely nobody screamed “cultural appropriation!” in 2014.)  It’s off before he can start twirlin’ across the stage anyway.  Though desiccated, the band are cookin’ like a group 1/3 of their age.   Brad Whitford takes a welcome solo on “Train” and the band look happy to be up there.

Without missing a beat, Aerosmith travel forward in time two decades to “Eat the Rich”.  At first it sounds as if Tyler’s voice can’t hack it but then he’s right back in the game.  Nice to see Joe employing a whammy bar, but has the young crowd any idea what Grey Poupon is?  Tyler throws down a solid burp before the skippable “Love in an Elevator”.  His older, rougher voice gives it a tougher vibe but it’s overplayed radio filler now.

It’s a string of Geffen hits during this portion of the show.  “Cryin'”…interesting only because the band thought they had to play it for the millionth time.  “Jaded” has the stage bathed in purple but it’s Aero by the numbers.  Tyler spends the end of the song hanging out with some girls in the front row.  But when Joe Perry starts the growling drone of “Livin’ on the Edge”, things come back to life.  The song still has teeth.

The Geffen hits are interrupted by the legendary funk of “Last Child”, and then we see why this band is really special.  It’s not just Tyler and Perry, but it’s the sweet jam that the five of them make together when they really get down.  Brad Whitford is the captain of this particular ship, taking us to the green waters of Mt. Funk with Mr. Joey Kramer in the engine room.  Highlight of the show.

Aerosmith couldn’t have shown less enthusiasm for their newest album Music from Another Dimension.  “Freedom Fighter” with Joe Perry on lead vocals is the only new song presented.  Tyler’s not even on stage for it, but he’s back for “Same Old Song and Dance”.  Kramer’s absolutely the backbone, with his pal Tom Hamilton on bass.  That necessary piano part is provided by Buck Johnson near the back of the stage.  But they just can’t keep playing oldies without giving the kids a hit, it seems.  “Janie’s Got a Gun” is overdue to be retired.  It’s not the band, who are at 110%, it’s just the song and the years.

“Toys in the Attic” is like a sudden wake-up!  Second best tune of the night and no small thanks to Tommy and Joey on rhythm.  Unfortunately all this momentum is spent by playing “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, which should be buried and never resuscitated.  But what do we know, Doningon goes absolutely nuclear for the movie hit ballad.  Fortunately, Steven’s favourite Aerosmith song, “No More No More” is just what we needed to keep the train a-rollin’.  You just have to listen to the guys play and interact with each other to appreciate what makes ’em special, but it’s trippy seeing a big passenger jet landing in the middle of the song.

“Come Together” belongs to Aerosmith as much as it belongs to the Beatles now.  Their version is their own jam.  Unfortunately this perfect moment is ruined by the robotic “Dude Likes Like a Lady”.  Moving on to “Walk This Way”, an oldie but surely just as familiar.  It’s certainly just as cool, especially when Tyler starts playing loose with the words.

The first encore is also the only serious deep cut of the night, an abbreviated “Home Tonight”, followed by “Dream On”.  It’s kind of cheesy when Steven changes the words to “Cream on, cream until your jeans are blue.”  “Sweet Emotion” (with Tom bass solo) and “Mama Kin” complete the night, with the ravishing applause from a crowd of 80,000, breaking curfew to do it.

After a chant of “fuck curfew!” the band launch into “Mama Kin” with the energy of a first song instead of an after-hours closer.  And that’s the proof that there’s nothing wrong with Aerosmith aside from some question of how many hits you need to play vs. deep cuts.  The engine still motors ahead like they haven’t been through multiple splits and illnesses.  Long live Aerosmith!

The concert is well edited with excellent camera angles, relying on minimal slow-motion gimmicks.

3.5/5 stars