Reviews

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “My Morning Straitjacket”

AMERICAN DAD! – “My Morning Straitjacket” (Episode 7, season 5)

Has Stan gone too far this time? Daughter Hayley has gone to a rock concert!  According to a furious Stan, rock concerts are “the devil’s music!  It’s the number one cause of school violence, teen pregnancy and leather pants!”  But My Morning Jacket are “awesome” according to Hayley, and she plans on going again the next night, until Stan confiscates the tickets!

Fortunately for Hayley, mom Francine understands rock and roll.  She used to get backstage the hard way, not like today with those sissy radio giveaways.  She secretly returns the tickets to Hayley, infuriating Stan. Using his CIA noise-cancelling earplugs, he goes to the concert to “rescue” his daughter.  “Idiots!  Paying good money to hear something they already heard on a record!”  But when he removes his special earplugs, he hears the music…and finally feels something!  Where Stan used to feel only anger, he now feels everything!

Jim James has an “angelic” voice according to Stan.  “He makes Enya sound like a Russian couple arguing at the bowling alley!”  He can’t get enough.  “I want to hear all their music!  Right now!”  This leads to an unhealthy obsession with the band, accompanied by a smorgasbord of their songs:  “Wordless Chorus”, “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream (Part 2)”, “I’m Amazed”, “Remnants”, “Highly Suspicious”, and “Phone Went West”. The animation for Stan’s musical fantasy sequence is suitably trippy. Stan flies through space carried by owls, with My Morning Jacket singer Jim James riding on his back! As usual for Stan, his obsessive behaviour leads to neglect for his family and job. Something has to be done! The final straw is when Stan spends $900 on a bootleg CD of Jim James gargling in the bathroom before a show.

Stan is under the delusion that he and Jim James are soul mates, so Roger the alien comes up with a plan. Dressed as his groupie persona Abbey Road (“I’m Abbey Road, and when it snows I need to be plowed!”) they go to follow My Morning Jacket and meet Jim James. When they finally encounter James in person, he convinces Stan that he already has a real soul mate — his wife Francine.

The music of My Morning Jacket is diverse and entertaining, and although their softer moments are a bit limp, when they rock they rock. As for this episode? It rocks.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Another Live (1981 bootleg)

IRON MAIDEN – Another Live (1981 recording, 1990 CD release by Metal Memory)

Maiden Japan is legendary.  It is a crucial EP for all Iron Maiden fans, but also a good solid find for any metal fan in general.  It was recorded May 23 1981 in Nagoya Japan.   The live bootleg that we are looking at today also claims to be from that same show.  That claim appears to be bogus.  An A/B test on the track “Remember Tomorrow” reveals they are definitely not the same vocal performance.  Maybe this CD is taken from a show on the same tour, such as Osaka or Tokyo.

Regardless of the whens and wherefores, Another Live presents a rare treat indeed, a live CD featuring Paul DiAnno on lead vocals.  It is the Killers lineup:  Paul, Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Clive Burr.  A young Iron Maiden just before hitting the crest of their wave…there isn’t much out there officially released besides Maiden Japan.  There are a number of tracks on the rare and expensive box set Eddie’s Archive, and a handful B-sides.  For that reason, if you stumble upon Another Live, you may as well go for it!

The audio is surprisingly great for a boot, almost official quality, except scratchy in some places.  It might be a rip from a previous vinyl edition.  Unfortunately the set (wherever it was) has a few songs chopped out for time, and therefore you’re missing some of the best.  “Running Free”, “Prowler” and “Phantom of the Opera” would have been nice to have.  On the other hand there is the track “Another Life”.  You will not find any official live versions of it with Paul singing.  The only officially released ones have Bruce:  one from Beast Over Hammersmith and one from “The Trooper” 2005 7″ single.  Then we have “Twilight Zone” which you won’t find in live audio form anywhere officially.  There is definite value here in the way of rarer songs.

The performance is stellar.  A serious highlight is Dave Murray’s guitar solo on “Strange World”.  Each member has the energy of a teenager and they just blast through.  The only speedbumps really are the awkward edits between songs.  They are not done well and it’s too bad because the CD is only 51 minutes.  However if Another Live did come from an earlier vinyl bootleg, that would explain the shorter running time.

Get it if you find it.  You may not play it often, but your Maiden collection will be that much cooler.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Tesla – Bust a Nut (1994)

TESLA – Bust a Nut (1994 Geffen)

During my first few weeks at the Record Store, one of the new releases I got to deal with was the new Tesla, Bust a Nut.  My boss cracked open a copy to play in store, but he wasn’t impressed.

“It sounds the same…” he remarked.  “It’s just the same.”

Gosh, Tesla didn’t go grunge or rap in 1994?  What a crime.  No, instead Tesla stubbornly continued, as they always have, without bowing to trends.  Bust a Nut wasn’t a successful album, but it was a damn good one.  To call Bust a Nut “the same” sells it short.  It sounded like Tesla, but a tad heavier and more diverse.  Of course, this being Tesla, there must be ballads too.

“The Gate” invites you in via chugging guitars and squealing six-strings.  It merges into “Invited”, a hell of a fine introduction.  “Invited” reflects the light and shade of Tesla in one song:  the mournful acoustic verses, the heavy and catchy choruses, all grounded in a solid classic rock vibe.  Tommy Skeoch and Frank Hannon made one fine guitar duo, and the layers of instrumental goodness will keep you interested and digging for more.  Heavier still is “The Solution”, which is about as metal as Tesla have ever been.  Songs about environmental conservation are more relevant than ever:  “Mother nature’s on her knees, and we’re the reason for her disease.”  Very true, Jeff Keith.  “If we’re gonna make it through tomorrow, the solution is to make a change today.”  Tesla have never used such a grinding, detuned riff like this before.  What’s this about it being “just the same”?  Tesla didn’t go grunge, but they were able to go harder within their own style.

A brilliant track called “Shine Away” uses the soft/loud dynamic popularized by grunge, but that chorus is brighter than the sun.  Enjoy some patented Tesla guitar harmonies which always sound as if inspired by Thin Lizzy, though this time verging on Iron Maiden!  Time to cool things down with a ballad, and “Try So Hard” is a lovely one in the acoustic mold.  A good variety of tunes occupy the rest of side one, but the next obvious standout is “Action Talks”.  This is as angry as Tesla get, even dropping a “fuck you!” in the lyrics.  It’s difficult to imagine that the same band can do “Action Talks” and “Try So Hard”!

Bluegrass and heavy bluesy rock collide on “Mama’s Fool”, as Tesla have never been afraid to mix genres.  Sharp fans will recognize the opening and closing acoustic patterns as the same as “Government Personnel” from Psychotic Supper (1991).  A slamming beat drives the tense “Cry”, a killer track based on a simple riff.  Dig that theremin!  “Rubberband” returns to the soft/loud format, and the loud part is fucking killer.  The chorus goes on for days and sticks like glue.  Another heavy groove called “Earthmover” earns its title, but some of the best tracks on side two are the ballads.  “A Lot to Lose” is likeable, and “Wonderful World” begins with a southern acoustic flavour.  Best of all is the fun closer, the old Joe South hit “Games People Play”.  It’s Tesla-fied, and the sitar is ditched in favour of more traditional rock instrumentation.  It’s transformed into a soul-gospel-rock and roll good time.

Tesla fired Tommy Skeoch (too many drug problems) and went down to a quartet before splitting up.  Thankfully they have enjoyed a long and quality-driven reunion since 2001.  Bust a Nut is an unsung highlight of their catalogue, and an album you’d be well advised to pick up.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: AC/DC – The Razors Edge (1990)

AC/DC – The Razors Edge (1988, 2003 Epic remaster)

The 80s were bumpy for AC/DC.  Back In Black was massive.  For Those About to Rock was almost as big.  Flick of the Switch was a solid ball of rock, but things were uneven and some songs were filler.  Fly on the Wall has its detractors for its muddy sound, and Blow Up Your Video was mostly a snooze.  For their 1990 comeback, AC/DC got Canadian mega-producer Bruce Fairbairn involved.*  He had a huge run of hit albums most notably by Bon Jovi and Aerosmith.  Could he work his magic with AC/DC?

Bruce was one of the biggest names around, but having a hitmaker like him working with AC/DC was bound to affect their sound.  Not too much of course; this was AC/DC after all.  But Bruce did offer a cleaner sound, and there is no question it worked. To the tune of five million copies!  Another change was bringing in ex-The Firm drummer Chris Slade after the departure of Simon Wright, who joined Dio.  The bald-headed beat keeper became a fan favourite very quickly.  (Slade is once again the drummer of AC/DC today after replacing Phil Rudd.)

Debut single “Thunderstruck” has deservedly become a classic in the pantheon of AC/DC classics.  It was immediately obvious that AC/DC toned down the bluesy leanings of Blow Up Your Video in favour of rock and even arguably metal.  “Thunderstruck” is heavy metal, especially with that fluttery Angus Young lick that dominates the song.

Chris Slade’s hyper-caffeinated drum stylings really impact “Fire Your Guns”, one of the fastest and most fun AC/DC tracks in recorded history.  Any AC/DC song that involves them yelling “fire!” is guaranteed to thrill.  Not to be ignored is bassist Cliff Williams who is effortlessly locked in with Slade.  And sonically this is the best sounding AC/DC stuff since Back in Black.  Singer Brian Johnson said at the time that Bruce Fairbairn encouraged him to scream more like the old days.

Another huge single was the plucky “Moneytalks”, bringing the groove down to a perfect mid-tempo.  The main thing is the hook of the chorus.  Though all songs were written solely by the Brothers Young, you can hear Bruce Fairbairn’s impact.  It’s tight and focused more than AC/DC had been last time out.  No doubt Bruce acted as a brutal editor in the studio when necessary, and must have had a role in shaping the songs to their final form.  Listen to the layers of vocals on the chorus and tell me that’s not Bruce’s doing.

Some of the best AC/DC tracks in history have been deeper album cuts.  The title track is one such song, an ominous almost-epic.  “The Razors Edge” refers to a storm front on the horizon, and the song has that kind of foreboding feel.  Unfortunately this friggin’ incredible construction of guitars and screams is followed by a novelty track.  A seasonal novelty track.  “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all day the day.  I can’t wait til’ Christmas time when I roll you in the hay.”  This song should have been axed and saved for a compilation or single, where it actually could have had some impact.  Not that it’s not fun; it is!  But who wants to listen to jingle bells on track five of an AC/DC album?  “Rock Your Heart Out” closed the side with the dubious distinction of being the first obvious filler song.

The third single “Are You Ready” was the opening track for side two.  Good tune, nothing particularly special, but good enough for an AC/DC album.  “Got You By the Balls” is an amusing title, but not a memorable song.  It has a menacing bite, but not enough hooks.  There’s a definite “side two slump” as none of these songs are as good as the first batch on side one.  “Shot of Love” is OK.  Things get back on track with “Let’s Make It” which might have made a great single itself.  It has an old-timey rock and roll feel, and a slow groove.  That classic rock and roll sound isn’t heard frequently on The Razors Edge.  “Goodbye and Good Riddance to Bad Luck” isn’t shabby but veers close to that filler territory.  Finally The Razors Edge comes to a campy end with the unusual “If You Dare”.  Fortunately it’s a great, hooky little closer.

As it turns out, The Razors Edge was a one-off of sorts.  It spun off a successful live album, also produced by Bruce Fairbairn, but that was the end of their partnership.  A 1993 single called “Big Gun” sported a ballsier sound provided by Rick Rubin who went on to do their next album as well.  The Razors Edge is also the only studio album with Chris Slade.  Phil Rudd returned, reuniting the classic Back In Black lineup.  No one will question that Rudd is the best fitting drummer that AC/DC have ever had, but that doesn’t negate Chris Slade’s contribution.  Slade and Rudd do not sound alike, and therefore AC/DC acquires a different flavour with him in the band.  His cymbal work is enviable and nobody can play “Thunderstruck” like Chris Slade, period.

3.5/5 stars

*Much to the upset of the Scorpions who had tapped Bruce to do their next album Crazy World.  That didn’t happen because of the AC/DC job.

REVIEW: Dio – Finding the Sacred Heart – Live in Philly 1986 (2013)

DIO – Finding the Sacred Heart – Live in Philly 1986 (2013 Eagle records)

The King of Rock and Roll rolled into Philly with a new axeman.  Vivian Campbell bitterly departed and was replaced by Craig Goldy of Ruff Cutt.  Goldy had a flashier style, a bit heavier on the shred.  The Sacred Heart tour was a big deal, and I can distinctly remember seeing TV ads for the Toronto show.  They had their big dragon on stage, a crystal ball, and Accept as the opening act.  The Philly gig was filmed, and so today we have this double live album to enjoy.

As it did on Sacred Heart, “King of Rock and Roll” opened the set with a flurry of speed.  Another newbie, “Like the Beat of a Heart” goes over well with an extended solo by Goldy including a nod to Blackmore.  “Don’t Talk to Strangers” is the first Dio classic in the set, though “Hungry for Heaven” was a top 30 single.

Dio had so much material to play (including his past with Rainbow and Black Sabbath) that a lot of the biggest songs are jammed into medleys.  “The Last in Line”, “Children of the Sea” and “Holy Diver” are truncated into eight minutes.  “Rock ‘N’ Roll Children” is joined with the Rainbow classics “Love Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Man on the Silver Mountain”.  It seems a shame that there are guitar solos, a drum solo, and even a keyboard solo, but all these classics had to be crammed together into medleys.  “Heaven and Hell” is complete at least, but Claude Schnell’s keyboards sound out of place on this Sabbath cornerstone.

1986 was one of many prime periods for Dio.  Your perception of this CD set will largely hinge on how much you like Craig Goldy vs. Vivian Campbell.  Goldy was a fine replacement though his shredding often sounds like a green kid just going for it.  There is plenty of great Dio material to enjoy, all killer no filler from start to finish…solos aside that is.  There’s even a live version of the smooth “Time to Burn”, the first new song with Goldy from the Intermission EP.

There is a nice selection of live Dio available on the market.  Finding the Sacred Heart would be a great choice for most, but if you want Dio live with Vivian Campbell, probably best to go for the Donington 1983 & 1987 set.  This one certainly sounds excellent, it’s a beautiful recording and mix.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Demos 1981-1983

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 24 New bonus review!

Demos 1981-1983  (Bootleg)

For the first time in my life, I bought a CD that sounded so shitty, I couldn’t even stand to listen to it. I knew that the bootleg CD, Kiss Demos 1981-1983 wasn’t going to sound terrific, because my neighbor George had a version of this on LP way back in the day. I didn’t know it was going to sound this horrid.

Demos 1981-1983 collects some Kiss and assorted tracks, from some very dubious sources.  It sounds like 12th generation cassettes, complete with music bleeding through.  You can actually hear “Tokyo Road” by Bon Jovi bleeding through on track 7.  Enjoy the tape drop-out and inaudible drums too.  There are some interesting bits here, and some useless ones.

You can divide this CD into three sections.  The first six tracks seem to be Vinnie Vincent demos.  They include “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”, which evolved into two separate songs.  The verses became “And on the 8th Day” by Kiss, from the 1983 album Lick It Up.  The choruses became “Boyz Are Gonna Rock” from Vinnie Vincent Invasion’s debut LP.  These demos reportedly feature Vinnie himself on lead vocals, and he does a fine job of it in fact.  Why did he even need a lead singer?  Another curious track is “Back on the Streets” which Ace Frehley was known to play live before his first Frehley’s Comet album.  In fact the Comet band covered it on the tribute album Return of the Comet, and Vinnie put it on the first Invasion album. Finally there is the track listed on the back as “Your Baby”.  This is actually “Baby O” also from Invasion’s debut.

Moving on from the Vincent tracks, there are a few Kiss demos supposedly from The Elder sessions.  These include titles that are probably made up:  “Heaven”, “The Unknown Force” and “Council of the Elder”.  They are accompanied by an instrumental demo of “A World Without Heroes” and the original Frehley version of “Dark Light”, called “Don’t Run”.  These are actually really cool skeletons of tracks.  The one titled “Unknown Force” is a bass-led instrumental, and it has a funky little guitar part that is insanely nifty, but it’s just one idea that needs to be fleshed out.  Then there is “Heaven” which fans today know better as “Carr Jam” (on Kiss’s Revenge) or “Breakout” (on Frehley’s Comet).  Eric Carr wrote this riff for The Elder sessions and though Kiss didn’t use it, Ace did.  “A World Without Heroes” is an instrumental on which you can barely hear guitars.  Finally there is the track called “Council of the Elder” which could be the best of the lot.  It has a Zeppelin-y beginning reminiscent of things like “Thank You”, before it blasts into a cool riff that I don’t recognize from anywhere else.  Only a small part of the song seems to have been used, in “Only You”.

The third chunk of songs focuses on Lick It Up demos, a boring bunch of inaudible crap, all but one snippet called “You”.  It’s just a few chords and a vocal melody idea that Paul and Vinnie came up with, but it’s cool to hear them harmonize.  It’s possible this track evolved into “A Million to One” as the chords are similar.

The most inexcusable inclusion on this CD is “Young & Wreckless” which claims to be a Lick It Up demo with vocals by Vinnie Vincent.  This inclusion is an error that goes all the way back to the vinyl versions of this bootleg that circulated in the 80s.  The immediately obvious issue is that it’s not Vinnie Vincent singing, it’s Brian Vollmer.  That’s because “Young & Wreckless” is a Helix song, and this track is lifted right from their 1984 album Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge!  Like the rest of the CD, it sounds like an 18th generation cassette copy.

This disc is for die-hards only.  What I’d like to see is an official release of the demo tracks from The Elder period, which are great.  Next box set, boys?

1/5 stars

To be continued…

 

#570: Third Party

By request of J from Resurrection Songs.  If you are familiar with the concept of bootleg CDs, then the idea of third party toys should be easy to assimilate.  For the purpose of this story, I’m going to be speaking only about third party Transformers toys, as they are the only ones in my collection.

GETTING MORE TALE #570: Third Party

What is a third party toy?  Simply put, it is an unauthorized toy designed to look like another toy, without infringing on any copyrights.  Third party toys are big business today.  These independently produced collectibles have limited runs and when they’re out, eBay prices can be prohibitive.  One of the reasons the prices get so high is that third party toys often exceed the quality of the official ones.  They cater to hard core fans looking for specific features and homages.  Stuff that officially produced toys ignore in favour of mass production, safety features and mass appeal.

Third party toys are not to be confused with “KO” or knock-offs.  KO toys originating from China or Korea are complete reproductions of official toys.  Therefore, you can buy a KO of the original Optimus Prime from 1984.  It will come in a KO of the original box with a KO sticker sheet and instructions too.  It’ll be made of die cast and plastic just like the original, and these toys are getting better all the time.  It used to be they would be made with cheap plastic and fall apart immediately.  That happened to me, when I ordered a KO of 1985’s Devastator figure.  First time out of the box, and one of the figures broke.  One part was too tight, the other part was too fragile, and snap.  They are of much higher quality now, and the bonus is that you can get a “brand new” toy of something you always wanted but never had.

To make matters a little more confusing, there are now even KOs of third party figures, and a current popular trend is oversized KOs.  The theory is that bigger is better!  The waters are murky indeed!

There is a certain amount of caution and “buyer beware” to be exercised with third party toys.  Especially with new startup companies, the quality and design can leave a lot to be desired.  One company, Keith’s Fantasy Club (KFC) had early products that were beyond shite.  They initially focused on cassette-bots:  robots that transformed into microcassettes.  I bought one that fell apart out of the box.  Now KFC have worked out the bugs and produce some of the heaviest, highest quality third party toys on the market.  I recently received their “Opticlones”, an original toy based on Transformers Generation 1 Reflector.  This is a set of three robots that combine into a camera.  He has a lot of metal, intricate transformation and dead-on accurate looks to the original cartoon character.  The figure is in “MP” or Masterpiece scale.  He is designed to fit right in with the official Masterpiece Megatron, Optimus Prime, Soundwave and the rest of the line.  Often, third party toys will be designed to interact with the official ones.  Reflector comes with a little miniature version of his camera self that can be held by the official Soundwave.

The early days of third party toys was like the wild wild west, you really had to do your research.  Fortunately, Youtube reviewers like Peaugh made some decisions easy.  A company called Fansproject put out a two-figure add-on kit to go with the official Revenge of the Fallen Bruticus figure, a combiner made of five robots.  Fansproject’s kit flat-out replaced two of the robots with much better ones.  It improved the overall figure greatly by supplying new hands, feet and guns.  Ingeniously, all the numerous accessories had a part in play in all three modes:  robots, vehicles, and combined robot.  Each part was perfectly integrated, and significantly boosted the firepower of the toy.

Bruticus before and after

This was wish fulfillment for fans!  The intricate parts were above and beyond the official Hasbro versions.  There was a new head too, with neck articulation.  Guns could combine into larger guns, parts unfolded into missile launchers…it was great stuff and Fansproject have consistently been on the top of the heap.

One of the reasons companies like Fansproject have lasted so long is that they continually cater to the demands of fans who feel the official products are missing something.  For just about every major Hasbro and Takara release, there is an add-on kit available from a third party company.  New heads are common, because fans are picky enough to want their figure to look like a specific iteration.  Transformers have a 33 year history and characters have undergone many versions.

Often there are multiple third party add-on kits to choose from.  Dr. Wu is one that I have bought from frequently.  Dr. Wu tends to focus on small add-ons, like guns and additional weapons that are missing from the official toy.  If Hasbro and Takara could only release toys that fulfill wishes from the fans from the start, third party companies like Dr. Wu wouldn’t be necessary.  Either due to cost or a desire to have toys less “weaponized”, Hasbro and Takara often omit weapons and accessories that the characters have traditionally wielded.  Enter Dr. Wu and a slew of others.

Even the sticker company Reprolabels/Toyhax have entered the weapons black market.  Reprolabels/Toyhax used to focus strictly on stickers, either to restore or enhance your Transformers.  Now they are including plastic weapons that, once again, Hasbro and Takara have omitted from classic characters.  Toyhax were the only major third party sticker company on the market, and now they’ve gone even further by adding solid add-ons too.  Any serious Transformers fan should visit and make at least one purchase from Toyhax.

Maketoys’ Battle Tanker is a kit to provide weapons and a trailer for Hasbro’s G2 Prime figure, as well as new waist and head.

Similar to add-on kits are upgrade kits.  These require partial disassembly of  your figure to outright replace major components.  This is often done to add articulation, especially in the hands.  Beelzeboss is a third party that sells a very complex kit for the official Combiner Wars Optimus Prime figure.  It’s a hairy process, involving tiny screws, pulling out small metal pins, and replacing entire waist and leg pieces in exchange for new ones.  The upgrade adds height and completely changes the appearance of Prime.  If you’re up to the task, it looks incredible.  Other upgrades are simpler.  A lot of modern Transformers have ball joints and it’s easy to pop off a head and replace it with a third party one that has light-up eyes.

At this point, there are now so many quality third party companies out there fighting for our dollars, that choosing one version to go with can be daunting.  KFC doesn’t have the only version of an MP-scale Reflector out there.  Another fine company called Fans Toys also have one.  Ultimately I preferred KFC’s version of the camera mode, which tipped the scales.  For other characters, especially combiners made of multiple robots, there are many versions, most great.  Choosing one might depend on which one is biggest, or fits in better with your collection.  Youtube reviews are essential.  Benscollectibles is one of the best.  Emgo316 “The freakin’ geek himself”, Peaugh, Balmatrix, Optibotimus, and many more can be counted on for their prompt and thorough reviews.  Another benefit to these reviews is to master the transformation process.  These companies are based out of Asia, and the instructions have no English.  You have to rely on sometimes vague pictures.  Some third party toys are so complex that, like a Rubik’s cube, it’s easy to just give up in frustration.  Maketoys’ Wardog (aka G1 Warpath) is the most difficult toy I own.  These guys will guide you through transforming it.

You might ask yourself, “What if there is a quality issue?  What do I do?”  Most of these companies are very good about providing replacement pieces.  X-Transbots Apollyon is their version of a Masterpiece Megatron.  The heavy battery-powered fusion cannon on his right arm is quite heavy, and the right arm droops.  It won’t hold up.  So X-Transbots provided a tighter replacement piece for the shoulder ball joint.  It’s easy to install, and they began including these replacement shoulders right in the box.  This is one example.

Apollyon on dispaly with official, third party and knock-offs.  Can you tell?

Where can you get third party toys?  Online of course, but I am lucky enough to have a store in town that sells them.  B&K Collectibles in Cambridge is my go-to guy dealer.  If Big Dan doesn’t have it, Big Bad Toy Store and TF Source will.  Now, there are even crowdfunded third party toys!  My buddy Jason just received his Ocular Max Kojin project, one such crowdfunded toy.  There were incentives offered including discounts and free bonus figures, and I regret not jumping on board myself.  (I didn’t because I was waiting for the official Takara version, and now…well, that might have been a mistake.)

Ocular Max Kojin

My biggest third party purchase is happening this summer.  A favourite company, Fans Toys, is releasing their massive version of as Masterpiece scale G1 Omega Supreme.  It is called Aegis Sentinel and is so huge that it is being sold in two separate parts.  Sentinel A is the tank and track component, and it will be available in June.  Sentinel B is out in August, and will have the rocket and base components.  Together, Aegis Sentinel will combine into a 21 1/2″ robot behemoth.   This is a beast that will look amazing in proper scale with Optimus Prime and cohorts.  The official Prime is already a large figure at 9″.  It’s going to be quite cool to have the giant Autobot in proper scale with Optimus!

Then all I have to do is slap some Autobot logo stickers on him, courtesy of Toyhax.  Hasbro/Takara will never release a full sized Masterpiece Omega Supreme figure.  Fortunately the fearless Fans Toys will.  Based on their Iron Dibots line, I know that my Omega will be heavy, strong and very impressive looking.

If you’d like to know more, check out the Youtube reviews of some of the fine folks above, and browse the third party section of Big Bad Toy Store or TF Source.  Even if you never buy a third party transforming robot, you have to admit they’re pretty damn nifty.

Aegis Sentinel and the Iron Dibots by Fans Toys

 

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Lick It Up (1983)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 23:

  Lick It Up (1983 Polygram, 1997 Mercury remaster)

On September 18 1983, Kiss publicly unmasked on MTV.  They each appeared with a name tag at a desk and answered questions from the press.  Their first album with their bare faces on the cover was just released on that day:  Lick It Up.  With two non-original members now in the band, and their fortunes fading, it seemed like the best move commercially and artistically.  According to writer Robert V. Conte, the Kiss press conference was overshadowed by an MTV special on Van Halen, broadcast the same evening.

It would be easy for skeptics to dismiss Kiss’ unmasking as a mere stunt, and in many ways they would be right, but it was not a decision made lightly.  Kiss had legitimate fears about how they could carry on without the makeup and costumes.  They came to realize that they could just continue doing what they do – playing their songs live as they always have.

The new album, Lick It Up, was brilliant. It is “exhibit A” in the case of “Did Vinnie Vincent save Kiss?”  With eight out of ten writing credits, all of them great, it certainly appears that Vinnie gave Lick It Up a swift kick in the afterburner.

The stark white cover featured Kiss in their street clothes.  It was a minimalist cover with the only clue to their identities being Gene’s tongue.  In Japan, a full cover obi retained the band in makeup (including Vinnie) until you opened the package and saw the white cover inside.  This led to an urban legend that Japan actually had a rare makeup cover on their edition of Lick It Up.

Strangely enough, even though Lick It Up was Vinnie’s official debut as a Kiss member, He didn’t play the solo on opening salvo “Exciter”.  This was unknown to fans at the time, but “Exciter” was performed by Rick Derringer after Vinnie couldn’t nail the right vibe in the studio.  It was an ominous warning of things to come.

Otherwise, “Exciter” ushered Kiss into the 1980s with a sound that fit.  It had a chunky guitar chug, and killer melodic chorus, and left the sound of the 70s far behind.  Perhaps most importantly, it had no outside writers.  Nothing on Lick It Up required outside writers now that they had Vinnie in the band.

After the blowout opening of “Exciter”, Gene Simmons grinds it down slow with one of his heaviest tracks to date: “Not For the Innocent”.  Gene adapted his singing style to include a Demon scream, and “Not For the Innocent” features lots of it on the outro.  “Not For the Innocent” built on the heavy Kiss of Creatures of the Night and pushed it heavier.

The first single was the successful and surprisingly simple “Lick It Up”.  It’s basically a textbook guitar chug with verses and a chorus – no solo.  It was enough to go top 40 in the UK and Canada and has since become a concert staple.  In fact it’s the only Lick It Up song to remain in the set beyond the 80s, and it’s a pretty good song for what it is.

Simmons returned to the fore on the frenetic “Young and Wasted”, an example of speedy 80s Kiss keeping up with their metal compatriots.  Fortunately, Vincent provided a kicking riff.  Live, “Young and Wasted” was often given to Eric Carr to sing.  The studio version is the one to beat.  Then it was Paul Stanley’s turn in the driver’s seat with “Gimme More”, keeping things rolling in a non-descript top gear.

One of the most interesting tunes on Lick It Up is the side two opener and second single “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose.”  It was begun as a Zeppelin-y riff by Eric Carr, and finished by all four members – only the second Kiss song ever credited to all four members.  It became, in Eric’s words, a “rock and roll rap song!”  That’s not quite so, though Paul’s talk-singing in the verses evokes the basics of rap.  No worries though; this is one brilliant Kiss song that really deserved more exposure.  One worth buying the album for.

The Simmons-dominated second side of Lick It Up is where most of the treasures are found, but Paul had one more kick at the can.  Paul’s “A Million to One” is an unsung classic.  A defiant Stanley tells an ex that her chances of finding a better lover are “a million to one”.  With such an awesome song backing him, Paul makes a convincing argument.  He hits a homerun with melody and angst.

A trio of Simmons tunes ends Lick It Up as one of Kiss’ heaviest album.  “Fits Like a Glove” is speedy-Kiss again, hyper-caffeinated and playing as fast as they can.  Gene’s barking out the words, chewing them up, spitting them out and taking no prisoners.  Then, he brings it back to a groove on “Dance All Over Your Face”.  It’s a song you might not know, but you should.  Kiss’ deep cuts from the 80s have some rare diamonds, and this is one of them.

The closer was an apocalyptic rocker called “And on the 8th Day” which was based on a Vinnie Vincent demo.  The verses of that demo became “And on the 8th Day”.  The choruses became a later Vinnie Vincent Invasion track called “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”, which we will look at later on.  The two songs share DNA but have little else in common.  The Vincent demo is the kind of speed rocker that dominated Lick It Up.  Meanwhile the Kiss song “And on the 8th Day” has the slow monster plod, a killer riff, and a chorus that goes on for days.  Although it’s never seen the light of a concert stage, it really should have.

Though Vinnie Vincent co-wrote the songs that may or may not have saved Kiss, he was a real problem.  His personality didn’t mesh, and his ego got the better of him.  He couldn’t come to an agreement with Kiss over his contract, and in fact never signed one to become an official Kiss member.  This caused him to be let go at the end of the European Lick It Up tour.

Finding a replacement for Vincent wasn’t easy, and he was re-hired for the American tour, though he still delayed signing a contract.  Issues with Vinnie grew on this tour, as he grabbed more of the spotlight from his bandmates.  Like Ace Frehley before him, Vinnie was given a five minute solo spot, but sometimes Vinnie dragged them out well into overtime.  This caused plenty of tension, especially when he once broke into an impromptu solo leaving the band on stage not sure what to do.  The issue of Vinnie’s contract became a non-issue when he was let go permanently.  The band have had very little good to say about Vinnie Vincent since then, especially when the lawsuits began.  Despite this, Lick It Up was not to be Vinnie’s final collaboration with his former band.

Did Vinnie Vincent save Kiss?  This argument will go on as long as there are Kiss fans to discuss it.  Vinnie certainly did provide Kiss with some grade-A songs, both here and on Creatures of the Night.  However he wasn’t the kind of guitar player they needed, who could play the old stuff authentically and also shred with the new kids.  If Vinnie hadn’t come along, another talented writer would have, and Kiss would have continued.  This doesn’t do anything to discredit Lick It Up, a damn fine “comeback” indeed.

Today’s rating:

5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

3.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  After my scathing review of Creatures of the Night, I wasn’t sure how to approach this Lick It Up Meat’s Slice. I guess I’ll start with March 15, 1984. My buddy Scott Hunter and I went to Maple Leaf Gardens to see Kiss on the Lick it Up tour, with supporting act Accept! This was to be my second Kiss concert, as we were also at Maple Leaf Gardens for the Creatures tour on January 14, 1983. A concert in which we didn’t know until well after that it wasn’t Ace Frehley on guitar…but none other than Vinnie Vincent. Of course Vinnie was on guitar for the Lick it Up tour as well. Great show with openers The Headpins. Before my 15th birthday, I had now seen Kiss twice. I am 47 now and haven’t seen them live since.

Kiss had taken the makeup off between these albums. Years before I remember seeing a People magazine in my grandmother’s bathroom, while taking a shit, that showed Gene Simmons with a bandana over his face just over his nose. Up until now I had not seen any Kiss member without makeup. So there they are on the Lick It Up cover and all I can think is…”Damn…wish they still had makeup at least for that really ugly dude,” (Vinnie).  The title track of the album has become a bit of a Kiss classic and is still a great song. Not a lot of this album is exceptionally great in my opinion, but there are some good gems in there. The best of which I think is “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, which I have always loved and still do. Other than those two songs? The album lies somewhere between Meh and Good for me.

Funny Vinnie story for me though. Many years ago our makeshift band at the time were playing a Christmas assembly at St. David’s High School in Waterloo here. I was standing behind the soundboard as my guitar player was on stage doing a sound check. The sound guy asked my buddy Dave to play a bit to get a starting level. As per usual, Dave went ripping into some heavy metal bullshit soloing. After a few seconds of that I could see the sound guy waving his hands in the air in front of me, and after getting Dave’s attention, says into the microphone at the board, “Okay Vinnie Vincent…Settle down there.”  Always found that kinda defined the Vinnie Vincent Invasion.

Favorite Tracks: “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”, “Lick It Up”

Forgettable Tracks: I don’t know about forgettable, but the rest isn’t that memorable.


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/20

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Europe – Best Ballads (unauthorized Russian release)

EUROPE – Best Ballads (1999 unofficial Russian compilation)

Ah Russian imports!  Those funky and cheaply printed covers, the lack of liner notes or label information…how quaint.  It is clear the Tempest Administration had no collusion with anyone in Russia.  Yet the Russians did hack their database and release Best Ballads anyway, a weird collection of 12 Europe songs and three solo tracks by Joey Tempest.  This CD originated during the period right before Europe’s triumphant reunion album Start From the Dark, so Best Ballads only contains music from the first five Europe discs.

Because it’s unauthorized and the Russians can do whatever they want, why not have both versions of “Open Your Heart” on one CD?  The sweeping 1988 version from Out of this World inaugurates the album, a brilliant version often forgotten in favour of the 1984 original.  What’s the difference?  John Norum played on the 1984 version from Wings of Tomorrow, and the re-recording has his replacement Kee Marcello.  The 1988 version also has more modern keyboards added.  Since both are included, you don’t have to pick a favourite.  We can all agree it truly is one of Europe’s Best Ballads.

What else is present?  The “big one” of course, which would be “Carrie”.  It’s the only track from The Final Countdown, because it was the only hit ballad from that album.  Other crucial Europe ballads:  “Dreamer” (Wings of Tomorrow), “Coast to Coast” and “Tomorrow” (both from Out of this World).  All timeless and flawless ballads.  From their first album (1983’s Europe) are a couple songs I wouldn’t have considered ballads.  In my review, I stated that “Words of Wisdom” has “an acoustic verse [but] that doesn’t make it a ballad!”  The other track, “Return of the King”, is “still pretty epic and wouldn’t be considered wimpy by anyone”.  Do they belong on a CD called Best Ballads?  Who gives a fuck; it’s just a Russian import!

You’ll even find a couple rarities included.  “Sweet Love Child” and “I’ll Cry For You (Acoustic version)” are both B-sides from the Prisoners in Paradise (1991) period.   The title track “Prisoners in Paradise” is also present but again, not really a ballad.  Either way…all the Europe tunes included are fantastic no matter how you classify them.  Each one has at least a foot in ballad territory so it all works out.

But what about those Joey Tempest “bonus tracks”?  Surprisingly good and un-Europe.  “Under the Influence” flies close to adult contemporary levels.  “Lord of the Manner” could have been a hit for Rod Stewart, but that’s not a bad thing!  This is more like soft rock than balladeering.  “Elsewhere” sounds more like a ballad, enhanced with strings and all the accoutrements.  All good songs and worth checking out.

Europe’s Best Ballads is not a bad little CD, but being an unofficial release, it’s difficult to reason out a rating out of 5.  I did the best I could.

/5 ЗВЕЗДЫ

REVIEW: Cinderella – Gold (2006)

CINDERELLA – Gold (2006 Universal)

When a band like Cinderella, who only have four studio albums, get a double CD “best of” compilation, it had better be good.  Fortunately Cinderella’s edition of the Gold series offers value for the money and unreleased live tracks to boot.

All the Cinderella albums are represented, including the criminally underrated Still Climbing album from 1994.  Cinderella did not “go grunge” as so many others did.  As “Bad Attitude Shuffle” indicates, they simply doubled down on their own brand of bluesy hard rock with bite.  From the same album, “Free Wheelin'” and “Talk is Cheap” both show fearless commitment to the genre.  Then the ballad “Through the Rain” also from Still Climbing provides the balance.  Cinderella have successfully employed ballads since day one, because they happen to be quite good at them.

Among their greatest ballads: “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Til It’s Gone)”, “Heartbreak Station”, “Coming Home”, “Wind of Change”, and “Nobody’s Fool”.  Each one of these tracks is worthy to be on this compilation.  Some of their slower material either bordered on blues, or were just flat-out blues songs.  Some are here:  “Long Cold Winter”, “Dead Man’s Road”, and “Sick For the Cure”.  Then there is the soulful “Shelter Me” that is harder to categorize.  But of course Cinderella are best known as a hard rock band, and most of the material falls into that vast category.  Many of these tunes are truly awesome.  “Shake Me” was first to gain attention, with some noting similarities to AC/DC.  “Hot and Bothered”, originally from the Wayne’s World soundtrack, combines the blues and rock in a tasty confection.  “Second Wind” from Long Cold Winter kicks ass, and “Gypsy Road” is here too, albeit in live form.

The live tracks are all credited to a Japanese promo CD called Last Train to Heartbreak Station, which appears to be a completely different thing from their Japanese EP called Live Train to Heartbreak Station.  Rarities are always welcome on a compilation, but one has to wish that the great single “Gypsy Road” was also included in its studio version.  It’s a good enough tune that it wouldn’t be a crime to have two versions on the same CD.

Because of their feminine name and some really bad wardrobe choices, Cinderella was written off by many people without hearing any of their rocking material.  While that is a real shame, Cinderella hasn’t made a new album in 23 years so this would be a good one-stop-shop to get much of their best material.  Augment this baby with a copy of their classic Long Cold Winter CD and you will have enough Cinderella to have a good representation of their best stuff.

4/5 stars