Yet Another Coronavirus Video

TV REVIEW: The Mandalorian (2019 Disney+)

“Look outside. Is the world more peaceful since the revolution? I see nothing but death and chaos.” — The Client

THE MANDALORIAN (2019 Disney+ series)

2019 might have been the biggest year ever in the history of the Star Wars franchise.  Not only did the original Saga finally come to an end after 42 years of wondering if it would ever happen, but even the very first Star Wars live action TV series came to be.  This comes a full 15 years after its aborted predecessor, Star Wars Underworld was announced.  Headed up by Jon Favreau, The Mandalorian Season One was a commercial and critical success.

But was it as good as its hype?

Pedro Pascal headlines as the mysterious Mandalorian, a bounty hunter trying to make ends meet about five years after the battle of Endor.  The New Republic rules the roost and times are lean, but the Empire is not gone.  Not yet.  The Imperial Client (Werner Herzog) needs a very important asset.  The Client leads a run down, rag-tag Imperial force in hiding on a backwater world.  Via Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), the Client acquires Mando’s services.  Deliver the package alive, but dead will suffice if necessary.  Bounty hunting, after all, is a complicated profession.

Today in 2020, the entire world knows what came as a tremendous surprise back when the pilot episode first aired.  There are no spoilers.  The asset, though claimed to be 50 years old, is just a child.  An alien child with a familiar green hue and large, pointed ears.  The internet quickly dubbed it “Baby Yoda”.

Through the course of eight episodes, we learn that Mandalorians are almost extinct, “purged” by the Empire like the Jedi were.  Those remaining live in secret.  We also discover that the Child the Empire wants so badly can use the Force; powerfully so.  Instinctively with no training.  The implication here is that Yoda’s species are uniquely strong in the Force.  The only other members of the species that we have seen were on the Jedi council.  The Child can do things that only one Jedi in the entire history of the Saga (Rey) has been shown to do.  What isn’t clear is what the Empire wants with the Child.  The Client is just as happy if it ends up dead.  Dr. Pershing, a scientist under his protection with cloning insignia on his uniform, clearly wants it alive.

The Mandalorian is not the average bounty hunter.  Though hard on the outside, he has a soft spot for “foundlings” (orphans), since he was orphaned by a droid army during the Clone Wars.  This also left him with a strong distrust for droids.

Mando’s quest takes him, in his gleaming pre-Empire ship the Razor Crest, all the way to planet Nostalgia in the Fan Service sector.  Every alien species and reference from Saga and spin-off films will await you.  The animated series are likewise plundered for references and threads to pull.  Don’t ask yourself how the scavenging Jawas managed to spread through the galaxy, ask how they brought a sandcrawler with them.  Also ask how the Mandalorian, who lived through both the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War, has never heard of anything resembling the Force in his life.  Not impossible, true, not impossible.  But certainly unlikely?

To the show’s strength, Mando surrounds himself with allies including the wise Ugnaught Kuill (Nick Nolte) and the former Rebel shock trooper Cara Dune (Gina Carano).  He even reluctantly forms an alliance with bounty hunter droid IG-11 (Taika Waititi).  Each one of these bring out another aspect of Mando’s disguised personality.

Unfortunately, the show’s weaknesses are apparent by the second episode.  It lacks a consistent tone and even the soundtrack is all over the board.  Mando’s path is too twisted by side missions and quests, like a video game biding its time before you’re back to your main story.  A few episodes play out like actual video games, particularly the sixth. Some such as the fourth suffer from substandard acting and poor direction (which came as a surprise, being directed by Bryce Dallas Howard).  While there is nothing low-budget about the Mandalorian, some of the performances are pretty cut-rate.

The meandering season finally returns to form when Mando and the Child encounter the Imperials once again.  And guess what — they’re not as poorly equipped as we were led to believe.  Giancarlo Esposito, who was unforgettable on Breaking Bad as drug kingpin Gus Fring, menaces our heroes one more time as Moff Gideon.  With a squadron of crack Imperial Death Troopers and a custom TIE Fighter, Moff Gideon is willing to sacrifice his own men to get the Child back.

The show is a hit.  “This is the way” is a phrase that has entered our modern lexicon, along with “I have spoken” and “I can bring you in warm or I can bring you in cold.”  To say that season one was successful is an understatement.  Season two is already locked and loaded, bringing in Rosario Dawson to the fold playing former Jedi Ahsoka Tano.  She will likely be the first protagonist on the show to understand who the Child is and what Moff Gideon wants it for.

Hopefully season two will cut down on the obvious fan service.  (Did Bill Burr really have to do a Gungan impression in episode six?)  With one season down, we look forward to a tighter story with fewer episodes where nothing really happens.  And we certainly anticipate what Pedro Pascal will bring to the role next time.  His performance, limited to voice and body language, was without flaw.  The set must have been electric any time he was together with Werner Herzog.

Episode highlights of the season:  four out of of eight great episodes.

  • 1. “The Mandalorian” directed by Dave Filoni
  • 3. “The Sin” by Deborah Chow
  • 7. “The Reckoning” by Deborah Chow
  • 8. “Redemption” by Taika Waititi

The rest don’t bring much to the story and can be skipped with little lost except most of the fan service.

3/5 stars

No Sunday Chuckle

Sorry folks! We live in extraordinary times, and I have not had any Sunday Chuckles to share with you this week. Instead, to create a virtual social gathering spot, I have been live streaming on Facebook. On Friday night I went an hour and 20 minutes, and it was a blast! I was taking questions and they were coming fast and furious.  Participants included your Heavy Metal Overlord, radio host Robert Daniels, and Blaze Bayley expert, Mr. Harrison Kopp.

 

 

 

As this current crisis continues, I will be doing more live streaming. Feel free to join me.

R.I.P. Kenny Rogers

When I was really young, my mom bought my grandpa a copy of Kenny Rogers’ Greatest Hits for Christmas.  He ended up getting two copies.  I liked the song “The Gambler”, so I asked my mom if I could have the extra copy.  Surprised, she gave it to me, and so in my earliest record collection, I had the Flintstones, Star Wars, and Kenny Rogers.

Several years later, after joining Columbia House music club, my mom purchased a new Kenny Rogers hits cassette for the car.  That’s when I discovered “Just Dropped In to See What Condition My Condition Was In”, a song that we first found hilarious and then realized was funky and cool. Lebowski just made it cooler.

Kenny Rogers passed away at age 81 peacefully at home. Known for his many hits like “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, “Lucille”, and his duets with Dolly Parton, country music will always remember Kenny Rogers.

Rest in Peace.

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Ordinary Man (2020 Japanese import)

OZZY OSBOURNE – Ordinary Man (2020 Epic Japanese import)

Expectations were low at LeBrain HQ for a new album by Ozzy Osbourne.  In that regard, Ozzy delivered.  Ordinary Man is an ordinary album.  It is Hard Rock 2020 distilled down to 50 minutes.  Nothing on this album comes close to challenging anything from the first six Ozzy albums.  It’s most comparable to 2001’s Down to Earth, an overly-modern affair put together by suits.

This time out, the suits assembled a band consisting of Duff McKagan (GN’R) on bass, Chad Smith (RHCP) on drums, and Andrew Watt (California Breed) on guitar.   These guys, plus a smattering of strangers, are responsible for the songwriting.  The melodies are very deliberate and calculated rather than natural sounding.  While things with Zakk Wylde were getting stale, at least Zakk tried to keep Ozzy on track.  I’m not sure Ozzy is on track here.  “I’ll make you scream, I’ll make you defecate.”  Who wrote that?

The glossy production covers up some pretty stellar playing.  Watt is fantastic when soloing, but sounds a bit like he’s trying to ape the Zakk vibe.  In the vocals department, you can hear some telltale signs of autotune, which I guess is OK now in 2020.  If Paul Stanley can lipsynch live and get away with it, then Ozzy can autotune his albums.  I suppose.

Some of the better tracks include the ballads, and the surprising “Scary Little Green Men”.  This one features some awesome lickity-licks from Tom Morello.  Slash appears elsewhere, not sounding at all like Slash.  The single “Under the Graveyard” is not bad.  The worst track has to be “It’s a Raid”, possibly an outtake from Blink 182’s Neighborhoods CD.

Elton John sings on one track, and it’s not bad at all, sounding like a classic Ozzy ballad from the 1990s.  I didn’t recognise Reginald Dwight’s voice at first.  It’s deeper these days.  Regarding Post Malone, he’s fine, has a decent voice albeit also autotuned.  I don’t know what the guy sounds like without enhancement, but he sounds like he’s probably a better singer than Ozzy recently.  I could do without his song “Take What You Want”, but at least the Japanese edition of the album ends on a better note.  A blues track called “Darkside Blues” is brief, but actually sounds like something more real, more genuine.

Think about your favourite Ozzy albums.  How often to do you spin Blizzard, Diary, or Tears?  Now think about how often you play Down to Earth, Black Rain, and Scream.  In two years’ time, you’ll be spinning Ordinary Man about as often as Black Rain, but you won’t be getting Wylde.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Loudness – Thunder in the East (1985 US version)

LOUDNESS – Thunder in the Easy (1985 Atco, 2003 Wounded Bird reissue)

1984’s Disillusion album turned some heads, especially when Loudness re-recorded the vocals in English.  Now they were signed to an American label and worked with an American producer (Max freakin’ Norman), ready to break into that lucrative market.  Thunder in the East was their debut to many fans outside Japan.  For the occasion, the band shed some of its more challenging heavy metal arrangements in favour of mainstream rock and metal.

Out of gates first, “Crazy Nights” is a virtual sledgehammer.  The riff is trademarked “heavy metal” and the chorus has the galvanised sheen expected from a song like this.  The lyrics were designed for the concert stage, with lines like “Let me hear you all go wild,” and “Come on get on your feet”.   But the line that confused fans worldwide was the chant “M! Z! A!” after every chorus.   It turns out that “M-Z-A” stands for nothing.  It’s just some filler lyrics that were meant to be replaced in the final version, but left in because it sounded cool.  Fortuitous for Loudness, as it became a bit of a catchphrase.

Regardless, “Crazy Nights” is the one Loudness song you need to get if you only want one Loudness song.  The riff just bites, like a mean old dog.  It’s the “big hit” and deservedly so.  Lots of chances to sing, shout and headbang.  You are the heroes tonight.

A blistering “Like Hell” turns up the temperature in short order, with a fast blitz including melodic verses.  The chorus however is a simple shout:  “Like hell!”  Loudness founder Akira Takasaki is not only a master of the six string (usually compared to Eddie Van Halen) but also a hell of a songwriter (pardon the pun).  His knack for riff and melody resulted in a collection of songs running the gamut from vintage Priest to Dokken.  “Like Hell” could have been on Defenders of the Faith.  More on the old-school Scorpions side of things is “Heavy Chains”, a metal dirge with a foothold in early Maiden territory to boot.  This brilliant track showcases singer Minoru Niihara’s impressive range and power.  A frantic “Get Away” takes its speed and melody from Van Halen, but cranked up to 11.  Takasaki’s multitracked guitar solo is neoclassical nirvana right up Malmsteen Avenue.  Sheer melodic thrills embody “We Could Be Together”, a song Don Dokken could have felt at home singing, and with some licks that sound positively Lynchian.

The second side commenced with “Run For Your Life”, a complex track that sounds at times like a ballad and others like a heavy metal hurdle through a minefield.  It’s the first track that doesn’t have the same structural integrity as the others, though it challenges in other ways.  “Clockwork Toy” is more straightforward, solid riff and chorus, but not as memorable.

Things take a cool, funky turn on “No Way Out”, a very different track but also very addictive.  The guitar playing on tracks like this proved Takasaki could do a lot more than people assumed.  Impressive too is the chugging “The Lines Are Down”, which is located right in Dokken Town.  Except heavier, because make no mistake, Loudness are heavier.

The final track “Never Change Your Mind” is harder to categorize.  Ballady, with light and shade, it’s unique.  It sounds like an anthem at the halfway point…an anthem with guitar divebombs. It’s a dramatic way to end an impressive metal feast.

Since Thunder in the East contains Loudness’ best known hit, it comes highly recommended.  It’s a solid piece of metal history.  It might not be their pinnacle but it’s a damn fine album indeed.

4/5 stars

Another F’n Covid Video

A brief followup to my first Covid-19 statement.

LeBrain’s Covid-19 Message

A humorous but important message regarding the current pandemic.

VHS Archives #96: Brighton Rock play ball with Erica Ehm and Duane Ward (1991)

This video is for the one and only Buried on Mars!

Up to bat:  Erica Ehm (MuchMusic)
Pitcher:  Duane Ward (Toronto Blue Jays)
Catcher:  Gerald McGhee (Brighton Rock)
Umpire:  Greg Fraser (Brighton Rock)

In 1991 Brighton Rock released their third album Love Machine, featuring backing vocals by Duane Ward of the Toronto Blue Jays! Erica Ehm got to play ball and ask questions of all of them. Questions about:

  • Duane’s “theme song” by Billy Joel
  • How Brighton Rock hooked up with Ward
  • What they do when they hang out
  • The first video “Hollywood Shuffle”
  • Life after the Jays

Let’s play ball!

#821: The Lost Chapters – “Top Ten Bad Albums by Great Artists” (2004)

GETTING MORE TALE #821: The Lost Chapters
“Top Ten Bad Albums by Great Artists” (2004)

 

I found this previously unpublished entry in my old Record Store Journal. Not sure how I missed it during Record Store Tales! This came via a challenge from Dan Slessor of Kerrang! magazine. Have a read. A few of these albums would still make my lists today.


Date: 2004/10/03 

Dan asked me to throw together a top 100 crappy albums list, but I just couldn’t do it. Instead he asked for a top 10 bad albums by great artists. I threw one together in about 10 minutes. So while this is not my DEFINITIVE list, it is a fun read.

1. AC/DC – Blow Up Your Video
OK, this is understandable. Malcolm Young was so ill he didn’t do the tour for this record. Angus even suffered exhaustion on this tour. It was just a boring, bluesy, slow AC/DC record with only a couple notable singles. Slow AC/DC just doesn’t cut it, does it?  [Still disappointing, but not an all-time worst today.]

2. Motley Crue – New Tattoo
Even worse than Generation Swine, New Tattoo proved that it was Tommy Lee in fact who made the Motley Crue sound, NOT Vince Neil. Without Tommy, the band produced a piece of less-than-mediocre, soundalike crap. Randy Castillo (RIP) could not save this band, nor could Samantha Maloney. Weak songs, weak production, weak drum and guitar sounds.  [Would still make my list in 2020.]

 3. Black Sabbath – Forbidden
The final Sabbath studio album was recorded in a few weeks, and sounds like it was written in those weeks too. Ernie C (a guitar player from Body Count) produced it like a demo, and brought in Ice T to rap. I’m serious. [Would still make my list in 2020.]

4. KISS – Hot In The Shade
It was Gene & Paul aiming for the goal posts again, and featured a harder rock sound and three great singles. What it also featured were 12 bad songs, and demo-like production. No wonder! Most of the album WAS a demo. [Would still make my list in 2020.]

5. Jimmy Page – Outrider
WOW. Maybe it’s not so bad on the surface, but coming from the greatest rock songwriter ever, this is just sub, sub, SUB standard. Robert Plant lent a hand, for all the good it did.  [Been too long since I’ve listened.]

6. Vince Neil – Carved In Stone
“Rock n’ roll hip-hop record”. That’s all you need to know. [Not significant enough to make my list today.]

7. Guns N’ Roses – The Spaghetti Incident?
A covers album is a tricky deal to start with, and Guns at least picked 12 interesting covers. A 13th “hidden” Charles Manson tune marred the whole thing, as did the lacklustre performance and production. Really, only one song has any spark, and it’s actually a solo track by Duff! [A covers album would not make my list today.]

8. Deep Purple – Abandon
Maybe it’s unfair to include it in this list, but I was colossally disappointed when it came out. The previous record Purpendicular was so good, it felt like 1970 again. Abandon felt like a tired band who had given up trying to write good songs. Nothing could be further from the truth of course, but the results still left me underwhelmed. [Would not make the list today.  I’ve warmed to it since 2004.]

9. Geoff Tate – Geoff Tate
When a singer from a God-like band puts out a solo album, it had better shine. Geoff Tate of Queensryche instead chose to do a dancey, new-agey synth album which completely alienated his fans and may in fact prove to be the nail in his career coffin. [Still pretty awful but not really significant enough to make my list anymore.]

10. Halford – Resurrection
I’m gonna catch hell for this one. I stand by it, however. The lyrics are worse than juvenile (Priest’s are only mildly juvenile) and the songwriting and production are so generic. Thanks a lot, Bob Marlette! You proceeded to wreck so many albums…let’s not forget Alice Cooper’s Brutal Album Planet [Still cheesy but not bad.]


Wanna know this list in 2020?  That’s another story for another day!