80’s rock

REVIEW: The Darkness – One Way Ticket to Hell …and Back (2005)

THE DARKNESS – One Way Ticket to Hell… and Back (2005 Atlantic)

It was pins and needles, waiting for the new Darkness album in 2005.  First Mutt Lange was said to be the producer.  Then it was Roy Thomas Baker, who got a test drive on the 2004 remake of “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again”.  With guys like that at the control panel, you knew the Darkness were going to do something epic.  Unfortunately, some people just wanted more of the same Permission To Land style of fun but hard rock.  Those folks didn’t want flutes, strings or gui-boards.

“The new Darkness…sucks,” said one of my bosses when I walked in to work at the Record Store one afternoon in late December.  We had just received our shipment.  “In one song, all he does is sing, ‘I love what you’ve done with your hair,’ over and over again,” complained the boss, who loved raining on my parade.  My opinion of the album was the polar opposite.

There’s little question that the band took it too far.  Justin Hawkins was knee-deep in drugs and an infatuation with the 80s.  One Way Ticket to Hell …And Back is like a busy, manic snapshot of that period in time.  The band fired off in all directions, with pompous and bombastic kitchen-sink production backing them up.  Bassist Frankie Poullain was also out (the usual “creative differences”) and replaced by the uber-talented Richie Edwards.

The over-production is certainly an issue, especially when so many were attracted to the raw sound of the Darkness.  The shrill title track opens with flutes and Gregorian monks, and then Justin takes a snort.  “The first line hit me like a kick in the face. Thought I better have another just in case.”  A nice thick riff is joined to a soaring multi-layered chorus for that classic Darkness formula.  Then the acoustics and a sitar kicks in, because what else do you need on a song about excess?  The coke and money must have been flowing right through that recording studio.  (At least they saved a little money on the sitar.  They didn’t have to hire a player, since Justin could do it.  They did hire a flautist.)

“And I love what you’ve done with your hair!” screams Justin on the song that is (obviously) called “Knockers”.  It’s pure pop rock with piano, keyboards and slide guitar for that necessary excess.  “Is It Just Me?” (a single) strips things down to the basics, because you have to have a few songs like that too.  Then we get hysterical on “Dinner Lady Arms”, a Def Leppard song at heart.  Justin’s soaring high chorus was far beyond the Leps, but Phil Collen could have written that riff.

Permission to Land ended its first side with a ballad (“Love is Only a Feeling”) and so the formula was repeated here.  “Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” is similar but just as good, embellished with strings and piano.  The most epic song, however, is “Hazel Eyes”.  The side two opener boasts full-on bagpipes and an indescribable high-pitched Celtic chorus!  Everything gels.  The pompous overindulgence, and the pure Darkness sound, are mixed to chemical perfection.  It also features that signature Eddie Graham drum fill.  Boom-boom-boom-boom, BAP!

There’s a brief stumble here.  “Bald” is an amusing song, rocking slow and hard, but lacking that je ne sais quoi that could have made it unforgettable.  Then Justin swerves a little too far into pop with the disco-like “Girlfriend“, complete with gui-board solo and the highest notes known to humankind.  A brilliant single it is, but perhaps an example of the Darkness going too far off course on an album that is already overflowing with excess.  Then again, perhaps it’s actually the right song for an album like this.  Where else would you put it?

As we close in on the end, “English Country Garden” fires on with a speedy piano rock jam.  It’s like taking a Queen LP and turning the speed up to 45.  Finally “Blind Man” is the closing ballad to takes things to their logical ends.  You will hear no discernible rock instruments, just the strings and woodwinds of an orchestra, for almost the whole thing.  That was really the end way to end an album this bombastic.  Appropriately, Justin’s vocals are similarly taken to the extreme.

You have to admire The Darkness for just going for it.  They could have done Permission to Land Part II, just by leaving out the excess.  They didn’t.  We knew they were going to go balls to the wall when they were briefly working with Mutt Lange.  You don’t work with Mutt Lange unless you want every note under the microscope.  There are a lot of notes on One Way Ticket, and each one sounds like it was painstakingly created in sterile perfection.  And that’s fine.  That’s one method of getting there.  One Way Ticket was the “experimental” second album, and like any other, it’s both baffling and charismatic in extreme measures.

4.5/5 stars

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#737: Nothing But A Good Time: The VHS Archives

I’m breathless because I found all my VHS tapes.  Every last one of them!

The first one to go in the player is the most important to me.

In 1989, Bob and I made a music video for “Nothing But A Good Time” by Poison for a highschool project.  Until now I’ve only been able to describe it to you.  In Getting More Tale #455: How to Make a Music Video (The Old-Fashioned Way) I went into as much detail as possible into how two kids made a music video.  That was fun but it was disappointing that I couldn’t show you the finished product.

Ladies and Gentlemen, filmed on location in Kitchener (1988 and 1989), here is “Nothing But A Good Time” by Poison, as interpreted by Mike and Bob!  Get a good look at the town and Grand River Collegiate Institute as it was 30 years ago.

God damn I’ve been waiting a long time for this!

 


In 1988-1989, a teenage LeBrain and his buddy Bob were very active in the school film program.  We both took the highschool film course, and loved it.  I remember writing an essay comparing the early and later films of Steven Speilberg, and scoring 98% or 99% on it.  I just loved film and still do today, but Bob and I had our eyes on a different prize.  We wanted to make a music video.

We both had guitars, and another kid in the film club named John had a camera.  A kid from drama class named Dave offered to be the drummer.   We didn’t have any drums (or even sticks), but that’s OK; Journey used the “no drums” thing as a gimmick in their video for “Separate Ways”.  Taking that as inspiration, I got Dave to hit rocks and tables with chopsticks.  We tried to access the drum kit in the school music room but it was booked.  We could still do it, thanks to Journey.  We could make an awesome music video!

It was our vision, so Bob and I got together one Saturday afternoon and spent several hours planning and doing rough storyboards.

 

POISONThe Charlie Awards were film awards for highschool kids, and Bob and I sought to enter our video that year.   It was fall, and we began planning.  The first thing we needed to do was pick a song.  Wanting something upbeat that would allow us to run around a lot and make rock poses, we chose Poison’s “Nothin’ But A Good Time”.  There was only one problem, which was that neither of us owned the album.  So, I conned my dad out of the $10 to buy a copy at A&A Records & Tapes.   I told him it was for a school project, which is true, but I didn’t tell him it was for a non-credit school project.  Nor did I tell him the tape would then become part of my permanent music collection!

Bob and I plotted out what we needed to film.  We wanted an intro similar to what Poison did in their very fun video (although this opening has since been edited out, probably due to “Rock and Roll All Nite” playing in the background of it).  We got an English teacher, Mr. Payette, to help us out.  In the school cafeteria, Bob’s character was sweeping the floor, playing air guitar and lip-synching to Van Halen’s “Jump”.  Then Mr. Payette stormed in!  “I pay you to clean the equipment, not play with it!” he yelled, nailing his part in just one take.  Bob, not used to a nice guy like Mr. Payette yelling, was visibly having trouble keeping a straight face:  but it worked!  In the next shot, we utilized jump-cuts to have Bob’s leather jacket, sunglasses and guitar suddenly appear on him.  And then the song began.

Since we had no idea how to make a music video and synch up the cassette audio afterwards, we had to figure it out as we went.  We wound up shooting the “band” miming the video multiple times in many locations.  Rockway Gardens in Kitchener was one such location.  The school stage was another.  We also did an incredible scene in a Geography class that was just terrific.  We wanted a really angry looking teacher for that one, so we asked the Science teacher Mr. Marrow.  He was a nice guy, but he sure could look mad when he needed to!  For this shot, we taped a Samantha Fox swimsuit poster to one of the geography maps.  Marrow pulled the map down, only to reveal Miss Fox!  He then gave the camera a glare and stormed out.  It was great.  We filmed some guitar solos at the same time.

We spent a few months filming shots for the video, gathering scenes from different locations.  We took some inspiration from the Beatles and had all of us rolling down a hill, jumping around on rocks, me doing several power slides…all kinds of rock and roll.  Still winging it, we figured we would have more than enough great shots when it came time to editing.

We did not expect editing to be easy and it was not.  Not in the least.  At our disposal, we had a state of the art VHS editing suite.  The school board owned it, and each high school got to keep it for a couple weeks a year.  We had access to the suite in early ’89, around March.  Bob and I stayed late at school every day for two weeks trying to get the video done by the deadline.  We also had permission to skip a few classes.  Still figuring things out as we went, we did not realize that the audio synch was a huge problem.

Bob pieced together the editing technique we would use.  He chose a “master take” of us miming on the drummer Dave’s front lawn.  This was a good master to use, because the audio was excellent.  Bob was pumping the song through his car stereo, so we had a nice loud audio track to edit to.  Then, when the video was done, we’d overdub the original song from the Poison cassette onto the video.  Although it was hard work, the video pretty much edited itself.  Bob and I both had plenty of shots we wanted to include, so it was just a matter of inserting them at the appropriate points.  We had seen so many music videos over the years that cutting it was like second nature, once we figured out how to do it.

That’s when we ran into the audio synch issue.

Cut completed, we dubbed in the brand new clean audio direct from the Poison tape.  By about halfway through the song, we started noticing problems.  Even though every shot was perfectly synced in with the “master track”, the clean audio overdub was not.  We struggled and struggled, trying to cue it up differently, and make it synch.  We just couldn’t do it.  By the end of the song, each line of the lyrics was off synch with our lips by at least one line.  We called in the film teacher to help us.  That’s when we learned something that we didn’t know about cassettes.

“Where is the original audio coming from on this video?” she asked.  We explained that Bob had a great car deck, so we used that for our master take.

“That’s the problem then,” she said, telling us something we did not want to hear.  “Car tape decks and regular cassette recorders often run at slightly different speeds,” she explained.  “That’s why your audio is off.  Either the car deck is playing the song fast, or this tape deck here is playing it slow, or both.”

There was nothing we could do with the technology at hand.  We had no way to slightly speed up the cassette so it would match the video.  And we were out of time on the editing suite.  It had to go back, and if we couldn’t change the tape speed then we’d be stuck with a video we couldn’t synch up.

Using what little time we had left, we re-edited the end of the video slightly, to try and bring the words back into sync where they were the most glaring.  We were able to fix some shots, but we were out of time and had to declare the project finished.

Bob and I attended the Charlie awards and saw some really amazing video work.  In particular there was some clay animation that was brilliant, but there were also plenty of videos that were not nearly as good as ours.  We got a special mention, but did not win a Charlie award, because of the audio synch.  It was bittersweet, but Bob and I were both really proud of that video.


 

Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

This is the first Just Listening post for an album I’ve already reviewed in full.  I tackled David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper back in 2013, rating it 4/5 stars.  However a recent conversation with singer/songwriter Derek Kortepeter led me to try to listen with new ears.

It started with Derek’s message to me.  “Unpopular opinion:  Skyscraper is better than Eat ‘Em and Smile,” he said.  “Better songs, better guitar, tons of awesome synth…when you have tracks like ‘Perfect Timing’ and ‘Knucklebones’ how can you go wrong?”  Derek says “Perfect Timing” might be his favourite song on the album.

Derek definitely has some good points.  It’s easily arguable that Skyscraper has better guitars.  Steve Vai was in the co-producer’s chair, and he layered his guitar parts as if he was building one of his own solo albums.  They’re very dense, yet melodically intertwined.  As for the synth, he has a valid observation with some songs like “Skyscraper”.  That song verges on progressive rock; it’s got so much going on, including synth and layered Roth vocals.  However I think the synth was overdone on tracks like “Stand Up“, which doesn’t even have Billy Sheehan on bass.

Skyscraper is an almost absurd album in some respects, with Dave pouring on that “charasma” to the nth degree.  There are so many “woo’s” “wow’s” and “oh’s” that you could make an entire song of just that.  Steve Vai was the star on Skyscraper, and as I said in my original review, how much you like Skyscraper will depend on how much you like Steve Vai.  I like Steve; I think his music and playing is fascinating.  Rock fans often don’t want “fascinating”, they just want the riffs and the choruses.  Eat ‘Em and Smile was much more about the big guitars and choruses, but it’s also just a fabulous record.  Skyscraper is colder sounding by comparison, and often drifts into experimental pop rock excursions.  It also suffers for the lack of Billy Sheehan, who wasn’t given a lot of creative freedom.  Where there should be bass, often you will hear synth.

Sorry Derek, you have made some really great points, and Skyscraper really is a great album.  It’s brave and fun and experimental, but it’s also cold with little bit of filler (“Stand Up”).   I’ll always rate it high…but not as high as Eat ‘Em and Smile.

REVIEW: Honeymoon Suite – The Singles (1989)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

NIAGARA FALLS.

scan_20161110HONEYMOON SUITE – The Singles (1989 Warner)

In the mood for some good old fashioned Canadian AOR rock, but don’t know where to turn?

Easily solved.  Just drive down to Niagara Falls and take a left at Honeymoon Suite.

The Singles compiles all their best tunes from the first three LPs (Honeymoon Suite, The Big Prize, Racing After Midnight).  If you are a native of the Great White North, chances are you have already heard all 12 of these tracks.  Honeymoon Suite have been radio staples ever since their 1984 debut single, “New Girl Now”.  Even when they dropped off the face of the earth for much of the 1990s and 2000s, they got consistent radio play and gigs.  T-Rev and I saw them at Lulu’s in the 1990s when they were supporting a live album.  Even though singer Johnnie Dee seemed a lil’ tipsy they pulled out all the stops for an enjoyable gig.

When Honeymoon Suite kicked it off with “New Girl Now”, they tapped into a rock/new wave hybrid that earned them tons of video play in Canada.  Derry Grehan was (and is) a fine guitarist, certainly one of the most respected in the Great White North.  He gave the band the rock credibility they needed, meanwhile Johnny Dee had the pipes and the heartthrob looks.  The 80s angst of “Burning in Love” landed them another hit, with one foot a little more firmly in the rock arena. Bonus points for the very 80’s chorus echo. “I am still (still! still! still!) a lonely man burning in love,” sings Dee, and you know many ladies swooned.  The sound is not too distant from the Bon Jovi of the same period, burning up the clubs many miles away in New Jersey.


Filmed on location in Niagara Falls Ontario

“Stay in the Light” captures the same vibe, a keyboard-y tension with guitars providing the edge.  A sharp rhythm and indelible chorus keeps “Stay in the Light” burning in your memory long after it ceased playing.  “Wave Babies” is a bit hokey but that hasn’t kept it from airplay 30 years later.

Album #2, The Big Prize, edged their sound further into keyboard pop, which provided more hits but also turned some fans off.  “Feel It Again” maintained the guitars without straying too far, but the ballad anthem “What Does It Take” was a full-on 80s pop ballad.  The band had some serious firepower in the studio control room this time out.  The success of the first album gave them a shot with Bruce Fairbairn, and a young engineer named Bob Rock.  You can hear their impact in the improved sound of the drums, and the sonic clarity overall.  The production values help make “What Does It Take” palatable, but there is too much syrup for some.  “Bad Attitude” has some crunch but it’s overshadowed by those omnipresent keyboards.

Racing After Midnight returned rock to the forefront.  There were a couple lineup changes including on the keyboards.  The captain’s chair was manned this time by veteran Van Halen producer Ted Templeman.  With him they recorded “Lethal Weapon” for the film soundtrack of the same name.  Because it was written by Michael Kamen for a movie, we can forgive Honeymoon Suite for another soft rock ballad.  The guitar laden “Love Changes Everything” was a more proper introduction to the new album.  Derry has a chance to show off his enviable chops at the start, and has a good crunchy sound.  One of Honeymoon Suite’s most memorable choruses made it easy to love.  “Lookin’ Out for Number One” was equally powerful, especially when it comes to Derry Grehan’s impeccable shreddery.

Any good greatest hits album needs new material.  The Singles had two new songs:  big hit “Still Loving You”, and “Long Way”.  For a big anthemic ballad, “Still Loving You” nails it with class.  “Long Way” finishes it with a dark edgy acoustic vibe.  These two tracks do not negate the album title The Singles, because both were released as singles.

Factor in some great liner notes and lots of band photos, and The Singles is a pretty easy purchase to justify.

4/5 stars

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#455: How to Make a Music Video (The Old-Fashioned Way)

GETTING MORE TALE #455: How to Make a Music Video (The Old-Fashioned Way)

In 1988-1989, a teenage LeBrain and his buddy Bob were very active in the school film program.  We both took the highschool film course, and loved it.  I remember writing an essay comparing the early and later films of Steven Speilberg, and scoring 98% or 99% on it.  I just loved film and still do today, but Bob and I had our eyes on a different prize.  We wanted to make a music video.

We both had guitars, and another kid in the film club named John had a camera.  A kid from drama class named Dave offered to be the drummer.   We didn’t have any drums (or even sticks), but that’s OK; Journey used the “no drums” thing as a gimmick in their video for “Separate Ways”.  Taking that as inspiration, I got Dave to hit rocks and tables with chopsticks.  We tried to access the drum kit in the school music room but it was booked.  We could still do it, thanks to Journey.  We could make an awesome music video!

It was our vision, so Bob and I got together one Saturday afternoon and spent several hours planning and doing rough storyboards.

 

POISONThe Charlie Awards were film awards for highschool kids, and Bob and I sought to enter our video that year.   It was fall, and we began planning.  The first thing we needed to do was pick a song.  Wanting something upbeat that would allow us to run around a lot and make rock poses, we chose Poison’s “Nothin’ But A Good Time”.  There was only one problem, which was that neither of us owned the album.  So, I conned my dad out of the $10 to buy a copy at A&A Records & Tapes.   I told him it was for a school project, which is true, but I didn’t tell him it was for a non-credit school project.  Nor did I tell him the tape would then become part of my permanent music collection!

Bob and I plotted out what we needed to film.  We wanted an intro similar to what Poison did in their very fun video (although this opening has since been edited out, probably due to “Rock and Roll All Nite” playing in the background of it).  We got an English teacher, Mr. Payette, to help us out.  In the school cafeteria, Bob’s character was sweeping the floor, playing air guitar and lip-synching to Van Halen’s “Jump”.  Then Mr. Payette stormed in!  “I pay you to clean the equipment, not play with it!” he yelled, nailing his part in just one take.  Bob, not used to a nice guy like Mr. Payette yelling, was visibly having trouble keeping a straight face:  but it worked!  In the next shot, we utilized jump-cuts to have Bob’s leather jacket, sunglasses and guitar suddenly appear on him.  And then the song began.

Since we had no idea how to make a music video and synch up the cassette audio afterwards, we had to figure it out as we went.  We wound up shooting the “band” miming the video multiple times in many locations.  Rockway Gardens in Kitchener was one such location.  The school stage was another.  We also did an incredible scene in a Geography class that was just terrific.  We wanted a really angry looking teacher for that one, so we asked the Science teacher Mr. Marrow.  He was a nice guy, but he sure could look mad when he needed to!  For this shot, we taped a Samantha Fox swimsuit poster to one of the geography maps.  Marrow pulled the map down, only to reveal Miss Fox!  He then gave the camera a glare and stormed out.  It was great.  We filmed some guitar solos at the same time.

We spent a few months filming shots for the video, gathering scenes from different locations.  We took some inspiration from the Beatles and had all of us rolling down a hill, jumping around on rocks, me doing several power slides…all kinds of rock and roll.  Still winging it, we figured we would have more than enough great shots when it came time to editing.

We did not expect editing to be easy and it was not.  Not in the least.  At our disposal, we had a state of the art VHS editing suite.  The school board owned it, and each high school got to keep it for a couple weeks a year.  We had access to the suite in early ’89, around March.  Bob and I stayed late at school every day for two weeks trying to get the video done by the deadline.  We also had permission to skip a few classes.  Still figuring things out as we went, we did not realize that the audio synch was a huge problem.

Bob pieced together the editing technique we would use.  He chose a “master take” of us miming on the drummer Dave’s front lawn.  This was a good master to use, because the audio was excellent.  Bob was pumping the song through his car stereo, so we had a nice loud audio track to edit to.  Then, when the video was done, we’d overdub the original song from the Poison cassette onto the video.  Although it was hard work, the video pretty much edited itself.  Bob and I both had plenty of shots we wanted to include, so it was just a matter of inserting them at the appropriate points.  We had seen so many music videos over the years that cutting it was like second nature, once we figured out how to do it.

That’s when we ran into the audio synch issue.

Cut completed, we dubbed in the brand new clean audio direct from the Poison tape.  By about halfway through the song, we started noticing problems.  Even though every shot was perfectly synced in with the “master track”, the clean audio overdub was not.  We struggled and struggled, trying to cue it up differently, and make it synch.  We just couldn’t do it.  By the end of the song, each line of the lyrics was off synch with our lips by at least one line.  We called in the film teacher to help us.  That’s when we learned something that we didn’t know about cassettes.

“Where is the original audio coming from on this video?” she asked.  We explained that Bob had a great car deck, so we used that for our master take.

“That’s the problem then,” she said, telling us something we did not want to hear.  “Car tape decks and regular cassette recorders often run at slightly different speeds,” she explained.  “That’s why your audio is off.  Either the car deck is playing the song fast, or this tape deck here is playing it slow, or both.”

There was nothing we could do with the technology at hand.  We had no way to slightly speed up the cassette so it would match the video.  And we were out of time on the editing suite.  It had to go back, and if we couldn’t change the tape speed then we’d be stuck with a video we couldn’t synch up.

Using what little time we had left, we re-edited the end of the video slightly, to try and bring the words back into sync where they were the most glaring.  We were able to fix some shots, but we were out of time and had to declare the project finished.

Bob and I attended the Charlie awards and saw some really amazing video work.  In particular there was some clay animation that was brilliant, but there were also plenty of videos that were not nearly as good as ours.  We got a special mention, but did not win a Charlie award, because of the audio synch.  It was bittersweet, but Bob and I were both really proud of that video.

I still am, in fact!  I have it on VHS, and it will always bring back great memories.  I just wish we had a chance to do it again, right!

Scan_20151119

 

Bob really hated having his picture taken!

REVIEW: Eric Carr – Rockology (2000)

ERIC CARR – Rockology (2000 EMI)

Eric Carr, who should by all rights be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his bandmates, is such a tragic loss.  He earned himself a legion of fans after just 10 years in Kiss.  Knowing that Marko Fox is one such fan, I asked him what the other Fox meant to him:

“Being both a Fox and a drummer, I can positively say that Eric Carr’s work on Creatures of the Night remains one of the coolest achievements in rock…If only I could figure out how to master his makeup design…”

All true.  But Eric Carr wasn’t just a drummer. He could play enough guitar and bass to write songs, and he could sing. His voice wasn’t super commercial, but neither is Gene Simmons’.  One reason his loss is painful is because Eric was a virtually untapped well of creativity.  I think every Kiss fan knows that Eric Carr was unhappy that he had so few lead vocals and writing credits on his Kiss albums.

Rockology is a series of demos, some in a near-finished state and some left incomplete. Recorded in the late 80’s, before Eric knew he was sick, these were to be used for cartoons and other miscellaneous projects. Bruce Kulick finished recording some guitar parts and mixed it 10 years later.  He also wrote liner notes explaining origins and intentions for each track.

While there is nothing here that screams “hit single” today, in the late 80’s it would be easy to imagine “Somebody’s Waiting” on the radio with Paul Stanley singing. It would fit right into that Kiss Hot In The Shade or Crazy Nights era. Other songs here are more heavy and riff based, such as the Gene-esque opener “Eyes of Love”. When Eric sings the heavier songs, his voice falls into a Gene-like monster growl. On the ballads, his falsetto echoes Paul Stanley. Most songs here would have made excellent Kiss album tracks. Most are better than the filler that Kiss was padding their albums with in the late 80’s. It is a shame none of these songs were finished by Kiss themselves, as the full band would have made them more special.

Best track: the unfinished “Just Can’t Wait”.  This instrumental has a really catchy guitar part, and I just know if it had been finished with verses and a chorus, it would have been classic.  It was written for Crazy Nights by Eric, Bruce and Adam Mitchell.

Special mention must of course go to Bruce Kulick.  He overdubbed guitar solos for a few of the songs, and I am sure each one came from the heart.  Bruce is a very intelligent musician, but he’s also more passionate than he often gets credit for.  I’m sure for Bruce it was passion rather than money that inspired him here.

Buyer beware, however: These songs are definitely unfinished. They are as polished as possible given some of their rough origins, but in some cases there are no drums, just drum machines. In other cases, there are no lyrics, just scratch vocals. Eric’s talent still shines on every song. His is a life that Kiss fans will continue to mourn.

The Kiss army, especially the lovers of the 80’s, need this as a crucial companion piece to their collections. Everybody else will have a tough time justifying owning it.

Long live the Fox!

3/5 stars

CARR_0003

REVIEW: Van Halen – “Best of Both Worlds” 7″ picture sleeve single

I’ve been hinting at this for a couple weeks now.   No more teasing!  For this is…THE WEEK OF SINGLES!  Each day this week I’ll be bringing you reviews and images of a recent single acquisition.  For the purpose of this week, EPs count as singles.  First up comes one I teased you about in my Overload of Van Vinyl gallery.

 

VAN HALEN – “Best of Both Worlds” (1986 Warner 7″ single)

Craig Fee returned with this single (among many) from Jerry’s Records in Pittsburgh.  It was actually $3, not the $2 on the sticker (no big deal).  About the store itself, Craig says:

Jerry’s Records in Pittsburgh has incredible online reviews for a reason.  When I was last there, Jerry and I chatted about the legendary Peter Dunn’s Vinyl Museum(s) in Toronto.  We laughed about the random samples of Bible verse stamped on every single record sleeve that Peter sold.  It was completely over the top!  Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one who WTF’d the first time I encountered it.  

I asked Craig to pick up any Van Halen singles with picture sleeves that he could find.  Of those, “Best of Both Worlds” has one of the least interesting covers.  No pictures of the band, just a generic looking sketch of a globe and two jet planes.  Not even a proper Van Halen logo to be found.  This lack of anything amusing on the cover is compensated for by the exclusivity of the tracks.

The A-side is a version that I didn’t have before.  It’s a 3:58 edit version of the song, chopping 50 seconds out.  The edit is quite noticeable at the 1:00 mark, where the second verse is chopped out, and then replaced after the chorus.  It’s into the guitar solo from there, and then the final verse.   Missing is the “There’s a picture in a gallery, of a fallen angel looked a lot like you,” verse.

Van Halen never released the ubiquitous Live Without a Net home video on any kind of official audio format.  Some of those songs, such as the live version of “Love Walks In” did make it onto an unofficial CD called In Concert (found at Encore Records in Kitchener).  “Best of Both Worlds” did not make it onto In Concert, but here it is on the B-side.  It’s live in New Haven, complete with the extended intro, bringing the track to over 6 minutes.  The intro features Eddie and Sammy doing a fun call and response bit and I’m glad it wasn’t edited out for the single release.  I’ll always have a fondness for the old Live Without a Net versions.  Back in ’86-88 I didn’t have the money to buy every single album by bands that I liked.  I didn’t have 5150, and Live Without a Net was on TV enabling me to record it.  Therefore I probably know this version of “Best of Both Worlds” better than the 5150 version!  It’s a little tougher, where the album version’s a tad too sterile.

I don’t mind this song.  It’s not a Van Halen classic, but it’s still catchy.  Unlike some of the other singles, it wasn’t keyboard based.  That gave it an edge to my 16 year old self who didn’t like keyboards as much as guitars.  Craig on the other hand had a different reaction to it:

“Best Of Both Worlds” is the song that might’ve been the catalyst for my divorce of Van Hagar as the logical continuation of my favourite band.  The lyrics are absolute fucking cornball nonsense.  Look them up.  You’ll see what I mean.  The Live Without A Net version on the B-side of the single brought me vivid flashbacks of those awful pink sweat pants Eddie wore onstage for the concert video.  Those terrible Sammy and Mike harmonies.  That cheesy walk Mike, Sammy and Ed did onstage.  Sammy’s spray painting of the shoes and the accompanying ad-lib were possibly the lamest shit I’ve ever heard.  Do you think David Lee Roth would’ve had a pair of fucking SHOES thrown onstage?  Hell no!  There’s a reason I don’t own a copy of this myself.

He does have some valid points there.  Thankfully this 7″ single contains just the music, and not those cheeseball visuals!  Why was Eddie so into sweat pants?  I blame Sammy Hagar.  For me, this was a great find and a great way to kick off Singles Week at LeBrain HQ.  Check back tomorrow for another rarity!  (A brand new release in fact.)

4/5 stars

More VAN HALEN at mikeladano.com:

A Different Kind of Truth (2012) – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 2 CD set) – Record Store Tales Part 186: The Van Halen TinVan Halen III (limited edition tin) – “Can’t Stop Loving You” (1995 single tin) – “Right Now” (1992 cassette single)

REVIEW: Triumph – The Sport of Kings (1986)

Part one of a two-part series by request of the mighty DEKE!

TRIUMPH – The Sport of Kings (1986, remastered 2003, TML Entertainment)

And the award for Worst Album Cover of 1986 goes to…Triumph!

Seriously, can anybody tell me what the hell this is supposed to be? Methinks the band just didn’t care anymore, and the music contained herein bears me out.

The Sport Of Kings, following the double live Stageswas a total about-face for Triumph. Starting off with a turgid sequencer riff, the album shifts immediately into “coast” on “Tears In The Rain”. Keyboards, bad sounding drum samples, coupled with a sappy almost guitarless song, and that is the opening track! (I hereby trademark the word “guitarless” as my own creation.)  Post-split, Gil Moore and Mike Levine were pretty adamant in their blaming up Rik Emmett for the change in direction.  Certainly, the early part of Rik’s solo career backs up that claim.

I’ll admit to being into “Somebody’s Out There” at the time, but it is hard to listen to now in the car with the windows down.  Wouldn’t want anybody to see me.  (The remixed version from the recent Greatest Hits Remixed CD is better.)   This song is just pure pop, way further into that direction than anything Bon Jovi was doing at that time.  But not in a good way.

The sad thing is, I really used to dig this album to the point that I wore out my original cassette. Now, on CD, I once every few years.  I’ll claim that I didn’t know better at the time. When I owned this the first time, I’d never heard a single Led Zeppelin studio recording; not one. I had never heard of “Smoke On The Water”, and I’d never heard a Rush album. Perspective changes even if the songs remain the same. The problem is that Sport Of Kings is too pop:  not enough guitar, not enough rock, not enough Triumph, too many keyboards! Hell there are three keyboard players on this album (one being Kitchener’s own Scott Humphrey).

I’m trying to pick out some non-embarrassing highlights. I kind of like “If Only” for the lyrics and chorus.  “Play With the Fire” is Triumph trying to be progressive again, but the song isn’t any good.  I like “Take A Stand”, and I’ll admit to still enjoying “Just One Night” (an old Eric Martin demo, co-written by Martin and Neal Schon). I only wish the video remix was on an album of some kind. The superior original remixed version used in the music video has never been released on any music format that I own.  I’ll have to use Audacity to rip it from a DVD.

This is not the remixed video, unfortunately — they’ve replaced the remix with the album version

I used to enjoy “Don’t Love Anybody Else But Me”, and I think the melody is still OK, but man, those lyrics. Gradeschool stuff. Of course, I was in gradeschool at the time!  To me in 1986, these lyrics were probably pretty profound.  There’s nothing wrong with admitting that your tastes have changed and some music you just don’t dig anymore. In this particular case, the tastes of the entire world have changed. Richard Marx does not make top-ten albums anymore. This album lacks spark of any kind, it’s just a keyboard-ridden embarrassment. If you played anything on this album side by side with “Blinding Light Show” or “It Takes Time”, you’d never guess it was the same three guys.

But it is, and they had only one more “contractual obligation” record left in them after this. The end was nigh.

1.5/5 stars

Come back in a few days, and we will be discussing that very contractual obligation record!

REVIEW: The Darkness – “Girlfriend” 10″ shaped disc

THE DARKNESS – “Girlfriend” (2005 Warner 10″ star-shaped picture disc)

I fuckin’ love this song.  It’s not in any way typical of the music I normally like.  Maybe it’s the expertly arranged backing orchestra.  Maybe it’s Justin Hawkins’ ever more ridiculous falsetto.  Maybe it’s the key-tar solo.  Maybe it’s the sheer joie de vivre of the thing.  Whatever it is, I heartily endorse the album version of this fun, frivolous tribute to the 1980’s.

There were (I think?) four remixes of this single done, and this 10″ contains two of them.  Usually I’m well on record for disliking remixes, and the “Space Cowboy Hard & Fast Remix” is a good example of why.  It’s repetitive, and congested with noise, burying the killer hooks of the song.  One of the only things I like about the remix is that it brings out Richie Edwards’ bass a lot more, helping to humanize its robotic nature.  There’s also a moment at about the 4 minute mark with the orchestra section isolated, and I like that.

The better remix is “The Freelance Hellraiser ‘Screaming Jay Hawkins’ Remix”, whatever the hell that means.  This one featurings a backwards vocal hook, and all the familiar elements rearranged, creating what essentially sounds like an original song.  This one delivers plenty of catchy bits here and there, familiar but presented in new surroundings.  This is what I would call a great remix.

What’s the score, then?  Well, mathematically, this one works out to:

3.333~/5 stars

REVIEW: ZZ Top – Eliminator (Collector’s Edition)

Aaron says this is the first cassette he ever bought! He picked a good ‘un.

ZZ TOP – Eliminator (2008 CD+DVD Collector’s Edition, Warner)

Consider all earlier CD releases “eliminated”!

Say what you will about ZZ Top’s foray into 80’s music.  Using sequencers and compression on the drums wasn’t everybody’s cup ‘o java, but it sure made ZZ Top millionaires.  I like this album. Reverend Billy Gibbons’ guitar tone was so sweet on this album. It’s so smooth and creamy, I just love the tone. This might be my favourite album of his, purely for guitar tone. Just listen to that sweet picking on the album version of “Legs”. Man, how does he get that sound?

The original album has been lovingly remastered, with the original album version of “Legs” restored. However, fear not, the single version is still here as a bonus track. Other bonus tracks include live versions, the most exciting of which is a fiery “I Got The Six”. And hey, if you don’t like the techno sounds of the album, the live tunes give you an idea of what they’re like stripped down to the bone…like a juicy rack of ribs, meat falling right off.  It’s cool how Frank Beard is just as metronomic on the live versions. He’s not a flamboyant drummer, but he’s definitely solid. Just like the Beatles wouldn’t have sounded the same without Ringo, or the Stones without Charlie, Frank is essential to that whole ZZ “Je ne sais quoi?”

I like the whole album, with only a few songs I call filler, such as “Thug”. I always enjoy hearing “Sharp Dressed Man”. I don’t know how all these years later I’m not sick of it, but I’m not. “TV Dinners” always makes me smile. Really, will these guys write about anything?

“I Need You Tonight” is one of those smooth ZZ Top blues.  It’s slick, but unquestionably still blues.  “If I Could Only Flag Her Down” is another blues based standout.  This one’s a bit more of a boogie.  Finally, “Bad Girl” (sung by Dusty Hill) is pure rock and roll.

The DVD is cool.  You get the original music videos and some live TV performances.  If you’re a ZZ Top fan (and for your own happiness, I hope that you are) I think you will enjoy the video stuff. Liner notes are also ample.

5/5 stars.  It’s never too late to pick it up!

Click the pic of the Ford to see yesterday’s gallery of the Monogram ZZ Top Eliminator model kit!

IMG_00000484

 
…and here’s your CD gallery.