90’s rock

REVIEW: Psycho Circus – Psycho Circus (1992 cassette)

PSYCHO CIRCUS – Psycho Circus (1992 indi cassette EP)

Psycho Circus put out their one and only album in 1993.  They were a talented band who avoided grunge cliches and instead dove into funk-metal and a darker Faith No More sound circa The Real Thing.  The album was split down the middle between the two sides.  Decades later I found an earlier indi cassette, released after they signed with SRO Management, the team behind Rush.

It’s quite clear this band had musical chops.  Opening track “Picky Purple People” is killer.  Faux-horns, massive bass and busy drums are relentless.  This is a goofier side of the band, but well executed.  If the Chili Peppers and Faith No More had a baby, it would sound like “Picky Purple People”.  Next is “Funk in Our Souls”, a track that was re-recorded for the album later.  The cassette version sounds more bass heavy.  It’s more enjoyable for that reason, not to mention the smoking guitar solo.  “Can You Feel It?” was also re-recorded for the album, but this is one of those darker songs that eschew the funk.  Singer Vince Franchi hits unreal notes.  His voice is versatile.  It’s Faith No More without the twisted mind.

The final track didn’t make it onto the CD.  “Psycho Circus” opens with traditional circus music, a full six years before Kiss did the same thing with their own song called “Psycho Circus”.  Maybe they should try suing Kiss?  It would be fun to see!  That’s the only similarity.  This is another funky track, and though the circus music is a bit silly, the chorus rocks.

The tape comes with a nice J-card and full lyrics.  In a way it’s a better listen than the album.  It doesn’t have as many great songs, but it also has less filler.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Tonic – Lemon Parade (1996)

TONIC – Lemon Parade (1996 Polygram)

“If You Could Only See” was both the song the put Tonic on the map, and the one that put the bullet in their career.  If you’re over a certain age, you remember the powerful and tasteful ballad from when it hit the charts in 1997.  I had the album already.  I bought it when it first came out, after reading a glowing review in the local paper and seeing a used copy pop in at the Record Store.  Finding Jack Joseph Puig’s name in the producer credits got my attention too.

Tonic’s debut Lemon Parade is a great sounding CD, thanks to Puig and the richly arranged guitars of Emerson Hart and Jeff Russo.  When the guitars are center stage, all is well.  The opening duo of “Open Up Your Eyes” and “Casual Affair” have the punch that people don’t always associate with Tonic.  These guys could play.  “Casual Affair” in particular has angst and emotion ripping out of those six-strings.  When they get heavy, like on “Wicked Soldier”, there is always something bright and chiming going on with backing guitars.  Check out “Celtic Aggression” for a fine example of their guitar expertise.  Emerson Hart has an emotive voice, whether rocking out or serenading the ballads.

It’s the ballads the people remember, and you have to admit that when you break it down, “If You Could Only See” is a fantastic song.  Layers of chiming, chugging and sliding guitars are right there beneath the core melodies.  On the mandolin-infused “Mountain”, plus “Soldier’s Daughter” and “Lemon Parade”, you can absolutely hear old-tyme southern influences creeping through.  Tonic have traits that sound as if from another era, in many ways.  These are actually quite great songs, largely forgotten because of that one hit.

There are only a few songs that don’t score top marks:  “Thick” (no hooks), “Mr. Golden Deal” & “My Old Man” (both too sleepy).  The rest is pretty solid.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Nuno – Schizophonic (1996)

NUNO – Schizophonic (1996 A&M)

Man, the 1990s were hard on rock bands.  Those that could not survive broke up and fragmented.  Those fragments metamorphosed into new and sometimes interesting configurations.  Image changes, name changes, hair cuts…rock artists did whatever they had to do to make a living.  Even the talented ones.

When Extreme fell apart in 1995, it was obvious that guitarist Nuno Bettencourt wouldn’t just disappear.  Instead he re-emerged on his old label A&M with a 90’s-style stripped down album and a single moniker: “Nuno”.  With Nuno dressed in drag on the front, there was nothing to indicate that this was the same guitar wizard who made jaws drop just six years prior.

Writing, singing and playing virtually everything himself, Nuno’s solo debut Schizophonic was received coldly by some fans.  With 15 short and basic pop rock tracks and ballads but running over an hour in length, Schizophonic is a chore to finish in one listening session.  All the flavours of 90s rock are present:  drony riffs, drum machines, and distorted vocals with a de-emphasis on instrumental finesse.  The first track “Gravity” possesses all of these qualities, but also has Nuno’s knack for melody.  You can all but hear him and Gary Cherone harmonizing on it.  Shame that never happened because this could have been a great Extreme track.  “Gravity” is not bad, but there certainly is a sensation of the potential for more.

“Swollen Princess” is a great track.  Real drums, less distortion, and Nuno’s way with a melody make it a much better recording.  You can see why a guy like Nuno had to try and be more anonymous in the 1990’s.  If this track was on a new band’s album, it could have been a pop punk hit.  Put it on an album by a guy from an 80’s hard rock band, and nobody was going to pay attention.  Some will also enjoy “Crave”, a very very very 1996 rock song with light verses and hard choruses.  Sounds like Nuno was listening to a lot of Weezer.  Great song, but not for everybody.  I also dig the Spacehog-like “Got to Have You”.

“What You Want” will be skipped by many.  It adapts the riff for “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley into something new and noisy but not especially appealing until the mellow chorus.  “Fallen Angels” is all loops and programming; not enough groove.  “2 Weeks In Dizkneelande” is a cool title, exposing a heavy fast grunge-punk-thrash hybrid. Nuno’s drumming on this is quite impressive actually, and his brief guitar solo smokes. The shredding on this album, what little there is of it, is still impressive. It’s just in shorter, more diverse spurts.

Gary Cherone co-wrote a couple tunes. “Pursuit of Happiness” is a nice, folksy song that would have been a good single for Extreme. It has the same campground singalong quality that they had success with before.   “Fine By Me” has a similar singalong quality, in the guise of a pop rock track a-la the 1990s.  Cherone also co-wrote, and sings on “You” which is as close to Extreme as we were going to get at the time.  As a singer, Nuno is fine, but Gary is a real vocalist.  Having them together on “You” is a return to the sound that made them famous.

It’s a bumpy, uneven ride. The worst track is the electronic rock of “Karmalaa”. I know — he should have named it after Kamala, the Ugandan Headhunter.  I can’t help but think of “Karmalaa” as a frantic, poor-grade Adore outtake by the Smashing Pumpkins.  The other contender for worst track is the closer “Severed” which might answer the question, “What would Weezer sound like if they were an electronic band?”  Not good.   “Confrontation” is slow and forgettable, though not without its moments.  “I Wonder” is a tender, thoughtful song, but just not good enough.  There’s some tasty talk box on “Note on the Screen Door” but not enough of a song to go with it.  That’s the problem with Schizophonic overall.  There are instrumental thrills, some great parts and melodies here and there, but not enough cohesive, memorable material.

It’s a hit and miss affair.  I had one customer, Shane, who never trusted my opinion again when I told him it was good.  Buy at your own risk.

3/5 stars

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#475: If You Could Only See (Where are they now?)

A multi-site feature on “Where are they now?” bands from the 1990’s.

Geoff at 1001 Albums – Gin Blossoms
Aaron at KeepsMeAlive – The Refreshments
James at KeepsMeAlive – Crash Test Dummies
Boppin at Boppin’s Blog – The Pursuit of Happiness
Deke at Stick it in Your Ear – Paul Laine

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GETTING MORE TALE #475: If You Could Only See (Where are they now?)

In the 1990’s, folks liked to make fun of all the old, outdated one hit wonders from the 80’s.  Whether the name of your band was Winger or A Flock of Seagulls, few were spared the torment of being teased.  It seemed for a while that the only bands that could be considered relevant were not from the 80’s (except for a couple that people always conveniently forgot actually were from the 80’s — Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails).

Today, we like to look back upon the music of the 90’s and do the same thing.  Those terrible post-grunge bands, the awful flannel, and groups with names like Hootie or Spin Doctors…always ripe for the pickings!  We all do it, don’t we?  It’s not like it’s an accurate reflection of the decade.  Even beyond the “big” bands, there were some good and some great 90’s groups who lacked longevity, even though their album output wasn’t bad at all.

Scan_20160323One such band was Tonic.  “If You Could Only See” was their hit ballad, which of course did nothing to hint at the rock and roll on their album, Lemon Parade.  That song actually took a long time to finally hit.  Heavier singles like “Open Up Your Eyes” and “Casual Affair” preceded it, but obviously did not have the same impact.  So, Tonic became one of those bands closely identified with a ballad and not much else — usually the death knell for a group.

I tweaked onto Tonic early. The Record Store that I managed was opened up in April of ’96. A promo copy of Lemon Parade rolled in shortly after.  We bought it from the customer for $6 (which was pretty much the going rate for a brand new release back then) and put it on the shelves where it sat for a while.  I recognized the album in the Kitchener newspaper’s music section, where they gave it a glowing review. It was produced by Jack Joseph Puig, who also produced my favourite Black Crowes album, amorica.  The review claimed that Tonic were clearly influenced by the sounds of the 70’s rather than the 90’s, so I decided to pop it in the player at work and check it out.

I liked it enough to play it a few times, and eventually buy a copy myself.  I found it to be pleasant rock.  Nothing too hard, but edgy enough.  “Casual Affair” for example has an angry groove to it, though it was certainly not going to challenge the Smashing Pumpkins for heaviness.  It had a spare, real production.  It’s all about guitars; layered in the grand tradition of Page and Hendrix.  When it’s quiet you can hear people breathing while strumming.  The key thing with Tonic, to me, was the musicianship.  I had grown weary of the bands who clearly didn’t give a shit about learning how to play.  Tonic were not one of those bands.  The busy basslines grooved with a variety of guitar sounds (including lots of slide) and a wicked drum sound to form a modern but rootsy whole.  Band leader Emerson Hart was a short-haired dude with big cool mutton chop sideburns.  I liked him immediately.

TONIC_0001In ’97, “If You Could Only See” was released as a single and the band finally saw some serious chart action.  Unfortunately the ballad resonated with the kind of people who tended to buy an album for one song, and not give the rest a real chance.  They started coming back used regularly.  The album sold 1.3 million copies, but how many of those are in people’s homes today?  Their second album Sugar (1999) was miles and away better than Lemon Parade, but failed to make a lasting impact on their careers.  By the time they hooked up with Bob Rock for 2002’s Head on Straight (their third LP), it was too late.  Proving that the Grammy Awards don’t know their elbows from their asses, that lukewarm CD was nominated for two awards.  Like a death knell, the band went on hiatus a short while later.

During their hiatus, the band members worked on music separately but Emerson Hart’s Cigarettes and Gasoline was close enough to Tonic to keep the core sound alive.  It contained some deeply personal music — Hart’s father disappeared (like completely vanished) when he was young.  Still, a solo album is not the same as a band album, so Tonic reformed in 2008.  Their Best of album (2009) contained a number of acoustic and live rarities, and a full album simply called Tonic emerged in 2010.  It continued where they left off, plying Tonic’s signature sound based on rootsy guitars and melodies.  Sugar remains their high water mark, but the band have been relatively quiet since the reunion began…until now.

In March 2016, Tonic announced that for the album’s 20th anniversary, they would be recording an acoustic version of Lemon Parade.  This should be worth checking out, but most importantly we hope a trip to the studio will eventually inspire some brand new Tonic songs!

REVIEW: Live – Throwing Copper (1994)

LIVE – Throwing Copper (1994 Radioactive Records)

20 year ago.  It seems like such a long time, but it’s true: There was an era when the top of the charts were dominated by the likes of Hootie, and Live. Kids today might not know Live, but many of these songs are still radio staples today: “I Alone”, “Lightning Crashes”, “All Over Me” among others.  8 million copies sold, and although you can find it used quite easily today, a lot of people hung onto their copies of Throwing Copper.  I am one.

I began working at the record store in 1994, and I used to tell my customers, “You’ll probably know all these songs.” I said that for a few albums back then, such as Purple by Stone Temple Pilots and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. Not only did Throwing Copper have five hit singles, but virtually every album track was getting played somewhere. That’s how strong this record is.

The legacy of this album is its influence. I will maintain that without Throwing Copper, there would be no Matchbox 20, and certainly no Daughtry. Unfortunately all those bands learned from Live was bombast, and they turned it up to 11. They learned nothing about song craft, nothing about expression, nothing about restraint.

Throwing Copper has bombast in spades. It’s there in Ed’s vocals, but it’s also there in the rhythm guitar parts and the noisy Neil Young-esque solos. It’s there in the rolling bass lines and the thundering drums. But Ed Kowalczyk also knew how to use his voice quietly (“Lightning Crashes”), which amazingly was still as expressive. He names Michael Stipe as a huge influence, and you can hear R.E.M. and even U2 between the grooves.

Personal fave song:  “Shit Towne”.

Production by Jerry Harrison is stunning. The drums are some of the best, most natural sounding drums recorded in the 90’s and the bass is strong without dominating. This CD is in no need of a remastering, it sounds just fine as it is.

It’s kind of a shame that Live never did anything this good again, or with this kind of impact. While I have listened to every Live album since, I never bought any of them. This is the only one I bothered buying, and I liked it so much I bought some of the singles when I could find them. The domestic single for “White, Discussion” has a great acoustic version of “I Alone”.

If you need some 90’s nostalgia, and don’t have this album, you absolutely need it. If you’re too young to remember the 90’s but love bands like Theory of a NickelCreed, then you need to find out what real music sounds like. Throw out your Daughtry discs and pick up Throwing Copper.

5/5 stars

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There is also an unlisted track after “White, Discussion” known as “Horse”.

REVIEW: Tonic – Sugar (1999)

TONIC – Sugar (1999 Universal)

Why did Tonic never make it big? Maybe they didn’t have enough of their own identity, maybe it was the 90’s, maybe it was the “one hit wonder” stigma. Whatever it was, I tweaked onto this band in April of ’96 thanks to a positive review in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record (probably by Robert Reid).  I thought their modern rock take on their classic roots was interesting and full of integrity. Indeed, this band didn’t seem to be about following the flavour of the week, but by reaching back to 70’s rock roots in a modern context.

Sugar, the second album, was the one where it all came together. Not one weak track on the whole bloody CD. The slow songs are sweeter, the hard songs are angrier. Something must have happened to Emerson Hart to really tick him off. Girl problems. From “Knock Down Walls”:  “So don’t tell me that I’ve gone crazy, you’re the one who tried to fucking change me…”  Emmerson also begs the question, “Why do you have to be so fucking mean to me?” on the track “Mean To Me”.

Whatever his inspiration, the anger struck a chord with me. Yet the slow songs like “Waltz With Me” were beautiful, gorgeous, full of love.  It’s not a heavy album, but it rocks and has a level of quality that was often absent in the mainstream rock music of the late 90’s.  Sugar is loaded with layers of electric, slide and acoustic guitars, great drumming, great singing, and relatable lyrics. The songs themselves are packed with variety and quality. Really, this should have been a huge album in 1999, and the biggest hit of Tonic’s career, but they were never trendy. Shame. They deserved more than the one hit.

Highlights:
The whole album, but I especially love “Drag Me Down”, “Mean To Me”, “Knock Down Walls”, “Sugar”, “Future Says Run”, “Waiting For The Light To Change”.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: The Cult – The Cult (1994)

First of a CULT double shot!  Come back tomorrow for another!

CULT_0002THE CULT – The Cult (1994 Universal)

This is an ugly album.  Even though a 1989 MuchMusic interview with Billy Duffy revealed The Cult would most likely not work with Bob Rock again, they did indeed re-team with the Canadian producer on 1994’s The Cult.  Duffy didn’t think the magic of Sonic Temple was something that could be repeated, based on the less than satisfactory (to him) results of working with producer Steve Brown twice.  On The Cult, however, no attempt was made in any way to recapture any sound or era.  This was brand new from the womb of 1994, and sounds very dated to that dark time.

The twisted “Gone”, unorthodox and sparse, was a shock to the system.  Once the listener gets his or her bearings, it’s actually a great fucking song.  Just a little off-kilter; enough to sound as if it’s not being played right.  It’s a whole new side to The Cult.  I wonder how much of this has to do with the new lineup, including bassist Craig Adams (The Sisters of Mercy/The Mission) and drummer Scott Garrett (Dag Nasty).  Ian Astbury’s delivery was also quite different.  Rather than simply howling those patented Astbury melodies, Ian barks, whispers and bellows.

“Coming Down (Drug Tongue)” was the first single, very different from the hits from the past two or three albums.  It had a droning, U2-ish vibe.  It’s quite a good song, but it wasn’t love at first listen.  “Real Grrrl” has a slower sway to it, and there is a lot to like about the song.  It’s interesting to hear Bob Rock using open space a lot more in his production; this is right after the supersaturated Motley Crue album.  Much of the instrumentation is very dry, but then there are Bob Rock trademarks, such as the Scott Humphrey synth on “Real Grrrl.”

Sounding much like a Superunknown (the softer side thereof) outtake, “Black Sun” is dark and quiet.  Ian sings of abuse.  The band back him with the barest of instrumentation, before the Billy Duffy solo around 3:20.  It is impossible to ignore the similarities to all the grunge bands of the time.  The basic, stripped down guitar parts and rhythm-driven arrangements speak of the time.

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There are few standouts on The Cult.  The album is more cerebral than past Cult albums, and is more about its overall direction than individual songs.  The aforementioned tracks are all great, as are a few others.  They include “Star” (also a single) which is a song that was re-worked many times going back to Sonic Temple.  Previously, it had been known as “Tom Petty” and “Star Child”, and can be found in both forms on the expansive Rare Cult box set.  It is one of the few songs that slightly resemble “old Cult”.  “Be Free” was a single (in Canada at least) given away with a case of beer.  How Canadian, eh?  (I sold mine on eBay for $10).  It too is a pretty good song.  Then there’s “Sacred Life”, a somber ballad naming Abbie Hoffman, River Phoenix and Kurt Cobain as painful losses to the world.  Album closer “Saints Are Down” is a powerful epic, and also a standout.

The Cult broke up/went on hiatus after this album.  They reunited in 1999 (with Matt Sorum on drums) and released a new song called “Painted on the Sun” written by Diane Warren (!!) from the Gone in 60 Seconds soundtrack.  This was followed by the excellent Beyond Good and Evil CD, also produced by Bob Rock.  This self-titled departure remained just that, as The Cult went full-bore metal on Beyond Good and Evil.  This album is an experiment that went unrepeated, and that is fine.  I like it for what it is, but I don’t need another.

3/5 stars

Part 314: The Musical Crimes of Mrs. LeBrain

Apologies in advance to my lovely wife.  She really is awesome for letting me do this.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 314: The Musical Crimes of Mrs. LeBrain

As we wind down the Record Store Tales, we get to the point that I met Jen in September 2005.  The funny thing about love is the rose-coloured glasses.  I don’t remember Jen having such bad taste in music.  However, the photographic proof is here.  She recently dug up her old Linkin Park CD wallet (!!!) , inside which are many dirty and scratched CDs.  Yes, Jen never took proper care of her discs either before we met, it’s true.  I can’t even identify some of the filth on her Marilyn Manson CD.  Could be coffee.

So here I am, a single Record Store Guy in the fall of ’05, meeting the love of his life…and these are the CDs in her collection.  Thankfully we shared a love of bands such as The Beatles and The Darkness too.  Even more thankfully, Jen doesn’t listen to Limp Bizkit anymore.  (I mean seriously, look at these!  She even owns the Limp Bizkit CD without Wes Borland!)

In her defense, I found no Nickelback. What I did find may upset you.

REVIEW: Crash Karma – Crash Karma (2010)

CRASH KARMA – Crash Karma (2010 E1 Entertainment)

I wrote a review for this album back in 2010, not so glowing.  For me, the album just sat there.  Even though Crash Karma are made up of members of some of my favourite Canadian bands from the 90’s wave of alterna-hard rock, nothing happened.  I did the review, gave it a middling review and forgot about it.

About six months later, I’ll be damned if the whole thing didn’t just suddenly “click” with me. Rethinking my position, I had to re-write my review.  I think Crash Karma works best after a few listens.

Crash Karma consist of Edwin (ex-I Mother Earth) on lead vocals, guitarist Mike Turner (ex-Our Lady Peace), drummer Jeff Burrows (The Tea Party), and someone named Amir Epstein on bass.  They combine some of the best elements of the bands that spawned them. At first I saw a another faceless post-grunge band rocking past their prime, but now I’m getting it a little more. To the contrary, it sounds like these guys have some ideas to get off their chests. Wracked with Mike Turner’s angular guitar riffage and some mature and pensive lyrics by Edwin, this album rocks. Edwin is singing better than he has in years, pushing the voice to the limits we remember from the heady I Mother Earth prime. Turner is rocking much harder than Our Lady Peace, and much more straightforwardly. Burrows, freed of The Tea Party’s exotic leanings, lays down hard fast fills, recorded expertly by Turner. The result is a collection of songs that combines some of the best elements from the original bands, mixed in with some latter-day Rush.  (Edwin is a veteran of Alex Lifeson’s Victor album.)

Best songs include IME-like “Like A Wave” (the opener), “Awake”, and the furious “Fight”. Another track I begrundingly like is “Lost”, a slow one that sounds a bit too close to Edwin’s solo hit “Alive”. The melodies and vibe are suspiciously alike. However there is no filler on this album. It works better as an album, a single piece, than individual songs. Rather than make a road CD with your favourites on it, this one works as a front-to-back listen.

I still don’t like the cover.  The punk dude makes it look like I’m buying something from fucking Simple Plan or Theory Of a Dead Man.  It’s not like the guys’ faces are all that recognizable, even in Canada. It’s a shame because this album just disappeared. I never heard the tracks on the radio and back in the early 90’s, these guys were the kings of radio. I rarely saw it in the stores, I never saw ads for these guys on tour. It seems that this album will appeal to dudes from the post grunge era, not so much for younger kids.  They did release a second album in 2013, called Rock Musique Deluxe (co-produced by Terry Brown) — but I have not heard it yet.  (Send me a copy, E1, and I’ll be happy to review it!)

Crash Karma:  great musicianship, great songs, very good album.   Check it out.

3.5/5 stars
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REVIEW: Def Leppard – Slang (Deluxe Edition 2014)

NEW RELEASE

DEF LEPPARD – Slang (Deluxe Edition, 2014 Bludgeon Riffola)

This is the second time I’ve reviewed a version of Def Leppard’s ill-fated Slang CD.  As Joe Elliot says in the booklet inside, the band were considering calling it Commercial Suicide, such were the changes in sound.  The mid 90’s was not a kind time for rock bands of Def Leppard’s ilk.  Everybody had to adjust, and Leppard chose to do so by making their sound darker and more organic.  That was fine with me.  I’ve already reviewed Slang; a 4/5 star album in my books.  For your convenience I’ll talk about the original Slang album at the end of this review.  For now I just want to talk about the “Deluxe Edition” and the bonus tracks.

Like many Def Leppard albums before it, Slang produced a number of excellent B-sides. Some are on this CD.  Some are only available on the iTunes version.  I have all the singles anyway, but iTunes also have two exclusive unreleased tracks of their own.  (You can buy these songs separately; you don’t have to buy all of Slang again to get them.)   These two songs are early demos of “All I Want Is Everything” and “Move With Me Slowly,” the latter with Phil singing.   While “Move With Me Slowly” is similar to its incarnation on CD 1, “All I Want Is Everything” is drastically different.  It’s a much more standard “power ballad” at this stage, little resembling the song it would become.  This take is not to be confused with the “first draft” of “All I Want Is Everything” on CD 2, which sounds a lot more like the album counterpart.

That’s one issue with the Deluxe Edition of Slang.  There is a lot of repeat.  Songs you will hear three times in one version or another include “All I Want Is Everything”, “Gift Of Flesh” (previously known as “Black Train”) and “Deliver Me” (previously known as “Anger”).  Especially when you include all the different bonus tracks, the Deluxe can be a hard slog to listen to in entirety.  I had to split it up over two nights.

But it is worth it.  Although some demos barely differ from the album counterparts, some have different lead vocals by Phil or Vivian.  There are some unreleased songs that I have never heard before.  “All On Your Touch” is a nice ballad that was only finished in 2012.  Then there’s Vivian’s funky-Zeppelin song “Move On Up” which is quite adventurous.  Some of the demo versions, such as “Raise Your Love” (an early version of “Slang”) differ quite a bit from the album versions.  Although listening to the Slang Deluxe is a long journey, it’s also a very interesting one in terms of hearing how Def Leppard wrote and recorded it.

SLANG DELUXE_0004Almost all the B-sides for Slang were included on one version or another, except for live B-sides.  Songs included are the old-school sounding “When Saturday Comes,” and the instrumental “Jimmy’s Theme” which are only on the iTunes version.  (See below for complete track listing including all iTunes bonus tracks.)  “Move With Me Slowly” is a bluesy, ballady number that could have been a single in its own right.  Ditto “Can’t Keep Away From the Flame” which could have been an acoustic single.  “Burn Out” and “Worlds Collide” are also B-sides, but these two were not released until 1999 on the singles for “Goodbye”.  Both are heavy, heavy rockers.

Let’s talk about the packaging.  I’ve heard a lot of surprise and complaints when this CD arrived inside a big fat “double” CD case.  That is kind of a surprise; you don’t even see these with 3 CD sets anymore let alone a double.  The booklet inside is nothing to write home about.  There are some words from Joe and lots of live photos, but nothing in the way of specific liner notes.  If you’re wondering where these songs were recorded or released before, info inside is vague.  There are track listings for all the Slang singles, but that only covers part of it.

As our friend the Heavy Metal OverloRd says, this probably doesn’t deserve the title “Deluxe Edition”.  In fact, I asked HMO if he’d like to weigh in on this, since he has some strong opinions about it.  For fun I asked him to comment in Scottish slang:

Def Leppard ur a bunch a fannybaws by the way. They hink the new edition of Slang is a “deluxe edition”. But it isnae. This widnae even huv been deluxe in 1995, never mind noo.

When it turned up I wis pure gutted. I thought the booklet had better be snazzy but it wisnae either. Just a wee hing where Joe tried tae mind stuff fae back in the day. Nae liner notes. Nae lyrics. Nuhin. Just some shite photies. My old copy had two discs, a slimmer case and lyrics. And some photies an aw! Gid wans. One of them oan a bus like they were aw goin doon the toon or somethin. How wis that no deluxe but this is deluxe? If they’d called it a “2CD Edition” that wid huv been awrite but they didnae. This is “deluxe”… cept it isnae. I don’t have a Scooby whit they’re playin at. Eejits.

Well said.  Lastly, I want to leave you with a look at the actual original album, Slang.  Here’s all the pertinent text from my previous review in case you’re too lazy to click the link.  It’s a great album and I’m glad it’s getting a second look today.

SLANG FRONTDEF LEPPARD – Slang (1996)

“Truth?” is a thunderous opener, laden with modern sounding samples and rhythms.  Even better is the hypnotic “Turn to Dust”.  Although it moves slow, it has loads of exotic atmosphere and instrumentation.  Neither of these songs sound like old Def Leppard.  There are major changes, including acoustic drums, darker tones and a noticeable lack of shout-along gang vocals.

It’s still the same spirit though.  There’s an obsessive attention to detail, layers of backing vocals, and tasty choruses.  It’s just 1996’s version of those things.  Listen to the title track, “Slang”, for example.  It doesn’t sound like anything Leppard have done before, but you can see it as “Sugar” a decade later if you like.

“All I Want Is Everything” is another personal favourite, a great ballad but again unlike what Def Leppard has done before.  It has a certain power to it, without being loud and obnoxious.  It has a plaintive quality and a fantastic chorus.

WORK IT OUT 1Next is “Work It Out” , a contribution from “new kid” Vivian Campbell.  It is absolutely loaded with cool guitar squeeks and squonks, no wankery, but a new kind of guitar heroism.  These little adornments are there in the mix waiting to be discovered, under suitably thick drones of rhythm guitars.  I love this song, which really proved to me that Leppard had successfully adapted their sound to the mid-90’s.  A shame it didn’t sell.

Phil’s “Breathe A Sigh” is one that threw a lot of people for a loop.  Either Spin or Rolling Stone (I forget which) compared it to TLC.  Indeed, loops make up a large part of the percussion parts, and the band seem to be trying R&B on for size.  What keeps it Def Leppard are the layers of droney guitars in the back of the mix, and the immaculate vocal choirs.

BREATHE 1 FRONTInterestingly, Slang was stacked with four singles in a row, “Breathe A Sigh” being the final single.  This does not mean the album is out of ammunition.  “Deliver Me” brings back the heavy.  Leppard In Chains?  Def Temple Pilots?  Not one of the best songs, “Deliver Me” at least balances some of the softer material.  Better is “Gift of Flesh”, a driving riff rocker with some slammin’ drums from Rick Allen.  Phil wrote this one.  I bet it would have been smokin’ live if they ever played it.

This fades directly into a lush but quiet ballad called “Blood Runs Cold”.  I could imagine some old-timey fans running away in fear that their nuts would shrivel, at the sound of this one.   I love this song, but I’m not sure it needed to be followed by yet another ballad, “Where Does Love Go When It Dies”.  Although not a single, “Where Does Love Go When It Dies” was recently dusted off by the band as part of their recent acoustic medley.  It is more upbeat than the previous song, and has a folky campfire quality.  It also gives the album a sense of flow: an upturn before the dramatic closer.

“Pearl of Euphoria” is that dramatic closer, which returns the listener to the dark, powerful tones that we began with.  Leppard don’t often reflect a strong Led Zeppelin influence, but you can definitely hear some “Kashmir” here.  Not only is Rick Allen laying down a Bonham-esque groove, but some of the guitar bits flying in and out of the speakers remind me of the sound collage section in “Whole Lotta Love”.  It’s a great closing song.

4/5 stars

iTunes bonus tracks:

1. “Truth?” (Demo Version) – Previously on “Work It Out” CD single.
2. “Work It Out” (Demo Version) – B-Side from “Work It Out” with Viv singing and completely different from the other versions on the Deluxe. Viv referred to it as his “Crowded House” version.
3. “All I Want is Everything” (Demo Version) – Exclusive.
4. “Move With Me Slowly” (1st Draft) – Exclusive.
5. “When Saturday Comes” From the film When Saturday Comes and “All I Want Is Everything” single.
6. “Jimmy’s Theme” From the film When Saturday Comes and “All I Want Is Everything” single.
7. “Cause We Ended as Lovers” (Solo track by Phil)  From the Jeff Beck tribute album Jeffology: A Guitar Chronicle and “All I Want Is Everything” single.
8. “Led Boots” (Solo track by Viv)  From the Jeff Beck tribute album Jeffology: A Guitar Chronicle and “All I Want Is Everything” single.