90’s rock

REVIEW: Tonic – “If You Could Only See” (1997 CD single)

TONIC – “If You Could Only See” (1997 Polygram CD single)

Tonic’s Lemon Parade was not a bad album at all.  Regardless of the strength of its deep cuts, it is now known for one song: “If You Could Only See”.  It put Tonic on the map, and it also put a 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.

The single for “If You Could Only See” features the well known album version.  Acoustic, but only until the guitars punch in, this is a ballad with crunch and heart.  It’s a true story of an argument that singer Emerson Hart had with his mother, over a woman she did not approve of.  He simply said “If you could only see the way she loves me, maybe you would understand.”  And with that a song was born.  A hit song.

Three live tracks from Amsterdam round out the CD single.  Album opener “Open Up Your Eyes” is not a lightweight live version either, clocking in at over seven minutes.  Guitars drone and cry until they form the song’s main riff.  It’s not an overly heavy live version, just an awesome one where you can hear all the instruments clearly.  It breaks down in the middle, when the band plays at lower volume and gives the guitar space to just jam.  Great tune, and one that deserved more attention.

“Thick” was never one of the album highlights, but the live version is superior.  The vocals aren’t as high pitched, and it’s a more laid back vibe.  Not perfect, but more appealing than the album.  There’s some cool haphazard guitar shenanigans towards the end that are worth checking out.

Shame that “Casual Affair” is the shortest of the live tracks as it kicks the heaviest.  Not as tight or as slamming as the album version, but live versions are what they are.

These are not the greatest live tracks that have ever been put on a single, but certainly a welcome addition to any Tonic collection.  Their use of slide guitars and acoustics instruments separated them slightly from the rest of the competition.  Vintage live by the original lineup, and why not.

3/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Slang (2014 Deluxe edition bonus tracks)

Part Forty-Five of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Slang 2014 Deluxe Edition

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

‘Twas a surprise when 1996’s Slang received the deluxe edition treatment in 2014.  The Viva! Hysteria celebrations were a success, and now another album was getting a little bit of attention, although the word “deluxe” really pushed it.  As the Heavy Metal Overlord once stated:

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.

Exactly.

Deluxe or not, the expanded edition of Slang gave new focus to the cult-status album.  Radically different versions of album tracks, unreleased songs, and works in progress offer a look at an album that really has never received its due credit for what it was.

The Slang deluxe featured a number of bonus tracks, and some iTunes exclusive bonus tracks as well.  Thankfully, the Def Leppard CD Collections box sets include some of these bonus tracks. Today we’ll mostly focus on the ones not included in previous reviews, from the Slang deluxe.

Here is a list of the iTunes bonus tracks, later included on one of the CD Collection box sets.  We’ve discussed these before in more detail.

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. “When Saturday Comes” From the film When Saturday Comes and “All I Want Is Everything” single.

4. “Jimmy’s Theme” From the film When Saturday Comes and “All I Want Is Everything” single.

5. “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.

6. “Led Boots” (Solo track by Viv)  From the Jeff Beck tribute album Jeffology: A Guitar Chronicle and “All I Want Is Everything” single.

There are also two iTunes exclusive bonus tracks that remain exclusive to iTunes.  We’ll get to those.

The Slang deluxe’s first bonus was track 12 on disc one, the buttery “Move With Me Slowly”, the original Japanese bonus track for Slang.  This is a beautifully recorded, raw, smooth, and sexy Def Leppard song.  An incredible song, as we have discussed on the CD Collection Vol. 2.  We’ll say it again:  should have been on the album.  We’ll add:  those guitar solos are so incredible.  Full of feel, organic sounding tone.  Some of the best guitar playing on a Def Leppard song.  Another good one is track 16, the acoustic “Can’t Keep Away From the Flame”, a B-side and Japanese bonus track to the Vault CD.  Another song that deserved a proper place on an album.  “Worlds Collide” is also on this set, a really heavy metal track, originally released on the B-side to “Goodbye” during the Euphoria era.  Heavy, but definitely B-side material.  We also have “Burn Out”.  Great little rocking groover, more like old Def Leppard than the final Slang album.  No loops, no electronic instrumentation, so acoustics.  Just chug, chug, chug and rock and roll.  Joe’s vocal is full of attitude.

Let’s go through all the remaining Slang bonus tracks and have a listen to a largely misunderstood album, as it might have been.

1. “All I Want Is Everything” (Demo) – iTunes only.  A unique version of the song, with the some of the lyrics intact and everything radically different.  The chorus has the final melody, but delivered as a more traditional rock shout.  The melancholy mood of the final version is taking shape, but there is no question that “All I Want Is Everything” was better in its final version.

2. “Turn to Dust” (Phil verse vocal version)  (Track 1, disc two.)  This version of the second Slang album track is similar to the final, though with Phil Collen singing the verses, with Joe on the chorus.  Phil’s raspier voice adds a different, laid back direction.  The backing track is not the final mix though the sitar and some of the effects are in place.  Collen fans will love it.

3. “Raise Your Love” (version of “Slang”)  (Track 2, disc two.)  Choppy rock guitars are the main feature here!  Joe’s opening rap is intact, but the song deviates from there.  The chorus is a very different refrain of Phil singing, “Baby raise your love!”  Cool track for sure, but the final song became something far more unique as we’ve seen.  If you wished “Slang” was a more rocking tune, then you better check out “Raise Your Love”.

4. “All I Want Is Everything” (1st draft) (Track 3, disc two.)  Somehow, the “1st draft” is more complete and closer to the album version than the “demo”.  Were the two versions mislabelled?  This sounds more like a demo, with the other being the first draft.  In fact this is so close to the final album mix, that you might be able to fool your friends.  The guitar solo is missing, as are the big vocal hooks that follow, which is the biggest clue.

5. “Work It Out” (1st draft) (Track 4, disc two.)  Like the above, this is very close to the final album version.  Very different from Vivian Campbell’s demo, one of the aforementioned iTunes bonus tracks.  Joe’s vocal is not the final take, but the backing track sounds almost ready.  The stuttering guitars and droning strings are all there.  You can hear, in the layers of guitar, the skeleton of Viv’s original idea.

6. “Breathe a Sigh” (Feb ’96 rough mix) (Track 5, disc two.)  All the pieces are in the place but the atmosphere isn’t captured yet.  The final mix would nail that R&B crossed with Def Leppard vibe.

7. “Deliver Me” (Feb ’96 rough mix) (Track 6, disc two.)  Again, very close to the final mark.  Just an earlier, less elaborate version of the final album mix.

8. “Black Train” (version of “Gift of Flesh”) (Track 7, disc two.)  The main riff is there.  The verse melodies are there.  The chorus is the major difference, with this one being a shouty affair.

9. “Blood Runs Cold” (Feb ’96 rough mix) (Track 8, disc two.)  Of all the rough mixes, “Blood Runs Cold” is the most indistinguishable from the final track.  The chorus is the most different, with Phil prominently assisting Joe.

10. “Where Does Love Go When It Dies” (1st draft) (Track 9, disc two.)  Has an almost Marillion-like sheen to the opening guitar textures.  These fade and the mix goes purely acoustic.  This excellent song was already in fantastic shape at this stage.  Could have been on the album as-is.

11. “Pearl of Euphoria” (Feb ’96 rough mix) (Track 10, disc two.)  The epic album closer from Slang, in an early mix.  Similar, but the final version sounds busier, which enhances it.  They made some different choices in the middle section of this mix, but the in-your-face guitar is quite delectable.

12. “All on Your Touch” (2012 revisit) (Track 11, disc two.)  A Slang-era track never properly finished until 2012.  Laid back, dark ballad.  Understated, with shades of “Love Bites” in the guitars, but with an explosive hard-edged chorus.  Awesome solo work on this song.

13. “Anger” (“Deliver Me” 1st draft) (Track 12, disc two.)   Different from the above “final mix” which was very close to the album.  This “first draft” has a different chorus:  “Anger, I’m feeling so much anger!”  It fails to deliver the intended punch, and so it is good they revised it and kept working on it.  They obviously knew the chorus was not the needed hook.

14. “Move On Up” (Vivian demo) (Track 13, disc two.)  Completely unreleased song, a Campbell demo.  Neat punchy riff, with a hint of Jimmy Page.  Vivian sings, and his vocal melody is melodic, different and enjoyable.  It’s too bad the guys didn’t take this song further.

15. “Gift of Flesh” (Phil vocal) (Track 14, disc two.)  Another treat for those who love the raspy voice of Phil Collen on lead vocals.  The backing track is not all the way there yet, but Phil’s vocal track provided the blueprint for the final album version.

16. “Move with Me Slowly” (1st draft) – iTunes only.  The buttery smooth “Move With Me Slowly” appears again, this time in a “first draft” version exclusive to iTunes.  Rougher, slightly rawer mix.  The outro goes out longer, lingering like flavours on your tune.

While it was nice to see Slang get a reissue with a wealth a bonus material, it was a shame the packaging didn’t quite rise to the occasion.  With two tracks remaining unreleased in physical form, and not all the material from the era available in a single place, it’s not too late to do a super deluxe.

4/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!
  32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews
  33. Yeah…Nah!  (Record Store Tales)
  34. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge
  35. “C’Mon C’Mon” (picture disc)
  36. Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (DVD)
  37. B.Sides
  38. Yeah! II
  39. Yeah! Live
  40. Mirror Ball: Live & More (Japan bonus track)
  41. iTunes Re-recordings
  42. Viva! Hysteria (CD 1 & DVD)
  43. Viva! Hysteria (CD 2 & bonus features)
  44. Viva! Hysteria (Japanese bonus track)

Next:

46. “Helen Wheels” (from The Art of McCartney)
47. Def Leppard (Deluxe and Japanese versions)

REVIEW: Live – “Heaven” (2003 CD single)

LIVE – “Heaven” (2003 Universal CD single)

If the goal is to review “everything” in the collection, then we must dig deep.  Sometimes you find things that you forgot you owned.  Things you have not listened to in 19 years.  Things you bought “for the collection” because they were cheap (staff discount).  This single would have cost me about two bucks.  Live were a good band once; Throwing Copper was a 90s staple.  I remember giving the Birds of Pray album some store play, and I think it might have been OK but obviously I didn’t feel it enough to buy it or I’d still have it today.

Let’s check out the two track “Heaven” CD single, without remembering a single thing about it.

The opening vocals on “Heaven” are an immediate turn off.  Nasal-y and annoying.  The chorus is pretty good, lots of crunchy guitars, but it almost sounds like a parody of this kind of 90s rock.  The production is excellent though; the drums really slam and the guitars cut through.  This song gets a passing grade though it’s nothing special and the lyrics are kinda irritating.

I don’t need no one, to tell me about Heaven
I look at my daughter, and I believe
I don’t need no proof
When it comes to God and truth
I can see the sunset and I perceive, yeah

I liked when Live used to sing about living in a “Shit Towne”, but this is little too much limburger.  Indeed, they did call the album Birds of Pray….

The B-side is a track called “Forever Might Not Be Long Enough”, and this is the “Egyptian Dreams Mix” of said song.  Hard pass.  The exotic loops that open are cool but then the dance beats kick in.  No idea what the original sounded like and I have to wonder if I have ever played this CD before or if this is the first time.

Back on the shelf!

2/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Ugly Kid Joe – Menace to Sobriety / “Milkman’s Son” single (1995)

UGLY KID JOE – Menace to Sobriety (1995 Polygram)

Let me tell ya folks, this album ain’t bad. Ugly Kid Joe made it hard to take them seriously sometimes, but on their second full-length Menace to Sobriety, they did what most jokey bands eventually do: Get serious. Get heavy. With former Wrathchild America drummer Shannon Larkin replacing original member Mark Davis, perhaps this was inevitable.  If not, co-producer GGGarth made it inevitable.

The first single “Tomorrow’s World” was dark-edged modern metal. No jokes, no wit, just Whit, givin’ ‘er at top lung. The album would pretty much follow suit. It felt like they got one side of their personalities out of their systems for the moment and wanted to do something a little more true to the heart.

An instrumental intro just called “Intro” gets a couple heavy riffs out of way in short order. The new drummer’s thick presence is felt immediately. This intro jumps right into “God”, a heavy wade through the mosh pit, spilling hooks all over the floor in violent celebration. Whitfield Crane sounds more menacing, but he’s still obviously the charismatic frontman. Cool wah-wah inflected solo too, which was one of the only ways you could make guitar solos work in 1995.

When “Tomorrow’s World” first hits, it’s with a beat and a rolling bass line, perfectly on brand for the 90s. After the quietly tense opening verses, Whit and the band rip it wide open with another ferocious riff and chorus. It’s well within Black Sabbath’s backyard (U.S. campus), while keeping a foot in 90s. A perfect mix of integrities.

Tempos get faster on “Clover”, with Whit taking his throat even further. The riffs are still the foundation, this one a little bit Priest-like. If the lyrics to “God” were a little on the nose at times, they’re more interesting in light of this one from “Clover”. “I was tempted, but the apple made me stronger.” Whitfield then screams that he’s here to free us. There’s more going on here than a guy who just hates “everything about you”.

The funky side returns on the speedy “C.U.S.T.” (“Can’t You See Them”).  Whit speed-raps through the impressive verses while the band jams hard underneath, wah-wah now back center stage.  Great tune and in fact better than some of the competition’s songs in this genre at the same time.  There’s a killer, clever percussion break in the middle that differentiates Ugly Kid Joe from the bands who were leading the pack.

“Milkman’s Son” was the single, an electric ballad and rightfully chosen.  It’s not soft, there’s a tasty jagged riff to keep it cool, but this is clearly the one that fills the part of prior Ugly Kid Joe hits such as “Busy Bee”.  Great tune, if a bit doomed.

The grind of a bass groove returns on “Suckerpath”, which seems about to about avoiding the ego and big head of rock stardom.  “Never goin’ down a suckerpath, baby,” insists Whit.  Unlike a lot of the tunes on Menace to Sobriety, “Suckerpath” never really explodes with power the way they have so far.  It remains in this wallowing groove, which rocks but never quite satisfies.

Another ballad:  “Cloudy Skies” has the kind of twang where you could called it “Western Skies”.  Still electric; no acoustic softness to be found, but quite excellent.  Crane seems to have tapped into something heartfelt here, and his singing is excellent.  Sticking to tunes with broad appeal, “Jesus Rode A Harley” is one of the most straight ahead and upbeat tracks on the album.

There’s an AC/DC vibe to the opening of “10/10” but then it goes pure grunge groove.  Suitably dark, impressively heavy, and utilizing tricks like conga and slide.  There’s a direction on this album and “10/10” is right down the middle.  Not an outstanding track overall but one you can headbang along to quite easily.  At the end, Whit tries to go full metal scream and does pretty good. This actually leads pretty well into the Priestly vibes on “V.I.P.”.  Priest circa Hell Bent, with a touch of Halford’s Fight.  The lead vocals are Jon Oliva from Savatage to a tee, whether intentional or not.

Finally, the jokey side emerges on “Oompa”, which is exactly what you think it is.  A heavy metal version of the Oompa Loopma song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  And why not?  Green Jelly were having hits with this kind of song.  It’s only two minutes long and hey…it’s Ugly Kid Joe. And just misdirection.  That’s not how the album’s supposed to end.

After long last, the acoustic guitars come out on the tender closer “Candle Song”.  There’s more than a hint of western twang, but if you wanted a traditional hard rock ballad closer, here you go.  “Candle Song” is excellent way to take the listener down after such intensely heavy rocking.

The band isn’t entirely done with their sense of humour.  Open up the booklet and you will find a rental house bill for damages including a food fight.  Total cost:  $12,896.81.

4/5 stars


UGLY KID JOE – “Milkman’s Son” / “Tomorrow’s World” (1995 Mercury CD single)

This single seems kind of like a double header between “Milkman’s Son” and “Tomorrow’s World” which was the music video getting all the play on MuchMusic at the time.  Two of the best tracks from the album, they are a terrific one-two punch for this CD single.

The bonus tracks are quite cool.  There’s a 1994 version of “God”, which is structurally the same but rougher sounding.  Amazing how close to the final mark it was.  Then there’s a really rough demo of “C.U.S.T.” but still very close to its final form.  Hearing these somewhat flatter sounding early versions after listening to the album is really interesting, since it is so consistently pounding, especially in the bass.

Great single for bonus material and a good score if you can find one.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Urge Overkill – “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” (CD Single)

URGE OVERKILL “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” (1994 CD Single)

“Sister Havana” may have put Nash Kato and Eddie “King” Roeser on the map, but it was their Neil Diamond cover “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” that put them in the ears of almost 10,000,000 Pulp Fiction soundtrack buyers.  Even the Tarantino novice knows that the auteur director has a way and a vision with soundtracks.  Urge Overkill were the beneficiaries of that vision when their 1992 cover (from the Stull EP) was used in one of the most dramatic, well performed and memorable scenes in Pulp Fiction.  You remember it well, don’t you?  Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman), who seems to only own Urge Overkill on a reel to reel tape*, hits “play” and starts singing and dancing around the room.  Meanwhile, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) is having a moment with himself in the bathroom with a monologue about loyalty.  Then Mia finds a baggie of heroin in his coat pocket, mistakes it for coke, and overdoses.  Blood runs down her nose as Nash sings, “Soon, you’ll be a woman”.  Powerful imagery.

It would have made more sense for Neil Diamond to be on the reel to reel tape, but let’s not complain.  Urge Overkill’s cover is brilliant, not deviating far from the original.  As the song sways and cha-chas like Mia Wallace in her mansion, the trio are accompanied by piano, acoustics and percussion.  Kato nails the vibe vocally; his voice is just lower and rougher than Neil Diamond’s.

The single has two B-sides:  One from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack and one from Urge Overkill’s Saturation album (on which “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” does not appear).  “Dropout” from Saturation is an unexpected tune, focused on a synth-y beat, a couple acoustic guitars and a single keyboard hook.  Lead vocals are by drummer Blackie Onassis, accompanied by subtle female backing vocals.  It’s actually a really cool song, difficult to describe adequately.  It’s stripped down and laid back with minimal sound effects and a focus on the way the vocals are layered.  You would not think it was the same band who did the first track!  This cut is slightly edited down at the end from the album version, by 10 seconds.

Finally The Tornadoes close the single with their surf-rock instrumental “Bustin’ Surfboards” from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.  Think back to the film and you’ll remember this music.  Jody, Rosanna Arquette’s piercing-obsessed character, is playing the tune when Travolta comes by to score some drugs from Eric Stoltz.  This is a vintage track, featuring the sound of crashing waves over the surfin’ guitars and whammy bars.

When you think about it, the track listing for this single is actually quite cool.  For the average Pulp Fiction fan, they were getting a second Urge Overkill song that they wouldn’t have come across otherwise.  For the UO fan, they were getting the A-side and a Tornadoes tune from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack that they might dig.  Something for both scenarios.

And yes, before you ask, the “damaged” CD artwork seen below is just part of the artwork.  Like an old worn pulp fiction novel.

4/5 stars

* Teac were still making reel to reel machines in the early 90s.

 

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Euphoria (1999)

Part Twenty-Two of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Euphoria (CD Collection Volume 2 Disc 4) (Originally 1999, 2019 remaster)

This is where we deviate from the norm.  After perhaps oversteering into the 90s with Slang, Def Leppard made a harsh course correction with their next album Euphoria.  An early retail solicitation  emphasized that after the Pyromania and Hysteria, comes the Euphoria.  It was clear where they were going.  The modern organic touch of Slang was dropped like a hot hand grenade!  In its place was an attempt to retread the hits of the past.  Mutt Lange was brought back to help polish up some songs.

Perhaps worst of all, and like Scorpions, Motley Crue and Bon Jovi at the same time, Def Leppard’s image made a big change.  Hair was cut and styled.  Shiny suits and glammy modern clothes were purchased.  While the transition to Slang felt natural, the direction of Euphoria seemed terribly contrived.  It was no secret that Slang was not a hit, and Euphoria sounded like it was crafted to generate hits to multiple formats.

One of Euphoria‘s flaws is its length.  51 minutes isn’t a big deal, but 13 tracks was too many, as we’ll see.

Opener “Demolition Man” has cool stuttering guitars like bands of the 80s employed.  It’s fast, adrenalized, and stacked high with the patented layered backing vocals.  But it feels less like the triumphant return of Leppard and more…unnatural.  To go with the top speed pace of the song, F1 race car driver Damon Hill plays some outro lead guitar on the track.

“Promises” was undoubtedly the centerpierce of the album.  A pretty successful re-write of “Photograph”, it captures the classic Leppard sound and vibe without the contrived feel.  The rich vocals of the chorus are hard to beat, and that signature Leppard guitar lick is easy to love.  The liner notes also give you lead solo credits for you to follow along – Phil or Viv.  This one has both in that order.  It’s a way to learn their individual styles, if you haven’t already!

The first serious dud is “Back in Your Face”, a plastic “Pour Some Sugar” homage with purposefully thin drum samples.  The ballad “Goodbye” is also filler, even though it was selected as a single.  By this time Leppard had accumulated plenty of ballads, and this reeks of a rewrite of “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”.

The worst track on the record could be the Collen/Lange atrocity called “All Night”.  Digital funk just isn’t becoming.  A band like Extreme might have been able to make something of “All Night” if they did it without all the tech-y sounds, but this is a horrible mis-step.

Fortunately, “Paper Sun” is a mid-album redeemer.  A Leppard epic in the tradition of “Gods of Wars” and “White Lightning”, this one is worthy.  Sure it’s nothing new, but it has the vibe of a third song in a trilogy.  Play all three of those tunes in a row for some back chills.

“It’s Only Love” is another unnecessary ballad, which combines an Adrenalize vibe with Slang, but not memorably.  Then we have the embarrassingly titled “21st Century Sha La La La Girl”, a title as bad at Bon Jovi’s “Captain Crash and the Beauty Queen From Mars”.  It’s not a terrible song, though suffers from a plastic production problem.  It’s punchy, and has a singalong quality, but we’re lowering the bar a bit here.  The third ballad “To Be Alive” is the best of the batch.  Quiet and unassuming, it crosses Slang with Adrenalize more successfully.  Viv’s solo is excellent.

Collen’s “Disintegrate” brings us right back to the glory days of High N’ Dry.  Perhaps as close as they could ever get.  The blazing instrumental has definitely “Switch/625” vibes.  It is followed by another above average track called “Guilty”.  It sounds like a cousin to “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)” which isn’t a bad thing.  Mid-tempo Def Leppard, plinking guitars, all good.  Continuing with some decent quality tunes, “Day After Day” has a slower, dramatic Leppard vibe.  The riff sounds vintage.

Closing track “Kings of Oblivion” turns up the tempo one last time for a pretty killer outro.  There’s a hint of the old Joe Elliott scream.  Maybe a smidge of Van Halen.  Rick Allen uses a variety of drum sounds on this album, but he sounds best right here on “Kings of Oblivion”, with a nice loud traditional snare.

A final assessment for Euphoria is difficult to reach.  It’s clear they were out to please old fans that were alienated by Slang.  We’ve argued that the superior Slang was a more creative attempt to adapt to the 1990s.  Euphoria felt like an absolutely commercially motivated attempt to capture “that sound” from the –ia albums, but also with a nudge towards late 90s pop rock.  The modern production does no favours.  But Leppard were unafraid to push further in that direction next time; not folding but going all-in.

Euphoria failed to crack the top ten in America, but “Promises” did hit #1.  It enabled them to go out on a long supporting tour.  But like many bands, the next few years would be rocky in musical direction.

2.5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” (UK single)
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales

Next:  

23. Rarities – Volume Two

#981: I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria

Part Twenty-One of the Def Leppard Review Series

RECORD STORE TALES #981:  I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria

Without sounding like a broken record, the 90s were a rough time for rock and roll bands.  Those who suffered did what they had to do to survive.  When that didn’t work out, they’d revert to formula.  In the case of some high-profile groups, the moves were quite obvious attempts to recreate the past.  Take, for example, Bon Jovi.

1995’s These Days was a daring attempt to do something different, a little more laid back and organic.  The result was, with the benefit of hindsight, one of the band’s best records.  But it sold half as many copies as 1993’s Keep the Faith, which sold less than a third of what New Jersey sold, which sold just over half of what Slippery When Wet sold.  The law of diminishing returns.  So what did they do?  The wrote a song called “It’s My Life” which was just “Livin’ On A Prayer 2000” no matter what they admitted to.  Back was the talk box, Tommy, and Gina.  It was embarrassing.  The fans didn’t mind though, and they ate it up like crack-covered ice cream.

Hell, even Motley Crue got back with Bob Rock for a couple new throwback tunes.  They stepped back from the cliff of Generation Swine and scored some minor redemption before Tommy Lee fucked off.

In 1999, Def Leppard were faced with a similar situation.  Like Motley Crue, they leaned into the 1990s on Slang.  The difference was that Def Leppard made a coherent disc that felt natural, unlike the slop that Nikki Sixx fed us.  Instead of selling half of what the triple-platinum Adrenalize sold, Slang only mustered up gold in the US.  Alarm bells were ringing and something had to be done.  And like Bon Jovi at the same time, Leppard too attempted to recreate the past.

A certain Robert John “Mutt” Lange was summoned, and one of the resultant tracks called “Promises” sounds a dead ringer for “Photograph”.  And then, this artwork was released.

“After Pyromania and Hysteria comes…Euphoria.”

My buddy T-Rev was working at the Cambridge location of the Record Store.  He received the press release for Euphoria featuring that slogan in his morning shipment of CDs.  He laughed and gave me a ring to tell me.

Another “-ia” album.  For fucksakes…

I can’t recall my exact words, but I do remember my exact feeling:  “I got a bad feeling about this.”

It was as if the last decade didn’t happen.  Let’s forget the last couple records, no matter how good they may be.  And the cover art?  The dominant blue recalled the past hits, but the return of the classic logo was a clear message.  You’re going to get the Def Leppard you remember.  You’re going to get the Def Leppard album that should have followed Hysteria.  That’s the message here.

While the majority of fans were in love with the idea, I had reservations.  It seemed contrived.  Slang deserved better than to be buried like this.  In fact this move really does a disservice to the whole Slang era.  That album was a brave attempt to try some new hats on.  This looked like a timid step back into safe territory, afraid to do anything but.

Is that what happened?  Find out next time.

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” (UK single)
  20. Slang

Next:  

22. Euphoria

 

 

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Slang (1996)

Part Twenty of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original ReviewSlang 2 CD edition (1996)

DEF LEPPARD – Slang (CD Collection Volume 2 Disc 3) (Originally 1996, 2019 remaster)

“Too alternative!”, they moaned.  “Doesn’t sound like old Def Leppard!”, they whined.  But what choice did Def Leppard have?

The world of 1996 was not the same as 1992, when Def Leppard re-emerged after a long hiatus with Adrenalize.  Leppard experimented wildly with their music on 1987’s Hysteria, but tended to stick to formula on Adrenalize.  After the hardship of losing Steve Clark, we can forgive them for not trying to re-invent the wheel a second time.  But by 1996, grunge had passed and the decade continued to move further away from classic hard rock and heavy metal.  It was overdue for Leppard to re-invent themselves one more time.  They owed it to themselves.  But it was actually more natural that that.

Vivian Campbell was on board for his first real album with Def Leppard, only to find they were “moving the goalposts”!  After making two painstakingly produced albums, it was time for change.  The band desired a fresh start with Campbell, using no holdover music from the past.  They wanted a more organic album, and part of that was Rick Allen incorporating acoustic drums back into his setup.  They were going to try and express themselves a bit more, and take some serious chances.  To hell with the critics, expectations, and old ways of doing things.

Regardless of how it sold, the final album Slang became a cult favourite for good reason.

Opening on a fade, the new Leppard begins different from any in the past.  “Truth?” is a slow, exotic groove with background samples and loops.  Not a stretch from “Rocket” in a technical sense, but completely different results.  Deeply distorted chorus vocals are a striking shift from the past, but are just as fetching.  An middle-eastern sounding solo nails the vibe, and drum loops offer more modern twists.  The mix sounds just as dense as anything you hear on Hysteria, but with completely different elements.  And fortunately Leppard haven’t forgotten how to write hooks, even if in a darker tone.

“Turn to Dust” takes the scene to India, with sitar and tabla.  Tempos are still slow and deliberate.  “Turn to Dust” has a bit more of the Def Leppard sound on the chorus, with Phil Collen singing backup, but the lyrics sure are different:  “Sentence rape me, segregate me” is a stark turn from “Let’s Get Rocked”.  But everybody was pissed off in the 90s.  This one drones on with ample musical genius towards the end.  Lots of strings and exotic instrumentation, backed by the grind of electric guitars.

The title track “Slang” is an immediate and fun change of pace.  With a modern sound, it could have been a “Pour Some Sugar” for the 90s had it caught on.  Beats and samples mixed in with an irresistible chorus make for a catchy concoction.  It’s really the only upbeat song on the album, but a treat it is.

The ballad “All I Want Is Everything” was briefly previewed on the VHS release Video Archives, in an October 1995 acoustic performance at the Wapentake Club in Sheffield.  That acoustic rendition did not really hint at the dark ballad on Slang.  A simple but effective droning guitar part forms the backing, but the luscious Leppard melodies are delivered vocally and with guitar flourishes.  It’s a different kind of ballad for Def Leppard, but no less stirring.  It was a single, but underperformed compared to past Leppard hits.

Vivian’s “Work It Out” sounded more like a Crowded House song in demo form, poppy and quirky.  Once Leppard wrestled with it, a different kind of track emerged.  Duskier, heavier, with really dominating drums and surprisingly slinky bass from Rick “Sav” Savage.  The final Leppard version is certainly superior to Viv’s demo in the long run though both have merit.  “Work It Out” was another Slang single that should have done better.

One of the biggest album surprises (and perhaps most divisive) is the supple ballad “Breathe A Sigh”.  Gentle tic-tic-tic R&B drum samples back a song that is mostly vocal with minimal instrumentation.  Drums, piano, and understated guitar melodies should have guided this to a hit spot on the charts.

Flip the record for a darker turn of events.  “Deliver Me” is more straight-ahead rock, but certainly not upbeat.  This is heavy, foreboding and dangerous Def Leppard.  Again, not without their knack for a melody.  The quiet/loud dynamic is very 90s, but that doesn’t make it bad.  The fact that Leppard always strove for a melodic foundation keeps it from falling into the morass of soundalike 90s rock.

“Gift Of Flesh” is another surprising twist.  Blasting fast and loud, this track is the most old-school, but still dark like a cloudy sky.  With lyrics like “scorch the Earth and torch the sky,” this is a more apocalyptic kind of rocker for the Leppard we were used to.  But it does rock, and hard!  You could bang your head to it even if you can’t rock rock ’til you drop.

Was Slang too ballady?  “Blood Runs Cold” is the third such song, followed by a fourth called “Where Does Love Go When It Dies”.  Joe Elliott really nails a killer vocal on “Blood Runs Cold”, which is very light and airey.  “Where Does Love Go When It Dies” lightens the skies further.  Acoustic strumming is a more traditional sound for Leppard.  It’s a little more like the acoustic Adrenalize B-sides, with a minimal arrangement.

The last few Leppard studio albums had “album epics”:  “Gods of War” on Hysteria and “White Lightning” on AdrenalizeSlang ends on an epic called “Pearl of Euphoria”.  There’s a lot going on in this track, with guitar overdubs and drones.  It’s a very Zeppelin-y song, but done in a modern way.  It draws from the same worldly wells that Zeppelin often explored.  Its fade-out alone is a minute long!

Unfortunately one of Slang‘s strengths, its adherence to the darker side of pop rock and hard rock, is also the factor that keeps it from hitting 5/5 stars like Hysteria.  It doesn’t necessarily make you feel as great after hearing it.  It does feel like you’ve heard something deeper and more profound, but not something that brightens your soul.

4/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” (UK single)

Next:

21.  I Got a Bad Feeling About This:  Euphoria – Record Store Tales

REVIEW: Loudness – Buddha Rock 1997-1999 Music Clips DVD

Part Four of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999

LOUDNESS – Buddha Rock 1997-1999 Music Clips (1999 Rooms DVD, from the box set Buddha Rock 1997-1999)

The complete Buddha Rock 1997-1999 set comes with the three Loudness albums from that brief era, and also a bonus DVD with the accompanying music videos.  On the back some are listed as “full size” and others “short size” — let’s find out what that means and what Loudness videos looked like in the late 90s.

“Ghetto Machine” opens, with Loudness including a shaven-headed Akira Takasaki performing in a darkened room.  The added static interferance reminds us we are in the 90s when bands like Loudness didn’t have much budget and covered it up with tricks like this.  Masaki appears cold with his big fur hat, but it’s fun to see this version of Loudness on video.  “Evil Ecstasy” has cleaner production, but this is one of the “short size” videos — it’s only about 90 seconds of a pretty cool song.  Too bad because this video is much more watchable.  The funkier “San Francisco” is also one of these short versions, as is “Creatures”.  All of these videos appear to be taped at the same time.  The section of “Creatures” used focuses on the guitar solo.  That’s cool at least.  “Katmandu Fly” is the “full size”, but it’s also only a minute-long instrumental so to call it “full size” is kinda cheatin’.

Moving on from the Ghetto Machine album, all the rest of the videos are “full size”.  From Dragon, it’s two of the best tracks:  “Dogshit” and “Crazy Go Go”.  This time Loudness are playing in a huge, uber-clean garage.  As “Dogshit” demonstrates, Akira was now into his “fly sunglasses” phase.  It looks like the band are having fun here, which makes it an enjoyable watch.  Great song too.  “Crazy Go Go” is more straight ahead, with lights and struttin’ stage moves instead of goofing around.

Apparently they only did one video for the final Masaki album, Engine.  “Black Biohazard” is that song; not a tune that impressed on prior listens.  (Also strange how “Black Biohazard” is the only song not in capital letters on the cover.)  This video is made from grainy outdoor concert festival footage.  From this we can ascertain that live, Masaki was a capable frontman with a cool rock star stage persona.

At 25 minutes, this DVD can not be considered more than a bonus for buying the Buddha Rock box set.  It is not the main draw.  The fundamental reason to get Buddha Rock is to acquire the three albums Ghetto Machine, Dragon and Engine in one place with ease.  As a bonus feature, the Music Clips disc does what it does.  “Dogshit” is the best video by a wide margin, and it remains unclear why “short size” videos were included, unless that’s all that was ever made for those particular songs?

The Buddha Rock box set also comes with photos, complete lyrics (in English) and liner notes (in Japanese).  It’s the obvious way to go to cover those years, an era which ended with the Engine album in 1999.  At Masaki’s urging, Akira Takasaki reunited the original Loudness lineup and released Spiritual Canoe with Minoru Niihara at the microphone.  That put an end to the Masaki Yamada era, which started with member turnover before solidifying on these three albums with Naoto Shibata and Hirotsugo Homma on bass and drums respectively.  Great musicians both who helped Loudness explore new and weird directions at the end of the 90s.

Music Clips DVD:  3/5 stars

Buddha Rock 1997-1999 box set:  3.5/5 stars  (the sum of the whole is greater than its parts)

REVIEW: Loudness – Engine (1999)

Part Three of Four – Buddha Rock 1997-1999

 

LOUDNESS – Engine (1999 Rooms, from the box set Buddha Rock 1997-1999)

The Masaki Yamada era of Loudness ended with the 1990s.  Masaki felt (correctly) that Loudness would be best off reuniting with its original lineup in the year 2000, and so Engine is the last album to feature Yamada, drummer Hirotsugo Homma and bassist Naoto Shibata.

As with the previous two Loudness albums (also included in Buddha Rock), Akira Takasaki’s penchant for experimentation is at the forefront.  “Soul Tone”, the opening instrumental, makes that much clear with its atypical exotic guitar drones in place of a song.  Then Akira cranks up the string harmonics on the bizarrely rocking “Bug Killer”, a 90s song if there ever was one.  He must have been listening to Rage Against the Machine.  The track descends into guitar mayhem by the end.  It’s incredible to think how Akira transitioned from an 80s guitar hero compared to Eddie and Yngwie, to a 90s master borrowing from Morello and the Middle East.

“Black Biohazard” chugs unremarkably just like much of the 90s did.  Leaning on a groove, “Twist of Chain” has certain 80s delicious metal elements hidden under the distortion.  It’s the kind of song that makes these lost albums really worth hunting down.  Similarly, “Bad Date/Nothing I Can Do” buries its hooks under vocal distortion.  Unfortunate that they didn’t just let it loose.  “Apocalypse” fails to build on this with a forgettable alterna-dirge.  “Ace in the Hole” has more going on, with a menacing far East vibe.  The guitars are like razor blades.

 

A sudden left turn on the partly acoustic “Sweet Dreams” almost sounds like a great lost Stone Temple Pilots song from some unknown era.  “Asylum” focuses on the bass, as a lot of the album does, choosing a heavy psychedelic feel.  A long guitar solo section is the track’s highlight.

Without warning, the oddly titled “Burning Eye Balls” goes to acoustic exotic Zeppelin territory.  This refreshing change is followed by “Junk His Head”, a pretty straightforward headbanger that does away with the distorted vocals.  Hirotsugo Homma lays down a killer beat on this one.   The penultimate instrumental track “2008 (Candra 月天)” doesn’t have any particular hooks to relay which is unfortunate since previous Loudness instrumentals have at least been interesting.  This leaves it to the closing track “Coming Home” to make final impressions, of which it makes few.  It has echoes of the old Loudness track “So Lonely” but without much of the feeling or structure.

These three final Masaki-era Loudness albums all have some cool tracks; enough at least to assemble a good single-disc compilation.  Owning all three is for fans only.  It is fun to sit and listen to a band evolve, and watch them try on all kinds of different hats.  If that’s your obsession too, pick up Engine and check out the complete Buddha Rock box set while you’re at it.

2.5/5 stars