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REVIEW: Def Leppard – Retro-Active (1993)

Part Fifteen of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Retro-Active (CD Collection Volume 2 Disc 2) (Originally 1993, 2019 remaster)

Like Hysteria before it, Adrenalize produced a wealth of riches in B-sides.  Between the two albums, they had enough B-side studio material to turn into an album compilation.  Tellingly, the final album called Retro-Active featured very different cover art, and a toned-down logo.  It was intended to be the ending of an era, and the start of a new one.  Guitarist Steve Clark was gone, replaced by veteran Vivian Campbell.  The grunge era was two years deep, and Leppard were about to change sonically.  In their minds they needed to “clear the decks” of old material so they could focus on the new.

What’s interesting about Retro-Active is that it is not simply a compilation of rare material.  Everything has been reworked to some degree — everything.  There are even two “new” songs, unfinished tracks with Steve Clark that were finally completed for this album.  We will take this album track by track and go over the changes made to the original B-sides.  (The printing on this 2019 CD reissue is so small, I had to pull out my original 1993 CD to read the notes.)

1. “Desert Song”.  A track begun during the Hysteria sessions but left unfinished without lyrics or vocals.  Joe finished the words in 1993, while Phil laid down guitar overdubs and Rick Allen re-recorded the drums.  Steve Clark is featured on the second guitar solo.  What’s surprising about “Desert Song” is how modern it sounds even though it was originally written in 1987.  A slow, heavy groove is melded with middle-eastern vibes for a dark winner.

2. “Fractured Love”.  Another from the Hysteria sessions.  You can tell the intro is of more recent vintage compared to the body of the song.  Joe’s vocals suddenly revert to the old screamin’ Elliott and it’s absolutely brilliant.  Drums were re-recorded in ’93, along with the new intro by Joe and Phil Collen.  Both these songs sound ahead of their times and well suited to the darker moods prevalent in the early 90s.  “Fractured” is choppy, intense and reminiscent of the old band while still sounding like a 90s song.  Steve Clark on lead guitar!

3. “Action”.  This Sweet cover originated on the 1992 “Make Love Like a Man” CD single.  Vivian Campbell had joined the band by this time and the track features some of his guitar work.  Like most of the tracks on Retro-Active, the drums were re-recorded by Rick Allen in 1993.  “Action” became a Leppard staple over the years, and as a rare fast/heavy rock singalong, you can hear why.  In fact, it was later released as a single, from this album!

4. “Two Steps Behind” (Acoustic Version).  As we’ll see, “Two Steps Behind” exists in a number of different versions.  The demo was electric.  The first version released appeared on “Make Love Like a Man” as a purely acoustic song with no drums.  The second release had strings added by Michael Kamen for the Last Action Hero soundtrack, and that version was released as its own single.  The version on Retro-Active is the popular Kamen single mix.  This was Leppard’s very first acoustic song and it opened new doors for the traditionally hard rocking band.

5. “She’s Too Tough”.  Helix recorded this Leppard outtake themselves for 1987’s Wild in the Streets.  From their version, you could hear the song deserved wider renown.  Def Leppard released their finished version on the single for “Tonight” in 1993.  The drums were re-recorded for Retro-Active but there were no other changes made.  This blitz of a rocker features the screamin’ Joe voice and all the adrenaline you can handle (and was missing from Adrenalize).

6. “Miss You In a Heartbeat” (Acoustic Version).  This is actually a piano version of a song that exists in many forms.  It was first recorded by Paul Rodgers and Kenney Jones as The Law in 1991.  For that band, it was a low-charting single.  It faired better for Leppard themselves, who released it as a single A-side themselves in 1993.  This quieter version features a stunning acoustic guitar solo by Phil Collen.  There are many, many versions of this song, as you will see as we proceed through this series.  (And this album!)

7. “Only After Dark”.  The Mick Ronson cover was first released on the “Let’s Get Rocked” single.  Both Vivian and Phil added guitar overdubs for the Retro-Active version.  The additional guitar depth is noticeable.  Leppard are so good as these kinds of glam rock songs.

8. “Ride Into the Sun”.  From the very first EP, and then re-recorded on the “Hysteria” single.  Could this be the fastest Def Leppard tune?  It’s certainly among them.  Also ranks highly among the heaviest, and best, of Def Leppard!  Rick re-recorded the drums, and for some reason Ian Hunter from Mott the Hoople added a honky-tonk piano intro.  The “studio talk” at the end of the song has also been trimmed off.  Sonically, this could be the best sounding version of “Ride Into the Sun”, though the preferred will always be the “Hysteria” B-side.

9. “From the Inside”.  Originally released as part of a three-song session with Hothouse Flowers on “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad“.  Billing themselves as “Acoustic Hippies from Hell”, Leppard were really leaning into their acoustic side!  The song originated as a TV broadcast on a program called Friday at the Dome with Joe Elliott and Liam Ó Maonlaí.  The only modification made to this version is that the count-in at the start has been deleted.  Leppard fans may be surprised by the tin whistle but it’s not too much of a stretch.  The bleak song is about the dark side of addiction.

10. “Ring of Fire”.  Dipping back into the Hysteria B-side collection, “Ring of Fire” has a new intro.  The drums were re-cut and backing vocals thickened up.  It’s one of two Mutt Lange co-writes on the album and stands as one of Leppard’s harder rockers from the era.  An excellent track, “so stick around and settle down, enjoy the mystery.”

11. “I Wanna Be Your Hero”.  From the “Animal” EP, this is the second Lange co-write on Retro-Active.  With new drums added, here it stands as one of the highlights among many highlights.  The track should always have been on Hysteria.  Combining ballad and rocker into one meaty package, “I Wanna Be Your Hero” is a stone cold Leppard classic.

12. “Miss You In a Heartbeat” (Electric Version).  Nothing was overdubbed or re-recorded for this track, but the opening fades out of “I Wanna Be Your Hero”, meaning it is still different from its original B-side release on “Make Love Like a Man”.  Another stone cold Leppard classic.  A majestic electric ballad with layers of Phil’s sweetest guitars and backing vocals.  A masterpiece.

13. “Two Steps Behind” (Electric Version).  Previously unreleased.  Joe’s original backing track was fully Leppardized with all the band members including Vivian.  This gives you an idea of how the song was originally envisioned before it took its better known acoustic guise.  The acoustic version is more original, but this one does boast a big huge Leppard chorus.

14. Unlisted bonus track!  “Miss You In a Heartbeat” (Acoustic, Acoustic Version).  This third version of the ballad is the softest.  It is the piano-based version, but without the backing band.  Just Joe, the piano, and Phil on an acoustic guitar solo.  A nice surprise.

There are more demo versions of these songs on the B-sides of singles, that we will get to when we arrive at the appropriate disc in the CD Collection Volume 2.

As it turns out, Retro-Active was not entirely the clearing of the vaults we thought it was.  There was still one more song with Steve Clark unfinished.  One more compilation to release.  The future was on the horizon, but the past had to be dealt with first.  Which doesn’t diminish Retro-Active in any way.  Where there is repeat of tracks, it is justified by the versions being completely different in tone and direction.  It plays like a “new Def Leppard studio album” to the layman, but a compilation of the deepest cuts to the faithful.  Cuts that have been freshened up and don’t repeat the exact B-sides in their collections.  A win/win.

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

Next:

16. Visualize DVD

#849: Indoor Day

Sunday was what we call an “indoor day” at the lake. This is what I did with my indoor day.

The video took me most of the day, because my poor old laptop (10, this year) couldn’t handle all of the large files at once. So I started over from scratch and figured out a workaround until I was done about 7 hours later. I cooked, I went outside, I played with action figures, and I drank coffee until it finally saved without errors.

This video should scratch itches for a variety of people including:

1) Max the Axe fans – the full song “Randy” is included.
2) Dr. Kathryn Ladano fans – the full song “Masked” is included.
3) Those who enjoy driving videos. This is my first extensive use of my dash cam.
4) Nature buffs. You will hear real lake noises, rainstorms, and waves. You will see more cool underwater footage from the beaches of Lake Huron, and the legendary Greatest Sunset in the World.
5) Marvel / action figure fans. Look for a special “Build A Figure” Hulk.

 

You will not get:

1) Audio of me singing “Kissing Time” by Kiss; this was lost with the first version of the video.
2) Any of my pork chops.

But you can freely:

1) Live vicariously through me and absorb the good vibes through your monitor and speakers.

While visitors showing up on our little private road was not unexpected on a long weekend, it is disappointing when they show such little respect for the people who live here. A guy parked his ATV on our grass and said “Don’t get your knickers in a bunch” when my mom asked several times for him to move it. This came after arguing that he had the right to park there due to a “snow allowance”. There is no such thing.

Then we had Kenny the fireworks guys shooting off a “truck bed” full of firepower at 9:30 Saturday night. That was…distracting. As much as I love this place it certainly has changed in the last 45 years. Enjoy the video — the good the bad and the ugly!

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” (1992 CD single)

Part three in a series on singles from Def Leppard’s Adrenalize, including hard to find B-sides!

DEL LEP SINGLE_0005DEF LEPPARD – “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” (1992 Phonogram CD single)

On their last single, “Make Love Like a Man”, Def Leppard released their first acoustic recording in a song called “Two Steps Behind”.  This time, they went all-in.  Not content with a couple acoustic guitars, Joe called up some friends from Hothouse Flowers (Fiachna Ó Braonáin, Liam Ó Maonlaí, and  Peter O’Toole) and formed an octet* called the Acoustic Hippies from Hell!  As the Acoustic Hippies, they did three songs:  an unreleased Joe original called “From the Inside” and two covers.  The Flowers brought tin whistle, piano and mandolin to the table.

“From the Inside” is a haunting number, with Joe singing about addiction from the perspective of the drug.  “I’ll shoot through your veins, I’ll drive you insane.”  Joe first played it for a television program called Friday at the Dome.  Liam Ó Maonlaí and he played it together as an experiment in artists from two different fields colliding.  Joe liked the song enough to record it here with the Acoustic Hippies.  This song was re-released in 1993 on Retro-Active, but added the original count-in from the session.  It’s certainly a good song but not easy for some Leppard fans to appreciate.

The guys then jam on 7 1/2 minutes of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.  This is a highlight of the single, a fantastic version that deserves more attention. You might be surprised just how good this is. It sounds 100% live, with people calling out cues and hoots and hollers. Almost as good is Hendrix’s “Little Wing”. Softer and less rambunctious, it is haunting more like “From the Inside”.  Thankfully these two tracks were later reissued on the Adrenalize deluxe edition.

These three B-sides completely outshine the A-side, the putrid “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” from Adrenalize.  This annoying title is only slightly worse than the song itself, one of the most by-the-numbers ballads that Def Leppard have foisted upon the fans.  Of course it became a top 10 charting single in the US.

3.5/5 stars

* There are no drums but Rick Allen is credited for “acoustic inspiration”.

DEL LEP SINGLE_0006

Adrenalize singles:

Part 1:  “Let’s Get Rocked”
Part 2: “Make Love Like a Man”

Up next:  “Heaven Is”

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Make Love Like a Man” (1992 CD single)

Part two in a series on singles from Def Leppard’s Adrenalize, including hard to find B-sides!

DEL LEP SINGLE_0003DEF LEPPARD – “Make Love Like a Man” (1992 Phonogram CD single)

For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why this song from Adrenalize was ever chosen as a single, let alone the second one.  As stated in my album review, it “sounds like a hard rock version of a Shania Twain hit”.  No thank you.

Def Leppard singles are always exciting for collecting B-sides, but “Make Love Like A Man” was the first one to include three brand new songs. Each one was completely different from the other, while remaining of very high quality.

First up is a not-cover of “Miss You In A Heartbeat”, originally recorded by Paul Rodgers’ band The Law. Phil Collen wrote it, but The Law was first to release it in 1991. Atmospheric, moody, but bright, it was a worthy successor to the lofty heights of Hysteria.  It’s superior to some of the songs that made it to Adrenalize, and it’s certainly better than its own A-side.  In fact, a bare piano version was later as released as a single in its own right, supporting Retro-Active in 1993.

Next is cover of The Sweet’s “Action”. This is the original mix.  The one on Retro-Active has re-recorded snare drums and possibly additional backing vocals.   Leppard have played this one live, steadily for years.  It fills the niche of a solid rocker with a solid riff needed on this otherwise fairly mellow single.  Like “Miss You In A Heartbeat”, it too was released as a single in 1994, but with the re-recorded drums.

“Two Steps Behind” was the band’s first ever acoustic recording, a trend picking up at the time. It was a bit of a throw-away at the time, with a sparse unadorned arrangement and a pleasant but ordinary melody.  However, it too was released a single as well!  It was chosen for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Last Action Hero soundtrack, and had strings added courtesy of Michael Kamen.  Once again this is the original version and the first to feature “new guy” Vivian Campbell!

In the context of 1992, this was a pretty special single.  Viv’s first Leppard recording, Lep’s first acoustic foray, and some quality tunes ensured solid play time that summer.  A-side aside, this was Leppard’s most satisfying single for the dollar yet.

4/5 stars

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Adrenalize singles part 1:  “Let’s Get Rocked”

Up next:  “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”

MOVIE REVIEW: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Extended Action Cut) 2013

“We’re the Four fuckin’ Horsemen / Back for a second time.”

G.I. JOE: Retaliation (2013)

Directed by Jon M. Chu

I’m sorry if you saw the first movie, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009). That lowly turd of a film is one that I own, but can only sit through by splitting it into two or more sittings. Never in one. I saw it this way recently, and I managed to make it through. The movie was crap, and so was the toyline that went with it. All garbage. I don’t care to review the movie again, so to quote from my own old Amazon 2/5 star writeup:

The acting here is bad bordering on terrible. This Channing Tatum guy can’t act at all. Dennis Quaid pours the cheeze-wiz on every line of dialogue that General Hawk delivers. Marlon Wayons (Rip Cord), Rachel Nichols (Scarlet), and Sienna Miller (Baroness) are passable. The heavies tend to get the best roles and the best actors: Arnold Vosloo (Zartan) steals every scene he is in, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is surprisingly serpentine as Cobra Commander. Christopher Eccleston is good as the Scottish arms dealer Destro, just menacing enough while also dignified and cool. Also, it’s nice to see Jonathan Pryce in anything…The direction by that hack Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) is gawd-awful.

Pryce was in the first movie far too briefly to be of any consequence to the finished product. That and many of the other weaknesses with the first film were dealt with here in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Most of the cast was jettisoned. Wisely, Ray Park and Lee Byung-hun were retained as the iconic ninjas Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow. Cobra Commander was re-cast (Gordon-Levitt being unnecessary and expensive behind a silver mask). Otherwise only Pryce, Arnold Vosloo and Channing Tatum survive to the second film. Even though Dennis Quaid was contracted to do three movies, leadership has fallen to Tatum’s Duke. Newcomers include Duke’s buddy Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and new recruits Jady Jaye, Flint, and Jinx.

Another issue that I had with the first film was that I felt the tech was too sci-fi and outlandish. This is tamed down a tad in this movie, although everything is still futuristic enough. The bad guys don’t all have ray guns and anti-gravity jets and shit this time. They usually fire bullets and fly helicopters and jets and stuff. The characters and vehicles look more like the original toys did. There are things such as the HISS (High Speed Sentry) tanks that look like the toys you had. Roadblock looks like the figure you had, or wanted (in my case the latter). So does Cobra Commander, finally.

JOE 46Anyway that’s all window dressing if there’s no story. The story is this: Master of disguise Zartan is still impersonating the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce, who is the real star of the movie). Cobra Commander and Destro are still imprisoned, but the Commander is freed by his ninja Storm Shadow. With the explosives expert Firefly (another toy you wanted), they engineer the betrayal and destruction of the entire G.I. Joe team. Only a handful survive. Then the President replaces them with the services of a new security contractor called Cobra.

There’s also a new Ultimate Weapon called Zeus which is pretty silly physics-wise, because in real life it wouldn’t work. (If a satellite merely “dropped”, ie: let go of, a rod of tungsten, the tungsten would simply settle into the same orbit as the satellite.) We’ll overlook this because BOOM! DADOOOM! KABLAAAMM! SLASH! SWISH! SWING! There’s action. There’s a frickin’ battle with ninjas hanging off the side of a mountain, people. It makes no sense in any sort of real physical way but it looks nifty and must have looked great in 3D in theaters. I found it odd that the G.I Joe team is the only military force in the world today operating without any sort of helmet or hat or head gear of any kind.

Pic from yojoe.com

Joe Colton pic from yojoe.com

Back to the story, G.I. Joe has been wiped out.  The Rock and his friends need help, so they go to the only man they know they can trust: Bruce Willis. In the original Marvel comics and Hasbro toyline (fuck Sunbow), Joe Colton was the original, retired G.I. Joe. In fact his code name was “G.I. Joe”. Willis is the perfect choice to play this hard-ass and I have to admit it’s big fun to see him and the Rock kicking ass in the same scenes.

As a self-proclaimed Marvel Comics Joe nerd, the original gospel of Larry Hama is all. I enjoyed that this movie tended to go back to the original source material for ideas more so than the original film did. I won’t get into specifics too much, except to say that certain things especially in relation to Snakes and Stormy reflect events that happened in the comics. Staying truer to the strong source material (Hama was no slouch) only helps the movie which otherwise is just a collage of BOOM!

As for the Blu-ray, I was pleased to hear a balanced 7.1 surround mix.  I was a bit baffled to hear The Four Horsemen’s “Back In Business Again” in the movie soundtrack, but more power to ’em.  I didn’t watch too many of the special features.   I did watch both versions of the film (the “Extended Action Cut” is on the Blu and the theatrical on the DVD) but I don’t have any impressions of which is better.  Most recently I watched the extended version and it was plenty cool.

3/5 stars

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Blu-ray REVIEW: Machete Kills (2013)

NEW RELEASE

“Oh my goodness.  That lady just shot blades out of her boobs.” – Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom

MACHETE KILLS_0003MACHETE KILLS (2013 Aldamisa)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Machete Kills is the sequel to Robert Rodriguez’ Machete (2010), starring 69 year old cult hero Danny Trejo.  Minor spoiler alert:  It begins with an over the top preview trailer for the third Machete movie, guest starring “Justin Bieber” as “Bleep”.  (Guess what happens to “Bleep”!)*  Hold on to your hats.

For Machete Kills, I decided to co-review it with special guest, Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom.  I enjoy subjecting Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom to movies now and then.  Sometimes she likes them:  Paul (2011) was her favourite of my selections.  Jackass 3D (2010) was definitely her least favourite.

Machete Kills sort of has a plot:  The US military is selling weapons to the cartel.  Another mysterious faction with black Venom-like masks are also after the weapons.    The masked leader of this group gives Machete something terrible to avenge.  Then, the President of the United States of America (Carlos Estevez/Charlie Sheen) makes him offer he can’t refuse, and he is soon back in Mexico fighting a one-man war.  But he is not completely on his own, as undercover agent Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard) has plenty of gadgets that go boom.  His target: Marcos Mendez, the head of the cartel with a nuke aimed at Washington.

Add in a master of disguise after a $20M bounty, a Star Wars-obsessed evil genius, Sofía Vergara’s machine gun boobs, a madman with multiple personalities and a load of evil clones, and we’re in for a good time.

The story as such serves simply to introduce the complex of characters.  Machete is less a film and more a series of action sequences separated by dialogue explaining what’s happening.  As the movie goes on, many interested parties emerge (all played by big name actors or Rodriguez regulars).  There are so many back-stabs and switcheroos that we are well past incredulity and into outlandish.  Machete is a perfect mix of camp and violence.  Although the movie seems built to support the large cast, the actors in turn are all pros clearly having a good time.  I liked them all…all but Amber Heard.  Something about her, so wooden.

I made three minor observations. 1) It’s convenient that the bad guys only attack Machete one at a time.  2) It’s also a good thing for Machete that none of the generic bad guys can aim. 3) The female characters in the movie might want to put on some pants next time they go into combat.

As for my co-reviewer, Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom didn’t like when Machete’s girlfriend Sartana (Jessica Alba) gets shot in the head.  “She was a pretty girl,” she says.  “She shouldn’t have been shot.”  She also didn’t like seeing Marko Zaror getting sucked into helicopter blades by his intestines.  Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom had a few choice words for Lady Gaga, which she asked me to edit out so to avoid the wrath of her Little Monsters.  She did not enjoy the number of heads that got removed from their bodies (at least a dozen), but I did see her laugh at several points.  She largely enjoyed the cast, particularly Mel Gibson.  Upon seeing Carlos Estevez, she shrieked “He’s the President?  Oh my God!”  She did not enjoy the foul language, particularly when out of the mouths of the young female characters.

4/5 stars – LeBrain

A “solid” 3/5 stars – Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom  (“It was really kind of…strange.”)

* actors subject to change