AJ Pero

REVIEW: Eric Carr – Unfinished Business (2011)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 42:  Eric Carr solo #2.

EC_Unfinished_Business_2011ERIC CARR – Unfinished Business (2011 Auto Rock Records)

Even though 2000’s Rockology compilation released a treasure trove of unheard goodies for the fans, there is always more to sell.  For the 20th anniversary of Eric’s passing, another batch of tracks were unearthed.  Some are mere filler, some are pretty decent.  Fans of the beloved  drummer will have to sift through the bad to get to the good.

There are a couple Kiss songs here for the diehard fans.  “No One’s Messin’ With You” is yet another demo of what would become “Little Caesar” from Hot in the Shade.  A third called “Ain’t That Peculiar” was released on the 2001 Kiss Box Set.  This is an almost completely different set of lyrics, although it does have the “Hey Little Caesar” chorus.  In chronological terms, this version probably falls between the other two, with lyrics still a work in progress and a different verse melody.  Then there’s “Shandi”, from Eric’s Kiss audition tape, with brand new acoustic backing music.  Unfortunately, Eric’s shaky voice (or a warbly tape) makes this totally unlistenable.

One of Rockology‘s highlights was “Just Can’t Wait” which was crying out for a lead vocal to finish it off.  This was completed by Ted Poley of Danger Danger.  Though the backing track lacks the fidelity of a proper Kiss recording, the song has taken shape as the shoulda-coulda-been hit that it is.  Eric would have been proud and very happy to hear it as a finished song.

The unfinished “Troubles Inside You” is a demo with regular Kiss collaborator and Beatlemania member Mitch Weissman.  It was recorded at Gene Simmons’ house, but the old cassette must have deteriorated pretty badly.  The music is barely audible, though hints of a good song shine through.  Two more Kiss outtakes include the legendary “Dial L For Love” and “Elephant Man”.  These were written for Crazy Nights and Revenge, respectively.  Neither were finished by Carr.  “Dial L For Love” has the bones of a good song with a unique riff.  Eric only managed to finish the lyrics for “Elephant Man”, but here it is given music and life by a group of musicians including the late A.J. Pero of Twisted Sister, and ex-Europe guitarist Kee Marcello.  Singer Bob Gilmartin did a great job of it, turning “Elephant Man” into a cross between ballad and rocker, and something Kiss totally could have done on Revenge.  “Midnight Stranger” is another unfinished riff.  Ex-Kiss guitarist Mark St. John was slated to overdub brand new solos for this instrumental, but he too passed before he could finish.  This is the original cassette demo.  The riff sounds like a brother to “Carr Jam”.  They are definitely related.

“Carr Jam 1981” is, unfortunately, not the original unaltered Elder demo.  It is a cover by drummer Joey Cassata, and a very authentic one at that.  Same with “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose”.  Just a cover, not a demo, by Cassata’s band Z02. Pretty good stuff, at least.  New backing music was recorded for “Eyes of Love”, a song previously released on Rockology.  The Rockology version with Bruce Kulick on guitar is superior.

Finally, some real serious archival treasures:  an Eric Carr drum solo basement tape (same as his live Kiss solo), and a 1967 recording by Eric’s first band The Cellarmen!  That’s Eric on lead vocals too.  It definitely sounds of its time. Added filler include a few interview bits and clips, including one with former Kiss manager Bill Aucoin about Eric.

If the first Eric Carr CD release was best left to hardcore fans, it’s doubly true of the second one.  This is a fans-only release, period.  It is highly unlikely anyone else would get much enjoyment from this low-fi set.

2/5 stars

Although Carr’s loss was devastating to both fans and the band, there was no question Kiss would carry on with imminent Revenge….

 

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REVIEW: Twisted Sister – A Twisted Christmas (2006)

TWISTED SISTERA Twisted Christmas (2006 Razor & Tie)

One thing I love about Christmas time is the ability to knock out all these Christmas album reviews.  I can only listen to this stuff seasonally, and I wouldn’t subject you to it otherwise.  In my quest to Review Everything I Own and Then Some, we must occasionally delve into Christmas music.

Rock bands doing Christmas tunes is…well, I mean it worked out OK for Elvis, and then later on Twisted Sister and the guys from Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  Each of those artists had success with Christmas music for good reasons, but I think Twisted Sister’s was purely the novelty value of it.  The humour.  The nudge-nudge-jokey-ness of it.  It wasn’t that they made a Christmas album laden with integrity.  It’s a joke album as the intro implies.

The album commences with Dee & company singing a traditional acoustic version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.  They are then interrupted by someone saying “This isn’t Twisted Sister!”  It then goes metal with a dash a punk.  “Ho ho ho!  Let’s go!”

The biggest joke is that, apparently, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was always just “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” in disguise.  This was the big Christmas hit that put Twisted back in the spotlight, and it’s certainly the most enjoyable track on the CD.

Songs follow vague heavy metal blueprints.  “White Christmas” is imbued with an Iron Maiden gallop and a couple chords from “SMF”.  One thing is clear, and that is Dee Snider’s voice still has it.  The guy is a hell of a singer, period.  He’s joined by Lita Ford on “I’ll be Home for Christmas”, in the style of Twisted’s original epic ballad “The Price”.  Unfortunately this one stinks like Christmas cheese that should have been thrown out last year.  A shouty “Silver Bells” is done with a splash of AC/DC, but ends up sounding more like Poison.  Bassist/producer Mark “The Animal” Mendoza has a pretty kickass bass solo, though.

Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” is the foundation of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, and it is at this point that you realise a whole album of this stuff is a bit too much.  “Let It Snow” is given the doomy treatment, as an amalgam with Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave”.  I suppose the doomy direction does go better with lines like “The weather outside is frightful”.  Maybe Dee & company are on to something here, but I’m not too sure about the Sabbathy version of “Deck the Halls” with echoes of “War Pigs” and “Never Say Die”.

“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” is a little dull, and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is too long, as it often is.  The only version of “Twelve Days of Christmas” anyone needs for a novelty is Bob & Doug McKenzie’s classic.  That’ll make your party pop a lot better than Twisted’s version.

Let’s check some boxes.  Is this album:

  • Fun?  (sometimes)
  • Heavy?  
  • Twisted?  
  • Creative?  

All well and good.  But will you:

  • Listen to it more than once a year?  
  • Enjoy as much as something else you could have played instead?  
  • Be able to use more than one or two songs for your Christmas party?  
  • Ever really look forward to hearing it again?

It is good that A Twisted Christmas brought the band the kind of success they deserved, but it is truly a shame that it is the final Twisted studio album.  They were always considered a joke to the critics, they shouldn’t have gone out on vinyl as a joke.

2/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Live At Wacken CD/DVD

For the consideration of the Heavy Metal OverloRd.


WACKEN_0002TWISTED SISTER – Live At Wacken   The Reunion (2005 Eagle Rock)

Here’s a rare find: A CD/DVD combo pack where the CD is equally worth the price of purchase as the DVD. This package contains an 11 song live album as well as a great DVD concert/documentary. Twisted Sister certainly have risen in the esteem of rock fans since the 80’s. Sister’s resilience has won them over, not to mention their heaviness which was lost on the 80’s crowd.

I will say that I was disappointed when I first bought it in 2005.  It was issued as a dual-disc.  Remember those?  I’ll get into the dual-disc crap at the end of this review.  I later bought a far superior CD/DVD set, and that’s the version that I recommend over the dual-disc.  Regardless of which version you have, at least both have nice big booklets with loads of pictures and some liner notes too.

The DVD is peppered with documentary footage and interviews with all five Twisted members. The documentary covers the entire history of the band, and sheds light on their acrimonious breakup and triumphant reunion. I found Mark Mendoza’s segments particularly interesting as he had the most problems with Dee, and in fact was not on board when TS first reunited in 1990’s. The live program is, of course, great.  It’s well shot, and sounds good.

WACKEN_0003The CD is nice as it’s not just a soundtrack to the DVD, but a standalone live album on its own with 11 tracks total, spanning the early years plus six songs from Wacken. I enjoy this one quite a bit on its own as a live album.  From 1980, “Bad Boys of Rock ‘n’ Roll” through to the rare “You Know I Cry” are all replete with loud n’ dodgy sound.  Then from ’82, “You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n; Roll”.  The Marquee, London:  Yes, that would be earlier than the Live at the Marquee album, recorded in ’83.  The fidelity here is improved, although the band’s on-stage fury goes on unabated.

Finally, six 2003 recordings from Wacken.  It’s not the entire show obviously, which seems a bit of a shame.  Goodies here include personal favourites “I Am (I’m Me)”, “Like a Knife in the Back” and “The Fire Still Burns”.  That last one’s interesting because it’s not really a great track on its album, Come Out and Play.  It’s heavier and better live.  Best of all, Dee’s voice is still in excellent shape.  Everybody ages; that’s to be expected, but I don’t think Twisted Sister have lost a thing with age.

Now, let’s talk about this dual-disc.

This is by far the worst dual-disc I’ve ever tried to play. It certainly looks cool (see gallery below). The DVD side has the TS “bone” logo emblazoned directly on the playing surface. I’ve never seen graphics on the playing surface of a disc before, and it looks awesome. This side plays on all my DVD players, no problem. The CD side will not play correctly on any of my CD players, although it plays fine on my blu-ray player. The CD doesn’t conform to the Red Book standards, which is to say it’s slightly thicker than the CDs that many CD players are designed to accommodate.   It all depends on the tolerances built into the players.  Dual-discs are delicate in the first place, and they should never be played in a front-loading car deck or it could get destroyed along with your deck. In the long run, in order to enjoy the CD on a CD player, I had to buy the damn thing again, this time on the CD/DVD set.

So, great video side, great live album, cool looking disc and package. Dual-disc technology…not so great. Buy accordingly.

5/5 stars (for the CD/DVD combo set)

More TWISTED SISTER at mikeladano.com:

TWISTED SISTER – Live at the Marquee (2011 Rhino limited edition)
TWISTED SISTER – Love Is For Suckers (1987 Atlantic, Spitfire reissue)
TWISTED SISTER – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition)
TWISTED SISTER – Under The Blade (1985 remix)
TWISTED SISTER – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (1984 Atlantic single)

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition)

TS SH R_0003

My Twisted reviews: “We’re Not Gonna Take It” single, Under the Blade, Live at the Marquee

TWISTED SISTER – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition, Atlantic, 2009 originally 1984)

Fact:  When I was a kid, I used to think that Jay Jay French might in fact be blind; I never saw him without his dark shades!

25 years of Stay Hungry?  Actually 29 years at press time!  I don’t want to believe it.  Anyway, this reissue was a pretty big deal because Stay Hungry was out of print on CD.  For whatever reason (legal, contractual?) when Twisted issued their series of remasters with bonus tracks back in 1997, Stay Hungry was not one of them. Then in 2004, the reunited band recorded an album called Still Hungry, which was all of Stay Hungry re-recorded “the way they originally wanted it to sound” (cough). As a fan, I only enjoyed it for the new and unreleased bonus tracks. I was underwhelmed by the re-recording. It’s impossible to duplicate a specific recording, especially when the singer can no longer hit the high notes in “The Price”.  And it just didn’t sound good.

That was then, this is now, and Stay Hungry has finally been remastered and beefed up with a bonus disc of unreleased material and one brand new song! (None of these unreleased songs were even heard on Still Hungry, but a couple were remade by Dee on a solo album.) The album itself remains one of Sister’s best, although my preference is to You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll.  The bonus disc sheds light on what else the band was writing at the time.

IMG_00000189_editThe remastering and liner notes are excellent. The album sounds like it should, the way a pristine vinyl copy would sound back then. Still Hungry was mastered way too loud; this is much better.  The liner notes reveal friction between the band and producer Tom Werman. Werman rejected a lot of what the band had written, which makes up disc two. However, he was also a big supporter of their heavier songs such as “Burn In Hell” and “Horror-Teria: The Beginning”, while disliking “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.  Dee Snider, in fact, wanted to save “Horror-Teria” for a rock opera he was composing, but Tom Werman wisely insisted it go on this album.

The special thing about the original Stay Hungry album was that there was not one bad song on it. From all three smash hit singles (“I Wanna Rock” and “The Price”), to album cuts like “Don’t Let Me Down” and “S.M.F.”, every song here is a classic. And only one ballad!

Twisted Sister appeared in the 1985 comedy, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Highlights include the opener “Stay Hungry”, which smokes the speakers immediately.  “Burn In Hell” (seen performed by Twisted Sister in the 1985 film Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) turns up the scare factor with some unholy Snider vocals.  Snider’s epic “Horror Terria” is split into two parts.  “Captain Howdy” (later to become Snider’s character the film Strangeland) is a warning to stay away from the title character.  It’s ominous, Snider obviously hamming it up as Captain Howdy.  As a kid I never fully appreciated exactly what the song is depicting, unfortunately this kind of thing is now in the news on a weekly basis.  Part two is “Street Justice”, an angry song that inspired scenes in the film.

The man was caught, and brought before a judge,
who had just returned from a three-drink lunch.
His lawyer screamed, “You must set him free!”
And off he went, on a technicality.

Side two commenced with two of the big singles, “I Wanna Rock” and “The Price”, but equally good was “Don’t Let Me Down”.  This would have been another single as far as I’m concerned.  “The Beast” is evil and Sabbathy, but the album ends with the TNT blast of “S.M.F.”  At this point you are blown back into your seats.

TS SH R_0006The sound quality on the bonus disc varies from track to track, as is bound to happen with demos this old. Don’t let that spoil your enjoyment. These are some of the heavier songs that Twisted were writing, that Werman simply did not feel were strong enough. Perhaps with some fleshing out and proper studio time, tracks like “Death From Above” or “We’re Coming On” could have stood proud on the album as well. Clearly these demos are unfinished, most are very brief and unadorned. Some are a bit too similar to stronger songs that did make the album. Listening to the whole disc makes you wish that they had been fleshed out and released on B-sides or albums, as some are pretty good.

The highlight of this disc is the brand new Twisted Sister song, “30”. Finally, somebody has written an anthem for older rockers! It’s about time! And it’s a great tune, as well! “30 came and went a long long time ago,” sings Dee, with absolutely no shame, and rightfully so!

If you’re a new fan, or an old fan who has heard Stay Hungry a million times, this is a compulsory purchase. It renders the original release obselete. Still Hungry pales to this reissue. Well done, if only all reissues were put together with this much care and effort.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (12″ single)

This is the third review from the The Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale!  Wes bought me this 12″ single, which was real nice of him.  So for Wes, here’s the review!

For the last review in this series, click here.

TWISTED SISTER  – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (1984 Atlantic single)

I’ll skip the formalities, and I won’t be discussing the single A-side.  What is understood need not be discussed.  On the off chance that you spent your youth in Antarctica, here’s the very clever and original music video (later ripped off by Michael Jackson for his own “Black or White”).

The B-sides are three of Twisted’s all time best, recorded live, and unreleased on CD to date.  All three are classics from You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll:  “The Kids are Back”, “We’re Gonna Make It”, and the album’s title track.  These were recorded live in Poughkeepsie, New York.  Although it seems odd, Dee’s usual spoken opening, “We are Twisted fuckin’ Sister” skipped the expletive.  I’m not sure if it’s edited out or not, for the release of this single.

As far as a single side of Twisted onslaught goes, I don’t know if you could have selected three better songs.  The performances are typical live Sister; fast and reckless.  In other words, perfect.  The live tracks were co-produced by bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza so you know that the band at least had their hands in the mix, too.

Another cool fact:  neither “The Kids are Back” nor “We’re Gonna Make It” are on the Live at the Marquee CD, minimizing overlap with that later release.  They were recorded within the same time frame, so the band is in similar ferocious shape to that great live album.

4/5 stars