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REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Aural Fixations (1992)

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

SARNIA.

scan_20170128KIM MITCHELL – Aural Fixations (1992 Alert)

Over the course of his solo career, Kim Mitchell kept on givin’ ‘er even though some albums are cloudy in the collective memory today.  Aural Fixations made less of a hullabaloo than Rockland, and many of its tracks are forgotten by the Canuck masses.  Public amnesia does happen to deserving songs sometimes, and there are a few on Aural Fixations that merit dusting off.

Kim really made a niche of good time summer party songs:  “Rock N’ Roll Duty”, “I Am A Wild Party”, “Lager and Ale”.  “World’s Such a Wonder” assumed that duty on Aural Fixations.  His picking is impeccable, but fans in the know noticed something was “off”.  The quirky poetry of Pye Dubois was gone; he and Kim had a falling out during Rockland.  Others such as Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness – review at Boppin’s Blog) and Andy Curran (Coney Hatch – review at Stick It In Your Ear) filled the lyrical void instead.  This meant that one of the qualities that made Kim special, Pye’s unique wording, was gone.  Also departed was bassist/singer Peter Fredette.  Peter still provided backing vocals for this album.  That said, most in the Great White North probably did not notice or care.

“Big Smoke” is a bluesy grind, good stuff for guitar enthusiasts.  A couple upbeat tracks got radio play, such as “Hullabaloo” and “Find the Will”.  Both sound like what we had come to expect from Kim Mitchell:  rock and roll guitars, big hooks, and choruses built for shoutin’ along to.  The most outstanding one of the bunch is “Hullabaloo”, a real Canadian good time summer song.

“There’s a lot weekend doin’ on this hullabaloo,
Honey’s on the beaches, Monday back in old ‘T.O.’,
Showin’ off her sunburn.”

The song is perfect from the ground up. Verses, bridges and choruses all line up for one quintessential Kim Mitchell classic. “Take a walk on that wild guitar, it’s such a wild guitar…”

Aural Fixation also shifted towards lighter sounds, perhaps a bit too far.  “Pure as Gold” is the best of the softies, a quiet, slow smouldering bluesy ballad.  “Some Folks” steers right into the pasture, a keyboardy country ballad that could have been left in the barn.  The twangy “America” isn’t as bad.  It carved out another hit video, following in the footsteps “Easy to Tame” (1986).  Other tracks just simmer without ever really cooking:  “There’s a Story”, “Flames”, “Dreamer”.  The musicianship is above reproach, but the songs don’t all meet expectations.  “Dog and a Bone” has the rock, but the chorus lacks impact.

One of the most interesting tracks is the final one, an instrumental called “Honey Forget Those Blues”. A total of six guitar players are credited on it, creating a massive guitar harmony part. It sounds like a guitar orchestra playing the blues and it’s brilliant. Its cheeky creativity hearkens back to the glory days of Max Webster. It is in fact Kim’s first instrumental song as a solo artist.

Aural Fixations has those sparks of brilliance that makes you wish it consistent throughout.  “Hullabaloo”, “World’s Such a Wonder”, “Find the Will” and “Honey Forget Those Blues” could all be on a hypothetical Kim Mitchell “box set”.  Is that enough to add this album to your collection?

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Shakin’ Like A Human Being (1986)

KIM MITCHELL – Shakin’ Like A Human Being (1986 Alert)

Kim Mitchell really seemed to soften up on 1986’s Shakin’ Like A Human Being.  It’s Mitchell’s most successful album, featuring the massive hit single “Patio Lanterns”.  A lot of people are very fond of Shakin’ Like A Human Being, but I for one find it inferior to Akimbo Alogo in almost every way, especially production. Still, I haven’t played Shakin’ in a couple years, so let’s have a listen and try to be fair.

KIM_0004There’s certainly nothin’ wrong with the opener, “Get Lucky (Boys and Girls)”.  Kim wisely commenced the party with a rocker similar to Akimbo Alogo.  Synths are kept to a minimum, and a shout-along chorus that’s easy to remember is always a plus on a Kim Mitchell album.  Pye’s lyrics are as cool as ever.  “The more moral you get the more oral we get.”  I love that.  Kim tops the cake with a fun melodic guitar solo which is like the cherry on top — uber sweet.

Paul Delong is a fantastic drummer, and he gets a nice long (but clanky) intro on “In My Shoes”.   Unfortunately the song itself suffers from too much synth and programming.  It does have a nice little guitar lick to it and a great chorus, but the song is just too middle of the road.  “Alana Loves Me”, though a ballad, is better.  The chorus, featuring Peter Fredette, is stellar.  Too bad that synth is back.

“Patio Lanterns” sure does bring on the nostalgia.  The lyrics are so pure and perfect.  Even though it’s one of Kim’s softest moments, there is an integrity here in its earnest honesty.  Although Max Webster were a progressive rock band, as a solo artist Kim Mitchell definitely evolved into cottage rock.  This kind is song is the type that we hosers play on those warm July evenings on the cottage patio, outside speakers and beer at the ready.  It’s the kind of song everybody seems to like.

Side closer “That’s the Hold” is the hardest rock moment on the album.  It’s one of my favourite 80’s Kim rockers, and if didn’t have so much damn synth on it, it would be a classic.  The live version on I Am A Wild Party is much better.  Too bad.

The second side commences limply with “In Your Arms”.  This is just synthetic syrup.  This is the only song that isn’t written by the duo of Mitchell and Dubois: keyboardist Todd Booth co-wrote it, which might explain why I cannot discern any guitars until the song is half done.  But it gets worse:  I cannot stand “City Girl”.  There is no redeeming value to this steaming pile of synth and bad lyrics.

The fine country twang of the hit “Easy to Tame” is unfortunately tempered by…grrrr!…too much damn synth!  I should be able to hear Kim’s Fender clear and true, but it is buried beneath keys.  It’s still a great song, but all I really want is to hear what it would sound like without the keys. The music video, vocals and guitar solo are all great at least.  Incidentally, the music video is a completely different mix of the song.

“Cameo Spirit” is pretty cool, although it’s another slow keyboard song.  This is the kind of sentimental ballad that Kim became very adept at writing, post-Max.  His spare guitars are delightful, but I only wish for more of them.  The final track “Hitting the Ground” is equally good, but also equally drenched in keys.  The chorus is stellar, as are Pye’s lyrics.  Fortunately there are some guitars to sink your teeth in.  At least you end the album on an up note.

Sadly, Shakin’ Like A Human Being is the last Kim Mitchell album to feature his legendary O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) baseball hat on the cover.  Shakin’ could have been a great album, equal or superior to Akimbo.  I place blame fully on the production.  Kim Mitchell self produced this album, so if anyone is to blame for all the synth and keyboards, it’s gotta be him.  Of note, Kim produced it at Le Studio, the same place Rush recorded Moving Pictures.  Too bad.  Oh what might have been.

2.5/5 stars