alessandro elena

REVIEW: Avril Lavigne – Under My Skin (2004 w/ bonus track)

Yesterday, you read all about why I own this (and many others).  Will I still like it today?  Let’s find out.

AVRIL LAVIGNE – Under My Skin (2004 Arista)

Let’s get on with it.  The version of Under My Skin that I have comprises 13 songs, so let’s put the headphones on.   “Take Me Away” opens strongly with sparse, polished guitars and keyboards.  It sounds like Evanescence, actually.  It was written by Avril and her guitarist Evan Taubenfeld.  At this point, Avril wasn’t singing with any annoying contrivances in her voice.  She was just blasting away (most likely in autotune).  Given that this song is very produced and plasticized, it’s still a good song.  So far we’re 1/1.

AVRIL_0004“Together” is a bit too melodramatic for Mike 2014, but damn, I still love that fucking chorus. I’m singing along with my fist in the air.  Shit!  2/2.

One of several hit singles was the ballady “Don’t Tell Me”.  This one makes me want to vomit in my mouth a little bit.  I’m uncomfortable with this kind of teenybop rock now.  But that fucking chorus hits and…ahh fuck!  Still, the chorus can’t save the song, it’s shite.  2/3.

Avril returns to her so-called punk roots with “He Wasn’t”.  Phil X on guitar here, but he doesn’t get to solo (a damn shame).  As much as I want to hate the song, I can’t.  It seems pretty sincere, and it ain’t bad.  It’s snarky but not annoyingly so.  3/4 now.  “How Does It Feel” is a ballad, not a bad one either.  The instrumental production on this one (by Raine Maida) is excellent, although the vocals still sound autotuned.  Phil X again on guitar.  The score is now 4/5.

I’m a total sucker for the single “My Happy Ending”.  Butch Walker wrote a pretty cool song, and the chorus is one of those Avril bellows that she is known for.  The lyrics, like most of ’em, are about some dude.  I can’t really sing along to “He was everything, everything that I wanted,” sincerely, you know?  Still, the score is now 5/6.  And it’s going to go up to 6/7, because I remember liking the song “Nobody’s Home” a lot.  I’m not sure what the lyrics are exactly about, but Avril sounds like she’s trying to get serious, so that’s better than words about some dude.  Ben Moody from Evanescence itself co-wrote this one, so you can guess who it naturally reminds me of.  Still, I’ll maintain that 6/7 because the chorus is still great.

“Forgotten” starts out crap.  You sure can tell this one was written by Chantal Kreviazuk as that is who it sounds like.  The track doesn’t improve on the chorus.  Pass.  The board reads 6/8.   A good song called “Who Knows” is up next, and even though it wasn’t one of the single, I think it’s one of the best songs.  This one kind of sounds like a pop metal anthem, you could imagine a band like Warrant having a song like this.  It has mellow acoustic verses with a shout-y fun singalong chorus.  7/9 now!  “Fall To Pieces”, written with Raine Maida sounds like an Our Lady Peace outtake.    A pretty good outtake, with a great bridge.  Good enough for 8/10.

I have always liked “Freak Out”.  It’s just fun.  This one too sounds like a Raine Maida construction, but it is not.  It’s written by Butch Walker and Avril’s drummer Matt Brann.  It’s easier to listen to than most Our Lady Pea(ee-yai-ee-aye-ee)ce, so the score is now 9/11.  As my buddy Craig might say, it’s looking like it’s time to hand in my Man Card.

Maybe not!  “Slipped Away” is utter shite that I cannot listen to.  It sounds like Chantal…guess who wrote it?  The chorus is not too bad, but this song is crap.  Can’t take it.  If I could deduct 2 points, I would.  9/12.  It’s down to the “bonus track” now.  “I Always Get What I Want” originally came from a UK edition, but I bought this CD from my nearest Walmart.  There’s something on the fine print about Sony BMG Music Entertainment (UK) Ltd, so maybe that’s something to do with it.  “I Always Get What I Want” is another “punky” Avril, but like “Slipped Away”, it too is crap.  Sounds like Avril’s trying to be her heroes, Green Day.  No thank you.

The final score for Avril Lavigne’s Under My Skin is 9/13.  Did I like it as much now as I did in 2004?  Not quite.  It might have been that I liked a couple more of those sappy songs.  However, I’ve already said far too much here.  I’m going to cut my losses and get out now.

3.5/5 stars

#321: That Crush on Avril (RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale)

NEW SERIES

Welcome to the first of my new continuing series; the “Post-Record Store Tales” I’ve been talking about.  Here are the RECORD STORE TALES MkII:  Getting More Tale.  Featuring my Simon Pegg action figure as the new “Mini-LeBrain”! Title suggested by Aaron!

To quote David St. Hubbins, “Hope you like our new direction!”

LEBRAIN AND AVRIL

RECORD STORE TALES Mk II:  Getting More Tale

#321:  That Crush on Avril

One of those lingering points left after the conclusion of Record Store Tales was this: my unexplained, unusually large Avril Lavigne CD collection.  This is that tale.

When Avril’s first album arrived in 2002, I was encouraged to listen to it by a new hire at the Record Store.  “I hear that this album has some of the best pop songwriting that has come out in years,” he said.  “From a technical point of view.  I read that the album is just mathematically perfect, from a songwriting perspective.  Mind if we listen to it?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Throw it on.”  I scanned the credits.  Each song was co-written by big name mega-writers with more gold records than I have socks.  There were big name producers on every song, and some familiar names from my metal collection:  Josh Freese might be best known as the drummer in the Vandals (among many others) but I first heard his name in regards to Guns N’ Roses who he was with for a short time.  Another guy, Alessandro Elena, was the drummer in Bruce Dickinson’s Skunkworks.  (He’s the subject of their song, “I’m In a Band with an Italian Drummer.”)

I know that the album was mostly pre-fab, but I didn’t mind it.  Since I was limited in what I could usually listen to in-store, and Avril was fairly safe, I played it a lot.  I always recommended it to customers who were looking for new music for their kids, who thought Britney was getting too skanky.  As a bonus, punk kids seemed to hate her.  Eventually I bought a copy myself.

I probably annoyed the shit out of my co-workers.

AVRILAvril released her heavier second album (Under My Skin) in 2004, and this is where my crush really began. Avril had a new image and a new sound.  I don’t like thinking about that crush anymore; I have been mocked enough.  Hell, Craig Fee mocked me for it on the air just this past Wednesday!  It is true that I had a crush on Avril.  The new grown-up Avril had gothed out and turned up on the cover of Maxim.  Maxim agreed with me, just look at that headline!

Today, the thoughts of “Chavril”, that unholy union between Avril and Horse-man, makes me feel ill.  It’s like finding out your ex-girlfriend is now seeing that jock in school you just fucking hated.  We recently heard that Chavril was splitting.  If so, I say good for her!

So anyway, the second album: It had more names from my metal shelves.  In addition to Josh Freese, the legendary Kenny Aranoff and the astounding Brooks Wackerman played drums.  Phil X of Bon Jovi and Triumph was on axe.  Finally the Canadian duo of Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida were playing and co-writing on most songs too.  This is accompanied by an overall darker and harder approach.

I liked the album a lot in 2004.  Will I like it in 2014?  Let’s find out tomorrow, for a full review.

To be continued…

AVRIL_0003

DVD REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Anthology (2006)

I acquired this DVD for ridiculously cheap at my old place of employ via their web order service, but after I left their employ so no staff discount.  Its condition is impeccable!  Very impressive.

BRUCE DICKINSON – Anthology (2006 Sanctuary)

Bruce Dickinson is that rare kind of artist, one whose solo work has the same level of quality, integrity and emotional impact as the work with his better-known band. I think it is safe to say that most Iron Maiden fans have enjoyed Bruce Dickinson’s solo work, or at least most of it. This DVD Anthology is a complete collection of all of Dickinson’s solo video material in one 3-disc package.

Up first is Bruce’s live video supporting his first solo album whilst still in Maiden, Tattooed Millionaire. This video, which was extremely rare when it first came out (I never located a copy), was called Dive! Dive! Live! and featured Maiden guitarist Janick Gers. It also features every song from that Tattooed Millionaire performed live, plus several B-sides and a handful of covers.  No Maiden.  As Bruce was proud to say, this video is very raw. Also on the first DVD is the video Skunkworks Live, which was released in the mid 1990’s. It featured Dickinson’s new solo band, also called Skunkworks, featuring guitarist Alex Dickson. I was not a huge fan of Skunkworks, as I found their style (particularly the bass by Chris Dale) not to mesh so well with Bruce’s songs. Most of the Skunkworks album is performed live, plus some older songs and B-sides, and one Maiden cover (“The Prisoner”). This is another very rare performance as once again, the original video was very hard to find.

Disc 2 is the Scream For Me Brazil show, featuring my favourite lineup of Bruce’s band. Roy Z and Adrian Smith on guitars, the hulking Eddie Casilias on bass, and the talented tribal and bizarre Dave Ingraham on drums. This to me was Bruce’s finest moment as a solo artist. The performance itself was never meant to be released at first, this is a rough and raw video feed. However, as grainy as it is, the raw energy and sheer performance chops of Bruce and his ace band come through. The tracklist is a mix of songs from the three albums featuring Roy Z (Balls to Picasso, Accident of Birth, and Chemical Wedding).

Disc 3 is my personal favourite disc, seeing as Bruce’s music videos were rarely shown on Much. Every video is included here. There are some really off the wall videos directed by Storm Thorgerson (check out “Tattooed Millionaire”! Shoes for hats?) and some really cool horror-chiller-theater-type videos directed by Julian Doyle. Further on, I loved “Accident Of Birth” (directed by Bruce himself), mainly because Dave Ingraham makes awesome faces while playing the drums, and is wearing this funny leather aviation hat through the whole thing. But that’s nothing, wait until you see “Road To Hell”. Ingraham is now wearing a gas mask through the whole thing! Julian Doyle’s “Abduction” video is also cool, as Bruce himself is captured by mysterious Men in Black, and experimented upon….

But there are some pretty bad videos too. “Tears of the Dragon” comes to mind, a great song, but a terrible video. Here’s Bruce, looking all pensive…then there’s some weird sumo wrestler looking guy…fire…a beach…Bruce wrecking stuff…I would have preferred to see his band. It was the early 90’s, and this was the kind of video that people were sick of seeing, pompous and self-important. Awful video.

Lastly as a bonus there is an old Samson video directed by Julian Temple. I don’t even know what to say about Biceps of Steel except it’s an odd one! There is also a lot of supplimentary bonus material, including some introductions and explanations from Bruce himself….

This package was extremely well assembled, and is very enjoyable for all Bruce Dickinson fans. You won’t be let down.  Completists in particular will appreciate that Bruce is very hands-on with his product and tends to give the fans what they wanted along with stuff they didn’t know existed.  Full endorsement from LeBrain.

5/5 stars

More BRUCE DICKINSON at mikeladano.com:

Accident of Birth (1997) Man of Sorrows EP (1997)
Balls To Picasso (1994 & deluxe edition)
The Chemical Wedding (1998 Japanese import)
Skunkworks, Skunkworks Live EP (1996)
Tattooed Millionaire (1990, 2005 Sanctuary 2 disc set)
Tyranny of Souls (2005, Japanese version)
RECORD STORE TALES Part 148: Navigate the Seas of the Sun

REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Skunkworks, Skunkworks Live EP (1996)

Part 24 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – Skunkworks (1996)

Bruce’s studio band from the last album, Balls To Picasso, had a regular gig to get back to (Tribe of Gypies) and Bruce formed a new young band he called Skunkworks:  Alex Dickson (guitar), Chris Dale (bass), and Alessandro Elena (drums).  Dickson’s since turned up on Robbie Williams albums.  (I know because I bought one.)

Why Skunkworks?  Well, you know Bruce and his love of aviation.  Skunk Works is the top secret project that brought to life the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird among other advanced aircraft.

Dryden's SR-71B Blackbird, NASA 831, slices across the snow-covered southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California after being refueled by an Air Force tanker during a 1994 flight. SR-71B was the trainer version of the SR-71. The dual cockpit to allow the instructor to fly.

Skunkworks, the album, was a new direction once again.  Just as Balls To Picasso was very different from Maiden, Skunkworks was another hard left turn.  It polarized fans:  Some praised Bruce for doing something new and different again, others were puzzled and disappointed.

And some were just pissed that he’d cut his hair.

With most songs of the 13 clocking in between 3 and 4 minutes (none exceeding 5), Bruce and Alex had written a set of tight songs.  Bruce was clearly in tune with what was happening with music in the 1990’s as most songs have that alterna-90’s vibe mixed with a heady prog-rock tendency.  The sound of the album is dry and in your face.

The problem for me is most of the songs are just not memorable.  The single “Back From the Edge” (which we’ll talk about later) is great, a rocket trip to the moon in a very sleek vehicle.  Also great is the metallic and  angry (but lyrically obtuse) “Solar Confinement”.  These songs I like a lot.  Most of the lyrics have a sci-fi bent that Bruce would revisit on later solo albums, which is also fine by me.

I don’t mind the epic closer “Strange Death In Paradise”, nor the chrome choruses of “Inside the Machine”.  I like the velocity of “Innerspace”.  But a day after listening to it, I couldn’t tell you how it went.

I love the Floydian artwork that unified the album with its singles.  Compared to later Bruce albums, the artwork doesn’t stand out as much, but as a whole with all the singles it works great.

As I mentioned, fans are really polarized on this album.  There has to be something here that I’m missing.  I do like the B-sides, which were mostly fantastic!  Some were heavy, some melodic, some acoustic.  All worth having.

 

“Back From the Edge” CD1 contained:

  • “Rescue Day”
  • “God’s Not Coming Back”
  • “Armchair Hero”

 

“Back From the Edge” CD2 contained:

  • “R 101”
  • “Re-Entry”
  • “Americans Are Behind” (one of Bruce’s trademark joke songs)

 

And the “Back From the Edge” 7″ picture disc contained:

  • “I’m In A Band With An Italian Drummer” (another joke song based on Alessandro Elena)

SKUNKWORKS – Live (1996 Japanese EP)

There would also be a cool live EP, billed under the name Skunkworks, and just titled Live.  This was only made available in Japan, and I paid $30 for a copy at HMV 333 Yonge St.  Now, this and all the B-sides are available on a deluxe edition of the album.  Then, I spent a lot of money to get all the songs, but the end result is a bunch of cool looking discs with united artwork.

The Live EP had four tracks, three from Skunkworks:  “Inertia”, “Faith”, and “Innerspace”.  It was capped off by a Maiden cover, “The Prisoner”, something Bruce was only beginning to do as a solo artist.  As a cover it highlights the differences in bands.

For the album Skunkworks:

2.75/5 stars

For the EP Skunkworks Live:

3/5 stars

Perhaps Bruce felt a tugging in his heart for heavy metal, or perhaps the fans were too vocal in their rejection of Skunkworks.  Whatever the case may be, Bruce decided to abandon the band Skunkworks.  He turned to his friend Roy Z, from Tribe of Gypsies and co-writer of Balls To Picasso.

“I want to make a heavy metal album,” said Bruce.  “Do you have any metal riffs?”

As it turned out, Mr. Z had plenty.  The Balls To Picasso lineup was back.  And that wasn’t the only reunion in the works.