Alice Cooper

REVIEW: Nita Strauss – Controlled Chaos (2018)

NITA STRAUSS – Controlled Chaos (2018 Sumerian Records)

Nita Strauss became a household name touring the world and playing lead guitar with Alice Cooper.  Her natural ability and charisma ensured that the next question would be “when is she putting out a solo album?”  In 2018 Strauss released her entirely instrumental debut Controlled Chaos, playing everything except drums and keyboards.

Her choppy rhythm on “Alegria” soon gives way to extremely melodic (and fast) lead work.  Strauss’ talent seems to be taking a melody and making it as exciting as possible with only six strings.  There are shades of Yngwie, Joe and other assorted big-namer instrumentalists without sounding like any specific one.  The weakness is unfortunately the drums (by Josh Villalta) which are robotic and flat.  “Our Most Desperate Hour” sports blurry fast drum blitzes that should be exciting but instead sound artificial.  Worst track:  “Mariana Trench” due to long stretches of bland double bass.  Fortunately this album is more about the guitar.  Lots and lots of guitar.

Track after track, Nita blazes a tapestry of technique.  Her guitar creates moods — tension is in the air.  But she also does excellent ballads.  “Here With You” is the first.  Guitar instrumental ballads are a thing unto themselves.  She creates a powerful presence on “Here With You” with layers of guitars working together.

“The Stillness at the End” is a an examination of one of Nita’s techniques: densely layered guitars in harmony.  Here she mostly forgoes speed in favour of building up the melodies.  Keyboards are used sparingly, such as the intro to “The Quest” which goes full Yngwie in dragon-hunting mode.  But ballads like “Hope Grows” might give us a better look at Nita’s inner workings.  The sparse arrangement lets you really hear the feeling in her playing.  She has an excellent sense of composition, knowing exactly when to throw on some emphasis.  Indeed, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the ballads are the best tracks.

“Lion Among Wolves”, “Pandemonium 2.0” and “The Show Must Go On” all have their own guitar thrills to enjoy.  “Pandemonium” stands out due to an excellent outro guitar melody.  And if you’re wondering, “Hey, is ‘The Show Must Go On'” the old Queen song?  Indeed it is, featuring Nita sharing the stage with a cello (Tina Guo).  Great choice on which to end the album.  The cello solo is freaky.

Controlled Chaos is a good debut.  The drums are a sonic stumbling block.  As far as playing, composition and entertainment, Nita delivers the goods.  The songs could use a little more variety to give them album some texture, but there is plenty of room for Strauss to grow as her career is just going to get bigger.

3/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits (1974)

ALICE COOPER – Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits (1974 Warner)

Picture this:  a kid, just turned 17.  An older uncle named Don Don.  Recording tapes off each other in the summertime.  I didn’t know much of Alice Cooper.  “Teenage Frankenstein”, “The Man Behind the Mask”, and “I Got A Line On You” were the songs I knew best.  I heard a bit of a live version of “I’m Eighteen”, and a Krokus cover of “School’s Out”.  That’s all I knew.  But my uncle had Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits in his tape collection, and I had a blank tape.

I recorded Greatest Hits on one side of a 90 minute cassette.  (Eventually I taped Trash on the other side.)  My impressions at that young age were mixed.  The music sounded old fashioned.  Not at all like his 80s stuff.  While some songs (“Desperado”) flat out lost me, after a couple listens, other tunes started to jump out.

Some of the elements that appealed to me were the lyrics.  “She asked me why the singer’s name was Alice, I said ‘listen baby, you really wouldn’t understand.'” (“Be My Lover”.)  “The Reverend Smith he recognized me and punched me in the nose.”  (“No More Mr. Nice Guy”.)   Of course, “Elected” too — that goes without saying.  Simple, comedic and effective lyrics.

The huge orchestration behind “Hello Hooray” hit me where it counts too.  I grew up on soundtracks and orchestras, so anytime a band used a big bombastic arrangement like that in rock song, it immediately appealed to me.  Even then I was aware of Bob Ezrin from his work with Kiss.

My favourite song on the whole thing was “Teenage Lament ’74”.  What is it about that song?  The old-fashioned jangly rock and roll?  The unforgettable “What are you gonna do?” chorus?  Although it’s fallen by the wayside since, “Teenage Lament” is still an Alice Cooper triumph of triumphs.  On the cassette version, it had a place of honour — second song, side one, right after “I’m Eighteen”.  I couldn’t figure out all the words but I got the jist.  I still love what I perceive to be its old-fashioned sound.  Alice Cooper didn’t need to be heavy to be awesome.  I was learning this.  None of Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits would be considered “heavy” by the standards of the time when I first heard it (1989).

“Is It My Body”, “Under My Wheels”, and “Billion Dollar Babies” were the next songs to slowly reveal themselves to me.  “Muscle of Love” and “Desperado” were the last ones to enter into this new Alice love affair.  Before long, they were all memorized.  Then it was time to start collecting the albums!  Billion Dollar Babies seemed like a wise choice, since I liked so many of its songs on Greatest Hits.  And that’s how a greatest hits album is supposed to work.  It is meant to whet the appetite and make you want more.

Today Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits has been supplanted by more recent, more complete greatest hits discs, remastered for the modern age.  That’s fine and well, but Greatest Hits works better as a first Alice.  The track order, the more concise running time (41 minutes), and of course the classic cover art made this something special.  It’s historic as it was the very last product released by the original Alice Cooper group before Vincent Furnier went solo.  Also worth noting:  all tracks were remixed by Jack Richardson, but you probably won’t even notice.  Completionists, pay attention.

Want an awesome first experience with Alice Cooper?  Follow my lead and check out Greatest Hits.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – El Paso County Coliseum – The Classic Texas Broadcast -1980

ALICE COOPER – El Paso County Coliseum: The Classic Texas Broadcast -1980 (2016 Zip City)

At 80:33, the Alice Cooper Texas Broadcast CD release by Zip City is additional proof that you can indeed squeeze more than 80 minutes onto a CD!  The Flush the Fashion tour presented a whole slew of tracks that were rarely if ever played again.  Broadcasts of tours such as this are more than just curiosities to fans who already have all the official live releases.

An instrumental snippet of “Elected” precedes opening number “Grim Facts” from the current album.  It’s not the most outstanding song from an uneven album, but it does have a nice choppy guitar riff and solo.  Then it’s the familiar, slinky bassline that opens “Go to Hell“.  Alice’s vocal is a little erratic but of course you have to remember he’s moving around on stage, playing a part while trying to sing.  The audio is close to official live album quality, with very little excess noise.  From the same album, “Guilty” is a treat.  It’s one of the increasingly fewer rock-and-rollers that Cooper recorded after the original band split.  Alice can’t quite hit the note from the chorus hook, but that’s live music for you.  Better than an overdub recorded six months later in a little studio in another state.

Flush the Fashion boasted some really excellent tunes among the filler, and “Pain” is one of them.  Live it doesn’t punch as hard, but Alice delivers a passionate vocal.  “Talk Talk” is one of the new Alice tunes that took him into a Cars-like New Wave direction.  Filler for some, treasure for others.  Not as good as “Pain” for certain.

The first seriously classic dinosaur oldies rolled out are “I’m Eighteen” and, oddly enough, “Gutter Cat Vs. the Jets”.  Pouring on the melodrama, “Eighteen” is one for the record books, a top-notch version better than some of the official ones.  “Gutter Cat”, though?  What an odd one to pull out of the hat, and as soon as that bouncy bassline and quirky keyboard drop, we’re jumping up and down.  The arrangement’s been slightly modified from the School’s Out original but we’re just glad to hear it.

The set bounces back between old and brand new, and up next:  “Clones”, probably the undisputed best of the new Alice tunes and the only one that could be considered a hit.  Screams fill the air as soon as that synth riff hits.  A tight, feedback-laden version is rolled out in under three minutes.  Then it’s a bit of filler (“Nuclear Infected”) before they revert back to the oldies with “Billion Dollar Babies”/”I Love the Dead”.  Some blistering guitar work on “Billion Dollar Babies” would have you thinking this version was from a far earlier vintage.  Slicker than a weasel indeed!

Alice takes a break while the band do a long jam to some riffs from Alice Cooper Goes to Hell.  When Alice returns it is with an excellent rock & roll version of “Dance Yourself to Death”, far better than the Flush the Fashion original.  One dig at John Travolta snuck in, and from this point forward the Alice Cooper show is all about the classics.  The unmistakable “Only Women Bleed” provides a musical respite with understated drama.  Back to the rock with “Road Rats” from 1977 (OK, not that old by contemporary standards, but definitely of an earlier era).  The ode to roadies is seldom played but shouldn’t be.

“Sick Things”, “Is It My Body”, “Black Widow”, “Elected” and “School’s Out” are the final five, and yes that means Alice neglected a few hits.  There was no “Hello Hooray” nor “Welcome to My Nightmare”.  It doesn’t seem like anybody would have gone home dissatisfied.

The sound quality changes and improves partway through this CD, and a look at the actual setlist for this show reveals why.  Alice played “I Never Cry” that day between “Pain” and “Talk Talk”, and didn’t play “I’m Eighteen” until closer to the end.  He also apparently opened with “Model Citizen”, absent here.  He didn’t play “Billion Dollar Babies” or “I Love the Dead” at that show, but here they are.  That means this CD is not a single complete gig, but has been edited together from additional sources.

Given the rarity of most of the these tracks (many of these were the first time they were ever played live), buying this CD is a slam dunk win for any serious fan.  For the casual, you will hear a slew of well recorded Cooper classics and plenty of songs you won’t know but may end up loving.  It’s like a win-win.  Shame it’s not a full single show, but it’ll have to do for now.

3.5/5 stars

Rest in Peace Uncle Don Don

My Uncle Don was the only rock n’ roller in the family.  When we were kids, we called him “Uncle Don Don”.  Our cousin Geoff already had an Uncle Don (my dad), so my mom’s brother became Uncle Don Don.  It’s just much simpler for kids if everybody has a different name.

Uncle Don had curly, flaming red hair.  Those Scottish roots.  In the old days he wore it long.  Come summer, he’d be at the cottage in nothing but a pair of old cutoff jean shorts.  Whether he was playing badminton with us, or just drinking a beer with the adults, he was always there with the jean shorts.

I can reveal now that it was Uncle Don who inspired a portion of Record Store Tales Part 2:  Gimme An R!

“Occasionally we would hear rumours.  Usually these ‘little known facts’ would come from that one uncle that everyone had, the one who wore no shirt, watched a lot of football, and had a handlebar moustache.  Usually this stereotypical uncle would say, ‘Yeah, Helix have been around a long time, like 20 years, I saw them when they were still a country band.  My buddy was in the band too.'”

Uncle Don was the very uncle who told me that Helix were once a country band.  That was him.  No shirt, football and that moustache!  Flaming red.  And jean shorts.

As I got older and into classic rock, we started to connect a little bit.  We were closer in the late 80s and early 90s.  He used to come over to the house and borrow tapes off me so he could record them.  He liked my Zeppelin and my Deep Purple.  From him, I recorded Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits — my very first Alice.  That happened in the summer of 1989, and I had no idea what to expect from Alice.  I also have a fond memory of us hanging out at the beach one afternoon, just the two of us.  It was a wavy day in August 1992.  I wonder if he wore the jean shorts that day too?

As the years passed, Uncle Don became more reclusive.  I had not seen him in many months.  He was not well.  Cancer was slowly starting to take him.  He knew he was going, and he knew he didn’t have many days left.  At least we had time to prepare.  My mom and aunt, and especially my grandmother, will miss him very much.  Uncle Don was the “baby of the family”, born much later than his two older sisters.  In many ways he had to live with being the “baby of the family” for his whole life.

Uncle Don passed away this afternoon at Freeport hospital in Kitchener.  As a family, we are all relieved that he is no longer in pain.  It is going to take time to process these feelings.  I worry about my grandmother, who still lived with him.  She is 95.  I spoke to her just yesterday.  She is prepared to go on without him, but I worry all the same.

There was nobody else in the family with long hair, listening to Alice Cooper.  It was nice having somebody else with the same tastes.  I thought a bit about what song he would have liked for this post.  I thought about “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Zeppelin, but I think I need a song for me this time. From Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits, it’s “Teenage Lament ’74”.  The song that jumped out at me immediately as something really special.  The song I played over and over again, trying to figure out the words.  The song that just inexplicably connected with me.  I thought it was neat that I was going into my teens, listening to the music he listened to in his teens.  I started collecting Alice Cooper immediately.  Trash was next, followed by Billion Dollar Babies, School’s Out and Welcome to My Nightmare.  Thanks for introducing me to Alice Cooper, Uncle Don.  You changed a life.  I will never forget you.

 

What a drag it is,
In these gold lame jeans.
Is this the coolest way,
To get though your teens?
Well I cut my hair weird,
I read that it was in.
I look like a rooster,
That was drowned and raised again.

What are you going to do?
I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.
Why don’t you get away?
I’m going to leave today.

I ran into my room,
And I fell down on my knees,
Well I thought that fifteen,
Was going to be a breeze.
I picked up my guitar,
To blast away the clouds,
Somebody in the next room yelled,
You got to turn that damn thing down.

What are you going to do?
I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.
Why don’t you get away?
Well I’m going to cry all day.

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – “Don’t Give Up” (2020 iTunes)

ALICE COOPER – “Don’t Give Up” (2020 iTunes)

Thank God for Alice Cooper! 50 years ago, he was considered by the mainstream to be nothing more than an untalented shock rocker. In 2020, he is inspiring people to keep on keepin’ on. He’s got a powerful message for anyone who needs to hear it.

“Don’t Give Up” is the most direct, the most topical and the least “Alice” song that the Coop has ever done. Why the “least” Alice? Because this time he is not playing a character. He’s not telling some horrifying bedtime story. Or is he? “Don’t Give Up” is about Coronavirus and blatantly so.

“Yeah, I know you’re struggling right now. We all are, in different ways. It’s like a new world that we don’t even know. It’s hard to sleep, even harder to dream. But look, you got seven billion brothers and sisters all in the same boat! So don’t panic. Life has a way of surviving and going on and on. We’re not fragile and we sure don’t break easy.”

This single was recorded in home studios.  It’s accompanied by a cool video expertly produced by Canuck Frank Gryner, using footage sent in by fans.  It is so rare for Alice to really make a statement that pertains to current events.  And it is a very specific song; there are no underlying stories or metaphors to untangle.  But when you think about Coop, it’s not really surprising that he came out of the gates so fast with a song like this.  Alice Cooper is a human being that cares about other human beings.  The message is simple:  keep fighting and don’t give up.  Sometimes people need to actually hear the words.

Musically you could call “Don’t Give Up” a power ballad.  It has a very 80’s guitar figure, with Alice speaking his message over it.  The chorus is more modern, with Alice singing as plaintively as he can.  “Don’t Give Up” is unremarkable as a rock ballad, but as a lyrical accomplishment, Alice has forged new ground 50 years on.  He has written some remarkably powerful words.

“Our enemy is a cold, indiscriminate monster.  It doesn’t care if you’re old or a newborn.  It exists to kill.  You and I are nothing to it.  It has no heart or soul or conscience.  Do we fear it? Yeah! Do we cower before it? Hell no! We’re the blood-n-guts human race. And we win.”

The important thing that Alice says here is that it is alright to be afraid.  Look, Alice has fought demons, and if this scares him then there is no shame in feeling fear.  People are being labelled as cowards for wearing a mask in public.   Alice is right — we will win, and we will do whatever it takes to win.  If you’re scared right now, you tell ’em that Alice Cooper said that’s OK.

3.5/5 stars

 

#816: Escape

GETTING MORE TALE #816: Escape

 

Depression is a bugger.   I’m a fighter but even a fighter can’t keep it up all the time.  We all have our struggles.  Mine are usually against myself.

Can’t write.  No words.  No interest in words.  No fresh ideas.  Nothing worth putting down on paper.

So much to do.  No energy to do any of it.

Talked to someone for a bit.  Felt better for a bit.  Wrote something for a bit.  But it was temporary at best.

The couch called.  And them something interesting happened.  I ran across a Youtube video.

“I could use this bit for the Sausagefest countdown this summer,” I thought.  It’s usually best to get the idea down right away before I forget it.

I went to my work station, downloaded some audio clips, recorded some dialogue and started editing.  Had something to eat.  Came back to it.  Tinkered and tweaked.  Listened back.  It’s good; it’s funny.  It just needs some more originality.  Went back at it the next morning and finished it to my satisfaction.  Then I started work on the next one.

In my mind, it was already July.  I closed my eyes and imagined my fellow Festers’ reactions to the bits I was recording.  I was blissfully unaware of the snow coming down outside.  There was no slush on my sidewalks.  Just sun and Sausagefest.  Eyes closed, I pictured the scene.  When are they laughing?  When is the bit dragging?  Tweak and tinker some more.

I managed to escape, if only for a little while.

Escaping to the summer.  To the happy place.  Not just escaping though, but also working on making the 2020 event happen.  An escape, but a productive escape at least.

Paint on my cruel or happy face,
I hide me behind it,
It takes me inside another place,
Where no one can find it.

Escape, I get out when I can,
I escape anytime I can,
It’s all escape, I’m crying in my beer,
Come on, let’s escape, just get me out of here.

Don’t get me wrong, don’t get me right,
I’m not like you are,
When I get home from work at night,
I’m blacker and bluer.

So I escape, I get out when I can,
I escape anytime I can,
It’s all escape, I’m crying in my beer,
Escape, just get me out of here.

But where am I running to?
There’s no place to go.
Just put on my make-up,
And get me to the show, yeah, escape.
Yeah, what are you waiting for?

My doctor said, just come around,
And you’ll be taken care of,
And while he ran my problems down,
I stole his mascara.

That’s how I escape, I get out when I can,
I escape anyway I can,
I escape, I’m crying in my beer,
Let’s escape, just get me out of here,
Escape, let’s get out while we can,
It’s escape, anyway we can,
Come on, let’s escape,
Nobody wants us around here anyway.

REVIEW: We Wish You A Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year – Various Artists (2008)

WE WISH YOU A METAL XMAS AND A HEADBANGING NEW YEAR (2008 Armoury)

Yep, It’s another Bob Kulick album with various guests.  You know what you’re going to get.  Let’s not dilly-dally; let’s crack open the cranberry sauce and see what a Metal Xmas sounds like.

Generic!  A truly ordinary title track features the amazing Jeff Scott Soto on lead vocals, but it’s a purely cookie-cutter arrangement with all the cheesy adornments you expect.  Ray Luzier fans will enjoy the busy drums, but this does not bode well for the album.

Fortunately it’s Lemmy to the rescue, with “Run Rudolph Run”, an utterly classic performance with Billy Gibbons and Dave Grohl.  All spit n’ vinegar with no apologies and nary a mistletoe in sight.  I remember playing this for my sister Dr. Kathryn Ladano in the car one Christmas.

When Lemmy opened his yap, she proclaimed “This is bullshit!  How come they get to make albums and not me?”

Lemmy Kilmister, pissing people off since day one, has done it again.  You can buy the CD for “Run Rudolph Run” even if the rest is utter shit.

A silly “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Alice Cooper echoes “The Black Widow”, but novelty value aside, is not very good.  A joke song can only take you so far, and Alice is usually far more clever.  (At least John 5’s soloing is quite delicious.)  And even though Dio is next, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” comes across as a joke, too.  Which is a shame because the lineup is a Dio/Sabbath hybrid:  Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo, and Simon Wright.  Dio’s joyless, dead serious interpretation is amusing only because of its unintentional dry humour.

Funny enough, Geoff Tate’s “Silver Bells” has the right attitude.  Even though Geoff is perpetually flat, his spirited version (with Carlos Cavazo, James Lomenzo and Ray Luzier) kicks up some snow.  That makes me happy, but it pains me to say that Dug Pinnick’s “Little Drummer Boy” (with George Lynch, Billy Sheehan and Simon Phillips) doesn’t jingle.  Ripper Owens, Steve More & pals team up next on “Santa Claus is Back in Town”, so bad that it borders on parody.

The most bizarre track is Chuck Billy’s “Silent Night”, with thrash buddies like Scott Ian.  Chuck performs it in his death metal growl, and it’s pure comedy.  Oni Logan can’t follow that with “Deck the Halls”, though it’s pretty inoffensive.  Stephen Pearcy’s “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” adapts the riff from “Tie Your Mother Down” and succeeds in creating a listenable track.  “Rockin’ Around the Xmas Tree” is ably performed by Joe Lynn Turner, sounding a lot like a Christmas party jam.

The final artist is Tommy Shaw with John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”.  It’s an authentic version and while not a replacement for the original, will be enjoyable to Styx fans.

Christmas albums by rock artists are, let’s be honest, rarely worthwhile.  This one has only a handful of keepers so spend wisely.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Play It! ROCK – An EMI In-Store Play Compilation – Various Artists (1997)

Play It! Volume Seven – ROCK – An EMI In-Store Play Compilation (1997 EMI promo)

“Woah!  I own ‘Song 2’.  How about that.”

That was my first reaction upon revisiting this old promo CD from the Record Store days.  I really didn’t know that I had that song, and I’m sort of glad that I do.  This was a freebie, and not a bad one as it had some rarities on it.  In fact there’s only one artist on this disc I’d flat-out skip.  Let’s dive on in.

The first track is a rarity:  an unadvertized single edit of “Temptation” by the Tea Party.  “Temptation”, crossing the new sample-driven sounds of the late 90s with classic exotic Zeppelin, was huge.  The single edit snips off the extended intro.  Industrial rock band Econoline Crush is up second, who also had a big album (The Devil You Know) at the time.  “Home” was a memorable fast-paced single, but their big single “All That You Are”  is also included as track #14.  Far more mainstream, “All That You Are” was omnipresent in 1997.  It’s still a little too over-familiar to be enjoyable.

Skip Meredith Brooks.  I’ll be happy if I never hear the novelty song “Bitch” ever again.  Brooks has a second track on this CD, “I Need”, which suffers due to the spoken word verses.  No thanks.  Skip ’em both.  “I Need” reminds me of what I hated about 90s music.

Foo Fighters’ “Monkey Wrench” and “Everlong” were two of the greatest singles of 1997.  Fast paced, drums-a-blazing, and perfectly rifftastic.  In ’97 Grohl could do no wrong.  He released one of the few perfect albums of the year.  ’97 was Peak Foo — prove me wrong.  Flawless songs, still not taxing on the ears.  Probably never will be.

Queensryche had a new album in 1997, the ill-fated Hear in the Now Frontier.  “You” wasn’t one of the most notable songs, and here on this mainstream compilation, doesn’t fare well.  I don’t think EMI knew what to do with Queensryche, so hey let’s pick a song with 90’s intonations and throw it on this store play disc.  A second Tea Party song, “Transmission”, is its full unedited length, combining the same ingredients as “Temptation” but at lower velocity.  “Song 2” follows that, I song I’m admittedly not bored with at all.  A second Blur track later down the line, “M.O.B.” boats a cool riff and pop sensibilities.

I Mother Earth were riding a wave with their second album Scenery and Fish.  I’m not a fan of that disc and I can usually do without “Used to Be Alright”.  Fortunately Megadeth bring some metal to the proceedings.  From the underrated Cryptic Writings comes “Almost Honest”, a hard rocking single with nary a glimmer of thrash.  Great song from a period when Megadeth were quite adept at writing mainstream metal.

Rarities ahoy!  Moist’s “Tangerine” is remixed here, a mix that is far more industrial than the album, but that’s why remixes go on weird compilations I suppose.  Always fascinating, Glueleg are up next with “Dragonfly”, one of their catchiest numbers, still maintaining their weird genre-bending tendencies.

Alice Cooper steps in with a live version of “School’s Out”.  This being 1997, that automatically means it’s the one from A Fistful of Alice.  It’s a little strange hearing “School’s Out” on a compilation of all-new material, but I suppose EMI didn’t have confidence that a new Alice song (“Is Anyone Home?”) would attract new buyers.  But they were more likely to hear Radiohead’s “Let Down” and buy OK Computer instead.  It’s a stunning ballad that might have been unfamiliar to those who hadn’t bought the album yet — the exact people this CD was aimed at!  The CD closes on the slide-inflected “Faded” by Ben Harper.  It’s choked by unnecessarily grungy production.

Record companies rarely sent us free CDs, because we were a used CD store and they assumed we’d sell ’em.  What they didn’t realize was that it was usually guys like the asshole at CD Plus that would be selling their free CDs.  We’d try to be educated about what we bought, and avoid the promos like this one.  If a customer left it behind for us to take for free, it was up for grabs.  As a store-play disc, this would have been pretty good, assuming we had all those albums in stock to sell.

2.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Come Out and Play (1985)

“Twisted Sister…come out and play!”  Happy anniversary to Come Out and Play released on this day 34 years ago.

 

TWISTED SISTER – Come Out and Play (1985 Atlantic LP & Spitfire CD remaster)

What was a band at the proverbial crossroads to do? Continue along the commercial path of the 3 million copy selling Stay Hungry?  Or revert to the tried and true heavy-as-an-SMF sound of yore?

There was only one dissenting vote.  Bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza felt that putting “Leader of the Pack” on the new album was a mistake.  The other four voted “yes” but some grew to regret it.  Both Dee Snider and J.J. French have since realized the error of their ways.  Today, Come Out and Play is acknowledged as the beginning of the end, though it has its fans and some sturdy tracks to support it.

Twisted Sister recruited Scorpions producer Dieter Dierks and enlisted high profile guest stars like Alice Cooper, Billy Joel, Brian Setzer and Clarence Clemons.  They were top-loaded onto a old-time rock and roller called “Be Chrool to Your Scuel”, and the gamble backfired immediately when MTV banned the music video for its zombies and ghouls.  It’s an interesting track at least.  You don’t hear a sax solo on a Twisted Sister song every day, nor the kind of plucking that Brian Setzer deals in.

“Leader of the Pack” was a failure as well, actually a re-recording of a track that debuted on the Ruff Cuts EP.  The video (starring the then-hot Bobcat Golthwaite) further painted Twisted Sister as a novelty band.

Tensions, especially between Mendoza and Snider, were amplified.  The songs that sound like they were meant to be “hits” fall far short.  The impression you get from “You Want What We Got” is that it was intended to be a specific kind of hit.  Unfortunately it’s just a repetitive anthem.  “Lookin’ Out for #1” is similarly filler, a song that never quite clicks.

Some tracks maintained a heavy rock presence. They include the anthem “I Believe In Rock and Roll”.  It’s a manifesto for the PMRC generation; a decent attempt that just misses the mark.  “Come Out and Play” features A.J. Pero nailing down a speedy beat, but the production of Dierks neutered the powerful drummer.  Dierks introduced keyboards to some of the tracks, watering them down needlessly.  “The Fire Still Burns” works better than some of the other songs, and despite the production you can hear A.J. is just crushing the kit.  If the backing vocals sound unusually lush, that’s Don Dokken and Gary Holland.  “Out on the Streets” trades the speed in for plaintive melodies, and is the better for it.  Finally “Kill or Be Killed” does what it promises.  Unbelievable that A.J. could play at such a relentless velocity, but he was an absolute beast.

Strangely, some of the best tracks are the ballads.  Dark ballads.  Ballads of depression, of loneliness, of alienation.  “I Believe in You” is the first of two, bolstered by strong melodies and Dee Snider’s enviable pipes.  The one that impresses the most is the CD and cassette bonus track “King of the Fools”.  Although “Kill or Be Killed” ends the album just fine, this coda adds some substance.  Sounding like a man destroyed, Dee sings the melancholy lyrics.

What kind of kingdom has no throne?
No crown or castle do I own,
I don’t have silver gold or jewels,
Yet I’m the king, king of the fools.

It’s surprisingly thoughtful songwriting, complimenting the mournful melodies.  Yet there is a defiant, powerful streak in the choruses.

King of the fools,
Who are these people to cast stones?
King of the fools,
Better a fool than just a clone.

Dee Snider has always resonated with the underdogs, the bullied, the downtrodden.  “King of the Fools” might be the most honest of all those songs.  Some regal guitar melodies by J.J. French and Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda show that they were picking up what Dee was laying down.

Here’s the catch though.  If you’re buying this album, you need “King of the Fools”.  To get it, you’ll want the CD.  But Come Out and Play might be most notable for the album cover you can only get on vinyl.  Open up that manhole cover and out pops Dee Snider in all his…all his…rags.

Heeere’s Dee!

Do what I did.  Get CD and LP, just for the cover.  Everybody needs a pop-up Dee Snider.

2.5/5 stars

#790: Helluva Halloween

GETTING MORE TALE #790: Helluva Halloween

Everybody eventually hits that age, when they are “too old” to go trick-or-treating for candy.  Highschool seemed like a good age to draw the line. Time to start handing out the candy instead of collecting it.  We all have to grow up eventually.

Do we?

Naw, screw that!

In the 10th grade, a new Halloween tradition was inaugurated.  As told in Getting More Tale #548:

We started preparing for Halloween in late August.  We began by making heads out of papier-mâché. Ours were crude, but when dressed up with sunglasses, hats or wigs, did the trick. Then we would begin working on an audio tape. This was a 60-minute long compilation of scary bits from Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden albums. We hid some speakers outside and would play the tape on a loop for background scary sounds.   Kids loved it.  Really small ones were scared, so we had to stop the tape and turn on the lights for them, but 95% thought it was awesome (including parents).  We’d see kids across the street, and they’d make a beeline for our house as soon as they saw it.  My favourite costume was the one I made in grade 10:  Alice Cooper.

Oh, that Alice Cooper costume!  I painted flames on an old black jacket so it would look something like Alice’s.  I wore his makeup.  I had fake tattoos (not knowing that Alice didn’t have any).  I had a pair of handcuffs on my belt.  Best of all though, was the sword I wore on my hip.  It was actually a fireplace poker, but you couldn’t tell in the dark.

Making the annual audio tape was a long, arduous process.  We’d fast-forward through our tape collections to record tiny bits of songs, and loop them.  The ending to “Children of the Grave” and the intro to “Powerslave” were perfect.  Occasionally we’d throw in the middle of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” with the narration and creepy violin.  Black Sabbath’s “The Dark” was almost custom made for our needs.  As time went on and our collections grew, we had more music to choose from.  Any time one of us would buy an album with music perfect for Halloween, one of us would excitedly phone the other.  In later years I was fond of the middle section from “Nightcrawler” by Judas Priest.  But it was tedious work.  You couldn’t just play the same sections over and over again, you had to space them out so kids wouldn’t get the same bits repeated while you stood there handing out candy.  We spent hours upon hours making this tape that would only be used for one night.  Blank tapes were a commodity.  We were always using them up, and looking for something to erase.  Halloween tapes were first to go.  Besides, we wanted to do it again the following year, but better!

Our scary tapes would be augmented by flashing lights courtesy of…a flashlight.  Eventually, Bob figured out how to hook up a microphone to our primitive audio setup.  We could then speak directly to the kids!

“You…across the street…come here for a treat!  Muahahahah!”

Mom & dad didn’t approve.  To them we just made a big mess and a lot of noise.  Indeed, I can remember trying to wash off that Alice Cooper makeup at the end of the night.  I left a black ring around the tub.  But my dad hated handing out candy, so I hope he appreciated that he was relieved of that duty.  Considering how long we prepared, it was actually a long ongoing mess.  Ever made papier-mâché?  No neat and tidy way to do it.  Those heads were the most work, and we left a trail of destruction in the basement, forming and painting them.  But once they were out on the front porch (either decapitated or as part of a fully clothed “body”) they sure were effective.

Bob eventually went to college, and the traditional Halloween House was discontinued.  I did it a few times without him but all the fun was gone.  The idea was briefly resurrected in the late 1990s, at T-Rev’s place. As told in Record Store Tales Part 148:

T-Rev had this cool “alien head” — he got it back in ’97 or ’98 from a convenience store.  It had alien head suckers inside.  He asked the guy at the store, “how much for the alien head?”  The guy answered, “If you buy all the suckers in it, you can have it.”  So he did.  (The candy was awful by the way.  I did my share, trying to help him consume it all.)  But he got this alien head out of it, and with it, made a cool alien costume.   And for the Halloween party that year, I wore the costume.

I would sit in a chair on T-Rev’s front porch, still as could be.  When a child would approach the door, I would suddenly move and say “Na-nu, na-nu”!  The reactions were priceless.  Some were scared, so I had to unmask and show I was just a regular guy.

“Give some candy to the Jedi over here!” I said, gesturing to the kid dressed as Darth Maul.

“I’m no Jedi!” he protested.  I should have got my terminology right.  I apologized to the Sith lord.

Even the Sith story is from 20 years ago.  Not having kids, today Halloween has fizzled out.  There are no trick-or-treaters in our building.  Most people today doing a “haunted house” experience at home buy expensive decorations at chain stores.  They get featured the in newspaper for having done an awesome job.  That’s terrific.  But we did everything ourselves.  Everything.  Nothing was “store bought”.  We improvised everything with what we had, spending weeks putting it all together.  Too bad the newspapers don’t cover kids who do everything themselves!  We would have been featured every year.

Have a happy Halloween and don’t forget to brush those teeth!