Rarity acquired! After many years of searching, I snagged a mint condition Japanese copy of Rob Halford’s album as Two with John 5. It was priced affordably and included the obi strip, always important to collectors. The Japanese copy has a second booklet with pictures of the band, missing from the original CD. Rob and John casually enjoying coffee in front of a wall of X-rays? It’s in here!
The bonus track is called “In My Head” and it’s surprising how different it is from the album at large. It still sounds like the industrial metal of Two, but criss-crossed with dirty blues. It’s like Two meets the Black Keys, in a wormhole from before the Black Keys even existed. Rob has occasionally shown a penchant for mixing the blues in with his heavy metal. Witness “A Little Crazy” from the first Fight album. John takes a really cool and inventive solo break on this track complete with plenty of slide. Had this track been on the original album, it might have had more appeal with the rockers, though that’s admittedly a long shot.
It’s not easy to find, but worth finding for the industrial blues of “In My Head”.
RECORD STORE TALES Part 212: Top 3 Rock Star Crushes
I was quite legendary at the Record Store for my celebrity crushes. I talked before about about Dayna Manning — she was but one on my list of fantasy girls.
3. MARIA DEL MAR (National Velvet)
T-Rev and I were given tickets to see Helix at Stages, in 1996. Opening was a new band fronted by ex-National Velvet singer Maria Del Mar. You might remember National Velvet’s hit, “Sex Gorilla”. Her new band was good, and after the show Maria came and sat down next to us! Gasp! She was really loaded. T-Rev and I handed her business cards for our stores and encouraged her to visit, call, sell albums there on consignment, anything!
Unfortunately, it seemed to us that she preferred the sharp Austrian looks of Peter the Rocker, who also attended the show. Maria wouldn’t leave him alone. She never called us either. At least Helix were good!
Tastes as sweet as “Sex Gorilla”
2. NICOLE HUGHES (Scratching Post)
A couple friends of ours opened for this band in 1998. I drooled all over the stage looking at singer/guitarist Nicole Hughes. That red hair. The leather skirk, playing that guitar. Oh yeah. I was in love. I admired every magazine cover she appeared on. One of the girls at work used to try to bug me by commenting that Hughes’ mouth was “too big”.
I never had the guts to speak to her at any of those concerts! Nothing more than a “great show, eh.” I was given copies of their two albums for my birthday one year. Imagine my horror at finding that I didn’t really like them. I sold them off before I quit the store.
Scratching Post’s only really good tune, “Bloodflame”
1. TALENA ATFIELD (Kittie)
I was never a Kittie fan. I’m not denying their talent, I’m just not a fan of that sound. I’ve never bought any of their albums. I only like a couple tunes. But as far as I was concerned, I did like Talena Atfield, the bassist! After she left Kittie, I found her on MySpace and sent her a message. Something lame like, “Hey, I manage a record store, you should come in if you’re in town,” or whatever. The response was brief, but positive – she called me cute! Well didn’t I go and tell everyone at the store about that?
So, they made fun of me for yet another rock star crush, but it turned out OK in the end. Now I’m married, and it’s fun to look back of these rock crushes. Mrs. LeBrain used to like Trent Reznor, so I know I’m OK! (She says she likes her men short.)
Fight was kaput. Rob had a new band, a photo of whom appeared in Metal Edge magazine. The band was called Halford, and although that would change, Rob used his surname for another band later on. I remember a weird looking blonde dude wearing a silver skin tight suit of some kind (more on him later), and I thought, “Well, OK then. This is going to be different.” Soon after the Metal Edge photo, the name had changed from Halford, to Two.
I had a buddy, Nathan, who was really into Nine Inch Nails. This Halford project was on his radar as well, due to Rob’s collaboration with Trent Reznor. At the time, Rob Halford insisted that the resulting album, an industrial/rock hybrid, was the sound he was going for all along when he quit Priest in ’92 and formed Fight.
I don’t believe that, but they did come close on the Mutations EP. I think Fight was exactly what he wanted to do at that time. When the second Fight album fizzled I think Rob questioned his musical direction, hooked up with Trent, and did this experimental record.
Two (stylized as 2wo) were experimental by Halford’s standards, but not by industrial music standards in general. Voyeurs has all the expected bells and whistles, including but not limited to: distorted vocals, the word “pig” in a song title, thumpy bass, ticky-ticky sounds, bloops, bleeps, and other stuff that sounds like broken machinery.
What does make this album special is that the band was “Two”, not “One”…meaning there is a second guy involved here, and what a talent he was. That guy was guitar player John 5. This was his breakthrough release. After this he hooked up with David Lee Roth, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, et al. John 5’s involvement means there is some wicked guitar work here, including “I Am A Pig” which features a solo that sounds like a mashup of Morello and Satriani.
Highlight songs include “I Am A Pig” (Reznor sure loves his pig imagery), “Stutter Kiss”, “Hey Sha La La”, “Water’s Leaking”, and the epic closer “Bed of Rust”. “Bed of Rust” could have made a pretty cool Fight track. I would say in fact that there are no throwaway songs here. All of them have something worthwhile to offer. Just don’t think too much about the lyrics. Halford’s delivery is understated and, at times, whispery. No screams. At Reznor’s suggestion, instead Rob explored other aspects of his voice.
Other notable names: Bob Marlette plays bass and produces. Dave “Rave” Ogilvie does some production work. Trent Reznor “executive produced”. I always wondered what that means. I picture it meaning that Trent gives the project either a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” when the real work is done.
Of course many Priest fans didn’t get it, although a chunk of the Reznor fans (who at the time would buy anything on Nothing records) accepted and enjoyed the album for what it is. I think if this was a release by a more popular band, like say Nine Inch Nails or KMFDM, it could have spawned two or three singles.
Japan had a bonus track called “In My Head” which is absolutely impossible to find, so good luck. I’ve never heard it.
It was during this period, promoting the Two album, that Rob Halford came out. People joked for a good number of years that Rob’s sexuality was the worst kept secret in rock. That can’t negate the courage that it took for Rob to come out in a musical genre that isn’t always kind to anyone who’s “different” (hello, Blabbermouth!).
“I think it’s difficult for everybody, you know, in making the decision to come forward and be who you are, based on peer pressure, especially if you’re a teenager,” Halford said. “That’s where a lot of the anxiety begins, and so maybe people like myself and others that do step in front of a camera and let the world know, maybe it’s of some help, where there’s an individual that’s been successful, that’s been able to achieve dreams and visions and goals in life and not let the issue of sexuality be something to hold them back, so I think it’s an important thing.”
Part 3 of the Aaron Challenge: He has challenged me to get out of my comfort zone. Together, we will be reviewing some of the albums he bought in Toronto during Record Store Excursion 2012. I’ve never heard any of these albums before, in fact I know almost nothing about most of these bands. But I do know I sold a lot (a lot!) of Ani DiFranco during my time at the record store.
ANI DIFRANCO – Little Plastic Castle (1998 Righteous Babe)
I remember working at the store back in ’98, and the general reception from Ani DiFranco fans to this album was positive, but mildly critical. There was a vibe that she had sold out for bigger success. That was just what I was hearing.
Having not heard the previous albums, all I can say is good music is good music. Yes, the production is lush and not what you’d think of “indy”. Listen to those mariachi horns on the title track. Not exactly low-fi. But it sounds great! What an upbeat, entertaining track. Awesome. Not to mention her guitar work is excellent. The lyrics seem to be about public perception of what she should and should not be.
“Fuel” is one I’d heard before from Aaron. I liked that one too. I like when she’s goofy. This is beat poetry with a backing band. Normally I go for a lead vocal with melody, but this works due to Ani’s well-composed expression. From there it’s on to “Gravel”, a fast melodic one with more dexterous picking from Ani. Another great tune, with melody to spare. It’s a sparse arrangement, just guitar and voice with some percussion, and that’s it.
Drums introduce “As Is”, a soft pleasant song with barely audible keyboards in the background. It’s laid back and slightly mournful but also playful, and pretty much perfect as is (pun intended). “Two Little Girls” is dark, a tale of a difficult childhood. Ani’s excellent picking, and a bouncy backing bassline, makes it entertaining, but lyrically it seems loaded with pain.
“Deep Dish” is the first song I didn’t enjoy. It features samples and long spoken word bit, and is very rhythmic. It did nothing for me, though. Sorry Ani. Nothing personal! “Loom” however is a brief (under 3 minutes) explosion of drums and acoustic picking, more along the lines of what I like. “Pixie” follows, one I didn’t click with. Ani sings in a soft whisper, expressive as ever, I just didn’t like the song. It didn’t have enough melody or punch for me.
A long song, “Swandive”, is a bit of a change of pace since most of the previous tunes were in the 4 minute range. This one builds slowly. “I’m gonna do my best swan dive, into shark infested waters,” sings Ani, while picking more of those great guitar parts. “Glass House” totally changes the pace, with a bouncy wah-wah infested bass melody intro. This is great. I didn’t see that coming, nor the weird caterwauling trumpet that followed it! Ani then whispers the lyrics, underlined by a pulsing bass, with the odd electronic effect. Then just as you’re getting used to it, the drums kick in, accelerating the tune forward, and the vocals get angry. Ani is nothing if not diverse, I’m learning, even within one song.
“Independence Day” is a beautiful song, melodic and passionate, slow and pretty. A hit song in any just world. The final song, “Pulse”, is another slow builder, with a beat poetry vibe to the verses. It’s not brief either! 14 minutes! It sounds a bit like a jam, but I wonder, since the whole album has more of a vibe of being carefully assembled rather than jammed out.
Little Plastic Castle is an excellent sounding album. The guitars are lush, full and clear. The snare drum sound is perfect. Production-wise, it’s a total triumph (and self-produced by Ani). I think the album tends to sag a bit in the middle, after such a fine start, but it’s still a great album.
And make no mistake, Meat wrote every word. No messing around from me. Enjoy!
PET SOUNDS– THE BEACH BOYS (1966)
When The Beatles released Rubber Soul in 1965, Brian Wilson heard something that inspired him to try and make his own masterpiece. The result was Pet Sounds, which saw The Beach Boys discard their typical surf-inspired ditties and create an album that will always be a classic. I remember when I first heard this album I was completely blown away that it was a 1966 album. The overall sound of it is so full and rich, and it’s funny how everyone thinks The Beatles main influence for Sgt. Peppers was drug-related, and I am sure it was, but that classic would never have been without this classic album first. Do yourself a favour and re-discover The Beach Boys by checking this out.
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE (1998)
There are a lot of people that think that the QOTSA album Rated R, is the band’s first release. In all reality it is their third release if you count the Kyuss/Queens of the Stone Age EP. However, it is a shame that this album has been somewhat overlooked. I think it is by far their best album. To gauge just how much I got into this album could never be measured. For years, I stated that this album was my favorite album ever with distortion. Now trust me I realize the exaggeration in that statement (I have since relented) but it doesn’t take away how brilliant I believe this album truly is. This is a true collection of groovy rock songs, so much so that QOTSA could have titled this album exactly that. I have not been a fan of the last few QOTSA albums, and frankly I wish they could harness this approach once again. Check out the included track “Avon”. An absolute air-drumming seminar at its finest!!
ROXY & ELSEWHERE – FRANK ZAPPA & THE MOTHERS (1974)
One of the albums previously on this list, Joe Jackson’s Big World, was a live album containing new material. Considering the content of this particular album, that format was never more impressive or more challenging than Zappa’s album Roxy & Elsewhere. From beginning to end, it’s hard to believe the complexity of what was happening onstage during these recordings. From the colourful vocals of Napoleon Murphy Brock, to the guitar-fueled madness of Zappa himself, this is my personal favorite of all of Zappa’s recordings. Songs like “Pygmy Twilite” and “Village of the Sun” are absolute genius. The concert film of these recordings is STILL in limbo for whatever reason. Included is a clip of the song “Montana”, recorded during these sessions but not included on the album itself.
SCENES FROM A MEMORY-METROPOLIS 2 – DREAM THEATER (1999)
I simply couldn’t do a list like this without including Dream Theater. I like heavy music and I like progressive music. This band combines those two qualities perhaps better than any band ever has, and on this album its done to perfection. This is your classic “concept album” and tells an interesting story that needs to be experienced. But the true experience of this album is that it is a piece of song-writing and musical brilliance. If you have seen Rush’s biopic Beyond The Lighted Stage, you might recognize the now-familiar voice of long-time Rush producer Terry Brown (who also produced the vocals on this album). The album sees John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy at their monster best and requires many listens to truly appreciate. I am not a “Rolling Stone” magazine guy myself, but it does say something that in 2012 they named this album as the Number One all-time progressive album, beating out Rush’s 2112and Yes’s Close to The Edge.
THE ACTION IS GO – FU MANCHU (1997)
This album starts off with a bang, it also ends with a bang and actually this album is just one big resounding rhythmic bang. After a few good, but not great albums (in my opinion), new drummer Brant Bjork was brought into Fu Manchu. This would result in one of the greatest “Stoner-Rock” albums of all time. This is literally the perfect driving album. Sometimes you find yourself emulating driving just sitting and listening to it. You can hear a huge Sabbath influence on this album, at least in the sound of the instruments and the driving low end. Sometimes the vocals can leave a bit to be desired, but it is not really singing in the first place. Almost sounds like a dude talkin’ to himself, which adds to the coolness of this album. One of my favorite albums of the 1990’s indeed.
WELCOME TO SKY VALLEY – KYUSS (1994)
Somewhere around early 1995, I walked into a Sunrise Records where Tom (Tom has been mentioned many times in Mike’s blogs) was working. At this point Tom and I only really knew each other from local concerts we would run into each other at. The second I walked in he begged me to check out this Kyuss album on the listening station. I remember the look on his face when I didn’t instantly “get it”. Years later I had to bow to him and thank him for trying to open my eyes earlier. No one knows how to set a mood quite like Kyuss. The last album listed was Brant Bjork’s first album with Fu Manchu. This album is the last Kyuss album featuring Brant Bjork on drums. No coincidence here. This man knows how to wash songs with a subtle intensity. Check out the song “Demon Cleaner” sometime, with Josh Homme singing and see how Queens of the Stone Age were born. This album has been listed as a major influence for many of the heavy metal greats of the day.
WHALE MUSIC – THE RHEOSTATICS (1994)
The Rheostatics are definitely one of my favorite bands of all time, and the artist I have seen live the most in my life. Any band that calls their first album Greatest Hits obviously has a good sense of humour. There really is no album that quite captures “Canadiana” quite like Whale Music. Not to be confused with the later-released official soundtrack of the same name, this album ranges from the sweet to the insane. Take the song “Queer” for example. “Well the screen door is still broken, since you kicked your Kodiaks through it” and “I scored a hat trick on the team that called you a fuckin’ queer”, are lyrics that paint a Canadian portrait of everyday life. I love this album and frequently re-visit it only to find it gets better with age. Notable appearances on this album are Neil Peart on a song called “Guns” and The Barenaked Ladies (credited as The Scarborough Naked Youth Choir). Included here is the amazing opening track. Check it out eh ….
WHITE PEPPER – WEEN (2000)
Simply put, this is my favorite “Pop” album of all time. I am not a Ween fan per se. I cannot say I have actually connected strongly with any of their other albums. But when this album was introduced to me, it grabbed a hold of me and it will never let go. First of all, the sound on this album is absolutely wonderful. Second of all, the melodies on this album (with sprinkles of Ween weirdness of course) are something very reminiscent of The Beatles. I have always tagged this album as their “Beatles tribute”, and it was pointed out to me by a friend that “The White Album? Sgt. Peppers? White Pepper?”. Now I have not read that in fact that is what the name truly means, but I think that is a very good guess. I have played this album for a few musician friends of mine and the result is pretty much the same across the board. White Pepper simply “hooks” you in, it is that simple. Check out the Trey Parker and Matt Stone directed video for “Even If You Don’t” included here.
UNCHAINED – JOHNNY CASH (1996)
I was working at the “Record Store Chain” Ladano blogs about when I was first introduced to this album. It was instantly a revelation of what I do actually like about Country Music, and was the reason I became a fan of the older-style albums of the genre. Not enough can be said about the genius of Rick Rubin. The man who changed the careers of Slayer, The Beastie Boys and the Red Hot Chili Peppers got a hold of Johnny Cash and re-introduced him as the icon he always was. Hiring Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers as the backing band for the second American Recordings Johnny Cash release was a stroke of brilliance. The opening track “Rowboat” sees Cash cover a Beck song and make it his own. “Sea of Heartbreak” is a melodic ass-kicker. Everyone by now knows of the genius cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage”, so good in fact that for a long period of time Chris Cornell refused to play it live stating “It’s not our song anymore. It’s Johnny’s now”. No album of this genre has ever sounded bigger, if not any genre. A must have album.
VS. – PEARL JAM (1993)
This album had to be included on this list. I understand that everyone looks at Pearl Jam’s first album as this massive crowning achievement, but frankly I didn’t get it then and I really still don’t. Their second album I think is the best album of their career and probably my favorite “Grunge” album ever. Every song on this album is a classic to me and it does seem weird to call an album that was a Number One album on Billboard for five weeks straight “underrated”. But I truly do feel this album gets overlooked and that’s a shame. I find Ten to be kind of boring and redundant to be honest. This album is still fresh to me. I hope when it’s all said and done that this album is what truly defines them.