That’s pretty monumental. Rush were releasing two key tracks from their forthcoming studio album, a full concept album this time, well in advance. Two years in advance. Notably, this was a full concept album start to finish. In the 70s, Rush were more known for half concept, half non-conceptual records. The bands that Rush inspired like Queensryche and Dream Theater had done full concepts. Now the original masters were taking a shot.
On the final album, “Caravan” is track one and “BU2B” is track two. On this single the order is swapped. “BU2B” (“Brought Up to Believe”) opens, although its intro changes on the album version. “BU2B” absolutely slams. “I was brought up to believe that the universe has a plan…” Perhaps it opens this single because it sums up the overall album concept. In a fictional world run precisely by a “Watchmaker”, a rebellious protagonist feels pulled in a direction different from that assigned to his life. Questioning his reality, he embarks on his own adventures despite his mandated mundane role in society. Musically, after the metallic riff has done its business, Neil Peart takes the spotlight a moment as the song shifts. Geddy lays down the heavy bottom end while Alex strikes hither and yon with lightning-like licks. Clearly a classic in the making.
“Caravan”, the final album opener, sounds pretty much the same as the record. It establishes the setting, “in a world lit only by fire…” The riff is a major feature, a deliberate, descending rock monster that feels just right in the guts. The lyrics paint a picture of a steampunk world, half explored, with alchemy and ancient knowledge.
Clockwork Angels wound up as one of the greatest final albums by any band anywhere any time. This single is a nice add-on, a reminder of the long careful gestation period that created a masterpiece.
Thanks to everyone for your kind comments about my 50th birthday gone awry. Jen is feeling better, though besides a fat lip, she now sports a nice black eye. Could have been worse.
I’m still Covid negative so I’ll take that as a win. The cold that I do have is not so bad, and though I am back at work, I have not been able to do a full day yet. But that will improve.
After Jen felt better from her fall, we opened some gifts. She got me some cool Marvel and Star Wars figures, but the music is the best part.
First up was the new Black Crowes EP, 1972. This six-song covers EP is getting rave reviews and I cannot wait to hear the Rod Stewart cover “You Wear It Well”. This EP is in anticipation of new material from the reformed band. There’s even a photo of the new lineup (including returning bassist Sven Pipien) which is a packaging touch I always appreciate. I have been skeptical of the Crowes’ current reunion, but putting out new music with this lineup alleviates most of that. Dig it!
And then we have the massive Black Sabbath Technical Ecstasy box set! This is one of my favourite Oz Sabbath albums. Actually one of my first, after Paranoid. The box includes the full album, the album remixed, some outtakes and a live show from 1977. The live show looks especially cool, with “Gypsy”, “Dirty Women” and “All Moving Parts” in the setlist. “Electric Funeral” is even included. The bizarre cover art has always struck me as Asimovian. Think The Gods Themselves.
Thank you Jen. What a day for you. You sure know how to buy gifts though.
Then I unboxed the massive parcel sent to me by Thor in Denmark. It was heavy. I didn’t know what to expect. It was obviously packed full. Even so, nothing broke in transit! Everything arrived in great condition, but there was so much stuff inside, we need to do a complete inventory.
First, there’s Anthem: Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years Japanese import with obi strip intact. Thor actually wrote an excellent review of this album with all the details. Bassist Naoto Shibata played on one of my favourite Loudness albums, so this is a total enhancement for my collection. It’s a double disc with a different singer on each disc, from two eras of the band. He rated it 4.95/5!
Then we have Red, Hot and Heavy by Pretty Maids, a band he considers the most underrated in metal. I don’t know this one, but it’s from 1984 so I think I’m going to like it.
Finally we have a self-titled album by Dizzy Mizz Lizzy, who I had to look up. This is a 1994 debut album by a critically acclaimed Danish band. Says a review on the Wikipedia page, “It all heavily oozes Led Zeppelin and Seattle.” Sounds good to me.
It may take a while for me to get to Dizzy Mizz Lizzy, considering Thor also sent me the motherlode of a band I first heard in the 80s, D-A-D, originally known as Disneyland After Dark. They too hail from Denmark, and I have praised their 1989 American debut, No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims, with a 4.5/5 star review.
Well, Thor went overboard. And by that, I mean Overmuch! Look at all this D-A-D glory! Thanks to him, I must now be the proud owner of the best D-A-D collection in Canada. Let’s go through everything one by one.
No Fuel Left For the Pilgrims (1989). This is the super rare original version of the CD, with the original name, before the change to D-A-D. Not only is the cover different, but so is the mix on four tracks: “Sleeping My Day Away”, “Point of View”, “Rim of Hell” and “Girl Nation”. On the international CD that I have, these four tracks were remixed by Chris Lord-Alge. You can hear the slight difference, mostly in terms of levels in the mix.
Good Clean Family Entertainment You Can Trust (1995). A single disc compilation with live and studio cuts, and loads of single artwork inside.
Psychopatico (1998). Double live. Their first live release besides a 1990 live Japanese EP. 17 tracks total.
The Early Years (2000). Double compilation! Includes their first two studio albums, plus their debut EP called Standin’ On the Never Ever, and 17 rare or previously unreleased bonus tracks.
Scare Yourself Alive (2006). Another double live! Two gigs from 2005 included. Minimal overlap between the two discs.
DIC·NII·LAN·DAFT·ERD·ARK (2011). Studio album. Check out that Super Audio CD case! Looks like I have all their studio albums now, as you shall see.
A Prayer For the Loud (2019). Their most recent studio album.
And, best of all…
The Overmuch Box: Twenty Five Years of D-A-D (2009)! This includes all their studio albums up to 2008, completing my collection! The albums are:
Standin’ On the Never Ever (1985 EP)
Call Of the Wild (1986)
D-A-D Draws a Circle (1987)
No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims (1989 US version)
Riskin’ It All (1991)
Everything Glows (2000)
Soft Dogs (2002)
Scare Yourself (2005)
Monster Philosophy (2008)
Bonus album: Behind the Seen (Rare, unreleased & B-sides 1984-2009)
There’s still a bit of D-A-D out there to acquire, such as that Japanese EP, but surely not much. To be honest I never expected to get any more D-A-D beyond the Riskin’ It All album (which is supposedly lethal). But…holy shit people! That’s enough D-A-D to take years to digest.
Thor’s generosity cannot be understated! This is awesome stuff. You never see their music around in Canada, and I simply assumed I’d never have them. I love the price tags from a store called Moby Disc – great name! To have this much D-A-D, including the early stuff I only read about, and both versions of No Fuel, I’m just blown away. Truly overmuch! This is a band that has been special to me for a long time, because I can remember sitting in Bob Schipper’s basement when that music video came on. He went nuts for it. Just loved it. Just like I loved that big guy! Nothing but great times.
Thank you Jen, thank you Thor, and everyone who wished me a happy birthday.
ANTHEM – Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years(2012 King Record Co.)
In the world of metal, there is no short list of underrated bands from every corner and country of the world. Specially with long-standing bands that are still going strong to this day. Would it be bands like E-Z-O from Japan, Pretty Maids from Denmark, Thor from Canada, or Helloween from Germany, everyone regardless of nationality has a favorite band, who did well for themselves, but could’ve, would’ve and should’ve gone big. And while my choice for most underrated metal band ever would go to my fellow countrymen Pretty Maids (national bias has its moments), Japanese metal legends Anthem earns the runner-up spot, easily.
The band, led by bassist Naoto Shibata, who are perhaps more famous for his work with Loudness and Crush 40 in the 90’s, had a tough time in the 80’s with success in their homeland and even a small US tour in ’87, but also with internal struggles which prevented the band to go beyond like their fellow and more successful countrymen, Loudness. Ultimately the band would be disbanded in 1992 until they reunited in 2001 and have been going strong since then. A band considered by many to be part of the big four of Japanese Metal (with X Japan, Loudness and Flatbacker/E-Z-O) with mostly consistent excellent releases throughout the years, who just now are getting released to the west on streaming services and (hopefully) physically by Nuclear Blast. So far, there’s two options for getting into Anthem’s discography, which just so happen to be compilations. For their new era, there is Nucleus, released by the aforementioned Nuclear Blast. But as for their classic period, the import to buy is this one. Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years.
Japanese releases has a reputation of not being a very cheap options, so getting this compilation is definitely a good starter point. It collects songs from the band’s initial 80’s era, starting with the self-titled debut and ending with their final album before their hiatus, Domestic Booty (you’ll be the judge for the supposed meaning of “booty”). Given that the compilation is split into two cd’s, it also reflects the times with the singers Eizo Sakamoto and Yukio Morikawa representing disc 1 and 2, respectively. This decision, coupled with the track list being in chronological order, can be difficult at first listen. Not necessarily with the tracks themselves but more with the unevenness with the production, as the first Anthem albums sound pretty rough. Granted, that’s not a problem exclusive to the band, but that also means that you’ll have to skip to track 13, “Bound to Break”, if you are somewhat put off by the roughness.
If you can hang with it, you are in for 2 hours of kickass catchy melodic metal majesty from glorious Nippon with no noteworthy duds. Even with my nitpicky desire to swap out some tracks for others, I’m still absolutely happy with this purchase. Standouts have to be “Venom Strike”, “Shadow Walk”, “Bound to Break”, “Hunting Time”, “Night After Night” and “Show Must Go On”. The latter being their first original song with English lyrics (courtesy of the late Chris Tsangarides) and being their first to be featured in the Anime OVA, Devilman.
Until Anthem can finally release their back-catalog on physical media for a much more affordable price (CD, vinyl or otherwise), this one will do wonders in the meantime.
Thanks to Thunder Blackmore for this awesome review.
What a title for your first “greatest hits” compilation, eh? Diamonds Diamonds emerged the year after Max Webster broke up, with no songs from the final album Universal Juveniles, the only one without Terry Watkinson. Even though these kinds of posthumous records are usually not very good, Diamonds Diamonds is an exception. It’s also one of the hardest Max Webster albums to find on CD, but a generous slice of vinyl at 13 tracks and 47 minutes.
“What do I know?” asks Kim Mitchell in the opening line of “Gravity”, the debut number. Kim knew quite a bit actually, including how to write catchy music without it being overtly commercial. He knew how to challenge listeners while delivering the hooks they craved. “Gravity” is one such slice of brilliance. It’s complex pop.
“High Class in Borrowed Shoes” is a classic rocker from their second album in ’77. As much as it kicks, the lyrics and keyboard arrangement are not typical. The title track “Diamonds Diamonds” followed “High Class” on the original album and it does again here. Like a lullaby, “Diamonds Diamonds” floats on the wings of the backing vocal arrangement. Next is “Summer’s Up” from the incredible debut Max platter. Jangling guitars and dreamy keyboards make for a summer scene by the pool side, with drinks. “Blowing the Blues Away” has a more traditional feel, country and blues and pop rolled into one, with a side order of quirky tones. But it’ll make you feel good. Continuing the feel-good celebration, it’s “A Million Vacations”, one of the greatest Canadian party songs of all time. Kim Mitchell’s guitar work is sublime and baffling at once.
Side A ends with one of Max Webster’s most significant songs, “Let Go the Line” with lead vocals by Terry Watkinson who wrote the song, music and lyrics. In Max Webster, lyrics were usually handled by the poet Pye Dubois. In fact he wrote all but two of the lyrics on Diamonds Diamonds. The two he didn’t (“Blowing the Blues Away” being the other) were written by Watkinson. “Let Go the Line” could not be improved upon if you tried. Kim’s regal guitar line, Dave Myles bass pulse, and the thrift of Gary McCracken’s drums are all flawlessly and perfectly fit to Terry’s ballad. If Max Webster only had one “perfect” song, it’s “Let Go the Line”.
Fearlessly opening side two with furvor, it’s “The Party”! It’s the off-kilter musicianship on tracks like this that had fans often comparing Max Webster to Frank Zappa. Frank liked to have fun, too. Well Max really liked to have fun! “We’re all here for a celebration, the madcap scene and the Max Machine!” That says it all.
Every decent “greatest hits” album needs unreleased songs. Diamonds Diamonds has two decent ones, good songs that might be a bit too mainstream for a Max studio album. “Hot Spots” is the first, a rip-roaring boogie of a good time. By comparison, Kim could have recorded it on one of his early solo albums if Max didn’t release it on this. It is chased by the outstanding “Paradise Skies”, another summery Max hit that keeps Canadian radio stations in business. Melody and musicianship — that should be Max’s calling card. The second of the new unreleased tunes is “Overnight Sensation”, the most ordinary (or forgettable) of the tracks. The bassline really hops, and there’s even some cowbell, but the song isn’t comparable to something like “The Party” or “High Class”.
Although it’s better as an album opener, “Lip Service” (from Mutiny Up My Sleeve) is a bouncer. “Socialutions, written down in our teens. I mailed them to Kennedy, I typed them for Tito.” Brilliance in a pen by Pye Dubois, barely contained by the bopping bass and upbeat keys. Then before it’s all over it goes into a brief jazzy jam! Finally it’s “Hangover”, also traditionally an opening song. It’s the hardest rocker of the bunch, quirky as all hell and actually a good closer too!
Diamonds Diamonds still an important record today because “Overnight Sensation” and the outstanding “Hot Spots” haven’t been reissued on anything else. You can’t say that about any of the songs on The Best of Max Webster (1989). This is the one to get. If you find one on CD, you’ve got yourself a good one.
MAX WEBSTER – A Million Vacations (originally 1979, 2017 Anthem remaster)
Why are Max Webster still held in such high esteem by their devoted fanbase? Possibly because they concocted an ideal mixture of humour and incredible playing and composition. Much like Frank Zappa, Max Webster felt that humour does indeed belong in music. It’s “smart kid rock” but never taking itself too seriously. From playful musical sections to the words of lyricist Pye Dubois, Max could also be counted on to poke you in the ribs.
A Million Vacations is certainly one of their best albums, if not their absolute magnum opus, but that’s all a matter of opinion. At this stage of the game, Max was really cooking. The 10 songs within represent some peak level songwriting, and several are still on the radio today. Through the airwaves, “Paradise Skies”, “Let Go the Line”, “A Million Vacations” and “Night Flights” might be speeding over Canada somewhere as you read this.
“Paradise Skies” indeed! One of Max’s most immediate tracks is the party opener. Total mainstream Max: catchy hooks, insane playing, and a chorus that’s ready to blast off. Terry Watkinson’s “Charmonium” is more complex but no less catchy. The keyboardist wrote the song and does the lead vocals as well. Dig into those flurries of notes making up some tasty solo sections. Losing no momentum, “Night Flights” keeps a jaunty pace. Pye Dubois’ poem about the love of touring reminds us how important Pye was to the band. How many bands have a touring lyricist?
Breaking the fun-loving character for just a moment, a day-dreamy “Sun Voices” has connections to the next songs, “Moon Voices” and “A Million Vacations”. “In my chair, chaise lounge…” and how many songs can you think of with a chaise lounge in the words?? “Sun Voices” is a meditative poolside view. Perhaps then the side-closing instrumental “Moon Voices” is the loud party, after the sun goes down?
“A Million Vacations” (written by drummer Gary McCracken and Pye Dubois) on side two is a party-ready Canadian summer anthem. Part of being Canadian is hibernating for our cold, dark winters. Once we have endured the freeze, and life returns with the spring thaw, it is like a celebration. “A Million Vacations” has that feeling. “Throwin’ out all kinds of fishing line, Friday Friday is a good time to shine.” Yes indeed, hitting the outdoors is a Canadian weekend tradition in the summer time.
“Look Out” is an often forgotten buried gem. The chorus is written around a catchy keyboard riff, which suddenly gives way to a conga jam. It’s Max as only Max can do, daring but never fearing. But side two’s centerpiece is undoubtedly the magnificent ballad “Let Go the Line”, with Watkinson back on lead vocals. Kim Mitchell orchestrates a guitar chorus for the main instrument hook and it’s instant love. For sheer smart pop songwriting, “Let Go the Line” is Max’s finest. The new 2017 remaster from the recommended box set The Party really reveals a lot of nuance in the back that were hard or impossible to hear on previous CD editions.
Kim gets a little goofy with “Rascal Houdi”, an undeniable party rocker. “I’m switching out, I’m out to lunch,” and it’s a teenage blast. But the party finale, “Research (At Beach Resorts)” takes it to the max (pun intended). “Line up crowds at the pavilion, Max is playing ‘Vacations'”. It’s a beach party, and Max is “in Newport for research, to get abreast of things…” What about Wasaga Beach on Georgian Bay? Already taken care of, friends. “We’ve just researched Wasaga Beach, bonfire pits at midnight.” But what the heck are they “researching”?
“What is it that we stare at? Is it the passports and campsite stars? Or the monogrammed bikinis and cars? Or maybe we just need some perspiration ’cause we’re frostbitten Canadian boys!”
There are few bands better than Max Webster, folks, and Max’s A Million Vacation is an easy album to love, so flip it over and play it again like I’m about to.
MAX WEBSTER – Live Magnetic Air (originally 1979, 2017 Anthem remaster)
So you’re the canker banker? They’re just Max Webster, here to thin the thickness of your skin.
Any good 70s act worth their salt had to have a solid live album. Max released theirs after four studio albums, a good basis for a fulfilling concert set. The 10 songs (plus one reggae jam) only begin to scratch the surface of their bizarre and rocking history, but a good 10 songs they are.
Want some rockers? Tap into “America’s Veins”. 70s radio rock? Take a lift up into the “Paradise Skies”. Looking for some progressive rock? You’ll find it “In Context of the Moon”. The adventurous and quirky arrangements of some tunes are a direct contrast to the catchiness of others. “Gravity” blends quirky and catchy into one successful gestalt. “Charmonium” both challenges and pleases the ears at once. Whether you’re soaring on “Night Flights” or biting into “Lip Service”, there is no filler on Live Magnetic Air.
One expects great playing on any Max Webster platter. Live Magnetic Air has plenty of that gonzo Kim Mitchell guitar work that he is known for. Terry Watkinson’s keys explore different tones within single songs, never getting boring. Yet it’s Gary McCracken’s drum work that seems to really shine, especially on the 2017 remaster from The Party boxed set.
It is difficult to throw too much praise at Max Webster, because surely they deserve it. They were not as famous as Rush and not as worshipped as Zappa. But those are the kind of names thrown about when speaking of Max Webster. Each Max album is loaded with amazing material, but if you were looking to start with something, why not make it Live Magnetic Air? The party atmosphere and ace selection of songs are the basic ingredients of a classic live album. Now that it’s finally been properly mastered for CD, you can hear it the way you were always meant to. For those who just wanna rock, the guitars have the crunch. The discerning fan will enjoy the new clarity and depth that this remaster offers, without overdriving the levels.
Once again we wholeheartedly recommend The Party boxed set, but if you find Live Magnetic Air on vinyl, pick it up and hear what some genuine “Sarniatown Reggae” sounds like.
MAX WEBSTER – The Party (2017 Anthem 8 CD box set)
Normally when we review box sets like this, we prefer to review each album individually. Three of the eight discs have already been covered here: Max Webster (their debut), High Class in Borrowed Shoes, and Universal Juveniles (their final album). The rest of the Max Webster albums will be reviewed in due time, so for now we will take a general look at their brand new CD box set, The Party.
The Max Webster catalogue (and to a lesser extent, the solo Kim Mitchell discography) has been well overdue for a remastering. The original Anthem CDs are thin and tinny. Rock Candy did a fantastic remaster of the first three albums with better sound and a generous booklet, but what about the rest? I first heard about this project via Uncle Meat this past summer at Sausagefest. It was one of those “know a guy who knows a guy” stories, but the bottom line was, Max Webster’s catalogue was being remastered. And now we have The Party in hand as proof!
The contents include all five original Max studio albums, their concert opus Live Magnetic Air, Kim Mitchell’s very rare solo EP, and a bonus disc of rarities called The Bootleg. Those who buy the forthcoming vinyl version will also receive a booklet with rare photos and other goodies. The CD version has no booklet, but it does have nice gatefold packaging for each album. It’s affordably priced, so we forgive the lack of a booklet on the CD edition. Vinyl owners can look at it as a bonus for buying vinyl.
If improved audio is what you are longing for, then you should be very satisfied with The Party. It’s not overdriven, but it sounds fuller and deep. They didn’t go for loudness. This is all very good. You can safely ditch your old CD versions, rendered obsolete by this box.
The Bootleg will be the main draw for many. It does not disappoint. In fact, it intrigues, because it teases that there is more. Unreleased demos are listed as “Contraband” — reports suggest this refers to a collection of unreleased material still in the vault.
Max Webster apparently recorded their 2007 reunion show, or at least “Let Go the Line”. It sounds brilliant and makes you pray for a live album of the show. Terry Watkinson’s classic ballad sounds a little older, a little wiser, but just as brilliant as ever. Other live stuff from 1979 was recorded in Oshawa. “Oh War” simply smokes, and was not included on Live Magnetic Air. Then there’s the crazy jam centred on “Research (At Beach Resorts)”. These insane live sessions really show why Max Webster is held in such high esteem, almost like a second coming of Frank Zappa himself.
The unreleased demos include some songs that didn’t make Max’s albums. Fans know “Deep Dive” from Kim Mitchell’s solo live album, I Am A Wild Party. Max’s original 1982 demo is completely different. Same melody, same words, but a vastly different arrangement. It’s like rock and roll bluegrass, fast as possible, and insanely good. It was likely deemed too different to be on the Universal Juveniles LP, but there’s no doubt it’s awesome and the highlight of this box set.
Another standouts from the batch of demos is a version of “Battle Scar” without Rush; just Max! It’s a revelation; an interesting work in progress. There are also two songs you’ve never heard before, “Walden 5” and “Better”, both from 1979. Let’s just say that the quality of these unreleased Max songs is album level. “Walden 5” just needed some editing. A demo version of “In the World of Giants” from 1979 has way more guitar soloing. Kim fans will love it! Oh — and stay tuned for a surprise unlisted bonus track.
The box itself is just a cardboard sleeve, but at least an attractively packaged one. Yes, a booklet would have been appreciated. In lieu of that, we recommend Martin Popoff’s brilliantly detailed book Live Magnetic Air: The Unlikely Saga of the Superlative Max Webster to accompany this otherwise perfect set.
Oh, one last thing: The two “new” songs that were included on the hits compilation Diamonds Diamonds are not in this box set. So, to be a completist, you’d still need to track that one down. Vinyl is recommended; and then you’d own “Hot Spots” and “Overnight Sensation” to complete the picture. Just a word to the wise.
RUSH – Roll the Bones (1991 Anthem, 2015 remaster on 200 gram vinyl)
There was a period in the 1980s when, in some circles, Rush had lost the plot. Writers such as Martin Popoff have been very critical of this era, with its keyboards and shorter songs. In 1989, Rush began to turn the ship around with Presto. It and 1991’s Roll the Bones really ushered in the next phase of Rush, combining new and old. Fans (and Alex Lifeson) were happy that keyboards were toned down, at least in comparison to Hold Your Fire (1986).
The theme of the album is “take a chance”. Roll the Bones starts with a punch called “Dreamline”. Geddy Lee’s pulse pushes this into overdrive. The chorus goes into hyperspace. It’s hard to think of too many other Rush songs that are so concisely hot. “Dreamline” has it all: hooks, licks, force and grace.
Neil Peart is king on “Bravado”*, a sudden change of direction. His drumming, always hard, is unusually sharp. Yet it’s a slow song that might be termed a “ballad”. Whatever — it’s Rush. It’s incredible. It’s powerful in an understated, triumphant fashion. If you know somebody who says they hate Rush, play this.
The title track and first single is a Rush classic, but that rap section sounds dated today. That was always the danger of such an experiment, but fortunately the song is too strong for it to matter much. That’s Geddy rapping incidentally, with his voice lowered and effects added.
Side one also has “Face Up”; fast but not particularly memorable. But it also has “Where’s My Thing?”, a smashing instrumental featuring Geddy and Alex’s flying fingers. It’s subtitled “Part IV, ‘Gangster of Boats’ Trilogy” as a joke on past pretentiously prog-rock titles they’ve employed. Rush have always had a sense of humour, and also fun. “Where’s My Thing” is a fun instrumental, kept short and ever so slightly funky.
The second side of Roll the Bones isn’t as consistent as the first. “Ghost of a Chance” and “You Bet Your Life” are immediate standouts. An appropriate spectre-like keyboard part enhances “Ghost of a Chance” and justifies the use of the instrument. The other three songs (“The Big Wheel, “Neurotica” and “Heresy”) are fine for Rush deep cuts, but may or may not appeal to your specific tastes.
This 200 gram vinyl remaster is exquisite! Keyboard parts previously unnoticed are now audible, as if brand new. The drums have the punch missing on the old CD, and the bass hits the guts. Great dynamics and depth. If you are in the market for remastered Rush, these 200 gram vinyl reissues are pricey but a nice treat.
*At 3:50 of the song, Peart performs a drum roll that I can only describe as pure ecstasy. Chills up the spine.
It’s the final instalment of GREATEST HITS WEEK! All week we were examining some pretty cool greatest hits albums. I saved the best for last — one of the very greatest, Greatest Hits albums ever. Once again, thanks to Aaron over at the KMA for the idea (which I stole). For his original Greatest Hits Week, click here!
Yeah, oh yeah! Ooh, said I, I’m comin’ out to get you Ooh, sit down, I’m comin’ out to find you Ooh, yeah Ooh yeah Findin’ my way!
I just can’t stress how important this album is to me. I had always followed Rush, and been interested in what they were up to. I had never taken the plunge and bought any albums. I wouldn’t have had a clue where to begin anyway. In July 1994, I was hired at the Record Store thus kicking off the exponential growth of my music collection (and tastes). With birthday money, I finally acquired my first Rush: Chronicles, the massive 2 CD set that was released for Christmas of 1990.
For my first listen, I didn’t play the whole thing from front to back. I picked out the songs I liked best, and programmed the CD player. I revisited favourites like “Tom Sawyer” and especially “Subdivisions”, and then the next day, listened to the whole thing. One song jumped out at me immediately: “Red Sector A”. Holy shitballs! “The Temples of Syrinx” was the next one that grabbed me on second listen, along with “Freewill”, “Limelight”, “The Trees” and “What You’re Doing”. I had feared Rush would be a bit over my head if consumed in this quantity, but it turned up to be just my poison.
Even though Chronicles is the first Rush “greatest hits” compilation, and has arguably been replaced by the three volumes of Rush Retrospective, I still think that it is a perfect entry point. I think back to my early experience of trying to figure out where to start with this band. They seemed to have a lot of different sounds over the years. I know today that anybody looking to buy their first Rush album can comfortably start with Moving Pictures. But what about those who want a little bit more music than that, in the form of a detailed sampling? Then Chronicles is the one.
Appropriately, Chronicles goes chronologically which works for a band like Rush. Their evolution over the years has been very natural and organic, not at all jumpy. That makes for a smooth listen. Each studio album gets two tracks, with a few exceptions: Moving Pictures is represented by three, while the most recent Presto has one. Additionally, 2112 has one track, albeit actually the first two parts of “2112” itself. The neat thing, though, is that for its time Chronicles actually had three rare live tracks too. Back in the early days of CD, they couldn’t get as much music onto the disc as they can today. “What You’re Doing”, “A Passage to Bankok”, and “Mystic Rhythms” were all cut from their respective CD releases for time reasons. They were released on Chronicles, on CD, for the first time ever. All three are brilliant versions, especially the electrifying “What You’re Doing” from All the World’s a Stage.
I was hooked. Using the tracks and liner notes from Chronicles as a guide, I began adding more Rush to my collection: 2112, Signals, Moving Pictures, A Show of Hands, plus the more recent Counterparts and Roll the Bones too. I see no reason that new fans today can’t use the album as a gateway the same way I did. It’s still in print, even though the more recent Rush compilations are readily available.
There are minimal exclusions missing from Chronicles. Some notable songs are absent, such as later singles “Superconductor” and “The Pass” from Presto. This isn’t hard to understand. Rush wouldn’t have wanted to compete with the current studio album they were still promoting! The price is the only issue. Even after all these years, Chronicles is still found for over $20, unless you go for a used one, much like I did!
MAX WEBSTER – High Class in Borrowed Shoes(1977 Anthem)
It’s only the second Max Webster album, but the band were so tight and perfect that they got three radio classics off it. “Diamonds Diamonds”, “Gravity” and the title track are all three radio staples, and “On the Road” a live classic that Kim Mitchell occasionally plays unplugged. Every fan has a favourite Max album, and I think I probably know a couple who would put High Class in Borrowed Shoes as numero uno.
The album opens with the impressive “High Class in Borrowed Shoes”, a blaster that sounds to me like a Canadian Van Halen! Max had tamed some of their wackier tendencies (“Toronto Tontos”, anyone?) and focussed their chops. Not that the new Max (now featuring legendary drummer Gary McCracken) was normal by any definition. Just listen to the lullaby-like “Diamonds Diamonds”. Great song, but very different for a rock band. Its dreamlike mood is heightened by the surreal lyrics by Pye Dubois. Not to mention there are only six lines to the words!
“Gravity” would make my top five Max tracks in a heartbeat. “What do I know? I sat under a cloud. I looked up, afraid to look down.” Kim sounds like a little boy speaking the words, to great effect. The chorus is a big one, backed by a Kim’s riffing. I have no idea what this song is about, but to me the line “Forget that fear of gravity, get a little savagery in your life,” says everything. Don’t be afraid to take chances. As Pye’s friend Neil Peart once said, just roll the bones. That’s what it means to me, anyway.
Proving he has always been capable of tender ballads, “Words to Words” is one of Kim Mitchell’s first. The keyboards of Terry Watkinson keep it just a little left of center, but Kim’s acoustic work is impeccable and excellent. Pye Dubois’ lyrics are magical and stirring. It’s hard to overstate just how quality this song is. However ballads are usually best followed by scorchers, and that’s “America’s Veins”. Killer solos, smoking drums, and a chorus built for the concert stage: it’s here in one complete package.
“Oh War!” is an incredible monument of rock. AC/DC did a song with a similar vibe called “Little Lover”, but “Oh War!” is a completely different animal. The gonzo solos are more in the “Z” section of the rock aisle, as in “Zappa”. And check out the words! “‘Cause I say fuck you instead of thank you, your choice under your breath.” Yes, that’s what Uncle Kim, Canada’s favourite king of the summertime, just said! OK, so it wasn’t going to get on the radio with those words…but damn, it should have been. This song could have been almost as big as “Battle Scar” had it been.
I have a tape here of Kim Mitchell doing “On the Road” live in the MuchMusic studios, acoustically, on their Intimate and Interactive show. This is what you might call “campfire rock”, but that sells it far too short. “On the Road” is more than a song that would sound good played live around a fire, it has genuine soul that you can feel. It’s an incredible song, and once again, I wonder why Max Webster wasn’t friggin’ huge. “Rain Child” is next in line, which I would describe as a slow burner. Terry Watkinson’s keys take center stage, never intruding. “Rain Child” is a classic album track, and perfect for winding down the album.
Max Webster went mad on the last track, “In Context of the Moon”. This is the second of four “Moon” songs on the first four records: “Coming Off the Moon”, “Beyond the Moon”, and “Moon Voices” are the others. “In Context” can’t be described easily, because it spans many styles and tempos in just five measly minutes! How?! You have to play this one a few times just to get everything that is happening. It’s certainly one of the most challenging pieces of music Max have recorded. The four musicians must have rehearsed the shit out of this one. Anyway, at all times, it smokes. Whether it’s the bright intro guitars, or the metal riffs that follow them, or the sheer madness (including bass solo) that ensues, “In Context of the Moon” is always riveting. It’s just non-stop even though by the time you get to the end of it, you’ll wonder how you got there!
Final note: My good buddy T-Rev, who has guest written here a couple times before, met Gary McCracken after he moved to Sarnia. He was working at Fastenal when in came a guy to pick up an “order for Gary McCracken.” T-Rev pondered a bit before enquiring, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but were in a band called Max Webster?” Yes, he had. It was that Gary McCracken, and he was cool. I love little stories like that. Gary McCracken was Trevor’s biggest influence as a young drummer!
Popoff’s awesome book
There is nothing more to be said in just a single review. For the whole enchilada, get the book from martinpopoff.com! And be sure to get High Class in Borrowed Shoes for your collection.