Battle Scar

REVIEW: Max Webster – The Party (2017 box set)

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.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Talas – If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now… (1998)

scan_20161211TALAS – If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now… (1998 Metal Blade)

The Talas story did not end with the breakup of the band.  Of course not; bands both famous and obscure like to reunite for nostalgia shows.  Talas did that in 1997 with the original power trio lineup:  Billy Sheehan on bass, Paul Varga on drums, and Dave Constantino on electric guitar.  With classic material (from the first two Talas albums) and a few unreleased songs, they memorialized their reunion with a brand new live CD.  Billy even pulled his old platform boots out of the closet for this one.

As usual the set opens with “Sink Your Teeth Into That” and an enthusiastic home town crowd.  Talas only sounded better with age.  The original voices are there and just as strong as they were in 1982.  It actually sounds like everyone has improved over the years.  A speedy “High Speed on Ice” is in the second spot ensuring no loss of momentum.  Material from the first self-titled Talas album is included too (unlike the last live album Live Speed on Ice).  “Expert on Me” is very pop in construction, but clearly not as great as the songs from album #2, Sink Your Teeth Into That.  Speaking of which, the slow rumbler “Never See Me Cry” is brilliantly adapted to the stage.

“Power to Break Away” is one of the previously unrecorded songs, and it kicks it just as hot as anything from Sink Your Teeth Into That.  It’s taut with hooks and the prerequisite bass workouts.  “Tell Me True” is the second unreleased song, a slow non-descript dirge ballad that takes a while to get going.

Imagine Billy Sheehan plowing his bass right through a funky Led Zeppelin riff.  That’s “Thick Head”, an awesome track from Talas (1979).  “You” has a cool vibe, almost like an unheard Aerosmith demo from the Done With Mirrors era.  A few other tunes from the first Talas (“Most People”, “Any Other Day” and “See Saw”) are adequately entertaining.  Back to Sink Your Teeth Into That, “King of the World” is still one of the best Talas tunes, overshadowed by only a few like “Shy Boy”.  Here, “Shy Boy” is preceded by a Paul Varga drum solo.  The sheer velocity of “Shy Boy” itself makes me wonder how Varga did it.  It’s just pedal to the metal, blurring the lines and smoking the minds.

Nothing like a good cover to help draw a live album to a close.  Talas did two:  “21st Century Schizoid Man” and “Battle Scar”.  The King Crimson cover is a daring one to attempt.  They somehow manage to strip it down and pull it off with integrity.  As for “Battle Scar”?  Total surprise there!  Max Webster were just across the border from Buffalo, and Billy Sheehan nearly joined Max at one point late in their career.  Introduced by a Billy Sheehan bass solo, this Max/Rush cover is the set closer.  As a final addition, “Battle Scar” surely makes this one hell of an album for the history books.  (The Japanese version has a bonus track called “Doin’ It Right” — this shall be reviewed at a later date.  Our copy is on order but will not arrive for several weeks.)

Since this is a more recent release on a well known label (Metal Blade), it turns out that If We Knew Then What We Know Now is an easy CD to find in the shops.  Fortunately this is a good first Talas album to add to any collection.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Max Webster – Universal Juveniles (1980)

Scan_20150717 (3)MAX WEBSTER – Universal Juveniles (1980 Alert)

“1980 will be a year long remembered.  It has seen the end of Max Webster, and will soon see the end of Led Zeppelin.” — Darth Vader

All good things must indeed come to an end.  If there was one band — just one band! — out of the Great White North that truly deserved better things, it was Max Webster.  Much like their soul mate, Frank Zappa, Max Webster had successfully inserted humour into complex progressive rock songs.  The big difference was that Max tended to keep it to guitar-bass-keyboards-drums.  Their musicianship was unimpeachable.  Much like Bubbles shouted out “Geddy Lee! Neil Peart! Alex Lifeson!” to emphasize the awesomeness of Rush, I shout “Kim Mitchell! Terry Watkinson! Gary McCracken!”

Maybe it was the skinny balding front man in the tights, the weird but deep lyrics, or the goofy keyboards.  One way or another, Max Webster never saw the success that their friends Rush did, and Universal Juveniles would be the last Max record.  Genius keyboardist Terry Watkinson was out of the band, although he did play on the album.  Kim Mitchell folded the band mid-tour after the record, unable to hack it any longer.

Kim’s smoking chops open “In The World of Giants”, perhaps the world that Rush occupied and Max failed to enter.  Max sound stripped back, with minimal piano and keyboards.  What a song though.  Surely “In the World of Giants” is one of Max Webster’s most breakneck rock songs, albeit with the complexity of riff and licks that you would expect.  At the same time, do I sense a certain amount of fatigue, between the grooves?

There’s no detectable tiredness on “Check”, which will wake you right the fuck up!  There’s nothing like a good, joyous, loaded-with-all-the-guitar-fixin’s Max Webster romp.  Want some shredding?  “Check this out!”  At only 2 1/2 minutes, “Check” is all it needs to be — in and out, the mission of kicking ass all complete.  Yet Max Webster was not about simply rocking, so “April in Toledo” brings some funk.  The classic refrain of “I wanna run to Niagara, I’ll cry and cry in the dark” is joined by gleeful guitars, to create the picture perfect mixture of Max confection perfection.  I’m still sitting here scratching my head wondering how Kim got that weird guitar sound in the solo so perfect, but I’m soon distracted by another awesome chorus.

“Juveniles Don’t Stop” is a Max party anthem; not as memorable as “The Party” itself, but still good to crank with some cold ones.  Don’t get too loaded though — you don’t want to miss the double barrelled blast that is “Battle Scar”.  What could be more epic than a duet with Rush vocalist Geddy Lee?  Oh, how about doing the whole song with Rush — a double trio!  That’s two bass guitars opening the song.  That’s Neil Peart and Gary McCracken providing the dual beats.  (You sure can tell when it’s Neil doing a drum roll, that’s for sure!)  That’s Alex Lifeson accompanying Kim Mitchell in a legendary guitar team-up.  Geddy Lee, in peak voice, provides the vocal chills necessary to top off such an epic alignment.  Truly, “Battle Scar” is not just an important song for Canadian rock, but a track that any serious rock fan should seek out and own.  You simply owe it to yourself to do so.

There’s some sneaky understated goodness in “Chalkers” but I find it to be one of the less memorable tracks.  It’s notable for containing the phrase “universal juveniles” in the lyrics, lending it for the album title.  “Drive and Desire” is a bigger song, a sizeable rocker with a nice bluesy vibe.  McCracken’s drums on this one are purely delicious.  Even better is the slow mournful “Blue River Liquor Shine”.  It foreshadows some of the songs on Kim’s excellent solo EP, Kim Mitchell.  A proud achievement, “Blue River Liquor” does indeed shine with Max classics of the past.

“What Do You Do With the Urge” is a wreckless Max party rocker, just in time to set us up for the final Max Webster song — the last one ever, sadly.  “Cry Out for Your Life” lurches like a wounded soldier crawling to the warmth of safety.  Loads of Max class abound, but there does seem to be less glee, less shimmer.  Perhaps the end was inevitable.  Although Kim and the gang turned in another jaw dropping Max Webster record, something was wrong and it sounds somewhat forced at times.

Kim Mitchell had tremendous success with his solo career in Canada.  Anthems such as “Go For Soda” have been immortalized in our memories, and on our TV sets.  Who can forget the moment in Season 7 of Trailer Park Boys, when Bubbles goes to “rock a piss”, and Ricky responds, “You go rock a piss, I’m gonna get ‘er going with the Mitchell!”  Then: Bubbles peeing to the tune of “Go For Soda”, bopping his head in time with the music!  Just classic.  On the more sentimental side, Kim appealed to the adults in the crowd with “Patio Lanterns” and “Easy To Tame”.  He really aimed to please everybody….

…Except the fans of old, goofy Max progressive rock.  Universal Juveniles is its capstone.

4.5/5 stars

Part 205: Dad Rock

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, and always a salute to the ones that are gone too soon!

RECORD STORE TALES Part 205:  Dad Rock

When Ashleigh started at our store she became the resident hippie.  Everybody loved Ash, she was one of the best.  I teased her a bit about hippie things, and called her Crunchy Granola. This was all done (and hopefully taken) in fun, because she is really a great person.  If you needed to know anything about Simon & Garfunkel, the Dead, Ani DiFranco or Dave Matthews Band, she was the one to ask.  She knew it all.

There was a generational thing between us, and I remember this was obvious when we were setting up a Father’s Day display.  We were looking for CDs and movies that “typical dads” would like for Father’s Day gifts.  I would say things like “Dads like World War II movies,” while she said, “Dads like Kim Mitchell.”

“What?” I said incredulously.  “Dads do not like Kim Mitchell.  My dad thinks Kim Mitchell is a girl.”

Ash gave me a patient look.  “Dads do like Kim Mitchell.  That’s what dads listen to now.”

“Cool people listen to Kim Mitchell,” I responded quietly.

I slowly absorbed all this new information.  Dads liked Kim Mitchell?  But Kim Mitchell was one of my highschool idols.  My dad  had no interest in doing his “Rock N Roll Duty”.  This must have meant that people of the Kim generation were dads themselves now…and had kids as old as Ash!  Jesus!

Kim’s dad is in this video!

A little later on, Ash start socializing with this guy named Andy.  At first I was skeptical of Andy because of his large gauge piercings and dreadlocks.  He didn’t talk much.

Turns out Andy was just shy.  Ash approached me one day.

“Andy thinks you’re cool.  He wants you to make a mix tape for him.  Would you be willing to do that?”

Taken aback, I said “Seriously?  Sure!  He thinks I’m cool?  What kind of music does he want on here?”

Ash paused.  She took a deep breath.

“Dad rock.  Stuff like Kim Mitchell and Van Halen and David Lee Roth.”

Once again, I paused to absorb all this new information.  Ash was with a guy who liked “dad rock”.  This was awesome.  I started laughing.  I gasped for breath, as my face turned red.

“Oh…my…God!  Andy likes Kim Mitchell!  You’re going to have to listen to Kim Mitchell with him aren’t you?”

“Possibly,” she mumbled.

“This is awesome.  This is awesome.  This is awesome.  I can’t wait to get started.  Seriously, I already have ideas.  Right on.  This is going to be an awesome mix tape.”

Good as my word, eventually I furnished a custom mix tape, with liner notes and carefully selected music to entertain and hopefully enlighten.  I wish I had kept a copy.  Unfortunately, I didn’t.  So in lieu of the actual track list, here’s the mix tape I would make today given the exact same circumstances.  Let me know what you think!

Side One:

Van Halen – Eruption, Runnin’ With the Devil

Kim Mitchell – Kids In Action

Max Webster – Hangover

Talas – NV43345

David Lee Roth – Shy Boy

Van Halen – Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love

Max Webster/Rush – Battle Scar

Rush – Tom Sawyer

Dream Theater – Pull Me Under

Side Two:

Rush – 2112 (Side One)

Kim Mitchell – Lager and Ale

Van Halen – Hot For Teacher

Rush – Subdivisions

Max Webster – Toronto Tontos

Kim Mitchell – Sudbury Saturday Night

This is not the last of Andy’s exploration of the greatest music of all time either…stay tuned for…

Part 206! Rock Video Night!