Big Deal

#860: We Stand Alone

This chapter is dedicated to Michael LeFevre

GETTING MORE TALE #860: We Stand Alone

On a recent road trip with Jen to the lake, I chose the music according to my recent modus operandi:  80s retro rock.  The stuff I used to listen to at the lake when I was 15 or 16 years old.  This time I decided on the Killer Dwarfs’ Big Deal album from 1988.  I didn’t get the cassette until the cottage season of ’89.  I have a lot of nostalgia for that year.  I turned 17, I had friends, and I even met a girl that liked me.  We held hands once!

The title Big Deal referred to the Dwarfs’ signing their big record deal with Epic.  This was their major label debut.  After two indies, they finally signed the “big deal”, and even made a music video lampooning the idea.  The album is a solidly hard rock album with a melodic side and a dash of dreams.  Big Deal‘s theme is dreaming, and making it come true.  Self determination.  It doesn’t sound like the band had to compromise too much in making the album. While a tad softer than the predecessor Stand Tall (1986), it sounds like a natural evolution from that point.  Better background vocals, cleaner production, and more considered arrangements.

Epic Records even funded a jokey video for “We Stand Alone”, though unusually dark.  It was very much a sequel to “Stand Tall (Stick To Your Guns)” from the prior album.  This time, the band sign to a label (in blood!) who forces them to change their image and name to the “Cuddly Dwarfs”.  They are forced to cut and style their hair.  They give it a go, but by the end Russ Dwarf breaks his puppeteer’s strings and re-emerges with wild hair, tricycle and goofy stage shenanigans.

As the album played in the car, my brain immediately began flashing back to those times (as has been routine lately). Like an old film projector, images appeared in my mind. I was sitting in the basement, hand on the remote control of the VCR, ready to hit “record” on the new Killer Dwarfs video. Bob Schipper may have been watching with me, or he may have come over later. Either way, we both enjoyed the song, which was their most melodic yet. I can remember my thoughts and feelings watching the video, which had a tenebrous edge. I seem to have a reaction to videos where people have goey stuff dumped on their heads, like in Gowan’s video for “A Criminal Mind”. Killer Dwarfs had similar imagery in “We Stand Alone”, when faceless record company suits issue new haircuts for the Dwarfs. As such I’ll always see the video, and thus hear the song, with a sense of…shadow.

As the Dwarfs themselves have said, the videos may have been comedies, but the music and lyrics have always been dead serious.  The album in general has a similar dark vibe for me. The records before and after were more aggressive, but Big Deal seems to have a different focus.  Songs like “Power”, “Lifetime” and “Tell Me Please” have a certain foreboding to them for me.  Others are different, like the accelerated “Burn It Down” which recalls the Dwarfs of old.  There are no real duds on the album, which is a workmanlike slab of granite to seek out if you like 80s metal or Canadian rock bands.

The Dwarfs did well enough but didn’t have a major breakthrough.  They were always respected, tending to get better album after album.  I read a few critiques of Russ Graham’s voice, calling it too nasal like fellow Canadian Geddy Lee.  If that’s a dealbreaker for you, it’s best to move on.  While Russ is more aggressive than Geddy, I do hear the resemblance they are referring to.  But don’t forget guitarist Mike Hall, who doesn’t get enough credit for his solo work and tasteful use of the whammy bar.  On drums, the Dwarfs boast the heavy hitting Darrell Dwarf (Millar), an animated character who provides the ever-important thump.  And of course Bad Ronbo Mayer on bass and backing vocals, keeping it together.

Peak Dwarfs for me was 1990’s Dirty Weapons, a seriously good heavy rock album with attitude and riffs.  I have a whole different set of memories of that album, but not as nostagic.  Dirty Weapons came at Childhood’s End, a period of rapid change.  There it remains emblazoned in that part of my memory forever.

VHS Archives #73: Killer Dwarfs interview + Bruce Dickinson rips off Darrell Dwarf’s undies! (1989)

“‘Arry wants it…’Arry gets it.” – Killer Dwarfs

You won’t believe this got broadcast on daytime television!

Laurie Brown talked to the Killer Dwarfs in rehearsal for their excellent fourth LP Dirty Weapons. Additionally you will hear a preview for a new song called “Nothing Gets Nothing” live in concert, plus some behind the scenes footage.  The band talk about the music scene in Canada at the time (not good) and touring with Iron Maiden.  “What Harry wants, Harry gets,” they tell us.

But the real reason you’re watching this video is to see Bruce Dickinson rip the pants right off Darrell Dwarf.  It was the last night of the tour and therefore prank night!  Enjoy seeing “all of Darrell” as the audience did that night!

 

REVIEW: Killer Dwarfs – Dirty Weapons (1990)

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KILLER DWARFS – Dirty Weapons (1990 CBS)

I remember when the Dwarfs opened for Maiden on their Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour. They began playing a new song on that tour called “Nothing Gets Nothing”. It was fast and almost thrash metal in its delivery. The Dwarfs were heavying up!

Two years later, when Dirty Weapons finally hit the stores, it wasn’t thrash metal, but it was an up-ratchet from the previous album (and major label debut) Big Deal. It was also an improvement in sound, production, and song quality in general. This album is the Dwarfs very best. It is near-flawless. It is a must have for any true fan of Canadian metal.

Highlights include:

  • The title track and first single, with irrestible chorus.
  • “Last Laugh”, a great hard rocker, memorable and tough.
  • The angry “Comin’ Through”. “Outta my way, I’m coming through, I know what I want and I know how to get it!”
  • The melodic and rootsy “Not Foolin'”. “Not foolin’ me, you’re nothing but a sleeze”.
  • The atmospheric and slow closer “Want It Bad”.
  • The power ballad “Doesn’t Matter” which should have been the biggest hit of their entire career. Alas, it was one year too early as the following summer was the summer of the power ballads. But the band believed in it so much, they re-released it on the next album. Which, by then, was far too late, as grunge had hit in a big way.

I’ve heard people say that Russ Dwarf’s vocals are similar to Geddy Lee’s.  I’m not sure if I agree, I never saw it that way at the time.  All I know is, this is a great album, my favourite, and one that kept me rockin’ in the early 1990’s.

5/5 stars