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REVIEW: ECW Extreme Music – Various Artists (1998)

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ECW Extreme Music (1998 CMC)

There are way too many CDs in my collection that I don’t like, but I own for one or two rarities.  ECW Extreme Music is one of those many.  I have never watched an ECW wrestling match in my life.  I only know one of the wrestlers pictured inside, Bam Bam Bigelow, because he was in the WWF when I was a kid.  I don’t like the 90s version of wrestling with the blood and barbed wire.  And I don’t like much of the music they used.

First is the generic riff/loop combo of Harry Slash and the Slashtones, whoever that is.  Skip that repetitive crap to get to a White Zombie remix. “El Phantasmo and the Chicken-Run Blast-O-Rama” was a great groove from Astro-Creep: 2000.  The “Wine, Women & Song” mix by Charlie Clouser is from their remix CD Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds.  It’s an enjoyable remix, which is something best appreciated on its own rather than on a remix album.

Somebody named Kilgore did a carbon copy cover of “Walk” by Pantera, presumably because using the original would have cost more?  It’s embarrassingly copycat.  Your friends who don’t know will assume it’s Pantera.  Fortunately a great Megadeth tune is next.  Cryptic Writings is an underrated album, and “Trust” was probably the second best track on it (right after “A Secret Place”).   This instrumental mix is an exclusive and has emphasis on Marty Friedman’s lead guitar which replaces the vocals.

Bruce Dickinson (and Roy Z) is next with a lacklustre cover of “The Zoo” by the Scorpions.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, it’s just a cover, but it’s also a non-album track that collectors will want.  Too bad it’s not exceptional like most of Bruce’s output.  It’s just good not great.  Another cover follows:  Motorhead doing “Enter Sandman”!  It’s as bizarre and weirdly perfect as you’d expect it to be.  Grinspoon are next with their fairly stinky version of Prong’s “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck”, robbed of all its snarl.  John Bush-era Anthrax are more impressive with Metallica’s “Phantom Lord” from Kill ‘Em All.  It’s breakneck, and also very cool to hear a Big Four thrash band covering another Big Four group.

Pantera, minus Phil Anselmo, are here for their cover of ZZ Top’s “Heard it on the X”.  It’s both ZZ Top and Pantera at the same time, and that’s kind of remarkable.  That’s it for this album though — nothing worthwhile from here out. What’s the point of having a cover of “Kick Out the Jams” (courtesy of Monster Magnet) but then beep out the naughty words?  Somebody named Muscadine decided to do “Big Balls” by AC/DC, a pretty obvious bad idea.  Just awful.  Then it’s more of Harry Slash to end the CD with some more pure filler.

CMC International released a lot of low budget crap over the years, and this CD is pretty poor.  There are five pages of merch advertising inside, including one for a ECW Extreme Music 2.  I skipped that one.  This CD is collectable for the Bruce Dickinson, Anthrax and Motorhead tracks.  But these are cover tunes we’re talking about, so tread wisely.

1.5/5 stars

 

 

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REVIEW: Hit Zone 4 – Various Artists (1998)

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HIT ZONE 4 (1998 BMG)

“If You Could Only See” the reasons I own this CD.

Nobody buys a CD like Hit Zone 4 and likes every single track.  Stuff like this was popular because it gave kids an easy way to get a bunch of one hit wonders from the rock and pop genres without buying the albums.  There were also big names on board.  CDs like this were always on the charts, year ’round.  Today, kids just go to Youtube or Spotify.  But even a curmudgeon like me can find a few songs here to enjoy.

In particular, I bought this CD for a rare non-album version of “If You Could Only See” by the underrated Tonic.  This was their big hit, and the version on Hit Zone 4 is an alternate recording with a slightly new arrangement.  The liner notes lie and say it’s from their album Lemon Parade; this is obviously false.  In fact there’s no obvious way to tell it’s a unique version without listening to it.

What else is good?  “All Around the World” by Oasis (from 1997’s Be Here Now) is one of their more Beatles-worshipping moments.  Here it’s in the form of a radio edit (4:50).  I’ve never felt “All Around the World” was one of Oasis’ best tracks, and it works better in the context of its grandly overblown album.  However, “All Around the World” is like freaking gold, compared to Boyz II Men….

Other decent music:  I have a soft spot for Chantal Kreviazuk’s ballad “Surrounded”.  Jann Arden too, and “The Sound Of” is one of her very best tracks.  I’ve seen Jann live, and she did a fantastic show with stories and jokes and unforgettable songs.  Then there’s fellow Canuck Bryan Adams, with his excellent acoustic rocker “Back To You”, from his Unplugged album.  Few Adams albums from the 90s on are worth a full listen.  Unplugged is.  “Back To You” was the “new” track used as a single.  It’s bright and alive in a way that Adams’ later music is not.  Fiona Apple’s dusky “Criminal” is classic, of course.  Finally, who doesn’t still love The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “The Impression That I Get”?  They were one band that truly deserved their hit.  They’d been at it for so long, and this song is really just that one perfect tune for the right time.

Unless you were a kid in the 90s, you’ll find yourself skipping over ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys, All Saints, Robyn, and even Hanson.  Young Hanson can be tough to listen to.  I mean, they were kids, making music that kids liked.  It couldn’t really be helped.  I also find myself breezing past Mase, The Verve Pipe and Imani Coppola.  One hit wonders, right?  Shawn Colvin’s OK, but Boyz II Men can fuck right off.  “4 Seasons of Loneliness”?  Maybe because you guys are all wearing matching sweaters.  You can’t win friends with sweaters.

Hit Zone 4 is the kind of thing you buy in a bargain bin if you find it for $1.99.  These were once front racked at the old Record Store for $16.99 because they had so many hits from the late 90s.  It really was great value, because really, are you going to listen to Imani Coppola’s whole CD?  Be honest!

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Abandon (1998)

DEEP PURPLE – Abandon (1998 BMG)

19 years ago, Deep Purple released their final studio album with Jon Lord.  We didn’t know that at the time of course.  Jon’s departure happened a few years later, when touring wore him down.  He capped it off properly with a Purple tour of live performances of the Concerto for Group and Orchestra.  However, there is always a certain sense of…incompletion.  Lord’s last studio album wasn’t the kind you want to go out on.

Purple had a huge comeback with the masterpiece Purpendicular in 1996.  It was a beautiful, quirky and intelligent record.  Its followup Abandon was an effort to “get heavy”, but with hindsight even the band admitted it missed the mark.  Sure, it was heavier with more riffs, but Steve Morse isn’t particularly a riffy player.  Abandon lacked the feeling, and the level of songwriting was not there.

Lead track “Any Fule Kno That” works on a heavy groove, and it’s one of the songs that does click.  There are two particularly memorable songs on Abandon:  “Any Fule Kno That” and the laid back “Fingers to the Bone”.  “Fingers” is based on a celtic Steve Morse guitar lick, with a passionate Ian Gillan vocal on top.  Almost up there with them is “Seventh Heaven”, which could be the heaviest Purple song ever.  Paicey’s drums are relentless.  You can also count “Bludsucker” among the best material, but it’s a re-recording of “Bloodsucker” from In Rock.  Unfortunately this serves to underline how many years have passed, in regards to the vocal cords of Mr. Gillan.

All the other tunes have something to them of interest, but just not enough.  “Almost Human” for example has a nice shuffle beat.  “’69” has cool lyrics and a hell of a tempo.  There is a killer slow blues called “Don’t Make Me Happy” that just needs a better chorus.  The magic sauce just isn’t there.  Few of these songs were played live, and when they were, they tended to have more life than the album.

One must wonder, if the lacklustre Abandon is the reason Deep Purple haven’t self produced an album since.  Every record since then was either produced with Michael Bradford or Bob Ezrin.  Every record since has been better overall.  Something about Abandon just doesn’t hit the bar.  Maybe it’s the oddly obtrusive double-tracked vocals.  Whatever the cause, it’s hard to recommend Abandon when there are so many awesome Purple albums to enjoy ahead of it.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: White Wolf – Endangered Species (1986 Japanese CD)

wwesWHITE WOLF – Endangered Species (1986 BMG Japan)

With a name like White Wolf you’d almost expect this band to come from the forests of Northern Ontario or Quebec.  No so; they hail from provincial capital of Edmonton Alberta (pop: 800,000).  So we’ll forgive that the music video for “Shadows in the Night” (from 1984’s Standing Alone) made them looks like outdoors winter survivalists.  Long-haired sidekicks of Les Stroud?  No; they look much more indoors-y on Endangered Species, their second album before disbanding.  The album cover is notable for being a Hugh Syme work, though obviously a lesser one.

They earned some minor video play with “She”, indicating a more keyboardy direction than album #1.  Mushy sounding drums distract from the killer Don Wolf (Don Wilk) chorus.  Akin to Dokken’s “Breaking the Chains”, “She” will appeal to hard rockers who like melody with their guitars.  It’s all about that chorus though, the kind that makes you hit “repeat” and go right back to the start.

White Wolf has a weird 80s metal thud and that combined with harsh production values make Endangered Species sound terribly dated.  Techy keyboard flairs sound lifted from David Bryan’s Slippery When Wet sound library.  Anyone craving mid-tempo 80s hard rock will find enjoyable music on Endangered Species, but few songs have the same impact as “She”.  Dull verses, bland choruses and generic song titles keep things from sticking.  Sub-Jovi with none of Jon’s then-irresistible innocence is a narrow niche.

“Just Like an Arrow” comes close, but the keyboards weigh it down when it should be flying.  Too many bands (Quiet Riot, Stryper, etc.) really let the keys have too much space around this time.  “Cryin to the Wind” has an excellent acoustic intro but not enough of a song to go with it.  The drum samples are obtrusive because they don’t sound natural.  It sounds like a lot of time was taken in the studio but the technology wasn’t up to the task, and everything came out tinny and powerless.  “Holding Back” doesn’t have enough hooks.  “Snake Charmer” steals a title and a hook from Ritchie Blackmore, and appeals as a Rainbow-like understudy.  The only other track besides “She” and “Snake Charmer” that hits the spot is “One More Time”.

Not a terrible album, not a flaming turd…but not a winner either.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: House of Lords – Sahara (1990)

 

By request of reader WARDY!

scan_20161010HOUSE OF LORDS – Sahara (1990 BMG)

House of Lords put out an impressive debut but didn’t sell a lot of copies.  When the second album rolled out in 1990, their guitarist Lanny Cordola was gone and in was new guy Michael Guy.  Although Guy is credited on guitar, in reality the album was recorded with Doug Aldrich and a number of guests.  Weirdly, thanked in the credits for “additional inspiration” is Nick Simmons, who was one year old at the time.  Sahara was of course on Simmons Records.

It’s a different sounding House, less regal but with more hooks per acre.  The opening number “Shoot” draws liberally from the wells of both Led Zeppelin and Motley Crue.  “Chains of Love” is Coverdale-lite, with singer James Christian pouring on as much sass as possible, but without Coverdale’s sly nods and winks.  Whoever is playing the guitar solo on “Chains of Love” laid down a killer.

The acoustic cover “Can’t Find My Way Home” (Blind Faith) is pretty true to the original minus the falsetto, and would have to be one of the better power ballads from a rock band in 1990.  House of Lords turn a serious corner on “Heart on the Line”, which sounds like a title for a ballad.  This however is a speed racer, a chugging riff powering a rock-corker, which turns Cheap Trick on the chorus.  Unsurprisingly, it was written by Rick Neilsen.  Brilliant playing and soloing on this one.  Then they rip off a song title from Coverdale himself, “Laydown Staydown”.  Winger-esque sleeze rock is all this is, not even touching the brilliance of the Deep Purple song that inspired the title.

A much more impressive track opens side two, “Sahara”.  This is progressive hard rock, with drummer Ken Mary layering a tribal drum effect that would have been very ahead of its time in 1990.  This too degenerates into something more Winger-like as well, but it jumps from that back into more progressive sections, keeping things balanced and interesting.  The second slot on side two is predictably another ballad, a good one called “It Ain’t Love”.  Not just the title, but the gang chorus reminds of Dokken.  Some fine soloing resides here to sink your fangs into.

The lead single was another power ballad, “Remember My Name”, which the band did not write.  As an impressionable youth in 1990, I hated this single.  “Never lead with a ballad,” was my thinking.  I had been looking forward to new House of Lords since the debut slayed me in ’88.  I didn’t want the first song to be a ballad they didn’t write.  I still don’t think it’s a very good track.  And surely a mistake to include it on the CD right before another ballad.  “American Babylon” redeems it, coming back with a strong push.  “Kiss of Fire” nails it with the knockout punch at the end, a blazing smoker with powerful keyboards that remind us of vintage Deep Purple.  Finally it seems House of Lords nailed a song that lived up to their inspirations.

Perhaps it was the rotating cast of characters on guitar, but Sahara drifts further from the sound that made House of Lords unique in 1988. The danger of grasping for hits while taking their sound deeper in the mainstream was real. Though it is still an entertaining listen, Sahara is very uneven which makes it a bumpy ride.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Varga – Prototype (1993)

VARGA – Prototype (1993 BMG)

Joe Varga and crew started off as a Toronto-area thrash metal band.  There was a thriving thrash scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and Varga’s contribution were songs like “Mad Scientist” and “Shark Attack”.  They released an indi album (cassette only) called Multiple Wargasms.  As the 90’s progressed, Varga established a prototypical industrial metal direction, something perfectly mundane today, but hip for the time.  Like some bizarre cross between thrash metal and ZZ Top, Varga attempted to bridge the gap between machine and man.  They signed to BMG and got David Bendeth to produce them, who had just worked his magic with Sven Gali.

Varga’s major label debut was called Prototype.  As promised, it boasts a mixture of metal and industrial.  Live drums, guitars and bass mix are augmented with samples and loops.  People I knew referred to them as “Ministry Lite”, and that is as apt a description as any.  While Varga embraced technology, it didn’t seem fully incorporated into the music.  The songs are, for the most part, metal tracks with samples and effects added for embellishment.  Varga took the unusual step of listing everybody that inspired them in the credits.  Metal outnumbers industrial bands by 12-2.  Pornography had more influence on Varga than Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, according to this!

That said, when it works, it works.  “Greed” is a prime example.  Had it been a typical fast-forward thrash metal song, it still would have been good.  The electronics and looped rhythms turbo-charge the whole thing.  “Freeze Don’t Move” seems built around the loops, and features rapping and a sung chorus.  Hearing it today, I think “Hello, Linkin Park!”  But there was no Linkin Park in 1993.  These two tracks were the singles, and they are easily the best two songs on the album.   Additionally, “Freeze Don’t Move” was remixed and extended by somebody called “KRASH” (all caps).  The original is all you need, but the remix is included as a CD-only bonus track.  (Quaint concept today!)

Prototype clunks and clanks along, not like a finely tuned streamlined machine, but more like an older model with a rattle under the hood.  The musicianship is fine and dandy; Varga did not forsake guitar solos and there are several hot ones to choose from, not to mention diverse moments of instrumental brilliance.  The issue is that the rest of the material sputters inconsistently.   “The Strong”, “Unconscience”, “Thief”, “Self Proclaimed Messiah” and “Wawnah Mère” aren’t bad, and “Bring The Hammer Down” is pretty metallic.  None are memorably solid throughout; they just boast great parts here and there.

Recommended for metal historians and fans of the industrial metal sound.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Scorpions – Animal Magnetism (2015 deluxe edition)

The Best Fucking Collaboration Week Ever, Pt. 2
Final review in this series! Mike and Aaron did simultaneous daily reviews of albums that they sent to each other. Mike gifted the original CD of Animal Magnetism to Aaron when he upgraded to the deluxe edition.  This time, we are joined by the mighty DEKE from Stick it in Your Ear!
Aaron’s review:  Scorpions – Animal Magnetism

Scan_20160402SCORPIONS – Animal Magnetism (2015 BMG deluxe edition, originally 1980)

Post-Lovedrive, the Scorpions were on a roll.  American chart success had finally come their way, and the pressure was on to follow it up.  Rather than break under the strain, the Scorpions thrived in that atmosphere and put together another solid Euro-metal album with commercial tendencies.  Newest member Matthias Jabs was now integrated with the band, and they were ready to roll.

The modern Scorpions thrived on simple, heavy metal riffage and melodic vocals.  “Make It Real”, the opening track on Animal Magnetism, exemplifies these qualities.   Chunky chugs and soaring guitar melodies are only topped by Klaus Meine’s voice of power.  “Make It Real” remains one of the classic, unforgettable Scorpions rockers today and it’s easy to hear why.  It’s a perfect concoction of what melodic heavy metal can be.

I don’t like to be too hard on the Scorpions for their lyrics, because their English is a hell of a lot better than my German!  With that in mind, “Don’t Make No Promises (Your Body Can’t Keep)” is one of those Scorpions titles that makes me cringe.  Thankfully it’s a blitzkrieg of a track, full steam ahead and dripping sleaze.  Scorpions had easily mastered the fast metal stylings that put them in similar territory as Judas Priest, but they also had a knack for slow and relentless riffs.  “Hold Me Tight” is one of these, like a slow Dio-era Sabbath prowler.

The album is strong throughout.  “Twenthiest Century Man” continues a chopping onslaught of rock, but the Scorpions also have a knack for a ballad.  “Lady Starlight”, acoustic with a full-on string section with woodwinds, is one of their finer early examples.  It’s bizarre to hear a song this tender on the same album as “Don’t Make No Promises (Your Body Can’t Keep)”.

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In case you were worried the Scorps had lost it, “Falling in Love” continues the bruising on side two with another simple and effective riff.  “Only a Man” is about the only stumble, an off-kilter track that rests in the shadows of the songs before and after.  The chorus is great, but next to amazing metal classics like “The Zoo”, there is no contest.  And speaking of “The Zoo”, has there ever been such a slow yet so menacing track?  Written about their time spent in America, the lyrics are pretty silly.  “We eat the night, we drink the time, make our dreams come true.  And hungry eyes are passing by, on streets we call the Zoo.”  You don’t want to be hard on the guys for their skills with the language, but at the same time…this is also bizarrely catchy!

The title track “Animal Magnetism” is saved for last, an exotic slow crawl preceded by thunderclaps of noisy guitars.  Zeppelin meets Black Sabbath on this one, and it’s over and out.  Unless you own this deluxe edition….

“Hey You” is tacked on as the first bonus track, a strangely catchy pop rocker with Rudolph Schenker singing lead on the verses.  It has a remarkable uniqueness.  It was first released as a single, but most of us didn’t hear it until 1989’s Best of Rockers and Ballads.  That’s the easiest place to find this fun little tune.  A slew of rare demos end the deluxe CD:  “Animal Magnetism” (not at all like the album version), “American Girls”, “Get Your Love”, Restless Man”, and “All Night Long”.  Some of these songs are exactly what they are — outtakes!  Some are better than that.  “Get Your Love” was reworked on 1995’s Live Bites CD as “Heroes Don’t Cry”.  “Heroes Don’t Cry” has better lyrics and more meat on the bones, but “Get Your Love” has a raw basic quality.  “Restless Man” is an early version of “Twentieth Century Man”, all but complete including prototype guitar solos.

There will always be those fans who think albums like Lovedrive and Animal Magnetism were the beginnings of a long slide in quality.  When Uli Jon Roth left the band in 1978, he took with him their adventurous side.  Their post-Uli music was streamlined and more calculated.  Animal Magnetism remains one of their finest albums since.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: House of Lords – House of Lords (1988)

HOUSE OF LORDS – House of Lords (1988 Simmons Records/BMG)

Yes you read that correctly. Simmons Records. Did they ever put out anything decent?

House of Lords actually made a hell of a debut with Simmons Records in 1988. Nobody was calling them a “supergroup”, but most of the members had been around the block more than once. House of Lords evolved out of Giuffria, a pretty good AOR rock band featuring the keyboard stylings of Greg Giuffria. In fact there are several songwriting credits by ex-Giuffria singer David Glen Isley, giving clues to the genesis of this CD.

Lanny Cordola played guitar on the prior Giuffria LP, and continued on to House of Lords. Bassist Chuck Wright had a stint in Quiet Riot (in fact he’s back with them today). Drummer Ken Mary kept time during Alice Cooper’s metal phase. All they needed was a singer, and they found a great one in James Christian, who today is the sole remaining original member of House of Lords. They signed to Gene Simmons’ imprint, and got legendary producer Andy Johns behind the mixing desk. All the ingredients were in place.

MuchMusic were promoting the shit out of these guys, and so I dutifully picked up the cassette at A&A Records and Tapes in the fall of 1988.

The self-titled debut, though classy, didn’t have enough identity. Good songs throughout, no clunkers, but also nothing that identified House of Lords as something unique. And so, this great CD has remained largely unknown over the years.

The keyboard heavy opening on “Pleasure Palace” has less to do with Bon Jovi and more to do with the progressive rock bands of the 70’s. The production is pure 80’s, with the echoey drums and the hard to hear bass. It is what it is, and Andy Johns did a better job than most producers could have done in ’88. James Christian comes across as a full-lunged, well rounded singer. He’s able to sing with a little of blue eyed soul, and he’s capable of the screams too. The feature that actually sets the song apart is the keyboards, very gothic and European sounding, but not wimpy.

“I Wanna Be Loved” was the first single/video, an easy choice being mid-tempo with a shout-along chorus. “Oh woah, oh woah, I just wanna be loved!” Sure, sounded good to 16 year old me. Heaps of backing vocals thicken up the mix, and Lanny Cordola plays a tasteful albeit standard guitar solo on top. “Edge of Your Life” serves as a keyboard power-ballad, and a dramatic one at that. The musicianship is stellar and the arrangement is expert, but the standout performer is James Christian.

Since you need a bar room blaster for the dudes, “Lookin’ For Strange” fits the bill. Instruments aflame, and with obvious inspiration from the Van Halen shuffle of old, “Lookin’ For Strange” is nonetheless a ton ‘o fun. Ending the first side of the tape was “Love Don’t Lie”, another power ballad, this one a bit on the soft side. It was also edited down and remixed by David Thoener for a single release. This mix was used for the music video and can be found on reissues of the CD. The album version is the better of the two, since edits often sound…awkward.

Rock and roll resumes with “Slip of the Tongue”, a title that David Coverdale would use a year later. High octane, full speed ahead, this is House of Lords doing the shred. The musicianship speaks for itself and you can hear clear Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy influences. The fast pace sets up “Hearts of the World” very well via contrast. From here, the album becomes more progressive, dramatic, and bombastic. “Hearts of the World” is AOR perfection, choppy with caverns of keyboards and waterfalls of gang vocals. It all sounds so serious, but it’s hard to deny the quality of this song. “Under Blue Skies” follow this with bagpipes (!) and ELP-like keyboard horns. It’s another dramatic, melodic winner with progressive qualities. The outro has those “na na na na na” vocals that all but guarantee you’ll be singing along. “Call My Name” makes it three in a row, though it changes the forecast to sunny. Bright and positive, “Call My Name” is still a big sounding song, with the gang vocals and guitar shreddery that you’ve come to expect.

Cordola gets the chance to show a lil’ bit (a minute) of classical guitar chops as an intro to “Jealous Heart”, the last of 10 tracks. This is your typical album-ending breakup ballad: weepy hearts, melodramatic lyrics, powerhouse vocals…it’s a dead ringer for Journey! Good Journey, though. Since Journey were defunct in 1988, let’s forgive House of Lords for a little hero worship.

House of Lords is a good debut album. Is it great? I would have said so back in ’88 or ’89, but the production has caused it to age, not so well. That’s unfortunate because what House of Lords put out here was pretty remarkable hard rock.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Big House – Big House (1991 BMG)

STRAT

Thanks for joining us for Canadian Rawk Week!

 

BIG HOUSE – Big House (1991 BMG) Not to be confused with the country band also called Big House.

BIG HOUSEBig House hit the ground running out of Edmonton, Alberta in 1991, but it was hard to take them seriously at the time.  The hair and headbands were pretty silly, and they had annoying song titles such as “Refuse 2 Run” and “Nothing Comes 4 Free”.  I acknowledged they had a pretty cool single “Dollar in My Pocket (Pretty Things)”.  This was lifted from a prior EP called Pretty Things, very hard to find.  They also claimed to be former punk rockers.  Drummer Sjor (pronounced Shore) Throndson once stated that the band used to have mohawks when they were teenagers, but shaved them off and had a change of musical direction.  With that, the silly hair and the dumb name, it was pretty easy to ignore Big House.

Then a co-worker at the Record Store named Kam talked me into listening to it.  The year was 2005 and my feelings quickly turned from indifference to delight.  Big House, for all their flaws, were actually pretty good!  Every song on this album has swagger. It doesn’t sound like a debut album at all, and perhaps that’s due to the experience of having done a prior EP. The band, and singer Jan Ek in particular, make this sound like a second or third album.

“Dollar in My Pocket” made for a good first single, but what a cheesey video. I still cringe at the 30 second mark, when Sjor glances flirtingly down towards his pants on the line, “I got a dollar in my pocket for you.” Fortunately, just a taste of their punk background shine through in the melodies, making this song a bit more unique than the crowd in 1991. Jan Ek has a good scream going on, and lungs of power. They had a knack for writing catchy guitar licks like the one in “Dollar in My Pocket”. The song is all about attitude, so “come along, you can have it if you want it, baby.”

The first chunk of the CD was top-loaded with singles. “All Nite” was a minor hit, a Motley-Poison mixture of rock thrills. Generic, but with that knack for melody once again, not to mention the leathery lungs of Jan Ek. Those two factors elevate the song beyond the morass of crap swimming in the seas of cheese in 1991. Another decent rocker, the Kiss-like “Refuse 2 Run” stays the course before you’re up for the next single, the ballad “Baby Doll”. Generic acoustic sentimental tacky stuff is this, but why do I like it? Maybe that quiet moaning slide guitar? Sounds a lot like Cinderella. Truthfully it’s not bad, but it’s really not that different from any of a hundred ballads. Thankfully “Can’t Cry Anymore” has some noisy guitar and plenty of attitude, especially in the punk rock blowout ending. Once again, it’s remarkable what a handle Big House had on writing great rock melodies. “Can’t Cry Anymore” is one of many on this disc.

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“Devil’s Road” sounds like the opening of a second side, and a strong opening it is. “So make the music faster, for the spells we’re castin'” sings Jan Ek on the fine choruses. None of these songs are particularly fast, but they all rock in one way or another. For example “Nothing Comes 4 Free” is slow, but has a menacing vibe and the requisite hooks on the chorus. The closest they get to filler is “Happiness” but even that is not bad. It’s an unusual cross of pop melody with classic rock guitars — Cheap Trick meets Kiss, perhaps?

Final track “Angel on My Arm” is a celebratory tough little rocker, but the penultimate track “L.A.” is my favourite of them all. It seems Mr. Ek’s girl has left to go to L.A. and a be big movie star, and isn’t coming back. But then Jan gets a long distance call from L.A. It seems she mis-dialed and got Jan when she expected to get “Jack”.  He responds incredulously, “Jack who?! Jack Palance? Jack Nicholson? Jack…Jack who?!” It’s great fun! Listen to that bouncy bass. That’s pop punk, baby. So are those unabashed “la-la-la-la” pop hooks. Just a killer, instantly likeable fun song is this. “I been drinkin’ with every damn girl in town,” sings Ek after the disappointing phone call. “If I seem a bit too forlorn, I’ve been loving her too long.” People, I’m serious: This song is a triumph of songwriting and execution. You are free to disagree, but all I know is that I have played this song on repeat countless times. In fact I’m doing it now. I’m already on spin #3 for this session.

Silly name and album cover aside, I suppose it all works as a package. It’s no wonder the band never made it big with a cover this horrible; imagine my shock when I saw that it was done by none other than Hugh Syme, master of many Rush records. And this faceless cover conceals within it one of the best hard rock albums of the era. Sadly that era died before Big House could make a second album, but let’s celebrate that we have this one. Just like we are glad for the first two Skid Row albums, or New Jersey by Bon Jovi, I’m happy now to have Big House in my, err, house.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Deep Purple – Purpendicular (1996 US bonus track)

“The banjo player took a hike” — Ian Gillan


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When Blackmore quit Purple for the second time, I had written the band off. I wasn’t too keen on the previous studio record The Battle Rages On, and what is Purple without the man in black? I didn’t want to hear a hack Deep Purple, struggling on to pay the bills with some sub-Blackmore player.  The first time he left, it shattered the band and they were unable to continue past one record with Tommy Bolin. Then I started reading reviews of live shows with Steve Morse on guitar. Steve Morse? What the hell was that going to sound like? Morse and Ritchie Blackmore — it is hard to imagine two electric guitar players who sound less alike. (Joe Satriani was also briefly in the band to help them finish up touring commitments.  Bootlegs of shows with Satriani are well worth checking out.)

When Purple finally released their new studio album Purpendicular, I had to buy it on import.  It didn’t even have a North American release.   When it was released officially in the US, an extra bonus track was added, so I tracked that down and bought it too. That is how much I really love this record. It had a huge impact on me musically in the mid to late 90’s, and when I saw Purple on this tour, they were smoking!

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Kicking off with some of that patented Morse shredding, the oddly titled “Vavoom: Ted The Mechanic” kicks you in the teeth and won’t let go. This was, according to Gillan, done on purpose.  It was a statement: “Here is our new guitar player, bitches.”  Ian’s lyrics, ranging from bizarre to absurd and back again, are at their absolute peak on this album. (Check out “Somebody Stole My Guitar”.) Clearly, when the man had been freed of Blackmore’s shackles, he had been creatively revitalized.  That probably followed in turn for each of the members.

The second track is the melancholy, bass-driven “Loosen My Strings”, a song which wouldn’t sound out of place on Slaves and Masters. From there, the album goes from strength to strength: The powerful progressive epic “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” (probably the best track on the album) to the bright and positive “A Touch Away”. Every song is backed by Morse’s unmistakable picking, miles away from Blackmore’s style of riffing, or medieval tendencies. That is not an attack against Blackmore, but sometimes a quality change can be refreshing. Morse utilizes pinch harmonics frequently on this album, which is a new sound for Deep Purple.  He also utilizes long sustained notes with wide vibrato, a classic Steve Morse sound.

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There are very few weak songs on Purpendicular.  The plodding “Soon Forgotten” can be skipped.  Not all the songs are immediate.  Some of them are complex arrangements designed to take a little effort to penetrate. This album must be played a couple times for it to sink in. But when it does, stand back and prepare to be blown away.  I wouldn’t want to miss “The Aviator”, a rare acoustic Purple tune.  Morse lends it a celtic feel.  For folks who prefer the 70’s jamming Deep Purple, check into “Rosa’s Cantina” and give a shout-out to “Hey Cisco”.  And if you like it a little more straightforward and rocking, you may prefer catchy rockers like “Somebody Stole My Guitar” and “I’m Not Your Lover Now”.

PURPENDICULAR US_0003I mentioned that I re-bought this album for a US bonus track.  “Don’t Hold Your Breath” is a bright upbeat rock song, and worth tracking down.  It’s not necessarily an album highlight, but why do without?  Jon Lord’s organ sounds on this one are particularly enticing.

 

There was also one outtake from this album, a silly little jam/band intro called “Dick Pimple”.  This was put out on a fanclub-only release, and later reissued on Ian Gillan & Tony Iommi’s compilation CD WhoCares.  It’s a 10 minute track, giving the fans a rare chance to hear Purple with Morse jam just for shits & giggles.  Because it’s Deep Purple, it is a quality jam, and completely unlike anything on Purpendicular.

Purpendicular was a vital record for Deep Purple.  If they had blown it, that would have been it.  They couldn’t have continued with any credibility if it didn’t kill.  Fortunately it did.  I am pleased to report that despite the tragic death of Jon Lord, Deep Purple has managed four more great records since, all with Steve Morse on guitar.

4.5/5 stars

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