bob ezrin

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Limitless (2017 Classic Rock exclusive CD)

DEEP PURPLE – Limitless (2017 exclusive CD included with Classic Rock #234, April 2017)

You have to hand it to the folks at Classic Rock.  It’s a quality publication that also manages to give out quality free cover-mount CDs.  With all the attention on Deep Purple these days due to their newly released album Infinite, Classic Rock have done the band up in style.  The CD is not just for beginners either.  Limitless (get it?) has a bunch of material from recent vintage and one exclusive track too.  That’s right — one track on this CD is exclusive to Classic Rock, so get on it, collectors!

At 43 minutes, Limitless has the ideal run time for a great listen through.  If you want to check out some new Deep Purple right off the bat, then just dive in.  Tracks 1 and 2 are the first two singles from Infinite:  “Time For Bedlam” and “All I Got is You”.  Both tracks are excellent, and fine samplings of what the current Deep Purple lineup (est. 2003) sound like.  With Steve Morse and Don Airey, the band have gone from strength to strength.  The instrumental prowess on these songs will easily demonstrate why Deep Purple are universally lauded.

Going back one album prior, we have two tracks from the Now What?! period.  The single version of “All the Time in the World” is a nice ballad for inclusion, though I think “Vincent Price” blows everything else on that album away.  Also included is the rock and roll “First Sign of Madness”.  The liner notes state this song is taken from the “Above and Beyond” CD single.  That doesn’t actually appear to be the case, but ” First Sign of Madness” was included as a bonus track on many editions of the Now What?! album.

The second half of Limitless is dedicated to live material, all classics.  “No One Came” from 1971’s Fireball is one of Purple’s most lethal grooves, and is lifted from the deluxe “Gold” reissue of the Now What?! album.  Gillan’s voice strains hard on this one.  A fun version of “Strange Kind of Woman” comes from the double live 2015 Wacken set.  It’s pure delight.  Next, “Perfect Strangers” is always welcome aboard, and this live version comes from the parallel double live 2015 Tokyo release.

Finally the set draws to a close with the Classic Rock exclusive track, a live tape of “Black Night” from Milan, July 21 2013.  Many of the live tracks on the Now What?! reissue come from that gig, but “Black Night” is previously unreleased.  It’s a jamming version, over seven minutes and Morse-heavy.  And there are more live tracks from that gig in the Deep Purple Infinite box set version, which looks just fantastic.

And magazine isn’t bad either!  The Deep Purple interview reveals some of the lighter side of the legendary Gillan/Blackmore relationship, tempered by the passage of time.  Incidentally, the magazine gives Infinite 7/10 stars.  That’s not bad for a band about to hit their 50th anniversary in a year’s time.  Check it out, and enjoy the 8-track CD Limitless while you read along!

4/5 stars

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RE-REVIEW: KISS – Double Platinum (1978)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 12:  

kiss-logoDouble Platinum (1978 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remastered edition)

As 1977 turned into 1978, Kiss were buying mansions, and buying time.

Their next big project was a rock and roll first.  Four solo albums, all under the Kiss banner, simultaneously.  It had never been done before.  As each of the four members toiled separately on their albums, Casablanca Records and Sean Delaney put together the next Kiss package:  Double Platinum was intended to keep the band on the charts in the meantime.

The first Kiss “greatest hits” album is the most legendary.  Sparing no expense, the two records were housed in a brilliant gatefold sleeve, embossed in shiny silver foil.  Kiss made their hits package really look like one, and the 20 included songs meant fans would get a cross section of hit material from all six Kiss studio albums.

Therein lay the challenge.  Kiss studio albums were, at best, uneven sounding.  Their early work was marred by studio inadequacies.  Producer Delaney chose to remix (with Mike Stone) a number of the old Kiss tracks, in an attempt to bring everything up to the level of DestroyerDestroyer was considered the benchmark, the best sounding Kiss album.  Using it as the high water mark, Delaney and Stone attempted to bring the rest of the material to that level.  Remixed were “Firehouse”, “Deuce”, “100,000 Years”, “Detroit Rock City”, “She”, “C’mon And Love Me”, “Hard Luck Woman”, “Calling Dr. Love”, “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll” and “Black Diamond.”

Most casual buyers don’t want remixes when they buy a hits package, but many won’t even be able to tell the difference.  Some are more obvious.  “Hard Luck Woman” has a longer acoustic section.  “She” now has the “Rock Bottom” intro.  “Black Diamond” is rearranged so that it ends where it begins and repeats to fade.  By and large, these remixes are not obtrusive.  They enable a great song flow.

And what songs!  “Detroit”, “Beth”, “Deuce”, “Hotter Than Hell”, “Cold Gin”, “Firehouse”, “Makin’ Love” and more, with very few important exclusions.  The only track that earns scorn from many is “Strutter ‘78”, a re-recording done especially for Double Platinum.  It was done up with a late-70s production featuring compression and shakers.  The “disco era” was on the horizon.  Today, Gene Simmons questions why the re-recording was made.  To sell records, is the answer.

Double Platinum is the album to buy instead of Alive! if you would like to start your Kiss collection with a broad sampling of studio classics.  It’s still an enjoyable front to back listen for anyone.

Today’s rating:

5/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/14
Review of foil embossed CD reissue:  2012/11/22

Official apology to Robert V Conte

In my November 2012 review I called the CD liner notes by Conte “shitty” and then added a snarky “Who?”  I knew who he was (I own lots of books with his name inside) and I didn’t need to be bitchy.  His liner notes to the 1997 remastered editions are what they are, and what he was paid to do.  Robert, I hope you accept this apology for what was a dumb comment on my part.

REVIEW: Deep Purple – “All I Got is You” (2017 EP)

NEW RELEASE


DEEP PURPLE – “All I Got is You” (2017 Edel EP)

Infinite isn’t even out yet and we already have two CD singles in our hands!  Deep Purple are wasting no time in getting the new music out there.  The last single, “Time for Bedlam” had four tracks, including three brand new pieces of music.  “All I Got is You” has five tracks, two of which are brand new.  These singles are well worth buying, and won’t be obsolete when the album is released.

Age has done little to blunt the cutting edge.  “All I Got is You” has old and new elements.  It sounds like Deep Purple, but not like prior Deep Purple.  Its jazzy intro misleads, for this is a pissed off song.  It is difficult to describe except to say it’s busy, but still barely commercial enough for a single.  As usual, Steve Morse and Don Airey’s instrumental work stuns the senses.  If these new singles are what we have to judge by, the new album will be typical Morse-era Deep Purple:  still them, still restless.

The bonus material is varied.  “Simple Folk” is a lovely little guitar instrumental, reminiscent of the ballad “Never A Word” from Bananas (2003).  Don’t be surprised if the melody shows up elsewhere in the future.  It’s too good to relegate to a CD single, and it is exclusive too.  Also exclusive:  an instrumental mix of “Above and Beyond” from the last album Now What?!.    Instrumentals of songs you know well are always an interesting ride.  It is fun to listen to the music you couldn’t hear before, under the lead vocals.  “Above and Beyond” was of course a single in its own right in 2013.  Then, even better, we have the first take of the first single “Time for Bedlam”, complete with Bob Ezrin’s talking (and praise).  This too is an instrumental version, but if you ever wanted to hear what Deep Purple sound like completely unleashed in the studio, give it a spin.  I think I like it better than the actual single.

The only bonus track that will be re-released later on is the live version of “Highway Star” (yes, another one) that will be included on in the Infinite box set version.  That set will contain lots of vinyl including three 10″ records that together will comprise The Now What?! Live Tapes Vol. 2.  Sharp readers will recall that Vol. 1 came out with the deluxe “gold” edition of the Now What?! CD.  As for “Highway Star”?  Well, this one is 6:09 long and was recorded August 8 2013 in Denmark.  I don’t know how else you can differentiate versions.  My Deep Purple folder has 58 listings for “Highway Star” (albeit some of those would be the studio version on compilations).

As fans gear up for the Infinite album (and box set), they would be advised to get these singles too.  There is enough extra material on them to complement the album nicely when it’s finally out on April 7.

4/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Destroyer (1976)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 7:  

scan_20170301kiss-logoDestroyer (1976 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remastered edition)

Kiss had “made it”.  Alive! put them where they wanted to be:  on the charts and headlining concert stages coast to coast.  The financial pressure was off and they didn’t have to simply crank out new albums to keep the band afloat.  They could now take their time and make something that was more thought out; a statement.

The first issue to deal with was Kiss’ past sonic inadequacy in the studio.  Prior albums produced by Kenny Kerner & Richie Wise, and Neil Bogart did not capture the full-on Kiss thunder.  They failed to shred the speakers.  They needed somebody “big time”, to give them the punch they desperately needed.  That somebody was Canadian producer extraordinaire Bob Ezrin.  Ezrin had been an instrumental guiding force for Alice Cooper.  Now it was Kiss’ turn to receive the platinum Ezrin magic touch.

Ezrin agreed to work with Kiss, reportedly influenced by a neighbor kid who liked to discuss music.  “The kids from school love Kiss,” the boy told Ezrin.  “The problem is, their records sound so shitty.  But the band is so good we buy the records anyway.”  Working with Kiss wasn’t much different from working with Cooper.  These were not schooled musicians.  Ezrin had to take them to boot camp.  Keeping the drums in time was a challenge.  Peter Criss had difficulty maintaining a steady tempo, so Ezrin would beat a briefcase to keep him in time.  He wore a conductor’s coat and tails, and pushed the rest of the band like a drill sergeant.  Even the mighty demon Gene Simmons was chastised, for finishing a take before the producer instructed him to stop.  And when Ace Frehley didn’t show up because he had a card game?  Shenanigans were not tolerated.  When Ace wasn’t available when he should have been, Ezrin’s buddy Dick Wagner (Alice Cooper) was there.  For the first time, a Kiss member was replaced on album by an outside uncredited musician.

kiss-and-ezrin-in-tails

One innovative technique that Ezrin brought in to thicken up Kiss’ sound was using a grand piano to back up the big guitars.  The end result doesn’t sound like piano and guitars, but one solid wall of rock, like Phil Spector channelled through Bob Ezrin.  Where Kiss used to rely on rag-tag recordings they now had a big glossy sound to play with.  Ezrin was also fond of sound effects and orchestration, and he brought both to Kiss.

The opening track “Detroit Rock City” was a slam-dunk intro to the new Kiss sound.  After an extended start with the sound of a fan driving to a Kiss concert, the band thundered into focus.  That trademark riff chainsaws through, before Paul Stanley’s powerful pipes take command.  What a song.  The new Kiss had arrived, shiny and sleek, souped up and fueled, as if they were a brand new band.

detroit_rock_city“Detroit” faded out into “King of the Night Time World”, an outside song brought in for completion by Ezrin and Paul Stanley.  They turned it into something that worked for a Kiss album, albeit very different from their past.  As for Paul, he contributed a fast hard rocker called “God of Thunder”.  Though reports sometime differ in the details, ultimately the song fit Gene Simmons’ demon persona better and the song was given to him to sing.  It was slowed to a monster plod, and a few lines were changed to suit.  (“Make love ’til we bleed” was changed to “Hear my words and take heed”.)  And those little demonic voices?  Bob Ezrin’s kids, playing with walkie-talkies.

“Great Expectations” (based on Beethoven) has to be the most bizarre song on the album and one of the weirdest that Kiss have attempted.  A lush ballad with strings and choirs and Gene Simmons in crooner mode, it is definitely different.  Even one of the rockers, “Flaming Youth” written by Frehley/Stanley/Simmons/Ezrin, is different for Kiss.  It’s a rock song…with calliope.  (Picture circus music.)  Gene’s “Sweet Pain” had female backing vocals like an old Motown single.  These are all interesting experiments, but none of those three songs have become live concert classics.

Bob Ezrin tricked the band into writing “Shout it Out Loud”.  He realized they needed one more song, so he told the band that they had lost the masters to “Great Expectations” and needed a replacement.  Gene and Paul hurriedly wrote “Shout it Out Loud” with the producer and had another instant classic.  Like “Rock and Roll all Nite” before it, “Shout” was an anthemic rallying cry that a concert audience could get behind.

The album closer was a track called “Do You Love Me”, another tune brought in by outsiders (Kim Fowley) to be finished by Kiss.  Though on the surface “Do You Love Me” is a bit repetitive and dull, it was later covered by Nirvana.  There must be something to it that struck a chord.

There was still one more song on the album, a throwaway.  It was used as a B-side to “Detroit Rock City”, as the band didn’t have much faith in it.  Peter Criss had brought forward a love song called “Beck”, named for a girl named Becky, written by Stan Penridge for their old band Chelsea.  The song needed work, including a new title.  Ezrin revamped it completely, and the result was one of Kiss’ all time biggest hits:  “Beth”.  Tender and accessible, the only Kiss member on “Beth” was Peter Criss himself.  Dick Wagner played acoustic and Bob Ezrin played piano.  The orchestra finished it off.  Eventually, radio stations started flipping the “Detroit” single and playing “Beth”.  This led to Casablanca reissuing “Beth” as a single A-side, Kiss’ highest charting ever.


With the help of “Beth”, Destroyer maintained Kiss’ stardom and opened up the doors for any future musical experiments they could fathom.  Its cover showed Kiss in an apocalyptic landscape, in full super hero mode for the first time.  Artist Ken Kelly created something that helped define Kiss as larger than life…and larger than life they did become.

That wasn’t the end of the story for Destroyer.  For years it became the benchmark that Kiss albums were measured against.  In 2012, Bob Ezrin revisited the backing tapes and produced an alternate mix called Destroyer: Resurrected.  This featured some previously unheard music such as an alternate Ace Frehley guitar solo for “Sweet Pain” (Dick Wagner played the original solo).

Destroyer is far from the definitive Kiss album.  In fact, it is more like a one-off, an experiment that was never fully revisited.  Some of its songs are less than classic.  Others are so classic that you can’t imagine the world without them.  The bottom line for Kiss was that Destroyer propelled them further towards their goal of becoming the hottest band in the world.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

4/5 steaks 

Meat’s Slice:  The general consensus of casual Kiss fans is that this is their greatest studio album.  Let’s examine this.  I’ll start with the iconic.

“SHOUT  IT OUT LOUD” – On May 22, 1976, this song went number one in Canada, the band’s first ever number one song.  40 years later and “Shout it Out Loud” might be the Kiss song with the longest shelf life.  One of two perfect “live concert” songs on Destroyer.  The other?

“DETROIT ROCK CITY” –  Thin Lizzy-esque two-guitar rock fest.   Sitting on the same shelf as “Shout it Out Loud”.  Iconic indeed.   Unperishable.   Even has a movie named after it. I have never seen  it.   Maybe it’s finally time to do so.

“BETH” – If any other member sang “Beth” it wouldn’t have been the same song, or had the same success.  Peter Criss has a special rasp in his voice that can both rock and schmaltz it up.  Like Rod Stewart, or that goof that sings for Slaughter.   I personally wish “Beth” would “fly to the angels” up in the sky, but this song did do one good thing for me.  My grandmother refused to get me anything Kiss related until I pointed out to her that “Beth”, on the radio in the car at the time, was actually Kiss.  So thanks for that at least.

“DO YOU LOVE ME” –  Perhaps this song is more iconic in my own mind specifically, since it is in my Top Five Kiss songs.  Classic Paul Stanley stuff here.

“GOD OF THUNDER” – Unique in every way for the time.  A lot of Ezrin tricks in this track including backwards drumming.  I still have not heard the great cover of this song I always thought I would from some Metal band.  There’s still time….

No wonder the casual Kiss fan believes this is the best of all of the Kiss studio albums.  It is a great collection of songs that are still loved today.  But everything else on Destroyer not listed above is average at best,  or much worse than that.  Maybe it’s because Kiss was too busy getting music lessons from Bob Ezrin while in the studio.  Maybe it’s simply that Kiss was tired of being looked at as a “joke” and wanted to get more serious, hence getting some more respect from the mainstream press.  Now again, this is my opinion and I’m sure that some might vehemently disagree with me about some of the deeper Destroyer tracks.  The best of which I think is “Flaming Youth”.   “King of the Night Time World” is pretty good, but borrowed from another song.  “Great Expectations” is blah stuff except for the melody stolen from Beethoven.  “Sweet Pain” sucks.  And “Rock and Roll Party” is just unnecessary filler, very much like “Inside”, the ending track on 5150.  Might as well take the needle off the record as soon as the song starts and put on something else immediately.

Let’s use this analogy

A couple raises 10 children.   Three of their children become world leaders.  Two others become successful doctors.  But half of their kids are in jail, some for unspeakable crimes against humanity.  Can you call them the best family overall because half of them are special?   Destroyer is definitely not the greatest Kiss album. 

Agreed?  Discuss….


 

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/06

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Time for Bedlam (2017 EP)

NEW RELEASE


DEEP PURPLE – Time For Bedlam (2017 Edel EP)

Has any band gone nearly 50 years with such integrity?  The only original member left is drummer Ian Paice, but that matters not.  Ian Gillan and Roger Glover are original members to laymen.  Steve Morse has been in the band for over 20 years, and Don Airey is at about 15.  There is no lack of authenticity to Deep Purple, no matter what preconceptions you may have.  This most recent lineup with Airey is now on its fourth studio album.  The new album Infinite (produced again by Bob Ezrin) will be out April 7.

“Time for Bedlam” is a great choice for a single.  It rocks a “Pictures of Home” (1972) vibe.  Gillan’s lyrics are as biting as ever.  “Sucking my milk from the venomous tit of the state…”  Meanwhile Deep Purple sound like Deep Purple, but always pushing outwards.  There is newness in “Time for Bedlam”.  The droning intro is nothing like Deep Purple past, with Ian in a low monotonous voice.  But whatever makes Deep Purple sound like Deep Purple, it’s on “Time for Bedlam”.  For most people, the organ is the most identifiable ingredient, and Don Airey continues to pay tribute to the original, Jon Lord, in every note.  The solo sections from Airey and Morse are jawdropping.

This great CD single has three additional tracks.  “Paradise Bar” is a new non-album track, a laid back summer time groove.  It has progressive keys and a lazy easy going vibe.  It remains to be seen how it ranks among Infinite‘s album tracks.  It’s nice to buy a single and get an actual new unreleased track, and “Paradise Bar” isn’t mere filler.  Fans will enjoy Steve and Don’s solo trade-offs.  An unreleased instrumental version of “Uncommon Man” (from 2013’s Now What?!) will also be of interest to fans of the musicians in Deep Purple.  For such a long track (6:59) it’s amazing how well it works as a simple instrumental.  You have to hand that to this great band, and producer Bob Ezrin for capturing such great ambience.

The last track “Hip Boots” is an instrumental rehearsal of a track that will be on Infinite.  It’s a funky jam, a lot like what Deep Purple have always done.  It remains to be seen what the album track is like (will it have vocals, will it be a jam?) but this is an intriguing look at a song in a state that we don’t normally get to hear.  It whets the appetite for what could be coming.

Kudos to Deep Purple for still utilizing the singles format (something they also did with Now What?!), and in doing so, giving the fan some added value.  They’re creating a buzz for Infinite, so let’s hope that pays off in April!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Bonham – The Disregard of Timekeeping (1989)

Scan_20160804 (2)BONHAM – The Disregard of Timekeeping (1989 CBS)

The rock press went nuts for Bonham in ’89.  Finally, after long wait, the son of legendary Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham finally made his move into the music world.  Fans had seen him in The Song Remains the Same.  Some knew that Jason Bonham jammed with Zeppelin in 1988 at Atlantic’s 40th anniversary bash. It was a much more successful reunion than 1985’s Live Aid.

The music world in 1989 was far removed from the days of Zeppelin.  Pretty boys with big hair and flashy videos were the norm.  Bands who could get up there and jam for 20 minutes or more on a single track were few.  With much naiveté, the magazines drooled over Jason Bonham’s new band, simply and obviously called Bonham. The singer, a young Canadian named Daniel MacMaster, had the youthful curls and range of a young Robert Plant. The bassist, John Smithson, was a talented multi-instrumentalist just like John Paul Jones. The band had to be a quartet; there could be no other way. They tapped Bob Ezrin to produce, a guy who has never done anything that sounded like Led Zeppelin, but someone who was able to take young bands and push them ahead a few levels.

The resultant album The Disregard of Timekeeping attained a lot of attention, making many magazines’ year end lists.  Best new group, best new album, etc. etc.  And while it is an ambitious record for a debut, it does fall very short of those lofty marks.

Going for the bombastic, the CD opens with a two minute instrumental of keyboards, guitars, violins and the odd burst of drums.  It makes little impact besides setting up the first single “Wait For You”.  Conceptually, it sounds as if they collectively said, “Right, so let’s write a song that sounds like something that could have been on the next Zeppelin album after In Through the Out Door.”  So it’s big, echoey and loaded with keyboards and effects.  It does recall Zeppelin, particular the remarkable pipes of MacMaster.  It has the necessary big chorus that you needed to have in 1989, and the two sides of rock that Bonham inhabited were melded together in fine fashion.  “Wait For You” is a success, but Ezrin’s production in the late 80’s seemed hollow.

Is the Bonham DNA present? Yes, of course. It comes out most naturally via the drum parts, but a lot of the material sounds intentionally contrived. Still, there were a number of really good tracks on the album, enough to make it worth buying. Young Jason, sounding exactly like his dad, counts in the quality track “Guilty” with a “One, two, ha ha ha!” It sounds less like Led Zeppelin, and more like late-80’s Deep Purple. Which is fine of course; we’re talking about quality comparisons. Especially great though is John Smithson’s violin solo. I’m especially fond of the violin in rock music. I like out of the box thinking, and it’s this kind of experimentation that made Bonham more like Zeppelin in the long run. Smithson nails it with the perfect tone.

Another pretty decent tune is “Holding on Forever” which has a Zep funk, with a modern 80’s chorus. “Dreams” though is nearly tanked by a long intro, featuring a guy coming home, brushing his teeth, setting his alarm and going to bed. Yes, that is correct.  You have to listen to a guy coming home, brushing his teeth, and going to bed.  You gotta blame Bob Ezrin for that mistake. Who wants to buy a rock album and sit through a guy brushing his teeth…only to get a ballad out of it? At least “Dreams” is a decent, progressive sounding ballad, but in the CD/mp3 age, how many people are gonna hit “skip” before the actual song, while the guy hasn’t finished brushing his teeth?

Having unloaded their best songs on side one, the second side is a bit of a chore to complete. Songwriting was not the band’s strongest suit. The two best songs (“Wait For You” and “Guilty”) were co-written by Bob Ezrin, and I don’t think that’s insignificant. Other songs on the album, such as “Playing To Win”, “Cross Me and See”, and “Just Another Day”, are competent. What they lack is the magical ingredient that makes a song stay with you forever. Bonham embraced the past and present, modern production and old-fashioned playing, but that alone was not enough to forge a truly great album.

Finally the album left one of the most impressive songs for the end, “Room For Us All”, an ambitious track over seven minutes long. Soft and anthemic, “Room For Us All” has subtlety that is missing elsewhere on the album. It’s an impressive end…but too little, too late.

3/5 stars

Scan_20160804 (3)

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – DaDa (1983)

ALICE COOPER – DaDa (1983 Warner)

DaDa is one of the most fascinating albums in the Alice Cooper catalogue.  So interesting in fact that this is the second time I’ve tackled a review of it.  The first, posted on Amazon years ago shortly after buying the album, was not flattering.  The entire thing is below:

 

This is what happens when you drink too much and can’t remember years of your life anymore.

This is what happens when your producer is nursing his own drug problems.

This is what happened to Alice Cooper in the early 80’s. Guitars, drums and bass have been jettisoned in favour of samples, keyboards, and programs. Songs? Non-existant. This album is worthless, filled with dreck that Cooper wouldn’t have even considered a decade earlier, or later. I defy anyone to explain the concept of the story to me. No songs ever played live, no tour.

One novelty track: “I Love America”, which is actually hilarious. It is also available on the Cooper boxed set. Pick that up, not this.

0/5 stars. The absolute nadir of the man’s storied career.

 

That’s what I said then, and I have to own it now.  I could delete it and pretend I never said it, but that would be dishonest.

Rich at Kamertunesblog did a fantastic Alice Cooper series a few years back.  When he got to DaDa, I said that “I still have not really penetrated [it]. I don’t know if I so much as appreciate it, rather than like it.”  When Rich said he found that surprising, I realized I must be missing something with DaDa.  So how does DaDa sit now, after a few years to let it absorb?

It’s different.  It’s creepy.  It’s funny.  It’s worth the time spent with it.

The story of DaDa itself is almost as interesting as the story of how one man can go from hating it to loving it.

Alice re-teamed with Bob Ezrin on this album, for the first time in years.  Dick Wagner came back for guitar, bass and songwriting duties.  Wagner claimed in his autobiography that Alice wasn’t that enthused about making this album, and confessed that contracts stipulated he had to.  Backing up Wagner’s claim is the fact that this was Alice’s last album for Warner, followed by a three year hiatus to finally get clean and sober for good.  There was no tour, in fact no band.

In lieu of a drummer, all beats are programmed.  This lends a stark early 80’s synthpop sound to DaDa.  It works exceptionally well on the title track, an Ezrin instrumental creation.  The echoey electronics sound as if from a frightening science fiction horror movie from the period.  Punctuating this is the mechanical repeating sample of a child saying “da da”…and heavenly new age keyboard melodies.  Talk about chills!  If that doesn’t get you, perhaps the spoken word conversation between a therapist and a patient will give you the shivers.  “I have a daughter too,” says the elderly patient.  “You don’t have a daughter,” responds the doctor.  “Yeah, I have a daughter,” insists the sick man.  “Sir, you have a son,” insists the doctor as the conversation gets creepier.  Alice Cooper is not even on this piece.  Perhaps that is one reason it failed to make an impression on me all those years ago.

Alice emerges on “Enough’s Enough”, changing to the perspective of the son.  “I just want to tell you, you’re a lousy dad, to hell with you!”  Dark but strangely upbeat, “Enough’s Enough” has some of those Bob Ezrin touches that you love, such as the perfectly arranged backing vocals.  The Dick Wagner guitars are the only real touch of rock and roll; the song otherwise lives in a punky new wave land.  The best song is much creepier:  “Former Lee Warmer”.  Alice alludes to the character of “Former Lee” on the previous song: “Why’d you hide your brother?”  “Former Lee Warmer” reveals that the body of the brother was locked in a chest in the attic.  “All the mops and brooms keep him company, misconceived of the family.”  Musically and thematically, this is just as good as Welcome to My Nightmare!  This is all done in Alice’s brilliant speak-sing style.

The concept becomes harder to follow on “No Man’s Land”, a good rock and roll song only weakened by the clanky electronic percussion.  Wagner is outstanding.  Similarly disconnected is “Dyslexia”, which sounds like Devo snuck into the studio.  Harmless fun; I wonder how many songs have been written about dyslexia in popular music?  It’s not clear who is on bass (probably Prakash John rather than Wagner), but the bass pulse is brilliantly subtle and perfect.  “Scarlet and Sheba” is an album highlight, electronically exotic and heavy too.  It’s perfectly dressed a with killer chorus and kinky lyrics, topped with a brilliant Ezrin arrangement.

“I Love America” is admittedly a novelty track, but I still like it today.  Taking on the persona of a redneck, Alice lampoons every cliche about his homeland.  “I love Velveeta slapped on Wonder Bread!  I love a Commie…if’un he’s good ‘n dead!”  The reason it works is because it’s Alice Cooper.  I don’t think anyone else could have pulled it off.  Ezrin provides suitably pompous backing music, turning it into a rock national anthem.  (My favourite lyric is the last one:  “I love my bar, and I love my truck.  I’d do most anything to make a buck!  I love a waitress who loves to ffff…flirt.  They’re the best kind!”)

Going into “Fresh Blood” you’ll notice the synth horns, not really a substitute for the real thing.  It’s actually a pretty good funky rock tune.  Alice sings melodically with layered vocals, and once again the bass sounds awesome if you pay attention to it.  The final track is another drama-laden burner called “Pass the Gun Around”.  The character (referred to as “Sonny”; perhaps the son from earlier in the album) wakes up in a hotel room after another blackout night.  It’s not a pretty scene but it ends the album on a suitably serious and musically complex note.  It’s actually one of the better Cooper tracks from any era, thanks in no small part to Bob Ezrin and Dick Wagner.

Interesting trivia:  Probably because Ezrin recorded the album in his native land (Canada), Lisa DalBello is credited on backing vocals.  Queensryche would later cover one of her singles, “Gonna Get Close to You”.  She was also a part of Alex Lifeson’s Victor project.

Today’s rating:  4/5 stars, but only after a long journey.  And the concept still seems to derail halfway through the album.

REVIEW: Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (1976)

Happy Halloween, folks!  And what better way to celebrate this day than with the king of horror rock, Alice Cooper?

ALICE COOPER – Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (1976 Warner)

Last time, he welcomed you to his nightmare.  Now, journey with Alice as he takes you straight to hell!  Subtitled (in the inner booklet) as “A Bedtime Story”, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell is another concept album, to follow a concept album.  Steven is back.  It’s a pretty mad concept, and one that ties into not only Nightmare, but also Nightmare 2, decades later.  Steven will fall asleep, and follow Alice down a dark endless staircase, “the pit where he doesn’t want to go, but has to.”

Written and produced by Alice, Bob Ezrin, and Dick Wagner, Goes to Hell features a backing band with a name you might recognize: The Hollywood Vampires.  It’s not the same band, obviously (Johnny Depp was 12 years old), but it does demonstrate just how long Alice has been using that name for a band.  Among the many musicians herein, you will recognize many:  Steven Hunter, Dick Wagner, Tony Levin, and Allan Schwartzberg are probably in your record collection many times (credited or otherwise).

Goes to Hell doesn’t have the fire, or the reputation, of Welcome to My Nightmare.  It is the beginning of a long slide that did not fully right itself until after Alice had kicked the booze for good.  It is, however, an under-appreciated album with fun and nuance in the dark shadows.  The title track is one song that still graces the live stage.  Here, Alice seems to be paying for his crimes committed.  “For criminal acts and violence on the stage, For being a brat refusing to act your age, For all of the decent citizens you’ve enraged, You can go to hell!”  You’ll never have so much fun on the road to H-E-double-hockeysticks, this side of an AC/DC album.  Quintessential Alice, this is, and indispensable too.  Anyone who has ever liked the biting humour and celebrated riffs of Alice Cooper will love “Go to Hell”.  Bob Ezrin adds the usual accompaniment to the mix:  horns, keys, and gang vocals condemning Alice to hell!

A full three years before Kiss, Alice Cooper went disco.  If you like disco rock metal music, then “You Gotta Dance” to this one.  This is a track that some Alice fans would probably love to bury, but it has its moments.  Steve Hunter plays a wicked funky guitar solo.  There is always instrumental integrity.  “I’m the Coolest” slows the pace to a jazzy drawl.  At this point I imagine the character of Alice is meeting various people down in hell, perhaps the man in charge himself.  “Didn’t We Meet” suggests this.  “To look at you, deja vu, chills me to the core.”  Then, “They say you’re the king of this whole damn thing.”  These three tunes are all quite a departure from hard rock, but Alice has always been so diverse.  The hit ballad “I Never Cry” (#5 in Canada) is very pretty, unusually so for Alice.  It is, according him, an “alcoholic confession”, and not the only moment on the album that touches on his drinking.

The first side of the album has some great tracks, but only the first (“Go to Hell”) really rocks.  Side two is similarly diverse and dark.  “Give the Kid a Break” is a campy musical number, with Alice pleading his case before the judge.  “I don’t know why I’m down here, I don’t deserve to roast or bake.”  Predictably, things don’t go well, since the next song is called “Guilty”!  “Guilty” is the hardest rocker on the album, and one of the only songs to be played live occasionally through the decades.   Not that all the other songs on the album suck; Alice just sounds right when he’s rocking like he always has.  And the lyrics rule:

Just tried to have fun, raised hell and then some,
I’m a dirt-talkin’, beer drinkin’, woman chasin’ minister’s son,
Slap on the make-up and blast out the music,
Wake up the neighbors with a roar,
Like a teenage heavy metal elephant gun.

If you call that guilty, then that’s what I am.
I’m guilty, I’m guilty!

This is right up the alley of a tune like “Escape” from the last album.  It’s a shot in the arm and just when you need it.

With “Wake Me Gently”, we are back in ballad land, and it is unfortunately the longest song on the album.  It sounds like an Ezrin creation, but in comparison to his other works, it is among his lesser creations.  The string section is the highlight.  Then he turns up the funk again for “Wish You Were Here”, with the help of Wagner on funky gee-tar.  “Havin’ a hell of a time my dear, wish you were here.”  Sounds like Alice has more than enough of hell by now.  Steve Hunter plays the blazing Lizzy leads at the end of the song.

In a surprising-but-not turn, Alice pulls “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” out of the hat, an old Vaudeville song (1917) once performed by Judy Garland in 1941.  It actually works within the concept of the album, and predictably, Alice perfectly camps it up.  It blends splendidly into “Going Home”, with Steven finally escaping his nightmare.  Was it a nightmare?  “I wonder what happened to Alice,” he ponders.  This is pompous, overdone Ezrin, just the way you like it.  Orchestration and thunderous percussion lend themselves well to this dramatic close.

It’s pretty clear that the reason Alice Cooper Goes to Hell is not as fondly remembered as Welcome to My Nightmare is the sudden change in direction to balladeer.  There are only three rocking songs on an album of eleven tracks, and Alice was always primarily a rock artist, albeit an experimental one.  You still found his records in the “rock” section of your friendly neighbourhood record store.  Three rockers aside, the rest is a diverse assortment of music, well put together and played.  Clearly, that has to be the key.  But there is more to it than that.  Nightmare seemed a more celebratory affair.  It felt lively; it felt alive.  Goes to Hell sounds less so.  Alice’s lungs seemed weakened, just a smidge, from how they used to bellow.

Alice Cooper Goes to Hell is worthy of praise, not derision.  Just remember — it’s not a rock album.  At best it’s rock opera.  Proposed analogy:  Goes to Hell is Alice’s Music From the Elder.  They even have the same producer!

3.5/5 stars

Happy Halloween kiddies!

REVIEW: Hollywood Vampires (Alice Cooper) – Hollywood Vampires (2015 Japanese import)

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20150920 (3)ALICE COOPER / HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES – Hollywood Vampires (2015 Universal Japan)

Ignore the hype.  The press has been going ga-ga over this new supergroup featuring movie star Johnny Depp (rhythm guitar), Joe Perry (lead guitar), and Alice Cooper (lead vocals).  Just ignore the hype completely.  Cooper fans know what this is.  This is the covers album that Alice has been talking about doing ever since Welcome 2 My Nightmare in 2011.   Alice has even been playing a number of these tunes, in these arrangements, live.  Check out his Raise the Dead double live album/video for a few.

According to an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock earlier this  year, “I can’t tell you who’s on what right now, ’cause it’s not gonna be released yet, but it’s the ‘who’s who’ of everything.  It was one of those things where, at one point, I’m looking around in the studio and I’m going, ‘Holy crap! Look who’s in the studio.”  Bob Ezrin, Alice’s long-time producer and musical collaborator came up with the concept.  Alice continues:  “Bob came up with the idea, ‘Let’s concentrate it on all the guys that you drank with in L.A., the Hollywood Vampires, the ones that are all dead.’  I like the title All My Dead Drunk Friends. It’s just offensive enough to work, but all those guys would have totally got it. They had the same sense of humor. If you told them you were going to do an album after they were gone called All My Dead Drunk Friends, they would have died laughing.”  Ultimately the album was simply called Hollywood Vampires.  That’s also the name of this “supergroup” which is essentially just Alice with Depp and guests.

I have this album filed in my Alice Cooper section, and that’s how I’m treating this review.

Hollywood Vampires consists of 14 tracks, except in Japan who have 15.  Two of these are brand-new songs, and one is an intro called “The Last Vampire”.  Fittingly, this features the narration of Sir Christopher Lee, who passed away earlier this year.  Lee’s old friend from the Hammer horror days, Vincent Price, appeared on Cooper’s original Welcome to my Nightmare in 1975.  Today, Alice Cooper truly is the last vampire left from those old days.  Lee’s rich voice is backed by spooky keys and theremin by Ezrin, Depp and engineer Justin Cortelyou.  “Listen to them, children of the night…what music they make.”

Alice then kicks it with “Raise the Dead”.  Depp appears on every track, and Alice’s drummer Glen Sobol plays on this one and several others.  It’s an upbeat stomper of a track, and a perfect introduction to this covers album that is also a concept album.  The first of Alice’s dead drunk friends to be covered is Keith Moon on “My Generation”, an authentic and pounding version.  Alice Cooper is one of the few that does justice to it.  Bassist Bruce Witkin perfectly tackles John Entwistle’s signature bass solo.  One thing that is immediately obvious is how massive this album sounds.  Ezrin wrought a monster-sounding disc, so full and heavy, but textured when required.

John Bonham is up next.  “Whole Lotta Love” was handled in a completely different way than you’d expect.  Starting as a low, prowling Cooper blues it soon blasts into gear.  Alice isn’t known for hitting those high Plant notes, so who joins him?  None other than Brian Johnson of AC/DC, who kicks my ass completely.  Joe Walsh and Cooper’s former lead guitarist Orianthi play some jaw droppingly greasy guitars, but Alice’s harmonica work is also worthy of praise!  Even though very few can cover Led Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love” turned out to be my favourite track.  It’s also the heaviest sounding, like a skid of concrete blocks assaulting your face!  That’s Zak Starkey (son of Ringo) on drums.

Cooper has covered “I Got a Line on You” (Spirit) before, on the soundtrack to Iron Eagle 3, of all things.  That 1988 take is my preferred version, but Alice remade it on Hollywood Vampires.  Abe Laboriel Jr., Joe Walsh, and Alice’s old bassist Kip Winger join as guests.  Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction helps Alice out on the lead vocals, but his part isn’t prominent.  Then it’s time for the Doors, and a medley of “Five to One” and “Break on Through”.  Alice had been playing “Break on Through” live, but this version has Robby Krieger!  Alice heavies both of them up, but he is also one of the few singers who can do Morrison.

Farrell and Krieger return for a Harry Nilsson medley, joined by David E. Grohl on drums.  “One” is rendered as a haunting, creepy piece as if Alice himself wrote it.  This merges into “Jump Into the Fire”, a strangely upbeat companion which rocks in a vintage 70’s fashion.  It’s like guitar nirvana.  There’s also a cute outro of “Coconut”, also by Nilsson.

Sir Paul himself, rock royalty if there ever was one, shows up for Badfinger’s “Come and Get It”, which Paul wrote.  Joe Perry has spoken about how incredible it was when McCartney showed up in the studio with his Hofner bass, and actually allowed them to hold it!  “Come and Get It” is simple rock/pop, not the kind of timeless thing that happened when Paul wrote with John, but certainly a notch above what mere mortals can write.  I love hearing Paul’s “screaming” voice, and I’m sure everybody in the studio had a great time.  Sure sounds that way.

Marc Bolan’s “Jeepster” is one I could pass on.  Alice makes it sound like an original from 1972’s School’s Out, but if you’re only going to skip one song, it’s probably going to be “Jeepster”.  Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” featuring Joe Perry has more kick and grind to it, and it’s always a pleasure to hear Joe Perry do some Aero-jammin’ on lead guitar.  (I think it would have been amazing to get McCartney to play bass on this Lennon classic — shame nobody thought of it.  That could have been history made.)

Scan_20150920 (4)The Japanese bonus track is “I’m A Boy”, the second Who cover.  Once again, Alice nails it.  This is such a difficult song to attempt.  Alice makes it work, and if anybody can do it, it’s Alice.  “My name is Alice I’m a head-case…”  Just that one change makes the song work.  “I’m a boy, I’m a boy, but my mom won’t admit it…I’m a boy, but if I say I am, I get it.”  And he’s got the girl’s name.  It’s perfect!  This bonus track is worth tracking down if you’re a Cooper fan.  You’ll definitely need it in your collection.

Jimi Hendrix was a Hollywood Vampire, and “Manic Depression” is the song Alice chose to cover.  (He’d already done “Fire” back in the Hey Stoopid days.)  Like “Jeepster”, this is one that could be skipped.  Joe Walsh fans will enjoy his lead guitar work, but otherwise, it’s a stock cover.  Way, way better is “Itchycoo Park”.  Alice’s treatment of the Small Faces is far more entertaining, and its melodic base continue to deliver the hooks.

Brian Johnson returns to belt it out on the “School’s Out”/”Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” medley.  This arrangement is similar to the way Alice did it live, and it’s cool how the two songs work together perfectly.  It’s a genius mashup.  Guests include Slash, and original Cooper band members Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith.  “School’s Out”, of course, is here for Glen Buxton, of the original Alice Cooper band.  Buxton had suffered the consequences of alcohol abuse, and dropped out of music completely when the original band split in ’74.  Buxton died in 1997.

The final song is an original, “My Dead Drunk Friends,” the song that Alice wanted to use as a title track.  If you don’t mind some black comedy, you will love this tribute to all the lost Hollywood Vampires.  It’s irresistible, and also sounds vintage Alice.  So chants the crowd:  “We drink and we fight and we fight and we puke and we puke and we fight and we drink!”  Doesn’t sound particularly glamorous, but Alice isn’t about to have a mournful wake.  Alice is about entertainment, and even though a brilliant artist who drinks themselves to death is sad, Alice has thrown a party for them instead.  “My Dead Drunk Friends” ends the party on a darkly celebrating note, as only he can.  Job well done.

Hollywood Vampires is pleasantly surprising.  9/10 covers albums are not worth the money you paid for them.  Alice’s is.  They call it a supergroup for marketing purposes but it only takes one listen to know what this is.  This is a project that Alice, Bob Ezrin and friends have been passionate about for years, and has finally been finished.  It is an apt follow-up to Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and another killer concept album from the kings of concept albums.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Alice Cooper Show (1977)

THE AC SHOW_0001ALICE COOPER – The Alice Cooper Show (1977 Warner Bros.)

The Alice Cooper Show is far from a perfect example of Alice in the mighty 1970’s — for a much better live album experience, pick up Billion Dollar Babies (the deluxe edition) which contained a live album recorded by the original Alice Cooper band.  Having said that, the band here are not slouches.  Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter were great guitar players who defined the late 70’s period of Alice. However, the albums were starting to slide — Go To Hell and Lace & Whiskey were more notable for ballads like “You And Me” and “I Never Cry” rather than idiosyncratic Cooper rockers or horror tunes.

The recording of this album is fine, but the record is far too brief. Aside from the fact that there are too many ballads (time-wise, over a quarter of this album are ballads!), a lot of the songs are truncated versions. “Sick Things” for example is less than a minute as it segues into “Is It My Body”. Likewise, there is an “I Love the Dead”/”Go to Hell”/”Wish You Were Here” medley where I wish I could have had more.  Then again, Alice has always done medleys of tunes, since he has so damn many.

I have nothing negative to say about the singing or performance.  The band were outstanding, featuring some of the best players Alice has shared the stage with.  They even featured Canadian bassist Prakash John who was previously in the original band Bush with Dominic Troiano (R.I.P).  It’s hard to say exactly why The Alice Cooper Show doesn’t completely click.  Certainly the medleys and song excerpts make it feel like an overly rushed affair, and even considering that, it’s missing too many great tunes.  “Elected”, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, and “Welcome to My Nightmare” would have been perfect.*  Perhaps Warner should have shelled out for a full-on 2 LP set?  But Alice was a fading property in 1977, with an infamous stint in rehab to follow.

This record fails to deliver what Alice was really about.  The album cover gives it all away.  It looks rushed, with truncated images of Alice and his live show.  Serious fans will need it to complete the collection. Otherwise, stick to the Billion Dollar Babies deluxe package for a seriously awesome live 1970’s Alice experience.

3/5 stars

THE AC SHOW_0003

* Looks like a lot of those songs were dropped from the set in ’77.