bob ezrin

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Music From the Elder (1981)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 20:  

  Music From the Elder (1981 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster, 2014 Universal vinyl)

Kiss had gone as far as they could go in the pop direction that they travelled on Unmasked.  The band’s stature was in jeopardy.  The image was outweighing the music and they suffered their first member defection.  As discussed in chapter 18, Peter Criss was out, but he was replaced by an energetic young drummer henceforth known as Eric Carr.  His abilities put sounds in reach that the band weren’t able to do with Peter Criss.  The smartest move, albeit the safest, would be a return to the band’s hard rocking roots.  Songs were written and demoed, including “Don’t Run” (Frehley/Anton Fig), “Every Little Bit of My Heart” (Stanley), “Deadly Weapons” (Stanley/Simmons), “Nowhere to Run” (Stanley), “Feel Like Heaven” (Simmons) and an instrumental called “Kix Are For Kids”.

Based on what we know of these songs today, Kiss easily could have turned them into a classic sounding album.  Whether it be ego, fear, ambition or sheer hubris, Kiss scrapped the demos and aimed instead to shoot in another direction.  That is, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and manager Bill Aucoin changed direction at the protest of Ace Frehley.  Eric Carr had no say, being an employee.  Playing on the strengths of Kiss’ larger than life comic book image, Gene concocted a fantasy story that they wanted to turn into a concept album.  If that was successful, they could spin the album off into sequels, a tour and a movie.  And who else would be better to produce a concept album than Bob Ezrin?

The addition of Ezrin was another grievance for Ace Frehley.  It was Bob Ezrin who replaced him on 1976’s Destroyer album with Dick Wagner on “Sweet Pain”.

So a fractured Kiss went into separate studios to record the concept album.  Ace stayed in his new home studio in Connecticut and recorded his guitar parts there, painstakingly taking his time to get just the right crunch.  Much to his chagrin, Bob Ezrin used only bits and pieces of what he was sent.  Bob was dealing with a severe drug problem, and had isolated himself so that the only lines of communication regarding the album were Kiss and Bill Aucoin.  Nobody outside of the circle heard a note until they were done.  There was talk of a double album, but it made sense to do it one at a time…just in case it didn’t sell.  Hence the title, Music From the Elder.  Like Star Wars, this was meant to be only a part of the whole story.

A word about the running order.  When Music From the Elder was first released in North America, the story didn’t make much sense.  It was supposed to begin with the instrumental “fanfare” and then the acoustic strumming of “Just a Boy”.  Instead the record company shuffled the song order to start with something heavier:  “The Oath”.  But the concept never made any sense.  In 1997, Mercury released the Kiss remastered series, and restored the original intended track order.  They even restored a snippet of “lost” music, a Gregorian chant bit between the first two tracks.  The original Japanese pressing came with the tracks in the right order, but was missing one overall (“Escape From the Island”).  The Japanese version also came with a neat full cover obi with pictures of the band — something fans missed out on with the normal release.  (When fans did finally see pictures of the 1981 Kiss, they were taken aback by the modern hair and image.)  The current 2014 LP edition on 180 gram vinyl also has the restored track order.

The album begins quietly (and pretentiously) with strings and woodwinds of “fanfare“, credited to Ezrin and Stanley, and based on the melody of second track “Just a Boy”.  “Who steers the ship through the stormy seas?  If hope is lost then so are we.  While some eyes search for one to guide us, some are staring at me.”  The Elder is the tale of a reluctant hero known only as “the boy”.  He is the archetypal “chosen one” selected by the mysterious and powerful Council of the Elder.  “When the Earth was young, they were already old,” reads the liner notes.  He must face the evil Blackwell, but he can’t believe there is anything special about him.

Although “Just a Boy” is a deep cut loved only by those with Kiss infecting their blood, you can hear its charm.  It sounds nothing at all like Kiss, and its soft acoustics don’t even sound like a rock band.  Paul sings the chorus in an insane falsetto, which he also utilizes elsewhere on the album.  The powerful guitar solo is all his, and one struggles to hear Ace Frehley on the track at all.  “Just a Boy” is a good song, with structure and dynamics and thoughtful composition.  It isn’t something that could be performed well on stage, and the production leaves a muddy haze over the lead vocals.  It’s hard to hear 50% of Paul’s lyrics.  Fortunately, the 2014 vinyl reissue comes with something the 1997 CD did not:  a lyric sheet.  With that in hand, you can follow the story.

In fact, it must be recommended to listen to The Elder on vinyl at least once to fully appreciate the album.  Something about sitting there with a gatefold jacket open and following a story on a record sleeve works as a sort of time machine.  It’s truly an experience that you cannot feel with CD alone, and the only way to do that with the songs in the proper order is with the 2014 vinyl reissue.

Kiss have thrown obscure covers on their albums before, but it’s strange to see such a thing on a concept album.  “Odyssey” by Tony Powers fit the story at this moment, although nothing could sound less like Kiss.  It is a fully orchestrated song and it doesn’t even have Eric Carr on it.  Ezrin didn’t think he was getting the right vibe so he brought in Allan Schwartzberg who also played on Gene’s solo album.  “Odyssey” is as overblown and pretentious as a song can get, as if Kiss suddenly became the Beatles and this was their “Hey Jude” moment.  This many soft, un-Kiss like songs right off the bat is a good way to throw listeners, so the record label ended up moving it to side two.  Paul Stanley has disowned the song, but what Paul failed to appreciate is that though campy, “Odyssey” is also incredibly fun.  It has no place in the Kiss canon, but there it is, and it’s hard to forget that delightfully pompous orchestra.

The first appearance of the mighty demon Gene Simmons is “Only You”, a choppy and spare guitar number that is the first rock moment on the album.  It’s an attempt to be progressive and rock, and it more or less works.  It’s simple and blocky, but it shifts into a few different sections including a reprise of the “Just a Boy” theme.  Paul also guests on a verse as the boy character, questioning his destiny:  “I can’t believe this is true, why do I listen to you?  And if I am all that you say, why am I still so afraid?”  The Elder respond, “In every age, in every time, a hero is born as if by a grand design.”  In an interesting twist, Doro Pesche later covered this song with completely different lyrics.

According to their self-written Kisstory (volume 1) tome, Eric Carr expressed some doubt as to the band’s current direction.  In response Gene challenged him to come up with something of his own, so Eric provided the beginnings of “Under the Rose”, on which he also plays acoustic guitar.  “Under the Rose” became his first writing credit on a Kiss album, with Gene Simmons.  “Under the Rose” is soft/heavy, soft/heavy, and features an ominous choir on the chorus.  But through this, Ace Frehley’s presence cannot be felt.  Such an important part of the Kiss sound before, now relegated to the sidelines.  Ace had only one lead vocal on The Elder, a song based on a riff written by Anton Fig.  Their “Don’t Run” demo was re-written by Gene Simmons and Lou Reed, yes Lou Reed, to become “Dark Light”.  In context of the story, “Dark Light” warns of coming evil.  Ace’s presence is welcome, providing some much needed rock foundation and a brilliant guitar solo.  Unfortunately “Dark Light” is probably his weakest in his Kiss career, a disappointing followup to prior classics like “Talk to Me”, “Save Your Love” and “Shock Me”.

Lou Reed co-wrote the lyrics to the single “A World Without Heroes”, which originated as a Paul Stanley ballad called “Every Little Bit of My Heart”.  Reed came up with phrases like “a world without heroes is like a world without sun.”  These clicked with Gene and Bob Ezrin who completed the song.  Paul plays lead guitar on a somber single that, again, sounds little like Kiss.  Kiss had done ballads before and even had hits with them, but nothing like “A World Without Heroes”, one of their darkest songs.  Strangely, it ended up being covered by Cher.

At this point of the story, the boy agrees to fulfill his destiny and become the hero.  This happens on the most heavy metal song on the album, “The Oath”.  This is the track that opened the original released running order of the album, completely destroying any comprehensible plot.  You can still understand why they did this.  Its metal riff and impressive drums are the intro that the album really needed.  Paul sings in falsetto again:  “Now inside the fire of the ancient burns, a boy goes in and suddenly a man returns.”  The song was performed live once in 1982 on a TV show called Fridays.  Although the performance seemed sloppy and awkward, Ace burned up a couple wild guitar solos.  If this is the kind of material that Bob Ezrin cut from the album, it was a big mistake.

So the boy has taken the oath, and it’s time to meet the evil one. Gene and Lou Reed wrote “Mr. Blackwell” about the character, who doesn’t seem to be too worried about the discovery of the chosen one. “Here’s to the kid, a real man among men,” mocks Blackwell in the lyrics. (The song also contains the phrase “rotten to the core”, which was a song title Gene had been batting around since the mid-70s.) Musically, “Blackwell” is spare and revolves around the words. A bumping and thumping bass is the main feature of a song that is more words than music.

At the exact moment that you need Ace Frehley to come back and save the album, he does with the instrumental “Escape from the Island”. Co-written with Eric Carr and Bob Ezrin, “Island” delivers the thrills and action-packed guitar action. Because it’s an instrumental it’s hard to determine exactly how it fits the story, except it sounds like an action scene. Perhaps Blackwell launched a preemptive strike on the boy, who escaped. Ace’s guitar attacks the surroundings, chopping them down with fatally loud riffs.

The final song (on all versions of the album) is the single “I”. Gene and Paul split lead vocals on this Simmons/Ezrin song, but once again Eric Carr was secretly replaced on the recording by Allan Schwartzberg. The story is wrapped up with the boy now proclaiming he believes in himself and is ready to take on the evil. The end of the album, yes, but clearly intended as only the first chapter of something bigger. Gene spoke of a heavier sequel album called War of the Gods which would depict the conflict. Instead, “I” serves as the ending, and at least it’s a kicker. Like vintage Kiss, the riff and chorus meld into one fist of rock. The lyrics are suitably uplifting. “I believe in something more than you can understand, yes I believe in me!” That’s pure Kiss in a nutshell right there.

A short hidden track following “I” provides the only dialogue on the album (over a reprise of “fanfare“), although more was recorded. The hidden coda reaffirms that the Elder have found the right kid. “He’s got the light in his eyes, and the look of a champion. A real champion!”

There are two ways to listen to The Elder.  If you want the whole enchilada and would like to hear the story in its correct order, pick up a remastered edition of the album either on CD or vinyl.  If you’d like a more even listening experience that is the same as that of fans who dropped the needle on the album in 1981, then go for the original CD or vinyl release.  But if you’re a Kiss maniac, you simply must do it both ways.

Music From the Elder is a flawed album, mostly marred by sonic muddiness.  It has an uncharacteristic quantity of ballads and un-Kiss-like songs, so fans stayed away in droves.  What they missed was a decent concept album for Kiss, a band that never should have attempted a concept album in the first place.  Because the album failed to sell, Kiss’ ambitious tour plans were scrapped and the band stayed home.  Aside from the three songs played on the Fridays TV show (“The Oath”, “A World Without Heroes” and “I”), Kiss never played any songs from The Elder live until their 1995 acoustic Konvention tour.  The lack of a tour meant Kiss’ momentum was all but halted.  The new drummer that fans barely knew only ever played one show in North America!

A bigger problem was brewing, and that was a bitter and disenfranchised Ace Frehley.  Once again, fans were not aware of the problems brewing in Kiss, but The Elder was the last album Kiss Ace played on until 1998.  It was a repeat of the Peter Criss situation only two years prior.

If Kiss had stuck to their plan of recording a hard rock album again, perhaps things would have played out completely differently.  We’ll have a chance to check out some of the songs they were working on in upcoming chapters for they would not stay buried long.

Today’s rating:

3.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  Some of my favorite records ever have been “concept” records.  Operation: Mindcrime, Misplaced Childhood, 2112, Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From a Memory, El Corazon; to name just a few of many.  When it comes to The Elder, my one sentence review of this album would simply be:  Some bands should not make concept albums.  Bob Ezrin came straight from The Wall to record this mess.  I read somewhere recently, and it may even have been in the comments here perhaps, but Ace Frehley hates this album.  Which completely makes sense considering he had been on such a roll until it halted with this record.  It’s kind of a hard album to break down individually, but some quick notes:

“The Oath” – Very chuggy heavy song.  I think the [domestic] album starts off with the best song.  Song begins as if it’s Manowar meets Kiss.  More reminiscent of Creatures of the Night than this record.  Perhaps some bombastic Tenacious D-like moments.

“Just A Boy” – Starts off like early ELP and first reaction is that Paul Stanley could never come close to singing this song again.  Solid song.  Overall I get a Wishbone Ash feel. 

“Dark Light” – As mentioned earlier, Ace’s roll slows down with a dull track.  I do like the guitar solo over the bongos though.

“Only You” – An even duller track that starts with Gene singing, and morphs into Stanley singing with some stupid effect on his voice.  Right producer, wrong band.   (That could be another one sentence review of The Elder)

“Under the Rose” – This clunker doesn’t flow for me.  Gregorian Monks?  Bah….

“A World Without Heroes” – I thought it was lame then and it’s only slightly less lame to me now.  Could have used more Lou Reed.

“Mr. Blackwell” – Funky novel track.  Dancy and quirky but one of the strongest songs on The Elder for me.  One of the only songs for me that has a great hook to it.  Unmasked this album is not.

“Escape From the Island” – Good solid rocker.  Great drumming.  This would have been a great live jammer, but I’m doubting they have ever played this live.   LeBrain?  [Nope]

“Odyssey” – WTF?  Was this Paul’s tryout demo  for Phantom of the Opera?  This song alone is an unforgivable sin, and just another reason why this album should have been aborted in the womb.

Favorite Tracks”  “The Oath”, “Mr. Blackwell”, “Escape From the Island”

Forgettable Tracks:  Take your pick….


To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/26

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REVIEW: Deep Purple – InFinite (2017 deluxe box) Part 2 of 2

This is Part 2 of a double-sized Deep Purple deluxe InFinite box set review!  For Part 1, click here.

DEEP PURPLE – InFinite (2017 Edel deluxe box set edition)

When we last met, we took a solid look at Deep Purple’s fine new album, InFinite.  Because the year is 2017, InFinite is available in multiple editions.  The most logical to buy is the deluxe box set.  This includes:

  • InFinite on CD
  • From Here to InFinite – a full length documentary DVD
  • InFinite on a 2 LP set in its own double gatefold
  • The Now What?! Live Tapes, Vol. 2 – an exclusive live album included on three 10″ records
  • A T-shirt
  • A poster
  • Five lovely photo cards
  • A sticker

That’s a lot of goodies for a reasonable price, and it all comes housed in a sturdy box.

The included DVD is a very intimate look at the creation of InFinite from writing to overdubs.  Narrated by Rick Wakeman (you read that correctly), it also looks at the moments that Steve Morse and Don Airey joined the band.  Much attention is given to the shocking departure of Ritchie Blackmore in 1993, and the acquisition of Joe Satriani (who is interviewed for the DVD). However, Joe had commitments and couldn’t stay long.  Deep Purple couldn’t wait for him, so they had to look for someone else.  They had a list, and the first name on it was Steve Morse.  Almost instantly they found themselves rediscovering the joy of music.  The atmosphere and attitude of the band did a complete 180.   When Jon Lord’s passing is discussed, there are a few teary eyes and sincere words.  Moving on to InFinite, it is remarkable to watch the band pluck ideas from the air and mold them into songs.  Bob Ezrin is a huge part of the process, with his own ideas and preferences.  His reputation as a taskmaster is reinforced by the band, but it seems like a very easy collaboration.  They have the same goals and desires, and trust each other’s musical instincts.  There is also a shockingly frank discussion with Steve Morse, about the osteoarthritis in his picking hand.  His technique has, over the years, worn out his wrist to the point that there is bone-on-bone contact.  The pain has grown so severe that playing the guitar required him to completely change his picking technique, while wearing a wrist brace.  Meanwhile Don Airey gets 20 “Cool Points” for wearing both a Rival Sons T-shirt, and a Winnipeg Jets sweater.  Canucks will also be pleased to know that Ian Gillan recorded his vocals at Bob Ezrin’s studio in Toronto.

The DVD can be had in a CD/DVD set, so the real reason for fans to choose this box set is The Now What?! Live Tapes, Vol. 2.  Vol. 1 was included on the “gold” reissue of their last album Now What?!  Vol. 2 is, as it states on the sleeve, “100% live!  100% unreleased!”  There are some obscure tracks on here, making this live album very enticing indeed.  You don’t have to sit through more versions of “Smoke on the Water” or “Black Night”.  Even better, or perhaps best of all to the vinyl nerds, are the lovely records that comprise The Now What?! Live Tapes, Vol. 2.  Three 10″ records, each in their own coloured sleeve, and each on coloured vinyl!  White, clear, and clear blue.

“Après Vous” (from London) commences the proceedings.  This newby from Now What?! has a lot of life on stage, and the long instrumental section sounds kinda like the old days.  Then an oldie:  “Into the Fire” (Milan) from 1970’s Deep Purple In Rock.  Ian really strains his voice on this one, but somehow pulls it off with style.  Back to London for “The Mule”, a song featuring Ian Paice’s busiest drum work.  No problems from Paicey.  Indeed, on the DVD Paicey says he hasn’t experienced much physical difficulty in continuing to play the way he wants to.

The second record starts with Purple’s recent “Green Onions”/”Hush” medley (Gaevle, Sweden), a cool way to inject new life into one of Purple’s earliest singles.  The interplay between the four musicians during the jam section is remarkable.  Even though most of the originals are long gone, it sounds sorta like Purple circa 1969.  Another medley showcasing Steve Morse (“The captain of the skies, the Aviator”, says Gillan) occupies side two.  “Contact Lost” (London) is Morse’s short instrumental tribute to the crew of STS-107, known to most as the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.  This merges into Purple’s majestic song for Jon Lord, “Uncommon Man” and finally Steve’s instrumental “The Well-Dressed Guitar”.

One more record to go.  The excellent single “All the Time in the World” from Now What?! comes from Aalborg, Denmark.  It’s a slick and laid back jazzy rock groove.  Purple always seem to find a great groove, and “All the Time in the World” is unlike previous ones.  “Highway Star” (London) is like a polar opposite.  Though you know they will hold it all together, “Highway Star” still sounds so fast that it could come off the tracks at any time.  1971’s “Strange Kind of Woman” (Aalborg) is a long-time favourite with fun vocal-guitar interplay.  Back to London for the last track, “Space Truckin'”.  What can you say about “Space Truckin'”?  Not much except that Ian Paice still kicks it, and hard!

Purple fanatics who still love what the band is doing today will need this box set.  It will be indispensable to them.  Wear your T-shirts with pride!  For the casual Purple fan who just wants to check out the CD and DVD, that edition will suffice.

To InFinite and beyond!

4/5 stars

 

Further reading on more Deep Purple InFinite related releases:

DEEP PURPLE – Time For Bedlam (2017 Edel EP)

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

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

DEEP PURPLE – InFinite (2017 Edel)

REVIEW: Deep Purple – InFinite (2017 deluxe box) Part 1 of 2

This is Part 1 of a double-sized Deep Purple deluxe InFinite box set review!

DEEP PURPLE – InFinite (2017 Edel)

49 years and still kicking it.  The Deep Purple of today is a very different band from the Deep Purple of 1968.  There is only one original member; drummer Ian Paice.  This matters not.  Ian Gillan and Roger Glover are the singer and bassist you remember from “Smoke on the Water” (1972).  Guitarist Steve Morse is a certified genius, and longstanding member for 22 years running.  Don Airey is still the “new guy”, but the former Rainbow/Ozzy/everybody keyboardist was the only man on Earth who could have replaced the late Jon Lord.  He’s done it for four albums straight, sometimes sounding exactly like Jon, and others like nobody else.

So if you didn’t know already, now you do:  There is no question that 49 years later, Deep Purple are still THE legitimate Deep Purple.  This isn’t like, God forbid, Quiet Riot.  Or Bobby Blotzer’s Ratt.

Deep Purple seem to work with producers in spurts.  They did two albums (Bananas and Rapture of the Deep) with producer Mike Bradford.  Now they have done two with the legendary Bob Ezrin!  As soon as Ezrin’s name enters the conversation, the bar is raised.  Ezrin is a full-on collaborator, with co-write credits on each song.  He is an educated musician with an impeccable ear.  His credits (The Wall!) speak for themselves.  Deep Purple is a very different band from Pink Floyd, but Ezrin gels with them in exciting ways.

We have already reviewed the first two singles (“Time For Bedlam” and “All I Got is You“), so for deeper impressions you can check those out.  “Time For Bedlam” opens the new album InFinite, quite successfully.  It’s reminiscent of “Pictures of Home” from Machine Head, which should catch listeners and keep them hooked.  “All I Got is You” (track 3) is the superior of the singles, smooth but smouldering hot.

The balance of InFinite, like much of the Steve Morse era of Deep Purple, takes a few solid listens to absorb.  The songs are challenging but rewarding.  Songs that are rock and roll can suddenly have highbrow instrumental sections.  Gillan and Glover’s lyrics are more biting than ever, enticing the listener to check them out over again.

“Hip Boots” has a vibe like “Lick It Up” from The Battle Rages On but better.  Don Airey really does sound perfect within Deep Purple, as this monster is largely powered by the good old Hammond organ.  Airey’s also the star of “One Night in Vegas” (working title:  “Something Else Or What”), with both organ and piano sounding oh-so-Purple.  (Bob Ezrin is also credited for additional keyboards on the album, but this sounds more likely to be Airey on both parts.)  Gillan’s lyrics as a storyteller are as amusing as always, going back to tracks like “Anyone’s Daughter”.  The first non-descript song is “Get Me Outta Here”, but perhaps more listens will increase the appeal.

An early favourite is “The Surprising”, a dramatic and quiet flight of progressive fancy.  The subtle but awesome drum work of Ian Paice unobtrusively creates a perfect backdrop for Don and Steve’s interplay.  Challenging “The Surprising” for dominance is the next track, “Johnny’s Band” (working title:  “Jig”).  It’s easily the most fun of the new songs, and the one with the instantly memorable chorus.  Then “On Top of the World” (working title:  “Slow Heavy”) is probably the most different of the tracks, containing a poetry section over a progressive backdrop.  Otherwise it’s just a smoking jam, with an oddly premature fade-out.  Steve Morse dominates “Birds of Prey” with his smooth stylings.  The track is a slow but excellent journey through the sand dunes of progressive rock.

The only questionable choice on InFinite is covering The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”.  It’s wonderful to hear Ian Gillan on the harmonica again.  (What was the last time?  “Hush” in 1988?)  But covering a beloved classic is dangerous 99.785% of the time (there are studies that have been done.*)  Fortunately Deep Purple are an exceptional jam band, so it’s not a total disaster.  Covering “Roadhouse Blues” is like another band covering “Smoke on the Water”.  It’s a “who cares?” moment.  I like to think of “Roadhouse Blues” as a bonus track on an otherwise excellent album.  The InFinite box set has the album on CD, and a 2 LP gatefold version, so you can listen any way you please.

4/5 stars

Check back soon for Part 2 of this review — the extras from the deluxe box set!  They include a DVD and three 10″ records that make up The Now What?! Live Tapes Vol. 2.  (Vol. 1 was a bonus CD on the Now What?! reissue.)

* No there weren’t.  

 

Further reading on more Deep Purple InFinite related releases (each with exclusives):

DEEP PURPLE – Time For Bedlam (2017 Edel EP)

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

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

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

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.