bob rock

#656: The One They Call Dr. Feelgood

GETTING MORE TALE #656: The One They Call Dr. Feelgood

Hard rock peaked in the summer of 1989 with Dr. Feelgood. The charts were already filled with hard rock acts. Warrant were picking up steam. White Lion and Winger were getting airplay. Bon Jovi and Def Leppard were still raking it in with their last albums, New Jersey and Hysteria. Aerosmith were back. All we needed was the return of Motley Crue.

The Crue were not exactly laying low, but they did have problems to resolve. Nikki Sixx “died” of a heroin overdose on December 23 1987, but was revived with a shot of adrenaline right to the heart. Then he had to deal with a lawsuit from an imposter named Matthew Trippe, who claimed he took over the role of “Nikki Sixx” in 1983 and was owed royalties. Both these incidents inspired new songs. “Kickstart My Heart” was about by the overdose and subsequent recovery. “Say Yeah” took a shot at Matthew Trippe and that whole strange situation.

Fearing the band would end up dead if he did nothing, manager Doc McGhee sent the band into rehab (except for Mick Mars who quit drinking on his own accord). Then, a clean Motley Crue headed up to Little Mountain Sound in Vancouver to work with Bob Rock for the first time.

Bob Rock was on a roll. He finished up the soon-to-be-mega-successful Sonic Temple for The Cult and was recognized for the sound he was able to capture, particularly on the drums. He was also excellent at playing babysitter with musicians who were notoriously hard to work with. To minimize infighting, Rock split Motley up and had them all record separately. And because Aerosmith were in town recording Pump, Steven Tyler dropped by. He offered support for the newly clean band, and vocals on a new track called “Slice of Your Pie”.

The Crue’s first gig clean and sober was the Moscow Music Peace Festival in August of 1989. Although they had finished a new album, they played no new songs, saving them for proper release and promotion. Instead they played oldies from Girls, Girls, Girls, Theater of Pain, Shout at the Devil and Too Fast For Love. It was anything but peaceful. The gig, organized by McGhee, had been pitched to the bands involved as an equal opportunity. Bon Jovi, who McGhee also managed, were arguably the best known in Russia, as they were the only one with an official release there. They were booked to play last, but McGhee stressed there was no “headliner”. There was already friction between bands, because Ozzy Osbourne felt he should have been the headliner. Black Sabbath were massively popular with Russian rock fans, although they had to scour bootleg markets to find any.

Vince Neil live at the Moscow Music Peace Festival 08/12/1989 – Robert D. Tonsing/AP

Things came to a head when Bon Jovi featured pyro in their set, which none of the other bands had. Motley Crue interpreted this as favouritism towards Bon Jovi. Tommy Lee responded by ripping the shirt off Doc McGhee’s back. Motley Crue fired him and headed home on their own.

This drama did nothing to defuse Motley Crue’s momentum. Their new album Dr. Feelgood was released on September 1 1989, eventually going #1 and spawning five hit singles.

Meanwhile back in Canada, I was following all the Motley news with great anticipation. A Hit Parader magazine interview implied that Dr. Feelgood was so ambitious, it might even turn into a concept album. In fact the band had so many new songs that a second album, called Motley Crue: The Ballads was considered for 1990 release. The concept at that point was to do a new Motley Crue studio album that was all-heavy, no ballads. The softer songs would be saved for the second LP. Ultimately they got cold feet and realised putting out an album with no ballads in 1989 was commercially stupid, and so Dr. Feelgood was released with a mixture of tracks – the best 10 songs and one intro.

“Dr. Feelgood” was the first single, and it dominated airwaves just as summer holidays were ending. It, and “Love in an Elevator” by Aerosmith were absolutely everywhere. “Feelgood” had the edge with me, due to its massive drum sound and serious vibe. Bob Rock captured what might have been the biggest drum sound since Zeppelin, or Creatures of the Night by Kiss. Either way, Motley and Aerosmith really put Little Mountain Sound on the map as the studio to beat.

I tried to catch “Feelgood” on the radio and record it, but failed. Instead I bought the cassette single at the local Zellers store. Considering how many tracks the band worked up for Feelgood, I hoped they would be releasing non-album B-sides. They did not. Instead, “Feelgood” was backed by “Sticky Sweet”, probably the weakest album track.

I wondered what happened to all those unreleased songs that Hit Parader mentioned. “Say Yeah” was not on the album or singles. Neither were “Get It For Free” or “Rodeo”.  (We’d have to wait another 10 years for them to be issued on the “Crucial Crue” remastered series.)  A CD could hold almost 80 minutes of music, but Dr. Feelgood was the standard 45 minutes long. Since CDs were so expensive at the time, some fans argued “You have room, so put all the tracks on there and give us the value for our money.” Of course, this attitude changed later on, when listeners realised that albums with lots of extra filler were not as much fun to listen to. And, sadly, the unreleased Motley songs were pretty much filler. The stuff that went on Dr. Feelgood was as good as they had.

Dr. Feelgood was one of the first CDs I ever got, on Christmas Day 1989, along with my first CD player. The sonics of the album were everything they were hyped to be, but what really impressed me were the silences of compact disc. I was used to tape hiss. As “Time For Change” slowly faded out to nothing, I cranked the volume to 10. It was amazing to hear the fadeout clearly, without the tape hiss that had become part and parcel of music listening.

The album earned some great reviews for its sound, songs and even some of the lyrics. “Time For Change” revealed a new more mature direction. “Kickstart My Heart” took a serious subject and made it inspiring without wimping out. “When I get high, I get high on speed, top fuel funnycar’s a drug for me.” Some called it Motley’s best album, and still hold it as such.

As the album rocketed up the charts, Motley embarked on an 11 month tour. Most of the new album received live attention, with five songs being part of the regular set. One person who was paying attention to this was Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. Lars fell hard for the Motley drum sound, and sought out Bob Rock to produce their next album too. The rest is history. Like Motley before them, Bob Rock helped push Metallica into the upper echelons.

On Monday June 18 1990, Motley Crue headlined at the SkyDome in Toronto. The following day, June 19, the highschool halls were flooded with Motley Crue T-shirts. Where were all these “fans” last year when I seemed to be about one of two people in school who liked Motley Crue? It was always so bizarre to see concert shirts on people who never expressed interest in the band.  All those girls who always seemed to say, “I hate Montley Crue”!

What goes up, must come down. Motley relapsed after partying too hard with the Skid Row guys. Infighting ramped up. As the band were set and poised to top Dr. Feelgood with something truly special, they fired Vince Neil. It was as if they were handed the keys to the kingdom, to promptly throw them off the mountain. Although their 1994 album with John Corabi is a monster (and possibly their all-time best), as a commercial entity, Dr. Feelgood was never surpassed.  It eventually sold over six million copies.

We’ll have to see how Motley portray it in their movie The Dirt, but the truth is that Dr. Feelgood was a one-off mega-success story they’d never repeat.

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REVIEW: Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home for Christmas” (1994 single)

BON JOVI “Please Come Home for Christmas” (1994 Mercury single)

Christmas of ’94 was a good one for Bon Jovi.  Their first greatest hits Cross Road was a smash, returning Bon Jovi to the charts.   It spawned two hit singles:  “Always” and later on, “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night”.  With all that going on, it is understandable if you missed another Bon Jovi single that was just under the radar.

“Please Come Home for Christmas” is billed as a Bon Jovi single, but in actuality it’s a Jon Bon Jovi solo track.  It was first released exclusively to the album A Very Special Christmas 2 (1992), billed to Jon Bon Jovi and not performed with the band.  By ’94, solo and band Bon Jovi were becoming blurred.  Jon’s solo track “Blaze of Glory” was on Cross Road even though it’s from Jon’s first solo album.  Nowhere on the “Please Come Home for Christmas” single is it indicated that this is a Bon Jovi solo recording, further blurring the lines.

None of that really matters; Bon Jovi is Jon’s band and this single gathers together his first three Christmas recordings in one place.  It’s actually a great value.

The old Charles Brown seasonal classic has been covered over and over, notably by the Eagles.  Jon’s version isn’t bad either.  You either like Bon Jovi or you don’t.  If you like Bon Jovi then this will probably be right up your alley.

Next up, one of the B-sides from Keep the Faith and an original song too:  “I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas”.  This has the vibe of Keep the Faith, with full production by Bob Rock.  Why can’t everybody be kind to each other every day like they are on Christmas?  It ain’t easy to write an original Christmas song, and Jon did an excellent job on this one.  I’ve always preferred it to “Please Come Home for Christmas”.

Finally, from the first Very Special Christmas album (1987), it’s a live take of “Back Door Santa” (Clarence Carter).  That means it’s from the Slippery When Wet tour.  Vintage Bon Jovi with cheesy keyboards right out “Social Disease”.  It’s not good but it’s here!  Meaning, Bon Jovi fans don’t have to look for A Very Special Christmas to complete their collections.

Two for three decent songs isn’t bad.  All are non-album tracks, so that’ll make this single worth it to you.

3/5 stars

Motley Crue – Greate$t Hit$ (1998, 2009 versions)

MOTLEY CRUE – Greate$t Hit$ (1998 Motley/BMG), Greate$t Hit$ (2009 Motley/Masters)

Most fans will agree that Motley Crue’s 1997 reunion album Generation Swine was, at best, disappointing.  The Crue tried to right the ship by returning to producer Bob Rock.  Together they came up with two new songs, “Bitter Pill” and “Enslaved” that recalled better days.  We discussed the wherefores and origins of 1998’s Greate$t Hit$ album in Getting More Tale #611:  Afraid, on which the two new songs were released.  As you’ll read here, the 1998 issue of  Greate$t Hit$ is better than its 2009 update.

Both “Bitter Pill” and “Enslaved” bring Motley’s sonics back to their previous setpoint with Vince Neil, Decade of Decadence.  The combo of Motley plus Bob Rock produces the kind of results you expect:  punchy, heavy rock tunes with hooks.  Neither is as memorable as “Primal Scream”, but serve their function.  If this lineup had stayed together perhaps they could have taken it further, to the next stage of evolution.  Tensions between Vince and Tommy Lee eventually erupted.  Tommy left the band to pursue his own sanity and a side project called Methods of Mayhem.

The ’98 Greate$t Hit$ also offered up one other cool bonus:  a previously unreleased remix of “Glitter”.  It’s softer and more electronically processed, but a very cool alternate version.  Dropped into this running order, Greate$t Hit$ turns out to be a remarkably fun and consistent listen.  It would be a highly recommended way to get a broad assortment of great Motley and some rarities too.

Then, as part of the promotional cycle for a later, better reunion album (2008’s Saints of Los Angeles), Greate$t Hit$ was updated and reissued.  Including its previous incarnation, the 2009 Greate$t Hit$ became the fifth Motley Crue best-of compilation (not counting box sets and rarities compilations).

So what’s the difference?

13 tracks overlap between the two: “Too Fast For Love”, “Looks That Kill”, “Smokin’ In The Boys Room”, “Home Sweet Home”, “Wild Side”, “Girls, Girls, Girls”, “Dr. Feelgood”, “Kickstart My Heart”, “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)”, “Without You”, “Primal Scream”, and “Afraid”. The 13th track is “Shout At The Devil”.  In 2009 they used the original version, where on the old CD it was “Shout At The Devil ’97” (a re-recording from Generation Swine).

Three tracks were previously released as “new” songs on other greatest hits CDs: “Primal Scream” (Decade of Decadence), “Sick Love Song” and “If I Die Tomorrow” (Red, White & Crue).

Two tracks were from the newest Motley platter, Saints Of Los Angeles: The title track, and a brand-new remix of “The Animal In Me” featuring more keyboards.

Zero tracks from the albums Motley Crue or New Tattoo are included (neither album had all four original members).

There are 19 songs total included, which is a beef-up from the 1998 version, which had 17 songs.  “Bitter Pill” and “Enslaved” were excluded, but both are available on Red, White & Crue (2005). The remix of “Glitter” from the 1998 version is not and is now deleted.

The songs on the update, unlike the 1998 version, are mostly in chronological order. The exception is “Afraid” which is shuffled out of place with “Sick Love Song” for reasons unknown. The flow of the album is OK, with the kickass “Too Fast For Love” starting the proceedings. The mixture of rockers to ballads is engineered for high octane, and the ballads only kick in when needed. The album only runs out of gas towards the end:  “Sick Love Song” isn’t very good didn’t require a second look here.  “Bitter Pill” should have been kept instead.  The final track “The Animal In Me” is just too slow for a closing song. “Saints Of Los Angeles” would have been more appropriate to close this set.

Even though the 2009 update has 19 songs compared to 17, the ’98 version wins due to the inclusion of “Bitter Pill” and “Enslaved”. It’s more enjoyable listen from start to finish, with better flow and song order.  The ’09 Greate$t Hit$ smacks of an obvious cash grab. Check out the liner notes. They haven’t even been updated. The essays are 10 years out of date, the notes refer to the “two new songs” (which aren’t there), and the back cover artwork still reflects “Bitter Pill”. Essentially, the only changes to the packaging are the colours with a new slipcase added, displaying a newer band photo from the Saints sessions.

Greate$t Hit$ 1998:  4/5 stars

Greate$t Hit$ 2009:  2/5 stars

 

#611: Afraid

GETTING MORE TALE #611: Afraid

1989: A clean and sober Motley Crue take over the world. Dr. Feelgood climbs to #1 and the band rivals Bon Jovi and Def Leppard in the popularity stakes.

1990: Motley continue to tour and rock them all, while announcing their next album will be a “greatest hits”.

1991: Decade of Decadence is released, keeping Motley on the charts. The new single “Primal Scream” is well received.

1992: In a shock announcement, Vince Neil is fired from the band. Unfortunately Motley are not the only rock band to lose their singer at the beginning of the 90s.

1993:  Vince Neil’s solo debut Exposed is greeted by warm reviews.  Motley continue to toil in the studio with new singer John Corabi.

1994: Five years after Dr. Feelgood, the re-imagined Motley finally return with the self-titled Motley Crue.  Corabi blows ’em away, but the album fails to sell. Motley is forced to do a scaled down tour while the CD dropped off the charts.

This was the state of the Crue in the mid 90s.  They had released an incredible album.  Today, many fans rate it in the top three, or even at the #1 spot.   My near-legendary Record Store cohort T-Rev agrees.  “To me, they sounded more like a hard rock band than a hair metal band, because of that album.”

Absolutely true.  They stepped far beyond the preconceived notions of Motley Crue.  Guitars were detuned, lyrics were topical or personal.  Tracks like “Smoke the Sky” might have passed for Soundgarden.  On the other side of the coin, “Misunderstood” was an epic power ballad featuring an orchestra and Glenn fucking Hughes.  There wasn’t a weak track in the bunch, but plenty of variety.

Most fans didn’t embrace it at the time, and instead moved on to current bands.  Back then, nobody was interested.  No Vince, no Motley?  No way.  Corabi was absolutely the right guy at the right time.  Motley added his rhythm guitars and songwriting abilities, not to mention far more aggressive singing.  The band had only gotten better.  But by recording an uncompromising album with an unknown singer, they were indeed taking a chance.  It didn’t pay off.  When I was working at the Record Store, there was a giant pile of unsold Motley Crue CDs taking up space.  They sat next to an equally tall pile of David Lee Roth’s Your Filthy Little Mouth.  All the kings seemed to have been usurped.

At the Record Store, I first befriended the aforementioned T-Rev.  The fact that both of us loved the Motley album didn’t hurt.  T-Rev was the only person I knew who appreciated what they did.  He loved that huge overproduced drum sound.  Back in 1989, everybody had a Motley Crue T-shirt in the highschool halls.  In 1994, we couldn’t get anyone to listen.

Through 1995 and 1996, magazines reported that Motley were back in the studio, working on a followup with Corabi.  Bob Rock was back in the producer’s chair and the band wrote new songs such as “Personality #9”, “Let Us Prey”, “La Dolce Vita” and “The Year I Lived In A Day”.  Things seemed to be going well, but record company pressure was intense.  Bob Rock’s style was now passé and he was fired.  Engineer Scott Humphrey was promoted to producer, and electronics began to dominate.

The pressure was not only on Motley Crue, but focused directly on John Corabi.  Elektra records were eager to get Vince Neil back, a true “star”.  John was getting frustrated in the studio while this was going on.  Nothing he sang seemed to be good enough for Motley Crue anymore.  He was asked to sing like Oasis or the Sisters of Mercy.  John suggested that he just play rhythm guitar while they get Vince Neil to sing.  Somehow, this made its way into the rumour mill.  Before John Corabi was eventually fired, T-Rev and I had heard that Motley were considering this very same five-piece lineup.  What a glorious sounding thing that could have been.

Ultimately the band fired John and got Vince back.  They attempted to piece together the album that they’d been recording and re-recording and re-re-recording again.  Mick Mars was frustrated as well, as his guitar parts kept getting rejected and remixed.  In particular, Mars did not function well with Scott Humphrey.

Personally speaking, I lay these problems at the hands of Scott Humphrey.  I read the book The Dirt, and that’s certainly where the band lay most of the blame.  Have a look at Humphrey’s credits though.  Lots of records loaded with electronics, like Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe and Tommy Lee’s solo stuff.  Humphrey started out as a keyboard player and programmer, and I think that high-tech style does not work with Motley Crue.  That’s my personal opinion, never having met Scott Humphrey.  I did, however, have a customer at the Record Store who knew Scott Humphrey, who is actually from Kitchener Ontario.*  “Motley Crue were the problem,” he told me.  “They were messed up on drugs.”  They were also unfocused musically.

On January 27 1997, the reunited original Motley Crue performed on the American Music Awards.  Mere months after being teased by a similar Van Halen reunion on the MTV Awards, I was relieved that Motley were playing a song rather than just standing there.  But what the hell song was it?!  Some strange, techno-y version of “Shout at the Devil”?  It was strange, unexpected and underwhelming.  Hey, cool, it was a fresh spin on an old classic.  But…why?

We soon found out.  The album Generation Swine came out on June 24 1997.  As usual, T-Rev and I got it a few days in advance.  “It sucks!” he warned me.  Of the first single “Afraid”, he said “It sounds more like Def Leppard than Motley Crue.”

“Afraid” is the best song on the album, which does frankly suck.  In a single stroke Motley went from one of their best albums, to one of their very worst.  It was astounding how desperate they sounded, trying to incorporate these influences that have nothing to do with Motley Crue.  The loops and samples and effects ruined many of the songs, but some just weren’t that good to begin with.  This considered, it was an even bigger surprise that Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee were singing lead vocals too.  Sixx’s silly opener “Find Myself” was a nauseating faux-punk novelty song.  Generation Swine was also unfocused in the extreme, and the muddying effects didn’t help.  The electronic treatments on the drums rendered them limp, compared to the massive sound of 94’s Motley Crue.    Absolutely everything on Generation Swine was inferior to Motley Crue.

Three CD singles were released for “Afraid”, which was remixed so many times trying to get it right, that they used some of the various versions as bonus tracks.  The album version is fine enough, and in this one instance, the electronics enhance the song.  I’d rather hear “Afraid” with the effects than without.

What did other fans think?  When Generation Swine was new, one of my customers wanted to hear it before buying.  “I saw that Vince Neil is back.  Have you heard it?” he asked me, and I told him the truth.  He was sceptical of my review, but changed his mind upon hearing it.  “It doesn’t sound like them,” he said, and he’s right.  I then cajoled him into listening to the 1994 album.  He didn’t want to, because it didn’t have Vince Neil, but agreed to give it a shot.

Guess which album he bought?  Motley ’94.

At least there’s some redemption, if only temporarily.  During the Christmas season of 1998, T-Rev once again called me up to tell me about Motley Crue.  There was a new compilation out, called Greate$t Hit$ [review coming tomorrow].   This time, there were two new songs:  “Enslaved” and “Bitter Pill”.  Both were produced by Bob Rock.

“The new songs aren’t bad,” said T-Rev.  “A lot better than Generation Swine.  Not as good as ‘Primal Scream'”

Right again, T-Rev.  Not bad.  An improvement, but not as good as what they did the first time out.  That was enough for me to buy the CD.  Not for Trevor, though.

I think Motley Crue were on the right track with “Enslaved” and “Bitter Pill” after the failure of Generation Swine.  They obviously knew that album didn’t work, so they went back to the last thing that did.  Both songs are growers, and still raise a smile to hear.  Unfortunately Motley Crue blew it again.  Tommy Lee and Vince Neil had a dust-up at an airport, and Lee split.  He was replaced by former Ozzy Osbourne drummer, Randy Castillo.**

Fans like T-Rev and myself always supported the 1994 album, and today we’ve been justified.  More and more fans have realised the quality of that CD, and increasingly hold it in high esteem.  There’s something about that CD, and I’m afraid that Motley Crue never came close to touching it since.

Tommy Lee, John Corabi, Nikki Sixx & Mick Mars

* Fun fact! T-Rev’s mom dated Scott Humphrey!

** In a very sad turn of events, Castillo never got to tour with Motley Crue.  He became ill and died of cancer on March 26, 2002 at age 51.  His replacement, Hole’s Samantha Maloney, did the tour and resultant live video.

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – A Little Ain’t Enough (1991)

DAVID LEE ROTH – A Little Ain’t Enough (1991, Warner, digipack promo CD version)

First Billy Sheehan was gone – fired by the “note police”.  Then Steve Vai was out, to join David Coverdale in his merry international band of Whitesnake, replacing Vivian Campbell.  David Lee Roth lost his two biggest guns in the space of a year.  What next?  Replacing Billy was Matt Bissonette, brother of drummer Gregg.  Matt is a fantastic bassist, but there is only one Billy Sheehan, so naturally the band was bound to sound different.  Replacing Steve Vai was much harder.

Filling the guitar slot, but not the shoes, was new young guitar prodigy Jason Becker (from Cacophony, with Marty Friedman), and veteran axeman Steve Hunter (ex-Alice Cooper).  Becker was beginning to feel the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  Fans must have known something was wrong when Becker was not seen on tour.  Becker kept his diagnosis private for the time being. Roth tapped Joe Holmes (future Ozzy guitarist) and stated that he needed musicians who could “fly” on stage.  It was hard for fans to become attached to his new band, even wielding the firepower of two guitarists, with all these changes.

Roth’s first post-Vai album, A Little Ain’t Enough, failed to ascend the commercial heights of Eat ‘Em and Smile or Skyscraper.  “Good”, but not “great”.  Not enough of that Dave “charasma”.  Just a collection of songs, not a fierce sexed up power-packed ride through.  Roth hooked up with producer-du-jour Bob Rock at Little Mountain studios.  Rock endowed Roth with a generic sound, contrasting the high-tech Skyscraper.  Dave seemed to be trying to take a step back towards his Van Halen roots.  Roth insisted that he and his band stay in the shittiest Vancouver hotel they could find.  Prostitutes, dealers, criminals, the works.  He wanted a dirty rock album and you can’t make one of those with a $20 room service hamburger in your stomach, as per the method of Diamond Dave.

A Little Ain’t Enough wasn’t the return to dirty raw rock Roth that had hyped.

Lead single “A Lil’ Ain’t Enough” was plenty of fun, a top notch Roth party song.  “Was vaccinated with a phonograph needle one summer break, then I kissed her on her daddy’s boat and shot across the lake.”  Perfect for summer.  Second track “Shoot It” was just as fun, a big horn section delivering all the big hooks.

The one-two punch of those openers was slowed by following them with “Lady Luck”, a rock blues track written by Dio’s Craig Goldy.  Good song, but the firepower and excitement of the previous two was missing.  “Hammerhead Shark”, the fourth track, had more energy but not the killer hooks.  What it does have is some killer shredding by the guitar duo of Hunter and Becker, with Hunter on the slide and Becker on the quick pickin’.  “Tell the Truth” is another blues, slower this time, and was also released as an instrumental remix with dialogue (from a movie?) dubbed over.  Side one closed with a real Van Halen-like corker called “Baby’s On Fire”.  As the title suggests, it’s red-hot and loaded with smoking playing.

Side two is a mixed bag.  “40 Below” is a fun track, with shades of Halen but more focused on bluesy guitars.  “Sensible Shoes” was a single, a slinky blues that appealed to some that normally wouldn’t buy a David Lee Roth album.  The slide guitar is the main feature.  “Last Call” is another one reminiscent of classic Van Halen, and “Dogtown Shuffle” dips back into noctural blues rock. Good songs – not great, but good.

Jason Becker only contributed two of his own songs to the album:  the final two, “It’s Showtime!” and “Drop in the Bucket”.  These happen to be two of the best tracks.  “It’s Showtime!” is 100% pure Van Halen, smoking down the highway, so try to keep up.  It’s the kind of high speed rock shuffle that they invented and mastered.  Meanwhile “Drop in the Bucket” serves as a cool, smooth ending to the album.  Its impressive guitar work is only a glimpse at what Becker was capable of.

ALS be damned, Jason Becker refused to go down without a fight.  As the disease took his voice and his hands, he began composing music on a computer.  He uses a system that tracks his eye movements, much like Steven Hawking.  This way, Becker has managed to stay active musically and has inspired thousands with his efforts.

It’s a shame that Becker’s only album with David Lee Roth was a bit middle of the road.  It wasn’t the full shred of early Roth, nor as diverse as Dave can get.  In his efforts to make a straight ahead rock album, Dave shed some of what makes his music special.  The musical thrills are lessened on what is probably the most “ordinary” album in his catalog.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Honeymoon Suite – The Singles (1989)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

NIAGARA FALLS.

scan_20161110HONEYMOON SUITE – The Singles (1989 Warner)

In the mood for some good old fashioned Canadian AOR rock, but don’t know where to turn?

Easily solved.  Just drive down to Niagara Falls and take a left at Honeymoon Suite.

The Singles compiles all their best tunes from the first three LPs (Honeymoon Suite, The Big Prize, Racing After Midnight).  If you are a native of the Great White North, chances are you have already heard all 12 of these tracks.  Honeymoon Suite have been radio staples ever since their 1984 debut single, “New Girl Now”.  Even when they dropped off the face of the earth for much of the 1990s and 2000s, they got consistent radio play and gigs.  T-Rev and I saw them at Lulu’s in the 1990s when they were supporting a live album.  Even though singer Johnnie Dee seemed a lil’ tipsy they pulled out all the stops for an enjoyable gig.

When Honeymoon Suite kicked it off with “New Girl Now”, they tapped into a rock/new wave hybrid that earned them tons of video play in Canada.  Derry Grehan was (and is) a fine guitarist, certainly one of the most respected in the Great White North.  He gave the band the rock credibility they needed, meanwhile Johnny Dee had the pipes and the heartthrob looks.  The 80s angst of “Burning in Love” landed them another hit, with one foot a little more firmly in the rock arena. Bonus points for the very 80’s chorus echo. “I am still (still! still! still!) a lonely man burning in love,” sings Dee, and you know many ladies swooned.  The sound is not too distant from the Bon Jovi of the same period, burning up the clubs many miles away in New Jersey.


Filmed on location in Niagara Falls Ontario

“Stay in the Light” captures the same vibe, a keyboard-y tension with guitars providing the edge.  A sharp rhythm and indelible chorus keeps “Stay in the Light” burning in your memory long after it ceased playing.  “Wave Babies” is a bit hokey but that hasn’t kept it from airplay 30 years later.

Album #2, The Big Prize, edged their sound further into keyboard pop, which provided more hits but also turned some fans off.  “Feel It Again” maintained the guitars without straying too far, but the ballad anthem “What Does It Take” was a full-on 80s pop ballad.  The band had some serious firepower in the studio control room this time out.  The success of the first album gave them a shot with Bruce Fairbairn, and a young engineer named Bob Rock.  You can hear their impact in the improved sound of the drums, and the sonic clarity overall.  The production values help make “What Does It Take” palatable, but there is too much syrup for some.  “Bad Attitude” has some crunch but it’s overshadowed by those omnipresent keyboards.

Racing After Midnight returned rock to the forefront.  There were a couple lineup changes including on the keyboards.  The captain’s chair was manned this time by veteran Van Halen producer Ted Templeman.  With him they recorded “Lethal Weapon” for the film soundtrack of the same name.  Because it was written by Michael Kamen for a movie, we can forgive Honeymoon Suite for another soft rock ballad.  The guitar laden “Love Changes Everything” was a more proper introduction to the new album.  Derry has a chance to show off his enviable chops at the start, and has a good crunchy sound.  One of Honeymoon Suite’s most memorable choruses made it easy to love.  “Lookin’ Out for Number One” was equally powerful, especially when it comes to Derry Grehan’s impeccable shreddery.

Any good greatest hits album needs new material.  The Singles had two new songs:  big hit “Still Loving You”, and “Long Way”.  For a big anthemic ballad, “Still Loving You” nails it with class.  “Long Way” finishes it with a dark edgy acoustic vibe.  These two tracks do not negate the album title The Singles, because both were released as singles.

Factor in some great liner notes and lots of band photos, and The Singles is a pretty easy purchase to justify.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: The Cult – Hidden City (2016)

scan_20161008THE CULT – Hidden City (2016 Dine Alone)

There have been a few times in Cult history when it seemed unlikely they would be making any more albums.  Thankfully, these fears were unfounded.  Thankfully, because The Cult are so damn great at making albums.

Their latest is Hidden City, and it continues their upwards trajectory.  Teamed up once again with Bob Rock, the band created a powerful recording, very Cult-like and loud.  It is a cohesive and impressive collection of songs that tend to defy individual description.  It is easy to pick our favourites such as “No Love Lost”, “Birds of Paradise” or “Hinterland” (my personal fave), but Hidden City is more than the sum of its parts.  Its components are strong compositions that highlight the strengths of the band:  Ian Astbury’s powerful and unique voice, and Billy Duffy’s unmistakable riff stylings.  Hidden City collects the light and shade and presents them as a multi-coloured hue.

Its grooves are huge but textured.  The songs reveal more hooks the more you listen.  The Cult’s performances are top notch.  The album is electrifying.  Hidden City must be considered a latter-day high water mark, an album that builds on the last few records and continues pushing forward.  The Cult rule again.

5/5 stars

This is a 200 word review in the tradition of the #200wordchallenge

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REVIEW: Kingdom Come – 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection

KINGDOM COME – 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection (2003 Universal)

Kingdom Come are a German/American band that rose from the ashes of Stone Fury.  For those who may not remember, Kingdom Come were quite infamous in their day.  Gary Moore wrote a song called “Led Clones” (with Ozzy singing lead) about Kingdom Come and bands of their ilk who were seen to be milking the now defunct Zeppelin cow.  The “Led Clones” riff directly aped “Kasmir” by Zeppelin, as did Kingdom Come’s lead single “Get It On”.  A little Zeppelin influence is fine, but Kingdom Come enraged Jimmy Page himself when one of their guitarists claimed he’d never heard a Led Zeppelin album.

The Zeppelin angle was one direction that Kingdom Come exploited in their early days, and though they grew out of it by their second album, the damage had been done. Their nickname became “Kingdom Clone”, the punchline of many jokes. This is why a simple 20th Century Masters compilation may be all the Kingdom Come you actually need.  Herein you will find all but one of their hits, and a fair few tracks from their first three studio albums.  Two guys from this band ended up in Warrant:  Rick Steier and James Kottak, who is also the longest-serving drummer that the Scorpions have ever employed.  By the third album, the original lineup had completely dissolved leaving singer Lenny Wolf the sole original member.

The one missing hit is a track called “Loving You” from the first LP, an acoustic ballad, sort of a sub-“Battle of Evermore”.  The other hits are here:

  • “Get It On”, the single that made them famous, which wears its Zep influences on its sleeves.
  • “What Love Can Be”, essentially Lenny Wolf’s transparent rewrite of “Since I’ve Been Loving You”.
  • “Do You Like It”, the first single from sophomore album In Your Face.

Lenny could have gotten away with some of the Zeppelin references if he didn’t try to sing so many Plant-isms.  You can only ma-ma-ma so much before you sound like Robert Plant, and Lenny could have tried to be his own singer instead.  You have to lay some of that at the feet of producer Bob Rock, who could have said, “Cut that shit out.”

The second album was a move away from that.  Keith Olsen got a sharper, more vibrant sound than Bob Rock did (though Rock really got a great drum sound for James Kottak).  Reportedly, some stores refused to stock the second LP because they thought the band’s name was Kingdom, and the album called Come In Your Face.  Too bad, because the incendiary “Do You Like It” was critically acclaimed for its drive.  The other In Your Face tracks included here absolutely represent a move away from Zeppelin and towards a more mainstream, slightly European rock sound.  Good songs, especially the mid-tempo “Gotta Go (Can’t Wage a War)”.

The third album, Hands of Time, came and went without a sound and Lenny was dropped from the label.  Reviews suggested it was soft and ballad oriented, but there are two decent slow rockers here from that album.  “Should I” has a slow grind topped by a passionate vocal.  The one included ballad, “You’re Not the Only…I Know” has a weird title but a great melody.

The great thing about the 20th Century Masters series is the ability to get key hits for a low price from bands that you may not want albums from.  The 11 tracks on the Kingdom Come edition are all worth owning, no duds in the bunch.  That makes this CD an easy one to pull the trigger on.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Motley Crue – Quaternary (1994 Japanese EP)

MOTLEY CRUE – Quaternary (1994 Elektra Japanese EP)

For me, undoubtedly the most heavily anticipated new album of 1994 was the new Motley Crue.  Originally titled ‘Til Death Do Us Part, the self-titled ’94 Crue disc was their first with new singer/guitarist John Corabi.  They holed up with producer Bob Rock and knuckled down, creating what could have been the most important album of their careers.  The long wait (five years between studio albums) and cryptic remarks from the studio indicated that this would be the heaviest Motley album ever, and their most ambitious.  The new, serious Motley for the 90’s had, as always, written plenty of extra material too.

In addition, producer Bob Rock had an idea for getting creative juices flowing.  He asked each of the four members of Motley Crue to write and record a solo track with no input from the other members.  This was slightly historic:  the first time Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, Tommy Lee or John Corabi had done anything solo.  With all the numerous outtakes recorded for the Motley Crue LP, there was now plenty of extra material to put out as a bonus EP.

Scan_20160612A mail-away coupon inside the Motley Crue CD alerted fans that five more tracks were available by mail order only.  20,000 copies of the original EP were pressed.  They included all four solo tracks and a new Motley Crue song called “Babykills”, featuring fifth Beatle Billy Preston on clavinet!

Still, the lucky fans in Japan didn’t have to mail away for anything.  They were able to buy Quaternary right on their store shelves, and because it’s Japan, they also got bonus tracks.  The Japanese version of Quaternary was not a five song EP, but more like a nine-song mini-album.  I had no idea such a thing existed until finding one at Sam the Record Man in Toronto in the summer of 1996.   It still has the price tag:  I paid $49.99, for a total of three songs that I did not have before.

Today, every one of these songs can be found on the box set Music to Crash Your Car To: Volume II, along with even more bonus mixes.

Quaternary commences with industrial noises and studio dialogue:

Tommy Lee:  “I can’t play with fuckin’ clothes on man, this is bullshit.”
Bob Rock: “Play naked.”
Tommy Lee: “Fuckin’ jeans on, a fuckin’ shirt…what up with that?”
Bob Rock: “What, do you work in a bank?”

The industro-rap metal of Tommy Lee’s “Planet Boom” is a track he had been working on for years. An early version made its debut in the background on the 1992 home video release Decade of Decadence. Even though the words “industro-rap” and “Tommy Lee” don’t really sound good together, “Planet Boom” kicks ass. Tommy played all the instruments, utilising a simple, detuned Sabbathy riff and a relentless drum loop. The strength of his vocal came as a surprise, as did the song in general. A few years later it was remixed for Pamela Anderson’s movie Barb Wire. (Stick with this original.)

After a brief studio discussion with Mick Mars about hemorrhoids (?), his blues instrumental “Bittersuite” blows your ears off. Motley fans know that Mick Mars is the most musically talented member, considered an underrated and under appreciated rock god. The blues-rock of “Bittersuite” isn’t as satisfying as I imagine a pure blues offering to be, but there is no doubting Mick’s talent here. Both as a writer and a player, Mick hit it out of the park (Chris Taylor played drums). Mick’s goal was to pay tribute to rock-blues greats like Beck, Hendrix and Blackmore. Mission accomplished. His guitar tone is beautiful and so are his emotive licks.

Nikki Sixx goes third, with another industrial-metal cross. “Father” is one angry fucked up track. It’s heavy and direct, on-trend for 1994, and very abrasive. The riff and song are simple, but Nikki’s anger leaks through. “Father — where were you?” Backwards guitars, electronics and loops on top — you can tell Nikki and Tommy were listening to the same kinds of music at the time!

New kid John Corabi goes last, and in the liner notes he says that “Friends” is his first piano song. He meant to go acoustic, but “Friends” just came out of him. It’s a pretty Queen-like ballad with lovely harmonies in the middle. Although Mick Mars’ song is probably a greater technical achievement, “Friends” is my favourite of the solo tracks. When a guy like Corabi gets going on a ballad, it’s usually going to be amazing anyway. Throw in the Queen elements, and I’m just a sucker for it! It’s really a shame that Motley did not continue with John beyond this. The potential for greatness was always there.

After more studio chatter, we break into “Babykills”, the Billy Preston collaboration. “Babykills” is fun and funky hard rock, probably the heaviest thing Preston ever played on. Unfortunately his part is little more than an added topping. Great tune though; probably far too good to lie hidden away on an obscure mail-order EP.

An impromptu jam that seems to be called “I Just Wanna Fuck You (In the Ass)” ends the original EP on a jokey note.  “What the fuck do you want, for fuck all?”

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As mentioned, the Japanese had bonus tracks.   These are tracks that did not make the finished Motley Crue album, since they had recorded so much extra material.  “10,000 Miles Away” is a cool blues ballad, showing off more of Mick’s fine fingerwork.  It was obviously too much of a standard sounding song to fit in with the experimental Motley Crue album.  Not that the album stood a chance in hell after grunge cleared the decks, but you do wonder if it would have been better received if some of these more digestible songs were included on it.

The one track on the Japanese release that is easy to skip is the Skinny Puppy remix of “Hooligan’s Holiday”.  This track was already available on the “Hooligan’s Holiday” single and it’s since been re-released in other places too.  It’s long — over 11 minutes.  Dave “Rave” Ogilvie remixed it with Dwayne Goettel and cEvin Key, so it is of possible interest to Skinny Puppy collectors.  The thing that bugs me about it is that it strikes me as lazy.  The song is pretty much the same as always for the first three minutes, and then the remixing begins.  The whacked out and frankly boring remixed part goes on for almost seven more minutes, before transitioning back to the standard song.  In other words, what Skinny Puppy did here was edit out the middle section and guitar solo of the song, drop in seven minutes of remixed barf, and then put the ending back on.

Two demos round out the CD:  “Hammered” (which did make the album) and “Livin’ in the No” (which did not).  The “Hammered” demo is structurally the same as the album version, no radical departures.  It sounds like much of it is live in the studio, and it’s clear that Motley were focusing on grooves.  It’s all about the four guys being locked in.  Finally “Livin’ in the No” is in the standard hard rock mold.  Again, a track like this fits in less well with the unorthodox LP, but might have made it more accessible for fans.  Even so, a guy like Vince Neil would never have been able to sing “Livin’ in the No” and make it sound good.

There is little question that the Motley Crue album deserves its 5/5 star rating.  This being a collection of outtakes, the same cannot be expected.  Still, it does deserve a very respectable:

4/5 stars

Get the complete EP including all Japanese bonus tracks on Music to Crash Your Car To: Volume II. That set also contains more remixes originally from single B-sides of the era: “Misunderstood” (Guitar Solo/Scream Version), “Hooligan’s Holiday” (Derelict Version), “Misunderstood” (Successful Format Version), “Hooligan’s Holiday” (Brown Nose Edit).

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REVIEW: Blue Murder – Blue Murder (1989)

BLUE MURDER – Blue Murder (1989 Geffen)

For some, expectations were high.

On paper, it was genius.   Teaming up the legendary drummer Carmine Appice with anyone will turn heads, but John Sykes, the ex-Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake guitar genius?  Sign us up.  Add in ex-Black Sabbath singer Ray Gillen, and the Firm’s Tony Franklin on bass, and that right there is an interesting combo.  Two words were buzzing around the camp, and they were “blues” and “jams”.  When the band did start jamming the blues, they realized that Ray Gillen didn’t have much to do during the long instrumental breaks they were producing.  The decision was made to cut Ray and trim the band down to a classic power trio, with Sykes singing lead.  The trio format was fairly unique among rock bands in the late 80’s.  (Ray hooked up with another new blues-rock band, Jake E. Lee’s Badlands.)

Adding to the hype machine behind the new christened Blue Murder was the tapping of up and coming producer Bob Rock.  Coming off of some hit albums by Kingdom Come and The Cult, it was assumed Rock would do the same for Blue Murder.  They hiked up to Little Mountain Sound in Vancouver and recorded the album, dedicating it to Phil Lynott.

Unfortunately it was pretty clear after a few listens that despite the hype and big names, Blue Murder was not the supergroup debut that it should have been.  Indeed, the lineup expired after one record.

Sykes’ singing was not the issue.  His vocals on songs such as “Riot” and “Ptolemy” are more than adequate.  Power and range were not an issue for Sykes.  Perhaps his unique guitar stylings were too associated with the mega-selling Whitesnake 1987, because the sonic connections are obvious.  Too much ‘Snake, not enough Lizzy.  The songs are not all bad either, though many could use some minutes trimmed from them.  At nine songs and 52 minutes, Blue Murder does have the instrumental chills that Sykes wanted to get across, but at the cost of diluting the impact with meandering rock songs.  Other issues must fall at the feet of Bob Rock.  Though Blue Murder earned the producer a nomination at the Juno awards in 1990, the muddy sound is very far indeed from what Rock can do.  “Sex Child” is a perfect example of this. Rock strove to give Carmine a big drum sound, but there are also excessive keyboards and layers of vocals all occupying the same sonic space. This robs it of the groove.  It’s a chore to finish the whole album in a sitting, due to some of these problems.

There are three album highlights that are possibly worth the expense to rock historians.  They are the singles “Valley of the Kings” and “Jelly Roll”, and the epic “Ptolemy”.  At 7:50, “Valley of the Kings” had to be severely edited down for a single/video. It has all the progressive rock qualities that you know these guys are capable of, and who isn’t a sucker for lyrics about pharoahs and pyramids? Must credit must also be given to Tony Franklin, who makes it sound as if the fretless bass is easy to play! You don’t hear enough fretless in hard rock, and Franklin is one of the world’s very best. Period.

Interestingly, “Valley of the Kings” was co-written by then-Black Sabbath singer Tony Martin. You can absolutely hear parallels to Sabbath’s Headless Cross released the same year – an album that also had some fretless bass on it thanks to Lawrence Cottle!

“Jelly Roll” was a music video, fitting the slot for some good time summer acoustic rock.  Instead of going ballad, Blue Murder went to the bayou.  The tricky slide licks recall Whitesnake, but unfortunately towards the end, the song sinks into typical ballad territory.  It sounds like two songs melded together, but I like the first part best.

The final keeper is the progressive epic “Ptolemy”.  Unfortunately the lyrics don’t have much to do with the actual mathematician and astronomer who lived almost 2000 years ago.  Instead the song is about tomb robbing; unrelated to Ptolemy of Alexandria.  This is a shame since they could have written about Ptolemy’s musical studies (Harmonics), or his influence on the concept of the universe of a series of spheres that create music.  Fortunately the musical qualities of the song enable us to overlook the words.

There are also-rans worth checking out:  particularly a track called “Billy” which is the most Thin Lizzy of all the tunes.  You could imagine, if Phil had lived, that he could have recorded “Billy” for a mid-80’s Thin Lizzy album.  Unfortunately most of the material resides in Whitesnake territory, especially the carbon-copy ballad “Out of Love”, and the closer “Black-Hearted Woman” which recycles Whitesnake riffs.

Too bad.  Loads of potential, but blown in the delivery.

2.5/5 stars

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