bonus track

REVIEW: Max the Axe – Bodies of Water (1995 cassette)

MAX THE AXE – Bodies of Water (1995 independant cassette)

This has to be one of the rarest items I own.  I have acquired the only remaining cassette copy of the first Max the Axe release, a five song tape called Bodies of Water.  In a rare move, the cassette had the bonus track rather than the CD.  Back in 1995, Max the Axe didn’t have a drummer so the drums on this release are programmed.  That lends it a streetwise but quaint mid-90s nostalgia.

Opening intensely with “Hard Drive”, Max the Axe’s music defies genres from the first track.  Heavy sludge riffs, flute, saxophone, a keyboard orchestra!  Lead vocals on this track by Pam Hammond leap beyond expectation as she bellows powerfully over the complex track.  You get more sax (courtesy Rockin’ Randy Harrison) on “Where’s Pablo?” featuring Mickey Straight on lead vocals.  This has a cool, dirty street vibe groove.

The  cassette bonus track “Guns To Iran” is dead center, and features “Max the Swinging Axe” on distorted lead vocals.  Pure metal on electronic steroids.  I’m immediately reminded of “Manic Mechanic” by ZZ Top, but a thrash metal version.

“I’m Glad Now” has another singer, Tim Rolland, and a completely different vibe.  Straight noctural, memorable melodic hard rock with a growly singer.  But then the screamer “Fair Ophelia” ends the cassette on a seriously heavy note.  Pam Hammond and Max the Axe return on vocals, assaulting the ear with aggressive heaviness.  Max does the metal grunting while Hammond sings in classic screamin’ metal style.

This is good stuff and surprisingly well preserved 25 years later.  Max’s sharp jabs of guitar solo adrenaline still rock the speakers with intended impact.  Maybe the Axe will remaster and reissue his early tunes so the rest of you can hear them too.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Monster (Japan Tour Edition bonus CD)

This review is for reader Juan, from Spain — thank you for reading!

KISS – Monster (Japan Tour Edition, 2013 Universal Japan)

In my 32 years of collecting music, I have learned a number of immutable laws of the hobby.  The Three Laws of Collecting are:

The First Law:  Japan shall always get the best stuff.
The Second Law:  Anything worth releasing is worth re-releasing.
The Third Law:  Kiss fans shall buy anything, often more than once.

The Three Laws of Collecting are why I now have purchased my fifth copy of Kiss Monster.  The album came out in 2012, meaning I have bought more than one copy per year since its release:  Original CD, vinyl, iTunes, Japanese CD, and now this 2 CD Japan Tour Edition, which has all the tracks from all the versions, and then some.

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This is not a review of Monster; we have reviewed that album twice now (once by Mike Ladano and once by Tommy Morais).  Rather this is a review of the Tour Edition’s second disc, which is a pretty cool “best of” collection covering a very nice chunk of Kisstory.  What can another greatest hits possibly offer?  Believe it or not, the Monster Tour Edition has a slightly different slant that might be interesting to die-hards.

This is the first time “Psycho Circus” has opened a Kiss compilation.  It was their tour opener in 1998-99 and so naturally fits this slot.  It was one of the stronger tracks from Psycho-Circus itself, which was otherwise a pretty disappointing reunion album.  Mainly because Peter and Ace barely played on it.  Indeed, on this track you will get Kevin Valentine on drums and Tommy Thayer on guitar, uncredited.  That said, the track still kicks ass and has proven to be the only song from that album that still gets played now and then.

I’m always happy to hear oldies like “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll” on a hits CD.  The same goes for “Black Diamond”, one of the more epic Kiss tracks.  These old album cuts might not be as well known to casual fans and might surprise even Kiss haters.  However, no casual fan or Kiss hater is going to be hearing the Monster Tour Edition.  So the die-hards again will be hearing “Shout it Out Loud”, “Rock and Roll all Nite”, “Detroit Rock City”, “God of Thunder”, “Love Gun” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” for the umpteenth time.  Mixed in among these are some of the second-tier hits from the 80’s:  “I Love it Loud”, “Lick It Up”, “Heaven’s On Fire”.  The exact mixture of ingredients is different, but these songs have been on best-of CDs by Kiss before.

The one unique inclusion is “Say Yeah” from 2009’s Sonic Boom, its first appearance on a hits disc.  Its place here is deserved.  Sonic Boom represented a strong return to the studio for Kiss after a decade long absence.  “Say Yeah” was one of three songs played live in concert, and sounds the most like a timeless Kiss anthem.  (Sonic Boom was represented on the last greatest hits compilation, Kiss 40, by “Modern Day Delilah”.)

Finally there is the riffy “Right Here Right Now” which was previously the iTunes bonus track for Monster.  A physical copy is always better, and a Japanese high quality HMCD is even better than that.  And don’t worry — the original Japanese bonus track, a live version of “King of the Night Time World” from the Rock the Nation tour, is still intact on disc one.  (More on that in the video below.)

This version of Monster is finally the definitive one with all the tracks in one place.  The bonus hits disc is some pretty awesome icing.  When you have as many hits discs as Kiss do, you may just wonder “what’s the difference”?  Each one is different in its own often minor ways, and fans who appreciate this stuff will enjoy hearing a couple unique tunes for a change.

The only flaw with this HMCD reissue is that it lacks the original 3D lenticular cover. That is a bummer. I simply kept my original cover (it is a separate piece you can take out) from a prior version of Monster which I later gifted to a friend.  In fact that friend reviewed the single disc Japanese Monster!

I must add another law to my Three Laws of Collecting:

The Zeroth Law*:  You shall always have some buyer’s regret.

It is true.  I had all these songs before.  The only one I didn’t have physically was the iTunes download “Right Here Right Now”.  But I “had” to have it.  I could question that.  “You could have put that money towards some new tires”.  The CD could have paid for a week of lunches at Harvey’s.    A fool and their money?

I’m fine with that.

$/5 stars

*I didn’t make that word up.  Isaac Asimov added the Zeroth Law of Robotics to his Three Laws in 1985.  

REVIEW: Poison – Poison’d! (2007 Walmart version with bonus track)

POISOND_0001POISON – Poison’d! (2007 Capitol)

Talk about defying expectations.  As a general rule, covers albums suck.  By extension of that, you would certainly predict that a cover album by Poison would absolutely suck.  After all, the band Poison haven’t made a decent studio album in well over 20 years.  2002’s Hollyweird was junk.  Maybe it’s the presence of legendary producer Don Was, but Poison somehow managed to make a good cover album!  I’m almost worried about losing credibility by saying this.  I did indeed get Poison’d by it.

I think Poison are at their best when playing upbeat but hard pop rock numbers.  “Little Willy” by the Sweet is a great example of that kind of song, and it’s right up Bret’s alley.  It’s obvious that he doesn’t have the voice he once had (which wasn’t much to start with) but when Bret’s at home with a particular style it always works better.  “Little Willy” is hella fun.

Here’s my Bowie confession — this guy here is not a fan.  Maybe it’s over-exposure.  I do like the hits, and of those “Suffragette City” is one I enjoy.  Once again, Poison are at home, putting their slant on Bowie and somehow making it work.  I don’t even mind C.C.’s over the top guitar slop — silly but that’s his style.  I’m sure Bowie diehards will absolutely hate this.

The classic Alice Cooper ballad “I Never Cry” is a great song, and Poison throw a little twang on it while keeping it pretty true to the original.  Dick Wagner had a knack for writing incredible songs, and “I Never Cry” is one of the best he’s ever written.  As for Bret, he’ll never be Alice Cooper but he’s not trying to be.  Too bad C.C. can’t seem to hit the notes he’s searching for on the solo!  If Poison had done this in 1988, they absolutely would have had a hit with it.

You wouldn’t expect a band like Poison to have too many Tom Petty records in their collection, but they do a great job glamming up “I Need to Know”.  They nailed it by doing it in their style, and as long as you’re not too attached to Tom Petty’s original then you’ll dig it.   On the other hand, I can picture Bret having a whole bunch of albums by the Marshall Tucker Band.  “Can’t You Say” has that laid back, southern gospel rock vibe that Bret has been trying to copy for 25 years.  Unsurprisingly, “Can’t You See” is better than most of Bret’s originals in the same style.  Guitar solo aside it’s actually pretty great!

One song I really don’t care for anymore is “What I Like About You” by the Romantics.  Hearing a decent cover though ain’t so bad.  Surprisingly, once again, Poison do a great version.  C.C.’s soloing doesn’t fit the track, but hey, that’s C.C. for you.  Bret’s enthusiasm carries the track, which is in Poison rock mode.  Then they slip by covering the Rolling Stones.  “Dead Flowers” isn’t a song I would be brave enough to do, and Poison should have erred on the side of caution and not tried it.  This is filler, but I love the Cars, so I had my hopes up for the next track “Just What I Needed”.  No need to fear — this one is in that hard pop rock mode that Poison do very well.  It reminds me of their own song “So Tell Me Why” in tone.   Count this one as an album highlight and personal favourite.

Some previously released tracks fill out the set.  A Poison covers album should include their first cover, “Rock ‘N Roll All Nite”.  This Kiss cover (produced by Rick fucking Rubin, no shit) was first released on the Less Than Zero soundtrack in 1987.  You can also hear it in the background at the start of their music video for “Nothin’ But a Good Time”.  I do not like it, but it’s nice to include.  The Who’s “Squeeze Box” was originally from the aforementioned Hollyweird CD, and it’s sadly (but not surprisingly) a stinker.  Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” is a demo from 1987, previously released on the remastered Look What the Cat Dragged On.  Not bad when you want a taste of that old-style Poison.

I think it’s kind of odd to put “Your Mama Don’t Dance” on this CD, since pretty much every Poison fan in the world already has that song.  But here’s the overrated Loggins and Messina cover for you one more time!  “We’re An American Band” was also previously released, on the Poison best of 20 Years of Rock.  (“Rock ‘N Roll All Nite” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance” are also on that CD.)  It’s a good tune on which to end the CD.

Except it’s not!  Walmart’s version of the CD had a bonus track, and it’s a baffling one.  I’m very proud to say that I have never heard the song “Sexy Back” by Justin Timberlake.  Having said that, I’m sure it’s better than Poison’s industrial-flavoured version.  A colonoscopy is better than this.  So essentially what Walmart have done is ended the album with a colonoscopy for you.  You’re welcome!

Missing: “Cover of the Rolling Stone” from the Crack A Smile album. Too bad, as that would have been better than getting “Your Mama Don’t Dance” yet again. Also missing (but not missed): “God Save the Queen” from the remastered Flesh & Blood.

Overall though?  Good CD.

4/5 stars

VIDEO BLOG: Japanese Import! KISS Monster!

Think of this one as a coda to Mike And Aaron Go To Toronto.

And if you missed the original video, it is below.