bonus tracks

Just Listening to…Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare

I was very enthusiastic for this album when it came out in 2011:  four copies purchased (to get all the bonus tracks) and a 5/5 star rating.  I can hear what I loved about it so much, even if the feelings are faded today.  That’s what makes these “Just Listening” writings interesting!

The original Nightmare is still a favourite and always will be.  Factors that appealed to me about the sequel album are the musical and lyrical callbacks.  These recurring cues unite both albums quite successfully despite the decades that passed.  Musical sequels can be a dicey affair (Mindcrime 2, anyone?) but Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin managed to do the near-impossible.

The standard album runs 52 minutes, and that’s just a tad long.  Although there are no obvious duds to cut, the original Nightmare was more effective because it was more concise.  (You want a longer experience?  Adding in all the bonus tracks more than doubles the album’s length!)  Regardless of the digital age that most of us inhabit, there is something to be said for the length of a standard LP.  It just happens to jive with the natural attention spans of the human mind.  The new Nightmare crams 14 tracks into that 52 minutes, and it plays out as a lot to absorb.  Especially after giving the album a rest for a few years.

Another way in which the second Nightmare is inferior to the first is the overall tone.  Nightmare 2 is far more humorous.  A couple tracks (“Ghouls Gone Wild” and “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever”) are there for the laughs.  That’s fine — Alice Cooper does humour in music better than 99% of those who try.  The original Nightmare had its fun, but the tone of the album was far darker, especially with songs like “Steven” and “Only Women Bleed”.  You’re going to have a preference one way or the other too.  I prefer the darker original Nightmare to the more comedic sequel.

These are all very fine hairs to split.  I still like the album, a lot.  I believe it to be Alice’s best from the last two decades.  There’s very little wrong with it.  I just don’t think it matches the first as much as I once did.

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REVIEW: Whitesnake – Flesh & Blood (2019 Japanese import)

WHITESNAKE – Flesh & Blood (2019 Cynjas Japanese import CD)

So you got the new Whitesnake.  Think you got all the songs just because you got the deluxe version on CD or iTunes?  Naw!  Think again!  Once again, it’s Japan with the hardest to find bonus tracks.

To be fair, it’s a give and take.  While Japan often gets their own exclusive songs, they also miss out on others.  In North America, we got a deluxe edition with “Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong”, “If I Can’t Have You”, and three remixes of album tracks.  The Japanese CD has none of those, but instead has its own exclusive remix.

The ballad “After All” is surely one of the highlights on Flesh & Blood.  As a simple, fairly unadorned acoustic love song, it’s right in the wheelhouse of more recent “unzipped” ‘Snake.  Well, the Japanese bonus remix is even more stripped down.  The “Unzipped” mix is the same recording, just with less stuff in the mix — no electric guitars, no keyboards.  An insignificant difference?  Absolutely.  But with an acoustic song this fucking good, you may enjoy the purity of the unembellished version.  Up to you really, but if you’re the kind of collector that needs “all the tracks”, then you do need this, don’t you?

“I don’t care about bonus tracks,” you say.  “Just tell me if the album is any good!”

Check out our track by track review for full details, but in short:  fuck yes!

Flesh & Blood is being described by enthusiastic fans as “the best album since Slip of the Tongue.  They are probably correct in that declaration.  It’s stunningly good:  diverse, well written and well played.  It draws from a broader palette of sound than many of the past albums, and even dips back into the 1970s on “Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong” (which isn’t on the Japanese CD).  There are no songs to skip through, and while not all are equally strong, none suck.  It has a high ratio of songs that could become future classics, like “Gonna Be Alright”, “Good To See You Again”, and “Sands of Time”.  So yes, to answer your questions, it’s a bloody good album no matter what version you can afford.

The domestic CD is the best buy for its songs-per-dollar value (18 tracks on the deluxe), over the Japanese (14 tracks).  Rating this purely as an album with its bonus track, it’s still a solid:

4.5/5 stars.  Could be the album of the year.

#756: Japanese Attack!

Anybody who has spent 10 seconds glancing at this site knows one thing:  I love Japanese imports!

Every music collector has his or her own priorities.  Today, many fans prioritise vinyl, be it original pressings, reissues or both.  Some like elaborate packaging; the bigger and bolder the better!  My needs are pretty simple.  I want all the songs, and I’ll buy however many physical editions it takes to get them all.  That means that, over the years, I have purchased hundreds of Japanese CDs.  They almost always have bonus tracks, and some of those bonus tracks never see the light of day again on any other releases.  Those are the best kind!

There are two great sources for Japanese imports.

  1. CD Japan, my main store for new releases.  I have Whitesnake incoming!
  2. Discogs.

It is Discogs that is responsible for today’s content.  If you’re a music collector unfamiliar with Discogs, you need to change that right away.

A few weeks ago, one of my favourite lesser known metal bands called Leatherwolf was celebrating the 30th anniversary of their third album, 1989’s Street Ready.  (Probably their best album, but that’s unimportant.)  Someone on social media was showing off their most prized Leatherwolf collectible:  A Japanese import CD of Street Ready, with a bonus track unreleased anywhere else!  Out of print for almost 30 years, that’s a rarity if I ever saw one.  Plus it has that feature that is like catnip to me:  an unreleased bonus track.  In this case, it was a track called “Alone in the Night”, and I wanted it.  It’s rare that I go 30 years without even knowing about a song.

After a few weeks of researching, I decided to pull the trigger.  A Discogs seller had a copy in excellent condition for about $50, which I realized was about the cheapest it gets in the condition I want.  Its only flaw was a missing obi strip (the little piece of paper along the spine) which you sometimes have to accept you’ll never get.  The main thing was that bonus track.  I was happy with the seller’s 100% rating so I put it in my cart.

That’s when Discogs showed its evil side.

A message popped up, telling me that just in case I wanted to combine shipping, this seller had 81 other items from my wishlist.

81 items.  All Japanese CDs.

Click.

I spent the next few minutes frantically adding items to my cart, deleting them, adding them again, and then finally deciding on dollar amount I was willing to splurge.  I even gave it another few days to clear my head before I clicked “buy”.  This is what I ended up with.


LEATHERWOLF – Street Ready.  Bonus track: “Alone in the Night”.

Now some lucky soul can be gifted my original US compact disc, because this is my new treasure.  I loved this album as a teenager, and I still like it today.  There is some well written metal here, and now I have 11 tracks instead of 10.  I still can’t believe I didn’t know about “Alone in the Night” all this time.  If I knew that back in 1989, this CD would have been on my holy grail list long ago.

EXTREME – “Hip Today” CD single.  Bonus track “Kid Ego” (live).

I screwed up.  I already had a UK single for “Hip Today”; one of those “part one of a two disc set sold separately” deals.  However, for whatever reason, I never ripped it to my computer. I never even played it!  When I did a quick search, I couldn’t find “Kid Ego” in my files so I assumed I needed it.  I do not, but that’s OK.  This CD was only $11 because the seller listed it with no obi strip.  Turns out the obi strip is tucked inside, so that’s a win.

TENACIOUS D – The Pick of Destiny.  Bonus tracks “Kong”, “Training Medley”.

Two extra songs to be found here.  This album had more bonus tracks elsewhere, on non-physical (download only) versions.  Now I have all the physical tracks, at least.  “Training Medley” was already in the collection on a CD single for “P.O.D.”, but “Kong” was completely unknown until now.  Even our resident Tenacious D expert, Uncle Meat, has never heard it before.  (For the record, the other two bonus tracks are “Rock Your Socks” from the iTunes pre-order, and “It’s Late” which you can download if you buy the vinyl.  Vinyl wishlisted.)  Tenacious D collectables are usually very expensive.  Their single “Jazz” (which I am missing) goes for roughly $100.  I paid $26 for The Pick of Destiny.

QUIET RIOT – Alive and Well.  Bonus track:  “The Wait”.

20 years ago, the classic Metal Health lineup of Quiet Riot reunited for a new album.  Alive and Well was a mix of new songs and re-recordings, but they could have just released a 10 song CD instead, had they included “The Wait”.  It’s puzzling how songs are chosen to be obscure bonus tracks on rare editions.  “The Wait” is a ballad, very much like old Quiet Riot, and a frickin’ great one too.  Had it been included, Alive and Well could have been a well balanced 10 song album, and “The Wait” might have been the best one.  At one point Amazon were asking $100 for this CD.  I was delighted to score it for just $22.  Perhaps it was cheap because it was listed as missing the obi strip.  It’s there and looks great!   Now my Quiet Riot collection is one song closer to being complete.

THE SWORD – Apocryphon.  Bonus tracks:  the same five from the deluxe edition, plus “Hammer of Heaven”.

This album has been frustrating for me.  There are two versions, one with 10 tracks and one with 15.  Because there’s no track listing on the back cover, I’ve never taken a chance on it.  I didn’t want to bring it home only to find it’s the 10 track version.  I’ve wanted this album ever since “Cloak of Feathers” made it to number 15 on the 2017 Sausagefest countdown.  The only thing better than a confirmed 15 track edition?  A CD with 16 tracks!  Japan received “Hammer of Heaven”, which was a standalone single in 2012.  It’s a boogie as heavy as plutonium!  This would be its only CD release!  Obi is intact, for just $25.  (I’m still going to want the single for “Hammer of Heaven” since it had a live B-side of “Ebethron” not included here.)


Not a bad little spending spree.  Most of these Japanese imports were pretty affordable.  It seems like I spent a lot of money for just a handful of songs, but such is the quest.

 

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – The Verdict (2019 “Masterpiece Edition”)

QUEENSRŸCHE – The Verdict (2019 Century Media 2 CD “Masterpiece Edition”)

The Todd La Torre era of Queensryche is now three albums deep. There’s no more mucking around. When drummer Scott Rockenfield went on personal leave, they didn’t let that stop them from writing and recording The Verdict. La Torre, a capable drummer in his own right, took on the challenge quite seamlessly.

So what’s the verdict on The Verdict?

The first Todd album (2013’s Queensrÿche) was safe and too brief.  The second (2015’s Condition Hüman) was a lot to digest.  The Verdict may have struck a better balance.  They’re still exploring their own brand of metal, bringing in a few new sounds without departing from their core direction.  They sound more comfortable in their own shoes.  Don’t expect a progression into new musical territory.  That’s not what The Verdict is.  It’s a full-force metal album with nuance, complexity, and plenty of guitar harmonies.  That’s what Queensryche do now.  The writing is sharpened, and the songs sound assembled with care.

The album requires a few listens to sink in.  The immediate standout here is a track called “Light-Years”, a song written by bassist Eddie Jackson who seems to come up with amazing songs out of the blue.  Regal, riff-laden metal with bravery and hooks.  This song should surely go down as a future Ryche classic.  (Jackson also wrote “Propaganda Fashion” and co-wrote a bunch of others.)  Another impressive song is the ballady “Dark Reverie” contributed by Parker Lundgren.  Todd really kicks it in the ass with his outstanding vocals.  The longest track “Bent” is dark and epic.  The only real weakness on this album is a lack of diversity, which they seem to be trying to avoid lest they end up with another Dedicated to Chaos.

The balance is clear.  The complexity of Condition Hüman is tempered by sharper hooks and melodies on The Verdict.  They’ve cranked out a lot of music over the last six years and they’re sounding more confident today.  Speaking of “a lot of music”, the consumer has choose between the standard single 10 track CD or the double “Masterpiece Edition” with rarities and new recordings.

For many fans, this will be their first chance to own the songs “46° North”, “Mercury Rising”, and “Espiritu Muerto”.  To get those, you had to buy the (previously reviewed) vinyl box set version of Condition Hüman.  Fans will also be thrilled by the four live songs from 2013’s Queensrÿche.  One of them, “Eyes of a Stranger”, could only be found on the (previously reviewed) Japanese version.  These, of course, all feature Scott Rockenfield on drums, his only appearances in this set.

The percussion on the two new recordings is handled by touring drummer Casey Grillo.  If he ends up a permanent member one day, nobody can say, but these are his very first recordings with Queensryche.  They are acoustic versions of “I Dream in Infrared” (from Rage for Order) and “Open Road” from (Queensrÿche).  Both are quite excellent.  It would be cool to get more of these acoustic renderings.  (Geoff Tate did four on his Queensryche’s Frequency Unknown album.)

The “Masterpiece Edition” (9000 copies) comes packed in a nice big box similar to the one from 2013’s Queensrÿche.  Additional goodies inside include an iron-on patch, a Verdict fridge magnet, and bottle opener.  Now your kitchen can finally be complete.  Just extra fluff, really — buy it for the songs.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman (2015 vinyl box set version)

As we gear up for this year’s release of the next Queensryche album The Verdict, let’s look back at a different edition of their last album Condition Hüman.  For our original 2015 review of Condition Hüman, click here!

QUEENSRŸCHE – Condition Hüman (2015 Century Media 2 LP, + 7″ single coloured vinyl box set)

It is almost customary now.  When a band comes out with a new album, there has to be a crazy deluxe edition with vinyl and CD.  The best of these editions are the ones that include exclusive music.  In the end, all the posters and booklets in the world add up to only paper.  Exclusive music is the thing of real value.

Queensryche did well with their Condition Hüman deluxe.  It was available in a variety of colours.  This one is yellow, number 659/1000.  There’s a cool turntable mat inside, and a double sided poster.  For music, the album is split onto two coloured 180 gram vinyl records, including the Japanese bonus track “Espiritu Muerto” on Side D.   (The D-side is also etched with the Queensryche logo in the empty space.)  For your convenience, the entire album including Japanese bonus track is duplicated on the CD inside.  Then for the diehards comes the true exclusive:  two more songs on a 7″ single, not on any other version of the album.  This is the real reward for spending the extra money on the deluxe.

“Espiritu Muerto” chugs heavily along, punishing the skulls of unbelievers.   On the 7″ record, the two exclusive songs are fairly non-descript. “46° North” is B-side-ish, like a leftover written for Empire but dropped in favour of something more commercial.  “Mercury Rising” is on the other side, with a vaguely psychedelic metal vibe and science fiction lyrics.

Condition Hüman itself is a strong metallic album, though with hindsight perhaps too “metal” for its own good.  There was a time, not so long ago, when fans would have begged and pleaded with Queensryche to write just one new song in the vein of Condition Hüman.  Now that we have two albums solidly back in the metal genre, it would be nice to hear real diversity in Queensryche again.

That said, Condition Hüman is a damn fine album for what it is.  The Queensryche of today, fronted by Todd La Torre, has been determined to retain trademark elements from Queensryche’s 80s heyday.  That includes strong riffs, dual harmony solos, and screamin’ vocals.  These are all delivered with gravy on top.

The vinyl experience of Condition Hüman is actually superior to that of CD.  It was always a long album, with the standard edition being 53 minutes of pretty relentless stomping.  On vinyl, you’re forced to pause and flip the record three times before even getting to the single.  These brief respites allow you to breath and absorb.  What I’ve absorbed is that Condition Hüman is still a damn fine collection of songs, if a bit too single-minded.  One gets the impression from this album that, though good, Queensryche can still do better.

4/5 stars

LP-A1 Arrow Of Time
LP-A2 Guardian
LP-A3 Hellfire
LP-A4 Toxic Remedy

LP-B1 Selfish Lives
LP-B2 Eye 9
LP-B3 Bulletproof
LP-B4 Hourglass

LP-C1 Just Us
LP-C2 All There Was
LP-C3 The Aftermath
LP-C4 Condition Hüman

LP-D1 Espiritu Muerto

7″-A 46° North
7″-B Mercury Rising

REVIEW: Queen – The Game (1980, all bonus tracks)

QUEEN – The Game (Originally 1980, 1991 & 2011 Hollywood recorded reissues)

When Queen released their devastating debut album Queen in 1973, the liner notes proudly stated “And nobody played synthesizer”.  A mere seven years later, Queen introduced the electronic instrument to their sound on 1980’s The Game. This did not in any way hinder the album from becoming a massive success, nor weaken the Queen sound.  The synth was just another colour in the Queen pallette.  It would be fair to argue that The Game contains no clunkers, no songs that should have been discarded.

All you have to do is fall in love.  Everybody play The Game.

The Game eventually spawned five brilliant singles:  “Play the Game”, “Another One Bites the Dust”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Need Your Loving Tonight” and the grandiose “Save Me”.  Anybody who has some decent Queen “hits” albums should know at least four of those songs.  But that’s not all, of course.  Funky bass and sharp danceable beats make “Dragon Attack” one not to miss.  The production of Mack and bass of the incredible and underrated John Deacon really cut through.  Rock albums that sound as good as The Game do not come around often, and “Dragon Attack” must be considered a prime example of why The Game is tops.    On album, it’s followed by Queen’s best known funk jam “Another One Bites the Dust”.  Dancefloor overload, baby!

Speaking of John Deacon, not only did he write “Another One Bites the Dust”, but also “Need Your Loving Tonight” which is good and hard rock and roll.  It could have been a Paul Stanley track.  As far as “rock and roll” goes, “Crazy Little Thing Called Long” is definitive.  The walking bassline and black leather jacket vibe are perfect.

The Game‘s second side has the deep tracks.  “Rock It (Prime Jive)” combines the synths with a scorching Roger Taylor hard rocker.  This cut is well worth getting acquainted with.  You’ll want some “Prime Jive”!  Then there’s the track I vaguely remember hearing on a radio as a kid, “Don’t Try Suicide”.  Good advice, and a strange and snappy little bopper to singalong to.  “Don’t try suicide, you’re just going to hate it,” was the line I found strangely amusing as a child.  “Isn’t that obvious?” a nine or ten year old me wondered.

Then there’s a song I first became acquainted with via Guns N’ Roses.  Axl, an unabashed Queen fan, used to do a bit of “Sail Away Sweet Sister” on piano in concert.  In my mind, it doesn’t matter how you first heard a song, as long as you eventually hear it.  The Queen original is a somber ballad sung by Brian May and featuring stunningly beautiful guitar work.  Another winning combo that sounds a bit Kiss-like is the rhythmic “Coming Soon”.   Don’t be surprised that Taylor penned it.

That is a tight ten songs, half of which were singles.  A damn perfect album.  Of course today there are expanded experiences to choose from.

When this album was reissued in 1991 by Hollywood records for their Queen “Twenty-Year Reign” series, they added a remix of “Dragon Attack”, now deleted.  Adding unnecessary loops, samples and raps brings nothing to the song.  Only collectors need seek this out.   Instead, you should search for the 2011 double CD remastered edition.  This one adds five bonus tracks.  “Save Me” and “Dragon Attack” are live, and the liner notes state that “Save Me” from 1981 could be the “ultimate” rendition of that song.  (It certainly is impressive.)  Then there is a first take of “Sail Away Sweet Sister” before all the words were in place.  The most fascinating demo is a spontaneous recording of what would later become “It’s a Beautiful Day”, finished for 1995’s Made in Heaven, the final Queen album.  History buffs will be delighted to discover a B-side written by Roger Taylor called “A Human Body”.  This unusual song is about the doomed Scott expedition to the South Pole in 1912.

They were talking in whispers,
In bear skins and fur,
Captain Scott and his heroes-to-be,
To have laboured so long,
To have made it this far,
Ooh it’s been such a long ride,
Ooh you know it’s been a long way,
For a human…human…human,
For a human body you see.

Indeed, Robert Falcon Scott was considered a hero of the British Empire, though he was beaten to the pole by Roald Amundsen of Norway and died on the way home.  Scott’s story is a tragedy of human error, ego, Imperialism, and the sheer deadly ability of the south pole to render a man lifeless in minutes.  Taylor’s quirky track does not convey this, and so it remains an odd curiosity.

However you get The Game, you will be delighted by the core 10 tracks.  The 2011 bonus CD is highly recommended.  All hail John Deacon, the boss of the bass.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman (2015 Japanese edition)

NEW RELEASE

QUEENSRŸCHE – Condition Hüman (2015 Century Media Japanese edition)

As if it was not abundantly clear on their last album (2013’s self-titled), Queensryche seem to have no intentions of abandoning their heavy metal roots again.  Furthermore when you have a significant lineup change, such as a new lead singer, you can’t just stand still.  You have to keep progressing forward.  The ‘Ryche used their last album to re-ground their sound, but for a followup you need more than that.  Condition Hüman pushes the boundaries out once more, but not without keeping the metal intact.

Indeed, “Arrow of Time” sounds as if the quintet had been ingesting nothing but classic Iron Maiden for breakfast.  Swift and viscous, “Arrow of Time” gets the job done in the requisite four minutes but not without exploring the exotic side of metal riffing.  Imagine an alternate reality where Queensryche did not go in the highly technological direction of 1986’s Rage for Order album.  Envision instead a timeline in which they followed The Warning (1984) with an album that continued to progress, but also go heavier at the same time.  That album would have been Condition Hüman.  “Hellfire” demonstrates this as well; the song would have fit on a heavier version of Rage.

“Guardian” demonstrates this even more clearly.  With the vintage-style screams and vocalizations (Todd La Torre for MVP), metal riffing, but also Mindcrime-like progressive rock, Queensryche have hit upon a satisfying balance.  Songwriting credits are various combinations of all five band members; all but “Eye 9”, written solely by bassist Eddie Jackson (a first, I think).  The album has a cohesive sound, like five guys all pulling in the same direction.  The production, by Zeuss, is punchy.   Queensryche have always employed elements such as sound effects and programming, and Condition Hüman has these fixtures as well.  

Moving on, “Toxic Remedy” is Mindcrime-like, but denser and massive sounding.  Pay attention to the way Todd La Torre layers his vocals on “Toxic Remedy”.  He has arranged the vocals in his own way; this is not a carbon copy of something else.  “Selfish Lives” is the same.  Yes, there are hooks and melodies that sound very Queensryche, but Todd is showing off his own personality more than before.   And he’s not taking the easy way out on any of it!  Sounds like he is really pushing his own limits, especially on “Selfish Lives”.  It’s quite remarkable how lucky Queensryche were to find a compatible guy like Todd, who is also able to stretch it out.

Another album highlight is the rhythmic “Eye 9”, the aforementioned Jackson composition.  This Queensryche-meets-Queens of the Stone Age track blows the doors wide open in terms of direction by putting the rhythm first.  It sounds like Queensryche, yet nothing like any prior Queensryche, simultaneously.  “Bulletproof” puts a new slant on the Queensryche power ballad, keeping the emphasis on the power.   La Torre makes it his own — listen to the last note he sings.  Sends chills up the spine.  Speaking of chills, crossing the acoustics with the heavy chunky riffing on “The Hourglass” did exactly that.  There are Pink Floyd influences coming up to breathe from time to time on Condition Hüman. This is most obvious on “Just Us”, which is also very much like the slightly psychedelic acoustic side of Led Zeppelin. Queensryche have never done anything like “Just Us” before.  “Silent Lucidity” this is not.  The soulful singing at the close of the song is also unlike anything on a prior Queensryche song.

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For fans of the technical, fast side of Queensryche, “All There Was” will scratch that itch.  With that pulsing technological rhythm and “Needle Lies” tempo, you are in for a ride.  Don’t forget the blazing guitar histrionics.  The final album track is “Condition Hüman” itself, 7:48 of dramatic progressive metallic rock.  Check out the “Astronomy Domine” section after the fifth minute, just before it goes into that deliberate Mindcrime riff.  If I had to pigeonhole the sound of this album, it would be “progressive metallic rock”, but pigeonholes are lazy.  Still, as Commander Pavel Chekov once said, “If shoe fits…”

Holding out for the Japanese edition of the album, the bonus track “Espiritu Muerto” is the bonus track worth waiting for.  Going sludgy for 3:40, but topped with a soaring chorus, the bonus track is in the mold of the album but different just the same.  It’s a long album though, and adding more material (even if good) can sometimes push a CD just a bit too far in terms of attention span.  “Espiritu Muerto” is close to this line, but because it has enough personality of its own, it’s worth staying around for.

If any of these songs sound intriguing to you, check out Condition Hüman.  Fans who wonder where Queensryche could have gone had they adhered to heavier roads will find much to enjoy.  They have never taken the easy way with any of their albums, but it is hard to imagine a fan of early ‘Ryche who won’t find something here to love.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Scorpions – Face the Heat (Japanese and Canadian versions)

Part 2 of 2 — for yesterday’s instalment, click here.  For Aaron’s review of the domestic CD, click here!

FACE THE HEAT_0002SCORPIONS – Face the Heat (1993 Polygram, Japanese and Canadian versions)

1990’s Crazy World was a huge hit, but before Keith Olsen produced it, Scorpions had approached Canada’s Bruce Fairbairn.  Pleased with his work on their Who cover “I Can’t Explain”, Scorpions prepared to convene in Vancouver with the producer.  They were disappointed when Bruce changed his mind at the last minute when forced to choose between the new Scorpions and AC/DC projects.  Fairbairn chose AC/DC, and the result was the five times platinum (US) Razors Edge album.

Since Crazy World ended up selling two million in the US and another five million worldwide, I’m sure there were no hard feelings between the two parties when they finally did hook up together on the followup album, Face the Heat.  Personally speaking I felt Crazy World wasn’t heavy enough.  I was hoping for more in Face the Heat.  Additionally, this album was the Scorpions’ first since 1972 without bassist Francis Buchholz.  Replacing him was five-stringer Ralph Rieckermann who ended up spending almost a decade with the Scorpions.  Rieckermann was a very different player and added new elements such as slapped bass.

The first single “Alien Nation” showed promise.  A menacing, metallic riff ushered in a tune with some slamming drums (thank you Herman Rarebell), and that ultra-low fifth string on the bass guitar. I preferred “Alien Nation” to just about any song on Crazy World. The year was 1993 and a heavy groove was exactly what the doctor ordered.

“No Pain No Gain” exhibits the Scorpions’ knack for naff song titles. Thankfully it too is a grinding metal groove, showing off Matthias Jabs’ talkbox skills on the guitar. With the Scorpions post-Schenker and post-Roth, you have to expect a certain amount of boneheaded metal. I think these guys genuinely love givin’ er on that trademark, simple sound. I believe they like playing this kind of thing with earnest, so good on them.

Three songs in and “Someone to Touch” is another great little Scorpions rocker. This speedy one won’t tax your brain cells in the lyrical department, but you will find yourself singing along to the chorus without realizing it. The chorus bears the stamp of Fairbairn with its answering lines. After this much firepower, I don’t mind a ballad and “Under the Same Sun” (perhaps a sequel to the worldwide hit “Wind of Change”) is a good one. Besides, Scorpions follow it by firing off another rocker called “Unholy Alliance”, another knockout with a great chorus. This helps lessen the impact of the next ballad, “Woman”. “Woman” is very different from “Under the Same Sun”, being dark and mournful. Another success.

Unfortunately, Face the Heat stalls in a major way on side two. A number of boring songs in a row (“Hate To Be Nice”, “Taxman Woman”, “Ship of Fools”, “Nightmare Avenue” boast only a few surprises and memorable moments. Jabs sports a nice fatbody jazz guitar solo on “Hate To Be Nice”, a trick that Fairbairn later encouraged Eddie Van Halen to use on his band’s next album, Balance. Unfortunately, a cool unique solo like this is within the same song as these lyrics:

“Hey baby, listen up,
I’m not in love with you,
You keep runnin’ off at the mouth,
And someone else can scratch my back,
And I could care less about your legs,
I just wanna see ’em walk all over me!”

The last listed track on the domestic CD is the ballad “Lonely Nights”, another really good ballad. Who cares that they just copied the way they ended Crazy World, with a slow dark ballad like “Send Me An Angel”?  All well and good says I, but as I mentioned in yesterday’s instalment of Getting More Tale, the US and Canadian versions of the album have a hidden bonus track!  Way back in ’89, the Scorps and Fairbairn discussed recording an Elvis cover.  Tucked away unlisted after “Lonely Nights” is Elvis Presley’s “His Latest Flame”.  It is a pleasant surprise!  The trombone and trumpets are the perfect added touch.  I’m sure Scorpions grew up listening to a lot of Elvis Presley records, and this version is faultless.  It’s gleeful and authentic sounding despite the fact that it’s the Scorpions!

FACE THE HEAT_0003Neither of the two bonus tracks on the Japanese version of the CD are as good as “His Latest Flame”.  Both are ballads:  “Kami O Shin Jiru”, and “Daddy’s Girl”.  They are inconsequential to casual Scorpions fans who don’t obsessively collect all their songs.  Additionally, they are disappointing to Scorpions collectors who buy these things hoping the extra tracks will be better.  I dig Rieckermann’s fretless bass on “Kami O Shin Jiru”, but these songs only serve to end Face the Heat on an excessively mellow note.  “Daddy’s Girl” is particularly depressing; I don’t want to listen to songs about child abuse — I already know it’s bad!  Scorpions tackle the subject in their usual subtle-as-a-brick fashion.

If only the second half of Face the Heat was as strong as the first.

3/5 stars

#397: Face the Heat (Mail From Sydenham)

Part 1 of 2 — First the tale, tomorrow the review!  This tale itself is a direct sequel to Aaron’s story “Mail From Jedi Master LeBrain”.

PARCEL FACE THE HEAT

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#397: Face the Heat (Mail From Sydenham)

I collect Japanese imports, especially when there are bonus tracks afoot. A year ago, I found a Japanese copy of Scorpions’ Face the Heat CD with two such bonus tracks. I bought it from one of my favourite vendors, at the Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale. It was $15 and complete with obi strip. A steal. (Who says Japanese imports are very expensive anyway?)

TOP OF THE BILLBecause I try to avoid redundant copies in my collection, I donated my original CD of Face the Heat to Aaron. He reviewed it and called it “a collection of strong songs that gets better as it goes along”. I played my Japanese copy, and filed it away without giving the album much thought until recently. Martin Popoff’s excellent Scorpions tome, Top of the Bill, reminded me of an Elvis cover that Scorpions did as a hidden bonus track.

The Scorpions almost recorded “His Latest Flame” back in 1989 for their hits compilation, Best of Rockers ‘n’ Ballads. It was between Elvis and The Who’s “I Can’t Explain”. “I Can’t Explain” won out, but the Scorps gave it another go in 1993 for Face the Heat. (Incidentally both tracks were produced by the late Bruce Fairbairn.)

“His Latest Flame” was one of the first “hidden bonus tracks” in my collection. It’s very unlike anything the Scorpions had done before, but they did a damn fine job of it in my opinion. I love the horn parts. I’m sure that was Fairbairn’s doing, a trumpet player. It was buried unlisted after the end of “Lonely Nights”, the final song on the CD, as part of the same track. When I read Popoff’s book, I realized, “When I gave Aaron my original CD, I didn’t check if the Japanese CD retained that bonus track…”

Indeed, “LeBrain” the Bonehead did fail to check if “His Latest Flame” was on the Japanese CD, and it is not. It’s very rare to find a domestic CD that has a bonus track not included on a Japanese version, but it does happen, and it did happen on Face the Heat!

Gratefully, when “LeBrain” the Bonehead asked if he could have the disc back, Aaron immediately said “no problem”! He knows the kind of collector I am. He sent it back to me as a part of a recent parcel exchange that we enjoy doing from time to time!

I do appreciate that he was willing to send this “gifted” CD back. It just goes to show how two collectors understand one another! As for Face the Heat, look for my review of both CDs right here tomorrow!

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Dio Years (2007)

BLACK SABBATH – The Dio Years (2007 Rhino)

Compilations are always fun to quibble about. Fans like to complain about which songs are missing, and which songs they’d replace. I won’t spend too much time talking about that. Most reviewers have already pointed out that “Sign Of The Southern Cross” and “Time Machine” are missing from the 2007 Dio-era Black Sabbath compilation, The Dio Years.

It’s very important to remember two things. One, this album contained the first new Black Sabbath music released in nine years. Nine years! This is a band that used to release an album every year, up until the point that Ozzy Osbourne rejoined the band. Since then (and before the new album 13), the band released exactly two new songs (both with the Ozzman singing) and started to stagnate. Since The Dio Years represented the first new Sabbath material in almost a decade, it bears a listen.

The second point of note: this set was originally supposed to be a 2-CD boxed set. As such I’m sure a lot of songs were dropped along the way, Yes, “Southern Cross” is missing. However, this reviewer’s only real quibble is “Southern Cross”. I mean, hey — “Lonely is the Word” is on here!  I would have replaced “Lady Evil” with “Southern Cross” myself (I never liked “Lady Evil” much), but perhaps the fine folks at Rhino felt that one 7+ minute epic was enough for a single disc. I can understand that logic. Besides, I, like every Sabbath fan worth his or her own salt, already own Mob Rules.

SABBATH DIO YEARS_0006

This disc was freshly remastered. I should point out that this remastering session was not the same one that produced the series of Sabbath Castle remasters in the late 90’s, but one that occurred in 2006/7. As such the sound is even heavier (louder). I found that I had to roll down the bass a bit, as my normal settings made the bass just too heavy. This was also the first time that the material from Dehumanizer (15 years young!) had been remastered.  The running order is a little weird, though.  “Heaven and Hell” as the third song on an album?  A live “Children of the Sea” following “I”?  The flow is lacking in cohesion.

The liner notes are excellent, very detailed, with lots of facts that casual Sabbath fans didn’t know (like the fact that Craig Gruber from Rainbow, and Sabbath keyboard man Geoff Nicholls were brought in to play some bass when Geezer briefly left the band in 1980). There are a bunch of cool pictures and artwork as well, which fit in nicely with the Sabbath vibe.

Every Dio-era album get a look-in, even the controversial Live Evil via a great version of “Children Of The Sea”, almost as memorable as its studio counterpart. No rarities. What you get instead are the aforementioned three new songs. That’s one more than Ozzy gave you on the Sabbath Reunion CD, by the way!

When Dio was with Sabbath he tended to talk about his songs in terms of tempo. As such, you get one “fast one” (“Ear In The Wall”), one “slow one” (“Shadow Of The Wind”) and one mid-tempo song (the single “The Devil Cried”). I almost always prefer the fast Sabbath stuff, so obviously “Ear In The Wall” is my favourite. Sound-wise, these three new songs pick up where Dehumanizer left off, and foreshadow The Devil You Know.

Geezer, unfortunately, was not involved in the writing.  Iommi and Dio also did the production themselves. This might have something to do with the fact that I can’t hear nearly enough of Geezer’s trademark slinky bass lines–something I identify with the Sabbath sound more than any singer they’ve ever had. Iommi’s playing some good riffs and some scorching solos here, although I have found his guitar tone over the last decade to be too modern and distorted. I much prefer it when he gets a nice amp-driven sound rather than something so processed. However, bottom line is, these three new songs are good, albeit not essential, parts of the Sabbath catalogue.

Thankfully these three new songs were not the last gasp of Black Sabbath. Before his untimely death, Ronnie James Dio recorded The Devil You Know, under the name Heaven & Hell. And of course after that, the original Black Sabbath finally delivered the unforgettable 13.

As for The Dio Years?

4/5 stars