box sets

REVIEW: Rush – A Farewell to Kings (2017 super deluxe edition)

RUSH – A Farewell to Kings (2017 Anthem 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition, originally 1977)

And the men who hold high places,
Must be the ones who start,
To mold a new reality,
Closer to the heart,
Closer to the heart.

Today’s rock fans have a new reality of their own:  a market flood of “anniversary” or “deluxe” reissues far and wide.  The floodwaters are murkier when multiple editions of the same reissue are available, or when reissues are deleted in favour of new reissues!

2017 represents 40 years of Rush’s fine sixth album A Farewell to Kings.  An anniversary edition was guaranteed, but choose wisely.  For those who need the brilliant new 5.1 mix by Steven Wilson, you will have to save up for the 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition.  Only that massive box set contains the Blu-ray disc with Wilson’s mix.

To frustrate fans even further, A Farewell to Kings had a 5.1 reissue back in 2011, as part of the Sector 2 box set.  That 5.1 mix (by Andy VanDette) has received heavy scrutiny from audiophiles.  Steven Wilson, however, is well known for his work in the 5.1 field, and his work on the 40th anniversary mix lives up to his reputation.  His crisp mix is deep but unobtrusive.  It is occasionally surprising but always stunning, and over seemingly way too soon.  The separation of instruments is done with care, and without robbing the music of its power.  Rush albums were fairly sparse back then but Wilson managed to make a full-sounding mix out of it.

Powerful is A Farewell to Kings indeed.  Though the title track opens with gentle classical picking, before long you’re in the craggy peaks of Mount Lifeson, with heavy shards of guitar coming down.  Young Geddy’s range and vibrato are remarkable, though for some this is the peak of Geddy’s “nails on a chalkboard” period.

11 minutes of “Xanadu” follows the trail of Kublai Khan.  “For I have dined on honeydew, and drunk the milk of paradise!”  Neil Peart’s lyrics rarely go down typical roads, and “Xanadu” surely must be listed with Rush’s most cherished epics.  Volume swells of guitar soon break into new sections unfolding as the minutes tick by.

“Closer to the Heart” is the most commercial track, never dull, never getting old, never ceasing to amaze.  “Woah-oh!  You can be the captain and I will draw the chart!”  Poetry in motion.  “Closer to the Heart” may be the most timeless of all Rush songs.

“Cinderella Man” and “Madrigal” live in the shadow of “Closer to the Heart”, always there but not always remembered.  (Ironically enough, both these tracks were covered by other artists in the bonus tracks.)  “Madrigal” acts as a calm before the storm:  a cosmic tempest called “Cygnus X-1”.  Another great space epic by Rush cannot be quantified in language.  As it swirls around (even better in 5.1), you’re transported across the universe by the black hole Cygnus X-1.  Peart hammers away as Lifeson and Geddy riff you senseless.


The blacksmith and the artist,
Reflect it in their art,
They forge their creativity,
Closer to the heart,
Yes closer to the heart.

Next, Rush forged their creativity on the road.  They recorded their London show on February 20, 1978 at the Hammersmith Odeon.  Previously, 11 songs from this show were released as a bonus CD on the live Rush album Different Stages.  This newly mixed version adds intro music, the missing three songs and the drum solo.  (The missing songs were “Lakeside Park”, “Closer to the Heart”, and all 20 minutes of “2112”.)  Because this set has all the songs in the correct order, the old Different Stages version is obsolete.

Opening with “Bastille Day”, the London crowd is into the show from the start.  They cheer for the familiar “Lakeside Park”, which is followed by “By-Tor & the Snow Dog”.  This early Rush material is as squealy as Geddy has ever sounded.  He’s pretty shrill but Rush are tight.  It gets more adventurous when “Xanadu” begins, and from there into “A Farewell to Kings”.  Hearing Rush do all this live helps drive home just how talented they are.  The powerful set rarely lets up, as it relentlessly works its way through early Rush cornerstones.  “Working Man”, “Fly By Night” and “In the Mood” are played in quick succession, but is “2112” that is the real treasure here.  Anthems of the heart and anthems of the mind; classics all.


Philosophers and plowmen,
Each must know his part,
To sow a new mentality,
Closer to the heart,
Yes, closer to the heart.

What about bonus tracks?  You got ’em.  As they did for 2112, Rush invited guests to contribute bonus covers, and each does their part.  Headlining these are progressive metal heroes Dream Theater with their own version of “Xanadu”.  Dream Theater really don’t do anything small, so why not an 11 minute cover?  Mike Mangini is one of the few drummers who could do justice to such a song — well done!  Big Wreck do a surprisingly decent take on “Closer to the Heart”.  Not “surprisingly” because of Big Wreck, but “surprisingly” because you don’t associate Big Wreck with a sound like that.  Ian Thornley ads a little banjo and heavy guitars to “Wreck” it up a bit.  His guitar solo is shredder’s heaven.  The Trews’ take on “Cinderella Man” is pretty authentic.  Did you know singer Colin MacDonald could hit those high notes?  He does!  Alain Johannes goes last with “Madrigal”, rendering it as a somber tribute to the kings.

The last of the bonus tracks is a snippet of sound called “Cygnus X-2 Eh”.  This is an extended and isolated track of the ambient space sounds in “Cygnus X-1”.  Steven Wilson speculated it might have been intended for a longer version of the song.


Whoa-oh!
You can be the captain,
And I will draw the chart,
Sailing into destiny,
Closer to the heart.

Box sets like this always come with bonus goodies.  The three CDs are packaged in a standard digipack with extensive liner notes and photos.  Four 180 gram LPs are housed in an upsized version of this, with the same booklet in massive 12″ x 12″ glory.  The LP package alone is 3/4″ thick!

A reproduction of the 1977 tour program is here in full glossy glory.  This contains an essay called “A Condensed Rush Primer” by Neil.  Additionally, all three members have their own autobiographical essay and equipment breakdown.  Alex Lifeson’s is, not surprisingly, pretty funny.  Things like this make a tour program more valuable and as a bonus, this is a great addition to a box set.  Digging further, there are two prints of Hugh Syme pencil sketches.  These works in progress are interesting but it’s unlikely you’ll look at them often.  The turntable mat is also just a novelty.  Perhaps the goofiest inclusion is a little black bag containing a necklace with a Rush “king’s ring” attached to it.  Wear it to work next casual Friday!


Whatever edition of A Farewell to Kings you decide to own (the most logical is the simple 3 CD anniversary set), you can rest assured you are buying one of the finest early Rush albums.  If you have the wherewithall to own the super deluxe with 5.1 Steven Wilson mix, then let the photo gallery below tempt you.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Life and Crimes of (1999 box set)

ALICE COOPER – The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper (1999 Rhino 4 CD set)

With the benefit of hindsight, 1999 was way too early for Alice Cooper to be looking back with a comprehensive box set.  His new album Paranormal will be out this month.  He’s been consistently touring and recording.  The picture was different in 1999 though, since Alice had been quietly under the radar for much of the decade and there was no sign of new music coming.

This Rhino box set is pretty comprehensive.  Though there are plenty more rarities out there to get on singles and elsewhere, Rhino served up a very generous selection of them.  Starting in 1966 with singles by The Spiders and The Nazz, Alice’s sound begins to evolve.  Those early bands were 4/5 of the original Alice Cooper group:  only drummer Neal Smith had yet to join.  The early singles are unfocused compared to what Alice was going to do in a couple years.  “Don’t Blow Your Mind” and “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye” (sometimes known as “I’ve Written Home to Mother”) are sloppy psychedelia.  “Hitch Hike” is like rockabilly.  “Why Don’t You Love Me” is late 60s style rock and roll with a nice harmonica part.  It sounds influenced by the Beatles.

A demo version of “Nobody Likes Me” is the first “official” Alice Cooper Group track and it sees the sound veer closer to where they were headed.  It has a sing-song melody that recalls “School’s Out” later on.  A few tracks from Alice’s first two albums (Pretties For You and Easy Action) demonstrate a work in progress.  “Reflected” is an early version of something that would be re-written as “Elected”.  The band was still very psychedelic and not as tight as they would become.

There is a sudden shift, and Alice Cooper emerges as the classic artist we know and love when he hooked up with producer extraordinaire Bob Ezrin.  “Caught in a Dream” (a single edit) and a number of essential tracks from Love It to Death kick the box set right in the ass and it suddenly becomes a very engaging listen, when before it was just…interesting.  A quintet of songs from the next album Killer are just as special, though including “Halo of Flies” would have been appropriate too.

Before heading into the School’s Out material there is a rare demo entitled “Call it Evil”.  A small portion of the music would make it into the the classic West Side Story tribute “Gutter Cat vs. the Jets” (also included), but this is its own song and otherwise unreleased.  The single version of “School’s Out”  is an obvious inclusion, but these two are the only tracks from School’s Out, a baffling set of omissions.  Granted, “School’s Out” plays like a concept album and is tricky to split up for a box set, but it is under-represented here, period.

Billion Dollar Babies is considered a peak of this period, and gets five tracks of its own, all brilliant.  “Elected” is the single version.  “No More Mr. Nice Guy” is a highlight of Alice’s entire career and it still sounds fresh.  Another rarity ensues which is “Slick Black Limousine”, a UK exclusive flexi-disc release.  It sounds more like early Alice Cooper group material, with Alice doing his best Elvis.  The end of the original group was nigh, unfortunately, and Alice’s next album Muscle of Love was noticeably lacking something.  Maybe it’s because Bob Ezrin didn’t produce it, but the band was also on the verge of splitting.  Addictions were hurting them.  They were still making great rock and roll, just not…as great.  “Respect for the Sleepers” is a demo version of “Muscle of Love”, an unreleased track with lyrics inspired by Alice’s “dead drunk friends” (Jimi, Janis, Jim).  There are more songs from Muscle of Love included than there were for School’s Out, which is odd but alright.

At this point, Alice split from the original band.  Then there are a pair of rarities featuring Alice from an obscure rock opera called Flash Fearless Vs. the Zorg Women, Pts. 5 & 6.  Before Queen, there was this Flash Gordon album and Alice’s tracks feature players like John Entwistle, Kenney Jones, Nicky Hopkins, Bill Bruford and Keith Moon as “Long John Silver”.  “I’m Flash” and “Space Pirates” are mere curiosities, but it’s stuff like this that makes buying a box set so much more worth it.  Where else would you hear these tracks?  Both feature Alice’s delicious trademark sneer.

Alice’s solo career really began with 1975’s Welcome to My Nightmare.  He and Bob Ezrin went all-in with an elaborate horror rock concept album featuring a number of classics.  “Welcome to My Nightmare” and “Only Women Bleed” are single versions, and it’s fantastic that the blazing “Escape” was included.  Another concept album, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, was not as strong.  Only two tracks are included, but both were singles.  “Go to Hell” is a must-have.

The third CD in this box set commences a murky period.  Alice was making albums frequently, but they weren’t as well received and many dwell in obscurity.  Lace and Whiskey was pretty good, and “It’s Hot Tonight” is a great track to start the disc.  Meanwhile, original band members Michael Bruce, Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway formed the Billion Dollar Babies.  They made one album called Battle Axe, and their cool rock track “I Miss You” is included.  That’s a nice touch, because for the first seven albums those guys were as important as Vincent Furnier (aka Alice Cooper).  Michael Bruce sings, but lead guitarist Glen Buxton was more or less incapacitated by addiction and wasn’t invited.  “Battle Axe” sounds like a natural continuation of the Muscle of Love sound.  A bunch more rarities are incoming:  a torch ballad called “No Time for Tears” (unreleased) and “Because”, the Beatles cover featuring the Bee Gees.  This was from that pretty mediocre Sgt. Peppers tribute album from 1978, so it’s great to be able to get it in a box set.  Alice’s interpretation is creepy, and the Bee Gees are immaculate.

Moving on to his next solo album, Alice changed direction on From the Inside.  He had just gotten out of rehab (an actual mental hospital) and made a concept album with David Foster and Bernie Taupin about the experience.  The title track is included as a single version, and you also get the beautifully campy ballad “How You Gonna See Me Now”.  It was a single too, and its B-side “No Tricks” is also included.  It is a duet with soul singer Betty Wright.  Disc three is generous in rarities.  Another one called “Road Rats” (produced by Todd Rundgren) is a decent rocker from a movie called Roadies.

Alice moved into the 1980s on Flush the Fashion which employed some new wave and punk influences.  Its two best songs, “Clones (We’re All)” and “Pain” are included.  1981 brought Special Forces and more rarities.  “Who Do You Think We Are” is a single version, and “Look at You Over There, Ripping the Sawdust from My Teddy Bear” is a synthy unreleased song pulled last minute from the album.  Then there is “For Britain Only”, the stripped-back rocker from the EP of the same name.  “I Am the Future” is a single version originally from 1982’s Zipper Catches Skin.  Completing this era (sometimes called Alice’s “blackout period”) are a pair of tracks from DaDa (1983).  Alice had moved as far as he would go into the high-tech synthesizer direction, and he soon cleaned up for good.  A couple odds and ends tidy up the tracks from this era.  “Identity Crisises” and “See Me in the Mirror” are previously unreleased songs from the Monster Dog movie (1984) which starred Alice.  These are very low-fi tracks, but “Identity Crisises” is actually pretty cool.

The final track on the third disc is the first one from Alice’s big comeback period.  “Hard Rock Summer” is a fun heavy metal rocker from the Jason Lives soundtrack.  It’s cheesy but also previously unavailable.  The fourth and final CD picks up there, with two more rarities from the same movie.  “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” is included in demo and movie mix versions.  Onto 1986’s Constrictor LP, you get the enjoyable “Teenage Frankenstein”.  By 1987 Alice was telling us to Raise Your Fist and Yell on “Freedom”.  The excellent “Prince of Darkness” is also from that album, but then there are two more rarities.  Alice cut a re-recording of “Under My Wheels” with Axl Rose, Slash and Izzy Stradlin for the movie The Decline of Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years. Unlike many re-recordings, this one is well worth it because hey, it’s Guns N’ fuckin’ Roses.

Alice’s sound got slicker moving into the late 80s. “I Got a Line on You” is a Spirit cover from the movie Iron Eagle II. There is a notable shift towards mainstream hard rock, and this spilled over onto the next album Trash (1989).  This box set has three songs from Trash, but one is the irritatingly bad title track featuring Jon Bon Jovi.  His sound got a little tougher on Hey Stoopid (1991) from which you get a single version of the title track, and “Feed My Frankenstein” (also from Wayne’s World).  The Hendrix cover “Fire” is the last song from this period, which was a B-side.  Unfortunately another B-side called “It Rained All Night” is a superior song, but not included.

Alice took another short break between albums before emerging in 1994 with another critically acclaimed concept album, The Last Temptation.  Alice shed the trappings of the 80s and the album is held in high esteem today as a diverse combination of the 70s and 90s.  Three tracks represent it, but it’s hard not to wish “Side Show” was also included.

The Last Temptation was Alice’s last studio album when this box was released in 1999.  In the meantime, Alice made friends with Rob Zombie who was obviously influenced by the Coop.  They collaborated on a song called “Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn)” for an X-Files CD.  This box set has the unreleased “Spookshow 2000 Mix”.  The track points in the direction of Alice’s next album Brutal Planet.

This box set is quite an epic journey, with many facets and side roads.  A trip like this needs an appropriate closing, and Rhino did something interesting to do that.  They broke the chronological format they used for the majority of the set, and slid in the acoustic rocker “Is Anyone Home?”.  This was a studio track included on Alice’s 1997 live album A Fistful of Alice.  This serves as the climax, and “Stolen Prayer” from The Last Temptation is the finale.  “Stolen Prayer” is a powerful duet with the late Chris Cornell.  It was always a perfect closer, but now it’s…also sad.

It should be obvious now that The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper is a worthwhile box set even for fans who own every album.  The wealth of rarities are just a taste, but they certainly scratch a lot of track off of collector’s lists.  Many remain exclusive to this box set.  On top of that, it is simply a good listen, bumpy start aside.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – The Soundboard Series – Australasian Tour 2001 (12 CD box set)

The Deep Purple Project continues!  Here is one big solid chunk of rock majesty.

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DEEP PURPLE – The Soundboard Series – Australasian Tour 2001 (2001 Thames 12 CD box set)

One day in spring of 2002, I wandered into Encore Records in Kitchener.  I spied this lovely box o’ rock up front in their glass case, where they stored similarly awesome boxes of rock.

“What’s that?!” I asked, and was promptly handed 12 CDs of live Purple.  A quick glance, and “I’ll take it.”  Only a short while before, I bought yet another 12 CD live Deep Purple box set.  When I first noticed this box under the glass, I was hoping it was just a reissue of the same thing; something I already had that I could safely pass on.   It only took one close look to realize that this was a whole other animal completely.  Rather than a collection of bootlegs from the 80’s and up, like the one I had, this box chronicled Deep Purple’s 2001 tour of Australia, Hong Kong and Japan.  What special concerts those must have been.  Read on and you’ll discover why.

Each concert presented in this box is complete, and mixed from the 8-track soundboard DAT tapes.  No audience recordings in this bad boy, which is a good thing, since Purple were touring with numerous extra musicians and accoutrements that require sonic clarity.  Of the six concerts included, four are largely the same.  A lot of Ian Gillan’s song intros are the same from night to night, and the setlists are by and large the same.  Of course where Deep Purple are concerned, that means very little.  Their solos are never the same, and each performance is its own experience.  Steve Morse has never really repeated himself night after night, nor did Jon Lord.

There are some cool surprises in the sets.  One of the best tracks, and one of the most rarely played, is “Mary Long” from Who Do We Think We Are.  This rhythmic monster goes down smashingly well, and it’s a wonder that Purple never tried it any earlier.  There are some true buried gems on those early Purple albums, especially Fireball and Who Do We Think We Are, that were never given a fair shake in their day.  Deep Purple today are able to have more fun with their setlists than they were in the 70’s.  Another such track is “No One Came”, one of the strangest songs in the catalogue.  It benefits greatly from a three piece horn section (the Side Door Johnny’s).  There are versions with horns on some other live albums as well, such as Live at the Olympia ’96, so while horns are not unheard of in Deep Purple, they are rare.  “No One Came” and “Fools” (both from Fireball) are quite a treat any time you get to hear them live, which you didn’t get to do in the 70’s.  They also play the classic B-side “When a Blind Man Cries”, a blues that deserves the spotlight.

Of course Deep Purple always play new material, but what’s really surprising is that they only played one song from their last studio album (1998’s Abandon), and only one time, during the first four concerts!  At the first show, in Melbourne, they played “’69”.  Then it was dropped and the set slightly shuffled.  “Smoke on the Water” was moved from the middle to the second half of the set.  Speaking of “Smoke”, fans familiar with the Steve Morse version of Deep Purple are aware that he really likes to have fun with the intro.  He teases out several classic rock riffs, all instantly recognizable, as he tries to remember which riff is the one he’s supposed to be playing (or so it seems).  AC/DC’s “Back in Black” is the one that really stands out, and it’s remarkable how well it works with Deep Purple.  There are lots more, including “Whole Lotta Love”, “Heartbreaker” and “Stairway to Heaven”, that one normally does not associate with Deep Purple!    Other favourite riffs include “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Little Wing”, and even a Van Halen inspired version of “You Really Got Me”, but the one that surprised me the most was “To Be With You”, by Mr. Big.  Don’t forget, Mr. Big are absolutely huge in Japan, so when they played that little bit in Tokyo, I’m sure everybody knew it.

Also of note, Jimmy Barnes came out for “Highway Star” and “Smoke on the Water” for a couple Australian shows.  Sharp-minded readers will remember that Barnes was one of many singers who auditioned for Deep Purple in the late 80’s before they hired on Joe Lynn Turner.  He seems to have a blast screaming his way through “Highway Star”!  Must be like a dream come true.  Gillan’s in great voice too, by the way!

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For more thrills with special guests, we must go to the last two shows, in Japan.  Australia surely had a treat with the Side Door Johnny’s and Jimmy Barnes, but what Japan got was even better.  Fresh off their well-received Live at the Royal Albert Hall album from 2000, conductor Paul Mann joined Purple for two nights in Tokyo.  That meant a full performance of the legendary and almost never performed Concerto for Group and Orchestra, all three movements.  Mann and the New Japan Select Orchestra joined Purple on a number of their songs as well, including “Watching the Sky” from Abandon, but it was only played on the first night.  All that said, there was no greater thrill than the presence of Ronnie James Dio.  As he did on the Albert Hall album, Ronnie sang lead on two songs from the Purple solo catalogue.  He performs Roger Glover’s “Sitting in a Dream” and the delightfully bouncy hippy anthem “Love is All”.  Ian Gillan, meanwhile takes the lead on Jon Lord’s “Pictured Within”.   Dio also returns for “Smoke on the Water”, trading with Gillan, but what’s really special is that Purple actually performed two Dio songs at these shows.  Though Dio and Purple are two very different bands, Purple adapt and do great versions of “Fever Dreams” and “Rainbow in the Dark”.  The drum and keyboard parts are the most different, but nobody’s complaining!  It’s great that they did “Fever Dreams” from Dio’s Magica, a great album that deserved the recognition.  “Fever Dreams” is one of Dio’s best tunes from the latter period.

“Wring that Neck” and “Pictures of Home” were brought out of mothballs for the Tokyo concerts.  “Wring that Neck” is a jazzy version with the horns coming in strong, just like it was on the Albert Hall CD.  Undoubtedly though, the centerpiece is the Concerto itself.  Even though it put Purple on the map in 1969, it wasn’t particularly well liked by the members of the band (Jon Lord aside, obviously, since it was his creation.)  With Steve Morse in the band instead of Ritchie Blackmore, feelings softened and ideas like resurrecting the Concerto were possible.  The music however was lost.  It took Dutch composer Marco de Goeij years to re-create it, but once Lord helped him finish, it could be performed once again.  It’s incredible to think that they were able to take it to Japan and play it for those lucky fans, both nights.  You can absolutely tell the difference from the London version.  It’s fortunate that it was recorded so well (not perfect but damn well good enough!), and released for you to be able to own forever.

There is no point in breaking this down for a disc-by-disc rating.  If the box set could be faulted for anything, it is that there is so much repeat between the first four concerts.  For me, box sets tend to work best in the car.  I put this on a flash drive and took about three weeks to listen to the whole thing in sequence.  In that environment, I don’t bore of the songs.  Instead I enjoyed the slight differences.  “Oh, this is a little different than the way they introduced it, when I heard it a couple days ago.”  Obviously, only a true Deep Purple lover needs to own this.  But every Deep Purple lover should own it.

Discs 1 & 2 – Melbourne, March 9 2001

Discs 3 & 4 – Wollongong, March 13 2001

Discs 5 & 6 – Newcastle, March 14 2001

Discs 7 & 8 – Hong Kong, March 20 2001

Discs 9 & 10 – Tokyo, March 24 2001

Discs 11 & 12 – Tokyo, March 25 2001

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – New Jersey (Super Deluxe, part 2)

Concluding an in-depth review of the Bon Jovi New Jersey Super Deluxe edition. Previous reading:

BON JOVI – New Jersey (2014 Universal Super Deluxe edition, part 2)

Of all the Bon Jovi albums, New Jersey certainly deserved the Super Deluxe treatment.  New Jersey‘s promotional cycle included two VHS releases, both present on this DVD: The old Wayne Isham tour documentary Access All Area, and New Jersey: The Videos.  Isham was responsible for virtually every cool larger-than-life video Bon Jovi made.  In 1988, trendy grainy black and white footage was all the rage, and so Access All Areas, where we will begin, has an over-abundance of it.

In a piece of incidental pre-show rehearsal footage, Richie Sambora sings “Purple Rain”, proving who the talent in the band always was.  It is nice though to see everybody in the band hanging out, having a good time, and seeming like genuine friends.  As for the audience, it’s amusing to see the giant hair from the perspective of today.

The sound of “Bang” by Russian metal band Gorky Park indicates we’re off to the Soviet Union.  Bon Jovi were pioneering in being one of the only hard rock bands to play behind the Iron Curtain (they were officially sanctioned by the government), and this part of the show is certainly the most interesting.  Bon Jovi even have a ten-man blues jam with the Russian band, building bridges at the end of the Cold War.  The blues is universal.  This visit leads to the massive Moscow Music Peace Festival, which I had on tape from MTV, and wore completely out.  (Not shown: the backstage moment when Tommy Lee rips the shirt off Bon Jovi manager Doc McGhee’s back, for allegedly upstaging Motley Crue by using fireworks in Bon Jovi’s show, against prior agreement.  It’s a long he-said she-said story involving McGhee who was managing both Motley and Bon Jovi at the time.  Motley felt McGhee had prioritized Bon Jovi, and fired him immediately after.)

The boys have a blast in the warmth of Rio de Janeiro, quite a contrast with snowy Moscow.   In Tokyo they are chased by a swarm of screaming girls.  Through it all, even though they’ve been on the road forever and can’t wait to get home, they maintain themselves with a lot of joking around.  Fortunately Isham captured this endearing footage.  The live rehearsal stuff is also excellent, up close and in the faces of the band.

In a very cool moment backstage at Wembley, Bon Jovi, Cinderella and the Scorpions work on covers together for a big jam.  “Travelling Band”…holy shit, is that Elton John on piano?  Sure looks like it.  Rick Allen, Brian May, Lita Ford!  “I am the happiest kid on Earth!” shouts an excited David Bryan.  Another gig features Bon Jovi with the late comedian Sam Kinison on “Wild Thing”.  At Tower Records, they are threatened with arrest by the riot squad if they perform, so naturally Jon and Richie break out the acoustics and do “Ride Cowboy Ride”.  In swoop the fuzz, who had nothing to worry about.  Alec John Such’s birthday is celebrated in West Berlin, where they visit the wall.  (In a shivery moment, Jon is eyeballed by an East German soldier on the other side.)  Their cover of “The Boys Are Back in Town” is performed, and Jon takes a chip out of the wall.

Jimmy Page is present at a three hour charity gig at Hammersmith, and they jam on “Train Kept a Rolling”.  (Best moment: when Jon sings a Steven Tyler “wha-ga-ga-ga” in it near the end, just like Tyler did in Aerosmith’s version.)  It’s clear that even then Jon was the boss — he alone makes the setlist, and says if something goes wrong he’ll call the shots.  He comments he has “never been so nervous.”  Bad Company’s “Shooting Star” is a duet with Richie Sambora, who had been playing it long before Bon Jovi formed.  It’s a stunning version and it’s hard to imagine Bon Jovi ever doing anything this big again, both in terms of success and quality.

Australia!  “Bon Jovi: We go everywhere, but we live nowhere!” says Sambora.  “Love For Sale” is played at HMV for swarms of long-hairs both male and female (but mostly female).  Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party” is another incredible cover selection, and you have to give Jon credit for that.  The final show is a big multi-gig stand in Guadalajara, Mexico that almost never happened due to “politics” (money) and a riot!  The first gig is postponed to the next day forcing Bon Jovi to play a double-header starting at 11 am!  “We should go on stage in riot gear,” jokes (?) Jon.  (They don’t.)

Access All Areas was a good rock doc for the time.  It feels whitewashed and scrubbed clean of blemishes, but that was music in general in the late 80’s.  The real pleasure is getting to see the other band members hanging out.  Alec John Such seems a funny, talented guy with a great voice.  David Bryan is clearly a lot more gifted than he gets to show off in the band.

The music videos (only mixed in stereo, unfortunately) are all you remember them to be: more mixtures of black & white, and colour footage, golly!  Both versions of “Bad Medicine” are included.  (More Sam Kinison!)  There are funny interludes with the band in between the songs, joking around back stage.  (Special guest: Skip Rope Skid Row’s Dave “Snake” Sabo.)  “Me, if I wasn’t a musician, I’d be a drummer!” says Jon. Of the music videos, “I’ll Be There For You” and “Lay Your Hands On Me” are the coolest, just no-nonsense stage performance clips.  “Blood on Blood”, which I’d never seen before, is a live version.

The DVD portion of this box set is a nice supplement, but you won’t be in a hurry to sit down and watch again.  The black & white/colour back and forth is very tiring.  Fortunately Bon Jovi seem(ed) like a nice bunch of guys from the neighborhood that have loads of talent, and fun to watch in any setting.

DVD: 3/5 stars
Bonus tracks: 4.5/5 stars
Album: 4.5/5 stars

Overall rating:  4/5 stars

Thanks for joining us for this massive review! Back to something else tomorrow.

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – New Jersey (Super Deluxe, part 1)

BON JOVI – New Jersey (2014 Universal Super Deluxe edition, part 1)

BACKLOG! I received this box set over 10 months ago.  We at LeBrain HQ are so busy with so much rock and roll that it has taken that long to finally give this entire box set a proper examination.  Fortunately, we (the “royal” we) have already reviewed New Jersey itself, in March of 2014 before this box set was released.  There is no need to repeat what was said in that review.  It is still an accomplished album worthy of its 4.5/5 star rating.  New Jersey was and easily remains a very high water mark.  For this review we will look at all the bonus tracks and the entire DVD in detail.  All three parts combined will probably give you the most complete look at the New Jersey Super Deluxe edition out there.

There are loads of bonus tracks to discuss, some of which were available before.  Bon Jovi must have known this release was always in the cards.  Look at the track list for their box set, 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong.  Not one of these demos is on that massive five disc box set.  Many of these tracks had been leaked a long time ago on bootleg CDs such as Keep the Faith/New Jersey Outtakes, but never issued by the band.  It’s natural to be cynical and say, “Well they must have been saving them for another box set like this one.”

“The Boys Are Back in Town” is an A-OK Thin Lizzy cover.  When Lizzy wrote this song, Phil Lynott almost had the blueprint for the future of Bon Jovi plotted out.  Bon Jovi, a back who love singing songs about the boys being back in town, were the perfect band to cover it and make it their own song.  Cynics may laugh, but Richie Sambora and Tico Torres are quality players able to inject class into the cover.  Keyboardist David Bryan uses the “organ” setting on his keys to offer appropriate backing for the boys.  It’s hard to have a winner with a Lizzy cover and not sound like a bunch of jackasses.  This one was recorded by Bruce Fairbairn for the 1989 anti-drug compilation Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell.

“Love is War” was good enough to be a single in its own right, but it was only the B-side to “Living in Sin”.  Perhaps the reason it was chosen for B-side status was that the verses and chorus don’t quite jibe.  The song has great, dark verses and a big old Slippery-like chorus.  It doesn’t quite sound like a New Jersey song, but it’s hard to track down today.

A very rare bonus track is an acoustic version of “Born to Be My Baby”, only available on a Japanese “Living in Sin” CD single.  Fans love when Jon and Richie just sit down together with a couple acoustics and do a live-in-the-studio rendition of a hit.  It’s an uber-rarity that LeBrain HQ did not even know existed before this box set was issued.  As usual, Richie’s soulful singing reaches deep into your guts.  His classical-influenced guitar solo is a masterpiece.

Famously, Bon Jovi once considered the awful title Sons of Beaches for their 1988 album.  Disc two is called the Sons of Beaches Demos and there are plenty more great tracks here that are familiar to bootleg collectors.  The opening demo version of “Homebound Train” is even bluesier and greasier than the great album take.  Anyone who doubts the instrumental ferocity of Bon Jovi can check this out and see what the original lineup was capable of.

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“Judgement Day” opens with traditional “nah-nah-nah” Bon Jovi vocals, giving it a sound-alike quality to other more familiar Bon Jovi songs.  It is good enough that it could have been on an album (or single B-side).  Then “Full Moon High” (also known as “River of Love” on bootlegs) is familiar.  I recognize the music from somewhere else: it became the Keep the Faith B-side “Save a Prayer”!  The riff is intact, and what “Full Moon High” amounts to is an alternate 80’s version of it.  It is just as great as “Save a Prayer”, and it is difficult to pick a preferred version.  “Full Moon High” is an achievement, and Richie’s guitar playing is nutso.  “Growing Up the Hard Way” is back to the “nah-nah-nah’s”, and it sounds as if this is an early version of “Love is War”, but with a very different chorus.

With a slinky, dusky song behind him, Jon urges someone “Let’s Make it Baby”.  This tune would have been good enough for Keep the Faith, but did not surface until a double disc version of These Days was issued in the mid-90’s.  This is a noticeably different mix from that release — more raw.  Then “Love Hurts” goes into upbeat territory with a decent set of melodies to sing along to.  It is a bit similar to “Love is War” once again, but that’s why these songs were never officially released before.  I’ve had this song in my collection for 20 years, but not with this level of audio quality.  Likewise “Backdoor to Heaven”, a ballad that fans have loved for a long time (just not officially).  Again, this song was probably deemed too similar to others such as “I’ll Be There For You”.  Same with “Now and Forever”, another ballad of high quality, but also similarity.

A harder-edged “Wild is the Wind” demo is otherwise very similar to the album arrangement, with some different bits on keyboards and acoustic guitars.  Singling out Tico Torres as drummer extraordinaire, I love his hard hitting style.  Same with the excellent “Stick To Your Guns”; it’s more or less already complete at the demo stage.  The rawness is a beautiful thing…you can hear Richie talking at one point.

The one track of all of these which LeBrain HQ was most excited about is “House of Fire”, a song that Jon donated to Alice Cooper for his Trash LP.  Brother Deke over at Arena Rock told us, “Don’t worry Bon Jovi do it great!”  Cooper’s version was “unremarkable” [LeBrain Trash review], but Bon Jovi did it right.  If Alice didn’t release his own single for it, I wonder if Jon would have?  One word:  infectious.

Fans in the know have always loved “Does Anybody Really Fall in Love Anymore”, another ballad that might be deemed too similar.  Another issue is that the chorus really reaches for the high notes, and Jon misses most of them on this demo.  Somebody probably realized it would be a difficult song to bring to the concert stage.  The bootleg version of this is more complete, with backing vocals filling it out.  This demo, perhaps earlier than the one that was bootlegged ages ago, lacks all backing vocals and sounds like it may be live in rehearsal.  “Keep going,” says Jon to someone, indicating this is likely the case.

IMG_20151004_091117“Diamond Ring” became such a fan favourite after the band played it live that this New Jersey demo was tried out again for Keep the Faith, and finally made an album in 1995 for These Days.  Each arrangement of the ballad was different from the last.  This one is the earliest, featuring bluesy electric guitars and organ.  Its final incarnation was much quieter.

Very conspicuous by its absence:  “Rosie”.  This was written by Richie and Jon about someone they knew growing up (as many of their songs are).  Desmond Child and Diane Warren helped them finish it, and it was recorded by Sambora for his first solo album Stranger in This Town.  Since that album featured Tico Torres and David Bryan on drums and keys, you can almost consider that a Bon Jovi song.  But why is it not here, with the demo sessions that it belongs with?  It’s cynical but not unlikely to think it’s due to Jon and Richie’s feud.  Shame.  There are other Sons of Beaches demos missing that are out there on bootlegs, such as “Love is War” so don’t fool yourself, this is not a complete set of ’em.

Come back tomorrow and we’ll look at the final disc in this set, the DVD.

To be concluded…

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REVIEW: The Cult – Rare Cult (7 CD limited box set)

THE CULT – Rare Cult (2000 Beggars Banquet box set with limited 7th remix CD)

Rare Cult is a feast of rare and unreleased Cult music, for the Cult connosoir only. If you’ve been a Cult fan for a while but have struggled to find those early singles, then this is your dream box set, my friend.  They have a lot of singles and assorted rarities, and acquiring a complete set of them all takes money.  Rare Cult secures a huge chunk of that music in one package.

I’m not going to bother cataloging all the different tunes and where they came from.  They’re too numerous but I will say the following:

1. This set has an enormous number of unreleased demos and otherwise finished songs that nobody had heard before — not previously released on B-sides. The songs range from the Dreamtime era (1984) with some cool, unheard BBC performances.  Over six discs, it spans over a decade to 1995 when the band broke up (for the first time). All tracks are of very good sound quality.

2. There is a humongous (80 page) booklet inside, with complete credits and details for every single song contained within.  Billy Duffy and Ian Astbury provide commentary, and there are lots of photos too.

3. There are a lot of remixes here, as per normal for a band from this era. In fact there is an entire seventh limited edition bonus disc dedicated single remixes, called Rare Cult Mixes.  I don’t know how many copies were released with the bonus disc, but be sure of what you buy before you buy it! Personally I don’t see the point of buying this set without the seventh disc. For example, the “Fire Woman” single had two excellent remixes: The “LA mix”, and the “NYC mix”. The NYC mix is included on the Disc 5 of this box set, but to get the LA mix, if you don’t have the “Fire Woman” single, can only be had on the limited edition seventh Rare Cult disc. If you’re a collector (which I think you are, because if you’re not you probably stopped reading this already) then there’s no reason to buy the version without the bonus CD.  Wait it out and get the full package.

4. Peace. While astute fans had probably collected most of these tracks already, this box set contains the first ever official release of the Peace album, in sequence on disc 3. The Cult were working on Peace after the Love album, and even finished it, but scrapped the recordings for being too Love-like. They hooked up with Rick Rubin to revamp, re-write, and re-record the album, released as Electric. Many of the Peace songs surfaced as B-sides over the years, on singles and EPs such as The Manor Sessions.  While Rare Cult was the first release of the full Peace album, it has since been reissued as part of the Electric Peace two disc set.

5. Warning! There’s more. If you really, really, really want it all, you have to shell out for the single CD Best Of Rare Cult which had five exclusive songs not included here. Oh, marketing.  The five exclusives on Best of Rare Cult are:  “She Sells Sanctuary (long version)”, “Spanish Gold”, “The River”, “Lay Down Your Gun (version two)”, and “Go West (Crazy Spinning Circles) (original mix)”.  Some of these songs, such as “The River”, are B-sides, while some are unreleased.

6. There’s even more! Yes, there are demos here, but that’s not all of them. The masterminds behind this set cleverly left off enough demos to create a whole other box set. You’ll want to pony up for Rare Cult: The Demo Sessions (an even more limited edition 5 CD set of its own) which is interesting in its own right. Look at Rare Cult as scratching the surface.

7. Even with all this stuff available out there, The Cult liked to include live songs on their singles. None are present here. Be forewarned, you may still want to get those original singles anyway, if you care enough!  Maybe they should do a box set called Rare Live Cult.  (Are you listening Ian?)

As a listening experience, Rare Cult is long but rewarding. One thing about The Cult, they were a diverse band, and this set is very diverse. For example you’ll go from a very dancy 80’s remix of “Sanctuary” straight into “No. 13” which is more punk influenced. Regardless of what it is, or what it isn’t, I think this set is worth listening to. Even their demos are better than most bands’ album tracks.  Like many bands who released numerous single B-sides, The Cult put effort into all their songs.  Check out “Sea and Sky”, “Bleeding Heart Graffiti” and “Bone Bag” as ample proof.

The packaging is quite nice. It comes in a sturdy black box. The aforementioned booklet allows you to read through the whole history of the band up to 1995.  The first six discs are housed in three double digipacks, while the seventh disc sits in its own sleeve tucked into the box.

You might not very often have the luxury of 8-9 hours to listen to the Cult, but if you’re a fan, think hard and consider your buying options.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994) and conclusion

AEROSMITH – Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994 Sony, only included in the Box of Fire)

Sony did a sonic makeover to the Aerosmith catalogue in ’93, using their new Super Bit Mapping technique. Each CD received a well due remastering job, and improved packaging, as you have seen here throughout this series. In 1994 these albums were released again inside the near-definitive Columbia box set, Box of Fire. Back when I was working in the Record Store, we stocked this one for over $200 brand new. I remember looking at that sealed box longingly, wishing I could peer inside.

The bonus CD included in Box of Fire was an added little reward for those fans who waited to shell out for the full box, rather than buy the CDs individually. In defense of Sony for the double-dip, I distinctly remember them announcing in advance the the future box set would include all the albums and additional goodies. Because of that, I did indeed wait to shell out for Box of Fire. I bought it used, at the store that Joe Big Nose manages today. It was in good shape. I just needed to replace a few broken CD trays, and the outer plastic sleeve was also missing (not a huge deal). I later found that plastic sleeve at another one of our outlets, and the owner “Billy Bob” gave it to me himself! (Thanks man, you have no idea how much that makes an OCD collector like me happy.)

The Bonus Disc has five tracks.

1. “Sweet Emotion” (1991 remix by David Thoener). Remember the music video they released in late 1991 to promote the Pandora’s Box set? That video featured a remix of “Sweet Emotion”, and it was released as a limited as a limited CD single. It’s a little longer and has a few things mixed louder.

2. “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”. A later track (1987) from the Less Than Zero soundtrack. I’m always in favour of getting one of Aerosmith’s numerous soundtrack contributions on an Aerosmith disc. I hate buying a soundtrack for one or two songs. Wanna know what Aerosmith sound like produced by Rick Rubin? This old rock n’ roll cover indicates, it’s kinda dry.

3. “Subway”. A cool instrumental jam from the Draw the Line sessions, but originally released on the 1991 “Sweet Emotion” CD single.

4. “Circle Jerk”.  Another instrumental from the same period.  Most fans who collect Aerosmith already had this one.  It was the unlisted “hidden” bonus track at the end of Pandora’s Box.  These two jams are simple and unadorned.  They were unreleased for a reason, although they both could have evolved into cool heavy rock songs.

5. “Dream On” (MTV Anniversary).  This live version from 1991, complete with orchestra, was from an MTV thing later released on a CD of its own. I’d rather have the song on this. It’s a brilliant version, best appreciated by the Aerosmith connoisseur.

The Bonus Disc is housed in a simple cardboard CD sleeve. This slips into a gap inside the Box of Fire, easy to miss and sometimes missing! If you’re buying a Box of Fire, make sure it’s intact.

Wrapping up this exhaustive look at the Box of Fire and all the albums inside, there is very little left to add.  The packaging is cool; a sturdy box with orange flame emblazoned all over.  The front door opens “garage style”, with a little plastic “match” as a handle, painted to look as if burned.  Each CD, housed in its own jewel case, slides easily in and out.  It’s a simply lovely way to display your Aerosmith collection, open or closed — when lined up, the CD spines form an Aerosmith logo!  Each disc is numbered 1-12 (except the Bonus Disc), and can be differentiated from the regular retail versions by the numbered spines.  If you bought these albums separately, they do not have the numbers or the coordinated spines that form the Aerosmith logo.  That’s how you can tell the difference!

I’m glad to have taken the time to listen to the entire Box of Fire, in sequence, from start to finish.  That’s something I haven’t done since I first bought it.

4/5 stars (for Bonus Disc and Box of Fire overall)

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE complete reviews:

Disc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)
Disc 4: Rocks (1976)
Disc 5: Draw the Line (1977)
Disc 6: Live! Bootleg (1978)
Disc 7: Night in the Ruts (1979)
Disc 8: Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980)
Disc 9: Rock in a Hard Place (1982)
Disc 10: Classics Live! (1986)
Disc 11: Classics Live! II (1987)
Disc 12: Gems (1988)
Disc 13: Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994)

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Prince of Darkness (2005 Sony box set)

PRINCE OF DARKNESS_0001OZZY OSBOURNE – Prince of Darkness (2005 Sony)

Let’s pretend that you’re involved with Ozzy Osbourne’s management or record label.  When it comes time to release that first “definitive” box set, I’m sure you’d have your own ideas for making it the best box that Ozzy could release.  Ozzy Osbourne in 2005 had eight mostly great studio albums, numerous live records, and more rarities than you could shake a stick at.  They certainly had a lot of music to choose from.  I greeted the eventual release of Prince of Darkness with great excitement at these rarities…but tremendous disappointment at the overall listening experience.

A 4-CD box set is a lot of listening and in order to keep it riveting from end to end, you have to pick the right tracks and sequence them for maximum firepower.  Somebody at Sony’s box set department didn’t get my memos on that, obviously, because Prince of Darkness is one of the most annoying box sets to listen to in its entirety.   They decided to do two discs “anthology” style, with live and rare tracks mixed in.  The third disc is a questionable collection of Ozzy collaborations.  The final CD is the worst of all:  covers that Ozzy recorded and later released on their own album, Under Cover!  A CD that was released only months after Prince of Darkness itself — with additional bonus tracks to milk it further, forcing the completist to buy it again!

PRINCE OF DARKNESS_0004I have so many complaints about this set that I felt it best to list them all off in point form.

1. Never, ever start your box set off with a live track.  Even if that live track is “I Don’t Know” from Randy Rhoads Tribute.

2. Because this set was released in 2005, you are hearing the re-recorded bass and drums on all the songs from Blizzard and Diary…not the classic original versions.

3. Same with the tunes from Bark at the Moon.  These are the remixed versions found on the 2002 reissue of that album.  There are only two songs from that album anyway.  “Bark” itself is an unreleased live version.

4. Two CDs is not enough space to represent Ozzy’s album output in a box set, especially when you include the studio albums, live albums and rare tracks too.  The early Randy Rhoads material makes up the bulk of disc one, leaving the Jake E. Lee years under represented.  There are no songs from The Ultimate Sin at all, only the three live tracks originally for the Ultimate Live Ozzy EP.

5.  There are a few baffling exclusions, such as “Miracle Man” (first single with Zakk) and “I Just Want You”, in favour of also-rans such as “Spiders”.

6. The collaborations disc is a total mess.  “Purple Haze” is just a Hendrix cover from the No Rest For the Wicked era, by Ozzy’s band.  It’s not a collaboration, just a cover they did for the Make A Difference Foundation CD called Stairway To Heaven/Highway To Hell.  It’s a real challenge to listen to this whole CD in one sitting.  One moment you’re rocking out to a killer version of “N.I.B.” with Primus, the next you’re barfing through a piece of crap with Tony Iommi and Wu-Tang Clan.  From Was Not Was to Miss Piggy, at least the CD is diverse, and it does collect a lot of Ozzy’s singing from albums I don’t have.  I already had the Miss Piggy track but not the cover of “Stayin’ Alive” by Dweezil Zappa! Nor did I have “I Ain’t No Nice Guy” by Motörhead, from the mediocre March ör Die.  This disc is too jokey and not at all consistent.

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7. Even though the third disc collects a variety of tracks from a number of CDs, I am certain that Ozzy fans who buy this kind of box set already had some of them.  Including “Psycho Man” by Black Sabbath (not even a single remix version) from the Reunion CD (2008) is odd.  Many Ozzy and Sabbath collectors already have the Nativity in Black CDs, where the Primus and Therapy? tracks come from.

8. “Nowhere to Run (Vapor Trail)” by DMX, Ozzy Osbourne, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, The Crystal Method and Fuzzbubble is edited!  This track was from the South Park album and still features Isaac Hayes’ introduction, as “Chef”.  For reasons I cannot explain at all, the swearing and “n” words are blanked, and there were a lot of them.   It’s also missing ODB’s rant at the end, which itself was edited off later versions of the South Park CD.  (I have an earlier version with the rant intact.)

9. The packaging leaves a hell of a lot to be desired.  Inside the box which is just book-style, you will find a nice big booklet that just sits loose inside.  There is no way to secure it in, so it’ll fall out any time you pick it up!

10. Speaking of that booklet, the liner notes suck.  Ozzy has a brief note about each song, but not necessarily any useful information.  For example, regarding that South Park track, all we’re told is that Ozzy bit the head off Kenny.  Nothing about how that random assortment of artists was assembled.  The book is padded out with lyrics and shoddy credits that aren’t very accurate.  “Bark at the Moon” live for example was recorded in 1982-1983 according to the notes.  Come on, guys!  Not good enough for a box set.

11.  The entire fouth CD sucks.  You can read my review of the expanded Under Cover version of it here.  (Long story short: 1/5 stars.)  The only difference is that the box set includes Kelly Osbourne’s duet with daddy, on “Changes”.  This song was only included on the Japanese version of Under Cover but not the regular domestic.

Fortunately, Prince of Darkness is not a total bust.  Some of the unreleased tracks are real treasures, such as the demo of “S.I.N.” called “Won’t Be Coming Home”.  I prefer this to the album version from No More Tears by a long shot, as I do the twangier “I Don’t Want to Change the World”.  I also love the demo for the emotional ballad “See You On the Other Side”, which features previously unheard saxophone accompaniment.  I appreciated that they included the live version of “Perry Mason” from the Ozzfest 1 CD, which enabled me to sell off that pretty crappy album.

It’s easy to bitch and complain (don’t I know it?) but if I were to make a 4 CD Ozzy box from the same period, I would have done it very differently.  The covers CD would be axed completely and the rarities set aside to a disc all their own.  The first two “anthology” discs would be strictly studio versions, and original studio versions at that, with only a sprinkle of tracks from Randy Rhoads Tribute.  I would try to squeeze in more rare tracks from B-sides and EPs, and I would definitely try to mix them in with the collaborations so that you’re not left listening to so many of those novelty tunes in a row.

Buyer beware — Prince of Darkness is not the feast you were hoping for. This is a poorly executed package. When you have an artist like Ozzy Osbourne, you really gotta screw up bad to put out a set that is this hard to listen to. Prince of Darkness is going back on the shelf, for a good long while.

2/5 stars

#380: Custom Priest Box Set Mania!

THE BEST FUCKING COLLABORATION WEEK EVER

Alas, it’s the end of THE BEST FUCKING COLLABORATION WEEK EVER!* I made a five disc Judas Priest box set for Aaron a while ago.  Let’s take a close look at the tracks.  Dig in!

Aaron: Custom Priest Box Set Mania!

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#380: Custom Priest Box Set Mania!

I’ve known Aaron, your incredible co-host over at the KeepsMeAlive website, for almost 20 years.  For most of those 20 years we haven’t lived in the same town, so we kept in touch via email, text messages, and physical mail.  It wasn’t that long ago that we were sending each other parcels semi-regularly, including musical gifts and mix CDs.  Mix CDs are an art that we both take very seriously.

At one point Aaron had expressed interest in hearing more Judas Priest, so I took it upon myself to create a custom box set, by me, for him.  The official Metalogy box set is pretty good, but as I said in my review for it, “just not the box set that I would have made given the opportunity.”  Aaron gave me the opportunity so I decided to out-do Metalogy and go for a full five discs, and update him to the then-current Priest album Nostradamus.

I found a track listing that I drafted for that very set.  The final CDs that I made for him may have differed, because I was rough-guessing my disc times here.  As close as I have records of, this is the box set that I burned for Aaron.  Let’s take a look at it disc by disc and see how it holds up.

Rocka Rolla – The Old Grey Whistle Test

DISC 1

1. One For The Road
2. Rocka Rolla
3. Diamonds and Rust
4. Dreamer Deceiver
5. Deceiver
6. Cheater
7. Caviar and Meths
8. Prelude
9. Tyrant
10. Dissident Aggressor
11. Better By You, Better Than Me
12. Race With The Devil
13. Stained Class
14. Beyond The Realms of Death
15. Exciter
16. Delivering The Goods
17. Rock Forever
18. Burnin’ Up
19. The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)
20. Take On The World
21. Hell Bent For Leather

In my Metalogy review, I complained about the absence of “Rocka Rolla” and “One For the Road”.  I have fixed that oversight here, but at the cost of “Never Satisfied”.  It’s not the perfect trade-off.  The ending to “Never Satisfied” was as epic as early Priest got, so it is a win for a loss.  I replaced the live “Diamonds and Rust” with the studio version though, so that is a good thing for a listener like Aaron.  I like that I included the rare “Race With the Devil”, a cover of The Gun.  There is also a healthy dose of Hell Bent for Leather/Killing Machine.  I’m not sure what I was thinking with the track order, but I probably modified that before I burned the final CD.


When the Tax Man comes for Priest’s money, he loses his head and pants!

DISC 2

1. Victim of Changes (Live)
2. Sinner (Live)
3. The Ripper (Live)
4. Breaking The Law (Live)
5. You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise
6. Living After Midnight
7. The Rage
8. Desert Plains
9. Heading Out To The Highway
10. Troubleshooter
11. Turnin’ Circles
12. Riding On The Wind
13. (Take These) Chains
14. Bloodstone
15. You Got Another Thing Comin’
16. Devil’s Child
17. The Hellion / Electric Eye (Live)
18. Steeler (Live)

I see here that I included the live versions of “The Ripper” and “Victim of Changes”.  I suppose that I left these on, because Unleashed in the East is such a critical live album.  It simply must be represented on a box set like this, so I chose to keep a few songs, some of the best ones.  I also like to include rare tracks, so I snagged the live “Steeler” from the radio broadcast CD called Concert Classics. I see a lot of personal favourites on this CD, especially from Screaming for Vengeance. Pretty damn fine disc!

In the dead of night, Love Bites

DISC 3

1. Love Bites
2. Jawbreaker
3. Rock Hard Ride Free
4. The Sentinel
5. Some Heads Are Gonna Roll
6. Night Comes Down (Live)
7. Heavy Duty
8. Defenders of the Faith
9. Turbo Lover
10. Parental Guidance
11. Reckless
12. Out In The Cold (Live)
13. Metal Gods (Live)
14. Freewheel Burning (Live)
15. Ram It Down
16. Hard As Iron
17. Blood Red Skies

From Defenders of the Faith to Ram it Down, the 80’s can be a tricky period of Judas Priest to navigate. This third CD could have been the worst. I opened with the studio version of “Love Bites”, where Metalogy utilized an unreleased live version. I think it makes a great disc opener. For rarities I went with the live “Night Comes Down” instead, a great version from the Priest Re-Masters.  I also had to represent Priest…Live! from this era, so I chose its dramatic concert opener “Out in the Cold” as a live version.  The live version of “Metal Gods” from that album is more melodic than others, so I went with it too.  I look at this disc as some of the very best Priest from this period.

Priest with Ripper – Blood Stained, live in London

DISC 4

1. Heart of a Lion (Demo)
2. Painkiller
3. Hell Patrol
4. One Shot at Glory
5. Jugulator
6. Rapid Fire ‘98
7. Burn In Hell
8. A Touch of Evil (Live)
9. Blood Stained (Live)
10. One On One
11. Feed On Me
12. What’s My Name
13. Running Wild (Live)
14. The Ripper (Live)
15. Diamonds and Rust (Live)
16. The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) ‘98

There it is! “Heart of a Lion” is one of the best rare Priest demos, only available on the Metalogy box set, but recorded in the Turbo era.  It would make a good disc opener, but following it with “Painkiller”?  I’m not sure about my transition there.  It could be like a sledgehammer of awesome, or it could be an awkward stumble.  I think the most difficult mixture of different periods has to be the sudden change of lead singers.  When Tim “Ripper” Owens replaced Rob Halford on 1997’s Jugulator, the band’s sound changed.  That’s probably why I chose a remake of the oldie “Rapid Fire” to be one of the first Ripper songs on this CD.  There are also plenty of live versions here of old Priest classics, from the various live albums Priest did with Ripper.  “Blood Stained” was a live take on a new Ripper song, from their ’98 Live Meltdown album.  I think it’s vastly superior to the original version on Jugulator.   “What’s My Name” is included as a rare B-side from the Japanese version of Demolition.  On the whole I think this is a pretty good CD representing a difficult period in Priest history, and in hindsight it could use more tracks from Painkiller.

The Hellrider, live — same version that I used

DISC 5

1. Judas Rising
2. Revolution
3. Worth Fighting For
4. Demonizer
5. Angel
6. Hellrider (Live)
7. Between the Hammer & the Anvil (Live)
8. Eat Me Alive (Live)
9. Dawn of Creation
10. Prophesy
11. Revelations
12. Death (Live)
13. Persecution
14. Calm Before The Storm
15. Nostradamus

I remember having a really hard time with this disc. I wanted to give Nostradamus a fair shake, but as a double concept album it didn’t lend itself well to chopping up into bits for a mix CD.  By the time I got to this mix CD, all I had left to include were two studio albums (Angel of Retribution and Nostradamus) and a live album (A Touch of Evil) to utilize.  The version of “Hellrider” from that live album is among my favourite tracks due to Rob Halford’s over the top screaming.  This disc doesn’t appear to have any rarities among its tracks.  Not a bad disc but I think I could have done better here.

I remember having difficulty burning the CDs to my satisfaction.  There was some quirk happening with my Nero version, and ultimately I just abandoned the project and sent the discs to Aaron.  Apparently I didn’t even bother making a track list or covers for him.

Making mix CDs to my own satisfaction is a lot of work.  I know I sunk a lot of time into this Priest set, ripping the discs and meticulously choosing the songs.  Ultimately though, it was just fun to hand pick the Judas Priest songs to help Aaron in his exploration of this awesome band.

Monday: QUIET RIOT – Metal Health
Tuesday: DANKO JONES – Born A Lion
Wednesday: Aaron’s Black Crowes B-sides
Thursday: THE CULT – Pure Cult: The Singles 1984-1995

* Not the last collaboration, however.  Stay tuned.

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Metalogy (2004 box set)

Would you care for an Epic Review with your morning tea?

JUDAS PRIEST – Metalogy (2004 Sony 4CD/1DVD limited edition box set)

Q: Who would release a box set dressed up in faux-leather and studs?
A: Who else? PRIEST!

This five disc set (4 CD/1 DVD) compiles a generous sampling of Judas Priest’s music over the decades, from Rocka Rolla (1974) to Demolition (2002). While the tracklist is far from perfect in my eyes (where’s “Rocka Rolla”, “One For the Road”, the studio version of “Victim Of Changes”, “The Ripper”, etc?) it does provide some previously unreleased live versions (both B-sides and never-before-released) and a completely unreleased demo. It’s not a bad set. Just not the one I would have made personally given the opportunity.*

IMG_20150301_071946With insanely great fortune, I got this box set (a limited edition by the way; reissues lack the DVD) in mint condition but used at my own store! One of my favourite sellers, a customer named Conrad sold it to me only a short time after release.  I don’t know why and I don’t care.  I was just glad to have it affordably.  I loved the packaging and there was that unreleased demo that I was eager to finally hear.    Also, Metalogy was the first anthology style box set from Priest and I wanted to hear how it played out.

The unreleased song is the awesome hard rock track “Heart of a Lion”, demoed for Turbo back in ’85. You may have heard this one in re-recorded form on Halford’s live album Insurrection. It was also recorded back in the 80’s by a young band called Racer X, starring Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big) on guitar, and a drummer by the name of Scott Travis! It was a surprise to me that “Heart of a Lion” was not released on the Priest Re-masters series; obviously they were deviously saving it for something later, like this box set.

Some of the live versions are exclusive to this set. Two newly released versions included a 1981 radio broadcast of “Green Manalishi” (unfortunately, meaning the studio track isn’t on here). There is also an unreleased broadcast version of “Love Bites” from ’86.  In addition to these, there are a few live tracks taken from old single B-sides. Unfortunately I already have all Priest’s B-sides, on a Japanese compilation called Priest Live & Rare.

The biggest weakness with this box set is that it tragically loses steam right at the end. In 2002 when the last original Priest music had been recorded, Rob Halford had yet to rejoin the band and Ripper Owens was still the current singer. The box ends with four Ripper tunes, and not necessarily the best ones. “Jugulator” is an undeniable inclusion, but there is a feeling of anticlimax. Leaving an exciting and unheard track like “Heart of a Lion” for last would have ended set on an up note.  (Perhaps Priest could have included some Ripper-era rarities to add some value and excitement — there were a few songs available.)

METALOGY_0002Judas Priest Live (DVD)

The limited edition DVD, cleverly called Judas Priest Live, has since been released on its own. This is the old Judas Priest Live video, also known as Live Vengeance ’82, from the Screaming for Vengeance tour (Memphis Tennessee).  It’s one of those music videos that you probably remember seeing back in the day. It’s quintessential early 80’s live Priest — all black leather and shiny studs. The setlist leans heavily on Screaming and British Steel, with classics throughout.  The stage is pretty bare, just some girders and a Screaming for Vengeance flag in behind.

This concert has been remixed for DVD, in both stereo and 5.1 surround.  I have read some complaints from fans that guitar overdubs were added to some tracks.  I listened intently but could not conclude one way or the other that any tampering was done.

A pre-recorded “Hellion” acts as intro music; Priest emerge onstage amidst lasers and smoke to play “Electric Eye”.  Halford is  the caricature of himself, bearing a bullwhip, and looking something like the biker from the Village People.  Nevertheless, a young Rob Halford slowly and deliberately commands the stage, powerful voice cracking but getting the job done.  Tipton and Downing are on the flanks, tearing into “Riding on the Wind” next.  The pulse of Ian Hill and Dave Holland, plain is it may be, is metronomically precise.  The video is shot and edited to my taste; lots of closeups although the light flaring is distracting.  (J.J. Abrams did not direct the video though!)  KK Downing makes some of the best “guitar faces” this side of Nigel Tufnel.

“Heading Out to the Highway” brings the speed down from the breakneck pace.  This mid-tempo classic has long been a favourite, although at the time it was only a year old!  Three songs in, and Priest had not yet played anything from British Steel or before!  The confidence in their new material is refreshing.  Rob treats us to some hilarious dancing, but I admit I’d kill for a leather vest like that, with the bird from Screaming emblazoned on the back!  Fear not though, as “Metal Gods”, a British Steel classic, is next.  Rob’s robot dance gets my nod for “favourite moment of the concert”.

Back to new songs, the sharp guitars and robotic pulse of “Bloodstone” gets fists pumping in the air.  The cameras are not wasted on audience shots (I’d rather see the band), but you can see the crowd digging the new material as much as the old.  They really like “Breaking the Law” though, which has a blazing intensity.  Then it’s back to the stone ages:  KK Downing’s guitar showcase “Sinner”.  This killer song loses something with Holland on drums, but it’s more about KK anyway.  His solo is resplendent, but Rob nails the screams!  “Desert Plains” is faster than the Point of Entry version but more powerful.  This is one that Dave Holland is well suited to, and the Hill/Holland pulse is fully apparent.

IMG_20150228_184258Here’s something you don’t hear at Judas Priest concerts anymore: Rob screaming at the crowd, “Are you high?  Sing yeah!”  As a kid, I naively assumed Rob meant high on the music, the adrenaline of the concert, and I’m sure that’s the answer he’d give to the press if asked about it. As a cynical adult, I’m sure he meant “Are you high?” as in “Are you high?”!

All the way back to Sad Wings, “a little Victorian melodrama for you,” it’s “The Ripper”!  Some stage bombs help out with the drama, and Rob sinks his teeth into the words. It’s an absolutely metal-perfect ode to Jack himself.   “Diamonds and Rust” is an unexpected treat, as glimmery as it was on Sin After Sin.

Rob takes a moment to tell the crowd that there are cameras all over the place because they’re making the very first “Judas Priest movie”, and possible live album.  Still waiting on that live album today, Rob!  Back to the new album, it’s “Devil’s Child”, which Rob imbues with a strange monotone during the verses.  This exact version was released as a bonus track on the remastered Screaming For Vengeance.  As such it’s familiar to me and I enjoy the vocal twist.  “Screaming for Vengeance” continues the onslaught of new songs, concluded by the chugging fan favourite “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”.

Closing the set with “Victim of Changes” is a suitably dramatic end.  “Victim” is spot-on, and Rob is as animated as he gets.  Headbanging away, Downing and Tipton are at his sides, while Ian Hill stands bolted to the stage, swaying his bass back and forth hidden behind a cloud of smoke!  This brilliant version has all the twists and turns you expect, and that end scream is so satisfying even if Rob misses the note by several notches.

“The Green Manalishi” rears its leather-studded head in the encores, but not before the big hit, “Living After Midnight”.  And let’s not forgot Rob’s boring “Oh yeah!” chant-along.  Thankfully this version of “Green Manalishi” is a killer (as is the 1981 live version on CD 1 of this box set).  “What you sayin’ Memphis?” screams Rob, before KK and Glenn dig in to their trademark solos.  “Green Manalishi” remains to this day an example of a song improved as a cover version, with all due respect to Peter Green.

It ain’t over ’til the bike comes out, and it does on “Hell Bent for Leather”.  Rob sits reclined on his Harley, bullwhip back in hand, commanding the masses.  After dozens of power chords and crashed cymbals, it’s finally over — 95 minutes of Judas Priest fury, at the height of their 1980’s power.  Not bad for a little bonus DVD (video quality issues aside), and worth picking up separately if you feel so inclined.

In closing

Review the track list yourself, see what you have and what you want, amd buy accordingly. I can tell you that this set was worth it for me for “Heart of a Lion” and the unreleased live material.  The DVD was gravy.

4/5 stars

* foreshadowing!