Brian May

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert (1992)

Part Fourteen of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – A Concert For Life – Tribute to Freddie Mercury (Wembley Stadium, 20 April 1992)

Metallica had come and blown the crowd of 72,000 away.  Extreme impressed the skeptics with a Queen medley.   Live broadcast to 50 countries, there was no pressure at all on Def Leppard!  The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was only the biggest show of 1992.  And they had a new member to show off.

The band had given their new guitarist an easy warm up at a club gig at home in Ireland.  But his first high profile show would be the biggest imaginable.  Without an introduction, out walked former Sweet Savage / Dio / Whitesnake / Riverdogs / Shadow King guitarist Vivian Campbell!

What a choice!  There he was with his new band, completely confident and nailing “Animal”.  In his Union Jack jeans, Joe Elliott bounced on the massive stage, working the crowd without missing a note.  After a brief pause, he then asked the throbbing mass of people, “Do you wanna get rocked?”

It was the first major live outing of a brand new Def Leppard hit.  Hamming for the camera, Vivian ably handles the backing vocals, adding more depth to the live Leppard sound.  The late Steve Clark didn’t sing as many backing vocals, and Viv was a natural.  The crowd ate it up, fists in the air and digging the new tune.  One of the coolest moments is the solo, in which Phil Collen’s picking hand turns into a blur.

One more tune.  And then an even bigger moment:  Brian May himself joined Def Leppard for a cover of Queen’s “Now I’m Here”!  (This track was later included on the 2 CD Adrenalize deluxe edition.)  Of course we all awaited the guitar solo.  Viv went first (introduced by Joe for the first time), and Phil took the second solo.  They really made ’em wait for Brian May!  It was, of course, not May’s first time with Def Leppard.

Even bigger things were in store for the Wembley Crowd as day turned to night.  Queen emerged, playing a long set of classics with a series of incredible guest singers.  And Joe got to open their set, with Slash on guest guitar.  With one of his very favourite bands, Joe got to sing “Tie Your Mother Down”.  And nailed it.

The big question for Leppard fans was “who could possibly replace Steve Clark?”  In Vivian Campbell, they selected a guy who could play with both feel and shred, as well as write songs and sing.  The personalities worked.  The ironic thing is, post-Dio, Vivian had been seen as something of a “hired gun” guitar player.  Would he last in Def Leppard?  In his early interviews, he insisted that he was always looking for a band situation that he could stay in for life.  It turns out that Def Leppard was that band.

Club gig aside, the Freddie Mercury tribute concert was Vivian’s real trial by fire.  It was obvious the band had made the right choice.  Nobody could truly “replace” Steve Clark as the band’s in-house riffmaster.  Vivian helped Leppard evolve into the 1990s.  On with the tour!  Leppard might not have been the biggest rock band in the world anymore, but they rocked 72,000 people, plus millions more at home worldwide.  Not too shabby.

5/5 stars

MuchMusic broadcast the whole show, and then did a repeat performance of the entire thing at night.  It was then that I set my VCR and taped the entire broadcast, with Erica Ehm’s interviews with various bands, including Def Leppard.  Wembley were treated to Queen videos on massive screens in between bands, and those videos are also part of the broadcast.  MuchMusic’s feed was superior to MTV.  I was in Frankenmuth, Michigan mere days later at the end of final exams, watching MTV.  Our coverage was better.  The complete show has never been officially released in any format.

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  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize

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15.  Retro-Active

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

Part Eight of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Pyromania deluxe (2009)

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983 (2009 deluxe edition)

Leppard were riding high when they hit the L.A. Forum in 1983.  Pyromania was selling hot enough that every kid in the neighbourhood had heard at least one of its singles on the radio.  MTV was factoring in now, and its impact can’t be understated.  Leppard had some high budget and good looking videos on offer.  Their live show was just as impressive.

Widely bootlegged, the second night in Los Angeles must have felt like a victory lap, even though there were still months left on the tour.  They hit the stage psyched to perform.  Earlier, Frank Zappa phoned up to ask if he could score some tickets for his kids, Moon Unit and Dweezil.  Members of Van Halen and Heart were in attendance.  Best of all, Queen legend Brian May was in town, and he surprised  Leppard by playing them the twin guitar part of their hit “Photohraph” all by himself!

Remixed and remastered, the second L.A. show is now easily available on the Pyromania deluxe edition — the first official release of a live album with Steve Clark, although it did not come until 2009.

“Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” is a natural opener.  Since it already opened Pyromania itself, it was well suited, but its extended (taped) intro made for a dramatic band entrance.  Joe’s road-worn scream is employed to great effect.  Even so slightly faster than LP, “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” defined the mood.  Rock rock till you drop indeed!  Keeping with the “Rock” theme, “Rock Brigade” was locked and loaded for the second spot.  It sounds fresh with Phil Collen on lead guitar and backing vocals.  His solo is balls-out technical, and completely unlike those of Pete Willis.

Joe pauses to say “good evening”, and then it’s straight into “Saturday Night (High ‘N’ Dry)”.  This ode to getting wasted from 1981 is not a vast departure from the album version despite Phil amping up the guitar work.  Into “Another Hit and Run”, it’s pure adrenaline and foot on the gas pedal.  Screaming into the ether, Joe sings of youthful self-destruction.  It turns into a jam towards the end, before careening through the finish line.

“Billy’s Got a Gun” is one of those songs that can get a bit rickety live, but this version is solid.  The excellent “Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes” follows, and it’s very slightly revised to increase the tension.  Some won’t notice the differences.  As usual, the chorus kills.  It’s been all album cuts thus far, and no hits.  But then Joe invites Steve Clark to the spotlight to play an acoustic guitar solo, which becomes “Foolin'”, the first of the three massive hits rolled out in a row.  This might be considered the center of the show:  “Foolin'”, “Photograph” and (a slightly fast) “Rock of Ages”.  Each one a perfect gem, but with the live edge intact.  To take it over the top, a ragged “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”, Leppard’s other recognisable hit, is rolled out immediately after.  What do you do for an encore?  We’ll get to that.

“Switch 625” follows “Heartbreak” as it should.  With the hits behind them, Leppard spend the end of the set rocking really, really heavy.  “Switch 625” is already a steamer, but it’s followed by “Let It Go”, “Wasted” and an encore tease, and then “Stagefright”.  Clearly, this setlist was designed to rock!  “Wasted” in particular stands out from this trio.  Phil’s blazing solo technique adds that extra dimension to the song, but it is just as amped up and the best versions from the early years.

But “Stagefright” isn’t the real encore.

“Right, I said we got a surprise for ya.  And we have a big one at that.  Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome all the way from England — Queen’s Brian May!”

Queen were not on tour, but they were in Los Angeles recording their 1984 album The Works.  The long friendship between Leppard and Queen began right here.  A cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelling Band” is the earliest recording of Joe and May together, but certainly not the last!  This is not only a piece of history, but it’s a brilliant track!  Joe’s screaming voice is strangely well suited to an overblown CCR cover.  But hearing the guitar trio solo together, each with their own style, is the real icing on the cake.  May is so creamy!

There are no other live releases from the Pyromania era, and the band’s sound transformed permanently when they next hit the road.  This live album is the end of an era, and an excellent good time of it too.

5/5 stars

The Pyromania tour wrapped up 18 December in Dortmund Germany, another two-nighter.  Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, Rick Allen had the car accident that severed his left arm.  In a heartbreaking twist, the arm was reattached, but after an infection set in, had to be removed again.  This devastating tragedy united the band.  Ambulance-chasers were ready and waiting to take the drum stool away from Rick Allen, but the band refused to see it as the end for the drummer.  We all know what happens next.  It was total Hysteria!

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  • Hysteria

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania (1983)

Part Seven of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Pyromania deluxe (1983)

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania (1983 Polygram)

Disruption!  Midway through the recording of Def Leppard’s crucial third album, guitarist Pete Willis was fired.  It had been coming for a while.  His alleged alcohol consumption was causing problems and the band had their eye on Phil Collen from Girl already.  They were lucky to get Phil, as he had already been approached about joining Iron Maiden to replace Dennis Stratton.

This was serious.  Once again working with “Mutt” Lange, whose schedule was booked solid, time was money.  And music, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a business.  The third Def Leppard album was critical.  The potential of the band was not underestimated.  “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” made the top 20 in the US and the new album was intended to do better.  Lange has a songwriting credit on every song, indicating the level to which he was involved to make the album as perfect as could be.  It took 10 months to record, a mind-numbingly long time to the young band.  If only they knew….

Pete Willis had writing credits on four songs, including two singles.  With rhythm guitars laid down on all tracks by Willis, Collen just needed to whip up a few solos and finish off some bits and pieces.  He and Steve Clark made a formidable duo.  Collen had a more schooled sound than Willis and the contrast added a new dimension to Leppard’s solos.  Meanwhile, the songs were streamlined.  Sleaker, more hooks per minute, more direct…more commercial.

Some feel this is where Def Leppard started to go over the cliff.  The majority probably see it as Def Leppard becoming the real Def Leppard.

The opening music would have been familiar to anyone who caught Def Leppard live in the early years.  “Medicine Man” was an early track with an absolutely killer Clark riff.  With Mutt’s help they re-wrote it into the now-esteemed “Rock! Rock! Till You Drop”, but that riff is still the main feature.  After the headbanging commences, a screamin’ Joe Elliott lays down one of his most raging lead vocals.  Collen’s style is audible from the solo; a fretburner.  “Rock! Rock!” isn’t really that far off from High ‘N’ Dry, but you can tell it’s spent more time at the polishing wheel.  The production also seems colder and more clinical.

The triumphant “Photograph” really showed where Leppard were going.  Sure there’s a riff, but the main features here are the vocal melodies and harmonies.  Noticeable keyboard accents de-clawed the Leppard, and the sweetened harmonies have the full-on Mutt Lange treatment that you hear elsewhere with Bryan Adams and Billy Ocean.  None of that is necessarily a bad thing, but this is where Def Leppard decidedly left the New Wave of British Heavy Metal behind them.  “Photograph” went to #1 in the United States.  Mission accomplished.

Track three, “Stagefright” opens with a faux-live intro and a biting riff.  Credited to Joe Elliott, Mutt Lange and Rick Savage, it’s surprisingly one of the heaviest songs.  Back then Joe’s voice could deliver both menace and melody simultaneously, and he does that here.

While not a deep cut (#9 US), “Too Late For Love” is a lesser-known classic.  No music video was made though they did a lip-synched TV appearance that later ended up on their home video Historia.  A dark ballad with edge, “Too Late For Love” has cool atmosphere and just the right amount of scream.

“Die Hard the Hunter” opens with synthesised war sound effects and a soft guitar melody that deceives into thinking it’s another ballad; but no.  This rocker burns hot, but damn those drums are really sample-y sounding.  Rick Allen had a better sound on High ‘N’ Dry, but of course the times were changing.  Eliminator by ZZ Top was out the same year.

One of the big singles (#9 US once again) is the undeniable “Foolin'”.  Mixing rocker and ballad formulas, it set a template for bands to attempt to copy on their way up the charts.  The stuttering chorus is now a Leppard hallmark, and not a second of the song is boring.

You can imagine, spending 10 months in the studio, how monotonous some tasks must be, take after take after take.  The simple act of counting in a band — one, two, three, four — must be tedious the hundreth time.  Perhaps the next time, to stave off boredom, it’s uno, dos, tres, quatro.  Then something else, language by language until finally you end up with “gunter, glieben, glauten, globen”, a nonsense phrase that sounds vaguely Germanic.  And suddenly, without knowing it, you’ve created a catchphrase.  At least that’s how it happened for Mutt Lange on “Rock of Ages”!

That’s the story of “Rock of Ages” (#1 US), one of Leppard most irresistible hits, and also one indicative of the shift in Leppard’s sound.  A very synth-y bassline and tech-y drums stamp out a a robotic 80s groove that was destined for radio and video stardom.  The chorus was even more potent.  “What do you want?” yells the band in harmony.  “I want rock and roll!” you respond, fist in the air.  It all seems very contrived, and perhaps it was.  Is that so bad?  Back then, it really felt like you had to fight for rock and roll.  It seemed every church and every politician wanted to neuter rock bands.  A good, defiant, radio-ready smash hit like “Rock of Ages” tapped into the 80s.

The killer deep cut here is called “Comin’ Underfire” which, had there been five singles, would have made a fine fifth.  Tapping into the angst and tension of earlier tracks like “Lady Strange” and “Mirror, Mirror”, this is nothing but awesome wrapped up in a taut chorus like a bow.  Steady, strong, and loaded with hooks.  Pete Willis had a hand in writing it, demonstrating the guitarist’s often overlooked value.

Another wicked deep cut is the terrifically fun “Action! Not Words”, which, if there was a sixth single… Anyway, the slippery slide-y riff is reinforced by a simple and effective chorus.  Let’s face it, there’s very little fat on Pyromania.

If anything, perhaps it’s the closing track “Billy’s Got a Gun” that might be the the only one that could be argued as filler.  Laid back and emoting a dangerous vibe, it’s less exciting than the preceding material.  It is, however, the closer, which has to draw the album to a proper close, and end it on the right vibe.  “Billy’s Got a Gun” does the job.  The album concludes with a song that feels like an ending, especially with that “bang bang” at the end.

A brief record-spinning coda is tacked at the end of the album for those who let it play all the way to the end.  It probably fooled a few kids into thinking their turntable was broken, as the record seemingly spins fast and slow, over and over.

There were no B-sides or bonus tracks recorded.  No extras, no unreleased songs.  Talk about having your eye on the prize!

Pyromania had broad appeal.  The numbers showed it.  It put Leppard in the big leagues.  To date it has sold 10 million copies in the US.  It was the end of obscurity.  The band toured relentlessly.  Though they did not release a live album, the 2009 Pyromania deluxe edition contains one from the L.A. Forum in 1983.  We’ll look at that next time.

5/5 stars

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  • Pyromania bonus disc Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

REVIEW: Iommi – Iommi (2000)

“Like many projects featuring multiple singers, the album called Iommi is a mixed bag but with more gems than turds.”

 

IOMMI – Iommi (2000 Virgin)

Iommi is the first released solo album by Tony Iommi, but actually the third recorded.  The first was 1986’s Seventh Star, released as “Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi”, with Glenn Hughes on vocals.  10 years later, Tony recorded another album with Hughes often referred to as “Eighth Star“, which was released in 2004 (after the drums by Dave Holland were re-recorded by Jimmy Copley) as The 1996 DEP Sessions.  Then finally in 2000, Tony took a page from the successful Santana formula book and did an album with various lead singers called Iommi.

Like many projects featuring multiple singers and assorted musicians, the album called Iommi is a mixed bag, but with more gems than turds.  The guitarist picked an interesting assortment of vocalists, mostly artists big in the 90s.  It’s telling that Tony’s good buddy Glenn Hughes isn’t one of them (though Hughes returned on 2006’s Fused).  Clearly commercial interests were most important when it came to selecting the singers and songs.

The inimitable Henry Rollins gets the enviable opening slot with “Laughing Man (In the Devil Mask)”.  Rollins sounds best with a heavy riff behind him, and this one is pure grunge.  Producer-de-jour Bob Marlette co-wrote almost every song, and there’s little doubt that this is how Iommi acquired its “modern” edge.  Rollins creates a swirl chaotic rock around him, but the riff alone would have sunk without Hank.  Iommi seldom writes such atonal, monotonous guitar parts as “Laughing Man (In the Devil Mask)”.

Skin (Skunk Anansie) is surely one hell of an underrated singer, and her track “Meat” howls.  Iommi’s solos and riffs sound much more like what comes naturally from him.  Then, it’s the unfortunate sound of 90s drum loops and samples.  It’s Dave Grohl’s tune “Goodbye Lament”.  Because as soon as one thinks of Iommi or Grohl, we think of drum loops, am I right?  Fortunately Grohl has ex-Sabbath bassist Lawrence Cottle and Queen maestro Brian May on his track.  He plays the drums when they finally do kick in.  Three of those four guys played on Headless Cross!  The drum loops suck and date the song to a certain period in time, but fortunately Grohl knows how to write good melodies so it’s not a total bust.

Phil Anselmo (Pantera) takes the very Sabbathy “Time is Mine”.  That riff sounds like it may have been later used on an actual Black Sabbath record.  The track simmers with fury, then Phil lets it rip loose.  The only way to make Sabbath heavier than Sabbath is to include a singer like Anselmo.  Drumming is Seattle legend Matt Cameron.

The expressive Serj Tankian (System of a Down) lets his pipes have their way with “Patterns”, amidst more of those annoying samples.  It absolutely sounds more System than Sabbath, which is fine since both are heavier than fuck.

The one guy that pulls off a truly Black Sabbath-sounding song is the guy you’d least expect:  Billy Corgan.  Yet his “Black Oblivion” comes closest to the spirit of classic Black Sabbath, in terms of length and epic riffage.  Billy plays bass and guitar on the track as well — what a phenomenal bassist!  (The drummer, Kenny Aronoff, knew Corgan from the 1998 Smashing Pumpkins tour on which he played, and then Aronoff went on to play on two more Iommi solo discs.)

The Cult’s Ian Astbury makes Iommi sound like — who else? — The Cult!  Brian May returns for some guitar (with Cottle and Cameron on bass and drums).  The Cult rarely employ such monolithic riffs, but the chorus is pure Cult.

“Flame On!  I used to bleed like a suicide mother,
Flame On!  And now I breath in this dirty black summer,
Flame On!  I bought the truth in the mouth of my brother,
Flame On!  I used to bleed like a suicide motherfucker.”

Shame about the damn loops, like something discarded from Chinese Democracy.  They also infect “Just Say No to Love” featuring the late Peter Steele of Type O Negative.  Like Astbury, he makes Iommi sound like his band, which already sounded a bit like a Black Sabbath parody.

The biggest disappointment on the album is second to last.  “Who’s Fooling Who” is a virtual Black Sabbath reunion, with Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward returning to the fold.  On bass is Lawrence Cottle, making it 100% Sabbath alumni, 3/4 original.  And it’s easily the most boring song on the album.  The best thing about it is Bill Ward, the first drummer who didn’t sound like a session guy.  A muffled Ozzy phones in his part, but Bill puts some effort into composing the percussion.  The best part is the instrumental burnout.

And then, a surprising finish:  Billy Idol, with a monstrous “Into the Night”.  Idol should consider doing heavy riffy metal like this more often — he’s good at it.  Though he effectively snarls his way through the slow riff, his punky side comes out when things get fast.  The contrast between riffs and tempos is half the fun.

With Iommi freshly consumed and digested anew, it’s obvious that good portion of what you heard was purposefully geared towards the nu-metal Ozzfest crowd.  The selection of musicians was clearly slanted post-80s, but it’s the loops and samples that really blow.  The blame must be laid on producer Bob Marlette, especially considering some of the loops sounded exactly like another band he produced:  Rob Halford’s Two.  The whole thing sounds like a “product”, though at least with some pretty incredible riffs behind it.

3/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody – The Original Soundtrack (2018)

QUEEN – Bohemian Rhapsody – The Original Soundtrack (2018 Hollywood Records)

“Best Queen greatest hits yet,” said a trusted fellow Rock Connoisseur.  “Nahh”, I thought, remembering the red and blue CDs I grew old with.  But his theory might just hold water.  For fans new and old, listening to the Bohemian Rhapsody soundtrack from start to finish is very satisfying.

The movie’s getting torn to shreds by the critics.  Don’t let that scare you away from the album.  Worth the price of admission for die hard fans is the new Queen version of the “20th Century Fox Fanfare”.  Who needs an orchestra when you have a Brian May?  Then it’s “Somebody to Love”, which you can imagine playing over the opening credits, can’t you?

“Doing All Right…revisited” is a pre-Freddie version of the Queen song, by the pre-Freddie version of the band, called Smile.  This is a first for collectors, and is hopefully a taste of more Smile music to come.  Moving on chronologically, it’s the scorching classic “Keep Yourself Alive” from the legendary Live at the Rainbow ’74.  Because Queen was one of the greatest live bands of all time, having live tracks mixed in with hits won’t phase the old fans.  Folks out there who hate live versions (yes they exist) will whine that the originals aren’t included.  That’s OK because sometimes Queen live was actually as good or better than Queen in the studio.  “Keep Yourself Alive” is one such track.

One can’t fault the song selection.  “Killer Queen”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Under Pressure”, “Another One Bites the Dust” and “We Will Rock You (in a movie remix) represent the radio perennials.   Other favourite Queen songs are present in a mini-set from Live Aid.  It’s not the whole set, unfortunately, but a large slice:  “Bohemian Rhapsody” (also present earlier on the CD in its studio version), “Radio Ga-Ga” “Hammer to Fall” and “We Are the Champions” are stellar performances from an historic concert.  No one is poorer for having these.

You may question your need to own a remix of “Don’t Stop Me Now” with too much guitar, or a live “Now I’m Here” from the Night at the Odeon album.  Well, you’d do it to get “Fat Bottomed Girls”, which was chopped from the Live Killers album, or “Love of My Life” from Rock In Rio in front of 500,000 people.  It’s a trade-off with you as the winner.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queen – Hot Space (2011 bonus tracks)

QUEEN – Hot Space (Originally 1982, 2011 Hollywood 2 CD set)

Once upon a time, a band called Queen put a note in the credits of their first album: “And nobody played synthesizer”.

By 1982’s Hot Space, this credo was long gone.  In its place, a slick new sounding Queen that did not resonate with Americans the same way old Queen did.  Hot Space still bore a fair share of hits, though very different sounding ones from the olden days.

“Staying Power” opens the album with blasts of horns and funky synths.  On tracks like this, without any bass guitar, John Deacon played rhythm.  “Staying Power” represents the shape of Queen to come.  It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1989’s The Miracle.  The horns give it the needed punch.  Then Brian May’s “Dancer” slinks over, a disco rock tune with some (just some) trademark layers of Queen guitars.

If you feel like gettin’ down on the dancefloor, then “Back Chat” is the song for you.  It’s in the same vein as disco Kiss, but with the kind of funky authenticity that Queen can bring to the party.  “Back Chat” is the album’s first completely memorable song, provided by John Deacon.  Fortunately it has real bass, to keep that groove dirty.  As a single, it didn’t perform as well as “Body Language ↑⬱”, though it’s a superior song.  “Body Language ↑⬱” is all synth with no meat.

Roger Taylor’s funk rocker “Action This Day” boasts a cool sax solo, but the synth drums are lifeless.  It’s much better live (find this version on CD 2) with real instruments.  Brian May’s “Put Out the Fire” is a welcome return to traditional Queen instrumentation.  “Put Out the Fire” is the only song that sounds like “classic” Queen.  If you heard it for the first time, you sure wouldn’t assume it was from Hot Space.  It’s what you would call a “stock” Queen rocker.  No embellishment, no quarter.

Going topical, Freddie tackled the difficult subject of the recently murdered John Lennon.  “Life is Real (Song for Lennon)” is composed like a John song, with piano being the main musical support.  May’s solo is one of his most tender and warm, but the song is not their most memorable.  Taylor’s “Calling All Girls” is far catchier, and would probably be considered a classic if it were better known.

Brian’s ballad “Las Palabras de Amor (The Words of Love)” received worldwide attention at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992, performed with Zucchero Fornaciari. In this case, the synths work with the song and not against it. They create a dreamy landscape, perfect for Freddie’s plaintive singing. This fantastic ballad is up there with the more famous Queen classics.

“Cool Cat” was recorded as a duet with David Bowie, who was unsatisfied. Although the Bowie mix made it to a test pressing, it was removed from the album and has yet to see a re-release. A dusky, slinky tune like “Cool Cat” would sound neat with Bowie aboard. David’s there for “Under Pressure” (obviously), which doesn’t need discussing because everybody knows that song. Or should. Immediately. It is rock magic, born of a jam between the five musicians. When magic happens, it can create songs as perfect as “Under Pressure”.

Hot Space is a bit wobbly, but the bonus disc evens things out a bit.  A soul ballad B-side called “Soul Brother” might have worked better on the album than some of the songs that made it.  The single remix of “Back Chat” gives us a chance to revisit the album’s most addictive song.  Check out the fast, very dexterous live version of “Staying Power”.  It is pretty impressive even if it’s not one of Queen’s greatest songs.  The performance on the live take is a lesson by the masters on playing live, so listen up.  Similarly, live versions of “Action This Day” and “Calling All Girls” get an injection of life on the stage.

Hot Space shouldn’t be too high on anyone’s Queen want lists, but it shouldn’t be ignored either.  Check out the 2 CD version for the worthwhile additions.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queen – On Air (6 CD box set)

QUEEN – On Air – The Radio Collection (2016 BBC 6 CD box set)

Go big or go home.  Why buy the 2 CD version of Queen On Air when you can go for the 6 CD smorgasbord?  If you love Queen, it is the only way to do it.  Having said that, if you only “like” Queen and wouldn’t give your own blood to buy a box set, then the simple 2 disc standard edition will probably suffice.  The first two discs in this set are the same as the standard edition.  Everything else is a bonus.

The contents of the first two discs are The Complete BBC Sessions, 24 songs in total plus some disc jockey chit chat.  Because these tracks come from multiple BBC appearances, some songs are played more than once, such as “Keep Yourself Alive”, “Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the epic “Liar”.  Most of the recordings are from the very early 70s — 1973 and 1974.  Queen were a rough and ready beast back then, but these versions are really not too far off from the original album tracks.  Because it’s the BBC, the recordings and fidelity are excellent.  This is a treasure trove of early Queen, all the best tracks, captured perfectly.  Any fan of the first three Queen albums will be more than satisfied with these discs.  Then, there’s a gap.  After the Sheer Heart Attack (1974) era, there is nothing until 1977’s News of the World.  That album is represented by four of the best tracks:  the fast and guitar-heavy version of “We Will Rock You”, plus “It’s Late”, “My Melancholy Blues”, and “Spread Your Wings”.

According to the liner notes, even though they were a new band, Queen were afforded unusual leeway at the BBC.  Everyone knew they were talented and capable, and so when Freddie Mercury demanded very high standards and everything just so, he was accommodated.  The pay off is that these recordings are stunningly good, and rival the official album versions for quality.  Apparently the BBC sessions were heavily bootlegged, and you will understand why.

Disc 3 contains portions of three concerts.  Shame it’s not the full shows.  I’m sure those will come one day.  In the meantime, enjoy this CD.  You will hear highlights from concerts in 1973, 1981 and 1986, again recorded by the BBC.  This makes for a diverse listen, including guitar solos and covers.  The 1981 recording from Sao Paulo, Brazil is the weakest in terms of sound, but still perfectly listenable.  The 1986 material from Germany is fabulous.  Freddie dropped an “F” bomb in “Under Pressure” as he was being recorded for radio!

This might be where most listeners have to check out.  The final three CDs are interviews with all four members of Queen — 210 minutes of interviews.  Did you know Freddie Mercury could speak Japanese?  Full concerts would be better than interviews, but here they are.  Also among the interviews is a chat with producer Roy Thomas Baker.  The interviews range from 1976 to 1992 and the tribute concert.  Queen never reveal too much, but the timeline of interviews provides a lot of detail surrounding Queen’s most celebrated albums.

The problem with the interviews isn’t so much the quality, but a matter of “when am I going to listen to all this” and “how often”.  The music is the meat of it.  This box set can be found affordably, so be aware of what’s inside and don’t pay too much.

3.5/5 stars

 

#633: Don’t Take Offence At My Innuendo

GETTING MORE TALE #633: Don’t Take Offence At My Innuendo

I didn’t understand Queen until it was almost too late.  When I was a highschool hair metal brat, Queen were “too pop” for my tastes.  Much of their music seemed to be novelty songs to me.  Highschool pep rally music:  “We Will Rock You”, “We are the Champions”.   In the late 80s, North America had all but given up on Queen.  My exposure to them was minimal until 1991.

MuchMusic began playing a new Queen video called “Innuendo”.  The animated short was intense with firey guitar histronics (courtesy of Steve Howe from Yes) and an exotic Zeppelin edge.  Having just got into Zeppelin big time, this was very appealing.  At school, old pal Scott Peddle concurred.  “That new Queen is quite the Zeppelin tune,” and I agreed.  As far as I was concerned, any band that could homage Zep’s “Kashmir” with their own unique slant, well, I had to check them out!

M.E.A.T Magazine had a new interview with Brian May that year, and so my learning began.  It was the first I heard of Freddie’s rumoured health problems.  Queen hadn’t toured since 1986 and this raised questions.  Little did I know, but the British tabloids were all over Freddie with candid photos and near-death pronouncements.  Brian denied the health concerns, but admitted that it was Freddie who didn’t want to tour.  This was because as singer, he couldn’t smoke, drink and party with the rest of the band.  He had to take care of his voice.  So went the interview.  Brian assured readers that Queen would continue, as they were already half-way through the next Queen album, eventually released in 1995 as Made  in Heaven.

The next chapter in my learning came during the summer.  In guitar magazine interview, Brian May ran through all the Queen albums one by one.  I drank in every word, as I got a rough outline of what this band was all about.  Diversity, mostly, and I liked that.  Zeppelin too was diverse, but I sensed that Queen took it to another level.  I made plans to begin collecting Queen.

After highschool, I managed to stay in touch with a guy named Andy.  Andy had an older brother with an extensive record collection.  Andy told me all about this song called “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  He was over one night when my mom came downstairs to tell us some bad news.  It was the 23rd of November, 1991.  Freddie Mercury had made a statement.

“Following the enormous conjecture in the press over the last two weeks, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has come now for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease. My privacy has always been very special to me and I am famous for my lack of interviews. Please understand this policy will continue.”

There was such a stigma surrounding AIDS then, more so than today.  It is easy to be critical of Freddie’s decision to keep his illness secret.  Unless you were there in 1991, then you really can’t know how difficult it was for AIDS sufferers at the time.

Andy and I were shellshocked.  The rumours were true.  The denials were false.  Brian later admitted that he knew early on that Freddie was sick.  Still, Andy and I had no idea how serious it was.  We talked, we listened to Queen.  Freddie died the very next day (the same day as Eric Carr of Kiss).  I had hardly got to know him.

My mom was headed to the mall and she asked if I wanted anything.  “Yes,” I answered.  “The first Queen album please.”  She returned that afternoon with Queen, 1973.  It was my first Queen.  I intended to collect them in order.

Getting all the albums in original order went sideways shortly after.  Less than three months after Freddie’s passing, came a worldwide phenomenon:  Wayne’s World.

Overnight, Queen were everywhere again.  Everyone knew every word to “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  The few months’ head start that I had were meaningless.  Two weeks later, Hollywood Records released Classic Queen in North America.  This was essentially a revised Greatest Hits II from 1991, (which they didn’t even bother to release here) with older hits thrown in.  Later that year came a new version of Greatest Hits, with the track listing revamped to avoid overlap with Classic Queen.  Confusing?  Indeed, it must have been to old fans who already had the old Greatest Hits with the original cover art.  That immediately became a collectable.  To new guys like me, I was just trying to keep up.

Hollywood Records reissued all the old Queen albums as part of their 20 Years of Queen series.  There were bonus tracks.  I had begun my Queen collection on cassette, but I was irked to discovery that some of the CD editions had bonus tracks that were not on the cassettes.  And so, I already had to re-buy.  Interestingly, some of those old 1991 bonus tracks are remixes that are now out of print and not available on the newer Queen reissues.

It was a blessing that I stopped buying them in chronological order.  After all, I didn’t want to wait that long to get Innuendo, an album with more than the average amount of heavy Queen rock.  Next, I got News of the World.  Its bonus tracks was a pretty awful remix of “We Will Rock You” by Rick Rubin and featuring Flea.  Fortunately the album itself was much better.  Queen’s best?  Quite possibly, due to “It’s Late”, a Queen epic as regal as any.  The 6:27 Brian May workout is a clear highlight on an album of nothing but.  “It’s Late” sunk its hooks in me deep.

As it was difficult for Hollywood Records to to extract new releases from a defunct band, the reissues continued.  Queen At the Beeb was out of print, so it was re-released with new cover art as Queen at the BBC in 1995.  This collection of live oldies from Queen and Queen II were not what the hit-buying general public were interested in.  My copy was a cassette promo from the Record Store, intended for store play.  The boss never played it so I claimed it.

Working at the Record Store, I was able to fill in most of the blanks in my collection.  A nice find was a version of The Miracle with 14 tracks instead of the more common 13.  I still have that.  (The additional track was the 12″ remix of “Scandal”.)  It was ol’ buddy T-Rev who made sure I knew these things.

As the years passed, Queen releases became less important.  The long-awaited final album Made in Heaven became a shelf warmer at Christmas 1995.  Regardless of its deep emotional contents, people didn’t want to know.  The unfortunate effect of Queen’s sudden comeback in North America is that people lost interest a few years after they gained it.

Not me.  Made in Heaven became a dark favourite.  Two years later, Queen indicated they weren’t done yet.  The trio of Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon regrouped for one last song:  the ballad “No-One But You (Only the Good Die Young)”.  It was a tribute to Freddie and Princess Diana, and released on a new compilation called Queen Rocks.

John Deacon retired, but then something strange happened.  The duo of Brian May and Roger Taylor reconvened as “Queen +”.  This moniker was used for a number of remixes on Greatest Hits III: Queen + Wyclef Jean, for example.  There was Five + Queen doing a new boy band version of “We Will Rock You”.  Queen + Paul Rodgers did an album (The Cosmos Rocks) and a number of tours.  But it wasn’t until a former American Idol TV contestant named Adam Lambert came on board that Queen regained mass public awareness.  Now, Queen + Adam Lambert are a hot touring commodity.

That might have to be enough.  Because nobody bought The Cosmos Rocks, Queen + Adam Lambert are unlikely at this time to record new music.  Instead they will be tearing up stages Down Under in 2018.  They promise all the favourites, and a few unexpected oldies.  Lambert is a versatile singer who can do it all, so Australia and New Zealand are now on alert:  Queen + Adam Lambert are coming and are promising a hell of a show.

  • Auckland – 17 & 18 February
  • Sydney – 21 & 22 February
  • Brisbane – 24 February
  • Adelaide (first Queen shows since 1984) – 27 & 28 February
  • Melbourne – 2 & 3 March
  • Perth – 6 March

 

REVIEW: Queen – Flash Gordon (with 1991 and 2011 bonus tracks)

Flash Gordon – Original Soundtrack Music by QUEEN (Originally 1980, 1991 and 2011 Hollywood CDs)

When mom and dad rented the movie Flash Gordon, we sat and watched it as a family.  “It’s terrible,” a family friend told us.  There were only so many movies available to rent at the local store (Steve’s TV), just one small wall of VHS and Betamax.  Flash Gordon came home with us one weekend, and because we tried to make the most of our movie rentals (including the VCR, also a rental) we watched it twice.

I have not seen Flash Gordon since that childhood weekend.  It really was awful.  Maybe we hoped for more because Max Von Sydow was in it.  Neither Sydow, nor Brian Blessed, nor a young Timothy Dalton could save Flash Gordon.

Flash Gordon, New York Jets

Queen also could not save the movie, though their soundtrack is certainly one of the best things to come of it.  (Another is the movie Ted, basically a love letter to the original Flash Gordon).   All four Queen members wrote music for the film, and recorded it as a band.  Brian May wrote the lion’s share of material, though Freddie Mercury was responsible for “Vultan’s Theme”, later ripped off for an Atari video game called Vanguard.  I wonder if Freddie ever saw a dime from that?  I knew Freddie’s song from the video game by heart, long before I ever heard the album by Queen!

The soundtrack gave us one Queen hit single, “Flash’s Theme” written by May.  The 2011 double CD has a single version, and a live cut from Montreal in ’81 (also on Queen Rock Montreal), as bonuses to the album track.  “Flash’s Theme” is sparse but catchy, featuring movie dialogue that makes it seem like the film should be much better.  Queen’s bombast was ideal for this.  When Roger Taylor sings the highest notes in the chorus, it’s sheer musical delight.

The album plays like a soundtrack, with lots of atmospheric keyboard instrumentals and movie dialogue.  Because of its ambient nature, you might not at first recognise some tracks as Queen.  Some is similar to the ambient work that closed their last album, Made in Heaven.  The music is far more grand than its onscreen imagery.

One of the most memorable instrumentals is “Football Fight”, a Mercury synth workout.  Perhaps sometimes we forget what a great keyboardist Mercury was, simply because he was such an amazing vocalist.  “Football Fight” is super fun, and you can also get it in a piano-based demo version on the 2011 CD.  Check out a Queen-tastic version of Wagner’s famous “Wedding March” performed by May on guitar.  Finally there is the rock track “The Hero”, a riffy song with full vocals by Freddie.  It reprises some prior themes from the soundtrack, such as “Vultan’s”.  Queen is augmented by an orchestra on “The Hero”, which is as grand as you would expect.  Like “Flash”, you can also get “The Hero” on disc two in live form, in Montreal 1981.

A long forgotten bonus track for this album was released on the 1991 Hollywood Records CD.  A remix by somebody called “Mista Lawnge” starts off well enough, with a grinding beat synched to May’s guitar.  It goes downhill when somebody starts rapping, “Flash, one time!  Flash, two times!”  Note to all remixers:  Never, ever add random rappers to rock songs.  Don’t.

Rest assured, no matter which version of Flash Gordon you pick up, there are some definite musts on the album.  Much of it will only appeal to fans of soundtracks.  If that sounds like you, take a ride with Flash to planet Mongo and get down with some Queen.  Skip the movie!

4/5 stars

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