Brooks Wackerman

REVIEW: Avril Lavigne – Under My Skin (2004 w/ bonus track)

Yesterday, you read all about why I own this (and many others).  Will I still like it today?  Let’s find out.

AVRIL LAVIGNE – Under My Skin (2004 Arista)

Let’s get on with it.  The version of Under My Skin that I have comprises 13 songs, so let’s put the headphones on.   “Take Me Away” opens strongly with sparse, polished guitars and keyboards.  It sounds like Evanescence, actually.  It was written by Avril and her guitarist Evan Taubenfeld.  At this point, Avril wasn’t singing with any annoying contrivances in her voice.  She was just blasting away (most likely in autotune).  Given that this song is very produced and plasticized, it’s still a good song.  So far we’re 1/1.

AVRIL_0004“Together” is a bit too melodramatic for Mike 2014, but damn, I still love that fucking chorus. I’m singing along with my fist in the air.  Shit!  2/2.

One of several hit singles was the ballady “Don’t Tell Me”.  This one makes me want to vomit in my mouth a little bit.  I’m uncomfortable with this kind of teenybop rock now.  But that fucking chorus hits and…ahh fuck!  Still, the chorus can’t save the song, it’s shite.  2/3.

Avril returns to her so-called punk roots with “He Wasn’t”.  Phil X on guitar here, but he doesn’t get to solo (a damn shame).  As much as I want to hate the song, I can’t.  It seems pretty sincere, and it ain’t bad.  It’s snarky but not annoyingly so.  3/4 now.  “How Does It Feel” is a ballad, not a bad one either.  The instrumental production on this one (by Raine Maida) is excellent, although the vocals still sound autotuned.  Phil X again on guitar.  The score is now 4/5.

I’m a total sucker for the single “My Happy Ending”.  Butch Walker wrote a pretty cool song, and the chorus is one of those Avril bellows that she is known for.  The lyrics, like most of ’em, are about some dude.  I can’t really sing along to “He was everything, everything that I wanted,” sincerely, you know?  Still, the score is now 5/6.  And it’s going to go up to 6/7, because I remember liking the song “Nobody’s Home” a lot.  I’m not sure what the lyrics are exactly about, but Avril sounds like she’s trying to get serious, so that’s better than words about some dude.  Ben Moody from Evanescence itself co-wrote this one, so you can guess who it naturally reminds me of.  Still, I’ll maintain that 6/7 because the chorus is still great.

“Forgotten” starts out crap.  You sure can tell this one was written by Chantal Kreviazuk as that is who it sounds like.  The track doesn’t improve on the chorus.  Pass.  The board reads 6/8.   A good song called “Who Knows” is up next, and even though it wasn’t one of the single, I think it’s one of the best songs.  This one kind of sounds like a pop metal anthem, you could imagine a band like Warrant having a song like this.  It has mellow acoustic verses with a shout-y fun singalong chorus.  7/9 now!  “Fall To Pieces”, written with Raine Maida sounds like an Our Lady Peace outtake.    A pretty good outtake, with a great bridge.  Good enough for 8/10.

I have always liked “Freak Out”.  It’s just fun.  This one too sounds like a Raine Maida construction, but it is not.  It’s written by Butch Walker and Avril’s drummer Matt Brann.  It’s easier to listen to than most Our Lady Pea(ee-yai-ee-aye-ee)ce, so the score is now 9/11.  As my buddy Craig might say, it’s looking like it’s time to hand in my Man Card.

Maybe not!  “Slipped Away” is utter shite that I cannot listen to.  It sounds like Chantal…guess who wrote it?  The chorus is not too bad, but this song is crap.  Can’t take it.  If I could deduct 2 points, I would.  9/12.  It’s down to the “bonus track” now.  “I Always Get What I Want” originally came from a UK edition, but I bought this CD from my nearest Walmart.  There’s something on the fine print about Sony BMG Music Entertainment (UK) Ltd, so maybe that’s something to do with it.  “I Always Get What I Want” is another “punky” Avril, but like “Slipped Away”, it too is crap.  Sounds like Avril’s trying to be her heroes, Green Day.  No thank you.

The final score for Avril Lavigne’s Under My Skin is 9/13.  Did I like it as much now as I did in 2004?  Not quite.  It might have been that I liked a couple more of those sappy songs.  However, I’ve already said far too much here.  I’m going to cut my losses and get out now.

3.5/5 stars

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#321: That Crush on Avril (RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale)

NEW SERIES

Welcome to the first of my new continuing series; the “Post-Record Store Tales” I’ve been talking about.  Here are the RECORD STORE TALES MkII:  Getting More Tale.  Featuring my Simon Pegg action figure as the new “Mini-LeBrain”! Title suggested by Aaron!

To quote David St. Hubbins, “Hope you like our new direction!”

LEBRAIN AND AVRIL

RECORD STORE TALES Mk II:  Getting More Tale

#321:  That Crush on Avril

One of those lingering points left after the conclusion of Record Store Tales was this: my unexplained, unusually large Avril Lavigne CD collection.  This is that tale.

When Avril’s first album arrived in 2002, I was encouraged to listen to it by a new hire at the Record Store.  “I hear that this album has some of the best pop songwriting that has come out in years,” he said.  “From a technical point of view.  I read that the album is just mathematically perfect, from a songwriting perspective.  Mind if we listen to it?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Throw it on.”  I scanned the credits.  Each song was co-written by big name mega-writers with more gold records than I have socks.  There were big name producers on every song, and some familiar names from my metal collection:  Josh Freese might be best known as the drummer in the Vandals (among many others) but I first heard his name in regards to Guns N’ Roses who he was with for a short time.  Another guy, Alessandro Elena, was the drummer in Bruce Dickinson’s Skunkworks.  (He’s the subject of their song, “I’m In a Band with an Italian Drummer.”)

I know that the album was mostly pre-fab, but I didn’t mind it.  Since I was limited in what I could usually listen to in-store, and Avril was fairly safe, I played it a lot.  I always recommended it to customers who were looking for new music for their kids, who thought Britney was getting too skanky.  As a bonus, punk kids seemed to hate her.  Eventually I bought a copy myself.

I probably annoyed the shit out of my co-workers.

AVRILAvril released her heavier second album (Under My Skin) in 2004, and this is where my crush really began. Avril had a new image and a new sound.  I don’t like thinking about that crush anymore; I have been mocked enough.  Hell, Craig Fee mocked me for it on the air just this past Wednesday!  It is true that I had a crush on Avril.  The new grown-up Avril had gothed out and turned up on the cover of Maxim.  Maxim agreed with me, just look at that headline!

Today, the thoughts of “Chavril”, that unholy union between Avril and Horse-man, makes me feel ill.  It’s like finding out your ex-girlfriend is now seeing that jock in school you just fucking hated.  We recently heard that Chavril was splitting.  If so, I say good for her!

So anyway, the second album: It had more names from my metal shelves.  In addition to Josh Freese, the legendary Kenny Aranoff and the astounding Brooks Wackerman played drums.  Phil X of Bon Jovi and Triumph was on axe.  Finally the Canadian duo of Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida were playing and co-writing on most songs too.  This is accompanied by an overall darker and harder approach.

I liked the album a lot in 2004.  Will I like it in 2014?  Let’s find out tomorrow, for a full review.

To be continued…

AVRIL_0003

REVIEW: Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life (Tribute)

NEW RELEASE

“I’m letting them pick what songs they wanna do in the way they wanna do it.” Wendy Dio

THIS IS YOUR LIFE_0001VARIOUS ARTISTS:  Ronnie James Dio – THIS IS YOUR LIFE (2014 tribute CD)

No preable from me: we all know how great Dio was.  Let’s get to the tracks.

Anthrax kick off the festivities with a slamming “Neon Nights”.  The storming opener couldn’t have been in a better slot.  Not only is Charlie Benate heavy as shit, but the guitar solos are mental.  Joe Belladonna handles the powerful vocal ably.  Rob Caggiano is still in the lineup indicating this isn’t brand new.  I suspect it was recorded at the same time as last year’s Anthems EP.

The guys that never get respect, Tenacious D, tackle the difficult second slot.  No worries there; they chose “The Last In Line” which Jack Black sings with no difficulty.  Uncle Meat has said it before:  Jack Black is one of the best singers he’s seen live.  “The Last In Line” proves his pipes, although some may not like his exaggerated, humorous vocal enunciation.  Kyle Gass plays a cute recorder solo in lieu of guitar, but there’s not enough K.G. on this track.  Brooks Wackerman kicks the drums in the ass.

And speaking of drums, Mike Portnoy is next with Adrenaline  Mob.  They demolish “Mob Rules”, although singer Russell Allen is certainly no Dio.  He is completely overshadowed by Portnoy and the shredding of Mike Orlando.

Corey Taylor, Satchel (Russ Parish) and friends  chose “Rainbow In the Dark” as their tribute to Ronnie.  This has always been such a fan favourite, and a personal one as well.  It is difficult to imagine anyone but Ronnie singing it.  While Corey Taylor is not at all like Ronnie James Dio, you can tell he loves this song.  It bleeds out of his performance.  He does it in his own rasp, and it works.

The incredible Lzzy Hale and Halestorm are up next with another Dio classic, “Straight Through the Heart”.  There is no denying the talents of Lzzy Hale, but her powerful pipes are almost too much.  Perhaps she overpowers the song, rather than simply fueling it.  Halestorm fans will love it, but I think Lzzy maybe should have reeled it in a bit.  Or, maybe I just need to get used to it.  “Straight From the Heart” does sound better after a few listens.

Biff Byford (Saxon) joins Motorhead on lead vocals for Rainbow’s “Starstruck”.  There’s a bit of that Motor-slam in it, but if I didn’t know who it was, I never would have guessed Motorhead.  You can hear Lemmy on backing vocals, but weirdly, he’s not credited on bass.  Nobody is, but you can hear the bass clearly and it sounds like Lem.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE_0004

I’m a little sick of the Scorpions doing ballads, but I admit that “Temple of the King” (another Rainbow classic) is stunningly good.  One might almost mistake it for a Scorpions original.  It has that regal Scorpions bombast to is, but Matthias Jabs’ lead work is just sublime.  He’s an underrated player, absolutely.  You can tell he’s a Blackmore fan.

An oldie from 1999, Doro’s cover of “Egypt (The Chains are On)” is excellent.  It’s cool to hear female singers like Doro and Lzzy Hale sing Dio.  Doro’s impressive pipes have always been astounding.  Her version of “Egypt” is a little over the top compared to Dio’s, but that’s cool by me.

Killswitch Engage…hmm.  “Holy Diver” starts great, super heavy, with some perfectly acceptable, melodic vocals.  Then it all goes down the toilet at the bridge.  That’s when it turns into hardcore shouting and blast beats…sorry, not on this song, thanks.  I can listen to that stuff in moderation, but don’t sully “Holy Diver” with it.  Fortunately the guitar solos are great, sounding like an Iron Maiden outtake from Powerslave.  Shame about the growling and shouting.  Skip.

“Catch the Rainbow” is a great song, and Craig Goldy plays guitar on this cover.  He’s ex-Dio himself, and he’s backed by his former Dio-mates Rudy Sarzo, Scott Warren and Simon Wright.  (Hey, that’s also 1/3 of Tateryche!)  Glenn Hughes sings, but this song sounds out of his scope.  His bluesy slant doesn’t work for me.  Sorry Glenn, you’re still awesome!

I find it strange that two more ex-Dio members (Jimmy Bain and Rowan Robertson) chose to cover Black Sabbath.  But who cares!  They covered “I”, perhaps the greatest song from Dehumanizer (1992)!  On drums is Brian Tichy, with Oni Logan (Lynch Mob, Dio Disciples) singing.  It’s a perfectly authentic version and I love it.  It’s absolutely thunderous, and I love Jimmy Bain’s bass sound.  Always have.  Of all the vocalists on This Is Your Life, it is Oni Logan that comes closest to nailing Dio’s vibe.  Considering he’s in Dio Diciples, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I didn’t expect it though, based on what I knew of Logan from Lynch Mob.  He fits “I” like a glove!

I was disappointed in Rob Halford’s version of “Man On the Silver Mountain”.  It’s true that Halford did replace Dio in Black Sabbath for two shows in 1992.  However, having owned a bootleg video of that show since that time, I knew that Halford’s and Dio’s styles didn’t really mesh.  This is no different; I don’t think his voice works with the song and it unfortunately shows off the places where Rob’s voice has weakened.  What is cool though is that the band (all ex-Dio:  Doug Aldrich, Vinnie Appice, Jeff Pilson and Scott Warren) take it to a swampy bluesy Whitesnake-y place for the intro.  You can definitely hear Pilson covering the high notes in the chorus.

Finally we arrive at the mighty Metallica.  Snicker if you like.  If Metallica do one thing really well, it’s covers.  If they do two right, it’s covers and medleys.  The “Ronnie Rising Medley” is entirely made up of parts of Rainbow songs.  “A Light In the Black” bleeds into “Tarot Woman,” where the vocals begin.  It’s safe to say if you don’t like Metallica, you won’t like this.  If the opposite is true, I think you’re in for a treat.  Metallica do these classics in their own style, just as they have in the past when covering Maiden, or Mercyful Fate, or Thin Lizzy.  Simply add Lars’ thuds, James’ growl, and some standard Metalli-licks, and you’ve got a medley that is enjoyable through its near-10 minute run time.  Having said that, the weak point is definitely “Stargazer”, which is gutted of all its majesty.  They do much better with “Kill the King” which is fucking perfect.  They include the entire song in their medley!

Fittingly, the album ends on a ballad:  Dio’s own somber “This Is Your Life”, performed by the man himself in 1996.  I did not like the Angry Machines album, but if there was one song I would have picked as a highlight it would be “This Is Your Life”.  Performed only by Dio and Scott Warren on piano, it is unlike anything else in Dio’s canon.  The lyrics speak of mortality:

This is your life
This is your time
What if the flame
Won’t last forever?

This is your here
This is your now
Let it be magical

What a way to end a great album.  As much as you can “miss” a person you have never met, I do miss Ronnie James Dio.  In many ways he’s been my friend for 30 years.

4.5/5 stars

As a nice added touch, the liner notes include photos of just about every performer on this CD with Ronnie!

Of  note:  the Japanese edition has a bonus track by Dio Diciples:  “Stand Up and Shout.”  It also has Stryper’s version of “Heaven and Hell” from their 2011 album The Covering, which I reviewed here.