Capitol Records

REVIEW: Poison – “Stand” (1993 promo cassette)

POISON – “Stand (CHR edit)” (1993 promo cassette single)

What is a “CHR edit”?  It’s a special single edit of a song specifically intended for “contemporary hit radio”.  In other words, Top 40.  So, when “Stand” by Poison was selected to be the first single from 1993’s brand new Native Tongue album, it had to be trimmed for length.  Getting Poison on the radio was going to prove to be an impossible task, so why make it harder by giving them a 5:16 long track that they definitely wouldn’t touch?  “Stand” was shortened to 4:21, with much of Richie Kotzen’s delightfully idiosyncratic guitar licks getting the axe, along with some of the choir.

The cassette you see here contains two edited versions of “Stand”:  the 4:21 “CHR edit” and another at 4:30 simply called “edit”.  The differences are in the guitar solo which starts to deviate at the 2:28 mark.  It’s in interesting curiosity, a peak inside the minutia of thinking that goes into marketing a song.  “Hey, this format needs another nine seconds of song, leave in some guitar solo.”  Is that how it worked?

The tape has both edit versions on both sides…twice.  2x2x2=8 times total, that you will hear “Stand” by Poison, if you play it all the way through.  Call the CIA and let ’em know I have this cassette; they can use it with their enhanced interrogation techniques.  I’ll sell.

On that note I can all but guarantee this cassette has never been played through, ever.  It was sent to the Record Store about a year and a half before I started working there.  The owner hated Poison.  Hated — with a passion.  There is no way he played this tape in store, ever.  I rescued it from a giant, forgotten stack of promos that were stuffed into a bin.  All garbage.  “Don’t take any of those,” said the owner.  Eventually all that junk was slated to be thrown out when the only location that sold tapes changed formats at the end of 1996.

This tape is valuable for one thing:  it reveals the true North American release date for Native Tongue.  Currently (August 2019), Wikipedia claims Native Tongue was released on February 8, 1993.  That’s impossible because the 8th was a Monday.  New releases came out on Tuesdays.  This promo cassette clearly states on the back that the forthcoming album Native Tongue was retailing on February 16 — a Tuesday.  You’re welcome, internet.

Otherwise, this cassette is fairly useless.

1/5 stars

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REVIEW: Sword – Sweet Dreams (1988)

scan_20170121SWORD – Sweet Dreams (1988 Capitol)

Canada’s mighty Sword took another swing on their second and final album Sweet Dreams.  They recorded a fine debut in Metalized (1986), but as with any band, growth is expected on album #2.  No problem for Sword.

Metalized was relentless, thrashy, fast, and punishing.  Sweet Dreams is heavy but diverse.  This is immediately obvious on the opening title track.  The tempo is condensed to a slow metal Zeppelin stomp.  The melodies are more focused.  The sound (thanks to Gggarth and Jack Richardson) has more oomph and depth.  What the band sacrificed in speed was paid back in other qualities.

Capitol records released “The Trouble Is” as the first single/video. Rick Hughes’ enviable voice makes it sound like Sword, otherwise it could have been one of Dokken’s heaviest tracks. The lyrics are surprisingly still valid in 2017: “People are lying, they keep on trying, to live where they can be free. They jam into boats with a knife at their throats…” It hasn’t changed much in 30 years. “Land of the Brave” tackles war, a popular metal topic ever since Black Sabbath wrote “War Pigs” back in 1970. The screams of Rick Hughes mimic the horrors of the battlefield. An apt comparison would be Iron Maiden, with a little bit of Metallica. For some rebellious attitude, check out “Back Off”, which hits the gas pedal during the chorus. Another popular metal topic: “Back off preacher, stay away!” Ozzy would have been proud. Guitarist Mike Plant blasts through his solos effortlessly, showing off a variety of rock styles. “Prepare to Die” (also heard on the recent Live Hammersmith CD) is the thrashiest of the bunch on side one, sounding like vintage Sword.

Cool thrashy shreddery kicks “Caught in the Act” right in the nuts to commence side two.  It switches up on “Until Death Do Us Part”, focused by the stomp of the beat.  If Sweet Dreams has any weakness it is that there are two Swords.  The speedy metal of “Caught in the Act” and “Until Death Do Us Part” are a contrast to the more accessible rock of “The Trouble Is”.  One of the most stunning tracks on the album is “The Threat”, on which all the ingredients mix perfectly.  (They get bonus points for naming themselves in the lyrics:  “Ride with the sword in your hand, and some day with the sword you will die.”)  For a real surprise check out the slide guitar grease of the incredible “Life on the Sharp Edge”.  It’s all over with “State of Shock” which will knock you senseless for all the headbangin’ going on.  Seems Motorhead must have rubbed off on them a bit.  “State of Shock” goes out like a champ leaving you punched out drooling on the mat.

Sword stopped after two albums and Rick Hughes moved on to the mainstream rock band Saints & Sinners.  (Check out a review of that album by Deke.)  Sweet Dreams succeeded as a second album should.  It pushed the sound outwards.  Hughes and company should be proud of both of their records.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: W.A.S.P. – First Blood…Last Cuts (1993)

scan_20161125W.A.S.P. – First Blood…Last Cuts (1993 Capitol)

When grunge took over the airwaves in 1991-1992, a lot of older guard bands found themselves without a record contract.  W.A.S.P.’s 1992 concept album The Crimson Idol failed to generate enough interest for Capitol Records to continue investing in the band.  A greatest hits contractual obligation album was a typical move for bands in this situation, and that is how First Blood…Last Cuts came to be.  With that in mind, the 16 track album is great bang for the buck.  Rarities and new songs add value, and the photo-loaded booklet is tons of fun.

A rarity right off the bat, “Animal” was a non-album single and W.A.S.P.’s first.  It’s better known as “Fuck Like a Beast”, and that might explain why it wasn’t on the W.A.S.P. album.  A good but not exceptional track, it does boast a nice metal chug, but it’s otherwise just there for shock value.  It is primitive metal akin to the first LP, with Blackie in full screech.  You either like W.A.S.P. or you don’t.

“L.O.V.E. Machine” from the first LP is remixed with the first verse re-recorded, for some reason.  Presumably Blackie must have been dissatisfied with the original.  There are several remixes on this CD, including singles “I Wanna Be Somebody”, “I Don’t Need No Doctor” (a metalized Ray Charles cover via Humble Pie), “Blind In Texas” and “Wild Child”.  The remixes generally have a sharper drum sound, particular the tracks originally from the muddy first album.  The remixing leads to an uneven listen.  Rather than sounding fresh, the remixes feel off-kilter and slightly unfamiliar, especially when butted up against non-remixed tracks.  The muddy “On Your Knees” follows the remixed “I Wanna Be Somebody”.  The transition between the two songs, both originally from the same album, could be better.

Thankfully the strong songs outnumber the middling by a hefty margin.  “Headless Children” and “The Real Me” (a Who cover from Quadrophenia) remain two highlights of the W.A.S.P. canon.  The chugging heavy epic “Chainsaw Charlie” has never been topped by Blackie.

The final incentives are the two new songs, although one (“Rock and Roll to Death”) was recycled on 1995’s Still Not Black Enough.  “Sunset and Babylon” is special as it features Lita Ford on guest lead guitar.  The nimble-fingered Ford adds some character to the tune, a pretty standard rock n’ roller from Blackie and cohorts.

At 75 minutes, First Blood…Last Cuts is a long running album providing great value.   Perhaps it runs a song or two too long, but nit picking aside it is a solidly hot listen through.  The drunken cowboy blasts of “Blind in Texas” are as fondly remembered as the gentle strumming on ballads like “Hold On to My Heart”.  Indeed, as the album runs on to its second half, ballads begin to outshine the rockers.  “Forever Free” remains one of W.A.S.P.’s brightest stars, as likeable as it was in 1989.  “The Idol” is a darkly beautiful ballad demonstrating that Blackie Lawless is indeed deeper than just his assless chaps.  Although the album dialogue should have been chopped for this greatest hits CD, it just breaks up the flow.

Most people do not need all the W.A.S.P. albums.  In fact, scientific studies have shown that one or two W.A.S.P.’s is all the average homo sapiens will ever need.  First Blood…Last Cuts would be solidly recommended CD for your first or only W.A.S.P. purchase.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: King Kobra – Ready to Strike (1984)


IMG_20150607_142430KING KOBRA – Ready to Strike (1984 Capitol)

What happened to the good ship King Kobra? Hilarious misspelled name, silly coordinated hair colours (all but veteran drummer Carmine Appice, who complimented their red and blonde with his red and black), and production by the guy who brought you Quiet Riot — what could possibly go wrong? They even had their own “kobra” signature hand gesture, and weird complementary stage moves in an expensive music video.

When you have lyrics like, “I’m ready to strike, I’m cocked and loaded tonight,” but you’re not David Lee Roth or Gene Simmons, you’re already fighting an uphill battle.  Carmine saw the sudden success of bands like Quiet Riot, and decided “why the hell not”?  He picked up some great players for this project.  Bassist Johnny Rod ended up in W.A.S.P. later on.  David Michael-Phillips played with Lizzy Borden after Kobra.  Mick Sweda formed BulletBoys.  Mark Free formed Unruly Child, and ultimately became Marcie Free.  She still fronts Unruly Child today. Meanwhile Carmine Appice reformed this lineup of King Kobra, substituting in Paul Shortino for Free, and getting good reviews for it.

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So talent aside, there’s no worries there.  There are two major issues with this record.  One: the muddy Spencer Proffer production which lays a muffly blanket over the band.  All but Appice of course, who bears a very Frankie Banali-like sound on this album. The guitars are empty transistor radio renditions of what guitars should sound like. Two: filler material kept Ready To Strike from fulfilling its potential.

It’s not all filler of course — much of it is damn good.  The first three tracks in a row (“Ready to Strike”, “Hunger”, and “Shadow Rider”) are all really good, actually.  Famously, “Hunger” became a minor hit, although it was actually written by Canada’s Kick Axe, and recorded by them under the name Spectre General, for Transformers: The Movie in 1986!  I prefer the King Kobra version, because Mark Free really nailed that vocal.

Other decent tunes include “Shake Up”…I mean, it’s OK.  It has a good pre-chorus, “And the beat goes on and on and on…”, but the lines about home work and yard work were pretty goofy even back then. Like that one, “Tough Guys” is also a good tune (mid-tempo mellow rocker) sunk by a bad lyric. “The world’s greatest lie, is that all of us tough guys don’t cry.” No thanks, not cranking that one with the windows down.

Crummy tunes: “Attention”, “Piece of the Rock”, “Breakin’ Out” and “Dancing With Desire”. Stinky. I can’t decide how I feel about the overwrought “Second Thoughts”.

Overall: Middle of the road album that neither astounds nor repulses. It has enough good tunes to warrant a place in my collection. How about you?

3/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: The Beatles – Stereo Box Set LP version


THE BEATLES – Stereo Box Set (2009 LP version, Apple/EMI)

By: Lemon Kurri Klopek

I’m a sucker for a good boxed-set. I own several. A couple from The Beach Boys, and The Who, one from David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, heck, even The Monkees. When we’re talking The Beatles though, I have a number of them. The original bread box set of CDs, the Singles Collection, the E.P. Collection, the Anthologies, The Capitol sets, the Mono box and the Stereo box. Then of course the individual solo sets. The Lennon box, Onceuponatime, the Darkhorse Years, the list goes on. I have the special editions from each member’s solo catalogue. All Things Must Pass, Band On The Run, etcetera.  So when I saw the giant LP collection sitting there staring at me in the record store, it was no surprise when I found myself lugging it, double bagged out to the trunk of my car.

I must say it is an impressive set. All original UK releases plus Past Masters, all stereo versions, and all on 180 gram vinyl. These sets of vinyl are on the retail shelves for close to $350. I bought mine from a local establishment that was running a sale that weekend. I walked out having parted with 276 of my dollars. That’s tax included too. Not a bad deal considering there are 14 records (two of which are doubles.) That is less than $20 per record if you’re keeping track.

BEATLES

One small added bonus is, there is a foam cushion in the box that when removed makes room for the Yellow Submarine Songtrack and the #1s double record released years ago. Now I’m sure you could put other releases in there like, I don’t know, Love, or Yesterday and Today but I put in #1s and Yellow Sub. You put in whatever you like, it’s a free country… Anyway…

I figured the thing to do was to start at the beginning. So after unsheathing the box from its’ cellophane wrapping, (one of the best parts of buying a record and sadly something a generation will miss out on entirely) out came the beefy 180 gram stereo version of Please Please Me. I placed it on my Rega turntable and dropped the needle. In an instant it was the 11th of February 1963 and I was standing in EMI Studios on Abbey Road in London. Listening to what for all intents and purposes is a recording of The Beatles live set at the time. George Martin’s stereo mix of “I Saw Her Standing There” which was released a month after the original Mono mix, was filling my living room. The second release With The Beatles followed and then of course, A Hard Day’s Night. Stellar the lot.

5/5 stars

Contents:

Please Please Me (1963)
With The Beatles (1963)
A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Beatles for Sale (1964)
Help! (1965)
Rubber Soul (1965)
Revolver (1966)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
The Beatles (1968)
Yellow Submarine (1969)
Abbey Road (1969)
Let It Be (1970)
Past Masters (1962–1970)

Further reading:
THE BEATLES – In Mono (2009)

REVIEW: Poison – Swallow This Live (1991 2 CD set)

STL_0001POISON – Swallow This Live (1991 Capitol Records)

In 1991, hard rock was breathing its last gasp (for the moment, anyway) and Swallow This Live is a perfect example of how this happened. Many rock fans were fed up with substandard releases, and this is one of the biggest turds of that era.

Swallow This Live was a double — yes, you heard that right — a double-live CD from a band who only had three studio albums! And Poison are not Kiss. On the cassette version, two tracks were missing: “Life Goes On”, and “No More Looking Back”.  I think Poison instead should have excluded Rikki Rockett’s painful, overly long drum solo.  They definitely should have cut C.C. (billed here as “Cecil”) DeVille’s horrendous guitar flatulance.

Poison imploded before this was even released.  The fact that C.C. DeVille was only seen in the video for “So Tell Me Why” for a matter of seconds spoke volumes.  (Opening lyric of the song:  “I’d like to put to bed the rumours”.)  This was after the train wreck that was the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards.  There’s C.C. with bright pink hair, not able to play an entire song…it was no surprise when he was fired, although the band waited until after the release of Swallow This Live to tell anybody.

C.C. also hated the bluesy, more serious direction that Poison’s music was taking, which was fully realized on their next studio album, Native Tongue. With guitar maestro Richie Kotzen as the catalyst, Poison finally delivered a mature piece of work which of course did not sell. But that’s another story.

Here, we have a very rough sounding live disc, overly long, and embarassingly bad. Every song is superior in its studio version, making this album completely redundant. Ironically, coming from the band who once said, “Fans comes to see us play, not PRESS play,” you can hear lots of backing vocal tapes, especially on “I Want Action”. You do get basically every hit that Poison ever had, which was an impressive amount. However, even that couldn’t pad out a full 2 CD release, so they also played some really terrible songs live.  “Look What the Cat Dragged In” is awful, but even worse is the blues massacre, “Poor Boy Blues”.  Bret’s ad-lib is a cheesy mess.

The only reason to buy this CD is the new studio material   Two of the new songs are among the best that Poison had recorded up to this time. “So Tell Me Why” is a firecracker of a song, a brilliant rocker held aloft by fantastic guitar melodies. “Only Time Will Tell” is one of their best ballads, along the lines of “Life Goes On” or “I Won’t Forget You” crossed with some Native Tongue maturity.

If you can get Swallow This Live at a decent price (I used to sell it around $8.99), pick it up for the new studio stuff, but don’t blame me if C.C.’s live guitar solo makes your ears bleed!  (Note:  I know this has been reissued as a single disc with various track omissions, so buy according to your needs.)

2/5 stars

Don’t forget that Poison’s second album was originally to be called Swallow This!

REVIEW: Brian May & Friends – Star Fleet Project (1983)

IMG_00000735BRIAN MAY & FRIENDS – Star Fleet Project (1983 Capitol Records)

This near-legendary mini-album is probably infamous for the wrong reasons.  Ask a friend if they’ve heard this record.  If they haven’t, they may respond, “But that’s the one with Eddie Van Halen, right?  And they did that song for Clapton, and he hated it, right?”  That’s how the story goes anyway.

The fact is that Star Fleet Project is actually really good, and so is “Blues Breaker (Dedicated to E.C.)”.  And yes, this is one of Eddie Van Halen’s rare cameos outside his eponymous band.  I am a fan of both Queen and Van Halen, but my love of Van Halen trumps my love of Queen.  As a Van Halen fan, it is really exciting to hear Eddie playing outside his band’s box.  On a technical level, I don’t know exactly how Eddie is torturing his guitar strings, but I sure love the sounds that come out of it.  I’m hearing Eddie at what many people consider to be his creative peak.  This is the era of 1984, “Jump”, and “Beat It”, considered by many to be the greatest guitar solo of the decade.  It’s sheer nirvana to hear Eddie tapping over Brian May’s trademark guitar sound.  It’s two things you never pictured together.  Once you hear them together, it’s like Reece’s peanut butter cups!

Eddie throws every trick he has into the bag.  Tapping, squeals and eruptions, it’s all here.  As for Brian, he does double duty on lead vocals as well, on two tracks:  “Star Fleet” and “Let Me Out”.  “Star Fleet” (8 minutes in its album incarnation) is a theme song that Brian covered, from a Japanese show that his son was a fan of.  It’s the most commercial of the songs, but I have to say I love it.  The chorus isn’t the best, but the guitar playing blows my mind every single time.

Queen fans may enjoy the piano blues “Let Me Out” best, as it sounds like it would have fit right in on News of the World.  I can imagine Freddie putting his spin on it quite easily.  Brian takes the first solo, but next time he says “Help me, Edward!” and it’s Van Halen playing the blues.  You don’t get this on Van Halen albums.  Brian and Ed alternate, and then Eddie blazes the fretboard shredder style.  To hear these two guys going back and forth over a blues progression is such a monumental moment.

The final track (and all of side 2) is the infamous “Blues Breaker”.  I’m not sure what E.C. didn’t like about it (I’ll just assume he was too humble to accept such flattery).  You don’t get to hear Eddie Van Halen nor Brian May jamming very often.  This is the second such jam, and this one well over the 12 minute mark!  You’ll wonder where the time went.  As an admirer of both guitarists, I’m constantly in a state of anticipation for what they will play next. The backing band are not slouches either: Alan Gratzer – drums, Phil Chen – bass guitar, Fred Mandel – keyboards.  They captured this stuff mostly live off the floor, and that’s the way the record sounds.

Finally, a word about the current status of this mini-album.  Used vinyl is probably your best course of action.  While this is easy to find on counterfeit bootlegs, official CD releases were scarce and confined to rare CD singles and Japanese imports, vinyl is much cheaper than any of those.  I first encountered this record in the collection of a creepy dude, as recounted in Record Store Tales Part 229:  Silent Knight.  That was 1994, and I still have never seen any of the CD releases of Star Fleet Project in person.  Besides, that big robot on the cover just looks better on an LP sleeve doesn’t it?

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013)

ALICE IN CHAINS – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013 Capitol Records)

You know how in offices they have those phones with the little speaker in them, that plays the local radio station?  That’s how I first heard “Hollow” by Alice in Chains.  Not the greatest way to hear it.  I couldn’t hear the harmonies or the bass guitar.  The song came off as a dull drone and I didn’t like it. However Mandy Grant on 107.5 Dave FM said the album was lined up to be her album of the summer.  Then Tricky Nick gave it 5/5 and praised its genius!

Now it’s my turn to throw my hat in the ring.  I had no problem with Black Gives Way to Blue; yes it’s a sad album and we know why.  If anything I found some of the songs to be not memorable.  On the other hand, I found some of the softer material to be among Chains’ best.  Here, William DuVall does a great job.  I don’t get the sense that he’s trying to sound a certain way, but when he sings with Jerry it’s Alice in Chains.

CHAINS 3Onto The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.  Love the title, love the artwork, love the packaging, but we’ll get to that in a few moments.  It’s an album that reveals more and more as you listen to it.  It’s really well produced for one.  Sonically, this is the best album Alice in Chains have ever made.  But musically, it peels like an onion:  brief guitar interludes, dual guitar harmonies, bass hooks, vocal flare, all of this stuff and more comes through when you spend some time with it.

I think I’d like to invent a new genre here and declare this record to be “Progressive Grunge Rock”.  It has elements of both, which really isn’t too much of a leap as Chains have always comprised some great musicians.  Mike Inez was one of my favourite bass players from his Ozzy days, and Sean Kinney is very creative with his symbol work and weird time signatures.  Only 2 of the 12 songs are under 5 minutes; the album clocks in well over an hour.  Unbelievably, it doesn’t drag.  This is accomplished with a combination of well written memorable hooks, and a variety of song styles.  Some moments recall mellow things like Jar of Flies, others the “Dog” album.  There’s also a lot of riffing and soloing that is pure traditional heavy metal.

Many reviewers have mentioned that this album seems a lot brighter than Black Give Way to Blue and I’m in agreement with that.  Keep in mind this is Alice in Chains and they’re not turning in a sunny-happy-joy-joy album at any time.  There is however a certain jubilant quality to this album that is quite infectious.

I keep waffling between favourite songs.  All of these are contenders:

  • “Stone”
  • “Voices”
  • “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here”
  • “Breath On a Window”
  • “Scalpel”
  • “Phantom Limb”
  • “Choke”

There aren’t any weak songs, but for me those 7 are all really exceptional.  I really love “Phanton Limb”.  It’s one of the most “metal” in some respects but it’s also one of the most unique.  Its riff is just mechanically punishing.  “Voices” is like Jar of Flies meets Cheap Trick or something.

The packaging is really cool but fragile.  Mine arrived with a slight crack on it.  It’s a coloured red jewel case, but with a function.  Remember how G1 Transformers used to come with those “Tech Spec Decoders”?  You had to use this red plastic “decoder” to read the stats on the robot’s packaging.  You could still sorta read it without the decoder, but Alice in Chains took it a step further.  You can only read the lyrics by inserting the appropriate page into the jewel case.  There are big red XXXXX‘s over most of the words making them very difficult to read.  When you put the page under the jewel case, it’s easy!

Having lived with the album for a week now, I concur with Mandy:  I think the love will grow, and this will be one of my albums for the summer, too.  The most important thing about The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is that it sounds like Alice in Chains.  There is nobody else out there that sounds like this.

5/5 stars