JETHRO TULL – The Very Best of Jethro Tull(2001 Chrysalis)
Every fan had their first Jethro Tull purchase. Mine was 20 years ago, with their newly released Very Best of Jethro Tull. Why not? I was working at the Record Store when a used-but-mint copy dropped in my lap for only $8 (staff discount). It was only right of me to ensure it got a good home.
Unlike some “hits” compilations, this one didn’t strike with clusters of songs I wanted to focus on in the future. Other compilations can do that. For example I decided to hone in on the Brian Robertson Motorhead album immediately after hearing a double best-of. With The Very Best of Jethro Tull, I liked it all equally. I just wanted to get them all, with no particular priority. It all sounded great to me.
The album is non-chronological and contains some edit versions. “Thick As A Brick” is cut down from 44 minutes to just three — makes sense. They chose the first three minutes, which are ojectively the best known. Other edits are the single versions of “Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die” and “Minstrel in the Gallery”, while “Heavy Horses” gets a new edit bringing it from nine minutes to a more single-like three. The songs span the 1968 debut This Was to 1995’s Roots to Branches. Several albums are not represented at all, such as Benefit, A Passion Play, A, Stormwatch, Under Wraps, Rock Island, Catfish Rising, and J-Tull.com. Justifiable? That’s up to personal taste. Several non-album singles are included instead, such as the well known “Living In the Past” and the wicked string-laden “Sweet Dream”.
The album has an excellent flow, only interrupted with the synth-y “Steel Monkey” from 1987’s Grammy-winning Crest of a Knave. Preceded by the savage “Locomotive Breath” and followed by the tender picking of “Thick as a Brick”, it doesn’t fit in except as a speedbump. If I may be so bold, I believe “Steel Monkey” was included simply because it would be odd not to include something off that controversial Grammy winner.
While I enjoyed all the songs, the one that stood out particularly strong was “Bourée”. I never heard Bach swing like that before! The diversity of this CD, spanning all styles of rock from progressive to blues to folksy. Yes, the flute can rock and Ian Anderson is the Eddie Van Halen of the instrument.
VINNIE VINCENT INVASION – All Systems Go (1988 Chysalis)
Ex- guitarist Vinnie Vincent could have made it big as a solo artist. He had the talent, and the songwriting ability. What he didn’t have was self control. It’s too bad, because his second album was far more accessible than the first. With a movie tie-in with the lucrative Nightmare on Elm St. movie series, the Invasion was primed and ready….
And then the band split.
According to singer Mark Slaughter (on an instalment of the Eddie Trunk show), Vinnie told Mark that was going to fire bassist Dana Strum. “Where does your loyalty lie?” he asked the vocalist. Mark told him if Dana was going, he’d rather go with Dana. So that’s what happened. Mark and Dana formed the successful Slaughter, while drummer Bobby Rock joined another huge band called Nelson.
This all came as a bit of a shock to fans, who expected the Invasion’s second album All Systems Go to take off. It spawned two singles/videos that were right in sync with popular rock at the time. Vinnie toned down his guitar excesses from the first album, and Mark Slaughter was obviously the kind of frontman born to rock. A damn shame.
All Systems Go wasn’t a skimpy album: 11 tracks plus two CD-only instrumentals. Vinnie took sole writing credit on every track, including the drum solo. For extra fun, the tracks are not listed in order on the back cover and the instrumentals are unlisted. This is a throwback to the way records were sometimes released in the 60s and 70s. The tracks (including the instrumentals) are listed in the correct order on the CD itself. This kinda sucks when you are actually listening to it and want to know which song is playing.
This is the album that lived up to what Vinnie was capable of, although he stated a preference for the first “uncompromised” first album. “I should never have changed singers,” he said without mentioning Mark by name. Mark’s sassy vocalizin’ dominates the album, which might have pissed off Vinnie. His charisma and talent is immediately obvious on the sleazy groove rocker “Ashes to Ashes”. A tight song with a good riff and a great chorus is all you need. Vinnie’s solo is no less impressive, but much more innovative and suiting to the song. Guitar heroism in the making…almost.
“Dirty Rhythm” brings more sleaze: faster, more cowbell and more Sunset Strip. The Invasion had more talent than the average glam rock band of the day, and so this is pretty exceptional stuff for the genre. Where they really succeeded was with the radio friendly stuff. The Freddy Krueger crossover ballad “Love Kills” should have been massive. We the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Mark Slaughter was born to be a star. He was absolutely the right singer for these songs.
Goofy title aside, “Naughty Naughty” is a decent return to sleazy glam, and “Burn” rocks similarly. “Heavy Pettin'” is an even worse title, concealing another good glam rocker. Perhaps lyrics weren’t Vinnie’s greatest talent, but there’s not much else wrong with it. Guitar heroism returned on “The Star-Spangled Banner”, played by an orchestra of electric guitars! It’s an apt intro for “Let Freedom Rock”. It’s over the top fun, and the guitar solo would make Yngwie pee his leather pants.
The other single “That Time of Year” was just as good as “Love Kills”, if not better just because it’s not as dark. Its midtempo rock pseudo-ballad stylings were instantly likable. It’s easy to imagine it as a hit, despite a glut of soundalike bands in 1988. Vinnie’s solo verges of majestic. It’s really hard to imagine was he didn’t like about this album. It’s not a bad thing that the songs dominate over the solos; the solos are more impressive when they serve the song.
Had the band not split, and if they released a third single, it could have been “Ecstasy”. Don’t forget, Vinnie wrote “Tears” which was a pop hit for John Waite, and even recorded by Peter Criss. “Ecstasy” is its spiritual sequel. “Deeper and Deeper” also has pop qualities, but is clearly a rocker. The point is this: don’t underestimate Vinnie Vincent.
Out of the blue, the LP/cassette version of the album ended on heavy shred metal. “Breakout” kicks ass. If fans felt at any point that the album was going soft, then “Breakout” would have redeemed it for them. The only real issue is a problem on many of the songs on this album: the production. It’s thin, and the backing vocals tend to be shrill. “Breakout” could be rib-busting with more crunch.
On CD, there are two instrumentals to close. “The Meltdown” is a messy cacophony of drums and electronics. You’ll be thankful it’s over. Stick around for Vinnie’s acoustic tune “‘Ya Know’ – I’m Pretty Shot”. What a diverse and schooled player he is. From classical fingerpicking to blues and traditionals, is there anything he couldn’t do with just six strings? Years from now, this is what Vinnie should be remembered for. This one acoustic instrumental should establish him as a genius on the same level as Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen.
Potential was almost fully realized here. If the sound was thicker and the disc was trimmed for length, All Systems Go would be fully classic.
VINNIE VINCENT INVASION – Vinnie Vincent Invasion (1986 Chysalis)
Where oh where did Vinnie Vincent go? The mercurial ex- guitarist with genius level skill resurfaced after 1983’s Lick It Up with his new band, the Invasion. Ex-Journey singer Robert Fleichman did the self-titled debut album but was quickly replaced for the music videos and tour with an unknown named Mark Slaughter. Rounding out the band were Dana Strum and Bobby Rock on bass and drums.
Dude…it’s comical. Vinnie just goes full shred to the point of stupidity. Like seriously stupid: like some idiot just hammering as fast as he can, like a kid whacking off or playing video games. And then he gets the singer to go as high as possible. It’s shrill. You can hear the songs have good riffs, but virtually every song has something to it that ruins it.