classic rock

#942: My Brushes With Metallica

RECORD STORE TALES #942: My Brushes With Metallica

I don’t mind admitting that my first Metallica was Load.  Yeah, I was one of them.  Hate on if you gotta.

Like many my age, the first exposure came in 1988 via their first music video:  “One”.  To say the visuals were disturbing would be accurate.  Although I did enjoy the song, I didn’t feel the need to hit “record” on my VCR when it come on.  Other kids at school sure liked it, and copies of Johnny Got His Gun were claimed to have been read by some of them.  I figured I could continue to live without Metallica.

The Black album was released in 1991.  I was watching live when Lars Ulrich called in to the Pepsi Power Hour to debut the new music video for “Enter Sandman”.  The new, streamlined and uber-produced Metallica looked and sounded good to me.  I loved when James said “BOOM!” and thought that hooking up with Bob Rock had worked out brilliantly.  The sonics were outstanding.  While I enjoyed the singles Metallica released through the next couple years, I never took a dive and bought the album.  Why?

Three main reasons.  The key one was that I knew, even before I knew I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, that I would feel compelled to collect all the Metallica singles that I had missed over the years.  That was, as yet, a bridge too far.  Second reason was that I satisfied my craving for that style of Metallica in 1992 when Testament came out with The Ritual.  It had a track like “Sandman” called “Electric Crown”.  It had a song like “Sad But True” called “So Many Lies”.  It was perfect for my needs.  Thirdly, for whatever reason I didn’t think I was going to enjoy “old” Metallica, which again, I would feel compelled to collect.

When I started working at the Record Store in 1994, I had the night shifts alone.  I could play whatever I wanted and sometimes I gave Metallica a spin.  I can remember “Enter Sandman” coming on while I was cleaning, and saying to a customer, “Man I love this song!”  He nodded awkwardly and wondered why I was telling him.

A bit later I was hanging out with this guy Chris.  He was extolling the virtues of thrash metal, and put on Kill ‘Em All.  I was astonished when “Blitzkrieg” came on.  “I know this song!  I love this song!”  I exclaimed as I jumped up.  Air guitar in hand, I started bangin’ to the riff.  “This is a song by Blitzkrieg,” I explained to Chris.  “It’s on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal CD that Lars Ulrich produced.  I didn’t know he covered it.”

This is the point at which I like to say I became a Metallica fan.  Collecting the older stuff was still daunting, and a lot of it was expensive because it was out of print.  Which is really why it took Load for me to finally buy a Metallica CD.

1996 was a glorious but so stressing summer!  I was managing my own Record Store for the first time.  The weather was gorgeous.  The stock we had was incredible.  The stress came from staff, which turned over faster than a dog begging for belly rubs!  There was “Sally” who was caught paying herself excessive amounts of cash for the used CDs she was selling to the store.  There was The Boy Who Killed Pink Floyd who came to work hungover and worse.  And, most trying of all, music sucked for people like me who missed the great rock of the 70s and 80s.

On June 4, Metallica released Load to great anticipation.  Their new short-haired look (a Lars and Kirk innovation) turned heads and it was said that Metallica had abandoned metal and gone alternative.  Of course this was stretching the truth a tad.  Metallica had certainly abandoned thrash metal on Load, and arguably earlier.  Alternative?  Only in appearance (particularly Kirk Hammett with eye makeup and new labret piercing).

Load was the kind of rock I liked.  The kind of rock I missed through the recent alterna-years.  I had been buying Oasis CDs just to get some kind of new rock in my ears.  Finally here comes Metallica, with the exact kind of music that I liked, and at the exact time I needed it.

And yes, I did immediately start collecting the rarities and back catalogue.  Garage Days and Kill ‘Em All (with “Blitzkrieg” and “Am I Evil?”) were both out of print at that time.  I snapped up the first copies I could get my hands on, when they came in used inventory.  We were selling them for $25 each, no discount.  I later found a copy of a “Sad But True” single featuring the coveted “So What” at Encore Records for $20.  The new Load singles were added to my collection upon release.  The truth is, I picked the best possible time to get into Metallica collecting:  when I was managing my own used CD store!  I soon had the “Creeping Death” / “Jump In the Fire” CD.  A Japanese import “One” CD single only cemented what a lucky bastard I was to be working there.

Because Metallica came to me relatively later in life, today they never provoke the kind of golden memories that Kiss or Iron Maiden do.  However the summer of ’96 was defined by Metallica.  Driving the car, buddy T-Rev next to me, playing drums on his lap.  His hands and thighs got sore from playing car-drums so hard.  Load was our album of the summer and it sounded brilliant in the car.  Hate if you hafta, but that’s the way it went down for this guy in the dreary 90s.

 

REVIEW: Slash’s Snakepit – It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (1995)

SLASH’S SNAKEPIT – It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (1995 Geffen)

Somewhere in the multiverse is an alternate reality where Axl Rose did not reject Slash’s songs for the next Guns album.  In that version of history, the new Guns N’ Roses was not titled Chinese Democracy; perhaps it was called Back and Forth Again.  And it would have sounded a lot like It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, the debut album by Slash’s Snakepit that we received in our reality’s year 1995.

As it went down, Axl said “no” to the songs Slash had finished, so Slash put them out as his first solo album.  And then Axl wanted them back.  In 1994, on the VHS The Making of Estranged: Part 4 of Trilogy, you can hear Guns working on one of these songs.  In the background, the music that would eventually become Slash’s “Back and Forth Again” is playing with Axl whistling overtop.  In the alternate reality, somebody’s listening to it right now as a Guns N’ Roses song.  In ours, it will only be Slash’s Snakepit.

Although Slash was enthused about his new music, and was eager to make a raw bluesy rock n’ roll album, Axl had other plans.  Who was right in the end?  It’s hard not to see Axl’s point of view.  Slash’s 14 songs had just one hit and 13 fillers.  Most of the best GN’R tracks were not written by Slash; they were written by Izzy Stradlin.  Left to his own devices, Slash’s batch of songs here lack memorable hooks.

Let’s start on a positive note at least — the lead single “Beggars & Hangers-On”.  Written by Slash n’ Duff with lead singer Eric Dover, this is a song that any band from Skynyrd to the Crowes to Zeppelin to Guns N’ Roses would have been proud to play.  Check out that riff — it’s as regal as the blues gets.   Powerful and soulful aching vocals from Dover.  The chorus roars, bright and bold, and you could only imagine what Axl could have done with it.  Matt Sorum’s drums splash at all the right moments, in his trademark fashion.  It’s a damn perfect song.  And it made people really excited for the album that was to come, Guns or no Guns.

Well, there were some Guns.  Slash had been working with Matt Sorum and the recently fired Gilby Clarke.  On bass was Mike Inez from Alice in Chains.  Though not in the Snakepit lineup, Slash also imported Dizzy Reed and Ted “Zig Zag” Andreadis from GN’R.  With those players, it sure sounded like Guns.  Only Dover really differentiates them.  Dover…and the songs.

There are fragments of brilliance through the whole record.  The acoustic intro to “Neither Can I” for example.  The circular snaky riff to the manic “Be the Ball” (not to mention Slash’s lyrics, which seem to be his personal life philosophy).  The boogie-woogie of instrumental “Jizz Da Pit”.  The wicked Inez bass on on Gilby Clarke’s “Monkey Chow”.  The Aerosmith vibe to “I Hate Everybody (But You)”.

And it’s a long album.  70 minutes of solid rock without a lot of variation.  Which is one reason why Slash’s 14 songs wouldn’t have cut it for Guns in 1995.  Appetite for Destruction had a variety of different songs on it, even if all shared a go-for-the-throat ferocity.  Slash did get the straightforward live sounding rock album he desired.  The guitars sound absolutely thick and offer a hint of what Slash and Gilby would have sounded like together on an original Guns studio album (like naturals).

It’s just a damn shame Slash’s solo debut is so disappointing.  It bears witness that Axl might not have been wrong.  You could make a hell of a GN’R album* out of the best tracks its members came up with.  But this isn’t it.

2/5 stars

* Alternate 1995 Chinese Democracy:

  1. Chinese Democracy (GN’R)
  2. Beggars and Hangers-On (Slash)
  3. Better (GN’R)
  4. Dead Flowers (Gilby/Axl – Stones cover)
  5. I.R.S. (GN’R)
  6. Street of Dreams (GN’R)
  7. Tijuana Jail (Gilby/Slash/Matt)
  8. Madagascar (GN’R)
  9. Absurd (GN’R)
  10. Six Feet Under (Duff/Matt – Neurotic Outsiders)
  11. This I Love (GN’R)
  12. Back and Forth Again (Slash)

REVIEW: Metallica – Enter Sandman (Remastered 2021 German CD singles)

METALLICA – “Enter Sandman” (Remastered 2021 German CD singles – 5″ Maxi CD and 3″ Pockit-CD)

The Black Album box set is coming!  Batten down your wallet because it looks absolutely incredible.  Yet on the 14 CDs and 6 DVDs, you won’t find the specific live tracks released only in Germany on the new set of “Enter Sandman” CD singles.  (There is also a glow-in-the-dark vinyl single, but it is missing the live tracks.)  All the discs maintain the style and design of Metallica’s original 1991-1992 singles.  This is an appetiser for what is to come, including two of the newly remastered Metallica tracks.  Proceeds went to German charity.

“Enter Sandman” and “Sad But True” are the two remastered studio cuts included.  The remastering sounds good and the tracks are not brickwalled.  Fans will be pleased to know that Metallica opted out of the Loudness Wars this time.  Good thumping bass, nice and prominent.  Crisp, clear, and loud enough.  “Sad But True” is really punchy.

The live tracks are all taken from Frankfurt or Stuttgart, shows not included in the box set.  The 5″ Maxi-CD and 3″ Pockit-CD each contain two exclusives.  Just like in the days of old, you have to buy both formats to get all the tracks.

“Through the Never” is one of the thrashiest songs from the Black era, and the very dry recording here is evidence of non-tampering.  Tasty wah-wah from Kirk Hammett.  “Damage, Inc.” brings thrash the old school way, Metallica as frantic as ever, barely holding it all together, but making the heads bang no matter what.  By the end it’s a total steamroller.

The teeny little 3″ CD is no less mighty.  “Of Wolf and Man” is choppy and heavy.  Hunting relentlessly like the titular wolf, Metallica are out for blood.  What’s really wild is the long jammy section at the end which contains a surprise.  Finally the Budgie cover of “Breadfan” ends the whole series of tracks with an explosive go-for-the-throat attitude.  Sloppy but foot on the gas the whole way.

What’s better than a wicked set of Metallica CD singles, including a 3″?  What could beat that?  How about if both discs were pressed in black plastic?  Would that do anything for ya?  These limited singles are sure to be collectible for their exclusive tracks and unique traits.  Try the German Amazon site for international shipping.  Contrary to a report in Bravewords, these singles do ship worldwide.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Paul Laine – Stick it in Your Ear (1990)

PAUL LAINE – Stick it in Your Ear (1990 Elektra)

A remarkable album by a singular talent.  Paul Laine came equipped with buckets of ability and a hell of a team.  Laine wanted Bruce Fairbairn at the producer’s desk, and through sheer determination, that’s who he got.  His debut album Stick it in Your Ear was compared to Bon Jovi, but Paul had more youthful innocence and exuberance.  Similarities are inevitable, but you can hear the difference when he starts to sing.

If you want to play the comparison game, the long dramatic intro to the song “One Step Over the Line” is similar to Bon Jovi’s “Lay Your Hands On Me”.  This tough little mid-tempo rocker gives Paul a chance to belt.  The cool keyboard accents are from an era when rockers were unafraid of a little sweetening.  It goes a bit Deep Purple during the long instrumental break — the track is over seven minutes long.

Things really kick into gear on “We Are the Young”, a legitimate rock anthem.  Laine was just a kid, so when he sang it, he meant it.  In the middle is a progressive rock keyboard break, proving Paul had many dimensions already.  Then he goes all Robert Plant in the outro!

After two pretty epic tracks in a row, Paul’s big hit “Dorianna” makes its appearance.  This irresistible little pop rocker is replete with organ intro (edited out of the single version) and shimmering guitar harmonies.  Not to mention that chorus, which will stay in your head for the rest of the day.

A power ballad, “Is It Love”, represents that best that the genre has to offer.  If you thought you’ve already heard every ballad that is worth hearing, then make room for one more.  The power chorus nails it, and that backing piano must be a Fairbairn twist.  This is followed by the most “Bon Jovi” of any of the songs, “Heart of America”.   But only if Bon Jovi could sing like a screamin’ hurricane, because the truth is, this songs blows away any of Jon’s in terms of power.  Corny lyrics, but what’s a kid from Canada going to write about?

“Main Attraction” opens a bit like Van Halen, showing off the shredding, and then breaks into a dash.  It’s the least individual of the songs, sounding the most generic, but it’s not a bad tune by any means.  Just the least impressive of nine pretty awesome tunes.

Things take a striking turn on the blues “Doin’ Time” featuring a jam with James Cotton on harmonica.  Beginning authentically, Paul soon breaks into a wicked screamin’ blues.  When James Cotton starts blowin’, the thing just goes to another level.  One of the best rock-blues tracks you’re likely to find this side of Badlands.

A big anthemic ballad called “I’ll Be There” blows the nuts off anything Jon Bon has cooked up over the years.  It’s more like Holidays In Eden era Marillion, two years early.  But that’s just a preamble to the finale:  “Break Down the Barricades”, a massive tune with enough hooks to feed an entire nation of hungry rock n’ rollers all their vitamins and minerals.

Stick it in Your Ear might be the last great debut album of the hard rock age.  While the genre suffered from too much similar product on the shelves, and was destined to be supplanted by something more edgy, this is one album that deserved a shot.  More so than some of its contemporaries by established bands entering slumps at the same time.  This is simply a very special album that started Laine on a long career that continues today.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Tesla – Time’s Makin’ Changes – The Best of Tesla (1995)

TESLA – Time’s Makin’ Changes – The Best of Tesla (1995 Geffen)

Tommy Skeoch:  you’re out!  According to the band, Tommy had some drug issues and they drew a line.  He went “Steppin’ Over” that line and was fired for it.  Thus, the sole unreleased song on Tesla’s very first greatest hits album is an ode to their breakup:  “Steppin’ Over”.  It was recorded as a four-piece, and the last thing they did together until a 2000 reunion.

The 90s were not kind to hard rock bands, and many of them came to the end of their record deals.  Compilations and live albums rolled out to fulfil obligations.  Time’s Makin’ Changes – The Best of Tesla is a sad example of one such contractual obligation.  As if the bland cover was not warning enough, the skimpy booklet is the dead giveaway.

What it has:

Key tracks such as “Modern Day Cowboy”, “Gettin’ Better”, “Little Suzi”, “Love Songs”, “Signs”, “Edison’s Medicine”, “The Way It Is”, and “What You Give”.

What it lacks:  “Hang Tough”, “Shine Away”, “Change in the Weather”, “Call It What You Want”, “Freedom Slaves”, “EZ Come EZ Go”, “Comin’ Atcha Live”, and an unedited “Heaven’s Trail”.  The edited version included here is missing too much of the opening.

There are a couple questionable inclusions:  “Song and Emotion”, a lengthy tribute to Def Leppard’s Steve Clarke, seems more like deep-cut material.  When it comes to the last Tesla album on Geffen, 1994’s Bust A Nut, who can say which tracks the most important.  It seems like the album might have been better represented by edgier material like “Rubberband”, or “Solution”.  Might have livened things up too.

It’s also kind of deceiving that the two live tracks included are not advertised as live.  “Signs”, well, no worries, because it was only ever recorded live.  But “Paradise” is also from the Five Man Acoustical Jam album.  This is probably done so not to confuse first time Tesla buyers who didn’t realize all this time that “Signs” is a live song.

As for the new song “Steppin’ Over”, it sounds like Tesla even though they were down to one guitar player.  It doesn’t sound new or different, just a continuation of the Bust A Nut sound, including the sad wisdom.  It takes a neat Zeppelin-y turn around the 2:18 mark but otherwise it’s not what you’d call a greatest hit.

It’s a shame how the Tesla story went down, but you’d do well by at least adding the first three albums to your collection.

2.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Styx – Edge of the Century (1990)

STYX – Edge of the Century (1990 A&M, 2019 BGO remaster)

Kilroy Was Here seemed to be the end of Styx.  Although the album went platinum, it was also divisive.  The band were fractured and the tour was difficult.  Members did not enjoy playing characters on stage.  Was this a rock band or was it Broadway?  Styx split up in ’84, with members embarking on new projects.  Dennis DeYoung did moderately well with his solo debut Desert Moon, and Tommy Shaw had a fairly big hit with Girls With Guns.  James “JY” Young went in another direction on his own City Slicker album with Jan Hammer.  For all intents and purposes, Styx spent the second half of the 80s completely defunct.

In 1990 two interesting things occurred.  First, Tommy Shaw formed a supergroup with Jack Blades (Night Ranger) and Ted Nugent called Damn Yankees.  They came out of the gates with a surprising self-titled hit album that didn’t particularly sound like Styx, Night Ranger or Ted Nugent.  But it spawned a couple hit singles and went double platinum.  When Styx reunited at the same time, it was without Tommy Shaw.  Styx would never record with the classic lineup again.

The Styx reunion we got in 1990 was, frankly, not the Styx reunion we deserved.  A new guitarist, songwriter and singer would be needed and he arrived in the form of solo artist Glen Burtnik.  He was only slightly younger than Shaw, but brought in a modern edge.  He was able to sing Tommy’s high parts, and could write.  The first single, “Love is the Ritual”, was written by Burtnik and partner Plinky Giglio with no other members of Styx contributing.  Clearly, they were trying to turn a page and appeal to a new younger generation, and make people forget all about “Mr. Roboto”, or that dreaded “progressive rock” tag.

The new album was titled Edge of the Century and produced by Dennis, now in control of Styx.  Even so, “Love is the Ritual” sounds like a Winger reject, with full-on Beau Hill production.  You’d never guess it was Styx, and one suspects this is why it was chosen as the lead single.  It was also the first track on the album.

Leading the new album with a song featuring a new unfamiliar singer was a risky move.  The turgid track is a clone of Winger’s “Can’t Get Enuff” and features some stinky synth bass.  The faux-funk of the rhythm track is unpalatable, and only a hint of Dennis DeYoung on backing vocals indicates that this song has anything to do with Styx.  They’re barely in their own music video.  Almost as bad are the cringey lyrics.

The song that should have opened the album, “Show Me the Way”, was a legitimate hit.  A church-like ballad with soaring chorus, it struck a chord with Americans during the first Gulf War.  It has the sound of a true Styx classic and fits well with past ballads.  Dennis is a remarkable songwriter and the chorus on this track is just legendary.

Edge of the Century tends to be remembered for “Show Me the Way”, but good Styx-like material is still buried within.  Burtnik’s back on the title track, but this infectious hard rocker does sound more like Styx.  It fits that slot like a classic Tommy Shaw rocker.  The wicked riff is as memorable as the catchy chorus.

The songs alternate from Glen to Dennis, and DeYoung’s ballad “Love At First Sight” is a traditional 80s power ballad with chiming keyboards.  It sounds exactly like every other power ballad from 1990, but at least it is a good one.  It was the third single and did OK on the charts.

One mark of a good Styx album is a decent acoustic song, and Glen Burtnik has “All In a Day’s Work” for that necessity.  It’s just acoustic guitar, vocals, some keyboards and Dennis’ accordion.  Very Styxian, especially when they sing together.

The second side opens with a traditional rock n’ roller, “Not Dead Yet”, which is a song by a chicago artist named Ralph Covert, sung by Dennis.  It’s DeYoung’s first rocker on the album, and it’s leather jacket cool.  Burtnik’s back on “World Tonite”, the cheesiest song on the album.  This generic rocker with it’s “Girls wanna dance, boys wanna fight” lyric is pretty awful.  Parts of it verge on rap.  Its only saving grace is the harmonica that periodically blasts through.  In no universe would anybody say “That sounds like Styx to me.”

Dennis is really good at ballads, and “Carrie Ann” is surprisingly strong.  Like another “Babe”, it has a strong chorus and memorable hooks.  Did “Babe” need a sequel?  It matters not; “Carrie Ann” is pretty good for what it is.  We’ve had a few ballads now, and an acoustic song, but have you noticed what is missing so far?  James “JY” Young.  He does not check in until the second-to-last tune, “Homewrecker”.  It is a Quiet Riot-like rocker (similar to “Run For Cover”), and unsurprisingly the hardest rocker on the album.  JY was overdue.  That fact that you can really only feel his presence on this one track is one of the major weaknesses to Edge of the Century.  However, they try to make up for it with with a smokin’ guitar solo, and a killer keyboard break from Dennis too.  “Homewrecker” may be derivative but JY hasn’t rocked out this hard on a Styx album since “Half-Penny, Two-Penny” back in ’81.  It’s over all too soon.

Edge of the Century is still missing one key Styx ingredient, and they save it for last:  something big and pompous and overblown.  That is “Back to Chicago”.  Air-shaking blasts of horns and clarinet accompany a huge broadway-ready chorus.  It’s hard to imagine when you start this album on “Love is the Ritual” that you will end it on something as different as “Back to Chicago”.  Styx albums albums are often diverse, with heavy riff rockers butting up against pretentious set pieces.  But they’ve always been cohesive.  By the end of Edge of the Century, any thought of cohesiveness are out the window.  Although the same five guys plays on all 10 songs, it sounds like two or three separate bands.

Edge of the Century is like a lost Styx album.  The band split after a short tour, with the album going Gold but no further.  Due to the sad passing of drummer John Panozzo, this lineup could never exist again.  Styx reunited in 1995 (with Shaw), but they stopped playing “Show Me the Way” when Dennis was let go in 1999.  “Love is the Ritual” continued to be played live when Burtnik was in the band again (on bass filling in for Chuck Panozzo) from 1999-2003.

Fortunately, the album can be acquired remastered in a fine reissue on BGO Records, paired in a 2 CD set with The Grand Illusion.  The reissue includes the original lyrics and liner notes, along with an essay detailing Styx history.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – “ABSUЯD” (2021 single)

GUNS N’ ROSES – “ABSUЯD” (2021 single)

“Listen motherfuckers to the song that should be heard!” bellows W. Axl Rose, cocky as ever.

Guns N’ Roses like to drop bombshells and they did this week when “Silkworms” returned to the setlist after an absence of almost two decades.  It had been reworked and retitled “Absurd”, now augmented with Slash n’ Duff’s involvement.  In another surprise bombshell, they just released a studio version.  The first new Guns N’ Roses music since Chinese Democracy and first with Slash and Duff since 1994.

“Silkworms” is am interesting choice to release as the first new song with the old legends back in the band.  It’s always going to be associated with the Chi-Dem era.  The version I knew had Robin Finck and Buckethead on guitar.  Brain on drums.  Tommy Stinson on bass.  A lot has changed!  Slash is audible but more Slash-y sounds would be have appreciated.  Duff sounds brilliant.  Why not an actual new song?  I don’t know…but at the same time, I’m glad “Silkworms” finally got a release as “Absurd”.  It was always deserving of a proper studio release.

Axl sings in that punky “Down on the Farm” character, and the lyrics are as venomous as they were in 2001.  “Parasitic demons sucking acid through your heart!”  He sounds quite good; better than the concert versions we’ve heard thus far.  The vocal is mixed to sound like a megaphone because, hey, it was the Chi-Dem era.  There’s a disorienting quiet section in the middle that also hearkens back to that quaint time.

Good tune, but those of us who have craved “Silkworms” for 20 years are biased to a good impression.  Those who didn’t like it won’t be turned, and those who want something more like Appetite and Illusions won’t get it this time.  If you love Chinese Democracy, add a mark to my score.  If you hate it, subtract one or two based on your level of venom.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Historia (1988 VHS)

DEF LEPPARD – Historia (1988 Polygram VHS)

When I was a kid, I wanted to collect “all” the Def Leppard music videos.  Hysteria was pretty much my favourite album for two years.  Their videos were ubiquitous.  Any time MuchMusic had a new one to debut, you could count on it being a hit.  “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was the anthem of the summer of ’88 and the video was on all the time.  But some Def Leppard videos were played far less frequently.

The 1988 VHS Historia collected all Def Leppard’s music videos up to “Love Bites”, along with some rare television performances that never aired over here.  They were introduced by quaint title cards, and each video was presented in full — no edits.

“Hello America” with Pete Willis was the first one we’d never seen before.  Why was the drum kit out front?  Nobody knew, but this cool song sounded like a lost hit.  The “fake live” trio of “Let It Go”, “High ‘N’ Dry”, and “Bringing on the Heartbreak” ended the Willis era of music videos.  These three were seen on TV here, but only rarely.  “Heartbreak” was the original album mix.

The big three Pyromania videos by David Mallet were up next, “Photograph” in its uncensored version.  Then there’s a TV performance (lip syncing of course) of “Too Late For Love”.  This includes a neat set up with Steve Clark and Phil Collen coming down these hydraulic staircases. When spending the money to buy a VHS tape of music videos you can see on TV, it’s nice to get real rarities like this.

“Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” is another serious rarity from Japanese TV. With Union Jacks draped behind, Leppard rarely looked this cool. It’s no shirt required for Rick Allen, and a mop-topped Joe Elliot screams behind his hair into the microphone cupped in his hands. Unfortunately, during the guitar solo the director chose to focus everywhere but on Phil for most of it.

After Pyromania blew up all over the world, Leppard reissued Hign ‘N’ Dry with two bonus tracks.  Music videos were made for each:  The remixed versions of “Bringing on the Heartbreak” and “Me and My Wine”.  The DVD release is mucked up and includes the wrong audio instead of the remix of “Heartbreak” but the VHS has everything right.  These two videos are exact opposites.  “Heartbreak” is a high budget extravaganza with the two guitarists playing on massive silos, smoke all around.  Then there’s Joe crucified on a barge for some reason.  The performance stuff is pretty cool at least.  But “Me and My Wine” is a total contrast, just Leppard jamming it up in a cheap flat, wrecking stuff and playing in the showing.

And then finally it’s the Hysteria era, the big big hits with the million dollar videos.  “Women” was cool, with that Def Leppard comic book theme.  “Animal” and “Hysteria” had a lot of mainstream play.  There’s also the original UK version of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, with Leppard playing in a house in the midst of demolition.  The “fake live” US version is also included, with the familiar extended remixed intro that was actually unreleased in audio form at that time.  It is paired with “Armageddon It”, made from the same batch of concert footage.

Finally, in the days before hidden CD tracks were all that common, Leppard hit you with an unlisted bonus video.  It’s “Love Bites”, the brand new video that shortly took over the world for them once more.

Videos weren’t cheap to buy — they were $25 to $30 for something like Historia.  What you wanted was value for your money (stuff you didn’t see on TV) and rewatchability.  Historia was constantly in our VCR, often for a full play-through.  It more than earned its share of my allowance.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Lee Aaron – Radio On! (2021)

LEE AARON – Radio On! (2021 Metalville)

With a long career travelling landscapes of rock, jazz and metal, Lee Aaron has returned on CD with 12 new tracks that represent some of her best work to date.  It’s called Radio On! and it’s an apt title.  These are radio-ready tunes built for summer purposes.  For best results, roll down those windows and hit the highway with Lee Aaron on your deck, loud.

Lee’s band with whom she wrote and recorded Radio On! include Sean Kelly on guitar, Dave Reimer on bass, and John Cody on drums.  With a guy like Kelly contributing licks, you know you can count on some smokin’ guitar hooks and that’s exactly what you get on opener “Vampin'”.  Hard hitting, but constructed with melody in mind.  Lee is one of those artists for whom time has not passed.  As she’s explored genres other than rock, she’s only gotten better and that shows on “Vampin'”.  It belies the jazz records in her discography, but make no mistake, this is rock!  Kelly’s solo break ensures it.

A collection of vintage-sounding riffs on the mid-tempo “Soul Breaker” lend it a melodic base.  Lee uses that to springboard into hook after hook.  Future classic potential.  A memorable solo is like a maraschino cherry on top.  Things turn slightly pop-punk on “C’Mon”, a brilliant single that will be lighting up stereos all summer long.  Check out John Cody’s cool drum pattern and the jabbing stun-gun melodies that Lee delivers.

A diverse album this is, with “Mama Don’t Remember” sounding like a rocked-up roadhouse blues.  You can picture a band playing this number in a seedy bar with dusty beams of light leaking through the walls.  Then it’s the title track and the memorable hook “I wanna die with the radio on”.  Me too, Lee!

“Soho Crawl”, backed by bouncy piano, rocks pretty hard in a different direction.  Another road is explored on the dark “Devil’s Road”, with bass leading the way.  Burning slow, laden with some of Lee’s finest words, “Devil’s Road” has the potential to be the kind of song that makes an album immortal, like a “Black Velvet”.

Picking up the pace, “Russian Doll” has the “Radar Love” rocking boogie, while Lee belts line after line of sticky sweet vocal candy.  Kelly dives right into parts unknown for the wicked solo.  Live, this is the song that will get people up and dancing.  But this album doesn’t linger in the same places too long, and so the mid-tempo “Great Big Love” takes a different road.  Opposites attract in the lyrics, and the music leaves lots of room for Lee to do her thang.  Her lyrics just keep getting better.  “It all comes down to chemistry, the science is in babe and science don’t lie.”  There’s a swing and a country feel to it.

“Wasted” goes to dark territory.  Serious subject matter, but wrapped gently in some of the most beautiful music Lee Aaron’s ever sung.  All before it explodes punkily in the middle for a rousing chorus.  Shifting into a funk groove, “Had Me at Hello” has some wicked rhythm.  Lee’s playful words are an instrument to their own as the band jams on.

Finally closing on a piano ballad, Radio On! feels like a journey.  The last leg is “Twenty One” which is likely to take you back in time.  “Always in my mind, I’m 21.”  It’s a vocal tour-de-force, ending an album full of ’em.

It’s worth celebrating any time a beloved artist from our past puts out a truly great album these days.  For it to be one of the best albums of their career, that’s something very special.  Respect to Mike Fraser for another perfect mix.  Summer 2021 just gained another mainstay for its soundtrack.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – Stand Up (2 CD & DVD Edition)

JETHRO TULL – Stand Up (Originally 1969, 2010 2 CD & DVD Chrysalis Collector’s Edition)

Stand Up, from its wonderful cover art (including a fun Jethro Tull pop-out!) to the music in the grooves, is probably my favourite Tull platter. One basic reason is that it sounds like a transitional album, and I’m often drawn to those. It combines the remnants of the blues jams that they specialized in from the Mick Abrahams era (1968’s This Was), and their growing experimental side. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, and it always sounded great — even better on this new remaster.  Stand Up has since been remixed by the very talented Steven Wilson (2016’s Elevated Edition), but if you wanted a CD copy of the original unaltered mix, this 2010 edition is what you need.  (This mix is available on a DVD in the Elevated Edition, but not CD, and they each contain different bonus material.)

“A New Day Yesterday” has the task of opening this new era of Jethro Tull on LP, and it maintains the blues direction.  Then immediately, “Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square” brings on the hippy side, with bongos, psychedlic jamming and the world’s greatest rock flautist.  “Bourée” proves it, as he jams jazz-rock style along to J.S. Bach.  Only Tull can make Bach swing as they do on “Bourée”.  From the upbeat jamming “Nothing is Easy” to the exotic “Fat Man”, this album begins to open up Tull’s diversity.  “Reasons For Waiting” brings on a lush, orchestrated side of Jethro Tull that some would call pompous and others would call delicate and quaint.  But then they just flat out rock — with flute — on album closer “For a Thousand Mothers”.  It’s truly the first diverse Tull album, going from corner to corner to explore whatever their hearts desired.

The Collector’s Edition contains valuable bonus music aplenty.  The first disc alone doubles the length of the album.   It has every bonus track from the previous 2001 remaster, which are the A and B-sides of two standalone singles.  These are the swinging’ “Living In the Past”,  filler “Driving Song”, the powerful (with horns!) and awesome “Sweet Dream”, and my favourite, “17”.   It adds in a mono single mix of “Living In the Past” with some subtle differences.  Two BBC live sessions are included via four live tracks, including “Bourée”.  There are even amusing radio spots. And that’s just the first disc.

The second disc is an entire concert: Live at Carnegie Hall, New York, 4 November 1970.  This would make it a show from the Benefit tour, the album which followed Stand Up.  It includes songs from Benefit, such as “Sossity; You’re a Woman”.  It also previews the future Aqualung classic “My God”. It is, of course, a great live show…it’s Jethro Tull in their youth after all!  Hear Ian Anderson go nuts on the flute solo!

Another highlight is “Dharma For One”, stretched out to 13 minutes to include a bonkers Clive Bunker drum solo.  The wicked slidey guitar on “A Song For Jeffrey” is really hot on these tapes too.  By this time, John Evan had joined as Tull’s pianist which adds another dimension.  Check out the intricate work on “With You There to Help Me”.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, there is a bonus DVD which contains a DTS 5.1 mix of the whole concert — audio only, however!  If you have the equipment to play it, then enjoy. I will usually resort back to the stereo mix on CD but the 5.1 mix offers some additional depth.

For “things you will only watch once” (or twice if you’re reviewing your collection), the DVD also includes a 45 minute Ian Anderson interview from 2010 to check out.  The split with Mick Abrahams is one of the most interesting parts though the story of the impasse is familiar.  It simply boiled down to styles, and Ian didn’t want to be limited to just one.  As such, he considers Stand Up to be the first real Jethro Tull album; the first to tentatively embark on their world-wide musical journey.  Of course Mick had to be replaced, and Ian discusses three guitarists that tried out, including you-know-who.  Martin Barre was chosen of course, given a second chance after a poor first meeting.

Barre’s furious solo work on Stand Up‘s blistering “We Used to Know” more than justifies the choice.

The packaging is gorgeous, coming packed in a thick, sturdy digipack.  Artwork like this deserves a proper showcase, and unless you buy an original LP, this is about as good as it’s going to get.

5/5 stars