classic rock

#798: Chinese Democracy

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 285: Chinese Democracy

GETTING MORE TALE #798: Chinese Democracy

I met Thussy back in 2007.  He joined the team at work and we became friends immediately.  We liked the same stuff.  Trailer Park Boys, Guns N’ Roses, comedy.  He is responsible for getting me into Super Troopers, which admittedly took a couple tries.  We were also both getting married around the same time, so we had similar complaints and gripes to talk about.  Drama with bridesmaids and seating plans, egads.

Thuss is a gamer, and we enjoyed chatting games.  Axl Rose did a voice (a radio DJ) in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.  You could switch between stations, and if you chose the rock station you got Axl.  It was one of the few things Axl did that was released during that long dry spell between albums.  Of course, this led to ample discussions of Chinese Democracy.

“It’s never coming out,” Chris insisted.  I hated to say he was right, but it sure seemed that way.  He refused to back down on his position.  We’d been fucked with by this band for so long.  Guns had missed several release dates, so many that it had become a joke.  Axl chewed up managers and spat them out like stale bubblegum.  Then the Dr. Pepper soda company offered to buy a Dr. Pepper for everyone in America if Axl managed to make his 2008 release date.  Axl seemed good-naturedly amused by the idea, offering to share his Dr. Pepper with Buckethead when the album comes out.  (This because Dr. Pepper said the only Americans exempt from this offer were former Guns members Buckethead and Slash!)

On October 22 2008, I was working at my desk, listening to the radio when the DJ, Carlos Benevides, announced that they would shortly be playing a brand new single by Guns N’ Roses.  It was the title track, a song both Thuss and I were already familiar with.  He had a disc of rough mixes for many of the tracks, and I had the Rock In Rio bootleg CD set.  We already knew half the new songs, and “Chinese Democracy” was a track I thought smoked.  I called Thuss and he listened in as it played.

It sounded like shit on our little mono telephone speakers, but we were listening to brand new Guns!  The overall listener reaction was mixed to negative, but I already loved it.  “The album’s never coming out,” said Thuss.

“It has to, now.  There’s a single out.  It’s definitely coming.”

“No.”  Thuss was insistent.  “It’s never coming out.”

“But Dr. Pepper…” I began before being cut off.

“No.  Not coming out.  Never.”

The funny thing was, “Chinese Democracy” wasn’t actually the first song released from the album.  A month earlier, “Shackler’s Revenge” became the first new Guns song in nine years, when it was released as part of the Rock Band 2 video game, which neither of us had.

A new release date of November 23 was announced.  “Nope,” said Thuss.  “Nothing is coming out on November 23.”  It was, strangely, a Sunday.  Generally, nothing came out on Sundays.  It was absolutely an odd move that did throw the whole release into question for some.

I asked ye olde Record Store to hold a copy for me.  “Do you want vinyl?” he asked.  “No, just CD.”  It was something I’d regret, when he sold out of the vinyl a week later.  I emailed to ask if he had any left.  “Do you remember me asking you if you wanted vinyl?” he scolded.  “Yeah,” I sulked.

When I walked into the store on November 23 and was handed my precious copy of Chinese Democracy, it was so anticlimactic.  There it is.  It’s in your hands, the culmination of a decade and a half’s work.  You’ve been waiting all this time for this album, and there it sits.  An album that had “release dates” going back to 1995 and every single year since.  Then, you witness Guns return to the live stage from their cocoon, different but recognizable.  You watch them struggle to establish a lineup, and you hear rumour after rumour about song titles and release dates.  Then you’re holding a CD in your hands, a pitiful little plastic case with a little paper cover inside.  You hand the guy your debit card, he rings it in.  Transaction approved, you are handed your receipt.  Chinese Democracy goes into a little plastic bag.  Even though it’s probably the most expensive and longest gestating album of all time, your little plastic bag weighs the same as if you bought Sex Pistols.

At least I’d be able to show it to Thuss.  Monday the 24th rolled around.

“It came out.  I have it,” I told him as I strolled into his office.

“No it didn’t.  It never came out.  It’s never coming out.” He was sticking to his story come hell or high water!

“Yes it did! It’s in my car right now!  I’ll show it to you.”

“You have nothing,” he responded, refusing to come and look.

In the years since, Thuss has stubbornly stuck to his guns and his believe that Chinese Democracy has never come out.  “I have the unreleased mixes,” he says.  “That’s all there is.”


I emailed him to tell him I was writing this story, our tale of the time Chinese Democracy was released.

“So you are going to take a crack at some fictional writing…nice.”

I will never win this one!

So now I have two stories both titled “Chinese Democracy”.  I say, why not?  Peter Gabriel has three self-titled albums.

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Slip of the Tongue (6 CD/1 DVD 30th Anniversary box set)

WHITESNAKE – Slip of the Tongue (originally 1989, 2019 (6 CD/1 DVD 30th Anniversary Rhino box set)

There’s a theme you may have noticed every time we review a Whitesnake box set:  David does it right.

Here’s another one:  Coverdale cares.

Slip of the Tongue gets the super-deluxe treatment this time, the third of the “big three” to go that way.  This is the album that divided fans the most.  Replacing Vivian Campbell was none other than ex-David Lee Roth stringbender Steve Vai.

“What the hell would that sound like?” we all wondered.

Longtime Whitesnake fans felt it was a step too far into the world nebulously defined as “hair metal”.  Others loved the guitar mania inside, with Vai stretching out in ways different from his prior bands.  Not the “definitive” Vai record that they still wanted (and would get a year later), but certainly a platter they could sink their teeth into.  And it was a weird reason that Steve was playing on Slip of the Tongue at all.

As you’ll see from a feature on the included DVD (“A Look Back: Whitesnake Chronicles with DC and Adrian Vandenberg”), the album was written and thoroughly demoed with Adrian.  They wouldn’t need a guitarist until it was time to tour.  At this point, Adrian injured his wrist and was unable to finish.  Steve Vai and David Coverdale found that they got along famously and the seven-string wizard brought his unique and advanced stylings to the blues-based Whitesnake.

What the hell would it sound like?

It sounds absolutely mental.

With the benefit of now hearing all the demos that Adrian laid down, it’s obvious Steve Vai didn’t just pick up his guitar and play the parts.  It’s clear right from opener “Slip of the Tongue”.  Compare the album to Adrian’s demos on the other discs.  Vai changes one of the chord progressions to high-pitched harmonics, and, let’s face it, improves the song.  Elsewhere there are unique trick-filled runs and fills that add another dimension to the music.  If Whitesnake was always 3D rock, Vai upped it to 4.  The guitar work is blazingly busy, never cliche, and always to the advancement of the song.  With all respect to Adrian Vandenberg who wrote these great songs, Steve Vai was more than just icing on a cake.  Slip of the Tongue arguably sounds more a Vai album than Whitesnake, even though he didn’t write any of it.

The beauty of this set is that if you’re more into ‘Snake than alien love secrets, you can finally hear the purity of Adrian’s vision in the multitude of early demos included.

Unfortunately, if you’re familiar with the album you’ll hear something’s up by track 2.  “Kitten’s Got Claws”?  That song used to close side one.  What’s up?  The album running order has been tampered with, and so has “Kitten’s Got Claws”.  It’s now missing the Steve Vai “cat guitar symphony” that used to open it.  It could be a different remix altogether.  My advice is to hang on to your original Slip of the Tongue CD.  You’re probably going to still want to hear the album and song as they were.

This running order puts “Cheap An’ Nasty” third, a song that structurally resembles the ol’ Slide It In Whitesnake vibe.  Of course Vai’s space age squeals and solos modernized it.  Listen to that whammy bar insanity at the 2:00 mark!  Up next is “Now You’re Gone”, a classy rocker/ballad hybrid that has always been an album highlight.  The demos on the other discs allow us to hear how much this song was improved in the final touches.  That cool answering vocal in the chorus, and the hooks that Vai added, came much later.  Strangely, this box set puts the other ballad, “The Deeper the Love”, up next.  Keyboard overdubs made it a little too smooth around the edges, but a good song it remains.

The Zeppelinesque “Judgement Day” is a track that used to piss off some fans, who felt it was an abject rip off from “Kashmir”.  The Vai touch of sitar (replacing guitar in the early demos) probably aided and abetted this.  Regardless it succeeds in being the big rock epic of the album, and a favourite today.  Another strange choice in running order follows:  “Sailing Ships”, formerly the album closer.  It’s quite shocking to hear it in this slot.  Again, Vai replaced guitar with sitar, and David goes contemplative.  Then suddenly, it gets heavy and Steve takes it to the stratosphere.

“Wings of the Storm” used to open side two; now it’s after “Sailing Ships”.  Some tasty Tommy Aldridge double bass drums kick off this tornado of a tune.  Vai’s multitracks of madness and pick-scrapes of doom are something to behold.  Then it’s “Slow Poke Music”, a sleazy rocker like old ‘Snake.

The new version of Slip of the Tongue closes on “Fool for Your Loving”, a re-recording of an old classic from Ready An’ Willing.  The new version is an accelerated Vai vehicle, lightyears away from its origins.  Coverdale initially wrote it to give to B.B. King.  Vai is as far removed from B.B. King as you can imagine.  The original has the right vibe, laid back and urgent.  This one is just caffeinated.

The only album B-side “Sweet Lady Luck” is the first bonus track on Disc 1.  By now it is the least-rare B-side in the universe, having been reissued on a multitude of Whitesnake and Vai collections.  Valuable to have to complete the album, but easy to acquire.  It’s basically a second-tiered speed rocker with the guitar as the focus.  Other B-sides from this era were remixes, and they are included here as well.  The Chris Lord-Alge mix of “Now Your Gone” is the kind that most people won’t know the difference. Vai said that Lord-Alge could make the cymbals sound “like they have air in them.”  Then there’s the “Vai Voltage Mix” of “Fool for Your Loving”, which has completely different guitar tracks building an arrangement with way, way, way more emphasis on the instrument.  The rest of the disc is packed with four more alternate remixes:  “Slip of the Tongue”, “Cheap An’ Nasty”, “Judgement Day” and “Fool for Your Loving”.  These mixes have some bits and pieces different from the album cuts.  Vai fans will want the alternate solo to “Cheap An’ Nasty”, though it’s less whammy mad.

Of course, “Sweet Lady Luck” wasn’t the only song that didn’t make the album.  In old vintage interviews, Coverdale teased the names of additional tracks we didn’t get to hear:  “Parking Ticket”, “Kill for the Cut”, and “Burning Heart”.  They’ve been safely buried in Coverdale’s vault, until now.  Additionally, it turns out that Whitesnake also re-recorded a couple more of their old songs:  “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” and “We Wish You Well”.  They’re all here in different forms on the demo discs.

Perhaps “Kill for the Cut” would have been one dirty song too many for the album.  It ain’t half bad, and has a unique little bumpin’ riff.  “Parking Ticket” had potential too.  Rudy Sarzo gave it a pulse that might have taken it on the radio.  The 1989 monitor mix would have been perfect for B-side release.  Why did Cov have to hold out on us all these years?  “Burning Heart” was a special song, a re-recording of an old Vandenberg track that David really loved.  Unfortunately the monitor mix is is only a skeleton of what could have been a sensational Whitesnake ballad.  “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” is heavily modernized, with keyboards sounding like they were trying to recapture “Here I Go Again” (which they were).  “We Wish You Well” is more contemplative, with piano as the focus.

All of this previously unheard material is scattered over several discs.  “Evolutions” (Disc 3) is a familiar concept to fans of these box sets.  Demos from various stages of completion are spliced together into one cohesive track.   You will be able to hear the songs “evolve” as the band worked on them.  Every track from the album plus “Sweet Lady Luck”, “Parking Ticket” and “Kill for the Cut” can be heard this way.  Disc 4 is a collection of monitor mixes with all the album songs and all the unreleased ones too.  These discs are the ones that allow us to really hear the album the way it would have been if Adrian didn’t hurt his wrist.  We would have got an album that sounded a lot more like Whitesnake.  It was audibly different even if familiar.

Perhaps the best disc in the entire set is “A Trip to Granny’s House:  Session Tapes, Wheezy Interludes & Jams”.  It’s just as loose as it sounds.  Enjoy the funk of “Death Disco”, the funkiest David’s been since Come Taste the Band.  If you’ve always wanted to hear David sing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree”, now you finally can!  There’s a lot of goofing off in some of these tracks, but also a lot of rock.  It’s live off the floor as they rehearse the songs, as a four piece band with Adrian.  Not all the final lyrics or solos are set, but the songs are so raw and fresh.  Some of the jams show a side of Whitesnake we rarely got to see.  Kind of Purple-y in the way they just could take off and rip some blues.

 

Given all the rich audio extras, it’s OK if one of the CDs is a little impoverished.  That would be disc 2, “The Wagging Tongue Edition”.  This is a reproduction of an old promo CD, featuring the album Slip of the Tongue with a Dirty David interview interspersed.  This was meant for radio premieres.  It has the entire album in the correct order, but because it’s faded in and out of interviews, it’s really not a substitute for a proper copy of the original album.  At least the vintage 1989 interviews are interesting.  It saves collectors from buying a copy on Discogs.  (Coverdale claims “Judgement Day” was originally titled “Up Yours Robert”.  Ooft.)

There’s another disappointment here and it’s difficult to forgive.  In 2011, Whitesnake released the long awaited Live at Donington as a 2 CD/1 DVD package.  This brilliant performance finally gave us a permanent record of Whitesnake live with Vai.  In our previous dedicated review, we had this to say:

Musically, it’s a wild ride. It’s not the Steve Vai show. Adrian gets just as many solos, and his are still spine-tingling if more conventional. It is loaded with ‘Snake hits, leaning heavily on the three Geffen albums. In fact there is only one pre-Slide It In song included: The Bobby “Blue” Bland cover “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”.  And, since it is also the pre-grunge era, there are plenty of solos, which today seems excessive.  Aldridge does his drum solo at the end of “Still Of The Night”. Vandenberg gets his “Adagio for Strato”/”Flying Dutchman Boogie”. Most excitingly, Steve Vai performs two songs from his then-brand new (and top 40!) album Passion And Warfare: “For The Love Of God” and “The Audience Is Listening”, with Aldridge on drums. Coverdale even introduces him as “Mr. Passion and Warfare!” so I imagine there was no sour grapes that Vai’s album was doing so well. And lemme tell ya folks — the audience WAS listening, and going nuts too!

Unfortunately, to save a little bit of plastic, this set was reduced to a single CD for its inclusion here.  The Vai and Adrian solos were cut, though Tommy’s drum solo in “Still of the Night” is retained.  To cut the guitar solos in such a guitar focused boxed set is not only unwise but unforgivable.  Fans who don’t have Live at Donington are going to want to shell out again just to get the solos.  Fortunately, the whole show is uncut on the included DVD.

The DVD has plenty of added value; it’s not just a reissue of Live at Donington.  You’ll get the three music videos from the album (“Now You’re Gone”, “The Deeper the Love” and “Fool for Your Loving”).  There’s even a brand new clip for “Sweet Lady Luck” cobbled together from existing video. Then, you can go deeper into the album. The aforementioned sitdown with David and Adrian is really enlightening.  Another behind the scenes feature narrated by David is fantastic for those who love to watch a band create in the studio.  Coverdale’s not a bad guitarist himself.

These Whitesnake box sets also include ample extras on paper.  There’s quite a nice miniature reformatted tour program with the majority of cool photos.  A large Slip of the Tongue poster can adorn your wall, or remain safely folded up in this box.  Finally, there is a 60 page hardcover booklet.  This is a treasure trove of press clippings, magazine covers, single artwork, and more.  Lyrics and credits wrap it all up in a nice little package.

Because we know that David puts so much into these box sets, it’s that much more heartbreaking that this one is so slightly imperfect.  The shuffled running order and lack of guitar kittens on “Kitten’s Got Claws” is a problem.  The truncated live album is another.  It means I have to hang onto old CDs that I was hoping to phase out of my collection in favour of this sleek set.  Alas, I’ll keep them as they are my preferred listening experience.

Otherwise, in every other way, this box set delivers.  It makes a lovely display next to its brethren and it justifies its cost.

4.5/5 stars

MORE Slip of the Tongue?

Just Listening to…Whitesnake: Slip of the Tongue (30th Anniversary)

Sit down Sykes fans, because I’m a Vai kid and this is “my” Whitesnake.  The fact that this lineup existed at all is miraculous.  The most creative guitarist of all time joining one of the most successful commercial rock bands at the peak of their popularity?  Recipe for, at the very least, interesting history.  And absolutely perfect box set fodder.

So here we are buying Slip of the Tongue for at least the third time, and finally getting it (mostly) right.  At a quick glance, it appears the only detriment to buying this box set is that you will not get the complete Live at Donington concert on CD.  In order to fit the whole thing on one CD (disc 6), they axed all the solos.  Let’s face it folks.  When your band includes Steve Vai, you don’t cut the solos.  You’ll have to shell out for the original triple disc Donington set to get them on CD.  The good news is that the whole Donington concert is still here on video, on a fully-packed DVD (disc 7).  (The DVD also includes a detailed interview with David Coverdale and Adrian Vandenberg, touching on Adrian’s mysterious 1989 wrist injury.)

The running order of the songs on Slip of the Tongue, the 30th anniversary remaster, has been slightly shuffled.  It’s strange and off-putting enough that I’m keeping my old copy of the album, so I can still listen to it the familiar way.  “Sailing Ships” isn’t the last song?  “Fool For Your Loving” is.  The bonus track versions included, with alternate solos and guitar fills, are stunning additions.  Then there’s an entire CD, the “Wagging Tongue” edition, with the songs in the correct order but interviews with David interspersed.  This is a reproduction of a vintage 1989 promo CD, for contemporary perspective.   Disc 3, the “Evolutions” CD, is a favourite.  The “Evolutions” series of tracks, now a Whitesnake reissue trademark, mixes early demos with later demos and and even later versions, so you can hear the tracks evolve as you listen.  It’s deconstruction and reconstruction in one.  Importantly, you finally get to hear what the album would have sounded like before Steve Vai came in to record it.  Disc 4 includes 16 monitor mixes, including some superior rarities.  Finally, after 30 years of waiting and teasing, we get the unreleased tunes “Parking Ticket”, “Kill for the Cut”, and “Burning Heart” (originally by Vandenberg).  We also get “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” and “We Wish You Well”.  Verdict?  Worth the wait.  Oh, so worth the wait!  There’s no reason some couldn’t have been released as B-sides in 1989, and they should have!  “Parking Ticket” has a neat Van Hagar-like, and could have been a summer hit.

Disc 5 is “A Trip to Granny’s House”, actually the name of a rehearsal studio they used.  These funny tapes, “Wheezy Interludes & Jams”, are informal fun.  A highlight is the funky “Death Disco”, not unlike some of the stuff Purple were doing with Tommy Bolin towards the end.  These tracks predate Steve Vai’s involvement, so you’ll get the purity of Adrian’s original playing.

I look forward to investing more time with this box set.  Let us hope that David continues to empty the vaults.  Next up: Restless Heart?

REVIEW: Scorpions – Box of Scorpions (2004)

SCORPIONS – Box of Scorpions (2004 Universal)

Don’t worry – this Box of Scorpions cannot hurt you!  If fact if you allow yourself to be stung, you will find your reality injected with musical ecstasy.

This isn’t a box set to buy if you are looking for unreleased treasure.  It’s strictly a compilation, although you may be able to get a few tracks you didn’t have before.  Box of Scorpions covers every album from the debut Lonesome Crow, beyond 1999’s Eye II Eye, going as far as 2002’s Bad For Good: The Very Best of Scorpions.  That compilation CD included two new songs called “Bad For Good” and “Cause I Love You”.  They were recording specifically for Bad For Good, but it makes sense to get them on the beefier Box of Scorpions instead.

The first disc of this set is inaugurated by “I’m Going Mad”, the same technicolor workout that opened their first album.  The early psychedelic Scorpions songs are only represented by a couple, with “Fly to the Rainbow” being the second.  Stone cold classics form the bulk of the disc, with “Speedy’s Coming” being an obvious focal point.  “In Trance”, “Steamrock Fever”, “We’ll Burn the Sky”, and “Virgin Killer” are all essential cuts.  You can’t fit ‘em all in, of course, but the live album Tokyo Tapes fills in some of the most obvious blanks.  “Top of the Bill”, “Dark Lady” and “Robot Man” are great live inclusions.  The disc ends with the first steps into the modern Scorpions sound with a pair from 1979’s Lovedrive.

Disc two showcases the 80s and all the big Scorpions hits.  The band streamlined their sound.  Some may say “dumbed down”.  The Scorpions of the 80s were massive, but certainly were not challenging your grey matter with complex music like the 70s band were prone to.  They also lost the regality of the Uli Roth era, something his guitar brought to the band.  It was replaced by solid 4/4 hard rock, with plenty of hits.  There is only one live song (from World Wide Live) here, “Another Piece of Meat”.  The rest are all studio originals:  “Big City Nights”, “Still Loving You”, “Rhythm of Love”, “The Zoo”, “No One Like You”, and of course that unstoppable “Hurricane”!  Deeper cuts like “Coast to Coast” and “Dynamite” provide some serious meat.  This disc would make a pretty good standalone compilation.

The third disc concentrates on the 90s, which saw the Scorpions reborn by the success of “Wind of Change”.  Unfortunately, this ushers in a slew of ballads.  The few rockers like “Tease Me, Please Me”, “Alien Nation” and “Don’t Believe Her” are almost drowned by the ballads.  There are some songs you may have missed the first time around.  In addition to the aforementioned “Bad For Good” and “Cause I Love You”, you’ll also get “Over the Top” and “Life Goes Around” which were released in 1997 on Deadly Sting: The Mercury Years.  “Cause I Love You” is really the only keeper of these four obscurities.  It was originally written in 1978 for Lovedrive, and recorded in 2002.  That’s how it sounds, too.  As for the rest, at least getting by these songs all in one place, you don’t really need the other two compilations.  Disc three also contains the unfortunate “Mysterious” from the dreadful Eye II Eye album, and the soul live song “Hurricane 2000” from Moment of Glory with the Berlin Philharmonic.  Neither are really essential though “Hurricane 2000” has its fans.

Box of Scorpions adds up to a good set with plenty of value and a few minor surprises.  If you don’t own all the albums already, this is a good buy.  Be sure to get a copy with the outer plastic slipcase still intact!

3.5/5 stars

 

#782: Eliminated Headlight Restored

A sequel to #760: Eliminated Headlight

I saw Eliminator was now a one-eyed cyclops car. A headlight came off and was nowhere in sight. It’s gone. If it had simply fallen off, it would be on the shelf, next to the car. I only had two suspects. One of the two was more credible, while the other claims to know nothing. I know it was my dad!

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #782:  Eliminated Headlight Restored

The old cottage bedroom isn’t the safe storage space it used to be!

For over 30 years, my old Monogram model kit of ZZ Top’s “Eliminator” car sat undisturbed.  The shelf it occupied was shared by a stunningly beautiful red Ferrari Testarossa, some old books, and several Lego battle droids.  Eliminator’s structure held sound, with only minor repairs needed over the years to keep it intact.

Then one day in 2019 a headlight went missing.  We didn’t need a confession to know that my dad did it while puttering around!

I thought the story was over, but a few weeks ago my dad said to me “I found your headlight”.

What?  Did it just fall behind the bed?

“No, I got you a new one!”

Right on, thanks dad!  Did you find an old model kit on Ebay?

“No, I saw a brand new one at the hobby store and picked it up for you!”

I couldn’t believe my luck!  But what are the chances the kits are the exact same?  Could I simply swap out an old headlight for a brand new one?

Turns out, I can.  Both kits are 1/72 scale, and though the new one is made by Revell instead of Monogram, they are identical.  Revell actually bought out Monogram in 2007, so they must have acquired these old molds and reissued the exact same kit.

Opening the kit and seeing the exact parts, I found myself at a crossroads.  I did a good job back in 1987-88 when I built my original Eliminator.  There are some things I would change; I would have painted the red engine block to be more accurate if I had another crack at it.  And now I do.  Or, I could just glue the new headlight onto the old car and leave it be.

Pros to building a new car:

  • Fixing mistakes I made as a kid, like the engine colour.
  • A higher budget, better tools, access to more paints.

Cons:

  • Possibly screwing up and wrecking a new model kit.
  • I hate, hate, hate water decals.
  • Realising I’m not as good at this as I used to be.

“You know my hands aren’t as steady as they used to be,” I told my dad.

“Fuck your hands!” he responded.

I turned to my mom and asked if she just heard what he told me to do.  She did and said I should write about it.

Betcha didn’t expect that’s where this story would go at the start!  I neglected to take my father’s advice, but vowed to tell the tale in my own way.

The end.

 

 

The ZZ Top Eliminator Project will continue in Summer 2020.  What would you do with the model kit?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

REVIEW: KISS – “Venus and Mars / Rock Show” (2014 McCartney tribute)

 – “Venus and Mars / Rock Show” (2014 Sony, from The Art of McCartney)

Kiss rarities can be so crushingly disappointing.  Some, like the Ramones cover “Rock and Roll Radio” are catalogue highlights.  Others, like “Don’t Touch My Ascot” are just curiosities.  Unfortunately the Paul McCartney medley of “Rock Show” and “Venus and Mars” fall into the latter category.  But why?

These tracks come from a Paul McCartney tribute album called The Art of McCartney.  On the back cover, the track is clearly listed as Kiss.  But Kiss must have had some lineup changes if that’s the case.  Doug Petty on bass!  Dan Petty on guitar!  Jason Paige on drums!  You’ll be forgiven if you don’t recognize those names as Kiss members last time you checked.  Only Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons from the real Kiss appear, and only in a vocal capacity.  Why the false advertising?  On the same album, Robin Zander and Rick Nielson “of Cheap Trick” are listed, but not Cheap Trick themselves.  Yet Paul and Gene are credited as Kiss, tricking the fans into thinking they were hearing the band, not just two of the singers.

How is it?

Well, it doesn’t sound like Kiss, that’s for sure!  Gene sings the “Venus and Mars” section, in his natural voice.  Then a raspy Paul comes in, bringing a Kiss-like vibe with him.  He gets to sing one of Paul McCartney’s coolest lyrics of all time:

What’s that man movin’ ‘cross the stage?
It looks a lot like the one used by Jimmy Page.

Or Ace Frehley!

At no point do Paul and Gene sing together or harmonize like they used to when covering the Beatles on the streets of New York City.  Doesn’t it seem like a colossal waste, having the two Kiss founding members appearing essentially separately?  Would have been even better with Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer playing, but…hey, nobody asks me ahead of time!

And here is another reason why physical media is important.  If you had just downloaded this from iTunes, you might never know that what you bought wasn’t really Kiss.  Then again, the front cover does say “The songs of Paul McCartney sung by the world’s greatest artists.”  Nothing in there about the playing part.

Buying this CD (to be reviewed separately at a later time) would still not be a bad idea.  You’ll get exclusives by Alice Cooper (double shot), Sammy Hagar, Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, actual Def Leppard, Jeff Lynne, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, The Cure, B.B. King, Dylan, Heart, Dion and tons more.  Cooper’s “Eleanor Rigby” is worth the purchase alone.  This helps negate the soul-squashing disappointing of buying a “Kiss” song that isn’t.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Breadcrumbs EP (2019)

ALICE COOPER – The Breadcrumbs EP (2019 Edel)

Alice Cooper wanted to do a Detroit garage rock record and pay homage to his roots.  And so we have The Breadcrumbs EP, six tracks of stripped down goodness, ironically produced by Bob Ezrin.  The 10″ vinyl is limited to 20,000 copies.  Somehow, by the grace of the black widow, we scored #48!

For these special songs, Alice is backed by the MC5’s Wayne Kramer, bassist Paul Randolph, Grand Funk’s Railroad Mark Farner, and Detroit Wheel Johnny “Bee” Badanjek. A remake of Alice Cooper’s “Detroit City” (from The Eyes of Alice Cooper) is an appropriate starting point:

Me and Iggy were giggin’ with Ziggy and kickin’ with the MC5,
Ted and Seger were burnin’ with fever,
and let the Silver Bullets fly,
The Kid was in his crib, Shady wore a bib,
and the posse wasn’t even alive.

That’s some rock and roll poetry right there.  Not one of Alice’s finest songs but worthy of a second chance.  Then “Go Man Go” is a new original composition co-written by Wayne Kramer.  It’s punk rock Alice, as authentic as the bands he’s paying tribute to.  Bob Seger’s “East Side Story” closes the side on a steady groove, right out of Hendrix’s version of “Gloria”.

A really funky “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” (Suzi Quatro) is the centrepiece of the EP.  Horns blastin’, Alice hasn’t been this funky since his dance-oriented Alice Cooper Goes to Hell in 1976.  “Devil With a Blue Dress On” (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels) is the soulful side that Alice occasionally shows.  It’s merged with “Chains of Love” (J.J. Barnes) which pulls everything back to rock.  Finally “Sister Anne” by the MC5 puts the snot on the nose and the grime in the rock.  Kramer’s simply awesome riff is perfectly complemented by Cooper.

If copies are still available, get one.  Cooper fans will love the change of pace, while rock and rollers will adore the authenticity.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: The Cars – Anthology: Just What I Needed (1995)

THE CARS – Anthology: Just What I Needed (1995 Rhino)

Ric Ocasek was cool.  Whether it was the sunglasses, or the black hair and leather jacket combo, he was just cool.  The Cars were birth attendants to MTV.  “You Might Think” was arguably the greatest music video on this side of Michael Jackson.  And The Cars were far, far more than just a one hit band.  This Cars Anthology proves just how much gas they had in the tank.  With 40 songs including a number of rarities, this anthology is just what YOU needed.

The first four songs in a row, all from the Cars’ self-title debut, are radio staples.  “Just What I Needed”, “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Let the Good Times Roll” and “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” still rock the airwaves, proving their timelessness.  The Cars could write a song, and whether it was Ric Ocasek or Benjamin Orr on vocals, the hits kept rolling in.  It’s a combination of choppy guitar hooks, keyboard candy, and plain ol’ songwriting ability.

The Cars were also consistent.  There is no dry spell for hits, not until we get to 1987’s Door to Door.  When you listen to a cross section of material in chronological order like this, it’s quite noticeable when Robert John “Mutt” Lange takes over production duties.  Heartbeat City and its synthetic drums are the prototype for Def Leppard’s Hysteria album.  The backing vocals, the bass tones, and impeccable production all foreshadow the sound of things to come in Mutt-ville.  Roy Thomas Baker didn’t put so much of his own fingerprints on the Cars (although you can definitely hear a Cars influence via Baker on Alice Cooper’s Flush the Fashion).  Mutt sounds like Mutt, for better or for worse.  The album sold four million copies.  Whatever Ric learned from Mutt and Baker, he put to good use as a producer himself.

There are some songs that are just special.  Even though their fellow tunes are unique, important and classic, some rise even higher.  One is the legendary ballad “Drive”, written by Ric and sung by Benjamin.  Soft and gentle, “Drive” has been our companion for decades now, through lonely nights and happy days alike.  Another immortal song is the aforementioned “Just What I Needed”, for all it’s pop-punk perfection, before that was even a term.  I believe they just used to call it “New Wave”.  Finally “You Might Think” must be remembered as not only an important video, but also an ageless pop song that still grabs you today.

Rarities in this set include single B-sides, demos and previously unreleased songs.  Some have since found homes on the Cars’ deluxe reissue CDs, but some seem to still be exclusive to Just What I Needed.  One interesting outtake is a bang-on cover of Iggy Pop’s “Funtime”.  The liner notes are also exemplary, as Rhino usually do.  You could consider this to be a miniature box set for all the care put into it.  While buying The Cars by the album will not lead you astray, there is much to be said for a really good anthology.  You’re looking at one right now.

5/5 stars

Rest in peace Ric, rest in peace Benjamin.

 

Just Listening to…Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare

I was very enthusiastic for this album when it came out in 2011:  four copies purchased (to get all the bonus tracks) and a 5/5 star rating.  I can hear what I loved about it so much, even if the feelings are faded today.  That’s what makes these “Just Listening” writings interesting!

The original Nightmare is still a favourite and always will be.  Factors that appealed to me about the sequel album are the musical and lyrical callbacks.  These recurring cues unite both albums quite successfully despite the decades that passed.  Musical sequels can be a dicey affair (Mindcrime 2, anyone?) but Alice Cooper and Bob Ezrin managed to do the near-impossible.

The standard album runs 52 minutes, and that’s just a tad long.  Although there are no obvious duds to cut, the original Nightmare was more effective because it was more concise.  (You want a longer experience?  Adding in all the bonus tracks more than doubles the album’s length!)  Regardless of the digital age that most of us inhabit, there is something to be said for the length of a standard LP.  It just happens to jive with the natural attention spans of the human mind.  The new Nightmare crams 14 tracks into that 52 minutes, and it plays out as a lot to absorb.  Especially after giving the album a rest for a few years.

Another way in which the second Nightmare is inferior to the first is the overall tone.  Nightmare 2 is far more humorous.  A couple tracks (“Ghouls Gone Wild” and “Disco Bloodbath Boogie Fever”) are there for the laughs.  That’s fine — Alice Cooper does humour in music better than 99% of those who try.  The original Nightmare had its fun, but the tone of the album was far darker, especially with songs like “Steven” and “Only Women Bleed”.  You’re going to have a preference one way or the other too.  I prefer the darker original Nightmare to the more comedic sequel.

These are all very fine hairs to split.  I still like the album, a lot.  I believe it to be Alice’s best from the last two decades.  There’s very little wrong with it.  I just don’t think it matches the first as much as I once did.

NON-REVIEW: KISS – Hit Collection 2000 (Russian import)

kiss-logo – Hit Collection 2000 (E.S Records – Russian import)

I call this a “non-review” because I’ve never actually listened to this CD.  I’ve never even opened it.  This disc is one of dozens of Russian imports sold to us by a guy named Serge.  Ah, Serge — part time Russian CD distributor, part time male model.  And a total pain in the ass.  Most of what he tried to sell us was utter shit.  “This is really big in Europe”, he would say about just about every dance CD that I would pass on.  Because this CD is more a curiosity than anything else, I’d like to keep it sealed.  These compilations are so shady that Discogs won’t even allow them for sale.  Think of them as bootlegs.  It’s not the real Kiss logo at the top and that should be cautioning. Because I don’t want to open it, I’ll just listen to the songs on other albums, and review it that way.

The track “Psycho Circus” is a logical opener for a CD released in 2000.  The Psycho Circus album was Kiss’ most recent, and they opened their shows with the title track.  It’s the closest thing to a classic from that album.  Never mind that Ace Frehley and Peter Criss aren’t really on the song; that was typical for Kiss.  It just takes one play and you know it’s Kiss.  Nobody else sounds like this.  Kiss basically ripped themselves off on this song.

Off to a good start, but then things go a bit strange.  “Charisma” from 1979’s disco album Dynasty follows, and by contrast to “Psycho Circus”, the band has never played it live.  (The internet will tell you they played it in Mexico in 1981, but this was just miming for a TV performance.)  The Russians then dropped “Detrot Rock City” (yes, that’s how they spell it) in the third slot.  Then it’s “God of Thunder” which works really well immediately following “Detroit”.  Strangely, back to disco next.  It’s the hit “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”, before it gets even weirder.  Sandwiched between “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and a slew of tracks from the Kiss solo albums is the ballad “Beth”.  Granted, “Beth” is pretty out of place no matter where she is placed.  It’s also strange that three of Kiss’ biggest hits are crammed together in a small group like this.  It’s even stranger when you look further down the tracklist and realize that one of the biggest hits (“Rock and Roll all Nite”) is completely absent in any form.

The only thing more jarring than hearing Gene Simmons’ solo track “Radioactive” immediately after “Beth” is when the painkillers start to wear off in the middle of a root canal.  Were the solo albums big in Russia?  All four solo albums get a track on this CD, though not all were singles like “Radioactive” was.  Frehley’s “Rip It Out” is arguably a better song than his single anyway (“New York Groove”).  “Rip It Out” is more than welcome here since it so rarely makes it onto compilations.  It’s only on two others:  Best of Solo Albums, and Ikons.  Stanley’s next with “Ain’t Quite Right”, an interesting choice since it’s such a laid back track.  His album has so many better songs for compiling.  Last of the solo tracks is Peter’s single “Don’t You Let Me Down”, a nice ballad, but as you’ll see this CD already has enough ballads.

Back to the mainstream Kiss songs, “Do You Love Me” works really well as a transition out of the solo stuff.  Then it’s time for some Elder.  “A World Without Heroes” isn’t shunned like it used to be.  It’s been on a few compilations, like Kiss 40, Icon 2, and the Box Set.  Another hit from the disco era, Frehley’s “2000 Man” (a Stones cover) is a welcome addition.  The only other compilation it’s been on was Ikons (not including live). Here’s a fact for you:  a Kiss compilation is only strengthened by more Ace.  Fortunately this isn’t the last.

As we get close to the end, “Shout It Out Loud” is rolled out, which makes up for the lack of “Rock and Roll all Nite”.  Then the Russians go full Chernobyl by including the weak ballad “I Finally Found My Way” as the last song in the set.  Why?  Was this a hit in the motherland?  Was it a hit anywhere?  Peter sings it, but he didn’t write it.  Paul did.  And Paul was writing a lot of shit ballads back then.

Russian imports usually had “bonus tracks”.  Sometimes they’d use tracks from live or solo albums.  They went live in this case, with three tracks from the Psycho Circus bonus CD.  Ace sings on “Into the Void”, one of those undeniable Frehley riffs.  “Into the Void” was a highlight from the disappointing Psycho Circus, and this live take swaggers.  “Black Diamond” is dramatic as ever, but where I give the Russians the most credit is closing the CD with “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll”.  Think back and realize, that’s how the original Kiss Alive ended too.

I’m not going to bother giving this CD a rating (what’s the point?) but I will point out that the Russians go all over the place, from genius to asinine, with this track list.  Sometimes it feels like they just threw a bunch of stuff to the wall and didn’t wait to see what stuck.  At others it sounds well thought-out.  It’s probably just random.

?/5 stars