classic rock

#856: Why Metal?

GETTING MORE TALE #856: Why Metal?

As you’re aware, I’ve been doing a lot of introspection lately.  I hope you don’t mind.  A lot of my reflection has been to my distant past.  As I look back, I am reminded how music was always there in my life.  One of my first truly beloved records was the original soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back.  The bombast, drama and power of those pieces really appealed to me.  It’s safe to say that I discovered music through Star Wars and John Williams.  Until they came along, music was just something that was around me.  It wasn’t inside me until Star Wars.

They stopped making Star Wars movies (or did they…?) in 1983, coincidentally the same year that Quiet Riot released Metal Health, and Styx came out with “Mr. Roboto”.  I simply jumped from one train to the other!  They were both going in the same direction so it wasn’t much of a leap.  Rock music was very much about bombast, drama and power.  And it stuck with me, bonded at a molecular level.

But why metal?  There were other trains I could have boarded.  At school, every other kid was into Duran Duran.  I couldn’t have given a crap about Duran Duran, even if they were in a James Bond movie!  So why metal?

The first factor to examine would be peer groups.  Essentially, I had two:  the school kids and the neighbourhood kids.  The school kids were, frankly, assholes.  But none of them lived in my neighbourhood.  It was like growing up in two separate worlds.  My classmates weren’t near me and I was fine with that.  Every time I came home, it was like I had entered a safe zone.  The older kids in my neighbourhood were legends.  Bob Schipper, Rob Szabo, and George Balasz.  They were the ones I looked up to and they were all rocking the metal.  Szabo’s favourite bands?  Motley Crue and Stryper.  Balasz liked Kiss.  Schipper was into Iron Maiden.

We would gather on front stoops with boomboxes powered by D-cell batteries.  Van Halen cassettes would be passed around like a joint.  I heard Maiden Japan by Iron Maiden on my front patio for the first time because George brought it over.  The guys were eager to educate me.  Quiet Riot, Helix, Judas Priest, W.A.S.P., Black Sabbath were names I was trying to memorize.  I had a few things mixed up though.  I thought the song “Sister Christian” by was Motorhead, because when they sing “Motorin’!” I heard “Motorhead”.  So sure.

On the other hand, the peer group at school was mostly what we called “wavers”.  They liked Mr. Mister and Michael Jackson and whatever else, I simply wanted nothing to do with it.  At an instinctive level, I think these people repulsed me.  I had witnessed and been victim to their cruelty.  I wanted nothing to do with their music or their sports and I think that was largely unconscious.  I would have loved if they liked me instead of mocking me; it would have made life easier.  Obviously I had given up trying.  So why not?  Heavy metal music was like Musica proibita in Catholic school.  There were a few headbangers — I didn’t like them either — but just a few.  Those guys thought it was hilarious that I was still into Quiet Riot in 1985 when they had moved onto Van Halen.  They would challenge me to “name three songs by Helix” to see if they could trip me up.  That was the difference between the rock guys at school, and my friends at home.  The guys at home would have just taught me what songs were by Helix.

Fucking school assholes.

An other notable factor on the road to heavy metal that has to be mentioned is the one nobody wants to talk about:  puberty!  But it is true that the bands I was discovering were (mostly) masculine manly men, and soon I would be wanting to attract a mate like they taught us in sex ed class.  To exude masculinity, I chose metal.  I am certain that was a conscious decision.  Despite the long hair, the guy in Iron Maiden was clearly a tougher dude than the guy in Duran Duran.  If there was going to be a fistfight, I wanted to be on the Maiden guy’s side.  Easy choice.  It seemed that simple in grade seven.

Of course, heavy metal music had the opposite effect in trying to attract girls.  It absolutely repelled them, every single one of them.  The fact that I just went double-down on the metal showed that my love for the music was genuine.  Girls didn’t like metal, but I did, and I was already too committed to discovering all the bands I could.  I was living in the rabbit hole.

A gleaming, riveted stainless steel rabbit hole.  With a million watt stereo system.

Parental approval?  Not really.  Though they liked Bob Schipper, they didn’t know what to make of this metal music.  They tolerated it, and never gave me a hard time about any of the bands I liked.  They probably would have preferred Springsteen like the family across the street listened to.  But hey, they bought me the tapes I wanted for Christmas, and they let me tape the videos on TV, so a big applause to my parents.  I think my dad was worried that I was becoming such an introvert.  I remember him telling me “Garnet Lasby doesn’t sit in his room listening to tapes all day.”

When he said that, all I could hear in my head were the Kiss lyrics, “Get me out of this rock and roll hell, take me far away.”  I was so confused.  I loved listening to music in my room.  The only thing better was listening to music with my friends.  Was it bad?  I really thought about it, but obviously decided to follow my heart.

One more factor in my journey to metal that is easily overlooked but must be accounted for:  the fact that rock and roll is one big soap opera with enough drama, violence and musical brilliance to fill an entire Star Wars trilogy.  As my friends taught me the songs, they also introduced me to the stories.  “This is Randy Rhoads.  He was the greatest until he died in a plane crash.”  And Kiss?  Woah nelly, there was every kind of story within Kisstory!  How many guitar players?  And crazy costumes and characters to go with the story?  Buying a Kiss album was never just “buying a Kiss album”.  It was always buying a issue of a comic book.  What would Kiss sound like this time?  What seedy subjects would they be wrestling with on a lyrical level?  What would the cover look like and what colour would the logo be?

It seems obvious now, but the only way for me to go was metal.  In every single alternate universe, I am a metal fan.

Music allowed me to rewrite my persona a bit.  I hoped that, instead of that nerdy kid with the Star Wars fetish, I would be remembered as the nerdy kid that was really into music.  (Music that is still popular today, incidentally.)  Why metal?  Because it really only could have been metal.

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Screaming For Vengeance (30th Anniversary Edition)

JUDAS PRIEST – Screaming For Vengeance (Originally 1982, 2012 Sony 30th Anniversary Edition)

While people recognize British Steel as a platinum Judas Priest landmark, it was Screaming For Vengeance that went double platinum.  It introduced Priest to the MTV generation and opened them up to bigger American audiences.  But before we get to Screaming For Vengeance itself, a cornerstone Judas Priest album in anyone’s books, the “Special 30th Anniversary Edition” must first be addressed.  The extra content is a full concert DVD, and four bonus audio live tracks from the same DVD.

To have Priest live at the US Festival is a wish fulfilled for many.  The daylight show with full classic costumes (Rob decked in silver) is a nostalgia blowout.  The band look lethal although drummer Dave Holland appears overwhelmed by the demanding tunes.  The setlist isn’t half bad, with “Green Manalishi”, “Diamonds and Rust”, and “Victim of Changes” being highlights and filling the need for old classics.  The bulk of the set is made up of more recent material from the three 1980s Priest albums thus far.  Tempos are fast, cowbells are in the air, and Rob is at his confident shrieking best.  The audio is great and the video is well reproduced.  Owning this edition of Screaming really is a must since it’s the only official release of this show on DVD.

Unfortunately only four tracks from the DVD are included in CD form, to keep costs down.  Otherwise it would have to be a triple disc set.  (Which is probably coming for a 40th anniversary edition anyway.)  The re-imagined cover art is nice, fitting in with other Priest deluxe reissues (see images at bottom).  In an unfortunate oversight, the clean and sharp original artwork is included nowhere inside this set.  They did include the two bonus tracks from the previous remastered CD release, which we’ll get to after we discuss the album in full.

Screaming For Vengeance was a sudden change of style for the Priest, after two rather soundalike albums.  Similarly the next album Defenders of the Faith would be cast from the same mold as Screaming.  All these albums were produced by Tom Allom.  Tempos were turned up, guitars sharpened, and as per the title, Rob Halford screamed.  A lot.  The refined 80s Priest was evident on the opening duo “The Hellion/Electric Eye”.  The guitars are sleeker, the vocals processed and robotic.  The riffs are just as sharp.  Priest were going for the throat.  This opening one-two punch was more punishing than any music I ever heard at that time.  Though you could not claim it’s heavier than a Priest oldie like “Saints In Hell”, the production is louder and more in your face than ever before.

Drummer Dave Holland sprays a bloodbath of bashes at the start of “Riding on the Wind”, Priest speeding on the highway once again.  With Rob in high register, this catchy tune is perfect for keeping the wind in your face.  The first respite in terms of tempo is “Bloodstone”, though its glorious riffs need no accelerant.  Halford’s scatting at the end is classic and a rare reappearance of his old sassy self from Hell Bent for Leather.

“(Take These) Chains” is one of the most immediately accessible tracks, a mid-tempo delight as Priest do so well.  They end the side with a slow metal grind called “Pain and Pleasure”, drums soaked in echo.  Rob alludes to an interest in BDSM again, but with music this heavy most people just headbanged and ignored.  (In another sad oversight, the lyrics are not contained within this edition, but were reproduced on the previous CD remaster.)  Don’t assume that because it’s a slow one it’s weak.  “Pain and Pleasure” is a resounding an d memorable side-ender.

The second side opens with the sudden shock blitzkrieg of the title track.  Speed metal turned up to 11, “Screaming For Vengeance” is over the top and almost self-parody.  It’s one of Priest’s most overdriven blasts of might, but it also verges on mindlessness if not for a spirited solo section in the middle.  But then in another jarring shift, the sleek mid-tempo groove of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” rears its familiar head.  When I was a kid, there was no question this was Priest’s “big hit”.  It was the song everyone knew, and the music video was on constant rotation.  Classic clip.  The man pursuing Priest is meant to represent the tax man.  When Rob essentially yells at him “no tax man, you will not take my money,” his head blows up.  They used a little too much TNT on the mannequin, and so the tax man’s pants fell down in an added humiliation.  Such is the power of heavy metal, folks.  Got tax problems?  Rock and roll right in that tax man’s face.  Eventually his head will blow up.  If you’re lucky the pants might also fall.  This is what Priest have given the world!

“Another Thing Comin'” is a brilliant song.  Radio super-saturation cannot dull its simply-constructed hooks.  Its placement (second song, side two) is odd but that didn’t stop it to #4 on the US Billboard rock chart, nor did it impede the album rising to #17 on the Billboard 200.

The album begins drawing to a close, with an echoey tremolo effect on “Fever”, one of the album’s best cuts.  Then the echo ends, and a clean guitar accompanies a plaintive Rob.  Mid-tempo, powerfully built and loaded with hooks, “Fever” is a late-album winner.  Then, three quarters in, Halford turns on the high voice and the song transforms into something else equally cool.  Finally the echo-guitar returns to help bring the song to its dramatic end.

“Devil’s Child” is the last hurrah, a fun and heavy indictment of an ex-lover who’s “so damn wicked” and “smashed and grabbed all I had”.  The album ends as suddenly as it begins; jarring transitions being a sonic theme on Screaming For Vengeance.

Tom Allom’s production is often maligned as inferior to the more raw and loose sounds of Priest on their 70s albums, and there’s certainly an argument to be made there.  Screaming For Vengeance is not a warm album.  It is cold, sharp and steely.  It has a precise, digital undertone.  But it’s also heavy, considerably more so than Point of Entry which preceded it.  The cover art indicated that we were entering a new phase for Judas Priest; a simpler streamlined 80s phase but still deadly enough for the old fans.

The live bonus tracks included on the CD were not chosen willy-nilly.  Instead of including the best hits from the US Festival DVD, they use the ones from Screaming For Vengeance:  “Electric Eye”, “Riding On the Wind”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” and “Screaming” itself.  Watch out for the squealing feedback!  Finally the original bonus tracks from the 2001 CD are edition are tacked on so you don’t have to own two copies.  These include a raspy, smoking “Devil’s Child” live from another concert, and a demo from the 1985-86 Twin Turbos sessions called “Prisoner of Your Eyes”.  I hate when Priest use bonus tracks from the wrong era, but the Screaming For Vengeance reissues are the only place you can get this song.  In a stylistic shift, this slick ballad sounds more like “A Touch of Evil” from Painkiller, but far tamer.  (The guitar solos were overdubbed and tracks finished in 2001.)

Good special edition, but not great.  As these things go I’m sure we can expect a better 40 anniversary edition.  It won’t be long now.

5/5 stars for the album

3.5/5 stars for the 30th Anniversary edition

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Whoosh! (2020 Super Deluxe box set review)

DEEP PURPLE – Whoosh! (2020 Edel Limited Edition Collector’s Box Set)

Includes:

  • Whoosh! (CD and 2 x LPs)
  • The Infinite Live Recordings, Vol 2. (3 x 10″ EPs)
  • DVD – Live at Hellstock, Roger Glover and Bob Ezrin in Conversation

 


Whoosh!

Every Deep Purple album seems like the final album.  Maybe this one is; maybe it isn’t.  It feels like the band treat every album as seriously as if it was their last.  The cover art and music of Whoosh! takes us back to 1968 and Shades of Deep Purple.  The logo is similar, and there is a new version of the 52 year old first Deep Purple song ever, “And The Address”.

Opening with the lead single “Throw My Bones“, the album sets a mid-tempo pace from the start.  This is a lush, catchy groove with hints of classical and funk.  It began life during the Infinite sessions but was not finished until Whoosh!  Purple pick it up a bit on “Drop the Weapon”, a non-preachy appeal for cooler heads to prevail.  It has a similar vibe to the 1988 album Accidentally On Purpose by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover.  The immediate riffs and hooky vocals are bound to make this a favourite.

“We’re All the Same in the Dark” has a cool groove and a jaw dropping funky Morse solo.  Purple haven’t sounded this funky since Glenn Hughes was in the band.  Airey and Glover give it some heaviness.  “Nothing At All” sounds like a Morse composition, but his intricate classical-inspired interplay with Airey is sheer delight.  This could be the best track on Whoosh!, and contender for one of the best songs of the entire Morse era.  A massive chorus could help this one cross over on radio.  Though it’s a far different song, “Nothing at All” has elements that recall “Never A Word” from Bananas.  A regal-sounding crowning achievement.

“No Need to Shout” opens with the growl of a Hammond.  “Just a bunch a crap, you’re talkin’ out your hat!” sings Ian on a song featuring rare female backing vocals.  This is one of a few new Deep Purple songs that display a pissed-off attitude.  “I got your message loud and clear, the meaningless ringing in my ear.”  Add in a couple naughty words and you can tell Ian isn’t having any of it.  Cooler though is “Step By Step”, a very different kind of song with perhaps some lineage with “Vincent Price” from Now What?!  The haunting, ghostly quality of “Step By Step” sets it aside with a cascade of keyboard accents.

Purple start to boogie on “What the What” (a friendlier way of saying “What the Fuck”).  While Don’s hammering the keys, Steve stabs out with some tasty guitar twang.  If any song recalls “old” Deep Purple, it’s “What the What”, which could have been on 1973’s Who Do We Think We Are!  But that album completely lacks the joie de vivre of “What the What”.  Then Purple get heavy on “The Long Way Round” which just drives.  The keyboard solo is out of left field but is a spacey masterwork to itself.  There’s even a sly Black Sabbath callback — “I promised myself I would not get Trashed again.”  Then the song dissolves into a beautiful, quiet stream of notes.  This serves as a great lead-in to “Power of the Moon”, an excellent track previously heard on the “Throw My Bones” single.  It stalks prey in the cover of night.

Another heavy growl unexpectedly opens “Remission Possible”, an absolutely smokeshow of fretwork.  It’s a brief instrumental interlude just before the excellent “Man Alive”.  This track, enhanced by orchestra, sounds absolutely massive.  It has serious heft, but it’s not weighed down.  Ian is writing about some heavy themes and it will take deeper analysis of the album as a whole to decipher them all.  Roger Glover was very happy with Ian’s writing on the album, which takes a more contemplative tone without going heavy-handed.

The final side of vinyl begins with another instrumental, the aforementioned “And the Address” from Shades Of.  Deep Purple have occasionally re-recorded old material with new lineups, such as “Hush ’88” and “Bludsucker”.  This cut of “And the Address” has more momentum.  The only guy present who played on the original is Ian Paice, but Don Airey is a dead ringer for Jon Lord.  “And the Address” is one of the most enjoyable songs on Whoosh!, probably surpassing the original recording.

There’s still one track to go:  the “bonus track” called “Dancing In My Sleep”.  Safe to say it’s called a “bonus track” because it’s the most different of all the songs.  It’s an Airey conception based on a cool little techno beat.  Though it’s certainly not dance music, it does have one foot in that world and it’s a sheer delight to hear Purple stretch out into new territory 52 years into their game.

A seriously fine album this late in the career.  An album so fresh that it is hard to rate so soon.  But clearly a high point, with a band still exploring new ideas completely unafraid of what people might say.  In fact, a band who still has something to say.  Something worth listening to.

4.25/5 stars

But that’s not all of course.  Go big or go home.  Check out the rest of the box set’s contents in detail below.

 

 


The Infinite Live Recordings, Vol. 2

The previously released Infinite Live Recordings, Vol. 1 came out in 2017.  The concept behind the series is simple: pure live releases with no overdubs.  Vol. 2 comes from a show in 2017 on the Infinite Tour in Rio.  It is the big bonus in this box set, and present on a set of three beautiful 10″ coloured records.  72 minutes of live Purple — essentially, a double live album.

The opening thunder of “Highway Star” is robust on purple 10″ vinyl.  How these guys can still blast through it full speed is unknown, but they do it.  Mr. Gillan still gives it his all, which is not the same in 2017 dollars as it was in 1970 dollars, but still more than the average mortal his age.  Mr. Morse and Mr. Airey give each version of “Highway Star” a different feel, while Mr. Paice in the back is the only original member left from the 1968 lineage.  Sticking to Machine Head, Purple seamlessly go into “Pictures of Home”.  The old familiar groove of Mr. Glover is comforting warmth from the emptiness, eagles and snow.  Morse’s solo is a composition to itself, and then Airey gets to put his spin on Jon Lord’s classic organ solo.  Then it’s an unfortunate side flip as the band goes back to In Rock with “Bloodsucker”.  Gillian is more a verbal timekeeper than the screamer he once was, but the track is otherwise flawless and heavier than lead.  A more mainstream hit, “Strange Kind of Woman” flows from that, and relaxes the groove a bit.  Don Airey gets his first of two solos (this one organ) as the last track on this disc.

The action continues on transparent burgundy vinyl, and “Lazy”.  Morse’s signature string bending is the star of this show.  There are a couple different twists in this fresh version including a nifty Gillan harmonica solo.  Then it’s the only new song of the set, “Birds of Prey” from Infinite.  It’s weighty and worthy of its place.  Steve Morse is the Captain on this flight.  Gillan ends the track on a joke and then, after a side flip, introduces Don Airey’s keyboard solo including Ozzy Osbourne’s “Mr. Crowley”.  This diverse and fun solo goes into “Perfect Stranger” (no “s”?) which has steadfastly remained in the setlist ever since its 1984 conception.  Gillan is shaky but the Purple is solid.

The final vinyl, clear 10″ power, commences with “Space Truckin'” signalling the beginning of the end.  “Smoke on the Water” is the penultimate moment, slow and groovy after all this blazing rock.  Ian Paice has a couple nice moments on this one and Steve Morse’s stuttery solo is completely compelling.  One more side flip, and Purple end the set with their first hit “Hush” and the “Peter Gunn” theme.  Glover goes funky on this one with a bassline a little like “Another One Bites the Dust” in parts.

An entertaining and good live album, but one you won’t play often simply because Deep Purple have 846 live albums (exaggeration).

There is still more live material from the same tour in DVD form included in this box set.


Live at Hellfest

Next we have a double feature DVD:  A live show from Hellfest in 2017, and an interview session with Roger Glover and Bob Ezrin.  The Hellfest show has a much longer runtime with more new material.  They open the show with “Time For Bedlam” from Infinite. Ian doesn’t even attempt to sing it in tune, but we’ll always cut the guy some slack for still getting up there and givin’ ‘er.  The track has a “Pictures From Home” vibe, and the band look cool playing midday in shades.  Into “Fireball”, Ian Paice leads the charge as if it was 1971.  Don Airey has an Ozzy bobblehead on his keyboard!  Then it’s “Bloodsucker”, powered by Paicey.  “Strange Kind of Woman” is a nice melodic respite after a pair of piledrivers like that.  Ian ends this one with a bizarre freeform spoken word beat poetry bit, but with Morse shredding next to him.

The Jon Lord tribute from Now What?!, “Uncommon Man”, is heartfelt, and a solid track from their current era.  It sounds massive.  As good in quality is “The Surprising” from Infinite, something of an epic, and performed with full gusto.  Intricate symbol work by Paice.

After a brief pause, it’s on to Don Airey and “Lazy”.  A high speed workout like that merits something slower to follow, so it’s “Birds of Prey” from Infinite, a steady groove with dynamics.  Steve Morse’s solo takes center stage and it’s a melter.  “Hell To Pay” picks up the pace.  Not Purple’s most remarkable single, nor the best version, but nice to have in live form.  Airey’s jammy keyboard solo on this track is stellar, just as the sun starts going down.  Then he gets his own full-blown solo, with the Ozzy bobblehead there next to him during “Mr. Crowley”.  Roger Glover just watches from the side as Don goes to town through familiar melodies and themes.  The crowd eats it up smiling.

Don takes it into “Perfect Strangers” without missing a beat, and soon the rest of the band joins him.  This version has some stellar Morse guitar trickery.  The set is almost finished, with only “Space Truckin'”, “Smoke on the Water”, “Hush” and “Black Night” left to satisfy cravings for the classics.  Even at the end Paicey still brings that thunder.  “Hush” has the “Peter Gunn” theme attached, and “Black Night” brings the show to a massive finish.

It’s absolutely delightful watching Ian Paice play the drums, as he mouths along to every beat as if playing beatbox along to himself.  It’s fantastic and an expression of pure joy.

It’s not over yet.  The DVD has even more content.


Roger Glover and Bob Ezrin in Conversation

The DVD also includes the conversation with Roger Glover and Whoosh! producer Bob Ezrin.  This is another full 70 minutes of content.  Ezrin was involved with Purple from the jamming stage in Nashville and speaks in terms of “we”.  One of the biggest takeaways from this interview is a piece of wisdom from the late Jon Lord as told by Roger Glover.  Lord didn’t want to do more than two takes of a solo.  More than that, and he starting thinking too much.

The pair discuss the lyrics, the songs, the title (nicked from Faulty Towers), the playing, and more.  It’s lovely watching the pair just enjoy Steve Morse’s harmonics.  “Like capturing lightning,” says Roger.  Watching this portion of the DVD will enhance your enjoyment of the album.  It’s fun knowing what parts of the songs turned on the musicians and producer.  “Stretch out,” advised Bob.  And so Purple interpreted that as stretching it out every way.  “I wanna put the Deep back in Purple,” said Bob.  The boys also praise Ian Gillan’s focus, from eating right to meditating.  They even go back in time and talk about Glover’s joining of Deep Purple in 1969.

Ezrin particularly loved seeing magic unfold live before his eyes and ears, captured on tape.  He is obviously a fan of Deep Purple as musicians and as people.  Whether you can get into Ezrin-era Purple or not, there is real chemistry between band and producer.

You’ll probably only watch this conversation once, but you’ll be glad you did that at least.  There is so much knowledge and history to absorb here that all fans are advised to give the whole thing a spin.


Summing up

The box set itself comes with a cool black T-shirt with the “strolling dissolving astronaut” graphic.  This is the second album in a row with simple excellent art design for Deep Purple.  The astronaut recalls the music video for “Knocking At Your Back Door” from 1984.  He appears in numerous places in this set in different forms.  There are three art prints (two 12×12 and one 12×6), and of course all this music!  The vinyl copy of Whoosh! comes in a gatefold sleeve with credits and photos.  It sounds phenomenal with plenty of bottom end.  For lyrics, you’ll have to dig into the included CD copy.

Of course, if you don’t need all the extra live stuff and added goodies, you could just buy Whoosh! on CD, vinyl or download.  It’s frequently said that the benchmark for Purple is Purpendicular.  “Best album since Purpendicular,” fans often enthuse.  Whoosh! could be the best album of the Ezrin era, and is a contender for best of the Steve Morse epoch.  A serious fan will want the whole box with the three live 10″ discs.  They are beautiful to look at and sound good on the turntable.  Though the set is expensive, this is the kind of thing I’m willing to pay for.

4.25/5 stars for Whoosh!

4/5 stars for the box set

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Point of Entry (1981, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Point of Entry (1981, 2001 Sony remaster)

Point of Entry will always be one of those “other” Judas Priest albums. It wasn’t a ground breaker and wasn’t a massive seller. It will always just be “the album that came after British Steel” or “the one that came before Screaming for Vengeance“.  It did fine (500,000 US sales) and spawned a killer single called “Heading Out to the Highway”, but it didn’t make history like the other two records.

Coming after British Steel, Priest continued with producer Tom Allom and drummer Dave Holland, and it doesn’t sound like they were overly interested in taking chances.  Sonically Point of Entry is a carbon copy, though with less impactful songs.  In 2001, it was issued remastered by Sony with two bonus tracks.

For me, Point of Entry occupies an interesting space.  Listening to it on a recent road trip took me back to 1987 or 88, when I was in the midst of seriously trying to collect “all the Priest”.  From the perspective of a kid in 1988, Point of Entry was what I thought 1981 must have sounded like, though it wasn’t that long before.  So Point of Entry takes me back not to the early 80s, but the late 80s.  And in the late 80s, it sounded good.

Sure, I was aware that it sounded a lot like British Steel before, but without the massive landmark tracks like “Metal Gods”.  But what about “Desert Plains”?  Why wasn’t it as important as “Metal Gods”?

To this day, I don’t know.

Point of Entry does boast a few songs that could go toe-to-toe with any on British Steel.  Certainly “Desert Plains” and “Heading Out to the Highway” can stand up to the prior album.  “Highway” has one of those riffs so classic that I sometimes find myself humming it in a grocery line wondering what song was in my head.  As a mid-tempo road song, it does the job.  One could argue it’s just a sequel to “Living After Midnight”, but you just try and resist this one.

“Heading Out to the Highway” was made into an unintentionally funny video, mixing on-set with on-location footage in an obvious way.  Worse though were the two videos that followed:  “Don’t Go” and “Hot Rockin'”.  “Don’t Go” features the band playing trapped inside a small room, with a door that leads various impossible locations including outer space.  Fortunately the song is better:  slow and plaintive, yet with that solid rocking beat and a killer guitar solo.  “Hot Rockin'” is high-speed but tends to be forgotten because Priest have better material at this tempo.  The video is situated in a sauna, and then a concert stage where Rob’s flaming feet light fire to his microphone, and the microphone to a couple guitars.  Funny to look at, but I think it’s one of those cases where we’re laughing at the band, not with them.

“Turning Circles”, and a lot of the rest of the album, fall into various categories.  This one fits alongside “Don’t Go” as a slow but hard track.  “We’ve all got somethin’ wrong to say,” sings Rob in this song that seems to be about ending a relationship.  The “ah ha, ah ha” break in the middle is an album highlight, and to me it sounds exactly like my bedroom in 1987.

It’s “Desert Plains” that really brings it home.  There is a pulse to this song, created by Dave Holland and Ian Hill.  You don’t associate those two guys with awesome rock beats often, but here it is.  “Desert Plains” is an instant classic, and it’s alive with movement.  From the verses, to the choruses, to Holland’s drum “sound effects” (like “wild mountain thunder”), this is a Priest classic and shall forever remain so.  This side one closer should have been a video way before “Hot Rockin'”.

The second side opens with “Solar Angels”, another track with an interesting rhythm (slow drums, fast guitar chug).  The song feels like it could use some more substance, but it’s still enjoyable albeit in a “Metal Gods” knock-off kind of way.  Though heaviness is always celebrated, who doesn’t enjoy when Rob Halford gets sassy?  That’s “You Say Yes”, an outstanding shoulda-been hit.  The verses verge on punk rock as Rob spits out the words as only he can.  Then the airy “what I do, what I do, what I do” middle section goes right to heaven — or my room in ’87, I’m not sure which.

Point of Entry ends on three decent but unremarkable mid-tempo tracks, which perhaps always served to weaken the album’s impressions.  “All the Way” might be an attempt to rewrite “Living After Midnight”, and although it’s a cool track we all know Priest have better stuff in this vein.  “Troubleshooter” might even be more of a rewrite, with that opening drum beat sounding a little familiar.  But Rob’s vocals kill it.  Finally “On the Run” is a screamy album closer where Rob is once again the star.

As with previous CDs in this Priest remasters series, there are two bonus tracks, one of which has nothing to do with Point of Entry.  “Thunder Road” sounds a lot like Ram It Down era Priest, so you can safely assume it’s from those sessions in the late 80s.  Clearly outtake quality, almost like a prototype for “Johnny B Goode”.  Then there is a live version of “Desert Plains” from what sounds like the 1987 tour judging by the big echoey drums and Rob’s added screams.  It’s much faster than the album cut, all but destroying the pulse of the original.  Yet the song still kills!  Somehow it didn’t make it onto the Priest…Live! album, which was already stuffed full.

In the late 90s, a guy sold a used copy of this on CD to me, but he left something inside.  Something I wish I’d kept because it was so bizarre and funny.  The back cover features five white boxes in the desert.  The guy left a little white piece of note paper inside, explaining what he thought the back cover was about.   “Maybe they are graves,” said part of it.  I wish I could remember the rest.  (I always thought the five boxes represented the five band members, with the large one in the back being Dave Holland and the drum kit.)  And speaking of the cover, this album does look better on vinyl.  I have vinyl for almost all the Priest up to Ram It Down, and they all look better on vinyl.

Although Point of Entry will always live in the shadows of the towering albums that came before and after, it still leaves a glow behind.

3.75/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Sin After Sin (1977)

JUDAS PRIEST – Sin After Sin (Originally 1977, 2001 Sony reissue)

“SIN AFTER SIN, I have endured, but the wounds I bear are the wounds of love.”

This lyric from “Genocide” on 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny would have been little more than a throwaway, if Priest didn’t recycle the words “sin after sin” for their next album title.  Though the song may have appeared to be the same, much had actually changed.  For the first time, they had a producer that understood that kind of aggressive rock that the young band were trying to create:  Roger Glover, ex-Deep Purple, who had already recorded several albums for Elf, Ian Gillan and Nazareth.  Perhaps even more significantly, for the first time they had a serious drummer creating the beats:  the not-yet-legendary Simon Phillips, who had still already played on a Jack Bruce album.  This was just a session for Phillips, but it enabled Priest to break the shackles of rhythm and really start exploring.

Opener “Sinner” might have been the same kind of tempos that Priest were working with before, but there is a new slickness to the drums; an effortless drive with increasingly interesting accents.  With a solid backing, Priest sound more vicious.  “Demonic vultures stalking, drawn by the smell of war and pain.”  The apocalypse has never sounded cooler.  As Phillips drops sonic bombs left and right, KK Downing goes to town on what would become his live showcase solo.  His growls and trills sound like a beast inflicting wounds on a struggling combatant.  At almost seven minutes, “Sinner” is the album epic, and it’s the opening track!

Priest previously recorded a cover of Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust” for Gull records; that early version can be acquired on The Best of Judas Priest or Hero, Hero.  The Glover-produced track is the more famous and better of the two.  Radio play for “Diamonds and Rust” helped push the album to eventually sell 500,000 copies.  Rob Halford’s high pitched harmonies gleam like polished silver.

Ironic observation:  I hope by now we all know a light year is a measurement of distance, not time.  It is the amount of distance that light can travel in one year (9.46 trillion kilometres).  So, really really far.  Joan Baez playfully used it as a melodramatic measure of time in “Diamonds and Rust”.  (“A couple of light years ago”.)  On the next track “Starbreaker”, Halford refers to “light year miles away”, a crudely worded hyperbole for distance.  So with Sin After Sin, you get it both ways.  Regardless of scientific accuracy (or not) “Starbreaker” is a good track with a slightly flat riff.  Though Phillips is brilliant, it could just use a little more pep.

Like with Sad Wings of Destiny, you gotta have a ballad in there somewhere, and on side one that’s “Last Rose of Summer”.  This softie isn’t bad, though Priest have done and will do better.  Using a ballad to close a side isn’t always wise either, but on CD nobody really notices except us nerds.

“Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest” is a pretty epic side two opener, with harmony guitars playing an opening instrumental anthem.  Then a choir of Halfords joins in, and the band break in to what could be their fastest song yet.  From the wickedly fast dual guitar solos to the powerful rhythm, this song is a blitzkrieg of metal trademarks.  It’s relentless and all over the board, something that 80s Priest rarely was.

Side two keeps getting better with the groove of “Raw Deal”, which was Rob’s real “coming out” to fans in the know.  Today he calls it a “heavy metal gay rights song”.  It’s actually one of Halford’s best lyrics.  Instead of mashing together science fiction words and singing about battlefields, this time Halford paints a hazy picture of what is probably a gay club in Fire Island, New York.  It’s vivid but vague:  “The mirror on the wall was collecting and reflecting, all the heavy bodies ducking, stealing eager for some action.”  It’s also backed by some seriously cool Priest music, almost funky but always heavy.  “The true free expression I demand is human rights – right?”  It was all there in the lyrics all along.

A second ballad, the dirge “Here Comes the Tears” brings a cloudier mood.  An ode to loneliness, “Here Comes the Tears” is the one to play when you just can’t take it anymore.  When Halford starts givin’ ‘er at the end with the wildest screams in history, it sounds like an exorcism.  The guitars howl, a hint of piano can be heard, and there is an underlying choir of Robs singing sadly in unison.  Finally “Dissident Aggressor”, famously covered by Slayer, concludes the album on a violently fast note.  “Stab!  Fall!  Punch!  Crawl!”  This song is not for amateurs and might be the heaviest thing Priest have ever done.  There are plenty of contenders, but “Dissident Aggressor” must be in the Top Five Heaviest Priest Songs Ever.  But that being said, they still have the balls to end the song with another multi-layered harmony of Halfords.

The 2001 Sony remastered CD has two bonus tracks, and the first is the best in the entire series:  “Race With the Devil”, a cover of a track by The Gun.  This version, recorded for the next album Stained Class (Les Binks on drums) could easily have been a B-side all this time.  Why it went unreleased until 2001 is unknown.  Perhaps it was lost, but now that it has gotten a proper mastering job it is available on CD.  This is un-retouched, which cannot be said for other unreleased tracks in the Priest Remasters series.  “Run With the Devil” is raw, riffy, fast, and wicked.  All it really needed to make it album quality is a better guitar solo.  The second bonus track is a live “Jawbreaker” (Dave Holland on drums) from the Defenders of the Faith tour.  Out of place, but an excellent song regardless.

Incidentally, Sin After Sin is the last album before Priest adopted the first version of their current logo design.

4/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: Judas Priest – Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)

I was listening to Sad Wings of Destiny recently and wrote up a brand new review before realizing I already reviewed it.  Fortunately, I had lots more to say.  For my original 2015 review, click here.

JUDAS PRIEST – Sad Wings of Destiny (1976 Gull, 1998 Snapper Music)

1974’s Rocka Rolla didn’t set the world on fire, so back to the drawing board for album #2.  Having rid themselves of most of their early bluesy material, Judas Priest went heavier, and more diverse simultaneously.  The resulting album, 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny, is considered an early classic by the band.  Some feel they rarely reached these heights again as they took their metal more mainstream in the 80s.

“Victim of Changes”, which opens the album, introduced the world to the high notes that Rob Halford was able to hit.  “Whiskey woman don’t you know that you are driving me insaaaaaaaaaaaaaane!”  Yet that note is nothing compared with Rob’s final shrieks.  This track combines an earlier unreleased Priest song titled “Whiskey Woman” written by original singer Al Atkins with a track called “Red Light Lady” brought in by Halford from his old band Hiroshima.  You can hear the moment the two songs are welded together at around the 4:45 mark.  Together at almost eight minutes they form a complex, classic Priest track that represents a high water mark.  Twisting from a metal groove into ballady territor-y and back again, this is drama the way Priest do it.  And they never do it better.

“The Ripper” boasts similar high notes but it’s almost a parody.  This riff-based shorty (2:51) is from the perspective of Jack the Ripper (or if you like, Jack the Knife).  With a galloping beat from new drummer Alan Moore (who was eventually replaced by the far superior Les Binks), “The Ripper” is as metal as things got in 1976.  Its placement as second track is perfect because the next two, “Dreamer Deceiver” and “Deceiver” form a single 8:34 epic.  “Dreamer Deceiver”, which forms the majority of the song, is an epic ballad about a supernatural being who tempts those below.

“Saw a figure floating, ‘neath the willow trees.
Asked us if we were happy, we said we didn’t know.
Took us by the hand and up we go.”

They follow the dreamer through the purple hazy clouds into the cosmos.  The intricate acoustic guitars let Rob Halford dominate with his story.  Though the track is haunting, it seems the people in the song find “complete contentment” and live without worries.  But as the song builds, adding piano, Rob’s vocals become more urgent (and high).  Though it seems like a heavenly paradise, the second part “Deceiver” changes the mood considerably.

“Solar winds are blowing, neutron star controlling.
All is lost, doomed and tossed, at what cost forever?”

There is always a price when temptations seem too good to be true.  This song brings another heavy gallop, the kind which Iron Maiden would later perfect.  Solos blast, as Halford warns us all of the “Deceiver”!  This is the kind of metal that people associate with Judas Priest, though its’ far more impressive if you consider it part of a larger composition.

Side one can be viewed as just three songs:  two epics and a hard rocker.  Side two has more to offer, though it opens in epic enough quality.  Glenn Tipton’s piano piece “Prelude” is foreboding.  As a Sabbath-like instrumental, it serves to set the scene for “Tyrant” (though “Tyrant” is always performed live without “Prelude”).  Overdubbed vocals make for a cool chorus, but this one is just a molten metal burner.  It wastes no time in laying waste, with guitar solos galore, in both single and dual formations.

“Genocide” is a slower, cooler groove that doesn’t seem to match its violent title.  But this is from the perspective of a survivor.  “Save me, my people have died, total genocide.”  This is the song that gave us the next album title, Sin After Sin:  “Sin after sin, I have endured, but the wounds I bear are the wounds of love.”  Cool track and a necessary one to give the album balance.  Songs of this tempo and style would make up the bulk for Priest albums in the future, yet it’s not simple or blockheaded like some 80s Priest tended to be.  It retains some complexity and traverses multiple musical landscapes through its length.

Next:  a complete left turn.  “Epitaph” (written by Tipton) is a piano-based funeral dirge that sounds a heck of a lot like Queen.  It’s beautiful though.  With Halford’s vocals layered as a choir, it’s a daring change of pace even though Queen were pretty much the biggest band in the world in 1976.

“Epitaph” fades directly into the final track “Island of Domination”, another metal chug but with an apocalyptic bent.  Rob’s lyrics are unusually styled with archaic sounding lines like “‘Twas as if all hell had broke loose on this night.”  This could be Rob’s first BDSM-themed song with lines like “Lashings of strappings with beatings competing to win.”  If not, then it’s just a brutal battle set to the tune of speedy Priest metal.

It must be said that Sad Wings has a striking album cover, with the angel depicted burning in hell.  School teachers worldwide would have loved this cover back in 1976.  The angel character would return 14 years later as the Painkilller.  The “devil’s tuning fork” necklace that the angel is wearing would become Priest’s symbol on later albums as well.

Though Sad Wings is an essential album for a serious metal collection, and stuffed full with riff after riff of majesty, it is frustrating hard to find good versions on CD.  Priest’s albums on Gull records have never been officially reissued by the band.  The 1998 CD release by Snapper music is usually rated fairly well.  If you’re unsure then get an original Gull vinyl copy.  But do get Sad Wings of Destiny and prepare to hear a young, vital and daring Judas Priest just beginning to learn what they can do.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Gowan – Strange Animal (1984)

GOWAN – Strange Animal (1984 CBS)

Strange Animal was only Lawrence Gowan’s second solo album, and one of his best sellers.  It’s also one of his most dated sounding, with programming and production honed in on the 1980s.  Regardless, you can’t knock the musicians:  Tony Levin (bass/Chapman Stick), Jerry Marotta (drums), and Chris Jarrett & David Rhodes (guitars).  Gowan basically lifted his studio band from Peter Gabriel.

Opener “Cosmetics” was a single, though just shy of cracking the Top 40.  It’s terribly dated sounding, with that wretched brittle synthetic sound that even Queen resorted to at one point.  So you might love it!  The piano is delectable and Gowan is as smooth as pie.  “Desperate” is darker, but I sure do hate synth hand-claps!  Fortunately this is a great song, akin to 80s Phil Collins.  Another really smooth one is “City of the Angels”, like a waltz at midnight.  Progressive rock invades “Walking on Air”, which lightly tip-toes from gentle rock to more aggressive guitars.

A delicate but powerful “Burning Torches of Hope” sits right at the middle of the album, and it is so very 80s.  Levin makes some animalist noise on “Keep the Tension On”, which sounds much like its title.  Taut, powerful, and even heavy in a certain way.  It’s melds right into a march on “Guerilla Soldier”, a killer song with terrific verse hooks.  Massive song!  It feels like this album builds to a close.  Especially when you consider the last two songs.

Finally, at the end of the album comes the familiar hits.  First:  a huge Chapman Stick groove, on the poppy upbeat title track.  “Strange Animal” is an awesome song: strictly fun, and incredibly so!  The melody stays in your head for days, and you’re hooked.  Ominous spiritus, ahh!  And then it’s his most famous song, “A Criminal Mind”, otherwise known as “the one that Styx play live”.  Solo, in the studio, “A Criminal Mind” is just as haunting, just as powerful, and just as unforgettable.  It also had one of the most disturbing music videos we had seen as young kids, and our reaction was revulsion.  On album, it is a capstone of a pretty terrific record.  It really feels like it should have opened.

Though ultimately it is up to the listener, unless you grew up with Strange Animal in the Walkman nestled in your back pocket, the programming and 80s-isms are a bit distracting.  It’s also strange how Gowan left all the big firepower stacked at the end of the album.  In the CD age, it just makes the whole thing more rewarding at the end!

3.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Dedication – The Very Best of Thin Lizzy (1991 North American version)

REVIEW:  Thin Lizzy – Dedication – The Very Best of Thin Lizzy (1991 Polygram North American version)

It might not be the best introduction to the most underrated classic rock band of all time, but it was my introduction. Dedication was a 1991 Thin Lizzy compilation that was buoyed by the unreleased song “Dedication” which was released as the radio single.  There’s nothing wrong with the “new” track, except it wasn’t supposed to be a Thin Lizzy song.  Phil Lynott recorded the song in 1985 for his new band Grand Slam.  Scott Gorham and Brian Downey replaced the original instrumentation leaving Phil intact.  And that’s fine.  “Dedication” sounds slightly unfinished but it also sounds like what Thin Lizzy might have been doing had they carried on.

These kind of extra songs usually get spotlighted at the front of the album, or left at the end to whet the appetite.  On Dedication, it goes last, leaving the compilation to ascend in chronological order.  Is that the best way to approach listening to Thin Lizzy?  While many sets go that route, it leads to a very uneven playing experience.  Early Thin Lizzy was much more folksy, and dare I say it, just not as good.  It certainly had some excellent tunes, and some of the better ones are showcased here.  “Whiskey in the Jar” is an actual folk traditional, rocked up and made unforgettable by that Eric Bell guitar hook.  That’s followed by the firecracker “The Rocker”, just shy of three minutes but every one of them shockingly great.

Original guitarist Eric Bell left the band after three albums due to exhaustion, and the band was beefed up to a four-piece with Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham taking his place.  It took a while for the albums to really catch up with the talent.  On CD it’s a lot of slow material before we get to the more rocking stylings of the Thin Lizzy that you know and love.  From 1974’s Nightlife we have “She Knows”, “Still in Love With You”, and “Showdown”.  A lot of ballads and blues and not a lot of fire.  The guitar work is sparkling but the songs are not yet as astounding as they would yet become.  Another ballad, “Wild One” from Fighting (1975) is one of the best of the batch.  It is bookended by two rockers, “Fighting My Way Back” and the Bob Seger cover of “Rosalie”.  Both are tracks you don’t want to live without.

Part of (but only part of) Phil Lynott’s genius was bringing Gorham and Robbo (and later others) together as a unified guitarmony duo.  The next batch of classics really hammer this home.  “Jailbreak”, “The Boys are Back in Town”, “Cowboy Song” and “Don’t Believe a Word” are the embodiment of what people think of when they picture Thin Lizzy.  The driving beats, the hooks, the dual solos, the poetic lyrics — it’s all there in what might be considered Lizzy’s peak era.

Brian Robertson left the band shortly after, and doesn’t appear on “Bad Reputation” or “Dancing in the Moonlight”, but Gorham picked up the slack in the studio and rendered these as two more stone-cold classics.  “Bad Reputation” covers the driving side of the band while “Dancing in the Moonlight” is funky, light romantic storytelling.  Truly excellent songs even without Robbo.

The Gary Moore era follows with “Do Anything You Want To” and “Waiting For An Alibi”, two more excellent Lizzy classics from the underappreciated album Black Rose.  Moore lasted only for one album, and his successor Snowy White for two more.  Snowy is only heard on one track here (“Chinatown”) and the man that replaced him (John Sykes) is heard on none!  So another failing of the Dedication album is a sudden drop-off at the end, leaving out important songs.  “Chinatown” is excellent at least, but so is “Hollywood” and “Renegade”, yet they are not here.

Yes, too many songs were left off Dedication because you couldn’t get ’em all on a single CD.  Johnny The Fox (possibly their best record) is an album that isn’t given enough time here, along with Black Rose.  And to have no Sykes?  Unjustifiable.

Fortunately the last song “Dedication” is better than expected, sounding like Thin Lizzy 1991, beefy and tough.  It doesn’t sound like Lizzy ’75 or Lizzy ’83.  But it does sound like Lizzy because Phil Lynott’s voice tends to do that.  Scott Gorham does a decent job of replicating all the guitar excitement himself (he’s had to do it before).  The track, written by Lynott and Grand Slam guitarist Laurence Archer, had one of those guitar hooks well suited to the Lizzy canon.  Gorham and Downey did it justice enough.

Dedication is not enough Thin Lizzy but it’s enough to get your feet wet.  Although it’s a slow starter it will eventually get you interested enough to try more.  It worked for me and it’ll work for you.

3.25/5 stars

THREE-VIEW: KISS – Unmasked (1980)

Back for Round Three.  For the first two Unmasked reviews, click here and here.

  Unmasked (1980 Casablanca, 1997 Mercury remaster)

This has been a weird year.  Comforting, nostalgic sounds in the age of Covid have dominated at LeBrain HQ.  There are two Kiss albums that have been absolute joys this summer for blowing the blues away.  They have been Dressed to Kill, and Unmasked.  Originally rated 2.5/5 stars, I was definitely wrong on Unmasked.  The band may have disowned it, and it might not be hard rock, but reviewing it is not as “Easy As It Seems”.  This album definitely has “Two Side of the Coin”.  It might not be “What Makes the World Go ‘Round” but this summer, I just want to say one thing to Kiss Unmasked:  “You’re All That I Want”.

One reason I may have judged Unmasked harshly before is that first impressions are strongest.  My first impression was not good.  In fact, for the first two years of hearing Unmasked, my copy was all but unlistenable.  In the beginning, I taped my first Kiss albums from next door neighbour George.  He fancied himself a bass player.  While he was recording Unmasked for me, I sat in his bedroom while he played bass along to it.  Every song.  Unbeknownst to him, his bass bled onto my tape.  Every time I played the album, it was like a remix with George overdubbed on bass, and I had the only copy.  Sometimes he continued playing well after the fade, other times he came in prematurely.  Either way, my first two formative years with this album were awful and that had to be a factor to my dislike of the album.  A dislike which, in 2020, has turned to love.

“Is That You?” asks Paul Stanley on the opener, a Gerard McMahon song that boasts grinding verses and a killer chorus.  Piano tinkles quietly in the background, but the guitars are nice and rich, especially Paul’s solo.  His lead vocals absolutely rip, while a sultry Gene sings the backgrounds.

A second Paul vocal follows, and it’s the big hit “Shandi”.  Listening with 20/20 hindsight in the year 2020, it’s amusing to ponder how anybody thought this was Peter Criss on drums.  It was a secret that Anton Fig played on Unmasked and Dynasty, but it’s really obviously not Peter Criss.  That disco groove is too impeccably perfect to be the Catman.  Paul is, in fact, the only Kiss member to play on “Shandi”.  And while this song is a softie, it ain’t a baddie.  It’s clear that Kiss were not the rag-tag rock and roll beast they once were.  They had evolved.  Temporarily, at least.

If the first two tracks were light on Ace Frehley, that’s not indicative of the album.  Three lead vocals for the Spaceman this time, including the single “Talk To Me”.  Shiny and chromed-up, Frehley’s songs are among the best on Unmasked and “Talk To Me” could be the top track.

I always had problems with “Naked City”, but part of that might be that I can still hear George come in early on the bass.  Gene Simmons makes his album vocal debut here, and while the chorus and riff are still not top-notch, the verses are excellent.  Songs like this also demonstrate that Gene is an underrated singer.  He’s more versatile than people realize.

Paul strikes a cool riff on “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”.  He often talks about how the album had good songs, but they should have sounded different.  This one sounds like it could have turned out more like the first three albums.  You can imagine how the riff would have been more prominent.  As it is though, it’s one of the most unabashedly catchy songs Paul’s ever written, and his guitar solo is simply delicious.  You can slag Paul for doing something so pop, but can you slag him for doing it so well?

Side B’s opener is “Tomorrow”, with Paul’s vocals cleanly produced as per the pop trends of the day, with slapback delay and airy EQ.  But like “What Makes the World Go ‘Round”, this is pop rock done really well.  The keyboards are too prominent, but at least Ace gets a tasty solo here.  As Kiss songs got catchier, so did the Spaceman’s solos.  Frehley’s next lead vocal follows on “Two Sides of the Coin”, the song title which inspired a podcast (“Three Sides of the Coin“).  Y’see, Ace just can’t pick a girl!  But he has to.  “Two sides of the coin to choose from, I’m getting weary.  Which one should I choose?  I need time.”  He insists that the girls don’t mind, but I question that assertion.  But he has to pick a mate because he’s “tired of all those dates”!  Silly words aside, Ace has knocked out two top-notch songs on Unmasked so far.

Gene’s back on “She’s So European”, a song about a girl with a French accent who drinks pink champagne.  I’ve softed my stance on this one too.  You can certainly hear the rock n’ roll riffiness that it could have been.  That’s been replaced by keyboards and slick beats, and it’s fine.  “Easy As It Seems”, a Paul song, really sneaks up on you.  It disappears into the fabric of the album until one day you just can’t get it out of your heard.  Paul lays down another fine solo, and weaves a plaintive tapestry with his incredible voice.  What range he had.

An album highlight is the third and final Frehley concoction — a weird little number called “Torpedo Girl”.  Surf rock meets the Space Ace.  The guitar lick is a tricky little off-beat riff, but with Anton Fig behind on drums, Kiss could do complex stuff like this.  Especially since that’s Ace playing the bouncy bass part too.  It’s also one of Frehley’s most entertaining lyrics.  A submarine with a pretty girl on the bridge has surfaced in the bay!  Better go check it out.

The final track, “You’re All That I Want” is a Gene number.  Like “Easy As It Seems”, one day it just catches you.  Especially Paul’s “answer” vocals in the outro.  One thing (among many) that made Kiss truly special is the multiple lead singers.  And unless you’re a Catman diehard, you don’t really miss Peter in that mix.  Frehley more than made up for the lack of Criss.  While four singers is better than three, remember that Kiss only had three lead singers for their first five studio albums.

I don’t want to have to three-view the entire Kiss catalogue but it is amazing how Unmasked just opened up to me this summer.  I’m enjoying more than ever, with that nostalgic glow for days gone by.  The “good old days” were not always good, but at least the music was.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – “Throw My Bones”/”Man Alive” (2020 10″ single)

DEEP PURPLE – “Throw My Bones”/”Man Alive” (2020 10″ Edel single)

As a general rule, I won’t listen to new Deep Purple until I have a physical product in my hands.  These days that usually happens in the form of a new single.  Deep Purple will be back with a new album Whoosh! produced by Bob Ezrin in August 2020.  Until then, they’ve issued a three track single with one exclusive new song.  How nice of them!

A huge thanks to John of 2 Loud 2 Old Music for gifting this vinyl.  Certain new releases are difficult to find today (for obvious reasons), at least without spending money on huge markups by secondary sellers.  Music friends are the best kind of friends — make one today!

A word about the cover art:  love it!  Though not identical, the new Deep Purple logo is strongly reminiscent of the original Shades Of Deep Purple logo from 1968.  The astronaut is similarly retro.  He even recalls the similarly-garbed “archaeologists” in the music video for “Knocking At Your Back Door”.  And now, for the first time, the needle drops on the vinyl and we find out what the new Deep Purple sounds like.

“Throw My Bones” has one of those quirky Steve Morse guitar riffs but then it’s backed up by those lush Don Airey keyboards.  This is one of the catchier songs that Deep Purple have written in the last few years.  Morse’s solo is as breathtaking as usual, but the sparkling keyboards are what makes this song shine.

The second track is the non-album “Power of the Moon” which prompts the question:  if this didn’t make the album, just how good is the album?  Because this track is excellent.  It’s different.  Its quiet passages are mesmerising.  Once again it’s Morse and Airey who really take it to another level.

Finally we have “Man Alive”, a song adorned with an orchestra.  Under the deft guidance of Bob Ezrin, something powerful and dramatic hits the ears even though Deep Purple don’t really do “heavy” anymore.  “Man Alive” is the song that detractors call the “environmental agenda song”.  Hey, if Deep Purple can say something relevant to today and get you to think, that’s great.  We don’t always have to hear about strange kinds of women from Tokyo.  The lyrics are assembled intelligently and thoughtfully.

A lot of people bitch and moan about Ian Gillan.  For the most part, it’s not the singer delivering the hooks in these new songs.  Just as Steve Morse has had to adapt to his damaged right wrist to keep playing, Deep Purple have adapted to Ian Gillan’s age.  The songs don’t blast like they used to; they breathe.  Ian’s voice is multitracked to give it some thickness.  Incidentally the vocals were recorded in Toronto, a city that Gillan has history with.

Longtime Purple fans who enjoyed Now What?! and InFinite will enjoy these new songs just as much.  The cool thing about Purple is that they have distinct eras.  We might be in the tail-end of a Bob Ezrin era (and the whole saga in general) and with time, the Purple/Ezrin collaborations will be looked back on fondly.  The Ezrin albums don’t sound like the Bradford discs, the Glover productions, or any of the others.  They’re more subtle and show a band growing even in their later years.  Whoosh! could be a nice capstone to a career.  We shall see.

4.5/5 stars