classic rock

REVIEW: The Hellacopters – Grande Rock (1999 vinyl)

THE HELLACOPTERS – Grande Rock (1999 Sub Pop vinyl edition)

Personally, it all began with Iron Tom Sharpe and Joe Big Nose Perry.  By 1999, everyone was well aware that the big Kiss reunion album, Psycho Circus, was a diluted compromise of the album they should have made.  “The Hellacopters made the real new Kiss album, man.”  Come on, Tom, quit yanking my chain.  “You’ll love it.  This is the album Kiss should have made.  No man, seriously, they even have a song called ‘Paul Stanley’.”   Joe stepped in by offering to pick me up a vinyl copy, which had a bonus track, at the Orange Monkey.  I gladly took him up on his offer and hoped to hear what Iron Tom was talking about.  Grande Rock was the Hellacopter’s third LP, but LeBrain’s first Hellacopters.

What’s this about Kiss then?  As “Action De Grâce” easily demonstrates, The Hellacopters can groove like the original foursome don’t even dare anymore.  This is Kiss circa 1976, but if they had taken a road other than Destroyer.  This is something like what they could have done if they wanted to take Kiss Alive! to the next step, and maybe taking some punk inspiration instead of disco.  “Move Right Out of Here” slams like Dressed to Kill on jet fuel.  “Alright Already Now” adds some harmonica, fuzz bass, and wah-wah.  The Hellacopters are not slavish like Klassik’78, they’re not trying to duplicate anything.  They’re going their own way with it, and it just so happens to be a lot better than Psycho Circus.  A lot of the vocals actually are closer to Steven Tyler circa Draw the Line.

A slower and darker vibe hits on “Welcome to Hell”, with some electric piano mixed in with Frehley-like solos and a little “Sympathy for the Devil”.  The punk rock builds on “The Electric Index Eel”, with stabbing guitar licks in under two minutes of length.  Clearly far beyond Kiss.  But then as if to get my attention back, there it is:  “Paul Stanley”, the song!  The riff must be inspired by Paul’s solo song “Tonight You Belong to Me”.  Wasn’t I telling you recently that Paul is one of rock’s most underrated riff writers?

The vinyl bonus track is right at the end of side one:  “Angel Dust”, which really sounds more like a top speed Appetite for Destruction outtake.  There’s a lot of Guns N’ Roses on this record too, particularly when there is a wah-wah solo or a blast of speed.

“The Devil Stole the Beat From the Lord” continues the rock and roll party on side two.  It’s pedal to the metal right through to “Dogday Morning”.  There’s a real gem in the middle of side two called “Venus in Force”, a big and grand riff with a song to go with it.  A more Kiss-like tempo in “5 Vs. 7” maintains a sense of variety.  Enjoy the flurry of guitars in the extended fade-out.  “Lonely” is a nice shorty by contrast, like a Gene Simmons love lament written in a hotel bathroom.  Closing position goes to “Renvoyer”, a killer outro jam.

Here is an interesting observation for you.  I used to think that Grande Rock had a great side one, but not much happening on side two.  However, I hadn’t actually listened to the vinyl for years.  I was listening to an mp3 rip of the 13 track album.  This time, I played the record and my perspective changed.  You have to get up and flip the record, and I happened to do something else for a few minutes before I dropped it back on side two.  That intentional break right there is everything.  There’s some sort of reset that happens, and you’re good to go for round two.

Grande Rock is damn near perfect for anyone craving a dose of the classic 1970s with a toe in punk rock too.  Vinyl is the way to go.  Don’t even bother with the CD, which taunts you with the fact that you bought the wrong version on the back cover by telling you that you’re not getting “Angel Dust”!  Awesome.

4.5/5 stars

 

#734: The Spaceman’s Wife and the Demon Sex Addict

GETTING MORE TALE #734: The Spaceman’s Wife and the Demon Sex Addict
“Guitars, Makeup and Murder”

Today, another in a long string of sad days in KISStory, we will dissect Ace Frehley’s incendiary statement to his ex-bandmate Gene Simmons.  (If it was written by Ace at all.  The statement appeared on Ace’s wife’s Facebook 22 minutes before it appeared on his.)  He was responding to a recent Gene Simmons quote:

Gene – “They [Peter Criss and Ace Frehley] were in and out of the band — fired — three times. For drugs, alcohol, bad behavior, being unprofessional…they weren’t carrying their load.  So the short answer to your question is we’d love to have Ace and Peter join us here and there. And if they don’t, it’s not going to be because of us. But they’re never going to be in Kiss again.”

Ace has been quite clear in recent months – he wants to be back in Kiss for their End of the Road tour.  The fans would be on board for that.  Kiss, meanwhile, continually shoot down these hopes, while proclaiming their show to be the best live performance ever.  They have questioned Ace’s ability to do a gruelling tour like this.  It seems Frehley has had enough of Gene’s trash talk.  Perhaps on his next covers album, Ace should tackle “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, because it sure sounds like he ain’t gonna take it anymore!

Let’s look at Ace’s statement piece by piece.

 

“Gene, your memory is really incorrect!”

 

Gene forgets the words to his own songs, and often inflates his own history.  At this point I think Gene simply “remembers” what he wants to.

 

“…I was NEVER FIRED from KISS, I quit twice (not 3-times) of my own free will, because you and Paul are control freaks, untrustworthy and were too difficult to work with!”

 

Gene was clearly talking about both Ace and Peter in that sentence about being fired “three times”.  Peter was indeed in and out three times.  But Ace is right, he was never fired from Kiss.  He quit both times.  The reasons he quit are not as clear as he’s making it sound.  He had severe substance abuse problems at the time and probably wasn’t thinking clearly or even functioning normally.  Yes, Paul and Gene are control freaks when it comes to their brand, but I’m sure they have a different perspective on who was difficult to work with.  Ace’s statement could very well be the pot calling the demon-kettle black.

 

“…Your slanderous remarks about my bad habits over the years has cost me millions of dollars and now that I’m over 12-years sober you’re still saying I can’t be trusted to play a whole nights show! Well that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last 12-years with different configurations of ‘The Ace Frehley Band’ to you and Paul’s dismay!”

 

Slander is only slander when it’s not true.  Ace’s “bad habits” are well documented.  Being sober for 12 years is an achievement to be proud of, but I don’t think that is what Gene and Paul are talking about.  Once bitten, twice shy.  They’re very wary of working with Ace under those high-pressure situations.  A tour that like can cause a relapse in anyone.  It is not going to be an easy tour for those guys at that age.  It really helps to have younger guys like Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer behind them on tour.

 

“…I’m also the most successful solo artist to come out of the original KISS lineup, and proud of it!…You and Paul have tried to derail my solo career multiple times over the years unsuccessfully.”

 

True, Ace has had the most successful solo career, but there’s not much competition.  Saying that Paul and Gene have tried to derail it?  Multiple times?  That could indeed be slander.  Where’s your proof, Ace?  Did Gene go to Megaforce and say “Don’t promote Ace’s records”?  Of course he didn’t.  Innuendo like this just comes across as someone making excuses for their own perceived lack of success.  Gene was probably not all that helpful in the 80s, but shouldn’t that be water under the bridge this many years later?  Gene wrote songs for your new album, Ace!  Frehley was invited to be the opening act for Gene’s solo tour.  It went so well that Ace hired Gene’s solo band.  The point is, Gene’s been doing a lot lately that should have benefited both of you.  That’s not derailing anything.  Anything else should be ancient history now.

Of course, maybe by “derailing”, Ace’s wife refers to the time in the 70’s that Gene and Paul “tried to have Ace killed“.

 

“…I’ve tried to be nice and friendly by inviting you and Paul to perform on my past albums for eOne Music, give each of you guys one of my prized Gibson Les Paul 59’ models, but today’s comments have made me realize you’re just an asshole and a sex addict who’s being sued by multiple Women, and you’re just trying to sweep it all under the carpet!

“…The icing on the cake was when you groped my wife and propositioned her in Los Angeles at the Capitol Records building behind my back, when I was trying to help you out at one of your ‘Vault Experiences’ which I only found out about several weeks later…she was planning on pursuing a suit against you, but I told her to call it off!!!”

 

Woah!  Heavy shots fired!

Having Paul and Gene performing on Ace’s solo albums was a dream come true for the fans.  This is the kind of thing they have always wanted.  Kiss heroes working together!  United front!  The cooperation between members over the last few years has been an unexpected treat.  Now suddenly Ace is bringing up Gene’s womanizing.  Whether the event Ace’s wife is alleging ever happened as stated, we don’t know.  Gene is a flirt and may have been making inappropriate jokes.  But if it did happen, airing it in public isn’t helping anyone.  Deal with this stuff privately!  If Ace wants back in Kiss, how the hell does he expect that to happen now?

 

“…Well now the gloves are off after your terrible comments today and I’m thinking that this really may be ‘The End Of The Road Tour’ for you guys!!!”

 

Hopefully it’s the end of the road for real, because listening to Paul singing is painful.  He was one of the true greats.  Now he’s the worst singer in Kiss, but I digress.  “Gloves are off”?  What does that even mean?  Are we about to witness a geriatric street brawl?  That outta be amusing.

Now, here’s the real kicker below:

 

“….Without a complete and heartfelt apology, an offer to give me my old job back, and removing Tommy from the Throne that I created… THE SHIT WILL HIT THE FAN AND THEY’LL BE NO STOPPING IT – IT’S ON!!!”

 

(Oooft, grammar.  “THERE’ll be no stopping it”.)

Hahah!  Hah.  You’re joking, right Ace?  When does Gene Simmons offer complete and heartfelt apologies?  Very rarely, and not after being attacked by ex-bandmates.  To demand his old job back in this way is not only ridiculous, but a flight of pure fancy.  This will only put Kiss’ backs up to the wall.

If Ace had any chance of joining Kiss on tour this year, I’d say he has blown it completely.  I will say it:  Ace Frehley will never be on the same stage as Kiss on the End of the Road tour.  That door has closed.

Let me put what Ace is asking in my own words.  Tell me how it sounds to you.

“Gene, you better stop talking shit about me, and you better apologise to me and my wife for what I’m alleging without proof!  After that, I want you to fire Tommy Thayer regardless of whatever contracts you have in place or what your relationship is.  Even though I haven’t played stadiums in almost two decades, your only option now is to welcome me back with open arms!  If you don’t…empty threat!  Empty threat!  Empty threat!”

I am in no way defending Gene Simmons or Kiss.  Gene could have spoken far more kindly of both Ace and Peter over the years.  Kind words are free to offer, and solidarity does a lot for a band’s image.  Ace’s statement simply escalates this in a childish, juvenile way.

We are now in the Twilight Zone with a group of bickering children.  Rock and roll, baby?

 

REVIEW: Whitesnake – 1987 (30th Anniversary Edition box set)

WHITESNAKE – 1987 (30th Anniversary Edition Rhino box set)

Back when I reviewed the original “Deluxe” edition of Whitesnake’s 1987, I said, “Great album, but this reissue could have been so much better.”  And so here we are.

Let’s get right down to it.  You already know the story of Whitesnake 1987 or you wouldn’t be here.

The main feature is the 2017 remaster of 1987, which actually sounds pretty great.  In this day and age, if you’re seeking the warmth of a vintage vinyl experience, you can go and have that experience for far less money than this box set costs.  For a compact disc, this might be as good as we’ve gotten so far.  If you look at the Audacity waveforms below, you can see the 2017 remaster (top) has roughly the same levels as a previous one from Whitesnake Gold.

I’m still hanging on to my original UK version of 1987, but for compact disc, this is probably it.


David Coverdale wanted to adapt Whitesnake to the 1980s with this album, and this lineup with John Sykes, Neil Murray, and new drummer Aynsley Dunbar was certainly able to deliver.  The album was always loud, especially compared to their 70s output.  Sykes provided the squeals that the kids wanted.  David was back in top voice.  The album they delivered is legendary for how it changed Whitesnake’s fortunes.

The running order on this box set is not the original UK or US, but the combined running order as used on the previous 20th anniversary edition.

“Still of the Night” blows the doors in, a tornado in the night, mighty and sexy too.  Whitesnake had never been this aggressive before, but “Give Me All Your Love” lulls the listener back to something easier to digest on first listen.  “Give Me All Your Love” was a successful single because it’s melodic pop rock with guitars.  But then the band scorch again with “Bad Boys”, top speed right into your daughter’s headphones!  Whether it was Aynsley Dunbar or just the songs that they wrote, the pace is high gear.

“Is This Love”, a song that David was writing with Tina Turner in mind, was another massive hit.   John Kolodner (John Kolodner) insisted that they keep it for themselves, and he was right as he often was.  For a big 80s ballad, “Is This Love” really was perfect.  It tends to work better in a stripped back arrangement, since the original is so specifically tailored to that era.  Still, Sykes’ solo on it has to be one of his best.

Speaking of hits, “Here I Go Again” is the one that Sykes didn’t want to do, and look what happened.  That humble pie probably tasted no good to Sykes when he found himself fired by Coverdale after the album was completed.  His replacement, Adrian Vandenberg (Vandenberg) actually played the guitar solo, so dissatisfied was Coverdale with the one Sykes produced.  “Here I Go Again” was of course a minor hit from Saints & Sinners, but deserving of a second shot in America with production more suited to their tastes.  Don Airey on keyboards; though Whitesnake did without an official keyboardist this time.

“Straight For the Heart” is a great also-ran that perhaps could have been another single if they kept trottin’ them out instead of stopping at four.  High speed but with incredible hooks, it’s impossible not to like.  “Looking For Love” is the second ballad, but actually originally unreleased in the US.  It’s toned down from the style of “Is This Love”, and Neil Murray’s bass is pronounced.  He was a huge part of the groove on this album, if you really settle in and listen to the rhythm section.  His bass has a certain “bop” to it.  “Children of the Night” returns the tempo to allegro and the lyrics to dirty.  I can’t imagine too many fathers of the 80s wanted their daughters to go to the Whitesnake concert if they heard David cooing, “Don’t run for cover, I’m gonna show you what I’ve learned, just come a little closer, come on an’ get your fingers burned.” Another UK exclusive, “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again” cools it down slightly, but that Sykes riff is hot like a torch!

“Crying in the Rain” is held back to second-last in this running order, even though it opened the US album.  Another re-recording, “Crying in the Rain” was suggested by Kolodner because he knew Sykes could give it that massive blues rock sound that it had in the live setting.  Again, he was right.  “Crying in the Rain” is massive — perhaps the most sheerly heavy piece of rock that Whitesnake ever dug up.  Finally the CD closes with the last ballad, “Don’t Turn Away”, which closed the US version.  It’s a fine song indeed, and a really good vibe on which to end Whitesnake 1987.


The second CD in this set is called Snakeskin Boots:  Live on Tour 1987-1988.  Presumably, these are recordings from throughout the tour, assembled into a CD-length running order.  The “boots” in the title implies bootleg quality, but it certainly sounds better than that.  Soundboards maybe?

The studio lineup of Whitesnake dissolved and David got Vandenberg in, followed by Vivian Campbell (Dio) and the rhythm section of Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge (Ozzy Osbourne).  This new lineup was not based in the whiskey blues of the old band(s), but in the flashy stylings of the 1980s.  Vivian and Vandenberg were both capable of shredding your brain.  That’s generally how they do it on these recordings.  Opening with “Bad Boys”, the manic tempo is maintained while the guitars reach for the stratosphere.

Sounds like it was a hell of a show, rolling into the groove of “Slide it In” and “Slow An’ Easy”, and the good news is the 1987 band can play the 1984 songs too.  David Coverdale is the ringmaster, the veteran, confident and in prime voice.  All the songs are from either 1987 or Slide it In, with only one exception:  the slow blues “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” from the original 1978 Snakebite EP.  Sounds like Vivian Campbell accompanying David on this slow, classy blues.  No Deep Purple in the set; but my old pal Rob Vuckovich once said he went to the Toronto show on this tour bearing a flag that said “PLAY PURPLE”.  He also claimed David acknowledged it by saying, “We’re not playing any of that!”

“Here I Go Again” comes early on the CD, fourth in line, and it’s excellent.  “Guilty of Love” is a nice surprise, and “Love Ain’t No Stranger” is more than welcome at the party.  “Is This Love” is well received, and works well in the live setting without too much extra production.  Adrian can’t top the Sykes solo, though he gets within very close range.  Vivian and Adrian get a feature solo with a keyboard backdrop, and it’s quite good — more like an instrumental than just a solo.  It leads into a brutally heavy “Crying in the Rain”; Tommy Aldridge literally beats the shit out of it!  The CD closes on “Give Me All Your Love” with David substituting the word “baby” in the opening line with “Tawny”!

There’s little question.  For most fans, the major draw of this box set will be this live CD.  If that is you, you will not be disappointed by Snakeskin Boots.


Disc three in this monolith of a box set is the 87 Evolutions.  This is an interesting concept but not one that you will be craving to have a listen regularly.  This disc is intended for deeper study.  These tracks are the album’s songs in various stage of demoing.  “Still of the Night” for example starts as a living room demo, with David slapping his knees for drums, and only the most basic of lyrics.  Then this demo fades seamlessly into a more advanced full band arrangement, with the lyrics still unfinished.  There’s a funky middle solo section here that is more jam than song, but a blast to hear.

That is the kind of thing you can expect to hear on 87 Evolutions.  No need to spoil what you should enjoy discovering yourself.  This is for the hardcore of hardcore fans, those that want every squeal that ever came from Sykes’ axe.  You are gonna get it.  Incidentally, I think I prefer David’s original, rough slow bluesy version of “Give Me All Your Love” to the glossy pop song it became.

This disc ends with a “Ruff Mix” of the completed “Crying in the Rain” from Little Mountain studios.  All the parts are in place, the mix just needed that modern bombast that David was aiming for.


The fourth and final CD, 87 Versions, is a collection of alternate remixes released on various singles, and brand new remixes as well.  These are really cool bonuses.  The 2017 mix of “Still of the Night” has a really dry sound, allowing you to really hear the spaces between the instruments.  A lot of these remixes have a different balance of instruments, so you will hear different things yourself.  There are two remixes of “Give Me All Your Love” on this CD:  the 2017 with the original Sykes solo, and the highly coveted alternate with “new” solo by Vivian Campbell.  There are also two remixes of “Here I Go Again”, including the old “Radio Mix” with a completely different group of musicians and a much more pop arrangement.

Among these remixes is something called the 1987 Versions:  Japan Mini-Album, proving that Japan always get the best stuff.  This apparent EP contains the B-sides and bonus tracks that you couldn’t get on the album.  “Standing in the Shadows” was another song re-recorded for 1987, though left as a B-side.  “Looking For Love” and “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again” are also included, since back then you could only get them in the UK.  “Need Your Love So Bad” was a previous Whitesnake B-side, remixed in 1987 for a new B-side!  It’s an absolutely stunning ballad, quiet with only keyboard accompaniment.

With all these tracks included, pretty much every track associated with the 1987 album and singles is covered.


Whitesnake: The Videos is the fifth disc, a DVD.  It’s really just an add-on, nothing substantial (like a 5.1 mix).  First on the menu:  “More Fourplay”, the classic MTV videos that set the world on fire in 1987.  Some behind the scenes footage too.  MTV was a huge part of this band’s success (hopefully Tawny gets paid a royalty from this reissue?).  These glossy videos are…well, they didn’t age as well as the album did.  Why does Rudy always lick his bass?  You just gotta laugh at “Here I Go Again”; the pretentious image of the three guys (Viv, Adrian, Rudy) playing keyboards passionately side by side…utterly silly.  But yet iconic.  “Is This Love” has the band playing on evening rooftops, Rudy wielding a double-neck bass.  Why?  Doesn’t matter; in 1987 we thought it was awesome.  “Give Me All Your Love” is a notable video, being a “live on stage” type, but also with the brand new guitar solo cut by Vivian.  For his solo, Viv chose to play on the wang bar a bit too much, but at least David let him do one.  It remains Vivian’s only studio appearance with Whitesnake, ever.  Unannounced but cool just the same, “Love Ain’t No Stranger” (from Slide It In) is used in whole as the end credit song for the “More Fourplay” segment.

Next up is a 28 minute documentary about the making of the album.  David has clear recollections and is always a delight to listen to. (Some vintage Coverdale interview footage is actually from a MuchMusic piece with Denise Donlon.) Interestingly, he claims that the “Still of the Night” riff is one that he found in his mother’s attic, that he wrote back in the tail of Deep Purple.  “Still of the Night” could have been a Purple song, but it took John Sykes to make it what it became.  We then move on to the assembly of the touring lineup, dubbed the “United Nations of Rock”.  Tommy and Rudy are also interviewed in vintage clips, with Tommy proudly proclaiming that they want to bring musicality back to rock and roll.

The “Purplesnake Video Jam” (whut?) video of “Here I Go Again” is basically a brand new music video using alternate footage from the time.  The mix is similar to the old single mix, but spruced up.  Finally there is the “’87 Tour Bootleg”, and woah!  It’s pro-shot multi-camera footage.  You only get half of “Crying in the Rain”, and all of “Still of the Night”.  Why not more?  Is this a tease for some kind of upcoming DVD?  The footage reveals a band of their time, but a good band.  Not the best Whitesnake lineup ever (Sykes gets that), but a good lineup with something special together.  They were tight, they could all play their nuts off, and present a high energy 80s stageshow, especially Rudy.  By the end of “Still of the Night”, David is actually dodging panties being thrown at his head.  I kid you not.


As per usual, any box set worth its own respect is packed with added stuff usually made of paper.  In this case, a nice hard cover booklet, a smaller softcover lyric book, and a poster.  Posters have to be the biggest waste of money in a set like this.  Who’s going to hang it?  I’m probably never even to unfold mine once.

Now that you have all the details, you should be able to decide if this box set needs to be in your collection.  It needed to be in mine.  And guess what — Slide it In is next!

5/5 stars

Just Listening to…Styx – The Serpent is Rising

Just Listening to…Styx – The Serpent is Rising

For Christmas this year, my beautiful wife bought me not one, not two, not three, but four Styx albums!  This was easier than it sounds, because 1) I have an Amazon wishlist, and 2) the first four Styx albums were handily reissued together in a 2CD set called The Complete Wooden Nickel Recordings.  I hadn’t heard any of these albums in full before Christmas.  All four albums were quite good, but the third, The Serpent is Rising, was especially intriguing to me.

I played the four albums in order, recognising a few songs and absorbing others for the first time.  After two full albums and over an hour of progressive rock, I was struck by a song so odd that I had to remove my headphones and check my computer to see what was going on.  Did a Youtube video somehow start playing in the background?  What I was hearing…did not sound like what I had heard!

Would you believe that way back in 1973, Styx were playing around with hidden tracks on albums?  On CD, the track came up with the name “As Bad as This”, written and sung by guitarist John Curulewski.  It is a low, bluesy lament, contrasting some of other more complex songs like “The Grove of Eglantine”.  When “As Bad as This” comes to a close, the last thing you’d expect to follow is a song about plexiglas toilets.

“Don’t sit down on de plexiglas toilet, said the mama to her son.  Wipe the butt clean with the paper, make it nice for everyone.”  All done acoustically in a really bad Caribbean accent.  I am not joking.  The hidden track “Plexiglas Toilet” is over two minutes of pure silliness.  I admit that I love it; it fits my sense of humour.  But this never, ever, ever should been on a progressive rock album!  How?  Why?  And it’s right smack in the middle!  It sits at the very end of side two of The Serpent is Rising!

Toilets aside, The Serpent is Rising is otherwise a pretty strong Styx album.   They were getting more diverse record by record, and their chops kept getting better.  Depending on the kind of Styx you like, the best song could be “Winner Take All” for its pop choruses, or the prowlin’ “Witch Wolf”.  But they really didn’t have a direction yet.  There’s rock, pop, blues, weird spoken bits, plexiglas toilets, and Handel’s Messiah.

The album is not cohesive at all, but a lovely gift it is!

Side one
1. “Witch Wolf” 3:57
2. “The Grove of Eglantine” 5:00
3. “Young Man” 4:45
4. “As Bad as This”
a. “As Bad as This” – 3:45
b. “Plexiglas Toilet” (Hidden Track) – 2:22

Side two
1. “Winner Take All” 3:10
2. “22 Years” 3:39
3. “Jonas Psalter” 4:41
4. “The Serpent Is Rising” 4:55
5. “Krakatoa” 1:36
6. “Hallelujah Chorus” 2:14

REVIEW: Def Leppard – The Lost Session (2018)

DEF LEPPARD – The Lost Session (2018 iTunes)

Cast your memories back to 2012.  Def Leppard re-recorded some very high quality “forgeries” of some of their classic hits for iTunes.  Three of these iTunes singles were released:

  1. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” / “Rock of Ages”
  2. “Acoustic Medley 2012”
  3. “Hysteria 2013”

The iTunes exclusive concept dried up for Def Leppard afterwards, but in 2018 we got six more tracks, from a 2006 “lost session”.  The rest of the songs don’t sound like “forgeries”, as the first ones did.  These are listed on iTunes as “live”.  They are not.  They are also not meticulously recorded recreations.  They lie somewhere between:  not fully live, but raw in a way that Leppard rarely are.

There are a number of surprises in the re-recordings.  First and foremost:  “Let It Go”!  Any Leppard fan will tell you that the 1981 High N’ Dry LP is Leppard at their early, heavy best.  While nothing can compete with the Mutt Lange produced original, the re-recording is still razor sharp.  It gives you a chance to hear Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell on lead guitar.  The pair do not attempt to imitate Pete Willis and Steve Clark, instead blazing their own trail.

You don’t have to wait for the second surprise, a baffling one indeed: a re-recording of “Rock On” from 2006’s covers album Yeah!  Why do Leppard keep playing this song?  (It was even on their recent Best Of.)  Considering how they’ve beaten this dead horse, it’s actually not much of a surprise after all.  It was a boring song to start with, and Leppard can’t save it just by throwing down more guitars.  “When Love and Hate Collide” is another surprising choice to re-record.  The guitars are pretty incredible, but it’s just a ballad from a 1995 greatest hits CD.

“Foolin'” from Pyromania is missing the atmosphere of the original, but otherwise hits all the notes.  Joe Elliott still has an enviable voice.  Then it’s “Promises” from Euphoria, their best song from a dreary era.  Sure it’s a formulaic rewrite of their best hits rolled into one, but it works.  This re-recording is closest in sound and spirit to the original (from 1999).  Finally “Bringing On the Heartbreak” is a smokeshow as the closer.  It’s hard to really call it a ballad; there is some heavy rocking here too.  The guitars sound fabulous.  Def Leppard may no longer be the band they were in the 80s, but Phil and Viv are two of the best players in the game.  They don’t show off, so people rarely think of them when listing great guitarists.  But they are.  The outro solo (sounds like Vivian) nails it!

Def Leppard’s Lost Session is perfect for the fans who have it all.  Re-recordings are almost always very dicey cash grabs.  Leppard’s are worth the purchase.  They’re not cheap knock-offs.  New slants are fused with the old classics, so take these songs out for a fresh spin.

3.5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Nobody Said it Was Easy (2018 vinyl reissue)

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Nobody Said it Was Easy (originally 1991 Def American, 2018 vinyl reissue with bonus tracks)

Though defunct for well over two decades, the Four Horsemen are like the gift that keeps on giving.  When they bit the dust, all they initially left behind were two albums and an EP.  Today there are a set of reissues with bonus tracks, live releases, and a “lost” second LP that was never released before.  In 2018, another handful of unreleased tracks came to light on a brand new vinyl reissue of Nobody Said it Was Easy.  This is the second reissue of the album now, the first (on CD) having three completely different bonus tracks (“She’s Got It”, “Homesick Blues (harmonica version)” and “Born to Boogie”).  The vinyl replaces those with a bunch more you didn’t have.

First, about the album Nobody Said it Was EasyWe reviewed it back in 2016 and stand by every word.  It was a shining beacon of rock n’ roll when it was in danger of drowning in a sea of grunge.  Rick Rubin gave the album an edgy, loud and crisp sound.  The band had a dirty vibe at odds with the Poisons and Motley Crues on the charts.  And they boasted one of the greatest unsung frontmen ever:  Frank C. Starr.  A real life bad boy, there was nothing phony about Frank, nor any of the Four Horsemen.  The nucleus was the man known as Haggis, ex-The Cult, ex-Zodiac Mindwarp.  His slippy-slidey guitars melded perfectly with the southern soloing of Dave Lizmi.  On bass was a chap named Ben Pape, but the secret weapon was drummer Kenneth “Dimwit” Montgomery.  This mountain of a man, a Canadian punk rock veteran, had presence and a deep Bonham-like beat.  The Four Horsemen couldn’t be touched by anyone in their field.  The 12 songs that made up Nobody Said it Was Easy sound derived in equal parts from early AC/DC and the American South, with a healthy dose of sleazy intent.

“My name is Frankie, let’s fuck up the place!”

The three singles are flat-out indispensable.  I wouldn’t want to live my life without “Rockin’ Is Ma Business” any more than I would want to live it without “Let There Be Rock”.  “Tired Wings” is a greasy southern revelation, while the title track has more hooks than a tackle shop.

As an added bonus, this package also includes the first Four Horsemen EP, Welfare Boogie.  It was available separately on a remastered CD with bonus tracks, but now you can get it on vinyl right here.  The four EP songs were pretty high octane.  “Hard Loving Man” remains a ridiculous highlight.  Tattooed pecker indeed!

Onto the unreleased tracks, of which there are six:  five songs and an interview.  All of these are exclusive to this LP; nowhere else.  The interview is a vintage road call from a humorous Haggis to a Calgary radio station, but it’s inconsequential at only 2:30 long.  (My copy of the second LP has the sides labelled incorrectly.)

Check out the original open-G tuning of “Tired Wings”.  It’s remarkable how changing the tuning made the difference between a good song and a great one.  Now it’s timeless.  Frankie did a completely different lead vocal on “’75 Again”, without the screaming (some of the guitar bits are missing too).  I think I prefer the screaming version when you hear them side by side.  An alternate version of “Can’t Stop Rockin'” is a different take, also without screaming (or backing vocals).  These versions that ultimately didn’t make the album are as well produced as the record, but ultimately it’s a matter of taste which you prefer.  It’s certainly startling to hear different versions after this many years.

“The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” is an instrumental, recorded Christmas Day 1991.  This certainly foreshadows the direction the Four Horsemen would go on their “lost” second album, Daylight Again, which was more Band than AC/DC.  Finally it’s an extended 8:32 live jam on “Can’t Get Next to You”, a non-album rarity.  Another version can be found on the CD/DVD set, Left For Dead.  Dave Lizmi really gets to cut loose on this.

It doesn’t really matter which version of Nobody Said it Was Easy you end up with.  The original 12 track CD was 5/5 stars then and now, but which is best?  The remastered CD gives you unreleased tracks exclusive to the format, so there’s that.  This LP gives you even more, plus the original Welfare Boogie EP, but it is limited to just 500 copies.  Better act fast before it’s too late.

5/5 stars

MORE FOUR HORSEMEN:

  1. Record Store Tales #224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business
  2. Welfare Boogie (1990 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  3. Nobody Said It Was Easy (1991 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  4. Daylight Again (1994 “lost” album – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  5. Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By (1996)
  6. Left For Dead 1988-1994 (2005 – CD/DVD set)
  7. Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners 1991 (2012 CD)

 

 

 

#726: Misplaced

GETTING MORE TALE #726:  Misplaced

I lost my favourite flash drive.  It’s around here somewhere.  Maybe I left it in a shirt pocket that ended up in the laundry.  Flash drives can survive a go in the wash, that’s no big deal.  It has 32 gig of various music on it, and it’s my handy dandy go-anywhere music solution.  Most recently it had the complete studio albums of Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Deep Purple, and many more.  Losing it (temporarily we hope) meant putting some tunes on another flash drive instead.

This time, I loaded it up with some AC/DC, Faith No More, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Joe Satriani, Whitesnake, and more.  Jen had a day of errands to run, so I decided to use a vacation day and help her out.

Our first mission, for most people, was no big deal.  In the lives of Mike and Jen, it requires planning and preparation:  getting your photo ID at Service Ontario.  You know those lovely pictures that look like mug shots because you’re not allowed to smile or show any facial expression at all?  Those are an obstacle and a half for Jen.  Why?  Because she’s epileptic and can’t have her photo taken with a flash.  Just another day in the Mike and Jen Show.

Since this wasn’t her first rodeo, Jen knew what to do.  She learned the hard way last time.  I know what you’re thinking.  “Why don’t they just take a photo without a flash?”  They can’t.  Those cameras are hooked up in such a way that they cannot turn the flash off.  Last time Jen had to do this, the staff at Service Ontario were absolutely stunned.  This time, we called in advance and booked an appointment.  Jen told them of her condition and made sure that they were prepared for her.  Then she went to Walmart and had some photos taken without a flash.  We picked the most bland-faced one of the bunch, and she had it printed up in various sizes and finishes so we’d have lots of options.

“Print it?” you’re asking.  “Why not just give them a card with the pictures on it?”  Yeah, they can’t do that either.  So what we do, and it’s quite ingenious, is take the Walmart photo and tape it where you’d normally stand to have your picture taken.  Then, they take a picture of that, while Jen looks away.  It took a few tries but we got her photo ID today with no hassles.  That was a first for Jen!  Mission accomplished.

Then we hit the road for Mission #2.  I loaded Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap up on the flash drive.  The mission this time was really simple.  We were going to visit Jen’s best friend Lara in Brampton for lunch.  It was a lovely day for a drive and AC/DC kept my pedal to the metal.  We both had a chuckle at the lyrics to Big Balls, with me remembering what it was like to be 10 years old and laughing every time Bon Scott said “balls”.

When Dirty Deeds ended, I threw on Rush’s Moving Pictures.  On a recent episode of Eddie Trunk’s radio show, Geddy Lee left no doubt that Rush is over.  Neil Peart has not only retired from Rush, he said, but from drumming altogether.  The physical toll that those 40 years took on Peart’s body means he needed a permanent vacation.  Rush will never play again.  That was running through my mind when I selected Moving Pictures, but soon I was immersed, rushed down “the river” like a modern day Tom Sawyer.

We picked a cheap steak place for lunch called Chuck’s roadhouse.  Surf & turf for $20?  Sure, I’ll try anything once.  Better than a fast food burger.  My steak was overdone but I haven’t had a lobster tail in years!  The sweet taste of lobster and salty butter was almost too much to bear.  I could have cried with joy.  Lobster is the ocean’s steak.  That was the easiest $20 to spend, ever.  I’d go back; maybe next time the steak won’t be over cooked!

We had a great lunch.  Jen broke a plate, but like a true friend, Lara took the blame.  We dropped her back off at work and headed home to Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door.  It’s a quirky one and that’s why I love it.

As we rocked to “Fool in the Rain”, Jen remarked on how much her musical taste had improved over the last 10 years.  “I’ll always love Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots, but now I like Led Zeppelin too.”  Hey, I’m glad to have been a positive influence!

I think every music fan likes to share their favourites and hope it connects with somebody else.  The car is my favourite place to do that.  Thanks, Zep!

 

REVIEW: Tommy Shaw and Contemporary Youth Orchestra – Sing For the Day! (2017)

TOMMY SHAW and Contemporary Youth Orchestra – Sing For the Day! (2017 Universal)

These kids can play!

Tommy Shaw, accompanied by Will Evankovich, conductor Liza Grossman, and a whole orchestra full of highschool kids will blow you away on the live concert CD Sing For the Day!  It’s astounding to think that this room full of kids is so good that they got to perform the hits of Shaw with the master himself, and get it released as an album.  What gifted young musicians they must be.

Styx fans will adore Sing For the Day! for its roll call of classic songs, performed acoustically with the orchestra.  Styx music lends itself well to that kind of pomp and circumstance.  The album also boasts a number of Shaw favourites outside of Styx, like his first solo hit “Girls With Guns”.  With a new arrangement, “Girls With Guns” is almost unrecognizable but yet familiar.  You’ll also get Damn Yankees’ excellent “Come Again” and of course their hit ballad “High Enough”.

The album commences brilliantly with “Overture” from the newest Styx album The Mission.  Bar now set “high enough”, they run through “Girls With Guns”, “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Fooling Yourself” with aplomb and joie de vivre.  You wouldn’t be going out on a limb to suggest that these kids do as good a job of it as Styx themselves do.  “Crystal Ball” soars majestic.  “Boat on a River” simmers quietly.  Most of the arrangements offer a freshness while being true to the spirit of the originals.  The only sputter is “Renegade”, which is stripped down and a little strange.

Set highlights include “Diamond” from Tommy’s 1997 album 7 Deadly Zens, a pretty incredible track.  “Come Again” is brilliant, as is the bombastic oldie “Man in the Wilderness”.  “Blue Collar Man” is among the best versions of the song ever recorded, and completely different from the original.  Fans should enjoy just about the whole shebang.  Casual listeners would recognize a number of these songs and might get a kick out of these novel interpretations.

Do not hesitate if you happen to find this CD in the wild.  It’s better than you might expect.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Styx – Regeneration Volume II (2011)

STYX – Regeneration Volume II (2011 Eagle Rock)

Long nights, impossible odds?  If you wanna discuss impossible odds, then let’s discuss re-recording your old hits.  It’s not usually a good idea.  In Styx’s case, it gave them a chance to sell some product while out on tour, but the new versions are no replacements for the old.

“Blue Collar Man” has that big fat organ riff, but it’s…different.  Technology can’t reproduce magic, and the original “Blue Collar Man” was pure magic.  It’s also missing Dennis DeYoung’s inimitable backing vocals.  The current Styx sure can sing, but Dennis’ voice was a big part of the chorus.  “Renegade” is more successful.  Todd Sucherman really stretches out on the drums.  The kid’s got talent!

James Young’s “Miss America” has more bite than the original.  “Snowblind” benefits from the re-recording, having more depth now.  Styx also get points for redoing “Queen of Spades”, now starring Lawrence Gowan.  Styx have plenty of hits, but just as important to fans are the deeper cuts.  Any time they get a little more spotlight is a good time.  “Queen of Spades” rocks regally, riffy and progressive.   “Boat on a River” is pretty authentic to the original, while “Too Much Time on My Hands” has some different keyboard flare.  Both are worthy inclusions.  This isn’t to say any of these versions are superior to the originals.  That’s impossible.  This is just to say they are enjoyable to listen to.

The bait to buy the re-recordings are two Damn Yankees songs:  “Coming of Age” and (of course) “High Enough”.  Styx have been known to perform “High Enough” in concert, but what are they like without Jack Blades and Ted Nugent?  Surprisingly good.  Styx can handle the singing, and James Young can riff and wail with the best of ’em.  “High Enough” in particular sounds great.  Lush and with more balls.

Interestingly enough, it looks like all the guys recorded their parts in different studios, all over the place.  Gowan was recorded in Toronto, and of interest to Rush fans is that Terry Brown co-engineered his parts.  The marvels of the modern world.

3/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Styx – Regeneration Volume I (2010)

STYX – Regeneration Volume I (2010 Eagle Rock)

I know what you’re thinking.  “Styx re-recordings?  Why the  hell do I need those?”

You don’t.  That’s why they added a new song (“Difference in the World”) exclusive to this set.

Initially, the EP Regeneration Volume I was sold exclusively online and at Styx concerts, but it was reissued with Volume II to regular retail as a double CD set.  Volume II has its own exclusives, which will be discussed in a separate review.  Aside from the cleaner sound, the most obvious difference is the more modern drumming by Todd Sucherman.  Original drummer John Panozzo had his own style and the difference is obvious.  That’s neither good nor bad; just an observation.

“Difference in the World” is a melancholy but good song.  Styx have a lot of good songs.  Tommy Shaw wrote another one.  There you go.

“The Grand Illusion” features singer Lawrence Gowan on an old Dennis DeYoung classic.  Considering how long Gowan has been with Styx now (almost 20 years!), it is justifiable to re-record old songs with him on a low-key release such as this.  It’s harder to justify Tommy Shaw’s “Sing For the Day” and “Fooling Yourself” which are damn near note-for-note accurate to the originals.  Tommy’s orchestral re-imaginings on his solo live album Sing For the Day! are a lot more interesting.  The biggest difference are Gowan’s backing vocals.  Put these versions in a Styx shuffle and they won’t be too obtrusive.

James Young takes the lead on “Lorelei”.  Of the re-recordings, “Lorelei” is clearly the best.  Dennis DeYoung sang the original, but James sings it live today since he’s the co-writer.  Doing a studio version with James is more than justified.   “Crystal Ball” is still as epic as it ever was, but has more edge with modern production.  The guitar solo is to die for.

What about “Come Sail Away”?  Unnecessary and perhaps detrimental to this EP.  Doing it live without Dennis is one thing.  It’s not a song you want to leave a Styx concert without hearing.  Gowan’s fine, but redoing this one in the studio can never live up to the original in any way, and you’re digging your own hole by even trying.  Magic cannot be recreated, only imitated.

3/5 stars