Columbia

REVIEW: Journey – Greatest Hits (1988, 2008)

JOURNEY – Greatest Hits (Originally 1988, 2008 expanded reissue)

It’s OK if your first album by anybody was a “greatest hits” of some sort.  Over 15 million people bought Journey’s Greatest Hits in the US alone, and you can be guaranteed that several of those millions were buying Journey for the first time.  Hundreds of thousands more copies still sell annually.  This has to be considered one of the most successful hits compilations by a rock band.

Even if you were a Journey diehard back in 1988, you still wanted Greatest Hits.  It had two huge Journey hits from movie soundtracks:  “Only the Young” (Vision Quest) and “Ask the Lonely” (Two of a Kind).  These songs were not meant to be obscurities; both were slated for the Frontiers album.  These are two awesome songs with insanely catchy choruses, one a rocker and one a soft burner.  Two gigantic peaks of the Jonathan Cain era of Journey, who co-wrote both songs.

“Don’t Stop Believin'” doesn’t need any additional commentary, except this:  listen to the drums.  That’s Steve Smith, the wizard of tempo.  There is a reason that Smith can often be found filed in the Jazz section.  Listen to his creative hits, cymbal work, and timing.  Yet not a lot of snare.  Same with “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”.  This is not typical rock drumming, and this is something that his replacements have had to recreate as faithfully as they could.

Greatest Hits ignores the first three Journey albums (pre-Steve Perry), and justifiably so.  Those first three progressive rock albums, as fascinating as they are, bore no hits.  “To Play Some Music” peaked at #138.  The earliest tracks are the radio staples “Lights” and “Wheel in the Sky” from 1978’s Infinity.  Incidentally these are the only tracks without Steve Smith, featuring his predecessor Aynsley Dunbar.

In 2008, Sony a series of budget-priced reissues including Journey’s Greatest Hits.  This version has one additional bonus track from Journey’s reunion album Trial By Fire from 1996.  This is a fantastic album, but the ballad chosen (“When You Love a Woman”) tips the album too far on the scales to ballads.

Through all the hits you know, and maybe a couple you don’t (“Girl Can’t Help It”? “Send Her My Love”?) you will get a clear picture of some of Journey’s facets.  But only some.  Little of their instrumental wizardry, which continued into the Steve Perry era with songs like “Dixie Highway”.  You also will not hear many hard edged moments, like “Stone in Love”.  You will however get a taste of Steve Perry’s soul, and the excellent hooks that he concocted with Neal Schon and Jon Cain.  You will absorb some awesome Schon tone.  On the later tracks, like “I’ll Be Alright Without You” and “Be Good To Yourself”, you will hear the slickness and groove of Raised on Radio.  But there are so many more key Journey tracks, as good if not better than these.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Pandora’s Box (1991)

AEROSMITH – Pandora’s Box (1991 Columbia box set)

Aerosmith were out of the gates fairly early into their career when their first anthology style box set was released in 1991.  They were still going strong, at the peak of their popularity.  Their career had two distinct eras marked by the record labels they were signed to:  first Columbia, and then a resurgence with Geffen.

There was also a long gap between Aerosmith studio albums.  Pump was released in ’89 but it took them four years to come up with Get A Grip.  While Geffen waited for Aerosmith to complete Get A Grip, their old label Columbia was allowed to release compilations.  In late 1991 they put out a brand new video for a remixed “Sweet Emotion”, although ironically the remixed version wasn’t included in the forthcoming Pandora’s Box set.  Regardless, there was a stop-gap.  November saw the release of Pandora’s Box just in time for Christmas, with three CDs of music, including a whopping 25 rare, unreleased, or remixed tracks.

Disc 1

They hit you right from the start with a rarity:  Steven Tyler’s “When I Needed You” from 1966 and his band Chain Reaction.  You can barely tell it’s the same singer, but this quaint number is a great opener for a box set with this kind of scope.  Basic 60s rock with a hint of psychedelia.  Onto the first album, it’s “Make It” with an unlisted false start — another cool touch.  “Movin’ Out” is a completely different take than the one from the debut.  It’s superior because it’s harder and more raw.  (Did Pearl Jam rip off part of the guitar lick for “Alive”?)  “One Way Street” is the album version, but an unreleased “On the Road Again” is a fun laid back jam.  Clearly B-side material, but it’s Aerosmith and light and loose.

A sax-laden “Mama Kin” from the first album is the first bonafide hit presented, and like most of the hits in the set, it’s the original version.  It is immediately obvious from the upbeat groove just why it was a hit.  Up next, it’s the slick “Same Old Song and Dance”, the heavy “Train Kept A Rollin'” and haunting “Seasons of Wither”, all from Get Your Wings.  Major props for including the underappreciated “Seasons of Wither” in this box as the song has never had the exposure it deserves.  According to the liner notes, it was written by Steven Tyler on a guitar found by Joey Kramer in a dumpster.  The fretting on the guitar was “fucked” but it had a special tone.  The tuning of that guitar “forced” the song right out of Tyler.

An unreleased live version of “Write Me a Letter” from 1976 is overshadowed by the song that follows it.  It’s the “big one”, the ballad “Dream On”, and usually the centerpiece of any side that it’s on.  The random placement on the second half of CD 1 is a little puzzling.  The title track “Pandora’s Box” follows, a dirty slow funk.

The first disc closes on a trio of rarities.  A 1971 radio jam on Fleetwood Mac’s “Rattlesnake Shake”  goes on for 10 awesome minutes and dominates the disc.  They swiftly follow that with “Walkin’ the Dog” from the same radio broadcast.  Finally, a slinky “Lord of the Thighs” from the Texxas Jam closes CD 1.  Two more Texxas Jam tracks can be found midway through CD 2, which is mildly annoying.

Disc 2

The second disc represents the musical growth of Aerosmith.  A massive “Toys in the Attic” builds on the past:  more energy, better production, more speed.  “Round and Round” is Sabbath-heavy, a sound the band rarely explored.  Only “Nobody’s Fault” (which comes later on this disc) stands as a heavier Aerosmith monolith.

Behind the scenes Aerosmith were suffering from drug-induced absences in the studio.  One day when Joe Perry and Steven Tyler were late, the core trio of Joey Kramer, Brad Whitford, and Tom Hamilton just  jammed.  The result is “Krawhitham”, a menacing unheard jam.  It’s a testament to the “other three” guys in the band and features some stunning playing even if the riff is a bit lacking.  This rough and ready track is followed by four slick Toys in the Attic hits in a row:  “You See Me Crying”, “Sweet Emotion” (the original mix), “No More No More” and “Walk This Way”.  Each song different, each song perfect.  “You See Me Crying” may be the most underrated Aerosmith ballad ever released.

Two more Texxas Jam tracks occupy the middle of disc two:  “I Wanna Know Why” and “Big Ten Inch Record”.  These jams are a blast, but why not bunch all the Texxas tracks together?  Next, “Rats in the Cellar” from Rocks has the same energy as “Toys in the Attic” but with a nastier bite.  “Last Child” is a remix, a slight one at that.  The bass sounds deeper.  An unreleased Otis Rush cover follows called “All Your Love”.  This electric blues is fully formed with a satisfying mix and could easily have made an album.  Why didn’t it make Draw the Line?  That album already had a cover, “Milk Cow Blues” (included here on disc 3) so it is unlikely they wanted two.  Did they choose the right song?

The aforementioned “Nobody’s Fault” is preceded with a snippet of the demo, called “Soul Saver”.  It truly is a monster of a track and one of the band’s few true heavy metal songs.  Nuclear holocaust is a perfect theme for metal, but Tyler’s lyrics are more thoughtful than many of his competitors.  His tormented vocal is one of his career best.  “Sorry, you’re so sorry, don’t be sorry.  Man has known, and now he’s blown it upside down, and hell’s the only sound.  We did an awful job, and now they say it’s nobody’s fault.”

“Lick and a Promise” is a necessary speedy shot in the arm.  Though “Adam’s Apple” is replaced by a live version from 1977, it is the sonic blueprint for a million bands that tried to copy Tyler’s sleazy antics.  Two Draw the Line tracks close the CD:  the title track itself (remixed), and “Critical Mass” .  Again the remix is slight.

Disc 3

The final CD is the decline, but not without plenty of high points.  (“High” points, get it?)  The first high point is a 1978 live version of “Kings and Queens”.  “Good evenin’ boss.  Been a long time coming,” greets Tyler to the hometown Boston crowd.  Live versions don’t usually surpass their studio counterparts, but this one might for its seasoned, raw vibe.”  Joe Perry’s backing vocals make it.

The previously mentioned “Milk Cow Blues” from Draw the Line is an upbeat shuffle, getting the blood pumping once more.  A snippet of a demo called “I Live in Connecticut” leads directly into “Three Mile Smile” from Night in the Ruts.  It allows you to hear how a tune evolves from an idea into a complete song.   You get to hear that again on “Let it Slide” and “Cheese Cake”.  If you love when Joe Perry pulls out his slide guitar, then you will love this pairing.  We’re well into the Aerosmith stuff that doesn’t get enough credit when it’s good.  “Bone To Bone (Coney Island White Fish Boy)” is another unsung gem…and the liner notes will tell you exactly what a “Coney Island white fish” is.  The autobiographical “No Surprize” is pretty fine too.

The Beatles cover “Come Together” was one of the very few worthwhile tracks on the awful movie soundtrack Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Fortunately for Aerosmith fans, it has long been available on their 1980 Greatest Hits.  And it’s not the last Beatles cover on this box set.  But it’s the last real hit before the disc takes a serious detour.

“Downtown Charlie” is really ragged; punk rock energy with nobody at home in quality control.  It sounds like one of their “drunken jams” according to Joe Perry in the liner notes.  Wicked playing but no cohesion.  And then they split — Brad Whitford with Whitford/St. Holmes, and Joe Perry with the Joe Perry Project.  Even this is documented.  “Sharpshooter” by Whitford/St. Holmes is a box set highlight, even though it sticks out like a sore thumb by sounding nothing like Aerosmith at all.  This is straight hard rock, with Derek St. Holmes on lead vocals.  Though an astounding vocalist, he is the Antityler and the song does not fit in any way on the tracklist.  Too bad since it’s such a great track.  More at home is Joe Perry’s “South Station Blues” from I’ve Got the Rock N’ Rolls Again.  It’s preceded by an Aerosmith demo called “Shit House Shuffle”.  Aerosmith didn’t use the riff, so Joe did on his solo album.  It totally works with his lead vocal, though it’s a shame Aerosmith never used the idea themselves.  Another wasted jam, “Riff and Roll”, had potential as the kernal of a song, but Tyler’s voice is completely shot.  You can hear what they were going for.  It could have worked on Done With Mirrors had they finished it.

Aerosmith carried on in 1982 with Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay replacing Perry and Whitford.  The resulting album Rock In a Hard Place was inconsistent but not without some gems.  “Jailbait” doesn’t indicate anything was out of place, a worthy followup to frantic manic blasts like “Rats in the Cellar”.  But they only lasted one album before cooler heads prevailed and the classic lineup reunited.

With Perry and Whitford back again, Aerosmith began recording new albums for Geffen.  Columbia still released Aerosmith albums regularly, like Classics Live and Classics Live II.  A previously unreleased oldie from the Get Your Wings days called “Major Barbra” was included as a bonus on Classics LivePandora’s Box includes a second version of “Major Barbra”, a rougher alternate take.  It’s a full minute longer than the version of Classics Live, including harmonica solo.  Another track Columbia released was the classic “Chip Away the Stone” (written by Richie Supa), on 1988’s Gems.  This obscure single never had a proper album release until then, despite its awesome nature.  The Pandora’s Box version is an alternate version, with noticeably less piano in the mix.

The penultimate track is the unreleased Beatles cover “Helter Skelter”, dating back to 1975.  This one got a bit of airplay in 1991 when the box set was released.  It is undoubtedly rough but with suitably aggressive and heavy hitting groove.  The box set is then closed by “Back in the Saddle”, an apt way to describe Aerosmith’s career since.

But wait, what’s this?  “There now, ain’t you glad you stayed?” asks Steven Tyler after a few seconds of silence.  Why, it’s the hidden bonus track!  The unlisted instrumental was written by Brad Whitford and actually titled “Circle Jerk”.  It is very similar to the previous “Krawhitham” instrumental on disc two, but heavier.

Now, what about that remixed “Sweet Emotion” that was released to promote the box set, but wasn’t actually on the box set?  The remix was done by David Thoener and featured some structural changes.  The music video was a smash hit.  You could buy it as a standalone single, with “Circle Jerk” and another unreleased instrumental bonus track called “Subway”.  All three were re-released again as bonus tracks in 1994 on the massive Box of Fire.  The Thoener remix has been issued many times over the years on compilations and movie soundtracks.

There’s little doubt that Pandora’s Box was good value for the money.  For the fans who didn’t have the albums, most of the hits are included in studio versions.  The remixes are minor enough for them not to notice.  For the rest, the wealth of unreleased bonus material justified buying three CDs.  Unlike other box sets like Led Zeppelin’s four disc airship, Pandora’s Box is not designed to be an ecstatic listening experience from start to finish.  It is a study in early Aerosmith from the roots to just before the reunion.  It is the rise and fall, and still fighting to get back up.  It is uneven with mountainous peaks of spontaneous rock and roll chemistry, and also the tired struggle to keep producing music.  Much like its subject, Aerosmith, Pandora’s Box is a flawed portrait.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Defenders of the Faith (1984) Part One – Vinyl

JUDAS PRIEST – Defenders of the Faith (1984 Columbia)

If memory serves, in contemporary times, Defenders of the Faith was considered good but not as good as Screaming for Vengeance.  It was a down-ratchet in terms of tempo and intensity.  With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that both albums are near-equals in quality.

It begins with a bang.  “Freewheel Burning” is borderline thrash, with the kind of high octane tempos they do so well.  Racing metaphors are paired with a lightspeed lead Rob Halford vocal, syllables flowing so fast that only a seasoned rapper could keep up with his flow.

Look before you leap has never been the way we keep, our road is free.
Charging to the top and never give in never stop’s the way to be.
Hold on to the lead with all your will and not concede,
You’ll find there’s life with victory on high.

Without a lyric sheet, there was no way you were able to follow the words.

After an adrenaline rush like that, Priest wisely shifted the throttle back a few gears with “Jawbreaker”.  Though not slow, it’s also not mental like “Freewheel Burning”.  The pace is determined.  It would not be controversial to say that Dave Holland isn’t as complex a drummer as Les Binks was.  Still he and Ian Hill do lay down a pulsing, robotic metal beat.

Third in line and backed by regal guitars, “Rock Hard Ride Free” sounds like an anthem.  “Rock hard with a purpose, got a mind that won’t bend.  Die hard resolution that is true to the end.”  For context, in the 1980s, being a metal fan was like choosing to be a neighbourhood pariah.  Many of us appreciated upbeat, encouraging messages like “Rock Hard Ride Free”.  We believed in something, and it wasn’t what the teachers and preachers thought it was.  That’s what “Rock Hard Ride Free” is about.

The first side closes on “The Sentinel”, a mini epic.  A street battle is taking place in a shattered apocalyptic landscape.  It could very well be the same world inhabited in “Blood Red Skies” or “Painkiller”.

Amidst the upturned burned-out cars,
The challengers await,
And in their fists clutch iron bars,
With which to seal his fate.
Across his chest in scabbards rest,
The rows of throwing knives,
Whose razor points in challenged tests,
Have finished many lives.

A multi-parted dual guitar solo animates what the rumble must look like.  Rob tells the story with the necessary urgency.  In the end it’s a scream-laden metal triumph.

Ominous echoing bass notes ring as soon as the needle drops on Side Two.  “Love Bites” was a single, an unusual song with a very spare riff.  Its simplicity is its weapon as it bores its way into your brain.  Halford sounds absolutely menacing.  Then they go turn on the afterburners for the very naughty “Eat Me Alive”, a song which got them a bit of trouble in the 1980s.  It  was one of 15 songs the Parents Music Resource Center wanted stickered for “explicit content” . “I’m gonna force you at gunpoint to eat me alive” sings dirty Rob, as the parents of America weep in their Cheerios.  Not an album highlight, except in terms of pure aggression.

Much more interesting is the slower, menacing “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”.  A great deep cut.  Dave Holland could have been a drum machine for what it’s worth, but this song is a champion.  Interestingly they followed it with the even slower “Night Comes Down” which might be the album ballad (albeit a heavy one).  Great pulsing bassline by Ian Hill on this track.  It’s a more sensitive, thoughtful side of Rob.  “Call me and I’ll wait till summer.  You never understood that I would wait forever, for love that’s only good.”

The album closes on a dual track:  “Heavy Duty” / “Defenders of the Faith”.  “Defenders” itself is an epic outro with “Heavy Duty” being the main part of the song.  As it implies, this is a heavy duty stomp.  The highly processed drums are accompanied by a repeating riff until Rob breaks into the outro.  Though “Defenders” itself is only a minute and a half in length, it’s among the best minutes on the album.

Not a perfect album, but even though this is a simpler Judas Priest for the 1980s, it still commands respect.  Defenders of the Faith is undoubtedly an 80s album.  It’s aimed at a wider demographic that wouldn’t necessarily get their earlier more complex material.  Defenders does it well, with some truly timeless riffs, and great song after great song.

4.5/5 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: Akira Takasaki – Tusk of Jaguar (Take Another Bite) (1982)

AKIRA TAKASAKI – Tusk of Jaguar (Take Another Bite) (1982, 2009 Columbia CD reissue)

In 1982, Loudness guitarist Akira Takasaki and a Japanese keyboardist named Masanori Sasaji teamed up to record an album of music that was different from the usual Loudness rock.  Though the cover art and title Tusk of Jaguar screams “pure metal”, this is actually a combination of rock, pop and jazz fusion among other influences.  The cool thing about the album is that Loudness play on almost all of it, including singer Minoru Niihara on a couple of vocal tracks.  Some songs are all but considered part of the Loudness discography.

Certainly the opening title track sounds like Loudness.  That speed metal pace can only have been set by Munetaka Higuchi on drums and Masayoshi Yamashita on bass.  “Tusk of Jaguar” is a strange amalgam of shredding metal and jazz-rock interludes.  It sounds a bit like the Ian Gillan Band but with Eddie Van Malmsteen on lead guitar instead of Berne Torme.  Tremendously enjoyable, but way over the heads of most of the masses.

Minoru makes his first appearance on “Steal Away”, a song difficult to describe.  It’s Styx-like and has a big organ sounds like Dennis DeYoung.  Cinematic, progressive pop dance rock?  Then it goes pure Burn-era Deep Purple!  I don’t know what it is, and even with Minoru it sounds little like Loudness.  It’s also one of only a few songs without Higuchi and Yamashita.

“Macula (Far from Mother Land)” is based on synthesizer until it transforms into a more traditional guitar instrumental, with clear Brian May influences.  The way Akira Takasaki stacks his guitar harmonies can only be described as Queen-like.  For that reason, this song is the most accessible to rock fanatics, who will eat up every note that Akira celeverly lays down.  For those curious to know more about the critically acclaimed guitarist, check out “Ebony Eyes”, a serious hard rocker on which he takes lead vocals himself!  His voice is higher in timbre than Minoru’s, and while he is not an amazing vocalist, he does have some pretty incredible guitar solos on this track.

“Wild Boogie Run” is an interesting tune, sounding almost exactly like Dixie Dregs.  The violins, the acoustic & electric guitars, and slight western leanings make this a track that will make your friends wonder what Dregs album it was from.  This could be the track worth buying the album for.  Rock returns on “Gunshots” but even when Akira is just riffing, the rhythms beneath are complex and jazzy.  Hard to describe, but heavy!  A jazzy funk opens “Mid-Day Hunter”.  Takasaki is nothing if not diverse on Tusk of Jaguar, but even if the rhythms throw you for a loop, you can surely dig into his always memorable lead work.  In their early pre-Steve Perry days, Journey wrote songs like this.

Minoru Niihara returns on a song that is basically a Loudness track:  “Show Me Something Good”.  Though it also has Masanori Sasaji on keyboards, it is the entire Loudness lineup otherwise.  A pop rock track like this could have sat on an album like Lightning Strikes if it was produced with heavier intent.  The album closer is called “Say What?” which you might in fact be saying by the end of it.  Blazing tempos and synth solos adorn a track that is beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.

This is a challenging album, no word of a lie.  It’s certainly not immediate, and though parts of it sound familiar, it takes a bit of listening to really start to penetrate.  Loudness fans, and anybody into challenging progressive rock should give it a go.

3/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Fastway – Trick or Treat (1986 Soundtrack)

 

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

It’s not about the candy!  It’s Halloween Wednesday again, so here’s HOLEN MaGROIN with the next in his series of Halloween themed reviews. 

Oct 3:  Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp EPs
Oct 10:  Batman / Batman Returns movie reviews

 

FASTWAY – Trick or Treat Original Music Score (1986 Columbia)

Some albums excel by being excellent; Trick or Treat is not one of those albums. It excels because of its banality. There’s nothing on this album that you’ve never heard before, but the band sells it with such conviction that you buy into about as much as the band itself does. This is the soundtrack to the best forgotten 1986 film starring no one worth remembering, with a couple of cameos from Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne. The film was such a dud that once it was released on DVD, they changed the cover to feature the faces of Simmons and Osbourne despite the two of them being in the film for a collective total of about five minutes.  The journey I went through listening to this album impacted me in such a way that I feel obligated to elaborate on it here, and that journey will essentially act as the review. I didn’t intentionally go anywhere while listening to this album; the music was such a powerful agent that it literally shattered the very fabric of space and time. The film is not as strong.

However, this review isn’t about that film. This is about the Fastway soundtrack to the film. You’d think a band taking on a film as gloriously moronic as this one would whip up some tracks that were appropriately tongue in cheek, but nope. Fastway plays it 100% straight, which actually makes it funnier than if they’d been going for laughs. The songs that follow are a complete artistic tour de force that will leave your soul shaken by the depth and insightful words of automatic poetry.

The first time I heard the opening song and title track, I pooped my pants.* The song’s unparalleled emotion and tenacity penetrated the very depths of my being, and left me quivering unequivocally with raw radiant emotion. The spiritual rebirth was enough to temporarily reset my bowels back to their earliest stages, causing a stinky disturbance. Joy mixed with sorrow as the cool tears streamed down my face like a river from the ice caves of the indigenous population of Mars. The deep prose of the chorus commanded deeper attention, as Dave King eloquently belted out the most imaginative lines in all of rock. “Rock and roll! Rockin’ on at midnight, steal your soul!” So much can be determined from the hermetic intangibility of this expertly crafted piece of macaroni and songwriting. Never before has a rock vocalist journeyed to such spiritual and internal truths. This has elevated to a level beyond art, beyond comprehension, beyond all human understanding! It has encompassed all the ostentatious pretension and grandeur of the art world, while maintaining a close link to the blue collar worker! This is a work of God!

By the time the song is over, my hands are bloody from the sheer force with which I was gripping my security blanket. My nails dug through the blanket into my fist. My material possessions (except the stereo and the blanket) had burned up in the intensity, as music so self-aware could only be absorbed by living tissue. I feel so weak that I can barely discern the ends of the blanket from my fragile body. I press pause on my CD player, and I begin to cry. After a healthy drink of water, I decide to venture on to the next potential masterpiece, and continue on with my expedition into the brilliantly alluring tapestry of the Fastway facade. The opening chords of “After Midnight” burst out of my speakers directly into my chest, and they blow me into another dimension.

I awoke in an alternate reality where candy was made of fish, and fish were made of candy in the chocolate river of wind city sticks. A man dressed like a woman and a woman dressed like a woman approached me and gifted me a dishwasher. A balding wildflower called my name and I decided to investigate his store front. He was selling music, but only two albums. Those two albums were a copy of Steve Vai’s Flex-Able, and Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy. Considering the fact that it was Fastway that knocked me into another dimension, it was weird getting this musical inception to other artists’ records. The orange label on the Vai album began to swallow me, and my spirit was floating above my unconscious body as I returned to my room, hovering over my body as Fastway played. My spirit re-entered my body as I discovered I had soiled myself again. What high art!

After a quick attire substitution, and a breeze through the mediocrity of the song “Don’t Stop the Fight”, “Stand Up” began to emanate from the speakers. The ceiling shattered as I was abducted by alien people that looked like Jon Bon Jovi and Sam Kinison fused their DNA together. They drank wine like classy sophisticates. Fastway is the only music good enough to satisfy their cultural needs, and they intended to harvest my Fastway collection, but I was able to fight them off by comparing their acting skills to Rob Lowe’s. As they nursed their bruised egos, I leapt out of the spaceship and slid down the rainbow from the clouds of snow and weather pulses.

I went on a series of comparable journeys throughout the process of listening to the album, with tribal incantations and aristocratic meat loaf simulators, but nothing could prepare me for the climatic showdown induced by the closing track masterpiece “If You Could See”. Apparently, the reason that Fastway was able to lift itself to such scholarly levels of uncompromising respectability is because the band wasn’t a band at all. Fastway was a hype mind suffering from malignant narcissism due to a computer virus uploaded into the mainframe by a ghost bearing a striking resemblance to Herbert Marcuse. The hype mind was designed to make the greatest music imaginable that would only reveal itself to the chosen one. I guess I was the chosen one. Luckily the hype mind was printing dot matrix still, and was running on a Pentium processor from the ‘90s. I was able to overload it by switching the computer date to 2000. Y2K! Escaping the area would manage to be the greatest magic trick I was able to conjure upon the underpopulated document absence of consequential thought and sound devised by the penultimate direct access line to the semi permeable ancestors of the Pagan worship center of healthcare management fiscal responsibility drones. To combat the territorial dipping sauce from the entrée dessert filibuster mustard, swans arose from the pie crust to entrench the moon beams of reflective solar glares in Jimmy Stewart fashion. And that’s how I escaped!

So in the end the album was only a half-baked set of ideas that didn’t quite measure up to the level of the first two Fastway albums, but easily left the third album in the dust. I trust you were able to ascertain that from my last paragraph, but I may as well summarize for clarity’s sake. There are enough inspired moments on this release to merit owning it as a good enough novelty Halloween disc, but if it didn’t have the gimmick of being attached the holiday there would be little reason to own this. It’s pretty generic ‘80s rock, with Dave King sounding like a hybrid between Jack Russell of Great White and Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot. However, sometimes generic can hit the spot if you’re not sure what specific flavor you want, and the holiday connections make it go down with a little less guilt. “Hold on to the Night” knocks off half a point for being maddeningly repetitive, but it gains that half point back for not sucking as much as the movie it’s featured in.

Score: 3/5 (Smashing?) Pumpkins

* There is no shame in that.

REVIEW: Journey – Time3 (1992 box set)

scan_20161015-2JOURNEY – Time3 (1992 Sony 3 CD box set)

Very few box sets satisfy the way that Journey’s Time3 satisfies.  When it was released in 1992, Journey wasn’t even a functioning entity anymore.  Sony’s box set still represents the kind of care and attention to detail that makes for an extraordinary listen.  It is arranged (mostly) chronologically with ample rare and unreleased material.  What is most remarkable is how great this rare and unreleased material is.  Aerosmith did a similar looking box set in 1992 as well (Pandora’s Box), but their set isn’t as steady a listen as Time3 is.  Time3‘s ample wealth of worthwhile rarities rank it easily as the superior set.

From start to bitter 80’s breakup, every Journey member from 1975 to 1986 is included.  George Tickner, Aynsley Dunbar, Robert Fleischman, Randy Jackson, Mike Baird and anybody else you may not have known were in Journey are represented in this box.  There are ample liner notes and photos explaining the roots and branches.  (Humorously the notes claim the early Journey instrumental “Nickel & Dime” may have been the prototype that Rush ripped off for “Tom Sawyer”.)  Valuable early rarities include the unreleased jazz rock number “Cookie Duster” and an excellent vocal track called “For You” recorded  with Robert Fleischman singing.  Fleischman might be best known as the original singer for Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion a decade later, but in Journey he turned in a pretty powerful pop rock song.  This was just before Steve Perry joined the band as its first full-time lead singer.  Keyboardist Gregg Rolie took care of the vocals before Perry joined, in addition to performing several smoking organ solos included herein.

There is a distinct change between the early progressive jam rock tracks and “For You”.  When they hired on a lead singer, it was with the intention to get a big break, and Steve Perry was the final ingredient.  With Perry they recorded brilliant classics such as “Patiently”, “Anytime” and the unforgettable “Wheel in the Sky”, which unfortunately is only included here as a live version.  Indeed, the Journey box set’s only weakness is a substitution of (non-rare) live versions for studio originals.  “Lights” is another such substitution.

Just as the band were making this prog-to-pop transition, drummer Aynsley Dunbar left.  His style was more progressive and frankly too highbrow for the direction Journey were going.  He was replaced by another total pro, the feel-oriented Steve Smith, a jazzbo at heart who can play R&B like nobody’s business.  “Too Late” from 1979’s Evolution is a perfect example of what he did to the Journey sound, as things simplified.

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With Smith behind the kit, the hits kept pouring in.  “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” (also included live), “Any Way You Want It”, “Line of Fire” and many more burned up speakers across America.  The band very quickly went from “point A” to “point B”, but also with several exceptional looks backward.  Some of these lesser known gems include “Little Girl” from a rare Journey soundtrack album called Dream, After Dream done for the Japanese market.  There is also the live “Dixie Highway” from Captured that shows off some serious instrumental chops.  A rare highlight is the soulful and unreleased cover of “Good Times”, with full-on horn section, from 1978.  It’s one of the songs that make it worth buying a box set like this.

Rolie left after Dream, After Dream and did not appear on the one new Journey song on Captured:  “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)”.  This brilliant pop rocker pointed the way towards the next era of Journey.  From The Babys came new keyboardist (and sometimes guitarist and singer) Jonathan Cain.  Cain forever brought Journey into the 1980’s, with modern keyboard accompaniment and serious writing abilities.  He has since become an indisposable member of the band, as important as founding guitarist Neal Schon himself.  Jon Cain’s first was the Escape album, which has sold nine million copies to date.  Not a bad little debut.  With “Don’t Stop Believin'” , “Stone in Love” and the smash ballad “Open Arms”, Journey ascended to the top of the mountain.  These tracks are all included as their studio originals.

There are a number of notable and great rarities from this period included in Time3.  “Natural Thing” was the soul-laden B-side to “Don’t Stop Believin'”, but feast your ears upon “La Raza Del Sol”, which snuck out as the progressive flipside of “Still They Ride”.  This blazingly recalls the arrangements of the early years with an unusually contemoplative lyric.  Check out Schon’s flamenco guitar solo.  There is the understated and brilliant rocker “Only Solutions”, from the 1982 Tron soundtrack.  These are valuable songs, that any Journey fan should enjoy completely.  Moving forward, “All That Really Matters” is a synthy demo with Jon Cain on lead vocals.  It doesn’t sound like Journey, but Cain fans will find it interesting.  Two more soundtrack songs are indispensable:  “Only the Young” from Vision Quest, and “Ask the Lonely” from Two of a Kind (both 1983).  Each song was significant enough to include on 1988’s Greatest Hits, so fans are well acquainted with both.  It’s incredible to think that Journey had songs of this quality to give to soundtracks.

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Towards the end, as bands often do, Journey began falling apart.  Steve Perry had a hit solo debut Street Talk (1984) and he returned to Journey more confident, imposing a soul/R&B direction upon the band.  Steve Smith and founding bassist Ross Valory were out.  Randy Jackson and Mike Baird were in.  Raised on Radio took forever to record and underwhelmed fans upon reception.  A live version of “I’ll Be Alright Without You” with the new members indicates that Journey had sanded off the rough edges.

Even at the end, there were still interesting happenings.  The liner notes reveal that even as the band was ending, they were winning awards.  Journey performed at the 1987 Bay Area Music Awards with a different singer — Michael Bolton.  One has to wonder where that could have gone.  The last music on this set chronologically comes in the shape of two unreleased instrumentals called “With a Tear” and “Into Your Arms”.  They were recorded in 1986 but not used for Raised on Radio, and so they were finished in 1992 by Schon and Cain for this box set.  Sadly these instrumentals are better than most of the tracks on Raised on Radio.  One is a ballad, and one is a rocker, but both are exceptional.  Journey started life with instrumentals, and so it’s fitting that Schon and Cain polished off the box set with a couple as well.

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This box set was reissued a number of times, but for the money you can’t beat the original 1992 printing with the long box and large booklet.  The liner notes are ample but the rare photos may even top them.  From the earliest days there are pictures of the band with original guitarist George Tickner and drummer Prairie Prince.  Prince was invited to join permanently, but chose to join the Tubes instead, a band he found more creative.  He was replaced by Aynsley Dunbar who recorded the first LP.  Also pictured within are some truly impressive hair styles, clothes, and moustaches.

With tracks this strong from start to finish, great packaging, and such a wealth of rare material, it seems Time3 should be an easy 5/5 stars.  However, that niggling issue of live tracks (particularly “Wheel in the Sky”) replacing studio cuts is really devious.  It’s unnecessary.  It all but forces casual buyers to also own Greatest Hits for the studio versions.  It seems very calculated.

Otherwise, proceed.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Journey – Captured (1981)

Scan_20160722JOURNEY – Captured (1981 Columbia, 1996 Sony SBM remaster)

Captured was a turning point for Journey.  After this, they went from mega to uber-mega.  It was their first live album, and their last with founding keyboardist and singer Gregg Rolie (who actually sang lead in Journey on their first three albums, before they discovered Steve Perry).  When Rolie left and Journey hired on Jonathan Cain, they went in an even more radio-friendly direction.  The live album captured (pun intended) the end of the Rolie era with basically every hit they had.  They were more of a rock and roll band back then, and this album shows it.

The scorching heat of “Where Were You” is the perfect track to prime the rock n’ roll BBQ.  Journey’s brand of rock is driving, but polished to a shimmery gleen.  This is partly due to the impeccable pipes of Steve Perry.  I’m not sure if Steve has even heard of a bum note, let along sung one.  But Perry was only one of two singers in Journey, and Rolie has his first lead on the mid-tempo pleaser “Just the Same Way”.  Although he is not comparable to Perry, he’s no slouch and the different singers gave Journey more dimension.

Blazingly fast, the gleeful “Line of Fire” is the hardest rocker on the album. “So don’t go sayin’ Stevie’s a liar!” he sings, and the crowd goes nuts. But Journey are probably better associated in the public eye with tender ballads. “Lights” live is a definitive version. It merges into another beautiful ballad, “Stay Awhile”. Perry’s singing here is so splendid, so perfect, so soulful and powerful that it’s hard not to just be amazed. Not to be outdone is Neal Schon with one of his most memorable guitar solos on “Lights”. A pretty version of “Too Late” makes it a trilogy.

Scan_20160722 (3)One of the coolest treats on Captured is a new song, “Dixie Highway”, that was never recorded on a studio album. Boogie with Journey down the Dixie Highway and listen to that blazing musicianship, more progressive rock at times than radio friendly AOR. Then it’s the Rolie/Perry duet “Feeling That Way”, an out-and-out classic. The combined sheer lung power on that stage that night could not be measured by science. It is said by some that all the canines within the city of Detroit suddenly perked their ears simultaneously at that moment, with a spill-off effect happening in areas of close proximity across the border in Canada. The University of Marysville is currently investigating these reports, hoping to calculate numerically just how much Steve and Rolie sang their fucking balls off that night.

Rolling right into “Anytime” and “Do You Recall”, the listener is treated to some lesser-recognized Journey classics that are as good or better than their biggest hits. “Do You Recall” in particular boasts the kind of melodies and smooth rock grooves that radio hits are made of. With that out of the way for now, they go into a blues jam with “Walk Like a Lady”. According to Steve Perry, “We got two of the best blues players in the whole world here tonight. Two of the best! We got Mr. Gregg Rolie on the Hammond B-3 and Mr. Neal Schon on the Stratocaster!” After a blazing Schon solo, Journey blast into “La Do Da”, another one of their lesser-known rock blitzes.  Bass solos!  (By Ross Valory!)  Drum solos! (by Steve “Machine Gun” Smith!)  And then the listener is rewarded for their patience with a string of their biggest hits:  “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”, “Wheel in the Sky”, and “Any Way You Want It”.

That’s a hell of a double live album right there.  No, Journey’s Captured is not remembered on the same level as Live and Dangerous, Frampton Comes Alive, or Kiss Alive (I or II).  Captured is certainly great, but somehow falls ever so shy from achieving the same lofty heights as the aforementioned.  It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why it’s not quite up there.  Perhaps it’s the perfectionist style of the band, because it’s certainly not Steve Perry.

It’s not over though:  Journey included a new song, and their first ever without Gregg Rolie on keys.  Studio cat Stevie “Keys” Roseman filled in, on the ironically piano-based “Hopelessly in Love”.   This unsung classic is one of the strongest Journey songs in the canon.  It’s too bad that it rarely gets pulled out for compilations, instead residing at the end of a near-forgotten live album.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Rocks (1976)

AEROSMITH – Rocks (1975 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

Packaged clean and sharp, Aerosmith made their intentions clear on the cover art for Rocks.  The album launched a million guitar players and a hundred careers in rock and roll.  It is also notable as being the last album before a major turning point; the point at which Aerosmith let the drugs work against them in a major way.

“Back in the Saddle” is an impressive opener.  The main riff in the song is not a guitar, but Joe Perry playing a six string bass.  Steven Tyler has mastered his own voice by this time, squealing and shrieking in conjunction with the hooks.  In some ways “Back in the Saddle” sounds like the birth of the true Aerosmith.  “Last Child” meanwhile nails the oft-overlooked funky side of Aerosmith.

“Take me back to-a south Tallahassee,
Down cross the bridge to my sweet sassafrassy,
Can’t stand up on my feet in the city,
Gotta get back to the real nitty gritty.”

With the help of an understated horn section, Aerosmith turn “Last Child” into something special.  This unexpectedly fades into the metallic aggression of “Rats in the Cellar”.  A spiritual sequel to the song “Toys in the Attic”, this one’s even meaner and faster.  Somebody said that the goal here was take what the Yardbirds were doing and turn it up.  Harmonica hooks and slide guitar goodness — I’d say they nailed it.

I need something groovy and right in the pocket after that, and “Combination” sung together by Tyler and Perry is one such groove. “Combination” is an album highlight boasting hooks and cool bass licks galore, and listen to Joey Kramer tearing it up on the drums! “Sick as a Dog” is another semi-forgotten classic. I’ve loved this melodic rocker (similar to past tracks such as “No More No More”) since day one. I can’t help but get it in my head every time I actually am sick as a dog. (Knock wood, no major illnesses yet in 2015!)

Perhaps the most important song on Rocks is the Whitford/Tyler composition “Nobody’s Fault”.  Along with “Round and Round”, Whitford has a knack for coming up with some of the heaviest Aerosmith riffs.  Testament covered it in 1988 for The New Order, taking it to an extreme that Whitford couldn’t have predicted.  The post-apocalyptic lyrics fit the concept of the Testament album.

Aerosmith’s original recording of Nobody’s Fault features some of Tyler’s most impassioned howls.  Drummer Joey Kramer considers it to be his best drumming, and I’m sure Whitford feels the same about his guitar work.  Although you can still hear that Aerosmith beat, “Nobody’s Fault” proves the band are versatile and more than just another American blues rockin’ band.

Bringing back the funk, “Get the Lead Out” isn’t particularly a standout except in terms in performance (which, with Aerosmith, is always above reproach).   “Lick and a Promise” returns us to quality, with a stock rocker about Tyler’s favourite subject.  We’re now at the end of the record, and “Home Tonight” continues Aerosmith’s knack for ending an album effectively with a slow number.  A piano ballad with plenty of guitars, “Home Tonight” adds that bit of class that Rocks needed in order to compete with an album like Toys in the Attic.

So how does Rocks compare with Toys in the Attic, anyway?

Too close to call.  Rocks is definitely a heavier record, and Toys in the Attic is closer to the dead-center of Aerosmith’s sound with the horns and strings.  Otherwise, it’s splitting hairs.

5/5 stars

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)
Disc 4: Rocks (1976)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic (1975)

TOYS IN THE ATTIC_0001AEROSMITH – Toys in the Attic (1975 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

What’s your lucky number?  For Aerosmith, maybe it’s 3.  Third album in as many years, Toys in the Attic is considered by some to be the album: “If you’re only going to get one,” the desert island record.  Considering that Rocks was yet to come, let’s withhold judgement until we get there.  For now just be aware there is a lot of Aero-love in the world for Toys in the Attic, and you can hear why.

As if to prove that Aerosmith could keep up with some of their heavier competitors out there, “Toys in the Attic” is a blazing guitarfest careening through the speaker into your skull.  What a way to open an album: it’s a statement.  The band were honed to a razor-sharp edge by producer Jack Douglas.  Joe Perry in particular had grown to be a ferociously good blues-rock player, and “Toys in the Attic” is the evidence.

One of the great joys of listening to Aerosmith is finding the little known album gems that weren’t repeatedly re-released on hits packages.  “Uncle Salty”, a slow crawl through the blues via the neck of a bottle, is one such track.  Also underexposed is “Adam’s Apple”, which shows off Joe Perry’s greasy slide guitar sleaze.  The horn section makes an appearance here too, adding extra sauce.  Then they bring the funk on “Walk the Way”.  Run DMC recognized that funk and knew how to update it in 1986.  In 1975, Tom Hamilton’s rolling bass was the stuff that groove is made of.  This is the kind of song that proves the musical ability of these five gents from beantown beyond the shadow of a doubt.  Then the sassy horns return on “Big Ten Inch Record”, an old R&B classic from 1952.  Remarkably the band pull it off with class and sassafras.

“Sweet Emotion” is one of the band’s best known today, something that Tom Hamilton must be happy about, since it’s one of only a few Tyler/Hamilton co-writes.  It’s no surprise that Hamilton had a hand in its composition since it’s based on another one of his rolling bass lines.  But listen to the way Joey Kramer and Brad Whitford lock into him.  That groove is the foundation on which Aerosmith was built.  On top of that, Steven Tyler has always had a way with melody.  “No More No More” is one of his most irresistible singalongs.

The Sabbathy thunder of “Round and Round” was an unexpected twist.  Tracks like this and the later “Nobody’s Fault” show the metallic side of Aerosmith that usually remains shrouded.  “Round and Round”, though menacing and heavy as a brick, is the least memorable song on Toys in the Attic (only because the competition was so good).  Brad Whitford takes care of the solos on this one, a song he co-wrote (just like “Nobody’s Fault”).

“You See Me Crying” ends the album on a melancholy note but lovely note.  A piano based tune with strings and McCartney-ish melodies, it is truly the kind of classic that Aerosmith will be remembered for.  If it were not for songs like “Dream On”, “Seasons of Wither”, and “You See Me Crying”, then Aerosmith would be just another American rock and roll band playing their version of the blues that the Stones and Zeppelins of the world had already plundered.  “You See Me Crying” was proof that Aerosmith were more than that, and had their own thing going on.  (That’s Whitford playing the solos again, by the way.)

So what’s better?  Toys in the Attic, or Rocks?  Let’s find out next time.

5/5 stars

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)