Coronavirus

REVIEW: Scorpions – “Sign of Hope” (2020)

SCORPIONS – “Sign of Hope” (2020 single)

The Scorpions, in the midst of writing their next album, are the latest band to release a lockdown single in 2020.  It will come as no surprise that it’s a ballad.  “Sign of Hope” is a reassuring song from the guys who know how to write ballads (and reaaaally know how to paaartaaaaaaay!).  Of course a ballad is appropriate for these sombre times.  “Sign of Hope” sounds like Scorpions circa 1996, the Pure Instinct album.  It’s gentle and peaceful.  For accompaniment, it’s primarily acoustic guitars, with slight electric guitar accents that pop in and out.  It’s actually quite a good ballad, short and to the point.  The sparse arrangement really lets us hear the nuances of guitar, and Klaus Meine’s voice.  It’s well written and memorable enough.

One could ask, “Why do we need another Scorpions ballad?”  Perhaps the simplest answer is because the Scorpions are still around making music.  So why not?  Will they ever top “Still Loving You” or “In Trance”?  It doesn’t matter, because they are in their 55th year and are still creating.

“I see empty places, empty roads,” sings Klaus, and though the streets are fuller now it’s hard to forget the sight of a deserted world.  It also strangely seems like such a long time ago that this all began.  But the Scorpions reassure us that “it’s gonna be alright,” and eventually it will be.  We are getting there.  We are indeed seeing signs of hope, but everybody needs to treat themselves well.  So treat yourself to some music and grab the new Scorpions on iTunes.

3/5 stars

I also really like the single artwork, I think it’s striking and has several layers of meaning.  It’s also nice to see the word CANADA so prominently!

#837: Freestylin’ 7 – Into Best Buy

GETTING MORE TALE #837: Freestylin’ 7 – Into Best Buy

I hadn’t set foot inside a store since March 15.  Three months later on Jun 13, I broke this long streak and went into Best Buy.

We’ve been trying to stick to essential trips, and Mrs. LeBrain was doing the groceries and other essential shopping while I worked.  Ontario entered “Phase 2” of re-opening on June 12 so it felt like a good time to see how shopping had changed.

There was no lineup, but there were clear and nicely marked spaces for you to wait outside.  At the front was a gentleman in a mask.  Even with the mask I recognized him from a previous Best Buy excursion, back before the shit hit the fan.  He asked what I was looking for that day, and I said “laptop speakers”.  He instructed me to follow the arrows on the floor until I got to the computer monitors.  You can still walk around and browse, but they are trying to keep things efficient.

Most customers wore masks but they were not mandatory.  I have chosen to wear a mask in public.  To coin a phrase from our Prime Minister, I don’t want to speak “moistly” on people.  I tend to do that.  Of course as soon as I walked in, a maskless guy was meandering against the arrows talking on his cell phone.  Of course.

Best Buy have this re-opening well in hand.  They were organized, friendly and asked us to use hand sanitizer on our way in.  After a squirt and a quick walk around, I found the exact laptop speakers I was looking for.  $27.  Cheap and simple.   Looked around a bit more, and headed for the cash registers.  No line there either.  Mission accomplished with no fuss and no muss.

New speakers in action.  Uncle Meat made fun of my porch music choice.

The Covid world definitely looks different from the pre-Covid world but I think we can deal with this.  It’s going to take patience and a willingness to play ball.  There was a story on the weekend of a man entering a mall in Guelph where masks are mandatory.  When he refused to wear one, he coughed on the mall employee and fled.  This kind of behavior is disgusting.  Retail workers have it bad enough.  I’ve had people throw things at me but never had bodily fluids fired in my direction during a pandemic.  If you think wearing a mask is infringing upon your freedom, then take a stand and don’t shop at those places.  Vote with your wallet.  Don’t cough or spit, and don’t give a retail workers a hard time.  You’re the asshole if you do.  In the meantime, I will wear my mask.  I wear it to protect you from my flying spittle when I talk.  I’m not afraid.  I care.  You’re welcome.  I don’t care if you think I look stupid or not.

I look stupid on my best days anyway.

After Best Buy, we took a drive.  Streets were busy like a normal Saturday in the summer.  You couldn’t tell anything was amiss from the roads.  Restaurants, not so much.  Meals are permitted on patios.  Places with open patios looked comfortably full to the new Covid standards.  Establishments without had empty parking lots.  Elsewhere, we saw a lineup at the Nike store that went around the building.  Must have had a sale.  I don’t need shoes that badly!

I did need shoes, actually, but then I ordered some online.  It was actually better than shopping in store.  No picking through boxes looking for my size in a style I liked.  I simply clicked the shoes I wanted, clicked the colour, and picked my size.  They fit perfectly when they arrived a few days later.  Most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned, actually.  I could get used to this.  In fact, why should I buy shoes in a store again when there is a better selection online?  I hate shopping for shoes!

Yes, the world has changed.  It will continue to change, and our old world is gone.  Look at music.  Doro Pesch played a concert to a drive-in audience, and it looked cool.  Artists are constantly live streaming chats and performances now.  We adapt.  Some restaurants, businesses and rock bands will not survive.  The economy is still being ravaged.  Most bands will not return to the concert stage until 2021.

In the meantime, people are hungry for entertainment.  Bands and record labels would be wise to release stuff from the vaults during this time.  Unreleased live recordings?  Put ‘em out.  B-sides and outtakes?  Release them.  There has never been a better time for a band to put out of a box set of rarities.  Record stores are opening and need the business.

Unless our collective mistakes cause another surge and another lockdown, I am optimistic.  We have made it through three months of this.  While in some respects we are looking at a lost summer ahead of us, I think we still have a lot to look forward to.

Doro

 

 

 

REVIEW: Queen + Adam Lambert – “You Are the Champions” (2020)

QUEEN + ADAM LAMBERT – “You Are the Champions” (2020 iTunes)

Queen were one of the earlier groups out of the gate with new “lockdown” recordings.  From their homes they re-recorded “We Are the Champions”, dedicated to frontline workers, with Adam Lambert to raise money for the World Health Organisation’s “Solidarity Response Fund”.  Whatever the cause may be, we are here to review the music.

The idea here is that Queen are not the champions this time — we are!  Together we have locked down and sacrificed, and we are doing it for each other.  The lyrics don’t really fit but we know what Queen meant.  Lambert doesn’t actually change the words to “You are the champions” until the halfway point.

This track is the familiar Queen arrangement, though shortened by a verse.  Adam Lambert is a fine singer, as he proves in the outro.  Queen didn’t go with the big layered vocals here; perhaps you need a recording studio to do that.  Instead Lambert’s voice takes the spotlight by itself.  Even the instrumentation is sparse — no solos, and only a couple Brian May guitar noodles to savour.

There’s a striking music video with stark footage of empty streets.  I like that Lambert did his hair and makeup to the nines while the other two look casual.  Let’s join Queen and Adam in thanking our frontline healthcare workers — and thank you Queen for recording again.  How about a new album next time?

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – “Don’t Give Up” (2020 iTunes)

ALICE COOPER – “Don’t Give Up” (2020 iTunes)

Thank God for Alice Cooper! 50 years ago, he was considered by the mainstream to be nothing more than an untalented shock rocker. In 2020, he is inspiring people to keep on keepin’ on. He’s got a powerful message for anyone who needs to hear it.

“Don’t Give Up” is the most direct, the most topical and the least “Alice” song that the Coop has ever done. Why the “least” Alice? Because this time he is not playing a character. He’s not telling some horrifying bedtime story. Or is he? “Don’t Give Up” is about Coronavirus and blatantly so.

“Yeah, I know you’re struggling right now. We all are, in different ways. It’s like a new world that we don’t even know. It’s hard to sleep, even harder to dream. But look, you got seven billion brothers and sisters all in the same boat! So don’t panic. Life has a way of surviving and going on and on. We’re not fragile and we sure don’t break easy.”

This single was recorded in home studios.  It’s accompanied by a cool video expertly produced by Canuck Frank Gryner, using footage sent in by fans.  It is so rare for Alice to really make a statement that pertains to current events.  And it is a very specific song; there are no underlying stories or metaphors to untangle.  But when you think about Coop, it’s not really surprising that he came out of the gates so fast with a song like this.  Alice Cooper is a human being that cares about other human beings.  The message is simple:  keep fighting and don’t give up.  Sometimes people need to actually hear the words.

Musically you could call “Don’t Give Up” a power ballad.  It has a very 80’s guitar figure, with Alice speaking his message over it.  The chorus is more modern, with Alice singing as plaintively as he can.  “Don’t Give Up” is unremarkable as a rock ballad, but as a lyrical accomplishment, Alice has forged new ground 50 years on.  He has written some remarkably powerful words.

“Our enemy is a cold, indiscriminate monster.  It doesn’t care if you’re old or a newborn.  It exists to kill.  You and I are nothing to it.  It has no heart or soul or conscience.  Do we fear it? Yeah! Do we cower before it? Hell no! We’re the blood-n-guts human race. And we win.”

The important thing that Alice says here is that it is alright to be afraid.  Look, Alice has fought demons, and if this scares him then there is no shame in feeling fear.  People are being labelled as cowards for wearing a mask in public.   Alice is right — we will win, and we will do whatever it takes to win.  If you’re scared right now, you tell ’em that Alice Cooper said that’s OK.

3.5/5 stars

 

Sunday Chuckle: How to Protect Yourself & Others With Mask & Gloves

These pamphlets showed up at our work mysteriously one morning.  Somebody else tossed them in the trash as soon as they realized who provided them!

We already know from Tom Cruise that only a Scientologist can help when there’s a car accident.  Perhaps only a Scientologist can prevent Covid-19?

Sunday Chuckle: Sh*tface

Uncle Meat likes to (teasingly) call me “Bum Face” during my live streams.  However the fact is I am now a Shit Face.  Look at this mask that Mrs. LeBrain bought for me.  Typical, eh?  I can’t get no respect!

 

Lockdown Vid #9…#9…#9…

Lockdown Vid #8: A Salute to the Frontline (and the Masters of Loudness)

Lockdown Video #7: Mail Day!

#827: Freestylin’ 5 – Brave New World

GETTING MORE TALE #827: Freestylin’ 5 – Brave New World

Oh, how so much has changed in such a short time. The conveniences I once took for granted are now dearly missed. I feel as if I am living in the early chapters of an old undiscovered dystopian fiction novel. Then there is the paranoia I feel when we get such mixed signals from all around. Don’t go out! But this store is offering pickups. Wear a mask! But only if you’re not able to be more than 2 metres away from the next person. Or not. And what kind of masks? It’s a surreal day that ends with a phone call with your mother about what kind of mask she’s wearing these days.

Look at classic science fiction.  There are very few that feature gloves as part of regular daily attire that are not dystopias!

Because I feel it’s appropriate, I’m listening to Kilroy Was Here by Styx for inspiration while I write.

“We all need control.  I need control.  We all need control.”

And to think we were led to believe that the future dystopia would involve robots and rock & roll rebels.

On the other hand, I feel like I’ve been rehearsing for this my whole life.  In spite of losing hundreds of books and movies in a recent purge (to be discussed in full in another chapter), I still have dozens unwatched and unread here to enjoy.  I was saving them for the proverbial “rainy day”.  Who was to know it was going to be three months of rain?

As a classic introvert, I tended to spend most of my time indoors anyway, nose buried in a laptop, headphones on.  I never particularly sought busy weekends of going out and being social.  I left that to Jen while I did my own thing.  She’s managing as well as anyone else.  What I really miss are the luxuries.  Dropping in at the parents house to steal groceries from their fridge for a visit.  Going out for a medium rare steak when you’re craving it.  Wandering the aisles at the record store.  Even ordering from Amazon.

I am a creature of habit, but with more emphasis on spending locally in social media, a thought occurred to me.  Why am I relying on Amazon for music?  We have Encore Records here in town, and they have been advertising that they ship.  The other day, John at 2loud2oldmusic mentioned that there was a new Joe Satriani coming out.  I liked the track he posted, so I checked and Encore had it in stock.

I don’t believe in ordering “just one” of anything so I browsed a bit and quickly filled my cart.  I searched for “Coverdale” (hey, you never know if something previously unheard will pop up) and their very smart search engine returned me a hit for all his stuff plus some related albums like Vandenberg.  Good ol’ Dekes has long asserted their brilliance so why not?  It looked like it’s probably one of those sweet Rock Candy reissues.  Love/Hate’s Blackout in the Red Room is an album I’ve wanted for 30 years but never pulled the trigger on until now.  It has three bonus tracks thanks to Rock Candy’s fine series of reprints.  Finally, King Kobra’s second CD Thrill of a Lifetime made it an even four.

I picked my shipping, hit the Paypal button and later the next day they had my order processed.  I’m going to have new music this week!  And plenty of it too!

New music helps keep up the illusion that things are still “normal”, while they are actually anything but.  You can pretend for a while.  I’ll sanitize the parcel when it arrives, a stark foreshadow of what the “new” normal will be like.  I’ll wash my hands when I’ve removed and discarded the cellophane.  Only then will I allow myself to enjoy the CDs without the reminders.

A wise person recently told me that now is the time to spread kindness.  I’m trying to remember that.  Part of that includes being kind to yourself.  I bought myself some CDs.  Don’t be afraid to treat yourself if you can.  I know we’re not all in a situation where we are financially able to do that.  I’m part of an essential service.  As much as I resented that at first, I’m really grateful for it.

As I try to be kind to myself, a dark side of me whispers in my ear.  “You’re being careless.  Everything you let enter the house is a threat.  You already suffer asthma.  You’re not paying attention to the statistics.  You should be working from home.”

We are all facing our own personal struggles right now.  I know a few people who have it bad, real bad, and I can’t do a damn thing to help them except be here to listen.  It’s a small gesture, but can be a huge one in some circumstances.  Don’t underestimate your own personal value as a human being that can listen.

My hopes are high that we will get through this together.  Together, separately.  Humans have a remarkable capacity to work together when we want to.  I don’t dare put a timeline on this in my mind.  I try to take it one day and one week at a time.  We have made it through another week, and all we have to do now is keep on keepin’ on.

So keep on keepin’ on, my friends.