David Bendeth

#733: Joy In Blue

GETTING MORE TALE #733: Joy In Blue

I was never going to be a rock star.  I knew that.  I couldn’t play a song all the way through.  A fella could dream, though.  I carefully plotted out my super-stardom.

First I needed a name for a band.  In highschool, my best friend Bob wanted to call our band Paragon.  “Not Paradox,” he stressed, “but Paragon.  It means we’re among the best.”  We used Paragon as the name for our non-extistant band until Bob graduated highschool, at which time a real band used the name.  When Bob and I went our separate ways (he sold his guitar), I settled on the name Godspeed.  I wasn’t interested in doing anything “wimpy” and I wanted a name that got that across.

However, once again a real band took the name I wanted for my fake band.  I needed to get more original, instead of just picking a word I liked.  I came up with Joy in Blue.  I liked the name because it summed up what I wanted to do with music.  Listening to music is a joyful experience, but you can still get dark when expressing those inner emotions.  Hence, Joy in Blue.  I still like it.

I drew up some logos.  Not the best ones ever, but I wanted something a kid could easily draw in a binder.  Like Kiss.  I even wrote some music!  In 1994 I poured everything I had into a song called “Midnight”.  It was roughly 20 minutes long.  I had some parts recorded.  The rest of it, I was unable to play — all I could do was hum it!  It was meant as a Rush-like epic in eight parts.  The truth is, it was easier to mash my ideas together into an eight part song than to try and write eight complete songs.

The problem with Joy in Blue was that there was nobody capable of playing the music I was hearing, a minor inconvenience.  I had bigger things to plan.  Album titles, projected year of releases — I plotted out the next 30 years of Joy in Blue.  It was going to start with our demo tape, which would get a commercial CD release.  Then three studio albums and a live record.  Finally after the live record, I laid it all on the line:  a double concept album!  To appease the “old” fans, a few records later we’d go back to basics.  I called that LP Back to the Garage, and it was to be done with the same spirit as the first demo.  I knew when I wanted our box set to come out, and my solo album Sweat.

Jesus Christ…a solo album….

Think that’s all crazy?  I even wrote out who I wanted to produce each album.  For our early material, I wanted David Bendeth.  I really liked the heavy groove he got on the Sven Gali album.  I wanted to see if we could get Bob Ezrin for the concept album, and self-produce the Garage album ourselves.  As we got into the tail end of our career, I realized Wolfgang Van Halen would be old enough to produce records.  Therefore I pencilled in Wolfie for our last three or four albums.  I also knew that I wanted us to do a proper farewell, not drag things out forever.  Final albums, box sets and live recordings were planned.

All of this without being able to play more than two minutes of a song.  It would have been glorious though, had I been able to figure out the music part!

 

Early Joy in Blue circa 1991 – absolutely awful.

 

 

 

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REVIEW: Varga – Prototype (1993)

VARGA – Prototype (1993 BMG)

Joe Varga and crew started off as a Toronto-area thrash metal band.  There was a thriving thrash scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and Varga’s contribution were songs like “Mad Scientist” and “Shark Attack”.  They released an indi album (cassette only) called Multiple Wargasms.  As the 90’s progressed, Varga established a prototypical industrial metal direction, something perfectly mundane today, but hip for the time.  Like some bizarre cross between thrash metal and ZZ Top, Varga attempted to bridge the gap between machine and man.  They signed to BMG and got David Bendeth to produce them, who had just worked his magic with Sven Gali.

Varga’s major label debut was called Prototype.  As promised, it boasts a mixture of metal and industrial.  Live drums, guitars and bass mix are augmented with samples and loops.  People I knew referred to them as “Ministry Lite”, and that is as apt a description as any.  While Varga embraced technology, it didn’t seem fully incorporated into the music.  The songs are, for the most part, metal tracks with samples and effects added for embellishment.  Varga took the unusual step of listing everybody that inspired them in the credits.  Metal outnumbers industrial bands by 12-2.  Pornography had more influence on Varga than Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, according to this!

That said, when it works, it works.  “Greed” is a prime example.  Had it been a typical fast-forward thrash metal song, it still would have been good.  The electronics and looped rhythms turbo-charge the whole thing.  “Freeze Don’t Move” seems built around the loops, and features rapping and a sung chorus.  Hearing it today, I think “Hello, Linkin Park!”  But there was no Linkin Park in 1993.  These two tracks were the singles, and they are easily the best two songs on the album.   Additionally, “Freeze Don’t Move” was remixed and extended by somebody called “KRASH” (all caps).  The original is all you need, but the remix is included as a CD-only bonus track.  (Quaint concept today!)

Prototype clunks and clanks along, not like a finely tuned streamlined machine, but more like an older model with a rattle under the hood.  The musicianship is fine and dandy; Varga did not forsake guitar solos and there are several hot ones to choose from, not to mention diverse moments of instrumental brilliance.  The issue is that the rest of the material sputters inconsistently.   “The Strong”, “Unconscience”, “Thief”, “Self Proclaimed Messiah” and “Wawnah Mère” aren’t bad, and “Bring The Hammer Down” is pretty metallic.  None are memorably solid throughout; they just boast great parts here and there.

Recommended for metal historians and fans of the industrial metal sound.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Big House – Big House (1991 BMG)

STRAT

Thanks for joining us for Canadian Rawk Week!

 

BIG HOUSE – Big House (1991 BMG) Not to be confused with the country band also called Big House.

BIG HOUSEBig House hit the ground running out of Edmonton, Alberta in 1991, but it was hard to take them seriously at the time.  The hair and headbands were pretty silly, and they had annoying song titles such as “Refuse 2 Run” and “Nothing Comes 4 Free”.  I acknowledged they had a pretty cool single “Dollar in My Pocket (Pretty Things)”.  This was lifted from a prior EP called Pretty Things, very hard to find.  They also claimed to be former punk rockers.  Drummer Sjor (pronounced Shore) Throndson once stated that the band used to have mohawks when they were teenagers, but shaved them off and had a change of musical direction.  With that, the silly hair and the dumb name, it was pretty easy to ignore Big House.

Then a co-worker at the Record Store named Kam talked me into listening to it.  The year was 2005 and my feelings quickly turned from indifference to delight.  Big House, for all their flaws, were actually pretty good!  Every song on this album has swagger. It doesn’t sound like a debut album at all, and perhaps that’s due to the experience of having done a prior EP. The band, and singer Jan Ek in particular, make this sound like a second or third album.

“Dollar in My Pocket” made for a good first single, but what a cheesey video. I still cringe at the 30 second mark, when Sjor glances flirtingly down towards his pants on the line, “I got a dollar in my pocket for you.” Fortunately, just a taste of their punk background shine through in the melodies, making this song a bit more unique than the crowd in 1991. Jan Ek has a good scream going on, and lungs of power. They had a knack for writing catchy guitar licks like the one in “Dollar in My Pocket”. The song is all about attitude, so “come along, you can have it if you want it, baby.”

The first chunk of the CD was top-loaded with singles. “All Nite” was a minor hit, a Motley-Poison mixture of rock thrills. Generic, but with that knack for melody once again, not to mention the leathery lungs of Jan Ek. Those two factors elevate the song beyond the morass of crap swimming in the seas of cheese in 1991. Another decent rocker, the Kiss-like “Refuse 2 Run” stays the course before you’re up for the next single, the ballad “Baby Doll”. Generic acoustic sentimental tacky stuff is this, but why do I like it? Maybe that quiet moaning slide guitar? Sounds a lot like Cinderella. Truthfully it’s not bad, but it’s really not that different from any of a hundred ballads. Thankfully “Can’t Cry Anymore” has some noisy guitar and plenty of attitude, especially in the punk rock blowout ending. Once again, it’s remarkable what a handle Big House had on writing great rock melodies. “Can’t Cry Anymore” is one of many on this disc.

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“Devil’s Road” sounds like the opening of a second side, and a strong opening it is. “So make the music faster, for the spells we’re castin'” sings Jan Ek on the fine choruses. None of these songs are particularly fast, but they all rock in one way or another. For example “Nothing Comes 4 Free” is slow, but has a menacing vibe and the requisite hooks on the chorus. The closest they get to filler is “Happiness” but even that is not bad. It’s an unusual cross of pop melody with classic rock guitars — Cheap Trick meets Kiss, perhaps?

Final track “Angel on My Arm” is a celebratory tough little rocker, but the penultimate track “L.A.” is my favourite of them all. It seems Mr. Ek’s girl has left to go to L.A. and a be big movie star, and isn’t coming back. But then Jan gets a long distance call from L.A. It seems she mis-dialed and got Jan when she expected to get “Jack”.  He responds incredulously, “Jack who?! Jack Palance? Jack Nicholson? Jack…Jack who?!” It’s great fun! Listen to that bouncy bass. That’s pop punk, baby. So are those unabashed “la-la-la-la” pop hooks. Just a killer, instantly likeable fun song is this. “I been drinkin’ with every damn girl in town,” sings Ek after the disappointing phone call. “If I seem a bit too forlorn, I’ve been loving her too long.” People, I’m serious: This song is a triumph of songwriting and execution. You are free to disagree, but all I know is that I have played this song on repeat countless times. In fact I’m doing it now. I’m already on spin #3 for this session.

Silly name and album cover aside, I suppose it all works as a package. It’s no wonder the band never made it big with a cover this horrible; imagine my shock when I saw that it was done by none other than Hugh Syme, master of many Rush records. And this faceless cover conceals within it one of the best hard rock albums of the era. Sadly that era died before Big House could make a second album, but let’s celebrate that we have this one. Just like we are glad for the first two Skid Row albums, or New Jersey by Bon Jovi, I’m happy now to have Big House in my, err, house.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Sven Gali – Sven Gali (1992)

First of a two-part series, by request of Deke!

 

SVEN GALI – Sven Gali (1992 BMG)

Sven Gali were a good band. To put this into context, in the early 90’s Canada was home to a growing hard rock scene that combined traditional metal with the harder alternative sounds that were coming out of Seattle. I Mother Earth was probably the first band to combine these sounds into one unique whole. Sven Gali were more on the rock side, but they did combine the groove and heaviness that was coming out of Seattle with hard rock. The first single “Under The Influence”, which was a hit on Much, is a great example of this.

Comparisons with forebears Skid Row were added to album cover stickers, and the talented drummer Gregg Gerson was poached from Billy Idol’s band.  (Prior to this, Steve Macgregor and Rob MacEachern occupied the drum stool.  MacEachern would later go on to play with Helix.)  While nobody in the band were slouches, singer David Wanless boasted a tough, powerful voice able to handle the heavy material, similar to someone like Johnny Solinger of Skid Row.  (I have heard that Mr. Wanless worked at Home Depot in St. Catharines after Sven Gali.)  Also notable was the late guitarist Dee Cernille, who recently lost his long battle with cancer.

Sven Gali is stacked top-heavy with standouts.  This means it tends to have a stronger side one vs. side two.  The first two songs were singles (the video hit “Under the Influence”, the helicopter whop-whop of “Tie Dyed Skies”).  Both these songs walk a fine line of heavy but singalong choruses, while maintaining its gritty 90’s-ness.

The generically titled “Sweet Little Gypsy” is a strong, Crue-like album track, but it is followed by another single, “In My Garden”.  This is a dark ballad, demonstrating the 90’s side of the band.  It too was a video hit.  “Freaks” is a hard rocker that could have been a single in my books.  I had this one early on a Sven Gali sampler cassette mailed out by M.E.A.T Magazine.  I’d be happy to show that cassette if it wasn’t packed up in a box.  Side two was finished with the excellent ballad “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”.  It’s obvious that Sven Gali were going for the Extreme/Mr. Big template with this one.  There are no drums, the lyrics are sentimental, and it was designed for the female side of the hard rock fan spectrum.  But it’s still a good song, and performance.  I’d rate this one as a solid-also ran behind “More Than Words” and “To Be With You”.

SVEN_0002Side two commenced with the furiously heavy “Stiff Competition”, once again firmly planted in Van Skid Crue territory.  Far from the best song on the album, it’s certainly the heaviest, gratuitous “F-bomb” included.  “Real Thing” is pretty poor.  It’s an annoying and grating throwaway.  “Whisper in the Rain” is another ballad, this one is a little more generic than the preceding two.  And didn’t you just know it was going to be a ballad by the title?  It has a moment or two, but in general I’ve heard this kind of song done better before by Skid Row…Killer Dwarfs…Motley Crue…Guns N’ Roses…etc.

“25 Hours A Day” is back to rock.  It’s not a stinker, but aside from a good chorus, the song doesn’t stand out.  “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” is back to the speedy rock sounds of “Stiff Competition” with which we began this side of the album.  If anything these two songs show off Gerson’s incredible drum chops.  Shame he left the band after this album…

Sven Gali closes with the Teenage Head cover “Disgusteen”, saving the best for last.  Frankie Venom himself (R.I.P., cancer again) performs the exorcism scene.  Awesome!

Sven Gali earned the band two 1993 Juno Awards nominations:  Most Promising Group, and Hard Rock Album Of The Year.  They won neither, but good on them.  Aaron would be pleased to remember that Skydiggers won Most Promising Group that year.  Hard Rock was won by rival band Slik Toxik.

Unfortunately, all would not go well for our friends in Sven Gali.  Seattle came a-knockin’, and they answered.  Or was it the other way around?  It doesn’t matter; it ends the same way.  Find out tomorrow when we finish the tale.

3/5 stars

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