deluxe edition

REVIEW: Scorpions – Rock Believer (2022 2 CD)

“Steamrock fever, screaming rock believers.” – Klaus Meine, 1977
“Scream for me screamers, I’m a rock believer.” – Klaus Meine, 2022

SCORPIONS – Rock Believer (2022 Universal 2 CD edition)

The album of the year could be from a 57 year old band!

Although they’ve been trying hard, off and on, to recreate the past for the last 20 years or so, Scorpions never convinced us it was the 1980s again. Until now.

Whatever happened (be it the intense focus granted by a worldwide pandemic, or just the magic of interpersonal chemistry), Scorpions have issued their best record since Love At First Sting. Even the cover art recalls an earlier time in Scorpions history. With Rock Believer, the band have proven that time is no obstacle.

There are a lot of songs here and almost all of them are highlights. Opener “Gas in the Tank” feels like vintage, top-notch Scorpions. While Matthias Jabs emulates the sound of a car chase on his guitar, Rudolph Schenker lays down the first of many fully-leaded riffs. Though vocalist Klaus Meine no longer screams all the time, neither does Ian Gillan or very many other singers his age. The singer is still recognizable as nobody else, hanging onto his power and range. Nowhere on the album do you miss the screaming. Never do you say “all this song needed was a scream.” With the title “Gas in the Tank”, Klaus Meine may have unknowingly come up with a new anthem for 2022.

The only track that comes off as substandard by comparison is the second one, “Roots In My Boots”. On any past album from Crazy World on, it would be a high-speed highlight. On Rock Believer, we headbang along knowing that something better is coming. The chorus fails to land and neither do the lyrics. We are redeemed on third track “Knock ‘Em Dead”, which has the patented mid-80s Scorpions chug. Throw some candy-coated Matthias fills on top and it’s the classic sound. Klaus mentions “The Zoo” in the lyrics but it’s not all Judas Priest-like self-referencing (though there’s plenty of it on this album).

The gem of the album is “Rock Believer“, a truly remarkable ballad/rocker that strikes all the boxes. Klaus’ vocal performance is truly remarkable, going from forceful to tender in a single line. I am a rock believer like you too, Klaus. “Rock Believer” is an example of hard rock songwriting perfection. Every ingredient and aspect of the performance is flawless. Nothing extraneous, although drummer Mikkey Dee gets to go a little nuts at the end, which is a brilliant touch. It is rare to hear a song as immediately catchy as “Rock Believer” these days, but here you go, rock believers! This chorus is the kind that can stick in your head for the whole of a long weekend. (Trust me.)

A loud gothic riff on “Shining Of Your Soul” gives way to a familiar lighter reggae vibe similar to Scorpions classic “In Trance”. It’s a brilliant melding of two styles, and one that reaches back to the glorious 1970s era of the band. Certainly not a re-write of “In Trance”, but possibly a sequel. Jabs’ solo is absolutely brilliant, but don’t ignore underappreciated bassist Paweł Mąciwoda who brings a schooled melodic approach.

“Seventh Sun” stomps like the Scorps of old, recalling “The Zoo”. The bass leads the way while a sharp, sparse riff punctuates the song. It sounds like a huge mammoth of a beast, prowling heavily through the steppe. Scorpions don’t lose sight of melody and so “Seventh Sun” is strong in this regard as well. At 5:30, it is longest song on the album and closest to an epic.

Back to high-octane rockers, “Hot and Cold” really kicks. The riff is heavy and Paweł really goes for those low bass notes. While the chorus on this song is fine and dandy, it could be an example of a tune where the verses are superior. At least in terms of interesting and mind-grabbing guitar work, they are. Soon there’s another stinging riff, on the thrash-paced “When I Lay My Bones to Rest”. If you like your hard rock blasting fast and loud, then you will love “When I Lay My Bones to Rest”. Another heavy tune, “Peacemaker”, has been well received by fans. Scorpions have a long history as a band with a consistent anti-war stance. “Peacemaker” is the latest and possibly heaviest of these tunes. From the guitars to the chorus, “Peacemaker” rocks massive with melody and catchy stabs of guitar.

“Call of the Wild” is a different kind of song for this album. Klaus mentions a “Lovedrive”, but this song is one of their heavy and slow sex romps. It is somewhat unremarkable next to other tunes on the album, but it is different and picks up towards the end. Dig the slight “Sympathy for the Devil” homage. But have you noticed it’s been 10 songs, and not a real ballad among them? Ballads used to be a scourge of Scorpions albums, becoming too numerous especially on 1996’s Pure Instinct. This time there is only one, and it’s a classy one left for the end. “When You Know (Where You Come From)” is a thoughtful song, but it is the rare Scorpions ballad that stands as strong as the classics. It has a late 70s, early 80s construction and an absolutely epic guitar solo section.

11 songs with no instrumentals, interludes or fillers already makes for a hearty album. Scorpions had enough material written to make it a double, and so there’s a bonus CD with six bonus tracks. Seven in Japan, including their exclusive bonus track “Out Go the Lights”, an Accept-like heavy metal warehouse stomp. While “Out Go the Lights” is clearly bonus track material, the other six songs are not. Some of them are among the heaviest songs.

“Shoot For Your Heart” is album-worthy, with a cool unique lick in the riff that leaves you crying for more. This is a high-speed driving tune, the Scorpions bread and butter. “When Tomorrow Comes” has spoken word choruses with a forceful heavy metal riff and more “ahh, ahh, ahhs” than you can shake a scorpion’s stinger at. Good banger, but perhaps a bit too different for the proper album? It would not have weakened the record, but could possibly alienate listeners with weaker stomachs. “Unleash the Beast” is another bangin’ track, and check out Paweł’s deft bassline. “Unleash the Beast” doesn’t have the same kind of melodic might that most of the album has, but its strengths lie elsewhere, such as the creative guitars or Klaus’ talk-sing stylings. The vibe changes on “Crossing Borders”, a laid back rocker with charm and hooks. The guitars have a sleazy rock vibe and the lyrics follow suit. The final bonus track is an acoustic version of the closing ballad “When You Know (Where You Come From)”. The acoustic guitar solo perfectly augments Klaus’ flawless vocals. It’s a lovely coda and an appropriate way to end the extended version of Scorpions’ best album in decades.

Even with the wealth of of material on the deluxe edition of Rock Believer, missing is the ballad “Sign of Hope“, their 2020 standalone download-only lockdown single. Hopefully we’ll get a physical release of that eventually, though with the world now emerging it seems less relevant.

Though there are a couple songs that strive to be as good as the others, there’s nothing here worthy of the skip button. Even with the bonus tracks, Rock Believer is a solid listen from front to back. You cannot go wrong with either version, so just get one. Lockdown sucked and it was good to know Scorpions were using the time to create new music. Let’s support them in their efforts and celebrate their success.

5/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

Part Eight of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Pyromania deluxe (2009)

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983 (2009 deluxe edition)

Leppard were riding high when they hit the L.A. Forum in 1983.  Pyromania was selling hot enough that every kid in the neighbourhood had heard at least one of its singles on the radio.  MTV was factoring in now, and its impact can’t be understated.  Leppard had some high budget and good looking videos on offer.  Their live show was just as impressive.

Widely bootlegged, the second night in Los Angeles must have felt like a victory lap, even though there were still months left on the tour.  They hit the stage psyched to perform.  Earlier, Frank Zappa phoned up to ask if he could score some tickets for his kids, Moon Unit and Dweezil.  Members of Van Halen and Heart were in attendance.  Best of all, Queen legend Brian May was in town, and he surprised  Leppard by playing them the twin guitar part of their hit “Photohraph” all by himself!

Remixed and remastered, the second L.A. show is now easily available on the Pyromania deluxe edition — the first official release of a live album with Steve Clark, although it did not come until 2009.

“Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” is a natural opener.  Since it already opened Pyromania itself, it was well suited, but its extended (taped) intro made for a dramatic band entrance.  Joe’s road-worn scream is employed to great effect.  Even so slightly faster than LP, “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” defined the mood.  Rock rock till you drop indeed!  Keeping with the “Rock” theme, “Rock Brigade” was locked and loaded for the second spot.  It sounds fresh with Phil Collen on lead guitar and backing vocals.  His solo is balls-out technical, and completely unlike those of Pete Willis.

Joe pauses to say “good evening”, and then it’s straight into “Saturday Night (High ‘N’ Dry)”.  This ode to getting wasted from 1981 is not a vast departure from the album version despite Phil amping up the guitar work.  Into “Another Hit and Run”, it’s pure adrenaline and foot on the gas pedal.  Screaming into the ether, Joe sings of youthful self-destruction.  It turns into a jam towards the end, before careening through the finish line.

“Billy’s Got a Gun” is one of those songs that can get a bit rickety live, but this version is solid.  The excellent “Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes” follows, and it’s very slightly revised to increase the tension.  Some won’t notice the differences.  As usual, the chorus kills.  It’s been all album cuts thus far, and no hits.  But then Joe invites Steve Clark to the spotlight to play an acoustic guitar solo, which becomes “Foolin'”, the first of the three massive hits rolled out in a row.  This might be considered the center of the show:  “Foolin'”, “Photograph” and (a slightly fast) “Rock of Ages”.  Each one a perfect gem, but with the live edge intact.  To take it over the top, a ragged “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”, Leppard’s other recognisable hit, is rolled out immediately after.  What do you do for an encore?  We’ll get to that.

“Switch 625” follows “Heartbreak” as it should.  With the hits behind them, Leppard spend the end of the set rocking really, really heavy.  “Switch 625” is already a steamer, but it’s followed by “Let It Go”, “Wasted” and an encore tease, and then “Stagefright”.  Clearly, this setlist was designed to rock!  “Wasted” in particular stands out from this trio.  Phil’s blazing solo technique adds that extra dimension to the song, but it is just as amped up and the best versions from the early years.

But “Stagefright” isn’t the real encore.

“Right, I said we got a surprise for ya.  And we have a big one at that.  Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome all the way from England — Queen’s Brian May!”

Queen were not on tour, but they were in Los Angeles recording their 1984 album The Works.  The long friendship between Leppard and Queen began right here.  A cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelling Band” is the earliest recording of Joe and May together, but certainly not the last!  This is not only a piece of history, but it’s a brilliant track!  Joe’s screaming voice is strangely well suited to an overblown CCR cover.  But hearing the guitar trio solo together, each with their own style, is the real icing on the cake.  May is so creamy!

There are no other live releases from the Pyromania era, and the band’s sound transformed permanently when they next hit the road.  This live album is the end of an era, and an excellent good time of it too.

5/5 stars

The Pyromania tour wrapped up 18 December in Dortmund Germany, another two-nighter.  Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, Rick Allen had the car accident that severed his left arm.  In a heartbreaking twist, the arm was reattached, but after an infection set in, had to be removed again.  This devastating tragedy united the band.  Ambulance-chasers were ready and waiting to take the drum stool away from Rick Allen, but the band refused to see it as the end for the drummer.  We all know what happens next.  It was total Hysteria!

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  • Hysteria

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania (1983)

Part Seven of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Pyromania deluxe (1983)

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania (1983 Polygram)

Disruption!  Midway through the recording of Def Leppard’s crucial third album, guitarist Pete Willis was fired.  It had been coming for a while.  His alleged alcohol consumption was causing problems and the band had their eye on Phil Collen from Girl already.  They were lucky to get Phil, as he had already been approached about joining Iron Maiden to replace Dennis Stratton.

This was serious.  Once again working with “Mutt” Lange, whose schedule was booked solid, time was money.  And music, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a business.  The third Def Leppard album was critical.  The potential of the band was not underestimated.  “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” made the top 20 in the US and the new album was intended to do better.  Lange has a songwriting credit on every song, indicating the level to which he was involved to make the album as perfect as could be.  It took 10 months to record, a mind-numbingly long time to the young band.  If only they knew….

Pete Willis had writing credits on four songs, including two singles.  With rhythm guitars laid down on all tracks by Willis, Collen just needed to whip up a few solos and finish off some bits and pieces.  He and Steve Clark made a formidable duo.  Collen had a more schooled sound than Willis and the contrast added a new dimension to Leppard’s solos.  Meanwhile, the songs were streamlined.  Sleaker, more hooks per minute, more direct…more commercial.

Some feel this is where Def Leppard started to go over the cliff.  The majority probably see it as Def Leppard becoming the real Def Leppard.

The opening music would have been familiar to anyone who caught Def Leppard live in the early years.  “Medicine Man” was an early track with an absolutely killer Clark riff.  With Mutt’s help they re-wrote it into the now-esteemed “Rock! Rock! Till You Drop”, but that riff is still the main feature.  After the headbanging commences, a screamin’ Joe Elliott lays down one of his most raging lead vocals.  Collen’s style is audible from the solo; a fretburner.  “Rock! Rock!” isn’t really that far off from High ‘N’ Dry, but you can tell it’s spent more time at the polishing wheel.  The production also seems colder and more clinical.

The triumphant “Photograph” really showed where Leppard were going.  Sure there’s a riff, but the main features here are the vocal melodies and harmonies.  Noticeable keyboard accents de-clawed the Leppard, and the sweetened harmonies have the full-on Mutt Lange treatment that you hear elsewhere with Bryan Adams and Billy Ocean.  None of that is necessarily a bad thing, but this is where Def Leppard decidedly left the New Wave of British Heavy Metal behind them.  “Photograph” went to #1 in the United States.  Mission accomplished.

Track three, “Stagefright” opens with a faux-live intro and a biting riff.  Credited to Joe Elliott, Mutt Lange and Rick Savage, it’s surprisingly one of the heaviest songs.  Back then Joe’s voice could deliver both menace and melody simultaneously, and he does that here.

While not a deep cut (#9 US), “Too Late For Love” is a lesser-known classic.  No music video was made though they did a lip-synched TV appearance that later ended up on their home video Historia.  A dark ballad with edge, “Too Late For Love” has cool atmosphere and just the right amount of scream.

“Die Hard the Hunter” opens with synthesised war sound effects and a soft guitar melody that deceives into thinking it’s another ballad; but no.  This rocker burns hot, but damn those drums are really sample-y sounding.  Rick Allen had a better sound on High ‘N’ Dry, but of course the times were changing.  Eliminator by ZZ Top was out the same year.

One of the big singles (#9 US once again) is the undeniable “Foolin'”.  Mixing rocker and ballad formulas, it set a template for bands to attempt to copy on their way up the charts.  The stuttering chorus is now a Leppard hallmark, and not a second of the song is boring.

You can imagine, spending 10 months in the studio, how monotonous some tasks must be, take after take after take.  The simple act of counting in a band — one, two, three, four — must be tedious the hundreth time.  Perhaps the next time, to stave off boredom, it’s uno, dos, tres, quatro.  Then something else, language by language until finally you end up with “gunter, glieben, glauten, globen”, a nonsense phrase that sounds vaguely Germanic.  And suddenly, without knowing it, you’ve created a catchphrase.  At least that’s how it happened for Mutt Lange on “Rock of Ages”!

That’s the story of “Rock of Ages” (#1 US), one of Leppard most irresistible hits, and also one indicative of the shift in Leppard’s sound.  A very synth-y bassline and tech-y drums stamp out a a robotic 80s groove that was destined for radio and video stardom.  The chorus was even more potent.  “What do you want?” yells the band in harmony.  “I want rock and roll!” you respond, fist in the air.  It all seems very contrived, and perhaps it was.  Is that so bad?  Back then, it really felt like you had to fight for rock and roll.  It seemed every church and every politician wanted to neuter rock bands.  A good, defiant, radio-ready smash hit like “Rock of Ages” tapped into the 80s.

The killer deep cut here is called “Comin’ Underfire” which, had there been five singles, would have made a fine fifth.  Tapping into the angst and tension of earlier tracks like “Lady Strange” and “Mirror, Mirror”, this is nothing but awesome wrapped up in a taut chorus like a bow.  Steady, strong, and loaded with hooks.  Pete Willis had a hand in writing it, demonstrating the guitarist’s often overlooked value.

Another wicked deep cut is the terrifically fun “Action! Not Words”, which, if there was a sixth single… Anyway, the slippery slide-y riff is reinforced by a simple and effective chorus.  Let’s face it, there’s very little fat on Pyromania.

If anything, perhaps it’s the closing track “Billy’s Got a Gun” that might be the the only one that could be argued as filler.  Laid back and emoting a dangerous vibe, it’s less exciting than the preceding material.  It is, however, the closer, which has to draw the album to a proper close, and end it on the right vibe.  “Billy’s Got a Gun” does the job.  The album concludes with a song that feels like an ending, especially with that “bang bang” at the end.

A brief record-spinning coda is tacked at the end of the album for those who let it play all the way to the end.  It probably fooled a few kids into thinking their turntable was broken, as the record seemingly spins fast and slow, over and over.

There were no B-sides or bonus tracks recorded.  No extras, no unreleased songs.  Talk about having your eye on the prize!

Pyromania had broad appeal.  The numbers showed it.  It put Leppard in the big leagues.  To date it has sold 10 million copies in the US.  It was the end of obscurity.  The band toured relentlessly.  Though they did not release a live album, the 2009 Pyromania deluxe edition contains one from the L.A. Forum in 1983.  We’ll look at that next time.

5/5 stars

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  • Pyromania bonus disc Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – The Very Best of Jethro Tull (2001)

JETHRO TULL – The Very Best of Jethro Tull (2001 Chrysalis)

Every fan had their first Jethro Tull purchase.  Mine was 20 years ago, with their newly released Very Best of Jethro Tull.  Why not?  I was working at the Record Store when a used-but-mint copy dropped in my lap for only $8 (staff discount).  It was only right of me to ensure it got a good home.

Unlike some “hits” compilations, this one didn’t strike with clusters of songs I wanted to focus on in the future.  Other compilations can do that.  For example I decided to hone in on the Brian Robertson Motorhead album immediately after hearing a double best-of.  With The Very Best of Jethro Tull, I liked it all equally.  I just wanted to get them all, with no particular priority.  It all sounded great to me.

The album is non-chronological and contains some edit versions.  “Thick As A Brick” is cut down from 44 minutes to just three — makes sense.  They chose the first three minutes, which are ojectively the best known.   Other edits are the single versions of “Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die” and “Minstrel in the Gallery”, while “Heavy Horses” gets a new edit bringing it from nine minutes to a more single-like three.  The songs span the 1968 debut This Was to 1995’s Roots to Branches.  Several albums are not represented at all, such as Benefit, A Passion Play, A, Stormwatch, Under Wraps, Rock Island, Catfish Rising, and J-Tull.com.  Justifiable?  That’s up to personal taste.  Several non-album singles are included instead, such as the well known “Living In the Past” and the wicked string-laden “Sweet Dream”.

The album has an excellent flow, only interrupted with the synth-y “Steel Monkey” from 1987’s Grammy-winning Crest of a Knave.  Preceded by the savage “Locomotive Breath” and followed by the tender picking of “Thick as a Brick”, it doesn’t fit in except as a speedbump.  If I may be so bold, I believe “Steel Monkey” was included simply because it would be odd not to include something off that controversial Grammy winner.

While I enjoyed all the songs, the one that stood out particularly strong was “Bourée”. I never heard Bach swing like that before! The diversity of this CD, spanning all styles of rock from progressive to blues to folksy. Yes, the flute can rock and Ian Anderson is the Eddie Van Halen of the instrument.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Faith No More – We Care a Lot (Deluxe Band Edition)

FAITH NO MORE – We Care a Lot (Originally 1985, 2016 Deluxe Band Edition)

In 1985, roughly when a young band called Mr. Bungle was forming elsewhere in California, the legendary Faith No More released their debut album.  Original pressings and reissues have the band name written as “Faith. No More.”  It was a version of their name that they’d soon drop.  The lineup of Chuck Mosely, Jim Martin, Roddy Bottum, Billy Gould and Mike Bordin put together a low-budget debut that garnered them enough attention for their next album to be distruibuted by Warner.  A viable career as a rock band followed.  As a result of this fruitful career, in 2016 We Care a Lot was officially reissued with a load of bonus tracks and full participation from producer Matt Wallace.  As the liner notes say, “We’re putting this out because we can.”

This reissue includes four demos, and interestingly they reveal that there was an instrumental “Intro” for this album that was apparently dropped.  This sci-fi, keyboard-led intro would have been an interesting way to kick off the album with some atmosphere and foreboding.  (For a custom listening experience, try playing the album with the instrumental first.)  The disc instead commences directly with “We Care A Lot”, the first version mind you, not the hit single you know.  The sound is a tad more primitive and the lyrics were different in several places.  The “NASA Shuttle” hadn’t fallen into the sea yet in 1985, so it is Los Angeles that Chuck cares a lot about it.  Instead of the Transformers, he gives a shout-out to Mr. T.

“Jungle” is a disorienteing series of head-punches with reverse-echo.  A jagged Jim Martin riff and staggering Mike Bordin drum pattern makes it a relentless slam.  Chuck Mosely sounds frantic, unstable and urgent.  The same relentless approach pounds your head on “Mark Bowen”, slower but no less imposing.  Though Chuck is all over the map with his scattershot vocals, the band is solidly ominous behind him.

An absolutely beautiful acoustic interlude called “Jim” reveals a previously unknown part of Martin’s talents.  Though less articulate, this kind of composition sounds like the ones Randy Rhodes would include on an Ozzy record.  And just like with Ozzy, next it’s something heavy to slam.  That something is “Why Do You Bother”, the original side one closer.  Tense and rhythmic, it’s a tornado of fun.

Side two boasts several standout tracks.  Certainly “As the Worm Turns” has earned its place in Faith No More history, since Mike Patton re-recorded it in the studio and performed it live numerous times.  Its cascading keyboard melody contrasts with the heavy riff.  This version is rougher, but no less perfect.  “Greed”, which opens the side, is also notable.  It reads like a rejection letter from record labels.  “They say that when I’m supposed to be singin’, all I’m really doin’ is yelling!”  Though one doesn’t think Chuck would have been sensitive to such criticism, he does seem stung that “they say that I can’t sing, that I don’t say a thing, that I make everything up.”  But he defiantly strikes back with a heartfelt melody delivered at maximum intensity.

For thunder, check out “Pills for Breakfast”, another instrumental anchored by a Jim Martin riff that could move mountains.  Martin’s guitar gives “Arabian Disco” a solid spine, and Mosely shoves in as much melody as he’s got to give.  Only here at the tail end of the album does the quality of the songs dip at all.  “New Beginnings” is too laid back compared to the rest of the disc, bordering on dull.

Faith No More have been blessed with a number of (arguably) 5/5 star albums in a row:  Introduce Yourself (1987), The Real Thing (1989), Angel Dust (1991) and King For a Day (1995).  We Care A Lot isn’t quite at that lofty point yet, but it wouldn’t take long.  Chuck Mosely’s unique approach of “yelling when he’s supposed to be singing” isn’t for everything and wasn’t fully harnessed in the studio until the next album.  But all the ingredients are here, on the first record, ready to explode in every direction.  Fortunately for you, this CD edition goes on for another nine bonus tracks!

Some 2016 remixes by Matt Wallace add more punch to the originals:  “We Care A Lot”, “Pills For Breakfast”, and “As The Worm Turns” are given the remix treatment.  Less echo; louder and punchier guitars.  No structural changes.  Three of the best tracks were selected, and sound great if played on a shuffle with later Faith No More classics.  The next batch of bonus tracks are four demos (including the aforementioned “Intro”).  Dig into early version of “Greed”, “Mark Bowen” and “Arabian Disco”.  The arrangements are all more or less intact, and the recording is so good that they could have been released long before.

Finally there are two live tracks from San Francisco in 1986.  “Jungle” (with a segue into “Shout” by Tears For Fears) and “New Beginnings” are bootleg quality, but look what they have done in terms of track selection.  There are no songs repeated among the bonus tracks.  Between the demos, remixes and live versions, eight of the album’s ten are present in alternate versions.  That’s value for the consumer.

Snag We Care A Lot if you see one in the wild, but absolutely aim for the 2016 Deluxe Band Edition.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: ZZ Top – Chrome, Smoke & BBQ (2003 limited edition BBQ shack)

ZZ TOP –  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ (2003 Warner limited edition BBQ shack version)

Though it seems an outlandish thought today, there was once a time when if you desired to hear original ZZ Top music, you couldn’t do that on CD.  You had to purchase original ZZ Top LPs.  In 1987, most of the original ZZ Top albums were issued on CD as part of the ZZ Top Six Pack, which featured remixed percussion to make them sound more like Eliminator and Afterburner.  Needless to say this was a very unpopular idea, though it didn’t stop the Six Pack from selling.  The original ZZ Top albums were finally given a CD reissue in 2013.  Until then, your best bet on compact disc was to buy the 4 CD Chrome, Smoke & BBQ anthology.

Because Chrome, Smoke & BBQ features original mixes and a helping of rarities, it still makes for an enjoyable listen and valuable collectible today.  The limited edition version came housed in a box like a little BBQ shack, but both have the same four discs of bluesy, greasy ZZ rock.  A well-assembled anthology can make for a great listen even well after its expiry date, and this is one such set.

Disc 1 of Chrome, Smoke & BBQ features three tracks from Billy Gibbons’ first band the Moving Sidewalks.  The guitar work is brilliant even in Billy’s youth.  These tracks are notably more psychedelic than ZZ Top.  The year was 1969, the same year as the first ZZ Top single “Miller’s Farm” / “Salt Lick”.  This early version of ZZ Top (credited as “embryonic ZZ Top”) was a transition from Moving Sidewalks and didn’t feature Frank Beard nor Dusty Hill.  Organ on a ZZ Top song is an unusual sound, and it’s quite prominent on “Miller’s Farm”.  It’s a pretty standard blues with the emphasis on the keys and with one foot solidly in 60s rock.  “Salt Lick” has a bit more of the mid-tempo ZZ groove, but the with the organ still part of the whole.  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ remains the easiest way to obtain this rare single.

ZZ Top’s First Album takes the spotlight next with three tracks including “Brown Sugar”, the first “real” ZZ Top track.  An impactful one it is, and so obviously ZZ Top.  It seems by the time the right three guys got together, the ZZ Top sound was born.  “Brown Sugar” is so essential to the ZZ Top sound that maybe the box set should have opened with it, chronology be damned!  Dusty’s pulse on bass is already present, and Frank’s sheer style adds some much needed character.  Then “Just Got Back From Baby’s” has the spare nocturnal blues that is a ZZ signature.

The next three ZZ Top albums – Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres and Fandango! are featured much more prominently with seven tracks apiece.  This part of the set is deep with essential music.  “Francene”, obviously “Francene”, the catchiest song during this part of history, is present and accounted for.  (Even in Spanish!)  For relentless groove, ZZ Top never nailed one as hard as “Just Got Paid”, slide guitar right in the pocket.  “Chevrolet” showed how they could just lay back.  For shuffles, “Bar-B-Q” got the spice you need.  “Sure Got Cold After the Rain” covers the sad, spare blues that Billy’s guitar can evoke.  The music goes on, and on:  “La Grange”, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers”, “Heard It on the X”, “Blue Jean Blues”, “Tush”.  Though the songs in between are all excellent as well, it’s hard to ignore the hit power of these tracks.

Six tracks from Tejas feature on this set, still more than half the album.  The ZZ Top direction was gradually making tentative steps towards modernizing.  “It’s Only Love”, a bluesy country pop, sounds like something new.  They hadn’t left anything behind though, as told by the menacing “Arrested for Driving While Blind”.  It’s a cleaner, more studio-driven sound, as heard on “El Diablo” with its subtle overdubs and dynamics.  “Enjoy and Get it On” is a nice sentiment, with the slide all greased up and ready to go.  Two of the most interesting of the Tejas tracks are the quiet instrumental “Asleep in the Desert” and the twangy “She’s a Heartbreaker”.

At this point ZZ Top took a break to decompress after years of consecutive touring and recording.  The Best of ZZ Top came out during this break, but what was going on behind the scenes was to be far more important down the road.  ZZ Top’s image began its final evolution when Gibbons and Hill returned from vacation with matching full length beards. Their next album Degüello allowed the music to evolve as well.  Six songs from Degüello represent this period, along with a rare radio spot advertising the album.

ZZ Top’s cover of Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You” is iconic enough that many people probably assume it’s an original.  What was original was “Cheap Sunglasses”, a staggering hangover of a track — the new ZZ Top.  Same with “Maniac Mechanic”, a track so bizarre that you could mistake it for Zappa.  Meanwhile “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” has the laid back, cruisin’ ZZ Top vibe that fans always loved.  “A Fool For Your Stockings” showed that Gibbons could still play the blues, too.

Another six tracks from El Loco account for the last hits before the MTV generation took hold.  “Leila”, a 50s inspired ballad is clearly an experiment albeit a successful one.  As is the surf rocker “Tube Snake Boogie”, a track unlike any ZZ Top ever attempted before.  Another ballad, “It’s So Hard” is not out of place, with its roots in soul music.  “Pearl Necklace” has surf vibes but is most memorable for its dirty double entendre.  “Heaven, Hell or Houston” is even weirder than “Maniac Mechanic”.  It’s quite clear that ZZ Top were stretching out, while still maintaining a foot in their bluesy, rock and roll roots.

And then came MTV, the music videos, the car, and the girls.  The music was laden with sequencers and electronic percussion, but this unlikely combination is the one that really struck oil.  Black gold, Texas tea, and platinum records.  Eight tracks from Eliminator are included here, almost the whole album minus three.  Only “Thug”, “I Need You Tonight” and “Bad Girl” are left behind.  So you get all the hits, and then some.  “I Got the Six” had to be on here, a dirty but slick little favourite from the day.  “Dirty Dog” is a fun also-ran too, but didn’t need to be on a box set.

When ZZ Top found their successful formula, they really ran with it, right into the next album Afterburner.  As we know a sequel rarely tops an original, but the album still features eight songs, and this is where Chrome, Smoke & BBQ begins to stumble.  By featuring so many songs from this period, the box set is really unfairly weighted.  Surely another few tracks could have been included from ZZ Top’s First Album instead of so many from Afterburner and Recycler.  “Can’t Stop Rockin'” and “Woke Up With Wood” could have been dropped, but let’s keep “Sleeping Bag”, “Stages”, “Rough Boy”, Delirious, “Velcro Fly”,  and “Planet of Women”.  Around Afterburner, ZZ Top had taken their music to its most commercial extreme.  They decided to reduce, though not remove, technology on the third album of the MTV trilogy Recycler.  Notable from this period:  “Concrete and Steel”, “My Head’s In Mississippi”, “Give It Up”, “2000 Blues” and “Doubleback”.

ZZ Top switched from Warner to RCA for their next studio album 1994’s Antenna, and nothing from that era onwards is included.  There is still some more music on this box set to enjoy.  In 1990, ZZ Top recorded a cover of “Reverberation (Doubt)” by Roky Erickson for the tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye.  Gratefully, this ZZ Top rarity is included here.  You can note the Recycler-era sequencers, but they compliment the psychedelic track nicely.  This is followed by the two “new” songs that ZZ Top recorded for 1992’s Greatest Hits.  “The corniest Elvis song ever” is “Viva Las Vegas”, sung by Dusty Hill, and overproduced to the gills.  Huge hit of course.  “Gun Love” is also included.

Disc 4 ends with six “medium rare” tracks.  Some are actually super rare.  These include a spanish version of “Francene” with Dusty Hill singing.  It sounds like thie audio could be taken from an actual vinyl single.  A live version of “Cheap Sunglasses” comes from a 1980 promo-only single, and it smokes.  Then there are some dance mixes from 12″ singles, easily the most skippable part of this box set.  None of these will be played regularly by you, the listener.  Especially not “Viva Las Vegas”.

The booklet included with Chrome, Smoke & BBQ is impressive on its own.  It’s packed with music and text, including a track by track commentary by the band.  “Seems like all our songs are about dicks and pussies,” says Frank Beard.

Limited edition box sets are fun to get while they last.  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ boasts its box shaped like a steel shack, including corrugated roof.  (It’s actually great because it doesn’t collect dust!)  Include the box, all four CDs are safely housed in individual jewel cases.  If you dig inside a little more you’ll find cut-out characters to add to your BBQ shack display.  You could scan and print these cut-outs yourself.  Enjoy a picnic table, ribs, sausages, cacti, and of course the guys from ZZ Top themselves (on a bike, or disembarked).  Also hidden in the box is an animated flip-book.  See the video below for a quick demonstration.

As with many box sets, tracklists could use a little tweaking and everybody will have their own ideas for how to fix that.  Perhaps instead of dumping all those remixes at the end, they could have been included chronologically so the set doesn’t end on such a…tepid concept as the extended dance remix.  The set could certainly use some balancing away from Afterburner and Recycler with more focus on the earlier stuff.  The exclusive rarities are adequate and appropriate for a set of this stature.  Not too few, not too many.  The ZZ Top completist will want this set for them and will still enjoy giving it a complete spin from time to time.

The regular edition will do nicely, but if you can find a complete limited version for a good price, don’t hesitate to snag it.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Whitesnake – The Purple Tour (2017 CD/Blu-ray set)

WHITESNAKE – The Purple Tour (2017 Rhino CD/Blu-ray set)

David Coverdale releases so much Whitesnake product (most of it worthwhile) that it is easy for the odd live album to slip between the cracks.  After he felt recharged by 2015’s The Purple Album, Coverdale released a live album and video from that tour.  This is not long after the four live CDs that make up Made in Britain and Made in Japan, so what does The Purple Tour offer that is different?

More Purple, obviously.  Of the 13 tracks on CD, five are Deep Purple covers.  There are an additional three more in 5.1 surround sound on the Blu-ray.

They open with “Burn” which leather-lunged David struggles with a bit right out of the box.  Fortunately his capable backing band can handle the supporting vocals, though it sounds sweetened after the fact.

This lineup of Whitesnake, which is still the current one featuring guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra, bassist Michael Devin, drummer Tommy Aldridge, and keyboardist Michele Luppi, is particularly good.  Whitesnake can never simply revert back to being a blues band.  John Sykes and Steve Vai made certain that Whitesnake would always have to have a couple shredders on hand.  When Beach and Hoestra get their hands on a Purple (or Whitesnake) oldie, they generally heavy it up by a few notches.

You could consider the setlist to be a surface-level “the classics of David Coverdale” concert.  No new material, nothing later than 1987.  It’s cool that some standby’s like “Slow An’ Easy” were jettisoned in favourite of even older tracks like “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”.  It’s fun to hear “The Gypsy” instead of something better known.  Another Purple classic, a heavy version of “You Fool No One” from Burn goes down a treat, with plenty of tight interplay.

The Blu-ray disc includes some more obscure treasures.  “You Keep On Moving”, “Stormbringer” and “Lay Down Stay Down” fill in some of the Deep Purple blanks.  A dual solo with Reb and Joel called “Lotsanotes” is also the fun kind of addition that usually gets axed from a live album.  You’ll also find a music video for “Burn” and a fun interview with Joel and Reb conducted by Michael Devin.  These guys love their jobs.

But just who is this album for?  Don’t Whitesnake have enough live stuff by now?  Yes — they certainly do.  So this album is for two groups of people.  1) Those of us who have to have “everything.”  2) Somone who hasn’t bought a Whitesnake in a long time, but is curious what they sound like these days.  For those folks, they won’t be “bogged down” by anything new.  They will only get David and his crack band tackling the oldies.  Pull the trigger if that sounds like something you’re into.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Slip of the Tongue (6 CD/1 DVD 30th Anniversary box set)

WHITESNAKE – Slip of the Tongue (originally 1989, 2019 (6 CD/1 DVD 30th Anniversary Rhino box set)

There’s a theme you may have noticed every time we review a Whitesnake box set:  David does it right.

Here’s another one:  Coverdale cares.

Slip of the Tongue gets the super-deluxe treatment this time, the third of the “big three” to go that way.  This is the album that divided fans the most.  Replacing Vivian Campbell was none other than ex-David Lee Roth stringbender Steve Vai.

“What the hell would that sound like?” we all wondered.

Longtime Whitesnake fans felt it was a step too far into the world nebulously defined as “hair metal”.  Others loved the guitar mania inside, with Vai stretching out in ways different from his prior bands.  Not the “definitive” Vai record that they still wanted (and would get a year later), but certainly a platter they could sink their teeth into.  And it was a weird reason that Steve was playing on Slip of the Tongue at all.

As you’ll see from a feature on the included DVD (“A Look Back: Whitesnake Chronicles with DC and Adrian Vandenberg”), the album was written and thoroughly demoed with Adrian.  They wouldn’t need a guitarist until it was time to tour.  At this point, Adrian injured his wrist and was unable to finish.  Steve Vai and David Coverdale found that they got along famously and the seven-string wizard brought his unique and advanced stylings to the blues-based Whitesnake.

What the hell would it sound like?

It sounds absolutely mental.

With the benefit of now hearing all the demos that Adrian laid down, it’s obvious Steve Vai didn’t just pick up his guitar and play the parts.  It’s clear right from opener “Slip of the Tongue”.  Compare the album to Adrian’s demos on the other discs.  Vai changes one of the chord progressions to high-pitched harmonics, and, let’s face it, improves the song.  Elsewhere there are unique trick-filled runs and fills that add another dimension to the music.  If Whitesnake was always 3D rock, Vai upped it to 4.  The guitar work is blazingly busy, never cliche, and always to the advancement of the song.  With all respect to Adrian Vandenberg who wrote these great songs, Steve Vai was more than just icing on a cake.  Slip of the Tongue arguably sounds more a Vai album than Whitesnake, even though he didn’t write any of it.

The beauty of this set is that if you’re more into ‘Snake than alien love secrets, you can finally hear the purity of Adrian’s vision in the multitude of early demos included.

Unfortunately, if you’re familiar with the album you’ll hear something’s up by track 2.  “Kitten’s Got Claws”?  That song used to close side one.  What’s up?  The album running order has been tampered with, and so has “Kitten’s Got Claws”.  It’s now missing the Steve Vai “cat guitar symphony” that used to open it.  It could be a different remix altogether.  My advice is to hang on to your original Slip of the Tongue CD.  You’re probably going to still want to hear the album and song as they were.

This running order puts “Cheap An’ Nasty” third, a song that structurally resembles the ol’ Slide It In Whitesnake vibe.  Of course Vai’s space age squeals and solos modernized it.  Listen to that whammy bar insanity at the 2:00 mark!  Up next is “Now You’re Gone”, a classy rocker/ballad hybrid that has always been an album highlight.  The demos on the other discs allow us to hear how much this song was improved in the final touches.  That cool answering vocal in the chorus, and the hooks that Vai added, came much later.  Strangely, this box set puts the other ballad, “The Deeper the Love”, up next.  Keyboard overdubs made it a little too smooth around the edges, but a good song it remains.

The Zeppelinesque “Judgement Day” is a track that used to piss off some fans, who felt it was an abject rip off from “Kashmir”.  The Vai touch of sitar (replacing guitar in the early demos) probably aided and abetted this.  Regardless it succeeds in being the big rock epic of the album, and a favourite today.  Another strange choice in running order follows:  “Sailing Ships”, formerly the album closer.  It’s quite shocking to hear it in this slot.  Again, Vai replaced guitar with sitar, and David goes contemplative.  Then suddenly, it gets heavy and Steve takes it to the stratosphere.

“Wings of the Storm” used to open side two; now it’s after “Sailing Ships”.  Some tasty Tommy Aldridge double bass drums kick off this tornado of a tune.  Vai’s multitracks of madness and pick-scrapes of doom are something to behold.  Then it’s “Slow Poke Music”, a sleazy rocker like old ‘Snake.

The new version of Slip of the Tongue closes on “Fool for Your Loving”, a re-recording of an old classic from Ready An’ Willing.  The new version is an accelerated Vai vehicle, lightyears away from its origins.  Coverdale initially wrote it to give to B.B. King.  Vai is as far removed from B.B. King as you can imagine.  The original has the right vibe, laid back and urgent.  This one is just caffeinated.

The only album B-side “Sweet Lady Luck” is the first bonus track on Disc 1.  By now it is the least-rare B-side in the universe, having been reissued on a multitude of Whitesnake and Vai collections.  Valuable to have to complete the album, but easy to acquire.  It’s basically a second-tiered speed rocker with the guitar as the focus.  Other B-sides from this era were remixes, and they are included here as well.  The Chris Lord-Alge mix of “Now Your Gone” is the kind that most people won’t know the difference. Vai said that Lord-Alge could make the cymbals sound “like they have air in them.”  Then there’s the “Vai Voltage Mix” of “Fool for Your Loving”, which has completely different guitar tracks building an arrangement with way, way, way more emphasis on the instrument.  The rest of the disc is packed with four more alternate remixes:  “Slip of the Tongue”, “Cheap An’ Nasty”, “Judgement Day” and “Fool for Your Loving”.  These mixes have some bits and pieces different from the album cuts.  Vai fans will want the alternate solo to “Cheap An’ Nasty”, though it’s less whammy mad.

Of course, “Sweet Lady Luck” wasn’t the only song that didn’t make the album.  In old vintage interviews, Coverdale teased the names of additional tracks we didn’t get to hear:  “Parking Ticket”, “Kill for the Cut”, and “Burning Heart”.  They’ve been safely buried in Coverdale’s vault, until now.  Additionally, it turns out that Whitesnake also re-recorded a couple more of their old songs:  “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” and “We Wish You Well”.  They’re all here in different forms on the demo discs.

Perhaps “Kill for the Cut” would have been one dirty song too many for the album.  It ain’t half bad, and has a unique little bumpin’ riff.  “Parking Ticket” had potential too.  Rudy Sarzo gave it a pulse that might have taken it on the radio.  The 1989 monitor mix would have been perfect for B-side release.  Why did Cov have to hold out on us all these years?  “Burning Heart” was a special song, a re-recording of an old Vandenberg track that David really loved.  Unfortunately the monitor mix is is only a skeleton of what could have been a sensational Whitesnake ballad.  “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” is heavily modernized, with keyboards sounding like they were trying to recapture “Here I Go Again” (which they were).  “We Wish You Well” is more contemplative, with piano as the focus.

All of this previously unheard material is scattered over several discs.  “Evolutions” (Disc 3) is a familiar concept to fans of these box sets.  Demos from various stages of completion are spliced together into one cohesive track.   You will be able to hear the songs “evolve” as the band worked on them.  Every track from the album plus “Sweet Lady Luck”, “Parking Ticket” and “Kill for the Cut” can be heard this way.  Disc 4 is a collection of monitor mixes with all the album songs and all the unreleased ones too.  These discs are the ones that allow us to really hear the album the way it would have been if Adrian didn’t hurt his wrist.  We would have got an album that sounded a lot more like Whitesnake.  It was audibly different even if familiar.

Perhaps the best disc in the entire set is “A Trip to Granny’s House:  Session Tapes, Wheezy Interludes & Jams”.  It’s just as loose as it sounds.  Enjoy the funk of “Death Disco”, the funkiest David’s been since Come Taste the Band.  If you’ve always wanted to hear David sing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree”, now you finally can!  There’s a lot of goofing off in some of these tracks, but also a lot of rock.  It’s live off the floor as they rehearse the songs, as a four piece band with Adrian.  Not all the final lyrics or solos are set, but the songs are so raw and fresh.  Some of the jams show a side of Whitesnake we rarely got to see.  Kind of Purple-y in the way they just could take off and rip some blues.

 

Given all the rich audio extras, it’s OK if one of the CDs is a little impoverished.  That would be disc 2, “The Wagging Tongue Edition”.  This is a reproduction of an old promo CD, featuring the album Slip of the Tongue with a Dirty David interview interspersed.  This was meant for radio premieres.  It has the entire album in the correct order, but because it’s faded in and out of interviews, it’s really not a substitute for a proper copy of the original album.  At least the vintage 1989 interviews are interesting.  It saves collectors from buying a copy on Discogs.  (Coverdale claims “Judgement Day” was originally titled “Up Yours Robert”.  Ooft.)

There’s another disappointment here and it’s difficult to forgive.  In 2011, Whitesnake released the long awaited Live at Donington as a 2 CD/1 DVD package.  This brilliant performance finally gave us a permanent record of Whitesnake live with Vai.  In our previous dedicated review, we had this to say:

Musically, it’s a wild ride. It’s not the Steve Vai show. Adrian gets just as many solos, and his are still spine-tingling if more conventional. It is loaded with ‘Snake hits, leaning heavily on the three Geffen albums. In fact there is only one pre-Slide It In song included: The Bobby “Blue” Bland cover “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”.  And, since it is also the pre-grunge era, there are plenty of solos, which today seems excessive.  Aldridge does his drum solo at the end of “Still Of The Night”. Vandenberg gets his “Adagio for Strato”/”Flying Dutchman Boogie”. Most excitingly, Steve Vai performs two songs from his then-brand new (and top 40!) album Passion And Warfare: “For The Love Of God” and “The Audience Is Listening”, with Aldridge on drums. Coverdale even introduces him as “Mr. Passion and Warfare!” so I imagine there was no sour grapes that Vai’s album was doing so well. And lemme tell ya folks — the audience WAS listening, and going nuts too!

Unfortunately, to save a little bit of plastic, this set was reduced to a single CD for its inclusion here.  The Vai and Adrian solos were cut, though Tommy’s drum solo in “Still of the Night” is retained.  To cut the guitar solos in such a guitar focused boxed set is not only unwise but unforgivable.  Fans who don’t have Live at Donington are going to want to shell out again just to get the solos.  Fortunately, the whole show is uncut on the included DVD.

The DVD has plenty of added value; it’s not just a reissue of Live at Donington.  You’ll get the three music videos from the album (“Now You’re Gone”, “The Deeper the Love” and “Fool for Your Loving”).  There’s even a brand new clip for “Sweet Lady Luck” cobbled together from existing video. Then, you can go deeper into the album. The aforementioned sitdown with David and Adrian is really enlightening.  Another behind the scenes feature narrated by David is fantastic for those who love to watch a band create in the studio.  Coverdale’s not a bad guitarist himself.

These Whitesnake box sets also include ample extras on paper.  There’s quite a nice miniature reformatted tour program with the majority of cool photos.  A large Slip of the Tongue poster can adorn your wall, or remain safely folded up in this box.  Finally, there is a 60 page hardcover booklet.  This is a treasure trove of press clippings, magazine covers, single artwork, and more.  Lyrics and credits wrap it all up in a nice little package.

Because we know that David puts so much into these box sets, it’s that much more heartbreaking that this one is so slightly imperfect.  The shuffled running order and lack of guitar kittens on “Kitten’s Got Claws” is a problem.  The truncated live album is another.  It means I have to hang onto old CDs that I was hoping to phase out of my collection in favour of this sleek set.  Alas, I’ll keep them as they are my preferred listening experience.

Otherwise, in every other way, this box set delivers.  It makes a lovely display next to its brethren and it justifies its cost.

4.5/5 stars

MORE Slip of the Tongue?

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Flesh & Blood (2019 deluxe)

WHITESNAKE – Flesh & Blood (2019 Frontiers CD/DVD deluxe edition)

What’s the year again?  You’ll want to check, because David Coverdale just released the best Whitesnake album since the 1980s.  Swollen with fresh song ideas, this ‘Snake has more bite.  Maybe it’s the unleashing of Reb Beach or the new contributions of Joel Hoekstra.  Whatever the cause, Flesh & Blood is sheer nirvana for fans of classic hard rock and technical guitar playing.  The album is evidence that this could be the best lineup David’s had since Steve Vai.  For guitar geeks, there are lead break credits for each song, a-la Judas Priest.

“Good to See You Again” is an ideal opener and you could hear it working that way live.  David then assures you it’s “Gonna Be Alright”, on a slick number with a darker vibe and major hooks — almost more 90s Queensryche than Whitesnake, but with a good time in mind.  “Shut Up & Kiss Me”, the lead single, shows that David isn’t afraid to get sleazy even in his senior years.  It’s good time party rock, expertly delivered.  A clear choice for single.

Going heavy, “Hey You (You Make Me Rock)” grooves like the ‘Snake you remember.  The soloing here will make you wet your pants.  “But it’s not John Sykes!” scream the unbelievers.  Well, check out “Always & Forever” for a hint of that Thin Lizzy regality.  It’ll bring you back to the days of Jailbreak but with David instead of Phillip.  Then comes the first ballad: “When I Think of You (Color Me Blue)”  Reminiscent of “The Deeper the Love”?  There are many who love ballads — more power to ’em!  This is a good one.  Things get greasier on “Trouble is Your Middle Name”.  Pedal to the metal — not sure where David is getting the fuel from, but it’s potent.

Halfway through now, it’s the title track “Flesh & Blood” sounding a lot like Slip of the Tongue era ‘Snake.  Think something like “Slow Poke Music”.  It leads perfectly into “Well I Never”, soulful but dark and heavy.  Amazing stuff.  Another ballad, “Heart of Stone”, brings to mind the glory of Coverdale-Page.  This is heavy stuff for a ballad, loaded with integrity and delivered expertly by the master.  Then it’s the bluesy boogie of “Get Up”, a song clearly designed to get asses shaking, and air guitars a-picking.  One more ballad:  “After All” is pleasantly acoustic, and an
appropriate respite from electric shreddery.

The final song of the main 13 track songlist is an epic:  “Sands of Time”.  David explored Arabic sounds before on “Judgement Day”, and this is another foray into the exotic.  Something about those scales automatically make a song huge in scope.  “Sands of Time” is really impressive, and Reb & Joel compliment it with the perfect solos.

There are two bonus tracks on the deluxe CD.  The first is a callback to early Whitesnake.  “Can’t Do Right for Doing Wrong” sounds like the kind of blues David was playing in the 1970s.  It’s sheer delight hearing him revert to pure bluesy ‘Snake.  Lastly it’s “If I Can’t Have You”, a good if unremarkable song after all this epic madness.

Is that all?  Of course not; David Coverdale is known for giving value to the fans.  There’s a DVD with different mixes and videos too.  This disc sounds huge.  The bass — woah!  First:  “Shut Up & Kiss Me”, the video “classic Jag” version.  Because David is driving the Jaguar from “Here I Go Again”, obviously.  It’s Whitesnake on a small stage, in a club, up close and personal.  Unsurprisingly the “Club Mix” of the same is just the video without the Jag.

Three remixes are presented in hi-res.  “Shut Up & Kiss Me” is the “video mix”; nice to have a clean audio version of that.  To hear the differences will require further investigation (clapping at the end aside).  An impressive “X-tended mix” of “Gonna Be Alright” is pretty cool.  Last is a “radio mix” of “Sands of Time”, which is strangely longer than the album version.  Unusual for a radio mix.  All the remixes are slightly longer.

Japanese customers got one exclusive bonus track, an “Unzipped” mix of “After All”.  It doesn’t have any of the other bonuses.  That CD is in the mail and when it arrives we’ll review it too.

Finally, the DVD contains a 15 minute “behind the scenes” of the making of the album.  David reveals that The Purple Album was intended to be his last.  The passion returned and he followed it.  Sounds like beautiful women are still inspiring to him.  As far as the album goes, you’ll notice the background vocals are quite thick.  David says that all the Whitesnake members…all but Tommy Aldridge anyway…are capable lead vocalists in their own right.  All six band members get their chance to speak.

This is an album you’ll be enjoying all summer.  Dig it.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – The Verdict (2019 “Masterpiece Edition”)

QUEENSRŸCHE – The Verdict (2019 Century Media 2 CD “Masterpiece Edition”)

The Todd La Torre era of Queensryche is now three albums deep. There’s no more mucking around. When drummer Scott Rockenfield went on personal leave, they didn’t let that stop them from writing and recording The Verdict. La Torre, a capable drummer in his own right, took on the challenge quite seamlessly.

So what’s the verdict on The Verdict?

The first Todd album (2013’s Queensrÿche) was safe and too brief.  The second (2015’s Condition Hüman) was a lot to digest.  The Verdict may have struck a better balance.  They’re still exploring their own brand of metal, bringing in a few new sounds without departing from their core direction.  They sound more comfortable in their own shoes.  Don’t expect a progression into new musical territory.  That’s not what The Verdict is.  It’s a full-force metal album with nuance, complexity, and plenty of guitar harmonies.  That’s what Queensryche do now.  The writing is sharpened, and the songs sound assembled with care.

The album requires a few listens to sink in.  The immediate standout here is a track called “Light-Years”, a song written by bassist Eddie Jackson who seems to come up with amazing songs out of the blue.  Regal, riff-laden metal with bravery and hooks.  This song should surely go down as a future Ryche classic.  (Jackson also wrote “Propaganda Fashion” and co-wrote a bunch of others.)  Another impressive song is the ballady “Dark Reverie” contributed by Parker Lundgren.  Todd really kicks it in the ass with his outstanding vocals.  The longest track “Bent” is dark and epic.  The only real weakness on this album is a lack of diversity, which they seem to be trying to avoid lest they end up with another Dedicated to Chaos.

The balance is clear.  The complexity of Condition Hüman is tempered by sharper hooks and melodies on The Verdict.  They’ve cranked out a lot of music over the last six years and they’re sounding more confident today.  Speaking of “a lot of music”, the consumer has choose between the standard single 10 track CD or the double “Masterpiece Edition” with rarities and new recordings.

For many fans, this will be their first chance to own the songs “46° North”, “Mercury Rising”, and “Espiritu Muerto”.  To get those, you had to buy the (previously reviewed) vinyl box set version of Condition Hüman.  Fans will also be thrilled by the four live songs from 2013’s Queensrÿche.  One of them, “Eyes of a Stranger”, could only be found on the (previously reviewed) Japanese version.  These, of course, all feature Scott Rockenfield on drums, his only appearances in this set.

The percussion on the two new recordings is handled by touring drummer Casey Grillo.  If he ends up a permanent member one day, nobody can say, but these are his very first recordings with Queensryche.  They are acoustic versions of “I Dream in Infrared” (from Rage for Order) and “Open Road” from (Queensrÿche).  Both are quite excellent.  It would be cool to get more of these acoustic renderings.  (Geoff Tate did four on his Queensryche’s Frequency Unknown album.)

The “Masterpiece Edition” (9000 copies) comes packed in a nice big box similar to the one from 2013’s Queensrÿche.  Additional goodies inside include an iron-on patch, a Verdict fridge magnet, and bottle opener.  Now your kitchen can finally be complete.  Just extra fluff, really — buy it for the songs.

4/5 stars