derek smalls

REVIEW: Derek Smalls – Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Aging)

DEREK SMALLS – Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Aging) (2018 BMG)

So very desperately, I wanted this to be good.  Alas, it is very very remotely far from anything good.  It’s not the line between clever and stupid; it’s just foul smelling putridity.  Spinal Tap’s bassist Derek Smalls, who might be best known for his “Jazz Odyssey”, cannot hold a tune.  There must be a reason why Smalls sings the fewest lead vocals of the three Spinal Tap members.  He’s all but unlistenable.

The gimmick on Smalls Change is twofold.  It’s a collection of songs about getting old, which is a crappy concept to start with.  There is nothing wrong with songs that have some life experience, but who wants to listen to a tune about an MRI?  Who wants to think about it all?  The second gimmick is the roster of guests:  old fogie buddies like David Crosby, Steve Lukather, Paul Shaffer, and so on.  There are few somewhat younger folks here too, such as Dweezil Zappa, Joe Satriani, Chad Smith, and Phil X.  But the guest stars can’t save it.  Admittedly, the lyrics are sometimes funny.  “Butt Call” is about butt dialing!  “Nobody speaks, handset by the cheeks.”  “Memo to Willie” is about erectile disfunction (get it?), a subject I’m sure you like singing about as well.  Then there’s “Gummin’ the Gash” which you can figure out for yourself.

The biggest problem is the voice, which is a cross between a garbage disposal and Otto the bus driver.*  No amount of Spinal Tap references can save it.  When the singer cannot sing, then Houston we have a problem.  And the thing goes on for 14 tuneless tracks!  An hour of gargling words out in an English accent.  Without a David St. Hubbins or a Nigel Tufnel to carry the melody, Smalls is sunk.  When there is an actual melody, that is.

We sadly have to proclaim Smalls Change as the worst, most unlistenable album of 2018.  Clearly, a lot of time and money went into making it, but don’t invest any of yours.

1/5 stars

* Yes, of course we know that Derek Smalls is played by Simpsons actor Harry Shearer.  If Otto was British, this could have been his album.

 

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Sunday Chuckle: Smalls Change

Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) of Spinal Tap has finally released his new solo album Smalls Change.  (This is a followup to the fictional 1970s album It’s a Smalls World).  It features such guests such as Joe Satriani and Phil X (must have been paid over $10,000 for this one eh Deke?)  The subject matter on the album includes butt-dialing and gummer-giving.

I know a certain Sausagefester who has dentures so I thought he’d dig the lyrics about gummers (“Gumming the Gash”).  I tried to tell him.  It didn’t go well.

 

Gallery: LeBrain Day Fun

Another spin ’round the sun, another basket full of goodies!

Thank you everyone for the birthday wishes.  Here are some of my favourites.  You might recognise some of these people!

 

 

 

 

 

Had a lovely dinner at Borealis with the family & Dr. Kathryn.  And so we get to the gifts!

First up!  A signed first edition copy of Dr. Ladano’s The Improvising Musician’s Mask:  Using Musical Instruments to Build Self-Confidence and Social Skills in Collective Free Improvisation.  That’s a mouthful and a generous gift.  These books aren’t cheap, even for her!  The funny thing is that when I grabbed the wrapped hardcover-shaped package, I said “I hope this is a copy of your book,” but I didn’t actually think it would be out so soon!

Dr. Kathryn also gifted me some music.  Ho!  It’s Derek Smalls’ debut solo album Smalls Change!  Appropriately considering the occasion, it is subtitled Meditations Upon Ageing.  I can’t wait to spin this one.  She also got me this nifty Worf (Star Trek) not-Lego head.  These look great in the office.  I have Spock as well.

The lovely Mrs. LeBrain was amazing to me as well.  She trekked up to Encore Records where she met my old pals Al “The” King and Chris Boyne.  They hooked her up with some live Ghost, on vinyl.  This is my first Ghost vinyl.  Ceremony and Devotion is a great album, and the vinyl has two “exclusive” songs…that are also on the CD!  Anybody know what’s up with that?

It doesn’t really matter.  Double live albums have a certain intangible quality that almost always makes them better on vinyl.  Scientists have been trying to figure out why that is since the advent of digital media.

Since my wife also dresses me, check out the cool shirts.  I think I’m going to wear that getup to work tomorrow.  Han Solo and BB-8 look awesome together.

Thanks again everyone for the happy birthday wishes.  I keep getting older, and you keep getting awesome-er!

 

 

#667: Cancer Chronicles 11

You might have noticed I’ve been quiet the last few days. I have not been able to respond to comments. The reason is, once again, I am supporting someone who has cancer. This person is very close to both Jen and I. They just had their successful surgery yesterday.  Now, on to chemo.

It’s all very much deja-vu.  Hotel rooms out of town, hospital waiting rooms, doctors and nurses.  Yesterday we clocked 10 hours waiting at the hospital.  That’s a long day — longer than a work day, and twice as tiring.  My dad said to me, “I think you deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor”.  But that’s only for Americans.  I’ll settle for a plate of sushi at the end of it.

Fuck cancer.  Two weeks ago, an original Sausagefester died of cancer.  I’ve known him for 23 years.  Some of the guys have known him since childhood.  His absence this summer will be deeply felt.  We will all miss our friend in the orange boiler suit.

These are dark days.  Neither of them wanted any online attention, so I’m being purposely vague.   Just know that 2018 has already taken a toll, and it’s only 1/4 of the way done.

Music has been a blessing, as always.  Yesterday the clever frivolity of Spinal Tap kept my spirits up.  It’s impossible not to laugh at the absurd “Stonehenge” or the just plain funny “Big Bottom”.  (“Talk about bum cakes, my girl’s got em.”)

Fuck the dark days.  I do not want to be dragged down by them.  I also don’t want any more of my loved ones to get sick, but we know we have no control over that.  That is the struggle of life.  All I can do is try to keep smiling.  So here’s Spinal Tap.  Enjoy.

 

Look for Derek Smalls’ solo debut, Smalls Change, April 13 2018.

VIDEO REVIEW: Spinal Tap – “B*tch School” (1992 CD single)

SPINAL TAP – “Bitch School” (1992 MCA CD single)

From the album Break Like the Wind

 

 

REVIEW: Spinal Tap – This is Spinal Tap (soundtrack remastered)

SPINAL TAP – The Original Soundtrack Recording from the Motion Picture “This is Spinal Tap” (1984, 2010 Universal remaster)

In true Spinal Tap fashion, it turned out that I reviewed their albums in the wrong order.  I went backwards, and the soundtrack to the motion picture This is Spinal Tap is the last Tap album for me to scrutinize.  Though Spinal Tap is a parody band made of actors Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer, it is easier to just refer to them as David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, and Derek Smalls.

If you happened to go through life without owning a single soundtrack album, then you must reverse that situation immediately.  All self-respecting rock fans must be able to laugh at the absurdities of their favourite genres, and Spinal Tap represent every mis-step that legendary rock bands ever took.  Spinal Tap forced real life rockers such as Judas Priest and Ronnie James Dio to laugh at themselves; a healthy undertaking.  Even though some artists didn’t see the humour in the movie This is Spinal Tap, others did and were quick to claim that certain scenes were actually based upon them!

The single/video “Hell Hole” opens the album, a rare Nigel lead vocal with David St. Hubbins on the chorus.  According to the helpful liner notes, this track was from Tap’s then-new reunion album, Smell the Glove.  Scorching guitar from St. Hubbins and Tufnel; slamming drums from Mick Shrimpton and spot-on organ by Viv Savage: it’s all here.  And let’s not forget the band’s secret weapon Derek Smalls on bass and backing vocals, thickening up the mix like a good brown gravy….

I always think of “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” as the song on which something is all but guaranteed to go wrong, live.  In the studio it’s a taut rocker with explicit lyrics:  “You’re sweet but you’re just four feet and you still got your baby teeth, you’re too young and I’m too well-hung but tonight I’m gonna rock ya!”  Lock up your daughters, but you don’t want to miss this scorching classic from 1974’s Intravenus de Milo.

“Heavy Duty” is a concert classic, originally from Bent for the Rent (1976), but to me it has long overstayed its welcome.  It is a mere skeleton of a song with not enough raw meat.  It does ask an important question in the lyrics, “Why waste good music on the brain?”  Interesting inquiry David; something to get the metal masses thinking.  For fans of Nigel Tufnel’s signature shredding, you will find much to love in his solo for “Heavy Duty”.  Moving forward to 1977, we are next treated to the title track from Rock and Roll Creation, Tap’s misguided collection of rock and roll psalms.  Thankfully the track “Rock and Roll Creation” itself boasts one of the band’s strongest choruses, though it is certainly hard to forget the scene in the movie when Derek fails to escape his pod.

The liner notes say that “America” is previously unreleased (I did not know that).  It was barely in the film.  This duet between Nigel and David boasts some heavy riffing, but not much in terms of melody.  Lyrically the song recounts the experience of Spinal’s visits to America, “pretty womens everywhere, Brady Bunch and Smokey Bear!”

Side one of the soundtrack closes with “Cups and Cakes”, a pre-Tap single from 1965 when they were still known as The Thamesmen.  This is a Tufnel creation about having tea.  Predating Sgt Peppers by two years, obviously the Beatles must have taken inspiration from “Cups and Cakes” for their own songs.  Strings and trumpets create the backing music while nary a rock instrument can be heard.

The legendary “Big Bottom” (from Brainhammer, 1973) was given some legitimacy when Soundgarden decided to cover it (as a medley with Cheech and Chong’s “Earache My Eye”).  In this track all the axemen play bass — there are no guitars!  Opening side two with a song that is all bass and no guitar was probably a genius move.  I just can’t explain why.  I’m just assuming. Unfortunately when Soundgarden covered it, they did it with guitars, failing to capture the mighty bass necessary to sing a song about bums.

“My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo, I’d like to sink her with my pink torpedo”

From 1980’s poorly reviewed Shark Sandwich is the riffy “Sex Farm”.  Though Shark Sandwich might be considered one of Tap’s worst, “Sex Farm” is one of their most enduring anthems.  Readers of my regular feature here, Record Store Tales, may recall that my good friend Uncle Meat got written up at work for playing this song in store.  Supposedly somebody called in to complain about the lyrics.  This is Spinal Tap is his favourite movie of all time.  “I realize there is some innuendo,” says Meat.  “‘Plowin’ through your beanfield’…I just, you know, the thought of someone allegedly being so offended by Spinal Tap…” he trailed off.  (You can see the story in video form here, as this very CD was one of the Top Five Albums that Got Us in Shit at the Record Store.)

The best tune on 1975’s The Sun Never Sweats was undoubtedly “Stonehenge”, and I would argue that it remains the greatest Spinal Tap song of all time.  It is hard to encapsulate this opus in mere English.  Tap take us on a trip back in time with both Tufnel and St. Hubbins sharing lead vocals.  The mandolin break at the end is one of Tap’s most famous musical moments, as it is there that things often seem to go wrong in concert, regarding the giant Stonehenge prop that is supposed to appear on stage.

In my last year of high school, my mom bought me this soundtrack on cassette.  That helped enable a group of my friends to do a Spinal Tap “air band” at our school’s annual air band competition!  Lacking a mandolin player, they instead snagged one of our math teachers who played banjo, and had him come out on stage dancing in lederhosen.  Absolutely brilliant.  I’m glad to have participated in it in my own small way of lending the tape.  Bringing Spinal Tap to the highschool masses?  There must be an award for that.

The album comes to an end with two oldies-but-goodies.  Back to the Thamesmen days, it’s 1965’s “Gimme Some Money”, the flip side to “Cups and Cakes”.  The drummer was John “Stumpy” Pepys (Ed Begley Jr.), a “tall blonde geek with glasses” according to David.  Pepys died in a bizarre gardening accident.  This artifact from their skiffle period is best remembered for Nigel’s cool guitar solo.  “Go Nigel, Go!”  Then finally it’s “(Listen to the) Flower People” from the cumbersome titled Spinal Tap Sings “Listen to the Flower People” and Other Favourites (1967).  The drummer on this track was Eric “Stumpy Joe” Childs, who sadly choked to death on vomit (not his own) in 1974.  What is especially interesting about this track is Nigel’s use of the sitar, a full two years after George Harrison did on Rubber Soul.  Spinal Tap were exploiting the hippy movement and this track was one of their greatest successes.

The remastered CD comes with two bonus tracks!  The non-album single (1984) for “Christmas With the Devil” is presented in two mixes, one from the A-side and one from the B-side.  Prior to this, the only version of “Christmas With the Devil” available on CD was the re-recorded one on 1992’s Break Like the Wind.  The original single version(s) remained obscure until 2000, when Universal released them here.  Now finally having them all, I must say I prefer the 1992 version best.  The original does have a little more pep in its step, and there is a Christmas message from the band at the end.  The “scratch mix” of the single is not much different.

All joking aside, it’s crucial to remember that these guys (the actors) were not musical slouches.  Michael McKean was nominated for an Oscar award, for his music in 2003’s A Mighty Wind.  The musicianship is there and it’s intentional humorous.  You can hear musical jokes in the solos of Christopher Guest.  As a result, the soundtrack is not only funny but also timeless.  A good song is a good song is a good song, and some of the tracks here are actually really good when you break them down.  “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight”, “Sex Farm” and especially “Stonehenge” are all really good songs when it comes down to it!

In the real world, all the songs were written by the trio of Guest, McKean and Shearer with director Rob Reiner.  The drums were handled by R.J. Parnell of Atomic Rooster, who played Mick Shrimpton in the movie.  On keyboards is David Kaff (Rare Bird) otherwise known as Viv Savage from the film.  (Rare Bird are probably best remembered as the band who originally did “Sympathy”, later covered by Marillion.)  The album was self-produced.  There is no questioning the chops of the musicians involved.  It’s hard to create a musical joke of album length that is still fun to listen to 30 years later.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Spinal Tap – Break Like The Wind (1992)

SPINAL TAP – Break Like the Wind (1992)

Almost a decade after the movie, the “black album” (Smell The Glove), and the near-breakup, Spinal Tap returned!  Even Marty DiBergi’s documentary could not keep Tap down, and setting aside their differences, they created this reunion album.  Mostly new material with some oldies sprinkled in, Break Like The Wind was yet another masterpiece by the Tap.

The lineup was:  David St. Hubbins (guitar, vocals), Nigel Tufnel (guitar, vocals) and Derek Smalls (bass, vocals) with new additions Ric (brother of Mick) Shrimpton (drums) and Caucasian Jeffrey Vanston (keys).

It turns out that previous keyboardist Viv Savage was a drummer prior to joining Spinal Tap.  He failed to tell them this, and well, he befell the same fate as countless Tap drummers.

From the beginning, like so many Tap albums past, Break Like The Wind was misunderstood.  The first single “Bitch School” was about a dog, but many chose a sexist interpretation.  This simple rocker is an upbeat catchy single and indicative of the new Tap sound.

The regal “Majesty of Rock” is second.  This track was chosen as second single.  St. Hubbins dares to ask the deep questions within the framework of a 4 minute pop rock single.   “When we die, do we haunt the sky?  Do we lurk in the murk of the seas?  What then?  Are we born again?  Just to sit asking questions like these?”  An excellent question David.

I do not know why Nigel seemed prone to wearing wetsuits during this period.

Tap turn it up a notch on “Diva Fever”, a fast one to give Metallica a run for their money!  A man named Dweezil plays the blistering guitar solo.  What an odd moniker.

Just when you thought you could get none more regal, the queen herself, Cher, turns up to duet with David on the gorgeous ballad “Just Begin Again”.  With strings and horns beside them, Tap deliver another classic.The lyrics are again deep:  never give up, never surrender!  Just begin again!  As David says in the words, “Life is just a meal, And you never say when!”  And if people stand in your way and say enough is enough? “Make the bastards eat their words!” says David!

Derek Smalls takes his first lead vocal on “Cash On Delivery”, a fun rocker advising the listener how Smalls prefers to do business.  It rocks along nice.

This is followed by a remake on an old classic, “The Sun Never Sweats” the title track of course from the album The Sun Never Sweats.   Nigel’s solo is among the highlights of this classic.

And then, a long lost rarity, “Rainy Day Sun”.  It was the B-side to their hit “(Listen to the) Flower People”.  Here it is released on CD for the first time, gloriously swirly, psychedelic, and digitally remastered.  This ends side one of the original album.  If you are listening to a CD, please do not attempt to remove and play the other side.

Side two began with Tap’s first epic since the mighty “Stonehenge”:  “Break Like The Wind” itself.  Melding middle eastern melody with modern instrumental flare, this one is surprisingly beautiful.  Smalls’ bass weaves in and out, as David and Nigel play simple guitar melodies.  But all comes crashing down by the time of the powerful guitar solos, and Tap rock once more!

As a surprise to their friend Nigel, the band erased most of his guitar solos and replaced it with other people playing!  Four of the greatest guitarists of the 90’s stepped in for Nigel:  Slash, Joe Satriani, Steve Lukather, and Jeff Beck.    None more epic.

From there, Tap can only disappoint.  “Stinkin’ Up The Great Outdoors”, a protest song, is worth protesting.

Nigel finally sings his first lead vocal on “Springtime”, a welcome change of pace.  Nigel follows it with “Clam Caravan”, from his solo project.  The title was supposed to be spelled “Calm Caravan”, but Nigel liked the misspelled version.  “Clam Caravan” is another middle-eastern sounding song, and it lulls you off gently…

Only to be awakened by “Christmas With the Devil”!  This is a re-recording of their classic Christmas single from the mid 1980’s.  This sonically superior version is even more evil than the original.  Happy holidays, to all the children!

The hidden track “Now Leaving” follows, questioning what life is worth if you’re on life support?  All three members bring their thoughts to the table, but I think David asks the most eloquent question.  “Shall he lie there forever with a tube up his nose, And his peepee and poopoo slipping out through a hose?”

I do not know David, I do not know.

Thankfully, these mortal thoughts are ended by the beginning of “All the Way Home”.  You may remember from the film that this was the first song that David and Nigel ever wrote.  Finally, their original 1961 demo was found and restored, and mastered for its CD release.   This closes the album.

I do not know if the  general public felt differently about this album than I do, for Tap did not release another album for 17 years!

11/5stars

REVIEW: Spinal Tap – Back From The Dead (2009 CD/DVD)

SPINAL TAP – Back From The Dead (2009 CD/DVD)

It seems like ages since Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls have graced the metal masses with new music. 17 years ago came Break Like The Wind, an album which sounded just as great as it smelled. Now, finally, after the odd show and a couple internet singles, The Tap has returned with the aptly titled Back From The Dead. However, I do want you to understand that nobody has actually died (this time).

The not-dead Causasian Jeffery Vanston has returned on keyboards, still filling in for the very dead Viv Savage. Gregg Bisonette (David Lee Roth), also gratefully still alive, is the drummer on these recordings. Other living souls guesting on the album include Phil Collen, Keith Emerson, Steve Vai, and John Mayer.

All songs are studio recordings, as opposed to the “live” versions as heard on the soundtrack to This Is Spinal Tap. As such they all sound a little more sterile. Nothing here is really superior to the versions we all know and love from that piece of character assassination on celeloid. They all sound a little more stuffy, a little flat in comparison. However, these being classic songs, they are still an enjoyable listen, and performed remarkably well.

There are some new songs and some new arrangements, as well as some oldies finally seeing the light of day! These include:

“Back From The Dead” — an older internet single finally released on CD. Tufnel’s backing vocals are a bit shrill and weak, but otherwise the song rocks proudly and strongly.

“(Funky) Sex Farm” — sadly, not the funky version from the Return Of Spinal Tap TV special, this is a slower less funky version. Still funky though.

“Jazz Oddyssey” (parts I, II, and III) — Wisely breaking up this tedious, yet historic recording into three parts!

“Rock N’ Roll Nightmare” — St. Hubbins growls his way through this stomper, something that truly lives up to and maybe even exceeds the heady Tap legacy. The premier release of an oldie but goodie, this is the best “new” song.

“(Listen to The) Flower People (Reggae Stylee)” — As the title suggests, Tap have finally conquered Reggae. But fear not, a more authentic version is also available (more on that later).

“Celtic Blues” — A very brief song (1:25) that actually sounds quite like their opening act, The Folksmen. Strange coincidence, I can’t figure out why they sound so similar.

“Warmer Than Hell” — Another internet single finally released on CD. Tap want to stop Global Warming, and this is their attempt. Yes, Tap have heard of Global Warming!

“Short And Sweet” — Actually quite long (6:35), this is another rocker sung by St. Hubbins.

The rest of the album is rounded out by the classic songs that we know and love from the movie. But wait! There’s more! Three more to be exact! But you have to get these elsewhere on your own.

Bonus tracks:

“Saucy Jack” — Finally, St. Hubbins’ long unreleased song from his Jack The Ripper musical has seen the light of day. It is a delightful, jaunty track and available for free on their website.

“Sex Farm (2009)” — A more authentic version of the classic song about a farm of fornication, as opposed to the funky version. This is available for download on the iTunes version.

“(Listen to the) Flower People (2009)” — A more authentic version than the reggae one on the CD proper. This one, perhaps, almost exceeds the original 1967 version!  Unfortunately you can only get this from Amazon digital downloads, and there’s no such thing in Canada.  I still managed to get this song from my longtime friend Dan Slessor who writes for Kerrang!

DVD

Finally, Tap have given the loyal, faithful (but not Ian Faith-ful) fans a DVD. This DVD offers the band’s commentary on the tracks. Absolutely essential if you want to understand just what the band was thinking (or not thinking) at the time.

Packaging

And, also finally, the packaging: Tap have outdone themselves. How can you top a black album cover when you can simply get none-more-black? Tap are not content with 2 dimensions, so they have entered a 3rd. The cover unfolds into a stage, complete with Stonehenge monument, and miniature St. Hubbins, Tufnel, and Smalls figures. A little small Smalls! How quaint! The drawback is that it is very difficult to wedge the discs in and out of the case when it is all folded up in case form — but perhaps this was the idea all along.

spinal tap - back from the dead

photo from metalsucks.net

[According to metalsucks.net, the case takes 20 minutes to assemble, and I’ve never tried, preferring to keep mine original.]

4/5 stars. Not a perfect return from the dead, but This Is Spinal Tap.