DJ Ashba

GUEST REVIEW: Sixx:A.M. – Modern Vintage (2014)

Review by TOMMY MORAIS

A lot of “modern” and not a whole lot of “vintage”

MODERN VINTAGESIXX:A.M. – Modern Vintage (2014)

I was a fan of Sixx:A.M. when they first came out with The Heroin Diaries in 2007. At the time the music was fresh and just what I needed. I was in high school and going through difficult times and things teenagers go through. I was already in love with Motley Crue for a few years at that point. Then when Nikki Sixx came out strong with Sixx:A.M., I respected him even more as he was now in two bands that l loved.

I thought Sixx:A.M. had everything going for them; a great single, excellent songwriting and I could identify with the music and some of the lyrical content. The accompanying book also made for a wonderful experience. I enjoyed the band’s second album and bought it on release day in 2011. I liked a lot of that album and its accompanying book even though l felt it wasn’t as impressive as the first. I stayed a fan and continued following the band anticipation their next release. 2014 rolls along (which shows this review is a bit overdue) and hence we have Sixx:A.M.’s third studio album, Modern Vintage.

The album begins with “Stars”, a very good indication of the album’s overall sound, style and feel. To me it’s average at best; it’s not unlistenable but it doesn’t grab you in the way it intends to. It has “made for radio” all over it. “Gotta Get it Right” is the first single and didn’t do anything to encourage me to pick up the album. I can get the over almost Christmas-like feel it has but I think where they fail lies in the chorus.

“Relief” is straight ahead rock and with its lyrical theme sounds more like the Sixx:A.M. of the past. “Gotta Get You Some” is a twist and a nice change of pace with its acoustic guitars before kicking it into high gear for the chorus. It too has a very commercial ready for radio feel, only slightly darker. I’m not in love with this song but James Michael does a very good singing performance.

“Let’s Go” and “Give Me A Love” are probably the closest to heavy rock tracks on here (and to the sound of previous Sixx:A.M.). “Let’s Go” is especially a true fist-pumper and a highlight. “Drive” is a an awful cover of the same song by The Cars. It sounds dull and the electronic euro pop in the background makes it unlistenable. The guitar work is the only good thing about it. “Hyperventilate” is nice and short, one of the better songs on Modern Vintage. “High On The Music” sounds like a terrible young pop band and not like Sixx:A.M. or a rock band, going for that radio hit feel-good type song. “Miracle” has cool groove and a vintage feel to it, on the other hand it also honestly sounds like a Maroon 5 tune. “Before it’s Over” has a jazzy/lounge feel to it, which I give them credit for trying to branch out.

I’m not sure what I was expecting out of Modern Vintage or if I was expecting anything at all to be honest. I loved the first album, liked the second and bought the third out of loyalty and because I thought there’d be at least a few songs l liked. I wasn’t terribly into the first single but I didn’t let that discourage me. Well I’m sad to say that after multiple listens it’s a bit underwhelming. The songs don’t “rock” as hard and sound more mainstream and bland; that is both musically and lyrically. The songs are more ‘happy’ this time around. In theory this should work but it doesn’t. There’s no anger, no frustration, desperation, none of what made Sixx:A.M.’s core on the first two albums. I’m actually surprised to see so many high ratings and reviews praising the album everywhere. Maybe we didn’t listen to the same Sixx:A.M. band previously, I don’t know. All l know is what I hear and this album just doesn’t do anything for me and I don’t enjoy the direction they went in. A lot has been said about the drum sound which feels artificial and I agree, it just doesn’t work all that well this time around.

Modern Vintage ends up sounding like a lot of modern and no vintage. Alas I am not a hater. It pains me because I’m a Crue fan, a Sixx:A.M. fan and a Nikki Sixx fan and l really wanted to enjoy it. It just feels less inspired than the first two and even though it has a different sound it doesn’t break any new ground. It tries to hard to go for the commercial radio songs and it’s like they forgot who they where. Hopefully they’ll get it back and deliver another good album. In the meantime this is terrible.

1.5/5 stars

[LeBrain’s note: I’ve listened to the album, and I agree with Tommy 100%.  In fact, my review can be found below.]

POO

REVIEW: Motley Crue – Saints of Los Angeles (Japanese version)

MOTLEY CRUE – Saints of Los Angeles (2008 Motley Records, Japan)

Man, if there was one band due for a comeback, it was the Crue. I mean, seriously! They went from the top of their game in 1991, coming off of Feelgood and Decade, only to have their lead singer abruptly leave. Then of course the awesome new album with the new singer flopped, because he wasn’t the old singer.  Vince came back, Tommy left, and the band released the mediocre New Tattoo.  After a hiatus, Tommy Lee returned again for a big successful reunion tour, and the Crue finally managed to put out an album.  Saints of Los Angeles was better than expected, and did hearken back to the good old days.

You hear that a lot; “hearkens back to the old days”. Aside from the overly glossy production, this album sounds like the natural followup to Dr. Feelgood and “Primal Scream”. Of course, it was contrived that way. Nikki talks about this being a concept album following the the storyline of their book The Dirt, but really that is just an excuse to revisit the old (successful) Motley sound.  Sure, why not?  I’ll buy that.

CRUE SAINTS_0005Despite all odds, this album does succeed. From the opener “LA.M.F.” (which is an obvious homage to “In The Beginning” from the Shout album and “T.N.T.” from Feelgood) to the final track “Going Out Swinging”, there’s hardly any filler here. Just about every song kicks. No ballads, unless you want to count “The Animal In Me” (which I don’t). Hey, and think of it: Sharp fans will recall that Feelgood itself was originally conceived as a concept album with no ballads. Interesting.*

Guitar riffs are kicking, Vince is singing as good as you could hope, and all the songs shine. There’s even the odd female backing vocal, recalling the Nasty Habits. Only the production drags this down to a lower level, I simply find it too processed and glossy. Bob Rock would have added more thud, but that’s just my opinion. Song wise, winners include the title track and first single. Other highlights are the glam “Down At The Whiskey”, “Face Down In The Dirt” (see, The Dirt is in the title!),  the swaggering “What’s It Gonna Take”, and the chugging “Just Another Psycho”.  Those would be my favourites on an album of consistent song quality.  All but “Welcome To The Machine”, which sounds like a transparent ripoff of Ace Frehley’s “Shot Full Of Rock”. I can’t believe I seem to be the only one pointing this out.

I was disappointed by one thing: look at those writing credits. Mick Mars has just one co-write, ditto Tommy Lee. Vince Neil: No writing credits at all. Instead, the album was mostly written by Nikki and his Sixx AM cohorts James Michael and DJ Ashba along with hired songsmith Marti Frederiksen. So, is this a Crue album or another Nikki Sixx solo album featuring Motley Crue? You decide. It sounds like Motley, but c’mon. Both Mick and Tommy were cornerstones of this band’s songwriting. It feels like Nikki just got his buds to write like Mick and Tommy.

CRUE SAINTS_0006There’s one item I’d still like to get, related to this album.  I want to track down the CD single for “Saints of Los Angeles”, which lacks the CrueFest nobodies’ “gang vocal”. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think that a bunch of nobodies from Trapt or Papa Roach need to be on a Crue album.  So I’d like to hear that one.

Other than these minor complaints, Saints wins. When you’re listening you’ll forget who wrote the songs, and you’ll just dig the fact that Tommy is back on drums and Mick is playing better than ever.  God bless Mick Mars — that man is a rock and roll machine.  He is the MVP on Saints of Los Angeles.

OH!  And the Japanese bonus tracks, let’s not forget those.  The liner notes tell us nothing about where or when they were recorded, but they are obviously more recent.  “Kickstart My Heart” is the first, and Vince Neil sings with that annoying habit of singing every other word.  He lets the audience take lines when he can’t.  “Saints” slams, though.

4/5 stars. Crue fans will love it.

*It’s true.  According to a 1989 Hit Parader interview, not only were the band considering a concept album, but Nikki Sixx stated that he wanted Feelgood to be all hard rock, no ballads.  The ballads they had collected such as “Rodeo” and the newer “Without You” were to be included on a second new album to be released in 1990 called Motley Crue: The Ballads.  Bob Rock reportedly talked them out of the “no ballads” concept.  Then the concept was recycled for what would become Motley Crue (1994).  Before Vince bailed/was fired, Nikki said there were to be no ballads on the next Crue album.

DVD REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Live in Paradise City (2011)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Live in Paradise City (2011 Access All Areas DVD, from a television broadcast source)

Rock In Rio 4, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 2, 2011.  Guns N’ Roses headlining the final night.

Paddington Rose

Paddington Rose

Rio loves Guns N’ Roses!  Always did, still do.  It’s pouring rain, but the fans are present and accounted for.  Good thing they are able to see the huge stage through three massive video screens, otherwise I don’t know how they’d tell one member from another.  Well, Axl’s blinding yellow Paddington Bear coat makes him easy enough to see.

“Chinese Democracy” opens the set, with bassist Tommy Stinson handling the backup vocals on the chorus.  Ron Thal’s playing a double neck (the top one is fretless)  and is rocking the samurai hair.  The solo is played by DJ Ashba, with Thal handling the outro shredding.  “Good evening! Good morning!” says Axl after the first song, before asking, “Do you know where the fuck you are?”  Of course that means “Jungle” is next.  Axl’s voice just sounds shredded, as he struggles high and thin through the hard notes, no grit left intact.  Once in a while the old Axl wails, but he was really off in Rio.

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THAL-1138

One thing about Guns N’ Roses new vs. old:  The old band looked unified in image.  All of them looked like Hollywood dirtbags.  In this band, you have the glam looking DJ Ashba, Frank Ferrer who looks like a trucker, Axl with his pimpstache, and a guy in a Stormtrooper helmet.  Admittedly though, Tommy Stinson looks the part as the punk rock bass player, and he also fills Duff’s role as backup singer.

“It’s So Easy” is up third, top loading the setlist with some serious Appetite heavy hitters.  Ashba doesn’t quite nail the solo, but the band are as tight as the originals.  Keyboardist Dizzy Reed looks weird as hell just hitting a tamborine to this sledgehammer tune.  As for rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus (a dead ringer for Izzy Stradlin), he seems to literally attack his instrument with every strum; looks more like he’s punching them!   Another Appetite classic, “Mr. Brownstone” follows.  It is here that I miss Slash for the first time.  His playing on “Brownstone” was always so greasy; so perfect.  Ashba’s playing is a bit too sophisticated.

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Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal

A bloated looking Axl is accompanied by Ron Thal for the opening to “Sorry”, a slow grinder from Chinese Democracy.  This changes the pace of the set.  The song fails to connect.  It’s more expressive live, but not interesting enough.  Time to pee.  Axl then introduces Richard Fortus on guitar who plays some blazing fast licks.  It makes me wonder why the hell this guy doesn’t play more leads.  He’s insanely fast.  This turns into a bit of a band jam, including the James Bond theme.  That strategically merges into “Live and Let Die”, the McCartney original of which was of course the theme of the same titled Bond movie.  The stage has flame throwers blasting, and the crowd goes wild.  Axl’s changed out of the raincoat, now sporting black leather and doing his trademark spinny-spinny dance.

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Frank Ferrer

After a brief pause, Frank Ferrer begins the familiar drum beat that opens “Rocket Queen”.  The fans know it and scream in anticipation.  Unfortunately Axl’s thin voice fails to impress.  Fortus does impress, handling the slide guitar solo himself.  “This I Love” is the next song, and the first ballad of the evening.  Axl struggles a bit with the vocal before he finds his stride part way in.  The dual keyboard concept can be best heard here.  Dizzy plays the piano, while second keyboardist Chris Pitman plays the orchestral arrangement.  But let’s face it: “This I Love” will never replace “November Rain” or “Estranged” as a concert favourite.  It fills that same epic ballad role,  but it just ain’t classic.

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DJ Ashba

DJ Ashba takes the opening lead guitar on the next Guns N’ Roses jam.  I don’t recognize the tune, but it sounds like another soundtrack piece.  I’ve heard some journalists complain that Guns play too many solos from band members that nobody cares about.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  These players are good; very very good.  These instrumental sections, apart from giving Axl a chance to rest his voice, are a showcase for the guys in the band that, like it or not, happen to be Guns N’ Roses.  The fans in Rio treat the members as if they were the originals.

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So once again, Jones, what was briefly yours is now mine.

Ashba breaks into the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” intro, and the fans lose their collective minds.  Rose dons a tan fedora, now looking a bit like René Belloq.  Thal nails that unforgettable wah-wah solo, no mean feat.  But then it’s time for “Estranged”, and Axl just can’t find the key. He pulls it together on the first verse, but this isn’t an easy song.  It does eventually fall into place with the help of some epic soloing.

I would say that the song “Better” from Chinese Democracy is well overdue in the set.  While undoubtedly modern sounding, I think it’s one of the best tunes.  It gives the band a chance to play around with a different kind of heavy.  Bumblefoot Thal plays the fast shreddy guitar part and does backing vocals.

Axl then introduces the band, aside from Bumblefoot and Ashba:

  • Chris “Mothergoose” Pitman
  • Frank “Thunderchucker” Ferrer (“I can never say that last name right. It’s like Ferarri, only different.” — Axl)
  • Mr. Richard Fortus (no nickname)
  • Mr. Tommy Stinson (also no nickname)
  • Mr. Dizzy Reed (I guess his nickname is Dizzy?)

This leads into a Dizzy piano segue on The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly”, as an intro to “Street of Dreams”.  I had made no secret of my love for this song.  I first heard it back in 2001, when Guns played Rio that year.  It was known as “The Blues” at the time.  It’s a concise version of the “epic Guns ballad” and it stands up on its own.  Then it’s time for “You Could Be Mine”.  Ferrer impressively nails the drum intro, and Thal plays the opening guitar moans on his fretless neck.  This great version is followed by Axl sitting at the piano himself, for…you got it…”November Rain”.  There are some sour moments, not least of which is Axl forgetting some of the words!

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Bumblefoot

Finally it’s time for one of my favourite moments of the set: Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal’s rendition of the “Pink Panther” theme (Henry Mancini) on double neck guitar.  It’s familiar melodies like this that keep the solo spots interesting to fans who don’t know the players all that well.  It’s easier for them to swallow.  It’s not like Axl is leaving the stage for some guy to go wheedle-wheedle-wheedle for four and a half minutes.  Guns give you quality for your time.

“Pink Panther” turns into a space age blues jam and back again, merging into “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.  Axl sings this annoyingly nasal.  I will take this moment to point out the irritating habit of the camera to focus on a guitar player who is not the current soloist.  It’s Ashba playing these solos, but half the time the camera is on Fortus, as if they are not sure who is playing, so they guess.  Fortus does get to blaze a solo at the end, thankfully with the camera on him.  Axl playfully quotes Elmer Fudd:  “Be vewy vewy quiet!  I’m hunting wabbits!”  Why, I don’t know.  Maybe he was watching cartoons on the plane.  It’s as good an answer as any.

The main set closes with “Nightrain”, bringing it all back full circle to Appetite again.  In a cool moment, Ashba walks (with security personnel by his side) through a barricaded and secured pathway within the crowd.  “Nightrain” is a strong finish for a band that plays as long and hard as Guns N’ Roses play.  And soon they’re back on stage, acoustic guitars in hand, to play “Patience”.  The quiet tune is all but drowned out by thousands of screaming Brazilians, but even they cannot drown out “Paradise City”.  It’s a natural epic closer, and it’s perfectly awesome, right up until Axl leaves the stage…then the video and audio abruptly fade and that’s the end! Was the broadcast cut off?  I don’t know, but the end jam is cut out, as is the final bow.  That’s it that’s all.

Shoddy.  You can tell it’s not an official release.

3/5 stars