draw the line

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994) and conclusion

AEROSMITH – Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994 Sony, only included in the Box of Fire)

Sony did a sonic makeover to the Aerosmith catalogue in ’93, using their new Super Bit Mapping technique. Each CD received a well due remastering job, and improved packaging, as you have seen here throughout this series. In 1994 these albums were released again inside the near-definitive Columbia box set, Box of Fire. Back when I was working in the Record Store, we stocked this one for over $200 brand new. I remember looking at that sealed box longingly, wishing I could peer inside.

The bonus CD included in Box of Fire was an added little reward for those fans who waited to shell out for the full box, rather than buy the CDs individually. In defense of Sony for the double-dip, I distinctly remember them announcing in advance the the future box set would include all the albums and additional goodies. Because of that, I did indeed wait to shell out for Box of Fire. I bought it used, at the store that Joe Big Nose manages today. It was in good shape. I just needed to replace a few broken CD trays, and the outer plastic sleeve was also missing (not a huge deal). I later found that plastic sleeve at another one of our outlets, and the owner “Billy Bob” gave it to me himself! (Thanks man, you have no idea how much that makes an OCD collector like me happy.)

The Bonus Disc has five tracks.

1. “Sweet Emotion” (1991 remix by David Thoener). Remember the music video they released in late 1991 to promote the Pandora’s Box set? That video featured a remix of “Sweet Emotion”, and it was released as a limited as a limited CD single. It’s a little longer and has a few things mixed louder.

2. “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”. A later track (1987) from the Less Than Zero soundtrack. I’m always in favour of getting one of Aerosmith’s numerous soundtrack contributions on an Aerosmith disc. I hate buying a soundtrack for one or two songs. Wanna know what Aerosmith sound like produced by Rick Rubin? This old rock n’ roll cover indicates, it’s kinda dry.

3. “Subway”. A cool instrumental jam from the Draw the Line sessions, but originally released on the 1991 “Sweet Emotion” CD single.

4. “Circle Jerk”.  Another instrumental from the same period.  Most fans who collect Aerosmith already had this one.  It was the unlisted “hidden” bonus track at the end of Pandora’s Box.  These two jams are simple and unadorned.  They were unreleased for a reason, although they both could have evolved into cool heavy rock songs.

5. “Dream On” (MTV Anniversary).  This live version from 1991, complete with orchestra, was from an MTV thing later released on a CD of its own. I’d rather have the song on this. It’s a brilliant version, best appreciated by the Aerosmith connoisseur.

The Bonus Disc is housed in a simple cardboard CD sleeve. This slips into a gap inside the Box of Fire, easy to miss and sometimes missing! If you’re buying a Box of Fire, make sure it’s intact.

Wrapping up this exhaustive look at the Box of Fire and all the albums inside, there is very little left to add.  The packaging is cool; a sturdy box with orange flame emblazoned all over.  The front door opens “garage style”, with a little plastic “match” as a handle, painted to look as if burned.  Each CD, housed in its own jewel case, slides easily in and out.  It’s a simply lovely way to display your Aerosmith collection, open or closed — when lined up, the CD spines form an Aerosmith logo!  Each disc is numbered 1-12 (except the Bonus Disc), and can be differentiated from the regular retail versions by the numbered spines.  If you bought these albums separately, they do not have the numbers or the coordinated spines that form the Aerosmith logo.  That’s how you can tell the difference!

I’m glad to have taken the time to listen to the entire Box of Fire, in sequence, from start to finish.  That’s something I haven’t done since I first bought it.

4/5 stars (for Bonus Disc and Box of Fire overall)

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE complete reviews:

Disc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)
Disc 4: Rocks (1976)
Disc 5: Draw the Line (1977)
Disc 6: Live! Bootleg (1978)
Disc 7: Night in the Ruts (1979)
Disc 8: Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits (1980)
Disc 9: Rock in a Hard Place (1982)
Disc 10: Classics Live! (1986)
Disc 11: Classics Live! II (1987)
Disc 12: Gems (1988)
Disc 13: Box of Fire Bonus Disc (1994)

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REVIEW: Aerosmith – Live! Bootleg (1978)

For Deke‘s loving review over at Arena Rock – Thunder Bay and Beyond, click here!

LIVE BOOTLEG_0001AEROSMITH – Live! Bootleg (1978 Columbia, 2003 Sony)

Five records in, and it’s time for a double live.  Aerosmith had gained a reputation for their fiery live shows, and bootleggers were ensuring that fans willing to pay had something live that they could buy.  The way to beat the bootleggers was for Aerosmith to put out their own official live album.  Collecting tracks from a variety of live performances and radio broadcasts, including many songs unavailable on album, Live! Bootleg is today one of the best examples of the epic double live.  The intentionally shoddy album art conceals within it a live record of nuclear critical mass.  With liner notes, photos, and even hidden tracks, Live! Bootleg hits all the bases.

“Back in the Saddle” recorded in ’77 is chosen to open the proceedings, which it does with the kind of rawness that only comes with a real live performance.  Unfortunately it’s a thin sounding version, but fear not because “Sweet Emotion” in March ’78 is full of guitar noise.  The liner notes state that there are no synthesizers on the song, just guitars “screaming in pair”.  Then “Lord of the Thighs” from the same gig keeps the momentum going smooth and dirty.  The extended jamming stretches the song out to the seven minute mark, and that is the kind of noisy spontaneity that wasn’t captured on any of Aerosmith’s studio albums.

“Toys in the Attic” was recorded in the boys’ home town of Boston, straining at the leash.  It’s a fevered live take, faster and more reckless.  Then, also from Boston is the Tyler/Whitford classic of Aerofunk tastiness, it’s the “Last Child”.  Live (in a club), it’s funkier and slinkier.  The first surprise rolled out on the album is the Beatles cover “Come Together”, from a secret gig in ’78 at the band’s headquarters the Wherehouse.  It’s very similar to the studio version they did for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack, perhaps a bit slower and more menacing.

Joe Perry dusts off the talk box for an ultra-funky “Walk This Way”.  In Deke’s review at Arena Rock, he said “Joey [Kramer] sets the tone and man he’s driving the bus at break-neck speed.”  That’s it exactly!  This is Aerosmith starring in that movie about the bus that couldn’t slow down!  (I think it was called The Bus that Couldn’t Slow Down.)  As if that isn’t hot enough, a smoking “Sick as a Dog” from ’77 crashes the damn bus over the guiderail and off into the sunset!  Lots of tasty extended soloing here.

Eight songs in and only now we’re hitting the first ballad, and only ballad!  “Dream On” is a necessary outing.  Aerosmith slow it down a bit a-la “Stairway” and let it build.  Look for a surprise f-bomb in the middle of the song.  (I guess Aerosmith were not being recorded for radio broadcast that day, or if they were, Tyler just didn’t give a fuck!)

LIVE BOOTLEG_0006Deke’s good buddy T-Bone and I have one thing in common.  Our favourite Aerosmith song of all time is “Chip Away the Stone”, written with Richie Supa.  This brand new song was chosen as the single fron Live! Bootleg.  The studio version was relegated to a B-side!  The live one has less piano, but has just as much boogie.  This is Aerosmith doing that old time rock and roll.  (The current version of Guns N’ Roses has been known to play “Chip Away the Stone” from time to time.)

Bringing back the funk of “Sight for Sore Eyes”, there is no time for rest, and from there it’s straight into “Mama Kin”.  Everything that the first Aerosmith album lacked in out-of-control raucousness is intact on this live version.  Without a breath they tear into “S.O.S. (Too Bad)”, ablaze with the intensity of fully-fuelled Aerosmith.

There’s an awkward transition between “S.O.S.” (recorded ’77 in Indianapolis) and “I Ain’t Got You” (1973 for a radio broadcast).  The younger band sound very different, less wartorn and ragged from the drugs.  They go straight into James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn”, complete with sax.  It’s the funkiest thing Aerosmith have ever done by a long shot.  Material like these tracks are perfect examples why Live! Bootleg is so beloved today.  They were giving you value for your money, and songs that you didn’t have, but didn’t know you didn’t have!

The next surprise is the unlisted “Draw the Line”, a live version so over the top that perhaps it even surpasses the original!  Wait until you get to Tyler’s screams if you don’t believe me.  Checkmate honey!  After a tracklist like this, ending the album with “Train Kept a Rollin'” (Detroit 1978) is one of the only options left.  Probably tired from an energetic set, Tyler gets the audience’s help on the chorus.  Joe Perry’s hanging by a thread but still able to piece together some gratuitous solos.   He throws in a bit of Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” for shits n’ giggles too.  Live! Bootleg ends on an overindulgent but perfectly appropriate note.

The radioactive fallout from their double live album bought Aerosmith, burning out fast from the inside, a little more time before being required to produce something new.  Even then they were breaking from the strain.  Something had to give.

Fortunately before imploding, Aerosmith managed to crank out the obligatory double live album that helped seal their place in rock history.  Check that one off the box!

5/5 stars

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)
Disc 4: Rocks (1976)
Disc 5: Draw the Line (1977)
Disc 6: Live! Bootleg (1978)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Draw the Line (1977)

I posted my original review for Draw the Line back in 2013, but what you see below is brand new — a complete redux.  For Deke‘s review of Draw the Line over at Arena Rock, click here!

DRAW THE LINE_0001AEROSMITH – Draw The Line (1977 Columbia, 1993 Sony)

The intial batch of Aerosmith platters (particularly Get Your Wings, Toys In The Attic, and Rocks) are all but undisputably great records. Most agree that, for a couple years anyway, Aerosmith created some of the great most important rock music in America. Draw The Line, Aerosmith’s fifth, was considered at the time to be a drop in quality although it has certainly aged well and fared better in hindsight. Compared to Rocks, perhaps it stumbles behind like a drunk tumbling out of the bar, but it is still a magnificent piece of rock and roll damnation.  And you gotta love the cover art caricature, by Al Hirschfeld.

The drug problems had sunk in, a monkey it would take them another decade to shake, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the title track. Even though they were basically only recording music in order to keep paying for drugs, they still managed to create some legendary music on the title track.  This is desert island material, one of those songs that I don’t want to live my life without. To this day nobody has written anything as perfectly manic as “Draw The Line” from start to finish. They may have been falling apart, but musically they were capable of cranking out breakneck rock and roll of the highest quality.   It was Van Halen’s frontman David Lee Roth himself who proved the mettle of “Draw the Line” in a scientific way.  When all else failed, he used it to drive a yak heard away in the Himalayas!

And I still have no idea what Steven Tyler is singing after the lead solo break.  This is what it sounds like to me:  “OOOH check mate don’t be late take another pull, that’s right, impossible, when you gotta be yourself you’re the boss of the toss so dice the price baby baby and Draw the Line…”  I’m certain that’s not entirely right, and who knows what the fuck it means, but I’m not going to go and look up the lyrics.  Do you know why?  Because Draw the Line didn’t come with lyrics. If Steven Tyler wanted me to know what the hell he’s singing there, he’d have written it down.

Much like they did with “Nobody’s Fault” from Rocks, thrash metal pioneers Testament covered “Draw the Line”, which was released on their Signs of Chaos compilation.  Once again, it’s a perfect fit for the thrashers.

It doesn’t end there with “I Wanna Know Why” being one of the catchiest of the early ‘Smith rockers.  Those Tyler piano touches and Aerosmith horns make it the most “rock and roll” of the tracks.  It’s brassy, sassy and shows no indication of the decay setting in at all.  “Critical Mass” was also great, a song that grooves along smoothly.

Although Aerosmith fared well in the past marrying funk and rock, “Get it Up” doesn’t work as well.  While the band were playing beyond what you’d expect them to be able to, their songwriting was starting to fizzle.  Joe Perry’s “Bright Light Fright” kicks the decibels, but sounds unfocused and haggard.  The saxophone solo is a highlight, but listening to “Bright Light Fright” is like watching a drunk partying in top gear.  You know the crash is inevitable, and soon.

Turning sharply back towards jaw-dropping quality, “Kings and Queens” is regal and mighty.  Listen for the banjo lying underneath.  Oh if Aerosmith could only achieve lofty heights like “Kings and Queens” today!

“The Hand that Feeds” is a crap song, but “Sight for Sore Eyes” is better.  Aerosmith seemed to be leaning on the funkier side on the latter half of Draw the Line.  They close it with a chugging blues, a cover of “Milk Cow Blues” perhaps showing that Aerosmith didn’t have enough ideas of their own, perhaps not — they have always done covers.  Regardless, “Milk Cow Blues” is well executed, sounding very live and reckless in the studio, just like it should be.

This is impaired Aerosmith, but not entirely off the rails yet!

Yet…

4/5 stars

AEROSMITH BOX OF FIRE review series:

BOX OF FIRE THUMBDisc 1: Aerosmith (1973)
Disc 2: Get Your Wings (1974)
Disc 3: Toys in the Attic (1975)
Disc 4: Rocks (1976)
Disc 5: Draw the Line (1977)

REVIEW: Testament – Signs of Chaos: The Best of Testament (1997)

 

 

TESTAMENT – Signs of Chaos: The Best of Testament (1997 Mayhem)

I bought this in the winter of 1997.  I hadn’t listened to Testament in a few years.  I’d bought The Ritual album in 1992, but they kind of lost me post-Skolnick, when they went hell-bent for death metal.  Therefore the idea of a good, remastered single disc compilation album covering the entire career was appealing to me.  All the key tracks that I wanted were here, including two incredible B-sides!

Shortly after The Ritual came out, singer Chuck Billy denounced it as too soft, too commercial, and not the direction he and Eric Peterson wanted to take the band in the future.  Regardless of this, the single “Electric Crown” was chosen to kick off Signs of Chaos (including the brief instrumental intro, “Signs of Chaos”.  I’ve always felt it was superior to a couple of its chief rival songs at the time:  “Enter Sandman” and “Symphony of Destruction”.  You be the judge.  I think I have a strong case.

As I delved into the disc I found that I was very hit-and-miss with Testament’s earlier material.  For example “The New Order”, the title track from their 1988 album.  I find it thin production-wise, and melodically a bit awkward.  It’s hard-hitting and thrashy as fuck, but strangely enough I prefer the earlier track “Alone in the Dark” from 1987’s The Legacy.  Not only does it boast a stomping riff, but also a chorus that sticks to the head.

“Dog Faced Gods” introduced me to the Testament world of blast-beats and death metal growls.  This was from the first post-Skolnick album, Low.  Now Peterson and Billy had the chance to indulge their heaviest urges, and they did a fantastic job.  Featuring the stellar drum talents of John Tempesta (currently in The Cult), this is Testament brought to a whole new level.  While death metal growls are not normally my bag, Billy sings in a “normal” voice during the cool chorus.  As for the rest of the song, it is a precise complex of drum fills, lightning-fast guitar licks, time changes and riffs.

If you thought “Dog Faced Gods” was heavy, then “Demonic Refusal” might very well blow you out of your seat.  The followup album to Low was called Demonic and it took things further out to the boundaries.  Gene Hoglan on drums this time, “Demonic Refusal” is even more evil and scary.  It still boasts a head-crushing riff and has a strangely catchy quality to the vocal.  Chuck Billy convinced me on these songs that he is a diverse, talented thrash metal singer among the best in the genre.

“The Ballad” from the landmark 1989 album Practice What You Preach was about as close as Testament got to a hit single.  The timing was right, seeing as Metallica had success with “One” the year before.  Even though it is clearly a ballad (albeit a heavy one), the song has balls and metal fans had no problem embracing it.  To me it seems to be based on a prototype of some of Iron Maiden’s softer material.  The album Souls of Black, which followed Practice, was considered little more than a rushed carbon copy followup.  That may be the case, but either way the song “Souls of Black” is still as catchy as ever.  Skolnick’s fluttery licks are a highlight, as is Chuck Billy’s groovy lead vocal.

I find it funny that “Trial By Fire” is listed as a CD-only bonus track.  I guess this album must have been released on cassette too in 1997.  “Trial By Fire” isn’t one of the best songs in my books, but it does contain more outstanding Skolnick guitar shreddery.  A brief word about Alex Skolnick for those who don’t know:  He was one of Joe Satriani’s students, and he’s also well known for playing jazz fusion on the side.  In fact he left Testament initially to enable him to explore that kind of style.  His tone is really warm, and you can feel the vacuum tubes humming in a vintage amp when he plays.

Another uber-heavy song, “Low” from the album of the same name, is just as good and memorable as “Dog Faced Gods”.  The Low album featured one of the most respected guitarists in the death metal genre, James Murphy (Death).  Murphy’s chops helped bring Testament closer to that line between thrash and death, while maintaining the virtuosity that the band had with Alex Skolnick.

“Practice What You Preach” and “Over the Wall” provide a double-punch of early Testament heavy metal.  To me, “Over the Wall” is not an outstanding song.  It’s good for a head-bang and has a killer solo, but it’s not particularly special.  “Practice What You Preach” on the other hand nails it.  Testament were crossing groove and thrash metal together successfully, before Metallica painted it Black.  “Practice” remains one of their highest achievements from the early years.

I mentioned earlier that Souls of Black was considered by many to be little more than a second generation copy of Practice.  This extended to putting out another ballad.  “The Legacy” was one of their earlier compositions, polished up for Souls of Black.  While it’s the lesser known song, I think I prefer it to “The Ballad”.  The production seems a little more full, although the two songs are very similar.  As far as ballads go, I don’t think either song holds a candle to the next track.  “Return to Serenity” from The Ritual is a beautiful song, with gorgeous guitar tones.  It’s a less dark than the other two songs, and lyrically discussing those special places that you may have had as a child, and returning to serenity.  I would put “Return to Serenity” up against virtually any similar Metallica song, and I believe it would blow them away.  While both bands have a lead guitar player that was taught by Joe Satriani, I believe Alex Skolnick to be on a completely different level from other guitar players in this genre.

“Perilous Nation” is a plenty-good thrash party, but again this is listed as a CD only bonus track.  I just find that amusing on an album released in 1997.  The CD ends with two smoking covers:  “The Sails of Charon” (Scorpions) and “Draw the Line” (Aerosmith)!  We all know Testament are huge Aerosmith fans, since they covered “Nobody’s Fault” earlier.  Both are absolutely incredible covers and alone worth the price of the CD.  “Draw the Line”, already a manic-fast song, is give a dose of Liquid Schwartz in the ol’ engine.  I defy you to refrain from banging your head.  What an awesome song to end the CD on, and this review on!

5/5 stars