Eat ‘Em and Smile

Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

This is the first Just Listening post for an album I’ve already reviewed in full.  I tackled David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper back in 2013, rating it 4/5 stars.  However a recent conversation with singer/songwriter Derek Kortepeter led me to try to listen with new ears.

It started with Derek’s message to me.  “Unpopular opinion:  Skyscraper is better than Eat ‘Em and Smile,” he said.  “Better songs, better guitar, tons of awesome synth…when you have tracks like ‘Perfect Timing’ and ‘Knucklebones’ how can you go wrong?”  Derek says “Perfect Timing” might be his favourite song on the album.

Derek definitely has some good points.  It’s easily arguable that Skyscraper has better guitars.  Steve Vai was in the co-producer’s chair, and he layered his guitar parts as if he was building one of his own solo albums.  They’re very dense, yet melodically intertwined.  As for the synth, he has a valid observation with some songs like “Skyscraper”.  That song verges on progressive rock; it’s got so much going on, including synth and layered Roth vocals.  However I think the synth was overdone on tracks like “Stand Up“, which doesn’t even have Billy Sheehan on bass.

Skyscraper is an almost absurd album in some respects, with Dave pouring on that “charasma” to the nth degree.  There are so many “woo’s” “wow’s” and “oh’s” that you could make an entire song of just that.  Steve Vai was the star on Skyscraper, and as I said in my original review, how much you like Skyscraper will depend on how much you like Steve Vai.  I like Steve; I think his music and playing is fascinating.  Rock fans often don’t want “fascinating”, they just want the riffs and the choruses.  Eat ‘Em and Smile was much more about the big guitars and choruses, but it’s also just a fabulous record.  Skyscraper is colder sounding by comparison, and often drifts into experimental pop rock excursions.  It also suffers for the lack of Billy Sheehan, who wasn’t given a lot of creative freedom.  Where there should be bass, often you will hear synth.

Sorry Derek, you have made some really great points, and Skyscraper really is a great album.  It’s brave and fun and experimental, but it’s also cold with little bit of filler (“Stand Up”).   I’ll always rate it high…but not as high as Eat ‘Em and Smile.

REVIEW: Talas – Live Speed on Ice (1983)

Second in a two-part review of the 1989 compilation CD, Billy Sheehan – The Talas Years.  Part one is here:  Sink Your Teeth Into That.  More Talas tomorrow!

scan_20161210BILLY SHEEHAN – The Talas Years (Part Two of Two)  (1989 Relativity)
TALAS – Live Speed on Ice (1983 Relativity)

When we last met Talas, they were a power trio.  On their 1984 live album, they were a quartet.  Billy Sheehan was the only remaining member of the original lineup, with some hot talent behind him:  Mark Miller on drums, Mitch Perry (MSG) on guitar, and the hugely talented Phil Naro singing.  Naro has been around, including a stint with Peter Criss.  (You can hear a number of his performances on Mitch Lafon’s Kiss tribute CD A World With Heroes.)

There is little question that Naro’s voice brings the songs to another level.  “Sink Your Teeth Into That” benefits from his young rasp.  Mitch Perry throws in a more articulated guitar solo for an extended section leaving Billy to hold down the riff.  Second in line is a new song, “Crystal Clear” which has a biting Police guitar riff.  The busy bass holds down the melodic center as Naro soars on top.  Live Speed on Ice has great value, since much of its material was actually brand new and never released on anything else.  “The Farandole” is another new one, an instrumental of jaw-dropping ability.  Dueling bass and guitars dance and parry while the drums hit the heavy blows.

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More new tunes:  “Do You Feel Any Better”, “Lone Rock”, and “Inner Mounting Flame” continue the ass-kicking streak.  Each has their own groove, but “Inner Mounting Flame” truly is live speed on ice.  A few older tracks from the album are solid winners:  “King of the World”, “High Speed on Ice” and of course “Shy Boy”, the one Talas song that people know today thanks to David Lee Roth.  Billy’s signature bass solo is also performed live (and extended), but cleverly retitled.  While “NVH 3345” meant “SHEEHAN” upside down, “7718 (3A17)” means “BILL (LIVE)”.  With the freedom of the live setting, Bill took his time to showcase some unheard of chops and effects.

Any album that has Billy Sheehan on bass is bound to include a thousand notes of pure thrills, and any record with Phil Naro is going to sound awesome vocally.  Therefore, Live Speed on Ice should be a welcome addition to the discerning rock fan’s personal library.  The easiest way to get it is on CD combined with Sink Your Teeth Into That as the 1989 compilation Billy Sheehan – The Talas Years.  Either way, you win.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Talas – Sink Your Teeth Into That (1982)

A two-part review of the 1989 compilation CD, Billy Sheehan – The Talas Years.

scan_20161210BILLY SHEEHAN – The Talas Years (Part One of Two)  (1989 Relativity)
TALAS – Sink Your Teeth Into That (1982 Relativity)

Fans of David Lee Roth are probably already aware of Talas via their incredible bassist Billy Sheehan, an innovative genius of the four-string rumble.  His first recordings were with Talas (1979-1983), a Buffalo power trio.  With Roth, he re-recorded the Talas track “Shy Boy” on Eat ‘Em And Smile.  The Talas original can be found on their second LP Sink Your Teeth Into That, or the compilation The Talas Years.

The focus is immediately and obvious on the bass.  Billy plays it simultaneously as a lead instrument, and the rhythmic foundation.  “Sink Your Teeth Into That”, the title track boasts not only insane playing, but sounds that had never been heard before from a bass guitar.  And the song’s pretty good too.  It’s raw 80s hard rock, no more no less, except for that bass.  “Hit and Run” is just as strong.  Talas were not just a bass showcase, but a band that could actually write good songs.  These are unpolished and rough songs, with the band (Dave Constantino on guitar and Paul Varga on drums) alternating lead vocals.

The centerpiece of the album is the bass solo “NVH 3345”.  Write that down and turn it upside down:  it spells “SHEEHAN”.  It has been said before that as Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” was a game changer on guitar,  “NVH 3345” is the “Eruption” of the bass guitar.  It is hard to imagine more sheer technique stuffed into 2:21.  For anyone who is a serious collector of hard rock heroes, “NVH 3345” must find a way into your collection.

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“High Speed On Ice” returns to a hard rocking momentum, like “Highway Star” via Buffalo New York.  Then “Shy Boy” which needed David Lee Roth and Steve Vai to finally perfect it.  Think of this version as a prototype.  It is hard to believe that David Lee Roth did not write the line “Gotta keep things movin’ ’til my personality starts it groovin'”, but Roth made it sound like he meant it.

“King of the World” and “Outside Lookin’ In” occupy the mid-tempo range, and that would be Billy singing those high screams.  Both good songs with the memorable hooks to go with the bass hijinks.  Shadows fall on “Never See Me Cry”, a darker side of Talas but still with the hooks intact.  Second to last song “Smart Lady” is the only loser.  There isn’t room for songs that just don’t cut it.  “Hick Town” ends the album on a better note, with bass pyrotechnics and thrills to go.

Sink your teeth into Talas, and come back tomorrow for a look at Live Speed on Ice.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986)

Scan_20150728DAVID LEE ROTH – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986 Warner)

1986 was the year it all went down. If you were a Van Halen fan, it was time to choose.

Of course, nobody really had to choose between Van Hagar and David Lee Roth. It’s not like every fan had only $10 to spend on albums that year. Fans did choose anyway, and even today almost 30 years later, we still argue about who’s best: Diamond Dave or the Red Rocker?

No matter who you sided with, there is no question that David Lee Roth stormed into 1986 with a killer new band and album.

Steve Vai! That’s enough right there to make for an incendiary band — just ask David Coverdale. Before Little Stevie Vai was a household name, he had earned the respect of Frank Zappa who hired him on after Joe’s Garage. He made his Zappa debut on Tinseltown Rebellion, before being snagged by Graham Bonnet in 1985 for Alcatrazz’s Disturbing the Peace. In that band, he had the unenviable task of replacing a Swedish guitar player you may have heard of called Yngwie J. Malmsteen. Needless to say, Steve Vai was already experienced in filling big shoes by the time David Lee Roth made contact.

Billy Sheehan! A lot of people think he’s the world’s greatest bass player, period. Eight finger lead bass, baby! Three albums with Talas didn’t do much in terms of sales, but the material was strong enough that one song was re-recorded for the Roth album.

Gregg Bissonette! Once you learn how to properly spell his name, you will recognize Bissonette on loads of album credits. Joe Satriani come to mind? How about Spinal Tap? For your information, Gregg Bissonette is still alive, and is still the current Spinal Tap drummer.

Combine those three virtuosos with the greatest frontman of all time, and you have best new band of 1986.

Van Halen’s 5150 came out in March, going to #1. That’s a hard act to follow. Eat ‘Em and Smile, however, ending up standing the test of time. I would argue that even though it’s not Van Halen, it’s still the best Van Halen album since 1984….

As if to say “Eddie who?”, the album opens with Steve Vai’s trademark talking guitar. I’m talkin’ about-a-“Yankee Rose”! Here’s the shot heard ’round the world indeed. Lyrically, musically, and instrumentally, this song truly is the spiritual successor to classic Van Halen. David Lee was still in prime voice, and does he ever pour it on! Sassy as ever, Roth sounds exactly how he should: the showman in the rock and roll circus. And let’s not forget Billy and Gregg. Sheehan’s slinky bass on the outro is space age groove.

“Shyboy” is an atomic bomb. Billy brought in this song from Talas, but there is no question that Dave’s version is vastly superior. I have no idea how Vai makes his guitar create these sounds. When he goes into syncopation with Billy on the fastest solo of all time, your head may be blown clean off. Please, do not attempt to listen to “Shyboy” in the car, without testing it at home first. As Steve’s guitar flickers from left to right, Billy’s bass is the fastest, baddest groove on record. “Shyboy” is of such high quality that I do not think any self-respecting rock fan can live without it. Virtually every trick that Steve had at the time was in this one song.

One thing that was special about Van-Halen-with-Dave was their fearlessness in doing odd covers, such as “Big Bad Bill” or “Oh Pretty Woman”. Dave took that with him, and included oldie swing covers like “I’m Easy”. Horn laden and with Steve’s expert licks, it should be no surprise that they nail this one. It’s much in the spirit of Dave’s solo EP, Crazy From the Heat, only better.

Perhaps the most outstanding song on Eat ‘Em and Smile would be “Ladies Nite in Buffalo?” Dave has always said he loves disco and dance music. This is the most perfect melding of that world with rock. Vai is rarely so funky, and there is no question that Dave has the vibe right. Smooth and steamy, “Ladies Nite in Buffalo?” is a tune perfectly in synch with activities of the nocturnal persuasion. Who else but Dave would be perfect to deliver this message?

“Goin’ Crazy” was a great track to make into one of Dave’s typically high flying music videos. It’s party rock time, with a tropical vibe. “Goin’ Grazy” worked particularly well when Dave re-released it in Spanish, as “¡Loco del calor!”. I used to consider this tune a bit of a throwaway, but it has certainly endeared itself over the years. Another meticulously perfect Vai solo doesn’t hurt, and Billy’s bass popping helps end side one on an up note.

Now there is a story here that needs to be told. Billy Sheehan was in Canadian progressive rock band Max Webster for “about three weeks” according to lead singer Kim Mitchell. Upon joining Dave’s band, he introduced them to Kim Mitchell’s solo track “Kids In Action”, which they decided to cover. Bill called Kim up to ask him for the lyrics, because they couldn’t quite make them all out. Kim supplied the words, and Dave recorded the song. However, it was dropped at the 11th hour, for another cover — “Tobacco Road”. David Lee Roth’s version of “Kids In Action” has yet to be released or even bootlegged. Not that I am complaining about “Tobacco Road”, another old cover! Yet again, the reliably awesome Steve Vai just sells it. There is no question that the whole song just smokes, but getting to hear Stevie playing this old blues?  Pretty damn cool.

That’s nothing. You thought “Shyboy” was fast? Check out “Elephant Gun”! Billy’s fingers didn’t fall off, but mine would have. “I’ll protect you baby with my Elephant Gun”, claims Dave. Nudge, wink! Steve Vai’s been known to write blazing fast songs, and “Elephant Gun” is so fast it’s almost showing off. Wisely though, things get slow and nocturnal once again on “Big Trouble”. That’s a title Dave recycled from an old unused Van Halen song. (That song became “Big River” on A Different Kind of Truth.) Steve’s guitar melodies and solo on this are particularly celestial. Roth uses his speaking voice, spinning a tale as only he can. “Bump and Grind” is a perfectly acceptable album track, a sleaze rocker as only Dave can do. If I am interpreting the lyrics correctly, Dave is a dance instructor in this one. “Shake it slowly, and do that Bump and Grind”.

Much like “Happy Trails” ended Diver Down on a jokey note, Dave ends his first solo album with a cover: “That’s Life”, the song that Sinatra made famous. Coming from the guy who did “Just a Gigolo”, we know he can do that kind of thing very well. The first time I heard the album years ago, I shrugged and said, “Another one?” Now, older and fatter, I sez it’s all good! Zop-bop-doop-zooby-dooby-doo indeed. Funny thing though. When I think of Diver Down, I think of a fun but fairly shallow album of half covers. When I think of Eat ‘Em and Smile, I don’t question the integrity of it. I don’t know why I seem to hold that double standard.

In this writer’s humble opinion, Eat ‘Em and Smile was David Lee Roth’s finest moment as a solo artist. It was not nearly as well known as 5150, OU812, or any of Van Hagar’s albums, and that is almost criminal. The talent in this band, pound for pound, outweighed anybody else going at the time, including Van Halen. Shame they couldn’t make it last.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Greatest Hits/The Deluxe Edition (2013 CD/DVD)

NEW RELEASE – nov. 19 2013

DLRGRHITS_0001DAVID LEE ROTH  –  Greatest Hits/The Deluxe Edition (2013 Warner CD/DVD)

Dear LeBrain readers,

I’ve been here writing reviews for the better part of 21 months now.  I think we know each other well enough, you and I, that I can skip the formalities in some instances.  I don’t think I need to describe in detail classic David Lee Roth recordings such as “California Girls”, “Just a Gigolo”, or “Just Like Paradise”.  I’m willing to bet that with exception to the 1990’s material, most readers already know most of the songs on this album.  If you happened to stumble upon later albums like A Little Ain’t Enough or Your Filthy Little Mouth, then you probably know them all.

If you’re familiar with David Lee Roth but don’t own any as of yet, then your next question is likely to be, “Is this a good place to start?”  Sure, why not?  Dave’s latest “hits” compilation, simply called Greatest Hits (his last one was called The Best), does the trick in most regards.  It even includes Dave’s entire first solo EP Crazy From the Heat albeit not in the original running order.  (1. “Easy Street” 2. “Just A Gigolo” 3. “California Girls” 4. “Coconut Groove” in case you feel like re-arranging the tracks as originally released.)  “Easy Street” is an Edgar Winter Group original, and Dave has Edgar guest on his version too.

Some of the best songs are distilled from Eat ‘Em and Smile, but that’s a 5/5 star album that needs to be owned on its own regardless.   From Skyscraper is “Just Like Paradise” and “Hot Dog and a Shake”, but not the single “Stand Up” interestingly enough.   Present are the three singles from A Little Ain’t Enough: the bluesy “Tell the Truth,” the title track and the swanky “Sensible Shoes”.   Three tracks are included from Your Filthy Little Mouth, only one of which is a head-scratcher (the reggae infused “No Big ‘Ting”) but by-and-large this an acceptable slice of Warner Brothers era David Lee Roth.

What you readers are likely to be most interested in is the bonus DVD.  This “Deluxe Edition” (there’s no other edition available) includes most of Dave’s groundbreaking, genre-hopping classic music videos.  The “Dave TV” segment has uncut videos for “California Girls” and “Gigolo” interspersed with Dave’s commentary.  Continuing the fun are Dave’s first two “band” videos, “Yankee Rose” and “Goin’ Crazy!” along with Dave’s cast of characters.  These of course includes the fabulous Picasso Brothers!

As an added bonus they also included the Spanish version of “Goin’ Crazy!” (“¡Loco Del Calor!”) which appears to be an entirely unique cut, based on the same video shoot.  There are fewer costume changes and stunts, but it’s cool that Dave’s attention to detail included lip-synching an entirely separate video for another territory.

The odds and ends on this disc are pretty scarce, such as the videos for “Sensible Shoes”, “The Nightlife”, and “Tell the Truth”.  None of these videos are nearly as entertaining as the colourful classics.  Let’s face it, Dave’s great in front of a camera, but he’s at his best when it’s one hell of a party happening behind him.

In Canada, this is an import and I paid about $26.  In the US it’s under $19 which is a much more reasonable price.  For fans who don’t own anything, get this, it just makes sense to.  For fans who already have all the albums, you are now forewarned that you’re buying this solely for the DVD.  There’s nothing much else special in terms of packaging, although lyrics are included.

The CD:  3.5/5 stars

The DVD:  5/5 stars

Blended rating:  4.25/5 stars

More DAVID LEE ROTH at mikeladano.com:

Sonrisa Salvaje (Eat ‘Em and Smile 1986 – Spanish version) – Skyscraper (1988) – “Stand Up” promo remix – Your Filthy Little Mouth (1994 Japanese version) – DLR Band (1998) – Diamond Dave (2003)

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Skyscraper (1988)

 

DAVID LEE ROTH – Skyscraper (1988 Warner Bros.)

Changes were afoot in the land of Roth after the success of Eat ‘Em and Smile.  Keyboardist Brett Tuggle was hired in as a full-time member.  Steve Vai was promoted to the rank of co-producer for the next album.  Billy Sheehan was put on a leash, his busy bass stylings reduced to typical pop rock lines on much of the new material.  One song even had a programmed bass instead of the real thing.

It seemed like a sudden about-face.  David Lee Roth had left behind the Van Halen-nouveau trappings of the last album in exchange for a much slicker and more commercial sound. What resulted was Skyscraper, a synth-heavy odd duck that nevertheless spawned a massive hit single still getting radio play today. Revisiting it, this almost (only almost!)  sounds more like a Vai album than a Dave album. That’s not a bad thing, depending on how you feel about the 6 (soon to be 7) string master. Certainly, his loopy noodling was reaching an early peak here, but his stylings are not for everyone.

My biggest complaint would be the sidelining of Billy Sheehan.  I mean, you’ve got possibly the best bass player in the universe in your band:  Exploit that!  Don’t keep him playing 1/4 notes.  In a 1988 Hit Parader interview, Sheehan said that he had to leave the band in order to express himself.  He referred to the “note police” (Roth) who ordered him to play it simpler.  After Skyscraper, he was replaced by drummer Gregg Bissonnette’s brother Matt (no slouch).

The opening rocker “Knucklebones” is a great song, but falls a little limp.  Skyscraper‘s production is cold, sterile, and digital; like in that 80’s way before the technology had really come along.  It does boast complex guitar riffing mixed in with idiosyncratic Dave lyrics. Dave has acknowledged that Vai was in the driver’s seat for this album, and its complexity is a testament to that.

Elsewhere there are some progressive moments (the title track, “Hina”), stage-ready rockers (“Perfect Timing”, “Hot Dog and a Shake”), good time ballads (“Damn Good”) and whatever-the-hell (“Three Fools A Minute”). All of this is surrounded by a fun, party-like atmosphere courtesy of Dave as the band’s hoots n’ hollers along.

I consider this album to be a brave experiment, and Dave’s highest artistic achievement. Not his best album, but his most artistic.  While not as instantly likable, rocking, or consistent as Eat ‘Em And Smile, it is endlessly ambitious, layered, and most importantly fun. Dave is the ringmaster of the greatest party in town. Skyscraper is the party where the smart dudes stop in for a beer.

Craig Fee at 107.5 Dave FM, the world’s biggest Van Halen (not Van Hagar!) fan has this to say:

I still have a soft spot for “Just Like Paradise,” “Stand Up” (the more you do it the less you fall down!) and “Hot Dog & A Shake.”  With Steve Vai on lead guitar, this album is a killer follow-up to EEAS.

I’m glad I asked Craig for his comment because our song likes and dislikes on this album are almost opposite!  My faves?  “Skyscraper”, “Hina”, “Just Like Paradise”, “Knucklebones”  My filler: “Stand Up”!  So there ya go.  Maybe this record has something for everyone?

4/5 stars

“Promo only!  Not for sale!”