Epic Review Time

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Hysteria (2017 5 CD/2DVD 30th anniversary edition)

This is the ultimate review of Hysteria. Some material is recycled from:

This review covers everything you need to know about the ultimate version of Hysteria.

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria (2017 Universal 5 CD/2DVD 30th anniversary edition)

25 million copies sold.  Seven hit singles.  A two year world tour.  All done under the most difficult circumstances.  Def Leppard’s Hysteria is one of rock’s greatest triumphs.

Although the album was released in 1987, the Hysteria story really begins on December 31, 1984.  Drummer Rick Allen lost control of his speeding Corvette, and was thrown from the vehicle due to improper use of seatbelts.  His left arm was severed.  Doctors attempted to re-attach the arm, but infection set in and it could not be saved.  It would be understandable if people thought Rick’s career in music was finished.  While many artists from Django Reinhardt to Tony Iommi had dealt with physical disabilities, nobody had ever seen a one-armed rock drummer before.

Undaunted, Allen began working on a way around his disability.  The band never considered a future without him, and were disappointed by “ambulance chasers” looking for a gig.  Rick Allen wasn’t about to allow himself to go down or dwell in his misery.  With an electronic kit triggered by his feet and right hand, Allen eventually regained his ability to not only play drums, but play live.  This resulted in an inevitable stylistic change.  Allen’s drumming style became more staggered, with emphasis on bigger, spaced out snare hits.  His electronic kit was no crutch:  singer Joe Elliott said he could play it “and make it really sound terrible”.

The next album was supposed to be a big deal.  It was Phil Collen’s first Def Leppard LP as a writer, and Rick’s chance to prove he wasn’t out.  Unfortunately, when the band started to record, producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange was not available.  Instead the band began to work with Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf), but were underwhelmed by the results they were getting.  Leppard’s ambition was not just to make another album, but to make something seriously good, memorable and special.  Something to surpass Pyromania.  Steinman was let go and the band started working with Nigel Green with no progress being made.

The band were taking so long, and suffered so many setbacks and delays, that eventually Mutt Lange was available again, and together they finally began work on the new Def Leppard LP.  Co-writing every song with the band, Mutt provided the focus and intense discipline.  The stated goal, following the template of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, was to make an album with 12 potential singles.

The long story of this difficult album (false starts, illnesses, studio problems) is only overshadowed by its success.  But it took a while to get there.

Disc One:  The original album (Hysteria)

The first single “Women” did well enough, but failed to kickstart the mega album sales needed to recoup the losses.  “Women” was an odd choice for a first single: a slow robotic rock track, with a killer comic book-based music video.  It introduced the new Def Leppard groove:  A simple one or two note bass line, layers upon layers of vocals and chiming guitars, but none of the full-speed-ahead New Wave of British Heavy Metal that Leppard were founded on.  The year was 1987 and Def Leppard were on the cutting edge.

 

To get those chiming bell-like chords, Mutt had them recorded one note at a time!  This is very apparent on “Animal”, the second single.  It too was mildly successful, but not enough to push the album into orbit.  Listen to the guitar chords and you will hear something that sounds more like chimes than strings.  This is down to the incredibly detailed and overdubbed recordings.  “Animal” was a stellar pop rock track, and a fine example of what Hysteria sounds like.

Refusing to give up, a third single was dropped:  the ballad title track “Hysteria” and possibly the finest song on the album.  The fact that these singles were not the hits the band hoped for at the time has not diminished them.  Today they are all concert classics, radio staples, and beloved fan favourites.  Leppard even re-recorded the song in 2013 for release on iTunes.  (While the re-recorded version is impressive, it is impossible to exactly recreate the magic on this album.)

Finally, the success that the band and record label were waiting for happened.  The track was “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and the North American version of its music video showcased the band’s stunning live show.  Def Leppard were playing “in the round” to rave reviews.  “Pour Some Sugar”, a retro glam rock tune with a contemporary sound, was a summer smash hit.  It was cool, it was catchy, and Joe’s verses almost sounded like rap, although really they had more in common with Marc Bolan of T-Rex.

On a roll, nothing would stop Def Leppard now.  Though the goal was an album with 12 potential singles, Hysteria eventually yielded seven.  Most rock bands were lucky to squeeze three out of a hit album.  Though the album was now becoming a bonafide hit, some critics and fans lamented the death of the original Def Leppard.  Others embraced their pop success.  The raw edgy guitars were gone and replaced by bright, precise parts working as a whole, in a gigantic pop rock juggernaut.  Joe wasn’t screaming out every line, but actually singing now.  It hardly matters.  With the success of Hysteria, Def Leppard had embarked on a whole new journey and have rarely looked back to their origins.

The singles carried on, through the rest of 1988 and into 1989.  “Love Bites” was fifth up, which originated as a country ballad that Mutt wrote and the band Leppardized into something different.  It was a hit for the autumn of ’88, a slightly dark ballad for the fall.  The victorious glam rock of “Armageddon It” was next, simple and pleasant enough for radio and video, and another huge hit.  These were songs that had pep, but wouldn’t frighten mom and dad.

The seventh and final single was a surprise choice:  “Rocket”.  On album, “Rocket” was 6:37 long, and featured a long experimental middle section.  The ambitious mid-section featured loads of NASA samples and sound effects, all backed by the African inspired drum loops of Rick Allen.  The song was based a drum beat by Burundi Black, brought in by Joe Elliott, played by Rick Allen and looped.  Eventually lyrics were added, inspired by the glitter groups of the 70’s that Leppard grew up with.  Lange also used backwards vocals for some of the hooks.  The line that opens the track and repeats through the song is the chorus from “Gods of War”, backwards:  “Raw fo sdog eht rof gnithgif er’ew.”  It was a sharp track to be used as a single, but that unforgettable beat was beyond question.

Hysteria had two more tracks as good as the singles, although they were not.  “Gods of War” became a fan favourite, and easily could have been an eighth single.  Dark in tone but more epic in quality, it has since become heavily associated with late guitarist Steven Maynard Clark.  He was responsible for much of its guitar thunder.  The final track that could have worked as a single was the album closer, the ballady “Love and Affection”.  As good as any of the actual singles, “Love and Affection” had its own charm and hit potential.  It’s long been one of my album favourites, just under “Hysteria” and “Gods of War”.

Rounding out the LP are “Run Riot” and “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”, two rock tracks that would have been highlights on a lesser album.  Neither are clearly as brilliant as the hits, but both solidly get the job done with guitar thrills.  Finally there is “Excitable”, the only song I’ve never particularly dug.  It strikes me as gimmicky and very 80’s, much like “Social Disease” by Bon Jovi.  Too reliant on sound effects and gimmicks.  So out of 12 tracks, only one was really a dud.  That’s not bad by any measure.

Hysteria rode the charts, recouped its costs, and then some.  The tour in the round was legendary and resulted in a live video In the Round: In Your Face.  Def Leppard were, for a short while anyway, the biggest rock band in the world.

Disc Two & Three:  B-Sides and Remixes

As discussed in greater detail in Record Store Tales Part 4:  A Word About B-Sides, this album and its singles really clicked with the collector in me.  Def Leppard prepared a number of B-sides for Hysteria, and perhaps because these were not produced with Mutt, they all have a harder edge.  The four key must-have B-sides were all exclusive studio tracks, and the first four on the second CD of this set.

“Tear It Down” was a speedy but basic rock track considered good enough to include on the next album, and so it was.  The B-side version remains its superior, because it is tougher than the one on Adrenalize.  The most impressive B-side was probably “I Wanna Be Your Hero”.  This B-side from the “Animal” EP has the Hysteria vibe and sound.  It easily could have replaced “Excitable” as an LP track, but if it had perhaps Hysteria wouldn’t have sounded as diverse.  Dig that false ending!   Next, “Ride into the Sun” is a remake of a track from the original 1979 Def Leppard EP.  The 1987 update is heavier and far better, a truly impressive upgrade.  Finally “Ring of Fire” was even heavier than that, clearly too heavy for what Hysteria became.

The second disc features all the radio edits done for Hysteria‘s singles.  Even to collectors, this is padding.  Only one radio edit seems to hit the nostalgic notes, which is “Women” with a fade out ending.  Incidentally, the only single from Hysteria that didn’t get a single edit was “Animal”, already short at 4:04.

Most important is the cover version of  “Release Me”.  This track was initially released on the “Armageddon It” picture disc single, but not credited to Def Leppard.  Much like their later acoustic B-sides credited to the Acoustic Hippies from Hell, “Release Me” is credited to “Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys”.  Engelbert Humperdinck is responsible for the most famous version of “Release Me”, but Stumpus Maximus is definitely responsible for the most twisted.  Featuring Def Leppard’s roadie Malvin Mortimer on lead vocals and the rest of the band goofing around on each others’ instruments, “Release Me” is a hoot.  Mortimer breaks all known sound barriers with his screaming (and burping) of the lyrics.  I was absolutely confused beyond belief upon hearing this for the first time, since I didn’t catch on to this actually being Def Leppard in disguise.  They absolutely fooled me; I thought whoever they were, Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys sucked!  A hilarious novelty.

Disc two concludes with an 18 minute radio special from the BBC, going through Hysteria‘s songs with Joe Elliott.   The third disc consists of remixes and live B-sides from the period.  Extended versions of “Animal”, “Pour Some Sugar”, “Armageddon It”, “Rocket” and even “Excitable” all come from 12” singles.  A welcome inclusion is the single edit of “Rocket”, the short version of the “lunar mix” .  This was excluded from the previous 2 CD deluxe of Hysteria.  The video mix of “Pour Some Sugar” is still missing, but that track is on so many albums including the five-million-selling Vault, so we’re not going to worry about it.  These extended remixes are, not surprisingly, pretty much for the fans and collectors.

The live B-sides feature the fascinating “Rock of Ages” medley. It seamlessly captures key riffs of classic rock tunes:  “Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly), “My Generation” (The Who), “Radar Love” (Golden Earring), “Come Together” (The Beatles) and “Whole Lotta Love” (Zeppelin).  This is all done to the tempo and style of “Rock of Ages”, and quite well, too.  Then it’s a lively cut of “Love and Affection”, which was also utilised as the album’s Japanese bonus track.  It’s very rare to hear this song done live, and definitely rare to hear a great vintage version done live.  Finally there’s a so-so “Billy’s Got a Gun” (same gig).  One live B-side is missing, though you can understand why, it is still annoying.  “Elected”, the live Alice Cooper cover (same gig again), was on the 2 CD deluxe edition.  It was recorded during this period but released in 1993 on the “Heaven Is” single.  Because it’s not from a Hysteria single, it was dropped from this box set.  Too bad.

Disc Four & Five:  In the Round In Your Face (Live)

When  I was a young fella, massively into Def Leppard, In the Round In Your Face (taped in Denver over two nights) was the very first live home video I ever bought.  To finally, finally have a proper audio edition…there are no words to express the happiness!  It always should have been a double live album release and not just a video, but hindsight is always 20/20.

The legendary set consists of hits from Hysteria, Pyromania, and “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” from High N’ Dry.  From the unforgettable Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” intro, to the final song “Photograph”, it’s non-stop fun.  Though today there is plenty of live Leppard available, nothing tops vintage Joe Elliott screaming like a kid.  Aside from a flawless track selection, highlights of the concert include Phil Collen’s new acoustic intro to “Heartbreak”.  “Gods of War” is heavy and powerful.  “Too Late For Love” gives me chills.  Of the newer songs, “Women” is notable for being included as one of the B-sides for “Rocket”.  Instead of putting it on the previous disc, it was left intact here, with the concert it came from.  Of course, we mustn’t forget what really makes this concert special.  Steven Maynard Clark didn’t survive to do another tour with Def Leppard, and this would be the last live recording with him on it.

DVD Disc One:  Visual Hysteria

This disc is a new compilation of video clips, the first four of which are previously unreleased.  Leppard have three Hysteria-related appearances on Top of the Pops:  “Animal”, “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, “and “Rocket”.  These lip-synced television appearances are almost comical as people scream for a band miming a hit song.  The showmanship of Steve Clark, in his billowy white pants, is sorely missed.  What a rock star!  On “Animal”, frontman Joe Elliott appears to have pulled a Derek Smalls and stuffed his trousers.  Note Phil’s ahead-of-the-times Metallica shirt during “Sugar”.  Unfortunately “Rocket” fades out early.  Though these videos are old and washed-out, it’s a hoot to have them.  Leppard lip-sync again on a familiar video of “Sugar” from the Brit awards.

Music videos were a huge part of the marketing for Hysteria, and a key component to its success.  Each one is here, including both the UK and US versions of “Sugar”.  These videos bring back such a nostalgic glow.  I remember seeing “Women” for the first time, thinking how amazing it was that Def Leppard were back.  I also thought about how brave Rick Allen was.  He didn’t try to hide his injury.  The slow-mo effect of “Hysteria” brings back a lot of memories, as does “Love Bites”.  It was a huge hit video in Canada, during a very cool autumn.

DVD Disc Two:  Classic Albums

Of all the Classic Albums series DVDs, this was one of my most frequently played.  It is now reissued as part of the 30th anniversary box set, a perfect place for it.  In case you didn’t know, Classic Albums is a fantastic series of documentaries that go back to the original master tapes.  Hysteria is one of many albums they have covered.

Hysteria is such a rich, textured, thick album with a long story so this DVD is an obvious slam dunk. The only thing it lacks is Mutt Lange’s knowledge (a notorious recluse). Otherwise, the band go back to the beginning with the early demos. “Animal” was sparse but remarkably recognizable while still in demo form, down to the false ending. “Rocket” is deconstructed so you can hear the drum orchestra that was laid down, while Joe Elliott talks about how it was inspired. The backing vocals of “Gods of War” are laid out bare, virtually every single word sung and recorded separately! That’s the kind of album this is.

Along with that, Joe, Phil and Sav also perform bits live in the studio. This helps to illustrate the individual parts further.  It is revealed to “Love Bites” was brought to the band by Lange as a country song; you can hear the roots on this DVD.  Rick Allen is there to discuss his accident, an obviously emotional moment. Steve Clark is discussed too, and current Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell is on hand to talk about the numerous guitar parts that he inherited and has to play live.

JEFF RICHMy favourite feature of this DVD is actually in the bonus material.  It’s the chapter that covers the first shows that Leppard played after Rick Allen’s accident. Originally, Jeff Rich from Status Quo was tapped to play a second drum kit alongside Allen on stage, just in case Allen got tired, slipped out of time, or couldn’t finish the show. There were so many variables that nobody knew what would happen during what really amounted to Allen’s comeback shows. Well, for one show in the middle of nowhere, Jeff Rich was late.  If he had turned up on time, maybe Rick Allen would never have found out that he could play a full Def Leppard show on his own.  Allen did the show with no help on the drums, and he nailed it.  Rich told Allen that his work was done; Allen did not need any more help.  And that was it!

The books and packaging

This iteration of Hysteria comes with four individual books and a poster suitable for framing.  The Big Book of Hysteria is the main event.  Adorned with pictures and full credits, this tells the story of the album from the band’s point of view.  There were details in this book that even I wasn’t previously aware of.   Why did Rick Savage play guitar on “Hysteria”?  What was the original planned 10 track running order of the album?  You’ll find that in this book.  There is also a track by track rundown of the album by the band.

Next:   Ross Halfin’s Portraits of Hysteria.  This photo book has many of the classic pictures you will remember from this period.  I had several of these as posters on my wall.  Halfin was responsible for all of them!

A lovely miniature reproduction of the 1988 UK tour book is complete with cut-outs and even more Halfin photos.  Tour books are large affairs, and this being a small reproduction, the text is hard to read.  Especially for us old enough to have an original North American tour program in the house.

Lastly, and perhaps most lovely, is the Discography book.  Inside are photos and release details of every obscure version ever released of Hysteria, all its singles and more.  It’s exhaustive and assembled with consultation from a fan expert.

All seven discs, books and poster are packed in a nice looking, compact box.  Each disc has its own gatefold sleeve with yet more memorable pictures inside.  They nest inside a cardboard tray with the Union Jack printed on it.  Perfect!

Conclusion

I’ve had Hysteria five times now.  The first was a gift for Christmas of ’87.  I upgraded to CD when I was working at the Record Store.  I bought the 2006 2 CD deluxe edition, the DVD of Classic Albums, and Hysteria on 180 gram vinyl.  I hope this 30th anniversary box set is the last time I have to do so.  I can’t imagine what could entice me to buy it again.  A 5.1 surround sound mix?  Please, rock gods, don’t do that.

I love Hysteria.  But let’s hope this is the last of it.

5/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: Def Leppard – Hysteria (1987, 2006 deluxe edition)

EPIC REVIEW TIME.  Image heavy!  Step inside, walk this way.

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria (1987, 2006 Mercury deluxe edition)

25 million copies sold.  Seven hit singles.  A two year world tour.  All done under the most difficult circumstances.  Def Leppard’s Hysteria is one of rock’s greatest triumphs.

Although the album was released in 1987, the Hysteria story really begins on December 31, 1984.  Drummer Rick Allen lost control of his speeding Corvette, and was thrown from the vehicle due to improper use of seatbelts.  His left arm was severed.  Doctors attempted to re-attach the arm, but infection set in and it could not be saved.  It would be understandable if people thought Rick’s career in music was finished.  While many artists from Django Reinhardt to Tony Iommi had dealt with physical disabilities, nobody had ever seen a one-armed rock drummer before.

Undaunted, Allen began working on a way around his disability.  The band never considered a future without him, and were disappointed by “ambulance chasers” looking for a gig.  Rick Allen wasn’t about to allow himself to go down or dwell in his misery.  With an electronic kit triggered by his feet and right hand, Allen eventually regained his ability to not only play drums, but play live.  This resulted in an inevitable stylistic change.  Allen’s drumming style became more staggered, with emphasis on bigger, spaced out snare hits.  His electronic kit was no crutch:  singer Joe Elliott said he could play it “and make it really sound terrible”.

The next album was supposed to be a big deal.  It was Phil Collen’s first Def Leppard LP as a writer, and Rick’s chance to prove he wasn’t out.  Unfortunately, when the band started to record, producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange was not available.  Instead the band began to work with Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf), but were underwhelmed by the results they were getting.  Leppard’s ambition was not just to make another album, but to make something seriously good, memorable and special.  Something with the potential to be as big as Pyromania was.  Steinman was let go and the band started working with Nigel Green with no progress being made.

The band were taking so long, and suffered so many setbacks and delays, that eventually Mutt Lange was available again, and together they finally began work on the new Def Leppard LP.  Co-writing every song with the band, Mutt provided the focus and intense discipline.  The stated goal, following the template of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, was to make an album with 12 potential singles.

The long story of this difficult album (false starts, illnesses, studio problems) is only overshadowed by its success.  But it took a while to get there.

The first single “Women” did well enough, but failed to kickstart the mega album sales needed to recoup the losses.  “Women” was an odd choice for a first single: a slow robotic rock track, with a killer comic book-based music video.  It was incredible just to see how Rick Allen played drums with his new setup.  Apparently, video directors asked how they should shoot Rick?  The band answered “Just the same as you would any other drummer.”  It was simple as that.

“Women” introduced the new Def Leppard groove.  A simple one or two note bass line, layers upon layers of vocals and chiming guitars, but none of the full-speed-ahead New Wave of British Heavy Metal that Leppard were founded on.  The year was 1987 and Def Leppard were on the cutting edge.  To get those chiming bell-like chords, Mutt had them recorded one note at a time!  This is very apparent on “Animal”, the second single.  It too was mildly successful, but not enough to push the album into orbit.  Listen to the guitar chords and you will hear something that sounds more like chimes than strings.  This is down to the incredibly detailed and overdubbed recordings.  “Animal” was a stellar pop rock track, and a fine example of what Hysteria sounds like.

Refusing to give up, a third single was dropped:  the ballad title track “Hysteria” and possibly the finest song on the album.  The fact that these singles were not the hits the band hoped for at the time has not diminished them.  Today they are all concert classics, radio staples, and beloved fan favourites.  Leppard even re-recorded the song in 2013 for release on iTunes.  (While the re-recorded version is impressive, it is impossible to exactly recreate the magic on this album.)

Finally, the success that the band and record label were waiting for happened.  The track was “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and the North American version of its music video showcased the band’s stunning live show.  Def Leppard were playing “in the round” to rave reviews.  “Pour Some Sugar”, a retro glam rock tune with a contemporary sound, was a summer smash hit.  It was cool, it was catchy, and Joe’s verses almost sounded like rap, although really they had more in common with Marc Bolan of T-Rex.

On a roll, nothing would stop Def Leppard now.  Though the goal was an album with 12 potential singles, Hysteria eventually yielded seven.  Most rock bands were lucky to squeeze three out of a hit album.  Though the album was now becoming a bonafide hit, some critics and fans lamented the death of the original Def Leppard.  Others embraced their pop success.  The raw edgy guitars were gone and replaced by bright, precise parts working as a whole, in a gigantic pop rock juggernaut.  Joe wasn’t screaming out every line, but actually singing now.  It hardly matters.  With the success of Hysteria, Def Leppard had embarked on a whole new journey and have rarely looked back to their origins.

The singles carried on, through the rest of 1988 and into 1989.  “Love Bites” was fifth up, which originated as a country ballad that Mutt wrote and the band Leppardized into something different.  It was a hit for the autumn of ’88, a slightly dark ballad for the fall.  The victorious glam rock of “Armageddon It” was next, simple and pleasant enough for radio and video, and another huge hit.  These were songs that had pep, but wouldn’t frighten mom and dad.

The seventh and final single was a surprise choice:  “Rocket”.  On album, “Rocket” was 6:37 long, and featured a long experimental middle section.  The ambitious mid-section featured loads of NASA samples and sound effects, all backed by the African inspired drum loops of Rick Allen.  The song was based a drum beat by Burundi Black, brought in by Joe Elliott, played by Rick Allen and looped.  Eventually lyrics were added, inspired by the glitter groups of the 70’s that Leppard grew up with.  Lange also used backwards vocals for some of the hooks.  The line that opens the track and repeats through the song is the chorus from “Gods of War”, backwards:  “Raw fo sdog eht rof gnithgif er’ew.”  It was a sharp track to be used as a single, but that unforgettable beat was beyond question.  It was remixed and brought down to 4:25 for the single release.

It is  unfortunate that Mercury stopped at seven singles, because they could have released at least nine.  Many fans had counted on a “Gods of War” release, certainly before “Rocket”.  “Gods of War” had become a fan favourite for those who bought the album, and it could have been used as a “serious” themed single towards the end of the album’s life.  Dark in tone but more epic in quality, it really could have been a valiant single.  It has since become heavily associated with late guitarist Steven Maynard Clark, who was responsible for much of its guitar thunder.

The final track that shoulda woulda coulda been released as a single was the album closer, “Love and Affection”.  As good as any of the actual singles, “Love and Affection” had its own charm and hit potential.  It’s long been one of my album favourites, just under “Hysteria” and “Gods of War”.

Rounding out the LP are “Run Riot” and “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”, two rock tracks that help keep the album afloat.  Neither are clearly as brilliant as the hits, but both solidly get the job done with guitar thrills.  Finally there is “Excitable”, the only song I’ve never particularly dug.  It strikes me as gimmicky and very 80’s, much like “Social Disease” by Bon Jovi.  Too reliant on sound effects and gimmicks.  So out of 12 tracks, only one was really a dud.  That’s not bad by any measure.

So Hysteria rode the charts, recouped its costs, and then some.  The tour in the round was legendary and resulted in a live video In the Round: In Your Face.  Def Leppard were, for a short while anyway, the biggest rock band in the world.

Obviously, Def Leppard have continued to suffer ups and downs since Hysteria.  Steve Clark died.  Rick Savage has Bell’s Palsy.  Vivian Campbell fought cancer.  Yet they have continued to soldier on, never topping Hysteria of course, leaving it as the magnum opus that it is.

HYSTERIA

The album inspired a book and a movie.  An album of Hysteria’s stature deserves a killer deluxe edition too.  This one is nearly perfect.

As discussed in greater detail in Record Store Tales Part 4:  A Word About B-Sides, this album and its singles really clicked with the collector in me.  Def Leppard prepared a number of B-sides for Hysteria, and perhaps because these were not produced with Mutt, they all have a harder edge.  “Tear It Down” was a speedy but basic rock track considered good enough to include on the next album, and so it was.  The B-side version remains its superior, because it is tougher than the one on Adrenalize.  “Ring of Fire” was even heavier, clearly too heavy for what Hysteria became.  Along the same lines is “Ride into the Sun”, an old track from Leppard’s first EP, re-recorded here and in fine form.  “Ride into the Sun” is a stellar track and perhaps should have received some acclaim.  Even though the song has been remixed and reissued on other things, it remains a rarely heard gem.  Yet the most impressive B-side was probably “I Wanna Be Your Hero”.  This B-side from the “Animal” EP has the Hysteria vibe and sound.  It easily could have replaced “Excitable” as an LP track, but if it had perhaps Hysteria wouldn’t have sounded as diverse.  Dig that false ending!

This deluxe edition includes all the live B-sides and almost all the bonus tracks associated with singles for the album, and then some.  “Women” is a live classic from the home video.  Anyone who has seen it will remember this version and Joe’s intro.  “We got everything we need!  We got the band, the crowd, the lights, the cameras, the action!  There’s only one thing that we ain’t got…”  Women!  (I doubt that, Joe!)  “Elected”, the live Alice Cooper cover,  was recorded during this period but released in 1993 on the “Heaven Is” single.

From the same gig as “Elected” came a lively cut of “Love and Affection”, which was also utilised as the album’s Japanese bonus track.  It’s very rare to hear this song done live, and definitely rare to hear a great vintage version done live.  Then there’s a so-so “Billy’s Got a Gun” (same gig again), and a fascinating “Rock of Ages” medley.   This medley seamlessly captures some bits of classic rock tunes within itself:  “Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly), “My Generation” (The Who), “Radar Love” (Golden Earring), “Come Together” (The Beatles) and “Whole Lotta Love” (Zeppelin).  This is all done to the tempo and style of “Rock of Ages”, and quite well, too.  When this was originally released on the “Rocket” single, there was no mention of the medley part.  It was a total surprise when Leppard broke into these other songs, some of which I’d never heard before.

Leppard released a few remixes during this period too.  Extended versions of “Animal”, “Pour Some Sugar”, “Armageddon It”, “Rocket” and even “Excitable” all come from 12” singles.  What’s missing is the single edit of the “Rocket”, the short version of the “lunar mix” .  The single mix of “Pour Some Sugar” is also missing, but that track is on so many albums including the five-million-selling Vault, so we’re not going to worry about it.  These extended remixes are, not surprisingly, pretty much for the fans and collectors.

Finally, and most importantly, is the last B-side “Release Me”.  This track was initially released on the “Armageddon It” picture disc single, but not credited to Def Leppard.  Much like their later acoustic B-sides credited to the Acoustic Hippies from Hell, “Release Me” is credited to Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys.  Engelbert Humperdinck is responsible for the most famous version of “Release Me”, but Stumpus Maximus is definitely responsible for the most twisted.  Featuring Def Leppard’s roadie Malvin Mortimer on lead vocals and the rest of the band goofing around, “Release Me” is a hoot.  Mortimer breaks all known sound barriers with his screaming (and burping) of the lyrics.  I was absolutely confused beyond belief upon hearing this for the first time, since I didn’t catch on to this actually being Def Leppard in disguise.  They absolutely fooled me; I thought whoever they were, Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys absolutely sucked!  For the time it was a novelty release, but it’s now a wonderful tongue in cheek finale to this great deluxe edition.

Some, including renowned rock journalist Martin Popoff, have dismissed Hysteria as lifeless and dismally underwhelming sell-out pop.  Keeping in mind where they came from (High ‘n’ Dry, Pyromania) there is no question that Hysteria was a clear and intentional turn towards the mainstream.  Where Def Leppard rose above a simple pop foray is in the detail and care given to the recordings.  With Mutt Lange keeping his eye on the goalposts, he drove Leppard not to make an album without a soul, but one that offered flawlessly assembled guitar based songs.  The passion and heart can still be heard; they are not buried.  It’s a unique combination of studio sterility with Leppard’s brand of glam rock, and nobody (not even Leppard) have been able to duplicate the magic of Hysteria.

You might not “need” the full-on deluxe edition, but considering the quality of the B-sides and live material, you’d be positively missing out.

5/5 stars

Gallery of single covers

 

 

 

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Live in Stockholm 1970 (2 CD/1 DVD)

EPIC REVIEW TIME!


DEEP PURPLE – Live in Stockholm 1970 (2014 Edel, 2 CD 1 DVD set)

This is the second time I’ve bought this live album.  Hopefully, this edition from the Official Deep Purple (Overseas) Live Series, with its bonus tracks and DVD represents the last time I need to shell out.  The first was a cheap looking 2 CD set called Live and Rare (1992).  There was also a more official version called Scandinavian Nights.  They’re all pretty much the same, a set of early long long bombers by Deep Purple recorded for radio in 1970.  This remixed (from the master tapes) edition has the set list restored to the correct order, and two bonus tracks from Paris the same year.  It also has a Jon Lord interview and a DVD for a TV special called Doing Their Thing.

The TV broadcast weirdly begins right in the middle of “Speed King”.  Full colour and in stereo, this is some fantastic footage.   It’s shot and edited for excitement.  Ritchie Blackmore assaults his weapon, but with precision.  For a guy who is so technically capable, it’s amazing how physical and visual he gets.  “Child in Time” gives Ian Gillan a chance to both sing and scream.  Strangely there are two small bored looking boys in the audience, right by Roger Glover, and they couldn’t look any less thrilled to be at this taping.  Who are they?  Why are they there?   Who knows!  This is the full unedited “Child in Time” complete with solos.

You get ample closeups on Jon, Ritchie and Roger and it’s amazing to see them play so fast, so perfectly.  You can study Jon’s hands and try to figure out what he’s doing.  Ian Paice is in the back, tiny frame creating a huge sound.  The instrumental “Wring that Neck” is soloriffic, and Blackmore is surprisingly friendly with the cameras.  This is very rare for the man in black.  The audience politely clap at his playful solo, and he keeps them guessing to the end.  A rare delight, to see him in such a good mood on stage.  The final track on the DVD is “Mandrake Root”, another song that was really only in the set for them to jam to.   They are in sync, and being able to watch Deep Purple at their peak jamming in this clarity, well that’s really something.  Too bad most of the songs are edited down.

As for the 2 CD set, it has always been a bit of a slog to get to the end.   There are two tracks at 30 minutes a piece.  There is one at 18.  There are three in the 10-12 minute range.  Of all the Deep Purple live albums out there, Stockholm is probably the one that requires the most patience.  This is, however, my first time hearing it freshly mixed and restored for today.

Set commencing with “Speed King” again, this time it’s the full-on 12 minute jam.  Barely hanging together, Purple blast it out with extra heavy energy.  Gillan sounds as if he’s about to burst a blood vessel in his neck.  The audio has more depth than previously releases, but Ian’s voice sounds a bit too low in the mix.  “Do you know what a Speed King is?  A Speed King is somebody who sing at a hundred miles an hour,” sings Ian, not really enlightening us.  “Everybody’s a Speed King when you wanna be,” he adds, confusing things more.  Things quiet down, turn jazzy, and then explode once more.  Not the greatest version of “Speed King” ever recorded, but definitely one of the most frantic.

“Into the Fire” is a rare shot of brevity.   Assailing the skull nonetheless, after “Into the Fire” the band take it back a bit with “Child in Time”.  This full-on 18 minute version is far longer than the better known one from Made in Japan.  The cool thing about Purple is that no two versions of any song are exactly the same, and if you’ve heard “Child in Time” before…you still haven’t heard the 18 minute version from Stockholm.  With all due respect to the Japan version, this one has its own diamonds of brilliance.  How the hell do they keep playing with that rapidity?

Better pee now, because a jazzy “Wring that Neck” is next, over 30 minutes.  Loaded with playing that’ll stop your heart, but not as interesting as the definitive version on Concerto for Group and Orchestra.  This contains a showcase for Jon Lord’s keyboard solos.  Ritchie’s playing is always sublime, and so is Jon’s, but…30 minutes…that’s a lot of jamming.  Like too much crème brûlée.  Ritchie again plays with the audience, teasing out melodies from songs such as “Jingle Bells” and “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover”. If that wasn’t enough, Deep Purple’s 10 minute cover of the Stones’ “Paint it, Black” is really just an excuse for a long drum solo by Ian Paice!  Gillan took off, making the song an instrumental, which they only stick to for a minute before letting Paice go nuts.

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Flip over to CD 2, and get ready for another 30 minute long bomber.  “A thing you can jump around to,” says Ian.  It’s “Mandrake Root” and it’s bouncy.  This is a well-known version of the song, and it even appears on Deep Purple comprehensive box set Listen, Learn, Read On in its complete length.  You can clearly hear Gillan on the congas during the long instrumental break.  You can also hear them quoting the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me Now”.  This jam generates more interest than “Wring that Neck”, but it’s still a chore to finish.  And you get to hear “Mandrake Root” and “Wring that Neck” three times each in this package.

The final song (of a mere seven!) for Stockholm is a reasonably brief one:  “Black Night”.  After so much jammin’ it’s nice to have a single, with a set structure, and more than just occasional lead vocals!  It raises the energy a bit after a very draining concert set.  But you’d better refuel with some coffee, because you’re not finished yet.

The two bonus tracks from Paris sound as if they were recorded in a smaller venue.  They are sonically superior to the Stockholm recordings, but damn, I am all jammed out!  Thankfully, this version of “Wring that Neck” is delightful and unique.  It’s hotter and way, way jazzier.  Blackmore also teases out a bit of a preview of a forthcoming song.  You can hear a teeny bit of the guitar melody to 1971’s “The Mule” in his solo.  He even plays a bit of “God Saves the Queen”, in Paris!  Then on to “Mandrake Root” again, 14 minutes this time, half the length of the last one.  Jon’s solo is incredible, but aren’t they all?  This one has some nice rhythmic choppy bits that are so fun to air-keyboard along to.  The track eventually descends into chaos and noise, as all good Deep Purple jams do.

Finally we have the 1971 Jon Lord interview.  This 11 minute track discusses how Jon joined the band, the early days, the Concerto, and In Rock. The title is misleading however, since the track also contains a few bits with Ian Gillan.  Fun stuff but ultimately nothing here that the fan doesn’t already know.

3/5 stars, simply because I know from experience that this set won’t get much repeat play in your home.

3.5/5 stars when you take the bonus DVD into consideration.

REVIEW: Savatage – Edge of Thorns (1993)

By special request of reader Wardy, it’s Epic Review Time!

SAVATAGE – Edge of Thorns (1993 Edel & 2002 Steamhammer)

Sava-fans were shaken.  Even though 1991’s Streets: A Rock Opera was a complete artistic triumph, singer and co-founder Jon Oliva quit the band.  Side projects and home life had become priorities.  He would not, however, ever truly leave Savatage.  Even though he was no longer the singer, Jon Oliva co-wrote every track with his brother Criss and producer Paul O’Neill.  He even personally selected his replacement, Zachary Stevens, and tutored and coached the new young singer.   He also continued to play all the piano parts in the studio, although this time he would not tour.  It was certainly an unusual situation, but also an ideal one.   Fans knew that Jon was not really gone, and they easily embraced Stevens as the new frontman.  Oliva had stated that Savatage needed a voice like Zak’s in order to continue.  He knew his own voice was not commercial enough to get on the radio.  With Stevens they had a shot.

The press glowed with reviews, praising the new direction of the band.  They had successfully combined the later piano-tinged Savatage that wrote complex operatic songs and ballads, with the earlier riff-driven metallic Savatage.  Stevens was praised for his voice, and comparisons to Geoff Tate, James LaBrie and Ray Alder were tossed around.  I found a copy of Edge of Thorns in Michigan, and it was with great anticipation that I ripped the shrink wrap off the cassette and placed it in my Walkman.

Anyone who has heard the now-classic title track “Edge of Thorns” can’t forget the haunting piano that descends at the beginning of the album.  At this early stage, Stevens was very much singing like a progressive rock singer, and throwing in screams at key moments.  His range and power here are impressive, and very different from the Mountain King’s style.  “Edge of Thorns” was a great choice for an opening track and new singer.  Not only is it one of the most immediate songs that Oliva/Oliva/O’Neill had yet composed, but it also combines both sides of the band.  The soft piano intro reflects Streets, but then it kicks into overdrive with a riff, heavy bass and dramatic guitar solos. It possesses the pure rock drama of “Gutter Ballet”. It is the whole package.

I have always been drawn to the words.

I have seen you on the edge of dawn,
Felt you here before you were born,
Balanced your dreams upon the Edge of Thorns,
…but I don’t think about you anymore.

I don’t think about you…anymore,
Anymore…

But clearly, he does, and intensely so.

“He Carves His Stone” begins as if a ballad, but the patented snake-y Criss Oliva guitar riff drags us back to the metallic origins of the band.  The combination of riff and chorus are a winning one.  More intense is the borderline thrash metal of “Lights Out”, a smoking track that shows what Zak Stevens can do with the rougher side of his voice.  Hang on tight and shout along to the chorus, because this one is a ride.

Back to the dark, dramatic side that Savatage do so well, it’s “Skraggy’s Tomb”, a brilliant song bursting with ominous heaviness.   Just let it assault your skull, don’t fight it.  Fear not — “Labyrinths” is a quiet piano piece, with Jon accompanied by Chris on guitar.  This cascades in traditional Sava-fashion into a fully-blown dramatic intro similar to “Gutter Ballet”.  It is a suitable and essential part of the song it is attached to, “Follow Me”, the side one epic.

His whole life was written,
Written there inside,
The new weekly Bible,
His modern TV Guide,
Every night he stares back at the screen.

There is no way to sum up the pure excellence, drama, and chills that “Follow Me” delivers. Zak’s vocals make it accessible enough, the power is undeniable. “Follow Me” is among the greatest songs of the Zak Stevens era. A quiet piano piece appropriately titled “Exit Music”* works as an outro. Together with intro and outro, “Follow Me” is almost 10 minutes of pure Savatage adrenaline, with a Criss Oliva solo that still gives me chills.

The second side opens exotically with “Degrees of Sanity”, and Savatage fans know that sanity of one of Jon Oliva’s favourite lyrical subjects!  Criss’ guitar parts are lyrical and enticing.  Slowly it chugs, building and building.  With Criss firmly at the helm, the ship steers through craggy riff after craggy riff until it gives way to the next song, also clearly dealing with sanity:  “Conversation Piece”.  The subject person of the song thought he had been doing better, lately.  “I haven’t thought about you for a while,” he claims.  But even so, he has not let it all go yet.  “I keep your picture hidden a file, of favourite one-act plays.  Like pieces of myself, cut off in desperation, as offerings to thee.  I’ll leave them on the shelf, they’re good for conversation over a cup of tea.”  The melodramatic lyrics of Savatage have always appealed to me (I don’t know what that says about me).  Thanks to Stevens’ impassioned delivery, you can feel every word, while Criss Olivia chugs behind.  Remind me not to visit for tea!

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Delicate is “All That I Bleed”, a pretty piano ballad with a rocking conclusion.  Demonstrating the versatility of his voice, Stevens sings smooth and light, until the end.  Perhaps it is all coincidence, but the songs do seem connected.  Both “All That I Bleed” and “Conversation Piece” deal with a letter and difficult emotions.  I like to think of the two songs as alternate endings to the same story — one in which the person does not send the letter (“Conversation Piece”) and one where he does (“All That I Bleed”).    Regardless, “All That I Bleed” has everything you would want in a ballad.  Had in come out in 1989 it would have stormed the charts and MTV would have played it non-stop.  1993 was a very different year from 1989, but Savatage had never expressed any interest whatsoever in musical trends (the mis-step that was Fight for the Rock notwithstanding).

“Damien” appears next, a choppy heavy rock tune with bouncy piano doubling the guitar riff.  Following this fine song is the even finer “Miles Away”, a melodic heavy rocker that is easy to like.  It has a brightness to it, and Steve “Doc” Wacholz kicks the drums right in the ass.  Unexpectedly the album closed with a quiet acoustic song, “Sleep”.  It feels like a sunrise after the stormy night, and perhaps that’s the intention.

There are plenty of bonus tracks on different editions of Edge of Thorns.  I can only review the bonus tracks I have, which are:

  1. “Shotgun Innocence”, originally a Japanese bonus track.  This is a glossy hard rock song with an emphasis on melody.  Though certainly heavy enough, its direct rock vibe doesn’t fit the mood of Edge of Thorns, which I’m sure is why it was saved for a bonus track.  Good song though, and it certainly shows off the pipes of young Mr. Stevens.
  2. “Forever After”, the second Japanese bonus track.  Probably the weakest song of the batch.  It sounds a bit like an unfinished Ozzy outtake, circa the Jake E. Lee period.
  3. “Conversation Piece (Live in rehearsal 9/24/1994)” is recorded really poorly, but the sweat and rawness are captured.  Since it is live in rehearsal, and it is known that Doc Wacholz did not tour, I assume this is with Jeff Plate on drums.  That would also have to be Alex Skolnick from Testament on guitar.  This track is on the 2002 Steamhammer/SPV remastered edition.
  4. “Believe (Acoustic)” is part of a series of acoustic versions Savatage did for another batch of reissues.  This is Zak Stevens’ version of the closing ballad from Streets, but with acoustic guitar instead of piano.  It is a fascinating alternative version, but the original always kills me.  This is on a German printing on Edel records.

As fate would have it, this would be the final time Jon and Criss would make music together.  On October 17, 1993 Criss was killed by a drunk driver with seven prior DUI’s.  Rather than let this crush him, Jon survived by pouring himself into music.  Savatage would not die, even if with half its heart ripped out.  Edge of Thorns remains Criss Oliva’s capstone, and a bright apex it is.

5/5 stars

*The really interesting thing about “Exit Music” is that it is entirely piano.  Therefore no “official” members of Savatage appeared on it!

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Perfect Strangers (1984)

It’s Purple Week at mikeladano.com!  It’s all Deep Purple and Deep Purple alumni, all week.  This is Part 3…and this time we’re going Epic Review Time.  

Part 1:  Shades of Deep Purple
Part 2:  The Book of Taliesyn

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DEEP PURPLE – Perfect Strangers (1984 Polygram)

Deep Purple were the proverbial candle that was burned at both ends.  Their first four studio albums (plus a friggin’ concerto!) were cranked out in a mere two years.  Management and record labels pushed the band to stay on the road, only taking precious breaks to write and record new music.  Sometimes the pressure worked (Machine Head) and sometimes it didn’t (Who Do We Think We Are).  Ian Gillan’s resignation signaled the end of the celebrated Deep Purple Mk II lineup.  Though the band successfully carried on with David Coverdale & Glenn Hughes, even those lineups imploded and by 1976, Deep Purple officially ceased to exist.

The absence of Purple created a void that was filled by greatest hits records, live albums, and well-known side projects such as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Gillan, and Whitesnake.  Still, there was such a demand for Deep Purple itself that original singer Rod Evans put together his own bogus “Deep Purple” and played several shows in 1980!  In his band were a couple guys from Iron Butterfly, but no other former Purple alumni.  Just Rod.  The guy who didn’t sing “Highway Star”, “Smoke on the Water”, or “Lazy”.  Needless to say, Rod Evans’ bogus “Deep Purple” did not last as soon as word got out.  The lawyers for the other former Deep Purple members ensured that by running ads in the local papers. “The following members will not be appearing with the band called Deep Purple at [such and such a date and venue] : Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Jon Lord, Roger Glover, Glenn Hughes, David Coverdale.”  A show in Montreal was particularly horrid, and reportedly the band’s stage act involved one of the members bringing out a chain saw to cut stuff up. They were hit with lawsuits galore and quickly packed it in, but not before recording two new songs for a projected new “Deep Purple” studio album. The two songs, “Blood Blister” and “Brum Doogie”, are thankfully lost.  A video of “Smoke on the Water” live in Mexico remains, to remind us why this was not a good idea.  [For more on the bogus “Deep Purple”, click here.]

Clearly, lots of profits were to made if the real Deep Purple were ever to reunite.  They tried earlier on, but were hung up when Ian Gillan joined Black Sabbath.  When Ian’s Sabbath commitments were finished a year later, it finally happened.  Jon Lord had freed himself of Whitesnake, and Ritchie, Roger Glover and Ian Paice were all ready willing and able.  The reunion was on, for real this time.

The band quickly agreed on creating new music (otherwise, what’s the point of it?), and decided that there had to be a level of quality that served the name Deep Purple.  They retreated to the gorgeous Stowe, Vermont and found themselves to be in great spirits and full of ideas.  Another wise decision was the use of bassist Glover to produce.  After his first stint in Purple, he became quite successful as a producer.  He recorded some of the best Nazareth albums, a Judas Priest record (Sin After Sin) , Rainbow, David Coverdale, and countless more.  It only made sense to keep production of the new album within the band when you have a guy like Roger in the band!

The album that resulted, Perfect Strangers, was more modern but unmistakably Deep Purple.  Taking advantage of modern recording studios resulted in an album with rich instrumental tones.  As great as classic Deep Purple albums were sonically, Perfect Strangers has a new richness and clarity.  Jon’s organ is deep and gorgeous, but Ian Paice’s drum sound is monstrous.

The opening track “Knocking at Your Back Door” (hah hah hah) commences with ominous keys from Jon, sounding at first like the pipes of doom.  Then Roger begins a quick pulse, and Paice crashes that cymbal, and my God, Deep Purple is back!  Ritchie and Ian join them for the first Deep Purple epic of the album — and on the first track, no less!  “Knocking at Your Back Door” may be a joke lyrically, but it’s dead serious musically.  It’s Deep Purple, but streamlined.  Extraneous things have been discarded; others are sleeker.  The only disappointment about the song is actually the guitar solo, which just slightly does not fit.  Glover once said about this album that Ritchie struggles with solos in the studio more so than live.  Something about when the red light goes on, he gets cold feet.  There’s some incredible playing in this guitar solo, but parts of it feel out of place and overdone.

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That one minor complaint is probably the only quibble you’ll read here about Perfect Strangers.  The album continues to impress as it plays.  “Under the Gun” is a song that would sound so great live today; shame that it hasn’t been played live in 30 years.  I can’t imagine why.  “Under the Gun” demonstrates the streamlined groove that Purple were going for in the 80’s.  Listen to Paicey’s drums.  They are relentless and powerful, but he’s also playing it simpler than he used to.  This is intentional.  When I say “streamlined”, that doesn’t mean there aren’t long solos, because Ritchie’s here is over a minute long (in a 4:34 song)!

“Nobody’s Home” gives Jon Lord a change to stretch out a bit on the synths, but it’s just a feint.  This track re-writes “Black Night” for 1984, and ties it all up with a little bow in under four minutes.  “Your lights are burnin’ bright, but nobody’s home!” sings Ian, for once not speaking of Blackmore!  Jon takes the spotlight with a nice quick solo on the Hammond, a sound not often heard in ’84.

Side one was closed by the nasty little “Mean Streak”.  It has one of those quirky Gillan lyrics that I like so much. “She came home last night, rockin’ rollin’ drunk. She talk no sense but she sound good so she thunk.”  It’s a cool rock track with a chugging riff; always a deadly combination when wielded by Deep Purple.  It boasts one of Ritchie’s coolest solos on the album.

I will never forget seeing this video on MuchMusic, introduced by Bruce Dickinson.  Of Deep Purple he said, “Well, they’re very good. But not as good at football as they appear. No. They’re not.” The VJ (Erica Ehm) asked, “Why not?”  Dickinson simply responded, “Because they’re not! What a silly question.”

Of all the songs on Perfect Strangers, only one has been consistently played live every tour:  the title track.  This epic, like its  side one counterpart “Knocking at Your Back Door”, opens with Jon’s ominous keys.  This time it’s the old trusty Hammond, and then the band crash in with the riff to kill all riffs.  I think in some respects, this song has become Deep Purple’s “Kashmir”, especially when played in concert.  It has evolved to become more exotic since it was first recorded, though it does contain those flavors here.  The lyrics are ambiguously beautiful.  Back in the Record Store days, I talked to a guy once who thought the lyrics were about God.  I’ll leave it up to you.  Blackmore called it his favourite Deep Purple song.  It’s a tough call, but Top Five for sure.  I cannot survive without this song in my life, period.

Then WHAM! “A Gypsy’s Kiss,” right in the kisser.  If any doubters had thoughts that Purple had lost anything in the past decade, this song proved them dead wrong.  Blazing pace, blazing Paice, the whole place is ablaze!  Again, Ian’s lyrics are awesome, and I love the self-referencing.  “Space truckers free and high, Teamsters get ya by and by.”  I also really like this verse, because, hey. John Wayne, man.

John Wayne, the Alamo,
Crazy Horse, Geronimo,
I’ll smoke a piece with you.
Mind, Body, Heart and Soul,
We got Rock and Roll,
And there’s nothing they can do.

A good Deep Purple album rarely has a slow blues buried deep within.  “Wasted Sunsets” is the album’s heavy blues track, like “When a Blind Man Cries” was to Machine Head (though it was relegated to a mere B-side).  Jon’s organ sets the mood stunningly, and Ritchie absolutely nails it.  I get the feeling that Ian is baring his soul in the lyrics, although he doesn’t seem too regretful of all those one night stands.

For self referencing, no lyric on the album beats out “Hungry Daze”:

The mountain’s getting cold and lonely,
The trees are bare,
We all came out to Montreux,
But that’s another song, you’ve heard it all before!

Regrets?  Hell no.  “Different girls, laughing girls, forever girls and it was loud!”  Gillan has a talent for making cheeky lyrics like this work with serious music.  “Hungry Daze” has that modern Purple groove with the same kind of chugging exotic riff that powers “Perfect Strangers” — but faster!  There’s even backwards tapes (Jon’s organ), a sound unheard on a Deep Purple album since 1969, but back in style in 1984.

Lucky cassette and compact disc buyers got a bonus track: “Not Responsible”.  When I first got the album (on cassette) I wondered, “Why is this song a bonus track? It’s one of the best songs!”  Good question!  (Perhaps because it’s the only song on which Gillan dropped an f-bomb.)  I think it closes the album even better than “Hungry Daze” does.  Lyrically it’s more drinking and debauchery.  “So I’ll raise a glass to you, the foot is on the other shoe.”  I consider “Not Responsible” to be of equal value to any of the better tracks on the album proper, so if you only own this on LP, consider getting this song (legally) to complete the picture.

PERFECT STRANGERS 12 INCHWant more?  There’s one more, but you’ll have to do a little research to get it in full.  “Son of Aleric” is a killer slow groove 10 minute instrumental, with all the flavor of the album.  It was released on the B-side of “Perfect Strangers”.  If you bought the 7″ single, you got the 5:28 edit version.  If you bought the 12″ single, you got the full Monty at 10:03.  The full version was rarely issued on CD.  I have it on a compilation CD with the cumbersome title of Knocking at Your Back Door: The Best of Deep Purple in the 80’s.  But “Son of Aleric” is only on the UK version!  (Other territories just got a live version of “Child in Time” from the live album Nobody’s Perfect.  Bummer.)  This is the kind of open Deep Purple jam that you just want to melt into.  It’s magic.

If you like Deep Purple, but do not own Perfect Strangers, then I advise that you remedy that situation at your earliest convenience.  I am no stranger to this album; I have played it hundreds of times, often more than once in the same day.  I have never grown tired of it.  For that reason, and many more, Perfect Strangers earns the coveted:

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Raise the Dead: Live from Wacken (2 CD/1 Blu-ray)

NEW-ish RELEASE

Epic review time.

ALICE COOPER – Raise the Dead: Live from Wacken (2CD/1 Blu-ray, 2014 UDR)

This beast of a set was a gift from the ever-faithful Aaron, and I do thank you so much for it.  Alice Cooper in 1080i hi-def, 5.1 surround sound.  The CD has more songs than the Blu-ray, so I’m going to review both simultaneously, but let you know when it’s a track that’s exclusive to CD.  Let’s give’r!

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“Hello Hooray”!  It’s still daylight in Wacken, when Alice proclaims to “let the show begin, I’ve been ready”.  Alice is resplendent in his sharp red and black stripped tux.  Australian beauty Orianthi has a drip of blood in the corner her mouth, and smears of it on her guitar and arms.  “Hello Hooray” leads directly into a modern version of 1989’s “House of Fire”.  With the three guitars live, it has a lot more bite to it, and neat six-string twists.  (“House of Fire” briefly segues into the riff from “With a Little Help From My Friends”.  Remember that.  That’s important.)  Not letting up for a second, it’s into “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and then immediately “Under My Wheels”!  There’s simply no let up as the crowd starts surfing.  Alice’s six piece band are visual and boast three lead soloists.

IMG_20150102_104812Newer song “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” is one of only two songs from Welcome 2 My Nightmare.  The cool thing is how easily Orianthi digs into the vintage guitar stylings of it.  She is an absolute natural.  Even though there are four other talented musicians on stage, she commands attention without even trying.  Alice chases her around the stage, as she casually throws down classic guitar licks.  He has changed into a black leather jacket.

“Billion Dollars Babies” takes the focus temporarily back to the oldies.  Alice wields a sword impaled with money, taunting the crowd.  The wheels temporarily come off with “Caffeine”.  I always welcome newer material, but I’d prefer just about any other song from Welcome 2.  Alice has traded the sword for a giant coffee mug that he holds dear like his “precious”.  Thankfully Orianthi lays down a blazing solo (actually two) , because otherwise I’d say this is my song on which to pee.  But, I wouldn’t want to miss the classic “Department of Youth” from the original Welcome to my Nightmare, one of my top 10 Alice tracks of all time.

I like a rock show with variety, so I’m glad Alice pulled “Hey Stoopid” out of his 1991 hat.  In the 5.1 mix, I don’t like the way some of the guitars just kind of drop out in the verses of this arrangement.  I’ll have to listen to that again.  It didn’t sound right.  Otherwise it’s great with plenty of shredding.  “Dirty Diamonds” was another surprise.  I saw Alice play that one here in Kitchener on the Dirty Diamonds tour.  That whole album is excellent, but the title track has a smoking riff.   Drummer Glen Sobol gets a moment in the spotlight, accompanied by bassist Chuck Garric.  A drum solo in the middle of an Alice Cooper show is not always a good thing, but this is actually a cool, worthwhile solo.  There’s some crazy hand-over-hand stuff, tricks with sticks, and interesting cymbal work.  Then it’s Orianthi’s turn.  She is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the best guitar players out there today.  Every note is worth something.  The whole band come together at the front line, and the crowd goes nuts!  Meanwhile….

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As good as the solos are, in the context of the Alice Cooper show, they were merely a distraction.  Where did Alice go?  The opening strains of “Welcome to My Nightmare” indicate Act II has begun.  He has emerged as the Showman.  Weilding a dagger in one hand, he leads the charge into 1976’s “Go to Hell”.  The two songs serve as a wicked intro to the theatrical part of the show.  Alice attacks lead soloist Ryan Roxie with a whip, but it doesn’t phase the guitarist who safely evades him.

IMG_20150102_120925Out of Alice’s trick bag comes “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” the legendary campy 80’s theme from Friday the 13th Part III.  Stripped of the keyboards and drum machines, it functions as a living, rocking entity.  The three guitars enable the band to fill the spaces previously played by synths in the studio.  Orianthi’s guitar solo just leaves my jaw on the floor.   Keeping with the monster theme is “Feed My Frankenstein” from Hey Stoopid and Wayne’s World.  Alice has changed into a blood smeared smock.  He is strapped to an evil looking device by “Igor” and electrocuted!  Then a monster-sized Franken-Alice appears to finish the song!  The real Alice returns in a straight jacket for the still haunting “Dwight Fry”.  This most intense Cooper classic is well served by three guitarists, loaning a “Freebird” epic quality to it live.  “I’ve gotta get out of here!” screams Alice with the agony he manages to muster for every performance.  Breaking free of his bonds, he attacks Nurse Sheryl, only be executed to the tune of the exit music from “Killer”.  It’s the guillotine again for Alice Cooper.  His head is hoisted into the air by a black-clad executioner to a chorus of “I Love the Dead” (Alice singing off-stage).  Act II is over.  Act III is beginning.

Though uncredited, the opening music for “DaDa” (from 1983’s DaDa, a cool cameo) plays as Alice is surgically resurrected in the graveyard of the Hollywood Vampires. The Hollywood Vampires were the drinking club down at the Rainbow…the teachers and the students.  Lennon and Keith Moon passed down the ways of drinking to the likes of Vincent Furnier and Marc Bolan. A voice booms to Alice, “What are you going to do?  Raise the dead?”  So that’s what Alice does….

RAISE THE DEAD 2_0001First it’s Morrison.  The Doors’ “Break on Through” finally has balls to it!  I never liked the Doors.  I like Alice doing the Doors, so they can’t be all that bad.  What’s interesting is how Alice can morph his voice to suit these covers.  He uses a lower, howling early Alice voice to do the Doors.  For the next track, “Revolution” (exclusive to CD) he uses his nasal Cooper voice, to cop that Beatles feel.  He also does the opening McCartney scream…of course.  You have to have that.  The band hit the high backing notes perfectly too.  The classic riff to “Foxy Lady”(exclusive to CD) indicates that Jimi Hendrix is the next Hollywood Vampire to be honored.  Another cool connection is that both Alice and Jimi were important musical icons honored in the movie Wayne’s World.  And the song was “Foxy Lady”.  Next it’s Keith Moon and “My Generation”.  Chuck Garric gets a moment to shine on those glorious Entwistle bass licks.  It’s quite a bit more modern and slick than the Who’s, but the backing vocals are remarkably authentic.

Thematically “My Generation” connects to “I’m Eighteen”.  Ryan Roxie and Orianthi both play solos on “Eighteen”, and smoke each one.  Then, “Poison” is the final song of the set, a slick reminder that Alice Cooper survived the 1970’s only to become more popular than ever in the 80’s, 90’s and present.  “Poison” has stood the test of time.  It’s not a particularly simple song; just listen to those backing vocals.  They have to be right, they can’t be off.  Although I hadn’t really thought of “Poison” as a set closer, it does work in that slot and ends the show on a celebratory note.

RAISE THE DEAD 2_0003The encore of “School’s Out” is the real celebration of course; the stage ablaze with lights and Alice clad in gold.  It’s a mash-up with “Another Brick in the Wall”, proving again that mash-ups can sometimes produce fascinating results.   I love Alice’s stage introductions for the musicians.  “In a world where evil has a name, and that name is…Orianthi!  And playing the part of Alice Cooper tonight…me!”

But Nurse Sheryl returns to the stage one last time and stabs Alice!  I have a feeling our anti-hero will be back to terrorize us again on another tour….

There is only one Blu-ray bonus feature.  The pre-Wacken interview with Alice is cool because it’s completely uncut.  It’s only 20 minutes, but it’s insightful. Cooper is always a pleasure to listen to.  The concept behind Raise the Dead revolves around his old, long gone buddies from the Hollywood Vampire.  With this show, Cooper is paying tribute back to those guys, his idols and friends.  The show has some history to it, he says.  A little bit of a lesson.  But the kids already know the songs, says Alice.  The tunes like “Foxy Lady” and “Break on Through” are already familiar to them.  Every kid seems to own a classic rock T-shirt.

Cooper muses that his live show is probably as close to Broadway as many of his new young fans will ever see.  He reminds us that he has his own Broadway influences — “Gutter Cat vs. the Jets” from West Side Story, for example.  His own solo band is so tight now that he doesn’t have to worry about the music part.  Alice can get on with the show and performance, because the music is in good hands.  He has particular praise for the stage presence and chops of Orianthi.  As for the show, It’s no longer about shock, says Alice.  You can’t shock the audience anymore.  Now, it’s about entertainment.  Give them something entertaining and of good value.

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The hidden theme in the show is that everything is connected.  The kids pick up on the connections behind the music.  “School’s Out” and “Another Brick in the Wall” are presented as a medley.  Who produced both songs? Whose kids are on both songs? Bob Ezrin.  Connections!

The Blu-ray also has a substantial booklet included, the kind of thing that people who buy physical product still care about.  I’d rather have this than a crappy photo slide show or text on a DVD.  My only quibble is that I was underwhelmed by the 5.1 mix.  I may have had my setting messed up, and I will have to try again.  It was “Hey Stoopid” where this was particularly unpleasant to me.  I’ll have to check that and try again.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the CDs, which sound friggin’ great.

4.5/5 stars

This product is…

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REVIEW: Black Star Riders – All Hell Breaks Loose (2013)

BLACK STAR RIDERS – All Hell Breaks Loose (2013 Nuclear Blast CD/DVD set)

Epic Review Time again!  This time it’s a CD/DVD combo set, the debut album by Black Star Riders.  You might know the guys from Black Star Riders by another name they sometimes use: Thin Lizzy.  Scott Gorham put a Lizzy lineup back together in 1996, over the years utilizing Lizzy alumni such as himself, John Sykes, Darren Wharton, and Brian Downey.  But when it came to creating new music, why did they change their name?

Let’s begin by reviewing the DVD, which answers this question and any others you may have about who Black Star Riders are.

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Scott explains that he and Brian Downey really decided not to do a “Thin Lizzy” album because of their own discomfort with the idea. Without Phil, it didn’t seem right. The rest of the band were disappointed because they had written 17 new songs they were excited about. But they would not add a Lizzy album to the canon without Phil.  Singer Ricky Warwick (The Almighty) says that once that decision was made to record with a new name, he found inspiration from a western movie featuring a gang called the “Black Star” gang. He liked the gang mentality. But Brian Downey dropped out early in the proceedings (although he did participate in writing some of the material.)   New drummer Jimmy Degrasso (Megadeth) explains that Thin Lizzy’s special sound comes from a Blues/R&B swing, and of course the “dual guitar armies”. They aimed to keep these qualities with Black Star Riders. Guitarist Damon Johnson believes that Ricky Warwick’s lyrical prowess is exemplary, and carries the Lizzy spirit. I would have to agree.

Recruiting producer extraordinaire Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden),  the album was done in 12 days. They did one song start to finish each day. It was recorded as live as possible, simply because they only had 12 days!

Unfortunately for me, there just isn’t enough behind the scenes footage on the DVD. There’s a little: brief glimpses of writing and recording sessions. The disc is made up mostly of interviews. Gorham, Warwick, Degrasso, Johnson, bassist Marco Mendoza and producer Shirley take turns in front of the camera. It is quite extensive; this is not a short DVD. (I don’t see a time listed anywhere but I’d guess it was an hour long.)  Subjects covered include Phil Lynott, songwriting, pressure, inspiration, guitar solos, Ireland and more. Each individual song is discussed in detail.


Now that you’re familiar with Black Star Riders, we can discuss the album All Hell Breaks Loose.  Which is a killer.

You could easily mistake the title track for an outtake from the Jailbreak album, or Johnny the Fox perhaps.  Though there is only one Phil, Ricky Warwick’s voice occupies the same range.  His lyrics are storytelling much like Phil’s were, and they both share similar interests in history and gang mentalities.  This is as close as anyone has ever gotten to Thin Lizzy (and no wonder).  I love when, just before the solo, Warwick cries, “Alright Scotty!”  But Johnson joins Scott for the second part of the solo, recreating the classic Lizzy guitar sound.  Then, the single “Bound For Glory” completely captures the goodtime vibe of “Boys Are Back In Town”.  It’s a great choice for a single, and once again you could easily mistake it for an outtake from Jailbreak.   Just like Phil would do, there’s even an Elvis reference in the lyrics.  You truly get the feeling that All Hell Breaks Loose is as much a new album by these guys as it is a tribute to Lynott.

“Kingdom of the Lost” captures the Irish spirit of Lizzy.  Traditional Irish instruments join the band, and it’s in the same vein as a Lizzy track like “Black Rose”.  I should mention now that while each song feels like an homage to Phil, none sound like a re-write.  They capture the spirit without being note-for-note ripoffs, and I think that is an extraordinarily difficult thing to accomplish.

“Bloodshot” gave me a different feeling, which is while the riff has Lizzy elements, it sounds more “southern rock” to me.  Nothing wrong with that either.  “Kissin’ the Ground” then has a more “hard rock” sound, almost like something Damon Johnson might have written with Alice Cooper (who he used to play with) in mind.  But then the excellent chorus is one of the most Lizzy-like.  Then “Hey Judas” (a play on the title “Hey Jude”) is pure Lizzy, 110%. There is no question that Scott Gorham has carried so much of the Thin Lizzy sound into the present.  “Hey Judas” often finds itself as my favourite song (alternating with “Bound for Glory” and “Valley of the Stones”).   Then onto “Hoodoo Voodoo”, where I think the album sags.  I don’t think this is a standout.  Since the aforementioned “Valley of the Stones” is next, the decline is only brief.  This metallic stomp is like a highspeed Mad Max race through the desert, searching for the mystical valley of the stones itself.  Fear not through, the guitar duels keep it within Lizzy Nation.

If things have been a bit heavy, then the gleeful “Someday Salvation” captures that “Dancing in the Moonlight” swing of early Lizzy.  Then “Before the War” has an appropriate military beat.  I’m sure this is an excellent song in concert; you can shout along.  The last song on the regular edition of the CD is “Blues Ain’t So Bad”, a dusky slow rock song.  But I think the better closer is the “bonus track” “Right to be Wrong”.  That “better believe it!” shout-along hook is just great, and this upbeat song just smokes.

As you can no doubt see, I would have found it an impossible challenge to write this review without comparing to Thin Lizzy.  But I don’t think that’s important; the band clearly intended to follow in those footsteps.  If anybody has a right to, it’s Black Star Riders.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Rush – Snakes & Arrows (2007 MVI 5.1 version)

You’ve heard of Epic Meal Time?  They should call me Epic Review Time.  Here’s a couple hours of music, text and video distilled down and covered in detail.  This is a double-sized review for the price of one.  Dive in and engorge!

RUSH – Snakes & Arrows (2007 Warner Music Interactive DVD album)

Rush’s Snakes & Arrows album was considered a progression from the previous record, Vapor Trails. The pummeling of Vapor Trails has been tempered with light and shade, bringing a more balanced Rush.  It was also mixed in 5.1 for a special “Music Video Interactive” DVD by Richard Chycki and Alex Lifeson, who oversee most of Rush’s 5.1 mixes.  I haven’t listened to any version of Snakes & Arrows for many moons, so this is a review from fresh ears.

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First though, there is a 40+ minute documentary video called “The Game of Snakes & Arrows” so we can learn a bit about how the album came to be.  Geddy Lee says that their priority for choosing a recording studio was that they wanted the best drum sound imaginable.  They chose an old mansion out in the Adironacks.  47 individual microphones were used to record the entire drum kit.  Neil Peart says that the isolation of the studio led to the three guys reconnecting as musicians and friends like the old days at Le Studio.   According to Alex Lifeson, the plan for writing this time was to take it easy, working on the writing part only part time.  Later on, more time was spent on just rehearsing and playing the new songs, which transformed them along them way.  The documentary contains snippets of some intricate Lifeson acoustic 12-string, in the studio, where Alex makes it look easy.

Producer Nick Raskulinecz was not a passive participant; indeed there was give and take with the band in order to make the best out of each song. It was a process that worked well according to Alex.  I enjoyed hearing Alex explain the suspended F chord in “Far Cry” — there’s a story behind it. There is some great footage of Geddy playing Mellotron on “Good News First” too.  I also love a fly on the wall scene of Geddy jamming a bass lick on his brand-new-out-of-the-box Jaco Pastorius bass.  The lick sounded good and Geddy says, “We’ll jam to it later.  We’ll get the Big Guy on drums.”  Chills up my spine.   Raskulinecz  asks, “Would it be bad if we had two instrumentals on the record?”  Geddy immediately responds, “No, it’ll be a first.”  Peart shows up and they start to jam, and when Alex arrives it only takes him a day to come up with his guitar part to the Grammy-nominated Rush bass-drum jam called “Malignant Narcissism”.  Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.  This is how the big boys play.

Although this doc is only 40 minutes in length it’s well worth having.  This is great stuff.   Neil Peart crafting drum parts in front of our very eyes is a treat that few other DVDs deliver.  Seeing Geddy applauding his bandmate shouting, “He’s killing it, woo!” is glorious.

As if all this isn’t enough, there is a many-paged (I lost count) essay by Peart called “The Game of Snakes & Arrows: Prize Every Time”.  My favourite detail is what producer Nick Raskulinecz was nicknamed:  “Boujze”, based on the sound he’d make when trying to convey to Peart a drum fill suggestion.  “Bappitty-bap-bap-booooujze!”

The DVD photo gallery is a total joke:  FIVE pictures.  At least the package comes with an expanded booklet with lots of Hugh Syme’s surreal artwork.  Since the photo gallery on the DVD was just shite photies, I’ll give you some shots from the documentary that are loads better.


So, let’s get on with the album then.  Pushing play

Delicacy and aggression describe album opener (and first single) “Far Cry”.  The acoustics of Lifeson are easily overwhelmed by the pummeling band.  “Far Cry” boasts one of those powerful 90’s-style Rush riffs that groove rather than exercise the brain.  Immediately I am overwhelmed by a dense 5.1 riff.  I do not know how many guitars I am hearing, but Alex has unique parts coming in from all sides, including an acoustic on the left that I never noticed before.  I have loved “Far Cry” since its triumphant release in 2007; it is just as powerful and engaging today.  New appreciation for Lifeson will be had on this mix.

“Armor & Sword” was a standout then and now, just as “Far Cry” before.  The song has always shimmered, but more so in 5.1.  This track has much more of Alex’s acoustic guitars, and more texture.  It has a regal 80’s Rush-like quality without the keyboards.  In fact there are no keyboards on Snakes & Arrows, only the Mellotron.  The 5.1 mix becomes a little dense at times, and the layers of guitars oppressive, but it is indeed a massive song.  Then, you can audibly hear the Mellotron on “Workin’ Them Angels”, a phrase taken from one of Peart’s books.  It is a brighter song than either of the first two, and I like the reference to the “moving picture”.  “Workin’ Them Angels” is an album highlight, particularly the mandolin near the end.

SNAKES AND ARROWS_0007Somber moods inhabit “The Larger Bowl”, with Alex’s acoustics again giving it mood and texture.  The hippy-ish chorus sounds like the 1960’s to me, and with the acoustics it paints a picture in my mind.  This is a very good song, but Alex’s well composed guitar solo is the focal point for me.  His tone is very different on the solo, very warm.  It’s an excellent song.  “Spindrift” is less overwhelming to me.  There is nothing wrong with it; it is simply less enchanting than its predecessors since they set the bar quite high.  The song was, however, performed on the Snakes & Arrows tour and kicks of CD 2 of the album Snakes & Arrows Live and there is no denying it is powerful.

“The Main Monkey Business” is the first instrumental, again featuring Geddy on Mellotron.  The main melodic element to this song feels familiar to me — it reminds me of one of Ace Frehley’s “Fractured” instrumentals in terms of melody.  In terms of playing and structure, it is nothing like Frehley.  The 5.1 mix here is nicely balanced.  I’m getting plenty of distinct acoustic parts, with Geddy and Neil front and center.  The chiming guitars behind me envelope the listener in warmth.  Then, suddenly during a solo guitar section, the mix retreats almost all way to stereo before returning again on all 5.1.  Things bounce back and forth between intensely heavy and intensely heady.  This is a masterpiece of instrumental craft.

SNAKES AND ARROWS_0005“We can only go the way the wind blows,” claims Peart on the next song.  “The Way the Wind Blows” has two distinct sections:one heavy and one with layered acoustics. I prefer the acoustic section and I’m not too much into the heavy parts which sounds a bit same-y to 90’s Rush stuff.  Then, “Hope” is a short Lifeson acoustic showcase.  This might be the point at which some Rush fans started to doze a bit.  Admittedly Snakes & Arrows is the most acoustic-based Rush album I can think of. I just don’t think that’s a bad thing.  Not when you have Alex Lifeson in your band.  “Hope” leads into “Faithless”, a strong Rush composition.  There seems to be some sort continuity of theme here, or perhaps it is all in my head?  First Neil says we can only go the way the wind blows.  Then we go from “Hope”, to a discussion of faith.  On “Faithless”, Neil says that like the willow, he will quietly resist.  Seems like a total 180 from going where the wind blows to me, and I don’t care if it’s not intentional because I think it’s cool.  On the guitar end, Alex plays a cool bluesy solo, once again classing up the song several notches.  What a player.

The song that doesn’t work for me is “Bravest Face”.  I find the verses annoying.  “Good News First” is better, returning us to the regal Rush territory I prefer.  Alex’s magnificent chords are enhanced by the Mellotron.  Weak verses are compensated for here by other elements.  It sounds like an incomplete song to me, but better than “Bravest Face”.  The aforementioned “Malignant Narcissism” is a mind-tornado as opposed to a mind-blow.  But it’s actually a distraction; you’re about to be blown away by the sheer power of closer “We Hold On”.  Rush closers usually just bowl me over, and “We Hold On” is one of those.  Fucking awesome.  This time, Alex concentrates on the electric guitar and comes up with numerous unique and enhancing licks.  This is a complete Rush triumph.  Neil is absolutely relentless.  It leaves the album on an exhausted, satisfied note.

And a good thing, too — I was starting to worry as the song quality was dipping towards the end there.  I’m happy Rush redeemed it with a stunner like “We Hold On”.

4/5 stars