Epic

REVIEW: Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai – G3 Live in Concert (1997)

JOE SATRIANI, ERIC JOHNSON, STEVE VAI – G3 Live in Concert (1997 Epic)

It took me 21 years to finally buy this CD.  Why?  It was hard to get excited about three live Satch songs, three live Vai songs, and so on.  But a collector needs to catch ’em all, and it’s actually a pretty fabulous listen throughout.

Joe Satriani opens the set with “Cool No. 9” from his self-titled blues album.  Blues to Joe Satriani is a different kind of animal.  It’s trick-laden and thick with notes, although this doesn’t mean light on feel.  His landmark classic “Flying in a Blue Dream” is more what people expect from Joe.  I like to describe his albums as regular vocal rock records, just with the lead guitar singing the melody instead of a person.  I think I stole that description from Joe himself.  You can’t really call “Flying” a ballad but it sure is epic.  Finally it’s “Summer Song”, Joe’s big 1992 hit from The Extemist.  It doesn’t get more accessible for instrumental guitar rock.  Joe’s actually the perfect artist to open this CD for that reason.  His music, more than most instrumentalists, is door-opening for listeners.

The sublime Eric Johnson is in the middle position.  “Zap” is a tour-de-force of instrumental prowess, built into the framework of a nice shuffle.  Though you can certainly bop along if you like, the musicianship here is not for the timid.  “Camel’s Night Out” is a busy groover.  One of Johnson’s best tunes ever has to be “Manhattan”, which goes down unbelievably smooth live.  The playing is lyrical and warm.

Steve Vai’s threesome includes “Answers” and “For the Love of God” from Passion & Warfare.  “Answers” is one of Vai’s more challenging songs, fast and funky with weird tones and melodies.  This is probably the most blistering song on the whole disc, including a solo that isn’t in the studio version.  For all that, “For the Love of God” is the most awe-inspiring.  This ballad puts the passion in Passion and Warfare.  This is the one with Steve’s soul in it, every bend and every beat.  “The Attitude Song” is an oldie from the first Vai album Flex-able, just a solid rocker with some shredding.  Live it is much heavier than the tinny studio cut.

Finally, there is a trio of tunes with the three maestros playing together, as is the G3 tradition.  The blues standard “Going Down” is a typical jam, with Joe on vocals.  Then a tribute to Steve’s mentor, Frank Zappa, on “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” with everyone singing…and shredding.  Finally, Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” finishes the CD with Eric Johnson on lead vocals.  Of these three tracks, “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” smokes the other two.

May as well pick up the original G3 CD if you find it in the wild.  It’s good stuff.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: AC/DC – The Razors Edge (1990)

AC/DC – The Razors Edge (1988, 2003 Epic remaster)

The 80s were bumpy for AC/DC.  Back In Black was massive.  For Those About to Rock was almost as big.  Flick of the Switch was a solid ball of rock, but things were uneven and some songs were filler.  Fly on the Wall has its detractors for its muddy sound, and Blow Up Your Video was mostly a snooze.  For their 1990 comeback, AC/DC got Canadian mega-producer Bruce Fairbairn involved.*  He had a huge run of hit albums most notably by Bon Jovi and Aerosmith.  Could he work his magic with AC/DC?

Bruce was one of the biggest names around, but having a hitmaker like him working with AC/DC was bound to affect their sound.  Not too much of course; this was AC/DC after all.  But Bruce did offer a cleaner sound, and there is no question it worked. To the tune of five million copies!  Another change was bringing in ex-The Firm drummer Chris Slade after the departure of Simon Wright, who joined Dio.  The bald-headed beat keeper became a fan favourite very quickly.  (Slade is once again the drummer of AC/DC today after replacing Phil Rudd.)

Debut single “Thunderstruck” has deservedly become a classic in the pantheon of AC/DC classics.  It was immediately obvious that AC/DC toned down the bluesy leanings of Blow Up Your Video in favour of rock and even arguably metal.  “Thunderstruck” is heavy metal, especially with that fluttery Angus Young lick that dominates the song.

Chris Slade’s hyper-caffeinated drum stylings really impact “Fire Your Guns”, one of the fastest and most fun AC/DC tracks in recorded history.  Any AC/DC song that involves them yelling “fire!” is guaranteed to thrill.  Not to be ignored is bassist Cliff Williams who is effortlessly locked in with Slade.  And sonically this is the best sounding AC/DC stuff since Back in Black.  Singer Brian Johnson said at the time that Bruce Fairbairn encouraged him to scream more like the old days.

Another huge single was the plucky “Moneytalks”, bringing the groove down to a perfect mid-tempo.  The main thing is the hook of the chorus.  Though all songs were written solely by the Brothers Young, you can hear Bruce Fairbairn’s impact.  It’s tight and focused more than AC/DC had been last time out.  No doubt Bruce acted as a brutal editor in the studio when necessary, and must have had a role in shaping the songs to their final form.  Listen to the layers of vocals on the chorus and tell me that’s not Bruce’s doing.

Some of the best AC/DC tracks in history have been deeper album cuts.  The title track is one such song, an ominous almost-epic.  “The Razors Edge” refers to a storm front on the horizon, and the song has that kind of foreboding feel.  Unfortunately this friggin’ incredible construction of guitars and screams is followed by a novelty track.  A seasonal novelty track.  “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all day the day.  I can’t wait til’ Christmas time when I roll you in the hay.”  This song should have been axed and saved for a compilation or single, where it actually could have had some impact.  Not that it’s not fun; it is!  But who wants to listen to jingle bells on track five of an AC/DC album?  “Rock Your Heart Out” closed the side with the dubious distinction of being the first obvious filler song.

The third single “Are You Ready” was the opening track for side two.  Good tune, nothing particularly special, but good enough for an AC/DC album.  “Got You By the Balls” is an amusing title, but not a memorable song.  It has a menacing bite, but not enough hooks.  There’s a definite “side two slump” as none of these songs are as good as the first batch on side one.  “Shot of Love” is OK.  Things get back on track with “Let’s Make It” which might have made a great single itself.  It has an old-timey rock and roll feel, and a slow groove.  That classic rock and roll sound isn’t heard frequently on The Razors Edge.  “Goodbye and Good Riddance to Bad Luck” isn’t shabby but veers close to that filler territory.  Finally The Razors Edge comes to a campy end with the unusual “If You Dare”.  Fortunately it’s a great, hooky little closer.

As it turns out, The Razors Edge was a one-off of sorts.  It spun off a successful live album, also produced by Bruce Fairbairn, but that was the end of their partnership.  A 1993 single called “Big Gun” sported a ballsier sound provided by Rick Rubin who went on to do their next album as well.  The Razors Edge is also the only studio album with Chris Slade.  Phil Rudd returned, reuniting the classic Back In Black lineup.  No one will question that Rudd is the best fitting drummer that AC/DC have ever had, but that doesn’t negate Chris Slade’s contribution.  Slade and Rudd do not sound alike, and therefore AC/DC acquires a different flavour with him in the band.  His cymbal work is enviable and nobody can play “Thunderstruck” like Chris Slade, period.

3.5/5 stars

*Much to the upset of the Scorpions who had tapped Bruce to do their next album Crazy World.  That didn’t happen because of the AC/DC job.

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Wicked Lester & Eddie Kramer demos (1972 & 1973)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 1:  

For once, it did not all start with a kiss-logo.

scan_20170220-4Wicked Lester (1972 unreleased album) & the Eddie Kramer demos (1973) (CD bootleg “promo” with “Epic” logo)

Stanley Eisen and Chaim Witz were two young New York musicians who didn’t particularly care for one another.  They met via guitarist Stephen Coronel, a mutual friend and bandmate of Witz.  Chaim, who came to the United States from Israel at the age of eight, changed his name to Gene Klein.  Stephen Coronel told Gene that young Stanley wrote songs too.  Unimpressed, Gene commanded, “Oh yeah?  Play one.”  Stanley played a prototype called “Sunday Driver”, but the encounter left a foul taste in his mouth.

Coronel eventually succeeded in bringing his two friends together, when Stanley Eisen joined their band Rainbow.  In was 1971, and Ritchie Blackmore had yet to form the most famous Rainbow of them all, but even so they needed a more unique name.  They already knew of one other band using the name Rainbow.  Both Paul and Gene had their sights set on bigger things than just New York City.  They wanted something original, and settled upon Wicked Lester.  They’d also drop their “ethnic sounding” real names in favour of the handles “Paul Stanley” and “Gene Simmons”.  They collected together some material they’d written and focused on their originals.  The lineup consisted of Stanley and Coronel on guitars, Simmons on bass, Brooke Ostrander (RIP, FYC) on piano and horns, and Tony Zarella on drums.

Wicked Lester performed only two gigs before an opportunity was offered by Ron Johnsen, a resident sound engineer at Electric Lady studios.  He saw something in the band, and put up the funds for some demo recordings.  Eventually, Epic had their curiosity piqued enough to buy the demos and agree to do make an album.  They had only one condition:  Get rid of Stephen Coronel.  Thus, the man that brought Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley together was fired from the band he shared with them.

Coronel was replaced by a player named Ron Leejack, and recording of the album commenced.  The majority of tracks were Simmons/Stanley (and sometimes Coronel) originals, with a handful of covers.  To cut a long story short, upon completion, Epic shelved the album and deemed it not good enough to release.

They were right to do so.

Only three tracks have ever been released officially, on the 2001 Kiss Box Set:  “Keep Me Waiting”, “She”, and “Love Her All I Can”.  The rest are only available on very poor sounding bootleg discs.  Even without the full fidelity of a proper release, one can tell from the available bootlegs that the album Wicked Lester was best left in the shadows.  When Kiss seemed to emerge fully-formed in 1974, nobody had witnessed their growing pains.

The running order of various bootlegs differ.  The red-packaged “Epic promo CD” (surely not) begins with the familiar “Love Her All I Can”, best known as one of Kiss’ early classics from 1975’s Dressed To Kill.  The unfocused Wicked Lester original sounds like a hippie commune on speed. Simmons today describes their sound as “like a cross between Three Dog Night and the Doobie Brothers.”  Throw in a healthy dose of acid.  Who knows where that came from, Simmons being so proudly anti-drug.

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An obscure cover “Sweet Ophelia” (Barry Mann/Gerry Goffin) really demonstrates how far out in left field everybody was.  It’s mildly disconcerting how well Paul Stanley fits the hippie vibe, far removed from his future Starchild persona.  A Stanley original “Keep Me Waiting” bears little resemblance to the style his is known for.  Though one could imagine the guitar solo section as part of a Kiss song, “Keep Me Waiting” is a delirious concoction of congas and horns.  Simmons’ “Simple Type” is more straightforward.  No annoying extra accoutrements.  No hooks either, or any balls, but it’s one of the earliest examples of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley sharing lead vocals on a song.  Even at this early stage, it was clear that Paul Stanley possessed a mighty throat.

“Simple Type” merges with the flutes and tambourines of “She”.  Flutes and tambourines, on “She”?!  Yes, this future Kiss grinder is set to the sultry sounds of more hippie instrumentation, to go with the organ and shakers.  As the song fades out, you can just hear the potential it had.  This potential is nowhere to be found on “Too Many Mondays” (Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil), light and flaky.  “What Happens in the Darkness” (Tamy Lester Smith) is all but indescribable.  Deep Purple Mk I gone terribly wrong,  but with Paul Stanley leading the choir instead of Rod Evans going it alone.  Tougher and better is “When the Bell Rings” (Austin Roberts/Christopher Welch) which again features Paul and Gene singing together.  This time, Gene utilizes his early high rasp, also heard on Kiss tracks like “Goin’ Blind” and “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll”.  Sounding a bit more like our beloved demon, “When the Bell Rings” is actually listenable.  Paul Stanley’s dainty “Molly” brings the flutes back into the picture, and the sooner it’s over the better.  A cover of The Hollies’ “(We Want To) Shout it Out Loud” is not bad.  And it lent its title to something much better later on.

The “Epic promo” CD has terrible tape bleed-through.  It’s clearly a copy of a copy, generations down.  The cheap paper cover belies its actual bootleg manufacture.  It’s also missing a song called “Long, Long Road”, a soft country track that was recorded but perhaps cut from the intended album. That’s right — soft country.

Epic passed on the Wicked Lester album, which was mixed and even had cover art selected.  The boy was their mascot, “Wicked Lester”.  The cover art was originally intended for another band called Laughing Dogs.  Now that the album was shelved (and since Simmons and Stanley were the clear leaders of the group) the fates of the others were pre-determined.  Paul and Gene began looking for new members, and experimenting with makeup.  They wanted a strong, singular image, not five guys who looked like the line at the local soup kitchen.  They also wanted a focused direction, and that was to be hard rock a-la The Who, Cream and Led Zeppelin.

An experienced drummer (his band Lips had an album) named Peter Criscoula was first to heed the call.  The new Wicked Lester was a power trio consisting of Peter, Gene and Paul, who rehearsed in a loft located at 10 East 23rd Street in Manhattan.  The sound was incomplete:  a lead guitarist was needed.  Auditions were held at the same loft.  Legend has it that Bob Kulick (who features into the story much later) was about to get the gig, when they were rudely interrupted.  A spaced out guy with one red and one orange sneaker had plugged in and started wailing away.  Paul Frehley snatched the gig at the last minute, and Kiss was born.

The loft where Kiss was born.   10 East 23rd Street, photos by Mike Lukas.

The new focus became apparent when the re-named band entered Electric Lady one more time, in March of 1973, with legendary producer Eddie Kramer.  The band cut five new originals:  “Deuce” (Simmons), “Strutter” (Stanley/Simmons), “Cold Gin” (Frehley), “Watching You” (Simmons), “Black Diamond” (Stanley).  Each of these songs later made it onto Kiss albums in 1974.  They had the goods.

The Kramer demos sound better on this CD than the Wicked Lester tracks.  A different, younger tape generation would be the probable source.  Only two of these demos (“Strutter” and “Deuce”) have been released officially, on the Kiss Box Set.  These ferocious tracks are almost completely faithful to the final album arrangements.  A few extended solos here, and some longer bits there.  Tracks such as “Deuce” are faster than they were later recorded, and more akin to what Kiss sounded like live.  Playing to their strengths, keeping things simple, and with Eddie goddamn Kramer at the boards, the band laid down one hell of a demo.  This is something that bands today would release officially as their first EP, to build buzz for an album.  That wasn’t the strategy in 1973, so the band instead stuck to a regular regimen of songwriting, rehearsals and unforgettable club gigs.

Nine months after their debut gig as Kiss at the Coventry, they signed with Neil Bogart’s Casablanca Records.  They had built up a repertoire of roughly 18 originals, including some holdovers from the shelved Wicked Lester: “She”, “Simple Type”, “Keep Me Waiting”, and “Love Her All I Can”.  These four songs were whittled out again in the process of coming up with the tracks to record for their first LP.

The Eddie Kramer demos and Wicked Lester album alike are important historical documents.  They are pieces of the puzzle coming together, and by the time they got with Kramer, the outline was in place.  The only way to go was up.

Today’s rating:

Wicked Lester 1/5 stars
Eddie Kramer demos – 3.25/5 stars

 

Original mikeladano.com Wicked Lester review:  2012/08/14

 

REVIEW: AC/DC – Live (Remastered 2 CD collector’s edition)

AC/DC – Live (1992, 2003 Epic remastered collector’s edition)

AC/DC and their label did something very clever for their first live album with Brian Johnson in 1992.  Instead of putting out a full-on and expensive double live album (well over $30 on CD in the 90’s) they allowed fans to choose a more economic option.  A single “highlights” version of AC/DC Live was released simultaneously with 14 of the 23 tracks on one disc.  AC/DC must have been one of the first bands to release a “collector’s edition” of an album with an extra CD at a higher price.

Of course to a real AC/DC fan, the single disc is for rookies.  Sure, its firepower can’t be denied, but anybody with the dollars and a hard-on for AC/DC shelled out for the double.  Their last live release was 1978’s If You Want Blood You’ve Got It with Bon Scott, a mere single disc.

Here’s the only serious flaw with AC/DC Live (either version).  Like The Razors Edge, it was produced by Bruce Fairbairn.  Why would AC/DC need a studio guy like Fairbairn to produce a live album?  Astute fans have picked apart the release and compared it to bootleg recordings from the same shows.  Like most live albums, even AC/DC succumbed to post-concert studio overdubs.  This is not particularly obvious on one listen, but it was always suspected due to the clean and near-perfect sound of AC/DC Live.  Where is the raunch?  Mixed out and overdubbed.   That’s unfortunate.  More bands should just pick the version of a song they like best, suck it up and put it on the album as-is.

Since 1992, AC/DC have released a lot of live material, both current and from the Bon era.  Notable is Live at River Plate (2012), another double, with Phil Rudd on drums.  A valid question would be, “How badly does a fan really need AC/DC Live in 2016?”  With so much to choose from, especially on DVD, AC/DC Live serves today as an historic document.  The Razors Edge album was a huge comeback for a band that never stopped, the tour was massive, and the resultant album is a document of this period.  With period hits like “Moneytalks” and “Heatseeker”, there are a few songs you won’t get live on some other releases.  (These two are even on the single CD version.)  There are also a couple nice long extended Angus jams, if you’re into the solos.  Lastly, AC/DC Live is the only live album with then (and present) drummer Chris Slade.  While no one will deny that Phil Rudd is “the man” when it comes to AC/DC, Chris Slade is well-liked and deserves his place in history.  He’s even on the album cover.

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Of note, the original (non-remastered) printing of AC/DC Live came with a neat bonus:  a little Angus $1 bill, like the ones they used to drop on the crowd during “Moneytalks”.  This memento was not included in the remaster, so when I traded my original copy in for a remaster I said “fuck it” and kept the $1 bill.  It’s too cool to throw away, and I’m sure many of those old Angus bills have been lost or destroyed since.

Ever so lucky, the Japanese fans received a bonus track:  “Hell Ain’t A Bad Place to Be”.  Fear not, everyone else.  This track was included on the live 1992 “Highway to Hell” single, which is fairly common.  Worth tracking down; it’s also on the Backtracks box set.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: AC/DC – Who Made Who (1986 soundtrack to Maximum Overdrive)

movie-soundtrack-week

Today’s movie soundtrack comes by no coincidence.  Today’s my birthday!  And I got this album on this day in 1987 from my partner in crime for many years, Bob!

 


AC/DC – Who Made Who (1986 Epic soundtrack to Maximum Overdrive, 2003 remaster)

As a movie director, Stephen King is a great novelist.

30 years ago, Maximum Overdrive was King’s directorial debut.  The movies based on his books had been box office gold so far, but King always complained about the adaptations of his original material.  So why not hand the reins over to him?

King’s goal was to make “the loudest movie ever made”, and part of that was leaving the soundtrack to AC/DC.  King issued the film with instructions that “this film is to be played as loud as possible.”  The funny thing, according to him, was that most theaters did it.

AC/DC did the entire soundtrack, a mixture of old and new material.  It was an unorthodox move and it left AC/DC with what some consider to be their first real “greatest hits” album; this coming from a band who in 2016 has yet to issue an actual greatest hits album!

The robotic pulse of “Who Made Who” commences the affair, a massive hit still a radio staple today.  One of AC/DC’s most recognisable tunes, “Who Made Who” was a bigger smash than the movie that spawned it.  That’s Simon Wright on drums, emulating the perfect beats of Phil Rudd before him, creating a fine facsimile.  The keys to the song though are the simple and catchy guitars of Angus and Malcolm Young.  Having nailed down the art of writing catchy bases for songs, the brothers Young really perfected it here.

They also perfected it on 1980’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”.  Placing the biggest AC/DC hit of all time second in line is almost like nailing the coup de grâce prematurely, but there is plenty more firepower on the album.  It works in the second position, cleaning up anyone left standing and getting them shakin’ on the dance floor.

AC/DC added two brand new instrumentals to this soundtrack (“Johnson was sick that day”, joked Angus).  “D.T.” is the first of them, somewhat unremarkable and echoey on the drums.  But this is designed as background music for movie scenes, so it really shouldn’t be measured by the same yardstick as, say, a Rush instrumental.  The second on side two is the peppier “Chase the Ace”.  Punctuated with some cool Angus licks, “Chase the Ace” is simple and effective like “D.T.”.

There were a few tunes from the recent Fly on the Wall album, all killers.  “Sink the Pink” (oh, Brian!) is recorded so muddy that you can’t hear the words, but it does rock.  Angus’ guitar break is pure fun, and the song gets your ass moving.  That leads into the sole Bon Scott inclusion, “Ride On”, from a quieter moment in the film.  What’s really cool is that even though these songs are from all over the place, Who Made Who sounds like a fairly cohesive trip.

Side two commences ominously with “Hells Bells”, a fine way to distribute classic tunes evenly across the sides.  “Shake Your Foundations” is on its tail, hitting you with another blast of AC/DC right in the face.  One of the better tunes from Fly on the Wall, “Shake Your Foundations” does its advertised job.  Yet, I do believe there was only one way to properly end this album.  That would have to be the cannon-fire of “For Those About to Rock”.

Who Made Who was actually my first Johnson-era AC/DC album, given to me by my buddy Bob on this day in 1987.  If this review is slanted ever so slightly in the “pro” direction, so be it.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Edwin – Another Spin Around the Sun (1999)

EDWIN_0001EDWIN – Another Spin Around the Sun (1999 Epic)

Having followed I Mother Earth since before their first album Dig, I was disheartened when Edwin left the band for a solo career.  It is true that songwriting in I Mother Earth was dominated by the Tanna brothers, but nobody likes when an original singer leaves a band.  Edwin was first (by mere months) to get a new album out, and Another Spin Around the Sun couldn’t sound less like I Mother Earth!

The liner notes shed a lot of light on the album.  Lots and lots of studio musicians, different writers, keyboards and programming.  Expectations for anything band-like should be dropped.  The opening song “Theories” has big echoey guitars, but also very-90’s programmed drum beats and modern “funk”.  The 420 references tell us what the lyrics are about, and then the very next song is called “Trippin'”!  Maybe Edwin was also high when he quit I Mother Earth.

“Trippin'” was a single, but I remember one of my co-workers “Criss” being incredibly annoyed by it.  Even more irritating is another single, “Hang Ten” which sounds like…oh fuck, I don’t know?  Sugar Ray meets Edwin?  Something indigestible anyway.  Edwin’s going for a lounge crooner vibe on the verses before hitting us up with a “big rock chorus” but stumbles under the weight of  its own ambition.

EDWIN_0003Daniel Mansilla, who plays percussion with I Mother Earth as an “unofficial member” lends some class to “And You”.  The real percussion stuff is more my speed than the trip-hoppin’ beats Edwin laid down on the first few tracks.  Unfortunately what “And You” has in percussion, it lacks in memorable hooks.  There’s nothing lazy about it though, especially when it goes into a dreamy Beatles section near the end.  At least you can say that Edwin made the most of his solo debut.

The lullaby-like “Screaming Kings” has a psychedelic vibe and a big chorus (enough anyway).  As such it’s one of the few that I still remember.  I also remember “Shotgun” but not because it’s good.  It’s Edwin trying to buy modern punk metal rock or something.  Edwin mixes up the genres quite a bit on his album, but I don’t think they always turn into great tunes.  “Shotgun” is that noisy rock that frankly kinda annoys me.

Every CD in my collection has a reason for being there.  In normal circumstances, Edwin would not have survived a CD purge this long.  The only reason I kept the CD is the song “Alive”.  This magnificent — nay, majestic — big ballad is the one song that does sound world class.  The lyrics are uplifting, the music a perfect fit. Edwin finally gets a big chorus to bellow, and it’s about damn time. It’s also the perfect place for the strings that permeate the album. In some respects, it reminds me of David Coverdale’s “Last Note of Freedom”.

The rest of the album is largely a mirror of the first. There are the dusky pseudo-funky tracks that sound so dated to the late 90’s. There are the darting guitar parts that never coalesce into solid hooks. There are the drum samples. Even the song called “Rush” fails to be one. “Take Me Anywhere” ain’t bad.

In final 90’s fashion, there is a hidden bonus track. Can you guess the genre? “Another Drink” is a lounge song! It’s actually a pretty decent lounge song, with LP scratch added for authenticity, but it didn’t help my impression that Edwin was chasing trends and styles. One tequila, two tequila, aye carumba. (Those are some of the lyrics.)

Edwin followed this album with Edwin and the Pressure in 2002, but it did very little in terms of sales. Edwin returned to a solid rock form with new band Crash Karma in 2010. Another Spin Around the Sun remains essentially a one-song album for me.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Just Say Ozzy (1990 EP)

OZZY OSBOURNE – Just Say Ozzy (1990 Epic EP)

Nobody was shocked when Ozzy Osbourne, the man who said he hated live albums, put out his fourth (!) solo live release in 1990. (His other three live releases were the Mr. Crowley EP, Speak of the Devil, and Randy Rhoads Tribute. This does not include the Ultimate Live Ozzy EP which was…not live.) The liner note by Ozzy attempts to justify its release. “Firstly, ‘Shot in the Dark’,” begins Ozzy. “I am happier with this version than the original.” (Oooh, sick burn on Jake.) Ozzy continues, “Secondly, the Sabbath songs – To have recorded them one last time with Geezer Butler, Zakk and Randy says it all for me. It’s a chapter of my musical career I can now close.”

What the fuck did that mean?

Was Ozzy going to stop playing Sabbath songs?  Did anyone actually believe that?  The bitter liner notes accompany a front cover emblazoned with all four band members’ names, in the same sized font as Ozzy’s.  And on the front cover is not Ozzy Osbourne, but guitarist Zakk Wylde! (Albeit from behind so you can’t see his face, and he’s just in one corner of the cover.)  It all seems to deliver a message of “I am focused on the present, not my past.”  This quartet was fully expected to record the next Ozzy studio album together, athough ultimately that did not happen.  Geezer left in 1991 for a reunited Dio-era Black Sabbath.  So much for not looking back!

JUST SAY OZZY_0005

Just Say Ozzy functioned as a stopgap.  Ozzy would take his time with the next LP (which at that time was tentatively titled No Dogs Allowed, then Don’t Blame Me), but No Rest for the Wicked was already two years past.  They had to release something, so here it is.  One careful listen will reveal a lot of studio trickery was employed afterwards. Indeed, if one focuses on the crowd noise you can hear edits everywhere. Billboard magazine revealed that the music for this album was re-recorded in the studio with audience noise overdubbed.

Having said that, if this kind of trickery doesn’t bother you (and if you own Kiss Alive! or Frampton Comes Alive then it shouldn’t too much) then this is a great EP. Just Say Ozzy‘s meager six songs feature the only recordings of the brief Osbourne/Wylde/Butler/Castillo lineup. I was always a fan of those particular guys and there’s something to be said when you have two original Black Sabbath members in the band, while Black Sabbath only had one.

Since this EP was from the No Rest tour, three of its heaviest songs were showcased: the single “Miracle Man”, “Tattooed Dancer”, and “Bloodbath in Paradise”. No ballads.  These three songs are nice to have, but are not even close to competing with the better known hits.

From The Ultimate Sin comes “Shot In The Dark”…yes, Ozzy’s so-called “preferred version”.  And it is indeed very good.  Zakk Wylde was a talented kid even then, and I love the youthful “go for it” attitude in his playing. “Shot in the Dark” features an extended solo that established Zakk’s place with his axe predecessors.  Then, a deuce of Sabbath: a smokin’ “Sweet Leaf” and probably the best live version of “War Pigs” that I have ever heard.

Yeah, that’s what I said.

This Zakk-infused version of “War Pigs” is, in this humble writer’s opinion, the best live version ever released. Zakk’s guitar digs deep into the strings with those nice wide vibratos. It’s just monstrous, plus with Geez on bass, it has that slink it needs.  Randy Castillo (RIP) was certainly no slouch, and his relentless fills here are solidly entertaining.

3/5 stars.  Shame about that crappy cover art though.

Tracklist:

  1. “Miracle Man”
  2. “Bloodbath in Paradise”
  3. “Shot in the Dark”
  4. “Tattooed Dancer”
  5. “Sweet Leaf”
  6. “War Pigs”

REVIEW: Faith No More – Live In Germany 2009

Enjoy this first review from my 2014 Toronto Record Store Excursion with Aaron!

FNM GERMANY 2009_0004FAITH NO MORE – Live In Germany 2009 (Immortal)

“Faith No More 2.0.  New software; same old shit.  Enjoy!” — Mike Patton

Faith No More have long been one of those bands who never really got their due.  Without Faith No More, you’d have no Korn, Disturbed, or System of a Down.  Their influence is best measured in the numerous bands who followed in their wake.  I’m proud to have been a fan since first exposure (1990).  When Faith No More broke up in ’98, I thought they took the high road by being one of the few bands to say a reunion was not in the cards.  Then, like all the other bands, that moment came and Faith No More gradually eased themselves back on the stage.  Now they’re making a new album (a new single, the Tom Waits-ish “Motherfucker” is out November 28) and I think that’s just grand.

I was pleased to bits to find a live CD document of a European Faith No More reunion show.  It was an obvious must-buy, but I was happy that it sounds so fucking good!

The CDs only flaw is that it begins abruptly, as if a few notes of the first song “Reunited” are cut off.  This 1978 R&B hit displays a side of Faith No More that other bands fail to capture — their ability to play classic R&B and Disco perfectly.  Mike Patton has the soul chops, and just enough weirdness to throw his own style in towards the end.  They segue this perfectly into the hammering “From Out of Nowhere” from 1989’s The Real Thing.  I’ll tell you something here — I don’t miss Jim Martin at all.  At first, I was hoping (without grounds) that Martin would be a part of the reunion.  The band instead (and logically) went with their most recent guitarist Jon Hudson, a well-rounded player who can do all eras of Faith No More equally convincing.  This is apparent on the wah-wah drenched “Be Aggressive” from ’92.  This sexually explicit shocker is just as undeniably catchy as it was back in the 90’s.

FNM GERMANY 2009_0002This being Germany, Patton can’t resist dropping the odd “scheisse”, before barking like a dog, on the epic “Caffeine”.  This bizarre powerhouse has long been one of Faith No More’s most stunning trips into the void, and live it’s only more so.  Without the studio effects on his voice, Mike Patton resorts to unorthodox techniques to give his voice the distortion and flexibility required.  Vibrating his throat with his hand, for example, is one such method you can hear on “Caffeine”.

Some of the other incredible highlights included here are the slick Disco of “Evidence”, which Mike sings in Spanish!  The piano-and-beatbox of “Chariots of Fire” is hilarious and cool.  Patton’s vocal acrobatics are unearthly on “Surprise! You’re Dead!”.  Same with “MidLife Crisis”.  You either like the craziness Mike Patton injects live, or you don’t.  If you don’t, then you’re probably not a Faith No More fan anyway.  I also enjoy the funny rant about somebody throwing €1 at him during the same song.  “How would you feel, if you were a stripper or something, and somebody threw one Euro.  How would you feel?”  A valid question.

The best tune is probably the apocalyptic “Gentle Art of Making Enemies”.  I fully expected Mike Patton’s head to explode.  I don’t know how can do what he does with just lungs and a throat.  Not to be outshined is drummer Mike “Puffy” Bordin who keeps the train on the tracks for the whole show.

The band’s onstage banter is a little friendlier than it was back in the day, but still teasing.  They are not as antagonistic as I’ve heard them in the past.  But they sure are tight.  Musically, there is no question that reuniting this lineup was 100% the right move.   They are too versatile and just too damn good to stay broken up.  The set list was a well balanced representation of the Patton years, with only one Chuck Mosely classic (“We Care A Lot”, which is the closer).   There aren’t too many obvious hits missing.  “A Small Victory”, perhaps, or “Falling to Pieces”.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Fight – A Small Deadly Space (1995)

Part 3 of a miniseries on Rob Halford’s solo career!  Missed the last part, Mutations?  Click here!

FIGHT – A Small Deadly Space (1995 Epic)

Russ Parrish was out, and in came youngster Mark Chaussee.   This change negated one thing I loved about Fight, which was the interplay between two different guitar players.  Chausee and Tilse are too similar in tone, and so the followup album A Small Deadly Space renders me deaf if I try to listen to it in one sitting.  The mix on this album bothers me, it has so much bottom end, but then not enough on top to balance it.  I don’t like the vocal effects that reduce the power of Rob’s voice.   Halford doesn’t scream much on A Small Deadly Space.

The songs are powerful enough, and this time Rob is writing with his bandmates.  The opener “I Am Alive” is slow and massive, unlike anything on War of Words.  “Mouthpiece” is different yet again, with a slippery riff and an accelerated pace.  “Blowout in the Radio Room” is actually psychedelic metal.  Halford sings about how music gets him high, and goes for a tripping druggy sonic assault.  The guitar solos are straight out of the Hendrixian Book of Knowledge, it’s just great.  “Never Again” is one of the few moments of Halford screams, and it’s like an injection of adrenaline!  This is a Priest-quality album track.

SMALL DEADLY_0003I still think of CDs in terms of being albums, of having a “side one” and a “side two”, and to me this sounds like a natural break between two album sides.  I like side one, but side two wears on me.   The title track has a wicked wicked cool sounding guitar solo, but it’s just one lick that repeats four times.  Typical 90’s simplicity.  Then there’s “Gretna Greene”.  The lyrical matter is that of abuse, but unfortunately this very important subject is relegated to the back seat by the title of the song.  Yes, it’s an O.J. Simpson trial reference.  That wouldn’t matter so much if the music stood up, but this song is pretty boring.  They stay that way until “Human Crate”, which is slower but a really cool song with powerful vocals.  The album ends with a ballad, “In A World of My Own Making”.  For the first two minutes it’s just a piano, and Rob.  It’s a side of Halford rarely heard.  Then the band comes in, and it becomes a slant on “Beyond the Realms of Death”.  Except…with flat sounding drums and brittle guitars.

But that’s not all, there’s also the super hard to find secret bonus track, “Psycho Suicide”.  It’s noisy and tuneless, but it sure is heavy, and I kinda like it.

So, I think I’ve been clear that I’m not a fan of the mix of this CD.  A Small Deadly Space was remixed as part of the 2008 Into the Pit box set.  As I get along in this series of reviews, I’ll revisit that box set and see if this album makes a new impression on me.

For now?

2.8/5 stars

SMALL DEADLY_0004