exclusive

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Hard Skool (2022 Nightrain club clear 7″)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Hard Skool (2022 Geffen 7″ Nightrain club clear vinyl EP)

Back in February, Guns N’ Roses released the Hard Skool EP (or single, or whatever!), containing the first two new Guns songs since 2008’s Chinese Democracy.  With five tracks total (two studio, three live) over three separate formats (CD, cassette, 7″), it was already a pretty good listen.  Axl’s voice has adapted to singing these demanding songs, 35 years after.  But there was always the promise of more in June 2022, and now it has come.

Members of the Guns N’ Roses Nightrain club received a brand new Hard Skool release on clear vinyl, with one exclusive live track added.  The cover art colour has been changed from red to dark charcoal grey, and a “Nightrain Limited-Edition Clear” notation has been added to the front.  This wasn’t cheap, costing $60 Canadian ($45 US) dollars to join.  There are other perks but really, the truth of the matter is I paid $60 for one song.

They had better not reissue this track!

The new exclusive song is “Shadow Of Your Love”, a recent live version recorded with Axl, Slash, Duff, Dizzy Reed, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer, and Melissa Reese.  If you cast your minds back to the recent Appetite For Destruction super deluxe edition, “Shadow Of Your Love” was released as a single and it got a bit of airplay.  Live with the new version of the band, it does recapture that Appetite vibe and let’s face it, the song was possibly superior to a couple tunes that did make the final album.  You can hear Melissa on backing vocals, a touch that isn’t on early live versions of the song.  That backing vocal part is present on the studio version from the third disc on the Appetite box, but not the others included.  It’s cool that they’ve brought it back.  This version is just as fast as the old ones too.  It’s awesome to hear Frank Ferrer playing the drum part originally recorded by Steven Adler.  As for Axl, he adapts.  This is one of the most high and raspy of the original Guns repertoire.  Axl delivers it smooth without the rasp and still manages to get his voice way, way up there.  Say what you want about Axl Rose, he’s sounding better than many of his contemporaries.  Of course the real treat is just hearing Slash wail on it, as he should.

As for the other songs on the single; we’ve discussed them before so we won’t spend much more time on them.  “Hard Skool” is a Chinese Democracy outtake that has been reworked with Slash and Duff McKagan.  The duo have writing credits on “Hard Skool” along with Axl Rose and former members Robin Finck, Josh Freese, Tommy Stinson and Paul “Huge” Tobias.  Formerly known as “Jackie Chan”, this song comes closest to capturing the classic Guns vibe – think Illusions era GN’R.  Slash imbues the riff with his trademark snakelike style, and Axl is in full-scream mode on the powerful chorus.  The cowbell brings us back to the 80s a bit, but the experimental solo section is more modern.  The other new/old song “ABSUЯD” is much more Chi-Dem, and more divisize.  Formerly known as “Silkworms”, Guns started playing “ABSUЯD” live after a 20 year absence last year as a surprise.  Axl’s voice is pretty strange here, sounding a bit muppet-ish.  (The screaming portion sounds like tape.)  This live track will take some getting used to.  It’s not that Axl’s voice is bad just…different than what you’re used to.

Both vinyl releases came with a sticker.  This fan club edition also comes with a Nightrain 2022 pin.  The pin comes packaged in a little mini-folder.  It is made of metal and heavy for a pin.  Made for a jacket, not a shirt.  For a higher tier, you could sign up for four pins and a hoodie.  But I really only wanted to shell out for the exclusive track.

You can’t blame Axl for wanting to get some of these old songs out since he laboured for years over them.  It’s fitting that only now with Slash and Duff back in the band, the songs are “finished”.  Keep the releases coming guys.  It doesn’t have to be an album.  It just has to be Guns.

4/5 stars

All cautions made
Every chance was given
No effort spared to save what we had
All in good faith
I would not hesitate
To extend myself and lend you my hand

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

As tempers fade
And lies forgiven
No cause embraced could break what we had
In its place
A storm is lifting
I would’ve thought you could be more of a man

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Hard Skool (2022 CD, cassette, 7″ vinyl)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Hard Skool (2022 Universal CD, cassette, 7″ vinyl EP)

The first new physical music from Guns N’ Roses since 2008’s Chinese Democracy has finally arrived in the form of an EP!  Good enough; we’ll take it.  Beggars (and hangers-on) cannot be choosers.  Considering how scarce new Guns music has been since the early 90s, the new Hard Skool EP almost feels like manna from the gods.

There are six tracks in total spread over multiple formats:  two new studio songs, and four live.  The last of the live songs, “Shadow Of Your Love”, shipped in June 2022 on a club-only clear 7″.  The other five tracks are all here.

To the disappointment of some, the two new songs are slightly old:  Chinese Democracy outtakes that have been reworked with Slash and Duff McKagan.  The duo have writing credits on “Hard Skool” along with Axl Rose and former members Robin Finck, Josh Freese, Tommy Stinson and Paul “Huge” Tobias.  Formerly known as “Jackie Chan”, this song comes closest to capturing the classic Guns vibe – think Illusions era GN’R.  Slash imbues the riff with his trademark snakelike style, and Axl is in full-scream mode on the powerful chorus.  The cowbell brings us back to the 80s a bit, but the experimental solo section is more modern.

The other new/old song “ABSUЯD” is much more Chi-Dem, and more divisize.  Formerly known as “Silkworms”, it was largely enjoyed by those who knew it from live bootlegs but thought it should have been on the album.  The keyboard intro has been axed, the riff emphasized and the lyrics slightly modified.  The main hook “What can I do, with a bitch like you?” has been replaced with a refrain of “Absurd!” The words are otherwise just as angry.  “Listen motherfuckers to the song that should be heard!” bellows Axl on the opening line.  “Parasitic demons sucking acid through your heart!”  I wonder who this was written about?  Vocally, Axl’s in the faux accent he utilized on “Down on the Farm” and you’ll love it or hate it.  Interestingly former keyboardist Chris Pitman, who was credited with songwriting on the original “Silkworms” version, no longer has a credit.  It is now credited to Axl, Slash, Duff and Dizzy.  Presumably the Pitman parts were chopped.  At the time of its writing, Pitman said: “It ended up being this incredible track that sounded like Guns N’ Roses 10 or 15 years in the future. It was so far removed from our other songs that we had to put it in this other place. Concept-wise, it didn’t fit with Chinese Democracy. We hope we will have other songs that match that kind of futuristic sound. It’s a really exciting track because it morphs into this crazy sound, but it was out so much in the other direction that we have to let time catch up with it.”  While that was true of “Silkworms”, the version known as “ABSUЯD” is more guitar-oriented.

The live songs commence with “Don’t Cry”.  Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus sound great together on this, but Axl struggles when the singing gets high at the end.  It’s a demanding song, and 1991 was a long time ago.  “You’re Crazy” on the other hand is really good.  Using the slower Lies arrangement, but played on electric, this version is like brand new.  A real cool addition to your GN’R library.

The third live track is exclusive to the 7″ vinyl:  “ABSUЯD”.  Not only do we get new songs on this EP, but we already get one in a live version.  Guns started playing “ABSUЯD” live in 2021 as a surprise before it was released on iTunes.  Axl’s voice is pretty strange here, sounding a bit muppet-ish.  (The screaming portion sounds like tape.)  This live track will take some getting used to.  It’s not that Axl’s voice is bad just…different than what you’re used to.

The 7″ vinyl came with a sticker while the cassette and CD versions come with no extras.  The CD is packed in a slipcase, and the cassette in a cassingle cardboard sleeve.  This got crushed a bit in the mail; a jewel case would have been better.

Completing this tracklist is “Shadow Of Your Love (Live)” on an additional 7″ single, available only by joining a “Nightrain” membership on the official site.  The cheaper of the pricey packages gives you access to the usual online perks such as pre-sale tickets, but your only physical merchandise is the vinyl, a sticker, and a pin.

The cover artwork includes an interesting visual clue.  On a school locker door, the classic Guns N’ Roses logo is stickered overtop a graffiti style logo reminiscent of Chinese Democracy.  Almost a metaphor for what these new songs are.

It’s encouraging that Guns N’ Roses have finally released something new, even if the songs are just reworked tunes from 20+ years ago.  Perhaps they’re clearing the decks before working on truly new material.  It’s all but certain that we will see more, and hopefully a longer release next time.  While some moments on the live tunes are shaky, and the new tunes were not as warmly received by some, the Hard Skool EP is wonderful to hold in hand.  New physical music from GN’R!  About time.

4/5 stars

All cautions made
Every chance was given
No effort spared to save what we had
All in good faith
I would not hesitate
To extend myself and lend you my hand

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

As tempers fade
And lies forgiven
No cause embraced could break what we had
In its place
A storm is lifting
I would’ve thought you could be more of a man

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

Part 168: The Constipated Ritchie Blackmore

RECORD STORE TALES Part 168: The Constipated Ritchie Blackmore

The date:  Before Christmas 2005 (my final Christmas at the store)

The place:  My store

The characters:  Myself, and “Box Set Man”

I had this one great customer, and dammit, I cannot remember his name.  We called him “Box Set Man” because he bought and sold a lot of box sets.  In fact, I have a Japanese Deep Purple Purple Chronicle 25th anniversary box set from his collection, complete with obi strip.

SAM_2110

Box Set Man also collected rock photographs, original photographs from private collections, unpublished anywhere.  He bought them at record shows, by networking (he was once a concert promoter) and from eBay.  He would trade photos in his collection for more desirable ones as well.

Just before Christmas 2005, Box Set Man came in with a gift for me.  He handed me a plain yellow envelope.  Inscribed on the envelope was this:

Merry Xmas Mike

This photo is from a private collection from Germany “Blackmore”.

BLACKMORE 1

Inside the envelope was an original Ritchie Blackmore photo.

Ritchie is obviously digging deep into a guitar solo in this photo.  Stratocaster raised, eyes closed, Ritchie is givin’ it all he’s got.  But the overall effect is one of Ritchie looking like he has to go to the bathroom.

Christmas 2005 was my final Christmas at the store, but Box Set Man didn’t know that.  I don’t remember why, but head office had asked me to keep my departure under wraps.  The announcement wasn’t made until my final day at the store (Jan 4, 2006) and as it turns out, that was the day I told Box Set Man as well.

So, without further delay, I present to you this original photograph that I have dubbed “The Constipated Ritchie Blackmore”!

NOTE:  After posting this, my former co-worker Pat reminded me that Box Set Man’s name was Dan!

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Brian Vollmer of HELIX!

September 7, 2012:  Once again, things are getting exciting on Planet Helix.  If the new single / video “All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup” wasn’t enough, there’s also the new anthology, Best Of 1983-2012.

Lead vocalist and founding member of Helix, Brian Vollmer talked to us about these releases, some special upcoming dates, and a lot more.

The new single seems to be off to a good start, according to the song’s co-writer, Sean Kelly.  Brian filled us in.

“Sean’s from North Bay [Ontario], and he told me we’re getting airplay up in North Bay on that song.”  The video is also doing well:  “We’re up over 5000 hits now, and we’re hoping that the video goes viral.  It’s early in the season…there might not even be an NHL season this year!”

Oh Brian, don’t get me started on Gary Bettman!

The collector in me was excited about the vinyl release of the single.  It’s also going to be on the anthology CD, but the vinyl is designed for collectors in mind.

“I had initially wanted to do vinyl on the Christmas album [A Heavy Mental Christmas], but when we wrote this song, I thought that we’d do vinyl because it’s a collector’s item.  It’s kind of a novelty type of thing, and I think that it’ll appeal to not only Helix fans but also Toronto Maple Leafs fans.  They might like the vinyl just to have in the rec room up in the bar.  We sell it for $19.99 so it makes a great stocking stuffer for people.

“We did it on green vinyl too, to fit in with the season somewhat, and when we go through that pressing we’ll probably change colours.”  Just FYI Brian:  my wife, Mrs. LeBrain, is really hoping for blue!

“We’ve been trying to write a Leafs song for a couple years,” adds Brian.  “We had the working title of ‘I’m Bleeding Blue & White Tonight’.  And we never quite got the song together.  And then we did a radio session, where we were finishing off [new song]  ‘Axe to Grind’, which is also on the anthology album.”  Brian was then supposed to meet up with Travis Wood, of the band Whosarmy (from the TV show Cover Me Canada, which Brian also guested on incidentally).

“I didn’t want to go too early, and just sit around at the restaraunt.  So we started fooling around and all of a sudden, within a couple of minutes we wrote ‘All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup’.  The song was recorded within two weeks.”  The hilarious video was done right after that.  I forgot to ask Brian if any Habs fans are offended!


All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup

You can buy the single on the green vinyl in a bundle with a T-shirt and the new CD, Best Of 1983-2012.  “The Best Of album I just put out has a lot of tracks that you wouldn’t normally hear [on other best of albums] by Helix.  Stuff like ‘Animal Inside’ off the Vagabond Bones  album.  ‘Get Up’ and ‘Fill Your Head With Rock’ from The Power of Rock and Roll album.”

Coinciding with these releases is the forthcoming Heavy Mental Christmas tour.

“Yes, we just added another date in Cornwall.  We have seven dates, mostly through Masonic temples, legions, moose halls, through southern Ontario.  It’s a multi-media show.  We’re taking out screens, so there’s some video segues between songs, other times there’s still pictures with Christmas themes…some of the cameras that are places strategically around stage are broadcasting whatever member might be doing a solo during the song.”

You may want to consider getting your tickets now, as these shows are special indeed, and feature a new lineup.  Not only will you meet the new Helix guitarist, John Claus, but “also Sarah Smith.  Sarah Smith is a great London [Ontario] artist, she’s got two CDs out now under her belt, she’s a great addition to the show.  Just a smiling, very talented person.  She’s on with us instead of Kaleb [“Duckman” Duck, guitars].  Kaleb really didn’t want to do Christmas songs!  Initially, we were going to go with one guitar player, and then I thought of Sarah.”

This turned out to be a good decision, according to Brian:

“I always walk out of our Christmas practices with a big smile on my face.  I love playing the material, and it’s really fun with this group of people, to do these songs.  I wouldn’t want somebody to do any of my projects that wasn’t totally into it.

“It’s a labour of love.  We’ve been working on this show over a year now.”

Really?

“Setting up the website, and the tickets, and the halls, and putting together the show, learning the show, and getting the multi-media involved.”  But it is truly a labour of love, and you can tell by the amount of work that Brian and the band has put in so far.

I mentioned new guitar player John Claus.  As previously reported, longtime axeman Brent Doerner will be leaving Helix at the end of September 2012.  Brian helps shed some light on this lineup change, and what bringing in a new member does for the band.

“We have two more dates with Brent at the end of this month.  One’s at the Rockpile in Toronto, the other’s at the Masonic Temple in Stratford.  That’s a multi-media show as well.  Tickets are going fast for that one, I think a lot of people want to come and see Brent before he goes.

“Brent’s been in the band since about 1975.  No hard feelings with him leaving at all.  He just wants to pursue video production, and in fact, Brent will still be involved on a creative level  with the band, helping us do our videos.

“I tell everyone that Brent, when he initially came back to the fold, he was only going to be here for six months, and he ended up staying three and a half years!  He definitely was better than his word, and stayed for a long time.  So I’m really grateful to him for that.”

On John Claus, who will replace Brent:

“He plays piano and guitar.  He sings, so he’s a great addition to the band.  Nice guy, great personlity.  Whenever we hire new people in the band, we don’t want any ego trips.  So, to get someone who has a nice personality and just a good human being is a nice thing to have.”  John will join the band completed by longtime members Daryl Gray and Greg “Fritz” Hinz, on bass and drums respectively.

The piano aspect will come into play for future shows.  Brian reveals that he and John will probably perform “Dream On”, the Nazareth cover, from Helix’s Wild in the Streets album, as a duo during upcoming Helix concerts.  “And the Christmas shows, we’re doing ‘Hallelujah'” says Brian of another piano-based cover to look forward to!

It’s great to see Helix continue forward through the years.  Brian has worked hard, starting in the 1970’s as an indi artist, and now today continuing down that path.  Once again the band is behind their own music releases, selling it themselves.  Brian has nothing but praise for the team he’s surrounded himself with in recent years.

“I write with Sean [Kelly] nowadays, he’s a great writer, nice person to work with.  Aaron Murray is my producer, he studied from Danny Broadback, who won a Juno for Engineering.  And Danny studied with Jack Richardson, who as you know produced Alice Cooper and the Guess Who, and all sorts of people.”  Brian adds, “Moe Berg [The Pursuit of Happiness] sometimes comes in to write with us, Sean and I.”

Thanks to Brian Vollmer for updating us on all the new happenings on Planet Helix!  Try to get out to see the Heavy Mental Christmas tour, and get tickets while you can!

Upcoming dates:

http://www.planethelix.com/Schedule.htm

Buy the new Helix single, album, and other stuff:

http://www.planethelix.com/Store/StoreMain.htm

Audio of our chat below!

 SOUNDCLOUD