extreme

RE-REVIEW: KISS My Ass – Classic Kiss Regrooved (1994)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 45

 My Ass – Classic Kiss Regrooved (1994 Polygram)

When reports surfaced that Kiss were in the studio working on a song with country star Garth Brooks, some assumed this was to be a bonus track for the forthcoming Kiss Alive III.  Little did we realize that Kiss were actually working on their own tribute album.

In the early 1990s, tribute albums were all the rage.  Common Thread: the Songs of the EaglesStone Free: a Tribute to Jimi HendrixOut of the Blue and Borrowed Tunes:  tributes to Neil Young.  There were many more, and Kiss were not on the trailing edge of this trend.  They beat Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to the market.

Kiss My Ass was the clever title, but it was not the first.  1990’s Hard to Believe: A Kiss Covers Compilation featured soon-to-be-famous bands like Melvins and Nirvana.  The ever-enterprising Kiss decided to corner the market with their own official tribute to themselves.

To toot their own horn, Kiss included a list of not only the musicians who appeared on Kiss My Ass, but even the ones that didn’t.  Nirvana is on the list.  According to the Melvins though, the truth is that they only dropped Kurt’s name as a guest on their track, because Gene didn’t seem too interested otherwise.  Nine Inch Nails were going to do “Love Gun”.  Both Ugly Kid Joe and Megadeth wanted to tackle “Detroit Rock City”.  It’s hard to imagine what songs Run D.M.C. and Bell Biv Devoe were supposed to record, or Tears for Fears for that matter.  Take this list with a grain of salt!

Kiss My Ass (or A** if you bought it from Walmart) is a weird album.  It’s scattershot and not immediately likeable.  It collected 11 (12 if you include the bonus track) covers by a diverse assortment of 90s artists.  The cover art sucks and lacks the Kiss logo and Ace’s real makeup (which Kiss did not have the rights to in 1994).  The only cool gimmick the cover had was the background flag was unique to the country of release.  A Kiss album with a Canadian flag is neat to own.

The album hits the ground running with some 70s cred, as Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder do “Deuce”.  Lenny funks it up while Stevie brings the harmonica.  This is an example of a simply terrific cover.  The artists put their own spin on it, changing its style but not its drive.

“Hard Luck Woman” was already up Garth Brooks’ alley.  His version doesn’t stray from the Kiss original, and even features Kiss (uncredited) as his backing band!  That makes it an official Kiss recording, just with a guest singer of sorts.  Arguably the biggest country singer of all time, and a closet Kiss fan.  The Garth Brooks track threw a lot of people for a loop, though it’s an easy song to digest.

Kiss only participated in two songs:  the Garth track, and Anthrax’s “She”.  Anthrax insisted that Paul and Gene produce it, and they did a great job of it.  Anthrax are brilliant at doing covers anyway.  John Bush-era Anthrax was truly something special, and “She” slams hard.  Heavy Kiss songs made heavier are such a delight.

The Gin Blossoms turned in a very mainstream, very mid-90s version of “Christine Sixteen”.  It kicks about as hard as the original, but something about it is very tame.  After all, singer Robin Wilson is not Gene Simmons (which is probably a good thing), and guitarist Scotty Johnson is not Ace Frehley.  Far worse through is Toad the Wet Sprocket’s soggy “Rock and Roll all Nite”, a buzzkilling country fart.  “Calling Dr. Love” by Shandi’s Addiction (a collection of assorted big names) is also a hard pill to swallow.  This quartet consists of (are you ready for it?):  Maynard James Keenan – lead vocals.  Tom Morello & Brad Wilk – guitar and drums.  Billy Gould – bass.  So, it’s Rage Against the Machine with the singer from Tool and a bass rumble right out of Faith No More.  And the track is just as schizophrenic as you’d expect.  It’s both brilliant and annoying as fuck.

J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. used his unique vision on “Goin’ Blind”, turning Gene’s murky song into something even darker.  Then bright shimmers of a string section break through the clouds, shadowing everything dramatically.  It’s a brilliant track.  Much like Kravitz, J. Mascis took the song and changed the style but not direction.  You could say the same for Extreme who do a brilliant spin on “Strutter”.  Though by 1994 Extreme were well over in the public eye, they continued to push their own boundaries.  “Strutter” became something slower and funkier, with Nuno Bettencourt slipping all over the fretboard and Gary Cherone pouring it all on.  This is primo Punchline-era Extreme (Paul Geary still on drums).  And listen for a segue into “Shout it Out Loud”!

The Lemonheads chose “Plaster Caster” from Love Gun, a sloppy garage rock version, and score a passing grade.  It’s an admirable effort, but they are quickly overshadowed by their fellow Bostonians, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  The Bosstones had the balls to open their track with a phone message from Gene Simmons advising them to pick another song.  “Dicky, about Detroit Rock City…”  Ugly Kid Joe had dibs.  Any other song would be fine…and then WHAM!  The opening chords to “Detroit Rock City”.  Gene was gracious enough to appear in the video.  Their disciplined ska-punk horn ensemble lays waste to the town.  Dicky Barrett’s gravelly throat is like a sniper taking out anyone left standing.  The Bosstones win the whole CD, hands down.  There is little doubt that Dicky Barrett would have shaken unfortunate Kiss fans unfamiliar with the Bosstones.  Today it’s clear that they stole the show with their mighty, mighty cover.

The closest match to the Bosstones in terms of excellence, is a polar opposite.  It’s Yoshiki (from X-Japan) and his orchestra version of “Black Diamond”.  This is performed instrumentally with piano in the starring role.  In this form, “Black Diamond” would make a brilliant movie theme.  Yoshiki closes the album in style, unless you choose to go further and get the LP.  Proceed with caution.

The vinyl bonus track by Die Ärzte is the only non-makeup Kiss track included: “Unholy”. This is a garbage version (in German no less) that you don’t need to spend your money finding. It’s only interesting when it briefly transitions into “I Was Made For Loving You”.  Want a good version of “Unholy”? Check out the 2013 tribute A World With Heroes.

By 1994, Kiss needed a boost.  Grunge was omnipresent and Kiss looked silly and outdated, even with their beards and scruffier appearance.  Kiss My Ass was clearly a transparent attempt to try and latch onto some fans of the newer breed.  Maybe some Lenny Kravitz fans would like it.   If a few Garth Brooks followers bought a copy too, then bonus!  But Garth Brooks fans didn’t buy the album, turned off by the cover art and tracklist.  Likewise, fans of Lenny Kravitz, Tool and Rage Against the Machine didn’t run out en-masse either.

Fortunately Kiss had plenty of cards left in their deck.  There was a Kiss My Ass spinoff video, a tour, and a coffee table book all in the works.  This seemed to distract from the oft-rumoured next Kiss studio album.  More next time.

Today’s rating:

3.75/5 stars

 

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/13

 

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REVIEW: Extreme – III Sides to Every Story (1992)

scan_20170129EXTREME – III Sides to Every Story (1992 A&M)

Of Extreme’s five studio albums, there can be little doubt that Extreme III is the most ambitious.  It is a sprawling set over 80 minutes in length; too long for a single CD.  So long that only the cassette version has all 15 tracks in one place.  In contains three distinct sides, each different from the other, countless styles, and an orchestra.  Extreme took what made them popular on the last album, and what was currently going on with grunge rock, and tossed it all out the window.  They followed their own direction and were not rewarded with sales, but something more important:  a masterpiece.

The first “side” (keep in mind this is a CD) is subtitled “Yours” and consists of rockers both hard and funky.  After a comedic intro, “Warheads” annihilates the speakers.  A short choppy riff blows in, tempo opened up wide.  Gary Cherone tries to keep his messages entertaining, and this anti-war anthem has a pretty obvious message.  Nuno Bettencourt joins him for the choruses and breaks for a cool neo-classical solo.  The same message carries over into the first single “Rest in Peace”, introduced by a  string quartet playing the song’s melody before Nuno kicks it with a funky riff.  During the solo, Nuno even quotes Jim Hendrix.  “Rest in Peace” was not an immediate single, it takes some growing.  This is true of the whole album.  There is a lot going on.  Even that little Hendrix lick — blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s there making the solo that much cooler.  It is worth mentioning that Extreme did a fantastic video for “Rest in Peace” based on a 1952 National Film Board of Canada short called “Neighbours”. This wordless film served as the blueprint, but as a result they got sued and had to change it.

Gary Cherone loves creating his own portmanteaus (“Americocaine”, “Pornograffitti”), so “Politicalamity” is the title of the third track. It’s a wah-wah soaked funky rocker with fully-loaded horns making their first album appearance, in the tradition of “Get the Funk Out”.  Lyrically it continues the anti-war theme dominating the first side, and also social injustice, but in a fun catchy style. “Rich and poor, salute your country’s colours. Less is more, When one oppresses the other.” That was 1992; I wonder what Gary would have to say about today? Racial equality dominates “Color Me Blind”, one of the hardest rockers on the side. “I had a dream last night, I was blind, and I couldn’t see colour of any kind.” It is possible that the lyrical tone of the album turned off some old fans, though Gary keeps things from getting preachy.

“Cupid’s Dead” is the only song on the first side without a serious message. This rap-rock hybrid features a guest rapper (John Preziosa Jr.) and a chugging, funky riff.  Hard rock bands who incorporated rapping were seldom successful, but Extreme dodged this bullet.  “Cupid’s Dead” is good enough that is was recently dusted off for the Pornograffitti Live 25 tour.  Drummer Paul Geary and bassist Pat Badger keep the funk rolling in heavy fashion.  The side-ending “Peacemaker Die” features Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, surely some of the most powerful words in American history.  It is difficult to not get the chills when Dr. King speaks, framed in this excellent funk rock lament.

Take a moment’s break here and pretend you’re flipping a record.  Side two is subtitled “Mine” as a contrast to “Yours” for side one.  “Mine” consists of six ballads, but only five are on the CD due to the 80 minute time restriction.  Nuno expressed regret that the sixth track didn’t fit and hoped one day a 2 CD edition would be released.  Still hoping!

“Seven Sundays” is a romantic song, a piano ballad with Gary in falsetto mode.  Nuno adds synth strings for textures.  “If I had one wish, it wouldn’t be hard to choose.  Seven Sundays in a row, because that’s the day that I spend with you.”  Quite a turn from “Cupid’s Dead”, but that’s why it’s on another side.  “Tragic Comic” was the natural successor to the hits on Extreme II, a fun acoustic track with a “Hole Hearted” beat.  The lyrics are clever comedy and the track was selected as a single.  Many will identify with the hapless romantic, the titular stut-tut-tuttering p-poet.  “And when we dine, I forget to push in your seat.  I wear the wine, spillin’ it all over my sleeves.”  Been there done that Gary!  The lighthearted song is a delightful contrast to the darker material on side one.

Van Halen-style volume swells make up the intro guitar melody of “Our Father”, an electric power ballad with some stunning six-string mastery.   “Stop the World” was chosen as a single, a light melancholy ballad reminding us that if we forget history we are bound to repeat it.  These serious songs were not destined to repeat the big singles of albums past.  When you play these songs, you feel things and you think things, and not everybody wants music to do that to them.  Nuno’s solo on “Stop the World” is warm, immaculate perfection.  “Stop the World” merges directly into “God Isn’t Dead?” (except in single form of course).  “God Isn’t Dead?” is the darkest spot yet, quiet and painfully plaintive.  Piano and orchestra paint a stark picture.

The final song on the side, and a hint of the daybreak ahead, is “Don’t Leave Me Alone”, which is only on the cassette version.  Fear not however; it can be found in CD form on CD singles.  Just rip everything to your computer and slide “Don’t Leave Me Alone” into the correction position in the running order.  It belongs here at the end of the “Mine” side.  It deliberately ends it on a brighter note than “God Isn’t Dead?” though it is still far from a good-time ballad.  It is dusky lament, but with hints of light in the tunnel.  Nuno’s moog solo is a treat.

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At 12 songs, the “Yours” and “Mine” sides would make a complete album on their own, and it would still be an ambitious project at that.  Regardless, the third side titled “& the Truth” is the most industrious of them all, an eager fulfillment of talents bursting at the seams.  III Sides to Every Story…”Yours”, “Mine”, “& the Truth”.  This time, the side is made up of one massive 22 minute song called “Everything Under the Sun”.  It in turn is subdivided into three parts.  This is where the orchestra really comes into play.

Part I, “Rise ‘n Shine” is the sunrise after the blackness of the second side.  Gentle acoustics rouse you from your slumber, and Nuno takes the first verse of this duet.  Gary follows on the second as the orchestra swells.  “Rise ‘n Shine” is the most hopeful sounding music on the album, a bright and steady composition brilliantly structured.  Daniel and his dreams may be a Biblical reference but they don’t have to be.  A brief interlude foreshadows the melody of Part III, but first is Part II, “Am I Ever Gonna Change”.  This section was chopped out and used as an individual song live and on compilations.  You can hear why, since it has that echoey Van Halen guitar lick and a powerful nut-kicking chorus.  The orchestra returns and it’s Extreme at full power.  This eventually fades into the quiet start of Part III, “Who Cares?”.  Inaudible voices whisper during a piano passage, and then the orchestra returns at maximum.  Biblical overtones:  “Tell me Jesus, are you angry?  One more sheep has just gone astray.” Nuno’s singing is run through a vocoder giving him a computerized voice.  Some might think it sounds like The Elder gone wrong, but that would be selling “Who Cares?” short.  Finally Nuno breaks out of the circuit boards and come in at full voice for the final choruses.  The melodies from “Rise n’ Shine” and “Am I Ever Gonna Change” are reprised as the epic piece finally comes to a close.

There is little debate that “Everything Under the Sun” is the grandest thing Extreme have attempted in the studio.  It was a successful experiment, as it remains interesting and engaging through its entire 22 minute length.  You cannot say that for every Rush song of that nature.

Unfortunately for Extreme, the timing was all wrong, and this album soon found its way in bargain bins at cut rate prices.  The good news is that means you can get a copy yourself for next to nothing.  Try also to track down copies of the “Stop the World” or “Tragic Comic” singles, in order to get the full package.  They are plentiful on sites such as Discogs, and it’s important to hear the album at its full complete length.  III Sides to Every Story is an unsung hard rock masterwork, and if you want some softer rock songs with lots of brains and a huge heart, give it a shot.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Extreme – Saudades de Rock (2008 European & Japanese editions)

scan_20170115-2EXTREME – Saudades de Rock (2008 Frontiers in Europe, Victor in Japan, with exclusive bonus tracks)

Extreme were one of those bands that always seemed to resist reuniting. Nuno didn’t seem interested, or was too busy with Perry Farrell and Rihanna. When they finally did get the band back together, they did it right with a few tours and a new album to prove they still had the goods. 2008’s Saudades de Rock (Portuguese for “Nostalgic Yearnings of Rock”) earned positive reviews from rock critics.  It did moderate sales but the important thing was that it was good.

Immediately “Star” reminds us why Extreme were special in the first place:  Those harmonies, the good time Halen-inspired riffs, the kick-ass singer and a solid beat. Gary Cherone’s voice has aged well, coming over as a cross between Sammy Hagar, Freddie Mercury and Paul Stanley (good company to be in).  This song best exemplifies the “nostalgic yearnings of rock”, as the arrangement could have come from 1990.  Extensive (jaw-dropping) solos and a big chorus immediately remind us why this band was so critically acclaimed 25 years ago.

It’s not all longing for days gone by.  “Comfortably Dumb” concentrates its focus on the groove, like a bizarre cross between Soundgarden and the Trews.  The space-age guitar work by Nuno Bettencourt separates it from anyone else.  His style has matured nicely but still makes you wonder just how the hell he does it.  His machine-gun guitar riff on “Learn to Love” does the same.  It’s not all trickery:  these are also great compositions, with challenging rock arrangements.  Time changes and flurries of notes keep it interesting.  The middle section gives all the members a little time to shine including new drummer Kevin Figueiredo.

The first knuckleball is thrown on “Take Us Alive”, a genuine electric bluegrass shuffle.  Remember Extreme always prided themselves in their diversity, modeling themselves after Queen who were unafraid to do anything.  “Take Us Alive” is a new step for Extreme who have never gone this twangy.  Unsurprisingly they mastered this direction too.  A saucy funk rocker called “Run” goes in another direction, akin to Queen’s own funky experiments, just heavier.  Like Queen, Extreme topped it with a fine melodic chorus, but stay tuned for a superb outro.

“Last Hour” is not a ballad; more of a heavy dirge.  Nuno takes a quiet solo full of volume swells before going full shred. He then rips a page from the book of his solo album with the punky “Flower Man” (I say “punky” rather than “punk” since few genuine punk songs have a blazing Nuno Bettencourt guitar solo).  “King of the Ladies” is something else entirely, featuring Nuno on lead vocals.  It’s trippy, slinky, drony, modern and sultry with smoking instrumental sections and sounds like nothing else you can think of.  Few bands can take so many directions on one album and have it sound like a cohesive whole.

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Every Extreme album has at least one ballad, and “Ghost” is a wonderful continuation of this tradition.  With the focus on the piano, it’s a reprieve in the relentless guitar assault that makes up the majority of Saudades de Rock.  You have heard this sound before on albums like Extreme III.  We then visit the Houses of the Holy with “Slide” which possesses the unmistakable Zeppelin funk.  You’ll be wondering, where’s that confounded bridge?  The riff is a wink and a nod to “Sweet Emotion” and there is definitely some of that Aero-groove mixed with the Zoso Magic.

An acoustic reprieve is offered with “Interface”, a floaty ballad that fits this leg of the running order.  It merges into the funk-Halen of “Sunrise”, a nice heavy track before “Peace (Saudades)” takes us out on a dreamy, Queen-like ballad.  Yes that’s a lot of ballads late in the game and on paper it shouldn’t work.  It does because Extreme are consummate balladeers (each one being different) and successful composers of album-length works with a start, middle and ending.  “Peace” is a triumph and uplifting finale.

There are two bonus tracks available at the end of different versions of Saudades de Rock.  Both are old demos from the vaults, ancient relics of a pre-fame Extreme.  It’s a cool idea to release old unheard songs as bonus tracks, though unorthodox.  “Mr. Bates” (1986) is exclusive to Japan only.  It’s something like seeing old baby photos, or highschool yearbook grad pictures.  You wince and think “Well, they were young.”  Even so young, Nuno obviously had more talent than the average bear.  Europe got the better song “Americocaine” (1985), which shows off that blend of Gary and Nuno’s voices that, one day, would earn them millions.  You could imagine “Americocaine” showing up at the end credits of a minor 80s action movie.

Extreme played to their strengths, didn’t try to repeat anything from the past, while giving fans exactly the kind of album they needed.  The bonus tracks don’t fit, but who says a “bonus track” has to fit?   These are bonuses in the truest sense.  Rare little treats you can’t find anywhere else.  Any fan of the 1989 debut album Extreme will love them, because that is the era they resemble.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Extreme – Pornograffitti Live 25 (2016 Japanese 2 CD set)

scan_20170114-4EXTREME – Pornograffitti Live 25 (2016 Victor Japan 2 CD set)

When you hear that an album like Pornograffitti (which defined one of our teenage summers) turned 25 last year, don’t it make you feel old?  Maybe you haven’t played it in a while.  (If you haven’t, here is a refresher course.)  It was one of those discs that had appealing songs from start to finish, each different from the last.  All 13 songs (14 if you include the solo “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”) are reproduced in sequence on this new live CD release, fresh from a hot show in Vegas in 2015.  You can buy a blu-ray or DVD of the concert too, but CD collectors will want to spring for this Japanese double set.  On a second disc you get “Play With Me” (given more exposure in the movie Air Guitar Nation) and “Cupid’s Dead”, normally exclusive to the video version.  The total package is close to an hour and a half of some of Extreme’s best songs.  The Japanese printing also has its own cover art, though no other exclusives.

The familiar taped intro of rain and piano inaugurates the “funked-up fairy tail” that is Pornograffitti.  “Trying so hard to keep up with the Joneses!” begins Gary and and the Vegas crowd knows all the words.  With Nuno Bettencourt and Pat Badger helping out, the Extreme vocals are nice and thick live.  The sound is beefy goodness, wound up in electric guitar strings.  Kicking it on drums, Kevin Figueiredo keeps things pretty close to the way original drummer Paul Geary did it.  “Decadence Dance” is sincerely good nostalgia.

Following the vague storyline of the original album, “Lil’ Jack Horny” shows up amidst shimmery guitar harmonics and a funky lil’ riff.  The horn parts (tapes?) jack up the funky little guitar number, which carries over to “When I’m President”.  Nuno squeaks and squonks while Gary waxes poetic.  “So go ask Alice, ah you know what he said?  What did he say — remember, I wanna be elected?”   Maybe one day Gary, because it is indeed true:  just about anyone can be president!  Cherone promises that things’ll be different.  You can even be in his cabinet!

The funk peaks (obviously) on “Get the Funk Out” which remains as silly and fun as it was 15 years ago.  (Listen for a little bit of a lyrical modernization from Nuno!)  It’s pure live smoke only slowed down by the obligatory audience participation section.  This appropriately segues into “More Than Words”, which is slightly more than a singalong.  Stripped naked of the loud guitars, Nuno and Gary can still harmonize as clean and perfect as they always have.

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“Money” resumes the rock, as Gary bemoans the modern worship of the almighty dollar.  Nimbly killing it on both guitar and harmonies, Nuno Bettencourt is a super hero.  He does it again on “It (‘s a Monster)”, a stock album track that goes from point A to point B at top speed.  Some real gems start showing up a in steady string from there.  “Pornograffitti” possesses some serious funk metal riffage and guitar tricks, performed at an unbelievable level of rock supremacy.   Then it is time for the slow jazz lounge croon “When I First Kissed You”.  Piano flourishes and Figueiredo on brushes lend it a really pretty dusky sound.

“And now back to our regularly scheduled program!” shouts Gary as Extreme once again puts on their rock and roll shoes.  It’s time for “Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)”, another funky rock combo.  Nuno plays some of the fastest licks ever attempted, but that is mere warm-up, for next is “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”, the legendary guitar instrumental that re-defined the guitar instrumental for a short while.  There is no time to recover because it’s straight into “He-Man Woman Hater”.  This Van Halen-like blast contains some of Nuno’s finest fret abuse.

Pornograffitti was also a little different, and one aspect of that is that it ended with two ballads.  Historically that has been demonstrated as a risky way to end an album, but Extreme pulled it off by using two that were different from any of the others on the CD.  “Song For Love” was a big pompous Queen-like anthem, and you can all but see the lighters and cell phones waving in the air.  “Hole Hearted” was the memorable acoustic closing number, great for campfires and rock concerts alike.  Live is just as solid as the studio original.

Onto to the Japanese bonus CD with its two bonus tracks.  “Play With Me” has always been a bit of a novelty, but notable for its sheer velocity and Mozart-a-go-go guitar dexterity.  Few players have chops like these.  “Cupid’s Dead” is a set highlight – heavy, funky and progressive at times.  Extreme III deserves as much praise as Extreme II: Pornograffitti so it is quite pleasing to have this adventurous track close.

Bravo to Extreme for making this trip back in time a real treat.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Extreme – Waiting for the Punchline (1995)

scan_20170114EXTREME – Waiting for the Punchline (1995 A&M)

Sometimes you just gotta laugh.  Extreme released two of their finest albums after grunge wiped the slate clean.  Extreme were the punchline, but that didn’t stop them from making a smokin’ fourth album.  In 1992 Nuno envisioned the next album as “really funky”, and there is some funk here.  However Waiting for the Punchline was much more straight ahead: stripped down, no orchestras, no rap, just guitar rock through and through.

“There Is No God” sounds like an odd title from a band as Christian as Extreme were, but Gary Cherone has always been a lyrical champion.  It’s not as simple as it appears, but the groove just lays waste.  The next track “Cynical Fuck” turns it up further.  It is pure smoke, and perfect for the decade it was written in.  “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” takes the soft/hard approach with a loud droning Nuno riff.  It’s another brilliant song, and harder than what Extreme were doing before.  Much of Waiting for the Punchline is driven by the bass and drums.  The interesting thing about this is that drummer Paul Geary left during the making of this album, and was replaced by Mike Mangini who is now in Dream Theater.  You hear two very distinct drum styles through the CD.  Geary has a straight ahead approach, while Mangini is capable of just about anything.  His first track is the single “Hip Today” and you can hear how his beats are anything but basic.

“Hip Today” is a good tune and a good indicator of what the album sounds like: Bass, drums, guitar. Listen to how the rhythm guitar drops out when Nuno solos. Just like the first classic Van Halen. The lyrics sound bitter as Gary warns the next generation of bands that their time too will end.  Things slow down a little on “Naked”, before the side-ending instrumental “Midnight Express”.  This is a truly brilliant track, proof that Nuno’s stunning plectrum practice has paid off.   When it comes to acoustic guitar work in rock and roll band, Nuno is among the very best.  “Midnight Express” gives me callouses just thinking about it.

Dark moods commence the second side with “Leave Me Alone”, a sentiment many of us understand.  Don’t worry about me — I’m happy alone sometimes.  Nuno uses volume swells a-la Van Halen’s “Cathedral” to create a nifty riff.  Into “No Respect”, Nuno makes his guitar purr, while the rhythm section throws it into overdrive.  “Evilangelist” tackles the religion questions again, with a funky riff and cool digitized chorus.  The dark and heavy vibes give way to light shortly on “Shadow Boxing” and “Unconditionally”.   Both tracks are brilliant but different.  “Shadow Boxing” might be considered the “Hole Hearted” of this album, while “Unconditionally” leans towards “More Than Words”.  Neither are re-writes, but those are the easiest comparisons.

One final surprise is the unlisted bonus track.  It wasn’t on the cassette version, but you will find the title track “Waiting for the Punchline” after “Unconditionally”.  There are two cool things about this.  One: it’s an awesome track, much like the angrier stuff on side one.  Two: it closes the album even better than “Unconditionally”.  Great little surprise so don’t hit “stop”!

The thing about Waiting for the Punchline is that it’s a grower.   The first couple listens, I thought “It’s not as good as their old stuff, but what is these days?”  The new stripped down Extreme didn’t seem as interesting as the lavish one from Extreme III or the flashy one from Extreme II.  After a few listens, different textures began to emerge, add their own colours and depth.  Particular with the guitar work, but also the rhythms, there is much delight to be discovered here.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Extreme – Running Gag (Japanese EP)

scan_20170112EXTREME – Running Gag (1995 A&M Japan)

You’ve read it here before, and we’ll repeat it again:  Japan gets the best stuff!

While the UK got the regular CD single for the song “Unconditionally” (four tracks), Japan called it the Running Gag EP and added a fifth track.  Due to various chart regulations in the UK, singles had to have four or less tracks to qualify.  Meanwhile, Japan seems to love releasing exclusive EPs and Running Gag is one such exclusive that Extreme fans will want to hunt down.

Extreme’s fourth album, 1995’s Waiting for the Punchline, was as much a treat as the prior albums.  It was as different from them as they are from each other.  This time, they went raw and stripped down.  You can usually hear only one guitar track at a time.  “Unconditionally” was the closing ballad, a fantastic song presented here as an edited remix.  Mike Mangini was added on drums, and you can hear slight differences from the album track.  Had the year been 1991, they would have had another hit on their hands.  Fans who know the song will recognize it for its heart and charm.

Three live songs with Mike Mangini on drums are the real treat of the set.  (He gets a chance or two to really smoke.)  “Am I Ever Gonna Change” from Extreme III is the middle part of their side-long epic “Everything Under the Sun”.  It worked well enough as a standalone song to be released as a promo single, and to be played live.  For the live situation, Nuno souped up his guitar solo.  Without the backing orchestra the album version has, it’s a very different sound.  Such is the danger of recording an album that is difficult to reproduce live.

The two tracks from Waiting for the Punchline sound more at home on stage.  “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” (the Japanese exclusive) and “Naked” have a mean, catchy vibe.  Extreme were one of very few hard rock bands that adapted their sound well to the grunge onslaught.  These songs are not “grunge”, but they represent a step in that direction.  The songs have more bite, more bass, more groove.  The solos are sparse, though Nuno puts his foot to the gas pedal when required.  Without sounding dated Extreme simply pivoted just so into the 90s, but it sadly didn’t equal sales.

The final song is a studio ballad, “When Will it Rain” which has a vague Wings sound crossed with smooth Extreme balladeering.  It’s actually quite a great little bonus track.  Its quaint 70s qualities might not have fit in well on the original album, but hopefully you will have a chance to hear it in your travels.

Good little EP, just shy of great.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Nuno – Schizophonic (1996)

NUNO – Schizophonic (1996 A&M)

Man, the 1990s were hard on rock bands.  Those that could not survive broke up and fragmented.  Those fragments metamorphosed into new and sometimes interesting configurations.  Image changes, name changes, hair cuts…rock artists did whatever they had to do to make a living.  Even the talented ones.

When Extreme fell apart in 1995, it was obvious that guitarist Nuno Bettencourt wouldn’t just disappear.  Instead he re-emerged on his old label A&M with a 90’s-style stripped down album and a single moniker: “Nuno”.  With Nuno dressed in drag on the front, there was nothing to indicate that this was the same guitar wizard who made jaws drop just six years prior.

Writing, singing and playing virtually everything himself, Nuno’s solo debut Schizophonic was received coldly by some fans.  With 15 short and basic pop rock tracks and ballads but running over an hour in length, Schizophonic is a chore to finish in one listening session.  All the flavours of 90s rock are present:  drony riffs, drum machines, and distorted vocals with a de-emphasis on instrumental finesse.  The first track “Gravity” possesses all of these qualities, but also has Nuno’s knack for melody.  You can all but hear him and Gary Cherone harmonizing on it.  Shame that never happened because this could have been a great Extreme track.  “Gravity” is not bad, but there certainly is a sensation of the potential for more.

“Swollen Princess” is a great track.  Real drums, less distortion, and Nuno’s way with a melody make it a much better recording.  You can see why a guy like Nuno had to try and be more anonymous in the 1990’s.  If this track was on a new band’s album, it could have been a pop punk hit.  Put it on an album by a guy from an 80’s hard rock band, and nobody was going to pay attention.  Some will also enjoy “Crave”, a very very very 1996 rock song with light verses and hard choruses.  Sounds like Nuno was listening to a lot of Weezer.  Great song, but not for everybody.  I also dig the Spacehog-like “Got to Have You”.

“What You Want” will be skipped by many.  It adapts the riff for “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley into something new and noisy but not especially appealing until the mellow chorus.  “Fallen Angels” is all loops and programming; not enough groove.  “2 Weeks In Dizkneelande” is a cool title, exposing a heavy fast grunge-punk-thrash hybrid. Nuno’s drumming on this is quite impressive actually, and his brief guitar solo smokes. The shredding on this album, what little there is of it, is still impressive. It’s just in shorter, more diverse spurts.

Gary Cherone co-wrote a couple tunes. “Pursuit of Happiness” is a nice, folksy song that would have been a good single for Extreme. It has the same campground singalong quality that they had success with before.   “Fine By Me” has a similar singalong quality, in the guise of a pop rock track a-la the 1990s.  Cherone also co-wrote, and sings on “You” which is as close to Extreme as we were going to get at the time.  As a singer, Nuno is fine, but Gary is a real vocalist.  Having them together on “You” is a return to the sound that made them famous.

It’s a bumpy, uneven ride. The worst track is the electronic rock of “Karmalaa”. I know — he should have named it after Kamala, the Ugandan Headhunter.  I can’t help but think of “Karmalaa” as a frantic, poor-grade Adore outtake by the Smashing Pumpkins.  The other contender for worst track is the closer “Severed” which might answer the question, “What would Weezer sound like if they were an electronic band?”  Not good.   “Confrontation” is slow and forgettable, though not without its moments.  “I Wonder” is a tender, thoughtful song, but just not good enough.  There’s some tasty talk box on “Note on the Screen Door” but not enough of a song to go with it.  That’s the problem with Schizophonic overall.  There are instrumental thrills, some great parts and melodies here and there, but not enough cohesive, memorable material.

It’s a hit and miss affair.  I had one customer, Shane, who never trusted my opinion again when I told him it was good.  Buy at your own risk.

3/5 stars

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#490: Sh*t LeBrain’s Mom Says

Thanks for joining me this week, for the week of Getting MORE Getting More Tale. I hope you enjoyed all five musical stories!

Monday – #486:  Dream Music
Tuesday – #487: All Apolologies
Wednesday – #488: Almost Cut My Hair
Thursday – #489: I Forgot To Remember To Forget
Friday – #490: Shit LeBrain’s Mom Says

CHEESE

I love my mom.  I have the best mom in the world!  That’s why I want to share these memorable mom quotes.  Let’s hear it for my mom!

1. One day we were at the cottage playing cards.  Someone cut a stinky fart.  My sister demanded to know who the cuplrit was.  “Who cut the cheese??” she asked.

“What cheese?” answered my mom.

 

2. Remember “More Than Words”? Extreme really broke into the mainstream with the standard-setting acoustic ballad. This is the one, more than any other acoustic ballad, that conjures the most images. My mom liked the song. She asked my sister and I who sang it.

“Extreme!” we answered simultaneously.

“Who’s Nick Streen?” she asked back.

3. My mom and dad just got back from a cruise. They excitedly told me about the different activities I would enjoy. Rock climbing, bumper cars, and lobster every night if I wanted it. “And they have special shows,” added my mom. “Like Rock of Ages.”

Doing my best to exaggerate the degree to which I was offended by this suggestion, I slowly turned my head to stare, and removed my glasses raising the eyebrows just so.

My mom caught my drift, but not why.

“Do you not know what Rock of Ages is?”

I answered matter-of-factly, “Yes I do, that’s not my point!”

“But it’s about rock!” clarified my mom.

My mother-in-law, who was also visiting at the time, knew what I was getting at.

“Your son is a music snob,” she said.  She turned towards me and quickly amended, “Or a music aficionado if you prefer.”  I smiled at her and laughed.   That was it exactly.

 

Thanks for being such a good sport mom!  Glad you enjoyed the trip.

#482: Modified Listening Experiences

AUD 1

GETTING MORE TALE #482: Modified Listening Experiences

With modern music technology and software, it has never been easier to not only take your music anywhere, but now you can even modify the albums you buy.  Using some simple tricks you can change aspects of the tracklist to make the album suit you.   You have probably done this yourself.  Many do regularly, by shuffling the track order.  Let’s go a little deeper than that.

The first time I experienced the concept of modifying an album’s tracklist, I was just a kid.  It was 1985, and I was recording the first W.A.S.P. cassette off my next door neighbour George (R.I.P.), from tape to tape.

“If you don’t like the song ‘Sleeping in the Fire’,” he said, “You can just push pause on this tape recorder.  Then un-pause it when the song is over.  Your copy won’t have ‘Sleeping in the Fire’ if that’s how you like it.”

Even then, I couldn’t imagine a reason to copy an entire album sans one song.  I kept the tape running and never hit pause, but George’s advice kept tumbling around in my brain, for years.   Over time I began experimenting with tracklist modification.  Never to remove songs, mind you, always to add or improve.

Here are some examples of modified track lists in my library.

1. Adding bonus tracks

COOPSingle B-sides just kind of float around in most collections.  Due to their short running time, I don’t often spin CD singles.  On a PC hard drive they tend to get lost while full albums get more play.  To give some of these B-sides a little more air time, in many cases I have chosen to add the songs as “bonus tracks”, at the end of the associated album.  This works best when it’s just one or two tracks.  More than that can extend an album listening experience too long.

Sometimes, different versions of albums will have unique bonus tracks.  Perhaps there’s one on the vinyl version that is on nothing else.  Japanese editions, deluxe versions, European editions, iTunes editions…there are usually lots of bonus tracks out there, but always on different versions of the disc.  Why not take them all, and make your own “super deluxe edition” with all the bonus tracks in one spot?  Listening to an album modified in this way can be a bit longer than the usual, but ultimately it’s rewarding to hear the entire body of work in one smooth sitting.  My MP3 player is loaded with my complete version of Alice Cooper’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and it’s just 10 minutes shy of two hours long!

In extreme cases, there are so many bonus tracks out there that you may need to consider creating an entire “bonus disc” folder to house them all.

2. Removing gaps

The 1990’s were such a quaint time.  Remember “hidden bonus tracks”?  At the end of the album, instead of stopping, the CD would continue to play several minutes of silence.  Then you would be surprised by a hidden unlisted song!  A notable example is “Look at Your Game, Girl”, the infamous Charles Manson cover that Axl hid away at the end of The Spaghetti Incident.  There was only a 10 second gap on that CD; still annoying but other albums had much longer pauses before the hidden track.

I use Audacity to remove the long gaps, or to isolate the hidden song to a track all its own.  As much as I enjoy a “pure” listening experience the way the artist intended, these long gaps are pretty easy to sacrifice.

3. Restoring an intended song order

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Rock and roll is full of stories about bands who couldn’t get their way when an album was released.  W.A.S.P. for example wanted their song “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)” to open their self titled album.  Now you can add it there yourself!  (W.A.S.P. also added the song to the start of the remastered version of the album.)  You can even use Audacity to adjust the volume levels, so that everything matches.

A better example is Extreme’s III Sides to Every Story.  The piano ballad “Don’t Leave Me Alone” was only on the cassette version of the album.  The CD couldn’t contain all the songs without making it a double, so that one had to be left off.  Now you can re-add it yourself, right where it belongs at the end of “side two” and before the big side three suite.  Now you can hear the whole album as Extreme intended, seamlessly.

Pardon the pun, but I took an even more “extreme” approach to their second album, Pornograffitti.  The instrumental track “Fight of the Wounded Bumblebee” was written as a longer piece with a slow bluesy coda.  This second half was recorded solo by Nuno Bettencourt as “Bumble Bee (Crash Landing)” for a guitar compilation.  Using Audacity, I combined both tracks to restore the song to its original full structure.  This is about as close as we will ever get to hearing the tracks as written.  I dropped the new longer track into the album tracklisting and voila!  Still seamless, but now with a new darker mood before “He-Man Woman Hater”.

Indeed, the possibilities are limitless.  Steve Harris often complained that the Iron Maiden album No Prayer for the Dying should have had live crowd noise mixed in, like a live album.  Now you can do that yourself.  With a deft touch, you can even edit songs down yourself or extend them by looping sections.

With the advent of the computer as a listening device, the sky is now the limit.  How would you modify your listening experiences?

 

REVIEW: Extreme – The Best of Extreme: An Accidental Collication of Atoms? (1997)

Welcome to GREATEST HITS WEEK! This is an idea I nicked from Aaron over at the KMA.  (For his original Greatest Hits Week, click here!)  

All week, we will be looking at different (and I hope interesting) hits albums from various groups. Let’s get this one out of the way first though: the proverbial contractual obligation album!

Scan_20150804EXTREME – The Best of Extreme: An Accidental Collication of Atoms? (1997 A&M)

The best of Extreme? Perhaps, by some arguments, but the ball sure was fumbled, with this CD that fails to keep the attention from flagging.

The Best of Extreme (subtitled An Accidental Collication of Atoms?, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean) plays it straight, in a paint-by-numbers kind of way. Pretty much every song here is a single, though not many were very big singles. The thing is, like more respected bands such as King’s X (with whom they shared management), Extreme were about albums much more so than singles. First record aside, Extreme never failed to impress with a cohesive collection of jaw-dropping rock. So what happens when you take a record company suit (or a room full of them) and assign them the duty of picking a baker’s dozen of tracks for the requisite greatest hits CD? You get an accidental collication of atoms, apparently.

Opening with “Decadence Dance” was a great idea, but why leave on the rain storm and narration that opens the album version of the song? Why not use the dynamite single version? That intro makes little sense in context of a greatest hits disc. Great song, though — in fact every single song here is bonafied great! With the possible exception of “Kid Ego”, every track here was always of the utmost quality, delivering innovation and hooks. “Rest in Peace” – brilliantly produced, written and performed. “Tragic Comic” – just pure class acoustic rock as only Extreme deliver. Same with the massive hit “Hole Hearted”. “Hip Today” – still aggressive to this day. That was Extreme’s first single with Mike Mangini on drums, incidentally.

So you can’t knock the tunes, at all. It’s the crummy execution that’s the problem. The rain at the beginning of Decadence Dance is one such example. Then on “Rest in Peace”, the guitar outro that normally leads into “Politicalamity” is retained, but it ends abruptly and leads into nothing. That is sequenced into “Kid Ego” from the first album, which as an awkward transition. “Leave Me Alone” works better as a side opener.  There’s no reason behind the track listing that I can imagine. It’s not chronological, and it doesn’t flow well, especially when you hit 11 minutes of ballads right in the middle of the whole thing. The booklet is a joke, with no liner notes of any value. It’s just a slathering of images that has nothing to do with Extreme or any of their past albums.  Just lazy.  Nobody would even cop to compiling it by putting their name in the credits. The anonymous compilers are as faceless as the CD they created. The band had been broken up for a while, when Gary Cherone joined Van Halen. This was just a record company trying to squeeze a few more dollars out of a band that had little value in 1997 dollars.

There are two touches I like on The Best of Extreme. One is the “Horn Mix” of “Cupid’s Dead”. I don’t have this on any singles in my collection, so thank you, suits! (I know you included this remix just for idiots like me that would buy an entire CD just for one song. However the joke is on you. I bought it used from my own Bargain Bin.) It’s a killer remix. It should have been this way on the album. Maybe somebody said, “We can’t have too many horns! One has to go.” It’s also nice to see “Am I Ever Gonna Change” closing the CD. That “song” is actually just the middle section of “Everything Under the Sun”, the side-long epic that closed Extreme III Sides to Every Story. It was one of the more single-like moments from an album that offered few such songs. Fans have long said that it should have been a single, so it is interesting to hear it here, amputated from its parent song.

Unless you need that “Cupid’s Dead” remix, you don’t need this CD.

2/5 stars

EXTREME QUALITY CHART

Thanks to Geoff over at the 1001 Albums in 10 Years for the “Excel”lent inspiration!