Fred Mandel

REVIEW: Brian May & Friends – Star Fleet Project (1983)

IMG_00000735BRIAN MAY & FRIENDS – Star Fleet Project (1983 Capitol Records)

This near-legendary mini-album is probably infamous for the wrong reasons.  Ask a friend if they’ve heard this record.  If they haven’t, they may respond, “But that’s the one with Eddie Van Halen, right?  And they did that song for Clapton, and he hated it, right?”  That’s how the story goes anyway.

The fact is that Star Fleet Project is actually really good, and so is “Blues Breaker (Dedicated to E.C.)”.  And yes, this is one of Eddie Van Halen’s rare cameos outside his eponymous band.  I am a fan of both Queen and Van Halen, but my love of Van Halen trumps my love of Queen.  As a Van Halen fan, it is really exciting to hear Eddie playing outside his band’s box.  On a technical level, I don’t know exactly how Eddie is torturing his guitar strings, but I sure love the sounds that come out of it.  I’m hearing Eddie at what many people consider to be his creative peak.  This is the era of 1984, “Jump”, and “Beat It”, considered by many to be the greatest guitar solo of the decade.  It’s sheer nirvana to hear Eddie tapping over Brian May’s trademark guitar sound.  It’s two things you never pictured together.  Once you hear them together, it’s like Reece’s peanut butter cups!

Eddie throws every trick he has into the bag.  Tapping, squeals and eruptions, it’s all here.  As for Brian, he does double duty on lead vocals as well, on two tracks:  “Star Fleet” and “Let Me Out”.  “Star Fleet” (8 minutes in its album incarnation) is a theme song that Brian covered, from a Japanese show that his son was a fan of.  It’s the most commercial of the songs, but I have to say I love it.  The chorus isn’t the best, but the guitar playing blows my mind every single time.

Queen fans may enjoy the piano blues “Let Me Out” best, as it sounds like it would have fit right in on News of the World.  I can imagine Freddie putting his spin on it quite easily.  Brian takes the first solo, but next time he says “Help me, Edward!” and it’s Van Halen playing the blues.  You don’t get this on Van Halen albums.  Brian and Ed alternate, and then Eddie blazes the fretboard shredder style.  To hear these two guys going back and forth over a blues progression is such a monumental moment.

The final track (and all of side 2) is the infamous “Blues Breaker”.  I’m not sure what E.C. didn’t like about it (I’ll just assume he was too humble to accept such flattery).  You don’t get to hear Eddie Van Halen nor Brian May jamming very often.  This is the second such jam, and this one well over the 12 minute mark!  You’ll wonder where the time went.  As an admirer of both guitarists, I’m constantly in a state of anticipation for what they will play next. The backing band are not slouches either: Alan Gratzer – drums, Phil Chen – bass guitar, Fred Mandel – keyboards.  They captured this stuff mostly live off the floor, and that’s the way the record sounds.

Finally, a word about the current status of this mini-album.  Used vinyl is probably your best course of action.  While this is easy to find on counterfeit bootlegs, official CD releases were scarce and confined to rare CD singles and Japanese imports, vinyl is much cheaper than any of those.  I first encountered this record in the collection of a creepy dude, as recounted in Record Store Tales Part 229:  Silent Knight.  That was 1994, and I still have never seen any of the CD releases of Star Fleet Project in person.  Besides, that big robot on the cover just looks better on an LP sleeve doesn’t it?

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Anthrax – Anthems (2013)

ANTHEMS COVER

ANTHRAX – Anthems (2013 Megaforce Records)

Anthrax have recorded some of the most entertaining covers of the last 30 years.  Many of them have appeared as hard to find B-sides or bonus tracks.  Anthems is Anthrax’s new covers EP, readily available, and a welcome addition to a metal lover’s collection.

As if they needed to show off how well they could play, the EP kicks off with “Anthem” itself, a Rush cover, and a stunning one at that.  Joey Belladonna’s voice strains to reach the highest of notes, but he hits ’em.  This is one dead-on accurate Rush cover, not an easy thing to execute.  And it’s heavy as balls.

“T.N.T.” is a blast.  Again, this is not an easy song to cover, because it is so indelibly linked to AC/DC and Bon Scott.  Incredibly, Anthrax do so with as much accuracy as they did Rush.  Joey sounds perfectly in his element paying tribute to Bon.  Up next is “Smokin'” as performed by Boston.  Like a chameleon, suddenly Joey is in Brad Delp’s shoes.  As great as the entire band is on Anthems, at this point, it is Joey that is blowing me away the most!  What’s also cool about “Smokin'” is that the lengthy organ solo is intact, performed by Canadian Fred Mandel (ex-Alice Cooper).  An extended keyboard solo with Anthrax?  Smokin’!  (No kidding though, it’s great.  Like it or lump it!)

We all know Joey Belladonna is a huge Steve Perry fan.  It is a joy to hear him having a chance to pay tribute to his hero on “Keep On Runnin'”.  Scott Ian proclaims in the liner notes that “On paper, Anthrax covering Journey may seem weird,” but he reminds us that “the song just fucking rocks”.  Charlie Benate ensures this with surgically inserted blasts of drum fury.

“Big Eyes” is a Cheap Trick song I had somewhat forgotten about.  It has a monster groove and yet another fantastic lead vocal.  Anthrax bring the song to its knees.

“Thin Lizzy is arguably the most underrated and under appreciated band of our time,” says Scott in the liner notes.  Amen brother!  But he also points out their paradoxical great importance and influence.  Scott reveals he’d like to do an entire record of Lizzy covers.  Phil Campbell of Motorhead plays the solo, as per the Live and Dangerous version.  I love hearing Joey do the “Hey you, good lookin’ female! Com’ere!” line.  So much more menacing than Phil Lynott!

From Anthrax’s most recent record, Worship Music, comes “Crawl”.  I am on the fence with this song, as all I can think of is Soundgarden.  “Fell On Black Days”.  Can you hear it, there in the first minute of the song?  (Maybe it’s their Soundgarden cover, eh?)  Also on the EP is the remix of “Crawl”, which was previously only available on the Japanese version of Worship Music.  So this purchase worked out well for me.  I had been putting off buying Worship Music until I could find a reasonably priced Japanese import.  I prefer to get all the bonus tracks, so with Anthems now in hand, I can just pick up the domestic Worship Music and be done with it!

As a nice touch to collectors, Anthrax released this EP with six different covers.  I pre-ordered this thing from Amazon, so I didn’t get the luxury of picking my cover art.  If I did, I might have chosen the Rush or Journey versions.  What I got was the Cheap Trick cover, but I think I like it best anyway.

5/5 stars