Gary Cherone

DVD REVIEW: Van Halen – Video Hits Volume I (1998)

VAN HALEN – Video Hits Volume I (1998 DVD)

Van Halen had some of the best videos of the 80s, bar none. After David Lee Roth, the visionary behind the videos, left the band, they refused to film any new clips for their first six singles with Sammy Hagar! They didn’t want the comparisons.  Instead they released live versions of singles as videos.  They finally filmed an actual studio video for the ballad “When It’s Love” in late 1988.

It seems Van Halen still can’t reconcile all the different singers from the past.  That is obvious by the omissions from this disc.  Go ahead and list the missing videos:

The excellently corny “Oh Pretty Woman”. “You Really Got Me”, the timeless Kinks cover. The live videos for “Unchained” and “So This Is Love”. All the live video clips are missing, even Sammy’s debut in “Why Can’t This Be Love”.  As is Gary Cherone’s “Fire In The Hole”. “Feels So Good”, “Top of the World”, “Amsterdam”…all missing.

At least they included one Cherone video (“Without You”), but then again, he was the band’s current singer when this was released in 1998.  It would have been weird if he wasn’t on it.  He hasn’t made an appearance or even been mentioned on any Van Halen releases since.

For Van Halen to refuse to release those videos on DVD just indicates they’re scared of their own shadows. You can’t bury your past, you may as well celebrate it.

2/5 stars

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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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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!

WTF SEARCH TERMS: Questions & Comments edition

It’s Friday, so let’s have a laugh.

Welcome to the semi-regular feature where I reveal stunningly weird search terms that led people to mikeladano.com  For the last installment, Heavy Porn Metal edition, click here!

WTF SEARCH TERMS XX:  Questions & Comments edition

 norum

1. is john norum bald and wears awig (ask Jon Wilmenius, he knows everything about bald Swedish rockers!)

2. did pete woodroffe play in led zepplin (I sincerely hope nobody over the age of 15 needs to ask who was in Led Zeppelin.)

3. chad kroeger douche (yes.)

4. dave donato sucks (meh.)

5. styx goofy keyboard player (Lawrence Gowan is goofy?)

6. what would a record store smell like (as I said in Part 57, farts.)

7. def leppard flashing tits tumblr (no nudity here, sorry.)

8. what about pye dubois-not max, kim, or rush- pye dubois! (yes!  what about him?)

9. is gary cherone sick? (not that I know of.)

10. just because you work at a bowling alley doesnt mean you cant put some pride into your burgers (agreed fully.)

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REVIEW: Van Halen – The Best of Both Worlds (2004)

VHBOBW_0001VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)

Musically, I can find very little fault with this collection. How can I? When you think about it, musically Van Halen are above reproach. In the 1970’s, they were without equal. No other band could boast such a series of excellent albums, a charismatic and innovative frontman like Dave Lee Roth, or (obviously) a unique guitar mutilator like Edward Van Halen. Van Halen defined the term “party rock”, but they also rocked with intelligence. They combined challenging arrangements with near-impossible guitar work, clever lyrics, an excellent image, musical influences dating back to the 1920’s, and music heavier than that of many of their rivals.

So how could this compilation possibly fail if the music is that strong? This album is completedly torpedoed by the sequencing of the songs.  That factor alone makes The Best Of Both Worlds a struggle to listen to.   There seems to be a notable effort to downplay David Lee Roth’s contributions in favor of Sammy Hagar’s overall.

By song selection, on paper this album looks good. However upon one listen you will realize what works and what doesn’t. Kicking off the album with Eddie’s groundbreaking solo “Eruption” seems like a good idea at first. It serves to remind the listener right from the beginning why Eddie is considered one of the best, if not the very best, guitar player of all time. His sound is warm and “brown” and he creates noises that nobody had ever heard before….

…But “Eruption” is followed by the first of the new Sammy singles, “It’s About Time”. Trying to glue “Eruption” to a new song just doesn’t work. A Dave song would have sounded much more natural. It is a jarring transition, and it gives me the impression that Van Halen is trying to up-sell the Sammy Hagar period in some way.  The overall effect is an album that is has absolutely no cohesion.

Thank God this wasn’t the final tour…

There are always new songs to hype a compilation like this.  “It’s About Time” is the strongest of the three, all of which are Van Hagar. It is as close to upbeat as they were likely to get, with all the personal strife going on.  The lyrics are pretty obviously about the return of Sammy Hagar. But something sounds wrong, something sounds un-Halen. The missing ingredient is bassist Michael Anthony, who did not play bass, nor write, nor sing background vocals on these songs. Without Anthony, you can tell something is missing. (You’ll notice how far back he is in the group photo, too.)  The other two songs, “Up For Breakfast” (dumb title, dumb lyrics) and “Learning To See” (A musical attempt at being dramatic and wise) are nothing to write home about.

Then we begin juxtaposing Dave songs with Sammy songs, one after the other, for nearly the entire remainder of the album. Folks, taken on their own, each one of these tracks is a hit…but playing the album, this doesn’t sound good in the speakers! Sammy-era Halen was a different beast from Diamond Dave.   Sammy’s poppier, from a completely different and more mainstream point of view. Without beating this point into the ground, for one example, take a look at the tracklist: Sam’s “Dreams” is squeezed in between Dave’s “You Really Got Me” and “Hot For Teacher”!  The only time this sequencing really works is when “Jump” is followed by “Top Of The World”. The songs traditionally follow each other in concert because they share the same riff.  Listen to the outro of “Jump”.  It is the main riff to “Top Of The World”.

I asked Craig Fee for his opinion on these shenanigans, and he had this to say:

When I saw this arrive on my desk as a promo, I was confused.  Why would you mix Diamond Dave tracks with a bunch of wanky new Sammy songs?  What would possess anyone to include the Red Rocker singing Dave’s material in concert and not have a single DLR live cut? 

My feeling is that this is a ripoff move in order to hammer home the fact that Van Hagar were touring!  They make sure to mention this in the liner notes.  It’s an unfortunate but fairly common practice, and a sure sign of record company meddling.

Had they devoted 1 disc to each ‘era,’ I don’t think it would’ve pissed me off as much as this one did.  And where the fuck is Gary?!  More importantly — why are we, the die-hard Van Halen fans — continually starved for live material from the 1978-84 era?

One star.  For the album art.

The album rocks and rolls along, Dave then Sam, Dave then Sam, until the end when you are presented with the live tracks.  As Craig said, all are Van Hagar, previously released on Live: Right Here, Right Now. I’m sick of that album. It’s been mined endlessly for B-sides, and all three songs appear elsewhere on this album in their original DLR studio versions! Much like the album openers, these close the disc rather weakly.

Craig is right about being starved for classic 1978-1984 live material.  Even assuming the Van Halens remove that particular pickle from their behinds, they didn’t have to recycle old Van Hagar live stuff.  The wasted CD space could have been used to give this album a more well-rounded feel, covering Van Halen’s whole career. The compilation covers 1978-1995, and then skips ahead to 2004 with the three new songs. Excluded are cool singles from the lost period, like “Me Wise Magic”, “Humans Being” and “Without You” (from Van Halen 3 with Gary Cherone).  Or, they could have just put more classic David Lee Roth tracks on there, since the album’s a bit Sam-heavy.  Anything but more live re-releases!  Fair Warning is criminally under-represented.

Taking a quick scan of the liner notes will reveal that the brothers Halen really are trying to re-write their history. Not only are the Cherone years not even mentioned, but the Dave years are discussed only briefly. No pictures of the band with Dave are included, even though he makes up at least a third of the album (the best third of it).

I will mention one other little point before I finish. One track, “Finish What Ya Started”, sounds like it is defective, ending abruptly.  The band and producer received complaints about this, but it is no error. While mastering this CD, producer Glen Ballard decided to extend “Finish What Ya Started” beyond its original fade point until the tape runs out, when it ends abruptly. This longer, previously unreleased version was not advertised as such and led fans to think the track was defective.

So there you have it — as it currently stands, The Best Of Both Worlds is sadly the most comprehensive Van Halen collection out there.  May as well go ahead and make your own.  At least the music is above reproach.

3/5 stars