Geffen

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Done With Mirrors (1985)

Part one of an Aerosmith two-parter!

AEROSMITH DONE WITH MIRRORS_0001AEROSMITH – Done With Mirrors (1985 Geffen)

This review comes by request of, well, several readers.  Done With Mirrors was Aerosmith’s first record on their new deal with Geffen.  That means it wasn’t included in the massive 13 disc Box of Fire that I reviewed recently.  I intended to get around to Done With Mirrors anyway, but the reader anticipation adds an interesting sort of pressure.

I know some people, like Deke over at Arena Rock, hold this album in high esteem.  “36 minutes of classic Aerorock,” in his books.  I know that Done With Mirrors is a bit of a cult favourite album in some ways.  The band ignore all but one song in their live sets, but some fans have loved it since it came out.  I think it’s possible that some readers, knowing my love for underdog albums, are hoping I’m going to come out with some really appreciative glowing observations about the album.

The fact of the matter is, I’ve never been a fan of this album.  “Let the Music Do the Talking” is probably my second favourite Aero-tune ever, right after “Chip Away the Stone”.  As an album, I have always found Done With Mirrors to be so-so at best, and I’ve never really warmed up to it over the years.  Why is that?

I decided to do something different for this review, and listen to the album as background music while working on something else.  I came away with some strong impressions, so I immediately gave it another listen.  Rather than go song-by-song, I’d rather just talk about the feeling I get from the album now.

I used to think the production (by Ted Templeman) sucked.  I think it could use some embellishment, but hot damn! Aren’t Joey’s drums sounding fucking awesome?  Yes they are.  I’d say Joey’s the MVP on Done With Mirrors, as he is so rock solid consistent right through!

I used to think the songs (all but “Let the Music Do the Talking”) were pretty much just crap.  I think anyone would have to admit that these are not the catchiest tunes Aerosmith have ever written in their storied career.  They do, however, rock.  They rock hard.  “My Fist Your Face” is exactly what it sounds like — a fist right in your face!

I used to think that Steve and the band sounded tired compared to the earlier material, or what came after.  I still think that’s true, but even tired, Aerosmith were capable of blowing out the speakers with bluesy riffs and Steve’s scats.  If you pay attention to the lyrics, you’ll hear that Steve’s as sassy as ever.  I love the name-dropping of “Joe Perry, oooh Mr. Style.”

Compared to, say, Pump, Done With Mirrors doesn’t fare too well.  Letting it stand on its own and just enjoying it as a batch of rockers, it’s actually not as bad as I remembered.  Maybe all these years I just haven’t been letting it in.

Big surprise:  How swampy and cool “She’s On Fire” is.  No idea why it never clicked with me before.  I can say the same for a few songs on this album.  While very few would make my own personal road tapes, there aren’t any to skip.  It’s a fair chunk of solid, hard rocking Aerosmith.  No ballads, no fluff, no embarrassing forays into other genres.

Finally, gotta love the cover art and double meaning.  I’ve always been fond of the packaging way before hearing the album.

Assigning a number rating is hard.

I’d say somewhere between 3.5 4/5 stars.

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REVIEW: Whitesnake – Greatest Hits (1994)

WSWHITESNAKE – Greatest Hits (1994 Geffen)

I don’t own this CD.  Never have, actually.  I gave it enough in-store play (only while working alone!) that I have no problem reviewing it. This Greatest Hits CD dates back to 1994, the year I first started working at the Record Store. As such, it was the first ever official Whitesnake Greatest Hits CD, the first of many. The band had been broken up for about four years at that point. Even by 1994 standards, it was only an OK release. It did contain some rare tracks, but was limited to Whitesnake’s 1984-1989 Geffen output only. For budget-priced collections, I would recommend the cheaper 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection because it still has all the hit singles from that period at a lower price. For fans who need more, the much better Whitesnake Gold or Silver Anniversary Collection make a more complete picture with more rarities and deep album cuts. These of course weren’t available in 1994.  Today music buyers have a lot more to choose from.

One inclusion that some listeners may not enjoy about Greatest Hits is the version of “Here I Go Again” chosen. This is not the well-known album version that most people have heard. This is the “single remix” with different guitar solos (by guest Dan Huff) and more keyboards. Some radio stations do play it from time to time, but I think most casual buyers would listen to this and say, “I don’t like it as much”.  And nor do I, but it is a rarity.

Otherwise, this album (like 20th Century Masters) contains every hit single from the period, and nothing from the blues-based records before. It does feature some other cool rarities: the B-side “Sweet Lady Luck” featuring Steve Vai, “Looking For Love”, and “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again”. However, with the many compilations and remasters released since 1994, these songs are no longer hard to find. “Sweet Lady Luck” was even released on a Steve Vai boxed set!

Rounding out this selection of hits and rare tracks are deeper album cuts.  These are include the glossy Kashmir-esque “Judgement Day”, “Crying in the Rain ’87”, “Slow Poke Music” and the wicked “Slide It In”.  They help balance out the ballad-y hits that Whitesnake were adept at writing.

Interestingly, when this album was released, David Coverdale assembled a new, shortlived Whitesnake and toured for it. That version of Whitesnake included former members Rudy Sarzo and Adrian Vandenberg, both of the 1987-1990 version of the band. It also included drummer Denny Carmassi (Coverdale-Page) and guitarist Warren DeMartini (Ratt). Shame that no live recordings from this version of the band have never been released. The band disolved for several year again after this, only to reform in 1997 with a new lineup including Carmassi and Vandenberg.

This album is only mildly better than 20th Century Masters, but is inferior to the more recent, more comprehensive compilations I have mentioned. Buy at a sensible price point.

2/5 stars
WSBACK

REVIEW: Coverdale/Page – Coverdale/Page (1993)

COV PAGE_0001COVERDALE-PAGE:  Coverdale-Page (1993 Geffen)

Following the demise of Whitesnake and the failure of Zeppelin to mount a 1991 tour in support of their first box set, it was almost inevitable what happened next. It was something that many Zeppelin fans feared. Lead Snake David Coverdale, who was once derided as “David Coverversion” by Robert Plant, joined Plant’s erstwhile bandmate Jimmy Page in a new supergroup. Geffen’s John Kalodner (John Kalodner) helped facilitate this move which should have generated sales over 10 million units. Unfortunately another thing also happened in 1991: grunge.

The shame of it is that Coverdale-Page is a stunning rock album.   For years it haunted my bargain bins, simply because of the hard rock stigma that permeated the 1990’s.  Many fans refused to listen to it, others simply chose to mock superficial elements of it, such as Coverdale’s man-shrieks.  The fact that Page was looking and sounding great should be enough to warrant multiple listens by any serious rock fan.  He hadn’t released any new material since 1988’s Outrider.  As for Coverdale, it was a chance to get back to his bluesy rock roots, something he expressed a desire to do shortly after Whitesnake’s dissolution.

The studio band weren’t hacks either.  Ricky Phillips had played bass with Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain in Bad English, and he’s been in Styx for ages now.  Drummer Denny Carmassi was in Montrose (that’s him on the cover of the classic 1973 self-titled record) among many stellar bands, and he later did a stint in Whitesnake itself.  Coverdale and Page co-produced the album with veteran Mike Fraser.

Finally, the most important elements were also in place:  the songs.  11 songs, most in the 5-6 minute range, make up Coverdale-Page.  Those expecting or even hoping for a Zeppelin album were bound to be disappointed.  Despite the “Coverversion” nickname, Cov the Gov is his own person and persona.  Singing over Pagey’s classic Zeppish riffs does not a Zeppelin make.  Rather, Page and Coverdale comingle over their common ground, and naturally there are elements that have a Whitesnake aura.  To expect otherwise would be folly.

“Shake My Tree” was the perfect opener.  Pagey’s tricky little licks have that familiar sound, immediately.  Then the great lothario Cov the Gov starts howlin’…the stage was set within the first minute of the album.  The closest comparison I can think of would be “Slow An’ Easy” in terms of overall vibe.  Just replace Moody’ slide guitar with Jimmy’s intricate chicken pickin’.  David’s lyrics were as naughty as ever.  It must have burned Robert Plant’s ass to have to sing it when he reunited with Jimmy later on himself.  He seemed to be freestyling it quite a bit with David’s lyrics, barely sticking to the words at all!

“Waiting On You” would have been a radio-ready single.  It has that kind of smoking hard rock riff, a killer of a chorus, and great vocals.  Coverdale’s no poet, but I dig his words.  “Ever since I started drinkin’, my ship’s been slowly sinkin’, so tell me what a man’s supposed to do.”  Well, let me tell you David.  1) Drinking and boating is against the law, just like drinking and driving.  2) Put on your goddamn life vest!

I hesitate to call “Take Me A Little While” a ballad.  I mean, it is a ballad, but it’s also a pretty good bluesy workout for David.  It’s a little classier than the average “power ballad”, because hey…it’s Jimmy Page.  It doesn’t sound like other ballads by other bands, because not too many bands have Jimmy Page.  His playing and writing are unlike anyone else’s, he is one of the most recognizable musicians in rock and roll.

“Pride And Joy” was the first single, and what a single it was.  It starts off swampy and acoustic, before Jimmy’s big Les Paul announces its presence with some big chords.  Then David’s back in lothario-land, seducing “daddy’s little princess, Momma’s pride and joy.”  Despite the lyrics, the song’s still a stunner.  “Over Now” is also cool; a thinly veiled attack on Tawny Kitaen.

You told me of your innocence,
An’ I believed it all,
But your best friend is your vanity,
And the mirror on the wall.

It doesn’t get any nicer from there, but musically this is one of the most Zeppelin-ish songs.  While you can’t compare it to any specific song in the Zeppelin oeuvre, but it’s there in that slow relentless drum beat, the orchestration, and Pagey’s unorthodox guitar.

The closest thing to filler on Coverdale-Page is “Feeling Hot”.  It’s not outstanding, but it does show off the faster side of Jimmy’s playing.  It’s akin to “Wearing and Tearing” but with naughtier lyrics.  Once again it is Jimmy’s playing that I’m tuned in to.  That continues with “Easy Does It” which begins acoustically.  Like most acoustic moments on the album (and like Zeppelin), Jimmy’s guitar is recorded in layers, giving it real heft.  This all changes halfway through the song, when Jimmy’s Les Paul once again takes center stage.  Then it transforms into a bluesy prowl.

Possibly the most commercial song is “Take A Look At Yourself”.  Not a bad song, but definitely the most “pop rock”.  It’s probably closest to a Whitesnake song such as “The Deeper The Love”.  Had the year been 1990 or even 1991, “Take A Look At Yourself” would have been a top charting single everywhere.  David seems to have cheered up with new found love here.  However the heartbreak is not over.  “Don’t Leave Me This Way” is about as earnest as it gets.  At 8 minutes, it’s also the most ambitious song.  It’s the centerpiece of the album.  It sounds at once like it’s the most sincere song, showcasing some of Jimmy Page’s best post-Zeppelin guitar work.   As for David, he’s never sung better.

“Absolution Blues” begins similarly to “In The Evening”.  Fading in are layers of atmospheric guitars as only Jimmy plays them.  These give way to the fastest, heaviest song on the album.  It’s also one of my favourites.  You you can hear the elements of Jimmy and David separately, but working together.  The song goes through numerous changes before returning to that riff.  If you thought Jimmy Page had already written every great riff in Led Zeppelin, think again.  It’s “Black Dog” sped up to ludicrous speed.

Album closer “Whisper A Prayer For the Dying” is as cheerful and uplifting as the title alludes.  It’s has an epic quality and length like “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, but this time the lyrics are less personal and more topical.  David laments the innocent casualties of modern warfare, and refers to politicians as “bodyguards of lies”.  While certainly not profound, it’s refreshing to hear Coverdale change the bloody subject away from the female of the species every now and again.  Profound or not, I’m certain that it was heartfelt, and musically it kicks ass.  It’s also a perfect album closer for a dark and brooding record like this.  So there.

Hugh Syme (Rush) did the artwork.  Say what you will about the bland cover itself, but I like the way he used the “merge” sign much like the “object” was in the artwork for Presence.  And like many Zeppelin albums, there are no pictures of the artists anywhere.

The year 1993 was not a kind one to singers of Coverdale’s ilk.  Most of his competition had been replaced by Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, and Kurt Cobain.  One way or the other, the Coverdale-Page tour was not doing enough business and the plug was pulled.  David has since mentioned that he and Page had more songs, enough to get started on a second album.  He’s also expressed a desire to release those songs on some kind of deluxe edition reissue.  I hope that happens.  I’d buy Coverdale-Page again.  It would only be the third time.

4.5/5 stars

More COVERDALE at mikeladano.com:

Snakebite – Come An’ Get It – Slide It In – Whitesnake (1987) – Live at Donnington – Good to be Bad – Forevermore

More ZEPPELIN too:

Self-titled box setBox Set 2The Complete Studio Recordings

REVIEW: Aerosmith – “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” 12″ single

It’s THE WEEK OF SINGLES!  Each day this week I’ll be bringing you reviews and images of a recent CD or vinyl single acquisition.  

Monday:  Van Halen – “Best of Both Worlds” 7″ single
Tuesday:  Deep Purple – “Above and Beyond” CD and 7″ singles

 

AEROSMITH – “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” (1987 Geffen 12″ single)

There was an old Canadian magazine called Music Express that was…well, it was OK.  Back in 1987 they did a spread on the new Aerosmith (Permanent Vacation), including a really cool caricature of Steven Tyler that I cut out and kept.  This Aerosmith article contained what I now consider to be a myth, although one that led me on a wild goose chase for years.

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Music Express

The magazine claimed that one of the new Aerosmith B-sides was a song called “Once is Enough”, a collaboration with Willie Nelson.  Not only did I believe this to be true, but it was seemingly confirmed by an old customer of mine who insisted she had this Willie Nelson tune.  Now I’ve finally acquired the “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” 12″ single with “Once is Enough”, and there is absolutely no indication that Nelson had anything to do with it.  I wonder if the confused writer thought that John Kalodner in the music video for “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” was Willie Nelson?  That’s as much insight as I can offer on this strange myth.

As it turns out, “Once is Enough” is an outstanding song, and no wonder:  It was written by Richie Supa, who also wrote three of my personal Aero-faves:  “Chip Away the Stone”, “Lightning Strikes”, and “Amazing”.  Supa has a certain magic in his melodies, rooted in old time rock n’ roll.  When Aerosmith record a Supa song, the results are seldom disappointing (“Pink” being the only letdown I can think of).  It does have a country twang to it, particularly the intro, but otherwise this is a rock n’ roller.

Although “Once is Enough” is instantly likeable and arguably an unknown classic, it was never released on any of the numerous Geffen Aerosmith compilations.  I think it’s stronger than much of the material on Permanent Vacation itself.  I can only assume it did not make the album because it’s too different from the songs that did.  In fact it probably would have fit better on Pump, which also had some twang on the hit “What It Takes”.  The country vocal harmonies are really sweet, and Joe Perry lays on some awesome slide.  When it takes off into full-on rocker mode, it’s irresistible.  Why a great tune like this remains so hard to get more than 25 years after its release, I don’t know.

The rest of the songs on the single are Permanent Vacation album tracks:  “Dude”, “Simoriah” and “The Movie”.  I’ll be honest, I never thought much of “Dude”.   It was originally titled “Cruisin’ For A Lady”, but obviously the new words (supposedly inspired by Motley Crue) have become a Tyler landmark.  So, good on them.  It’s been used in numerous movies and is a radio staple today.  With that Bruce Fairbairn horn section in there, I just thought it was too pop.   No matter how I feel about this commercial rock song, Joe Perry’s solo smokes.

Both “Simoriah” and “The Movie” are filler as far as I’m concerned.  For its merits, Permanent Vacation had a bit too much filler on it.  I’m more of a Pump guy myself.  As filler goes, “Simoriah” has a speedy groove going for it, but it’s not an outstanding song.  “The Movie” is just an atmospheric instrumental.  I’ve never felt that Aerosmith compose the most interesting instrumentals in the world.

Just 3/5 stars for this one…but 5/5 stars for “Once is Enough”!

One last thing:  I also have a CD single for “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” completely different from this.  It was obviously a later release, since one of the B-sides was “Love In An Elevator” live.  “Once is Enough” was not on that CD single.

More AEROSMITH at mikeladano.com:

Music From Another Dimension! (2012 deluxe & regular editions) – Get A Grip (1993 limited “cow hide” cover) – Draw the Line (1977) – Record Store Tales Part 95:  Aerodouche Dandy

REVIEW: Tesla – “Call It What You Want” (single)

TESLA – “Call It What You Want” (1991 Geffen UK single)

Yesterday, I reviewed Tesla’s damn fine third album, Psychotic Supper.  As part of that, I wanted to talk about this single, the album’s second.  It’s an excellent companion to the album proper.

“Call It What You Want” isn’t a bad song.  It has a great chorus even if I find the verses sub-par.  Where Tesla have always excelled is in their rootsy but eloquent musicianship.  Not only are there Lizzy-esque dual guitar harmonies, but there are other things that border on country style.

I also dig the lyric, dated although they may be:

“Heavy metal, hard-core, punk, pop, or thrash,
You can call it anything, it don’t matter to me,
Call it what you want,
It’s all music to me.”

I think Tesla more than most hard rock bands around in 1991 were about breaking down boundaries between genres, and I’m sure this lyric was sincere to them.  I know guitarist Tommy Skeoch had a thrash side project going at the time called Thrash Tandoori.

I hate when bands use a regular album track as a B-side!  Nonetheless, “Freedom Slaves” is one of the best (if not the best) song from Psychotic Supper.  This is the hard rock/heavy metal side of Tesla shining through.  A Leppardy riff accompanies a song that boasts an anthemic chorus and dark verses.

The next two tracks are both previously unreleased, and both are covers.  “Children’s Heritage” is what I’d call an obscure cover!  I’ve never heard this, nor the band that wrote it, Bloodrock a 70’s band from Texas.  It’s a good song, straight ahead riff based hard rock.  It’s also self produced by Tesla, and is a lot looser than the album material.

More familiar is the old blues classic “Cotton Fields”, rocked up and slowed down from its CCR incarnation.  It bares almost no resemblance to the classic Leadbelly version, but it does rock.  Dirty slide guitars and wah-wah solos render this version almost as if Zeppelin were covering it.  That’s the overall vibe anyway, and few hard rock artists were sounding this raw and authentic in 1991!

In a rare  (I assure you) lapse of memory, I’ve forgotten where I got this CD.  I think Trevor got it in used, at his store, and sent it to me.  This would make sense, since one of his customers, Gord Taylor, used to sell him metal CD singles that he bought in Europe.  So that piece fits the puzzle.  Either way, whoever originally bought it paid £4.50 at HMV.

Tesla singles are rare in these parts, but thankfully both of these B-sides are now available on the compilation Tesla Gold.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Tesla – Psychotic Supper (1991)

“We’re just children of the 60’s, watched the 70’s go by.  Now we made it through the 80’s, my my how time does fly!” – Jeff Keith

TESLA – Psychotic Supper (Geffen, 1991)

Psychotic Supper, the 3rd studio album by Tesla, is thus far their most adventurous and experimental. Is is neither as immediate as Mechanical Resonance nor as focused as The Great Radio Controversy, instead focusing on longer song structures and diverse influences.  It is difficult to penetrate, and even once you do finally dig in, there are some songs that simply refuse to stick to the memory. However one must applaud Tesla for sheer musical ability and refusal to do the commercial thing and sell out for the long awaited third album.

Taking their love of Nikola Tesla to the nth degree, they present a history lesson in the smokin’ “Man Out Of Time Edison’s Medicine”. What an incredible song. I still remember seeing the music video and being blown away by the solos. Not only are there guitar solos, but Tommy Skeoch torments the theremin, before Frank Hannon slipps on a bass and plays a bass solo too!

Great rock tunes include: “Change In The Weather”, the groovin’ “Freedom Slaves”, the jokey but smokin’ “Toke About It”, the aforementioned “Edison’s Medicine”, and the thrash-like “Don’t De-Rock Me”. Y’see children, back in the 80’s when Al Gore’s wife Tipper was a founder of a pro-censorship group called the PMRC, there really were places called de-rock centers. You could send your kids to detox them off rock music and turn them onto safe alternatives. No lie. (Is it any wonder that bands like Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana came along during this period?)

There are also a series of long, exploratory songs such as the mournful “Song And Emotion”, dedicated to Steve “Steamin'” Clarke of Def Leppard who passed away in January of that year. Skeoch paid tribute to Clarke’s “Gods of War” parts with his E-bow solo, listen for it.  Tommy Skeoch was a devoted Def Leppard fan, and Tesla had also opened for the Leppard because they shared management.

There are ballads too. I don’t think any are particularly standouts in the way “Love Song” was, but “What You Give” was a respectable hit.  I don’t check out Tesla so much for the ballads (even though they are excellent at them) but for the rockers.  Jeff Keith’s raspy but powerful voice can excel at either.  The man is one of the most underrated singers in rock.

If grunge didn’t hit, I could have imagined this album spawning multiple hit singles and videos for at least a year.

4/5 stars

I only own one single from this album, which is “Call It What You Want”.  It has some interesting B-sides, so tomorrow, we’ll take a look at that one!  Hope to see you then.

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Get A Grip (1993 “cow hide” cover)

Let the arrows fly!

COW

AEROSMITH – Get A Grip (1993 “cow hide” cover)

As an Aero-accolyte, I thought Pump was a great album. All killer no filler, just like they made in the early to mid 1970’s. Permanent Vacation, while laden with huge hits, also had a lot of filler. I think Get A Grip falls somewhere between those two albums. It’s heavier than Vacation, but suffers from filler syndrome.

Witness: “Gotta Love It”. “Shut Up And Dance”. “Boogie Man”. Crap, crap, and crap!

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I think Get A Grip has some of the best Aerosmith tunage of the past 20 years though: “Eat The Rich” is absolutely brilliant. “Fever” as well, musically and lyrically: “The high you be gettin’ from the crack don’t last, I’d rather be OD’ing on the crack of her ass.” That is the Steven Tyler I love! I could do without two of the ballads: “Cryin'” (which maybe is more of a blues?), and “Crazy” I could do without. Even if I liked those two songs, they’ve been so overplayed. “Amazing” on the other hand is string-laden Aero-brilliance, a worthy successor to tracks like “Angel” or even dare-I-say-it, “Dream On”. I also enjoyed “Line Up”, with Lenny Kravitz’ cameo. “Come on, Joe!”

The crown jewel of this album is the lengthy “Living On The Edge”. What a great song, and adventurous too. It wasn’t commercial but became a massive hit. Maybe the last time Aerosmith did a really adventurous single that really wasn’t very single-like.

I think production-wise, this album didn’t shine like Pump did.  Fairbairn produced both and Get A Grip was considered by the band to have a better sound, but I don’t know. I think Pump rocks harder and cleaner.  On the plus side, Get A Grip has good separation between Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, so you can really hear them playing and meshing. Same with Tom Hamilton’s rolling bass, you can pick it out and listen to the notes rather than just the groove. And, of course, Joey — Joey Kramer is one of the most underrated drummers in rock. His thrift is Bonham-esque and his groove is legendary.

I hate the standard album cover, it’s dated and stupid. It was even stupid in 1993, let alone now. Much better is the “cowhide” cover. There are no bonus tracks on that version, but it looks cool sitting in my collection (right next to my faux-leather edition of Pump).

There were numerous notable B-sides and other tracks available elsewhere, now all very easy to get on assorted Geffen compilations. Noteworthy, and worth tracking down, are “Deuces Are Wild”, and the two bonus tracks from the “Living on the Edge” single (“Don’t Stop” and “Can’t Stop Messin'”). There was also a good song called “Head First” that was an early attempt at digital distribution and song downloading!

3.5/5 stars. I wish it were better, but I think it’s too long and loaded with filler. I think it could have been 10 songs, like the Aero-classics of old.