glam rock

DVD REVIEW: Def Leppard – In the Round In Your Face (1989)

Part Eleven of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – In the Round In Your Face (1989 VHS, 2001 Universal DVD)

When I was a kid, in love with music and watching every video on television, there was only one concert I wanted to see.  Grade 10, going on grade 11, the only show I craved was Def Leppard.  Their innovative stage in the round, in the center of the arena, seemed like the ultimate package.  But I was just too young and had no one to go with, so I never made it.  Fortunately, Def Leppard released a home video to satisfy those of us who could not be there.  I rented the tape from Steve’s TV and made a copy.  It was the best I could do on my allowance.  To make up for it, I bought it three times since on different formats (VHS, DVD, CD).

I popped the tape into the VCR with anticipation.  A sped-up collage of the stage assembly flashed before my eyes, to the sound of “Rocket”.  A massive undertaking, but this was just pre-amble.  The show was about to begin!

It was just as I had heard about in the highschool halls.  The stage was draped on all four sides by massive Hysteria curtains.

“I know what you’re thinking,” says Clint Eastwood over the sound system.  “‘Did he fire six shots, or only five?’  Well to tell you the truth you know in all is excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself.”  A laser show begins dancing on the curtains.  “You’ve got to ask yourself one question.  ‘Do I feel lucky?’  Well do ya, punk (punk punk punk)?”  

Guitars replace the echo of Eastwood’s voice.

“I said welcome to my show!” screams Joe Elliot, teasing us before the curtains finally crash down and “Stagefright” kicks off the proceedings!  Even in my armchair, there’s still goosebumps.

Def Leppard rip through “Stagefright”, completely in control, on fire as hot as their early days.  Each member throws shapes on stage while Rick Allen keeps the whole thing moving, on drums in the middle.  Leppard’s stage is not flat, with catwalks and staircases for the band to run and jump all over, which they do.  Overhead cameras capture everything, from every angle.  Nobody but Allen is confined to one space, as the band leap from place to place in the name of entertainment.

Continuing with the Pyromania, “Rock! Rock!” keeps the pace going at full speed.  It brings a tear to the eye, seeing Steve Clark do his trademark whirlwind moves on stage, accented by his red scarf and made only more perfect in the round setting.  A reminder that this was it — the last high point of the Clark era.  Fortunately captured on camera and tape.

The first new song, and break in tempo, is “Women”.  This is the famous version released as a single B-side with the “We got everything we need!” intro.  You know it, you love it, it’s legendary:  the live version of “Women”.  Rick Savage mans the keyboard station for the time being while the lights get dimmer.  Lots of echo on this one to duplicate the album ambience.  “Too Late For Love” — a damn fine version — brings a ballady vibe, which they then lean into fully on an early appearance of “Hysteria”.  The live version of “Hysteria” is lengthier with an extended bass intro.  It feels like Def Leppard are a band with four frontmen, with the amount of shape-throwing going on here!  And, for a moment, Joe Elliott on rhythm guitar!  A funny little 80s axe with no headstock it is, locking down the riff while Steve and Phil embark on a glorious dual-guitar harmony solo.

Steve Clark gets a mini-solo to open “Gods Of War”, a Leppard epic that really shines in the live setting.  We always thought it should have been the 8th Hysteria single.  Rick Savage on acoustic guitar during the outro.  The lights blast at the end, simulation “the bomb” and the band exist the stage as the lights go black.  It’s a perfect transition to the gunshot sound effects that open “Die Hard the Hunter”.  Lighters up!  Off goes Phil’s shirt.  This track is a return to the tempo of the opening duo, all three being from Pyromania.

Indeed, it is time to address the setlist.  You may have noticed all the tracks are from Pyromania and Hysteria thus far.  There is nothing from On Through the Night, and only one from High N’ Dry:  “Bringing On the Heartbreak”.  “This is one of our earlier songs, that we’re going to play a brand new way for ya,” says Joe.  It seems they were trying to focus on the big albums that people had heard on MTV rather than their heavier metallic roots on this tour.  Phil Collen gets a nice acoustic intro to show off his skills, along with Steve on doubleneck.  This new semi-acoustic version of “Heartbreak” was so the band wouldn’t get sick of the song; it’s interesting anyway.

“Foolin'” ushers in a long stream of big, big hits.  Steve’s still rockin’ the doubleneck.  Then “Armageddon It” is nice and fresh.  Much of this footage will be familiar to fans of the music video.  “Animal” is tight, and received with a rapturous applause.  Lots of girls in the front row dancing to this one.

There’s a touching moment in the “Pour Some Sugar On Me” intro when Joe says that the return of Rick Allen “the Thundergod” on drums was the biggest “up” that the band ever had.  They then make easy work of the hit single.  Phil takes a solo rip on the fretboard before “Rock of Ages”, and then of course the obligatory long audience singalong section.  (“You can do better than that!”)  The encore “Photograph” closes the show, and a great song to do it with.  Shirts are no longer required where Joe and Steve are concerned.

This video was expertly directed by Wayne Isham.  It is simply one of the best shot and edited live concerts available on DVD.  It’s also – sadly – a document of the last stand for this lineup of the band.  They had hit the top.  Unfortunately you can never stay.

5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia (Record Store Tales)

 

Next:

12. The Wait for Adrenalize (Record Store Tales)

THREE-VIEW: Def Leppard – Hysteria (1987)

Part Nine of the Def Leppard Review Series

Deluxe edition review:  Hysteria deluxe (2006)
30th Anniversary edition review:  Hysteria 5 CD 30th (2017)
Classic Albums DVD review:  Hysteria (2002)
Historia VHS review (1988)

Note:  This being the third Hysteria album review, we will be taking a different approach.  The first two reviews were detailed and comprehensive so please check those out for all the nitty gritty.  This one will be more nostalgic in nature.

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria (1987 Vertigo)

Kiss were always my “favourite band”, but the majority of my highschool years from 1987 to 1989 were all about Def Leppard.  Although they wanted to be the biggest band in the world with this album, many of us were cheering for them to win.  The band had endured years of adversity since the triumph of Pyromania.

Most obviously was Rick Allen’s car accident.  It was hard to imagine how the drummer was going to come back from it, losing his left arm and almost his right as well.  But he did.  He frickin’ did it.  Rick Allen, the Thundergod, returned and Joe Elliott said it was biggest “up” the band ever had.  How could you not want them to win under those circumstances?

The biggest change on Hysteria (so named to characterise the last four years of their lives) was obviously the drum kit.  Rick Allen had a style, employing classic grip and wicked rolls.  Now he had a new electronic kit, with samples triggered by foot pedals and an arsenal of modern sounds.  Allen adapted with a fresh style, leading the charge with a chugga-chugga and some bam-pow.  His new style is one of the defining traits of Hysteria.

The first single here, and first taste of the new Leppard, was “Women”, an unorthodox pick.  A slow grind led by a synth-y sounding bassline from Rick Savage, it is neither a ballad nor a scorcher.  It’s not immediately catchy either, but it drew us all back in for a second third and fourth lesson until we were hooked.  The sound:  clean, precise, with layers of vocals and assorted melodic tones.  But shit, did the band ever look cool in the video.

Hysteria arrived on my tape deck Christmas of 1987.  It quickly monopolized my listening time, though it took a couple spins to “get it”.

“Rocket” threw me for a loop.  I considered it filler; too contemporary and not enough rock.  Bogged down with samples, backwards vocals and tricks.  It sounded like the kind of song that would be impossible to perform live (though they did).  Over the years I’ve warmed up to “Rocket”.  The tribal beat inspired by Burundi Black makes it quite unique in hard rock, and the lyrics are delightful once you realize that Joe’s just naming all his favourite bands and albums.  The meticulously recorded chorus really illustrates the intricate kind of process at hand.  Each voice recorded separately and mixed down to the final product.  Then there’s the long droning middle section, a unique construction worthy of a detailed listen.  “Rocket” was another odd selection for a single, but it was a hit as the seventh and final one almost two years after the album was released.

It was hard to resist “Animal”, even though it was a blatant sonic declaration that Leppard were going for hits.  As the second single from the album, it made some impact with its circus-themed music video.  Light rock, with a punchy chorus, “Animal” was a well-written track with yet more of those immaculately recorded backing vocals.  In the lead singer department, Joe was content to sing more and scream less, a trend that would continue.  The fact is, the guy didn’t have to scream, though he’s terribly good at it.

Hysteria has a variety of tracks, but only two are ballads.  “Love Bites” was selected as fifth single, and a smash hit it was.  I wondered why they used a Judas Priest song title, but the song actually has country origins.  Producer “Mutt” Lange brought the bones of it to the band as a twangy country song.  The end product is nothing like that, with odd computerized voices and a slow dramatic build.  Like every song on the album, the chorus kills.  The band (with Lange) had really honed in on writing and recording technically perfect songs.  There’s a lot going on in the mix on “Love Bites” but none of it is wasted.  Everything’s necessary for the right vibe.

“Step inside, walk this way!  It’s you n’ me babe, hey hey!”  Shakespeare it ain’t.  A hit, it was!  “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, the fourth single, was the breakthrough smash that launched this album on the charts for two years.  Def Leppard had ripped off a couple classic rock tunes here, but they were selling them to kids who never heard the originals.  Mixing rap and rock, Leppard sold a bajillion singles and umptillion albums to kids worldwide.  It wasn’t even an obvious hit.  The genre-bending song took some getting used to initially.

Closing side one, the sixth single:  “Armageddon It”.  The stuttering guitar riff made it easy to like, if a bit light.  This tune is fun to listen to with headphones on, to help break down all the different tracks of guitar.  The cool thing that each guitar part is catchy on its own.

The North American videos for “Sugar” and “Armageddon It” were filmed live, and showed off Leppard’s innovative “in the round” stage.  From the TV in the basement, it sure looked like the ultimate concert experience.  We’d get a full taste of it on the In the Round: In Your Face home video (1989).  Today you can get this concert on both CD and DVD.   The CD version is included in the comprehensive Hysteria 30th Anniversary box set.

Opening side two is the track we all thought should have been a single:  “Gods of War”, an epic in its own right, from the same lineage as “Overture” from the 1980 debut album.  With Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher sampled in the tune, it just sounded cool.  Steve Clark’s E-bow opening drone sets the stage for a dramatic tune full of riffs, hooks and guitar action.  It’s not political, just anti-war like many Ozzy tunes of the time.  Its length probably prohibited it from being a single…but they did edit down “Rocket”.

The first non-single on the album is the hard rocker “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”.  Some odd vocal effects keep it from being a standard guitar rocker; almost every song on Hysteria has some strange twist in the mix.  Though more laid back in groove, this is the first tune that hearkens back to old Leppard.  Slicker, sugar coated and easier to swallow though.  It is paired with “Run Riot”, a similar track with a faster tempo.  Tasty guitars from Collen and Clarke, chugging drums from the Thundergod.  Screamin’ Joe sounding like the Joe from Pyromania, and Savage sounding less synth-y than the other tracks.

The last single on the album was actually the third single released:  the brilliant title track “Hysteria”.  The diamond-like flawless ballad was laid down literally one note at a time, giving it a precise but delicate nature.  It was arguably the most pop Leppard had ever been, and that’s just fine.  When you have a song this good, it doesn’t matter what you call it.  Best tune on the album?  Arguably.  The precise picking is delectable and Joe has one of his best vocal performances right here.  Unlike other songs on the album, it’s low on sonic gimmicks.

If there was one song to eject from the album, it’s the penultimate track “Excitable”.  Back to gimmicks, it relies too much on samples and weird digitally manipulated vocals.  It sounds like it was intended to be a crossover hit.  It could have been replaced by a superior B-side (which we’ll get to).

The album closer is a majestic mid-tempo not-quite-ballad-thing called “Love and Affection”, possibly the second best tune on the whole album after “Hysteria” itself.  It’s all about taste, but this deep cut is one of the strongest.  It’s all about the song, no extra trimmings, just melody and arrangement.  It easily could have been a single.  There’s this one chunky Steve Clark lick that just slays me.  Rick Allen’s pound has never been more suited to a track as it slams through the chorus.  A really triumphant track that I would have released as ninth single after “Gods of War”!

Although it took a year (until the release of “Sugar”) to recoup its costs, Hysteria was an undisputed win for the band that worked so hard for it.  Their loyalty to their drummer was not to lost to fans and media alike, and actually worked in their favour creating a new and exciting 80s rock sound.

But there was more to Hysteria than just the 12 tracks.  Remixes and live material aside, there were five notable B-sides.  All excellent in their own right.

Backing “Women” was the straight-ahead rocker “Tear It Down”.  These B-sides were not produced by Mutt and therefore have a more raw edge, akin to older Leppard.  “Tear It Down” rocked relentess, hard but mid-tempo cool.  After a one-off live TV performance, the song was earmarked for re-recording on the next album….

On the flipside of “Animal” we find “I Wanna to Be Your Hero”, with a ballady opening and hard rocking middle.  How did this song not make the album?  Clearly one of the best tunes, it has both a chugging riff and a pop-smart melody.

The heaviest tune backed the softest.  “Ride Into the Sun” was the B-side to “Hysteria”, and what a smoker it is.  A re-recording of a song from the Def Leppard EP, it is also re-arranged with new lyrics and new chorus.  It’s far superior and kicks every ass in the room.  The B-side to “Sugar” was “Ring of Fire”, just as heavy as “Ride Into the Sun” but not as immediately catchy.

Finally, the last of the B-sides was a cover.  A very confusing cover indeed.  “Release Me” featured their roadie Malvin Mortimer doing something that might be considered singing.  To add to the mess, the band all switched instruments with Joe on piano, so nobody really knew what they were doing.  The band credited the song to “Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys” and in the liner notes, Joe claimed “Rarely in my travels have I come across such a monumental talent as Stumpus Maximus.”  Only when Stumpus unfurls his unholy screams at exactly 2:36 did I get the joke.

The Hysteria sessions yielded some unfinished material as well, that Leppard would finally release in the 1990s.  One of these tunes, a screaming “She’s Too Tough”, first saw the light of day on Helix’s 1987 album Wild in the Streets, released two months ahead of Hysteria.  Brian Vollmer is one of the few singers who can do justice to Joe’s challenging vocal.

Hysteria is available in a comprehensive 5 CD/2 DVD box set with all the B-sides, remixes, and live tracks.  It includes the Classic Albums “making of” documentary, all the music videos, and the entire In the Round: In Your Face concert on CD.   It is, without a doubt, the best way to own the most important Def Leppard album.

But before you buy, some perspective.

There’s a legendary 0/10 review by Martin Popoff that I’d like to share some quotes from.  If I’m over-enthusiastic about Hysteria, then consider this.

  • “High tech, tasteless, and devoid of life whatsoever.”
  • “Even Elliott’s vocals, probably the last vestige that hasn’t completely been swallowed by robots, sound like some kind of dry-wheezing mechanical lung wired to the man’s death bed.”
  • Hysteria is a major assault to anyone’s intelligence.”
  • “An offensive kick in the head sent straight from the rock ‘n’ roll bored room.”

Take my rating with a grain of salt.

5/5 stars

 

Gallery of single covers

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

Next:  

 10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia (Record Store Tales)

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

Part Eight of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Pyromania deluxe (2009)

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983 (2009 deluxe edition)

Leppard were riding high when they hit the L.A. Forum in 1983.  Pyromania was selling hot enough that every kid in the neighbourhood had heard at least one of its singles on the radio.  MTV was factoring in now, and its impact can’t be understated.  Leppard had some high budget and good looking videos on offer.  Their live show was just as impressive.

Widely bootlegged, the second night in Los Angeles must have felt like a victory lap, even though there were still months left on the tour.  They hit the stage psyched to perform.  Earlier, Frank Zappa phoned up to ask if he could score some tickets for his kids, Moon Unit and Dweezil.  Members of Van Halen and Heart were in attendance.  Best of all, Queen legend Brian May was in town, and he surprised  Leppard by playing them the twin guitar part of their hit “Photohraph” all by himself!

Remixed and remastered, the second L.A. show is now easily available on the Pyromania deluxe edition — the first official release of a live album with Steve Clark, although it did not come until 2009.

“Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” is a natural opener.  Since it already opened Pyromania itself, it was well suited, but its extended (taped) intro made for a dramatic band entrance.  Joe’s road-worn scream is employed to great effect.  Even so slightly faster than LP, “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” defined the mood.  Rock rock till you drop indeed!  Keeping with the “Rock” theme, “Rock Brigade” was locked and loaded for the second spot.  It sounds fresh with Phil Collen on lead guitar and backing vocals.  His solo is balls-out technical, and completely unlike those of Pete Willis.

Joe pauses to say “good evening”, and then it’s straight into “Saturday Night (High ‘N’ Dry)”.  This ode to getting wasted from 1981 is not a vast departure from the album version despite Phil amping up the guitar work.  Into “Another Hit and Run”, it’s pure adrenaline and foot on the gas pedal.  Screaming into the ether, Joe sings of youthful self-destruction.  It turns into a jam towards the end, before careening through the finish line.

“Billy’s Got a Gun” is one of those songs that can get a bit rickety live, but this version is solid.  The excellent “Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes” follows, and it’s very slightly revised to increase the tension.  Some won’t notice the differences.  As usual, the chorus kills.  It’s been all album cuts thus far, and no hits.  But then Joe invites Steve Clark to the spotlight to play an acoustic guitar solo, which becomes “Foolin'”, the first of the three massive hits rolled out in a row.  This might be considered the center of the show:  “Foolin'”, “Photograph” and (a slightly fast) “Rock of Ages”.  Each one a perfect gem, but with the live edge intact.  To take it over the top, a ragged “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”, Leppard’s other recognisable hit, is rolled out immediately after.  What do you do for an encore?  We’ll get to that.

“Switch 625” follows “Heartbreak” as it should.  With the hits behind them, Leppard spend the end of the set rocking really, really heavy.  “Switch 625” is already a steamer, but it’s followed by “Let It Go”, “Wasted” and an encore tease, and then “Stagefright”.  Clearly, this setlist was designed to rock!  “Wasted” in particular stands out from this trio.  Phil’s blazing solo technique adds that extra dimension to the song, but it is just as amped up and the best versions from the early years.

But “Stagefright” isn’t the real encore.

“Right, I said we got a surprise for ya.  And we have a big one at that.  Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome all the way from England — Queen’s Brian May!”

Queen were not on tour, but they were in Los Angeles recording their 1984 album The Works.  The long friendship between Leppard and Queen began right here.  A cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelling Band” is the earliest recording of Joe and May together, but certainly not the last!  This is not only a piece of history, but it’s a brilliant track!  Joe’s screaming voice is strangely well suited to an overblown CCR cover.  But hearing the guitar trio solo together, each with their own style, is the real icing on the cake.  May is so creamy!

There are no other live releases from the Pyromania era, and the band’s sound transformed permanently when they next hit the road.  This live album is the end of an era, and an excellent good time of it too.

5/5 stars

The Pyromania tour wrapped up 18 December in Dortmund Germany, another two-nighter.  Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, Rick Allen had the car accident that severed his left arm.  In a heartbreaking twist, the arm was reattached, but after an infection set in, had to be removed again.  This devastating tragedy united the band.  Ambulance-chasers were ready and waiting to take the drum stool away from Rick Allen, but the band refused to see it as the end for the drummer.  We all know what happens next.  It was total Hysteria!

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  • Hysteria

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania (1983)

Part Seven of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Pyromania deluxe (1983)

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania (1983 Polygram)

Disruption!  Midway through the recording of Def Leppard’s crucial third album, guitarist Pete Willis was fired.  It had been coming for a while.  His alleged alcohol consumption was causing problems and the band had their eye on Phil Collen from Girl already.  They were lucky to get Phil, as he had already been approached about joining Iron Maiden to replace Dennis Stratton.

This was serious.  Once again working with “Mutt” Lange, whose schedule was booked solid, time was money.  And music, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a business.  The third Def Leppard album was critical.  The potential of the band was not underestimated.  “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” made the top 20 in the US and the new album was intended to do better.  Lange has a songwriting credit on every song, indicating the level to which he was involved to make the album as perfect as could be.  It took 10 months to record, a mind-numbingly long time to the young band.  If only they knew….

Pete Willis had writing credits on four songs, including two singles.  With rhythm guitars laid down on all tracks by Willis, Collen just needed to whip up a few solos and finish off some bits and pieces.  He and Steve Clark made a formidable duo.  Collen had a more schooled sound than Willis and the contrast added a new dimension to Leppard’s solos.  Meanwhile, the songs were streamlined.  Sleaker, more hooks per minute, more direct…more commercial.

Some feel this is where Def Leppard started to go over the cliff.  The majority probably see it as Def Leppard becoming the real Def Leppard.

The opening music would have been familiar to anyone who caught Def Leppard live in the early years.  “Medicine Man” was an early track with an absolutely killer Clark riff.  With Mutt’s help they re-wrote it into the now-esteemed “Rock! Rock! Till You Drop”, but that riff is still the main feature.  After the headbanging commences, a screamin’ Joe Elliott lays down one of his most raging lead vocals.  Collen’s style is audible from the solo; a fretburner.  “Rock! Rock!” isn’t really that far off from High ‘N’ Dry, but you can tell it’s spent more time at the polishing wheel.  The production also seems colder and more clinical.

The triumphant “Photograph” really showed where Leppard were going.  Sure there’s a riff, but the main features here are the vocal melodies and harmonies.  Noticeable keyboard accents de-clawed the Leppard, and the sweetened harmonies have the full-on Mutt Lange treatment that you hear elsewhere with Bryan Adams and Billy Ocean.  None of that is necessarily a bad thing, but this is where Def Leppard decidedly left the New Wave of British Heavy Metal behind them.  “Photograph” went to #1 in the United States.  Mission accomplished.

Track three, “Stagefright” opens with a faux-live intro and a biting riff.  Credited to Joe Elliott, Mutt Lange and Rick Savage, it’s surprisingly one of the heaviest songs.  Back then Joe’s voice could deliver both menace and melody simultaneously, and he does that here.

While not a deep cut (#9 US), “Too Late For Love” is a lesser-known classic.  No music video was made though they did a lip-synched TV appearance that later ended up on their home video Historia.  A dark ballad with edge, “Too Late For Love” has cool atmosphere and just the right amount of scream.

“Die Hard the Hunter” opens with synthesised war sound effects and a soft guitar melody that deceives into thinking it’s another ballad; but no.  This rocker burns hot, but damn those drums are really sample-y sounding.  Rick Allen had a better sound on High ‘N’ Dry, but of course the times were changing.  Eliminator by ZZ Top was out the same year.

One of the big singles (#9 US once again) is the undeniable “Foolin'”.  Mixing rocker and ballad formulas, it set a template for bands to attempt to copy on their way up the charts.  The stuttering chorus is now a Leppard hallmark, and not a second of the song is boring.

You can imagine, spending 10 months in the studio, how monotonous some tasks must be, take after take after take.  The simple act of counting in a band — one, two, three, four — must be tedious the hundreth time.  Perhaps the next time, to stave off boredom, it’s uno, dos, tres, quatro.  Then something else, language by language until finally you end up with “gunter, glieben, glauten, globen”, a nonsense phrase that sounds vaguely Germanic.  And suddenly, without knowing it, you’ve created a catchphrase.  At least that’s how it happened for Mutt Lange on “Rock of Ages”!

That’s the story of “Rock of Ages” (#1 US), one of Leppard most irresistible hits, and also one indicative of the shift in Leppard’s sound.  A very synth-y bassline and tech-y drums stamp out a a robotic 80s groove that was destined for radio and video stardom.  The chorus was even more potent.  “What do you want?” yells the band in harmony.  “I want rock and roll!” you respond, fist in the air.  It all seems very contrived, and perhaps it was.  Is that so bad?  Back then, it really felt like you had to fight for rock and roll.  It seemed every church and every politician wanted to neuter rock bands.  A good, defiant, radio-ready smash hit like “Rock of Ages” tapped into the 80s.

The killer deep cut here is called “Comin’ Underfire” which, had there been five singles, would have made a fine fifth.  Tapping into the angst and tension of earlier tracks like “Lady Strange” and “Mirror, Mirror”, this is nothing but awesome wrapped up in a taut chorus like a bow.  Steady, strong, and loaded with hooks.  Pete Willis had a hand in writing it, demonstrating the guitarist’s often overlooked value.

Another wicked deep cut is the terrifically fun “Action! Not Words”, which, if there was a sixth single… Anyway, the slippery slide-y riff is reinforced by a simple and effective chorus.  Let’s face it, there’s very little fat on Pyromania.

If anything, perhaps it’s the closing track “Billy’s Got a Gun” that might be the the only one that could be argued as filler.  Laid back and emoting a dangerous vibe, it’s less exciting than the preceding material.  It is, however, the closer, which has to draw the album to a proper close, and end it on the right vibe.  “Billy’s Got a Gun” does the job.  The album concludes with a song that feels like an ending, especially with that “bang bang” at the end.

A brief record-spinning coda is tacked at the end of the album for those who let it play all the way to the end.  It probably fooled a few kids into thinking their turntable was broken, as the record seemingly spins fast and slow, over and over.

There were no B-sides or bonus tracks recorded.  No extras, no unreleased songs.  Talk about having your eye on the prize!

Pyromania had broad appeal.  The numbers showed it.  It put Leppard in the big leagues.  To date it has sold 10 million copies in the US.  It was the end of obscurity.  The band toured relentlessly.  Though they did not release a live album, the 2009 Pyromania deluxe edition contains one from the L.A. Forum in 1983.  We’ll look at that next time.

5/5 stars

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  • Pyromania bonus disc Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

REVIEW: Slash Puppet – Studs & Gems (2021)

SLASH PUPPET – Studs & Gems (2021)

With copies of Slash Puppet’s first demo and first EP going for ridiculous amounts of money on Ebay, lead singer Mif decided to do something about it. It was time for a new release; a compilation this time, with one unreleased track for the collector.

Studs & Gems features 10 tracks from the band’s previous releases plus an unreleased live track called “Stranger Danger” recorded at Rock N’ Roll Heaven in Toronto. And what a track it is! An energetic, stuttery riff of the AC/DC persuasion serves as backing for Mif’s overloaded live vocal workout. This accelerated rocker stands up with Slash Puppet’s recorded works, and makes one wish for more live tapes. The tail of the track includes a nod to AC/DC’s “Danger” in a brilliant end twist.

As for the studio material, the album is top-loaded right off the bat with three of Slash’s Puppet’s most accomplished pieces of songwriting, all from the EP. “When the Whip Comes Down” is first, stomping fast-paced and unstoppable. The irresistible “na na na na” pre-chorus just sets you up to be knocked down again! Outstanding guitar work helps frame some of Mif’s coolest lyrics about overcoming adversity. Then it’s “Rippin’ on a Wishbone” which takes things back to a nice rocking groove accented by slide guitars and hooks galore. The whole while, Mif’s unique rasp keeps the sound from being generic. This string of solid gold is capped by “Eyes of a Child”, a truly special acoustic ballad that, in a just world, would be a million seller. Taking things seriously and singing from the heart, Slash Puppet should have had a massive hit on their hands. If only the 90s weren’t the 90s. “Eyes of a Child” has every ingredient, housed within a majestic, carefully constructed, classic power ballad.

With “Evil Woman”, the compilation dips back into 1989’s The Demo. In terms of remastering, things sounds pretty even between the two eras, so well done there. “Evil Woman” is one of Slash Puppet’s fast head-bangers. However they always had a knack for backing vocals to sweeten up the hooks. This was actually the closing track on the original demo, but it works fine where it is. “Hard On Love”, also from The Demo, goes slower and sleazier. Mif’s growl has plenty of bite, but note the backing vocals always there when you need ’em.

Back to the EP, “Stop Tellin’ Me Lies” is one of the most classic-sounding Slash Puppet tunes, reminding us a bit of songs that London Quireboys used to have hits with. The backing vocals are really laid out with care. This could be the most flat-out instantly catchy of the tracks. Note the tasteful use of classy slide guitar once again. Staying on the EP, “Hitch a Ride (On a Train)” is a special song. Contemplative acoustic guitars and philosophical lyrics set it apart from the other tracks. Everybody loves train metaphors, but once again there’s just something special here. The acoustic guitar arrangement and the heartfelt lyrics set it apart.

The last three studio songs are all classics from The Demo. “Slowdown” is just balls-out. Everything to the max, from the tempo to the rasp. The band made a well-received music video, in a time when bands often couldn’t make music videos to support an independent release. “Squeeze It In” was the other demo tune that made waves, and it takes things back down to the gutter. A slow grind with innuendo spilling over the rim. Memorable as hell; tasteful guitar work keeping things from going completely to excess. Finally “Overload” takes the tempo back to top gear. If you’re going to call your song “Overload”, you better deliver.

Slash Puppet always delivered. 32 years ago, the band played their first gig and now we finally have an official live track for the CD collection. “Stranger Danger” closes the CD on a resounding note: we want more.

Studs & Gems can be obtained directly from Mif Entertainment, but act fast as this is a limited edition, and paying $200 on eBay for a copy of the EP is just unfortunate.

5/5 stars


Slash Puppet:

Mif – Lead Vocals
Frank Bartoletti – Guitars and Backing Vocals
Lou Garscadden – Guitars and Backing Vocals
Franklin Wylse – Drums and Backing Vocals
Pete Dove – Bass and Backing Vocals (1989-1992)
Dave Carreiro – Bass (1992-1995)

VHS Archives #111: Slash Puppet rock the Power 30 in summer of ’93

Toronto’s Slash Puppet are back in the speakers, with a new “best of” CD called Studs & Gems, featuring classics and unreleased material! To pre-order your copy, contact MIF Entertainment ASAP, as this is a limited edition. Studs & Gems includes favourites like “When the Whip Comes Down”, “Slow Down” and the amazing ballad “Eyes of a Child”, one of the most intensely emotional ballads you’ll ever hear. Studs & Gems also includes the unreleased “Stranger Danger”, a live track previously unheard elsewhere. Finding original copies of their first two releases can be an expensive prospect, so Studs & Gems makes it easy to get some of these unsung classic songs.

For the occasion I’ve dug up this VHS tape of Teresa Roncon of the Power 30 talking to Mif, Dave and Franklin of Slash Puppet. It was summer of ’93 and the band were going the independent route. Teresa questions them on the pros and cons, and their musical influences. Wisdom is offered and bands are praised. Brief, but terrific interview with the band!


Studs & Gems track listing:


When the Whip Comes Down
Rippin’ On a Wishbone
Eyes of a Child
Evil Woman
Hard on Love
Stop Tellin’ Me Lies
Hitch a Ride (On a Train)
Slow Down
Squeeze It In
Overload
Stranger Danger (Live)


Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

Just Listening to…David Lee Roth – Skyscraper

This is the first Just Listening post for an album I’ve already reviewed in full.  I tackled David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper back in 2013, rating it 4/5 stars.  However a recent conversation with singer/songwriter Derek Kortepeter led me to try to listen with new ears.

It started with Derek’s message to me.  “Unpopular opinion:  Skyscraper is better than Eat ‘Em and Smile,” he said.  “Better songs, better guitar, tons of awesome synth…when you have tracks like ‘Perfect Timing’ and ‘Knucklebones’ how can you go wrong?”  Derek says “Perfect Timing” might be his favourite song on the album.

Derek definitely has some good points.  It’s easily arguable that Skyscraper has better guitars.  Steve Vai was in the co-producer’s chair, and he layered his guitar parts as if he was building one of his own solo albums.  They’re very dense, yet melodically intertwined.  As for the synth, he has a valid observation with some songs like “Skyscraper”.  That song verges on progressive rock; it’s got so much going on, including synth and layered Roth vocals.  However I think the synth was overdone on tracks like “Stand Up“, which doesn’t even have Billy Sheehan on bass.

Skyscraper is an almost absurd album in some respects, with Dave pouring on that “charasma” to the nth degree.  There are so many “woo’s” “wow’s” and “oh’s” that you could make an entire song of just that.  Steve Vai was the star on Skyscraper, and as I said in my original review, how much you like Skyscraper will depend on how much you like Steve Vai.  I like Steve; I think his music and playing is fascinating.  Rock fans often don’t want “fascinating”, they just want the riffs and the choruses.  Eat ‘Em and Smile was much more about the big guitars and choruses, but it’s also just a fabulous record.  Skyscraper is colder sounding by comparison, and often drifts into experimental pop rock excursions.  It also suffers for the lack of Billy Sheehan, who wasn’t given a lot of creative freedom.  Where there should be bass, often you will hear synth.

Sorry Derek, you have made some really great points, and Skyscraper really is a great album.  It’s brave and fun and experimental, but it’s also cold with little bit of filler (“Stand Up”).   I’ll always rate it high…but not as high as Eat ‘Em and Smile.

REVIEW: Europe – Best Ballads (unauthorized Russian release)

EUROPE – Best Ballads (1999 unofficial Russian compilation)

Ah Russian imports!  Those funky and cheaply printed covers, the lack of liner notes or label information…how quaint.  It is clear the Tempest Administration had no collusion with anyone in Russia.  Yet the Russians did hack their database and release Best Ballads anyway, a weird collection of 12 Europe songs and three solo tracks by Joey Tempest.  This CD originated during the period right before Europe’s triumphant reunion album Start From the Dark, so Best Ballads only contains music from the first five Europe discs.

Because it’s unauthorized and the Russians can do whatever they want, why not have both versions of “Open Your Heart” on one CD?  The sweeping 1988 version from Out of this World inaugurates the album, a brilliant version often forgotten in favour of the 1984 original.  What’s the difference?  John Norum played on the 1984 version from Wings of Tomorrow, and the re-recording has his replacement Kee Marcello.  The 1988 version also has more modern keyboards added.  Since both are included, you don’t have to pick a favourite.  We can all agree it truly is one of Europe’s Best Ballads.

What else is present?  The “big one” of course, which would be “Carrie”.  It’s the only track from The Final Countdown, because it was the only hit ballad from that album.  Other crucial Europe ballads:  “Dreamer” (Wings of Tomorrow), “Coast to Coast” and “Tomorrow” (both from Out of this World).  All timeless and flawless ballads.  From their first album (1983’s Europe) are a couple songs I wouldn’t have considered ballads.  In my review, I stated that “Words of Wisdom” has “an acoustic verse [but] that doesn’t make it a ballad!”  The other track, “Return of the King”, is “still pretty epic and wouldn’t be considered wimpy by anyone”.  Do they belong on a CD called Best Ballads?  Who gives a fuck; it’s just a Russian import!

You’ll even find a couple rarities included.  “Sweet Love Child” and “I’ll Cry For You (Acoustic version)” are both B-sides from the Prisoners in Paradise (1991) period.   The title track “Prisoners in Paradise” is also present but again, not really a ballad.  Either way…all the Europe tunes included are fantastic no matter how you classify them.  Each one has at least a foot in ballad territory so it all works out.

But what about those Joey Tempest “bonus tracks”?  Surprisingly good and un-Europe.  “Under the Influence” flies close to adult contemporary levels.  “Lord of the Manner” could have been a hit for Rod Stewart, but that’s not a bad thing!  This is more like soft rock than balladeering.  “Elsewhere” sounds more like a ballad, enhanced with strings and all the accoutrements.  All good songs and worth checking out.

Europe’s Best Ballads is not a bad little CD, but being an unofficial release, it’s difficult to reason out a rating out of 5.  I did the best I could.

/5 ЗВЕЗДЫ

REVIEW: Warrant – Cherry Pie (1990, remastered)

scan_20161207WARRANT – Cherry Pie (1990, 2004 Sony remaster)

It was bands like Warrant, and albums like Cherry Pie, that made the 1991 grunge onslaught inevitable.

If Motley Crue were the poor man’s Kiss, and Poison were the poorer man’s Motley Crue, then Warrant are the pauper’s Poison.  Heck, Poison’s C.C. Deville even shows up on guest lead guitar on Cherry Pie‘s title track.  Think about that a moment.  How bad do a band have to be to warrant (no pun intended) a C.C. Deville guest guitar solo?  Guitarists Joey Allen and Erik Turner even confessed to having guitar tutors in the studio helping them come up with their own lead work.

Cherry Pie was an improvement in some regards over the prior album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich.  The second single, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, remains a high point for this band.  Swampy bluesy guitars and a kick ass melody?  Who cares if that’s not Warrant playing on the acoustic intro (it’s singer Jani Lane’s brother Eric Oswald), and so what if that’s not Warrant on the banjo (that’s producer Beau Hill)?  “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is one of those rare Warrant songs that you just have to get.  Instead of singing about girls, Jani chose to write a story about a murder and a coverup.  It’s far more entertaining than “She’s my cherry pie, put a smile on your face ten miles wide.”

Speaking of “Cherry Pie”, as embarrassing as it is, did you notice that’s not Jani Lane on the opening scream?  It’s an uncredited Dee Snider, sampled from Twisted Sister’s song “I Want This Night (To Last Forever)”.  Guess who produced both albums?  Beau Hill.   Rather, he overproduced the hell out of both albums. Rather misleading.

Warrant’s biggest hit was a ballad, and so Cherry Pie has more.  “I Saw Red” was glossy and enhanced with piano, but the acoustic version that was later released as a B-side was better.  The second ballad, “Blind Faith” had more heft, though it is little more than a rewrite of “Heaven”.  Another acoustic track called “Thin Disguise” was even better than either of these songs, but was relegated to a B-side.  Too bad.  This album could have used it.

Warrant are better when just rocking out.  There are a couple indispensable Warrant rockers on Cherry Pie.  “Mr. Rainmaker” is remarkably powerful with dark clouds.  It’s in the same mold as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, with a chorus that is still memorable today.  “Bed of Roses” and “Song and Dance Man” are strong also-rans.  There are other notable songs (“Sure Feels Good to Me” set speed records for this band) but on the whole they are a harsh blend of sound-alikes.

Buyers should be aware there are two versions out there of Cherry Pie, “clean” and “dirty”.  The “clean” version is missing the track “Ode to Tipper Gore”, and has a naughty word beeped at the start of the Blackfoot cover “Train Train” (1979).  How unexpected it was to hear that beep, and how ripped off did we feel since it was not advertised as a censored version?  A beep in a rock song is a rare thing indeed.  If you get the uncensored version, you’ll hear the “All a-fuckin’ board!” intro correctly, which is important since “Train Train” absolutely smokes.  “All a-BEEPin’ board!” just didn’t cut it.  Covering “Train Train” was one of the best decisions Warrant made on this album.  Warrant transforms it from a hard southern rocker to a plain old hard rocker, but the transformation works and the groove is the only solid one on Cherry Pie.

As for “Ode to Tipper Gore”, it is just a joke track made up of naughty outtakes from Warrant concerts spliced together into one stream of “fuck”.  (Tipper Gore was behind the PMRC, the scourge of 1980s censorship.)  It is included on the 2004 Sony remastered edition, along with two bonus tracks.  Strangely enough the two bonus tracks have nothing to do with this album.  “Game of War” is the long-sought 1988 demo that garnered Warrant attention at the labels.  It’s unpolished but you can hear how an A&R person looking for the next Poison would have signed this band.  Finally there is a track called “The Power” from a 1992 Cuba Gooding Jr. movie called “Gladiator”.  It is the only song on the CD not produced by Beau Hill.  Erwin Musper gave the band a less cluttered sound, and the song has a corny stadium-ready stomp like “Rock and Roll, Part 2”.

Although you don’t need the remastered version if you just want to check out Cherry Pie, you do need to at least seek out the uncensored version with “Ode to Tipper Gore”.  That way you won’t have to listen to the beep in “Train Train”, which is a song worth having.

2.5/5 stars

scan_20161207-3

REVIEW: Warrant – The Best of Warrant (1996)

WARRANT – The Best of Warrant (1996 Sony)

Whooboy.  Look, I’m sure Warrant are a nice bunch of guys, and poor Jani sure suffered his demons.  I’ve always considered Warrant a bit of a jokey band, and that was certainly true for the first two albums.  Even when I did love ’em (that would be August and September of 1989), I always sensed that they weren’t taking anything very seriously.   I had their live video, Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich – Live. Lemme tell ya, they were just too jokey and inconsistent live. I outgrew Warrant pretty fast. Which in a way was too bad, because the next album after our “breakup” was the critically acclaimed third record Dog Eat Dog.

All this being said, their first Best Of (1996) was actually a reasonably solid collection of songs, if a bit long at 57 minutes.  You get the three big hits from album #1, including “Down Boys”, “Sometimes She Cries”, and “Heaven”.  Decent also-rans from that album include “32 Pennies” and “Big Talk”.  Nothing but pure stink is “D.R.F.S.R.”, a song I never understood the popularity of among Warrant fans.  I guess the joke is still funny to some?

Album #2, Cherry Pie, was a mixed bag like its predecessor.  The title track of course was the biggest steaming pile of crap released by a rock band in the year 1990.  Having said that, there is video evidence of a young LeBrain rocking out to it, but I didn’t really know what Jani was singing about!  We all have our musical skeletons in our closets, I believe.  Mine is that there is a VHS tape in my house right now with footage of me, age 18, lip synching to “Cherry Pie”.  I cannot lie about that.

Cherry Pie didn’t suck all the way through, however.  It was a step up in sound, and boasted some cool tunes.  “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is the one Warrant song that really still stands up today as a great single.  “Mr. Rainmaker” is also a pretty memorable rocker, with chorus built to please.  I like that they included two single B-sides on this set.  The pop rock track “Thin Disguise” was always better than most of the album tracks.  Perhaps it was too middle of the road?  Not quite ballad, not quite rocker, but pretty classy nonetheless.  And please note, “classy” is not a word often used to describe a Warrant song.  The other B-side was the acoustic version of “I Saw Red”, which was actually released as its own music video.

Things seemed to get most interesting with Warrant on their third album.  By 1992, Warrant were absolutely buried by the new wave of grunge rock bands that swept in between their albums.   They were also playing catch-up with the biggest metal albums of the period, Metallica and Slave to the Grind (Skid Row).  These high-charting smash hits were much heavier than Warrant’s general output.  They had to heavy up; they really had no choice.  They started wearing Doc Marten boots and growing facial stubble.  It all seemed so very contrived, and according to Jani Lane, it was.  Even though he was the soul songwriter, he later claimed to strongly dislike the new heavier direction Warrant took.  He quit Warrant briefly after this album to explore mellower Mellencamp-esque songs and ballads.  It was all very shocking and confusing, considering that Warrant’s heavy and choppy single “Machine Gun” was so fucking awesome.  Not that it mattered.  Nobody but die-hards were listening to Warrant in 1992.  I only ever saw the video for “Machine Gun” on TV once.  Once!  Compare that to the mega-exposure that “Heaven” and “I Saw Red” once had.

What Sony should have done with this CD is end it there.  But no, they tacked on one more useless song at the end, the horrendously putrid cover of “We Will Rock You”.  This was done for a really early Cuba Gooding Jr. movie called Gladiator.  Warrant actually had two songs on the soundtrack, but this one was released as a single.  In my opinion, if you choose to cover “We Will Rock You”, then you are doomed.  Warrant were doomed before they even set foot in a recording studio.

Overall, not a bad little Best Of.  You get the requisite non-album tracks, and they are generally good (“We Will Rock You” being the big exception).  All the big songs are included.  You have to wade through a little bit of poo, but otherwise The Best of Warrant is pretty solid.

3.5/5 stars