goth rock

REVIEW: The Cult – Hidden City (2016)

scan_20161008THE CULT – Hidden City (2016 Dine Alone)

There have been a few times in Cult history when it seemed unlikely they would be making any more albums.  Thankfully, these fears were unfounded.  Thankfully, because The Cult are so damn great at making albums.

Their latest is Hidden City, and it continues their upwards trajectory.  Teamed up once again with Bob Rock, the band created a powerful recording, very Cult-like and loud.  It is a cohesive and impressive collection of songs that tend to defy individual description.  It is easy to pick our favourites such as “No Love Lost”, “Birds of Paradise” or “Hinterland” (my personal fave), but Hidden City is more than the sum of its parts.  Its components are strong compositions that highlight the strengths of the band:  Ian Astbury’s powerful and unique voice, and Billy Duffy’s unmistakable riff stylings.  Hidden City collects the light and shade and presents them as a multi-coloured hue.

Its grooves are huge but textured.  The songs reveal more hooks the more you listen.  The Cult’s performances are top notch.  The album is electrifying.  Hidden City must be considered a latter-day high water mark, an album that builds on the last few records and continues pushing forward.  The Cult rule again.

5/5 stars

This is a 200 word review in the tradition of the #200wordchallenge

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REVIEW: Slash – Slash (Deluxe edition)

SLASH – Slash (2010 Universal Deluxe edition)

This album was a revelation to me.  Truth be told, I didn’t expect too much.  I didn’t consider Slash to be among the best songwriters in Guns N’ Roses (Izzy and Duff for that honor).  So, a couple things about Slash struck me right away. One, every track on this album is strong, almost every one would make a great single. Two, I was surprised how these songs kind of chameleon themselves to resemble the bands that the singers come from. Almost every guest does a co-write, which might explain this.

I’ll discuss my favourite tracks. I have always been a Cult fan, so Ian Astbury’s “Ghost” kicked off the album with a bang. It doesn’t quite sound like the Cult, but at first it didn’t sound like Slash either. Astbury’s voice, deep and low, is almost as strong as ever. Ozzy’s track is next, and my immediate feeling was, “This song could have been a Sabbath number with a little tweaking.” I very much enjoyed this song.

I’m not a Black Eyed Peas fan; at all!    All I really know about Fergie is “Big Girls Don’t Cry”. To my surprise, she is capable of the rock. Her vocal is highly stylized (as are many on this CD) and she just rips it up on “Dangerous Beautiful”! Of all the singers on this CD, Fergie is the most similar in attitude to Axl. Every once in a while she does a squeal or two that sound positively Axl. This is a decent song made memorable by Fergie’s vocal, although I think the lyrics leave something to be desired.

I wasn’t at all familiar with Alter Bridge, but Myles Kennedy blew me away. I guess there must have been a reason that the Led Zeppelin guys were jamming with him as a potential replacement for Robert Plant. I get that, but although he has a powerful voice with great range, he has his own sound. My new favourite singer! His two songs, “Back To Cali” and “Starlight” couldn’t be less alike. However they both boast one thing in common, and that is a chorus to raise the roof. These two choruses are among the strongest moments on Slash.

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Chris Cornell is up next with “Promise”, a good song which struck me as more similar to Cornell’s early solo work than Soundgarden. Let it be remembered that Chris opened for Guns N’ Roses on their 1992 European tour. The first single “By The Sword” featuring Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale is another one that blew me away. It struck me as very “metal” with the kind of lead vocal that is high and powerful, like Wolfmother itself. Great song, and bears similarities to “Beggars and Hangers-On” from the first Slash’s Snakepit album.

I’m especially not a Maroon 5 fan.  I burned out on them in the record store, and the person responsible knows who she is, I do like Adam Levine’s stylized vocal on the ballad “Gotten”.  This guy is smooth like butter. My only wish is that there was more of his music with Slash. The way his vocal and Slash’s guitar melodies intertwine is quite beautiful.

Lemmy’s tune sounds like some sort of Motorhead outtake (don’t forget Slash appeared on Motorhead’s March Or Die CD). Anything Lemmy touches automatically sounds like Motorhead. Up next is an instrumental featuring Dave Grohl on drums and Duff McKagan on bass. Immediately, that familiar Dave Grohl drum sound kicks you in the face, on this rocker that is pure groove, with Slash playing a low grinding riff.

I didn’t mind Kid Rock’s “I Hold On”, and I found his vocal quite appealing. Another one that surprised me was M Shadows’ “Nothing To Say”. I’ve never listened to Avenged Sevenfold but this guy’s voice has enough melody to carry the tune. The song itself was riffy, like late 90’s Megadeth or black album era Metallica. Good song. Very similar to “Chains and Shackles” (more on that song later). I have to listen to both back to back, but it’s possible they are both based on the same music.

I have no idea who Rocco DeLuca was, but his tune is another winner. The final track of the regular album songs is the immortal Iggy Pop’s “We’re All Gonna Die”. One of the most fun tunes on the album with great lyrics, Pop and Slash have an obvious chemistry. What a great tune with which to close the regular edition!

Oh, and three ex-GN’R members appear: Duff, Izzy, and Josh Freese (who was in the band after Slash).

Among the bonus stuff, an English version of “Sahara” featuring a singer I never heard of called Koshi Inaba. Good song, but is is followed by Alice Cooper’s track with…someone I never heard of apparently from Pussycat Dolls. This actually sounds a lot like an Alice Cooper song, say circa The Eyes of Alice Cooper. Another good song, and we all know how big a fan Slash is. Lastly there is Fergie and Cypress Hill’s “Paradise City” remake. Good choice for the very Axl-ish Fergie to sing, and Cypress Hill add their sound to the verses. Great version, a guilty pleasure. There is also a Japanese version of “Sahara”, and a song with Beth Hart called “Mother Maria” which is a really nice one featuring her strong bluesy voice. I’m telling you, Beth Hart can really sing, she is a the real deal. I just wish they didn’t add distortion to her voice…she does not need it.

The new acoustic live material with Myles Kennedy is sheer awesome. Kennedy’s got an incredible voice and you can tell this is really live. The backing guitar player makes a few mistakes during Slash’s solo in “Sweet Child” and it’s right there, unfixed. I like that. It’s like a guarantee. It’s like the Stones and Henry Rollins say — “The only way to know for sure.”

I’m disappointed that Nick Oliveri’s “Chains & Shackles”, the best song in my opinion, is not present on this edition. It remains exclusive to the Australian iTunes. However, by my reckoning every other bonus track from every other format is on this disc. There are also two previously unheard demos. These demos are interesting jams and they show great interaction between Slash and his players. Also included are some live electric versions (also seemingly unpolished) and a bonus DVD. All of this is worth owning if you really love the album like I do.

IMG_00000702I made a bonus CD with the Oliveri track, and other “bonus tracks” that I found online, as well.  How official these downloaded tracks are I can’t say; Wikipedia is silent on the issue.

You may have noticed I didn’t comment on Slash’s presence too much. I dare say it, the only weakness to this album is that Slash is overshadowed by his guests. That happened to Santana on some of his records as well. Slash’s guitar playing is still unique and stylish, not hogging the spotlight but sharing it more than fairly. Slash himself explores more sounds on his Gibson than I’ve ever heard him play before. When he solos, it’s Slash; it’s the old GN’R sound, and it sure is cool.

5/5 stars

Part 211: The House of Lords Debacle

RECORD STORE TALES Part 211:  The House of Lords Debacle

Joe was on the other end of the phone.  “Mike,” he said.  “I have three CDs here by a band called House of Lords.  You want?”

I’d first heard House of Lords in ’88.  Gene Simmons was promoting them like mad.  They were signed to his new imprint, $immons Records.  A guy called Loz Netto was his first signing, but House of Lords was his first rock acquisition.  They included ex-members of Guiffria, Quiet Riot, and Alice Cooper.  I picked up their debut on the week of release, but I missed the second and third albums.

“I’ll take two!” I responded without hesitation.  “I’ll take the ones titled Sahara and Demons Down.”

Joe laughed.  “I knew you’d know who these guys were,” he said.  I saw the pictures of the hairdos on the back and I knew it.”

“Thanks man, send ’em my way.  I will buy them both for sure.”

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Yes, Tommy Aldridge was in House of Lords for a minute

Joe had the two discs sent to my store, attention to me.  But in between his store and mine, they had been intercepted.  Someone had written on the transfer slips, “Sell at $11.99 — no discount.”

No discount?  On House of Lords?  The fuck was this?

Not that $11.99 is a bad price.  That was a high but realistic sticker price for used copies of these albums.  I can get Demons Down on CD from Discogs right now for under 8 bucks.  If I had walked into another store and found them for $12, I would have bought them without hesitation.  It was the principle of the thing that bothered me.  I’ve talked before about how we didn’t get staff discounts on certain special or big ticket items.  House of Lords was hardly the kind of band that would negate a staff discount.  In fact, my boss (who had written the note) had no idea who House of Lords was.

He had obviously seen that the two discs were being sent to me, since he had written the note.  Perhaps he looked at the back and spied the Simmons Records logo.  Either way he personally nixed the the discount.  I called him up to ask what the deal was.

“Hey,” I began.  “These two House of Lords discs.  What’s up with the price?  No discount on these?”

“Nope,” he answered simply.

“Why?” I asked.  “Nobody knows who they are.”

“That’s just what we’ve decided they’re worth,” he replied.

“Alright, well I’m going to pass on them then.  I’m sending them back to Joe’s store.”  I was disappointed.  This kind of penny-ante crap had picked up in recent years.  It was petty.  It seemed arbitrary.

A few years later, more copies came in.  I snagged those, discount intact.  Much like most of the world, the powers that be had simply forgotten who House of Lords were.  And I wasn’t about to say, “Hey, by the way, in case you forgot, staff aren’t supposed to get a discount on House of Lords.”

I’m listening to House of Lords right now.  The funny thing is, for such “special” items, neither is really as good as their debut!

Next time on Record Store Tales…

Crushes!

REVIEW: The Cult – Weapon of Choice (2012)

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“My wild Indian heart was pounding, I was runnin’ so fast” — Ian Astbury

The Cult Weapon

THE CULT – Weapon of Choice (2012 limited edition iTunes exclusive)

Yeah, I haven’t even gotten around to reviewing The Cult’s excellent Choice of Weapon album yet.  (Nutshell review:  I love it.)   I did review the EP Capsule 1, glowingly so for the music, so you know where I stand as far as The Cult goes!

So what is this Weapon of Choice thing then?  This is an early take on Choice of Weapon, produced by Chris Goss, before Bob Rock came on board to help them finish the record.  Think of it as a demo version, perhaps, or maybe a latter-day version of the Peace album.  The Cult themselves refer to this as a “prequel” album.

Weapon of Choice was available on iTunes only (no physical release) for a limited time only.  If you don’t have it now, you won’t be able to buy it anymore.  As usual, I wish there was a physical release.  Thankfully, the music itself is so strong that it helps compensate for the lack of packaging and credits.

These are early, unpolished versions of the same songs, with different (presumably working) titles.  Therefore, “Blackie” = “A Pale Horse”.  “Elemental” = “Elemental Light”, and so on and so forth.

The-Cult-2012 (1)If you’ve heard the Choice of Weapon album, then you already know these are good songs, and they were good songs at this stage too.  What Bob Rock did is add a layer of polish to them, some additional thump, and more hooks.  That’s what Bob is good it, love him or hate him.  If you haven’t heard Choice of Weapon, by all means, get out there and get it!  What’s cool about it, and this, is that The Cult have revisited their ability to write quintessential Cult riffs, while still pushing forward into new boundaries.  Plus I think Ian’s voice has aged remarkably well.  As he’s gotten older and more grizzled, his voice has acquired more character.

I do prefer the hookier Choice of Weapon versions of these songs, but this is an excellent companion piece.  A little rougher around the edges.  A little more live sounding.

Highlights for me:

  • The awesome “Supreme” (= an early version of “Honey From A Knife” without the gang vocals or piano)
  • “The Bones” (= “For the Animals”)
  • “Decado” (= “Lucifer”, ironically there is another song on Weapon of Choice called “Lucifer”)
  • “Gibraltar” (= “The Wolf” with a slightly altered riff)
  • “Militant” (= a slightly different arrangement of the driving “Amnesia”)

The Cult are back.  The Cult are cool.  Just wish there was a physical release!

3.5/5 stars