Greg D’Angelo

REVIEW: Stephen Pearcy – Smash (2017 with bonus track)

NEW RELEASE


scan_20170226-2STEPHEN PEARCY – Smash (2017 King records, Japanese bonus track)

Everybody needs a little Ratt N’ Roll in their lives.  How much is up to you.  It’s like salt & pepper — season to taste.  But it’s been a while since Ratt released the fine comeback Infestation (2010), and we’re getting the cravings again.  Ratt’s lead throat Stephen Pearcy must’ve known this, because here comes his excellent solo album Smash.

You can hear Zeppelin bleeding through the intro to “I Know I’m Crazy”, and the word “Zepp-ish” comes up again and again when listening to this CD.  Much of the time this is due to the big big performance by ex-White Lion drummer Greg D’Angelo.  “I Know I’m Crazy” has a bit of the new and a bit of the old:  modern drony guitars, but a punchy Pearcy chorus.  Stephen is wise to not just copy Ratt (there are enough people trying that), but to go beyond that sound and into something a little out of left field.  Then if you’re craving those big rawk guitar riffs, “Ten Miles Wide” offers one o’ those and a brilliant chorus to boot.  Guitarist Erik Ferentinos nails a cool George Lynch vibe on one hell of a smoking solo.  But then it’s fully down Zeppelin alley with slippery slide guitars on the impressively authentic “Shut Down Baby”.  “What Do Ya Think” also has that swampy Zep vibe, very Page-y.

With 13 tracks on the standard CD edition, there is plenty of rock, but an artist can always run the risk of an overly-long album.  Not so with Smash!  Stephen Pearcy has the goods, and a diverse batch of songs.  None drag or overstay their welcome; the standard album runs at 47 minutes of diverse rock.  Check out “Dead Roses” for a tune with a heavy Skid Row grind.  “Jamie” and “I Can’t Take It” too rock hard, with roots still in 80s metal.  Then there’s a sleazy Aero-Ratt called “Lollipop” that fits right in.  You can count on a thick, strong sound throughout — check out the slamming and riffy “Want Too Much”.  Bassist Matt Thorn co-produced the album with the band.  Track after track, expect meaty guitars, full sounding drums, and sassy signature Pearcy lead vocals.  There even a power ballad:  “Rain” is awesome, tough and would have been a massive hit in 1985.  Closer “Summers End” is less a ballad and more music for a dark sky.

Of course you don’t have to buy the Japanese version to get Smash, but when you just can’t get enough Pearcy, the import offers an acoustic mix of “What Do Ya Think”.  The song works very well as an acoustic jam session.  Fans would be advised to check it out and choose which version they like best.  However you get it, be sure to get Smash, a fine start to 2017.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: White Lion – The Best Of (1992)

WHITE LION – The Best Of (1992 Atlantic)

I’m going to keep it short and sweet this time, and defer to a 1992 review by M.E.A.T Magazine’s Drew Masters (issue 38, Nov. 92):

BEST OF WHITE LION_0001

He’s right.  I don’t agree with the single M rating though; these are mostly good tunes.  They’re sequenced awkwardly as fuck though.  The flow on this disc is just completely fucked.  The songs don’t work in the sequence they’re in.  And Drew is correct in inferring that many of White Lion’s prouder, heavier moments are missing.   Vito smokes on the live tracks, but Tramp can’t hit the notes.  Buy Pride, not this.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: White Lion – Fight to Survive (1985)

FIGHT TO SURVIVE_0001WHITE LION – Fight to Survive (1985 Music for Nations)

Growing up in the 1980’s, there were a lot of new bands coming out that we latched onto pretty quickly. White Lion was one. My buddy Bob probably liked them better than I did, but I was a fan too. Back in those days, I was the guy buying all the rock magazines, while he was starting out in college. I’d tell him all the latest rock news, what albums were coming out, and so on.

One afternoon we were chatting, and I had something pretty major to tell him. I had read a White Lion interview in Circus magazine, and it revealed something neither of us knew before: Pride was not the first White Lion album! They had done a previous, independent (and rare) record called Fight to Survive that we didn’t know existed. Even back then, Bob and I were collectors, so we sought that album with great vigor.

It took years for him to find it on cassette, and then several more for me to get it on CD. Now I have it, so let’s talk about it.

The opener is “Broken Heart”, which was re-recorded in ’91 for Mane Attraction. Perhaps this early version, sans keyboards, is the better of the two. Regardless, this had hit single written all over it even back then. The chorus kills and even though it has ballady verses, it also has enough balls to pump the fist in the air.  “Cherokee” is another one with a killer chorus.  The songwriting here isn’t perfect, or polished.  It has some clunky moments, but it definitely had something.  Unfortunately, the title track is a lame-o Van Halen rip off, trying to be something like “Mean Street” or something, but missing the mark.  The lyrics about shields and swords are out of place on an album with a song like “Broken Heart”.  Vito Bratta is ripping off Randy Rhoads rather than Eddie Van Halen on the solo, but he had really yet to evolve into the player he became.

FIGHT TO SURVIVE_0002“Where Do We Run” picks up on one of the albums themes:  great choruses (and guitar solos)  that don’t have a great song around them.  However, “In the City” has nothing much of anything going for it: it’s a real flaccid side closer.  Side two’s opener “All the Fallen Men” is much better, sounding something like a Dokken single.  This song is a standout.  The rhythm section of James LoMenzo and Greg D’Angelo had already established a good groove together.  Mike Tramp’s lyrics are not profound (nor would they ever be) but he’s trying.

“All Burn in Hell” is one of those choruses without a song.  “Kid of 1000 Faces” is a song without a chorus.  “El Salvadore” opens with a really cool classical guitar/eletric guitar duo.  This at least has an original sound, or at least for 1985 it was.  And the song itself?  Another great chorus just begging for a good song, a memorable riff — anything!  White Lion were really good at writing song fragments.  Finally, the piano-based ballad “Road to Valhalla” is one of the cheesiest, unconvincing “serious” ballads I have ever heard in my life.  Mike Tramp’s flat vocals don’t help the matter much, but this song is so cookie-cutter that it sounds as if taken from a handbook called How to Re-Write “Home Sweet Home” in Three Simple Steps.

Fight To Survive has a couple great songs, and several brilliant fragments.  If they’d tightened it up and put out five as an EP, we’d be on to something.  Unfortunately, Fight To Survive is only worth:

2.5/5 stars

FIGHT TO SURVIVE_0003

REVIEW: White Lion – Mane Attraction (1991)

MANE_0002

WHITE LION – Mane Attraction (1991 Atlantic)

I was expecting a lot more out of Mane Attraction.  Most fans are of a mind that Big Game was not as good as Pride (to varying degrees) and the band seemed to agree with them.  In a guitar magazine interview, Bratta and Tramp proclaimed that they had toned it down on Big Game, and the next album would be much heavier, and more epic.

In many respects, that was true.  Mane Attraction has an 8-minute epic and two more songs clocking in at 7 minutes apiece.  There are heavy moments here that are equal to the heaviest on Fight to Survive.  Producer Richie Zito captured the heavier sounds with polish and clarity.  Where Mane Attraction stumbles is not on the heavy songs, it’s on the sappy, pathetic, limp, impotent ballads.  Side one has two in a row!

Things get off to a solid start.  “Lights and Thunder” is everything the band promised it would be.  This is the kind of uncompromising heavy rock that the band had been trying to do.  It has a trippy quality as it navigates different moods and sections.  It is quite probably the best song on the album.  Notably, Bratta’s style has become less fluttery and displays more balls.  “Leave Me Alone” too is adventurous, sort of a heavy metal funk hybrid.  It has a great heavy guitar groove, but Mike Tramp’s lyrics are absolute shit.  “Can’t touch this”?  Jesus Murphy.  It’s a shame because “Leave Me Alone” is pretty great musically.  You could headbang to it just fine; trust me, I know.

From Fight to Survive (the band’s indi debut) comes a re-recording of “Broken Heart”.  It is a commercial hard rocker, and it reminds me of early Europe.   New keyboard parts made it more pop and radio friendly, but it didn’t get the radio play the band needed.  Plenty of keyboards can also be heard on the other single, “Love Don’t Come Easy”.  Releasing a song this soft as the first single was commercial suicide; people were craving heavier sounds.  “Love Don’t Come Easy” (originally titled “There Comes A Time”) is a good song, but it did not make a strong first impression for a single.

On album, the band chose to chase this lukewarm single with a sappy ballad called “You’re All I Need”.

I know that she’s waiting,
For me to say forever,
I know that I sometimes,
Just don’t know how to tell her.
I want to hold and kiss her,
Give her my love,
Make her believe,
‘Cause she doesn’t know,
She doesn’t know.

Mnfnrhshitrmfn.

And then…wait for it…

Another ballad.

There is least some cool organ and bluesy guitar on “It’s Over”, but why the hell would you put so many soft songs in a row?  I’m sure back in the day the band were trying call this a blues, but that would be stretching the matter greatly.   “It’s Over” closes side one, and I need to go and get some air, because these stuffy ballads are making me feel ill.

FUCKING

Intermission

Alright, I’m back, I’ve cleared my head.  Side two begins with a bang; literally.  “Warsong” was written by Tramp and Bratta as a response to the record company asking them to write “another single”.  Musically, this is a fantastic song, propelled by Greg D’Angelo’s relentless beat.  It too exhibits multiple sections and a couple killer Bratta solos (the second drastically different from the first).  Where it loses once again is in the lyrical department.  I know Mike Tramp has written many songs condemning war, and I know that the Gulf War was going on when he wrote this.  What I took issue with was the line, “I know there’s nothing good in war, I know ’cause I’ve been there before.”  I don’t think it’s cool to say you’ve “been there before” unless you actually have.  I think it’s inappropriate.

“She’s Got Everything” is a cool groove.  The lyrics suck again, but that’s expected now.  My advice is just to sing your own lyrics over Mike Tramp’s.  For example, where Mike sings this:

“So we left the party, and drove to her place,
You could see excitement written on my face.
So she took me upstairs, laid me on her bed,
When she got undressed I just lost my head.”

Try singing this:

“Sheeba dabba dobby, n’ log in fireplace,
Soo loo ba dooby doo, pooping in the place.
Shooba dooba dabba, the man in the shed,
La dee da da dee da, eating loaf of bread.”

Better, right?

“Till Death Do Us Part” is a fucking wedding song, except nobody in the entire world ever used it as such.  It has a cool, atmospheric bass intro, but then it’s off to the honeymoon in downtown Shit City.  The only good thing is Bratta’s solo, the icing over a very rotten cake.

MANE_0004

It’s too late to save the ship from sinking now.  “Out With the Boys” is another stupid lyric, but at least framed in a good rock song.  Once again White Lion lay the groove on hard.  Then Vito Bratta takes a solo slot with “Blue Monday”.  This electric blues was written and recorded for Stevie Ray Vaughan who had recently died.  Too little too late, and rendered pointless by yet another ballad.  Mane Attraction closes on “Farewell to You”, and I say good luck, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, etc.

Mane Attraction is over an hour long.  If it had been 30-35 minutes long, like rock albums from a past era, this would have been a very different review.

2/5 stars

MANE_0005I’m doing an ear-cleanse now.  To Van Halen, not Van Hagar.

 

REVIEW: White Lion – Big Game (1989)

Before I get started on the review…

BIG GAME_0005

BIG GAME_0001WHITE LION – Big Game (1989 Atlantic)

When Big Game was released in 1989, hard rock was arguably at its 80’s commercial peak.  In comparison to the two-million selling Pride, Big Game was a disappointment at the cash register.  I believe this was an herald of the changing winds of rock, that would fully arrive in 1991.  At the time, it was more considered a sign that Big Game was weaker than Pride.  I don’t think that was the case.  Big Game remains today as enjoyable as Pride is, with plenty of great tunes to spare.

Pride‘s main weakness was its lyrics. Mike Tramp improved enough as a lyricist on Big Game that the words are no longer really an issue. He’s no Bob Dylan, but a lot of the immaturity has gone. An example is the first single “Little Fighter”. My best friend Bob assumed the song was a rallying cry about a person.  Tramp actually wrote it about the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, which was sunk by France in 1985.  To his credit, Tramp figured out how to bring his politics to hard rock music without making it obvious to those who just want to rock out.

On the other hand, the lyrics to “Broken Home” are awkward and blunt, killing my enjoyment of the album at that moment.  While nobody in their right mind supports child abuse, the stark lyrics are simply not appropriate for a hard rock album like Big Game.  It’s impossible to sing along, impossible to ignore.  Right in the middle of Side One of the album, its momentum crashes and its not because of the music.

Fortunately, musically Big Game has more of that White Lion rock and roll that propelled them to stardom in 1987.  Anthemic rockers, lighter-ready ballads, and brilliant fluttery solos by Vito Bratta are in abundance.  Big Game doesn’t sound as dark as Pride, but it is also less heavy overall.  That said, “If My Mind Is Evil” is one of White Lion’s heaviest tunes.

Highlights:

The brilliant opener “Going Home Tonight”, an irresistible hard rocker.  The bright single “Little Fighter”.  “Living On the Edge”, a fun anthem not at all like the Aerosmith song.  “Don’t Say It’s Over”, a melancholy mid-tempo song that Bon Jovi would have given his left nut to write.  The stunning closer, “Cry For Freedom”, which is lyrically blunt but not as depressing as “Broken Home”.

I even like the Golden Earring cover, “Radar Love”.  The original is a radio classic of course, but White Lion did a pretty decent cover version thanks to Vito’s sublime guitar.  I thought the music video was pretty cool too.  Anything with a car chase, right? Thank God Mike Tramp is wearing jeans in this one. How many people did he scare away with his ridiculous pants (and dancing) in the “Little Fighter” video?

Since the album was considered a bit of a failure in some quarters, White Lion tried to change things up for the next album, Mane Attraction. That too failed to drum up sales, and after some lineup changes, they quickly disbanded.  Look for my Mane Attraction review in a matter of days.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: White Lion – Pride (1987)

Enjoy this first of two White Lion reviews. Stay tuned for the second in a couple days!

PRIDE_0001WHITE LION – Pride (1987 Atlantic)

I’ve had some fierce arguments with some rock fans about this album.  Regardless of its flaws, I steadfastly defend it and especially the talents of one Vito Bratta, the best guitarist to never become a guitar hero.  After the breakup of White Lion in 1991, Bratta retreated from public life and music completely.  Some have argued to me, “If he was such a talent, he’d still be around.”  Such talk is ignorant of the facts.  Bratta spent many years as a caregiver to ill parents, and whatever decisions he made have to be respected.

I mentioned that this album is flawed, so I’m going to get that part out of the way first.  There are two things about this album that suck.  One is the production, by the normally awesome Michael Wagener (engineered by Canadian “Gggarth” Richardson).  It’s really muddy, echoey, and annoying.  It is indicative of the times.

The second thing that drives me nuts are the lyrics.  I know Mike Tramp is Danish and English is his second language, but there were three guys from New York (Staten Island and Brooklyn) in the band that could have helped.  As Exhibit A, I present you “Lady of the Valley”:

Lady of the valley
Can you hear me cry
In the stillness of the night
I have lost my brother
In the fights of the war
And my heart has broken down

I always stumble over that “In the fights of the war” line.  That’s one of the “serious” songs, something that White Lion tackled frequently (improving over the years).  For their flaws I’ll at least respect Mike Tramp’s willingness to present a personal point of view on specific issues (“Little Fighter”, “Cry For Freedom”, “Warsong”, “El Salvador”).  Unfortunately Pride is loaded with songs about young girls and what Mike Tramp would like to do with them.  Below, Exhibit B:

Keep your engine running high
When you take my love inside
But hold the trigger on my loaded gun (“Hungry”)

Little miss Dee’s got a dirty mind
All around the boys she’s one of a kind
If you wanna good time you can take her home
Cause everyone knows she is good in bed (“Sweet Little Loving”)

I’ll stop there.

Musically, and performance-wise, Pride is a joy to listen to.  What an untapped well of talent Vito Bratta is.  In the guitar magazines, he was noted for having captured some of the magic of Eddie Van Halen, and I agree with that.  Bratta has definitely mastered the Van Halen book of rock.  His riffs are much like Van Halen’s, with one guitar playing the rhythm and flicking in and out with tricky little licks.  It sounds difficult as hell.  “Hungry” is the most Van Halen-like.  The difference is that Bratta sounds like a much more schooled player.  Everything sounds meticulously planned and written.  When he takes a solo, it’s a combination of Van Halen and neoclassical discipline.  And every song is absolutely loaded with fills and tricks.  Pride is very busy guitar-wise, in a good way.

“Hungry” is a great song, a dark Dokken-esque opener.  Also similar to Dokken is the second track, the mid-tempo “Lonely Nights”.  It’s another strong track, and I find Mike Tramp’s raspy voice similar to Jon Bon Jovi’s from time to time.  Bratta executes a fluttery solo, and then it’s on to the next one, “Don’t Give Up”.  Again, I find the lyrics tedious.  I like positivity, but I don’t find, “Don’t give up, even when it’s tough,” to be very profound.  Thankfully this uptempo banger is another winner musically.  Once again I struggle to keep up with Bratta’s stunning fretwork.

“Lady of the Valley” is pretty impressive.  It’s the “epic” I suppose, 6 1/2 minutes in length.  The riff is choppy and smoking, and the rhythm section of James LoMenzo and Greg D’Angelo is spot-in.  Then Bratta gets his echoey acoustic guitar out and the song mutates.  An anthemic chorus tops a great song.

Side Two of the album was packed with singles:  the hits “Wait”, “Tell Me”, and “When the Chrildren Cry”.  “Wait” and “Tell Me” are both songs that Bon Jovi would have given their nuts to write.  Tramp’s raspy vocals are absolutely perfect, as was his blonde mane, and the girls went wild.  “When the Children Cry” was and still is an impressive acoustic performance.  Even in 1987 I was impressed that White Lion chose to forgo drums and backing instrumentation.  This simple, quiet song is the template for what Extreme would do three years later with “More Than Words”.  Bratta was a guitar player able to pull off such an arrangement without sacrificing integrity.

The album is rounded out by “All Join Our Hands” and “All You Need Is Rock N Roll”, two odes to the greatest music ever invented.  “All You Need Is Rock N Roll” is quite cool, beginning with what sounds like a drunken acoustic jam, and ending with with some killer bluesy playing from everyone.  Both songs are great.  I have always felt that the album tracks were as strong as the singles; like an album of 10 singles.

Shame about the sound and the lyrics, though.

 3.5/5 stars