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REVIEW: Extreme – III Sides to Every Story (1992)

scan_20170129EXTREME – III Sides to Every Story (1992 A&M)

Of Extreme’s five studio albums, there can be little doubt that Extreme III is the most ambitious.  It is a sprawling set over 80 minutes in length; too long for a single CD.  So long that only the cassette version has all 15 tracks in one place.  In contains three distinct sides, each different from the other, countless styles, and an orchestra.  Extreme took what made them popular on the last album, and what was currently going on with grunge rock, and tossed it all out the window.  They followed their own direction and were not rewarded with sales, but something more important:  a masterpiece.

The first “side” (keep in mind this is a CD) is subtitled “Yours” and consists of rockers both hard and funky.  After a comedic intro, “Warheads” annihilates the speakers.  A short choppy riff blows in, tempo opened up wide.  Gary Cherone tries to keep his messages entertaining, and this anti-war anthem has a pretty obvious message.  Nuno Bettencourt joins him for the choruses and breaks for a cool neo-classical solo.  The same message carries over into the first single “Rest in Peace”, introduced by a  string quartet playing the song’s melody before Nuno kicks it with a funky riff.  During the solo, Nuno even quotes Jim Hendrix.  “Rest in Peace” was not an immediate single, it takes some growing.  This is true of the whole album.  There is a lot going on.  Even that little Hendrix lick — blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s there making the solo that much cooler.  It is worth mentioning that Extreme did a fantastic video for “Rest in Peace” based on a 1952 National Film Board of Canada short called “Neighbours”. This wordless film served as the blueprint, but as a result they got sued and had to change it.

Gary Cherone loves creating his own portmanteaus (“Americocaine”, “Pornograffitti”), so “Politicalamity” is the title of the third track. It’s a wah-wah soaked funky rocker with fully-loaded horns making their first album appearance, in the tradition of “Get the Funk Out”.  Lyrically it continues the anti-war theme dominating the first side, and also social injustice, but in a fun catchy style. “Rich and poor, salute your country’s colours. Less is more, When one oppresses the other.” That was 1992; I wonder what Gary would have to say about today? Racial equality dominates “Color Me Blind”, one of the hardest rockers on the side. “I had a dream last night, I was blind, and I couldn’t see colour of any kind.” It is possible that the lyrical tone of the album turned off some old fans, though Gary keeps things from getting preachy.

“Cupid’s Dead” is the only song on the first side without a serious message. This rap-rock hybrid features a guest rapper (John Preziosa Jr.) and a chugging, funky riff.  Hard rock bands who incorporated rapping were seldom successful, but Extreme dodged this bullet.  “Cupid’s Dead” is good enough that is was recently dusted off for the Pornograffitti Live 25 tour.  Drummer Paul Geary and bassist Pat Badger keep the funk rolling in heavy fashion.  The side-ending “Peacemaker Die” features Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, surely some of the most powerful words in American history.  It is difficult to not get the chills when Dr. King speaks, framed in this excellent funk rock lament.

Take a moment’s break here and pretend you’re flipping a record.  Side two is subtitled “Mine” as a contrast to “Yours” for side one.  “Mine” consists of six ballads, but only five are on the CD due to the 80 minute time restriction.  Nuno expressed regret that the sixth track didn’t fit and hoped one day a 2 CD edition would be released.  Still hoping!

“Seven Sundays” is a romantic song, a piano ballad with Gary in falsetto mode.  Nuno adds synth strings for textures.  “If I had one wish, it wouldn’t be hard to choose.  Seven Sundays in a row, because that’s the day that I spend with you.”  Quite a turn from “Cupid’s Dead”, but that’s why it’s on another side.  “Tragic Comic” was the natural successor to the hits on Extreme II, a fun acoustic track with a “Hole Hearted” beat.  The lyrics are clever comedy and the track was selected as a single.  Many will identify with the hapless romantic, the titular stut-tut-tuttering p-poet.  “And when we dine, I forget to push in your seat.  I wear the wine, spillin’ it all over my sleeves.”  Been there done that Gary!  The lighthearted song is a delightful contrast to the darker material on side one.

Van Halen-style volume swells make up the intro guitar melody of “Our Father”, an electric power ballad with some stunning six-string mastery.   “Stop the World” was chosen as a single, a light melancholy ballad reminding us that if we forget history we are bound to repeat it.  These serious songs were not destined to repeat the big singles of albums past.  When you play these songs, you feel things and you think things, and not everybody wants music to do that to them.  Nuno’s solo on “Stop the World” is warm, immaculate perfection.  “Stop the World” merges directly into “God Isn’t Dead?” (except in single form of course).  “God Isn’t Dead?” is the darkest spot yet, quiet and painfully plaintive.  Piano and orchestra paint a stark picture.

The final song on the side, and a hint of the daybreak ahead, is “Don’t Leave Me Alone”, which is only on the cassette version.  Fear not however; it can be found in CD form on CD singles.  Just rip everything to your computer and slide “Don’t Leave Me Alone” into the correction position in the running order.  It belongs here at the end of the “Mine” side.  It deliberately ends it on a brighter note than “God Isn’t Dead?” though it is still far from a good-time ballad.  It is dusky lament, but with hints of light in the tunnel.  Nuno’s moog solo is a treat.

extreme-dont-leave-me-alone-tragic-comic-single

At 12 songs, the “Yours” and “Mine” sides would make a complete album on their own, and it would still be an ambitious project at that.  Regardless, the third side titled “& the Truth” is the most industrious of them all, an eager fulfillment of talents bursting at the seams.  III Sides to Every Story…”Yours”, “Mine”, “& the Truth”.  This time, the side is made up of one massive 22 minute song called “Everything Under the Sun”.  It in turn is subdivided into three parts.  This is where the orchestra really comes into play.

Part I, “Rise ‘n Shine” is the sunrise after the blackness of the second side.  Gentle acoustics rouse you from your slumber, and Nuno takes the first verse of this duet.  Gary follows on the second as the orchestra swells.  “Rise ‘n Shine” is the most hopeful sounding music on the album, a bright and steady composition brilliantly structured.  Daniel and his dreams may be a Biblical reference but they don’t have to be.  A brief interlude foreshadows the melody of Part III, but first is Part II, “Am I Ever Gonna Change”.  This section was chopped out and used as an individual song live and on compilations.  You can hear why, since it has that echoey Van Halen guitar lick and a powerful nut-kicking chorus.  The orchestra returns and it’s Extreme at full power.  This eventually fades into the quiet start of Part III, “Who Cares?”.  Inaudible voices whisper during a piano passage, and then the orchestra returns at maximum.  Biblical overtones:  “Tell me Jesus, are you angry?  One more sheep has just gone astray.” Nuno’s singing is run through a vocoder giving him a computerized voice.  Some might think it sounds like The Elder gone wrong, but that would be selling “Who Cares?” short.  Finally Nuno breaks out of the circuit boards and come in at full voice for the final choruses.  The melodies from “Rise n’ Shine” and “Am I Ever Gonna Change” are reprised as the epic piece finally comes to a close.

There is little debate that “Everything Under the Sun” is the grandest thing Extreme have attempted in the studio.  It was a successful experiment, as it remains interesting and engaging through its entire 22 minute length.  You cannot say that for every Rush song of that nature.

Unfortunately for Extreme, the timing was all wrong, and this album soon found its way in bargain bins at cut rate prices.  The good news is that means you can get a copy yourself for next to nothing.  Try also to track down copies of the “Stop the World” or “Tragic Comic” singles, in order to get the full package.  They are plentiful on sites such as Discogs, and it’s important to hear the album at its full complete length.  III Sides to Every Story is an unsung hard rock masterwork, and if you want some softer rock songs with lots of brains and a huge heart, give it a shot.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Extreme – Saudades de Rock (2008 European & Japanese editions)

scan_20170115-2EXTREME – Saudades de Rock (2008 Frontiers in Europe, Victor in Japan, with exclusive bonus tracks)

Extreme were one of those bands that always seemed to resist reuniting. Nuno didn’t seem interested, or was too busy with Perry Farrell and Rihanna. When they finally did get the band back together, they did it right with a few tours and a new album to prove they still had the goods. 2008’s Saudades de Rock (Portuguese for “Nostalgic Yearnings of Rock”) earned positive reviews from rock critics.  It did moderate sales but the important thing was that it was good.

Immediately “Star” reminds us why Extreme were special in the first place:  Those harmonies, the good time Halen-inspired riffs, the kick-ass singer and a solid beat. Gary Cherone’s voice has aged well, coming over as a cross between Sammy Hagar, Freddie Mercury and Paul Stanley (good company to be in).  This song best exemplifies the “nostalgic yearnings of rock”, as the arrangement could have come from 1990.  Extensive (jaw-dropping) solos and a big chorus immediately remind us why this band was so critically acclaimed 25 years ago.

It’s not all longing for days gone by.  “Comfortably Dumb” concentrates its focus on the groove, like a bizarre cross between Soundgarden and the Trews.  The space-age guitar work by Nuno Bettencourt separates it from anyone else.  His style has matured nicely but still makes you wonder just how the hell he does it.  His machine-gun guitar riff on “Learn to Love” does the same.  It’s not all trickery:  these are also great compositions, with challenging rock arrangements.  Time changes and flurries of notes keep it interesting.  The middle section gives all the members a little time to shine including new drummer Kevin Figueiredo.

The first knuckleball is thrown on “Take Us Alive”, a genuine electric bluegrass shuffle.  Remember Extreme always prided themselves in their diversity, modeling themselves after Queen who were unafraid to do anything.  “Take Us Alive” is a new step for Extreme who have never gone this twangy.  Unsurprisingly they mastered this direction too.  A saucy funk rocker called “Run” goes in another direction, akin to Queen’s own funky experiments, just heavier.  Like Queen, Extreme topped it with a fine melodic chorus, but stay tuned for a superb outro.

“Last Hour” is not a ballad; more of a heavy dirge.  Nuno takes a quiet solo full of volume swells before going full shred. He then rips a page from the book of his solo album with the punky “Flower Man” (I say “punky” rather than “punk” since few genuine punk songs have a blazing Nuno Bettencourt guitar solo).  “King of the Ladies” is something else entirely, featuring Nuno on lead vocals.  It’s trippy, slinky, drony, modern and sultry with smoking instrumental sections and sounds like nothing else you can think of.  Few bands can take so many directions on one album and have it sound like a cohesive whole.

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Every Extreme album has at least one ballad, and “Ghost” is a wonderful continuation of this tradition.  With the focus on the piano, it’s a reprieve in the relentless guitar assault that makes up the majority of Saudades de Rock.  You have heard this sound before on albums like Extreme III.  We then visit the Houses of the Holy with “Slide” which possesses the unmistakable Zeppelin funk.  You’ll be wondering, where’s that confounded bridge?  The riff is a wink and a nod to “Sweet Emotion” and there is definitely some of that Aero-groove mixed with the Zoso Magic.

An acoustic reprieve is offered with “Interface”, a floaty ballad that fits this leg of the running order.  It merges into the funk-Halen of “Sunrise”, a nice heavy track before “Peace (Saudades)” takes us out on a dreamy, Queen-like ballad.  Yes that’s a lot of ballads late in the game and on paper it shouldn’t work.  It does because Extreme are consummate balladeers (each one being different) and successful composers of album-length works with a start, middle and ending.  “Peace” is a triumph and uplifting finale.

There are two bonus tracks available at the end of different versions of Saudades de Rock.  Both are old demos from the vaults, ancient relics of a pre-fame Extreme.  It’s a cool idea to release old unheard songs as bonus tracks, though unorthodox.  “Mr. Bates” (1986) is exclusive to Japan only.  It’s something like seeing old baby photos, or highschool yearbook grad pictures.  You wince and think “Well, they were young.”  Even so young, Nuno obviously had more talent than the average bear.  Europe got the better song “Americocaine” (1985), which shows off that blend of Gary and Nuno’s voices that, one day, would earn them millions.  You could imagine “Americocaine” showing up at the end credits of a minor 80s action movie.

Extreme played to their strengths, didn’t try to repeat anything from the past, while giving fans exactly the kind of album they needed.  The bonus tracks don’t fit, but who says a “bonus track” has to fit?   These are bonuses in the truest sense.  Rare little treats you can’t find anywhere else.  Any fan of the 1989 debut album Extreme will love them, because that is the era they resemble.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Extreme – Pornograffitti Live 25 (2016 Japanese 2 CD set)

scan_20170114-4EXTREME – Pornograffitti Live 25 (2016 Victor Japan 2 CD set)

When you hear that an album like Pornograffitti (which defined one of our teenage summers) turned 25 last year, don’t it make you feel old?  Maybe you haven’t played it in a while.  (If you haven’t, here is a refresher course.)  It was one of those discs that had appealing songs from start to finish, each different from the last.  All 13 songs (14 if you include the solo “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”) are reproduced in sequence on this new live CD release, fresh from a hot show in Vegas in 2015.  You can buy a blu-ray or DVD of the concert too, but CD collectors will want to spring for this Japanese double set.  On a second disc you get “Play With Me” (given more exposure in the movie Air Guitar Nation) and “Cupid’s Dead”, normally exclusive to the video version.  The total package is close to an hour and a half of some of Extreme’s best songs.  The Japanese printing also has its own cover art, though no other exclusives.

The familiar taped intro of rain and piano inaugurates the “funked-up fairy tail” that is Pornograffitti.  “Trying so hard to keep up with the Joneses!” begins Gary and and the Vegas crowd knows all the words.  With Nuno Bettencourt and Pat Badger helping out, the Extreme vocals are nice and thick live.  The sound is beefy goodness, wound up in electric guitar strings.  Kicking it on drums, Kevin Figueiredo keeps things pretty close to the way original drummer Paul Geary did it.  “Decadence Dance” is sincerely good nostalgia.

Following the vague storyline of the original album, “Lil’ Jack Horny” shows up amidst shimmery guitar harmonics and a funky lil’ riff.  The horn parts (tapes?) jack up the funky little guitar number, which carries over to “When I’m President”.  Nuno squeaks and squonks while Gary waxes poetic.  “So go ask Alice, ah you know what he said?  What did he say — remember, I wanna be elected?”   Maybe one day Gary, because it is indeed true:  just about anyone can be president!  Cherone promises that things’ll be different.  You can even be in his cabinet!

The funk peaks (obviously) on “Get the Funk Out” which remains as silly and fun as it was 15 years ago.  (Listen for a little bit of a lyrical modernization from Nuno!)  It’s pure live smoke only slowed down by the obligatory audience participation section.  This appropriately segues into “More Than Words”, which is slightly more than a singalong.  Stripped naked of the loud guitars, Nuno and Gary can still harmonize as clean and perfect as they always have.

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“Money” resumes the rock, as Gary bemoans the modern worship of the almighty dollar.  Nimbly killing it on both guitar and harmonies, Nuno Bettencourt is a super hero.  He does it again on “It (‘s a Monster)”, a stock album track that goes from point A to point B at top speed.  Some real gems start showing up a in steady string from there.  “Pornograffitti” possesses some serious funk metal riffage and guitar tricks, performed at an unbelievable level of rock supremacy.   Then it is time for the slow jazz lounge croon “When I First Kissed You”.  Piano flourishes and Figueiredo on brushes lend it a really pretty dusky sound.

“And now back to our regularly scheduled program!” shouts Gary as Extreme once again puts on their rock and roll shoes.  It’s time for “Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)”, another funky rock combo.  Nuno plays some of the fastest licks ever attempted, but that is mere warm-up, for next is “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”, the legendary guitar instrumental that re-defined the guitar instrumental for a short while.  There is no time to recover because it’s straight into “He-Man Woman Hater”.  This Van Halen-like blast contains some of Nuno’s finest fret abuse.

Pornograffitti was also a little different, and one aspect of that is that it ended with two ballads.  Historically that has been demonstrated as a risky way to end an album, but Extreme pulled it off by using two that were different from any of the others on the CD.  “Song For Love” was a big pompous Queen-like anthem, and you can all but see the lighters and cell phones waving in the air.  “Hole Hearted” was the memorable acoustic closing number, great for campfires and rock concerts alike.  Live is just as solid as the studio original.

Onto to the Japanese bonus CD with its two bonus tracks.  “Play With Me” has always been a bit of a novelty, but notable for its sheer velocity and Mozart-a-go-go guitar dexterity.  Few players have chops like these.  “Cupid’s Dead” is a set highlight – heavy, funky and progressive at times.  Extreme III deserves as much praise as Extreme II: Pornograffitti so it is quite pleasing to have this adventurous track close.

Bravo to Extreme for making this trip back in time a real treat.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Extreme II – Pornograffitti (1990)

EXTREME II – Pornograffitti (1990 A&M)

1990:  Everybody was buzzing about the sophomore album by Boston’s Extreme, and their stellar lead guitarist Nuno Bettencourt.  Extreme II: Pornograffitti (“A Funked Up Fairytale”) is one of the last great hair metal albums of the era.  It is chock full of diverse songs, great playing, great writing, and adventurous arrangements. Big kudos must of course go to Nuno whose guitar playing is at once tasteful and (pardon the pun) extreme.  Not to be outshone is lead vocalist Gary Cherone who was at his peak here.

EXTREME II_0007A loose (very loose) concept album, Extreme II commences with atmospheric rainfall, which introduces us to “Francis”: our protagonist and the kid on the front cover. The crashing licks of “Decadence Dance”, the first single, interrupts this moment.  Gary’s lyrics are witty and Nuno’s fingers nimble.  The song kills.

There is a wide swath of styles covered on Extreme II. Obviously funk is a big one (“Get the Funk Out” with a blazing horn section, “When I’m President”, the title track.)  Of course there are the landmark acoustic ballads “More Than Words”, “Song For Love” and “Hole Hearted”. The cool thing about this trio of singles is that all three ballads are different.  None of them share the same style as well.  “Hole Hearted” is more a campfire rock song than a ballad anyway.  While “More Than Words” is now considered the prototypical acoustic ballad, it must be remembered that when it came out, it was unlike most. It contains no drums and only one acoustic guitar. Gary Cherone’s vocals merge harmoniously with Nuno’s creating this lullaby effect.

Other interesting songs include the lounge tune, “When I First Kissed You”. I once read Nuno saying that his inspirations were Queen and Prince, artists who were fearless to include different styles on their albums. Meanwhile, “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” contains some of the greatest and fastest guitar soloing of any era. It doesn’t get much more diverse than this withoug losing coherance, but Extreme II holds together as a concept and an album.

The album is filled out with killer hard rockers: Songs like “Suzy Wants Her All-Day Sucker” and “He-Man Woman Hater” are some of the catchiest rock songs this side of Aerosmith, but are tricky enough to keep your interest peaked. By the time the album ends, you’ll be exhausted from rocking out so much, but you’ll still want to start over again from the beginning.  The album appears to be designed that way, since it closes with the same rain and thunder.

This is a must-own classic for any hard rock fan who likes it smart.

5/5 stars

Once you absorb this album, you have to pick up the following companion pieces:

1. The “More Than Words” and “Hole Hearted” singles, which contained different remixes of “More Than Words”, one being A Capella with congas.

2. The “Song For Love” single, the B-side of which was Extreme’s amazing cover of Queen’s “Love of my Life”. Incredible cover, which was designed to segue into “More Than Words”.  They did it this way when played live, as they did at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.

3. The Guitars The Rule the World (the first one, not Vol 2).  This has a Nuno Bettencourt electric blues instrumental called “Bumble Bee (Crash Landing)”.  This is the second part to “Flight of the Wounded Bumble Bee”, which on the album was trimmed down to exclude the “Crash Landing” portion.   When I recently ripped this album to my computer, I used Audacity to recreate the original complete “Bumble Bee” track.  I dropped the file into the correct place on the album to create an “unedited” Pornograffitti experience.   It was kind of cool how it worked, segueing into “He-Man Woman Hater”.

REVIEW: VAI – Sex & Religion (1993)

VAI – Sex & Religion (1993 Relativity)

Flash back to summer 1993:  Steve Vai was just about to debut his brand new “commercial” rock band on Jay Leno. I had been tracking the progress of this band via the guitar mags. Vai already had TM Stevens (bass) on board, as well as the singer Devin Townsend, from Vancouver’s Caustic Thought on vocals.  I had heard Vai say in a previous interview that “Nobody sings better than David Coverdale, and nobody is a better showman than David Lee Roth. But I need a singer who combines the best of both singers.” How could you not be psyched? Expectations and hopes were high.

Back to Leno —  Vai comes out, his hair in dreads, and he strums the first chord of “Still My Bleeding Heart”.  And the singer…holy crap…there was this bald, psycho-looking dude with stuff written all over his body in magic marker. “Caustic Thought” was written in huge letters on his leg. I was taken aback! What the deuce was this?

HI TRACY

I taped the performance, so I rewound, rewatched…and quickly became hooked on the song, and the vocalist, Devin Townsend. Here was a guy, I thought, who would be the next Mike Patton. He had the power, and range and quirkiness, yet had his own style.  Devin was a unique right from his first major release!  Here, his style is based mostly on (as Devin once put it, and I quote) “screaming his balls off!”  Devin said he was usually pretty happy as long as he sounded as if his larynx was bouncing off the studio walls.

This album is my second favourite Vai platter after Passion and Warfare. A band effort with Terry Bozzio on drums, Sex & Religion was a mindblowing album to me at the time.  I thought it was extremely profound, though it sounds somewhat dated today.  It still kicks my kicks my ass to listen to it, you cannot go wrong with this lineup.  The music is intricate, composed with great care to both stimulate and rock.  I don’t need to tell you that the guitar is a shredder’s wet dream.

To me, 90% of the songs here are winners. Highlights are “Still My Bleeding Heart” and the single “In My Dreams With You”. Both are extremely catchy rock songs with slightly off-kilter arrangement, innovative guitar playing, and challenging but powerful vocals.  There is an emphasis on melody, even if they melodies are not typical of modern rock music.  Elsewhere you will find “Down Deep Into The Pain”, a very fast and heavy song that was obviously designed to keep up with some of the newer heavy bands that were out at the time. The lead vocal here is absolutely shriek-tastic.

I’m also a big fan of “Dirty Black Hole” which combines a speedy assault of instrumentation with a soul-rock chorus.  The title track is a bit funky, with Devin doing some scream-rapping.  I remember my mom being offended by the lyric, “Jesus Christ is in your bed tonight.”

More standard rock arrangements can be found on songs like “Survive” and “Here And Now”, although they are still well coated in Vai-isms and guitar madness. There are instrumentals sprinkled in as well, “Touching Tongues” being especially sublime. And then there is “Pig”.  It’s the only song with a co-write by Townsend. This is what happened, according to Vai, when he tried to write song “Remedy” by the Black Crowes.  Vai was into the Crowes at the time, and somehow “Pig” was the result of that. Can you hear any connection to “Remedy”? I sure can’t! This song is where the album hits its peak of absolute madness. As Vai likes to say, “Sorry folks, I just can’t help myself”.

That sums up this album in a nutshell. “Sorry folks, I just can’t help myself.” It is a simply brilliant piece of work that will take some folks a while to get used to. For Vai fans, this might be easy listening compared to some of his instrumental workouts.  Either way, if you can penetrate its sometimes off-putting weirdness, you’ll find a rewarding listening experience.

The final song , “Rescue Me or Bury Me”, is the only one I can do without. Featuring Steve singing lead, I find it too long and meandering, spoiling what was for me an otherwise gripping ride the whole way through.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Skyscraper (1988)

 

DAVID LEE ROTH – Skyscraper (1988 Warner Bros.)

Changes were afoot in the land of Roth after the success of Eat ‘Em and Smile.  Keyboardist Brett Tuggle was hired in as a full-time member.  Steve Vai was promoted to the rank of co-producer for the next album.  Billy Sheehan was put on a leash, his busy bass stylings reduced to typical pop rock lines on much of the new material.  One song even had a programmed bass instead of the real thing.

It seemed like a sudden about-face.  David Lee Roth had left behind the Van Halen-nouveau trappings of the last album in exchange for a much slicker and more commercial sound. What resulted was Skyscraper, a synth-heavy odd duck that nevertheless spawned a massive hit single still getting radio play today. Revisiting it, this almost (only almost!)  sounds more like a Vai album than a Dave album. That’s not a bad thing, depending on how you feel about the 6 (soon to be 7) string master. Certainly, his loopy noodling was reaching an early peak here, but his stylings are not for everyone.

My biggest complaint would be the sidelining of Billy Sheehan.  I mean, you’ve got possibly the best bass player in the universe in your band:  Exploit that!  Don’t keep him playing 1/4 notes.  In a 1988 Hit Parader interview, Sheehan said that he had to leave the band in order to express himself.  He referred to the “note police” (Roth) who ordered him to play it simpler.  After Skyscraper, he was replaced by drummer Gregg Bissonnette’s brother Matt (no slouch).

The opening rocker “Knucklebones” is a great song, but falls a little limp.  Skyscraper‘s production is cold, sterile, and digital; like in that 80’s way before the technology had really come along.  It does boast complex guitar riffing mixed in with idiosyncratic Dave lyrics. Dave has acknowledged that Vai was in the driver’s seat for this album, and its complexity is a testament to that.

Elsewhere there are some progressive moments (the title track, “Hina”), stage-ready rockers (“Perfect Timing”, “Hot Dog and a Shake”), good time ballads (“Damn Good”) and whatever-the-hell (“Three Fools A Minute”). All of this is surrounded by a fun, party-like atmosphere courtesy of Dave as the band’s hoots n’ hollers along.

I consider this album to be a brave experiment, and Dave’s highest artistic achievement. Not his best album, but his most artistic.  While not as instantly likable, rocking, or consistent as Eat ‘Em And Smile, it is endlessly ambitious, layered, and most importantly fun. Dave is the ringmaster of the greatest party in town. Skyscraper is the party where the smart dudes stop in for a beer.

Craig Fee at 107.5 Dave FM, the world’s biggest Van Halen (not Van Hagar!) fan has this to say:

I still have a soft spot for “Just Like Paradise,” “Stand Up” (the more you do it the less you fall down!) and “Hot Dog & A Shake.”  With Steve Vai on lead guitar, this album is a killer follow-up to EEAS.

I’m glad I asked Craig for his comment because our song likes and dislikes on this album are almost opposite!  My faves?  “Skyscraper”, “Hina”, “Just Like Paradise”, “Knucklebones”  My filler: “Stand Up”!  So there ya go.  Maybe this record has something for everyone?

4/5 stars

“Promo only!  Not for sale!”

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Alice Does Alice (2010 iTunes EP)

Mike Tam

Happy Anniversary!

One year ago today, I launched LeBrain’s Record Store Tales & Reviews.  It’s been a blast.  Keep on keepin’ on!

Alice

ALICE COOPER – Alice Does Alice (2010 iTunes EP)

It seems the latest thing to do these days is re-record your old classic hits and sell them again.  Alice’s reason for doing so was that they needed new multi-track recordings for use in the Guitar Hero video game.  I think only one was ever used, which is “No More Mr. Nice Guy” (Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock).  The Alice Cooper 6 Pack download for Rock Band is mostly live tracks, not the versions that Alice released on Alice Does Alice.

According to the official Cooper site, these re-recordings were produced by Bob Ezrin.  Ezrin, of course, helmed the originals.  That must be why these new versions sound so authentic.  Yes, part for part, note for note, they’re pretty much the same.  Just with Alice’s voice older and wiser, and today’s sound quality.  But of course you can’t duplicate a classic, no matter how hard you try nor who you work with.  It’s impossible.  It’s catching lightning in a bottle.  So, these versions will always remain inferior to the classic, magical originals.  They’re just too nice, clean and neat.

I will say though, it’s pretty amazing how close these are to the originals.  The drums don’t sound the same, they’re thuddier and more modern, but the guitar tones are remarkably similar.  All the strings and horns are there too, and they do benefit from the sonic clarity of today’s technology.  Kudos to Ezrin and the players for capturing this.   (Because this is an electronic release with no physical version, there’s no credits.)

Tracklist:

  1. “School’s Out”
  2. “No More Mr. Nice Guy”
  3. “Elected”
  4. “I’m Eighteen”
  5. “Welcome To My Nightmare”

According to sickthingsUK, six tracks were actually recorded.  The sixth was “Poison”, which of course was originally produced not by Bob Ezrin, but by Desmond Child.  The track remains unreleased in 2013.

3/5 stars