guns n’ roses

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II (1991)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II (1991 Geffen)

In my review for Guns N’ Roses’ smashing debut Appetite For Destruction, I stated that “Appetite is great, but Illusions are better”.  A strong and controversial statement.  How could I say such a thing?

Use Your Illusion I and II are a case of “Bigger, Better, Faster, More!”  Consider:

1. “Bigger”

Certainly in terms of length, Illusions are far bigger:  2 hours and 32 minutes compared to 53 minutes for Appetite.  I concede that the Illusions albums have far more filler than Appetite.  Given that the grand total of awesome material on Illusions still exceeds the length of Appetite, I think “Bigger” is a given.  They made us wait and wait and wait, but they made it worth our while.  You can’t always say that for Guns N’ Roses.

2. “Better”

Guns N’ Roses’ lineup was “new and improved!” in 1991.  Original drummer Steven Adler was given the boot due to severe issues with substances, replaced by Matt Sorum, who they knew from The Cult.  I won’t argue that Matt Sorum is a “better” drummer than Steven Adler, because they are too different.  Regardless of this, Sorum was able to expand Guns’ rhythmical pallette.  He could play things Adler could not at the time, such as “You Could Me Mine” and “Double Talkin’ Jive”.  As for the core members, each of them expanded their own talents on these albums.  Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin were now lead vocalists on a few tracks.  Slash’s guitar playing grew exponentially.  Izzy blossomed as a songwriter with some of Guns’ most diverse material.  And Axl Rose really got into the piano, contributing a ton of it, and even the techno influence that would later evolve into Chinese Democracy.  His vocal stylings also expanded, with more use of his lower voice.  Everybody had gotten…better.

3. “Faster”

It’s possible that “Right Next Door to Hell” is the fastest Guns track ever recorded.  “Perfect Crime” and “Garden of Eden” also qualify.

4. “More!”

Guns expanded their official lineup to a six piece with the arrival of keyboardist Dizzy Reed.  They also had plenty of special guests:  Alice Cooper*, Michael Monroe, and a guy named Shannon Hoon from the then-unknown Blind Melon.  Hoon appeared in the “Don’t Cry” music video.  Steven Adler was even on “Civil War”, one of the earliest tracks finished.  How’s that for more?  Not enough?  Throw on some orchestras, then.

Of course the weakness to this argument is the old saying that “less is more”, and that theory holds water.  Ultimately, it comes down to taste.  Do you prefer the nuclear assault of Appetite, or the complex stew of Illusions?  Fortunately, you don’t have to choose.  You can buy and love them all.

We reviewers, however, are not afforded such luxury.  We are expected to rate these things and answer tough questions about why.  I cannot deny how I feel about the Illusions albums.  I think II tops I, but from first listen, these albums were very special.  The ambition, the indulgence, and the time paid off on these albums.

Breaking it down, there are numerous top tier bonafide classics on Use Your Illusion I and II.  I think if you boiled the album down to these basic original tracks (colour coded by original album), you’d have a hard time beating it.

Proposal:

  1. Dust N’ Bones
  2. Don’t Cry
  3. Bad Obsession
  4. Double Talkin’ Jive
  5. November Rain
  6. The Garden
  7. Coma
  8. Civil War
  9. 14 Years
  10. Breakdown
  11. Pretty Tied Up
  12. Locomotive
  13. Estranged
  14. You Could Be Mine

And look…that’s enough for a perfectly awesome single CD.  It doesn’t even include the excellent covers “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Live and Let Die”, both hit singles for Guns.  It also excludes dumb but fun stuff like “Get in the Ring”.  You know you and your buddies have recited the words.  Don’t lie to me!

I always choose to listen to these albums in full, in sequence.  I find that to be the best way to go, as they intended it to be.

Appetite showed the world that rock and roll could still be dangerous and loud.  The Illusions albums immediately proved that Axl was a hell of a tortured genius.  However it’s not a one man show.  The dominant songwriter is Izzy Stradlin, with 11 credits on most of the best material.  His singing added a Keith Richards rasp to the band’s repertoire as well.

You don’t have to agree with my rating, but I feel that all of the above really overshadows the filler on Use Your Illusion.  Some of the material I consider filler were singles.  “Dead Horse” and “Garden of Eden” were both hit music videos.  The sheer bloat and indulgence of this set was a sharp and delightful contrast to the first waves of back-to-basics grunge bands.  It kept Guns on the charts for years.

In a 1991 M.E.A.T Magazine interview, Slash stated that after Appetite, every band in the world copied their style.  He challenged bands to try and copy them this time.  “To copy us, you’d have to be us.”  Slash was correct.  Nobody could touch Illusions.

5/5 stars

 

* The story behind the Cooper cameo is that Axl has originally sung all of “The Garden” himself. He sang it in a very Alice Cooper voice, and there was concern it was too close for comfort. So they called up Alice (who they worked with before on “Under My Wheels”) and Alice just nailed “The Garden”.

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REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Appetite For Destruction (1987 Geffen)

The first time I ever heard of Guns N’ Roses was from a rock magazine.  There was a picture of this weird looking lead singer with spiky red hair, and his name was “Axl”.  I immediately decided I didn’t like whoever he was, because he looked absolutely hammered, a complete mess.  And what kind of name was “Guns N’ Roses” for a band anyway?

MuchMusic began spinning their first video, “Welcome to the Jungle”, but only on the Pepsi Power Hour.  After a couple plays, I liked it.  I took Axl off the “banned” list and taped their video.  I asked my friend Scott if he liked Guns N’ Roses.  “They suck!” he answered.  A few months later, another video hit the airwaves and it was even better.  “Sweet Child O’ Mine” came out during the year of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard, but wasn’t like either band.  I loved the tune; this band had potential!  Before I knew it, school was out for the summer.

A funny thing happened on summer break.  Guns N’ Roses became huge.  When I returned to school in the fall, guess what band Scott was suddenly in to?  Guns N’ Roses.*  Everybody was.  And nobody believed me that I liked them first.  “You probably don’t even know the words,” said one kid.

That was 30 years ago.  Jesus Murphy…30 years!

I could yammer on and on about Appetite for Destruction.  For example, we could discuss these subjects:

  • How Guns went against the grain but changed the game.
  • Mike Clink’s sharp anti-80s production.  (Did you know Paul Stanley wanted to produce Appetite?)
  • The iconic album cover.
  • Slash’s immense influence on guitar players, including making the Gibson Les Paul the guitar to play again.
  • The under appreciated songwriting of Mr. Izzy Stradlin’.
  • The unstoppable rhythm section of Duff “Rose” McKagan and Steven “Popcorn” Adler.
  • That Duff McKagan is uber-talented and his backing vocals are a crucial part of Guns’ sound.
  • The single-minded, focused and unified direction of Appetite.
  • How their ample use of the “f word” drove the censors crazy.
  • Cowbell.
  • Riffs.
  • The all-important role of lead singer and frontman W. Axl Rose in their rise to stardom.
  • How Axl and Slash became the Steven Tyler and Joe Perry for a new generation.
  • That ten thousand bands followed in their wake when the sleazy side of the Sunset Strip became the hottest new trend.

We could talk about all those things until we’re blue in the face; each one would make for a fine subject for an article in their own right.  Or, perhaps I could talk about some of my more controversial opinions:

  • That Appetite is great, but Illusions are better.
  • The best song is not one of the singles, but in fact the last track, the sprawling “Rocket Queen”.
  • Even Appetite has filler, in this case “Anything Goes” and “Think About You”.
  • That Izzy was the most talented member.

I could do that, or I could even go through Appetite track by track.  It would be cool to analyze the riffage, anger and rock power of tracks like “It’s So Easy”, “Nightrain”, “Out Ta Get Me” and “You’re Crazy”.  We could discuss that Guns groove that is the basis of the legendary “Mr. Brownstone”.  The simmering , biting intensity of “My Michelle”.  We could, or you could click on any of the numerous articles from rock magazines that do the same thing.

Maybe yammering about Appetite isn’t as important as the memories associated with it.  I’ve shared this story before, but my favourite memory of this album goes back to highschool.  When the album hit it big, virtually everybody I knew had a copy.  One guy named Anand liked studying to Appetite.  He had strict parents.  One day he was down in the basement doing his homework with “Out Ta Get Me” playing.   His kid brother kept coming around to bug him, as kid brothers do.  He hung around long enough to learn the words to “Out Ta Get Me”, and returned upstairs.  When the parents heard the kid singing “They’re out to get me! I’m fucking innocent,” Anand got grounded.  (He got grounded a lot, though.)

Appetite for Destruction has sold 18 million copies in the US, with another few million sold overseas.  It’s one of the select albums to go Diamond (1 million copies) in Canada.  That’s a lot of people with memories of Appetite for Destruction (even though about five copies were actually bought by myself).  I’m not the only one with stories.  So how do I go about reviewing Appetite for Destruction?

Like anything else, I guess:  on a scale of 5:

4.5/5 stars

 

* Scott responds: “In my defence, I heard ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ first, and wasn’t into the power ballad thing. It was when I saw the video for ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ that I changed my opinion, and after getting the album — the imported banned cover — that I became a huge fan. I didn’t jump on no band wagon!”

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Life and Crimes of (1999 box set)

ALICE COOPER – The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper (1999 Rhino 4 CD set)

With the benefit of hindsight, 1999 was way too early for Alice Cooper to be looking back with a comprehensive box set.  His new album Paranormal will be out this month.  He’s been consistently touring and recording.  The picture was different in 1999 though, since Alice had been quietly under the radar for much of the decade and there was no sign of new music coming.

This Rhino box set is pretty comprehensive.  Though there are plenty more rarities out there to get on singles and elsewhere, Rhino served up a very generous selection of them.  Starting in 1966 with singles by The Spiders and The Nazz, Alice’s sound begins to evolve.  Those early bands were 4/5 of the original Alice Cooper group:  only drummer Neal Smith had yet to join.  The early singles are unfocused compared to what Alice was going to do in a couple years.  “Don’t Blow Your Mind” and “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye” (sometimes known as “I’ve Written Home to Mother”) are sloppy psychedelia.  “Hitch Hike” is like rockabilly.  “Why Don’t You Love Me” is late 60s style rock and roll with a nice harmonica part.  It sounds influenced by the Beatles.

A demo version of “Nobody Likes Me” is the first “official” Alice Cooper Group track and it sees the sound veer closer to where they were headed.  It has a sing-song melody that recalls “School’s Out” later on.  A few tracks from Alice’s first two albums (Pretties For You and Easy Action) demonstrate a work in progress.  “Reflected” is an early version of something that would be re-written as “Elected”.  The band was still very psychedelic and not as tight as they would become.

There is a sudden shift, and Alice Cooper emerges as the classic artist we know and love when he hooked up with producer extraordinaire Bob Ezrin.  “Caught in a Dream” (a single edit) and a number of essential tracks from Love It to Death kick the box set right in the ass and it suddenly becomes a very engaging listen, when before it was just…interesting.  A quintet of songs from the next album Killer are just as special, though including “Halo of Flies” would have been appropriate too.

Before heading into the School’s Out material there is a rare demo entitled “Call it Evil”.  A small portion of the music would make it into the the classic West Side Story tribute “Gutter Cat vs. the Jets” (also included), but this is its own song and otherwise unreleased.  The single version of “School’s Out”  is an obvious inclusion, but these two are the only tracks from School’s Out, a baffling set of omissions.  Granted, “School’s Out” plays like a concept album and is tricky to split up for a box set, but it is under-represented here, period.

Billion Dollar Babies is considered a peak of this period, and gets five tracks of its own, all brilliant.  “Elected” is the single version.  “No More Mr. Nice Guy” is a highlight of Alice’s entire career and it still sounds fresh.  Another rarity ensues which is “Slick Black Limousine”, a UK exclusive flexi-disc release.  It sounds more like early Alice Cooper group material, with Alice doing his best Elvis.  The end of the original group was nigh, unfortunately, and Alice’s next album Muscle of Love was noticeably lacking something.  Maybe it’s because Bob Ezrin didn’t produce it, but the band was also on the verge of splitting.  Addictions were hurting them.  They were still making great rock and roll, just not…as great.  “Respect for the Sleepers” is a demo version of “Muscle of Love”, an unreleased track with lyrics inspired by Alice’s “dead drunk friends” (Jimi, Janis, Jim).  There are more songs from Muscle of Love included than there were for School’s Out, which is odd but alright.

At this point, Alice split from the original band.  Then there are a pair of rarities featuring Alice from an obscure rock opera called Flash Fearless Vs. the Zorg Women, Pts. 5 & 6.  Before Queen, there was this Flash Gordon album and Alice’s tracks feature players like John Entwistle, Kenney Jones, Nicky Hopkins, Bill Bruford and Keith Moon as “Long John Silver”.  “I’m Flash” and “Space Pirates” are mere curiosities, but it’s stuff like this that makes buying a box set so much more worth it.  Where else would you hear these tracks?  Both feature Alice’s delicious trademark sneer.

Alice’s solo career really began with 1975’s Welcome to My Nightmare.  He and Bob Ezrin went all-in with an elaborate horror rock concept album featuring a number of classics.  “Welcome to My Nightmare” and “Only Women Bleed” are single versions, and it’s fantastic that the blazing “Escape” was included.  Another concept album, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, was not as strong.  Only two tracks are included, but both were singles.  “Go to Hell” is a must-have.

The third CD in this box set commences a murky period.  Alice was making albums frequently, but they weren’t as well received and many dwell in obscurity.  Lace and Whiskey was pretty good, and “It’s Hot Tonight” is a great track to start the disc.  Meanwhile, original band members Michael Bruce, Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway formed the Billion Dollar Babies.  They made one album called Battle Axe, and their cool rock track “I Miss You” is included.  That’s a nice touch, because for the first seven albums those guys were as important as Vincent Furnier (aka Alice Cooper).  Michael Bruce sings, but lead guitarist Glen Buxton was more or less incapacitated by addiction and wasn’t invited.  “Battle Axe” sounds like a natural continuation of the Muscle of Love sound.  A bunch more rarities are incoming:  a torch ballad called “No Time for Tears” (unreleased) and “Because”, the Beatles cover featuring the Bee Gees.  This was from that pretty mediocre Sgt. Peppers tribute album from 1978, so it’s great to be able to get it in a box set.  Alice’s interpretation is creepy, and the Bee Gees are immaculate.

Moving on to his next solo album, Alice changed direction on From the Inside.  He had just gotten out of rehab (an actual mental hospital) and made a concept album with David Foster and Bernie Taupin about the experience.  The title track is included as a single version, and you also get the beautifully campy ballad “How You Gonna See Me Now”.  It was a single too, and its B-side “No Tricks” is also included.  It is a duet with soul singer Betty Wright.  Disc three is generous in rarities.  Another one called “Road Rats” (produced by Todd Rundgren) is a decent rocker from a movie called Roadies.

Alice moved into the 1980s on Flush the Fashion which employed some new wave and punk influences.  Its two best songs, “Clones (We’re All)” and “Pain” are included.  1981 brought Special Forces and more rarities.  “Who Do You Think We Are” is a single version, and “Look at You Over There, Ripping the Sawdust from My Teddy Bear” is a synthy unreleased song pulled last minute from the album.  Then there is “For Britain Only”, the stripped-back rocker from the EP of the same name.  “I Am the Future” is a single version originally from 1982’s Zipper Catches Skin.  Completing this era (sometimes called Alice’s “blackout period”) are a pair of tracks from DaDa (1983).  Alice had moved as far as he would go into the high-tech synthesizer direction, and he soon cleaned up for good.  A couple odds and ends tidy up the tracks from this era.  “Identity Crisises” and “See Me in the Mirror” are previously unreleased songs from the Monster Dog movie (1984) which starred Alice.  These are very low-fi tracks, but “Identity Crisises” is actually pretty cool.

The final track on the third disc is the first one from Alice’s big comeback period.  “Hard Rock Summer” is a fun heavy metal rocker from the Jason Lives soundtrack.  It’s cheesy but also previously unavailable.  The fourth and final CD picks up there, with two more rarities from the same movie.  “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” is included in demo and movie mix versions.  Onto 1986’s Constrictor LP, you get the enjoyable “Teenage Frankenstein”.  By 1987 Alice was telling us to Raise Your Fist and Yell on “Freedom”.  The excellent “Prince of Darkness” is also from that album, but then there are two more rarities.  Alice cut a re-recording of “Under My Wheels” with Axl Rose, Slash and Izzy Stradlin for the movie The Decline of Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years. Unlike many re-recordings, this one is well worth it because hey, it’s Guns N’ fuckin’ Roses.

Alice’s sound got slicker moving into the late 80s. “I Got a Line on You” is a Spirit cover from the movie Iron Eagle II. There is a notable shift towards mainstream hard rock, and this spilled over onto the next album Trash (1989).  This box set has three songs from Trash, but one is the irritatingly bad title track featuring Jon Bon Jovi.  His sound got a little tougher on Hey Stoopid (1991) from which you get a single version of the title track, and “Feed My Frankenstein” (also from Wayne’s World).  The Hendrix cover “Fire” is the last song from this period, which was a B-side.  Unfortunately another B-side called “It Rained All Night” is a superior song, but not included.

Alice took another short break between albums before emerging in 1994 with another critically acclaimed concept album, The Last Temptation.  Alice shed the trappings of the 80s and the album is held in high esteem today as a diverse combination of the 70s and 90s.  Three tracks represent it, but it’s hard not to wish “Side Show” was also included.

The Last Temptation was Alice’s last studio album when this box was released in 1999.  In the meantime, Alice made friends with Rob Zombie who was obviously influenced by the Coop.  They collaborated on a song called “Hands of Death (Burn Baby Burn)” for an X-Files CD.  This box set has the unreleased “Spookshow 2000 Mix”.  The track points in the direction of Alice’s next album Brutal Planet.

This box set is quite an epic journey, with many facets and side roads.  A trip like this needs an appropriate closing, and Rhino did something interesting to do that.  They broke the chronological format they used for the majority of the set, and slid in the acoustic rocker “Is Anyone Home?”.  This was a studio track included on Alice’s 1997 live album A Fistful of Alice.  This serves as the climax, and “Stolen Prayer” from The Last Temptation is the finale.  “Stolen Prayer” is a powerful duet with the late Chris Cornell.  It was always a perfect closer, but now it’s…also sad.

It should be obvious now that The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper is a worthwhile box set even for fans who own every album.  The wealth of rarities are just a taste, but they certainly scratch a lot of track off of collector’s lists.  Many remain exclusive to this box set.  On top of that, it is simply a good listen, bumpy start aside.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Cinderella – Gold (2006)

CINDERELLA – Gold (2006 Universal)

When a band like Cinderella, who only have four studio albums, get a double CD “best of” compilation, it had better be good.  Fortunately Cinderella’s edition of the Gold series offers value for the money and unreleased live tracks to boot.

All the Cinderella albums are represented, including the criminally underrated Still Climbing album from 1994.  Cinderella did not “go grunge” as so many others did.  As “Bad Attitude Shuffle” indicates, they simply doubled down on their own brand of bluesy hard rock with bite.  From the same album, “Free Wheelin'” and “Talk is Cheap” both show fearless commitment to the genre.  Then the ballad “Through the Rain” also from Still Climbing provides the balance.  Cinderella have successfully employed ballads since day one, because they happen to be quite good at them.

Among their greatest ballads: “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Til It’s Gone)”, “Heartbreak Station”, “Coming Home”, “Wind of Change”, and “Nobody’s Fool”.  Each one of these tracks is worthy to be on this compilation.  Some of their slower material either bordered on blues, or were just flat-out blues songs.  Some are here:  “Long Cold Winter”, “Dead Man’s Road”, and “Sick For the Cure”.  Then there is the soulful “Shelter Me” that is harder to categorize.  But of course Cinderella are best known as a hard rock band, and most of the material falls into that vast category.  Many of these tunes are truly awesome.  “Shake Me” was first to gain attention, with some noting similarities to AC/DC.  “Hot and Bothered”, originally from the Wayne’s World soundtrack, combines the blues and rock in a tasty confection.  “Second Wind” from Long Cold Winter kicks ass, and “Gypsy Road” is here too, albeit in live form.

The live tracks are all credited to a Japanese promo CD called Last Train to Heartbreak Station, which appears to be a completely different thing from their Japanese EP called Live Train to Heartbreak Station.  Rarities are always welcome on a compilation, but one has to wish that the great single “Gypsy Road” was also included in its studio version.  It’s a good enough tune that it wouldn’t be a crime to have two versions on the same CD.

Because of their feminine name and some really bad wardrobe choices, Cinderella was written off by many people without hearing any of their rocking material.  While that is a real shame, Cinderella hasn’t made a new album in 23 years so this would be a good one-stop-shop to get much of their best material.  Augment this baby with a copy of their classic Long Cold Winter CD and you will have enough Cinderella to have a good representation of their best stuff.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Duff McKagan – Believe In Me (1993)

scan_20170213DUFF McKAGAN – Believe In Me (1993 Geffen)

In 1993 Duff McKagan was not clean yet, at least not for good.  It would take a critical medical emergency for him to get close enough to death and stop drinking.  The cover of Believe in Me, a skeletal Duff bathing in a martini glass, reflects the last of the old Duff.  It was his solo debut, following Izzy but before Slash.  Guns’ own Spaghetti Incident? hit the shelves two months later, as the end of the original band creeped on the horizon.

Fans were probably experiencing a bit of Guns overload.  Two albums, two live concert video tapes, loads of touring and music videos…Guns were everywhere from 1991-1993 and then it was the dawn of Guns solo albums.

Duff’s solo debut was a grab bag of different styles:  punk, rock, funk, jazz and ballads.  It was also loaded with rock star guest shots:  Lenny Kravitz and Sebastian Bach sang one song a piece.  Dave Sabo and Rob Affuso from Skid Row joined Baz on the album while Slash laid down a couple trademark dirty guitar solos.  Jeff Beck dropped by, and just about every Guns member except Axl himself contributed.

Despite Duff’s ambition, the best tracks tend to be the rockers.  Opener “Believe in Me” was a very Guns-like single:  short, sweet, catchy and with a Slash guitar solo to hit it home.  “I Love You” isn’t a ballad despite the title, in fact it’s a rocker and perhaps the best tune on the album. “Just Not There” also rides the GN’R train, normally bound for hitsville.  Sebastian Bach’s “Trouble” is plenty of fun, and Lenny Kravitz gets angry on “The Majority”.  These songs would have made a fine basis for a Guns album, but Axl wasn’t looking for songs that sounded like Guns N’ Roses.

An angry “(Fucked Up) Beyond Belief” (a song birthed from GN’R rehearsals) is noisy punk-rap, while “Fuck You” itself is basically a rock rap song featuring a guy named Doc.  “Punk Rock Song” is exactly what it claims to be, but isn’t particularly memorable.  The biggest mis-step is the muted trumpet jazz number, “Lonely Tonight”.  At least Duff was trying something different, but his vocals and lyrics leave a lot to be desired.

During the period that Guns N’ Roses were inactive or just working behind closed doors, a lot of these solo albums really represented an alternate universe.  “What if the original members didn’t leave and instead recorded a new album?”  It’s possible these songs or songs like them could have been on that hypothetical album.  Instead, Believe in Me was a launch pad for plenty of Duff projects and albums:  Neurotic Outsides, 10 Minute Warning, Loaded, Velvet Revolver and many more.  Duff has proven that clean and sober, he can be one hell of a prolific songwriter.  Believe in Me is a good introduction to the many stylings of Duff McKagan.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Trailer Park Boys – Out of the Park: Europe (2016)

tpb-ootp-4TRAILER PARK BOYS – Out of the Park: Europe (2016 Netflix)

It’s a whole new series, and it’s not what you expect.  When Ricky, Julian and Bubbles head off to Europe for what they think is a paid vacation, they are in for many unpleasant surprises.  Randy and Lahey may be far behind them in Canada, but in London England they are met by a different kind of adversary.  Mayhue is their guide, a Swearnet representative, and taskmaster (played by Guns N’ Roses stage manager Tom Mayhue).  The boys are going to be driving around Europe in a rock-star class tour bus, but given nothing to eat, drink, smoke, or spend.  The only way to make money is to complete special tasks or missions assigned by Swearnet.  (If you do the math, in real life Swearnet are writer/actors Robb Wells, J.P. Tremblay, and Mike Smith: the guys who play Ricky, Julian and Bubbles.  They are essentially being given missions by their real-life alter-egos.)

Previous Trailer Park Boys offerings have come in the form of stand-up comedy shows, and of course the classic TV series that started it all.  The original series was designed as a “mockumentary” reality show, as a film crew followed around repeat offender Julian and his gang of criminals.  This new spinoff series takes inspiration from another reality TV program, the Amazing Race.

In each city (of which they visit seven), they are given specific tasks to earn specific amounts of money.  They soon learn it’s all about the fine print.  The devil is in the details in London with these deceptively simple pit stops:  Get comedian Noel Fielding’s autograph ($25), drink six complementary draught at the Swan pub and hold your piss for six hours ($25), reshoot the cover of the Beatles’ Abbey Road ($25, or $1000 if you can get a living Beatle in the picture), and steal the Queen’s undies from Buckingham Palace ($1000).  It quickly becomes apparent that Ricky has never even heard of the Beatles.

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Though the show is scripted, setting it on the streets of Europe does give it a “reality TV” feel similar to the Amazing Race.  Bystanders stop to take pictures of the three weird looking Canadians, often up to no good.  After London, it’s off to Berlin.  Communication becomes a problem in Germany.  Bubbles orders what he thinks is going to be a hamburger, but turns out to be an octopus burger (still delicious, according to Bubbles).  Next stop:  Copenhagen, Denmark.  Bubbles is horrified to find that one of that day’s tasks ($1000) is to step in the ring as his wresting character Green Bastard, with former heavyweight boxing champion Brian Neilson.  Only two ways to win:  Give him two shots in the nuts, or last three rounds.  Good fuckin’ luck.

The boys get arrested in Oslo, Norway.  All they had to do was give a troll a three second atomic hover wedgie ($25), “acquire” a boat and take it around the fjords ($25), and convince actor Fridtjov Såheim (from the Netflix series Lilyhammer in a cross promotion) to join them for drinks ($1000). Stockholm has its own offerings, two of which are food based: Finish the “Belly Buster Meatball Meal” at a local eatery without losing their lunch, and follow it up with a can of surströmming for dessert. According to wikipedia: “When a can of surströmming is opened, the contents release a strong and sometimes overwhelming odour. The dish is ordinarily eaten outdoors. According to a Japanese study, a newly opened can of surströmming has one of the most putrid food smells in the world, even more so than similarly fermented fish dishes such as the Korean Hongeohoe or Japanese Kusaya.” I don’t think anything in this scene was staged.

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Being in Europe allowed the boys to meet some NHL heroes from the past. Ricky is tasked to stop one shot by Peter Forsberg (two NHL Stanley Cups) in a five shot shootout ($500). In Helsinki Finland, they are given a relatively simple task: Sing in a karaoke cab, and not talk about hockey ($25). It gets complicated when five-time Cup winner Esa Tikkanen steps into their cab.

The Trailer Park Boys had to end their tour in Amsterdam for obvious reasons. It was a lifelong dream of Ricky’s to go there, and that warrants a two-part episode to finish the season. Humiliation after humiliation, it was a long hard road to get to Amsterdam. It is a delight to see Ricky happy as a kid in a candy store when they finally arrive. Everything seems to be going well; they even run into an old friend from Canada. The final challenge enables Bubbles to play one of his own songs with 2/3rds of Crosby Stills & Nash. Steven Stills wins Best Line of the Series with the simple, “They’re Canadians. They don’t know any better.”

A second Trailer Park Boys series could have been a misstep, especially considering the ill-executed Drunk and On Drugs Happy Funtime Hour.  Instead, this year fans received both the quality-driven Season 10 of the original series, and now Out of the Park: Europe.  With double the amount of Trailer Park Boys hilarity, Netflix hit an inside-the-park home run in 2016.  It is made clear by the end that this is not the last time Ricky, Julian and Bubbles will be Out of the Park.  Where they go next, only Swearnet knows.

4.5/5 stars

#516: Use Your Illusion

GETTING MORE TALE #516: Use Your Illusion

25 years ago on this day, millions of fans used their illusions.

1991:  First year of university, and I was hard at work on some reading.  My sister and my mom were out shopping at the mall.  The record store I eventually worked at opened up just that summer.  Unbeknownst to me, they popped in on my behalf and returned with a present.

“Mike!” yelled my sister excitedly as they returned home.  The dog barked loudly in shrill Schnauzer barks as she talked.  “Did you know Guns N’ Roses have TWO NEW ALBUMS OUT?”

I sure did!  Use Your Illusion I and II were the long-awaited true followups to Appetite for Destruction.  With 30 brand new songs, Guns released the music as two separate but complimentary albums.  My sister eagerly handed me a gift:  a new cassette copy of Use Your Illusion II!

Why she chose II, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.  For this fan, II was the first.  I had it a whole week before I caught up and bought Illusion I (again, at the same store I would work at only three years later).  It was $10.99.  Perhaps because I had the second album a week ahead of the first, I still really prefer II over I.  Songs such as “Breakdown”, “Pretty Tied Up”, and “Locomotive” are three of the strongest and most ambitious rock songs on an already strong set.  They stand up today as my personal favourites.

The Use Your Illusion albums spawned a combined eight singles:  “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, “Civil War”, “You Could Be Mine”, “Don’t Cry”, “Live and Let Die”, “November Rain”, “Yesterdays” and “Estranged”.  Additionally, music videos were made for the tracks “Garden of Eden”, “The Garden”, and “Dead Horse”.  Guns N’ Roses assaulted all formats as they trounced the world in a two year long world tour, with acts such as Skid Row, Metallica and Faith No More.  They even suffered their most devastating lineup change right at the very start of it.  Chief songwriter Izzy Stradlin departed in November of 1991, to be replaced shortly after by Gilby Clarke.  Although he has made numerous guest appearances since, Izzy has never rejoined Guns N’ Roses.

Did you buy Use Your Illusion I and II 25 years ago today?  Do you have a favourite?

#482: Modified Listening Experiences

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GETTING MORE TALE #482: Modified Listening Experiences

With modern music technology and software, it has never been easier to not only take your music anywhere, but now you can even modify the albums you buy.  Using some simple tricks you can change aspects of the tracklist to make the album suit you.   You have probably done this yourself.  Many do regularly, by shuffling the track order.  Let’s go a little deeper than that.

The first time I experienced the concept of modifying an album’s tracklist, I was just a kid.  It was 1985, and I was recording the first W.A.S.P. cassette off my next door neighbour George (R.I.P.), from tape to tape.

“If you don’t like the song ‘Sleeping in the Fire’,” he said, “You can just push pause on this tape recorder.  Then un-pause it when the song is over.  Your copy won’t have ‘Sleeping in the Fire’ if that’s how you like it.”

Even then, I couldn’t imagine a reason to copy an entire album sans one song.  I kept the tape running and never hit pause, but George’s advice kept tumbling around in my brain, for years.   Over time I began experimenting with tracklist modification.  Never to remove songs, mind you, always to add or improve.

Here are some examples of modified track lists in my library.

1. Adding bonus tracks

COOPSingle B-sides just kind of float around in most collections.  Due to their short running time, I don’t often spin CD singles.  On a PC hard drive they tend to get lost while full albums get more play.  To give some of these B-sides a little more air time, in many cases I have chosen to add the songs as “bonus tracks”, at the end of the associated album.  This works best when it’s just one or two tracks.  More than that can extend an album listening experience too long.

Sometimes, different versions of albums will have unique bonus tracks.  Perhaps there’s one on the vinyl version that is on nothing else.  Japanese editions, deluxe versions, European editions, iTunes editions…there are usually lots of bonus tracks out there, but always on different versions of the disc.  Why not take them all, and make your own “super deluxe edition” with all the bonus tracks in one spot?  Listening to an album modified in this way can be a bit longer than the usual, but ultimately it’s rewarding to hear the entire body of work in one smooth sitting.  My MP3 player is loaded with my complete version of Alice Cooper’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare, and it’s just 10 minutes shy of two hours long!

In extreme cases, there are so many bonus tracks out there that you may need to consider creating an entire “bonus disc” folder to house them all.

2. Removing gaps

The 1990’s were such a quaint time.  Remember “hidden bonus tracks”?  At the end of the album, instead of stopping, the CD would continue to play several minutes of silence.  Then you would be surprised by a hidden unlisted song!  A notable example is “Look at Your Game, Girl”, the infamous Charles Manson cover that Axl hid away at the end of The Spaghetti Incident.  There was only a 10 second gap on that CD; still annoying but other albums had much longer pauses before the hidden track.

I use Audacity to remove the long gaps, or to isolate the hidden song to a track all its own.  As much as I enjoy a “pure” listening experience the way the artist intended, these long gaps are pretty easy to sacrifice.

3. Restoring an intended song order

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Rock and roll is full of stories about bands who couldn’t get their way when an album was released.  W.A.S.P. for example wanted their song “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)” to open their self titled album.  Now you can add it there yourself!  (W.A.S.P. also added the song to the start of the remastered version of the album.)  You can even use Audacity to adjust the volume levels, so that everything matches.

A better example is Extreme’s III Sides to Every Story.  The piano ballad “Don’t Leave Me Alone” was only on the cassette version of the album.  The CD couldn’t contain all the songs without making it a double, so that one had to be left off.  Now you can re-add it yourself, right where it belongs at the end of “side two” and before the big side three suite.  Now you can hear the whole album as Extreme intended, seamlessly.

Pardon the pun, but I took an even more “extreme” approach to their second album, Pornograffitti.  The instrumental track “Fight of the Wounded Bumblebee” was written as a longer piece with a slow bluesy coda.  This second half was recorded solo by Nuno Bettencourt as “Bumble Bee (Crash Landing)” for a guitar compilation.  Using Audacity, I combined both tracks to restore the song to its original full structure.  This is about as close as we will ever get to hearing the tracks as written.  I dropped the new longer track into the album tracklisting and voila!  Still seamless, but now with a new darker mood before “He-Man Woman Hater”.

Indeed, the possibilities are limitless.  Steve Harris often complained that the Iron Maiden album No Prayer for the Dying should have had live crowd noise mixed in, like a live album.  Now you can do that yourself.  With a deft touch, you can even edit songs down yourself or extend them by looping sections.

With the advent of the computer as a listening device, the sky is now the limit.  How would you modify your listening experiences?

 

#460: Appetite for Reunions

GETTING MORE TALE #460: Appetite for Reunions

Unless you have been living under a pile of rock (and roll), then you know that the hype machine for a 2016 Guns N’ Roses “reunion” has already begun.

But this is not a reunion.  This is not Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy, and Steven.  Matt Sorum is not involved, nor is Gilby Clarke.  The new lineup is supposed to consist of:  W. Axl Rose, Slash, Duff “Rose” McKagan, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer, Dizzy Reed, and Chris Pittman, with new member Dave Kushner (Velvet Revolver) in the third guitar slot.

Of course, many lineups labelled as “reunions” in the past were not.  Van Halen’s current “reunited” lineup consists of three classic members and one new guy, Wolfgang Van Halen.  Any time The Who go out there for a tour, there are only two original members.  Not much can be done about that, with Keith and John both gone.  Not that it matters since both bands have made millions on these tours, and both bands even managed to put out new albums, without the full original lineups.  New music always trumps a tour.

Few bands seem to reunite with all the beloved members intact, either due to death or stubbornness.  There are exceptions, obviously.  The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac came together with their most beloved lineups, and a tremendous amount of success, but even they couldn’t make it last.  Don Felder was fired from the Eagles years ago.  Christine McVie only recently returned to the Mac after being gone for ages, and meanwhile the band did a new album without her.   And Black Sabbath?  Their farewell tour only has ¾ of the original lineup!  Meanwhile Bill Ward sits at home, having alienated the band and Sharon Osbourne.  The chances of Ward ever playing drums again in the band he co-founded are slim to none.  One does not piss off the Osbourne camp without consequences.  Regardless of his reasons, justified or not, a Black Sabbath farewell tour without its still capable original drummer is a hollow thing indeed.

Even when you do get the full original lineup of a band that you wanted, that doesn’t necessarily mean the band is returning to full functionality.  When Kiss reunited in 1996 with the full original band, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were hired hands.  They didn’t get a say, they didn’t get a vote.  They got a contract stating their responsibilities and compensation.  As if Paul and Gene would ever give up any control in their band, now!  So what we saw live was Kiss, but what we got behind the scenes and on the album Psycho-Circus was just “more of the same”.  Ace and Peter didn’t even appear on many of the songs, even though they were on the album cover.  But that’s nothing new for Kiss!

What band has had the most successful reunion?  I’m not talking in terms of numbers; then we would probably have to include Spice Girls and New Kids on the Block.  Who has had the most success in terms of quality?  That would have to be Iron Maiden.

Steve Harris did something very creative when he reunited with Bruce Dickinson.  Instead of just bringing Bruce back into the band, he also brought in Bruce’s guitarist and former Maiden member Adrian Smith.  But Adrian was not cool with coming in to replace somebody else.  “What about Janick Gers?” he asked.  Janick had been in Maiden for a successful decade, and Adrian didn’t want him out of a job.  Steve always envisioned a three-guitar Iron Maiden, and Adrian Smith coming back gave him that opportunity.  It worked out brilliantly, especially live, when it could have been a train wreck.  Technically, what Iron Maiden did is the same thing Guns N’ Roses are said to be doing:  a new version of the band, with both classic and current members.  Maiden made it last, too.  Harris was very clear with Bruce:  nobody was coming back to Maiden just to hang around a while and leave again.  Anybody coming back to Maiden was coming back for life, and that is exactly what happened.  Five more studio albums later, Maiden rule absolutely.

What will happen with Guns N’ Roses?  That is harder to predict.  It is unlikely their most talented member, Izzy Stradlin, would want to return to the circus of insanity that is a GN’R tour.  As for Slash, he has always preferred a stripped down band.  It’s hard to imagine how he will be happy playing in a band with two keyboardists, but that’s what they say is happening.  How long will it last?  A few shows?  Coachella and gone?  Much like Ace Frehley, Slash will probably be a contracted musician.

A band of Guns’ stature all but had to reunite.  The fans have been loudly demanding something like this for over a decade.  The fans hoped Izzy and Steven Adler or Matt Sorum would be a part of it, but that has always seemed unlikely.  Slash couldn’t even get Izzy into Velvet Revolver.  What they are doing is probably the closest to a reunion that is likely.  Perhaps Izzy will show up to guest as he has in the past, but fans shouldn’t get their hopes up of seeing Adler on stage.

Perhaps this, the most anticipated “reunion” since Led Zeppelin (also a new lineup with Jason Bonham), will stop the constant questions from the media and fans.  “Will you ever get back together?”  It must be tiring answering that question daily, when you have new music out there to play.  Sometimes a band just has to give in and take a step backwards.  Sometimes, as in the case of Iron Maiden, the way forward is to go backwards.

Will it work?  The only way to find out is to stay tuned.  You know where you are?  You in the jungle, baby.

Let’s see if the bad boys of rock and roll can still survive the jungle.

GNR

#405: Brett-Lore (Excerpts)

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#405: Brett-Lore (Excerpts)

All artwork created by: Various denizens of Grand River Collegiate Institute, circa 1989-1991.

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