hard rock

Just Listening to…Aerosmith – Nine Lives

It’s been a while since we’ve been “Just Listening” to an album here, but this one’s always good for a revisit.  The last truly great Aerosmith album was 1997’s Nine Lives.  I stand by that, because it’s a killer album.  We reviewed it back in 2015, so if you’re looking for a more in-depth analysis, check that out.  Today we’re just appreciating an album that is too often overlooked for the strengths it has.

The heavy stuff was heavy enough, and the ballads had balls.  Songs like “Nine Lives” and “Taste of India” are juggernauts.  Drummer Joey Kramer really took them to the next level, which is remarkable since he was sidelined for part of the making of the album.  His partner in rhythm, bassist Tom Hamilton, is also on top of things with his lyrical bassline meanderings.  You’ll rarely find a better guitar tag team than Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, but Steven Tyler’s words are also noteworthy.  The guy is a poet with a dirty mind, and Nine Lives has some of his better lyrics.   “‘Cause love is like the right dress on the wrong girl, You never know what you’re gonna find.”

Most people think of Pump or Get a Grip as the last decent Aerosmith.  Although it didn’t have as many great singles, Nine Lives is actually a better album than Get a Grip.  It has less filler, and rock fans don’t really care about singles anyway.  The fact is, from beginning to end, Nine Lives is just a smoother ride.

 

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GUEST REVIEW: Van Halen – Balance (Derek Kortepeter vs. LeBrain)

VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner)

By Derek Kortepeter

I was perusing Mike’s blog like I sometimes do (what can I say, I’m a fan). I stumbled upon his review for a Van Halen record that means a lot to me, and frankly, is the one I love the most among all of the Hagar years AND Roth years. I was really surprised with just how harsh Mike was on what I’ve always regarded as the pinnacle of Van Halen’s creativity and musicality.

After discussing it with Mike, I decided to write somewhat of a rebuttal to his 3.75/5 review.  I plan to try to explain why this record means so much to me as a Van Halen fan and professional composer/musician. I will quote from the original review to make this sort of sound like a discussion rather than me just being a dick and touting my opinion as better. If anything, I just want detractors of this record to give it another view and possibly a second chance.

Ready? Let’s go!


Balance takes Van Halen into a highly polished, commercial direction. This is “balanced” with heavier grooves and a couple more “serious” lyrics.   The result turned out to be one of Van Halen’s most pop outings.

Right off the bat I will disagree with you Mike. I argue that this is Van Halen’s most EXPERIMENTAL outing since Fair Warning. The melodic phrasing and song structures on some of these songs are incredibly progressive, and additionally, I believe that there are enough instrumental pieces that push what people’s perception of the band could be.

As for the polish, that isn’t a negative, the band has never sounded better. The way Alex tuned his drums is brilliant and crisp, Eddie’s tone never sounded more varied (at least until Van Halen III), and the band sounded incredibly tight and focused (Mike’s bass in particular is fucking blistering). The record being heavy is 100 percent a positive as well, as this applies not only to the slamming instrumental but also the lyrical content.

This is hard rock, metal, and avant-garde with pop overtones. Not pop.

This is “The Seventh Seal”, and Sammy’s voice is in top form. Michael Anthony’s bass rolls and hits the notes at just the right moments. This is truly a great song, completely different from Van Halen of old, but surely a triumph.

No argument from me here. The Buddhist monks chanting in their low vocal register leading into Sammy’s fever dream about the End Times as described in the book of Revelation is a beckoning call to fans that Van Halen is in its most mature incarnation. Balance is established right off the bat as a theme involving spirituality, but that isn’t the only type of Balance pursued in the record. I see many of these songs as mirrors of one another, focusing in on a true sense of balance. I will extrapolate on this as I go on.

“Can’t Stop Loving You”, is an embarrassing foray into pop. While Van Halen wrote pop stuff before (“Love Walks In”), this song lacks cojones of any kind. The guitar is really thin, Alex Van Halen cha-cha’s his way through the drum fills, while Sammy sings a lyric that David Lee Roth would have used to wipe his ass.

Hoo boy. As I have already stated, I think the production on Balance is brilliant so we won’t retread that issue here. I always found this song to be sad, to me it is about the kind of longsuffering love that only couples who have been together for decades will understand. It shows an evolution in Van Halen’s views on love, which before were often juvenile in the sense that it was more about the start of the relationship before things get hard. The theme of commitment never really factored into the equation until this track, just the hormones in your body exploding when love is raw and new to you. David Lee Roth could never have come up with something like this, ever.

“Don’t Tell Me (What Love Can Do)” is anything but a love song. Sammy tackles drugs, faith, youth in crisis, and the 1990’s. Hagar has never sounded more foreboding, or mature for that matter. Eddie’s riff is simple, but dark and rhythmic. Michael locks onto the riff, creating this unstoppable wall of groove.

We agree here, this song is fucking genius in its execution and is the closest to metal Van Halen get until they write “Humans Being” a little later. Also here is where we begin to see the theme of Balance, which I argue permeates the record, take shape. The prior track is about a fulfilling love, this track is about the absence of love and how the dejected react in situations of pure despair. Pay attention, pretty much every song on the record has a directly opposing relationship to the song that it follows.

There is nothing wrong with this mid-tempo rocker (“Amsterdam”) with spare Eddie riff, except the lyrics.

Look the lyrics are in a party song, which as I recall, are not required to be Shakespeare. Do you really think that any DLR era gems known for partying like “Take Your Whiskey Home” are any more profound? Lyrics aside, this song is setting up another element of Balance by exploring sins of the flesh and addictive behaviors that can be found in so many cities. It is about losing control and giving into your desires, especially in this case with regards to alcohol and drugs. This is one part of the Balance equation, as the next track deals with sins of a different kind. Greed.

I’ll give VH a C for trying, but “Big Fat Money” is a C+ at best.

“Big Fat Money” is a raucous psychobilly freakout of a song. Every member of the band loses their fucking mind by giving all their energy into this burner of a track. Sammy shreds his vocal chords as he rapid-fires phrases, Eddie brings up-tempo blues and ragtime sounds to the forefront, Alex plays double-time almost punk rock beats, and Michael Anthony just slays you with his furious basslines. Furthermore, the element of Balance in relation to the prior track is the other most focused-upon sin in society (Greed). The song shows the destructive nature in a way, however, as you feel like the lyrics hint at somebody losing their mind to their desires that began in Amsterdam and continued to spiral downwards into pure insanity. The balance is the lure of desire and then the destructive after-effects of such desire.

“Strung Out” is a jokey opener to the ballad “Not Enough”.

I look at this track as an example of “chance music.” Much like the music of John Cage and other contemporaries of his, the aleatoric nature of “Strung Out” is based on numerous factors. It is essentially Eddie fucking around with piano strings, but it isn’t a joke in my opinion. If anything, it shows Van Halen willing to ask their listeners what music is, and more importantly, what they should define Van Halen as. It is in every way an experimental, not pop, foray into a new direction.

That fades into “Not Enough”, another ballad… Tunes like this made Van Halen seem completely out of touch with what was happening in the 1990s. Within months of its release, Shannon Hoon would overdose, Layne Staley locked into a dance of death with smack, and Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers went missing (presumed dead) after suffering long bouts of depression.

OK, a lot to unpack here. “Not Enough” isn’t a conventional ballad at all. It is about love and, more importantly, the loss of love. It doesn’t show a band out of touch at all, if anything, it shows that they are more in tune than ever. “Not Enough” is about the heart wrenching aspect of loss of someone you love. Period. The music video is somber and yet it also gives you hope. Eddie’s chorus-washed solo is a work of genius and as a whole the song remains the most mature expression of love and loss that I can possibly find in their catalogue.

As for the mentions of Layne Staley and Richey Edwards, I feel that I must interject that Alice In Chains and Manic Street Preachers are two incredibly important bands in my life. Layne spoke to my pain as a longtime sufferer of mental disorders and Richey looked at the world in the same cynical way that I do (plus as a Welsh-American, the Manics are a part of my culture and thus very important on another level to me). This is frankly a low-blow to the album that is unwarranted and patently false.

 “Aftershock” is another hard rocker, nothing embarrassing here, good riff, good melody, good song. 

As a drummer this is one of my all-time favorite songs to jam to. The entire song just blows the roof off of everything in its vicinity and remains a testament to just how hard Van Halen can rock. It also, however, brings in that same element of Balance that I speak of. “Not Enough” is about the raw and compassionate feelings of loss, namely in a relationship, but Aftershock is about the rage and bitterness that is likely to follow in the grieving process of a relationship. Both essential. Both a part of Balance.

A pair of instrumentals follow, an interesting touch seeing as Van Halen didn’t do too many instrumentals post-Dave. “Doin’ Time” is Alex messing around on the drums, which segues straight into “Baluchitherium”. 

These two songs are another part of me arguing about the experimental nature of this record. To devote so much time to instrumentals, especially the way they are structured here, is to push the band out of the Billboard 100 arena and into the “thinking” arena. The band is showing they are incredibly versatile and willing to take risks. Furthermore, guitar and drums are naturally instruments needed in order to balance out the equation of a rock band. Taken a step further, the instruments are played by brothers who are in many ways needed in their personal and professional lives to achieve balance.

Nothing on this record is haphazardly added.

“Take Me Back (Deja Vu)” is a pop song that I don’t mind at all, accented with acoustic guitar. 

It’s a brilliant song with brilliant instrumentation and vocals from Sammy. Also, it fits into the balance equation as it is about longing for better times. The reminiscing for the good times is here because the next track is all about the ugly of the present times.

“Feelin’” is a morose song but with an epic, powerful chorus. It is very different from anything the band had done prior.

The song is a masterpiece. Sammy is singing of a world on fire in every aspect of society as we know it. The song twists and turns with dazzling instrumentals and lyrics that are screamed at the heavens. It is the band completing its evolution into the mature incarnation of the band once known for wanting to “Dance the Night Away”. This would be the last song on the record unless you got it in Japan (more on that in a second), and it brings everything to a close. It is the end of the record, and unfortunately, the beginning of the End for the Hagar years.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Japan, there was one bonus track: this is the groove laden, oddball “Crossing Over”.  It’s a song about the afterlife and lyrically it’s probably the best tune of the bunch.

I am often called an experimental composer, so I suppose it is no surprise that I love this song and was so disappointed that it took me years after purchasing Balance to find it. I believe that this track completes the cycle started in “The Seventh Seal”. Notice how I talked about every song on the record being related in a balanced symmetry? I believe that “Crossing Over” is the mirror to “The Seventh Seal”. The album opens with nightmares of spiritual chaos, and this track is the completion of such chaos.


So, what do I have to say in closing? This record shows Van Halen at its highest possible output of creativity, and most importantly, its ability to show a deep philosophical approach to its writing never seen before or since. Balance is the culmination of everything that Van Halen was destined to be, and for that reason, it is the best record they ever wrote. Even if you disagree 100 percent with me, or just really hate Sammy Hagar, give this one another chance.

You might be surprised what you find.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – “Wanted: Dead or Alive” (1987 cassette)

BON JOVI – “Wanted: Dead or Alive” (1987 Mercury extended play cassette)

Some rarities are easiest to find on tape.

That’s definitely still the case for “Wanted: Dead or Alive”, the 1987 acoustic version originally released only on an extended play cassette in most of the world.  This version, discussed below, is a Holy Grail collectable.  What about CD or vinyl?  There was a rare Japanese version with a slightly different tracklist, but for 30 years, all I had was this cherished cassette.

The tape has four tracks.  The original studio version (titled “Long Version” here to avoid confusion with the  4:10 single edit) leads side A.  “Wanted” is Bon Jovi’s first truly brilliant song.  An extended cowboy metaphor about the road, it’s timeless.  It always has been.  Richie Sambora’s 12 string guitar made all the young guitar kids want to play one.  His backing vocals were the real highlight.  Funny thing about Bon Jovi:  the backing vocalist was better than the lead singer!  Smoking guitar solo too, where every note counts.  You can hear Richie pushing those strings and wrenching that solo from the instrument.  It’s a perfect song, with every component serving a purpose and coming together.  The old west as seen from New Jersey.

The acoustic version of “Wanted” is the real delight here.  It’s just Jon and Sambora together with two acoustic guitars.  Jon explains the details in the liner notes, but only the cassette has this information: one more good reason to hunt down the tape.  Read below:

“On March 18, 1987 or somewhere there bouts, Richie and I flew into New York to mix some live tracks for a radio special.  After a couple hours of record making, donut eating, and MTV watching we got bored, picked up two acoustics and started to jam.  The results are here on tape, the way we wrote it, just like it was in the basement on that cold January night in Jersey.”

If that doesn’t set the scene, nothing will.  Richie sings more of the lyrics, and belts out a killer acoustic solo too.  It was this recording that demonstrated to me the talents of Mr. Sambo.  What it lacks in glossy finish, it makes up for in spades with vibe.

On side B, the live version of “Wanted” is another rarity.  It’s an extended 8:13 full band version, with a long instrumental prologue.  According to the liner notes (again, only on the cassette), it was recorded at Cobo Hall in Detroit on March 11, exactly a week before the studio jam was recorded.  It’s likely this is one of the live songs that Jon and Richie were in New York mixing on the 18th.  (Production is credited to both.)  You may have lots of versions of “Wanted” already, but owning an extended take from early ’87 is better.

The tape ends on “I’d Die For You”, a song that was good enough to be a single in its own right.  However, it wasn’t.  It’s just an album track from Slippery When Wet, but it’s safe to say it’s a bit of an unsung classic.  The Japanese CD version, on the other hand, comes with the non-album rarity “Edge of a Broken Heart”, one of their best tunes ever.  After “Edge”, there is an exclusive unlisted interview with all five band members.  Inside, Japan also got a “Bon Jovi Dictionary (R to Z)”.  Presumably the other volumes of the dictionary can be found in other Japanese CDs.

Though this cassette has an overabundance of “Wanted”, you simply need to get that acoustic version.  You want the one that’s 5:31 long, recorded in March ’87.  In fact, you need that one.  And even though CD is the superior format, the tape has the liner notes and other details you won’t find on CD.

5/5 stars

Thanks to Mitch Lafon for helping me locate a CD copy of these tracks!

REVIEW: Queens of the Stone Age – Over the Years and Through the Woods (2005 CD/DVD)

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – Over the Years and Through the Woods (2005 Universal CD/DVD)

First thing’s first.  You will notice that the DVD has six more songs than the CD, and that’s not including the bonus features. That’s OK. While I wish there were two CDs so you get the whole show on audio, Over the Years and Through the Woods is still a damn fine live album.

No Nick? No problem. As much as I love the Nick Olivieri era of Queens, this live album smokes. Oftentimes, I don’t give a toss for Queens without Nick (Villains being an exception).  I do own and love this. Yeah, there are tunes that I miss. Yeah, I miss his screaming. But the album makes up for it in pure tuneage. (Nick’s in some of the bonus materials anyways.)

There’s a great mix of material from all the Queens albums, with a heavy leaning on Songs For The Deaf. There are even a couple Desert Sessions tunes, and an unreleased one.  It’s one awesome set, and great value for the money. It’s a CD I play at home, in the car, on the big stereo and on the earphones. Sound and video quality are fine. Don’t expect a hi-def show from the Queens though. This is sweaty and rough.

My favourite part: Josh Homme gets pissed off at some kid throwing things at him, and berates said kid in front of the crowd a bit.  “Hey cocksmoker.  Eat a bag of dicks.”  He then breaks into the “Anti-Cocksmoker Song” (“Tangled Up in Plaid”.)

Lineup: Josh Homme, Joey Castillo, Alain Johannes, Troy Van Leeuwen and Natasha Shneider.

5/5 stars. Indispensible.

 

CD
1.”Go with the Flow” – 2:58
2.”Regular John” – 5:24
3.”Monsters in the Parasol” – 4:39
4.”Tangled Up in Plaid” – 4:00
5.”Little Sister” – 2:51
6.”You Can’t Quit Me Baby” – 9:49
7.”I Wanna Make It wit Chu” – 4:27
8.”Leg of Lamb” – 3:34
9.”I Think I Lost My Headache” – 5:24
10.”Mexicola” – 5:09
11.”Burn the Witch” – 3:12
12.”Song for the Dead” – 7:47
13.”No One Knows” – 7:47
14.”Long Slow Goodbye” – 7:20

DVD
1.”This Lullaby” – 2:40
2.”Go with the Flow” – 3:12
3.”Feel Good Hit of the Summer” – 3:41
4.”The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” – 3:44
5.”Regular John” – 5:30
6.”Song for the Deaf” – 5:09
7.”Avon” – 3:33
8.”Little Sister” – 2:52
9.”You Can’t Quit Me Baby” – 10:27
10.”I Wanna Make It Wit Chu” – 5:10
11.”Monsters in the Parasol” – 3:16
12.”The Fun Machine Took a S*** and Died” – 6:41
13.”Mexicola” – 5:17
14.”Burn the Witch” – 4:37
15.”Covered in Punk’s Blood” – 1:57
16.”I Think I Lost My Headache” – 5:07
17.”Song for the Dead” – 8:16
18.”I Never Came” – 5:54
19.”No One Knows” – 8:09
20.”Long Slow Goodbye” – 7:44

DVD BONUS FEATURES (from various tours):
From 1998:
“The Bronze” – 3:38
“Mexicola” – 5:34
From 2000:
“Better Living Through Chemistry” – 5:54
“Auto Pilot” – 4:19
“How to Handle a Rope” – 3:29
From 2002:
“Quick and to the Pointless” – 1:34
“You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire” – 2:36
“God Is in the Radio” – 11:19
“Song for the Dead” – 6:09
“Regular John” – 2:02
“Hanging Tree” – 3:16
From 2005:
“Precious and Grace” – 3:33
“Burn the Witch” – 2:41
(Band audio commentary commentary available for bonus tracks)

REVIEW: Mötley Crüe – The Dirt Soundtrack (2019)

MÖTLEY CRÜE – The Dirt Soundtrack (2019 EM7)

Netflix scored another huge hit with The Dirt.  It’s a phenomenon with old fans basking in nostalgia, while youngsters hear the band for the first time.  It has been praised, debated, and nit-picked while a surge in Motley sales at the record stores boomed.

The movie soundtrack is an 18 track collection, spanning just a sliver of Motley history:  1981-1989.  All the glory, none of the ugliness or genre-jumping later.  To hype it further the band reconvened in the studio with producer Bob Rock and cranked out three new songs with one really calamitous cover.

Disclaimer:  I haven’t seen The Dirt, and am in no rush either.  I already have The Real Dirt in my VHS Archives.  I don’t need to see the cock-chopper from Game of Thrones doing an American accent pretending to be Mick Mars.  If the songs chosen for this soundtrack have anything to do with the scenes in the movie, I wouldn’t know.

Proceed.

 

Let’s get the greatest hits out of the way first.  Considering that Motley Crue had umpteen (five) compilations already, how does The Dirt hold up?

Remarkably well.

There are a few notable omissions you’ll have to acquire elsewhere.  “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” and “Wild Side” are missing, but there are better things included instead.  You won’t miss those songs too much since you get early album classics like “Merry-Go-Round”, “Piece of Your Action”,  “Red Hot” and “On With the Show” instead.   The album is also wisely light on ballads.  “Home Sweet Home” is obviously a compulsory inclusion, but you won’t find any second-tier ballads like “Without You” here.

There’s something interesting about the new recordings, and that’s the identity of Nikki’s new writing partner.  John5 is credited on them (along with a host of other names).  For those keeping score, this is the fourth fucking time Motley Crue have recorded a handful of new songs for a hits compilation.  (You could make a 13 track compilation album just from those songs now.)  But this particular batch of new songs is like finding a few rotten spoiled eggs in your carton.

When bands like Motley Crue start incorporating rap into their tunes, it reeks of desperation and that’s “The Dirt (Est. 1981)”.  Machine Gun Kelly is the rapper who portrays Tommy Lee in the film (and does a smashing job of it, say the reviews).  It’s not rap music that is the problem, it’s the fact that Motley have never been that band.  From a certain point of view it’s cool that they gave Kelly a part in the song, acknowledging his role in the movie.  Also, Mick Mars’ solo is brilliant: a six-string stunner, proving the axeman just… keeps… getting… better!  But the song is an over produced mishmash of modernity that is starkly at odds with the old material.

What do others think?  We reached out to Superdekes over at Arena Rock.

“I liked that Crue album,” he said. “Go figure.”

Even the new songs?  “Yeah I do,” continued Deke.  The rap too?  “Well, the rap as its more of a speed thing…”

And that’s a good point.  Check out a rapper like Logic for some amazing speed rapping.  That’s an artform and it sounds good.

It’s just not Motley Crue.  Next!

“Ride With the Devil” suffers from the same kind of overproduction.  What’s cool about it is this cool soul-metal hybrid sound it has going on.  Then Vince Neil starts rapping.  Yes, it’s true that in 1995, Vince Neil made a solo album that combined hip-hop and metal, and of course Tommy Lee has his Methods of Mayhem.  That’s why those were solo projects!

“Crash and Burn” is an appropriate title for this point of the soundtrack, but fortunately the songs is the best of the trio.  The groove is mechanical but Mars is right there laying his electric wizardry on top.

What is perhaps most indefensible is Motley Crue’s putrid cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”.

In 1984, when “Like a Virgin” was getting regular television and radio rotation, we used Motley Crue to drown that shit right out.  To hear Motley Crue now singing that actual shit is alternate-universe level mindfucking.

What did Deke have to say about “Like a Virgin”?

“I thought they did it well.  I really like how they twisted the music.”

(We understand that “Like a Virgin” has been getting regular dancefloor action over at the newly refurbished Deke’s Palace up in Thunder Bay.  “Asses are shaking” to the song, said our anonymous source.)

Ending this review on a positive note, what’s good is seeing Motley Crue back in the top of the charts again.  People are talking about the band again.  They’re having debates, like the good-intentioned ribbing here.  Fans are loving the movie and demanding a sequel to fill in the gaps and finish the story.

Have we heard the last of Motley Crue?   Not by a long shot.

3/5 stars

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Trouble Shooters (1989 CBS cassette)

JUDAS PRIEST – Trouble Shooters (1989 CBS cassette)

Readers understand that I’m pretty anti-cassette.  For most of my life, I had shitty equipment and shitty tapes so my memories of fiddling with tapes are not happy ones.  You do tend to find oddities on cassette that don’t exist on any other media, which is one reason I’ll always need a tape deck.

Here’s one from my personal collection that I bought in early 1990.

Bob Schipper knew my favourite band in 1989/1990 was the mighty Priest.  He told me of a cassette I didn’t have called Trouble Shooters.  The one detail I can’t recall is what store he saw it in, but I gave him some money and he got me the tape.

I was disappointed that it was a cheap tape with nothing on the inlay, but I now had a Priest tape I didn’t own before.  I spied the release date:  1989.  It looked odd sitting in my tape cases filed as the “newest” Judas Priest release, with Les Binks on the front cover.  Trouble Shooters was in fact a bargain bin compilation made up of songs from Sin After Sin, Stained Class, Hell Bent for Leather, Point of Entry, British Steel, and Defenders of the Faith.  Another thing that looked strange:  the uber-metal Priest logo on the front.  Turning it up to 11, it’s rendered as the insane-o looking Jüdäs Priést.

The running order on these tapes is usually pretty random, but side one of Trouble Shooters goes down really well.  “Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest” is a pretty cool way to open a tape, with that low hum of instruments before the regal guitarmonies enter.  (Note that the second part of the title isn’t printed anywhere.)  “Let Us Prey” is suited to commence a Priest tape that is heavier than the average.  Its proto-thrash pacing represents Judas Priest at an early peak.  Then, sensibly, Trouble Shooters gets the “hit single” out of the way early, in this case “Living After Midnight”.  Casual music buyers picked up these tapes in discount bins, so you have to put on the hit early; the second slot working best.

I appreciated that they included two songs from Point of Entry as that has always been a personal favourite.  The title track is parsed wrong as “Trouble Shooters” when it should be all one word.  Still a good song, with Priest taking a simple sassy 4/4 time stance.  “Turning Circles” from the same album is lesser known but possesses a slower groove that works just as well as the fast ones.  The secret seems to be Rob Halford, who twists and turns every word for maximum expression.

Side One is granted an epic quality thanks to “The Green Manalishi”, my favourite Priest song of all time and certainly a crowd pleaser too.  (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s a Fleetwood Mac cover.)  You just can’t find a better closer for a Side One anywhere else in the Priest canon.

Continuing the excellent sequencing is a song heralding the arrivals of “Metal Gods” on Side Two.  Then “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”, the most recent song from 1984’s Defenders of the Faith.  Nothing from Turbo or Ram It Down.  I wonder if there were rules about what could and couldn’t go on these budget compilations.  Maybe they were limited to music five years old or more.  Back to the tape, “Some Heads” follows a similar sonic mood as “Metal Gods”, though the production is less sleek and more muddled.  It’s still apocalyptic metal for breakfast.

Finally it’s back to the start with a couple epics from the early days.  For me, I think I would have ended the tape on “Sinner”, but it comes before “Saints In Hell” here.  Much like “Let Us Prey” on Side One, these songs show off the early savage side of Judas Priest, ripping meat from the bone raw and ugly.  It’s barbaric metal with sharply precise moves.

I don’t know why I hung on to this tape when so many of them ended up in a Thunder Bay landfill.  I’m glad I did:  this was a fun cassette to review.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Stryper – Live at the Whiskey (2014 Japanese import)

STRYPER – Live at the Whiskey (2014 Avalon Japan)

Stryper kill it live.  This is evident right from the starter’s gun on the band’s 2014 album Live at the Whiskey.  Pulling no punches, they tear immediately into the Priest-like “Legacy” from the acclaimed No More Hell to Pay.  Anybody who showed up that night expecting frills and lace hasn’t been paying attention.

Another newbie, “Marching into Battle”, which sounds as if it could have rolled off the same assembly line as Soldiers Under Command, wields riffs like swords.  Vocal sweetening is unfortunately obvious.  Most fans would prefer to hear bum notes or missed words over two Michael Sweets singing at once.

The first oldie is a goodie for sure:  “You Know What to Do”, followed immediately by “Loud N’ Clear”, both from the original Yellow and Black Attack.  As if trying to cram all their best early hooks into this one segment of the show, the trinity of “Reach Out”, “Calling to You” and  “Free” are rolled out one by one.  Robert Sweet (Stryper’s “visual timekeeper”) is far heavier live, imbuing the songs with more tonnage.

Heavier metal returns on “More Than a Man” which could have been Iron Maiden if the lyrics weren’t about receiving Jesus in your heart.  After “The Rock That Makes Me Roll”, Stryper returned to their present day with the awesome “No More Hell to Pay”, riffy and slow, like soaring Dio-era Sabbath. “If the dawn reveals the end of days, I’ll follow You till there’s no more hell to pay.” It’s a catchier chorus than it reads, and it’s followed by “Jesus is Just Alright With Me” which is basically all chorus and guitar solo!

Stryper didn’t ignore their most pop album, 1988’s In God We Trust.  The hit single “Always There For You” is stripped bare of its keyboards and re-arranged for blowing speakers.  Even Against the Law, from a brief period when Stryper dropped religion from their lyrics, is visited.  “One For All” was one of the heavier tracks from that great LP, and the lyrics maintain a positive outlook.  Focus then returns to the first cluster of albums with “The Way”, “To Hell With the Devil” and of course “Soldiers Under Command”.  No more mistaking the message now!  “Oh, oh, oh, what did you say?  Oh, oh, oh, Christ is the way!”  In the early days, Stryper were far less poetic, but they sure were heavy.

As is the norm, Japan received a bonus track for their pressing of Live at the Whiskey, and it’s actually a studio song. “All of Me” is the only ballad on the album, a spot-on re-recording from To Hell With the Devil.  Aside from the lower key, it’s almost identical.  One has to assume it’s an also-ran from 2013’s Second Coming album.  Can’t have too many ballads on one album, of course.  Valuable bonus tracks are always appreciated.  This one came as a bit of a surprise.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Stryper – The Roxx Regime Demos (2007, 2019 vinyl edition)

Stay tuned this week for a slew of Stryper — every album this week is an edition with bonus tracks!

STRYPER – The Roxx Regime Demos (2007, 2019 coloured vinyl reissue)

Before we get to Stryper, you know what I’m sick of?  Vinyl reissues.  Charge me $30 or $40 bucks for some coloured version of a record I’ve bought three times already?  I could walk into any store and walk out with a dozen coloured vinyl reissues of stuff I have on CD.  Who cares anymore?

Stryper cares.*

Original CD cover

In 2007, Stryper released and album of their earliest demos when they were known as Roxx Regime.  (Fun fact:  they released it on July 7 2007, or 777.)  The album had eight songs, some of which made it onto later albums like The Yellow and Black Attack and To Hell With the Devil.  When they issued the album on vinyl this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Stryper.com, they did it right:  three bonus tracks included!  They also gave it a new cover.

Upon dropping the needle on this lovely clear blue and yellow record, it’s immediately Stryper.  The lineup is the classic:  the Sweet brothers Michael and Robert, Oz Fox, and Tim Gaines.  The Stryper sound was there from the start: shards of metal paired with angelic harmonies and blatantly Christian lyrics.  The recordings are expectedly rougher than the album versions you’re used to, which is one reason people buy these demo albums.

“You Know What to Do” one side one is the track that stands out as special.  The others form a backdrop of yellow and black soundalikes, solid enough but not unique.  There’s also an early ballad called “You Won’t Be Lonely” that is missing the magic of “Honestly” on side two.  Some odd drum fills for a ballad too, and a cowbell too?

“Co’mon Rock” on side two borders on thrash metal, lyrics aside of course.  Bang thy head; it’s a corny ass-kicker.  “Tank” is an interesting drum solo, brief and pounding.  That leads into the first bonus track, an alternate demo of “My Love I’ll Always Show” from side one.  The song has some cool components, but at least Stryper added value to the reissue by offering a second demo of it.  Same with “Loud N Clear”, even rougher than the more polished demo on side one.  The drums sound more like a machine press than a musical instrument!  Then, Lord have mercy, another version of “You Won’t Be Lonely”, including cowbell!

The best track among the Roxx Regime Demos is a nearly perfect version of the hit ballad “Honestly”.  Why did it take three albums for these guys to finally release “Honestly”?  This demo has piano and keyboards but relies mostly on an acoustic arrangement.  It’s more lullaby-like, but still gleams with the class that the final song boasts in droves.  Check out the keyboard solo!

The whole thing amounts to 40 minutes of music including the bonus tracks, so the Anniversary Edition of Roxx Regime is the version that collectors and real fans want to grab.

2.5/5 stars

3/5 stars for the reissue

 

*Maybe they don’t after all.  Shortly after this LP arrived, Stryper announced a CD reissue with the bonus tracks intact.

 

 

#746: Deepest Purple

A prequel to #462:  The Deep Purple Project

GETTING MORE TALE #746: Deepest Purple

Black Sabbath appeared on my radar before Deep Purple did.  Perhaps the first true “heavy metal” album I ever heard was Born Again.  Best friend Bob owned it; he raved about a song called “Zero the Hero”.  He was on to something.  Even though his cassette copy was murky and muddy, the chorus rose above.

What you gonna be what you gonna be brother – Zero the Hero,
Don’t you wanna be don’t you wanna be brother – Zero the Hero,
When you gonna be when you gonna be brother – Zero the Hero,
Impossibility, impissibolity mother – really a hero.

It was the first Black Sabbath I ever heard.  I didn’t know they had any other singers until one day I was sitting in the basement, recording videos off next door neighbour George.  One that I had selected to record was called “Neon Nights” by Black Sabbath.  By then, I knew enough to know that Black Sabbath had a “moustache guy” on guitar.  I was surprised to see a doppelganger on bass, but the singer kinda looked familiar.

I casually asked George, “Did Black Sabbath ever have anything to do with Ronnie James Dio?”

“Yeah, he was their singer!” he told me.  My world expanded that day.  It would be longer still before I had the chance to hear any original Sabbath with Ozzy.

I was picking up so much musical information from the neighbour kids.  I was intrigued by bands like Kiss, who had many lineups and sounds to go with it.  Clearly, Black Sabbath was one of those bands too.  “Neon Nights” didn’t sound much like “Zero the Hero”.

I sought to learn all I could about rock and roll.  When I had accumulated enough knowledge (barely), I made a little heavy metal trivia game.  I will never forget one question in particular:

Q: What do Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie James Dio, and the lead singer from Deep Purple have in common?

A: They were all in Black Sabbath.

There are two things amusing about that.  1) I didn’t even know his name, and 2) “the” lead singer of Deep Purple!  Hah!  Finding out about David Coverdale?  That was a whole other story!

I made sure I learned his name quickly.  Ian Gillan was recognisable because of his long black hair often obscuring his face.  But I wasn’t ready to delve into Deep Purple yet.  The easiest (and cheapest) way for me to discover new music was by watching the Pepsi Power Hour on MuchMusic: two hours a week of all kinds of hard rock.  But Purple didn’t get much play.  Much didn’t have any clips of them in the 1970s, and in fact only had two Purple videos to run:  “Perfect Strangers” and “Knocking at Your Back Door“.  They weren’t exactly frequent flyers, so my exposure to Deep Purple took a lot of time to unfold.

Black Sabbath may have been my gateway to Deep Purple, but Purple eventually became an obsession that surpassed them.  In fact I used to go by the online name “Purpendicular”, named for one of their best albums.  I was known as “Purp” for so long that it became a bit of a phenomenon online in Canada and the UK when “Purp Ate My Balls” T-shirts were actually made for sale.  Most were in the UK.  This is an actual, true story!  A handful of people still call me “Purp”.

 

When people know you as “Purpendicular”, you better be a serious fan.  And I am.  I love Deep Purple.  I don’t think anyone can touch them for sheer integrity.

I floated through highschool without hearing a lot of Purple.  Much acquired a few more videos:  “Bad Attitude” and “Hush”.  They did not get played often.  I only caught “Bad Attitude” once or twice.  There was little interest in the band, it seemed.  Magazines announced that Ian Gillan had quit at the time of the Nobody’s Perfect album.  About a year later came the news that they hired on former Rainbow singer Joe Lynn Turner.

It took some time, but eventually Purple returned with new music.  I happened to have the radio on one afternoon in late 1990 when Q-107 debuted a brand new song called “The Cut Runs Deep”.

“At first it doesn’t sound like Purple,” said the DJ, “but then Jon Lord comes in with that Hammond organ!”

I hit “record” on the tape deck.

The Earth moved.  What a song.  What power!  And speed!  Rewind, hit “play” and listen again.  It was 5:42 of full-steam rock, with the kind of playing that makes the genre awesome.  Purple were heavier than I expected.  My ears were beginning to open.

I asked a friend at school named Andy about the new album.  Turns out, his brother had it.

“Is it heavy?” I queried.

He chuckled in bemusement.  “Heavier than Ian Gillan?  No.  No.”

I tried not to be crushed.

“It’s still good,” he added.

If it wasn’t for my sudden new interest in Led Zeppelin, that might have been the start of my Purple obsession.  Instead, I spent a year or so discovering Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham.  To make matters even more congested, I soon found Queen, and began buying up old Black Sabbath albums too.

Finally, in the mid 90s, it was time to focus.  Once I had Deep Purple properly in the crosshairs, I commenced collecting.

My first doesn’t really count.  It was Purple’s latest, Slaves and Masters, their only album with Joe Lynn Turner.  It doesn’t count because it was just a taped copy.  Back when you could still rent CDs, I borrowed a copy from a video store up in Kincardine Ontario.  I put it in my boombox and began recording.  I remember my dad listening in on the last track, the epic “Wicked Ways”.  He asked who the band was.

“They are more of a musician’s band, aren’t they,” he remarked.  Yes!  Exactly.  My dad wasn’t into rock music, but he could hear that quality musicianship.  They were far and above the average rock band.

Slaves and Masters is a brilliant album, and although a full third of it is ballads, it’s hard not to like.  There are a lot of good songs on there.  So what if they are ballads?  “The Cut Runs Deep” and “Wicked Ways” more than made up for the lighter material.

Then:  two hits compilations.  Knocking At Your Back Door (a new release of 80s material) and Deepest Purple (all 70s).  This gave me plenty to absorb in a short period of time.  The most important song from this pair was “Child in Time”.  It appeared in live form on Knocking At Your Back Door and Ian Gillan was still in good enough vocal shape to do it.  I loved both versions.  When I played it in my bedroom, my sister could hear it through the door.  I played it so often that she gave it a name.  She called it the “Ahh Ahh Ahh” song.

Next:  Perfect Strangers.  A rewarding album in the long term.  Took a few spins to get there.

By 1993, Deep Purple got Ian Gillan back for another kick at the can.  The classic Mk II lineup was intact:  Richie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Jon Lord, and Roger Glover.  They did a so-so album called The Battle Rages On…, and it really did rage on.  As I learned more about the band, I discovered that even though they were all intelligent, schooled musicians, they fought like children!  This reunion was not built to last, though it was my next Deep Purple album.

I certainly didn’t expect Blackmore to quit.  And I didn’t even know about it.

The mid 90s were a bit of a black hole for metal information.  Few magazines were covering classic rock bands anymore.  I didn’t know that Blackmore quit until their live album, Come Hell or High Water, was out.  I found out from the liner notes!

The internet was in its infancy, but I did some digging and found out that Purple were playing live with a new guitar player.  Could you believe it?  Joe Satriani temped with them!, but he was already gone! They were on to a new guy.  The review that I read said specifically that the new guy “looked a lot like Steve Morse”.

Well shit!

Steve Morse was a legend in his own time!  I knew him by reputation only.  And I was really intrigued by this news.

I had to special order the new Deep Purple with Morse from the US.  It was 1995 and I was working at the Record Store.  You couldn’t even get it in Canada yet.  That’s how bad it was for rock bands in the 90s.  But I did get it, paying $24.99 for the import.  Purpendicular arrived one Tuesday afternoon.  T-Rev was working when it came in.  “I hope you don’t mind, but I played a little bit of your Deep Purple.  It wasn’t sealed when it came.  It sounds pretty good.”

He apologised for playing it but there was no need.  I thought it was cool that he was interested.  Turns out, he liked that album a lot and ended up buying a copy himself!

Indeed, Purpendicular is a special album.  There is magic in those grooves.  Maybe it was the freedom of working without the yoke of Blackmore.  Perhaps it was the rejuvenation of Steve Morse.  It was probably both and much more, but what happened with Purpendicular has never been repeated.  No matter how many good albums they have done since (and there have been several, including four with Don Airey replacing the late Jon Lord), none have had the…I hate to use this cliche over again, but…none have had the magic that Purpendicular has.  It’s impossible to put into words, but easy to hear for yourself.

I mean, I friggin’ named myself after that album!  There are T-shirts with my face on them that say “Purp Ate My Balls”.  That’s dedication, pal!

 

REVIEW: Wild ‘T’ and the Spirit – Love Crazy (1991)

WILD ‘T’ AND THE SPIRIT – Love Crazy (1991 Warner)

I can’t believe it took me 28 years to hear this album. Wild ‘T’ (Tony Springer) got the nation’s attention in 1991, with his Arnold Lanni (Frozen Ghost)-produced debut album Love Crazy.  Before that, he was making a living (and a name) as a Jimi Hendrix tribute.  He was itching to be himself and Love Crazy was born.

MuchMusic was all over the big singles, “Love Crazy” and “Midnight Blues”.  Tony Springer (originally from Trinidad) peddled in a hard rocking blues sound, more authentic than most of his 1991 contemporaries.  A big blast of horns on “Mean Mean Mama” gives his blues a little bit o’ soul.  The album is entirely original and much is co-written by Lanni.  The guitar tone is greasy and drenched in pure feel.  Lanni is known for getting a nice crisp sound, as heard later with King’s X and Our Lady Peace.

Though Love Crazy is a really good collection of blues both slow and heavy, it’s Springer’s guitar that many will want to hear up close.  Shortly after this he was drafted by an English artist named David Bowie to be his new guitarist.  He must have been enamoured with the tone of Wild ‘T’.  Even if guitar isn’t your thing, dig into the horn hooks of “Yvonne”.  Or the upbeat “Shotdown/Spellbound”.  It’ll put some pepper in your strut today, guaranteed.  The whole album is laden with good tunes and snappy, tight grooves.  You can play air guitar, or just dance.  Up to you.

I could have gotten this album numerous times out of the ol’ Bargain Bin for about three bucks.  For whatever reason it never seemed like a priority.  Then along came my VHS Archives and my rediscovery of the epic track “Midnight Blues”.  I had to get the album, and I didn’t want to wait.  I paid a little more than I could have just to get it right away, but it was worth it.  I had an old girlfriend back in ’94 who thought I shouldn’t listen to the song “Midnight Blues” because it would make me depressed.  Well, fuck you!

4/5 stars