heavy metal

REVIEW: Rush – “Caravan” / “BU2B” (2010 CD single)

RUSH – “Caravan” / “BU2B” (2010 CD Anthem single)

“Parts one and two of Clockwork Angels, a work in progress”.

That’s pretty monumental.  Rush were releasing two key tracks from their forthcoming studio album, a full concept album this time, well in advance.  Two years in advance.  Notably, this was a full concept album start to finish.  In the 70s, Rush were more known for half concept, half non-conceptual records.  The bands that Rush inspired like Queensryche and Dream Theater had done full concepts.  Now the original masters were taking a shot.

On the final album, “Caravan” is track one and “BU2B” is track two.  On this single the order is swapped.  “BU2B” (“Brought Up to Believe”) opens, although its intro changes on the album version.  “BU2B” absolutely slams.  “I was brought up to believe that the universe has a plan…”  Perhaps it opens this single because it sums up the overall album concept.  In a fictional world run precisely by a “Watchmaker”, a rebellious protagonist feels pulled in a direction different from that assigned to his life.  Questioning his reality, he embarks on his own adventures despite his mandated mundane role in society.  Musically, after the metallic riff has done its business, Neil Peart takes the spotlight a moment as the song shifts.  Geddy lays down the heavy bottom end while Alex strikes hither and yon with lightning-like licks.  Clearly a classic in the making.

“Caravan”, the final album opener, sounds pretty much the same as the record.  It establishes the setting, “in a world lit only by fire…”  The riff is a major feature, a deliberate, descending rock monster that feels just right in the guts.  The lyrics paint a picture of a steampunk world, half explored, with alchemy and ancient knowledge.

Clockwork Angels wound up as one of the greatest final albums by any band anywhere any time.  This single is a nice add-on, a reminder of the long careful gestation period that created a masterpiece.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – Off the Soundboard – Des Moines 11.29.1977 (2022)

Off the Soundboard – Des Moines November 29 1977 (2022 Universal)

We are now at the fourth Off the Soundboard series release from Kiss, and this is the most hyped yet.  It’s the second original lineup release in the series, but the first from the classic era.  This time we travel back with Ace, Peter, Gene and Paul to the Alive II tour.  Arguably the pinnacle before things began to slowly crumble, this Alive II show is unsurprisingly loaded with Kiss firepower.  However, with only one CD, it’s the shortest in the series so far.  It does appear to include everything they played that night.

Opening with the brand new “I Stole Your Love”, Kiss truly were on fire.  Playing fast, tight and enthused, this is the Kiss of legend, the Kiss we have heard stories of!  Unaltered Kiss live in their prime!  The sound is, as expected, bootleggy, but pretty solid considering it’s 45 years old.  Paul’s vocals are so good they can bring a tear to your eye, remembering the Starchild when he was bulletproof.

“King of the Night Time World”, still second in the set, benefits from Peter Criss’ trademark pitter-patter.  Ace is a bit shrill at the beginning, but it’s 1977 technology.  Star Wars was brand new and the Space Ace was in his element.  He always harmonized well with Paul, which he does on “King”.  Paul then invites the girls to meet ’em in the “Ladies Room”, which means it’s Gene’s turn to sing.  Gene messed up some lyrics:  “You say you like to play, well, yes you play with me anyway.”  Or something like that.  Sounds like his bassline is also off.  Doesn’t matter, in fact that makes it even more cool.  A snapshot of a moment in time.  It’s all more of less buried in the glorious noise they call live rock and roll.  The crowd certainly didn’t care.

Paul tells them that Kiss had a good feelin’ about comin’ back to Iowa.  Temperature’s rising, so they gotta call out the “Firehouse”!  A lot faster than album and more like Kiss Alive!, this version of “Firehouse” is incendiary for all its energy and flaws.  The only misfire is Paul’s intro to “Love Gun” itself.  He’s certainly done better.  “When it comes to shootin’, we ain’t gonna miss!”  You just did, Paul!  Fortunately the song is just as kicking as ever, with Paul absolutely roaring.  This is the Kiss I remember growing up with.  Unstoppable energy.  The power remains high on “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N Roll”.  In a quaint blast from the past, Paul wants to see some lights in the crowd, some matches!  This is a song that always sounds best with Ace Frehley on lead guitar, and those who love the Spaceman will appreciate his fearless fretwork and signature technique all over it.

A chunky “Makin’ Love” is a set highlight, all riff and bass with Paul audibly jumping around haphazardly.  Peter is awesome on this.  “Christine Sixteen” is a bit clunky and awkward, as is Paul’s intro.  The less said the better.  “Christine Sixteen” falls into place on the chorus.  Their vocals here are an excellent example of Kiss’ ability to actually sing.  Then the moment you have been waiting for:  Paul says they got a surprise, and Ace Frehley’s gonna do “Shock Me”.  This version of “Shock Me” is up there with the better ones and of course Ace gets his big solo at the end.  It’s not just the Alive II solo, it’s a different beast and by the middle, Ace gets his Les Paul roaring.

The gentle intro of “I Want You” is just a feint, we all know that the song absolutely slams.  Ace’s guitar stings on the verses, and he gets to take an extra solo at the end just before Paul goes into his “I waaaa-aaa-aaaant!” tease with the crowd.  Then he queries whether everybody’s ready to take their medicine?  It’s time to call out “Dr. Love” and Gene is loving it.  “Shout It Out Loud” follows, at a fast tempo similar to its Alive II rendition.  The vocals are better though; you can really hear Peter Criss in the back.  His drumwork is manic too.  Great rendition of “Shout It Out Loud” and one of the best on CD.

Gene’s bass solo precedes “God of Thunder”.  It’s noise; just bass through a digital processor. Skippable noise.  “God of Thunder” itself is much better, containing a Gene/Peter groove that doesn’t always fall right into the pocket like this one does.  Then the Catman gets his drum solo, which is better and longer than the Alive II rendition.  (Gene’s vocals are also better, way more aggressive.)

“Rock and Roll all Nite” is the last song of the main set, the rock and roll national anthem according to Paul.  Like many of the songs, it’s faster too.  Very cool to hear both Ace and Peter on backing vocals quite clearly.  The Spaceman’s solo is sloppy stuttery greatness, and it’s hard not to enjoy this song that we already have live in dozens of incarnations.

Onto the encores:  “Detroit”, of course “Beth”, and the finale “Black Diamond”.  “Detroit” opens with a mistake and Kiss quickly recover, driving the thing into oncoming traffic with a reckless devil-may-care attitude.  By this point in the show, Kiss are playing on adrenaline and missing some of the parts.  Which is half the thrill.  As for “Beth”:  it’s “Beth”.  No more no less, though there is a lot of tape noise.  Peter’s vocals are so-so.  He struggles when he has to be tender, but he blasts on “Black Diamond”, which oddly opens with full band introductions which you rarely hear at a Kiss concert.  Paul gets a spotlight moment to play around with the “Black Diamond” intro on guitar before he starts singing.  Pound for pound, this is one of the best versions of “Black Diamond” by the original lineup out there.  From the vocals to the Ace soloing, to the explosive outro, this is one of the best renditions hands down.

Now that the vaults have been opened and we’re getting classic shows from the original lineup, the sky’s the limit what could come next.  This is the best one so far.  Let’s hope for an Eric Carr show soon.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: KISS – Off the Soundboard – Live at Donington August 17, 1996 (2022)

 – Off the Soundboard – Live at Donington (Monsters of Rock) (August 17, 1996 – 2022 Universal)

Third in the Off the Soundboard series, and we are gifted an original lineup show.  Reunion era, we add with a caveat, but an original lineup gig nonetheless.  This was a big one:  Monsters of Rock in 1996.  This gig is only 11 days after the Toronto show at which I saw Kiss, and the setlist is simply a shortened version of what we saw earlier.

Opening with “Deuce”, the reunited Kiss don’t sound vintage, but they do sound professional and hot.  The immediately noticeable flaw in the mix is an overly prominent bass.  Demon fans might love it!  Frehley’s guitar brings that almost-out-of-control quality that we miss today.

The simplicity of the drumwork on “King of the Night Time World” reminds us that the Catman Peter Criss is back on drums.  That’s all good.  After hearing Eric Singer on the past two instalments of this series, the Catman’s looser feel is refreshing.

Then an F-bomb from Paul:  “WOOO!  How you doin’ Donington!  You all ready to get a little fuckin’ nuts tonight?  You want a little rock and roll?”  Then it’s “Do You Love Me”, not usually one of those songs you go fuckin’ nuts on, due to its deliberate tempo.  I could usually skip it, but this version is pretty good.  That overloud bass makes it a bit heavier.  The backing vocals are also quite good.  “Dr. Love” has that patented Peter Criss pitter-patter on the drums that we can all admit we miss.

The Starchild seems to have a blast singing the word “Donington” over and over again just before “Cold Gin”.  Gotta admit this is a great album for Paul’s stage raps!  It’s Ace’s turn to shine, in that overdriven, on-the-edge style that nobody can copy.  It’s like chocolate it’s so good.  The Space Ace gets to sing a verse on his own, which is a perfect touch.  An album highlight.  Perhaps the best live version of “Cold Gin” available since the original Alive!

The original Kiss tear into “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N Roll” and Gene’s voice is a bit rough at first…as it should be, 100% live.  There’s nothing like this song with Ace and Peter on drums.  Again, perhaps the best live version since the original Alive!  “Shout It Out Loud” is a bit more polished.  But if you want heavy, look no further than the thunderous “Watchin’ You”.  The vintage Kiss vibe is captured as they thump through this in a completely different way than they did four years earlier on Alive III with Bruce Kulick.  Another contender for best live version available since Alive!  Previously that honour went to the Alive III version.  Simmons is, pun intended, a monster on both tasty bass fills and meaty vocals.

“Firehouse” is simple fun, but once again, the Space Ace adds something that other guitar players do not have, which is nothing against any of them.  It is a matter of style, and the style that suits Kiss best.

Kiss turns the microphone over to Ace Frehley on “Shock Me”, which also doubles as his feature guitar solo.  You can hear every mistake, and even they are perfect in their own, flawed diamond sort of way.  This solo is pure smoke and fire, like a meteorite barrelling through atmosphere.  Perhaps the best stage version of “Shock Me” out there, arguably surpassing Alive II.

Over to disc two, it’s finally time for “Strutter”.  Paul’s stage rap is amusing if only because he says Kiss are having such a great time back together that they don’t know if it’s ever going to end.  Ah, hindsight.  This is a fantastic version only hampered by that overloud bass in the mix.  Vocals are outstanding.

Simmons takes center stage for his “bass solo” and “God of Thunder”.  A Simmons bass solo usually works best as a visual, not musical experience.  (Animalize Live bass solo notwithstanding.)  While you don’t necessarily want this stuff edited out of a live bootleg, it’s basically waiting for the song to start.  Gene is extra-growly on “God of Thunder” and Frehley is hotter than hell.  Stanley’s prominent backing vocals add an extra dimension.  And Peter’s got that beat nailed down like a beast.  He gets his drum solo on this track, a slow and tribal experience similar to, but not as energetic as, his Kiss Alive solo.

When Paul starts talking about size of his pistol, then you know it’s time for “Love Gun”.  Drowning in bass, but fiery hot.  Speaking of bass, “100,000 Years” is top notch too.  Do you feel alriiiiight?  Frehley’s soloing on the track is an essential ingredient.  The closing trio of “Black Diamond”, “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock and Roll all Nite” are somewhat predictable, but it’s bizarre that we had to wait this long to hear Peter Criss sing lead on something.  As for “Detroit”, easily one of the top five live versions on official release.

This set is pure electric vintage Kiss from 1974-1977, and nothing beyond.  No “New York Groove”, no “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”.  No “Beth” either.  If you’re going to cut a track for time for the festival, “Beth” is one to cut.  Though sometimes hampered by the bass heavy mix, it is possible that Live At Donington is the best Kiss live album since Alive II.  The reunited lineup were certainly a lot better than I remember them being back in 1996, when I thought they sounded stiff.  With hindsight, though Peter is steadier than before, Frehley still provides all that danger that is necessary in a live Kiss show.  At Donington, the original Kiss brought it.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: The Forrest Williams Democracy – “In Service of the Greater Good” (2022 single)

THE FORREST WILLIAMS DEMOCRACY – “In Service of the Greater Good” (2022 single)

Anybody who ever dug Big Wreck (and there are lots of you) should be checking out The Forrest Williams Democracy.  Williams was the drummer on the first two essential Wreck albums with the original lineup.  After the band dissolved in 2002, Williams settled down into a family life.  Rock and roll always beckons again, and in this case it came in the form of musician Scott Maybee.  Together with original Big Wreck producer Matt DeMatteo, the new song “In Service of the Greater Good” was released twenty years after the original Big Wreck ended.  So whatsit sound like?

The Forrest Williams Democracy has an uncanny knack for a Soundgarden aura, circa Badmotorfinger and Superunknown.  A lot of that has to do with the vocals (shared between Maybee and DeMatteo).  Powerful with range, but also subtlety.  The riffs (and there are a few!) are heavy.  And as for the drums?  If you listen to this and the first Big Wreck, you can hear that it’s the same guy.  The style, and the thump, remains.  “In Service of the Greater Good” is a complex, multi-faceted heavy rocker, but also with the acoustics and added textures that you would hope for.  Sabbath and Zeppelin are named as influences and you can hear both seeping through the speakers.  You can sense the Bonham influence on Williams, but the Zeppelin also comes out clearly in acoustic sections.  Meanwhile the lead guitar work would make Iommi smile.

“In Service of the Greater Good” is more than just the influences.  There’s a lot going on here — some serious musical ambition.  There was clearly no intent to just write some rock song for the summer.  This is impressive stuff.  The vocals are outstanding.  The musically-inclined will enjoy all the changes and tempos, while the rest of us can just pump our fists when the heavy parts come!  Great tune that has the feeling of an album side-ending closer epic.  We hope an album will follow.

In the meantime, you can check out the Forrest Williams Democracy on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp.  They also have shirts for sale.  Hope more is coming.

4/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – “C’Mon C’Mon”(2008 12” picture single)

Part Thirty-Five of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original Review “C’Mon C’Mon” (2008 12″ picture single)

DEF LEPPARD – “C’Mon C’Mon” (2008 12″ Mercury picture single)

We haven’t reviewed many actual Def Leppard singles in this review series.  Why?  Because we reviewed the CD Collection box sets in detail instead, which do an excellent job of collecting all the albums and B-sides from specific eras.  This picture disc for “C’Mon C’Mon” from Songs From the Sparkle Lounge is one single for which the B-side has yet to be issued in box set form.

The B-side in question is a live version of “Rocket” from an unknown place and time.  What we do know is this:  It’s not a pipsqueak edit version from a live album.  This is a full-on 10 minute recording with all the extended bells and whistles.

Opening with the usual backwards vocals (“We’re fighting for the gods of war” in reverse), “Rocket” is a Rick Allen vehicle.  It’s endurance.  The drums are a main feature, but Screamin’ Joe Elliott doesn’t take a back seat to anyone.  Still, by the 3:30 mark it’s the Rick Allen show.  Soon he’s accompanied by Rick Savage on bass, before the guitar solos begin.  Phil Collen goes first followed by Vivian Campbell, in a call & response series of licks.  Together the two weave notes and squeals into a tapestry of cool, with Vivian going full metal into speed and tapping.

Around 7:50, Joe surprises the crowd by going into “Whole Lotta Love”.  “You need coolin’, baby I ain’t foolin’,” with guitars that replicate what Jimmy Page might have done had he been on stage that night.  Back into “Rocket” for the finale, the whole thing works from start to finish as if it wasn’t 10 minutes long but maybe half that.  A valuable B-side for your collection, just spectacular stuff.

The A-side is hit or miss.  “C’Mon C’Mon” was in the vein of that “Pour Some Sugar” sound, ultimately derived from Gary Glitter.   It’s…well, to overuse a phrase, “it is what it is”.  Def Leppard are always going to have this kind of song in their repertoire.  It’s not bad, just nothing new.  Performance-wise, Rick Allen is once again a champion.  The guitars have a really sweet crunch.  It’s a great sounding single, just an unnecessary direction to keep toiling away at.

3.5/5 stars

Next:  Leppard goes country with…yes, we’re at that point now…with Taylor Swift.

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!
  32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews
  33. Yeah…Nah! – Record Store Tales
  34. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge

Next:

36. CMT Crossroads (DVD with Taylor Swift)
37. B-Sides
38. Yeah! II
39. Yeah! Live
40. Mirror Ball – Live & More (Japanese import)
41. iTunes re-recordings

REVIEW: KISS – Off the Soundboard – Virginia Beach 2004 (2022)

 – Off the Soundboard – Live in Virginia Beach (July 25, 2004 – 2022 Universal)

Some might question the logic of releasing a 2004 live release with the Stanley/Singer/Simmons/Thayer lineup in the official Kiss bootleg series.  Necessary?  We already have live material from this lineup, such as Kiss Rocks Vegas.  Fans could be forgiven for skipping this, the second instalment of the Off the Soundboard series of releases.  (It’s a little late now, but it would have been cool if Kiss numbered these releases!)

Opening with a sluggish sounding “Love Gun”, Paul Stanley is in good voice.  The cracks were beginning to show but there is no comparison to the Paul of today.  If you want vintage Paul, this is not the album for you.  If you want Paul before things went to hell, this is just fine.  Gene goes second with “Deuce”, also sounding a big sluggish.  Eric Singer is busy on drums, which will be either to your taste, or not.

It’s Tommy Thayer who fails to thrill in the night.  Something about his solo work here just falls short of lighting the spark.  It’s one of those things that’s not quite right, on the quantum level.  Your brain knows the solos, knows how they usually sound, and that’s with fire and a touch of reckless abandon.  Say what you will about Tommy Thayer, but nobody uses the word “reckless” to describe his playing.  Ace Frehley, on the other hand, had a song called “Reckless”.  You see where we’re going here.  It’s that touch of professionalism that these solos don’t need.  Tommy is welcome on backing vocals, where he helps thicken things up with Eric, such as on “Lick It Up”.

There are a few tracks here that are played live less often, which is one reason to pick up the disc.  “Makin’ Love”, “Tears Are Falling”, “Got to Choose”, “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” and “Unholy” are fun when you get ’em, though “Unholy” always sounds a bit awkward live (Thayer butchers the solo).  One of the best of these tunes is “Got to Choose” which benefits from the backing vocals of the newer Kiss guys.  Creepy as it may be, “Christine Sixteen” is always fun, but Gene doesn’t need to keep augmenting the song with things like “I like it!”  And check out the sly Mott the Hoople melody in “God Gave Rock and Roll to You”!

We could all probably do without “I Love It Loud” at this point.  “War Machine” can be tiring.  As much as we love Eric Singer, he does overplay some songs.  “Shout it Out Loud” has a few fills that just don’t need to be there.  Yet somehow, “Psycho Circus” is refreshing and “King of the Night Time World” is never a bad thing.

There are two lengthy “jammers” on this album that make for good listenin’.  “100,000 Years” and “She” both steam on with the familiar Kiss instrumental bits that you know and love.  “Do you feel alriiiiiight?” screams Paul, and damn, he could still really sing.  Vocally, Kiss were really good at this stage.  Gene was kickin’ ass, Eric and Tommy were the solid backing, and Paul was still 90% there.

This lineup hadn’t been together long, and the members sound more comfortable in their roles today.  You won’t be reaching for Virginia Beach 2004 often when you reach for a live Kiss album.  It’s a good setlist for the most part though, and it’s good to have for that reason.  The sonics are also pretty decent, though obviously short of live album standards.  It’s an official bootleg, not Alive XIII.  You can hear every flaw and mistake, and that’s a good thing.  When you listen understanding that this is indeed 100% live, with Paul Stanley jumping around and his guitar banging erratically, then you realize, shit, Kiss are a pretty damn good live band!  A lot of the set sounds like the billionth time they’ve played the songs…but they don’t sound bored doing it.  There’s not a lot of that looseness, but plenty of excitement.

3.5/5 stars

 

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (2008)

Part Thirty-Four of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original Review Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (2008)

DEF LEPPARD – Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (CD Collection Volume 3 Disc 3) (Originally 2008, 2021 remaster)

Finally!  Three misfires in a row (Euphoria, X, Yeah!) and Def Leppard finally had a new album that rocked and was worth listening to again.  While imperfect, the badly-titled new album Songs From the Sparkle Lounge really felt like an actual effort this time.  With the exception of one credit on one song, everything here was written by Def Leppard and only Def Leppard.  And — hallelujah! — no ballads.  What a refreshing turn of events.  A lot of the album was written and recorded on tour.  It seemed like Def Leppard were really listening to the fans who said “We’re tired of pop and ballads.  Please, write us a rock record again like you used to.”

We mostly got it.

Of course, in the press Leppard exaggerated as they often did, comparing the album to High ‘N’ Dry, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin.  And so, the fans knew not to get their hopes up too high.  The album rocked, but not like that.  The standard version of Sparkle Lounge was a tight eleven tracks, just under 40 minutes.  No bloat.  But let’s get to the elephant in the room first.

When discussing this album, dissenters often point to track 2, the first single “Nine Lives” as the main offender.  As a collaboration with Tim McGraw, it reeks of terrible offences committed by Bon Jovi earlier in the decade.  In order to find new success, too many rock bands went to Nashville for fresh names and influences.  Fortunately, Japanese fans were able to buy a version of the album including the song without Tim McGraw, and just Joe Elliott ripping the lead vocals.  That is definitely a preferred experience.  McGraw’s voice makes it sound…not like Def Leppard!  The two worlds simply do not mesh.  Fortunately “Nine Lives” is not a country song, but a hard rocker with a slight twang in the electric guitars.  It’s actually a pretty good song, when you edit Tim out.  So there’s that.

However, opening Songs From the Sparkle Lounge is a song you can only describe as “real” Def Leppard!  Combining the loopy vibe of the Slang era with the riffiness of Pyromania, “Go” is out of the gates on the right note.  It slams.  Heavy, modern, guitar-heavy and hooky without pandering to trends.  It merely combines some of Leppard’s best and heaviest ingredients in a modern way.  The only critique would be the title.  “Go” is a word that Leppard overuse.  “Go”, “Let’s Go”, “Gotta Let It Go”, “Let It Go”…just too much “going” on!

After “Go”, you have to sit through the Tim McGraw song before we’re back to tunes with integrity.  The glam rock “C’Mon C’Mon” was in the vein of that “Pour Some Sugar” sound, ultimately derived from Gary Glitter.   It too was a single (to be discussed next time) and sits comfortably in the Hysteria-style box.  Not exactly like AC/DC and Led Zeppelin as Joe claimed, but not a bad track if a bit too much like a sequel.

“Love” written by Rick Savage was an important tune and surprisingly the longest at 4:17.  It’s the one that they called “not a ballad” and you can get where they were coming from.  Yes there’s a soft acoustic intro but the song is bigger and more dramatic than the average ballad.  A big heavy chunky section rises towards the end.  The acoustic version on the Japanese release could fairly be pigeonholed as a ballad, but the standard album cut it more like Leppard meets Queen.  Freddie and the boys seem to be the biggest influence on “Love”, especially vocally.

Phil Collen wrote “Tomorrow” which is one of the most pop of the tunes, sort of in an Adrenalize mold.  The chorus is solid and there’s a nice guitar part to bite into.  Not a highlight but not a throwaway.  Just a good hard rock tune that sounds great in the car come chorus time.

Vivian Campbell contributed the low groove of “Cruise Control”, whose bassline is the main feature, rolling and churning beneath the song.  Interesting tune with some truly great and adventurous guitar playing from Viv.  Playing for feel and not speed.  But the band reverts to their standard form again on the uptempo rocker “Hallucinate”.  Though the hooks sound like you’ve heard ’em all before, they’re all welcome to return on this great track.

Another solid song, “Only the Good Die Young”, boasts some mellotron that always seems to recall the Beatles.  Not a constituent part of the average Def Leppard rocker, but an enhancement that works well here.  Joe ever references a “diamond in the sky” so it’s probably not coincidence.  A good tune made better by stepping just slightly outside the box without destroying the box.

Joe’s “Bad Actress” is by far the hardest rocker on the album, going full speed ahead to a place that Leppard had not gone in many years.  Pure heavy and reckless rock, pedal to the metal, just givin’ ‘er as much as there is in the gas tank.  This, yes this, is what fans had been begging for!  Something that really drives but still sounds like Def Leppard.  Something that wouldn’t have sounded too out of place in the early years.  Finally, we got “Bad Actress” out of them!

The penultimate track “Come Undone” slows it back down to a deliberate 90s pace.  Decent album track, but might have been considered filler in an earlier age.  Unfortunately, it’s just one of those easy to forget second-last album tracks.

Fortunately, Leppard saved the best track for last:  “Gotta Let It Go”, which rocks so hard on the chorus that it might just rip your head off.  This Vivian contribution opens with deceivingly soft drum programs before absolutely exploding on the epic chorus.  It’s a brilliant slice of songwriting from the Irish rock wizard, and the way the lead and backing vocals overlap on the chorus is just the kind of thing Def Leppard do so exceptionally well.  An absolute triumph that leaves a sweet taste in the mouth when the album is complete.  This kind of closer invites repeat listens.

Sparkle Lounge ends as it began:  rocking.

Fortunately for Def Leppard, a young American fan of both them and Tim McGraw was hitting brand new heights in her fresh solo career.  At just 19 years old, she was born while Def Leppard were still the biggest rock band in the universe.  So, leaning even further into country music, Def Leppard would gain a lot of attention from a new younger crowd thanks to their big fan Taylor Swift.  It seemed a strange move for Leppard to make while they were just starting to rock again, but we’ll discuss the Swift collaboration in a future instalment.

Though Songs From the Sparkle Lounge does contain some fillers and some cuts that fail to stick in the memory, there are no outright “deletes” except arguably the McGraw track.  It doesn’t even fit with the vibe of the album.  The Leppard version should have been in the main album sequence, with the McGraw version as a bonus track and single in special markets.  Guaranteed, this album would be better remembered if that was the case.

3.5/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X
  29. Best Of (UK)
  30. Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection
  31. Yeah!
  32. Yeah! Bonus CD With Backstage Interviews
  33. Yeah…Nah! – Record Store Tales

Next:

35. “C’Mon C’Mon” (12″ picture disc)
36. CMT Crossroads (DVD with Taylor Swift)
37. B-Sides
38. Yeah! II
39. Yeah! Live
40. Mirror Ball – Live & More (Japanese import)
41. iTunes re-recordings

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Hard Skool (2022 Nightrain club clear 7″)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Hard Skool (2022 Geffen 7″ Nightrain club clear vinyl EP)

Back in February, Guns N’ Roses released the Hard Skool EP (or single, or whatever!), containing the first two new Guns songs since 2008’s Chinese Democracy.  With five tracks total (two studio, three live) over three separate formats (CD, cassette, 7″), it was already a pretty good listen.  Axl’s voice has adapted to singing these demanding songs, 35 years after.  But there was always the promise of more in June 2022, and now it has come.

Members of the Guns N’ Roses Nightrain club received a brand new Hard Skool release on clear vinyl, with one exclusive live track added.  The cover art colour has been changed from red to dark charcoal grey, and a “Nightrain Limited-Edition Clear” notation has been added to the front.  This wasn’t cheap, costing $60 Canadian ($45 US) dollars to join.  There are other perks but really, the truth of the matter is I paid $60 for one song.

They had better not reissue this track!

The new exclusive song is “Shadow Of Your Love”, a recent live version recorded with Axl, Slash, Duff, Dizzy Reed, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer, and Melissa Reese.  If you cast your minds back to the recent Appetite For Destruction super deluxe edition, “Shadow Of Your Love” was released as a single and it got a bit of airplay.  Live with the new version of the band, it does recapture that Appetite vibe and let’s face it, the song was possibly superior to a couple tunes that did make the final album.  You can hear Melissa on backing vocals, a touch that isn’t on early live versions of the song.  That backing vocal part is present on the studio version from the third disc on the Appetite box, but not the others included.  It’s cool that they’ve brought it back.  This version is just as fast as the old ones too.  It’s awesome to hear Frank Ferrer playing the drum part originally recorded by Steven Adler.  As for Axl, he adapts.  This is one of the most high and raspy of the original Guns repertoire.  Axl delivers it smooth without the rasp and still manages to get his voice way, way up there.  Say what you want about Axl Rose, he’s sounding better than many of his contemporaries.  Of course the real treat is just hearing Slash wail on it, as he should.

As for the other songs on the single; we’ve discussed them before so we won’t spend much more time on them.  “Hard Skool” is a Chinese Democracy outtake that has been reworked with Slash and Duff McKagan.  The duo have writing credits on “Hard Skool” along with Axl Rose and former members Robin Finck, Josh Freese, Tommy Stinson and Paul “Huge” Tobias.  Formerly known as “Jackie Chan”, this song comes closest to capturing the classic Guns vibe – think Illusions era GN’R.  Slash imbues the riff with his trademark snakelike style, and Axl is in full-scream mode on the powerful chorus.  The cowbell brings us back to the 80s a bit, but the experimental solo section is more modern.  The other new/old song “ABSUЯD” is much more Chi-Dem, and more divisize.  Formerly known as “Silkworms”, Guns started playing “ABSUЯD” live after a 20 year absence last year as a surprise.  Axl’s voice is pretty strange here, sounding a bit muppet-ish.  (The screaming portion sounds like tape.)  This live track will take some getting used to.  It’s not that Axl’s voice is bad just…different than what you’re used to.

Both vinyl releases came with a sticker.  This fan club edition also comes with a Nightrain 2022 pin.  The pin comes packaged in a little mini-folder.  It is made of metal and heavy for a pin.  Made for a jacket, not a shirt.  For a higher tier, you could sign up for four pins and a hoodie.  But I really only wanted to shell out for the exclusive track.

You can’t blame Axl for wanting to get some of these old songs out since he laboured for years over them.  It’s fitting that only now with Slash and Duff back in the band, the songs are “finished”.  Keep the releases coming guys.  It doesn’t have to be an album.  It just has to be Guns.

4/5 stars

All cautions made
Every chance was given
No effort spared to save what we had
All in good faith
I would not hesitate
To extend myself and lend you my hand

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

As tempers fade
And lies forgiven
No cause embraced could break what we had
In its place
A storm is lifting
I would’ve thought you could be more of a man

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

REVIEW: Ugly Kid Joe – Menace to Sobriety / “Milkman’s Son” single (1995)

UGLY KID JOE – Menace to Sobriety (1995 Polygram)

Let me tell ya folks, this album ain’t bad. Ugly Kid Joe made it hard to take them seriously sometimes, but on their second full-length Menace to Sobriety, they did what most jokey bands eventually do: Get serious. Get heavy. With former Wrathchild America drummer Shannon Larkin replacing original member Mark Davis, perhaps this was inevitable.  If not, co-producer GGGarth made it inevitable.

The first single “Tomorrow’s World” was dark-edged modern metal. No jokes, no wit, just Whit, givin’ ‘er at top lung. The album would pretty much follow suit. It felt like they got one side of their personalities out of their systems for the moment and wanted to do something a little more true to the heart.

An instrumental intro just called “Intro” gets a couple heavy riffs out of way in short order. The new drummer’s thick presence is felt immediately. This intro jumps right into “God”, a heavy wade through the mosh pit, spilling hooks all over the floor in violent celebration. Whitfield Crane sounds more menacing, but he’s still obviously the charismatic frontman. Cool wah-wah inflected solo too, which was one of the only ways you could make guitar solos work in 1995.

When “Tomorrow’s World” first hits, it’s with a beat and a rolling bass line, perfectly on brand for the 90s. After the quietly tense opening verses, Whit and the band rip it wide open with another ferocious riff and chorus. It’s well within Black Sabbath’s backyard (U.S. campus), while keeping a foot in 90s. A perfect mix of integrities.

Tempos get faster on “Clover”, with Whit taking his throat even further. The riffs are still the foundation, this one a little bit Priest-like. If the lyrics to “God” were a little on the nose at times, they’re more interesting in light of this one from “Clover”. “I was tempted, but the apple made me stronger.” Whitfield then screams that he’s here to free us. There’s more going on here than a guy who just hates “everything about you”.

The funky side returns on the speedy “C.U.S.T.” (“Can’t You See Them”).  Whit speed-raps through the impressive verses while the band jams hard underneath, wah-wah now back center stage.  Great tune and in fact better than some of the competition’s songs in this genre at the same time.  There’s a killer, clever percussion break in the middle that differentiates Ugly Kid Joe from the bands who were leading the pack.

“Milkman’s Son” was the single, an electric ballad and rightfully chosen.  It’s not soft, there’s a tasty jagged riff to keep it cool, but this is clearly the one that fills the part of prior Ugly Kid Joe hits such as “Busy Bee”.  Great tune, if a bit doomed.

The grind of a bass groove returns on “Suckerpath”, which seems about to about avoiding the ego and big head of rock stardom.  “Never goin’ down a suckerpath, baby,” insists Whit.  Unlike a lot of the tunes on Menace to Sobriety, “Suckerpath” never really explodes with power the way they have so far.  It remains in this wallowing groove, which rocks but never quite satisfies.

Another ballad:  “Cloudy Skies” has the kind of twang where you could called it “Western Skies”.  Still electric; no acoustic softness to be found, but quite excellent.  Crane seems to have tapped into something heartfelt here, and his singing is excellent.  Sticking to tunes with broad appeal, “Jesus Rode A Harley” is one of the most straight ahead and upbeat tracks on the album.

There’s an AC/DC vibe to the opening of “10/10” but then it goes pure grunge groove.  Suitably dark, impressively heavy, and utilizing tricks like conga and slide.  There’s a direction on this album and “10/10” is right down the middle.  Not an outstanding track overall but one you can headbang along to quite easily.  At the end, Whit tries to go full metal scream and does pretty good. This actually leads pretty well into the Priestly vibes on “V.I.P.”.  Priest circa Hell Bent, with a touch of Halford’s Fight.  The lead vocals are Jon Oliva from Savatage to a tee, whether intentional or not.

Finally, the jokey side emerges on “Oompa”, which is exactly what you think it is.  A heavy metal version of the Oompa Loopma song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  And why not?  Green Jelly were having hits with this kind of song.  It’s only two minutes long and hey…it’s Ugly Kid Joe. And just misdirection.  That’s not how the album’s supposed to end.

After long last, the acoustic guitars come out on the tender closer “Candle Song”.  There’s more than a hint of western twang, but if you wanted a traditional hard rock ballad closer, here you go.  “Candle Song” is excellent way to take the listener down after such intensely heavy rocking.

The band isn’t entirely done with their sense of humour.  Open up the booklet and you will find a rental house bill for damages including a food fight.  Total cost:  $12,896.81.

4/5 stars


UGLY KID JOE – “Milkman’s Son” / “Tomorrow’s World” (1995 Mercury CD single)

This single seems kind of like a double header between “Milkman’s Son” and “Tomorrow’s World” which was the music video getting all the play on MuchMusic at the time.  Two of the best tracks from the album, they are a terrific one-two punch for this CD single.

The bonus tracks are quite cool.  There’s a 1994 version of “God”, which is structurally the same but rougher sounding.  Amazing how close to the final mark it was.  Then there’s a really rough demo of “C.U.S.T.” but still very close to its final form.  Hearing these somewhat flatter sounding early versions after listening to the album is really interesting, since it is so consistently pounding, especially in the bass.

Great single for bonus material and a good score if you can find one.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – “Days O Deth” (2014 demo)

QUEENSRŸCHE – “Days O Deth” (2014 demo, released 2021 online by Scott Rockenfield)

If any rock band has had the #1 weirdest drama going on in their history, Queensryche must be considered a front runner.  First there was the “spitting incident” and 2012 split with Geoff Tate.  This drama was swiftly followed by the existence of two completely different bands touring and releasing albums as “Queensryche”.  The Queensryche brand issue was settled in a 2014 lawsuit, with original members Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield winning the rights to the name for their version of the group.  A year after, Scott Rockenfield took a six-month touring leave from the band, and never returned.  It appears Scott was finally fired from Queensryche in 2018 due to non-participation.  He has not been active with the group since their excellent 2015 Condition Hüman album, the last to feature the drummer in any regard.  Queensryche carried on with vocalist Todd La Torre playing drums in the studio,  and Kamelot’s Casey Grillo drumming live.

Then suddenly in 2021, Scott Rockenfield came out breaking the silence!  Presenting a new (now defunct) “Queensryche2021” website, Rockenfield essentially declared his own version of Queensryche.  Pictures on his site were Wilton and Jackson, but not La Torre, for whom he spared no ire.  Calling La Torre a “subcontracted employee”, he unilaterally declared the current active Queensryche illegitimate.

Proclaiming “Welcome to the New World” on his site, he posted “R ya READY TO F***in’ ROCK !!!?? ….I AM !!!!!!!” [sic]

You can always tell how serious a press release is by the number of exclamation points, question marks, and ellipsis are used.

Aside from a lot of sniping, Rockenfield promised new music in 2021, but only offered one old demo.  Ironically this demo from 2014 features his nemesis Todd La Torre on lead vocals!  For 99 cents, you could download “Days O Deth” from his now-defunct website.  With the website gone, so now too is the track.

“Days O Deth” is a shorter demo version of what became “Toxic Remedy” on 2015’s Condition Hüman.  Missing is the opening guitar harmony, as it goes into a riff that was refined for the final version.  Instead of the very ‘Ryche-ian guitar harmonies that “Toxic Remedy” opens with, this one focuses on the pounding of the riff.  It’s quite cool that way.  The verses are pretty much intact as is the chorus.  While the final “Toxic Remedy” sounds more Queensryche, this demo is rougher, heavier and perhaps a touch more unique as to how it treats the riff section.

One can be certain that the legitimate members of Queensryche never saw a penny of the 99 cents paid for this download.  Therefore it is understandable if a fan chose not to pay for a demo track that Queensryche certainly deserved compensation for.  Until events unfold further, perhaps in courts, we can have no real idea what is going on with Scott Rockenfield’s role in Queensryche.  Which is unfortunate, as diehard fans no doubt would very much want and enjoy this demo.  Will it ever see an official release?  See above.  Events will unfold as they will.

4/5 stars

  1. “Days O Deth” – Srock – Orig Demo 2014 (3:14)

(Photo by Brill/ullstein bild via Getty Images)