heavy metal

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls: Live Chapter (2017)

IRON MAIDEN – The Book of Souls: Live Chapter (2017 Universal)

Not many bands can get away with releasing so many live albums so late in their career.  Iron Maiden can.  They can for three main reasons:

1: They still kick enormous amounts of ass.
2: Their setlist changes tour after tour and there will always be songs you won’t get to hear again.
3: See #1.

It doesn’t hurt that their new albums are as acclaimed as their old. Ever since Maiden’s 1999 reunion with Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith, we have been treated to an abnormally solid stream of brilliant records. Deal with the devil, perhaps? Faustian bargain #666?

The atmospheric and shadowy intro to “If Eternity Should Fail” is a perfect way to begin an Iron Maiden concert.  This track is magnificent.  It also serves as a dramatic way to open what is sure to be the greatest live experience on Earth. “Scream for me, Sydney!” yells Bruce to rile up the crowd. Yes, The Book of Souls: Live Chapter is taken from a number of different shows, which is a format Maiden have succeeded with before.

Another thing Maiden do successfully is top-load their live set with new songs.  The first two songs here are the same two as The Book of Souls itself.  Single “Speed of Light” really kicks up the excitement level.  To go from the epic drama of the opener to the taut single immediately causes an energy surge.  From there, we travel back to 1981 with “Wrathchild”.  It’s like a time machine to the London stages that young Maiden once trod upon.  Bruce’s scream is unholy.

Jump cut to Canada and “Children of the Damned”.  Bruce speaks French for the raving Montreal crowd, a nice touch of respect for the province of Quebec.  Maiden never sagged in popularity there.  In Quebec, Maiden’s 1995 album The X Factor (with lead singer Blaze Bayley) went Top 10.  Back to new material, “Death or Glory” is another energetic shorty.   The triple guitar solo slays.   Then it goes to epic, “The Red and the Black”, 13 minutes and the longest track on the album.  Riff overload!  Unabated, we launch into “The Trooper” and “Powerslave”, both old classics that remain as amped up as they were in the 80s.  It is pure joy to listen.  (Only qualm: backing vocals on “Powerslave” sound like tape.)

A pair of top-notch new songs, “The Great Unknown” and “The Book of Souls” kick off the second CD.  These are not short tracks.  In a way this is the “meat” of the set.  It is a run of 17 combined minutes of epic Maiden, and it’s a lot to swallow.  Savour every bite; this is prime stuff.  And will they ever be played live again?  Who can say?

You know the show is drawing to a close when you hear the opening chords to “Fear of the Dark”.  This favourite has been in the set since 1992.  It’s the crowd’s chance to really sing along and be a part of it.  More favourites follow:  “Iron Maiden” and “The Number of the Beast”.  (Absent is “Run to the Hills” which is on plenty of other live Maiden albums of recent vintage.)  “Blood Brothers” from the reunion album Brave New World seems oddly placed in the second-to-last slot.  The crowd at Download festival are thrilled to sing along.  On CD, you can hear Steve on backing vocals clearly, and appreciate how he and Bruce complement each other.  Then finally, it’s a terrific “Wasted Years” from underdog favourite Somewhere in Time.

The mix here is just dandy.  There are variances in sound from track to track and city to city, but these are minor and only natural.  You can clearly pick apart the instruments in the stereo field, and it’s pure delight to do so.  Once again, Iron Maiden have released a quality product.  You cannot go wrong by investing in any version of The Book of Souls: Live Chapter.

4.5/5 stars;

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Motley Crue – Greate$t Hit$ (1998, 2009 versions)

MOTLEY CRUE – Greate$t Hit$ (1998 Motley/BMG), Greate$t Hit$ (2009 Motley/Masters)

Most fans will agree that Motley Crue’s 1997 reunion album Generation Swine was, at best, disappointing.  The Crue tried to right the ship by returning to producer Bob Rock.  Together they came up with two new songs, “Bitter Pill” and “Enslaved” that recalled better days.  We discussed the wherefores and origins of 1998’s Greate$t Hit$ album in Getting More Tale #611:  Afraid, on which the two new songs were released.  As you’ll read here, the 1998 issue of  Greate$t Hit$ is better than its 2009 update.

Both “Bitter Pill” and “Enslaved” bring Motley’s sonics back to their previous setpoint with Vince Neil, Decade of Decadence.  The combo of Motley plus Bob Rock produces the kind of results you expect:  punchy, heavy rock tunes with hooks.  Neither is as memorable as “Primal Scream”, but serve their function.  If this lineup had stayed together perhaps they could have taken it further, to the next stage of evolution.  Tensions between Vince and Tommy Lee eventually erupted.  Tommy left the band to pursue his own sanity and a side project called Methods of Mayhem.

The ’98 Greate$t Hit$ also offered up one other cool bonus:  a previously unreleased remix of “Glitter”.  It’s softer and more electronically processed, but a very cool alternate version.  Dropped into this running order, Greate$t Hit$ turns out to be a remarkably fun and consistent listen.  It would be a highly recommended way to get a broad assortment of great Motley and some rarities too.

Then, as part of the promotional cycle for a later, better reunion album (2008’s Saints of Los Angeles), Greate$t Hit$ was updated and reissued.  Including its previous incarnation, the 2009 Greate$t Hit$ became the fifth Motley Crue best-of compilation (not counting box sets and rarities compilations).

So what’s the difference?

13 tracks overlap between the two: “Too Fast For Love”, “Looks That Kill”, “Smokin’ In The Boys Room”, “Home Sweet Home”, “Wild Side”, “Girls, Girls, Girls”, “Dr. Feelgood”, “Kickstart My Heart”, “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)”, “Without You”, “Primal Scream”, and “Afraid”. The 13th track is “Shout At The Devil”.  In 2009 they used the original version, where on the old CD it was “Shout At The Devil ’97” (a re-recording from Generation Swine).

Three tracks were previously released as “new” songs on other greatest hits CDs: “Primal Scream” (Decade of Decadence), “Sick Love Song” and “If I Die Tomorrow” (Red, White & Crue).

Two tracks were from the newest Motley platter, Saints Of Los Angeles: The title track, and a brand-new remix of “The Animal In Me” featuring more keyboards.

Zero tracks from the albums Motley Crue or New Tattoo are included (neither album had all four original members).

There are 19 songs total included, which is a beef-up from the 1998 version, which had 17 songs.  “Bitter Pill” and “Enslaved” were excluded, but both are available on Red, White & Crue (2005). The remix of “Glitter” from the 1998 version is not and is now deleted.

The songs on the update, unlike the 1998 version, are mostly in chronological order. The exception is “Afraid” which is shuffled out of place with “Sick Love Song” for reasons unknown. The flow of the album is OK, with the kickass “Too Fast For Love” starting the proceedings. The mixture of rockers to ballads is engineered for high octane, and the ballads only kick in when needed. The album only runs out of gas towards the end:  “Sick Love Song” isn’t very good didn’t require a second look here.  “Bitter Pill” should have been kept instead.  The final track “The Animal In Me” is just too slow for a closing song. “Saints Of Los Angeles” would have been more appropriate to close this set.

Even though the 2009 update has 19 songs compared to 17, the ’98 version wins due to the inclusion of “Bitter Pill” and “Enslaved”. It’s more enjoyable listen from start to finish, with better flow and song order.  The ’09 Greate$t Hit$ smacks of an obvious cash grab. Check out the liner notes. They haven’t even been updated. The essays are 10 years out of date, the notes refer to the “two new songs” (which aren’t there), and the back cover artwork still reflects “Bitter Pill”. Essentially, the only changes to the packaging are the colours with a new slipcase added, displaying a newer band photo from the Saints sessions.

Greate$t Hit$ 1998:  4/5 stars

Greate$t Hit$ 2009:  2/5 stars

 

#611: Afraid

GETTING MORE TALE #611: Afraid

1989: A clean and sober Motley Crue take over the world. Dr. Feelgood climbs to #1 and the band rivals Bon Jovi and Def Leppard in the popularity stakes.

1990: Motley continue to tour and rock them all, while announcing their next album will be a “greatest hits”.

1991: Decade of Decadence is released, keeping Motley on the charts. The new single “Primal Scream” is well received.

1992: In a shock announcement, Vince Neil is fired from the band. Unfortunately Motley are not the only rock band to lose their singer at the beginning of the 90s.

1993:  Vince Neil’s solo debut Exposed is greeted by warm reviews.  Motley continue to toil in the studio with new singer John Corabi.

1994: Five years after Dr. Feelgood, the re-imagined Motley finally return with the self-titled Motley Crue.  Corabi blows ’em away, but the album fails to sell. Motley is forced to do a scaled down tour while the CD dropped off the charts.

This was the state of the Crue in the mid 90s.  They had released an incredible album.  Today, many fans rate it in the top three, or even at the #1 spot.   My near-legendary Record Store cohort T-Rev agrees.  “To me, they sounded more like a hard rock band than a hair metal band, because of that album.”

Absolutely true.  They stepped far beyond the preconceived notions of Motley Crue.  Guitars were detuned, lyrics were topical or personal.  Tracks like “Smoke the Sky” might have passed for Soundgarden.  On the other side of the coin, “Misunderstood” was an epic power ballad featuring an orchestra and Glenn fucking Hughes.  There wasn’t a weak track in the bunch, but plenty of variety.

Most fans didn’t embrace it at the time, and instead moved on to current bands.  Back then, nobody was interested.  No Vince, no Motley?  No way.  Corabi was absolutely the right guy at the right time.  Motley added his rhythm guitars and songwriting abilities, not to mention far more aggressive singing.  The band had only gotten better.  But by recording an uncompromising album with an unknown singer, they were indeed taking a chance.  It didn’t pay off.  When I was working at the Record Store, there was a giant pile of unsold Motley Crue CDs taking up space.  They sat next to an equally tall pile of David Lee Roth’s Your Filthy Little Mouth.  All the kings seemed to have been usurped.

At the Record Store, I first befriended the aforementioned T-Rev.  The fact that both of us loved the Motley album didn’t hurt.  T-Rev was the only person I knew who appreciated what they did.  He loved that huge overproduced drum sound.  Back in 1989, everybody had a Motley Crue T-shirt in the highschool halls.  In 1994, we couldn’t get anyone to listen.

Through 1995 and 1996, magazines reported that Motley were back in the studio, working on a followup with Corabi.  Bob Rock was back in the producer’s chair and the band wrote new songs such as “Personality #9”, “Let Us Prey”, “La Dolce Vita” and “The Year I Lived In A Day”.  Things seemed to be going well, but record company pressure was intense.  Bob Rock’s style was now passé and he was fired.  Engineer Scott Humphrey was promoted to producer, and electronics began to dominate.

The pressure was not only on Motley Crue, but focused directly on John Corabi.  Elektra records were eager to get Vince Neil back, a true “star”.  John was getting frustrated in the studio while this was going on.  Nothing he sang seemed to be good enough for Motley Crue anymore.  He was asked to sing like Oasis or the Sisters of Mercy.  John suggested that he just play rhythm guitar while they get Vince Neil to sing.  Somehow, this made its way into the rumour mill.  Before John Corabi was eventually fired, T-Rev and I had heard that Motley were considering this very same five-piece lineup.  What a glorious sounding thing that could have been.

Ultimately the band fired John and got Vince back.  They attempted to piece together the album that they’d been recording and re-recording and re-re-recording again.  Mick Mars was frustrated as well, as his guitar parts kept getting rejected and remixed.  In particular, Mars did not function well with Scott Humphrey.

Personally speaking, I lay these problems at the hands of Scott Humphrey.  I read the book The Dirt, and that’s certainly where the band lay most of the blame.  Have a look at Humphrey’s credits though.  Lots of records loaded with electronics, like Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe and Tommy Lee’s solo stuff.  Humphrey started out as a keyboard player and programmer, and I think that high-tech style does not work with Motley Crue.  That’s my personal opinion, never having met Scott Humphrey.  I did, however, have a customer at the Record Store who knew Scott Humphrey, who is actually from Kitchener Ontario.*  “Motley Crue were the problem,” he told me.  “They were messed up on drugs.”  They were also unfocused musically.

On January 27 1997, the reunited original Motley Crue performed on the American Music Awards.  Mere months after being teased by a similar Van Halen reunion on the MTV Awards, I was relieved that Motley were playing a song rather than just standing there.  But what the hell song was it?!  Some strange, techno-y version of “Shout at the Devil”?  It was strange, unexpected and underwhelming.  Hey, cool, it was a fresh spin on an old classic.  But…why?

We soon found out.  The album Generation Swine came out on June 24 1997.  As usual, T-Rev and I got it a few days in advance.  “It sucks!” he warned me.  Of the first single “Afraid”, he said “It sounds more like Def Leppard than Motley Crue.”

“Afraid” is the best song on the album, which does frankly suck.  In a single stroke Motley went from one of their best albums, to one of their very worst.  It was astounding how desperate they sounded, trying to incorporate these influences that have nothing to do with Motley Crue.  The loops and samples and effects ruined many of the songs, but some just weren’t that good to begin with.  This considered, it was an even bigger surprise that Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee were singing lead vocals too.  Sixx’s silly opener “Find Myself” was a nauseating faux-punk novelty song.  Generation Swine was also unfocused in the extreme, and the muddying effects didn’t help.  The electronic treatments on the drums rendered them limp, compared to the massive sound of 94’s Motley Crue.    Absolutely everything on Generation Swine was inferior to Motley Crue.

Three CD singles were released for “Afraid”, which was remixed so many times trying to get it right, that they used some of the various versions as bonus tracks.  The album version is fine enough, and in this one instance, the electronics enhance the song.  I’d rather hear “Afraid” with the effects than without.

What did other fans think?  When Generation Swine was new, one of my customers wanted to hear it before buying.  “I saw that Vince Neil is back.  Have you heard it?” he asked me, and I told him the truth.  He was sceptical of my review, but changed his mind upon hearing it.  “It doesn’t sound like them,” he said, and he’s right.  I then cajoled him into listening to the 1994 album.  He didn’t want to, because it didn’t have Vince Neil, but agreed to give it a shot.

Guess which album he bought?  Motley ’94.

At least there’s some redemption, if only temporarily.  During the Christmas season of 1998, T-Rev once again called me up to tell me about Motley Crue.  There was a new compilation out, called Greate$t Hit$ [review coming tomorrow].   This time, there were two new songs:  “Enslaved” and “Bitter Pill”.  Both were produced by Bob Rock.

“The new songs aren’t bad,” said T-Rev.  “A lot better than Generation Swine.  Not as good as ‘Primal Scream'”

Right again, T-Rev.  Not bad.  An improvement, but not as good as what they did the first time out.  That was enough for me to buy the CD.  Not for Trevor, though.

I think Motley Crue were on the right track with “Enslaved” and “Bitter Pill” after the failure of Generation Swine.  They obviously knew that album didn’t work, so they went back to the last thing that did.  Both songs are growers, and still raise a smile to hear.  Unfortunately Motley Crue blew it again.  Tommy Lee and Vince Neil had a dust-up at an airport, and Lee split.  He was replaced by former Ozzy Osbourne drummer, Randy Castillo.**

Fans like T-Rev and myself always supported the 1994 album, and today we’ve been justified.  More and more fans have realised the quality of that CD, and increasingly hold it in high esteem.  There’s something about that CD, and I’m afraid that Motley Crue never came close to touching it since.

Tommy Lee, John Corabi, Nikki Sixx & Mick Mars

* Fun fact! T-Rev’s mom dated Scott Humphrey!

** In a very sad turn of events, Castillo never got to tour with Motley Crue.  He became ill and died of cancer on March 26, 2002 at age 51.  His replacement, Hole’s Samantha Maloney, did the tour and resultant live video.

[Re-Post] Part 241: Halloween, KISS style!

Not really a part of the The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES, just a re-post from Record Store Tales!  Happy Halloween kiddoes!

RECORD STORE TALES Part 241:  Halloween, KISS style!

Our annual inventory count fell on October 31.  For five years straight, I never got to dress up, hand out candy, or do anything fun on Halloween because I was too busy counting discs and CD towers!  However in the early days, this wasn’t the case.  Halloween 1996 was actually a pretty good one.

Like most malls, our mall had a few Halloween contests.  T-Rev entered the store in the Pumpkin Carving category.  He and I came up with the plan to do a Kiss pumpkin.  T-Rev, the store owner’s brother, and myself gathered in my mom’s workshop in the basement. My mom had plenty of paint, and I was good at drawing the Kiss makeup designs.  T-Rev had the idea to make the pumpkin Gene Simmons, and figured out how to make a pumpkin tongue stick out.  I must say he did an amazing job.

The first step was to spray paint the pumpkin white.  One of the guys did the cutting.  Then, I drew the Demon design with a black magic marker.  We thought the nose needed to be more three-dimensional, so I cut it out a bit.  Together, we began colouring in Gene’s makeup.  We needed something to define the eyes of Gene, and T-Rev thought of using pumpkin seeds.  We added a wig, and voila!

T-Rev propped Gene up on the magazine stand outside the store.  Immediately we started getting compliments, and the response was pretty unanimous:  We had done the best job in the entire mall.

Unfortunately, the judges didn’t base their ratings on who had done the best job.  They were only marking the results, whether the store employees did the pumpkins themselves or not!  A store that hired a professional carver won first place.  We came in second.  There was no prize for second.  T-Rev and I considered that to be cheating.  Cheatie-cheatertons.

The contest was over, and not too soon:  the pumpkin had begun to rot, as pumpkins do.  That didn’t stop a customer from coming in on November 1st and offering him $10 for it.  T-Rev accepted his gracious offer, even though the thing would be turning horrific in a day or two.  A fool and his money, right T-Rev?

By 1997, the store had moved out of the mall.  This was our last pumpkin carving contest, but at least we had the satisfaction of winning the popular vote.  As far as I’m concerned, we went out on top.  My personal consolation prize was later on, Halloween 2006.  By this time I had moved on to United Rentals.  They took Halloween very, very seriously at United Rentals!  I dressed up as Paul Stanley, and this time, I finally won first prize!

REVIEW: Helix – “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight” (2017 single)

HELIX – “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight” / “The Tequila Song” (2017 clear red picture single)

It’s been love for Helix and I since…many years!  Since Record Store Tales Part 2:  Gimme An R, at least.  As such, I may be a little biased when it comes to this band.  Maybe.  I truly believe their music deserves much more attention from the rock community, particularly the recent albums which are always excellent.  Helix mainman Brian Vollmer maintains a reputation as the hardest working man in Canadian heavy rock.  2017 sees the release of not just a new Helix single (and a lavish one at that), but also his second solo album Get Yer Hands Dirty.

Helix today is Vollmer on vox, Daryl Gray on bass, Fritz Hinz kickin’ the drums, and newer members Kaleb “Duckman” Duck and Chris Julke.  The inner sleeve is signed by all five members, which is just the kind of cool personal touch Helix are known for.  Also noteworthy, all but Hinz wrote the single A-side “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight”.  That makes it the first Helix song in years written solely by band members.  “The Tequila Song” on the B-side is composed by mainstay collaborators Gord Pryor, Steve Georgakopoulos and Vollmer.

Great tunes, these are, both party songs.  Each is a little heavier than you might usually expect from the Helix band.  “Devil” is possessed by a heavy-as-a-tombstone riff, and some exotic guitar noodlings that recall the good stuff from the metallic 80s.

I think “The Tequila Song” is even better.  I was known to drink tequila from time to time in my younger days, but I gotta say that Helix have written a better song about tequila than Sammy Hagar ever has.  Stomp to that riff as you “lick it, bang it, suck it, tequila!”  Even if you’re the designated driver, you’ll find the chorus infectious and party-ready.

Want a copy?  You know where to go – Planet Helix.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: QUIET RIOT – Live at the US Festival (2012 CD/DVD)

QUIET RIOT – Live at the US Festival (2012 Shout! CD/DVD set)

This was a long awaited release, since the US Festival was way back in 1983!  The Holy Grail would be an official Van Halen release of their legendary performance, but I digress.  There aren’t a lot of really great live Quiet Riot albums out there, with one called Extended Versions being the best package.  Live at the US Festival is brief at just seven songs (plus a 4:38 guitar solo that also includes a sneak preview of a song called “Scream and Shout”).  It does capture Quiet Riot at their peak, at a critical gig, and includes a DVD of the whole thing for the complete package.  (Come on, Van Halen…)

Let’s have a look at the DVD first.  The crowd is vast, the costumes ridiculous, but there’s some kind of fire in the air.  The atmosphere is electric and the band are absolutely great visually, particularly Rudy Sarzo.   DuBrow is the consummate glam frontman, and an underrated one at that. Have a giggle at the old style giant screens displaying the band logo.

The CD itself sounds good, no complaints there, and the recording sounds untampered (evidenced by a messy Carlos Cavazo guitar solo in “Cum On Feel the Noize”).  Sarzo’s bass is mixed nice and audibly.  It would have been better if more of a booklet was included, but it’s just a simple fold-out with no liner notes.  This set is sparse and just over 40 minutes long.  A lot of that time is taken up by talking.  You get the big hits though, and the non-album track “Danger Zone”.

Live at the US Festival is a pretty easy Quiet Riot purchase to justify because of the included DVD.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Make A Difference Foundation – Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell (1989)

Make A Difference Foundation – Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell (1989 Polygram)

In 1989, I proudly sported my Moscow Music Peace Festival T-shirt in the highschool halls.  It was cool to see the rock bands on the forefront of heavy metal bringing music to the Soviet Union.  Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Ozzy Osbourne and Skid Row joined Russian metal band Gorky Park in the name of peace and being drug free.

Drug free?  Ozzy?  It’s true that this was a little strange, but Motley were at least clean for the first time in their lives.  The Scorpions had played behind the Iron Curtain before, and Sabbath were huge in Russia.  Meanwhile Bon Jovi were one of the few bands to legally release an album in the USSR, and in return they brought Gorky Park to the US.  I was lucky enough to have a girlfriend who recorded the televised part of the concert off MTV and sent me a copy.  It was a pretty mindblowing video.  Those Russians were going absolutely nuts, seeing their idols on stage.

Later on, the bands each contributed a song to a compilation album called Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell, each covering an artist who had been touched by substance abuse.  The CD was produced by the biggest name at the time, Bruce Fairbairn himself.  The proceeds went to an anti-drug charity, for all the good “just saying no” does.  The album itself was a pretty great compilation of mostly exclusive music.  Though almost all of it is now available elsewhere, that wasn’t the case in 1989, making this a tempting buy.

Gorky Park, the up and comers, started off with “My Generation”.  Some find it too putrid to stomach.  It’s virtually an original song with only the lyrics recognizable.  The riffs and melodies seem otherwise new.  So give Gorky Park some credit for at least not attempting a carbon copy, but then you gotta take off some points for turning “My Generation” into a Bon Motley song.  Unfortunately for Gorky Park, their momentum halted when singer Nikolai Noskov quit in 1990.

Skid Row surprised the hell out of everyone with the Pistols’ “Holidays in the Sun”.  It was the first indication that Skid Row had punk roots.  “Holidays” was very much a look ahead to where they would go on Slave to the Grind.  They were on the punk bandwagon a full two years before Motley decided to cover the Sex Pistols.  It’s always strange to hear flashy metal guitar solos on a Pistols song, but it’s sheer joy to hear Sebastian spitting and screaming up a storm.

Scorpions had a new compilation out called Best of Rockers ‘n’ Ballads.  Another Who song, “I Can’t Explain” was taken from it to be used on this CD.  It is by far the better of the Who covers, as Scorpions really made it their own.  Next, Ozzy’s track is quite interesting.  It’s the only studio recording of the lineup including Zakk Wylde, Randy Castillo, and Geezer Butler.  Geezer quit the band shortly after, and this incredible lineup never recorded anything else.  I consider it the strongest band that Ozzy had after Randy Rhoads.  The quartet did a live sounding cover of “Purple Haze”, unfortunately not the greatest version.  It is at least a showcase for Zakk Wylde to go nuts on the wah-wah pedal.

I will argue that the best track on this album came from the band that was riding a brand new high:  Motley Crue.  Clean and mean, they were incredibly strong in 1989.  They the balls to choose an obscure Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple) solo tune:  “Teaser”.  Motley put on that Dr. Feelgood groove, and Mick Mars laid waste to the land with his slidey guitar goodness.  It’s no surprise that “Teaser” has reappeared on Motley compilations several times since.  It has balls as big as a bus!

Another strong contender is Bon Jovi’s take on Thin Lizzy.  “The Boys are Back in Town” fits seamlessly with that small town New Jersey vibe that Bon Jovi used to have.  Lynott must have had some influence on a young Jon Bon, because all his old tunes are about the boys – back in town!  Dino’s bar and grill could be in Sayreville NJ.  Of course, Bon Jovi are a competent enough band to be able to cover Thin Lizzy and do it well.

Another surprise:  Cinderella doing Janis Joplin.  Singer Tom Keifer suited Joplin, though you don’t immediately associate the two!  “Move Over” takes advantage of that Keifer shriek that isn’t too far removed from Janis.  From there on though, it’s filler.  Jason Bonham, Tico Torres and Mickey Curry do a pretty boring “Moby Dick”.  It’s funny how John Bonham sounds bigger on the original, than three drummers on this remake.  Then it’s a bunch of live jams from the Moscow concert:  “Hound Dog”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Rock and Roll” (Bonham on drums again for the latter).  Vince Neil is hopelessly out-screamed by Sebastian Bach on the Zep tune.  All the singers participated, but Sebastian Bach and Tom Keifer blew ’em all away.

This disc has been out of print a while, but isn’t too hard to find.  80s rockers need to have it for its historical value.

3/5 stars

BOOK REVIEW: KISS Still On Fire – Dave Thomas & Anders Holm (1988)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 37: bonus book review

 Still On Fire – Dave Thomas & Anders Holm (1988 Melody Line)

In the 1980s, there were generally no Kiss books on the market.  If you found one, you bought it.  The only widely known Kiss book back then was 1978’s paperback Kiss by Robert Duncan.  I was lucky to find Kiss Still On Fire in Stratford Ontario on December 27, 1990 in a great little store called The Book Vault.  Still On Fire is very very unofficial, but it was unequalled in its time:  130 magazine sized pages, mostly in full colour, loaded with pictures, facts and a few errors.

Peppered with old interviews and article snippets, Still On Fire takes a balanced look at the band and isn’t afraid to get critical when it’s warranted.  It also attempts to take a crack at who played what on some of those tracks where it wasn’t quite clear.  For example, Ace Frehley is pictured on the front cover of Killers, but didn’t play on any of the new songs.  Still On Fire quotes a Paul Stanley interview.  Was it Bob Kulick playing lead on these tracks?  “Bob did come out, yes, but he didn’t play.  When I couldn’t handle things — and I don’t consider myself the ultimate lead player — another friend of ours came in and gave us a little help.”  The book states this friend was Robbin Crosby of Ratt, a claim that is not backed up in other sources.  Did Crosby play on Killers?  Who knows, but according to this book, he did.  Other books such as Julian Gill’s Kiss Album Focus claim Bob Kulick did play some on Killers.  In other words, if you read something interesting in this book that contradicts what you’ve read elsewhere, take it with a grain of salt.

There’s a bit of content here about what Gene was doing in the 1980s outside of Kiss:  producing bands such as Black & Blue and EZO.  Gene was responsible for EZO’s fantastic single “Flashback Heart Attack”, co-written by James Christian of Simmons Record act House of Lords.  Gene was also working on movies but was having trouble finding the time.  Apparently Sergio Leone really wanted Gene Simmons for Once Upon a Time in America in the role of Max, ultimately played by James Woods.  Can you imagine?

Besides the ample photos, the most impressive feature of Still On Fire is the discography.  Though incomplete, Still On Fire attempts to document myriad Kiss bootleg recordings, including cover art.  There are also interesting promo and foreign releases, such as the Special Kiss Tour Album and Kiss – The Singles.  Side projects and solo albums are included, from major (Frehley’s Comet) to obscure (Bruce Kulick’s band The Good Rats).  A variety of singles, picture discs and videos are on display, fully illustrated.  All of this was completely new to me then.  Not to mention the titles of unreleased songs!  What the heck were “Don’t Run” and “The Unknown Force”?  (The Elder demos.)  This is also where you’ll find the most typos and spelling errors.  (I really want to hear this song called “Pick It Up”.)

Still On Fire isn’t definitive nor is it definitely 100% accurate, but it should still prove to be a valuable resource for your Kiss library.

3.5/5 stars

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (1988)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 36: 

 – Smashes, Thrashes & Hits (1988 Mercury)

Though hard to believe, in 1988 Kiss needed the money.  According to CK Lendt in his book KISS and Sell, they were in trouble financially.  Some bad investments and too many expenses, plus the underperformance of Crazy Nights, had the band in a bind.  The traditional easy solution is to throw together a “greatest hits” set.

Gene announced this album to Canadian audiences on a trip to the Great White North promoting his record label, Simmons Records.  House of Lords were the band he primed to be big, and their debut album is held in high esteem by rock connoisseurs worldwide.  It seemed to fans that Simmons was transitioning from Hollywood to businessman.  Surely, it was hard to believe him when he claimed Kiss was still his priority.

Greatest hits albums need something new to sell them.  This was left to Paul Stanley, who produced two new songs co-written with Desmond Child (and Diane Warren on one).   It seems unlikely that Gene cared much at this point.  In the music video for one of the new songs, “(You Make Me) Rock Hard”, he can be clearly seen miming the wrong words.

Speaking of music videos, “Let’s Put the X in Sex” was something new for the band (and it wasn’t the lawsuit from the people who owned the building in the video).  Suddenly, Kiss were a three-piece backing band with a guitar-less frontman.  At least in the videos for Crazy Nights, Paul Stanley wore and danced with a guitar.  In “Let’s Put the X in Sex”, he is front and center, without instrument:  the frontman.  Gene’s just the bass player in these videos, looking completely lost.  Paul was doing all the work behind the scenes, therefore he was going to take the spotlight.  And why not?

Getting two new Kiss songs on a greatest hits was good in theory.  Even back then, we sensed they were more the “Paul Stanley Project” than Kiss.  For Kiss, they are too light and glossy.  “Let’s Put the X in Sex” has horns (or is it synth?) making it sound vaguely like an Aerosmith outtake from Permanent Vacation.  At least Steven Tyler injects a little cleverness into his innuendo.  Both Bruce Kulick and Eric Carr rise to the occasion with worthy work, but the tune is a dud.

Likewise with “(You Make Me) Rock Hard”, which passed for a rocker at the time.  Neither of the new tracks are as good as the four on Kiss Killers.  Paul must have just been out of gas.  He states these songs were the best he could do at the time without his partner in crime.  “Rock Hard” is just Kiss by numbers.

First two tracks aside, Smashes, Thrashes & Hits contains 13 of the greatest.  Most are remixed (ill-advisedly) to bring all the tracks to a standard sonic backdrop.  The remixes are from a variety of names in a number of studios:  Dave Wittman, David Thoener, Jay Messina for example.  Some played it a little more loose with the tracks, others didn’t meddle much.  “Love Gun” is an example of a remix that changes things up, but still works.  Ace’s solo is given more emphasis by mixing out the vocals.  It’s a cool alternate arrangement.  Excess echo is added on the drums…you can’t win ’em all.  Many of the remixes suffer from drum related issues.

Smashes, Thrashes & Hits takes a scattershot approach to running order.  It’s very telling that no tracks from Crazy Nights were included, except in the UK where “Crazy Crazy Nights” and “Reason to Live” were hits.  No tracks with an Ace Frehley writing credit were included, and only one from Peter Criss.  That’s another gripe that fans have with this album.

“Beth” is included, a throwback to one of Kiss’ biggest hits, which they tended to shun since Peter’s 1980 departure from Kiss.  It’s considered a slap in the face to Peter that Eric Carr was called in to re-record the lead vocal.  The backing track is identical.  Carr never felt comfortable in this role, but had never been featured on an album lead vocal before.  It was a hell of a dilemma for the drummer.  He’d been in the band for six years and six albums, and never got a lead vocal.  He did the best he could.  The re-recorded “Beth” didn’t replace the original, and it remains an oddity in the Kiss canon.

One afternoon in the summer of 1990, Bob and I were hanging out with these two girls at his trailer that we were going out with.  We were listening to songs, but Bob and I didn’t seem to get much say in what songs.  One of the girls said, “I have some Kiss!” and put on Beth.  As soon as she did, I had a feeling it wouldn’t be the original.  Simultaneously, Both and I both said, “Oh no, it’s Eric!”  The girls had no idea what we were talking about or why it was a big deal.

Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was the first compilation to reconcile the makeup and non-makeup eras of Kiss.  The majority are from the makeup years, as it should be, with only three from non-makeup albums.  You could argue for this song and that song, but the running order is jarring.  “Heaven’s On Fire” into “Dr. Love” is not even as bizarre as “Beth” into “Tears are Falling”.  The less familiar remixes don’t help the situation.  Incidentally, the only songs untouched by remixers’ hands are “Lick It Up”, “Heaven’s On Fire”, “Tears are Falling” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”.

There was no tour for Smashes, Thrashes and Hits.  Gene had his label stuff, including a new Canadian band called Gypsy Rose to think about.  (Remember “Poisoned By Love” on Simmons Records?)  Paul Stanley didn’t want to sit idle, and so did a 1989 solo tour.  Kiss family member Bob Kulick returned to his side on guitar.  Kiss keyboardist Gary Corbett was there with bassist Dennis St. James and ex-Black Sabbath drummer Eric Singer.  The setlist featured a number of old Kiss classics that hadn’t been played live in 10 years, such as “I Want You”.  Eric Carr was unhappy about the solo tour, worrying about what it meant.  Like most Kiss fans, he wondered if it was the beginning of the end.  He also worried that Paul didn’t ask him to be his solo drummer.  Paul said it was because two Kiss members wouldn’t be right for a solo tour.  Ominously, Eric Carr said about Singer:  “That’s the guy who’s going to replace me.”

Fans were confused and some were unhappy.  Like they had once before, Kiss were drifting further and further into pop music.  This time, it was without Ace Frehley to keep them anchored.  Paul Stanley now seemed to be a Bon Jovi-like dancing frontman.  These new songs were not easy to stomach, and the Eric Carr vocal felt all wrong.  Had Kiss lost all credibility?  Smashes, Thrashes and Hits wasn’t winning any back.

Today’s rating:

2/5 stars

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/08/06

REVIEW: Quiet Riot – Road Rage (2017 Japanese version)

QUIET RIOT – Road Rage (2017 Frontiers Japanese version)

We’ve always been honest but truthful Quiet Riot fans here at LeBrain HQ.  We’ve been banging our heads for almost 35 years now, and they included some ups and some downs.  The death of Kevin DuBrow was heartbreaking.  Some of our Quiet Riot reviews haven’t been the most popular, but we have always maintained an open mind.  Frankie Banali’s resurrected Quiet Riot with no original members left a bad taste in the mouth, especially after management attempted to re-write the band’s history on WikipediaPages were edited to indicate that the Metal Health album was Quiet Riot’s debut, seemingly in order to qualify Banali as an original member.  Ugly and undignified; but music talks and bullshit walks.  Quiet Riot’s first post-DuBrow always was 2014’s 10, with Love/Hate singer Jizzy Pearl taking over as the band’s sixth lead singer.  It wasn’t that good and it’s conceivable that the band know it.  No physical edition was ever released, and you can’t even buy a download anymore.

So, it’s delightful to be able to say that the new 2017 Quiet Riot album called Road Rage is…not bad at all!  Actually quite good!

It’s even been rocky since 10.  Jizzy Pearl left amicably, to be replaced by ex-Steven Adler singer Seann Nichols.  They recorded a new album, even released one full song online…and then suddenly Nichols was out!  American Idol alumnus James Durbin was hired in short order, and re-wrote and re-recorded the entire album.

Skeptics, be silent.  Our fair and balanced take on Quiet Riot in the past should speak volumes for the review you are about to read.  It would be far easier to mock Quiet Riot for their choice of a TV show contestant as a frontman, but it would be grossly inaccurate.

Durbin’s youthful enthusiasm will either win you over, or leave you complaining that he’s “not enough like DuBrow” and it “doesn’t sound like Quiet Riot”.  Here’s the truth — that’s good.  We’ve endured one soundalike singer after another.  Durbin has a fresh spin, and there’s little question the guy is just pleased as hell to be fronting this band!  he gives it all on “Can’t Get Enough”, a new uptempo Quiet Riot party tune.  Co-writer Neil Citron must have written the riff with a classic Quiet Riot vibe in mind.

Then it’s down weird street a little bit with the Indian-flavoured intro to “Get Away”.  It takes a moment, but once you realize “Hey, this isn’t the same old Quiet Riot”, you will be able to realize that “Get Away” is a damn good song.  It’s actually quite melodic rock, but with a Zeppelin groove.  Then it’s the pro-weed “Roll This Joint”, which has a seriously decent Zep vibe too.  The lyrics are pretty cheesey (“I’m with Cheech and Chong and Willie and Marley!”) but you gotta cut Durbin some slack.  He’s young and it’ll connect with some of that crowd.

The thing is, you just can’t dislike Durbin.  He wins you over, especially on the lead single “Freak Flag”.  This is the most Quiet Riot sounding track of the disc, but with Durbin it’s no carbon copy.  “Freak Flag” kicks ass and you can imagine it working great live.  Same with “Wasted”.  That chorus (“Take a shot!”) grows fast.  Even the ballad “The Road” doesn’t suck.  Through the 11 tracks, it’s clear who the star on this album is.  The new frontman rose to the challenge.  In the back, Frankie Banali’s providing the Quiet Riot backbeat; the linkage between past and present.  Guitarist Alex Grossi also turns in a worthy performance, and Chuck Wright (bass) has a co-write on the slippy-slidey “Still Wild”.  Despite the circumstances in the making of the album, Quiet Riot sound more focused than they have in decades.

Frankie’s revival of Quiet Riot has been going seven years straight, through five singers before getting James Durbin on board.  Only the singer has changed; Grossi and Wright have stood by through thick and thin.  No matter what, Quiet Riot will continue.  Fans should be advise that the first album with Durbin has turned out great, and let’s hope this is a long-term lineup.  He’s got the necessary range to sing vintage DuBrow, but in his own voice.  And that voice is growing quite compelling.  Not every song is killer, but the majority of the album gets the job done.  Enough to justify putting your money down.

The Japanese version of Road Rage has an exclusive bonus track.  It is an acoustic version of “Make A Way”, one of the heavy album tracks.  This isn’t a crappy remix, but an entirely new recording of the song in acoustic arrangement.  It’s different enough that it actually seems like a new song.  Bonus track:  win!*  

As Durbin sings, “Take a shot!”  Give Road Rage a road test.  Just don’t “Knock ‘Em Down”, or you will have to “Get Away”.  The quality of this album in terms of sound and songs gives the new Quiet Riot a level of credibility they didn’t have before.  Easily their best album since 1993’s Terrified or even before.  Let your “Freak Flag” fly, James Durbin!

3.75/5 stars

*  Former singer Seann Nichols made a comment in an interview that implied the version of Road Rage with his vocals was released in Japan; this is unfortunately not the case.  If you have any Seann Nichols versions of the Road Rage songs, please contact us here.  We are dying to review them in contrast to the final album!