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REVIEW: Rush – A Farewell to Kings (2017 super deluxe edition)

RUSH – A Farewell to Kings (2017 Anthem 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition, originally 1977)

And the men who hold high places,
Must be the ones who start,
To mold a new reality,
Closer to the heart,
Closer to the heart.

Today’s rock fans have a new reality of their own:  a market flood of “anniversary” or “deluxe” reissues far and wide.  The floodwaters are murkier when multiple editions of the same reissue are available, or when reissues are deleted in favour of new reissues!

2017 represents 40 years of Rush’s fine sixth album A Farewell to Kings.  An anniversary edition was guaranteed, but choose wisely.  For those who need the brilliant new 5.1 mix by Steven Wilson, you will have to save up for the 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition.  Only that massive box set contains the Blu-ray disc with Wilson’s mix.

To frustrate fans even further, A Farewell to Kings had a 5.1 reissue back in 2011, as part of the Sector 2 box set.  That 5.1 mix (by Andy VanDette) has received heavy scrutiny from audiophiles.  Steven Wilson, however, is well known for his work in the 5.1 field, and his work on the 40th anniversary mix lives up to his reputation.  His crisp mix is deep but unobtrusive.  It is occasionally surprising but always stunning, and over seemingly way too soon.  The separation of instruments is done with care, and without robbing the music of its power.  Rush albums were fairly sparse back then but Wilson managed to make a full-sounding mix out of it.

Powerful is A Farewell to Kings indeed.  Though the title track opens with gentle classical picking, before long you’re in the craggy peaks of Mount Lifeson, with heavy shards of guitar coming down.  Young Geddy’s range and vibrato are remarkable, though for some this is the peak of Geddy’s “nails on a chalkboard” period.

11 minutes of “Xanadu” follows the trail of Kublai Khan.  “For I have dined on honeydew, and drunk the milk of paradise!”  Neil Peart’s lyrics rarely go down typical roads, and “Xanadu” surely must be listed with Rush’s most cherished epics.  Volume swells of guitar soon break into new sections unfolding as the minutes tick by.

“Closer to the Heart” is the most commercial track, never dull, never getting old, never ceasing to amaze.  “Woah-oh!  You can be the captain and I will draw the chart!”  Poetry in motion.  “Closer to the Heart” may be the most timeless of all Rush songs.

“Cinderella Man” and “Madrigal” live in the shadow of “Closer to the Heart”, always there but not always remembered.  (Ironically enough, both these tracks were covered by other artists in the bonus tracks.)  “Madrigal” acts as a calm before the storm:  a cosmic tempest called “Cygnus X-1”.  Another great space epic by Rush cannot be quantified in language.  As it swirls around (even better in 5.1), you’re transported across the universe by the black hole Cygnus X-1.  Peart hammers away as Lifeson and Geddy riff you senseless.


The blacksmith and the artist,
Reflect it in their art,
They forge their creativity,
Closer to the heart,
Yes closer to the heart.

Next, Rush forged their creativity on the road.  They recorded their London show on February 20, 1978 at the Hammersmith Odeon.  Previously, 11 songs from this show were released as a bonus CD on the live Rush album Different Stages.  This newly mixed version adds intro music, the missing three songs and the drum solo.  (The missing songs were “Lakeside Park”, “Closer to the Heart”, and all 20 minutes of “2112”.)  Because this set has all the songs in the correct order, the old Different Stages version is obsolete.

Opening with “Bastille Day”, the London crowd is into the show from the start.  They cheer for the familiar “Lakeside Park”, which is followed by “By-Tor & the Snow Dog”.  This early Rush material is as squealy as Geddy has ever sounded.  He’s pretty shrill but Rush are tight.  It gets more adventurous when “Xanadu” begins, and from there into “A Farewell to Kings”.  Hearing Rush do all this live helps drive home just how talented they are.  The powerful set rarely lets up, as it relentlessly works its way through early Rush cornerstones.  “Working Man”, “Fly By Night” and “In the Mood” are played in quick succession, but is “2112” that is the real treasure here.  Anthems of the heart and anthems of the mind; classics all.


Philosophers and plowmen,
Each must know his part,
To sow a new mentality,
Closer to the heart,
Yes, closer to the heart.

What about bonus tracks?  You got ’em.  As they did for 2112, Rush invited guests to contribute bonus covers, and each does their part.  Headlining these are progressive metal heroes Dream Theater with their own version of “Xanadu”.  Dream Theater really don’t do anything small, so why not an 11 minute cover?  Mike Mangini is one of the few drummers who could do justice to such a song — well done!  Big Wreck do a surprisingly decent take on “Closer to the Heart”.  Not “surprisingly” because of Big Wreck, but “surprisingly” because you don’t associate Big Wreck with a sound like that.  Ian Thornley ads a little banjo and heavy guitars to “Wreck” it up a bit.  His guitar solo is shredder’s heaven.  The Trews’ take on “Cinderella Man” is pretty authentic.  Did you know singer Colin MacDonald could hit those high notes?  He does!  Alain Johannes goes last with “Madrigal”, rendering it as a somber tribute to the kings.

The last of the bonus tracks is a snippet of sound called “Cygnus X-2 Eh”.  This is an extended and isolated track of the ambient space sounds in “Cygnus X-1”.  Steven Wilson speculated it might have been intended for a longer version of the song.


Whoa-oh!
You can be the captain,
And I will draw the chart,
Sailing into destiny,
Closer to the heart.

Box sets like this always come with bonus goodies.  The three CDs are packaged in a standard digipack with extensive liner notes and photos.  Four 180 gram LPs are housed in an upsized version of this, with the same booklet in massive 12″ x 12″ glory.  The LP package alone is 3/4″ thick!

A reproduction of the 1977 tour program is here in full glossy glory.  This contains an essay called “A Condensed Rush Primer” by Neil.  Additionally, all three members have their own autobiographical essay and equipment breakdown.  Alex Lifeson’s is, not surprisingly, pretty funny.  Things like this make a tour program more valuable and as a bonus, this is a great addition to a box set.  Digging further, there are two prints of Hugh Syme pencil sketches.  These works in progress are interesting but it’s unlikely you’ll look at them often.  The turntable mat is also just a novelty.  Perhaps the goofiest inclusion is a little black bag containing a necklace with a Rush “king’s ring” attached to it.  Wear it to work next casual Friday!


Whatever edition of A Farewell to Kings you decide to own (the most logical is the simple 3 CD anniversary set), you can rest assured you are buying one of the finest early Rush albums.  If you have the wherewithall to own the super deluxe with 5.1 Steven Wilson mix, then let the photo gallery below tempt you.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Tesla – Bust a Nut (1994)

TESLA – Bust a Nut (1994 Geffen)

During my first few weeks at the Record Store, one of the new releases I got to deal with was the new Tesla, Bust a Nut.  My boss cracked open a copy to play in store, but he wasn’t impressed.

“It sounds the same…” he remarked.  “It’s just the same.”

Gosh, Tesla didn’t go grunge or rap in 1994?  What a crime.  No, instead Tesla stubbornly continued, as they always have, without bowing to trends.  Bust a Nut wasn’t a successful album, but it was a damn good one.  To call Bust a Nut “the same” sells it short.  It sounded like Tesla, but a tad heavier and more diverse.  Of course, this being Tesla, there must be ballads too.

“The Gate” invites you in via chugging guitars and squealing six-strings.  It merges into “Invited”, a hell of a fine introduction.  “Invited” reflects the light and shade of Tesla in one song:  the mournful acoustic verses, the heavy and catchy choruses, all grounded in a solid classic rock vibe.  Tommy Skeoch and Frank Hannon made one fine guitar duo, and the layers of instrumental goodness will keep you interested and digging for more.  Heavier still is “The Solution”, which is about as metal as Tesla have ever been.  Songs about environmental conservation are more relevant than ever:  “Mother nature’s on her knees, and we’re the reason for her disease.”  Very true, Jeff Keith.  “If we’re gonna make it through tomorrow, the solution is to make a change today.”  Tesla have never used such a grinding, detuned riff like this before.  What’s this about it being “just the same”?  Tesla didn’t go grunge, but they were able to go harder within their own style.

A brilliant track called “Shine Away” uses the soft/loud dynamic popularized by grunge, but that chorus is brighter than the sun.  Enjoy some patented Tesla guitar harmonies which always sound as if inspired by Thin Lizzy, though this time verging on Iron Maiden!  Time to cool things down with a ballad, and “Try So Hard” is a lovely one in the acoustic mold.  A good variety of tunes occupy the rest of side one, but the next obvious standout is “Action Talks”.  This is as angry as Tesla get, even dropping a “fuck you!” in the lyrics.  It’s difficult to imagine that the same band can do “Action Talks” and “Try So Hard”!

Bluegrass and heavy bluesy rock collide on “Mama’s Fool”, as Tesla have never been afraid to mix genres.  Sharp fans will recognize the opening and closing acoustic patterns as the same as “Government Personnel” from Psychotic Supper (1991).  A slamming beat drives the tense “Cry”, a killer track based on a simple riff.  Dig that theremin!  “Rubberband” returns to the soft/loud format, and the loud part is fucking killer.  The chorus goes on for days and sticks like glue.  Another heavy groove called “Earthmover” earns its title, but some of the best tracks on side two are the ballads.  “A Lot to Lose” is likeable, and “Wonderful World” begins with a southern acoustic flavour.  Best of all is the fun closer, the old Joe South hit “Games People Play”.  It’s Tesla-fied, and the sitar is ditched in favour of more traditional rock instrumentation.  It’s transformed into a soul-gospel-rock and roll good time.

Tesla fired Tommy Skeoch (too many drug problems) and went down to a quartet before splitting up.  Thankfully they have enjoyed a long and quality-driven reunion since 2001.  Bust a Nut is an unsung highlight of their catalogue, and an album you’d be well advised to pick up.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Big House – Big House (1991 BMG)

STRAT

Thanks for joining us for Canadian Rawk Week!

 

BIG HOUSE – Big House (1991 BMG) Not to be confused with the country band also called Big House.

BIG HOUSEBig House hit the ground running out of Edmonton, Alberta in 1991, but it was hard to take them seriously at the time.  The hair and headbands were pretty silly, and they had annoying song titles such as “Refuse 2 Run” and “Nothing Comes 4 Free”.  I acknowledged they had a pretty cool single “Dollar in My Pocket (Pretty Things)”.  This was lifted from a prior EP called Pretty Things, very hard to find.  They also claimed to be former punk rockers.  Drummer Sjor (pronounced Shore) Throndson once stated that the band used to have mohawks when they were teenagers, but shaved them off and had a change of musical direction.  With that, the silly hair and the dumb name, it was pretty easy to ignore Big House.

Then a co-worker at the Record Store named Kam talked me into listening to it.  The year was 2005 and my feelings quickly turned from indifference to delight.  Big House, for all their flaws, were actually pretty good!  Every song on this album has swagger. It doesn’t sound like a debut album at all, and perhaps that’s due to the experience of having done a prior EP. The band, and singer Jan Ek in particular, make this sound like a second or third album.

“Dollar in My Pocket” made for a good first single, but what a cheesey video. I still cringe at the 30 second mark, when Sjor glances flirtingly down towards his pants on the line, “I got a dollar in my pocket for you.” Fortunately, just a taste of their punk background shine through in the melodies, making this song a bit more unique than the crowd in 1991. Jan Ek has a good scream going on, and lungs of power. They had a knack for writing catchy guitar licks like the one in “Dollar in My Pocket”. The song is all about attitude, so “come along, you can have it if you want it, baby.”

The first chunk of the CD was top-loaded with singles. “All Nite” was a minor hit, a Motley-Poison mixture of rock thrills. Generic, but with that knack for melody once again, not to mention the leathery lungs of Jan Ek. Those two factors elevate the song beyond the morass of crap swimming in the seas of cheese in 1991. Another decent rocker, the Kiss-like “Refuse 2 Run” stays the course before you’re up for the next single, the ballad “Baby Doll”. Generic acoustic sentimental tacky stuff is this, but why do I like it? Maybe that quiet moaning slide guitar? Sounds a lot like Cinderella. Truthfully it’s not bad, but it’s really not that different from any of a hundred ballads. Thankfully “Can’t Cry Anymore” has some noisy guitar and plenty of attitude, especially in the punk rock blowout ending. Once again, it’s remarkable what a handle Big House had on writing great rock melodies. “Can’t Cry Anymore” is one of many on this disc.

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“Devil’s Road” sounds like the opening of a second side, and a strong opening it is. “So make the music faster, for the spells we’re castin'” sings Jan Ek on the fine choruses. None of these songs are particularly fast, but they all rock in one way or another. For example “Nothing Comes 4 Free” is slow, but has a menacing vibe and the requisite hooks on the chorus. The closest they get to filler is “Happiness” but even that is not bad. It’s an unusual cross of pop melody with classic rock guitars — Cheap Trick meets Kiss, perhaps?

Final track “Angel on My Arm” is a celebratory tough little rocker, but the penultimate track “L.A.” is my favourite of them all. It seems Mr. Ek’s girl has left to go to L.A. and a be big movie star, and isn’t coming back. But then Jan gets a long distance call from L.A. It seems she mis-dialed and got Jan when she expected to get “Jack”.  He responds incredulously, “Jack who?! Jack Palance? Jack Nicholson? Jack…Jack who?!” It’s great fun! Listen to that bouncy bass. That’s pop punk, baby. So are those unabashed “la-la-la-la” pop hooks. Just a killer, instantly likeable fun song is this. “I been drinkin’ with every damn girl in town,” sings Ek after the disappointing phone call. “If I seem a bit too forlorn, I’ve been loving her too long.” People, I’m serious: This song is a triumph of songwriting and execution. You are free to disagree, but all I know is that I have played this song on repeat countless times. In fact I’m doing it now. I’m already on spin #3 for this session.

Silly name and album cover aside, I suppose it all works as a package. It’s no wonder the band never made it big with a cover this horrible; imagine my shock when I saw that it was done by none other than Hugh Syme, master of many Rush records. And this faceless cover conceals within it one of the best hard rock albums of the era. Sadly that era died before Big House could make a second album, but let’s celebrate that we have this one. Just like we are glad for the first two Skid Row albums, or New Jersey by Bon Jovi, I’m happy now to have Big House in my, err, house.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Rockland (1989)

KIM MITCHELL – Rockland (1989 Alert)

This album was huuuuge in 1989. In Canada, summer time is Mitchell time. Cottages, brewskies, BBQ and Mitchell. That’s what it was all about! Shakin’ Like a Human Being was also a huge success for Kim, but he expressed a desire to use less keyboards and programming. Kim recorded in the US this time, and for budget reasons, did not bring along lyricist Pye Dubois with him. Pye had been in the studio with Kim for every album prior, and this caused a rift between the two that took years to heal. This was the last time they collaborated until 1994’s Itch.

The pseudo-title track, “Rocklandwonderland” refers to the “concert bowl” at Canada’s Wonderland.  “Listen to the music, listen to the voices, listen to my guitar,” sings Kim, although the song is a little light on guitar. “Rocklandwonderland” was a big hit for Kim, and although it’s not a heavy rock, his guitar playing on it is stellar. Perhaps he shouldn’t have followed a slow rock tune with a ballad, although “Lost Lovers Found” is a hell of a ballad, with just a hint of twang. Some felt that Rockland was too soft compared to Kim’s progressive rock past, but a Kim ballad has more integrity than most. Kim’s backup singer extraordinaire, Peter Fredette, is present here and he also serves to class up any song by several notches.

Other ballads on the record include “Tangle of Love”, which is quirky and experimental but not great. “O Mercy Louise”, which has a rocking chorus, is a fine song with cool lyrics. The “big one” however was the single “Expedition Sailor”. This introspective acoustic song is sparse and effective. Kim’s buddy Rik Emmett from Triumph drops by to play an excellent solo on classical guitar. “Expedition Sailor” is top drawer stuff.  (The music video received a remix, which you can get on Kim’s Greatest Hits album.)

The “big” song on the album, still getting airplay today, is the anthem “Rock N’ Roll Duty”.  The tougher direction of the song is exemplified by a “live” style music video in a seedy bar.  As a fan I really wanted Kim to come out with a tough rocking tune, with a killer chorus, and he did.

“I’m just doing my rock n’ roll duty,
Creating a buzz buzz buzz,
Some say I’m in it for the money,
Man, I’m in it for love love love!”

The phrase “I’m just doing my rock n’ roll duty,” is now commonly heard among music fans in Canada. The song just hits the spot, and the riff is now synonymous for summer in my mind.

Other highlights on Rockland include the joyful “The Crossroads” which opens side two. The guitar-heavy “This Dream” is another favourite. I could always identify with the lyrics. It’s just a stellar song, an also-ran that could have been a fourth single. The record is rounded out by “Moodstreet” and “The Great Escape”, two decent but unremarkable tunes.

MVP:  Drummer Lou Molino, a near legend in these parts.  Curiously, when you Google images of Lou Molino, you will also get hits for Lou Ferigno.

Overall I was pleased with the direction of Rockland, going a bit more raw and rocking. Unfortunately with the exception of a few tracks like “Rock N’ Roll Duty”, it feels very tame. Except for quirky moments within guitar solos, it doesn’t possess enough of Kim’s humour and idiosyncrasies. It feels as if it’s on a leash, but it’s also not straining to get off it. It feels like Rockland hits the mark in many respects, but plays it too safe.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Brighton Rock – Take a Deep Breath (1988)

BR TADB_0001BRIGHTON ROCK – Take A Deep Breath (1988 WEA)

Legend has it that Brighton Rock hated this album. Singer Gerald McGhee was on record saying that record company pressure forced his band to soften up the songs and his singing style. Yet, Take A Deep Breath is actually an excellent 80’s rock album, with unusual quality. Everything you loved about 80’s rock is here.

Brighton Rock’s sound was different from the crop of hair bands at the time. They always had a classier feel in their commercial rock. Witness, from the first LP, “We Came to Rock”. The synth strings made it different, a little more refined. Johnny Roger’s tasteful keyboard parts have always provided an interesting background texture to their vocal and guitar melodies. Gerald McGhee’s vocals were emotional and he had a powerful range. On this album, he doesn’t scream (that record company pressure), but that’s OK. It works out fine with these songs. His voice is strong enough, he didn’t need to show off how high he could go.

Strong songs:

  • “Can’t Stop The Earth From Shaking” (poppy, catchy and upbeat rocker)
  • “Outlaw” (dark and moody, great keyboards providing background texture)
  • “Rebels With A Cause” (guitars upfront, a good groove)
  • “Power Overload” (another guitar rocker with a great shout-chorus)
  • “Who’s Foolin’ Who” (best song on the album, sounds like we have some fretless bass here, a moody dark rocker)
  • “Love Slips Away” (dark and moody ballad, second best track here)
  • “Unleash The Rage” (the dark, metallic song that sounds more like the rockers on the first album)

Drivel:

  • “One More Try” (the unfortunate first single, a ballad…look at those doe eyes!)
  • “Ride the Rainbow” (the pop song Gerald says he wished he never wrote)

As you can tell, dark moods dominate Take A Deep Breath. You could probably tell that by the cover. Hugh Syme (best known for his work with Rush, although he’s also done Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Queensryche, and dozens more) did the picture of the little boy with the gasmask in the post-nuclear landscape. Because of this dark feel, Take A Deep Breath is unlike most of the pop rock records out at the time. Its darkness allows it to stand up to scrutiny today. When Brighton Rock ditched keyboardist Johnny Rogers so they could “heavy it up” for their next album Love Machine, it didn’t work. They lost that special quality and became just another band trying to sound like it was from LA.

Don’t listen to Gerald McGhee: Take A Deep Breath was an album for him to be proud of, not embarrassed by. It was the high point of this band’s discography.  Heck, Jack Richardson produced it — the same guy who recorded Universal Juveniles and the better Guess Who albums.   There is a level of quality here underneath the keyboards that is audible, even today.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensryche – Promised Land (Japanese import)

QUEENSRYCHE – Promised Land (1994 EMI, Japanese import)

I’m sure the pressure was on to top Empire, so what did Queensryche do? They retreated to an isolated but luxurious cabin on an island, and wrote & recorded an introspective atmospheric masterpiece of a record.  Far from record companies and hangers-on, the band focused on the art. By their own admission, the isolation (plus smoking pot and drinking wine) were catalysts for this great album.

I spoke to bassist Eddie Jackson about 13 years ago regarding this album, and I told him I thought it had a lot in common with Rage For Order. He didn’t see it at first, but both albums feature loads of sound effects and atmospherics. Neither album is a true concept album, but both have recurring themes and ideas that run the course of the CD. Promised Land is a deeply personal CD, mostly slower-paced, and one that must be listened to with headphones on.

Drummer Scott Rockenfield came up with the opening piece, “9:28 a.m.”, which is a collage of tones and sounds, ending with some shattering chimes and a baby’s birth. This melds into the first song, “I Am I”, not a typical Queensryche rocker by any stretch but certainly one of the most brilliant things they’ve ever composed. Tate’s lyrics begin the introspective theme of the album, backed by odd percussion instruments, voices, sitar, cello (by guitarist Chris DeGarmo) and droning power chords. There is so much going on beneath the surface of this song; that is why I say that headphones are required.

A skipping CD sound leads straight into the next song, the heavy and dark “Damaged”. “Damaged” is about psychological damage, the effect that bad relationships and experiences have on the self. At various times, Tate’s voice doubles and triples and quadruples, seemingly indicating multiple personalities, or perhaps voices in head. At one point it sounds like his voice has short circuited. Eddie Jackson told me that effect was a total accident in the studio that they couldn’t duplicate.

DeGarmo’s “Out Of Mind” follows, an acoustic piece regarding mental illness. It is a nice quiet composition with spare drumming and a beautiful DeGarmo guitar solo. This break in the pace continues with the next acoustic song, “Bridge”. DeGarmo’s shattered relationship with his father is the theme here. He has hinted before at issues with his father, (“Are you my father? The one that was promised?” from “Screaming In Digital”) but here we get more of the story. His father wishes to mend bridges, but DeGarmo tells him, “You never built it, dad.” A sad tale, and an odd choice for a single, but a single it was.

Side one ended with the powerful epic title track which is nearly 9 minutes long. Anchored by Eddie Jackson’s rumbling bass and Geoff Tate’s atmospheric sax, this is a mindblowing song. The lyrics deal with the fact that as youths, we are told that the world is our oyster, and a promised land is waiting for us. But it doesn’t pan out that way for everybody. There are many voices and sound effects in the background of this song, and Tate’s vocal is wracked with feeling. You can hear that this is taking place in a bar (“Drinks for all my friends!) Again, use headphones!

RYCHE FULLYou hear a person leaving the bar, walking across a gravel lot. This melds into industrial city sounds. Soon the next track has begun, “Disconnected” (writted as “Dis con nec ted” in the lyric sheet). Tate’s vocal is spoken, to great effect. When he speaks in a staggered manner (“I must…release…my…rage…”) it is so understated; yet another mindblowing moment. Again, this song is anchored by Eddie Jackson’s deep bass lines, underscoring.  Due to the odd staggered vocal, this song will not be for everybody. On the surface, it sort of resembles “Della Brown” from Empire. This song seems to be about feeling disconnected from the world around us, despite the technology that supposedly brings us together.

“Lady Jane” follows, revisting the mental illness theme. This is a dramatic piano-based song; the piano is played by Chris DeGarmo. The next track is the most straightforward song on the album, “My Global Mind”. A rocker with few frills, this is perhaps the most Empire-sounding of all the tracks. The plaintive “One More Time” comes next, with some amazing melodies and a fairly standard song structure.

All this leads into one epic final song, “Someone Else?” which is simply piano and voice. The lyrics, as with all of Promised Land, are incredible and Tate’s vocal is among the best he’s ever sung. Looking back, the person he is seems to have been someone else all along. This look back ends the album, which of course started with the birth sequence. Very nice bookends.

LASTThe Japanese got bonus tracks (of course), one of which is “Real World” from the Last Action Hero soundtrack. Strings are the main feature here, by the late Michael Kamen. The arrangement is a little too saccharine for me, but that’s Kamen for you. Then we also have the “full band” version of “Someone Else?” which adds an entire verse, but loses the piano arrangement that made the song special in the first place.

The remastered edition of Promised Land (which I don’t have and don’t need) has two additional live tracks, which were “Damaged” and “Real World” recorded in ’94. There were, of course, lots more live tracks available on singles at the time, but for those you will have to track down the actual singles. Some of them, such as “Dirty Lil’ Secret” which was issued with the Empire remaster, for whatever reason.  And of course there was the ultimate rarity, an acoustic song called “Two Mile High” which was recorded specifically for the Queensryche’s Promised Land video game.  This too is not included on the remastered CD, leaving the song frustratingly unavailable today.

On a final note, when I saw ‘Ryche live in Toronto on the final date of the Promised Land tour, they played the entire album live (albeit not in order), a good 10-15 years before doing so was in vogue. That’s how strong this album is, and that’s how good this band is.

Headphones are a must. Multiple listens are a must. Queensryche have never been deeper or more trippy. A masterpiece.

5/5 stars

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Gallery of CD singles below!

REVIEW: Coverdale/Page – Coverdale/Page (1993)

COV PAGE_0001COVERDALE-PAGE:  Coverdale-Page (1993 Geffen)

Following the demise of Whitesnake and the failure of Zeppelin to mount a 1991 tour in support of their first box set, it was almost inevitable what happened next. It was something that many Zeppelin fans feared. Lead Snake David Coverdale, who was once derided as “David Coverversion” by Robert Plant, joined Plant’s erstwhile bandmate Jimmy Page in a new supergroup. Geffen’s John Kalodner (John Kalodner) helped facilitate this move which should have generated sales over 10 million units. Unfortunately another thing also happened in 1991: grunge.

The shame of it is that Coverdale-Page is a stunning rock album.   For years it haunted my bargain bins, simply because of the hard rock stigma that permeated the 1990’s.  Many fans refused to listen to it, others simply chose to mock superficial elements of it, such as Coverdale’s man-shrieks.  The fact that Page was looking and sounding great should be enough to warrant multiple listens by any serious rock fan.  He hadn’t released any new material since 1988’s Outrider.  As for Coverdale, it was a chance to get back to his bluesy rock roots, something he expressed a desire to do shortly after Whitesnake’s dissolution.

The studio band weren’t hacks either.  Ricky Phillips had played bass with Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain in Bad English, and he’s been in Styx for ages now.  Drummer Denny Carmassi was in Montrose (that’s him on the cover of the classic 1973 self-titled record) among many stellar bands, and he later did a stint in Whitesnake itself.  Coverdale and Page co-produced the album with veteran Mike Fraser.

Finally, the most important elements were also in place:  the songs.  11 songs, most in the 5-6 minute range, make up Coverdale-Page.  Those expecting or even hoping for a Zeppelin album were bound to be disappointed.  Despite the “Coverversion” nickname, Cov the Gov is his own person and persona.  Singing over Pagey’s classic Zeppish riffs does not a Zeppelin make.  Rather, Page and Coverdale comingle over their common ground, and naturally there are elements that have a Whitesnake aura.  To expect otherwise would be folly.

“Shake My Tree” was the perfect opener.  Pagey’s tricky little licks have that familiar sound, immediately.  Then the great lothario Cov the Gov starts howlin’…the stage was set within the first minute of the album.  The closest comparison I can think of would be “Slow An’ Easy” in terms of overall vibe.  Just replace Moody’ slide guitar with Jimmy’s intricate chicken pickin’.  David’s lyrics were as naughty as ever.  It must have burned Robert Plant’s ass to have to sing it when he reunited with Jimmy later on himself.  He seemed to be freestyling it quite a bit with David’s lyrics, barely sticking to the words at all!

“Waiting On You” would have been a radio-ready single.  It has that kind of smoking hard rock riff, a killer of a chorus, and great vocals.  Coverdale’s no poet, but I dig his words.  “Ever since I started drinkin’, my ship’s been slowly sinkin’, so tell me what a man’s supposed to do.”  Well, let me tell you David.  1) Drinking and boating is against the law, just like drinking and driving.  2) Put on your goddamn life vest!

I hesitate to call “Take Me A Little While” a ballad.  I mean, it is a ballad, but it’s also a pretty good bluesy workout for David.  It’s a little classier than the average “power ballad”, because hey…it’s Jimmy Page.  It doesn’t sound like other ballads by other bands, because not too many bands have Jimmy Page.  His playing and writing are unlike anyone else’s, he is one of the most recognizable musicians in rock and roll.

“Pride And Joy” was the first single, and what a single it was.  It starts off swampy and acoustic, before Jimmy’s big Les Paul announces its presence with some big chords.  Then David’s back in lothario-land, seducing “daddy’s little princess, Momma’s pride and joy.”  Despite the lyrics, the song’s still a stunner.  “Over Now” is also cool; a thinly veiled attack on Tawny Kitaen.

You told me of your innocence,
An’ I believed it all,
But your best friend is your vanity,
And the mirror on the wall.

It doesn’t get any nicer from there, but musically this is one of the most Zeppelin-ish songs.  While you can’t compare it to any specific song in the Zeppelin oeuvre, but it’s there in that slow relentless drum beat, the orchestration, and Pagey’s unorthodox guitar.

The closest thing to filler on Coverdale-Page is “Feeling Hot”.  It’s not outstanding, but it does show off the faster side of Jimmy’s playing.  It’s akin to “Wearing and Tearing” but with naughtier lyrics.  Once again it is Jimmy’s playing that I’m tuned in to.  That continues with “Easy Does It” which begins acoustically.  Like most acoustic moments on the album (and like Zeppelin), Jimmy’s guitar is recorded in layers, giving it real heft.  This all changes halfway through the song, when Jimmy’s Les Paul once again takes center stage.  Then it transforms into a bluesy prowl.

Possibly the most commercial song is “Take A Look At Yourself”.  Not a bad song, but definitely the most “pop rock”.  It’s probably closest to a Whitesnake song such as “The Deeper The Love”.  Had the year been 1990 or even 1991, “Take A Look At Yourself” would have been a top charting single everywhere.  David seems to have cheered up with new found love here.  However the heartbreak is not over.  “Don’t Leave Me This Way” is about as earnest as it gets.  At 8 minutes, it’s also the most ambitious song.  It’s the centerpiece of the album.  It sounds at once like it’s the most sincere song, showcasing some of Jimmy Page’s best post-Zeppelin guitar work.   As for David, he’s never sung better.

“Absolution Blues” begins similarly to “In The Evening”.  Fading in are layers of atmospheric guitars as only Jimmy plays them.  These give way to the fastest, heaviest song on the album.  It’s also one of my favourites.  You you can hear the elements of Jimmy and David separately, but working together.  The song goes through numerous changes before returning to that riff.  If you thought Jimmy Page had already written every great riff in Led Zeppelin, think again.  It’s “Black Dog” sped up to ludicrous speed.

Album closer “Whisper A Prayer For the Dying” is as cheerful and uplifting as the title alludes.  It’s has an epic quality and length like “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, but this time the lyrics are less personal and more topical.  David laments the innocent casualties of modern warfare, and refers to politicians as “bodyguards of lies”.  While certainly not profound, it’s refreshing to hear Coverdale change the bloody subject away from the female of the species every now and again.  Profound or not, I’m certain that it was heartfelt, and musically it kicks ass.  It’s also a perfect album closer for a dark and brooding record like this.  So there.

Hugh Syme (Rush) did the artwork.  Say what you will about the bland cover itself, but I like the way he used the “merge” sign much like the “object” was in the artwork for Presence.  And like many Zeppelin albums, there are no pictures of the artists anywhere.

The year 1993 was not a kind one to singers of Coverdale’s ilk.  Most of his competition had been replaced by Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, and Kurt Cobain.  One way or the other, the Coverdale-Page tour was not doing enough business and the plug was pulled.  David has since mentioned that he and Page had more songs, enough to get started on a second album.  He’s also expressed a desire to release those songs on some kind of deluxe edition reissue.  I hope that happens.  I’d buy Coverdale-Page again.  It would only be the third time.

4.5/5 stars

More COVERDALE at mikeladano.com:

Snakebite – Come An’ Get It – Slide It In – Whitesnake (1987) – Live at Donnington – Good to be Bad – Forevermore

More ZEPPELIN too:

Self-titled box setBox Set 2The Complete Studio Recordings

REVIEW: Queensryche – Hear in the Now Frontier

HITNF_0005

HITNF_0001QUEENSRYCHE – Hear in the Now Frontier (1997, 2003 EMI remaster)

I remember when this album came out in the spring of ’97. There was anticipation and a certain amount of fear: How could Queensryche possibly top Promised Land? The band, as always chose to do something different. In this case they dropped the production, sound effects, and themes, and created a stripped down album of individual unrelated songs. That’s the nice way of putting it. Critics of the album say “Queensryche went grunge,” or “Queensryche went alternative.”

Whatever you call it, this is not a great album. There are some truly great songs, but they are in the minority, swimming through a sea of padding. Guitarist Chris DeGarmo wrote the music for almost every song here, and about half of the lyrics. He even got his first lead vocal (“All I Want”).  Even though Hear in the Now Frontier (God I hate that title) isn’t a great album, Queensryche has missed DeGarmo’s presence.  This was his last album with the band.

As I said, there are some great songs.  They include:

  • “Get A Life” – Not very Ryche, but it’s a heavy rocker based on the riff and Geoff Tate’s shredding vocal melody.
  • “All I Want” – A piano-based ballad with a nice rhythm, very different from anything Queensryche have done before or since.
  • “Hit The Black” – Grungy, distorted lead vocals drive this heavy riff-oriented groove rocker.  I like it.
  • “Anytime/Anywhere” – Another heavy rocker that would have fit right in on the Q2k album.
  • “sp00l” – The only song that I might describe as progressive, and the one that sounds the most like Queensryche.  Powerful vocal and melody. Sonically interesting, and centered on the bass guitar much like “Della Brown” or “Promised Land”.

But that’s pretty much it for me. The other 9 tracks I would describe as dry, flat, not memorable, melodically poor and homogenous. It is clear that the vision for this record was to make something that sounded stripped down, and even with odd flourishes such as violin and piano, it’s just too boring. Even the cover art (by Hugh Syme again) stinks.

There are four bonus tracks, all of which are decent. Three songs come from the “Sign Of The Times” CD single; “Chasing Blue Skies” is a studio track, and had it been on the album, it would have been one of the best songs. Why it was left for a B-side, I don’t know. Maybe because they didn’t want another ballad on the record, which was already bogged down by slow numbers? Anyway it’s great, and sounds like something from Promised Land. Then there are three MTV Unplugged tracks, all fantastic. “Silent Lucidity” and “The Killing Words” were released as B-sides, but “I Will Remember” was completely unreleased in audio format until now. These songs are all considered rarities, as the singles have been out of print for over a decade.  They are at least worth having, even if you don’t like the album.

2/5 stars

More RYCHE:

BOOK REVIEW: Kevin J. Anderson – Clockwork Angels

KEVIN J. ANDERSON – Clockwork Angels  (2012 ECW)

From a story and lyrics by Neil Peart

It was bound to happen eventually.  Somebody had to write a Rush concept album into book form.  I’m sure a lot of highschool kids in the 1970’s wrote their own short story versions of 2112.  Now in 2012, Kevin J. Anderson (the Dune spinoffs) has teamed up with Neil Peart to novelize Rush’s latest album, Clockwork Angels. The end result, according to Aaron, is a near total ripoff of Harlan Ellison’s Repent, Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman, but Rushified.  I’m sure both Peart and Anderson are familiar with the previous work, so their plaigarism is not forgiveable.

I found Clockwork Angels, the album, to have a sparse story that begged to be opened up in more detail.  There’s text in the CD packaging to help illustrate the story a bit more, but that only scratches the surface.  I had a hard time visualizing the world that these characters inhabited.

Like many novels of this ilk, the world of Clockwork Angels is Earth-like in some respects.  There’s a massive, unexplored eastern sea, a far away land called Atlantis, and a vast deserted land of wonders unimagined beyond that, all waiting for our hero Owen Hardy to explore.

Owen Hardy, an apple orchard manager from Barrel Arbor, Albion, is a dreamer.  (Hmmm…ever heard that setup before, in Rush songs past?)  He dreams of the faraway lands that he’s only read about in his mother’s books.  Their world is run by their loving Watchmaker, an ancient old man who has mastered the power of “coldfire” and alchemy.  Using his mastery of these arts, he has created a clockwork society:  everything has its place, and every place has its thing.  Everything runs precisely, on time, and every person fulfills his or her role in society.  It is a place where everyone is content.  Everyone but the dreamer.

One night Owen Hardy suddenly departs Barrel Arbor for the wonders of the capitol Crown City, home of the Watchmaker and his Clockwork Angels.  The Angels are glowing coldfire-powered mechanical beings that inspire awe in the citizens lucky enough to have a ticket to see them.  Owen wishes to see them for himself, but the Angels would never be enough for this young dreamer.  Along the way Hardy meets colourful characters from airship pilots to carnies to the notorious pirates, the Wreckers.

Owen gets tangled up with a character called the Anarchist.  The Anarchist lies at the opposite extreme from the Watchmaker.  Where the Watchmaker believes in rigid order to achieve happiness (called “The Stability”), the Anarchist believes that true happiness can only come with the freedom to do whatever you want and go wherever you please.  But both the Anarchist and Watchmaker have designs on young Mr. Hardy, an exceptional man because dreamers are rare.

Through it all, Hardy journeys to lands far away, glimpses parallel universes and discovered his own inner strength.  All the while, Kevin J. Anderson sprinkles his journey with Rush references.  “Tough times demand tough hearts”.  Lyrics from songs past and present find their way into the text, and unfortunately I found this touch to be distracting.  I get it – a nod and a wink to the Rush fans who will buy the novel – but as a Rush fan, these references stick out like a glowing beacon of coldfire.  (Coldfire’s another one, by the way.)  This is a minor complaint; the novel soon took on a life of its own and was impossible to put down.

One of the best features of Clockwork Angels are the glorious illustrations by Rush cover artists Hugh Syme.  From steampunk airships to the glowing Seven Cities of Gold, Syme’s art helps the reader visualize this fascinating world that Peart and Anderson have created.  Clearly, Syme was in sync with the authors when he created these paintings.

While I enjoyed Clockwork Angels thoroughly, and this enjoyment only enhanced my appreciation of the album, its template is far from original.  The archetypes are familiar, as was the plot.  Having said that, Anderson and Peart successfully conjured up a vivid landscape, interesting characters, and a rollicking good story.

3.5/5 stars

Under piercing stars
I stand watching the steam-liners roll by

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – “Virus” (1996 single) / Metal For Muthas (1979)

Part 23 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!  Continuing where we left off with Best of the Beast, we’re also taking a glance back to the past…

IRON MAIDEN – “Virus” (1996 two-part CD singles)

Last time, I was talking about Maiden’s first-ever greatest hits set, Best of the Beast.  But there was also the single to be had, “Virus”.

Much like other UK singles, “Virus” was released in two parts each with its own B-sides and cover art.  If you bought the first, you also got a box with 5 postcards and space to store the second disc.

The first disc contained the (unadvertized) single edit version of “Virus”.  I can happily live without the slow, boring, goes-nowhere first three minutes of that song.  At least the single edit only has the up-tempo part of the song.  I recall when the single came out, a few of us had grumbled that Maiden seemed to be losing it…

The B-sides on this first single were the previously released covers, “My Generation” and “Doctor Doctor”.  You could get these tracks on the previous single, “Lord of the Flies” from The X Factor.  Having said that, these are great versions, among the best covers Maiden have ever recorded in this writer’s opinion.  “My Generation” is of course the Who classic.  Maiden breathe their original punky sensibilities into this one, and it rocks like nothing that actually made it onto The X Factor!  “Doctor Doctor” is a beefed up version of the classic UFO song, and my preferred version.

The second disc was the really, really special one.  It had the album version of “Virus” (all bloody 6:15 of it, ugh) but it also has the ultra rare “Sanctuary” and “Wrathchild” from the 1979 compilation album, Metal For Muthas! When I had first picked up the single for “Virus”, I didn’t even know these recordings existed.  Collectors rejoice!  These tracks were previously unavailable anywhere else but Metal For Muthas, and this is the first CD release.

“Sanctuary” and “Wrathchild” both feature Paul Di’Anno on vocals, and are from the short-lived Maiden lineup of Di’Anno, Steve Harris, Dave Murray, Tony Parsons, and Doug Sampson.  This represents one of Maiden’s earliest recordings.  There are more from this lineup, but we’re not going to talk about those for a while yet…

Do I need to mention that these two tracks are just pure smoke of the early-Maiden variety?

A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals that there is a 12″ single release of “Virus” as well, this one with the two missing Soundhouse Tapes tracks that weren’t on the Best of the Beast CD.  Adding to “want” list!

I found the cover art of the “Virus” single to be a little lacklustre, particularly the one in the petri dish.  Like, really?  It didn’t scream to be made into a cool poster for my wall.  There were some cooler things on the postcards including one by Derek Riggs.

4/5 stars