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RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Slang (2014 Deluxe edition bonus tracks)

Part Forty-Five of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Slang 2014 Deluxe Edition

DEF LEPPARD -DEF LEPPARD – Slang bonus tracks (Deluxe Edition, 2014 Bludgeon Riffola)

‘Twas a surprise when 1996’s Slang received the deluxe edition treatment in 2014.  The Viva! Hysteria celebrations were a success, and now another album was getting a little bit of attention, although the word “deluxe” really pushed it.  As the Heavy Metal Overlord once stated:

When it turned up I wis pure gutted. I thought the booklet had better be snazzy but it wisnae either. Just a wee hing where Joe tried tae mind stuff fae back in the day. Nae liner notes. Nae lyrics. Nuhin. Just some shite photies. My old copy had two discs, a slimmer case and lyrics. And some photies an aw! Gid wans. One of them oan a bus like they were aw goin doon the toon or somethin. How wis that no deluxe but this is deluxe? If they’d called it a “2CD Edition” that wid huv been awrite but they didnae. This is “deluxe”… cept it isnae. I don’t have a Scooby whit they’re playin at. Eejits.

Exactly.

Deluxe or not, the expanded edition of Slang gave new focus to the cult-status album.  Radically different versions of album tracks, unreleased songs, and works in progress offer a look at an album that really has never received its due credit for what it was.

The Slang deluxe featured a number of bonus tracks, and some iTunes exclusive bonus tracks as well.  Thankfully, the Def Leppard CD Collections box sets include some of these bonus tracks. Today we’ll mostly focus on the ones not included in previous reviews, from the Slang deluxe.

Here is a list of the iTunes bonus tracks, later included on one of the CD Collection box sets.  We’ve discussed these before in more detail.

1. “Truth?” (Demo Version) – Previously on “Work It Out” CD single.

2. “Work It Out” (Demo Version) – B-Side from “Work It Out” with Viv singing and completely different from the other versions on the Deluxe. Viv referred to it as his “Crowded House” version.

3. “When Saturday Comes” From the film When Saturday Comes and “All I Want Is Everything” single.

4. “Jimmy’s Theme” From the film When Saturday Comes and “All I Want Is Everything” single.

5. “Cause We Ended as Lovers” (Solo track by Phil)  From the Jeff Beck tribute album Jeffology: A Guitar Chronicle and “All I Want Is Everything” single.

6. “Led Boots” (Solo track by Viv)  From the Jeff Beck tribute album Jeffology: A Guitar Chronicle and “All I Want Is Everything” single.

There are also two iTunes exclusive bonus tracks that remain exclusive to iTunes.  We’ll get to those.

The Slang deluxe’s first bonus was track 12 on disc one, the buttery “Move With Me Slowly”, the original Japanese bonus track for Slang.  This is a beautifully recorded, raw, smooth, and sexy Def Leppard song.  An incredible song, as we have discussed on the CD Collection Vol. 2.  We’ll say it again:  should have been on the album.  We’ll add:  those guitar solos are so incredible.  Full of feel, organic sounding tone.  Some of the best guitar playing on a Def Leppard song.  Another good one is track 16, the acoustic “Can’t Keep Away From the Flame”, a B-side and Japanese bonus track to the Vault CD.  Another song that deserved a proper place on an album.  “Worlds Collide” is also on this set, a really heavy metal track, originally released on the B-side to “Goodbye” during the Euphoria era.  Heavy, but definitely B-side material.  We also have “Burn Out”.  Great little rocking groover, more like old Def Leppard than the final Slang album.  No loops, no electronic instrumentation, so acoustics.  Just chug, chug, chug and rock and roll.  Joe’s vocal is full of attitude.

Let’s go through all the remaining Slang bonus tracks and have a listen to a largely misunderstood album, as it might have been.

1. “All I Want Is Everything” (Demo) – iTunes only.  A unique version of the song, with the some of the lyrics intact and everything radically different.  The chorus has the final melody, but delivered as a more traditional rock shout.  The melancholy mood of the final version is taking shape, but there is no question that “All I Want Is Everything” was better in its final version.

2. “Turn to Dust” (Phil verse vocal version)  (Track 1, disc two.)  This version of the second Slang album track is similar to the final, though with Phil Collen singing the verses, with Joe on the chorus.  Phil’s raspier voice adds a different, laid back direction.  The backing track is not the final mix though the sitar and some of the effects are in place.  Collen fans will love it.

3. “Raise Your Love” (version of “Slang”)  (Track 2, disc two.)  Choppy rock guitars are the main feature here!  Joe’s opening rap is intact, but the song deviates from there.  The chorus is a very different refrain of Phil singing, “Baby raise your love!”  Cool track for sure, but the final song became something far more unique as we’ve seen.  If you wished “Slang” was a more rocking tune, then you better check out “Raise Your Love”.

4. “All I Want Is Everything” (1st draft) (Track 3, disc two.)  Somehow, the “1st draft” is more complete and closer to the album version than the “demo”.  Were the two versions mislabelled?  This sounds more like a demo, with the other being the first draft.  In fact this is so close to the final album mix, that you might be able to fool your friends.  The guitar solo is missing, as are the big vocal hooks that follow, which is the biggest clue.

5. “Work It Out” (1st draft) (Track 4, disc two.)  Like the above, this is very close to the final album version.  Very different from Vivian Campbell’s demo, one of the aforementioned iTunes bonus tracks.  Joe’s vocal is not the final take, but the backing track sounds almost ready.  The stuttering guitars and droning strings are all there.  You can hear, in the layers of guitar, the skeleton of Viv’s original idea.

6. “Breathe a Sigh” (Feb ’96 rough mix) (Track 5, disc two.)  All the pieces are in the place but the atmosphere isn’t captured yet.  The final mix would nail that R&B crossed with Def Leppard vibe.

7. “Deliver Me” (Feb ’96 rough mix) (Track 6, disc two.)  Again, very close to the final mark.  Just an earlier, less elaborate version of the final album mix.

8. “Black Train” (version of “Gift of Flesh”) (Track 7, disc two.)  The main riff is there.  The verse melodies are there.  The chorus is the major difference, with this one being a shouty affair.

9. “Blood Runs Cold” (Feb ’96 rough mix) (Track 8, disc two.)  Of all the rough mixes, “Blood Runs Cold” is the most indistinguishable from the final track.  The chorus is the most different, with Phil prominently assisting Joe.

10. “Where Does Love Go When It Dies” (1st draft) (Track 9, disc two.)  Has an almost Marillion-like sheen to the opening guitar textures.  These fade and the mix goes purely acoustic.  This excellent song was already in fantastic shape at this stage.  Could have been on the album as-is.

11. “Pearl of Euphoria” (Feb ’96 rough mix) (Track 10, disc two.)  The epic album closer from Slang, in an early mix.  Similar, but the final version sounds busier, which enhances it.  They made some different choices in the middle section of this mix, but the in-your-face guitar is quite delectable.

12. “All on Your Touch” (2012 revisit) (Track 11, disc two.)  A Slang-era track never properly finished until 2012.  Laid back, dark ballad.  Understated, with shades of “Love Bites” in the guitars, but with an explosive hard-edged chorus.  Awesome solo work on this song.

13. “Anger” (“Deliver Me” 1st draft) (Track 12, disc two.)   Different from the above “final mix” which was very close to the album.  This “first draft” has a different chorus:  “Anger, I’m feeling so much anger!”  It fails to deliver the intended punch, and so it is good they revised it and kept working on it.  They obviously knew the chorus was not the needed hook.

14. “Move On Up” (Vivian demo) (Track 13, disc two.)  Completely unreleased song, a Campbell demo.  Neat punchy riff, with a hint of Jimmy Page.  Vivian sings, and his vocal melody is melodic, different and enjoyable.  It’s too bad the guys didn’t take this song further.

15. “Gift of Flesh” (Phil vocal) (Track 14, disc two.)  Another treat for those who love the raspy voice of Phil Collen on lead vocals.  The backing track is not all the way there yet, but Phil’s vocal track provided the blueprint for the final album version.

16. “Move with Me Slowly” (1st draft) – iTunes only.  The buttery smooth “Move With Me Slowly” appears again, this time in a “first draft” version exclusive to iTunes.  Rougher, slightly rawer mix.  The outro goes out longer, lingering like flavours on your tune.

While it was nice to see Slang get a reissue with a wealth a bonus material, it was a shame the packaging didn’t quite rise to the occasion.  With two tracks remaining unreleased in physical form, and not all the material from the era available in a single place, it’s not too late to do a super deluxe.

4/5 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)
  34. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge
  35. “C’Mon C’Mon” (picture disc)
  36. Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (DVD)
  37. B.Sides
  38. Yeah! II
  39. Yeah! Live
  40. Mirror Ball: Live & More (Japan bonus track)
  41. iTunes Re-recordings
  42. Viva! Hysteria (CD 1 & DVD)
  43. Viva! Hysteria (CD 2 & bonus features)
  44. Viva! Hysteria (Japanese bonus track)

Next:

46. “Helen Wheels” (from The Art of McCartney)
47. Def Leppard (Deluxe and Japanese versions)

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – iTunes re-recordings (2012-2013)

Part Forty-One of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original reviews: 

DEF LEPPARD – iTunes re-recordings (2012-2013)

It began in 2010.  After a long absence from the digital platform, Rick Savage of Def Leppard announced that their music would soon be available to buy on iTunes.  Due to a long dispute over dollars and cents with the record label, Leppard’s albums were not yet available on the platform.  Then, due to “some twat at the label” (according to Joe!), somebody reneged and the deal never came to be.  As a short-term solution, Def Leppard decided to record new versions of old hits exclusively for iTunes.

The first of these new versions, affectionately called “forgeries” by Joe, came in 2012.  It was a double-A sided single (to use ancient terminology) for “Pour Some Sugar On Me (2012)” and “Rock of Ages (2012)”.

Beginning with “Sugar”, the opening guitar figure is virtually indistinguishable from the 1987 original.  Only the “Hey!” vocals really hint this is not your old “Sugar”.  Joe Elliott sounds a teeny bit rougher around the edges, but just a smidge.  This is the same version used on the Family Guy / Simpsons crossover episode, for Peter and Homer’s “sexy car wash”.  Only serious fans will know immediately this is a forgery.  Everyone else should be happy thinking they’re listening to the same recording they had on their Walkmans in highschool.

From the “Gunta Gleeben Glooten Globen”, it’s clear “Rock of Ages” is also pretty close.  Being more reliant on the vocals, it becomes more evident early on this is a re-recording, but it is an admirable job.  The backing music and even the mix is eerily similar.  It’s just impossible for anyone to scream as if it’s 1983.

The next re-recording released in 2012 was a single track, but a medley of acoustic hits.  This is less a forgery and more a re-imagining and re-framing of some big and lesser known songs.  The abbreviated tracks performed in order are:

  • 0:00 to 1:01: “Where Does Love Go When It Dies”
  • 1:02 to 2:06: “Now”
  • 2:07 to 3:22: “When Love and Hate Collide”
  • 3:23 to 4:36: “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”
  • 4:37 to 7:32: “Two Steps Behind”

Joe’s in fantastic form on this medley and even though it’s an acoustic performance, there’s care and production value, not just acoustic guitars.  They obviously spent time arranging this medley, because it flows incredibly well from song to song, focusing on the best parts.  It also includes the complete “Two Steps Behind” as the closer.

The final iTunes re-recording came early in 2013.  One more ballad, but not acoustic:  this was “Hysteria”, which coincided with their Viva! Hysteria shows in Las Vegas.  This one might be the closest of all the forgeries.  Joe worked hard to get his voice in vintage shape again for those shows, and “Hysteria” shows it.  Easily the most satisfying of all the tracks.  The backing vocals are so bang-on, you’d think Mutt Lange himself stepped into the room to record them all, a note at a time.

Today, only the 2012 acoustic medley is still available to buy on iTunes.  The other three tracks have disappeared.  One of those cases of “you snooze you lose” in the digital world!

4/5 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)
  34. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge
  35. “C’Mon C’Mon” (picture disc)
  36. Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (DVD)
  37. B.Sides
  38. Yeah! II
  39. Yeah! Live
  40. Mirror Ball: Live & More (Japan bonus track)

Next:

42. Viva! Hysteria

#968: Go For the Songs From the Electric Heart

RECORD STORE TALES #968: Go For the Songs From the Electric Heart

Trapper is Emm Gryner, Sean Kelly, Frank Gryner and Tim Timleck.  For those who know, Trapper is also one of the best hard rock bands going, if you happen to like that retro-catchy sound done with expertise and skill.  This style of music never died, but it was definitely harder to find after grunge hit the “reset” button.  Bottom line though:  a good song is a good song.  Trapper write and play good songs!

Joe Elliott is a fan. Isn’t that enough?

I have liked Trapper since first hearing about the band in 2015, when they released their first cassette.  I knew Emm Gryner by reputation and quickly became a fan of her solo work.  Of course, I was will familiar with Sean Kelly from his many recordings with Helix, Lee Aaron, the Metal On Ice CD/book project, and so on.  But I missed out on that limited edition tape.  I also missed the five track CD release Go For the Heart, of which 300 copies were made.

I’d been listening to the band quite a bit on the weekend, since getting their newest tape Songs From the Electric North in the mail.  Only 50 were made, and this time I managed to get one!  Sean sent it to me with a nice note.  He’s a great guy.  Not only did he take the time to appear on the LeBrain Train in May 2021, but even before that he was instrumental in helping me identify MuchMusic personalities on my VHS tapes.  I always like adding more of his music to my collection.

And that is the point of this story:  the collector’s disease.  It’s a real thing, and I have the actual receipts.  I decided I wanted “all the Trapper songs”.  I looked on Discogs and much to my amazement, they had a copy of Go For the Heart for $75 plus shipping.  $100 total.  Last copy sold was $71, two years prior.  It had been on my wishlist for some time.  I did the math, and decided this was my best chance to own it.  Go For the Heart has “Grand Bender” and “The Warrior” from the debut tape, so this would get me “all the Trapper songs” in physical form.  Still flush with Christmas money, I decided to pull the trigger.  Collector’s itch:  temporarily scratched.

I felt quite satisfied with my myself!

The next day, I noticed my good buddy Aaron from the KMA had left a comment on my Friday January 14 live show, during which I unboxed my brand new Songs From the Electric North cassette.  “Jealous you got the new Trapper,” he said.  “I only have the one CD here.”

Wait…the CD?  They only have one CD and it’s Go For the Heart.  The one I just paid a hundred bucks for.  And Aaron’s was signed by Emm and Sean!  He paid a buck.

I had to tell Sean this story.  “No regrets!” I said.  And it is true.  I paid a lot — maybe the most paid yet for that particular CD.  But I wanted it.  I wanted it for a while.  I know what the last guy paid, and I paid $4 more.  Will it appreciate in value?  Not the point!  I collect music from artists I like in physical formats.  I wanted it, so I bought it.

Hey, I’m a collector and sometimes we splurge!

REVIEW: Trapper – Songs From the Electric North (2022 limited edition cassette EP)

TRAPPER – Songs From the Electric North (2022 limited edition cassette EP)

One gets the sense that, although Trapper take the quality of their music very seriously, Emm, Sean, Tim and Frank are doing it for the pure enjoyment.  They must be!  Trapper is a top-notch band honouring their 80s roots by writing that kind of catchy rock song with singalong hooks.  Each track on their brand new cassette EP, Songs From the Electric North (limited to just 50 copies!) sounds assembled with great care, and genuine zeal.

Fear not if you missed out on the cassette, for you can download the EP on your iTunes!

Songs From the Electric North consists of four originals and two covers.  The covers,  “Illégal” by Corbeau and “Bye bye mon cowboy” by Mitsou, were previously reviewed here so you can check that out if you want to know more about those two excellent tracks.  In particular, we praised “Illégal” for a beautifully chunky riff that Sean Kelly captured with a nice crunchy guitar tone.  We also singled out Emm Gryner’s lead vocal, with depth, grit, power — the whole package.  This is the first physical release for these tracks.

The four originals vary in flavour, so picking favourites will also widely vary from person to person.  On side A, “Winterlong” opens, hitting the ears on a nice tense Sean Kelly riff with a Campbell-era Dio feeling.  This track has it all, from the powerhouse vocals to thundering drums n’ bass.  “Winterlong” also boasts a lyrical guitar solo, carefully composed and executed.  This track is a rocker!  Heavy as metal, yet sweet as saccharine at the same time.

Power ballad territory ahead!  Perhaps “Almost Forever” is in the vein of ‘87-era Whitesnake or albums of that direction?  Whatever your inkling, “Almost Forever” is memorable, and done to perfection.  It’s a hard sound to get just right.  The keyboards and especially Emm’s melody put it exactly in the right ballpark.  A winning song, that you will be coming back to again and again when you want a new ballad with that nostalgic feeling that sends you back in time.

Opening side B, “You Need An Angel” has a nice chunky rock groove.  Here Kelly reminds me at times of Ratt’s Warren DeMartini in tone and feel.  Another fabulous classic rock composition, laden with hooks and punchy drums.  And completely different in direction from the other tunes.

The last of the originals is the pounding metal of “New Year’s Day”.  This track has an epic quality, harder to describe, except to say it’s different again from the previous songs!  Solid riff/groove combo, with Emm delivering a vocal that just divebombs you with hooks from the sky!  How’s that for a description?  Just listen to it.

I’m very grateful to score one of the 50 copies of this tape.  To give you an idea of demand, Trapper’s first cassette “Grand Bender” / “The Warrior” was limited to 100 copies and never turns up for sale.  Their CD EP, Go For the Heart, runs about a hundred bucks total with shipping these days.  I should know, because I bought the last one!

You can get your copy on iTunes, so head on over and get rocked by the Songs From the Electric North. 

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Scorpions – “Sign of Hope” (2020)

SCORPIONS – “Sign of Hope” (2020 single)

The Scorpions, in the midst of writing their next album, are the latest band to release a lockdown single in 2020.  It will come as no surprise that it’s a ballad.  “Sign of Hope” is a reassuring song from the guys who know how to write ballads (and reaaaally know how to paaartaaaaaaay!).  Of course a ballad is appropriate for these sombre times.  “Sign of Hope” sounds like Scorpions circa 1996, the Pure Instinct album.  It’s gentle and peaceful.  For accompaniment, it’s primarily acoustic guitars, with slight electric guitar accents that pop in and out.  It’s actually quite a good ballad, short and to the point.  The sparse arrangement really lets us hear the nuances of guitar, and Klaus Meine’s voice.  It’s well written and memorable enough.

One could ask, “Why do we need another Scorpions ballad?”  Perhaps the simplest answer is because the Scorpions are still around making music.  So why not?  Will they ever top “Still Loving You” or “In Trance”?  It doesn’t matter, because they are in their 55th year and are still creating.

“I see empty places, empty roads,” sings Klaus, and though the streets are fuller now it’s hard to forget the sight of a deserted world.  It also strangely seems like such a long time ago that this all began.  But the Scorpions reassure us that “it’s gonna be alright,” and eventually it will be.  We are getting there.  We are indeed seeing signs of hope, but everybody needs to treat themselves well.  So treat yourself to some music and grab the new Scorpions on iTunes.

3/5 stars

I also really like the single artwork, I think it’s striking and has several layers of meaning.  It’s also nice to see the word CANADA so prominently!

REVIEW: Trapper – “Illégal” / “Bye bye mon cowboy” (2020 single)

It’s a LeBrain/Superdekes two-fer! Check out his Trapper review by clicking here.

TRAPPER – “Illégal” / “Bye bye mon cowboy” (2020 iTunes single)

Trapper are a Canadian supergroup who gained a bit of extra attention when they got to open for Def Leppard.  Sean Kelly (guitar), Emm Gryner (vocals/bass), Frank Gryner (bass/guitar) and Tim Timleck (drums) impressed everyone with their version of “Illégal” by Corbeau on the concert stage.  Their only EP sold out long ago, but now Trapper are back with a studio version of “Illégal”.  The two-track iTunes single is backed by a surprising cover:  “Bye bye mon cowboy” by Mitsou.  Two Canadian covers, both in French…ballsy move for a single!

“Illégal” has a beautifully chunky riff, and Kelly captures that with a nice crunchy guitar tone.  Emm Gryner’s lead vocal is to die for, squealing in all the right parts, shouting it out loud, and delivering the goods.  She has depth, grit, power — the whole package.  The drums are huge.  When you hear it you’ll be wondering where this song has been your whole life.  And that’s all before you hit the guitar solo, a treat in itself, like something from a classic Bon Jovi track that you never heard before.

Now I’ll be honest about something here.  As a snobbish rock fan in the 1980s, I hated “Bye bye mon cowboy”.  It was on MuchMusic all the time and I grew weary of Mitsou.  But I like Trapper’s version!  I am pretty sure Mitsou didn’t have this much guitar.  Transformed into a rock song, “Bye bye mon cowboy” works!  The groove is perfect and Emm’s delivery is just right.  Big rock hooks, while still retaining everything important about the original.

As for that guitar crunch?  Sean Kelly says “Can’t beat a Les Paul and a Marshall!  (Actually the Headrush Plexi amp simulator.)”  There you have it, players!

I wholeheartedly endorse Trapper’s “Illégal” and “Bye bye mon cowboy” for your patio this summer.  I knew this was going to be good, but I didn’t expect to like “Bye bye mon cowboy” as much as I do.  They rocked it up, put it in my ballpark, and I’m pumping my fists to Mitsou!  Grab ’em on iTunes today, and cross your fingers and hope Trapper have more music coming in the future.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queen + Adam Lambert – “You Are the Champions” (2020)

QUEEN + ADAM LAMBERT – “You Are the Champions” (2020 iTunes)

Queen were one of the earlier groups out of the gate with new “lockdown” recordings.  From their homes they re-recorded “We Are the Champions”, dedicated to frontline workers, with Adam Lambert to raise money for the World Health Organisation’s “Solidarity Response Fund”.  Whatever the cause may be, we are here to review the music.

The idea here is that Queen are not the champions this time — we are!  Together we have locked down and sacrificed, and we are doing it for each other.  The lyrics don’t really fit but we know what Queen meant.  Lambert doesn’t actually change the words to “You are the champions” until the halfway point.

This track is the familiar Queen arrangement, though shortened by a verse.  Adam Lambert is a fine singer, as he proves in the outro.  Queen didn’t go with the big layered vocals here; perhaps you need a recording studio to do that.  Instead Lambert’s voice takes the spotlight by itself.  Even the instrumentation is sparse — no solos, and only a couple Brian May guitar noodles to savour.

There’s a striking music video with stark footage of empty streets.  I like that Lambert did his hair and makeup to the nines while the other two look casual.  Let’s join Queen and Adam in thanking our frontline healthcare workers — and thank you Queen for recording again.  How about a new album next time?

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – “Don’t Give Up” (2020 iTunes)

ALICE COOPER – “Don’t Give Up” (2020 iTunes)

Thank God for Alice Cooper! 50 years ago, he was considered by the mainstream to be nothing more than an untalented shock rocker. In 2020, he is inspiring people to keep on keepin’ on. He’s got a powerful message for anyone who needs to hear it.

“Don’t Give Up” is the most direct, the most topical and the least “Alice” song that the Coop has ever done. Why the “least” Alice? Because this time he is not playing a character. He’s not telling some horrifying bedtime story. Or is he? “Don’t Give Up” is about Coronavirus and blatantly so.

“Yeah, I know you’re struggling right now. We all are, in different ways. It’s like a new world that we don’t even know. It’s hard to sleep, even harder to dream. But look, you got seven billion brothers and sisters all in the same boat! So don’t panic. Life has a way of surviving and going on and on. We’re not fragile and we sure don’t break easy.”

This single was recorded in home studios.  It’s accompanied by a cool video expertly produced by Canuck Frank Gryner, using footage sent in by fans.  It is so rare for Alice to really make a statement that pertains to current events.  And it is a very specific song; there are no underlying stories or metaphors to untangle.  But when you think about Coop, it’s not really surprising that he came out of the gates so fast with a song like this.  Alice Cooper is a human being that cares about other human beings.  The message is simple:  keep fighting and don’t give up.  Sometimes people need to actually hear the words.

Musically you could call “Don’t Give Up” a power ballad.  It has a very 80’s guitar figure, with Alice speaking his message over it.  The chorus is more modern, with Alice singing as plaintively as he can.  “Don’t Give Up” is unremarkable as a rock ballad, but as a lyrical accomplishment, Alice has forged new ground 50 years on.  He has written some remarkably powerful words.

“Our enemy is a cold, indiscriminate monster.  It doesn’t care if you’re old or a newborn.  It exists to kill.  You and I are nothing to it.  It has no heart or soul or conscience.  Do we fear it? Yeah! Do we cower before it? Hell no! We’re the blood-n-guts human race. And we win.”

The important thing that Alice says here is that it is alright to be afraid.  Look, Alice has fought demons, and if this scares him then there is no shame in feeling fear.  People are being labelled as cowards for wearing a mask in public.   Alice is right — we will win, and we will do whatever it takes to win.  If you’re scared right now, you tell ’em that Alice Cooper said that’s OK.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Marillion – “Made Again (2020)”

MARILLION – “Made Again (2020)” (2020 iTunes)

It wasn’t that long ago, in this sad year, that Marillion gifted us a new version of “Easter” from their lockdown spaces.  Now, from the landmark Brave album, they’ve re-recorded the hopeful “Made Again”.

“I have been here many times before, in the life I used to live…”

Poignant.  We’re all grieving for the lives we used to live, some more than others.  I’m tiring very quickly of virus-themed songs, like that damn “I know there’ll be better days” ad I keep hearing on the TV.  It’s having the opposite effect on me and making me very bitter.

Since “Made Again” was written in 1994, it doesn’t have the stench of 2020 all over it.  We know the lyrics are being repurposed but it’s not so bad knowing their old origins.

“Like I woke up from a bad dream, to a brand new world.”

Unlike “Easter” this is a bit more of a complete arrangement, not abbreviated and without shortcuts.  You can buy the track for 99 cents on iTunes or watch the video on YouTube.  The video was painstakingly assembled from the at-home performance videos and fan footage sent in from all over the world.

We all need some optimism.

“I woke up from a deep sleep,
I woke up from a bad dream,
To a brand new morning,
To a brand new day,
Like the whole world has been made again.”

I hope so, guys.  I hope so.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Thin Lizzy – Still Dangerous (2008 inc. bonus tracks)

THIN LIZZY – Still Dangerous (2008 VH1 classic, iTunes bonus tracks)

Think of this as a companion piece to Live and Dangerous.  Four tracks were previously released on that landmark live album.  Still Dangerous has a bunch more, purportedly recorded in October 1977 in Philly.  10 tracks; 12 if you got it on vinyl with bonus 7″, on iTunes, or in Japan.

Like Live and Dangerous, what you get is live Lizzy at their peak, well recorded, and charismatic as ever.  It’s interesting that they opened with “Soldier of Fortune” since it’s a slower number, though no less powerful than any others.  It merges into “Jailbreak”, leaving the audience no chance to breathe…only to be rocked.  Impressive guitar and drums on this one.

“Cowboy Song” and “Boys are Back in Town” are the same as Live and Dangerous; legendary!  Basically one long ongoing song.  Phil introduces their then-new single “Dancing in the Moonlight” as a song with some sax and sex.  Yet it has a youthful exuberance.  “Now we go steady to the pictures, I always get chocolate stains on my pants.”  You can picture that long, hot summer night.  The next track, the blistering metal of “Massacre” is from Live and Dangerous.  Just listen to Brian Downey on the drums, a prototypical metal machine.  Without “Massacre” there could be no Iron Maiden.

“Opium Trail” doesn’t let up the aural assault.  Brian Downey impresses once again with his creative fills and patterns.  Lizzy moves on to “Don’t Believe a Word”, an older classic but just slightly sluggish.  There are more energized versions out there.  “Baby Drives Me Crazy” is also a bit dull, with one of those long audience singalong sessions.  The standard CD closes with “Me and the Boys”, furiously fast and fun!  It’s a long jammer, but its caffeinated pace really keeps things moving.

The two iTunes bonus tracks (mastered annoyingly louder) are “Bad Reputation” and “Emerald”.  Only Emerald was previously available on Live and Dangerous.  “Bad Reputation” is pure smoke.

Since this album was mixed by Glyn Johns and Live and Dangerous was not, one must assume even the tracks from that album are presented differently here.  If you already know that album front to back, then enjoy the fresh sounds of Still Dangerous instead.

4/5 stars