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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

REVIEW: Klassik ’78 – Side One and Side Two (2017)

KLASSIK ’78 – Side One and Side Two (2017 EPs)

When I was a kid buying new Kiss albums likes Crazy Nights, I used to say “Kiss should go back and make a full album that sounds like Side Four of Alive II.” Either that or Kiss Killers. I thought either direction was worthy of re-visiting, since they were small collections of songs, not full albums.

The guys who created the original band Klassik ’78 read my mind, and decided to do something about it.  In the spirit of the Kiss sound circa Alive II, Klassik ’78 took it upon themselves to write and record a “lost” Kiss studio record that could have followed Love Gun.  Imagine Kiss didn’t split to make solo albums or return with a Disco record.  Original Kiss, not ghost musicians.  Klassik ’78 aimed to create an album from that exact year in that precise alternate universe.  The remarkable thing is that they actually succeeded.


The Side One EP has a bangin’ opener:  the Paul-styled “Standin’ Tall”.   Paul-vocalist “Joe” nails the Starchild’s mannerisms, while the riff mimics that kind that Paul was writing around the time of Rock And Roll Over.  A slaying Kiss-like chorus drives it home.  Klassik ’78 member “Tom” rolls out a Gene-like song as authentic as the Demon’s long tongue.  “Please n’ Tease” is a “Love ‘Em Leave ‘Em” styled sleaze rocker just like Simmons used to write them.  There’s even an Ace-y solo that burns like the Spaceman’s rockets.  “Mean Business” definitely nails the Alive II vibe, kind of like a sequel to “Larger Than Life” with a guy who’s doing his best to sound raspy like Peter Criss.  Another perfect faux-Frehley solo is the ideal topping.  “Passion & Love” is obviously a “Paul” song, a mirror image of “Mr. Speed” and a nearly perfect vocal.  Every “Ooh yeah!” is spot-on.  There’s a good chance you could fool any casual fan into thinking “Passion & Love” is an actual lost Kiss song from 1977.  “Rock and Roll You” is another Gene-like vehicle, right in that Kiss pocket.  Finally, with a title like “Streetwise”, you’re probably already expecting a track like Ace Frehley.  That’s exactly what you get, with a crunchy Ace-like riff, sharp licks, and the same kind of spacey vocals (also by “Tom”).  “I grew up in the city, spent my time on the street.”  Every lyric on Side One is crafted to fit the Kiss member it’s for.  The attention to detail is remarkable.  Certain moments of the “Ace” guitar solo have bits inspired by Frehley’s 1978 solo album.  It’s uncanny.

The important thing is that these are not just tracks that sound exactly like Kiss songs.  These are songs that sound exactly like good Kiss songs.  Could Klassik ’78 deliver another six tracks to make it a full, good album?


“Joe” in the Paul Stanley guise opens Side Two with a stunning “World on Fire”.  It is in the style of Stanley’s ’78 solo disc, but with the Frehley guitar fills of Kiss instead of Bob Kulick.  Time for a “Gene” song next with “Ain’t No Fool”, kinda similar to “Mad Dog” as released on the Box Set.  Another obvious Ace title is “Jendell”; I say “obvious” because hard core fans know that Ace Frehley supposedly comes from planet Jendell.  “I was sent on a mission, light years ago.  To help the human condition, for how long I didn’t know.”  Yep, it’s a “Space Ace” track and a good one at that, once again with tones inspired directly from the Frehley solo album.  Back to Alive II (think “Rockin’ in the USA”), it’s another “Gene” song with “American Made”.  The title alone is perfectly Simmons.  “I”m American Made, and all my dues have been paid.”  In the vibe of “Makin’ Love”, it’s a Stanley-like “Hot On Her Heels” next.  Once again, you could easily fool friends into thinking this is actually Kiss.  Closing Side Two is “Victims (Nosferatu)”, implying a Kiss Demon epic.  Think “Almost Human” from Love Gun, but with more heft.  Klassik kloser, pardon the pun.

I’m not going to bullshit you.  If the Klassik ’78 album was a real Kiss album from 1978, it would be considered one of their best, with the original six.  Obviously Kiss have no intention of ever making an album like this, so why not let Klassik ’78 have some fun with it?  Obviously the fans responded, because the limited run of CDs (re-titled The Un-Originals) sold out immediately.

Check out Klassik ’78 on iTunes, put on your old jean jacket and set your time machine back to 1978.  This album will transport you back.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Def Leppard – The Lost Session (2018)

DEF LEPPARD – The Lost Session (2018 iTunes)

Cast your memories back to 2012.  Def Leppard re-recorded some very high quality “forgeries” of some of their classic hits for iTunes.  Three of these iTunes singles were released:

  1. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” / “Rock of Ages”
  2. “Acoustic Medley 2012”
  3. “Hysteria 2013”

The iTunes exclusive concept dried up for Def Leppard afterwards, but in 2018 we got six more tracks, from a 2006 “lost session”.  The rest of the songs don’t sound like “forgeries”, as the first ones did.  These are listed on iTunes as “live”.  They are not.  They are also not meticulously recorded recreations.  They lie somewhere between:  not fully live, but raw in a way that Leppard rarely are.

There are a number of surprises in the re-recordings.  First and foremost:  “Let It Go”!  Any Leppard fan will tell you that the 1981 High N’ Dry LP is Leppard at their early, heavy best.  While nothing can compete with the Mutt Lange produced original, the re-recording is still razor sharp.  It gives you a chance to hear Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell on lead guitar.  The pair do not attempt to imitate Pete Willis and Steve Clark, instead blazing their own trail.

You don’t have to wait for the second surprise, a baffling one indeed: a re-recording of “Rock On” from 2006’s covers album Yeah!  Why do Leppard keep playing this song?  (It was even on their recent Best Of.)  Considering how they’ve beaten this dead horse, it’s actually not much of a surprise after all.  It was a boring song to start with, and Leppard can’t save it just by throwing down more guitars.  “When Love and Hate Collide” is another surprising choice to re-record.  The guitars are pretty incredible, but it’s just a ballad from a 1995 greatest hits CD.

“Foolin'” from Pyromania is missing the atmosphere of the original, but otherwise hits all the notes.  Joe Elliott still has an enviable voice.  Then it’s “Promises” from Euphoria, their best song from a dreary era.  Sure it’s a formulaic rewrite of their best hits rolled into one, but it works.  This re-recording is closest in sound and spirit to the original (from 1999).  Finally “Bringing On the Heartbreak” is a smokeshow as the closer.  It’s hard to really call it a ballad; there is some heavy rocking here too.  The guitars sound fabulous.  Def Leppard may no longer be the band they were in the 80s, but Phil and Viv are two of the best players in the game.  They don’t show off, so people rarely think of them when listing great guitarists.  But they are.  The outro solo (sounds like Vivian) nails it!

Def Leppard’s Lost Session is perfect for the fans who have it all.  Re-recordings are almost always very dicey cash grabs.  Leppard’s are worth the purchase.  They’re not cheap knock-offs.  New slants are fused with the old classics, so take these songs out for a fresh spin.

3.5/5 stars

 

 

 

 

#689: “F*** iTunes” [VIDEO BLOG]

GETTING MORE TALE #689: “F*** iTunes”

 

Once again, here is something that came about due to a conversation with Superdekes over at Arena Rock.  In his review for Bon Jovi’s iTunes exclusive live album Inside Out, Deke said:

Inside Out is an iTunes only live release, which is kinda cool in a way to make guys like Ladano scoff at the no physical product tag! 

He’s right and I scoffed right away.

In jest, I made this video below.  I like to call it “Fuck iTunes”.  Everything is meant in good fun.  Enjoy the video.

 

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Bombay Calling – Bombay Live ’95

BOMBAYDEEP PURPLE – Bombay Calling – Bombay Live ’95 (2003 iTunes)

There are very rare circumstances under which I will pay for a download from iTunes.  I’ve made my case for physical product here over the years many, many times.  When it’s a band that I obsessively collect, like Deep Purple, I make an exception.  Bombay Calling is an interesting live release.  It says “Official Bootleg” right there on the cover art, but I’m not really sure what constitutes an official bootleg anymore.  I look at this as the soundtrack to a DVD that Deep Purple released in 2000, also called Bombay Calling.  That’s essentially what this is — the audio to Bombay Calling, the DVD.  In contains the entire show.

This concert was recorded on April 18 1995, which eagle-eyed fans will realize is well before the Purpendicular album.  Bombay Calling was recorded not long after “the banjo player took a hike” and Purple carried on without Ritchie Blackmore.  Joe Satriani stepped in for a short while, but it was Dixie Dregs guitar maestro Steve Morse that took the Man in Black’s place permanently.  This concert was recorded at the very start of Morse’s tenure, and features a few songs they would drop from the set a year or two later.  It also features a brand new tune they were working on called “Perpendicular Waltz”, later changed to “The Purpendicular Waltz” on the album.

There is one earlier concert available from this period, which is Purple Sunshine in Ft. Lauderdale Florida, exactly two weeks prior.  That one is truly is an official bootleg, taken from audience sources and released on the 12 CD box set Collector’s Edition: The Bootleg Series 1984-2000.  The setlists are slightly different.  When they hit India for this concert, a new song called “Ken the Mechanic” (retitled “Ted the Mechanic”) was dropped, as was “Anyone’s Daughter”.  They were replaced by long time favourites “Maybe I’m a Leo” and “Space Truckin'” from Machine Head.

Special treats for the ears on Bombay Calling include Steve Morse’s incendiary soloing on “Anya” (which would be dropped from the set in 1996).  His feature solo leading into “Lazy” is also excellent, and of course very different from what Ritchie used to do.  Jon Lord’s keyboard solo is among the best I’ve heard, and even features a segue into “Soldier of Fortune” from Stormbringer.  The solo segments that Deep Purple did often allowed them to play snippets from songs from the David Coverdale period of the band, and this one was unexpected and brilliant.

I love a good, raw live performance captured on tape, and Deep Purple don’t muck around.  This one is kind of special, coming from that transitional period when Steve Morse was just getting his feet wet.  Considering how different he is from Ritchie Blackmore, this smooth switcheroo is quite remarkable.  The band had changed, but into something just as good.  How many other groups can make that claim?

3.5/5 stars

Since you can’t take a picture of a non-physical product, here are pictures of the 2 CD set that I burned from the iTunes download!