Jack Richardson

REVIEW: Max Webster – The Party (2017 box set)

MAX WEBSTER – The Party (2017 Anthem 8 CD box set)

Normally when we review box sets like this, we prefer to review each album individually.  Three of the eight discs have already been covered here:  Max Webster (their debut), High Class in Borrowed Shoes, and Universal Juveniles (their final album).  The rest of the Max Webster albums will be reviewed in due time, so for now we will take a general look at their brand new CD box set, The Party.

The Max Webster catalogue (and to a lesser extent, the solo Kim Mitchell discography) has been well overdue for a remastering.  The original Anthem CDs are thin and tinny.  Rock Candy did a fantastic remaster of the first three albums with better sound and a generous booklet, but what about the rest?  I first heard about this project via Uncle Meat this past summer at Sausagefest.  It was one of those “know a guy who knows a guy” stories, but the bottom line was, Max Webster’s catalogue was being remastered.  And now we have The Party in hand as proof!

The contents include all five original Max studio albums, their concert opus Live Magnetic Air, Kim Mitchell’s very rare solo EP, and a bonus disc of rarities called The Bootleg.  Those who buy the forthcoming vinyl version will also receive a booklet with rare photos and other goodies.  The CD version has no booklet, but it does have nice gatefold packaging for each album.  It’s affordably priced, so we forgive the lack of a booklet on the CD edition. Vinyl owners can look at it as a bonus for buying vinyl.

If improved audio is what you are longing for, then you should be very satisfied with The Party.  It’s not overdriven, but it sounds fuller and deep.  They didn’t go for loudness.  This is all very good.  You can safely ditch your old CD versions, rendered obsolete by this box.

The Bootleg will be the main draw for many.  It does not disappoint.  In fact, it intrigues, because it teases that there is more.  Unreleased demos are listed as “Contraband” — reports suggest this refers to a collection of unreleased material still in the vault.

Max Webster apparently recorded their 2007 reunion show, or at least “Let Go the Line”.  It sounds brilliant and makes you pray for a live album of the show.  Terry Watkinson’s classic ballad sounds a little older, a little wiser, but just as brilliant as ever.  Other live stuff from 1979 was recorded in Oshawa.  “Oh War” simply smokes, and was not included on Live Magnetic Air.  Then there’s the crazy jam centred on “Research (At Beach Resorts)”.  These insane live sessions really show why Max Webster is held in such high esteem, almost like a second coming of Frank Zappa himself.

The unreleased demos include some songs that didn’t make Max’s albums.  Fans know “Deep Dive” from Kim Mitchell’s solo live album, I Am A Wild Party.  Max’s original 1982 demo is completely different.  Same melody, same words, but a vastly different arrangement.  It’s like rock and roll bluegrass, fast as possible, and insanely good.  It was likely deemed too different to be on the Universal Juveniles LP, but there’s no doubt it’s awesome and the highlight of this box set.

Another standouts from the batch of demos is a version of “Battle Scar” without Rush; just Max!  It’s a revelation; an interesting work in progress.  There are also two songs you’ve never heard before, “Walden 5” and “Better”, both from 1979.  Let’s just say that the quality of these unreleased Max songs is album level.  “Walden 5” just needed some editing.  A demo version of “In the World of Giants” from 1979 has way more guitar soloing.  Kim fans will love it!  Oh — and stay tuned for a surprise unlisted bonus track.

The box itself is just a cardboard sleeve, but at least an attractively packaged one.  Yes, a booklet would have been appreciated.  In lieu of that, we recommend Martin Popoff’s brilliantly detailed book Live Magnetic Air: The Unlikely Saga of the Superlative Max Webster to accompany this otherwise perfect set.

Oh, one last thing:  The two “new” songs that were included on the hits compilation Diamonds Diamonds are not in this box set.  So, to be a completist, you’d still need to track that one down.  Vinyl is recommended; and then you’d own “Hot Spots” and “Overnight Sensation” to complete the picture.  Just a word to the wise.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Max Webster – Universal Juveniles (1980)

Scan_20150717 (3)MAX WEBSTER – Universal Juveniles (1980 Alert)

“1980 will be a year long remembered.  It has seen the end of Max Webster, and will soon see the end of Led Zeppelin.” — Darth Vader

All good things must indeed come to an end.  If there was one band — just one band! — out of the Great White North that truly deserved better things, it was Max Webster.  Much like their soul mate, Frank Zappa, Max Webster had successfully inserted humour into complex progressive rock songs.  The big difference was that Max tended to keep it to guitar-bass-keyboards-drums.  Their musicianship was unimpeachable.  Much like Bubbles shouted out “Geddy Lee! Neil Peart! Alex Lifeson!” to emphasize the awesomeness of Rush, I shout “Kim Mitchell! Terry Watkinson! Gary McCracken!”

Maybe it was the skinny balding front man in the tights, the weird but deep lyrics, or the goofy keyboards.  One way or another, Max Webster never saw the success that their friends Rush did, and Universal Juveniles would be the last Max record.  Genius keyboardist Terry Watkinson was out of the band, although he did play on the album.  Kim Mitchell folded the band mid-tour after the record, unable to hack it any longer.

Kim’s smoking chops open “In The World of Giants”, perhaps the world that Rush occupied and Max failed to enter.  Max sound stripped back, with minimal piano and keyboards.  What a song though.  Surely “In the World of Giants” is one of Max Webster’s most breakneck rock songs, albeit with the complexity of riff and licks that you would expect.  At the same time, do I sense a certain amount of fatigue, between the grooves?

There’s no detectable tiredness on “Check”, which will wake you right the fuck up!  There’s nothing like a good, joyous, loaded-with-all-the-guitar-fixin’s Max Webster romp.  Want some shredding?  “Check this out!”  At only 2 1/2 minutes, “Check” is all it needs to be — in and out, the mission of kicking ass all complete.  Yet Max Webster was not about simply rocking, so “April in Toledo” brings some funk.  The classic refrain of “I wanna run to Niagara, I’ll cry and cry in the dark” is joined by gleeful guitars, to create the picture perfect mixture of Max confection perfection.  I’m still sitting here scratching my head wondering how Kim got that weird guitar sound in the solo so perfect, but I’m soon distracted by another awesome chorus.

“Juveniles Don’t Stop” is a Max party anthem; not as memorable as “The Party” itself, but still good to crank with some cold ones.  Don’t get too loaded though — you don’t want to miss the double barrelled blast that is “Battle Scar”.  What could be more epic than a duet with Rush vocalist Geddy Lee?  Oh, how about doing the whole song with Rush — a double trio!  That’s two bass guitars opening the song.  That’s Neil Peart and Gary McCracken providing the dual beats.  (You sure can tell when it’s Neil doing a drum roll, that’s for sure!)  That’s Alex Lifeson accompanying Kim Mitchell in a legendary guitar team-up.  Geddy Lee, in peak voice, provides the vocal chills necessary to top off such an epic alignment.  Truly, “Battle Scar” is not just an important song for Canadian rock, but a track that any serious rock fan should seek out and own.  You simply owe it to yourself to do so.

There’s some sneaky understated goodness in “Chalkers” but I find it to be one of the less memorable tracks.  It’s notable for containing the phrase “universal juveniles” in the lyrics, lending it for the album title.  “Drive and Desire” is a bigger song, a sizeable rocker with a nice bluesy vibe.  McCracken’s drums on this one are purely delicious.  Even better is the slow mournful “Blue River Liquor Shine”.  It foreshadows some of the songs on Kim’s excellent solo EP, Kim Mitchell.  A proud achievement, “Blue River Liquor” does indeed shine with Max classics of the past.

“What Do You Do With the Urge” is a wreckless Max party rocker, just in time to set us up for the final Max Webster song — the last one ever, sadly.  “Cry Out for Your Life” lurches like a wounded soldier crawling to the warmth of safety.  Loads of Max class abound, but there does seem to be less glee, less shimmer.  Perhaps the end was inevitable.  Although Kim and the gang turned in another jaw dropping Max Webster record, something was wrong and it sounds somewhat forced at times.

Kim Mitchell had tremendous success with his solo career in Canada.  Anthems such as “Go For Soda” have been immortalized in our memories, and on our TV sets.  Who can forget the moment in Season 7 of Trailer Park Boys, when Bubbles goes to “rock a piss”, and Ricky responds, “You go rock a piss, I’m gonna get ‘er going with the Mitchell!”  Then: Bubbles peeing to the tune of “Go For Soda”, bopping his head in time with the music!  Just classic.  On the more sentimental side, Kim appealed to the adults in the crowd with “Patio Lanterns” and “Easy To Tame”.  He really aimed to please everybody….

…Except the fans of old, goofy Max progressive rock.  Universal Juveniles is its capstone.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Kim Mitchell – Kim Mitchell (1982 EP)

“Looking for the good life, in between all the clatter
Tonight I’m at the Bojar Grill, and they’re serving up only Tennessee water.”

KIM MITCHELL – Kim Mitchell (1982 Anthem)

This is an incredibly difficult review to write. How? How can words do justice to this magnificent 5-song EP of rock perfection? Am I supposed to somehow relay in English how this album makes me, and many other Max Webster fans feel? I don’t think it too crazy to suggest that the self-titled Kim Mitchell EP is the greatest EP our country has produced. As far as rock music goes in general, you will find very few Canadian releases as solidly untouchable as Kim Mitchell.  To say this is an intimidating review to attempt is an understatement.  There will be some reading this whose knowledge of Kim and Max vastly exceeds mine, and even though I have played this EP hundreds upon hundreds of times, I still need to actually play it again in order to convey to you how excellent it truly is.

KIM_0004Kim Mitchell burned out on Max Webster.   There were numerous lineup changes towards the end, and Kim walked out.   He was quick to bounce back with some new band members (Peter Fredette, Robert Sinclair Wilson, Paul DeLong) and some new songs.  Still with Kim through the breakup was Max Webster lyricist Pye Dubois, the only holdover from that band.  (Ex-Max bassist Mike Tilka was also an executive producer, as he was on the Max albums after he left.)  Kim settled into a recording studio in Oshawa Ontario (!) with the legendary Jack Richardson.

The guitar blasts of “Kids In Action” are sometimes included on Max Webster hits albums, but it was originally released as the opening track on Kim Mitchell.  “I guess we’re just gonna have to be the best bonfire in town,” sings Kim, and I think he succeeded.  “We want modern thrills, we want rock n’ roll that kills,” sing the backing band.  I think we got it.

IMG_20141002_180602“Kids In Action” is the perfect storm of Max’s harder side, with Kim’s newly found-melodic sensibilities.  That guitar is hard (though just as finger-lickin’-good) but the choruses have a new harmonic sheen.  Peter Fredette provided backing vocals to the record, and Kim fans know how awesome and integral he is to Kim’s solo sound.  Meanwhile DeLong can’t resist throwing in some Max-worthy drum fills that shake the cranium.  (I read somewhere that David Lee Roth’s band had worked on a cover of “Kids In Action” for Diamond Dave’s first solo album.)

What a killer opener.  Yet “Miss Demeanor” may be the best tune on the record.  This one has always sort of reminded me of “Beast of Burden” by the Stones, and I often sequenced them together on mix CDs.  It’s harder than “Beast of Burden”, but has irresistible “ooh ooh” backing vocals.   Everything about this song is perfect from the simple riff to the amazing rhythm section.  Kim unexpectedly throws on an acoustic solo, just as terrific as any electric solo would be.  The song is also supersaturated with nice little electric guitar licks.

IMG_20141002_180616If you title a song “Big Best Summer” then it had better sound like it.  Kim’s “Big Best Summer” is as gleeful as you want it to be, with most of the joy coming across in the guitar licks.  Once again the rhythm section has it laid down perfect, leaving Kim plenty of space to splash down tons of little guitar bits and pieces.   “Sometimes we thought we were the only ones under the sun.”  Yeah, I think I’ve had those summers too.

If “Miss Demeanor” wasn’t the best tune on the album, then “Tennessee Water” has to be.  This one blows the doors off, with a slippery southern guitar lick and relentless groove that keeps cooking and won’t stop.  This is also Pye’s first lyrical mention of the Bojar Grill, that I am aware of.  It’s good time rock n’ roll, performed by guys who really know they’re doing.  Incredible stuff.  I definitely gotta hit up this Bojar Grill.

The slow rock of “Chain of Events” was chosen to close the record.  There are a couple slight dissonant chords that keep the song on the experimental side.  It also has a strange rhythmic quality, and quirky Pye lyrics.  Kim’s guitar solo is bizarre and Zappa-esque.  This song would have satisfied any Max fans who worried that some of the other tunes were too straightforward.  And that’s the EP.

It’s worth noting that unlike Kim’s later albums, and also unlike Max Webster, this EP has no keyboards.  This allows the bass guitar to breath, and leaves Kim plenty of space for guitar fun.  As such, this is the toughest Kim solo release by far.  As good as Akimbo Alogo was, this is undeniably even better.

6/5 stars


KIM1

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: Brighton Rock – Brighton Rock (EP)

BRIGHTON ROCK – Brighton Rock (1985 Flying Fist EP)

I first turned onto this band in the 10th grade.  MuchMusic kept playing the video for “We Came to Rock”.  It had a pop rock vibe to it, but the singer erased any accusations of being pop.  The screams!  The unholy screams!  Yeah!  That was definitely hard rock territory!

The singer’s name is Gerald McGhee and the band is Brighton Rock.  There’s a connection to the Record Store Tales, which is that later on McGhee started a music distribution company called Isotope Records and we used them as a supplier once in a while.  My boss told me that Gerry still had the hair.  (According to M.E.A.T Magazine he was also one of two Canadian singers to audition for Motley Crue in 1992, the other being Sebastian Bach.)

The selling feature of this band for me was the incredible voice of McGhee.  I’d never heard screaming like this before!  I remember my highschool classmates couldn’t handle it, the screams were too much for them.  But it’s not gratuitous; McGhee throws in screams strategically at key points to blow you to the wall.

Not that McGhee is the only talent in Brighton Rock.  Also notable is guitarist Greg Fraser, who ended up in Helix in 1993, and today fronts the Frase Gang with Brighton Rock bassist Stevie Skreebs.

BRIGHTON 5Before they released their excellent debut album Young, Wild and Free, Brighton Rock completed a four song EP, which is what we’re talking about today.  It’s no Young, Wild and Free, but we’ll be talking about that album (and Take A Deep Breath) in the weeks to come.   The EP Brighton Rock is a less-honed taster, but something I’d sought to own for a long time.  It’s never been released on CD, and contains one song (“The Fools Waltz”) that isn’t on any Brighton Rock album.  Bob had this on cassette when we were kids, but I finally recently picked up a sealed vinyl on eBay for dirt cheap.

Brighton Rock and their debut album contain the same opening song:  “Young, Wild and Free”.  This early version is musically identical but lacks the oomph.  Michael Wagener produced the album, and no doubt helped by his incredible work with Accept, got way more intense screams out of McGhee.  The EP however is produced by somebody named Steve Vaughan (with one track by Jack Richardson).

The second track is “Assault Attack”, which as the title implies is a combat zone of hooky guitars and thunderous toms.  Miles away from the ballady stuff like “One More Try” that the band would later become known for.  Song three is “Barricade”, which has a really cool and tricky sounding guitar solo by Greg Fraser.  It’s a heavy rocker., but the closing song “The Fools Waltz” eases up on the pace a tad.  It would be a stretch to call it a ballad.  It’s more like a Canadian radio rock song.

Of note:  the Brighton Rock EP is the only release with original keyboardist Martin Victor.

3/5 stars