japanese imports

REVIEW: Journey – Freedom (2022, Japanese bonus track)

JOURNEY – Freedom (2022 Japan, Ward Records)

Last month we gave Journey’s new album Freedom a glowing review.  We also did an excellent episode of Tim’s Vinyl Confessions to discuss the new album.  Though many were sceptical, Tim and I agreed more or less on the entire album.  We were both pleasantly surprised at its quality.  What was missing was the Japanese bonus 16th track.  Neither of us got a hold of it…until now.

The bonus track, exclusive to Japan, is a Jon Cain penned track called “Hard To Let It Go”.  If you are predicting the song is a ballad…you would be correct.

Spoiler:  Tim’s comment upon hearing “Hard To Let It Go” was “I can see why the Journey track didn’t make the album…so-so.”

Below you can read the full Journey Freedom review, now including bonus track.


What a…well, Journey…it has been!  First drummer Deen Castronovo was fired for…reasons we won’t get into.  Steve Smith was brought back to replace him, until both Smith and bassist Ross Valory were fired for attempted takeover of the band?  One way or another they ended up with Randy Jackson and Narada Michael Walden forming a lethal new rhythm section.  Also added was second keyboardist Jason Derlatka.  Now Deen is back and the album they created together, Freedom, is a special one compared to all the other post-Perry records.  Musically, Freedom is the strongest lineup since the classic era. With Narada on songwriting, there is a clear uptick in memorable material. 16 songs, and a more satisfying listen than the last three or four Journey studio albums.  Freedom actually feels like a three sided album, with five songs per side (plus the bonus track).  Listen with that in mind and see if you agree.

1. “Together We Run” – Classic 80s sound with a catchy Jon Cain piano opening. Awesome chorus. The “Woah Woah Woah” part is excellent.  Top it with a classic Schon solo. Arnel  Pineda sounds more soulful than before. 5/5

2. “Don’t Give Up On Us” – This is the “Separate Ways” ripoff.  Tell me you can’t hear it.  It’s slowed down a tad, but similar. Good tune though! 4/5

3. “Still Believe in Love” – The first ballad.  Narada’s really nailing that soul vibe on drums. Really soft/romantic but good. 4/5

4. “You Got the Best of Me” – Second single. Solid Journey style hard rocker. Narada nails this vibe too in a style reminiscent of Steve Smith. Chorus is stellar. 5/5

5. “Live to Love Again” – Jonathan Cain solo writing credit. A bit corny but not more so than other Journey ballads or Bon Jovi for that matter. 3/5

6. “The Way We Used To Be” – First single, so long ago! Darker, more ominous Journey, but absolutely killer. Takes a while to sink it. Works better on the album than as a single. Powerful, with great chorus. 5/5

7. “Come Away With Me” – Uncharacteristic hard rock groover. Randy Jackson for the win. Do I hear an homage to the first album on this one? Relentless song! 5/5

8. “After Glow” – Ballad #3. At least each ballad is different from one another, which is necessary on an album like this. Deen Castronovo on lead vocals. Very Steve Perry circa Trial By Fire. 3.5/5

9. “Let It Rain” – Woah! Completely different. Funk courtesy of Mr. Randy Jackson on bass. Solid unexpected funky groove going on here. Schon is mental! 4/5

10. “Holdin’ On” – Randy’s first co-write. Very much an homage to the first three progressive Journey albums. Time signature is nuts. 4/5

11. “All Day, All Night” – Randy Jackson is MVP for his bass pulse on this soulful, funky groove. Wicked song, An album highlight. Schon just punctuates the air with some chords while the bass carries the verses. Arnel in top voice on the screamin’ outro. 5/5

12. “Don’t Go” – Arnel’s first co-write. Like early 80’s Bon Jovi with an uplifting power chorus. 5/5

13. “United We Stand” – No quite a ballad, but a midtempo tune. Lyrics could be interpreted as about the division in the US. Not a highlight, just kinda sits there. 3/5

14. “Life Rolls On” – A song about aging and rolling with the changes. Begins as a ballad and transforms into a rocker. Nice organ on here by Jon Cain. 4/5

15. “Beautiful As You Are” – Album closing ballad/rocker. Lovely acoustic closer. Understated and perfect until it goes rocker at the end. Arnel in top voice hitting the high notes. Homage to classic Journey at the end – “Anytime”? Walden kicking absolutely ass on the outro. 5/5

16. “Hard To Let It Go” – Ballads can work very well as bonus tracks; an added “coda” to a track listing.  “Hard To Let It Go” takes a few listens to like.  If it were in the main tracklist, it would fade into the background in the wake of better songs.  Slow, deliberate, with an excellent speedy bluesy solo by Neal.  (Steve Perry did call Neal Schon one of the best blues players in the world on the Captured live album.)  Really though, the song is B-side quality compared to the rest of Freedom.  It stands out a little more thanks to its positioning as the last song. 3/5

Freedom is the first Journey since Trial By Fire that really intrigues you enough to go in for multiple listens.  This lineup has it all and though health issues have gotten in they way of Randy and Narada touring, the album is a moment frozen in time when Journey had these two awesome veterans in the engine room.

4.5/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Mirror Ball: Live & More (2011 Japan bonus track)

Part Forty of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Mirror Ball (2011)

DEF LEPPARD – Mirror Ball: Live & More (2011 Marquee Japanese import with bonus track)

It took Def Leppard until 2011 to release finally their first standalone live album that you could go out and buy on a CD.  Chronologically speaking, we have already reviewed seven Leppard live “albums” from earlier sources.  Mirror Ball is still technically considered their “first” live album.   And they really leaned into doing live albums since then, as you’ll see going forward.  Most of the content of this series will be live in nature post-Mirror Ball.

One cool thing about Mirror Ball is that there is no long lead-in.  It starts immediately with the opening to “Rock! Rock!” with no fade-in.  Cut to the chase, get on with the rock.  It’s Screamin’ Joe Elliott in fine form right from the start.  Brilliant, hard version going top speed.  Leppard shift gears into “Rocket” from there, certainly a sudden change in direction.  This is a short 4 1/2 minute version compared to the longer jam on the “C’Mon C’Mon” single.  As second track on a live album, it’s probably a good thing it’s not a 10 minute workout.

Just as on Hysteria, “Animal” follows “Rocket”.  Joe’s voice is more gentle here, and the song offers some different guitar touches that are fresh and interesting.  Next, it’s the aforementioned “C’Mon C’Mon”, the first new track presented from Songs From the Sparkle Lounge.  You’d think it would be a live highlight, but it’s just a tune.  Onto the next.  Unfortunately the next is “Make Love Like a Man” which really…how is this still in the set?”  Not a good version either.  Fortunately, the trajectory is reversed with the Pyromania classic “Too Late For Love”.  Always underappreciated, this apocalyptic burner has it all.  Cool, atmospheric slow opening, wicked guitar parts, and Screamin’ Joe!  Not screaming as much, but just enough.  Keeping with the Pyromania, a decent version of “Foolin'” follows.  Decent but not quiet incendiary.

The much maligned “Nine Lives” from Sparkle Lounge clicks live only when we get past that silly twangy intro.  With that out of the way, it’s just rock and roll.  Better than the album counterpart.  At this point, we’ve come a long way without a ballad.  “Love Bites” is the first, and it’s a good version, even if it feels a touch understated.  Unfortunately, the cover tune “Rock On” from the Yeah! album closes this disc, and I wish Def Leppard never played it again.

Disc two opens with the acoustic ballad “Two Steps Behind” which the audience goes nuts for.  There are a lot of versions of this song out there in the Leppard oeuvre, so here’s another one!  From there, it’s a surprising acoustic version of “Bringing on the Heartbreak”, an unexpected variant.  It would be nice if there weren’t choruses where the audience sings, but it’s live.  Whatcha gonna do.  That’s part of the experience that doesn’t translate well to album.  Eventually it goes electric, and right into “Switch 625” which is automatically an album highlight.

A brilliant “Hysteria” is another album highlight.  It’s a hard song for this band to mess up.  They never do.  Always powerful, as ballads go.  A guitar-packed “Armageddon It” follows, and it’s a solid string of nothing but hits.  “Photograph”, “Sugar”, “Rock of Ages”, and “Let’s Get Rocked” continue the golden oldies.  Even “Let’s Get Rocked” cooks, which it doesn’t always.  Really cool guitar stuff happening here.

That’s the end of the main set, as there is a fade and an audio change.  It’s weird to get the Sweet cover “Action” at this stage of the game, but it does rock.  And that goes into “Bad Actress”, a really fast smoker from Sparkle Lounge that was a true return to form for the band.  These songs sound like an opening from another concert, but that’s it for the live stuff.  Onto the new!

This album features three new studio cuts, with one bonus track in Japan.  The first of these is the tepid “Undefeated”.  Yes it rocks, and yes it has some groove…but that “Cha!” vocal hook?  I dunno.  I just don’t know.  The Rick Savage ballad “Kings of the World” has a Queen-like sound.  We know Sav likes Queen.  This piano ballad is quite nice if a bit long.  The Queen-like qualities and bombast are its strengths.  In Japan, you also get the “different version” which is shorter and stripped down.  Not as impactful though.  The final new song, “It’s All About Believin'” has an upbeat staccato opening but then turns into a stock rocker.  Nothing special or particularly memorable.

Mirror Ball is somewhat disappointing as the “first” Def Leppard live album.  A few tracks sputter, and several could have been axed.  Worth buying, as there’s enough good here, but it might not get frequent spins in your deck.

3/5 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

Next:

41. iTunes re-recordings
42. Viva Hysteria

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Flush the Fashion (1980)

ALICE COOPER ’80 – Flush the Fashion (1980 Warner, Japanese CD)

The early 80s were a tough time for the Coop.  His previous record, From the Inside, was written about getting clean in the loony bin.  Staying clean wasn’t easy and so we enter the “lost years”:  the records Alice doesn’t remember making due to being blackout drunk.  Flush the Fashion is a divisive album, with some fans loving its straight-ahead new wave direction, while others despaired Alice’s temporary abandonment of rock.  The truth lies somewhere in the middle.  It was the 80s and if that wasn’t obvious by the “ALICE COOPER ’80” title at the top, it definitely was clear by the keyboards and programming.  Roy Thomas Baker of Queen and The Cars fame produced.

With song titles ripped from the National Enquirer, Flush the Fashion contains a number of short, fast, punky new wave songs beginning with “Talk Talk” at barely two minutes long.  You will either love this tough nut of a guitar-driver, or you will be indifferent to it for being light on hooks and brittle in sound.

“Clones (We’re All)”, which was written by outsider David Carron, is the clear album highlight.  It was later covered by Smashing Pumpkins on the B-side to “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”, and has seen action in Alice’s live set occasionally over the years.  This fun, keyboard-heavy new wave song really nails the 80s sound Alice was going for.  Programmed beats, a bouncy keyboard, catchy words and you have a keeper.  It went Top 40 and evokes a smile and maybe even a little bit of fist pounding.

The ballad “Pain” is the second in a pair of keepers.  A piano-based mourner with a powerful pound, “Pain” possesses tremendous appeal.  Alice’s interesting lyrics provide a number of metaphors for your own internal pain.   “The loudest one laughing at the saddest wake,” for example, and “the lump on your head when you step on a rake.”  Not overly serious, but suiting the character of Alice the masochist.  There’s a simply wonderful dual guitar harmony in the middle that is worth rewinding several times on its own.

“Clones” and “Pain” together are seven solid minutes of Alice that you simply cannot help but sing along to.  The songs will burrow into your mind until they are a permanent part of your grey matter.  They are the proverbial keepers.  The same cannot be said for the rest of the album, which defies memorability at almost every turn.  Fortunately, all these songs are short.

“Leather Boots” isn’t a great song, but it is at least a fun twangy rocker.  Similarly, “Aspirin Damage” is fun if forgettable.  Regardless of the music, Alice’s lyrics always offer some interesting twist or perspective.  There’s probably something autobiographical happening in the back of his mind here too.

That’s side one in a nutshell, under 14 minutes of music.  Side two is over and out in under 15.  These are short songs!  “Nuclear Infected” has some unremarkable guitar crunch.  “Grim Facts” is cooler.  This steadfast stomper has a certain Cars-like vibe courtesy of Baker.  “Model Citizen” leans a bit more into a punky direction, until the chorus which is kitschy Alice with lush backing vocals while Alice does his sinister speak-sing.  For a more traditional Alice song, there’s “Dance Yourself to Death”, which would probably be a third keeper if you were willing to extend it that honour.  No new wave trappings here, just traditional rock like the Alice Cooper Band of old.  It just…it doesn’t stick.  It’s notable for being one of those good second-last tunes though.  The final song is “Headlines”, which has a variety of different sections and tempos, and one cool riff.

Another listener could probably make a case for a solid 3.5/5 star album.  Others will enjoy isolated moments, but will struggle through.  Which are you?

3/5 stars

RE-REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The X Factor (1995 2 CD Japanese import)

IRON MAIDEN – The X Factor (1995 EMI Japan 2 CD limited edition)

For this revisit, we will take a deep dive on the Japanese version of Iron Maiden’s controversial 1995 album The X Factor.  As the first new studio album in three years, anticipation ran high.  There was also a minor problem that needed sorting out.  Longtime vocalist Bruce Dickinson quit to go solo after more than a decade in Iron Maiden, leaving the remaining band with an air raid siren-sized hole to fill.  The band had already been rocked by the 1990 departure of guitarist Adrian Smith, whose songwriting and melodic solo construction was missed.  That’s not a knock on the guy who replaced him, Janick Gers.  Gers was a different kind of player, and the elements that Smith used to bring to the band were gone.  Fans had to endure an even more serious change when Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bayley was chosen to replace Bruce.

Virtually unknown in North America, Blaze Bayley was a powerhouse baritone who wasn’t known for hitting the highs of Bruce Dickinson.  However, Maiden seemed to like change and the 1990s were a darker time.  In that context, Bayley was a better fit.  Bruce’s style of singing was on its way out, while Bayley could have fronted a grunge band had he chosen to go that way.  At the same time, Steve Harris was dealing with losses in his life, and Bayley’s voice suited the more pensive tone of the new music.  In another major change, producer Martin Birch stepped down leaving Steve Harris and co-producer Nigel Green to their own devices, for better or for worse.  You’ll notice the mix is quite bass-heavy….

The X Factor was released in October of 1995 to a lot of indifference.  Even the new cover art by Hugh Syme turned off some fans.  It was the longest Maiden album so far by a long shot at over 70 minutes.  In Japan, the CD came with a bonus disc of three original B-sides, boosting the length to over 82 minutes.  Maiden rarely recorded original material for B-sides (“Total Eclipse” notwithstanding), but this time they had 14 tracks to choose from in total.  A bumper crop of creativity.

“Sign of the Cross” has to be one of Maiden’s most impactful openers, though it takes a minute to get going.  If you thought you bought a CD of Gregorian chants (very big in 1995; even Van Halen used ’em), then that’s forgivable.  Maiden jumped on the chant bandwagon for the 11 minute epic opener, a very unique track in the catalogue.  A bass intro begins the song proper, and if there’s one flaw on The X Factor, it’s too many bass intros (see above comment about “left to their own devices”).  The clean guitars backing the bass are a nice touch, and there is no question that The X Factor is a brilliant sounding album.  The vocals finally kick in almost three minutes into the song, kicking the song into a slow determined march.  The evocative imagery recalls dark corners of Catholic history while the music goes through multiple thrilling sections, from speedy manic solos (Janick proving his worth to a song like that) to more complex rhythms.  The song eventually resolves as it began, in quiet contemplation accompanied by bass.  “Sign of the Cross” was considered good enough to keep in the set even after Dickinson returned to Iron Maiden at the end of the 90s.

Wisely picking up the pace for the next track, the single “Lord of the Flies” kicks it into higher gear.  The speedy riff rocker barrels along steadily, with a slamming chorus.  Co-written by Gers, you can hear his influence.  Blaze sinks his teeth into the meaty verses and the chorus delivers the kind of hooks that we’re used to from Iron Maiden.  Once again, Bruce sang this song when he returned.  In this case, Dickinson was able to elevate the tune by using his air raid siren to boost the chorus.  That’s not a knock on Blaze, who owns the tune with grit and bite.

“Man on the Edge” is an interesting song not because it was the poorly chosen first single.  It’s interesting because just six years earlier, the song could never have been written.  As a co-write between Gers and Bayley, it’s entirely composed by the newest members.  Based on the excellent film Falling Down, the song depicts the character of “D-Fens” gradually losing it over the course of a day.  It’s just not up to the quality of the prior two songs, but Bruce still performed it on the 1999 tour.  Be forewarned:  excluding the bonus disc, this is pretty much the last time Iron Maiden pick up the pace on The X Factor.

That’s not to say the rest of the songs are junk.  “Fortunes of War” (another bass intro) begins soft and ballady, although it does get moving towards the end.  In the 1990s, Steve Harris really leaned into repeating sections of his songs, and “Fortunes of War” is certainly one of those.  It’s also one of many tunes on the album based on, or including, war imagery.  There’s a neat guitar part stuffed between bass sections, but too many bass sections!  It’s not that interesting an instrument, Steve.  Janick Gers and Dave Murray lay down a pair of nice solos, and drummer Nicko McBrain plays it fairly straight.  Not a lot of elaborate drum rolls on this album.  Nicko lays back with the songs.

The last song on side one was “Look For the Truth”, a dark contemplative song about personal struggles.  The bass intro this time is at least accompanied by guitar.  “Look For the Truth” begins slowly but then slams into heavy.  Blaze really has this one firmly in his grasp, as he spits out the words.  “It’s my final stand, I make a fist out of each hand.  To the shadows of the past, take a breath and I scream attack.”  This is the first of four co-writes between Harris, Gers and Bayley.  (Gers has seven credits on the first disc, Bayley has five, and Harris ten.)  The main hook here is a simple “Woah oh oh,” which works fine and dandy, and did so in concert.

“The Aftermath” is another slow war song…but with no bass intro!  It’s a little unorthodox as it goes almost three minutes before we hit the first chorus.  It really takes a while to get to the point where they speed it up, but it finally does with a cry of “I’m just a soldier!” and another wicked Janick Gers solo.  Then it resumes its plodding pace to the close.  Not an album highlight, but a song that was performed live on The X Fac-tour.

A little peppier is “Judgement of Heaven”, another soul-searching number with lines like “I’ve been depressed so long, it’s hard to remember being happy,” and “I felt like suicide, a dozen times or more.”  That’s countered with the line, “But that’s the easy way, that’s the selfish way, the hardest part is to get on with your life.”  Then the music cranks into gear and you feel empowered by the music and Blaze’s gravelly delivery.  You got this — you can do whatever you need to.  You can survive.  That’s the message and it sounds great coming from Iron Maiden.  The uplifting chorus “All of my life, I have believed judgement of Heaven is waiting for me,” is a little Christian sounding for this band, but it does the job.  And Davey Murray then flies in with a wicked signature solo, and then Gers joins in for some harmonies.  Blaze even tries for a high note at the end!

The album dips a bit in quality at this point.  “Blood on the World’s Hands” is not of the finest moments on The X Factor.  It boasts the worst bass intro yet, and it goes on for-bloody-ever.  At some points it sounds as bad I do, just randomly hitting notes in random order.  Mercifully the song really begins at 1:15 but the damage has been done.  It’s a decent song from that point on…but see above about Steve being left to his own devices as co-producer with Nigel Green.  A different producer would have axed that intro.  Cool Murray/Gers solo though, and Nicko gets to play around with unorthodox drums patterns.

“The Edge of Darkness” feels as if we’re moving towards an ending.  A dramatic re-telling of Apocalypse Now with yet another bass intro, this is a good song.  How many war songs do you need?  Don’t worry, this is the last one.  Like most of the tunes (especially those with bass intros), it begins slowly before heavy-ing up partway.  When it gets galloping, it’s solid gold.  “I know Captain that you’ve done this work before, we’ve got a problem and you can help us I am sure.”  You know where it goes from there.  “Your mission, terminate with extreme prejudice.”  All he wanted was a mission and for his sins they gave him one.  Vocally, Blaze has his hands full here with rapid-fire lyrics and plenty of “Woah-oh” hooks.  The guitar solos are like old-school Maiden again, and the gallop recalls earlier days.  “And now I understand why the genius must die…”

The album goes dark with “2 A.M.”, the third of the contemplative songs of self-reflection.  On first listen it doesn’t stand out but it grows over time.  “Here I am again, on my own again…”  We’ve all felt that way.  This is a sparse, direct, morose tune but not without merit.  On past albums it probably would not have made the final cut, though the guitar sections are great.

The final track on disc one is “The Unbeliever”, another unorthodox tune, centered on a bassline, but at least without a bass intro!  A Gers/Harris composition of self-reflection, that has a very different rhythm and layering of instruments.  “All my life, I’ve run astray, allowed my faith to drift away.”  Interesting that there are so many songs on this album about losing faith:  “Sign of the Cross”, “Judgement of Heaven”, and “The Unbeliever”.  The three dominant themes on this album (often overlapping) are war, losing faith, and personal struggles.  Quite different from the Iron Maiden that wrote songs about mythology, killers in alleyways, and dying with your boots on.  If there was ever a time to turn inwards and reflect, it was the 1990s.  Later albums would find a stronger balance of lyrical themes, but there is no question that the music of The X Factor suits the lyrics perfectly and vice-versa.

“The Unbeliever” ends with just an audio snip of studio chatter.  “That’s the one!” somebody says after a good take.

Over to disc two, exclusive to Japan:  all three tracks were available on B-sides to “Man on the Edge”, but one was exclusive to vinyl.  All three are fast songs that would have dramatically altered the complexion of the album had they been included in the regular tracklist.

The only Dave Murray co-write (with Harris) is the speedy “Justice of the Peace”.  This tune is about the decline of modern society.  “It must be the cynic in me, but I don’t really like things now.  The violence, the attitude, aggression that you see every day.  Sick society looks the other way.”  It has a similar vibe to “Man on the Edge” though not as manically paced.  Murray lays down a classic Beast-era sounding solo to top it off.  It’s over and out in just 3:34, the shortest song of them all.

“I Live My Way” is special because this is its only release on CD.  The only other way to get it is on vinyl.  Most Iron Maiden fans simply do not own a copy. As another speedy tune written by Harris/Gers/Bayley, it’s probably the least remarkable but certainly a special rarity.  You can count this as another one about self-reflection, though more headstrong and confident.

“Judgement Day”, the second song written by Blaze and Janick without involvement from Steve, is a fast blazer continuing the critique on modern society.  When the bonus tracks are considered, commentary on humanity could be considered the fourth dominant theme.  “There are no marks upon a man, that can say he’s good or bad.”  The lens is focused this time on the evil people living among us.  Musically it is most similar to a previous Maiden single called “Be Quick or Be Dead”.

The X Factor is a long album to start with, but the bonus disc here adds incredible value not only for the collector, but also for the listening experience.  The album needed more pep, less slow songs and fewer bass intros.  You could make a pretty incredible vintage-sounding X Factor “greatest hits” CD by including some of these B-sides, and capping the run time off at 45 minutes.

Japanese releases often got bonuses but this one has more than just extra music.  The old style “fat” CD case conceals additional booklets, some not included in the international releases; four in total.  They include:

  • Japanese lyric sheet for the album.
  • Japanese lyric sheet for the bonus disc.
  • Regular CD booklet, same as the international release.
  • Bonus 22 page full colour booklet exclusive to this release.

This bonus booklet is a real treat, featuring tons of album and single art, with band photos.  It includes a discography and list of Japanese tours, including the setlists.  It’s great even if you can’t read the notes in Japanese; all the titles are in English.

The X Factor is a deeply personal album that Steve Harris is very proud of and considers one of his best.  Fans have been split on this, with most considering it inferior to almost all the prior albums.  That’s not fair.  It’s very different, less aggressive, darker and slower.  It was an experimental evolution made possible by lineup changes and the shifting sands of the musical tastes of the 1990s.  There are deeper songs and the material fit the downbeat mood of the time.  Many of the songs were more energetic live.  Overall, not one of Maiden’s top five, and not a commercial success, but it can be a rewarding if overly long listen.  The inclusion of the B-sides on the Japanese set dramatically improves the experience.

3.75/5 stars

 

 

2 years later: “LeBrain’s Covid-19 Message”

This did not age well. The comment about hoarding toilet paper is funny. I remember my dad didn’t like this video. He found it too “angry”. It did start the whole “VoiVod!” thing with Rob Daniels though! This is just after lockdown began, but before the LeBrain Train launched. Interesting from a certain point of view. Where’s that Queen shirt now? Can’t find it anywhere!

Originally posted March 18 2020.

Unboxing Four Japanese Imports – live!

Sometimes the easiest way to make a video is to do it live. Last night I unboxed four new arrivals from Japan!

There’s one seller in Japan who has dozens of items on my wishlist. They’ve helped me add many long-sought items to my library over the years. This time, I added to my Scorpions and ZZ Top collections, while taking a chance on a serious Iron Maiden rarity that was priced inexplicably cheap.

Wanna see how it turned out? Watch the short video below.

#967: Dilemmas of Buying

RECORD STORE TALES #967:  Dilemmas of Buying

Mixing friends with work is always a tough balancing act.  When you work retail, it’s even harder.  The friends come to you, and they’d like to do business with someone they are familiar with.  Who wouldn’t?  At the Record Store, it was particularly difficult to maintain a stable counterbalance when buying used CDs from people who consider you to be a friend.

One thing always said when training new staff on buying used CDs was that “every customer thinks their CDs are gold.”  They don’t really understand why certain ones are worthless to you.  When buying from the customer, we went into detail explaining the why’s and wherefore’s of the offer, breaking it down disc by disc.  “These ones I can’t take because I already have two or more copies of each right now, and the other stores are well stocked too.”

When it’s a friend coming in to sell their discs to you, they don’t necessarily expect any special treatment, but they do expect you to “do your best” with your offer.  And that wasn’t always possible.

Upper management really kept an eye on my interactions with my regular customers.  They often complained to me that I paid too much for stuff when it was somebody I “preferred”.  That may be true in some instances, but I believe that upper management were too focused on dollars and cents, and not maintaining good relations with a regular customer.  A customer — somebody who spent money in our stores or supplied us with used stock that we in turn sold and made a profit on.  The managers were always hammering us on COGS – Cost of Goods Sold.  We had targets to aim for, and strategies for buying stock.  Unfortunately, this ran contradictory to “doing your best” when buying stock from somebody who knows you.

Just because somebody considers you a friend doesn’t mean they won’t go somewhere else to sell their discs to get better money.  They will.  They did!

“Come on Mike, this was twelve bucks when I bought it from you!  You can only give me three?”

“Fine, fine, I’ll give you four.  Just don’t say anything.  The bosses really hound me if they see me giving more than I should.”

Another factor is that every customer felt their CDs were in great shape even if the store didn’t.  That was another source of conflict.  We had a regional manager who was so picky that she would deduct money from a customer’s total for the lightest hairline scratches, even off the actual playing surface of the disc.  When you answer to someone like that, it was hard keeping your regulars happy with your offers.

And they really did watch me.  More than once they gave me shit for treating my regulars better than they thought I needed to.  Conrad, for example.  The guy bought in so many Japanese imports.  I don’t know how he had so many, but I tried to give him the maximum.  He could have taken them downtown, but he came to me.  He chose me because we both liked heavy metal (especially Bruce Dickinson) and both understand the value of Japanese imports.  He pissed off management because if I wasn’t working, the person who was usually offered him less, which he would complain about.

To me it didn’t matter that my COGS would take a hit by offering Conrad top dollar.  What mattered more was keeping Conrad loyal.  Where in Kitchener are you going to buy Japanese imports?

At Encore Records, that’s where, if Conrad thought he wasn’t getting enough money.

I’m sure, given the opportunity, the old management could run off a litany of reasons why I’m wrong.  But the fact is they had their own preferred customer.  They called him “Scottish Man” and only a limited number of employees dealt with him because he expected top dollar.  Now, upper management would always tell you that “Scottish Man brought in better stock and was more pleasant than gum-chewin’ Conrad.”  That sounds like a bias against heavy metal and chewing gum to me.

Just my opinion.  Just my opinion from my position at the front counter.

Let’s just say that if Conrad was bringing in rare Van Morrison and Stones imports instead of Axel Rudi Pell and Helloween box sets, their opinions might have been different.  With or without the chewing gum.

GUEST REVIEW: Anthem – Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years (2012) by Thunder Blackmore

By Thunder Blackmore

ANTHEM – Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years (2012 King Record Co.)

In the world of metal, there is no short list of underrated bands from every corner and country of the world. Specially with long-standing bands that are still going strong to this day. Would it be bands like E-Z-O from Japan, Pretty Maids from Denmark, Thor from Canada, or Helloween from Germany, everyone regardless of nationality has a favorite band, who did well for themselves, but could’ve, would’ve and should’ve gone big. And while my choice for most underrated metal band ever would go to my fellow countrymen Pretty Maids (national bias has its moments), Japanese metal legends Anthem earns the runner-up spot, easily.

The band, led by bassist Naoto Shibata, who are perhaps more famous for his work with Loudness and Crush 40 in the 90’s, had a tough time in the 80’s with success in their homeland and even a small US tour in ’87, but also with internal struggles which prevented the band to go beyond like their fellow and more successful countrymen, Loudness. Ultimately the band would be disbanded in 1992 until they reunited in 2001 and have been going strong since then. A band considered by many to be part of the big four of Japanese Metal (with X Japan, Loudness and Flatbacker/E-Z-O) with mostly consistent excellent releases throughout the years, who just now are getting released to the west on streaming services and (hopefully) physically by Nuclear Blast. So far, there’s two options for getting into Anthem’s discography, which just so happen to be compilations. For their new era, there is Nucleus, released by the aforementioned Nuclear Blast. But as for their classic period, the import to buy is this one. Ultimate Best Of Nexus Years.

Japanese releases has a reputation of not being a very cheap options, so getting this compilation is definitely a good starter point. It collects songs from the band’s initial 80’s era, starting with the self-titled debut and ending with their final album before their hiatus, Domestic Booty (you’ll be the judge for the supposed meaning of “booty”). Given that the compilation is split into two cd’s, it also reflects the times with the singers Eizo Sakamoto and Yukio Morikawa representing disc 1 and 2, respectively. This decision, coupled with the track list being in chronological order, can be difficult at first listen. Not necessarily with the tracks themselves but more with the unevenness with the production, as the first Anthem albums sound pretty rough. Granted, that’s not a problem exclusive to the band, but that also means that you’ll have to skip to track 13, “Bound to Break”, if you are somewhat put off by the roughness.

If you can hang with it, you are in for 2 hours of kickass catchy melodic metal majesty from glorious Nippon with no noteworthy duds. Even with my nitpicky desire to swap out some tracks for others, I’m still absolutely happy with this purchase. Standouts have to be “Venom Strike”, “Shadow Walk”, “Bound to Break”, “Hunting Time”, “Night After Night” and “Show Must Go On”. The latter being their first original song with English lyrics (courtesy of the late Chris Tsangarides) and being their first to be featured in the Anime OVA, Devilman.

Until Anthem can finally release their back-catalog on physical media for a much more affordable price (CD, vinyl or otherwise), this one will do wonders in the meantime.

4.95/5 stars

Thanks to Thunder Blackmore for this awesome review.

 

 

REVIEW: Loudness – Metal Mad (2008)

“Forever, carry on!  Turning up the sound and let it roll.  Raise your fist up in the sky!  The spirit of metal will never die!”

LOUDNESS – Metal Mad (2008 Tokuma Japan)

Loudness reunited their original lineup in 2000, but little did they know it would not last a full decade.  Drummer Munetaka Higuchi was diagnosed with liver cancer only two months after the release of the 2008 album Metal Mad.  He passed away in November of that year.  Although they had enough drum tracks recorded to make one more record with Higuchi (2009’s The Everlasting), Metal Mad was the last in his lifetime.

Metal Mad is the 21st Loudness studio album, recorded in the midst of a flurry of studio activity, as Loudness never slowed down, and guitarist Akira Takasaki was pounding out solo work on top of it.

One certain thing about Loudness:  just because they reunited the original lineup doesn’t mean they wanted to backtrack musically.  Metal Mad is heavy.  It continues the sonic experimentation that Loudness began in the mid 90s.  Though it does contain one undeniable anthem, this album is a heavy grind of metal styles, all very loud.

The opening instrumental “Fire of Spirit” sets the tone with a heavy riff that could have come from one of Loudness’ thrash contemporaries like Megadeth or Metallica…but with far more weight, and with an absolute master on the drums.  There’s a hint of the St. Anger snare, but it does not persist through the album.  Instead the track fades into the anthem of the album:  “Metal Mad”!

“Metal Mad” is a fast, simple track, but damn does it get the job done!  “Forever! Carry on! Turning up the sound and let it roll. Raise your fist up in the sky! The spirit of metal will never die!”  Custom built for the festival crowds.  Akira takes a couple bananas solos as the perfect icing on this sweet piece of metal cake.

But that’s it for that style of metal on this album.  They thrash through “High Flyer” with singer Minoru Niihara’s voice filtered through distortion.  Then it’s a hint of rap metal on the very aggressive “Spellbound #9”.  Funny thing is, Minoru can pull it off.  This is heavy stuff, certainly strong enough to compete with the big name heavy bands that Loudness inspired in the first place.  “Crimson Paradox” takes on groove metal, with a touch of exotic guitar added for spice.

The metal is heavy on “Black and White”, but with lyrics like “bullshit bullshit”, it’s a little too much of the “nu” variety.  Same with the droning guitar and vocal of “Whatsoever”, though the melodic chorus isn’t bad.  “Call of the Reaper” takes things back to centre with a riff similar to “Be Quick Or Be Dead” by Iron Maiden, but within a song that goes in a different direction.  Mental solos!  “Can’t Find My Way” starts promisingly, with quiet experimental guitars, and focuses strongly on vocal melody despite the heavy riffing going on.  In fact the only thing wrong with it is one particular riff that too strongly resembles (ugh) “Loch Ness” by Judas Priest.

The end of the album is heralded by two interesting final tracks, “Gravity” and “Transformation”, both experimental with grooves and great guitar work.  Akira uses so many different tones on this album, often within the same song.  “Gravity” is guitar player nirvana, while “Transformation” even goes a little funky.

Metal Mad ain’t bad.  Its strength is the musicianship.  Metal Mad has the title track going for it, but not a lot of actual memorable songs besides that.  By focusing so much on being heavy, it loses distinction between the songs.

3/5 stars

Easter Memories: Quiet Riot, GI Joe, Alice Cooper, Def Leppard & More!

Just a short show tonight, for those stuck at home this Easter weekend with nothing much else to do! Music, toys, happy memories. Lots of audio/visual aids. Great comments and audience participation.

Quiet Riot, Black Sabbath, David Lee Roth, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, and rare Japanese imports.

Bonus: Couldn’t resist playing some music so we closed with the show with Uncle Meat singing “Fairies Wear Boots” back in 1991 with Heavy Cutting. Thank you for watching!

 

NEXT WEEK:  ANDY CURRAN!