japanese imports

REVIEW: The Darkness – Pinewood Smile (2017 Japanese 15 track edition)

THE DARKNESS – Pinewood Smile (2017 Canary Dwarf Japanese printing)

Please welcome Rufus Tiger Taylor to the drum kit!  Son of Roger Taylor (the guy from The Darkness’ biggest influence, Queen), I think we can assume this kid knows his way around a drum set.  It’s the third drummer in three albums for The Darkness.  Original member Eddie Graham was on board for Hot Cakes (2013), but he was replaced by Emily Dolan Davies for Last of Our Kind (2015).

The Darkness are The Darkness are The Darkness — don’t expect them to ditch the operatic vocals or bombastic arrangements.  Pinewood Smile is more of what fans love, perhaps turned up just a little bit louder than before.  Indeed, the second track “Buccaneers of Hispaniola” sounds like The Darkness have been listening to a lot of Queen II on maximum volume.  “Japanese Prisoner of Love” has similar epic Queen inspirations, but melded to a momentous thrash metal riff.

Their penchant for humour remains unabated.  “And we’re never gonna stop shitting out solid gold!” sings Justin Hawkins on one radio-ready rock tune.  “Southern Trains” features the truism “There are fucking assholes everywhere.”  We must assume the trains in the south of England are shite:  “Fuck you, southern trains, we’re not getting anywhere!”

Of course, what would a Darkness album be without a few ballads?  It can’t be all heaviness and gloom.  “Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry?” is a quite lovely acoustic Darkness ballad.  Bright and sunny “Happiness” is the gleeful mood of early Darkness returned.  There are a number of exceptional diverse tracks as well, that defy categorisation.  “I Wish I Was in Heaven” and “Lay Down With Me Barbara” stretch out, incorporating different elements both hard and soft, but always catchy as the plague.  The standard album closer “Stampede of Love” is a folksy “Blackbird”-ish duet with Justin and Dan Hawkins…but stay tuned for a manic unlisted coda!

On to the bonus tracks — four on the deluxe edition, five on the Japanese.  These are a little stranger than the standard album tracks.  What is a “Uniball”?  Ummm…it’s when you have to have one testicle surgically removed.  Yes, The Darkness wrote a heavy metal song about it.  B-side worthy “Rack of Glam” is a decent pun with a punchy chorus.  “Seagulls” is quite exceptional, highlighted by mandolins and a slight celtic flavour.  Maybe the subtitle “Losing My Virginity” is why it ended up as a bonus track.  Also brilliant is “Rock in Space”, the most pompous and bombastic track of the group.

The Japanese exclusive track is a demo of “Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry?”, which is a real treat.  Stripped back to just the basic acoustic arrangement, you can really just listen to Justin and Dan harmonising.  No drums, no bass.  Even though it’s just a demo, you can choose which version of “Why Don’t the Beautiful Cry?” is your favourite, because both have merits.

What Pinewood Smile lacks, compared to previous Darkness albums, is an immediately loveable pop rock standout track.  Something like “She Just a Girl, Eddie” or “Last of Our Kind”.  Pinewood Smile doesn’t have those kinds of songs, but hopefully this means we’ll still be listening to it a year or two later.

4/5 stars

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Gallery: First New Arrivals at LeBrain HQ for the of Summer 2017

We have had a solid rain in Kitchener, Ontario. Not only are the banks of the Grand swollen to the limit, but there has also been a steady rainfall of new arrivals at LeBrain HQ! Summer has officially arrived, and what is summer without new rock?

First we have some gratuity for Mr. Geoff “1001” Stephen. Some surprise mail arrived from him this week: two 7″ singles and some Leafs memorabilia. As Mrs. LeBrain said, “Thank you Geoff Stephen for the wonderful surprise this morning. The calendar brought back so many memories of my favourite hockey year. Go Leafs Go!”

For myself, a Kiss “Christine Sixteen”/”Shock Me” single, which alas is too late to fit into my Love Gun re-review!  Those two songs make it virtually a double A-side.  The other single he sent has a similar standing:  Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town”/”Jailbreak”.  Two singles, four amazing cuts of rock history.

On the same day, I received this from a Discogs seller in Japan:  a CD that has been on my wishlist a long time.  Despite the long wait, I managed to hold off from buying the domestic edition of Ghost’s debut Opus Eponymous all this time.  A sealed copy finally came up on Discogs within my buying threshold, so I jumped at it.  For my rewards, I got “Here Comes the Sun”, Ghost’s Beatles cover…and a very different one it is.

We will jump briefly to new arrivals in the toy department.  Thanks to J. at Resurrection Songs we recently covered the ins and outs of Third Party products.  Behold!  Badcube has released their take on Masterpiece Transformer Insecticons.  These are heavy, heavy toys with lots of diecast and G1 accurate insect modes, with robot modes an homage to the cartoon.  Check them out with their leader Megatron (third party Apollyon) and their original 1985 toys below.  These, by the way, are deluxe collector’s editions with clear plastic and chromed parts for added value.  I’d love to compare them to an official Hasbro Masterpiece Insecticon, but such a thing does not exist.  That’s why third party companies have a niche.  Labels by Toyhax.

Apollyon by X-Transbots with Evil Bug Corps by Badcube

Badcube Claymore and Transformers G1 Shrapnel

Badcube Hypno and Transformers G1 Bombshell

Badcube Kickbutt and Transformers G1 Kickback

Last new entry in the toy Department: I found some new Star Wars Black Series 6″ releases kicking around at the local Toys R Us on Sunday.  I should have grabbed more of the Imperial AT-ACT driver, that one being a Target/TRU exclusive, but sometimes you find those to still be warming the pegs a few weeks later.  The Imperial Death Squad commander will look great with my Stormtroopers, but I feel to ask $30 for one little tiny Jawa figure is a bit much.  They should have included two Jawas or a droid in there for that price.

 

The same day as the Toys R Us trip, I also dropped in at the newly re-opened Sunrise Records at Fairview Mall, which is really starting to come along with great customer service and an improving selection.  I couldn’t browse long, so I leaped immediately to the metal section and grabbed two CDs that I was missing by The Sword:  Low Country (2016) and the new live album Greetings From… (2017).   I am slowly getting caught up on that band — loving everything I have heard so far.

A wonderful week to be sure, but it’s time to stop buying music and toys for a short while, and get ready for Sausagefest 2017.  I finished recording my parts yesterday, and I have inside information that suggests that this Sausagefest countdown will be pretty awesome.

Stay tuned.

 

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Killers (1982 import)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 21:  

  Killers (1982 Casablanca, German and Japanese versions)

No matter how you feel about Kiss’s concept album Music From the Elder, it was a commercial dud.  It was Kiss’ first serious flop as a band since hitting the big time in 1975 with Kiss Alive!  More significantly, it was part of a trend:  Kiss chaos.  Since the solo albums, Kiss were fragmented.  The band weren’t playing on all the songs anymore, and members were leaving.  They had strayed from their music roots and become a comic book novelty act.  The Elder was not so much an album that people didn’t “get”, but one they didn’t care to “get”.  Fans were moving on.

The European record label, Phonogram, was in damage control mode.  They drew up plans to issue an album consisting of new and old songs; a compilation to put some money back in the coffers.  They weren’t mucking around.  They wanted a batch of new rock songs, but Kiss had effectively become a trio.  Ace Frehley hadn’t left the band officially, but he was no longer involved creatively.  Filling the guitar slot again was Bob Kulick.  As he did on Kiss Alive II, Bob played lead guitar on the new songs.  A 1988 book called Kiss: Still on Fire also named Ratt’s Robbin Crosby as a guitar player on the new songs, though this is a claim not backed up in any other source.  Paul provided the new songs, written with old and new friends:  Mikel Japp, Adam Mitchell, and some Canadian guy named Bryan something.  Bryan Adams?  Cuts like a knife indeed!  Adams co-wrote the lethal “Down On Your Knees”, and it wouldn’t be his last songwriting credit with Kiss either.

The best new tune in the batch was called “Nowhere to Run”, and it was one of the rockers that Kiss were working on before they decided to do The Elder instead. The sheer quality of this Stanley-penned underdog really supports the theory that doing The Elder was a mistake.  “Nowhere to Run” was classic Stanley, as good as anything on his solo album and exactly the kind of song that Kiss should have been doing.  In an alternate universe where The Elder never came out, what could have happened to Kiss?  Unfortunately the new compilation called Kiss Killers was never released in North America.   “Nowhere to Run” could do very little to change Kiss’ fortunes without being released in their native country.

The second-finest of the new songs is a little ditty called “I’m a Legend Tonight”.  Paul has somewhat disowned these songs since, but it is really hard to understand why.  This is a hard hitting Paul rocker, as only Paul can do.  It’s all innuendo and hot guitar licks.  The riff is simple and hooky, while Kulick plays for all he’s worth.  No longer was Bob being told to “play like Ace”.  His signature scorch really makes these new songs sound like a continuation of the Paul Stanley solo album.  Then there is “Down on Your Knees”, the one with Bryan Adams’ fingerprints on it.  It’s hard to tell, although it’s not outside the Adams ballpark.  It’s a sleazy rocker, spare and sounding great.  The new tracks were produced by Michael James Jackson, who finally captured Eric Carr’s drums properly.  Bob Ezrin buried them under mud on The Elder.  Kiss Killers sounds more like the real Eric Carr debut album.  The last of the new songs, “Partners in Crime”, is the weakest of the four.  Paul takes it down to a slow sexy grind, but “Partners in Crime” lacks the charisma of the other three.

As far as the new songs could be considered a “comeback”, it’s close but no cigar.  There’s no discernable Demon.  Where is Gene Simmons?  The lack of any audible Simmons vocals makes you question whether he even played bass on the new songs.  Regardless, Kiss is about a balance between Gene and Paul, and Killers represents the first heavy skew towards Paul.

 

The hits on the record make for great listening.  Most of the key bases are covered:  “Detroit Rock City”, “Shout it Out Loud”, “Love Gun”, “God of Thunder” and even “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”.  There are no Peter Criss songs, and the only Frehley is “Cold Gin”, which Gene sings.  The only ballad is “Sure Know Something”, a minor hit in Germany where this album was issued.  In a cool touch, the record closes with the “live” (quotation marks!) version of “Rock and Roll all Nite” that made them superstars.  It is the more well known, and arguably superior version.  (Some of the other tracks are edits or single versions.*)

Kiss’ very first Japanese bonus tracks were on Killers.  The Japanese version is an even better listen.  They put a bonus track in the second-to-last position on each side:  “Shandi” (massive hit in Australia) and “Escape From the Island” (previously unreleased in Japan — it wasn’t included on their version of The Elder).  “Shandi” is just a great fucking song, and “Escape From the Island” is a cool inclusion because of a) its obscurity, and b) its total Ace Frehley shreddery.  It is interesting to note, that only Japan had tracks from the two most recent Kiss albums, Unmasked and Music From the Elder.  The rest of the world did not.  Were Kiss already trying to bury those records?

Periodically, the new songs on Kiss Killers have reappeared on single B-sides, compilations and box sets.  The best way to get them is just to pick up a copy of Killers.  Choose your format, sit back and rock!

Today’s rating:

4/5 stars

* “Shout it Out Loud” is a single version with a different mix on the lead vocals and an early fade.  “Detroit Rock City” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” are edited versions.

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/27

REVIEW: Stephen Pearcy – Smash (2017 with bonus track)

NEW RELEASE


scan_20170226-2STEPHEN PEARCY – Smash (2017 King records, Japanese bonus track)

Everybody needs a little Ratt N’ Roll in their lives.  How much is up to you.  It’s like salt & pepper — season to taste.  But it’s been a while since Ratt released the fine comeback Infestation (2010), and we’re getting the cravings again.  Ratt’s lead throat Stephen Pearcy must’ve known this, because here comes his excellent solo album Smash.

You can hear Zeppelin bleeding through the intro to “I Know I’m Crazy”, and the word “Zepp-ish” comes up again and again when listening to this CD.  Much of the time this is due to the big big performance by ex-White Lion drummer Greg D’Angelo.  “I Know I’m Crazy” has a bit of the new and a bit of the old:  modern drony guitars, but a punchy Pearcy chorus.  Stephen is wise to not just copy Ratt (there are enough people trying that), but to go beyond that sound and into something a little out of left field.  Then if you’re craving those big rawk guitar riffs, “Ten Miles Wide” offers one o’ those and a brilliant chorus to boot.  Guitarist Erik Ferentinos nails a cool George Lynch vibe on one hell of a smoking solo.  But then it’s fully down Zeppelin alley with slippery slide guitars on the impressively authentic “Shut Down Baby”.  “What Do Ya Think” also has that swampy Zep vibe, very Page-y.

With 13 tracks on the standard CD edition, there is plenty of rock, but an artist can always run the risk of an overly-long album.  Not so with Smash!  Stephen Pearcy has the goods, and a diverse batch of songs.  None drag or overstay their welcome; the standard album runs at 47 minutes of diverse rock.  Check out “Dead Roses” for a tune with a heavy Skid Row grind.  “Jamie” and “I Can’t Take It” too rock hard, with roots still in 80s metal.  Then there’s a sleazy Aero-Ratt called “Lollipop” that fits right in.  You can count on a thick, strong sound throughout — check out the slamming and riffy “Want Too Much”.  Bassist Matt Thorn co-produced the album with the band.  Track after track, expect meaty guitars, full sounding drums, and sassy signature Pearcy lead vocals.  There even a power ballad:  “Rain” is awesome, tough and would have been a massive hit in 1985.  Closer “Summers End” is less a ballad and more music for a dark sky.

Of course you don’t have to buy the Japanese version to get Smash, but when you just can’t get enough Pearcy, the import offers an acoustic mix of “What Do Ya Think”.  The song works very well as an acoustic jam session.  Fans would be advised to check it out and choose which version they like best.  However you get it, be sure to get Smash, a fine start to 2017.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: White Wolf – Endangered Species (1986 Japanese CD)

wwesWHITE WOLF – Endangered Species (1986 BMG Japan)

With a name like White Wolf you’d almost expect this band to come from the forests of Northern Ontario or Quebec.  No so; they hail from provincial capital of Edmonton Alberta (pop: 800,000).  So we’ll forgive that the music video for “Shadows in the Night” (from 1984’s Standing Alone) made them looks like outdoors winter survivalists.  Long-haired sidekicks of Les Stroud?  No; they look much more indoors-y on Endangered Species, their second album before disbanding.  The album cover is notable for being a Hugh Syme work, though obviously a lesser one.

They earned some minor video play with “She”, indicating a more keyboardy direction than album #1.  Mushy sounding drums distract from the killer Don Wolf (Don Wilk) chorus.  Akin to Dokken’s “Breaking the Chains”, “She” will appeal to hard rockers who like melody with their guitars.  It’s all about that chorus though, the kind that makes you hit “repeat” and go right back to the start.

White Wolf has a weird 80s metal thud and that combined with harsh production values make Endangered Species sound terribly dated.  Techy keyboard flairs sound lifted from David Bryan’s Slippery When Wet sound library.  Anyone craving mid-tempo 80s hard rock will find enjoyable music on Endangered Species, but few songs have the same impact as “She”.  Dull verses, bland choruses and generic song titles keep things from sticking.  Sub-Jovi with none of Jon’s then-irresistible innocence is a narrow niche.

“Just Like an Arrow” comes close, but the keyboards weigh it down when it should be flying.  Too many bands (Quiet Riot, Stryper, etc.) really let the keys have too much space around this time.  “Cryin to the Wind” has an excellent acoustic intro but not enough of a song to go with it.  The drum samples are obtrusive because they don’t sound natural.  It sounds like a lot of time was taken in the studio but the technology wasn’t up to the task, and everything came out tinny and powerless.  “Holding Back” doesn’t have enough hooks.  “Snake Charmer” steals a title and a hook from Ritchie Blackmore, and appeals as a Rainbow-like understudy.  The only other track besides “She” and “Snake Charmer” that hits the spot is “One More Time”.

Not a terrible album, not a flaming turd…but not a winner either.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Glenn Hughes – Resonate (2016 Japanese version)

scan_20170131-4GLENN HUGHES – Resonate (2016 Frontiers Japan)

Glenn Hughes has been consistently prolific since a mid-90s comeback.  Lean, clean n’ mean, Glenn Hughes has reclaimed his title as The Voice of Rock.  His latest solo album Resonate made numerous top albums of 2016 lists.  The only reason he didn’t make ours is that we were holding out to get the Japanese version with the exclusive track.  In Japan they call him “The God of Voice” and this CD easily demonstrates why.

It is pointless to break this CD down song by song.  They are all incredible.  They represent the kind of hard rock that Deep Purple made famous: riffs, heavy organ, and incredible lead vocals.  In the Deep Purple days, it seemed Glenn’s soulful croon didn’t always fit in with heavy rock, which made them that more unique.  Today, Glenn sounds at home.  Resonate is consistently heavy, and impressive at every turn.  There are no big star names in his band, but Glenn’s old buddy Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers has two guest shots:  “Heavy” and “Long Time Gone”, the opener and closer on the standard tracklist.  Smith is always a joy to listen to, and when he works with Glenn, it’s the heaviest Chad Smith gets.  Glenn on bass and Chad on drums:  it seldom gets better than that.

Everyone will pick their own favourites, but one that we can’t put down is “Landmines”.  The funky electric boogie is one of the album highlights; a real hard rock dance number to get down to.  On “Landmines”, Glenn’s current self meets his 70s persona.  That should create a time travel paradox, but it doesn’t.  All it fuels is one hell of a boogie woogie oogie.  Runner up:  “Steady”.  But any of these songs can slide in and out of the top spot on a given day.

The Japanese bonus track is an acoustic version of the ballad “When I Fall”.  In some respects it’s better than the album version, but it’s all just a matter of taste.  The Zeppelin-like mellotron is delightful.  The only bummer is that the Japanese version doesn’t have the song “Nothing’s the Same”.  That’s OK; the domestic version of Resonate has that and a bonus DVD.  It’s a killer acoustic cover of a lesser known Gary Moore song, and it is worth buying the album again for.  It doesn’t matter which version you go for.  Resonate kills.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Extreme – Saudades de Rock (2008 European & Japanese editions)

scan_20170115-2EXTREME – Saudades de Rock (2008 Frontiers in Europe, Victor in Japan, with exclusive bonus tracks)

Extreme were one of those bands that always seemed to resist reuniting. Nuno didn’t seem interested, or was too busy with Perry Farrell and Rihanna. When they finally did get the band back together, they did it right with a few tours and a new album to prove they still had the goods. 2008’s Saudades de Rock (Portuguese for “Nostalgic Yearnings of Rock”) earned positive reviews from rock critics.  It did moderate sales but the important thing was that it was good.

Immediately “Star” reminds us why Extreme were special in the first place:  Those harmonies, the good time Halen-inspired riffs, the kick-ass singer and a solid beat. Gary Cherone’s voice has aged well, coming over as a cross between Sammy Hagar, Freddie Mercury and Paul Stanley (good company to be in).  This song best exemplifies the “nostalgic yearnings of rock”, as the arrangement could have come from 1990.  Extensive (jaw-dropping) solos and a big chorus immediately remind us why this band was so critically acclaimed 25 years ago.

It’s not all longing for days gone by.  “Comfortably Dumb” concentrates its focus on the groove, like a bizarre cross between Soundgarden and the Trews.  The space-age guitar work by Nuno Bettencourt separates it from anyone else.  His style has matured nicely but still makes you wonder just how the hell he does it.  His machine-gun guitar riff on “Learn to Love” does the same.  It’s not all trickery:  these are also great compositions, with challenging rock arrangements.  Time changes and flurries of notes keep it interesting.  The middle section gives all the members a little time to shine including new drummer Kevin Figueiredo.

The first knuckleball is thrown on “Take Us Alive”, a genuine electric bluegrass shuffle.  Remember Extreme always prided themselves in their diversity, modeling themselves after Queen who were unafraid to do anything.  “Take Us Alive” is a new step for Extreme who have never gone this twangy.  Unsurprisingly they mastered this direction too.  A saucy funk rocker called “Run” goes in another direction, akin to Queen’s own funky experiments, just heavier.  Like Queen, Extreme topped it with a fine melodic chorus, but stay tuned for a superb outro.

“Last Hour” is not a ballad; more of a heavy dirge.  Nuno takes a quiet solo full of volume swells before going full shred. He then rips a page from the book of his solo album with the punky “Flower Man” (I say “punky” rather than “punk” since few genuine punk songs have a blazing Nuno Bettencourt guitar solo).  “King of the Ladies” is something else entirely, featuring Nuno on lead vocals.  It’s trippy, slinky, drony, modern and sultry with smoking instrumental sections and sounds like nothing else you can think of.  Few bands can take so many directions on one album and have it sound like a cohesive whole.

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Every Extreme album has at least one ballad, and “Ghost” is a wonderful continuation of this tradition.  With the focus on the piano, it’s a reprieve in the relentless guitar assault that makes up the majority of Saudades de Rock.  You have heard this sound before on albums like Extreme III.  We then visit the Houses of the Holy with “Slide” which possesses the unmistakable Zeppelin funk.  You’ll be wondering, where’s that confounded bridge?  The riff is a wink and a nod to “Sweet Emotion” and there is definitely some of that Aero-groove mixed with the Zoso Magic.

An acoustic reprieve is offered with “Interface”, a floaty ballad that fits this leg of the running order.  It merges into the funk-Halen of “Sunrise”, a nice heavy track before “Peace (Saudades)” takes us out on a dreamy, Queen-like ballad.  Yes that’s a lot of ballads late in the game and on paper it shouldn’t work.  It does because Extreme are consummate balladeers (each one being different) and successful composers of album-length works with a start, middle and ending.  “Peace” is a triumph and uplifting finale.

There are two bonus tracks available at the end of different versions of Saudades de Rock.  Both are old demos from the vaults, ancient relics of a pre-fame Extreme.  It’s a cool idea to release old unheard songs as bonus tracks, though unorthodox.  “Mr. Bates” (1986) is exclusive to Japan only.  It’s something like seeing old baby photos, or highschool yearbook grad pictures.  You wince and think “Well, they were young.”  Even so young, Nuno obviously had more talent than the average bear.  Europe got the better song “Americocaine” (1985), which shows off that blend of Gary and Nuno’s voices that, one day, would earn them millions.  You could imagine “Americocaine” showing up at the end credits of a minor 80s action movie.

Extreme played to their strengths, didn’t try to repeat anything from the past, while giving fans exactly the kind of album they needed.  The bonus tracks don’t fit, but who says a “bonus track” has to fit?   These are bonuses in the truest sense.  Rare little treats you can’t find anywhere else.  Any fan of the 1989 debut album Extreme will love them, because that is the era they resemble.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Extreme – Pornograffitti Live 25 (2016 Japanese 2 CD set)

scan_20170114-4EXTREME – Pornograffitti Live 25 (2016 Victor Japan 2 CD set)

When you hear that an album like Pornograffitti (which defined one of our teenage summers) turned 25 last year, don’t it make you feel old?  Maybe you haven’t played it in a while.  (If you haven’t, here is a refresher course.)  It was one of those discs that had appealing songs from start to finish, each different from the last.  All 13 songs (14 if you include the solo “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”) are reproduced in sequence on this new live CD release, fresh from a hot show in Vegas in 2015.  You can buy a blu-ray or DVD of the concert too, but CD collectors will want to spring for this Japanese double set.  On a second disc you get “Play With Me” (given more exposure in the movie Air Guitar Nation) and “Cupid’s Dead”, normally exclusive to the video version.  The total package is close to an hour and a half of some of Extreme’s best songs.  The Japanese printing also has its own cover art, though no other exclusives.

The familiar taped intro of rain and piano inaugurates the “funked-up fairy tail” that is Pornograffitti.  “Trying so hard to keep up with the Joneses!” begins Gary and and the Vegas crowd knows all the words.  With Nuno Bettencourt and Pat Badger helping out, the Extreme vocals are nice and thick live.  The sound is beefy goodness, wound up in electric guitar strings.  Kicking it on drums, Kevin Figueiredo keeps things pretty close to the way original drummer Paul Geary did it.  “Decadence Dance” is sincerely good nostalgia.

Following the vague storyline of the original album, “Lil’ Jack Horny” shows up amidst shimmery guitar harmonics and a funky lil’ riff.  The horn parts (tapes?) jack up the funky little guitar number, which carries over to “When I’m President”.  Nuno squeaks and squonks while Gary waxes poetic.  “So go ask Alice, ah you know what he said?  What did he say — remember, I wanna be elected?”   Maybe one day Gary, because it is indeed true:  just about anyone can be president!  Cherone promises that things’ll be different.  You can even be in his cabinet!

The funk peaks (obviously) on “Get the Funk Out” which remains as silly and fun as it was 15 years ago.  (Listen for a little bit of a lyrical modernization from Nuno!)  It’s pure live smoke only slowed down by the obligatory audience participation section.  This appropriately segues into “More Than Words”, which is slightly more than a singalong.  Stripped naked of the loud guitars, Nuno and Gary can still harmonize as clean and perfect as they always have.

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“Money” resumes the rock, as Gary bemoans the modern worship of the almighty dollar.  Nimbly killing it on both guitar and harmonies, Nuno Bettencourt is a super hero.  He does it again on “It (‘s a Monster)”, a stock album track that goes from point A to point B at top speed.  Some real gems start showing up a in steady string from there.  “Pornograffitti” possesses some serious funk metal riffage and guitar tricks, performed at an unbelievable level of rock supremacy.   Then it is time for the slow jazz lounge croon “When I First Kissed You”.  Piano flourishes and Figueiredo on brushes lend it a really pretty dusky sound.

“And now back to our regularly scheduled program!” shouts Gary as Extreme once again puts on their rock and roll shoes.  It’s time for “Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)”, another funky rock combo.  Nuno plays some of the fastest licks ever attempted, but that is mere warm-up, for next is “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”, the legendary guitar instrumental that re-defined the guitar instrumental for a short while.  There is no time to recover because it’s straight into “He-Man Woman Hater”.  This Van Halen-like blast contains some of Nuno’s finest fret abuse.

Pornograffitti was also a little different, and one aspect of that is that it ended with two ballads.  Historically that has been demonstrated as a risky way to end an album, but Extreme pulled it off by using two that were different from any of the others on the CD.  “Song For Love” was a big pompous Queen-like anthem, and you can all but see the lighters and cell phones waving in the air.  “Hole Hearted” was the memorable acoustic closing number, great for campfires and rock concerts alike.  Live is just as solid as the studio original.

Onto to the Japanese bonus CD with its two bonus tracks.  “Play With Me” has always been a bit of a novelty, but notable for its sheer velocity and Mozart-a-go-go guitar dexterity.  Few players have chops like these.  “Cupid’s Dead” is a set highlight – heavy, funky and progressive at times.  Extreme III deserves as much praise as Extreme II: Pornograffitti so it is quite pleasing to have this adventurous track close.

Bravo to Extreme for making this trip back in time a real treat.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Extreme – Running Gag (Japanese EP)

scan_20170112EXTREME – Running Gag (1995 A&M Japan)

You’ve read it here before, and we’ll repeat it again:  Japan gets the best stuff!

While the UK got the regular CD single for the song “Unconditionally” (four tracks), Japan called it the Running Gag EP and added a fifth track.  Due to various chart regulations in the UK, singles had to have four or less tracks to qualify.  Meanwhile, Japan seems to love releasing exclusive EPs and Running Gag is one such exclusive that Extreme fans will want to hunt down.

Extreme’s fourth album, 1995’s Waiting for the Punchline, was as much a treat as the prior albums.  It was as different from them as they are from each other.  This time, they went raw and stripped down.  You can usually hear only one guitar track at a time.  “Unconditionally” was the closing ballad, a fantastic song presented here as an edited remix.  Mike Mangini was added on drums, and you can hear slight differences from the album track.  Had the year been 1991, they would have had another hit on their hands.  Fans who know the song will recognize it for its heart and charm.

Three live songs with Mike Mangini on drums are the real treat of the set.  (He gets a chance or two to really smoke.)  “Am I Ever Gonna Change” from Extreme III is the middle part of their side-long epic “Everything Under the Sun”.  It worked well enough as a standalone song to be released as a promo single, and to be played live.  For the live situation, Nuno souped up his guitar solo.  Without the backing orchestra the album version has, it’s a very different sound.  Such is the danger of recording an album that is difficult to reproduce live.

The two tracks from Waiting for the Punchline sound more at home on stage.  “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” (the Japanese exclusive) and “Naked” have a mean, catchy vibe.  Extreme were one of very few hard rock bands that adapted their sound well to the grunge onslaught.  These songs are not “grunge”, but they represent a step in that direction.  The songs have more bite, more bass, more groove.  The solos are sparse, though Nuno puts his foot to the gas pedal when required.  Without sounding dated Extreme simply pivoted just so into the 90s, but it sadly didn’t equal sales.

The final song is a studio ballad, “When Will it Rain” which has a vague Wings sound crossed with smooth Extreme balladeering.  It’s actually quite a great little bonus track.  Its quaint 70s qualities might not have fit in well on the original album, but hopefully you will have a chance to hear it in your travels.

Good little EP, just shy of great.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: KISS – Monster (Japan Tour Edition bonus CD)

This review is for reader Juan, from Spain — thank you for reading!

KISS – Monster (Japan Tour Edition, 2013 Universal Japan)

In my 32 years of collecting music, I have learned a number of immutable laws of the hobby.  The Three Laws of Collecting are:

The First Law:  Japan shall always get the best stuff.
The Second Law:  Anything worth releasing is worth re-releasing.
The Third Law:  Kiss fans shall buy anything, often more than once.

The Three Laws of Collecting are why I now have purchased my fifth copy of Kiss Monster.  The album came out in 2012, meaning I have bought more than one copy per year since its release:  Original CD, vinyl, iTunes, Japanese CD, and now this 2 CD Japan Tour Edition, which has all the tracks from all the versions, and then some.

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This is not a review of Monster; we have reviewed that album twice now (once by Mike Ladano and once by Tommy Morais).  Rather this is a review of the Tour Edition’s second disc, which is a pretty cool “best of” collection covering a very nice chunk of Kisstory.  What can another greatest hits possibly offer?  Believe it or not, the Monster Tour Edition has a slightly different slant that might be interesting to die-hards.

This is the first time “Psycho Circus” has opened a Kiss compilation.  It was their tour opener in 1998-99 and so naturally fits this slot.  It was one of the stronger tracks from Psycho-Circus itself, which was otherwise a pretty disappointing reunion album.  Mainly because Peter and Ace barely played on it.  Indeed, on this track you will get Kevin Valentine on drums and Tommy Thayer on guitar, uncredited.  That said, the track still kicks ass and has proven to be the only song from that album that still gets played now and then.

I’m always happy to hear oldies like “Let Me Go, Rock ‘N’ Roll” on a hits CD.  The same goes for “Black Diamond”, one of the more epic Kiss tracks.  These old album cuts might not be as well known to casual fans and might surprise even Kiss haters.  However, no casual fan or Kiss hater is going to be hearing the Monster Tour Edition.  So the die-hards again will be hearing “Shout it Out Loud”, “Rock and Roll all Nite”, “Detroit Rock City”, “God of Thunder”, “Love Gun” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” for the umpteenth time.  Mixed in among these are some of the second-tier hits from the 80’s:  “I Love it Loud”, “Lick It Up”, “Heaven’s On Fire”.  The exact mixture of ingredients is different, but these songs have been on best-of CDs by Kiss before.

The one unique inclusion is “Say Yeah” from 2009’s Sonic Boom, its first appearance on a hits disc.  Its place here is deserved.  Sonic Boom represented a strong return to the studio for Kiss after a decade long absence.  “Say Yeah” was one of three songs played live in concert, and sounds the most like a timeless Kiss anthem.  (Sonic Boom was represented on the last greatest hits compilation, Kiss 40, by “Modern Day Delilah”.)

Finally there is the riffy “Right Here Right Now” which was previously the iTunes bonus track for Monster.  A physical copy is always better, and a Japanese high quality HMCD is even better than that.  And don’t worry — the original Japanese bonus track, a live version of “King of the Night Time World” from the Rock the Nation tour, is still intact on disc one.  (More on that in the video below.)

This version of Monster is finally the definitive one with all the tracks in one place.  The bonus hits disc is some pretty awesome icing.  When you have as many hits discs as Kiss do, you may just wonder “what’s the difference”?  Each one is different in its own often minor ways, and fans who appreciate this stuff will enjoy hearing a couple unique tunes for a change.

The only flaw with this HMCD reissue is that it lacks the original 3D lenticular cover. That is a bummer. I simply kept my original cover (it is a separate piece you can take out) from a prior version of Monster which I later gifted to a friend.  In fact that friend reviewed the single disc Japanese Monster!

I must add another law to my Three Laws of Collecting:

The Zeroth Law*:  You shall always have some buyer’s regret.

It is true.  I had all these songs before.  The only one I didn’t have physically was the iTunes download “Right Here Right Now”.  But I “had” to have it.  I could question that.  “You could have put that money towards some new tires”.  The CD could have paid for a week of lunches at Harvey’s.    A fool and their money?

I’m fine with that.

$/5 stars

*I didn’t make that word up.  Isaac Asimov added the Zeroth Law of Robotics to his Three Laws in 1985.