Jeff Watson

REVIEW: Night Ranger – Big Life (1987)

NIGHT RANGER – Big Life (1987 MCA)

This CD was a gift from Tim Durling, and this review is simply a conversation with Tim Durling!

Tim:  Big Life might sound dated to you, it is very 1987 and possibly one of their mellowest albums. Of course I have a soft spot for it, but then I like the band.

Me:  That’s the one I’m popping in now actually.

Tim:  Your Big Life is a fancy 2009 remaster that I’d never seen before. The original was my very first CD back in 1990.

Me:  Oh jeez, it’s the album with “Secret Of My Success!”  Now I have two copies of that song…The booklet is nice, full lyrics.

Tim:  You can file that under guilty pleasure for me, I know it’s cheesy but “worlds collide, and hearts will be broken” damn it’s so catchy.

Me:  Wow, Blades’ name is on every single songwriting credit.

Tim:  Fun fact: there are two different covers, and I didn’t know that till I had Josh from Fans in Motion on my show.  Same band shot, but some copies have less stuff in the background. I love learning stuff like that.

Me:  Interesting. So somebody said “We need to add a spotlight and a wall” to some versions.

Me:  Wow this opening track is very…Umm…Faux-macho.  Sorry, not liking “Big Life” the track.  It’s like when Warrant tried to act tough on “We Will Rock You”.

Tim:  Doesn’t bode well, but I did say it will sound dated to you.  If you’re looking for a more typical catchy Night Ranger tune, I’d recommend “Carry On”, maybe my favourite on this album.

Me:  I’m gonna give it a fair shake.  This guitar solo is great. Gillis?

Tim:  Not always sure who does which solos, all I know is that if you hear crazy whammy bar, that’s Brad.

Me:  “Color of Your Smile” is better.  I like this one.  Very youthful lyric.

Tim:  Wow, I figured you’d hate it.

Me:  No,  there’s something here that reminds me of youthful summers.  Fuck, this is good. Didn’t see this dual solo coming.  OK, so we have a winner here on track 2, good tune.  If I had this as a kid, it would have been the song I played for girls to get them to like me.

Me:  “Love Is Standing Near” – starting well.

Tim:  That’s encouraging.

Me:  It’s the guitar that sets this band apart for me. Puts them a level up.

Tim:  Definitely one of their calling cards.

Me:  Now I’m on the David Foster produced song (“Secret Of My Success”) that we already know my opinion of.  I really hate it.

Tim:  I will accept that, frowning.  But I get it if you didn’t grow up with it.

Me:  It’s like they’re using the ZZ Top Afterburner book of samples

Tim:  With you there, way overboard on the bells and whistles.

Me:  “Carry On” is a little corny, but might grow on me.  Actually…love it…Very Bon Jovi to my ears, but better vocally.

Tim:  Probably why I like it, never made that connection.

Me:  “Better Let It Go” – I like the acoustic, don’t like the drum loops.

Tim:  “Better Let it Go” is a great faux-ballad, sabotaged by Fitz’s unfortunate decision to use the “French horn” patch similar to Don Henley’s “Sunset Grill”.

Me:  It was a thing. I never liked that kind of thing, but it was a thing.

Tim:  Get ready for the French horn patch.

Me:  Oh it’s like House of Lords French horn.  “Under Blue Skies”.   Yup, I hear it.

Tim:  Down at the sunset grill.

Me:  Marillion have some like this too.

Tim:  I have to say I was most apprehensive about your thoughts on this album, so not bad.

Me:  Well, I mean context is important, 1987 was peak synth.

Tim:  Yes.

Me:  Things got toned down in ’88, ’89, ’90 and then of course ’91 killed synth!  …This guitar solo is great.  Why are Gillis and Watson named more frequently on lists individually, rather than as a duo?  Just strikes me, these guys are absolutely up there with the great duos.

Me:  “I Know Tonight” is a little overwrought.

Tim:  Man, I can’t predict shit.

Me:  OK, now it’s kicking in.

Tim:  I thought you’d dig it.

Me:  Now it’s like “Turn On the Night” by Kiss.

Tim:  It is! Good comparison.

Me:  Yeah see this would have been kicking it in my stereo in 1987-88, IF ONLY MUCHMUSIC PLAYED THESE GUYS ON THE POWER HOUR. I never heard this music

Me:  Please tell me they’re not ending this album on a ballad.

Tim:  They’re ending this album on a ballad.

Me:  Ah damn.

3.5/5 stars


REVIEW: Spacewalk – A Salute to Ace Frehley (1996)

Part 5 in a series on Ace Frehley!  Missed the last part, Trouble Walkin’?  Click here!

Spacewalk – A Salute to Ace Frehley (1996 DeRock/Triage)

Just in time for the massive Kiss reunion tour came this tribute CD.  There were several versions of this.  I have the second-coolest of the three:

  • Least cool:  Regular domestic 10 track CD.
  • Second coolest:  Import CD (Europe?) with brand new bonus track by Ace Frehley himself, called “Take Me To the City”
  • Most cool:  Japanese import CD with that and Sebastian Bach’s “Save Your Love”

This is one of those tributes made up of a mish-mash of metal musicians, no real “bands” so to speak, although all are great musicians.  Scott Travis plays drums on most of it (lending an awkward Priest-like vibe to the drums), Charlie Benate plays with Scott Ian on “Rip It Out”, and Vinnie Paul of course plays with Dimebag Darrel on “Fractured Mirror”.  (This site has all the information and credits for the CD.  Enjoy!  You’ll notice the backing band is basically Racer X on most tracks.)

I’m good with every track on here except one:  Bruce Bouillet’s version of “New York Groove”.  I’m not into drum loops in general, and although the track has a funky groove to it, it’s just not my bag.  On the other hand, Scott Ian’s cover of “Rip It Out” is Anthrax-worthy.  Frankie Bello’s on bass, and somebody named Zach Throne sings it with Scott.  Zach nails an authentic Ace-like vocal, while Charlie’s relentless on the drums.  The Anton Fig drum solo is almost exact note-for-note.  As is the signature guitar solo.

Gilby Clarke’s “Shock Me” is one of the better tracks. I don’t usually think of Gilby as a soloist, since in GN’R he didn’t solo.  His soloing style is unlike Ace’s, but he performs an original solo of his own that is appropriate to song.  On the other hand I wouldn’t count “Deuce” by Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth) as a favourite.  The vocal (by somebody called Tom Gattis) is a tad overwrought.   Another “blah” tune is “Snowblind”, performed in a too-modern metally sound by Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys) and Snake Sabo from Skid Row.

Ron Young (Little Caesar, the Four Horsemen) has a soulful but southern sound on “Hard Luck Woman”, an odd choice for a Frehley tribute.  Written by Paul and sung by Peter, the original was created for Rod Stewart to sing!  But it’s as good a cover as any, and I don’t have a lot of other stuff of Ron’s, so I’m cool with this.  Jeff Watson (Night Ranger) is on guitar.

We all knew Sebastian Bach would knock it out of the park on “Rock Bottom”, and he does.  “Rock Bottom” wasn’t written by Ace, but he did write the intro, performed here by Russ Parish of Fight/Steel Panther.  Baz is obviously a huge Kiss fan and the song is in great hands, although the solo’s way too modern.  Still, I wish I had “Save Your Love” too.

IMG_00000627Tracii Guns is passable on “Parasite”, but again I think the song is done in a style too contemporary.  Up next is John Norum of Europe, with “Cold Gin”!  (Hey, two songs in a row written by Ace!)  McMaster is back on lead vocals, not my fave singer in the world.  John is a great guitarist, and this version of “Cold Gin” is heavy with fills.  Some go with the song, some miss the mark.

Dime’s “Fractured Mirror” is perfect, even the production and sound of the acoustic guitar is eerily similar to Ace’s original.  Dime may well have been the biggest Ace Frehley fan in the world. Darrell does throw some of his own personality into the song, but I think foremost on his mind was probably playing the song the way he remembered it.  And he does.

Lastly, “Take Me To the City” is performed by Ace himself, with his crack band:  Steve Werner on drums, Karl Cochran on bass, Richie Scarlet on guitar and backing vocals, and…Sebastian Bach is there too at the end!  This Ace rarity is the best of all reasons to track down this CD.  This is Ace back to a hard rocking Frehley’s Comet sound, with an anthemic chorus.  When Baz shows up at the end, it’s icing on the cake (although you need to turn it ^UP^ to catch him in the fade).

I don’t really buy tribute albums anymore, because I find these mish-mashes of somewhat related artists to be a bit tedious.  Still, it’s pretty solid, and definitely worthwhile to fans of bands like Pantera, Skid Row, or Anthrax.  The Ace bonus track is pretty much a compulsory purchase.

3/5 stars

Soon, we’ll also be talking about another quality tribute album with some surprising guests and alumni.  Stay tuned.