JJ French

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Live at the Marquee (2011)

“Ladies and gentlemen…Twisted mother fuckin’ Sister!”  – Lemmy Kilmister

 

TWISTED SISTER – Live at the Marquee (2011 Rhino Handmade)

First of all, this thing is huge.  There’s a CD in there somewhere.

You already know some of these recordings from the Big Hits and Nasty Cuts CD.  In 2011, finally, after numerous B-sides and compilations, the entire legendary Marquee club show was made available on CD from the fine folks at Rhino Handmade. Coming in this beautiful (but fragile) cardboard die-cut cover, this was so long overdue.  For a long long time people sank many dollars into collecting as many of these live versions as possible.  Few collected all the released tracks, but now the entire show is available.  That means you get all those B-sides plus a bunch of unreleased songs from the gig, including all the talking.

From Lemmy’s now legendary introduction to the final notes of “Feel So Fine”, this is Twisted Sister at their absolute heaviest. When I first heard five of these recordings as the “Nasty Cuts” on the Big Hits (1992) CD, they turned me off a bit. They were too heavy. Too fast. Too ragged. Too punk rock. Not what I was expecting from what I considered to be a pop rock band, back then. However, Dee’s rants made this so difficult to turn off! You never know what was going to come out of Dee’s mouth next.

Eventually I realized, this stuff is actually Twisted Sister at their absolute best! They are in their element and in their glory, playing these songs for the fans and also the haters in the crowd that night, whom Dee addresses frequently.

I’m sure the band won the haters over that night.

The recording is crisp, clear, and powerful. It is in your face.  It feels like you are right there on that stage with the band.  The mix is perfect.  The guitars have good separation and the drums are recorded perfectly.  The vocals are also clear and only slightly overpowered by the stampeding band.

Personal fave: “You Can’t Stop Rock And Roll”. The crowd had never heard this one before, being brand new and unreleased.  Finally I am hearing a version of “You Can’t Stop Rock And Roll” that lives up to the song’s potential. The album version, as great as it is, isn’t as heavy as it was live. This, my friends, is Sister at their absolute best. I’m saying that without a trace of hyperbole. For me, this is it. This is Twisted Sister at their tightest, fastest, heaviest and inspired. The crowd eats it up.

Honorable Mention: “I Am (I’m Me)”, which comes close to the end of the set. Dee’s voice is off on a few notes, but this is rock and roll baby! I’d pay my life savings to be able to sing as well as Dee did that night!  (note: my life savings are not much, but I’d pay ’em anyway.)

Dud: “Leader Of The Pack”. It’s just weird to hear it at a show this insane. It kinda slows things down a bit much (even though it’s so much heavier than the Ruff Cuts version).

5/5 fuckin’ stars!


     

 

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Come Out and Play (1985)

“Twisted Sister…come out and play!”  Happy anniversary to Come Out and Play released on this day 34 years ago.

TWISTED SISTER – Come Out and Play (1985 Atlantic LP & Spitfire CD remaster)

What was a band at the proverbial crossroads to do? Continue along the commercial path of the 3 million copy selling Stay Hungry?  Or revert to the tried and true heavy-as-an-SMF sound of yore?

There was only one dissenting vote.  Bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza felt that putting “Leader of the Pack” on the new album was a mistake.  The other four voted “yes” but some grew to regret it.  Both Dee Snider and J.J. French have since realized the error of their ways.  Today, Come Out and Play is acknowledged as the beginning of the end, though it has its fans and some sturdy tracks to support it.

Twisted Sister recruited Scorpions producer Dieter Dierks and enlisted high profile guest stars like Alice Cooper, Billy Joel, Brian Setzer and Clarence Clemons.  They were top-loaded onto a old-time rock and roller called “Be Chrool to Your Scuel”, and the gamble backfired immediately when MTV banned the music video for its zombies and ghouls.  It’s an interesting track at least.  You don’t hear a sax solo on a Twisted Sister song every day, nor the kind of plucking that Brian Setzer deals in.

“Leader of the Pack” was a failure as well, actually a re-recording of a track that debuted on the Ruff Cuts EP.  The video (starring the then-hot Bobcat Goldthwaite) further painted Twisted Sister as a novelty band.

Tensions, especially between Mendoza and Snider, were amplified.  The songs that sound like they were meant to be “hits” fall far short.  The impression you get from “You Want What We Got” is that it was intended to be a specific kind of hit.  Unfortunately it’s just a repetitive anthem.  “Lookin’ Out for #1” is similarly filler, a song that never quite clicks.

Some tracks maintained a heavy rock presence. They include the anthem “I Believe In Rock and Roll”.  It’s a manifesto for the PMRC generation; a decent attempt that just misses the mark.  “Come Out and Play” features A.J. Pero nailing down a speedy beat, but the production of Dierks neutered the powerful drummer.  Dierks introduced keyboards to some of the tracks, watering them down needlessly.  “The Fire Still Burns” works better than some of the other songs, and despite the production you can hear A.J. is just crushing the kit.  If the backing vocals sound unusually lush, that’s Don Dokken and Gary Holland.  “Out on the Streets” trades the speed in for plaintive melodies, and is the better for it.  Finally “Kill or Be Killed” does what it promises.  Unbelievable that A.J. could play at such a relentless velocity, but he was an absolute beast.

Strangely, some of the best tracks are the ballads.  Dark ballads.  Ballads of depression, of loneliness, of alienation.  “I Believe in You” is the first of two, bolstered by strong melodies and Dee Snider’s enviable pipes.  The one that impresses the most is the CD and cassette bonus track “King of the Fools”.  Although “Kill or Be Killed” ends the album just fine, this coda adds some substance.  Sounding like a man destroyed, Dee sings the melancholy lyrics.

What kind of kingdom has no throne?
No crown or castle do I own,
I don’t have silver gold or jewels,
Yet I’m the king, king of the fools.

It’s surprisingly thoughtful songwriting, complimenting the mournful melodies.  Yet there is a defiant, powerful streak in the choruses.

King of the fools,
Who are these people to cast stones?
King of the fools,
Better a fool than just a clone.

Dee Snider has always resonated with the underdogs, the bullied, the downtrodden.  “King of the Fools” might be the most honest of all those songs.  Some regal guitar melodies by J.J. French and Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda show that they were picking up what Dee was laying down.

Here’s the catch though.  If you’re buying this album, you need “King of the Fools”.  To get it, you’ll want the CD.  But Come Out and Play might be most notable for the album cover you can only get on vinyl.  Open up that manhole cover and out pops Dee Snider in all his…all his…rags.

Heeere’s Dee!

Do what I did.  Get CD and LP, just for the cover.  Everybody needs a pop-up Dee Snider.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Big Hits and Nasty Cuts (1992)

TWISTED SISTER – Big Hits and Nasty Cuts (1992 Atlantic – Canadian CD)

When Twisted Sister split at the end of 1987, they went rather quietly into that goodnight.  No big magazine articles, no solo projects incoming, not until 1992 when Dee Snider finally re-emerged with his new band Widowmaker.  It was a quiet five years, broken only by the low key release of Twisted Sister’s first “greatest hits” compilation in March of that year.

Big Hits and Nasty Cuts was a compilation that both fans and band deserved.  No careless cash grabs here.  In 1992 it’s doubtful that Atlantic thought they’d be making much money off “I Wanna Rock”, one of the biggest cheerleaders of the obsolete generation.  While Kurt Cobain cashed his biggest royalty cheque yet, J.J. French was writing the liner notes for this CD.  (Mark “The Animal” Mendoza did the remastering with Ted Jensen.)

For the era, Big Hits and Nasty Cuts was one of the most fan-friendly, value-intensive CDs on the market.  Even better for American fans, this time they got the bonus track!  The album was split into two sides — the hits and the “nasty cuts”, all rare B-sides recorded at the Marquee club in England.  Fortunately the entire show has since been issued by Rhino, but in 1992, very few fans had the original 12″ singles these songs were sourced from.  Another rarity included was Twisted’s first single, “I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!”  These were first releases for the CD format!  Good thing too, because “I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!” is indelible as any of the hits.

The hits portion of the album isn’t quite predictable.  Would you have expected the heavy metal uppercut “Under the Blade”?  Or the raw “Shoot ‘Em Down”?  Here they are, and thanks to the liner notes, you can find out why.  (Oh fine, we’ll spoil one.  “Under the Blade” was included because it’s been played at every Twisted show since it was written.)  The three biggest hits are present and accounted for.  “I Wanna Rock” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” would be the two hits that everyone knows, and “The Price” is runner-up.

Also present:  “I Am, I’m Me” and “The Kids Are Back” demonstrate Dee’s early knack for melodic songwriting, very punk-like in its simplicity especially when coupled with Twisted’s 4/4 rock.  “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” also had to be here.  Perhaps it’s Twisted’s best metal anthem.  Finally “Be Chrool to Your Scuel” featuring Alice Cooper ends the hits side with the last one chronologically.  (“Bad Boys of Rock and Roll” on the US version.)  There’s no “Leader of the Pack” and no “Hot Love”.  All hail the classic lineup:  Dee Snider – lead vocals.  J.J. French – guitar.  Eddie “Fingers” Ojeda – guitar.  Mark “The Animal” Mendoza – bass.  The late, underappreciated A.J. Pero – drums.  The lineup that set MTV on fire relied on catchy videos, yes, but the songs have survived equally well.

The nasty cuts may just be too heavy for the average listener.  Recorded to 2-track tape, there’s no fixing the mixes here.  The lengthy start to “What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)” includes Lemmy’s intro and plenty of noise. There is no overlap with any other songs on the CD.  “Destroyer” grinds so hard it’s almost a parody of itself.  “Tear It Loose” is out-of-control fast, blowing away the album version.  The US got “Run For Your Life” right after “Tear It Loose”, another fast rendition once it kicks in.  (In Canada, “Run For Your Life” was only on cassette.)  The cover tunes “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Let the Good Times Roll/Feel So Fine” include plenty of crowd interplay.  Just the thing to turn off Joe Average Listener, but amazing to hear the energy of the band and audience that night.

The live cuts really highlight, with 20/20 hindsight anyway, the power of A.J. Pero.  The guy could really kill a drum kit, and his timekeeping is the cornerstone of what made Twisted Sister heavy.

Don’t buy this CD if you’re looking for a party CD.  Buy it because you’re intrigued and want to learn more about a band who doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the world’s most dangerous.  Buy it to check out the rarities and get a taste of what those in the know had in their collections back in 1983.  Buy it because you’re going to get liner notes and photos of band members you never even heard of before.  Buy it because this is a great compilation, done with loving care and value.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – A Twisted Christmas (2006)

TWISTED SISTERA Twisted Christmas (2006 Razor & Tie)

One thing I love about Christmas time is the ability to knock out all these Christmas album reviews.  I can only listen to this stuff seasonally, and I wouldn’t subject you to it otherwise.  In my quest to Review Everything I Own and Then Some, we must occasionally delve into Christmas music.

Rock bands doing Christmas tunes is…well, I mean it worked out OK for Elvis, and then later on Twisted Sister and the guys from Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  Each of those artists had success with Christmas music for good reasons, but I think Twisted Sister’s was purely the novelty value of it.  The humour.  The nudge-nudge-jokey-ness of it.  It wasn’t that they made a Christmas album laden with integrity.  It’s a joke album as the intro implies.

The album commences with Dee & company singing a traditional acoustic version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.  They are then interrupted by someone saying “This isn’t Twisted Sister!”  It then goes metal with a dash a punk.  “Ho ho ho!  Let’s go!”

The biggest joke is that, apparently, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was always just “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” in disguise.  This was the big Christmas hit that put Twisted back in the spotlight, and it’s certainly the most enjoyable track on the CD.

Songs follow vague heavy metal blueprints.  “White Christmas” is imbued with an Iron Maiden gallop and a couple chords from “SMF”.  One thing is clear, and that is Dee Snider’s voice still has it.  The guy is a hell of a singer, period.  He’s joined by Lita Ford on “I’ll be Home for Christmas”, in the style of Twisted’s original epic ballad “The Price”.  Unfortunately this one stinks like Christmas cheese that should have been thrown out last year.  A shouty “Silver Bells” is done with a splash of AC/DC, but ends up sounding more like Poison.  Bassist/producer Mark “The Animal” Mendoza has a pretty kickass bass solo, though.

Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” is the foundation of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, and it is at this point that you realise a whole album of this stuff is a bit too much.  “Let It Snow” is given the doomy treatment, as an amalgam with Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave”.  I suppose the doomy direction does go better with lines like “The weather outside is frightful”.  Maybe Dee & company are on to something here, but I’m not too sure about the Sabbathy version of “Deck the Halls” with echoes of “War Pigs” and “Never Say Die”.

“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” is a little dull, and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is too long, as it often is.  The only version of “Twelve Days of Christmas” anyone needs for a novelty is Bob & Doug McKenzie’s classic.  That’ll make your party pop a lot better than Twisted’s version.

Let’s check some boxes.  Is this album:

  • Fun?  (sometimes)
  • Heavy?  
  • Twisted?  
  • Creative?  

All well and good.  But will you:

  • Listen to it more than once a year?  
  • Enjoy as much as something else you could have played instead?  
  • Be able to use more than one or two songs for your Christmas party?  
  • Ever really look forward to hearing it again?

It is good that A Twisted Christmas brought the band the kind of success they deserved, but it is truly a shame that it is the final Twisted studio album.  They were always considered a joke to the critics, they shouldn’t have gone out on vinyl as a joke.

2/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Live At Wacken CD/DVD

For the consideration of the Heavy Metal OverloRd.


WACKEN_0002TWISTED SISTER – Live At Wacken   The Reunion (2005 Eagle Rock)

Here’s a rare find: A CD/DVD combo pack where the CD is equally worth the price of purchase as the DVD. This package contains an 11 song live album as well as a great DVD concert/documentary. Twisted Sister certainly have risen in the esteem of rock fans since the 80’s. Sister’s resilience has won them over, not to mention their heaviness which was lost on the 80’s crowd.

I will say that I was disappointed when I first bought it in 2005.  It was issued as a dual-disc.  Remember those?  I’ll get into the dual-disc crap at the end of this review.  I later bought a far superior CD/DVD set, and that’s the version that I recommend over the dual-disc.  Regardless of which version you have, at least both have nice big booklets with loads of pictures and some liner notes too.

The DVD is peppered with documentary footage and interviews with all five Twisted members. The documentary covers the entire history of the band, and sheds light on their acrimonious breakup and triumphant reunion. I found Mark Mendoza’s segments particularly interesting as he had the most problems with Dee, and in fact was not on board when TS first reunited in 1990’s. The live program is, of course, great.  It’s well shot, and sounds good.

WACKEN_0003The CD is nice as it’s not just a soundtrack to the DVD, but a standalone live album on its own with 11 tracks total, spanning the early years plus six songs from Wacken. I enjoy this one quite a bit on its own as a live album.  From 1980, “Bad Boys of Rock ‘n’ Roll” through to the rare “You Know I Cry” are all replete with loud n’ dodgy sound.  Then from ’82, “You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n; Roll”.  The Marquee, London:  Yes, that would be earlier than the Live at the Marquee album, recorded in ’83.  The fidelity here is improved, although the band’s on-stage fury goes on unabated.

Finally, six 2003 recordings from Wacken.  It’s not the entire show obviously, which seems a bit of a shame.  Goodies here include personal favourites “I Am (I’m Me)”, “Like a Knife in the Back” and “The Fire Still Burns”.  That last one’s interesting because it’s not really a great track on its album, Come Out and Play.  It’s heavier and better live.  Best of all, Dee’s voice is still in excellent shape.  Everybody ages; that’s to be expected, but I don’t think Twisted Sister have lost a thing with age.

Now, let’s talk about this dual-disc.

This is by far the worst dual-disc I’ve ever tried to play. It certainly looks cool (see gallery below). The DVD side has the TS “bone” logo emblazoned directly on the playing surface. I’ve never seen graphics on the playing surface of a disc before, and it looks awesome. This side plays on all my DVD players, no problem. The CD side will not play correctly on any of my CD players, although it plays fine on my blu-ray player. The CD doesn’t conform to the Red Book standards, which is to say it’s slightly thicker than the CDs that many CD players are designed to accommodate.   It all depends on the tolerances built into the players.  Dual-discs are delicate in the first place, and they should never be played in a front-loading car deck or it could get destroyed along with your deck. In the long run, in order to enjoy the CD on a CD player, I had to buy the damn thing again, this time on the CD/DVD set.

So, great video side, great live album, cool looking disc and package. Dual-disc technology…not so great. Buy accordingly.

5/5 stars (for the CD/DVD combo set)

More TWISTED SISTER at mikeladano.com:

TWISTED SISTER – Live at the Marquee (2011 Rhino limited edition)
TWISTED SISTER – Love Is For Suckers (1987 Atlantic, Spitfire reissue)
TWISTED SISTER – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition)
TWISTED SISTER – Under The Blade (1985 remix)
TWISTED SISTER – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (1984 Atlantic single)

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (12″ single)

This is the third review from the The Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale!  Wes bought me this 12″ single, which was real nice of him.  So for Wes, here’s the review!

For the last review in this series, click here.

TWISTED SISTER  – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (1984 Atlantic single)

I’ll skip the formalities, and I won’t be discussing the single A-side.  What is understood need not be discussed.  On the off chance that you spent your youth in Antarctica, here’s the very clever and original music video (later ripped off by Michael Jackson for his own “Black or White”).

The B-sides are three of Twisted’s all time best, recorded live, and unreleased on CD to date.  All three are classics from You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll:  “The Kids are Back”, “We’re Gonna Make It”, and the album’s title track.  These were recorded live in Poughkeepsie, New York.  Although it seems odd, Dee’s usual spoken opening, “We are Twisted fuckin’ Sister” skipped the expletive.  I’m not sure if it’s edited out or not, for the release of this single.

As far as a single side of Twisted onslaught goes, I don’t know if you could have selected three better songs.  The performances are typical live Sister; fast and reckless.  In other words, perfect.  The live tracks were co-produced by bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza so you know that the band at least had their hands in the mix, too.

Another cool fact:  neither “The Kids are Back” nor “We’re Gonna Make It” are on the Live at the Marquee CD, minimizing overlap with that later release.  They were recorded within the same time frame, so the band is in similar ferocious shape to that great live album.

4/5 stars