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REVIEW: Helix – Wild in the Streets (1987, Rock Candy remaster)

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Canadian Rawk week continues with a double dose of HELIX! Boppin at boppinsblog reviews the same record today. For his review, click here!

HELIX – Wild in the Streets (1987 Capital, 2011 Rock Candy remaster)

Before this handy-dandy 2011 Rock Candy reissue, Wild in the Streets was an exceptionally hard album to find on CD.   By the time I started working at the Record Store in 1994, it was already long deleted.  I had a pretty neat cassette version, with a glow in the dark shell, but the sound was pretty muddy and warbly.  The CD finally fell into my lap thanks to a kind hearted customer named Len, who picked it up for me at a rival store.  The full story of this rare item and the quest to find one was told in Record Store Tales Part 234:  Wild in the Streets.  Since I’ve already told that story, no further background is necessary and we can cut to the chase.

It has been well documented, both in Brian Vollmer’s book Gimme An R and the fine liner notes in this CD, that Wild in the Streets was not an easy album.   This album had to make it, or Helix’s deal with Capital wasn’t going to be renewed.  They had trouble coming up with songs.  They recorded overseas with a disinterested producer (Mike Stone).  The album was mixed and remixed again, until Stone had to demonstrate to the guys that they had lost perspective and couldn’t tell one version from another anymore.  Other stressors added to the pressure, but finally some singles were selected and videos filmed.  Time to rock!

The action-packed video for the title track made quite an impression. The high-flying Helix were (and are) one of the most exciting live bands around. The video perfectly fit the music, an unforgettable rock anthem about turnin’ on the heat and going wild in the streets. It was written by guitarist Paul Hackman and his friend Ray Lyell, a Canadian solo artist gaining success at the time. This kickin’ track represented a high point for Helix; never before had they combined the rock with catchy melody like this. MuchMusic gave it plenty of exposure, but it failed to jump the border and make an impact down south.

To make up for a shortage of originals, Helix recorded some covers. FM’s “Never Gonna Stop the Rock” was a funky dud. According to the liner notes, the band didn’t particularly like the song either. Manager Bill Seip chose it among many submissions, and on the album it went, because nobody had any better ideas. Nazareth’s “Dream On” was a much more natural fit. Helix always had a way with tender ballads; witness their success with “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”. An inspired choice like “Dream On” works well as a Helix song, in fact up here in the Great White North, I daresay the song is associated more with Helix than Nazareth. It’s hard to say who plays the subtle keyboards and piano, as three players are credited on the album: Sam Reid from Glass Tiger, the legendary Don Airey, and Helix bassist Daryl Gray. Dr. Doerner brought up his huge doubleneck for the video, an image burned in our memories. Doerner had to be the coolest looking guy on the scene, he had the star quality.

“What Ya Bringin’ to the Party” is the question, on another Lyell/Hackman original. The slicker production of Wild in the Streets doesn’t really do it any favours. If it had been on an earlier album like No Rest for the Wicked (and been a teensy bit faster), it could have been a sleezey rock classic. “High Voltage Kicks” is better because it delivers what it promises. This sounds like Helix to me. It’s fast, high-octane, and recommended for head banging. You’ll want a breather afterwards, which is good because it’s time to flip the album over to Side Two.

Scan_20160211 (2)Ready to “Give ‘Em Hell”? Helix are, and this is a good quality album track to do it. It fits that mid-tempo rock niche that Helix often call home. It’s back to hot flashy rock on “Shot Full of Love”, a Vollmer/Doerner co-write with some pure lead guitar smoke. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s his twin brother Brian laying waste on the drums. Brian Doerner is one of four drummers credited, including Mickey Curry, Matt Frenette, and of course Helix skinsman Greg “Fritz” Hinz. “Love Hungry Eyes” is one of the strongest songs in the bunch, and I think if there was to be a third single, it would have been “Love Hungry Eyes”. Brian Vollmer kicks this one right in the ass. I don’t think Helix get enough credit for their background vocals, but all five members sing. Brent Doerner has a unique voice and when the Helix backing vocals kick in on the chorus, you get a whallop of the Doctor right in the ears. That’ll cure what ails ya.

Joe Elliot of Def Leppard contributed “She’s Too Tough”, but then the shit hit the fan. Leppard’s label (Polygram) were terrified of Elliot competing with the soon-to-be released Hysteria album. Even though “She’s Too Tough” never passed the demo stage and was never in consideration for Hysteria, the label was so afraid that they were going to force Helix to remove it from their album. A compromise was reached: Helix could keep the song for their album, but could not release it as a single.  As such, you’ve probably never heard Helix’s version of it.  Leppard eventually recorded a proper version for a single B-side (“Heaven Is“) and it has become the more famous of the two.  That’s too bad, because Helix’s version is far more adrenalized, pardon the pun.

“Kiss It Goodbye” inspired the infamous Helix tour shirt that I would never have been allowed to buy or wear to school!  The song, another Doerner/Vollmer rocker, was unforgettable in concert.  It’s still a barnstormer on CD, certainly one of the most memorable tracks from this era.  The album is over and out in under 40 minutes, but you’ll probably have lost a couple pounds in sweat, if you were rocking out properly during those 40 minutes.

Unfortunately for Helix, despite a great live show featuring their fancy new stage set, the album failed to perform and the writing was on the wall.  Morale took another blow when Brent Doerner told the band that he was leaving.  The guitarist had been there since 1975.  He was integral to every album they made, and he was a charismatic personality on stage.  What were a band to do?  If you’re Helix, you do what you have always done.  You keep on givin’ ‘er.  They responded to this dire time with one of the best albums of their career.

Wild in the Streets was the end of an era.  It was also the last Helix album of the 1980’s.  With the benefit of hindsight, Wild in the Streets capped the decade off properly.  Mushy production aside, it was a strong collection of songs that probably could have been presented better.  Too bad!

3.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Def Leppard – Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (Japanese import)

For Aaron’s KMA review of this same album, click here!

DEF LEPPARD – Songs From the Sparkle Lounge (2008 Deluxe edition, Japanese version)

Could it be? The band who I once wrote off with the Euphoria album, followed by the dismal X, actually came back with something approximating a rock album! And not a bad rock album at that!

The band say that doing the covers album Yeah! revitalized them. Maybe. Personally I thought the covers album sucked, and that the dozen or so bonus tracks available elsewhere were way better than the actual album they released. Whatever. That was then and this is now, inside the Sparkle Lounge.

Terrible title, although I liked the single-disc cover art quite a lot. We know Def Leppard are more of a glam band than a metal band. The problem is, they were such a great metal band! High ‘n’ Dry is a masterpiece of riff-rock. Anyway, if you can forget High ‘n’ Dry, On Through The Night, or even Pyromania, you can get into Sparkle Lounge for what it is: A strong ballad-free return for one of the most beloved rock acts of the last two decades. Even Joe Elliot decided to show up this time, and sing to the best of his ability.

Very few weak tracks, lots of strong ones. “Go”, “Love”, “Hallucinate”, “Tomorrow”, “Only The Good Die Young”, “Bad Actress”…there is some serious fire happening here on these tracks! But the band saved the best new song for last. “Gotta Let It Go” has a riff and melody that fit right in with Def Leppard’s earlier sound. Only the occassional drum programs betray the thunder.

One song that I would call a weak track is the single “C’Mon C’Mon”.  In my review from the 12″ vinyl single, I called it a “crap song”.  It’s a shameless T-Rex rip-off, and also a Def Leppard rip off.  Next!

Japanese bonus tracks are disappointing in the sense that they are not different songs, just different mixes. “Nine Lives” appears without Tim McGraw (this is my preferred version as nu-country is like kryptonite to me and would probably kill me if I was overexposed). “Love” appears as a powerful piano version, in some ways superior to the original, but turning it into a ballad dilutes the purpose of this album.

I have no comments as to the SHM-CD. It sounded the same to me. I guess these things are supposed to last longer? The DVD includes the music video for “Nine Lives” (yuck), an album commentary and a “behind the scenes” feature.  For me, the all-region NTSC DVD contents and the lacklustre packaging don’t really  justify the existence of a “deluxe edition”.

So, whatever went right, this is the best Def Leppard album since the criminally underrated Slang in 1996. It could be the heaviest album since Pyromania. It’s far from perfect, but the good news is you can play it in the car with the windows down and nobody will laugh at you.

3.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “C’Mon C’Mon” (12″ picture single)

It’s the end of the WEEK OF SINGLES 2! Hope you enjoyed! I thought I’d save a recent and expensive acquisition for last.

Monday: Dream Theater – “Lie” (CD single)
Tuesday: Jimi Hendrix – “Valleys of Neptune” (7″ single)
Wednesday: Them Crooked Vultures – “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” (10″ single)
Thursday: Megadeth – “Creepy Baby Head” (“Crown of Worms” CD single)
Friday: CD Singles (of every variety) featuring T-Rev

DEF LEPPARD – “C’Mon C’Mon” (2008 12″ Mercury picture single)

This one was a gamble. It was not cheap to ship. All I had to go by was the non-descript B-side “Rocket” (Live). No indication of where or when. It could have been the live version previously released on the “Rocket” single back in ’88. Or more likely, it could be the live version later released on the Mirrorball CD. On that disc, recordings are noted as “Recorded at various points around the world, in the not so distant past.” Thanks for the specifics guys.

I don’t know what prompted me to hit the “buy” button given the uncertain B-side and price.  Maybe it was instinct.  Maybe it was that Mrs. LeBrain was out of the house.  Either way, in a couple weeks I had this rare 12″ picture single in my hot little hands.

Unfortunately it’s not much to look at: a Def Leppard logo on a black background.  On the other side…the track listing on a black background with a grey clover leaf!  Somebody at Mercury Records had no concept of what a picture disc can be!

Anyway, music trumps packaging. I don’t care about the A-side. It’s a crap song, let’s be honest. It’s Def Leppard trying be T-Rex for the umpteenth time. I care about the B-side. Upon first listen it was immediately obvious that this is an otherwise unreleased live version of “Rocket” and a great one at that. Unlike the mere 4:29 version on Mirrorball, this one is the fully extended version that Def Leppard sometimes play.

This extended performance of “Rocket” features an excellent Vivian/Phil guitar duel. At one point, Viv is positively in “Holy Diver” territory. It’s brief but it’s there and it’s unmistakable. This series of solos demonstrates one of the things I love about the guitar players in Def Leppard: they can shred when they want to! Then, after a brief segue, Joe Elliot breaks out “Whole Lotta Love” just as he did on the ’88 live version.

For the B-side:  5/5 stars
For the A-side and picture disc: 2/5 stars
Average: 3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Hello America” / “Good Morning Freedom” (single)

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HELLO AMERICA FRONT

DEF LEPPARD – “Hello America” / “Good Morning Freedom” (1980 Vertigo/Phonogram)

“Hello America” was the third of three singles from Def Leppard’s debut album, the first two being “Wasted” and “Rock Brigade”.  Like many kids in the late 80’s, I first heard the song “Hello America” on Def Leppard’s video anthology, Historia.  It was a weird video, with Rick Allen’s drums up front and the band in behind!  Nobody would ever say that this was one of Def Leppard’s all time best songs, but it’s catchy with a driving riff.  Joe Elliot hadn’t really found his voice yet.  This is standard hard rock, but not outstanding.  The guitar solo by Steve Clark is quite excellent.

Please note, Leppard’s first single for “Wasted” had an alternate recording of “Hello America” on the B-side.  This is not that version.  This is the standard album version.

The B-side, like the A-side, was produced by (Colonel) Tom Allom who had also produced Judas Priest’s British Steel around the same time.  “Good Morning Freedom” was not on the On Through the Night LP, however.  This is an exclusive track.  Just over three minutes long, “Good Morning Freedom” is a good song, much in the same vein as the rest of Leppard’s music at the time.  “Good Morning Freedom” (parsed as “Goodmorning Freedom” on the vinyl itself) is very New Wave of British Heavy Metal in style.  It almost sounds like an Iron Maiden B-side from the same period.  The track boasts a driving rhythm, rock-solid riff, but also another shaky Joe Elliot lead vocal.  Not an outstanding song, but most definitely collectible.  The tune is credited to Elliot, Clark, guitarist Pete Willis and bassist Rick Savage.  It’s notable for its Rick Allen drum intro.

Not a bad single, comes with a picture sleeve, and rocks harder than their later material.

3/5 stars

Def Lep playing “Good Morning Freedom” in Vegas as part of Viva! Hysteria

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Acoustic Medley 2012” (iTunes single)

Acoustic Medley

DEF LEPPARD – “Acoustic Medley 2012” (iTunes single)

Def Leppard have released the second in their series of iTunes re-recordings.  The first, a double single of “Pour Some Sugar”/”Rock of Ages”, was a pretty straight “forgery” (to use Joe Elliot’s phrase).  The second, entitled “Acoustic Medley 2012” is exactly what it sounds like it would be.  Apparently, Leppard were playing this medley live, and decided to commit a studio version to tape.

The songs in the medley are: “Where Does Love Go When It Dies”, “Now”, “When Love and Hate Collide”, “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”, and “Two Steps Behind”.  Total time:  7:32.  The first two songs in the medley, I give Def Lep full points for.  I’ve always been a sucker for the Slang album, so to hear something from Slang again, is just…wow.  Maybe this is being done to pre-hype the Slang deluxe edition due 2013, eh?

“Now”, and the X album in general I’ve never been a huge fan of, as I made clear in my review.  I give the band credit for putting “Now” back out there, since they rarely touch that album anymore.   I’m all for obscure material being resurrected.

The other three tunes in the medley are a bit ho-hum, but taken as a whole it’s incredible how well they all work together.  “Two Steps Behind” gets the majority of time in the medley, a song that I really never need to hear again.  It’s pretty much identical to the standard version from the Retro-Active CD.

As mentioned, this is an iTunes-only release, but I’d love to see a physical product.  Limited edition vinyl?  I would buy that.  Are you listening, Joe?

4/5 stars