Keith Olsen

REVIEW: Kingdom Come – 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection

KINGDOM COME – 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection (2003 Universal)

Kingdom Come are a German/American band that rose from the ashes of Stone Fury.  For those who may not remember, Kingdom Come were quite infamous in their day.  Gary Moore wrote a song called “Led Clones” (with Ozzy singing lead) about Kingdom Come and bands of their ilk who were seen to be milking the now defunct Zeppelin cow.  The “Led Clones” riff directly aped “Kasmir” by Zeppelin, as did Kingdom Come’s lead single “Get It On”.  A little Zeppelin influence is fine, but Kingdom Come enraged Jimmy Page himself when one of their guitarists claimed he’d never heard a Led Zeppelin album.

The Zeppelin angle was one direction that Kingdom Come exploited in their early days, and though they grew out of it by their second album, the damage had been done. Their nickname became “Kingdom Clone”, the punchline of many jokes. This is why a simple 20th Century Masters compilation may be all the Kingdom Come you actually need.  Herein you will find all but one of their hits, and a fair few tracks from their first three studio albums.  Two guys from this band ended up in Warrant:  Rick Steier and James Kottak, who is also the longest-serving drummer that the Scorpions have ever employed.  By the third album, the original lineup had completely dissolved leaving singer Lenny Wolf the sole original member.

The one missing hit is a track called “Loving You” from the first LP, an acoustic ballad, sort of a sub-“Battle of Evermore”.  The other hits are here:

  • “Get It On”, the single that made them famous, which wears its Zep influences on its sleeves.
  • “What Love Can Be”, essentially Lenny Wolf’s transparent rewrite of “Since I’ve Been Loving You”.
  • “Do You Like It”, the first single from sophomore album In Your Face.

Lenny could have gotten away with some of the Zeppelin references if he didn’t try to sing so many Plant-isms.  You can only ma-ma-ma so much before you sound like Robert Plant, and Lenny could have tried to be his own singer instead.  You have to lay some of that at the feet of producer Bob Rock, who could have said, “Cut that shit out.”

The second album was a move away from that.  Keith Olsen got a sharper, more vibrant sound than Bob Rock did (though Rock really got a great drum sound for James Kottak).  Reportedly, some stores refused to stock the second LP because they thought the band’s name was Kingdom, and the album called Come In Your Face.  Too bad, because the incendiary “Do You Like It” was critically acclaimed for its drive.  The other In Your Face tracks included here absolutely represent a move away from Zeppelin and towards a more mainstream, slightly European rock sound.  Good songs, especially the mid-tempo “Gotta Go (Can’t Wage a War)”.

The third album, Hands of Time, came and went without a sound and Lenny was dropped from the label.  Reviews suggested it was soft and ballad oriented, but there are two decent slow rockers here from that album.  “Should I” has a slow grind topped by a passionate vocal.  The one included ballad, “You’re Not the Only…I Know” has a weird title but a great melody.

The great thing about the 20th Century Masters series is the ability to get key hits for a low price from bands that you may not want albums from.  The 11 tracks on the Kingdom Come edition are all worth owning, no duds in the bunch.  That makes this CD an easy one to pull the trigger on.

4/5 stars

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Blu-ray REVIEW: Sound City (2013)

“The internet’s cool for some stuff, but like many things, there’s no book store, there’s no music store, and there’s no Sound City.” — Josh Homme

SOUND CITY (2013 Roswell Films)

Directed by Dave Grohl

Uncle Meat persuaded me to see this movie, and I’m glad that he did.  He said it wasn’t optional; that it was a must and that I would love it.  So I bought it on Blu-ray, invited him over to co-review it with me, and we viewed it one afternoon after work in 5.1 surround.   Needless to say, Sound City was good.  So good that we never felt we could do it justice in a review, so I sat on my notes for over a year!  Having recently re-watched Sound City (directed by Dave Grohl) with Mrs. LeBrain, now I can finally finish what Meat and I started last year.

Van Nuys, California.  Sound City Studios, the legendary place where everybody who is anybody recorded.  Nirvana?  Check.  Fleetwood Mac?  Rick Springfield?  Tom Petty?  Check.  Slipknot?  Also check.  Neil Young recorded much of  After the Gold Rush there, after being enamored of the vocal sound that he got on “Birds”.  Keith Olsen learned his craft there.  It’s not much to look at on the outside:  according to producer Butch Vig, it’s “kinda dumpy”. On the inside, there’s booze and cigarettes everywhere.  Big room, huge floor. Lots of black magnetic tape.

Grohl narrates, personal anecdotes flow, then he steps out of the movie’s way.  Grohl has a nice visual style, a combination of close ups and wide shots with plenty of details to look at.  He infuses the movie with plenty of humour, sometimes at his own expense.  The film has two phases:  the first is a history lesson regarding the studio and the artists who created the hits there.  The second consists of Dave purchasing the studio’s Neve board, moving it north to his own studio, and recording a brand new album with the same legendary artists.  Pretty cool concept.

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The huge Neve console was built like a “brick shithouse” (Keith Olsen), or a “tank” (Neil Young).  Its original purchase price: bought for $75,175  in 1969 dollars.  A nice house at the time cost around $30,000!   The Neve was one of only four.  Combined with the room itself at Sound City, the drum sound you can capture is incredible.  The studio’s acoustics were not designed; it was a complete fluke.  It was originally a box factory that happens to sound magical.

As for that Neve console, it is of course entirely analog.  The one at Sound City was unique, considered the best sounding one. Rupert Neve tried to explain the electronics of it to Grohl in one of the movie’s more humourous scenes.  The very first song recorded on that board was “Crying in the Night”, by Buckingham Nicks.  This led directly to Mick Fleetwood hearing them while at the studio, and hiring not only the studio, but also Buckingham and Nicks!  Essentially, the modern Fleetwood Mac formed right there at Sound City. The studio’s success really began with Rumours.  Then, everyone wanted to record there.   As for Tom Petty?  It appears that Tom Petty pretty much spent his entire career at Sound City.  In fact one of the coolest scenes was an old behind the scenes video from the 1990’s.  Seeing Rick Rubin produce Tom Petty and being brutally honest was very interesting.

Rick Rubin to Tom Petty:  “Sounds like you’re aiming a little lower today than you should be.”

Along came the compact disc, and the infancy of digital recording.  Digital was the latest trend, and you could do new things with a computer that were harder to do on tape.  Sound City suffered during this time, as newer rival studios were on trend. Sound City was dead…but one album helped resuscitate it:  Nevermind.  Then came Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Slayer, Kyuss.  Analog tape and vintage equipment became popular again.  Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash recorded Unchained there with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  Nine Inch Nails combined the old with the new, by bring in their own computers to record on ProTools along with the Neve.

Unfortunately ProTools was heavy competition, and working with tape was so difficult by comparison, that Sound City finally shut its doors.  They just couldn’t pay the bills anymore, even after selling off their excess equipment.  Then Dave bought the board.  It is amazing to watch it taken apart, boxed up, reassembled and functioning in Seattle.  Regarding the sale of the board, Grohl says, “I think they knew that I wasn’t just going to bubble wrap it, and stick it in a warehouse.  I was gonna fuckin’ use it.  A lot.”

SOUND CITY_0001On November 2, 2011, reassembly of the board began at Dave’s Studio 606.  Then he invited all the original artists back to record a new album on it, produced by Butch Vig.  Regarding Stevie Nicks, in a memorable moment Vig says, “Fuckin’ A, that girl can sing!”  More artists arrive.  The Foo Fighters plus Rick Springfield create a monstrous sound together, a neat amalgam of their respective genres.  Lee Ving (Fear) is hilarious, and performs the fastest count-in of all time.  I discovered a new respect for Trent Reznor, a guy who uses the technology to create original sounds, but desires the warmth of tape.  It’s incredible to see him collaborate with Homme and Grohl.  It’s the sound of humans communicating with instruments.  And they wrote a pretty frickin’ cool song together.  Then, watching Paul McCartney writing “Cut Me Some Slack” with the surviving members of Nirvana is a moment that I’m glad was frozen in time.

Grohl:  “What can’t it always be this easy?”

McCartney:  “It is.”

The blu-ray bonus features include three additional performances: “From Can to Can’t”, “Your Wife is Calling”, “The Slowing Down”.  It was these bonus features that inspired Meat and I to add “Your Wife is Calling” (with Lee Ving) to our 2014 Sausagefest lists.  Our votes allowed the song to clock in at #64.  (The track was my #1.)

Sound City is a complete triumph of a music documentary.  It is the kind of music documentary designed for serious fans, not just passers-by.  I would welcome another movie directed by Dave Grohl with open arms.

5/5 stars