Ken Mary

REVIEW: House of Lords – Sahara (1990)

 

By request of reader WARDY!

scan_20161010HOUSE OF LORDS – Sahara (1990 BMG)

House of Lords put out an impressive debut but didn’t sell a lot of copies.  When the second album rolled out in 1990, their guitarist Lanny Cordola was gone and in was new guy Michael Guy.  Although Guy is credited on guitar, in reality the album was recorded with Doug Aldrich and a number of guests.  Weirdly, thanked in the credits for “additional inspiration” is Nick Simmons, who was one year old at the time.  Sahara was of course on Simmons Records.

It’s a different sounding House, less regal but with more hooks per acre.  The opening number “Shoot” draws liberally from the wells of both Led Zeppelin and Motley Crue.  “Chains of Love” is Coverdale-lite, with singer James Christian pouring on as much sass as possible, but without Coverdale’s sly nods and winks.  Whoever is playing the guitar solo on “Chains of Love” laid down a killer.

The acoustic cover “Can’t Find My Way Home” (Blind Faith) is pretty true to the original minus the falsetto, and would have to be one of the better power ballads from a rock band in 1990.  House of Lords turn a serious corner on “Heart on the Line”, which sounds like a title for a ballad.  This however is a speed racer, a chugging riff powering a rock-corker, which turns Cheap Trick on the chorus.  Unsurprisingly, it was written by Rick Neilsen.  Brilliant playing and soloing on this one.  Then they rip off a song title from Coverdale himself, “Laydown Staydown”.  Winger-esque sleeze rock is all this is, not even touching the brilliance of the Deep Purple song that inspired the title.

A much more impressive track opens side two, “Sahara”.  This is progressive hard rock, with drummer Ken Mary layering a tribal drum effect that would have been very ahead of its time in 1990.  This too degenerates into something more Winger-like as well, but it jumps from that back into more progressive sections, keeping things balanced and interesting.  The second slot on side two is predictably another ballad, a good one called “It Ain’t Love”.  Not just the title, but the gang chorus reminds of Dokken.  Some fine soloing resides here to sink your fangs into.

The lead single was another power ballad, “Remember My Name”, which the band did not write.  As an impressionable youth in 1990, I hated this single.  “Never lead with a ballad,” was my thinking.  I had been looking forward to new House of Lords since the debut slayed me in ’88.  I didn’t want the first song to be a ballad they didn’t write.  I still don’t think it’s a very good track.  And surely a mistake to include it on the CD right before another ballad.  “American Babylon” redeems it, coming back with a strong push.  “Kiss of Fire” nails it with the knockout punch at the end, a blazing smoker with powerful keyboards that remind us of vintage Deep Purple.  Finally it seems House of Lords nailed a song that lived up to their inspirations.

Perhaps it was the rotating cast of characters on guitar, but Sahara drifts further from the sound that made House of Lords unique in 1988. The danger of grasping for hits while taking their sound deeper in the mainstream was real. Though it is still an entertaining listen, Sahara is very uneven which makes it a bumpy ride.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: House of Lords – House of Lords (1988)

HOUSE OF LORDS – House of Lords (1988 Simmons Records/BMG)

Yes you read that correctly. Simmons Records. Did they ever put out anything decent?

House of Lords actually made a hell of a debut with Simmons Records in 1988. Nobody was calling them a “supergroup”, but most of the members had been around the block more than once. House of Lords evolved out of Giuffria, a pretty good AOR rock band featuring the keyboard stylings of Greg Giuffria. In fact there are several songwriting credits by ex-Giuffria singer David Glen Isley, giving clues to the genesis of this CD.

Lanny Cordola played guitar on the prior Giuffria LP, and continued on to House of Lords. Bassist Chuck Wright had a stint in Quiet Riot (in fact he’s back with them today). Drummer Ken Mary kept time during Alice Cooper’s metal phase. All they needed was a singer, and they found a great one in James Christian, who today is the sole remaining original member of House of Lords. They signed to Gene Simmons’ imprint, and got legendary producer Andy Johns behind the mixing desk. All the ingredients were in place.

MuchMusic were promoting the shit out of these guys, and so I dutifully picked up the cassette at A&A Records and Tapes in the fall of 1988.

The self-titled debut, though classy, didn’t have enough identity. Good songs throughout, no clunkers, but also nothing that identified House of Lords as something unique. And so, this great CD has remained largely unknown over the years.

The keyboard heavy opening on “Pleasure Palace” has less to do with Bon Jovi and more to do with the progressive rock bands of the 70’s. The production is pure 80’s, with the echoey drums and the hard to hear bass. It is what it is, and Andy Johns did a better job than most producers could have done in ’88. James Christian comes across as a full-lunged, well rounded singer. He’s able to sing with a little of blue eyed soul, and he’s capable of the screams too. The feature that actually sets the song apart is the keyboards, very gothic and European sounding, but not wimpy.

“I Wanna Be Loved” was the first single/video, an easy choice being mid-tempo with a shout-along chorus. “Oh woah, oh woah, I just wanna be loved!” Sure, sounded good to 16 year old me. Heaps of backing vocals thicken up the mix, and Lanny Cordola plays a tasteful albeit standard guitar solo on top. “Edge of Your Life” serves as a keyboard power-ballad, and a dramatic one at that. The musicianship is stellar and the arrangement is expert, but the standout performer is James Christian.

Since you need a bar room blaster for the dudes, “Lookin’ For Strange” fits the bill. Instruments aflame, and with obvious inspiration from the Van Halen shuffle of old, “Lookin’ For Strange” is nonetheless a ton ‘o fun. Ending the first side of the tape was “Love Don’t Lie”, another power ballad, this one a bit on the soft side. It was also edited down and remixed by David Thoener for a single release. This mix was used for the music video and can be found on reissues of the CD. The album version is the better of the two, since edits often sound…awkward.

Rock and roll resumes with “Slip of the Tongue”, a title that David Coverdale would use a year later. High octane, full speed ahead, this is House of Lords doing the shred. The musicianship speaks for itself and you can hear clear Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy influences. The fast pace sets up “Hearts of the World” very well via contrast. From here, the album becomes more progressive, dramatic, and bombastic. “Hearts of the World” is AOR perfection, choppy with caverns of keyboards and waterfalls of gang vocals. It all sounds so serious, but it’s hard to deny the quality of this song. “Under Blue Skies” follow this with bagpipes (!) and ELP-like keyboard horns. It’s another dramatic, melodic winner with progressive qualities. The outro has those “na na na na na” vocals that all but guarantee you’ll be singing along. “Call My Name” makes it three in a row, though it changes the forecast to sunny. Bright and positive, “Call My Name” is still a big sounding song, with the gang vocals and guitar shreddery that you’ve come to expect.

Cordola gets the chance to show a lil’ bit (a minute) of classical guitar chops as an intro to “Jealous Heart”, the last of 10 tracks. This is your typical album-ending breakup ballad: weepy hearts, melodramatic lyrics, powerhouse vocals…it’s a dead ringer for Journey! Good Journey, though. Since Journey were defunct in 1988, let’s forgive House of Lords for a little hero worship.

House of Lords is a good debut album. Is it great? I would have said so back in ’88 or ’89, but the production has caused it to age, not so well. That’s unfortunate because what House of Lords put out here was pretty remarkable hard rock.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987)

Scan_20160303ALICE COOPER – Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987 MCA)

And lo!  The beast named Alice reincarnated with a slab of wax, and they called it Constrictor.  Slithering into the spotlight again was a triumph of will:  Alice battled his demons (including the bottle), found some new young band members and started fresh on a new label.    Though the music was merely OK, at least the man himself was doing just fine.  As fans, I believe we genuinely wish our rock star heroes to be healthy and happy, so even if the music wasn’t the greatest, we could be glad that Alice was back.

In the 70’s and early 80’s, Alice Cooper maintained a breakneck release schedule.  This slowed down a bit in the second phase of Cooper’s career, but he still managed to follow Constrictor a mere 12 months later with Raise Your Fist and Yell.  I probably don’t need to tell you this, but look at the cover:  certainly one of the worst to ever envelope a major label release.  The guilty party is a fella named Jim Warren who must hate this cover as much as I do, because just look at it.

It continued with the same shock-rock horror-splatter-movie theme, but turned up louder.  Indeed, the lead single “Freedom” was the fastest most thrash-like track that Alice had yet performed.  Censorship was a big target in Alice’s sights.  “Freedom” was his ode to the PMRC:  “You want to rule us with an iron hand, you change the lyrics and become big brother.  This ain’t Russia!  You ain’t my dad or mother.”  Lemme tell you, when “Freedom” came out, the PMRC seemed a genuine threat.  Dee Snider and Frank Zappa were testifying in front of the senate and stores were refusing to stock records.  “Freedom” was an anthem we could all get behind.  I don’t think anybody expected him to go so heavy!

The video was interesting. Kane Roberts looks like he’s not sure if he’s at a bodybuilding competition or a music video shoot. There were some new guys in the band; that’s not Kip Winger on bass. On drums is Ken Mary, later of House of Lords. Most interesting is the guy dressed as a priest. You can see him up close during the lyric “Back off preacher I don’t care if it’s Sunday.” They looked like the biggest bunch of misfits assembled. Perhaps this is what Alice was going for?

During this period, Alice was writing a few goofy rock songs.  “Lock Me Up” is silly, but fun.  It has a beat and you can headbang to it.  “Take the Radio Back” sounds like a predecessor to “Hey Stoopid”, but not quite.  “Give the radio back to the maniac!” sings Alice.  Is he begging for airplay?  It’s OK, but “Step on You” isn’t really.  There are moments here and there, but these are mediocre songs.  “Step on You” has an interesting atonal instrumental section but it doesn’t fit the song at all.  “Not That Kind of Love” continues the heavy rock, but without hooks.

Back to quality, “Prince of Darkness” is a heavy metal horror movie theme, from the film of the same name in which Alice had a cameo.  Menacing and intense, this tune scores high marks on both the Cooper Scale of Rock Thrills and Chills, and the Cooper Scale of Heavy.  Kane Roberts’ lead solo is pure pointless 80’s excess, but the song is what counts and it’s a good’un.  The acoustic outro is perfection.

“Time to Kill” keeps things above the bar.  “Chop, Chop, Chop” does not.  I know — you’re surprised, right?  A song called “Chop, Chop, Chop” isn’t a diamond of the highest carat weight?  Nor is it a turd, but certainly well below the watermark.  It does serve as a lead-in to “Gail”, a high quality also-ran that recalls Alice in the year 1975.  It is the only Kip Winger co-write on the album, and he’s responsible for its eerie keyboard vibe.  Finally it’s “Roses on White Lace”, another borderline thrash metal track that absolutely rips every head in the room off.  This track, firmly in the splatter film world, is an excellent example of Alice at his heaviest.  For its entire duration, it’s breakneck speed.  Bold song to end an album with.

Post album, Kip Winger and keyboardist Paul Taylor bailed, and formed another band you might have heard of.  Michael Wagener produced this record, and while heavy, the album is definitely lacking sonically in comparison to its contemporaries.  All told there are four songs worth buying the album for:  “Freedom”, “Prince of Darkness”, “Roses on White Lace”, and Gail.  Three of those four songs can be found on the MCA compilation Prince of Darkness.  So…your move.

2.5/5 stars

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Part 211: The House of Lords Debacle

RECORD STORE TALES Part 211:  The House of Lords Debacle

Joe was on the other end of the phone.  “Mike,” he said.  “I have three CDs here by a band called House of Lords.  You want?”

I’d first heard House of Lords in ’88.  Gene Simmons was promoting them like mad.  They were signed to his new imprint, $immons Records.  A guy called Loz Netto was his first signing, but House of Lords was his first rock acquisition.  They included ex-members of Guiffria, Quiet Riot, and Alice Cooper.  I picked up their debut on the week of release, but I missed the second and third albums.

“I’ll take two!” I responded without hesitation.  “I’ll take the ones titled Sahara and Demons Down.”

Joe laughed.  “I knew you’d know who these guys were,” he said.  I saw the pictures of the hairdos on the back and I knew it.”

“Thanks man, send ’em my way.  I will buy them both for sure.”

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Yes, Tommy Aldridge was in House of Lords for a minute

Joe had the two discs sent to my store, attention to me.  But in between his store and mine, they had been intercepted.  Someone had written on the transfer slips, “Sell at $11.99 — no discount.”

No discount?  On House of Lords?  The fuck was this?

Not that $11.99 is a bad price.  That was a high but realistic sticker price for used copies of these albums.  I can get Demons Down on CD from Discogs right now for under 8 bucks.  If I had walked into another store and found them for $12, I would have bought them without hesitation.  It was the principle of the thing that bothered me.  I’ve talked before about how we didn’t get staff discounts on certain special or big ticket items.  House of Lords was hardly the kind of band that would negate a staff discount.  In fact, my boss (who had written the note) had no idea who House of Lords was.

He had obviously seen that the two discs were being sent to me, since he had written the note.  Perhaps he looked at the back and spied the Simmons Records logo.  Either way he personally nixed the the discount.  I called him up to ask what the deal was.

“Hey,” I began.  “These two House of Lords discs.  What’s up with the price?  No discount on these?”

“Nope,” he answered simply.

“Why?” I asked.  “Nobody knows who they are.”

“That’s just what we’ve decided they’re worth,” he replied.

“Alright, well I’m going to pass on them then.  I’m sending them back to Joe’s store.”  I was disappointed.  This kind of penny-ante crap had picked up in recent years.  It was petty.  It seemed arbitrary.

A few years later, more copies came in.  I snagged those, discount intact.  Much like most of the world, the powers that be had simply forgotten who House of Lords were.  And I wasn’t about to say, “Hey, by the way, in case you forgot, staff aren’t supposed to get a discount on House of Lords.”

I’m listening to House of Lords right now.  The funny thing is, for such “special” items, neither is really as good as their debut!

Next time on Record Store Tales…

Crushes!