kenny aranoff

REVIEW: Avril Lavigne – Under My Skin (2004 w/ bonus track)

Yesterday, you read all about why I own this (and many others).  Will I still like it today?  Let’s find out.

AVRIL LAVIGNE – Under My Skin (2004 Arista)

Let’s get on with it.  The version of Under My Skin that I have comprises 13 songs, so let’s put the headphones on.   “Take Me Away” opens strongly with sparse, polished guitars and keyboards.  It sounds like Evanescence, actually.  It was written by Avril and her guitarist Evan Taubenfeld.  At this point, Avril wasn’t singing with any annoying contrivances in her voice.  She was just blasting away (most likely in autotune).  Given that this song is very produced and plasticized, it’s still a good song.  So far we’re 1/1.

AVRIL_0004“Together” is a bit too melodramatic for Mike 2014, but damn, I still love that fucking chorus. I’m singing along with my fist in the air.  Shit!  2/2.

One of several hit singles was the ballady “Don’t Tell Me”.  This one makes me want to vomit in my mouth a little bit.  I’m uncomfortable with this kind of teenybop rock now.  But that fucking chorus hits and…ahh fuck!  Still, the chorus can’t save the song, it’s shite.  2/3.

Avril returns to her so-called punk roots with “He Wasn’t”.  Phil X on guitar here, but he doesn’t get to solo (a damn shame).  As much as I want to hate the song, I can’t.  It seems pretty sincere, and it ain’t bad.  It’s snarky but not annoyingly so.  3/4 now.  “How Does It Feel” is a ballad, not a bad one either.  The instrumental production on this one (by Raine Maida) is excellent, although the vocals still sound autotuned.  Phil X again on guitar.  The score is now 4/5.

I’m a total sucker for the single “My Happy Ending”.  Butch Walker wrote a pretty cool song, and the chorus is one of those Avril bellows that she is known for.  The lyrics, like most of ’em, are about some dude.  I can’t really sing along to “He was everything, everything that I wanted,” sincerely, you know?  Still, the score is now 5/6.  And it’s going to go up to 6/7, because I remember liking the song “Nobody’s Home” a lot.  I’m not sure what the lyrics are exactly about, but Avril sounds like she’s trying to get serious, so that’s better than words about some dude.  Ben Moody from Evanescence itself co-wrote this one, so you can guess who it naturally reminds me of.  Still, I’ll maintain that 6/7 because the chorus is still great.

“Forgotten” starts out crap.  You sure can tell this one was written by Chantal Kreviazuk as that is who it sounds like.  The track doesn’t improve on the chorus.  Pass.  The board reads 6/8.   A good song called “Who Knows” is up next, and even though it wasn’t one of the single, I think it’s one of the best songs.  This one kind of sounds like a pop metal anthem, you could imagine a band like Warrant having a song like this.  It has mellow acoustic verses with a shout-y fun singalong chorus.  7/9 now!  “Fall To Pieces”, written with Raine Maida sounds like an Our Lady Peace outtake.    A pretty good outtake, with a great bridge.  Good enough for 8/10.

I have always liked “Freak Out”.  It’s just fun.  This one too sounds like a Raine Maida construction, but it is not.  It’s written by Butch Walker and Avril’s drummer Matt Brann.  It’s easier to listen to than most Our Lady Pea(ee-yai-ee-aye-ee)ce, so the score is now 9/11.  As my buddy Craig might say, it’s looking like it’s time to hand in my Man Card.

Maybe not!  “Slipped Away” is utter shite that I cannot listen to.  It sounds like Chantal…guess who wrote it?  The chorus is not too bad, but this song is crap.  Can’t take it.  If I could deduct 2 points, I would.  9/12.  It’s down to the “bonus track” now.  “I Always Get What I Want” originally came from a UK edition, but I bought this CD from my nearest Walmart.  There’s something on the fine print about Sony BMG Music Entertainment (UK) Ltd, so maybe that’s something to do with it.  “I Always Get What I Want” is another “punky” Avril, but like “Slipped Away”, it too is crap.  Sounds like Avril’s trying to be her heroes, Green Day.  No thank you.

The final score for Avril Lavigne’s Under My Skin is 9/13.  Did I like it as much now as I did in 2004?  Not quite.  It might have been that I liked a couple more of those sappy songs.  However, I’ve already said far too much here.  I’m going to cut my losses and get out now.

3.5/5 stars

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#321: That Crush on Avril (RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale)

NEW SERIES

Welcome to the first of my new continuing series; the “Post-Record Store Tales” I’ve been talking about.  Here are the RECORD STORE TALES MkII:  Getting More Tale.  Featuring my Simon Pegg action figure as the new “Mini-LeBrain”! Title suggested by Aaron!

To quote David St. Hubbins, “Hope you like our new direction!”

LEBRAIN AND AVRIL

RECORD STORE TALES Mk II:  Getting More Tale

#321:  That Crush on Avril

One of those lingering points left after the conclusion of Record Store Tales was this: my unexplained, unusually large Avril Lavigne CD collection.  This is that tale.

When Avril’s first album arrived in 2002, I was encouraged to listen to it by a new hire at the Record Store.  “I hear that this album has some of the best pop songwriting that has come out in years,” he said.  “From a technical point of view.  I read that the album is just mathematically perfect, from a songwriting perspective.  Mind if we listen to it?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Throw it on.”  I scanned the credits.  Each song was co-written by big name mega-writers with more gold records than I have socks.  There were big name producers on every song, and some familiar names from my metal collection:  Josh Freese might be best known as the drummer in the Vandals (among many others) but I first heard his name in regards to Guns N’ Roses who he was with for a short time.  Another guy, Alessandro Elena, was the drummer in Bruce Dickinson’s Skunkworks.  (He’s the subject of their song, “I’m In a Band with an Italian Drummer.”)

I know that the album was mostly pre-fab, but I didn’t mind it.  Since I was limited in what I could usually listen to in-store, and Avril was fairly safe, I played it a lot.  I always recommended it to customers who were looking for new music for their kids, who thought Britney was getting too skanky.  As a bonus, punk kids seemed to hate her.  Eventually I bought a copy myself.

I probably annoyed the shit out of my co-workers.

AVRILAvril released her heavier second album (Under My Skin) in 2004, and this is where my crush really began. Avril had a new image and a new sound.  I don’t like thinking about that crush anymore; I have been mocked enough.  Hell, Craig Fee mocked me for it on the air just this past Wednesday!  It is true that I had a crush on Avril.  The new grown-up Avril had gothed out and turned up on the cover of Maxim.  Maxim agreed with me, just look at that headline!

Today, the thoughts of “Chavril”, that unholy union between Avril and Horse-man, makes me feel ill.  It’s like finding out your ex-girlfriend is now seeing that jock in school you just fucking hated.  We recently heard that Chavril was splitting.  If so, I say good for her!

So anyway, the second album: It had more names from my metal shelves.  In addition to Josh Freese, the legendary Kenny Aranoff and the astounding Brooks Wackerman played drums.  Phil X of Bon Jovi and Triumph was on axe.  Finally the Canadian duo of Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida were playing and co-writing on most songs too.  This is accompanied by an overall darker and harder approach.

I liked the album a lot in 2004.  Will I like it in 2014?  Let’s find out tomorrow, for a full review.

To be continued…

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REVIEW: Jon Bon Jovi – Blaze of Glory (1990)

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JON BON JOVI – Blaze of Glory: Inspired by the film Young Guns II (1990 Mercury)

Billy the Kid was a fascinating character.  Perhaps he was the embodiment of the Old West itself: a charismatic outlaw, who reportedly had a hair trigger temper but also a heart of gold.  Unfortunately, the film Young Guns II seems more about a person called Brushy Bill, rather than William H. McCarty, also known as William H. Bonney, but best known as Billy the Kid.  Having killed his first man at 18, the Kid earned his nickname with his boyish looks.  He looked nothing at all like his screen counterpart Emilio Estevez, but it’s because of Emilio that Jon Bon Jovi recorded the soundtrack to Young Guns II.

A popular theory from the 1990’s was that Billy the Kid was not killed by Sheriff Patrick Frank Garrett in 1881.   In 1948, a character called Brushy Bill Roberts emerged claiming to be the Kid, alive and well.  There was enough facial resemblance, and also sworn statements from five people who knew the Kid. Roberts never proved that he was actually William McCarty, and today historians have dismissed his claims due to the number of facts that do not match (such as dates of birth).   Young Guns II, the film, operated on the popular theory that Billy survived, and that he faked his death with the help of Pat Garrett.

In fact Garrett did shoot the Kid and lived a life of shame afterwards, as the details of the shooting of the popular Kid didn’t paint him in a positive light.  Oddly enough, Garrett himself was shot and killed in 1908 by a rancher named Jesse Wayne Brazel, in New Mexico.  The interesting coincidence about this is Brazel was uncle to a Mac Brazel, also a rancher in New Mexico, near the town of Roswell.  It was on his ranch that something strange (almost certainly an actual UFO) crashed and was covered up.  It is an amusing intersection of two of the great folk tales in American history.

So along came this movie.  Emilio Estevez asked Jon Bon Jovi if they could use “Wanted: Dead or Alive” in the film.  Jon declined and said, “The lyrics don’t make sense.  That song is about touring, let me write you something more appropriate to the old west and Billy the Kid.”  This turned into an entire album.  Essentially Blaze of Glory is not a soundtrack album (since none of Jon’s songs are in the movie until the end credits) but a concept album based on the film.

The album begins with a snippet of dialogue:  “Yoo-hoo!” says Emilio/Billy.  “I’ll make ya famous.”  A gunshot and the song “Billy Get Your Guns” begins.  That’s Kenny Aranoff on drums in case you were wondering.  “Billy Get Your Guns” isn’t a hard rock song like Bon Jovi was doing at the time.  But it’s still rock and roll, featuring some great slide guitar riffing by Waddy Wachtel.  Jon’s voice is young, strong and loud.  It’s a sound I miss.  I think it’s impossible to dislike the excellent “Billy Get Your Guns”, especially when topped by a Jeff Beck guitar solo, who plays on pretty much the whole album.  (The album also features two Journey bassists:  Randy Jackson and Bob Glaub.)

Jeff even appeared in the music video for “Miracle”, the hit ballad from the album.  The lovely accordion and spare arrangement gives it quite a different feel from old Bon Jovi ballads. Once again I am reminded that Jon once possessed quite a powerful voice.  It’s also worth noting that Jon wrote every song himself.

“William H. Bonney, you are not a god.” – Keifer Sutherland as Doc Scurlock

“Why don’t you pull the trigger and find out.”  – Emilio Estevez as Billy the Kid

I still love “Blaze of Glory”.  It’s timeless, more so than a lot of Bon Jovi’s hits from the time — “Bad Medicine” and so forth.  I remember seeing Aldo Nova on TV playing the riff on an acoustic guitar, and it is perfect in its classic simplicity.  Aldo is one of Jon’s oldest friends and he plays on the whole album as well.  This dynamite hit song has become so loved that Bon Jovi play it live and included it on their greatest hits compilations, even though only Jon was part of it.  Jeff Beck’s smoking solo is as much part of the song as Jon is.  I cannot understate how great this song is. From quiet acoustic strumming to bombastic aplomb, the song is a great achievement.

“Blood Money” is a short ballad, with spare acoustics, tambourine and accordion.  Jon sings as Billy the Kid, directly to Pat Garrett.  Historically we don’t know if Garrett and McCarty were friends as they are portrayed in the film, but likely they were not.  Regardless, even though the lyrics are implausible historically, it is still a powerful little song.

This leads into “Santa Fe”, which is from the perspective of Doc Scurlock.   You want epic?  Look no further.  An album highlight, “Santa Fe” boasts strings, powerful Aranoff beats, and Jon’s most vivid lead vocal.  If it had been on a Bon Jovi album, I think it would be regarded as highly as a song like “Dry County” which it resembles slightly.

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Side two opened with Lou Diamond Phillips (Chavez y Chavez in the film) singing a native chant.  The song “Justice in the Barrel” refers of course to the barrel of a gun, and Jeff Beck’s playing in the opening reminds us why he is one of rock’s most legendary gunslingers.  The song however is more laid back, a slow rock groove.  “Never Say Die” is the most straightforward rocker on the album, and it features Robbin Crosby of Ratt on electric guitar.  This song most closely resembles Bon Jovi, the band, even lyrically.  It is followed by a song that sounds nothing at all like them, and also my favourite:  “You Really Got Me Now”.  From first listen, way back in 1990, to today, this is a song that always puts a smile on my face.  Imagine Jon Bon and Little Richard building a time machine, travelling back to 1881, and jamming in a saloon.  That’s “You Really Got Me Now”.  Richard plays piano and sings the second verse, and I love it.  It’s a shame this little tune is only 2 1/2 minutes long, but I guess it was a bit of a novelty.

“Bang a Drum” is a pleasant soft soul rock anthem, but the Hammond organ and Jeff Beck help maintain its integrity.  The soul comes from the backing vocals of Julia and Maxine Waters.  This is the climax; the denoument is “Dyin’ Ain’t Much of a Livin'”.  The delicate piano is provided by one Elton John (before he would become Sir).  Elton also joins Jon on backing vocals.  “All this fame don’t bring ya freedom,” sings Jon, a line that may apply to a rock star life as well as an outlaw.  The powerful song is a natural ending to a story such as this.

There’s a brief coda, an orchestral piece from the movie by composer Alan Silvestri called “Guano City”.  I always wondered why this piece (as good as it is, sounding like some of John Williams’ more exciting segments) was on the album.  Nevertheless, there it is, and the album is done.

Jon was very emphatic in stating that Blaze of Glory was not his true solo album.  It was 10 songs written specifically for a movie, to fit that movie.  His solo album would come seven years later with Destination Anywhere, but first it was time to get Bon Jovi, the band, back on track.  This began with a 1991 live performance of “Blaze of Glory” at the Academy Awards, by the full Bon Jovi band, augmented by additional guitarists Waddy Wachtel and Danny Kortchmar.

If you consider solo albums and soundtracks as part of the overall catalog, Blaze of Glory still clocks in as one of my absolute favourites.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Aldo Nova – Blood on the Bricks (1991)

ALDO NOVA – Blood on the Bricks (1991 Polygram)

After Aldo’s career had been declared clinically dead and Aldo himself a “one hit wonder” (“Fantasy”), it took the mighty Jon Bon Jovi to resurrect him. JBJ, who co-produces and co-writes pretty much every song here, has a heavy stamp on this album. Considering that Aldo played on several Jon Bon Jovi releases, this album will appeal mostly to fans of the Well-Coifed One.

The problem with Blood On The Bricks is not lack of decent material, or lack of chops. Indeed, Aldo proves on several tracks that he is a burnin’ axeman, and he even takes a brief keyboard solo on “Bright Lights”. The problem here is that this album is choked to death in overproduction, and I have to blame JBJ for that. Every song collapses under its own weight of gang “whoa whoa” backing vocals, shrill instruments, and thudding shapeless drums with all the characteristic telltale signs of samples.

A song like “Medicine Man”, for example, is a decent if generic song on its own. However it stumbles under the weight of layers of backing vocals and overdubs. The production has spoiled this batch of pleasant if ordinary rock toons. This type of production value was way too common in 1991. Play Prisoners in Paradise by Europe, or Hey Stoopid by Alice Cooper for an idea of this sonic quality. Aldo’s album is recorded and mixed even worse than the afforementioned. And the lyrics are pretty juvenile. “His boom-box blastin’ some Metallica track”? Did Aldo really sing that?

Song highlights for me incluced the burning title track, “Bright Lights”, and nostalgic moments like “Touch Of Madness”, “Young Love” or “Medicine Man”. However aside from the guitar playing everything here is terribly generic; there’s nothing here that you haven’t heard before.  For example, “Veronica’s Song” boils down to a rewrite of Bon Jovi’s “Silent Night”, and that makes me sad.

Two more Bon Jovi connections to mention:  the great Kenny Aranoff, whom Jon likes to use on his solo projects such as Blaze of Glory, plays drums.   Phil X is pictured in the CD booklet as he was in Aldo’s touring band, but he does not play on Blood on the Bricks.  Phil X, known to his friends as Phil Xenedis, is currently on the road with Bon Jovi, filling in for Richie Sambora.

I do like the original cover, it was cool if a bit bland. This edition has an annoying “FEATURING JON BON JOVI” scrawled all over it, as large as the album title.  That also makes me sad.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Stryper – Murder By Pride (2009)

Sunday. Time for some Stryper!

STRYPER – Murder By Pride (2009, Big 3 Records)

I was a Stryper fan back in the 80’s, but I was never overwhelmed by the band.  I respected what they were saying, and I never felt like they were “in it for the money”, like some of the other kids at school.   I just didn’t think their 80’s albums were that amazing, hanging on to a sort of Dokken-level of quality as far as I was concerned.  A few good hits, a few good album tracks, but nothing blowing me away like a Van Halen album does.

Since their reunion, though, holy smokes! (Pardon the pun!)  They’ve been awesome, and putting out quality albums.  They have improved with age.  They are better musicians, better singers, better writers, and don’t have hair 12″ tall anymore.  Michael Sweet certainly proved himself on tour with the “other band” he was singing and playing with, Boston!

Murder By Pride is really the first reunion era Stryper that was designed to appeal to the old fans.  While I loved the previous album, Reborn, I fully acknowledge that it’s not an immediate thriller.  Its post-grunge sounds threw a lot of people for a loop, although it contained some great tunes such as “Passion”.  Murder By Pride was the answer to the fans who asked for more melody, more harmony vocals, twin solos and riffs.  That is largerly what they got.  There’s even the odd scream!

Murder By Pride is their best studio album.   It’s got everything — great hard rock songs, great piano ballads, great performances and crisp production that brings out the toughness of the guitars and drums.  The drums (by guest Kenny Aranoff) are absolutely flawless.  If you didn’t know better you’d swear it was Robert Sweet, as he nails that Stryper sound.  I don’t know why Robert didn’t play on the album, as he plays on their current album, the also-smoking The Covering.

If the idea of Christian lyrics throw you for a loop, I won’t lie to you, they haven’t backed down over the years.   If anything they’ve gotten more bold.  (The Covering contained a song just called “God”!)

Key tracks:  Some of the heavy rockers like “Eclipse of the Son”, and “The Plan”.  The Boston cover “Peace of Mind” featuring Tom Scholz on guitar.   The acoustic ballad power “I Believe”.  The stunning title track, with a classic Stryper riff that must be second-cousins with “Free”. If you’re not knocked out by this song, you’re not a Stryper fan!

Great album.  Welcome back Stryper — may you continue to stick to your guns, deliver your message, and rock hard!

4/5 stars