Klaus Meine

REVIEW: Scorpions – Box of Scorpions (2004)

SCORPIONS – Box of Scorpions (2004 Universal)

Don’t worry – this Box of Scorpions cannot hurt you!  If fact if you allow yourself to be stung, you will find your reality injected with musical ecstasy.

This isn’t a box set to buy if you are looking for unreleased treasure.  It’s strictly a compilation, although you may be able to get a few tracks you didn’t have before.  Box of Scorpions covers every album from the debut Lonesome Crow, beyond 1999’s Eye II Eye, going as far as 2002’s Bad For Good: The Very Best of Scorpions.  That compilation CD included two new songs called “Bad For Good” and “Cause I Love You”.  They were recording specifically for Bad For Good, but it makes sense to get them on the beefier Box of Scorpions instead.

The first disc of this set is inaugurated by “I’m Going Mad”, the same technicolor workout that opened their first album.  The early psychedelic Scorpions songs are only represented by a couple, with “Fly to the Rainbow” being the second.  Stone cold classics form the bulk of the disc, with “Speedy’s Coming” being an obvious focal point.  “In Trance”, “Steamrock Fever”, “We’ll Burn the Sky”, and “Virgin Killer” are all essential cuts.  You can’t fit ‘em all in, of course, but the live album Tokyo Tapes fills in some of the most obvious blanks.  “Top of the Bill”, “Dark Lady” and “Robot Man” are great live inclusions.  The disc ends with the first steps into the modern Scorpions sound with a pair from 1979’s Lovedrive.

Disc two showcases the 80s and all the big Scorpions hits.  The band streamlined their sound.  Some may say “dumbed down”.  The Scorpions of the 80s were massive, but certainly were not challenging your grey matter with complex music like the 70s band were prone to.  They also lost the regality of the Uli Roth era, something his guitar brought to the band.  It was replaced by solid 4/4 hard rock, with plenty of hits.  There is only one live song (from World Wide Live) here, “Another Piece of Meat”.  The rest are all studio originals:  “Big City Nights”, “Still Loving You”, “Rhythm of Love”, “The Zoo”, “No One Like You”, and of course that unstoppable “Hurricane”!  Deeper cuts like “Coast to Coast” and “Dynamite” provide some serious meat.  This disc would make a pretty good standalone compilation.

The third disc concentrates on the 90s, which saw the Scorpions reborn by the success of “Wind of Change”.  Unfortunately, this ushers in a slew of ballads.  The few rockers like “Tease Me, Please Me”, “Alien Nation” and “Don’t Believe Her” are almost drowned by the ballads.  There are some songs you may have missed the first time around.  In addition to the aforementioned “Bad For Good” and “Cause I Love You”, you’ll also get “Over the Top” and “Life Goes Around” which were released in 1997 on Deadly Sting: The Mercury Years.  “Cause I Love You” is really the only keeper of these four obscurities.  It was originally written in 1978 for Lovedrive, and recorded in 2002.  That’s how it sounds, too.  As for the rest, at least getting by these songs all in one place, you don’t really need the other two compilations.  Disc three also contains the unfortunate “Mysterious” from the dreadful Eye II Eye album, and the soul live song “Hurricane 2000” from Moment of Glory with the Berlin Philharmonic.  Neither are really essential though “Hurricane 2000” has its fans.

Box of Scorpions adds up to a good set with plenty of value and a few minor surprises.  If you don’t own all the albums already, this is a good buy.  Be sure to get a copy with the outer plastic slipcase still intact!

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Scorpions – World Wide Live (1985 vinyl)

SCORPIONS – World Wide Live (1985 Polygram, 2 record set)

The first waves of CD releases generally sucked.  Double live albums like World Wide Live, Live After Death, Stages and Exit…Stage Left were edited down to fit on a single CD. One way to ensure you got the complete album (with great sound) was to just go and buy an original vinyl.  That is still the best way to enjoy World Wide Live.

The Scorpions were at a peak in 1985.  The Love at First Sting tour was one of the biggest metal shows of the decade, but the band hit a speed bump after.  This double live album was culled from five shows (three in the US and two in Europe), and sequenced for impact.

“Coming Home” and “Blackout” are a pair of bruisers.  One can detect vocal overdubs (sounds like two or three Klauses singing at once on the choruses) but they are largely unobtrusive.  Surely most of the album must be live.  You can appreciate why the Scorpions were (and still are) huge.  Riffs slice from one side to the other, while Klaus Meine dive-bombs like a screaming Stuka.  They also had the music.  Love at First Sting produced a number of hits (all here).  Nothing from the early (Uli Roth) days though, which means the album leans towards the streamlined-style Scorpions.  Older stuff would have been nice, but also would have overlapped with their prior double live, Tokyo Tapes.  None of that material was in their current set either.

This is a minor quibble.  These are the ultimate live versions of classic tunes like “Loving You Sunday Morning”, “Make it Real”, “Coast to Coast”, “Big City Nights”, “Can’t Live Without You” and all the rest.  The ballads (“Holiday”, “Still Loving You”) are awesome too, and stacked together so you can get the ballads out of the way and back to rocking again.  Scorpions must surely be one of the definitive ballad bands in metal.  These two are legendary.

Side 4 is pretty epic:  “The Zoo”, “No One Like You”, and an extended “Can’t Get Enough” with Jabs solo.  Klaus Meine has an endearing German accent; everybody loves when he tells California that they really know how to partaaaay!  (This was immortalised by Sebastian Bach in Season 7 of Trailer Park Boys where he performs a killer Klaus impression.)

Your wisest course of action should be clear.  Pick up both Tokyo Tapes and World Wide Live, on vinyl, and get all the best Scorpions tunes done up live.  This is good stuff.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Scorpions – Animal Magnetism (2015 deluxe edition)

The Best Fucking Collaboration Week Ever, Pt. 2
Final review in this series! Mike and Aaron did simultaneous daily reviews of albums that they sent to each other. Mike gifted the original CD of Animal Magnetism to Aaron when he upgraded to the deluxe edition.  This time, we are joined by the mighty DEKE from Stick it in Your Ear!
Aaron’s review:  Scorpions – Animal Magnetism

Scan_20160402SCORPIONS – Animal Magnetism (2015 BMG deluxe edition, originally 1980)

Post-Lovedrive, the Scorpions were on a roll.  American chart success had finally come their way, and the pressure was on to follow it up.  Rather than break under the strain, the Scorpions thrived in that atmosphere and put together another solid Euro-metal album with commercial tendencies.  Newest member Matthias Jabs was now integrated with the band, and they were ready to roll.

The modern Scorpions thrived on simple, heavy metal riffage and melodic vocals.  “Make It Real”, the opening track on Animal Magnetism, exemplifies these qualities.   Chunky chugs and soaring guitar melodies are only topped by Klaus Meine’s voice of power.  “Make It Real” remains one of the classic, unforgettable Scorpions rockers today and it’s easy to hear why.  It’s a perfect concoction of what melodic heavy metal can be.

I don’t like to be too hard on the Scorpions for their lyrics, because their English is a hell of a lot better than my German!  With that in mind, “Don’t Make No Promises (Your Body Can’t Keep)” is one of those Scorpions titles that makes me cringe.  Thankfully it’s a blitzkrieg of a track, full steam ahead and dripping sleaze.  Scorpions had easily mastered the fast metal stylings that put them in similar territory as Judas Priest, but they also had a knack for slow and relentless riffs.  “Hold Me Tight” is one of these, like a slow Dio-era Sabbath prowler.

The album is strong throughout.  “Twenthiest Century Man” continues a chopping onslaught of rock, but the Scorpions also have a knack for a ballad.  “Lady Starlight”, acoustic with a full-on string section with woodwinds, is one of their finer early examples.  It’s bizarre to hear a song this tender on the same album as “Don’t Make No Promises (Your Body Can’t Keep)”.

Scan_20160402 (4)

In case you were worried the Scorps had lost it, “Falling in Love” continues the bruising on side two with another simple and effective riff.  “Only a Man” is about the only stumble, an off-kilter track that rests in the shadows of the songs before and after.  The chorus is great, but next to amazing metal classics like “The Zoo”, there is no contest.  And speaking of “The Zoo”, has there ever been such a slow yet so menacing track?  Written about their time spent in America, the lyrics are pretty silly.  “We eat the night, we drink the time, make our dreams come true.  And hungry eyes are passing by, on streets we call the Zoo.”  You don’t want to be hard on the guys for their skills with the language, but at the same time…this is also bizarrely catchy!

The title track “Animal Magnetism” is saved for last, an exotic slow crawl preceded by thunderclaps of noisy guitars.  Zeppelin meets Black Sabbath on this one, and it’s over and out.  Unless you own this deluxe edition….

“Hey You” is tacked on as the first bonus track, a strangely catchy pop rocker with Rudolph Schenker singing lead on the verses.  It has a remarkable uniqueness.  It was first released as a single, but most of us didn’t hear it until 1989’s Best of Rockers and Ballads.  That’s the easiest place to find this fun little tune.  A slew of rare demos end the deluxe CD:  “Animal Magnetism” (not at all like the album version), “American Girls”, “Get Your Love”, Restless Man”, and “All Night Long”.  Some of these songs are exactly what they are — outtakes!  Some are better than that.  “Get Your Love” was reworked on 1995’s Live Bites CD as “Heroes Don’t Cry”.  “Heroes Don’t Cry” has better lyrics and more meat on the bones, but “Get Your Love” has a raw basic quality.  “Restless Man” is an early version of “Twentieth Century Man”, all but complete including prototype guitar solos.

There will always be those fans who think albums like Lovedrive and Animal Magnetism were the beginnings of a long slide in quality.  When Uli Jon Roth left the band in 1978, he took with him their adventurous side.  Their post-Uli music was streamlined and more calculated.  Animal Magnetism remains one of their finest albums since.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Scorpions – Lonesome Crow (1972)


Scan_20150722SCORPIONS – Lonesome Crow
(1972 Metronome)

What an odd album this is, considering where the Scorpions went a decade later. Young kids from West Germany finding their musical feet, Scorpions seemed to be a psychedelic band at the start. Their major asset was the 17 year old guitar prodigy Michael Schenker. Throughout Lonesome Crow, it is Schenker’s sparing solos that hint that Scorpions may in fact be a rock band. Throwing down the wah-wah hard, Schenker hadn’t found his direction yet either, but the talent was clear.

Also obviously gifted was 24 year old singer Klaus Meine. Although his thick accent probably didn’t help gaining international appeal, he sure could wail. The one single scream on opening track “I’m Going Mad” revealed that perhaps there was a rock star here in cocoon form.

Some fans have developed great love for Lonesome Crow over the years. When I first found the album in 1990 (a cassette reissue at a Zellers store), I thought at the time that it was perhaps the worst album I had ever bought. My stance has softened considerably over the years, as I’ve managed to penetrate its foggy haze. I have friends who have offered great praise to Lonesome Crow after ingesting certain intoxicants.

There are indeed some stellar musical moments. The song “Action” for example boats a jazzy walking bassline and some stellar playing. Bassist Lothar Heimberg only ever appeared on this one Scorpions album, and the bass is one of the biggest noticeable differences to later Scorpions records. You just don’t hear busy, walking basslines like this on the rest of their catalogue. Drummer Wolfgang Dziony (also on his only Scorpions album) accompanies him appropriately.


Klaus should grow this beard back.

The factor that makes Lonesome Crow difficult to penetrate is the tendency towards long, meandering (often directionless) psychedelic rock jams. “I’m Going Mad” (though it has no vocals for almost 2 1/2 minutes) is pretty instant, and “In Search of the Peace of Mind” has its moments too. Other songs like “Inheritance” are head-scratchers. One of the most interesting (but also difficult to penetrate) songs is the 13 minute title track. I’m sure a more seasoned band could have trimmed the fat a bit. In general, the album has several flashes of brilliance, but you have to slog through long meandering slow jams to get there.  Producer Conny Plank, he of many Krautrock releases, allows the Scorpions to run wild with their imaginations.

Lonesome Crow isn’t a bad album. One reason it’s unlike other Scorpions records is that they broke up shortly after. When a new Scorpions formed, the only members remaining from this album were Klaus and rhythm guitarist Rudolph Schenker. Michael Schenker was noticed by UFO, who snagged him from the fledgling Scorpions. When the band folded, Klaus and Rudolph joined Dawn Road featuring another smokingly talented guitarist named Uli Jon Roth. Dawn Road was then renamed Scorpions, and together the new lineup began embarking on a harder rock and roll journey. With Roth’s help, and a growing songwriting duo of Klaus and Rudolph, great things were ahead.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Scorpions – Face the Heat (Japanese and Canadian versions)

Part 2 of 2 — for yesterday’s instalment, click here.  For Aaron’s review of the domestic CD, click here!

FACE THE HEAT_0002SCORPIONS – Face the Heat (1993 Polygram, Japanese and Canadian versions)

1990’s Crazy World was a huge hit, but before Keith Olsen produced it, Scorpions had approached Canada’s Bruce Fairbairn.  Pleased with his work on their Who cover “I Can’t Explain”, Scorpions prepared to convene in Vancouver with the producer.  They were disappointed when Bruce changed his mind at the last minute when forced to choose between the new Scorpions and AC/DC projects.  Fairbairn chose AC/DC, and the result was the five times platinum (US) Razors Edge album.

Since Crazy World ended up selling two million in the US and another five million worldwide, I’m sure there were no hard feelings between the two parties when they finally did hook up together on the followup album, Face the Heat.  Personally speaking I felt Crazy World wasn’t heavy enough.  I was hoping for more in Face the Heat.  Additionally, this album was the Scorpions’ first since 1972 without bassist Francis Buchholz.  Replacing him was five-stringer Ralph Rieckermann who ended up spending almost a decade with the Scorpions.  Rieckermann was a very different player and added new elements such as slapped bass.

The first single “Alien Nation” showed promise.  A menacing, metallic riff ushered in a tune with some slamming drums (thank you Herman Rarebell), and that ultra-low fifth string on the bass guitar. I preferred “Alien Nation” to just about any song on Crazy World. The year was 1993 and a heavy groove was exactly what the doctor ordered.

“No Pain No Gain” exhibits the Scorpions’ knack for naff song titles. Thankfully it too is a grinding metal groove, showing off Matthias Jabs’ talkbox skills on the guitar. With the Scorpions post-Schenker and post-Roth, you have to expect a certain amount of boneheaded metal. I think these guys genuinely love givin’ er on that trademark, simple sound. I believe they like playing this kind of thing with earnest, so good on them.

Three songs in and “Someone to Touch” is another great little Scorpions rocker. This speedy one won’t tax your brain cells in the lyrical department, but you will find yourself singing along to the chorus without realizing it. The chorus bears the stamp of Fairbairn with its answering lines. After this much firepower, I don’t mind a ballad and “Under the Same Sun” (perhaps a sequel to the worldwide hit “Wind of Change”) is a good one. Besides, Scorpions follow it by firing off another rocker called “Unholy Alliance”, another knockout with a great chorus. This helps lessen the impact of the next ballad, “Woman”. “Woman” is very different from “Under the Same Sun”, being dark and mournful. Another success.

Unfortunately, Face the Heat stalls in a major way on side two. A number of boring songs in a row (“Hate To Be Nice”, “Taxman Woman”, “Ship of Fools”, “Nightmare Avenue” boast only a few surprises and memorable moments. Jabs sports a nice fatbody jazz guitar solo on “Hate To Be Nice”, a trick that Fairbairn later encouraged Eddie Van Halen to use on his band’s next album, Balance. Unfortunately, a cool unique solo like this is within the same song as these lyrics:

“Hey baby, listen up,
I’m not in love with you,
You keep runnin’ off at the mouth,
And someone else can scratch my back,
And I could care less about your legs,
I just wanna see ’em walk all over me!”

The last listed track on the domestic CD is the ballad “Lonely Nights”, another really good ballad. Who cares that they just copied the way they ended Crazy World, with a slow dark ballad like “Send Me An Angel”?  All well and good says I, but as I mentioned in yesterday’s instalment of Getting More Tale, the US and Canadian versions of the album have a hidden bonus track!  Way back in ’89, the Scorps and Fairbairn discussed recording an Elvis cover.  Tucked away unlisted after “Lonely Nights” is Elvis Presley’s “His Latest Flame”.  It is a pleasant surprise!  The trombone and trumpets are the perfect added touch.  I’m sure Scorpions grew up listening to a lot of Elvis Presley records, and this version is faultless.  It’s gleeful and authentic sounding despite the fact that it’s the Scorpions!

FACE THE HEAT_0003Neither of the two bonus tracks on the Japanese version of the CD are as good as “His Latest Flame”.  Both are ballads:  “Kami O Shin Jiru”, and “Daddy’s Girl”.  They are inconsequential to casual Scorpions fans who don’t obsessively collect all their songs.  Additionally, they are disappointing to Scorpions collectors who buy these things hoping the extra tracks will be better.  I dig Rieckermann’s fretless bass on “Kami O Shin Jiru”, but these songs only serve to end Face the Heat on an excessively mellow note.  “Daddy’s Girl” is particularly depressing; I don’t want to listen to songs about child abuse — I already know it’s bad!  Scorpions tackle the subject in their usual subtle-as-a-brick fashion.

If only the second half of Face the Heat was as strong as the first.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Scorpions – Pure Instinct (1996)

PURE INSTINCT_0001SCORPIONS – Pure Instinct (1996)

I remember being very excited when this album came out due to the powerful first single “Wild Child”. I had enjoyed previous Scorpions albums well enough — Face The Heat, Live Bites — due to some great singles.  Face the Heat in particular showed that the Scorpions were still interested in playing heavy music, via the first single “Alien Nation”.  I could have handled some more of that. Pure Instinct, however, is ballad-ridden dreck with no energy and no inspiration.

We all know that since the 80’s, the Scorpions have had tremendous success with ballads. “Still Loving You” has become a signature song, and one of their biggest hits ever was 1990’s “Wind of Change”.  The problem is that Scorpions are a rock band, and Pure Instinct is over half-full with ballads!

I mentioned “Wild Child” as a standout track, and it is.  But even as a hard rock track, it is very commercial.  It’s a lot more pop than “Rock You Like a Hurricane” or “Big City Nights”, though it does boast some enormous hooks.  It is the opening song, and unfortunately it’s all a downhill snooze from there, more or less.

Longtime Scorpion Herman Rarebell departed after Live Bites, so the band employed a session drummer (Curt Cress), while sounding like they are on autopilot. Ballad after ballad after ballad…this gives you, the ballad-loving listener, almost half an hour of ballads. The single “You And I” alone is over 6 minutes long! Most of the rest of the tracks are flat, dull, and uninspired.

The few highlights include the first track “Wild Child”, the uptempo “Stone In My Shoe”, and the ballady-but-still-decent “Where The River Flows”. And that is about it.

The Japanese bonus track, which I have on the single for “You and I”, was called “She’s Knocking At My Door”, which although it was a rocker was also pretty bland.

It would only get worse — the next Scorpions album Eye II Eye has been likened to Savage Garden!  I never bought it and haven’t listened to it since it came out.

2/5 stars. Avoid unless you want to buy it for the three good songs.

REVIEW: Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life (Tribute)

NEW RELEASE

“I’m letting them pick what songs they wanna do in the way they wanna do it.” Wendy Dio

THIS IS YOUR LIFE_0001VARIOUS ARTISTS:  Ronnie James Dio – THIS IS YOUR LIFE (2014 tribute CD)

No preable from me: we all know how great Dio was.  Let’s get to the tracks.

Anthrax kick off the festivities with a slamming “Neon Nights”.  The storming opener couldn’t have been in a better slot.  Not only is Charlie Benate heavy as shit, but the guitar solos are mental.  Joe Belladonna handles the powerful vocal ably.  Rob Caggiano is still in the lineup indicating this isn’t brand new.  I suspect it was recorded at the same time as last year’s Anthems EP.

The guys that never get respect, Tenacious D, tackle the difficult second slot.  No worries there; they chose “The Last In Line” which Jack Black sings with no difficulty.  Uncle Meat has said it before:  Jack Black is one of the best singers he’s seen live.  “The Last In Line” proves his pipes, although some may not like his exaggerated, humorous vocal enunciation.  Kyle Gass plays a cute recorder solo in lieu of guitar, but there’s not enough K.G. on this track.  Brooks Wackerman kicks the drums in the ass.

And speaking of drums, Mike Portnoy is next with Adrenaline  Mob.  They demolish “Mob Rules”, although singer Russell Allen is certainly no Dio.  He is completely overshadowed by Portnoy and the shredding of Mike Orlando.

Corey Taylor, Satchel (Russ Parish) and friends  chose “Rainbow In the Dark” as their tribute to Ronnie.  This has always been such a fan favourite, and a personal one as well.  It is difficult to imagine anyone but Ronnie singing it.  While Corey Taylor is not at all like Ronnie James Dio, you can tell he loves this song.  It bleeds out of his performance.  He does it in his own rasp, and it works.

The incredible Lzzy Hale and Halestorm are up next with another Dio classic, “Straight Through the Heart”.  There is no denying the talents of Lzzy Hale, but her powerful pipes are almost too much.  Perhaps she overpowers the song, rather than simply fueling it.  Halestorm fans will love it, but I think Lzzy maybe should have reeled it in a bit.  Or, maybe I just need to get used to it.  “Straight From the Heart” does sound better after a few listens.

Biff Byford (Saxon) joins Motorhead on lead vocals for Rainbow’s “Starstruck”.  There’s a bit of that Motor-slam in it, but if I didn’t know who it was, I never would have guessed Motorhead.  You can hear Lemmy on backing vocals, but weirdly, he’s not credited on bass.  Nobody is, but you can hear the bass clearly and it sounds like Lem.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE_0004

I’m a little sick of the Scorpions doing ballads, but I admit that “Temple of the King” (another Rainbow classic) is stunningly good.  One might almost mistake it for a Scorpions original.  It has that regal Scorpions bombast to is, but Matthias Jabs’ lead work is just sublime.  He’s an underrated player, absolutely.  You can tell he’s a Blackmore fan.

An oldie from 1999, Doro’s cover of “Egypt (The Chains are On)” is excellent.  It’s cool to hear female singers like Doro and Lzzy Hale sing Dio.  Doro’s impressive pipes have always been astounding.  Her version of “Egypt” is a little over the top compared to Dio’s, but that’s cool by me.

Killswitch Engage…hmm.  “Holy Diver” starts great, super heavy, with some perfectly acceptable, melodic vocals.  Then it all goes down the toilet at the bridge.  That’s when it turns into hardcore shouting and blast beats…sorry, not on this song, thanks.  I can listen to that stuff in moderation, but don’t sully “Holy Diver” with it.  Fortunately the guitar solos are great, sounding like an Iron Maiden outtake from Powerslave.  Shame about the growling and shouting.  Skip.

“Catch the Rainbow” is a great song, and Craig Goldy plays guitar on this cover.  He’s ex-Dio himself, and he’s backed by his former Dio-mates Rudy Sarzo, Scott Warren and Simon Wright.  (Hey, that’s also 1/3 of Tateryche!)  Glenn Hughes sings, but this song sounds out of his scope.  His bluesy slant doesn’t work for me.  Sorry Glenn, you’re still awesome!

I find it strange that two more ex-Dio members (Jimmy Bain and Rowan Robertson) chose to cover Black Sabbath.  But who cares!  They covered “I”, perhaps the greatest song from Dehumanizer (1992)!  On drums is Brian Tichy, with Oni Logan (Lynch Mob, Dio Disciples) singing.  It’s a perfectly authentic version and I love it.  It’s absolutely thunderous, and I love Jimmy Bain’s bass sound.  Always have.  Of all the vocalists on This Is Your Life, it is Oni Logan that comes closest to nailing Dio’s vibe.  Considering he’s in Dio Diciples, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I didn’t expect it though, based on what I knew of Logan from Lynch Mob.  He fits “I” like a glove!

I was disappointed in Rob Halford’s version of “Man On the Silver Mountain”.  It’s true that Halford did replace Dio in Black Sabbath for two shows in 1992.  However, having owned a bootleg video of that show since that time, I knew that Halford’s and Dio’s styles didn’t really mesh.  This is no different; I don’t think his voice works with the song and it unfortunately shows off the places where Rob’s voice has weakened.  What is cool though is that the band (all ex-Dio:  Doug Aldrich, Vinnie Appice, Jeff Pilson and Scott Warren) take it to a swampy bluesy Whitesnake-y place for the intro.  You can definitely hear Pilson covering the high notes in the chorus.

Finally we arrive at the mighty Metallica.  Snicker if you like.  If Metallica do one thing really well, it’s covers.  If they do two right, it’s covers and medleys.  The “Ronnie Rising Medley” is entirely made up of parts of Rainbow songs.  “A Light In the Black” bleeds into “Tarot Woman,” where the vocals begin.  It’s safe to say if you don’t like Metallica, you won’t like this.  If the opposite is true, I think you’re in for a treat.  Metallica do these classics in their own style, just as they have in the past when covering Maiden, or Mercyful Fate, or Thin Lizzy.  Simply add Lars’ thuds, James’ growl, and some standard Metalli-licks, and you’ve got a medley that is enjoyable through its near-10 minute run time.  Having said that, the weak point is definitely “Stargazer”, which is gutted of all its majesty.  They do much better with “Kill the King” which is fucking perfect.  They include the entire song in their medley!

Fittingly, the album ends on a ballad:  Dio’s own somber “This Is Your Life”, performed by the man himself in 1996.  I did not like the Angry Machines album, but if there was one song I would have picked as a highlight it would be “This Is Your Life”.  Performed only by Dio and Scott Warren on piano, it is unlike anything else in Dio’s canon.  The lyrics speak of mortality:

This is your life
This is your time
What if the flame
Won’t last forever?

This is your here
This is your now
Let it be magical

What a way to end a great album.  As much as you can “miss” a person you have never met, I do miss Ronnie James Dio.  In many ways he’s been my friend for 30 years.

4.5/5 stars

As a nice added touch, the liner notes include photos of just about every performer on this CD with Ronnie!

Of  note:  the Japanese edition has a bonus track by Dio Diciples:  “Stand Up and Shout.”  It also has Stryper’s version of “Heaven and Hell” from their 2011 album The Covering, which I reviewed here.

REVIEW: Scorpions – Taken By Force (remaster)

The second review from Toronto Record Store Excursion 2013!  I paid $7.99 at Sonic Boom.

SCORPIONS – Taken By Force (1977, 2002 Hip-O/Universal remaster)

I don’t have all the Scorpions albums, but I’m filling in the blanks with some of the critically acclaimed early albums.  Through that process I discovered that I really like the Uli Jon Roth period!  Taken By Force was their last studio album with Roth, although it was followed in 1978 with the double live Tokyo Tapes.  Taken By Force was also the last Roth-era album that I needed in my collection.  Unfortunately, according to the Wikipedia, although this remaster contains a bonus B-side and live track, it also contains an edited version of “Sails of “Charon”, a flaw common with almost all CD versions.

Taken By Force immediately states its heavy metal purposes with “Steamrock Fever”; the sound of a jackhammer and pounding riff opens the album.  Its anthemic chorus, melded with some Roth six string trickery and that unrelenting jackhammer will knock you down.  The Scorpions are not winning any awards for lyrical poetry, preferring to take the sledgehammer route with their message too.

All this is well and good, because next is a respite.  At least for a few moments, “We’ll Burn the Sky” allows you to cool down, before a classic Schenker riff takes the fore.  “We’ll Burn the Sky” is classic Scorpions.  It combines their penchant for melody and talent for executing memorable guitar riffs.  Roth’s slippery classical-like licks are icing on the cake.

“I’ve Got to Be Free” is the first Roth composition and features the odd bluesy licks flickering in and out of an otherwise heavy rock song.  I really like the screamed verses.  The broken-English lyrics of “The Riot of Your Time” seems to refer to the death of Elvis Presley, while foretelling the future of “’94 or ’95”.  According to the Scorpions, if the world is still alive by 1995, it will “be the start for the riot of your time”.  I don’t know what that means exactly, but the guitar seems to echo The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” through a heavy metal filter.

The original LP would have been split there and side 2 introduced by wind-like sounds, before entering “The Sails of Charon”.  That windy intro is cut on this CD, so “Charon” commences with the riff.  Surely, “The Sails of Charon” must go down as Uli Roth’s greatest contribution to the Scorpions.  This majestic masterpiece is ambitious, elegant and exotic.  And heavy.  Let’s not forget that the riff, while highbrow, is as heavy as a load of concrete.  (Incidentally, Testament did an amazing cover of this.)

“Your Light” is a funky Roth composition, one of the most likeable on the whole album.  When I say “funky” I don’t mean Sly and the Family Stone, think more the Deep Purple variety of funky.  There is also common ground here with sounds that Van Halen would later inhabit.  Then, “He’s A Woman – She’s A Man” resumes the sledgehammer assault that dominated side one.  New drummer Herman Rarebell had his first writing credit on this single.  Album closer “Born to Touch Your Feelings” is a ballad, with a long outro and overlapping voices.  It’s a solid, dramatic closing to an album that grabbed my attention at every turn and every song.

This 2002 remaster contains two bonus tracks.  First is “Suspender Love”, which was originally the B-side to “He’s A Woman – She’s A Man”.  It’s a slinky tune, fun and all, but very much unlike Taken By Force as a whole.  Still, I have no problem with the inclusion of relevant B-sides, so I’m glad to have this. The other bonus track is “Polar Nights”, originally from Virgin Killer but included here in the Tokyo Tapes version.  This was done because when Hip-O reissued and remastered Tokyo Tapes, they did it as a single disc meaning this song wouldn’t fit.  It was included here so you could still buy a complete Tokyo Tapes.  This is kind of sloppy, but at least the whole package is still available.  Also, since “Polar Nights” is a showcase of Uli’s bluesy, funky fingering, it’s also a nice way to close his final album with the Scorpions.

5/5 stars

As usual, the Scorpions courted controversy with their album cover.  The original “graveyard gunfight” photo was replaced in many regions with a plain cover with band photo.  This remaster unfortunately has the alternate artwork.  Shame about that.

Record Store Excursion 2013!

PART 1

PART 2