lanny cordola

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

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.”

HOL_0002

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!

REVIEW: Bill Ward – Ward One: Along the Way (1990)

A companion piece to my previous Record Store Tale, a video blog, seen above!

BILL WARD – Ward One: Along the Way (1990)

To date, since leaving Black Sabbath (the first time) in 1980, Bill Ward has released precisely two full solo albums (plus the single “Straws”).   This is especially unfortunate, since both solo albums are particularly fine pieces of work.  The finest and most noteworthy was his first, Ward One: Along the Way, released a decade after his Sabbath departure.  A long time in the making doesn’t begin to sum it up.

Bill himself provides drums, lead vocals, and piano, but not on all tracks.  Some tracks feature guest vocalists (Ozzy Osbourne, Jack Bruce, guitarist Rue Philips) and a guest drummer (Eric Singer, also ex-Sabbath, but best known for being in Kiss).  Other notables include Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake), Lanny Cordola (House of Lords), Gordon Copley (Black Sabbath), Bob Daisley and Zakk Wylde (both of Ozzy’s bands).  Jack Bruce of course also plays bass!  It’s a smorgasbord of integrity.

Aside from some production issues (this album could use a nice, clear remix) this is among the best solo products issued by any ex-member of Black Sabbath, including Dio and Ozzy.  It has its Sabbathesque moments (a few crushing guitar chords, pounding drums, peacenik lyrics) but it truly is an animal of its own.   Bill Ward received a co-writing credit on every original Black Sabbath song, and it’s clear why.  The man has a vivid imagination, creating swirling soundscapes of music.  There is nothing here that is outright commercial, nothing straightforward, everything is just slightly fucked up.  I think most likely it was Bill that gave Black Sabbath its oddball experimental edge in the early days.  An edge they have lost now that they have given him the boot.

The obvious standout track is “Bombers (Can Open Bomb Bays)”, the thunderous single featuring none other than Ozzy himself on lead vocals.  But even that is strange and offputting, as the pitch of Ozzy’s voice is manipulated in the mix, giving him an otherworldly sound at times.

But there’s nothing wrong with Bill’s own soft vocals (aside from being mixed too low), as he proves on the standout tracks “(Mobile) Shooting Gallery” and “Pink Clouds An Island”.  He often layers his vocals, thickening them up, but it’s a pleasing effect  “Pink Clouds” is a particularly great track, featuring some nice unusual percussion and vocal bits.

Jack Bruce’s “Light Up the Candles (Let There Be Peace Tonight)” is a beautiful song with a great little guitar melody that weaves in and out, but Jack really delivers on the vocal.  If you hate lyrics about world peace, avoid this album!  “Snakes and Ladders” is another standout track, perhaps the closest thing to a straightforward rock song, although Marco Mendoza’s fluid bass keeps it slightly off-kilter.

Ozzy returns to sing lead on “Jack’s Land”.  I heard a while ago that a reissue of this album was being planned, sans the two Ozzy tracks.  What a shame that would be.  Must be due to rights.  “Jack’s Land”  is a driving song, made all the more powerful with Ozzy behind the mic.  Once again, his voice is manipulated for effect.

The core riff of “Living Naked” could have found a home on many a Sab platter, but the song is otherwise very different from anything Sabbath have done.  This flows directly into “Music For A Raw Nerve Ending”, one of three songs written solely by Bill.  While there is a chugging guitar audible beneath the layers of vocals, piano and bass, it is not the driving force of the song.  Bill’s hypnotic vocal is.  And this song melds directly into “Tall Stories”, which continues the key hooks, adding Jack Bruce, even more hooks, and a soulful female backing vocal. There’s even a frickin’ didgery doo!

“Sweep” (also written solely by Bill) is a bright, fast little number, perhaps the most mainstream track on the album.  Bill’s speedy little drum pattern propels the song forward, all punctuated with an oddball guitar solo by Richard Ward (any relation?).   While the album is loaded with great tracks, it closes with one of the best, “Along the Way”, followed by Bill’s haunting “goodbye”.

There’s nothing straightforward about this album, but there’s plenty to be enjoyed.  Bill clearly had plenty of ideas to get off his chest, and often he chooses to load many ideas within a single song.  I remember it was one of the first major releases of 1990 and it definitely started the year off correctly.  (Thankfully, Bruce Dickinson followed it with his excellent solo album a couple months later!)

5/5 stars