Reviewing an album on one listen is rarely wise, but Ghost can do that to you. Their fourth, Prequelle, pushes the Ghost sound further into the 80s, while retaining their heavy roots. Many songs could have been plucked from the year 1986, with that kind of melodic sensibility. Remember how bands like Accept, Loudness and Kiss sounded around 1986? Lush backing vocals sound as if assembled with care by Robert John “Mutt” Lange. Guitar solos are cut from the stone of Mount Kulick. Ghost leader Tobias Forge has never hid his pop roots, and they are clearly coming further to the fore.
With a bold image and faux-Satanic lyrics, Ghost have established themselves in the upper echelons of metal today. That will only be cemented further by Prequelle. In a year that has seen brilliant returns from Judas Priest and Stryper, Ghost complete a trinity of great recent records. With a deft touch, tracks such as “Rats”, “Faith” and “Miasma” deliver hook after hook after hook. Ghost never really wimp out, although their melodic skills are sharper than ever. These songs are written straight out of the textbook, combining heavy and pop influences together in a witch’s brew of addictive audio. The limits are pushed, with an unexpected sax solo being an album highlight. They go epic and progressive too, especially on closer “Life Eternal”.
Two instrumentals do not (at all) slow down the love affair. Two covers at the end of the deluxe edition (Pet Shop Boys and Leonard Cohen) are an interesting coda. You can make good arguments for only buying the basic 10 song album, because it has a clear beginning, middle and end. If you’re the kind of person who likes staying for the end credit scenes, or enjoys having dessert, then you should check out the bonus tracks. “It’s a Sin” has the detectable Pet Shop Boys disco beats and posh swagger. Tobias Forge’s evil Leonard Cohen impression twists “Avalanche” into something darker and sinister.
However you go for it, make sure you get Prequelle this summer. The deluxe has a neat 3D cover, if that strikes your fancy.
If you have been keeping up with Cancer Chronicles, then you know that after surgery, passing gas can be a challenge. Even tougher: pooping!
Mrs. LeBrain’s successful surgery resulted in some unpleasant side effects, such as constipation. But don’t worry. She kept me posted every step of the way.
It was a joy when she sent me the text message below:
Thank you Burger King for you assistance in this matter.
RECORD STORE TALES Part 287: Closing Time
We’d start getting ready to close the record store around 8:30. Tidying up, putting things away, straightening the shelves which were always a mess by the end of every night. At 8:45 we’d turn off our six listening stations. Actually to be more accurate, we’d shut down two or three of them, because the others were constantly broken! I can barely remember a time when all six were functional. Then we’d make the circuit around the store, asking customers if they needed any help since we’d be closing in 15 minutes.
Most nights were pretty routine. Customers would trickle out, we’d kill the music and the lights, lock up and begin cashing out. That’s most nights. Some nights, we’d have one or more of the following to deal with:
– Last-minute stragglers who can’t pick the music they want, and don’t want help (of course).
– CD listeners who insist they “just need a couple more minutes” to decide what they want (if anything). If drove me nuts if we stayed open late only for them to buy nothing. They didn’t seem to get how rude it was.
– People banging on the door to be let in after closing to sell CDs for crack/liquor money.
In the olden days, staff didn’t get paid for whatever time they spent cashing out (usually 15 minutes). Eventually they changed that. We usually had a lot of small bills and coins to count, and had to be within $1 of balancing. We’d put on some good music and count and count again until we were balanced.
As technology changed, cashing out got easier. The computers did most of the work. When we got the computers, we also had to do a long computer backup. In the pre-internet days we’d backup the inventory on a floppy disc. Then as the database grew and grew, we switched to a tape backup drive. Man, that thing sucked. We ditched it when it started to take 45 minutes to an hour to back up the computer. We were supposed to stay until the computers were backed up, but nobody wanted to stay 45 minutes unpaid, so nobody did. We struggled with that for a while before they got us a zip disc backup.
We had a closing checklist – lights off! CD players off! If it was summer, A/C off! If it was winter, we had to make sure the heat was on overnight. Set the alarm, lock the door, and we’re out!
None of that could stop the phone from ringing. I didn’t like to answer the phone after close, but when I did it was often some pain in the ass calling.
“Hey, what time are you guys open til?”
“We’re open til 9, we’re actually closed now.”
“That’s dumb. The mall is open to 9:30, how come you guys aren’t?”
“We always close at 9.”
“Well that’s dumb. I want Eminem. Do you have the number for HMV?”
Man, I loved locking that door behind me and being done for the day. The idiots could wait until tomorrow!
FLYING COLORS – Live In Europe (2013 Mascot Music)
There hasn’t been a new band that got me going like Flying Colors did in a dog’s age. Their 2012 debut is a fantastic album, and it’s only grown on me more since I first reviewed it. Songs like “Kayla”, “The Storm”, and “Shoulda Coulda Woulda” had me hooked on repeat — in the car, at home, it didn’t matter. Flying Colors has been on constantly for months.
That’s why I decided to get the double Live In Europe CD. I had to have more. Who cares that it’s a double live album immediately following a debut! All 11 songs from that album are here, plus covers and songs from each member’s past. I am glad to report that Live In Europe is as stunning as the debut, even over its long running time. When you have a band made up of guys like Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Neal Morse and Casey McPherson, you can count on a live show full of explosive instrumental pyrotechnics. And that is present. But it’s the quality of the songs and the humour of the band that makes it special.
The band open the set with three album tracks in a row, each different from the last. “Blue Ocean” is the long, breezy opener, which is followed by the pummeling “Shoulda Coulda Woulda”. Then, “Love Is What I’m Waiting For” is more soulful. All three are outstanding songs with stunning playing.
Portnoy does most of the talking, but Casey McPherson gets the first solo outing. “Can’t Find a Way” is from his former band Endochine, but played by Flying Colors, it fits seemlessly in the set. Its soft vibe is similar to some of the quieter material on Flying Colors, and McPherson’s emotive vocals set it apart. Steve Morse throws down one of his classic solos and seals the deal. This powerful number could have been on the album easily. They follow this one with my favourite song, “The Storm,” and the whole place ignites.
From 1978’s What If album comes the Dixie Dregs’ “Oddyssey”. Since Flying Colors don’t have a violin player, it’s very different, but every bit as jumpy and complicated. Coming back to something a little more straightforward, the band rock out to “Forever In A Daze.” Then McPherson stuns the crowd with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Yeah, it’s been a trendy song to cover lately, but when you pull it off as well as MacPherson does, why not?
The first CD ends with a mellow “Better Than Walking Away,” and by now a Flying Colors concert already feels like an emotionally uplifting experience. It is a song like this that underlines not just the chops, but the melodic tendencies of this band. It’s always fun to listen to a bunch of guys shred for 90 minutes, but it’s even better when they play a bunch of great songs, too.
The second CD commences with “Kayla,” which to me is already a classic. The vocal harmonies of Neal Morse and Casey McPherson really dance. After this, Mike Portnoy takes over, at the request of Neal Morse, sings lead on his “Fool In My Heart.” I quite this swinging little ballad, and there’s nothing wrong with Portnoy’s vocal. Dave LaRue’s solo piece, “Spur of the Moment,” leads into a Dream Theater classic. “Repentance,” from 2007’s excellent Systematic Chaos, is part of Mike’s “12 Step Suite.” As such it’s only fitting that he sings it himself. It’s not the whole 10 minute version, it’s pretty much just the first half, “Regret.” But it is every bit as powerful as Dream Theater’s original, yet very different.
From 1998’s The Kindness Of Strangers, Neal Morse performs “June” by Spock’s Beard. This bright ballad enables McPherson and Portnoy to harmonize very nicely with Morse. It’s certainly a nice respite before the slamming “All Falls Down.” After the band lays waste with that tune, it’s only epics from there forward. From the album, 8 minutes of “Everything Changes” is only topped by 12 minutes of “Infinite Fire”. While these two are still “songs,” the shredders get their wishes granted with some long-bomb jams.
In a band like Flying Colors, you can’t single out any one player as an MVP. It seems like a band powered by all five members equally. Having said that, Steve’s Morse’s guitar solos are always a treat, and it also a pleasure to hear the rhythm section of LaRue and Portnoy gel like this. They give the whole album a tremendous pulse. Turn up your bass and see what I mean.
Hot on the heels of my Man of Steel review, here’s…the Watchmen.
WATCHMEN : The Ultimate Cut – The Complete Story (2009 Warner 4 disc blu-ray set)
Directed by Zack Snyder, 216 minutes
What’s the greatest comic book movie of all time? I’ve seen a lot of them. There’s quite a few I haven’t seen as well, but it’s a great topic for discussion. I always have to put Watchmen on the table when discussing great comic book adaptations.
Watchmen is a complex tale. Its original comic was ambitious, containing page after page of dense backstory information in the form of documents and faux-magazine articles, all very relevant. There’s even a parallel story taking place, a comic within a comic, which directly reflects one (or arguably more) of the characters in the main story. Characters and their psychology are key. In addition, neither the comic nor the movie are linear. The story unfolds within different time periods, flashing back and forth, as we learn more about the characters, their motivations, and the world they inhabit.
It is the world they inhabit that was the hook for me. I’m a sucker for alternate universe stories. Here’s one that sets us on Earth, 1985, but things have unfolded very differently. The influence of various superheroes/vigilantes has caused history to unfold very differently. Specifically, it is the presence of Dr. Manhattan, who puts a swift and decisive end to the Vietnam war, who influences history the most. In this 1985, Richard Nixon is still president, and masked vigilantes are now outlawed.
The Watchmen are a group of such vigilantes, originally known as the Minutemen. Some, such as Dr. Manhattan truly are superhuman. Others, such as Nite Owl and his successor Nite Owl II, are mere mortals with high-tech gadgetry and skill as their allies. All have retired, some in fame and some in anonymity…all but one. Rorschach. He remains active, alone and wanted.
The movie begins as a murder mystery. Someone has managed to identify and kill Edward Blake — The Comedian, once one of the most dangerous heroes alive. To overpower and murder Blake would require an individual of tremendous resources. Who? And are other former vigilantes also at risk? Rorschach seems to be the only one who wants to know.
Being a fan of the graphic novel, I was very happy with the way that Zack Snyder captured Watchmen. It was done with love and care. The things that are discarded, I didn’t miss so much. The things that he changed, I understand why it was done. There’s one layer to the story/mystery that has been discarded, probably to keep this thing under 4 hours! The things that are reverently exactly the same as the comic made my jaw drop in awe. The acting performances are what they are, but I have to give special mention to Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach.
The soundtrack is one of the best in recent memory. Outside of Wes Anderson, I haven’t loved a soundtrack this much in a long time. It’s awesome from the stunning Bob Dylan classic “The Times They Are A’Changing”, to Nat King Cole, to Simon and Garfunkel, Hendrix and Philip Glass, and probably the weirdest use of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in movie history. The soundtrack is where it’s at. The movie even contains a Village People sighting! I’ll skip My Chemical Romance.
This Ultimate Cut weaves the comic-within-a-comic, Tales Of The Black Freighter, previously only available on its own, into the main body of Watchmen. These segments are narrated by Gerard Butler. New live action linking sequences connect the movie to Black Freighter, much like it worked in the graphic novel. People who haven’t read the graphic novel might not understand what “Black Freighter” is doing there, but they should probably start with the less daunting theatrical cut to start with anyway.
The box set includes four discs, beautifully packaged. Hardly a complaint to be registered. The box is heavy and sturdy. Included is Watchmen: The Motion Comic, packed in its own case, 5 hours long on its own. One disc is the expired digital copy of the theatrical cut (whoop de do) and another disc is loaded with special features. Best of these is Under The Hood, which is based on the graphic novel segments covering Holis Mason. Mason, the original Nite Owl I, wrote an autobiography called Under the Hood; this film is a faux-documentary on his story. It is presented as a television program from 1975 re-run in 1985, including commercials and scratchy footage. At 35 minutes, this is an absolute must. Other special features include brand new audio commentaries, for those who dare to keep going deeper. This set is just loaded. Unfortunately I found the sound level inconsistent, I had to turn it up and down frequently.
Having said that, I’m not going to discard my Director’s Cut of Watchmen. Clocking in at almost four hours, watching this version is a commitment. I know that occasionally, I will want to watch the “shorter” version of the film. Since a digital copy of the theatrical (shortest) cut is included here, maybe you won’t feel the need to double-up on Watchmen editions. For an enriched viewing experience, set aside the four hours one afternoon and enjoy.
Malin Akerman … Laurie Jupiter / Silk Spectre II
Billy Crudup … Dr. Manhattan / Jon Osterman
Matthew Goode … Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias
Jackie Earle Haley … Rorschach
Jeffrey Dean Morgan … Edward Blake / Comedian
Patrick Wilson … Dan Dreiberg / Nite Owl
Carla Gugino … Sally Jupiter / Silk Spectre
Matt Frewer … Moloch