Mark “The Animal” Mendoza

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – A Twisted Christmas (2006)

TWISTED SISTERA Twisted Christmas (2006 Razor & Tie)

One thing I love about Christmas time is the ability to knock out all these Christmas album reviews.  I can only listen to this stuff seasonally, and I wouldn’t subject you to it otherwise.  In my quest to Review Everything I Own and Then Some, we must occasionally delve into Christmas music.

Rock bands doing Christmas tunes is…well, I mean it worked out OK for Elvis, and then later on Twisted Sister and the guys from Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  Each of those artists had success with Christmas music for good reasons, but I think Twisted Sister’s was purely the novelty value of it.  The humour.  The nudge-nudge-jokey-ness of it.  It wasn’t that they made a Christmas album laden with integrity.  It’s a joke album as the intro implies.

The album commences with Dee & company singing a traditional acoustic version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.  They are then interrupted by someone saying “This isn’t Twisted Sister!”  It then goes metal with a dash a punk.  “Ho ho ho!  Let’s go!”

The biggest joke is that, apparently, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was always just “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” in disguise.  This was the big Christmas hit that put Twisted back in the spotlight, and it’s certainly the most enjoyable track on the CD.

Songs follow vague heavy metal blueprints.  “White Christmas” is imbued with an Iron Maiden gallop and a couple chords from “SMF”.  One thing is clear, and that is Dee Snider’s voice still has it.  The guy is a hell of a singer, period.  He’s joined by Lita Ford on “I’ll be Home for Christmas”, in the style of Twisted’s original epic ballad “The Price”.  Unfortunately this one stinks like Christmas cheese that should have been thrown out last year.  A shouty “Silver Bells” is done with a splash of AC/DC, but ends up sounding more like Poison.  Bassist/producer Mark “The Animal” Mendoza has a pretty kickass bass solo, though.

Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” is the foundation of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”, and it is at this point that you realise a whole album of this stuff is a bit too much.  “Let It Snow” is given the doomy treatment, as an amalgam with Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave”.  I suppose the doomy direction does go better with lines like “The weather outside is frightful”.  Maybe Dee & company are on to something here, but I’m not too sure about the Sabbathy version of “Deck the Halls” with echoes of “War Pigs” and “Never Say Die”.

“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” is a little dull, and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is too long, as it often is.  The only version of “Twelve Days of Christmas” anyone needs for a novelty is Bob & Doug McKenzie’s classic.  That’ll make your party pop a lot better than Twisted’s version.

Let’s check some boxes.  Is this album:

  • Fun?  (sometimes)
  • Heavy?  
  • Twisted?  
  • Creative?  

All well and good.  But will you:

  • Listen to it more than once a year?  
  • Enjoy as much as something else you could have played instead?  
  • Be able to use more than one or two songs for your Christmas party?  
  • Ever really look forward to hearing it again?

It is good that A Twisted Christmas brought the band the kind of success they deserved, but it is truly a shame that it is the final Twisted studio album.  They were always considered a joke to the critics, they shouldn’t have gone out on vinyl as a joke.

2/5 stars

 

 

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REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Club Daze, Volume I: The Studio Sessions (1999)

TSCD_0001 TWISTED SISTERClub Daze, Volume I: The Studio Sessions (1999)

Everybody knows that Twisted Sister has been around a long time; since 1973 in fact, just as long as Kiss. However not too many people have heard Twisted’s early material outside of their first single “I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!” which was on their “best of” CD. Club Daze, Volume I fills in the gaps.

This CD is for fans only. It will have absolutely no appeal at all to casual listeners who only want songs they recognize. In fact, some of these songs are painfully bad. “High Steppin'”, “Big Gun”, and “T.V. Wife” for example are all examples of some very poor early songwriting. These tunes are in a more traditional rock and roll vibe, and are lyrically quite awful. Take “T.V. Wife” for example, written and sung by JJ French, a song about a woman who sits around all day watching soaps. Really bad song.

On the flipside there are rough and ready versions of some really decent songs, such as “Come Back” which had Dee Snider writing in a heavy metal mode. “Rock ‘N’ Roll Saviours” is a personal favourite, a 1978 attack upon disco music. “We’re gonna fight until disco is dead!” sings Snider.  And they did!

To make collectors salivate just a little more, the best tracks on the CD are the three songs originally from the (then) impossible-to-find EP Ruff Cutts (now since made available on the Under the Blade reissue). This includes an early version of “Leader of the Pack” and more familiar songs: “Shoot ‘Em Down” and “Under The Blade”. It is only these last two songs that really show what Twisted Sister was capable of and where they would go in the future.

There’s one Ruff Cutt missing (“What You Don’t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)”), and a few other miscellaneous early tracks as well, but Club Daze is a compilation of these years.  Club Daze is also loaded with ample pictures and liner notes (from Jay Jay and Dee).

As an album purchase, this CD is not the greatest release. Twisted Sister were never virtuoso musicians, and it shows. Most of these songs don’t have Mark “The Animal” Mendoza on bass, who really helped make their songs heavier. Most tracks feature Kenny Neill on bass and Tony Petri on drums. This is for collectors only, and anybody who wants to know what this band sounded like in the 70’s before they did their first serious recordings, and found the sound that would make them famous.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Live At Wacken CD/DVD

For the consideration of the Heavy Metal OverloRd.


WACKEN_0002TWISTED SISTER – Live At Wacken   The Reunion (2005 Eagle Rock)

Here’s a rare find: A CD/DVD combo pack where the CD is equally worth the price of purchase as the DVD. This package contains an 11 song live album as well as a great DVD concert/documentary. Twisted Sister certainly have risen in the esteem of rock fans since the 80’s. Sister’s resilience has won them over, not to mention their heaviness which was lost on the 80’s crowd.

I will say that I was disappointed when I first bought it in 2005.  It was issued as a dual-disc.  Remember those?  I’ll get into the dual-disc crap at the end of this review.  I later bought a far superior CD/DVD set, and that’s the version that I recommend over the dual-disc.  Regardless of which version you have, at least both have nice big booklets with loads of pictures and some liner notes too.

The DVD is peppered with documentary footage and interviews with all five Twisted members. The documentary covers the entire history of the band, and sheds light on their acrimonious breakup and triumphant reunion. I found Mark Mendoza’s segments particularly interesting as he had the most problems with Dee, and in fact was not on board when TS first reunited in 1990’s. The live program is, of course, great.  It’s well shot, and sounds good.

WACKEN_0003The CD is nice as it’s not just a soundtrack to the DVD, but a standalone live album on its own with 11 tracks total, spanning the early years plus six songs from Wacken. I enjoy this one quite a bit on its own as a live album.  From 1980, “Bad Boys of Rock ‘n’ Roll” through to the rare “You Know I Cry” are all replete with loud n’ dodgy sound.  Then from ’82, “You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n; Roll”.  The Marquee, London:  Yes, that would be earlier than the Live at the Marquee album, recorded in ’83.  The fidelity here is improved, although the band’s on-stage fury goes on unabated.

Finally, six 2003 recordings from Wacken.  It’s not the entire show obviously, which seems a bit of a shame.  Goodies here include personal favourites “I Am (I’m Me)”, “Like a Knife in the Back” and “The Fire Still Burns”.  That last one’s interesting because it’s not really a great track on its album, Come Out and Play.  It’s heavier and better live.  Best of all, Dee’s voice is still in excellent shape.  Everybody ages; that’s to be expected, but I don’t think Twisted Sister have lost a thing with age.

Now, let’s talk about this dual-disc.

This is by far the worst dual-disc I’ve ever tried to play. It certainly looks cool (see gallery below). The DVD side has the TS “bone” logo emblazoned directly on the playing surface. I’ve never seen graphics on the playing surface of a disc before, and it looks awesome. This side plays on all my DVD players, no problem. The CD side will not play correctly on any of my CD players, although it plays fine on my blu-ray player. The CD doesn’t conform to the Red Book standards, which is to say it’s slightly thicker than the CDs that many CD players are designed to accommodate.   It all depends on the tolerances built into the players.  Dual-discs are delicate in the first place, and they should never be played in a front-loading car deck or it could get destroyed along with your deck. In the long run, in order to enjoy the CD on a CD player, I had to buy the damn thing again, this time on the CD/DVD set.

So, great video side, great live album, cool looking disc and package. Dual-disc technology…not so great. Buy accordingly.

5/5 stars (for the CD/DVD combo set)

More TWISTED SISTER at mikeladano.com:

TWISTED SISTER – Live at the Marquee (2011 Rhino limited edition)
TWISTED SISTER – Love Is For Suckers (1987 Atlantic, Spitfire reissue)
TWISTED SISTER – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition)
TWISTED SISTER – Under The Blade (1985 remix)
TWISTED SISTER – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (1984 Atlantic single)

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Love Is For Suckers (1987)

Bought in 1997 at an unknown HMV store in Calgary Alberta, on import, for like $25.  For Aaron’s take on this CD, click here!

TS_0001TWISTED SISTER – Love Is For Suckers (1987 Atlantic, Spitfire reissue)

If the year was 1987, I would have given this CD 5/5 stars easily. When it came out in the summer of ’87 I was really into it. My best friend Bob and I used to play it all the time during that long hot summer, we had all the lyrics memorized. Unfortunately this album has not aged well, certainly not compared to their classic early albums.

One problem with the record is that it’s not actually by the band Twisted Sister! Even as a kid I wondered why people with names like “Reb Beach” or “Kip Winger” were listed in the credits. That’s because Love is For Suckers was written and recorded as the first Dee Snider solo album. Record company pressure forced Dee to release this as the next Twisted Sister album, even though no Twisted members appear on it (aside from new drummer Joey Franco). This only hastened the breakup of Twisted Sister in October of that year.

TS_0003

The album is produced by Beau Hill, a guy also known for Warrant and Winger albums (that’s why Reb and Kip are on here). Beau Hill is one of my least favourite metal producers of all time. He over-produces, uses too many samples, and glosses everything up. As such I find most of his albums pretty hard to listen to today. On Love is For Suckers, all the drums are samples and you sure can tell by that awkward gated sound, and identical snare hits.

Like when we used to climb the rope in gym class

As an 80’s glam metal album, the songs are not that bad. “Wake Up (The Sleeping Giant)” could have been a Twisted Sister song with its themes of rebellion and youth angst. “Hot Love”, the first single, was the song that got me to buy this album. A catchy pop-rocker with irrestible guitars courtesy of maestro Reb Beach, “Hot Love” was as commercial as it gets. Other standout songs included “Me And the Boys”, which was our theme song that summer. “I Want This Night (To Last Forever)” was a Van Hagar sounding pop-rocker with another great chorus. I think, if anything, Love is For Suckers sounds mostly like 5150-era Van Hagar, but with gang vocals and way more glossed up.

Love is For Suckers was reissued a while ago with 4 bonus tracks, demos from these sessions that fit right into the sound of the album. They’re just not as good. “Statuatory Date” for example suffers from extremely bad lyrics.  One of them, “If That’s What You Want” is an early version of an album song, in this case “Me And the Boys”.  Consider looking into these 4 bonus tracks when you’re choosing to purchase Love is For Suckers.

As an added little “insult to injury” following this album’s failure, producer Beau Hill took Dee Snider’s scream from one song, “I Want This Night (To Last Forever)”, and used it as the opening scream on Warrant’s smash hit album Cherry Pie.  Uncredited! I’m sure 99.9% of Warrant fans assume it’s Jani Lane.

If this album description sounds good to you, check it out. You may enjoy it as much as I did all those years ago.  For me, the years have not been kind.

2.5/5 stars

More TWISTED SISTER at mikeladano.com:

TWISTED SISTER – Live at the Marquee (2011 Rhino limited edition)
TWISTED SISTER – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition)
TWISTED SISTER – Under The Blade (1985 remix)
TWISTED SISTER – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (1984 Atlantic single)

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition)

TS SH R_0003

My Twisted reviews: “We’re Not Gonna Take It” single, Under the Blade, Live at the Marquee

TWISTED SISTER – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition, Atlantic, 2009 originally 1984)

Fact:  When I was a kid, I used to think that Jay Jay French might in fact be blind; I never saw him without his dark shades!

25 years of Stay Hungry?  Actually 29 years at press time!  I don’t want to believe it.  Anyway, this reissue was a pretty big deal because Stay Hungry was out of print on CD.  For whatever reason (legal, contractual?) when Twisted issued their series of remasters with bonus tracks back in 1997, Stay Hungry was not one of them. Then in 2004, the reunited band recorded an album called Still Hungry, which was all of Stay Hungry re-recorded “the way they originally wanted it to sound” (cough). As a fan, I only enjoyed it for the new and unreleased bonus tracks. I was underwhelmed by the re-recording. It’s impossible to duplicate a specific recording, especially when the singer can no longer hit the high notes in “The Price”.  And it just didn’t sound good.

That was then, this is now, and Stay Hungry has finally been remastered and beefed up with a bonus disc of unreleased material and one brand new song! (None of these unreleased songs were even heard on Still Hungry, but a couple were remade by Dee on a solo album.) The album itself remains one of Sister’s best, although my preference is to You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll.  The bonus disc sheds light on what else the band was writing at the time.

IMG_00000189_editThe remastering and liner notes are excellent. The album sounds like it should, the way a pristine vinyl copy would sound back then. Still Hungry was mastered way too loud; this is much better.  The liner notes reveal friction between the band and producer Tom Werman. Werman rejected a lot of what the band had written, which makes up disc two. However, he was also a big supporter of their heavier songs such as “Burn In Hell” and “Horror-Teria: The Beginning”, while disliking “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.  Dee Snider, in fact, wanted to save “Horror-Teria” for a rock opera he was composing, but Tom Werman wisely insisted it go on this album.

The special thing about the original Stay Hungry album was that there was not one bad song on it. From all three smash hit singles (“I Wanna Rock” and “The Price”), to album cuts like “Don’t Let Me Down” and “S.M.F.”, every song here is a classic. And only one ballad!

Twisted Sister appeared in the 1985 comedy, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Highlights include the opener “Stay Hungry”, which smokes the speakers immediately.  “Burn In Hell” (seen performed by Twisted Sister in the 1985 film Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) turns up the scare factor with some unholy Snider vocals.  Snider’s epic “Horror Terria” is split into two parts.  “Captain Howdy” (later to become Snider’s character the film Strangeland) is a warning to stay away from the title character.  It’s ominous, Snider obviously hamming it up as Captain Howdy.  As a kid I never fully appreciated exactly what the song is depicting, unfortunately this kind of thing is now in the news on a weekly basis.  Part two is “Street Justice”, an angry song that inspired scenes in the film.

The man was caught, and brought before a judge,
who had just returned from a three-drink lunch.
His lawyer screamed, “You must set him free!”
And off he went, on a technicality.

Side two commenced with two of the big singles, “I Wanna Rock” and “The Price”, but equally good was “Don’t Let Me Down”.  This would have been another single as far as I’m concerned.  “The Beast” is evil and Sabbathy, but the album ends with the TNT blast of “S.M.F.”  At this point you are blown back into your seats.

TS SH R_0006The sound quality on the bonus disc varies from track to track, as is bound to happen with demos this old. Don’t let that spoil your enjoyment. These are some of the heavier songs that Twisted were writing, that Werman simply did not feel were strong enough. Perhaps with some fleshing out and proper studio time, tracks like “Death From Above” or “We’re Coming On” could have stood proud on the album as well. Clearly these demos are unfinished, most are very brief and unadorned. Some are a bit too similar to stronger songs that did make the album. Listening to the whole disc makes you wish that they had been fleshed out and released on B-sides or albums, as some are pretty good.

The highlight of this disc is the brand new Twisted Sister song, “30”. Finally, somebody has written an anthem for older rockers! It’s about time! And it’s a great tune, as well! “30 came and went a long long time ago,” sings Dee, with absolutely no shame, and rightfully so!

If you’re a new fan, or an old fan who has heard Stay Hungry a million times, this is a compulsory purchase. It renders the original release obselete. Still Hungry pales to this reissue. Well done, if only all reissues were put together with this much care and effort.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (12″ single)

This is the third review from the The Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale!  Wes bought me this 12″ single, which was real nice of him.  So for Wes, here’s the review!

For the last review in this series, click here.

TWISTED SISTER  – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (1984 Atlantic single)

I’ll skip the formalities, and I won’t be discussing the single A-side.  What is understood need not be discussed.  On the off chance that you spent your youth in Antarctica, here’s the very clever and original music video (later ripped off by Michael Jackson for his own “Black or White”).

The B-sides are three of Twisted’s all time best, recorded live, and unreleased on CD to date.  All three are classics from You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll:  “The Kids are Back”, “We’re Gonna Make It”, and the album’s title track.  These were recorded live in Poughkeepsie, New York.  Although it seems odd, Dee’s usual spoken opening, “We are Twisted fuckin’ Sister” skipped the expletive.  I’m not sure if it’s edited out or not, for the release of this single.

As far as a single side of Twisted onslaught goes, I don’t know if you could have selected three better songs.  The performances are typical live Sister; fast and reckless.  In other words, perfect.  The live tracks were co-produced by bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza so you know that the band at least had their hands in the mix, too.

Another cool fact:  neither “The Kids are Back” nor “We’re Gonna Make It” are on the Live at the Marquee CD, minimizing overlap with that later release.  They were recorded within the same time frame, so the band is in similar ferocious shape to that great live album.

4/5 stars