martin popoff

REVIEW: Max Webster – The Party (2017 box set)

MAX WEBSTER – The Party (2017 Anthem 8 CD box set)

Normally when we review box sets like this, we prefer to review each album individually.  Three of the eight discs have already been covered here:  Max Webster (their debut), High Class in Borrowed Shoes, and Universal Juveniles (their final album).  The rest of the Max Webster albums will be reviewed in due time, so for now we will take a general look at their brand new CD box set, The Party.

The Max Webster catalogue (and to a lesser extent, the solo Kim Mitchell discography) has been well overdue for a remastering.  The original Anthem CDs are thin and tinny.  Rock Candy did a fantastic remaster of the first three albums with better sound and a generous booklet, but what about the rest?  I first heard about this project via Uncle Meat this past summer at Sausagefest.  It was one of those “know a guy who knows a guy” stories, but the bottom line was, Max Webster’s catalogue was being remastered.  And now we have The Party in hand as proof!

The contents include all five original Max studio albums, their concert opus Live Magnetic Air, Kim Mitchell’s very rare solo EP, and a bonus disc of rarities called The Bootleg.  Those who buy the forthcoming vinyl version will also receive a booklet with rare photos and other goodies.  The CD version has no booklet, but it does have nice gatefold packaging for each album.  It’s affordably priced, so we forgive the lack of a booklet on the CD edition. Vinyl owners can look at it as a bonus for buying vinyl.

If improved audio is what you are longing for, then you should be very satisfied with The Party.  It’s not overdriven, but it sounds fuller and deep.  They didn’t go for loudness.  This is all very good.  You can safely ditch your old CD versions, rendered obsolete by this box.

The Bootleg will be the main draw for many.  It does not disappoint.  In fact, it intrigues, because it teases that there is more.  Unreleased demos are listed as “Contraband” — reports suggest this refers to a collection of unreleased material still in the vault.

Max Webster apparently recorded their 2007 reunion show, or at least “Let Go the Line”.  It sounds brilliant and makes you pray for a live album of the show.  Terry Watkinson’s classic ballad sounds a little older, a little wiser, but just as brilliant as ever.  Other live stuff from 1979 was recorded in Oshawa.  “Oh War” simply smokes, and was not included on Live Magnetic Air.  Then there’s the crazy jam centred on “Research (At Beach Resorts)”.  These insane live sessions really show why Max Webster is held in such high esteem, almost like a second coming of Frank Zappa himself.

The unreleased demos include some songs that didn’t make Max’s albums.  Fans know “Deep Dive” from Kim Mitchell’s solo live album, I Am A Wild Party.  Max’s original 1982 demo is completely different.  Same melody, same words, but a vastly different arrangement.  It’s like rock and roll bluegrass, fast as possible, and insanely good.  It was likely deemed too different to be on the Universal Juveniles LP, but there’s no doubt it’s awesome and the highlight of this box set.

Another standouts from the batch of demos is a version of “Battle Scar” without Rush; just Max!  It’s a revelation; an interesting work in progress.  There are also two songs you’ve never heard before, “Walden 5” and “Better”, both from 1979.  Let’s just say that the quality of these unreleased Max songs is album level.  “Walden 5” just needed some editing.  A demo version of “In the World of Giants” from 1979 has way more guitar soloing.  Kim fans will love it!  Oh — and stay tuned for a surprise unlisted bonus track.

The box itself is just a cardboard sleeve, but at least an attractively packaged one.  Yes, a booklet would have been appreciated.  In lieu of that, we recommend Martin Popoff’s brilliantly detailed book Live Magnetic Air: The Unlikely Saga of the Superlative Max Webster to accompany this otherwise perfect set.

Oh, one last thing:  The two “new” songs that were included on the hits compilation Diamonds Diamonds are not in this box set.  So, to be a completist, you’d still need to track that one down.  Vinyl is recommended; and then you’d own “Hot Spots” and “Overnight Sensation” to complete the picture.  Just a word to the wise.

4.5/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: Max Webster – High Class in Borrowed Shoes (1977)

Scan_20150730MAX WEBSTER – High Class in Borrowed Shoes (1977 Anthem)

It’s only the second Max Webster album, but the band were so tight and perfect that they got three radio classics off it.  “Diamonds Diamonds”, “Gravity” and the title track are all three radio staples, and “On the Road” a live classic that Kim Mitchell occasionally plays unplugged.  Every fan has a favourite Max album, and I think I probably know a couple who would put High Class in Borrowed Shoes as numero uno.

The album opens with the impressive “High Class in Borrowed Shoes”, a blaster that sounds to me like a Canadian Van Halen!  Max had tamed some of their wackier tendencies (“Toronto Tontos”, anyone?) and focussed their chops.  Not that the new Max (now featuring legendary drummer Gary McCracken) was normal by any definition.  Just listen to the lullaby-like “Diamonds Diamonds”.  Great song, but very different for a rock band.  Its dreamlike mood is heightened by the surreal lyrics by Pye Dubois.  Not to mention there are only six lines to the words!

“Gravity” would make my top five Max tracks in a heartbeat.  “What do I know?  I sat under a cloud.  I looked up, afraid to look down.”  Kim sounds like a little boy speaking the words, to great effect.  The chorus is a big one, backed by a Kim’s riffing.  I have no idea what this song is about, but to me the line “Forget that fear of gravity, get a little savagery in your life,” says everything.  Don’t be afraid to take chances.  As Pye’s friend Neil Peart once said, just roll the bones.  That’s what it means to me, anyway.

Proving he has always been capable of tender ballads, “Words to Words” is one of Kim Mitchell’s first.  The keyboards of Terry Watkinson keep it just a little left of center, but Kim’s acoustic work is impeccable and excellent.   Pye Dubois’ lyrics are magical and stirring.  It’s hard to overstate just how quality this song is.  However ballads are usually best followed by scorchers, and that’s “America’s Veins”.  Killer solos, smoking drums, and a chorus built for the concert stage: it’s here in one complete package.

“Oh War!” is an incredible monument of rock.  AC/DC did a song with a similar vibe called “Little Lover”, but “Oh War!” is a completely different animal.  The gonzo solos are more in the “Z” section of the rock aisle, as in “Zappa”.   And check out the words!  “‘Cause I say fuck you instead of thank you, your choice under your breath.”  Yes, that’s what Uncle Kim, Canada’s favourite king of the summertime, just said!  OK, so it wasn’t going to get on the radio with those words…but damn, it should have been.  This song could have been almost as big as “Battle Scar” had it been.

I have a tape here of Kim Mitchell doing “On the Road” live in the MuchMusic studios, acoustically, on their Intimate and Interactive show.  This is what you might call “campfire rock”, but that sells it far too short.  “On the Road” is more than a song that would sound good played live around a fire, it has genuine soul that you can feel.  It’s an incredible song, and once again, I wonder why Max Webster wasn’t friggin’ huge.  “Rain Child” is next in line, which I would describe as a slow burner.  Terry Watkinson’s keys take center stage, never intruding.  “Rain Child” is a classic album track, and perfect for winding down the album.

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Max Webster went mad on the last track, “In Context of the Moon”.  This is the second of four “Moon” songs on the first four records:  “Coming Off the Moon”, “Beyond the Moon”, and “Moon Voices” are the others.  “In Context” can’t be described easily, because it spans many styles and tempos in just five measly minutes!  How?!  You have to play this one a few times just to get everything that is happening.  It’s certainly one of the most challenging pieces of music Max have recorded.  The four musicians must have rehearsed the shit out of this one.  Anyway, at all times, it smokes.  Whether it’s the bright intro guitars, or the metal riffs that follow them, or the sheer madness (including bass solo) that ensues, “In Context of the Moon” is always riveting.  It’s just non-stop even though by the time you get to the end of it, you’ll wonder how you got there!

Final note:  My good buddy T-Rev, who has guest written here a couple times before, met Gary McCracken after he moved to Sarnia.  He was working at Fastenal when in came a guy to pick up an “order for Gary McCracken.”  T-Rev pondered a bit before enquiring, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but were in a band called Max Webster?”  Yes, he had.  It was that Gary McCracken, and he was cool.  I love little stories like that.  Gary McCracken was Trevor’s biggest influence as a young drummer!

Popoff's awesome book

Popoff’s awesome book

There is nothing more to be said in just a single review.   For the whole enchilada, get the book from martinpopoff.com!  And be sure to get High Class in Borrowed Shoes for your collection.

5/5 stars

#342: All in a Day’s Drive

RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale
#342: All in a Day’s Drive

Friday November 21, 2014 was a pretty nice day weather wise. There was no precipitation and the skies were clear. If you’re going to pick a day to make a drive down the 401, you couldn’t have picked a better one. Jen needed to see a doctor at the hospital in Mississauga, so off we went. [Note: don’t worry, she’s fine. This is regarding her epilepsy.]  I brought music and reading materials, and kept a log of the rock:

9 am: Depart Kitchener for Brampton. Playing in the car: Deep Purple – Smoke on my Mega-Mixa bootleg compilation CD of remixes and live tracks.

10 am: Pick up Jen’s mom in Brampton [she spent the weekend with us]. Depart for Mississauga. Playing on car stereo: Van Halen – 5150.  As a “bonus track”, I tacked on the live version of “Why Can’t This Be Love” (from the music video) to the end of the playlist.  Jen’s comment: “The singing on this is… (pause)…really not as good as the regular version.”  She’s right.

11 am: Arrive at hospital. Playing on mp3 player: Kiss – Love Gun (deluxe). Reading material: Martin Popoff – Live Magnetic Air: The Unlikely Saga of the Superlative Max Webster

4 pm: Depart hospital with mission accomplished.

6:30 pm: Finally arrive home after 2 1/2 hour crawl along Highway 401!  The whole way was brake light city. Just a tedious, slow drive. There was no reason for it.  From what I could tell, it was all caused by commuters that didn’t know how to properly merge.  When somebody leaves you 5 or 6 car lengths space to merge in, take it.  Don’t race further ahead to see if you can get in front of that transport truck and that guy in the Hyundai.  Car music: Van Halen – Fair Warning, Diver Down, and A Different Kind of Truth. Yes, that means Jen and her mom heard a LOT of Van Halen today. And that’s fucking cool.

For more information on epilepsy, please visit epilepsyontario.org.

New book: Martin Popoff – Live Magnetic Air: The Unlikely Saga of the Superlative Max Webster

You know this is gonna be good. Popoff writing the definitive book on his fave band of all time? I’m in. I ordered this with his Scorpions bio.

Dirty details:

260 pages, 100,000 words. Pics: live, studio, records, etc.

The sound, as per Popoff: 92% Blue Oyster Cult crossed with Cheap Trick, topped by 4% Kansas and 4% Zappa.

I’ve made no secret of my love for this band, and Martin’s books.   Now he’s finally shedding light on a band about whom info is usually scarce.   It’s a must for me, and all fans of Canadian rock.

Contact Martin, and his site for lots of books and ordering info. Martinpopoff.com.

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REVIEW: Badlands – Badlands (1989)

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BADLANDS – Badlands (1989 Atlantic)

When this album came out I bought it immediately. Well, as soon as it was made available by Columbia House music club, that is.  I remember that I described it to a work friend named Mark as “raw bluesy shit”, and I still stand by that three word description. With an emphasis on raw. For 1989, this kind of production was unheard of. You can hear everything on this album, you can hear Jake’s fingers talking. Very little embellishment going on here.

Badlands were almost a supergroup of sorts: Ray Gillen (ex-Black Sabbath), Jake E. Lee (ex Ozzy Osbourne), Eric Singer (also ex-Black Sabbath, now in Kiss) and Greg Chaisson (ex-nobody significant). Jake had always complained he didn’t have an outlet to play the blues in Ozzy’s band, so this is his version of the blues, and it’s hard as hell!  The band also had a vision of an album with two sides: a first harder rocking side, and a second bluesier side with longer songs.

“High Wire” kicks Badlands off with Jake’s raw, stripped back guitar sound.  Producer Paul O’Neill (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) was also managing Badlands, and his production work here is completely different from the layers that he is better known for.  The effects are stipped back, and Jake’s guitar is very different from The Ultimate Sin.  A groovy exciting track, “High Wire” is driven by the riff and Gillen’s authoritative Coverdale-esque lead vocals.

The single “Dreams In The Dark” is next, the closest thing to a commercial song that this album gets. It has a strong chorus, instantly memorable, but you’ll be forgiven for thinking this is a Whitesnake outtake at first.  A brief instrumental precedes my favourite song, “Winter’s Call”.  It is as close is you’ll get to a ballad on this album, and only because its intro is slow and acoustic. However once that first riff kicks in, there’s no looking back. Eric Singer’s drum patterns are complex and hard hitting.  The song itself is atmospheric and still kicks my ass all these years later.  It’s infectious, like an old Zeppelin number.  I hear sitar!

A pair of rockers finish side one, “Dancing On The Edge” (an accelerated raw rocker with a great chorus) and “Streets Cry Freedom” a steamy, slower tune like a classic Coverdale prowl.  Both songs are standouts.

Side two starts with a serious rocker, “Hard Driver”, but from there it is on to the long, slower bluesy numbers that the band talked about. “Rumblin’ Train” is the bluesiest number, and “Devil’s Stomp” is as heavy as the title implies. “Seasons” is a slow moody one, brilliantly dramatic thanks to Gillen’s emotive vocal. The cassette/CD bonus track was called “Ball & Chain” and it finishes the album on a another hard bluesy note.  (Yes, back then when they couldn’t fit all the songs on an LP, they’d still include it on the cassette version and call it a “bonus track”.)

Badlands made a couple more albums, but this one is my favourite.  Martin Popoff himself rates this one a 10/10.  I gotta agree with the man on this one.  On a 5 scale…

5/5 stars

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More More New Arrivals!

I’m still absorbing all my new music from Record Store Excursion 2012, but here we go again!

Martin Popoff & Ioannis – Fade To Black

Look at the size of that thing!

 

Aerosmith – Music From Another Dimension!

I don’t always go to Walmart.  But when I do, I buy music.

Blue Rodeo – 1987-1993

Listened to the whole thing once now, hope to review it.

 

Deep Purple – Machine Head 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

4 of the 5 discs are Machine Head.  That’s a lot of Machine Head for one sitting, so I’m listening to it in spurts.

 

Part 21: “The Book” / REVIEW: Martin Popoff – Riff Kills Man!

I keep my copy in my desk

I keep my copy in my desk

 

RECORD STORE TALES Part 21:  The Book

Way back in the day, Tom had this book; a book of reviews of metal albums.  I don’t know where he got it.  He had recently acquired it and was perusing album reviews daily.  Hanging out one evening, he said to me, “Have you ever heard Gillan?”

I said, “Gillan, as in Ian Gillan’s band?”

“Yeah,” responded Tom.

“No,”  I said.

“You’re going to have to find some.  This book gives him consistent 10 star ratings.  There are some pretty cool song titles man, like ‘I’ll Rip Your Spine Out’.”

Cool!  So “The Book (as it came to be known) made the rounds.  T-Rev borrowed it for a couple weeks and explored the Max Webster and Kim Mitchell ratings.  Trevor enjoy the reviews of the writer, one Martin Popoff.  He commented to me, “This guy is pretty bang-on for most of them, but you have to read the Def Leppard and Rik Emmett reviews…hilarious, man.”

Trevor was right!  Ipso Facto by Rik Emmett was rated a 0/10, with a single sentence review:  “Man, don’t get me started.”  The book was hilarious and informative at the same time.  We all found it entertaining as well as useful.

When the book came around to me, I was really curious about this band called Budgie.  New fave band!  Eventually, I returned the book to Tom who passed it on to someone else, probably Uncle Meat.   Certain things always stuck in my head.  According to Popoff, I clearly needed more Thin Lizzy, so I began rectifying that with a box set.  He didn’t think much of Kiss, but I could understand this given his criteria, even if I disagreed.

I wished I owned a copy, and a year later I found one downtown at Encore Records, second hand.  Then a weird coincidence happened.  Just as I was craving another read, and was preparing to go downtown and buy a copy of Riff Kills Man, a regular customer of mine gave me his copy.  I don’t remember too much about this guy, except that he sold more than he bought.  He sold a lot of hard-to-find goth and punk stuff, and he always wore a jean jacket, and he strangely always smelled like fried eggs.  Since I can’t remember his name, I’ll call him Fried Eggs Man.

So Fried Eggs Man had been talking to me about the book, and passed it onto me free of charge.  I thought that was really cool of him.  The book too smells of fried eggs, and was coming apart.  I used Bounce dryer sheets to help out with the smell, and I painstakingly glued the pages back in with Elmer’s white glue.  I had to do some cover repair work as well, but the book is solid as a rock and has served me well for probably a decade and a half by now.

MARTIN POPOFF – Riff Kills Man! (1993 Power Chord Press, Toronto Ontario)

Martin Popoff, a writer for BW&BK magazine, is simply one of the  most knowledgeable metal fans out there. His record collection sounds like it’s to die for.  Riff Kills Man! is his first book, but today, he has an extensive bibliography of books that I consider among the best sources of rock information out there.  In fact, LeBrain himself relies heavily on Popoff’s teachings, and I will admit to consciously emulating him in my earlier reviews.

Riff Kills Man!, later supplanted by his more up to date and complete Collector’s Guides, is an album-by-album review of virtually every major metal record from its inception to 1992, all stuff which belonged to Popoff’s personal collection. He covers subgenres such as punk metal and grunge, and bands so obscure that you may never be able to find their albums. Rated from 1 to 10, with strict rules for rating, Riff Kills Man! gives you a great place to start when looking for something “new” to listen to. If it wasn’t for all the 9 and 10 star reviews in this book, I may never have started listening to Budgie, or Thin Lizzy, or Diamond Head.

His rating system is fairly complex, but for the most part, as objective as possible.  I don’t necessarily agree with all of the author’s opinions. For example, Popoff really dislikes a lot of pop rock and gives both Adrenalize and Hysteria by Def Leppard a big fat 0.  “An offensive kick in the head from the rock n’ roll bored room,” writes Popoff.   You may agree, but for me Hysteria is a classic record.  Regardless, he makes valid points that even the most staunch fan such as myself have to grudgingly agree with.

Popoff also tends to dislike live albums with meandering jams like many old Deep Purple recordings. He generally focuses on studio albums, avoiding most EPs and complitions.  So if you’re looking for complete reviews of, say, the numerous Thin Lizzy EPs, live releases and compilations, look elsewhere.

Martin ends the book with several lists and indexes:  Top desert island albums, top guitar players, vocalists, producers, you name it.  He also has a lot of unique categories all his own, such as best showman, best comeback, most consistent band, etc.  AC/DC are ranked as his #1 band in the category of worst album covers!

That aside, Riff Kills Man! was, for me, an essential and often hilarious piece of reading. Pick it up, and then move forward for some of Popoff’s more complete and more specialized books.  I keep mine in my desk at work at all times!

DISCLAIMER – Although it can be found used, this book is out of print.  I spoke to Martin Popoff once about this book, and he told me he finds it a bit embarrassing today.  I still think it’s awesome.

5/5 stars

Also recommended by Popoff:  His books on Sabbath, Rush, Rainbow, and Priest are definitive.  The best books on the market for those bands.