Matt Sorum

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II (1991)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II (1991 Geffen)

In my review for Guns N’ Roses’ smashing debut Appetite For Destruction, I stated that “Appetite is great, but Illusions are better”.  A strong and controversial statement.  How could I say such a thing?

Use Your Illusion I and II are a case of “Bigger, Better, Faster, More!”  Consider:

1. “Bigger”

Certainly in terms of length, Illusions are far bigger:  2 hours and 32 minutes compared to 53 minutes for Appetite.  I concede that the Illusions albums have far more filler than Appetite.  Given that the grand total of awesome material on Illusions still exceeds the length of Appetite, I think “Bigger” is a given.  They made us wait and wait and wait, but they made it worth our while.  You can’t always say that for Guns N’ Roses.

2. “Better”

Guns N’ Roses’ lineup was “new and improved!” in 1991.  Original drummer Steven Adler was given the boot due to severe issues with substances, replaced by Matt Sorum, who they knew from The Cult.  I won’t argue that Matt Sorum is a “better” drummer than Steven Adler, because they are too different.  Regardless of this, Sorum was able to expand Guns’ rhythmical pallette.  He could play things Adler could not at the time, such as “You Could Me Mine” and “Double Talkin’ Jive”.  As for the core members, each of them expanded their own talents on these albums.  Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin were now lead vocalists on a few tracks.  Slash’s guitar playing grew exponentially.  Izzy blossomed as a songwriter with some of Guns’ most diverse material.  And Axl Rose really got into the piano, contributing a ton of it, and even the techno influence that would later evolve into Chinese Democracy.  His vocal stylings also expanded, with more use of his lower voice.  Everybody had gotten…better.

3. “Faster”

It’s possible that “Right Next Door to Hell” is the fastest Guns track ever recorded.  “Perfect Crime” and “Garden of Eden” also qualify.

4. “More!”

Guns expanded their official lineup to a six piece with the arrival of keyboardist Dizzy Reed.  They also had plenty of special guests:  Alice Cooper*, Michael Monroe, and a guy named Shannon Hoon from the then-unknown Blind Melon.  Hoon appeared in the “Don’t Cry” music video.  Steven Adler was even on “Civil War”, one of the earliest tracks finished.  How’s that for more?  Not enough?  Throw on some orchestras, then.

Of course the weakness to this argument is the old saying that “less is more”, and that theory holds water.  Ultimately, it comes down to taste.  Do you prefer the nuclear assault of Appetite, or the complex stew of Illusions?  Fortunately, you don’t have to choose.  You can buy and love them all.

We reviewers, however, are not afforded such luxury.  We are expected to rate these things and answer tough questions about why.  I cannot deny how I feel about the Illusions albums.  I think II tops I, but from first listen, these albums were very special.  The ambition, the indulgence, and the time paid off on these albums.

Breaking it down, there are numerous top tier bonafide classics on Use Your Illusion I and II.  I think if you boiled the album down to these basic original tracks (colour coded by original album), you’d have a hard time beating it.

Proposal:

  1. Dust N’ Bones
  2. Don’t Cry
  3. Bad Obsession
  4. Double Talkin’ Jive
  5. November Rain
  6. The Garden
  7. Coma
  8. Civil War
  9. 14 Years
  10. Breakdown
  11. Pretty Tied Up
  12. Locomotive
  13. Estranged
  14. You Could Be Mine

And look…that’s enough for a perfectly awesome single CD.  It doesn’t even include the excellent covers “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Live and Let Die”, both hit singles for Guns.  It also excludes dumb but fun stuff like “Get in the Ring”.  You know you and your buddies have recited the words.  Don’t lie to me!

I always choose to listen to these albums in full, in sequence.  I find that to be the best way to go, as they intended it to be.

Appetite showed the world that rock and roll could still be dangerous and loud.  The Illusions albums immediately proved that Axl was a hell of a tortured genius.  However it’s not a one man show.  The dominant songwriter is Izzy Stradlin, with 11 credits on most of the best material.  His singing added a Keith Richards rasp to the band’s repertoire as well.

You don’t have to agree with my rating, but I feel that all of the above really overshadows the filler on Use Your Illusion.  Some of the material I consider filler were singles.  “Dead Horse” and “Garden of Eden” were both hit music videos.  The sheer bloat and indulgence of this set was a sharp and delightful contrast to the first waves of back-to-basics grunge bands.  It kept Guns on the charts for years.

In a 1991 M.E.A.T Magazine interview, Slash stated that after Appetite, every band in the world copied their style.  He challenged bands to try and copy them this time.  “To copy us, you’d have to be us.”  Slash was correct.  Nobody could touch Illusions.

5/5 stars

 

* The story behind the Cooper cameo is that Axl has originally sung all of “The Garden” himself. He sang it in a very Alice Cooper voice, and there was concern it was too close for comfort. So they called up Alice (who they worked with before on “Under My Wheels”) and Alice just nailed “The Garden”.

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REVIEW: Duff McKagan – Believe In Me (1993)

scan_20170213DUFF McKAGAN – Believe In Me (1993 Geffen)

In 1993 Duff McKagan was not clean yet, at least not for good.  It would take a critical medical emergency for him to get close enough to death and stop drinking.  The cover of Believe in Me, a skeletal Duff bathing in a martini glass, reflects the last of the old Duff.  It was his solo debut, following Izzy but before Slash.  Guns’ own Spaghetti Incident? hit the shelves two months later, as the end of the original band creeped on the horizon.

Fans were probably experiencing a bit of Guns overload.  Two albums, two live concert video tapes, loads of touring and music videos…Guns were everywhere from 1991-1993 and then it was the dawn of Guns solo albums.

Duff’s solo debut was a grab bag of different styles:  punk, rock, funk, jazz and ballads.  It was also loaded with rock star guest shots:  Lenny Kravitz and Sebastian Bach sang one song a piece.  Dave Sabo and Rob Affuso from Skid Row joined Baz on the album while Slash laid down a couple trademark dirty guitar solos.  Jeff Beck dropped by, and just about every Guns member except Axl himself contributed.

Despite Duff’s ambition, the best tracks tend to be the rockers.  Opener “Believe in Me” was a very Guns-like single:  short, sweet, catchy and with a Slash guitar solo to hit it home.  “I Love You” isn’t a ballad despite the title, in fact it’s a rocker and perhaps the best tune on the album. “Just Not There” also rides the GN’R train, normally bound for hitsville.  Sebastian Bach’s “Trouble” is plenty of fun, and Lenny Kravitz gets angry on “The Majority”.  These songs would have made a fine basis for a Guns album, but Axl wasn’t looking for songs that sounded like Guns N’ Roses.

An angry “(Fucked Up) Beyond Belief” (a song birthed from GN’R rehearsals) is noisy punk-rap, while “Fuck You” itself is basically a rock rap song featuring a guy named Doc.  “Punk Rock Song” is exactly what it claims to be, but isn’t particularly memorable.  The biggest mis-step is the muted trumpet jazz number, “Lonely Tonight”.  At least Duff was trying something different, but his vocals and lyrics leave a lot to be desired.

During the period that Guns N’ Roses were inactive or just working behind closed doors, a lot of these solo albums really represented an alternate universe.  “What if the original members didn’t leave and instead recorded a new album?”  It’s possible these songs or songs like them could have been on that hypothetical album.  Instead, Believe in Me was a launch pad for plenty of Duff projects and albums:  Neurotic Outsides, 10 Minute Warning, Loaded, Velvet Revolver and many more.  Duff has proven that clean and sober, he can be one hell of a prolific songwriter.  Believe in Me is a good introduction to the many stylings of Duff McKagan.

3/5 stars

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#516: Use Your Illusion

GETTING MORE TALE #516: Use Your Illusion

25 years ago on this day, millions of fans used their illusions.

1991:  First year of university, and I was hard at work on some reading.  My sister and my mom were out shopping at the mall.  The record store I eventually worked at opened up just that summer.  Unbeknownst to me, they popped in on my behalf and returned with a present.

“Mike!” yelled my sister excitedly as they returned home.  The dog barked loudly in shrill Schnauzer barks as she talked.  “Did you know Guns N’ Roses have TWO NEW ALBUMS OUT?”

I sure did!  Use Your Illusion I and II were the long-awaited true followups to Appetite for Destruction.  With 30 brand new songs, Guns released the music as two separate but complimentary albums.  My sister eagerly handed me a gift:  a new cassette copy of Use Your Illusion II!

Why she chose II, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.  For this fan, II was the first.  I had it a whole week before I caught up and bought Illusion I (again, at the same store I would work at only three years later).  It was $10.99.  Perhaps because I had the second album a week ahead of the first, I still really prefer II over I.  Songs such as “Breakdown”, “Pretty Tied Up”, and “Locomotive” are three of the strongest and most ambitious rock songs on an already strong set.  They stand up today as my personal favourites.

The Use Your Illusion albums spawned a combined eight singles:  “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, “Civil War”, “You Could Be Mine”, “Don’t Cry”, “Live and Let Die”, “November Rain”, “Yesterdays” and “Estranged”.  Additionally, music videos were made for the tracks “Garden of Eden”, “The Garden”, and “Dead Horse”.  Guns N’ Roses assaulted all formats as they trounced the world in a two year long world tour, with acts such as Skid Row, Metallica and Faith No More.  They even suffered their most devastating lineup change right at the very start of it.  Chief songwriter Izzy Stradlin departed in November of 1991, to be replaced shortly after by Gilby Clarke.  Although he has made numerous guest appearances since, Izzy has never rejoined Guns N’ Roses.

Did you buy Use Your Illusion I and II 25 years ago today?  Do you have a favourite?

 

REVIEW: The Cult – Sonic Temple (1989)

By special request of reader Wardy!

THE CULT – Sonic Temple (1989 Polygram limited edition hologram cover)

The Cult went into 1989’s Sonic Temple with nothing but promise.  New hotshot producer Bob Rock had struck it rich with Kingdom Come the year before.  Critics raved about his drum sound and other Zeppish tendencies on that album.  The Cult themselves were following up the incendiary Electric album, a stripped back record produced by Rick Rubin.  Anticipation ran high.  Considering that Robert Plant was quoted as saying that “Led Zeppelin is being continued by The Mission and The Cult”, I think a few people expected Sonic Temple to be the second coming.

Some fans hoping for another Electric or even another Love were disappointed by the mainstream rock direction of Sonic Temple.  Mainstream though it may be, Sonic Temple burns with the same middle finger up attitude of old Cult, just with the edges sanded off and sound enhanced by Bob Rock.  Rock’s production is similar to that of Dr. Feelgood released the same year.

You couldn’t ask for a better double-whammy than the opening salvo of “Sun King” and “Fire Woman”.  Even though The Cult were able to score a major hit with “Fire Woman” it’s still a tough little song based on a killer Billy Duffy guitar hook.  Both songs have aged well, as has “American Horse”, a slow Cult stomper.  I love the interplay on the verse riff between Duffy and bassist Jamie Stewart.  Stewart, a member since the band became The Cult, departed after this tour and moved to Canada.  Here he produced a few up and coming bands such as Gut-Sonic.  I think Jamie Stewart was the underappreciated Cult member.  His grooves (with session drummer Mickey Curry*) are a part of Sonic Temple‘s drive.

The big hit ballad was the dramatic “Edie (Ciao Baby)”.  Here they really benefit from Bob Rock’s lush rock production values.  Strings and acoustics ring crisp.  Add in a howlin’ Ian Astbury chorus and you have one hell of a song.

“Sweet Soul Sister” was the third single (after “Fire Woman” and “Edie”) and another killer Cult song it is. You can really hear Bob Rock’s touch on the layered vocals for better or worse. It’s a touch that I find dated today, but the bare organ intro is magical! Unfortunately it gets dicey after “Sweet Soul Sister”.

I wouldn’t call any of the songs that follow “Sweet Soul Sister” poor or filler. None of them lack hooks or massive Billy Duffy guitars. Yet compared to the first side of the album, everything from “Soul Asylum” onwards fails to ignite like that. There are certainly lots of memorable moments, such as the breakneck “New York City” featuring an Iggy Pop cameo. It’s a good song, and so is “Soldier Blue” and the rest of the tunes…just not as good as side one. (By the way, if any song on Sonic Temple recalls Led Zeppelin, it the massive “Soul Asylum”, which is basically The Cult’s “Kashmir”.)

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My copy of Sonic Temple is a limited edition with mirrored hologram cover. I bought it from this guy Todd, who worked at the HMV store at the mall. A buddy of mine had a crush on his sister, or something, and that’s how I knew him. He treated me right when I shopped at his store, and I returned the favour when he sold his stuff to us. That’s how I got this, and also how I got the Sonic Temple Collection 3 CD set complete with mail-away box.

I still like Sonic Temple today, but I only love side one.

3.75/5 stars

*Eric Singer played on the demos, released as part of the Rare Cult Demos box set.  Ex-Tori Amos drummer Matt Sorum appeared in the music videos and played on the tour, where he fatefully met Guns N’ Roses, and the rest was history.

REVIEW: The Cult – Beyond Good and Evil (Australian bonus track)

Second of a CULT double shot!  Click here for 1994’s The Cult.

THE CULT – Beyond Good and Evil (2001 Atlantic)

When The Cult finally reunited, the rock world rejoiced.  It felt like a long time, in that post-grunge wasteland, since the world had been blessed with any new Cult music.  Not only had they reunited (with their former drummer Matt Sorum, also formerly of Guns N’ Roses) but they had also reunited with producer Bob Rock, for the third time.   Much like his last outing with the band (1994’s The Cult), this Cult album sounds like none before it.  This time, The Cult have gone full-bore ground-shaking heavy metal.  The template was a song the old band were working on before they split “In the Clouds”, from 1996’s High Octane Cult.  The resemblance is uncanny.

BEYOND THE CULT_0003“War (The Process)” invites you to the stage.  Its weight is astounding; Duffy’s guitars crushing while Sorum attacks his kit as he always has.  Duffy’s guitars have acquired a much heavier metallic tone.  Bob Rock applies them in layers, which has always worked well for The Cult.  When “The Saint” enters, your head could be blown from your shoulders.  This is The Cult at their heaviest, but Billy’s melodic sensibilities are intact, and his guitars always sound like Billy Duffy.  Ian, of course, sounds like Ian, howling at the ghosts.

The single from this album was “Rise”, which is no less brutal than the first two tracks.  Its stuttering de-tuned riff recalls Kyuss or Queens of the Stone Age. Song after song, the album crushes.  “Take the Power” is a rallying crying over a noisy Duffy arrangement.  This time, the layers of guitars form this wall of awesome that threatens to fall on you at any moment.  Astbury is delivering a lot more melody with his lead vocals than he did on The Cult.

BEYOND THE CULT_0005“Breathe” offers a respite, but it’s only brief.  It soon turns into a mid-tempo groove rocker, but a forgettable one.  “Nico” is a highlight, an “Edie”-esque beauty.  It would have been my choice for a single.  Somebody should really start asking me.

No sooner have you had a chance to relax before “American Gothic” smashes through the wall.  This is one of the heaviest Cult songs to date.  Cult bassist Chris Wyse (back in the band today) has a solid groove but is overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the Duffy guitar layers.  “Ashes and Ghosts” too is groove laden and heavy as plutonium.  “Shape the Sky” has a little bit of the old Cult’s prowl, but it’s still pretty heavy like spent nuclear fuel.  Ian has a knack for a cool chorus, and this is one of them.  “Speed of Light” has a bit of that robotic pulse from 1993’s “The Witch” before it descends into a detuned metal riff and chorus.  Then, “True Believers” gives you some breathing room again, although still slammed by electric guitars.  This slow tune is a bit more about the melody than the headache.

BEYOND THE CULT_0004The final song on most editions of Beyond Good and Evil is “My Bridges Burn”.  The Cult bow out on a scorching rocker, blowing the speakers out for those who dare to follow them.   Australia received an additional song, “Libertine”, on which to close.  This song feels like a coda and is powered by an Anthrax-esque stomp.  Top that with a soaring Astbury howl and those patented Duffy guitar melodies and you have a good summation of The Cult 2001.

I think many old-school Cult fans, the kind who think they made a wrong turn on Sonic Temple, would dislike Beyond Good and Evil.  For those of us who don’t mind the Cult when they just fucking rock, I think it’s a brilliant album.  The songs are not designed to be instantly catchy.   They are designed to create a sledgehammer of an album that relentlessly powers its way into your soul.  For me, it worked.  You could listen to it once and say, “Sure, it’s heavy, but there are only a couple memorable songs.”  Keep listening.  Let Beyond Good and Evil pummel you with body blows until all you can do is let it sink in.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – “The Spaghetti Incident?” (1993)

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GUNS N’ ROSES – “The Spaghetti Incident?” (1993 Geffen)

The hype surrounding this album was palpable. The disappointment was legendary. When I began working in a record store in July 1994, less than a year after the release of “The Spaghetti Incident?”, we couldn’t give these away, no matter how low we marked them down. This disc effectively ended Guns N’ Roses domination and ushered in an era of a new wave of bands, the post-grunge onslaught. GN’R survived grunge only to be put to bed with this terrible album!

The reason is, while most of these songs are great in their own rights, these versions are not. The recording is sparse and basic, a far cry from the layered intricacy of the Illusions albums. While Slash’s goal was to get the production back to basics (read: Appetite), this album was an ugly beast and not even close to the shiny black gleam of Destruction. Some songs are just plain boring. “Since I Don’t Have You” was an odd choice for a single, and “Black Leather” just plain sucked. I think there were quite a few fans who were baffled by the number of Duff lead vocals too.

The best song (which wasn’t even recorded by GN’R), is Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”. This is actually a Duff McKagan solo track, an outtake recorded for his first solo album, Believe In Me. Other standouts include Axl’s raging “I Don’t Care About You”, Duff’s “Attitude”, and “Down On The Farm” which had been played live way way back when Izzy was still in the band. A lot of fans were off-put by Axl’s faux-English accent on “Down On The Farm”, but that’s the way it was played live and I don’t mind. The New York Dolls’ “Human Being” is a great Guns cover.  “Ain’t It Fun” is also an angry standout.

Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog” is underwhelming although Axl does nail the lead vocal. Why GN’R covered a Soundgarden song (“Big Dumb Sex”) is beyond me, and of course there’s the worst track on the album, and most legendary — Charles Manson’s “Look At Your Game, Girl”. Axl’s obsession with Manson was just another nail in the coffin for GN’R, as most fans couldn’t wrap their heads around it. It didn’t help that Slash publicly said that the song “sucked” and that he refused to play on it.*

“The Spaghetti Incident?” will go down in history as the last music of the Illusions sessions to be released, and also is the only album of the Rose/Slash/McKagan/Sorum/Clarke/Reed lineup. By the time Guns N’ Roses released their next single (another cover, the Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil”), Gilby Clarke was fired by Axl and replaced by Axl’s hometown bud Paul Huge. And that was the last straw for Slash, and the beginning of what would later be known as Chinese Democracy. And that was it. “The Spaghetti Incident?” is the last album to feature Slash, Duff, and Matt, and I think that is just sad and kind of weird too.

If you love Guns N’ Roses, then you already have this, because you have everything by the band. If you only “like” Guns N’ Roses, you don’t need this. You’ll play it a few times and then file it away, never to be heard again.

Instead of this, pick up:

All three would have been great GN’R albums, but sadly none were.

2.5/5 stars

* In 2000, Axl Rose stated that “Look At Your Game, Girl” would be removed from future printings of the album.  That never happend.

Part 285: Chinese Democracy

By request of reader Johnny Sixx: A review of Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy so long that I split it into two parts. Part Two comes tomorrow. Read on!

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 285: Chinese Democracy

The story goes like this:

In late 1994/early 1995, T-Rev and I would update the store’s “new releases board” every few weeks. This board advertised what new releases were coming in the weeks and months ahead. When I was given my own store, T-Rev took over the original as manager, and continued on diligently with the new releases board.

Of course, one of the most anticipated releases even back in 1994 and 1995 was the “new” Guns N’ Roses. We’d sat through solo albums from Izzy, Duff, Gilby and finally Slash himself. While Izzy and Gilby came close to the mark, none of these were a substitute for a real Guns N’ Roses album. The only official new Guns N’ Roses CD that we had for sale was the CD single for “Sympathy For the Devil”. Little did we know back then that “Sympathy” was like the straw that broke the Guns’ backs! (Axl had secretly brought in Paul Huge as Gilby Clarke’s replacement, and had him overdub “answer” solos to go with Slash’s. Slash was furious, especially since Axl fired Gilby without telling anyone.)

The rumours were always buzzing, so T-Rev would periodically call me. “Mikey! Do you know any more new releases I can add to the board?” I was always checking out M.E.A.T Magazine, and inside a recent issue (March/April 1994), Slash himself said he was mixing the new album himself, and that it would be out by summer.  He actually went into quite a bit of detail regarding the new Guns N’ Roses album in this article.  He offered no song titles, but it’s easy to tell from his descriptions that many of the songs ended up on his and Gilby’s solo albums.  He downplays Axl Rose’s contribution to the project considerably.

An excerpt:

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Flush with cryptic updates such as these, I would always be able to help T-Rev keep the new release board up to date.

“Yeah man, I got a Guns N’ Roses update for you,” I would tell him on the phone.  “The new album’s coming out next quarter.”  After M.E.A.T Magazine went bust in 1995, I would have kept up with the latest Hit Parader or RIP Magazine.   The release dates kept getting pushed back.

Every month, T-Rev would dutifully change the board. Guns N’ Roses – spring 1995. Then the next month, he’d call me again. “Anything new?” And I’d let him know whatever I’d read. “The album’s scheduled for summer. This is according to Metal Edge,” or whatever.

And the board changed again. Fall 1995. Christmas 1995. Spring 1996. It became a running gag. Even if there was no GN’R news, T-Rev kept that album on the board dutifully. He’d just bump it ahead a couple months. He kept doing that until the store moved and changed formats at the end of ’96.  Even if no customers got the joke, the two of us thought it was freakin’ hilarious.  Trevor always predicted it would never come out.

I don’t think we would have laughed if we knew how long it would really be before Chinese Democracy was finally released to the public!  We waited through lineup change after lineup change, and the release of the new track “Oh My God” in 1999.  It would be almost a decade more before the final release.  Would it be worth the wait?  Find out tomorrow.

Part 282 / REVIEW: Neurotic Outsiders – Neurotic Outsiders (1996)

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 282:
T-Rev, Mike, and the Neurotic Outsiders…

T-Rev called me from his store one afternoon in 1996.

“Mikey!  Have you heard this Neurotic Outsiders CD?  It fuckin’ rocks!”

I had not heard the Neurotic Outsiders CD.

It actually took T-Rev some talking to get me to buy it.  (Playing it in-store was forbidden due to the foul language contained therein.)  I knew Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum were in the band, with Steve Jones and John Taylor from Duran Duran.  I was getting pretty bored with GN’R related solo albums, and while I found this combo intriguing, I was also inundated with other new releases at the same time.  These included a new Rush studio album, a Rush tribute album, a new Scorpions, and a new King’s X.  I had plenty of new music to keep me occupied!

He persisted, T-Rev did, and I caved and bought the CD.  It only took one listen to know that he was right about the Neurotic Outsiders.  They did indeed fucking rock.  I was hooked immediately.

We played Neurotic Outsiders in the car a lot that summer.  If I was driving, Trevor would be playing air drums along with Matt Sorum.  Trev’s a drummer and he was damn good at doing Sorum’s style.  You know that rolling drum intro to “You Could be Mine”?  T-Rev had that one mastered, and there’s loads of that on Neurotic Outsiders.  “Good News” is a great example.  Trevor used to say my car had “good bass”, but he wasn’t talking about my stereo system.  He was talking about the sound he could make when playing double bass on my floor with his feet.   He could bruise his legs (snare drums) just from playing in the car.

I didn’t really drink back in those days so I was usually designated driver, which worked out really well.  Driving home from a party, Neurotic Outsiders blasting, T-Rev playing slightly tipsy but always awesome air drums next to me.   I didn’t have a CD player in that car either, which would have been my old Plymouth Sundance.  Piece of shit car.  The left driver’s side speaker was blown, making everything sound absolutely weak and lopsided.  I recorded Neurotic Outsiders to cassette for car play.  T-Rev’s modus operandi was the mix tape, whereas I chose to record entire albums.  Either way, we heard “Good News” and “Angelina” a hell of a lot that year.

Fuck, that was a good summer.

NEUROTIC OUTSIDERS – Neurotic Outsiders (1996 Maverick)

This album kind of snuck in under the radar in ’96. Guns N’ Roses was disintegrating (Slash quit in October), but Matt & Duff teamed up with Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and John Taylor of Duran Duran to form this supergroup of sorts. Lead vocals are handled by everyone except Matt Sorum, who provides plenty of his unique double bass/snare/crash cymbol pounding. In fact if any one member dominates in this album, I’d say it’s Matt Sorum!  The other three guys all have their own songs, but Matt is the consistent common thread.  Taylor tends to handle most of the slower material, Jonesy the heavy snarky stuff, and Duff sings a couple rockers too.

Very few stinkers on this album. Lots of winners. Lyrics with loads of attitude! “The good news is / You’re dying, the bad new is / I’m alive.” (“Good News”)  Then, there’s “Jerk”:

OUTSIDERS_0006“You’re a bitch, I’m a jerk,
I don’t think that we can work,
You’re a prat, I’m a prick,
I don’t think that we will stick,
I’m a cat, you’re a chick,
I think you deserve one more lick.”

There’s a Clash cover, a deliciously noisy “Janie Jones”, but even that great song is overshadowed by the Outsiders’ originals.  Check out the opener “Nasty Ho,” one of Jonesy’s hilarious and thunderous punk songs.  And if you have any doubts as to punk rock authenticity, I think Duff McKagan is well on record on a connoisseur of fine punk rock.

“Union”, a ballad, seems to be Jonesey lamenting that the Sex Pistols were never a real united band, slagging off everyone (himself included), except his “mate, old Cookie”.  It’s a slow song but it has some bite to it.  Two John Taylor songs are two of the heavier ones:  “Always Wrong” and the smokin’ “Feelings Are Good”.  Both these songs were also featured on Taylor’s solo album Feelings Are Good and Other Lies.  (The title track was renamed “Feelings R Good”.) Best tune is “Angelina”, a fast punk rocker (today would they call this pop-punk?) with an insanely catchy chorus.

The only tunes that I could skip over are the really slow ones:  “Better Way” and “Story Of My Life”.  Yet even so, they have some charm.  They’re not bad songs at all, just completely overshadowed by all the super-fun punk rock songs.  Producer Jerry Harrison captured a raw performance, and I like that you can hear the ambiance of the room on “Story Of My Life”.

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As you read in the above Record Store Tale, I was hooked immediately on Neurotic Outsiders, and that proved to be a lasting feeling.  I wanted more, and at a visit to HMV Toronto (333 Yonge) I found the CD single for “Jerk”.  It contained a “clean” version of “Jerk” (kind of pointless, but you have to at least try to get played on the radio, right?).  Most interestingly was the B-side track “Seattle Head”.  Duff was born in Seattle and had a connection with many of the artists that came from that city.  (He was also one of the last people to speak to Kurt Cobain.)  I can’t say that this song has that “Seattle sound”, it sounds like Duff McKagan to me.  But it’s also obvious why it’s a B-side; because it’s the weakest of all the songs.

There was another single, a Japanese import for “Angelina”.  This one had two more B-sides: “Spanish Ballroom” and “Planet Earth”. I would really, really, really like to have that. Amazon is asking $45. Hard to justify for two songs (although I have done things like that before).

It’s a shame Neurotic Outsiders never made a second album. But maybe not — maybe a second album would have tarnished my memories. As it stands, it is just a one-off and will likely remain so, but it is also an album I still listen to 18 years later.

5/5 stars, and one middle finger!

REVIEW: Gilby Clarke – Pawnshop Guitars (1994)

GILBY CLARKE – Pawnshop Guitars (1994 Virgin)

I cannot believe that this album came out 20 years ago.  We’d been inundated with GN’R solo albums in recent years, and I had no interest in yet another.  It was T-Rev who urged me to check it out.  T-Rev was a huge Guns N’ Roses fan.  Gilby Clarke was in GN’R for a few years, long enough to make some friends in high places and record this amazing debut solo record before being kicked out by Axl himself. (He was replaced by Axl’s childhood friend and co-writer Paul Tobias.)  Pawnshop Guitars is, of all the solo material recorded by all the ex-GN’R members, the very best of the bunch.

Every single member of the GN’R lineup circa 1994 makes an appearance here: Slash, Duff, Matt, Dizzy, and even the reclusive Axl himself, on a cover of “Dead Flowers”. Rob Affuso of Skid Row, Frank Black, Ryan Roxie and more show up for the party, and it sounds like one hell of a party. The Slash solos are unmistakable on “Tijuana Jail” (a “Radar Love”-esque smoker) and “Cure Me…Or Kill Me…”.  Indeed one wonders why they didn’t just release a bunch of these songs, a bunch of Slash’s songs, and call it the next Guns N’ Roses album.  Alas that never happened.

On this side of the border 20 pesos gets you dead

I don’t think there are any weak songs on Pawnshop Guitars. The influences are varied, but there is a strong vintage flavour.  Whereas Izzy Stradlin tended to channel the Rolling Stones via Keith Richards on his own solo debut, Gilby draws from the Beatles and Stones in equal measure. A song like “Black” sounds like a John Lennon outtake, but mixed with a batch of Joe Perry’s Boneyard Brew hot sauce.  I like Gilby’s lead vocals.  He’s not a power singer but his voice has character that suits the music.  It lends it a glam rock slant.

Other standout songs include the swampy “Skin & Bones” (an acoustic number that would have worked great as a GN’R tune), “Hunting Dogs”, “Jail Guitar Doors”, “Shut Up”…hell they’re all great.   T-Rev talked me into buying this album and it was a great purchase.  I liked it immediately.  Any serious Guns N’ Roses fan would do well to own this, one of the missing links between Use Your Illusion and Chinese Democracy.

5/5 stars