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REVIEW: The Gandharvas – Sold for a Smile (1997/1998 US and Canadian versions)

THE GANDHARVAS – Sold for a Smile (1997/1998 Universal US and Canadian versions)

What a band were the Gandharvas.  Lead howler Paul Jago could hit those Perry Farrell highs, and they wrote some pretty fucking great songs including their major hit “The First Day of Spring”.  An unappreciated gem would be their third and final album, 1997’s Sold for a Smile.  Led by the anthemic single “Downtime”, this is a hard album to resist no matter which version you get. It even made our list: “88 Unrightfully Ignored Albums of the 90s“.

Versions?  Yes, two:  the Canadian and US have different track listings.  In 1997, Canada got the basic 10 track CD.  When it was released Stateside, a number of tracks including “Downtime” were remixed.  The US and Canadian versions of “Downtime” have vastly different guitar solo and outro mixes, for example.  The States also got two bonus tracks:  a new recording of “The First Day of Spring” and a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”.  (The original album was a shorty at just under 40 minutes.)

The Gandharvas turned it up a notch for this album without losing sight of their more delicate tendencies.  “Gonna Be So Loose” is a slamdance of squealing vocals and chords.  (This song is available remixed on the US version.)  But then “Shells” is a low, strummy song perfect for the headphones.  It shows of the layered vocals that are a Gandharvas trademark.  “Waiting for Something to Happen” then goes somewhere between Guns N’ Roses and screamy, psychedelic punk rock — an astounding song, which then defies all logic by going acoustic.  And then all over the place.

Time for a little more pop in the rock, with “Hammer in a Shell”.  Snarly pop, with a sour candy coating.  “Watching the Girl” was another fine single, a more streamlined song for this album.  It too was remixed on the US edition, putting the guitars way louder.  Then strap in for “Sarsasparilla”, a boulder-heavy rocketship blast into space. “Into the Mainstream”, then, is a bit more complex, and perhaps a little bit epic.

“Milk Ocean” leads you to the end, with a healthy dose of acidy psychedelia.  It’s the closer, “Diabaloney” that’s a real head scratcher.  Is it a joke?  I can’t tell.  “I fuck it up, I got the fuck, I got the luck,” goes one set of lines.  Heavy and screamy goodness, but a real headscratcher nonetheless.  What the hell did I just listen to?

On the US version, the new recording of “The First Day of Spring” is placed third in the running order, after the remixes of “Downtime” and “Gonna Be So Loose”.  It’s quite a bit heavier than the original, though a brilliant song it remains.  Could it be actually a polished up live version?  Why does Paul Jago yell out “Colorado!” in the middle?  For fun?  This band is from London, Ontario not Colorado!  And “Time After Time”?  They twist it up, give it bite, and for better or for worse make it their own.  Unless you have a serious attachment to the song, the Gandharvas’ interpretation is quite cool.

As if you can’t tell, this is an album you should own.  Get one or the other, or both!

5/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: Leonard Nimoy & William Shatner – Spaced Out! (1997)

LEONARD NIMOY & WILLIAM SHATNER – Spaced Out! (1997 MCA)

Although William Shatner has enjoyed a slightly more high profile musical career, it was actually Leonard Nimoy who struck musical gold first!  Nimoy’s debut solo album Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space beat Shatner’s The Transformed Man by a year, in 1967.  Both records are considered novelties, yet were followed up by even more albums.  Shatner’s last, Ponder the Mystery (2013) featured Steve Vai and Rick Wakeman among many others.

In 1997, the Space Channel assembled a fantastic greatest hits compilation of both Starfleet officers’ best.  In 2017, Sir Aaron the Surprising sent me a sealed copy on a lark.  It was meant to be a gag gift, but little did Aaron know I’d actually wanted this CD for a long time!  After all, Shatner’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” has long been a hilariously bad favourite, and Nimoy’s “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” truly is a hoot.  Spaced Out! is a blast-off!

Shatner’s material tends to the so-bad-it’s-funny side of things.  His spoken-word vocals definitely re-imagine many classic songs, including “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”.  Nimoy, meanwhile, uses his baritone to sing charming ditties like “I Walk the Line” and “If I Was a Carpenter”.  In character as Spock, “Highly Illogical” is highly fun.  Nimoy also had a knack for ballads, and perhaps just missed out on a career as a crooner?

Less successful, Leonard goes country on “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town”.  He may have been able to play cowboys in movies, but playing one in music is much more difficult.  Nimoy’s music leaned more to the mainstream, while Shatner’s was experimental, bombastic beat poetry to music.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  “It Was A Very Good Year” is highly questionable.

Top Star Trek geek moment:  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) took its name from a line in Shakespear’s Hamlet (1602).  In Shatner’s musical recording, “Hamlet”, he actually recites that line a couple decades before the movie was made.

Who would fardels bear
To grunt and sweat under a weary life
But that the dread of something after death
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action

For fans, it’s ultimately cool to have a copy of Shatner reciting those lines.

Let’s not deceive anyone, Spaced Out! is a novelty.   You will chuckle and cringe more frequently than you will tap your toes to the music.  Trekkies/Trekkers owe it to themselves to add this to the collection to expand their own universes.

2/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Prince of Darkness (1989)

ALICE COOPER – Prince of Darkness (1989 MCA)

Even though Alice hadn’t produced anything as timeless as “School’s Out” during his 1980’s comeback, his profile rose greatly.  Clean, sober and focused, Alice Cooper was very active in the last part of the decade.  The same year as his final MCA album Raise Your Fist and Yell, he had memorable appearance at Wrestlemania III.  In the corner of “good guy” Jake the Snake Roberts, Cooper had the honour of draping Roberts’ snake named Damien all over the Honky Tonk Man.  After that, even my dad knew who Alice Cooper was.

Cooper only had a two record deal with MCA:  Constrictor was the first in ’86; also the first album in the comeback period.  Having re-established himself with MCA, Alice then signed with Epic and had a genuine smash success with 1989’s Trash.  With a dream team of writers and collaborators (including hitsmiths Desmond Child, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and many more), Alice scored a platinum album.

While Trash was still charting and producing singles, MCA put out a competing record:  Prince of Darkness, a 10 track compilation of Cooper’s material for that label.  Normally these kinds of releases are throw-aways, but Prince of Darkness is not and this review will tell you all about it.

It is not unfair to state that Constrictor and Raise Your First were mixed affairs.  You had to wade through a significant amount of filler to reach a disproportionate amount of modern classics.  Prince of Darkness does a great service by collecting some of the best material together on one CD.  It is well sequenced and even includes one rare track, an exclusive on compact disc.

A grand opening is the dark and metallic “Prince of Darkness”, a theme song from a movie of the same name.  This ominous and menacing track is one of the more memorable from this era, a heavy monument.  It works amazingly well as an opening track, and “Roses on White Lace” follows by going faster and heavier.  It was surprising to hear Alice creep this close to thrash metal, but what a track!  A distorted vocal adds to the creep factor, making this one of the better samples of Cooper’s music during his “splatter horror” period.  The 1986 single “Teenage Frankenstein” would be a must-own for any fan, and there it is in the #3 position.  The big single from this era was “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”, a synthpop classic quite unlike the prior metal material.  Right here is an easy and simple way to get this classic track, without having to buy Constrictor.  Same with “Teenage Frankenstein”.

A nice little track here is a 1976 live recording of “Billion Dollar Babies”!  This was a B-side from the “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” single, but Prince of Darkness is the only CD with it.  The track itself sounds heavily remixed (remixing is credited to Garth Richardson) but it is indeed a B-side that is easy to acquire by getting this disc.  Ignore the annoying, screaming overdubbed crowd and just dig the vintage performance of one of Alice Cooper’s most timeless numbers.

There are a few filler tracks on side two.  “Lock Me Up” was fun, but not particularly memorable.  Feel free to skip “Simple Disobedience” and “Thrill My Gorilla”, and go straight to “Life and Death of the Party”.  Alice steps back into the shadows for a chilling horror number, mid-tempo and overcast.  We are over and out with “Freedom”, another great single and dangerously close to thrash metal again.  Prince of Darkness serves as the most effective way to get this one.

That’s why I recommend Prince of Darkness to any fan who wants to get a slice of Alice in the late 80’s — but just a slice.  The whole cake is for diehards.

4/5 stars
COOPER

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987)

Scan_20160303ALICE COOPER – Raise Your Fist and Yell (1987 MCA)

And lo!  The beast named Alice reincarnated with a slab of wax, and they called it Constrictor.  Slithering into the spotlight again was a triumph of will:  Alice battled his demons (including the bottle), found some new young band members and started fresh on a new label.    Though the music was merely OK, at least the man himself was doing just fine.  As fans, I believe we genuinely wish our rock star heroes to be healthy and happy, so even if the music wasn’t the greatest, we could be glad that Alice was back.

In the 70’s and early 80’s, Alice Cooper maintained a breakneck release schedule.  This slowed down a bit in the second phase of Cooper’s career, but he still managed to follow Constrictor a mere 12 months later with Raise Your Fist and Yell.  I probably don’t need to tell you this, but look at the cover:  certainly one of the worst to ever envelope a major label release.  The guilty party is a fella named Jim Warren who must hate this cover as much as I do, because just look at it.

It continued with the same shock-rock horror-splatter-movie theme, but turned up louder.  Indeed, the lead single “Freedom” was the fastest most thrash-like track that Alice had yet performed.  Censorship was a big target in Alice’s sights.  “Freedom” was his ode to the PMRC:  “You want to rule us with an iron hand, you change the lyrics and become big brother.  This ain’t Russia!  You ain’t my dad or mother.”  Lemme tell you, when “Freedom” came out, the PMRC seemed a genuine threat.  Dee Snider and Frank Zappa were testifying in front of the senate and stores were refusing to stock records.  “Freedom” was an anthem we could all get behind.  I don’t think anybody expected him to go so heavy!

The video was interesting. Kane Roberts looks like he’s not sure if he’s at a bodybuilding competition or a music video shoot. There were some new guys in the band; that’s not Kip Winger on bass. On drums is Ken Mary, later of House of Lords. Most interesting is the guy dressed as a priest. You can see him up close during the lyric “Back off preacher I don’t care if it’s Sunday.” They looked like the biggest bunch of misfits assembled. Perhaps this is what Alice was going for?

During this period, Alice was writing a few goofy rock songs.  “Lock Me Up” is silly, but fun.  It has a beat and you can headbang to it.  “Take the Radio Back” sounds like a predecessor to “Hey Stoopid”, but not quite.  “Give the radio back to the maniac!” sings Alice.  Is he begging for airplay?  It’s OK, but “Step on You” isn’t really.  There are moments here and there, but these are mediocre songs.  “Step on You” has an interesting atonal instrumental section but it doesn’t fit the song at all.  “Not That Kind of Love” continues the heavy rock, but without hooks.

Back to quality, “Prince of Darkness” is a heavy metal horror movie theme, from the film of the same name in which Alice had a cameo.  Menacing and intense, this tune scores high marks on both the Cooper Scale of Rock Thrills and Chills, and the Cooper Scale of Heavy.  Kane Roberts’ lead solo is pure pointless 80’s excess, but the song is what counts and it’s a good’un.  The acoustic outro is perfection.

“Time to Kill” keeps things above the bar.  “Chop, Chop, Chop” does not.  I know — you’re surprised, right?  A song called “Chop, Chop, Chop” isn’t a diamond of the highest carat weight?  Nor is it a turd, but certainly well below the watermark.  It does serve as a lead-in to “Gail”, a high quality also-ran that recalls Alice in the year 1975.  It is the only Kip Winger co-write on the album, and he’s responsible for its eerie keyboard vibe.  Finally it’s “Roses on White Lace”, another borderline thrash metal track that absolutely rips every head in the room off.  This track, firmly in the splatter film world, is an excellent example of Alice at his heaviest.  For its entire duration, it’s breakneck speed.  Bold song to end an album with.

Post album, Kip Winger and keyboardist Paul Taylor bailed, and formed another band you might have heard of.  Michael Wagener produced this record, and while heavy, the album is definitely lacking sonically in comparison to its contemporaries.  All told there are four songs worth buying the album for:  “Freedom”, “Prince of Darkness”, “Roses on White Lace”, and Gail.  Three of those four songs can be found on the MCA compilation Prince of Darkness.  So…your move.

2.5/5 stars

Scan_20160303 (3)

 

 

REVIEW: Beastie Boys – Aglio e Olio (1995)


BEASTIE AGLIOBEASTIE BOYSAglio e Olio (1995 Grand Royal EP)

The sticker on the front said it plainly:  “Only 8 songs. Only 11 minutes. Only cheap $.”  Retailers were known to jack up prices on CDs so the Beasties were proactive about making sure their fans didn’t get ripped off.  It’s kinda like how Metallica called their Garage Days the $5.98 EP.

This EP is one of the Beasties’ punk rock releases.  Apparently, while writing for Hello Nasty (1998), the group spontaneously just started jamming out old school punk style rockers.  There were too many to put on their next rap album, so they decided to release them quick n’ dirty on a special EP.  And that’s Aglio e Olio.

What I find cool about it is that even if you didn’t know who it was, it’s immediately obvious on opener “Brand New” that it’s the Beastie Boys.  It doesn’t sound musically much like their mainstream hits but their idiosyncratic voices make it instantly identifiable.  Then you notice things like the noisy guitar “solos” that take the place of record scratches and samples (similar to “Sabotage”)…it’s a different instrument but the same artists so there is a connectivity.

BEASTIE AGLIO BACK“Deal With It” is the second-longest song at a whopping almost-2 minutes!  It’s a freakin’ crusher of a song.  “I Can’t Think Straight” reminds me of early Suicidal Tendencies. The rest are a mash of screamin’ Beasties, heavy guitar riffs, crushing bass, and sloppyfast punk rock drums.  Throw in a few weird breaks and time changes and you have a varied and enjoyable way to kill 11 minutes of your day.  The bass hooks are relentless and the lyrics all but unintelligible!

Best track: the hooky closer “I Want Some” which I think is hit quality. Fucking great song on which to close a fucking great little EP.

But what exactly does Aglio e Olio mean?  Fortunately, I am Italian.  Aglio e olio is my favourite pasta dish, a simple spaghetti.  It is just the pasta in olive oil and garlic.  It is simple, delicious, and easy to prepare once you learn the trick of it.  Its appeal is the simplicity of just three ingredients: spaghetti, olive oil and garlic.  Three ingredients, right down to the basics.  Just like the Beastie Boys.

4/5 stars

  • MCA – Vocals, bass
  • Mike D – Vocals, drums
  • Ad-Rock – Vocals, guitars

REVIEW: Triumph – Surveillance (1987)

Part 2 of a 2 part series by request of reader DEKE! Today we look at the final album by the original Triumph. For the first installment, The Sport of Kings, click here!

TRIUMPH – Surveillance (1987 MCA, 2003 TML)

Triumph bassist Mike Levine once called this album your proverbial “contractual obligation” record. What he meant by that, was that Rik and the boys were barely on good terms anymore, the end was near, but the band needed to crank out one more album (plus a “greatest hits” record entitled Classics) before they could call it a day.

And who can forget that awkward interview on MuchMusic’s Power Hour, when Erica Ehm unwittingly asked Rik, “Have you ever thought of going solo? Wait a second, I have the chance to break up Triumph with this question!” Rik mumbled something about how the guys in the band always gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted, and there was no need to go solo. Then a couple months later, WHAM!  The headline was all over the Toronto Sun — RIK QUITS TRIUMPH.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this sounds like the last album by a once powerful band. It sounds like a band out of ideas, a tired band, a band who doesn’t care anymore.  It has an atmosphere of “let’s see if this one will stick to the wall.”

Yes, Rik Emmett was and remains a genius guitar player.  Mike and Gil, God bless ’em, were the average backing band, given a tremendous boost in our native land due to the fact that they are Canucks. There’s a certain Canadian mediocrity to Triumph — not quite as good as Rush, but similar. A loyal fanbase, but with not nearly the treasure-rich back catalogue that Max Webster has. A talented guitar playing frontman, but as a vocalist a bit shrill even by Geddy standards. A T-shirt-and-jeans type image, maple leaf proudly emblazoned on their hockey jerseys, but an image just too bland for anybody but us hosers by the late 1980’s.

Surveillance struck me from the start as Rik taking control of the machine for one last spin. It treads the progressive tendencies, with two instrumental intro tracks, a guest shot by Steve Morse, and some lyrically interesting pieces (“All The King’s Horses”). This is tempered by Rik’s increasing interest in pop — “Let The Light (Shine On Me)”, and “On and On”. On Gil Moore’s side, we have nothing but terrible filler tracks, the worst of which is “Rock You Down”. This is perhaps the worst song Gil’s ever foisted upon us. At some points trying to be R&B, at others hopelessly lost in a morass of bad lyrics and muddy mix, it is a bit of a train wreck.  The whole album suffers from this muddy mix and too many odd crashing keyboard samples.

Dark Helmet.

The best tune was the lead single, “Never Say Never” (co-written by Rik’s new protege Sil Simone).  Unfortunately this is a video that Rik soon found embarrassing to watch.  The bouffant hairdo (or as Rik referred to it, “good hair production”), the fancy wardrobe…what was wrong with jeans and jerseys?  It was 1987.  That’s what was wrong with it.

I wanted to give this album one star, as I believe it truly has some of the worst songs of Triumph’s career. Upon reflection I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t because lyrically, I like some of this album, and musically there are a couple good moments here and there that save the album from being a total torpedo. The guitar playing, like on “Carry on the Flame”, is absolutely fiery.  You know a guitar player like Rik Emmett isn’t going to lay a turd.  There are a couple interesting riffs. And, as a Power Hour nerd, I loved the voice cameo by J.D. Roberts (now known as CNN’s John Roberts).

Much to my surprise (and delight, because I didn’t like it when bands broke up), Triumph carried on with one more album (Edge of Excess) and a new guitar player.  Phil X (ex-Frozen Ghost  and currently on tour with Bon Jovi) joined the band, while Toronto’s Mladen Zarron wrote on played on the majority of the album.  Sound wise, they rocked it up several notches before calling it a day.

When they did reunite with Rik, they didn’t play any songs from Surveillance.  Can’t say that I’m surprised.

This album serves as a reminder of what a terminally ill band sounds like. You can hear the tension and lack of cohesion. Despite that, there are still a couple interesting tracks and melodies here for the Triumph fan, some of which have not yet resurfaced on a compilation CD. Check it out if you’re a fan, avoid like the plague if you are not.

2/5 stars

Also worth noting:  The guy on the cover of Surveillance is the same dude from the Never Surrender album!