mp3

REVIEW: Marillion – A Piss-Up in a Brewery / Christmas 2000

MARILLIONChristmas 2000A Piss-Up in a Brewery (2000 fan club CD)
MARILLION A Piss-Up in a Brewery (19 track download version released 2010)

Being a member has its advantages, and when joining the official Marillion fan club entails a free exclusive CD, you can always count on me to be on board.  Marillion’s third, A Piss-Up in a Brewery, was my first.  The original 12 track Racket Records printing (WebFree 03) is a treasure.  It was made available again to members of the Front Row Club subscription service in 2003, as Bass Brewery Museum, Burton, UK – 17th November 2000 (FRC-011).  CD has space limitations, but in 2002 a DVD of the full 19 song show was released.  Then in 2010, the audio (mp3 or FLAC) of all 19 tracks was made available for download.  Anyway you want it, you can get the complete performance as it was.

Marillion were invited to perform intimate gigs at the Bass Brewery and get their own signature beer.  They chose an acoustic format with new material, special covers and a guest.  They were hard at work on their new album Anoraknophia, “which you’ve already bought” said Steve Hogarth, referring to their innovative pre-ordering scheme.  The second gig was recorded for the fan club-only Christmas CD.

A quiet “Go!” begins and gently builds to the throbbing chorus, “Wide awake at the edge of the world.”  The second song also quietly builds from calm beginnings.  “After Me” is one of their most memorable pop melodies, infused with integrity from the start, and stripped bare in the brewery.  Then from their 1994 concept album Brave comes the single “Alone Again in the Lap of Luxury”.*  Intense songs for an intimate show.  “Lap of Luxury” smoulders, and as it burns, Steve Hogarth blasts for all he’s got.

The first big surprise of the evening was the Fish-era B-side “Cinderella Search”, albeit the shortened 7″ version and not the full-on five and a half minutes of brilliance from the 12″ single.  The amusing thing is when a spoiling audience member blurts out the title having attending the night before.  “Oh, there’s always one,” says Hogarth.  The singer had never performed the song before these gigs.  The acoustic setting alleviates any pressure to be like Fish.  It also enables them to seamlessly meld the song onto “The Space”, already popular in acoustic form.

“A Collection” is another B-side with dark subject matter.  It’s about “an uncle” with an interesting hobby, but it’s also an ironically bright tune.  “Beautiful”* and “Afraid of Sunrise”* both date back to 1995’s Afraid of Sunlight, a pair really made for the intimate setting.

New friend Stephanie Sobey-Jones on cello is invited onstage for a sombre “Sympathy”, both a single and a Rare Bird cover.   Cello also features on the new song “Number One”.  It had simple beginnings, explains Hogarth.  “I had some words, and Mark had some chords.”  Interjects Mark Kelly, “Three, actually. I’m not joking!”   The track takes a stab at the artificiality of modern pop music, but was only included on the pre-ordered deluxe edition of Anoraknophobia.  Simple, but extremely intense.  The cello stays for “Dry Land”, a favourite ballad from 1992’s Holidays in Eden (and even earlier).  The voice of Steve (Hogarth) rings true on even the most difficult note, while the guitar of Steve (Rothery) makes for a sweltering solo.

Back to 1987, and the old favourite “Sugar Mice”.*  Of all the old Fish classics, “Sugar Mice” is the one that Hogarth most easily adopts.  The scars that he is nursing at the end of the bar sounds like his own.

Yet still the humour is always there.  As they warm up for the Mexican-sounding “Gazpacho”, Mark Kelly asks “Am I in the wrong band?”

“You have been for years,” deadpans Pete Trewavas.

“Gazpacho” gets you moving as the concert enters its final third.  Away, yon darkness; the music stays largely celebratory from here, though the lyrics maintain some bite.  Elvis Presley, O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson were mentioned as inspirations for the lively song.  Celtic sounds invade “80 Days”,* an ode to the audience who clap along to every beat.  “80 Days” was always acoustic, and “The Answering Machine”* has existed in a popular acoustic alternate arrangement for years.  The brewery crowd clearly liked both very much.

A slew of covers are encore treats.  Crowded House’s “How Will You Go” (from 1991’s Woodface) is a brilliant song and choice.  There’s one more original (drummer Ian Mosely smokes on “Cannibal Surf Babe”) before they do Carole King’s “Way Over Yonder”* and The Beatles’ “Let It Be”.*  Rothery gets a bluesy guitar showcase on “Way Over Yonger”, though Hogarth has the soul credentials too, as “Let It Be” ably proves.

For a long time, I felt that the original Christmas 2000 release of A Piss-Up in a Brewery to be one of the best Marillion live albums, period.  It’s still magnificent in its full length, though perhaps they should have just made it widely available to everyone in the first place.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been a hit, but if they were on Santa’s good list that year, you never know.

5/5 stars

* Indicates this song was not on the 2000 Christmas release of A Piss-Up in a Brewery, but only the DVD and download versions.

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#563: ID3 Request Error – Check File

GETTING MORE TALE #563: ID3 Request Error – Check File

Ever seen one of these errors on your media player of choice?

Let’s start by talking about what an ID3 tag is, in case you didn’t know.  If you play music files, then you use ID3 tags.  These tags contain the metadata about your song files.  You know that info that automatically pops up on your player?  Artist, album, cover art…that’s from your ID3 tags.  There is free software out there to edit your songs’ tags, although such features are bafflingly not standard in Windows.  I use a combination of two:  Audio Shell, and Mp3tag.  They have different user interfaces, but more or less have all the features you need.

Sometimes my Sony Walkman mp3 player can’t pick up the cover art, but that is rare.  The tracks will still play.  The error that has caused me problems for years comes from my factory installed GM car stereo.  Otherwise, it’s a great player, but sometimes it hits an ID3 tag it doesn’t like and I get an error message.  It reads:

 

ID3 Tag Request Error
Check File

 

When I get this message, the songs will not play.  I first ran into that issue about four years ago.  When it does happen, it’s usually on something that I recorded with Audacity, like vinyl or cassettes.  Audacity can write the ID tags for you when you export the files to mp3.  The error message here doesn’t give much detail.  It’s not the cover art; that was the first variable I checked.  I’ll get this error message with or without cover art.  It’s frustrating when you can’t play an album in the car, and only the car.

This baffled me for years.  “Check File”, eh?  I did – many times.  Changing this, changing that.  Writing the ID3 tags with different software.  Nothing worked.  Googling solutions wasn’t very helpful.

I recently came across the solution, and it was so obvious I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier.  Probably because I was looking for something easier.

Just erase all the ID3 tags – all of them – and start from scratch.  Both Mp3tag and Audio Shell have easy features to do exactly this.   Most ID3 editing programs will allow you to completely clean all tags from the file.  Once that is done, start over, manually.  By hand, enter the song titles, artist, album title, artwork and (very importantly) the track sequence.  You’ll want to make sure you get that right.  Once you’ve done that the mp3 file will play just fine, as seen below.

Enjoy the music!

Before & After

 

 

 

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Official 11 track live mp3 collection (2000-2001)

This review is for Scott, your Heavy Metal OverloRd.

LEP 1999DEF LEPPARD – Official 11 track live mp3 collection, download only (2000-2001)

We at LeBrain HQ have always loved being able to shed some light on music that is so rare, that you just can’t find out much of anything about online anymore.  It seems one of most obscure categories of rare music are official downloads from long ago that were never physically released, and long since taken down.  15 years isn’t a long time ago, but did you know that in 2000-2001, Def Leppard gradually put up 11 live tracks to download from their official site?  This was long before they had any sort of live album out whatsoever.

These official live recordings were selected by the band, and were released over a period of several months.  They were not available for long.  They were taken down by the time Leppard changed their site over to promote the X album in 2002.  Taken together, I assembled them in order of release into a a full length live album by Def Leppard — unofficial, yet official just the same!

The first song released was the old acoustic standby “Two Steps Behind” (San Antonio, Texas, 2000).  Joe begins by announcing that they were recording the show, and that this particular night was also the “official opening evening, at it were, of our brand new website, www dot defleppard dot com.  And that’s the reason we’re recording it, because we’re gonna put it on the web.  Worldwide, you guys are going worldwide!”  That certainly explains things!  The recording itself is quite excellent, rich and clear.  You also know there are no overdubs, because chords are missed and the songs goes on.  To me this is the ideal form of live recordings: official, but with a loose “who cares” attitude in regards to fixing mistakes later on.

An older classic, “Women” (Salem, Oregon, 2000) has similar sonic qualities.  It’s also quite bass heavy which is a nice change of pace for this band.  There had already been a B-side live version of “Women” out there for a while, recorded in 1987 for the video In the Round – In Your Face.   This version however has the currently lineup with Vivian Campbell, and a Joe Elliot who hits all the screams at the end.  This would have to be my go-to live version when I want to hear one.

The first then-new Def Leppard song to get the live release treatment was “Demolition Man” from Euphoria.  This one, from Denver, Colorado in 1999, sounds faster than the album version.  On an album of mostly so-so songs, “Demolition Man” at least had some velocity to it, unremarkable as it is.  It’s over and out quickly enough.

LEP JAPAN“When Love & Hate Collide” (Tokyo, 1999) is the second ballad released in the collection.  Although you could get an acoustic version on the bonus disc (Acoustic in Singapore) to Slang in 1996, this was the first full-on electric live release.  This version has some heft to it, and once again I would say this is the go-to version to listen to.

Def Leppard have been playing The Sweet’s “Action” for so long now, that you may as well consider it a built-in part of their set.  This was the first live version made available (London, 1999).  Like “Demolition Man”, it seems faster and much heavier live.  Joe’s voice is sounding pretty ragged at the end — as it should be after a performance like that!

The hit song “Animal” from Hysteria was not readily available in live form, at least on an audio format.  They did it unplugged for Acoustic in Singapore, and there were a couple VHS videos out there too, but nothing on vinyl or CD.  This more recent version (Nashville, Tennessee, 2000) is as reliable as any other.  It’s clear that even though the Euphoria album was shaky, the tour behind it was anything but.

Def Leppard started putting the instrumental scorcher “Switch 625” live again on the Slang tour.  It was welded onto “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” for a High ‘N’ Dry medley, just like it was on album.  This Montreal recording from 1996 is incredible.  Even the ballad has some serious crunch and scream to it.  Would you like some feedback?  Here you go, turn it way up.  Campbell nails the solos on “Heartbreak”, but it is “Switch 625” that is the pièce de résistance.  Just listen to Rick Allen, but don’t leave your jaw on the floor!  At the end, Joe says “Ladies and gentlemen, the best drummer in the world, Mr. Rick Allen!”  Then, a moment later you can hear Joe say, “He is,” to affirm the man’s awesomeness.  These two were released as one solid 8 minute 12 second track.  Then, from the same 1996 show in Montreal is another special track.  Is it “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”?

“Mama take this gin from me,
I can’t drink it anymore,
Where’s the sink, I gotta pee,
Looks like I’m checking into Betty Ford…”

In another moment of “I’m really glad they didn’t cut that,” Joe needed to fill a minute while Phil Collen went to pee!  They left it in.  Joe then turns the microphone over to Phillipe for his song “Miss You in a Heartbeat”, performed acoustically.  Phil does the lead vocal and also the acoustic guitar solo, while it is quite possible that Joe himself went to pee.

“Rock! Rock! Till You Drop” is the only song from Pyromania to be released as part of this series.  By the opening tapes, it sounds like it was the first song of the set in Cardiff, Wales in 1999.  As such, Joe’s got a lot of screaming to do, but he does a good job.  What an opener that must have been!  You have to give these five guys credit for putting a lot of energy into their live performances.  There is a lot of singing, soloing, and riffing to do, and they don’t make it easy for themselves!

The final two songs of the set were recent Euphoria songs, from the Tokyo show in 1999 once again.  The ballad “Goodbye” is just boring as hell.  You gotta get out there and promote the new album and single, but this was never a good album or single.  It was a weak attempt to write another “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”.   Thankfully they saved the best Euphoria song for last, which was “Paper Sun”.  I like when Def Leppard get into that “Gods of War” / “White Lightning” space, and that is what they did with “Paper Sun”.  (It also has shades of “Women”.)  Unfortunately these last two recordings, being new songs and all, feel a little more stiff.  The band weren’t as familiar with them obviously, but I think you can hear it.  Still, what are the chances of Leppard ever playing “Paper Sun” live again?  Slim to none, I’d say.  So who’s complaining?  Not this guy.

Since this time, Leppard have put out plenty of official live product.  There’s the excellent double live Viva! Hysteria, with loads of rarities.  There’s Mirrorball, a double album representing a standard modern Def Leppard concert set.  There was even a bonus live disc added to the deluxe version of Pyromania.  None of those releases have “Demolition Man”, “Goodbye”, “Paper Sun”, “Miss You in a Heartbeat”, or “When Love & Hate Collide”.  That makes this collection pretty special, to this day.

4.5/5 stars

We at LeBrain HQ want to hear from you if you know any more about these tracks.  Any information gleaned such as actual recording or release dates will be happily added to this review.  (Comments regarding trades will be deleted.)

#393: Format of Choice

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#393: Format of Choice

What is your audio format of choice?  Which is the one that makes up the majority of your collection?

In addition to occasionally speaking in the third person, LeBrain has specific wants and needs in his music collection.  I have a fast and loose set of rules when it comes to choosing the format on which I buy new music.  Some, like Deke from Arena Rock – Thunder Bay and Beyond, prefer the ease and speed of downloading from iTunes.  Others, like 1537, prefer vinyl.  How do you decide what formats to buy your music on?

Here are my collection priorities:

#1.  Compact Disc

99% of my collection is on CD.  I have many reasons for this.  One is the superior sound quality:  a CD just sounds better than an mp3.  A CD won’t crash like a hard drive.  The oldest CDs in my collection are over 25 years old, and still look and play perfect.  They have always been stored in their CD cases after use, in a cool dry place.  They do not suffer from CD rot, which is a deterioration of the aluminum layer inside a CD due to oxidation.  The discs may not last 100 years, but I am confident that most if not all will be enjoyed through my lifetime.  CD rot can be minimized or prevented just by handling your CDs correctly.

I have chosen CD as my #1 format for other reasons other than longevity.  They are easily transferred to mp3 for better portability (they are already easily portable).  Playing mp3 files in a mobile environment like my car can only extend the life of the source CD.  Also, compact discs are easy to store and just look cool when all lined up in my collection!

I buy almost all my CDs online now, and they ship fast and easy.  Most of the time the packages will even fit in my mailbox, saving me a trip to the post office!  For these simple reasons, CDs are the lion’s share of the LeBrain Library.

#2. Vinyl

IMG_20150420_174459Today’s vinyl LP has been around since 1948, and even then the technology wasn’t new.  It merely updated and standardized something that had been playing on gramophones for a couple decades.  They used to be made out of substances such as hard rubber and shellac, but vinyl proved to be versatile and enduring.

Since vinyl has been around so long, and couldn’t even be killed off by the cassette or compact disc, it is safe to say you should always be able to buy something to play an LP.  However, an LP doesn’t have the longevity of a CD in terms of a long playing life.  Your CD laser never makes contact with the plastic, but your stylus does contact the surface of the vinyl.  The force of friction means that every play will wear down your LP, even if it’s only microscopically.  The key is to use good clean equipment and records.  If you do, a record will outlast a temporary format such as VHS or cassette tape.  Minimizing friction-causing dust particles extends the life of both LP and needle.

For all these reasons, vinyl is my second priority in format collecting.  They are bigger and take up more room, but when I want the warmth of an LP or just bigger cover art, there is only one way to go.  180 gram vinyl is especially nice to hold and listen to.  For buying old albums affordably, vinyl is a great alternative to CD.  Some old metal albums have had limited CD releases in other territories, making them expensive and hard to get once they go out of print.  Vinyl can be a cheaper alternative for your collection.

Vinyl bonus tracks are a slam-dunk reason to buy an LP.  Alice Cooper’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare is a great example of an LP that has a track unavailable on any other format (“Flatline”).  And of course Jack White took the idea of LP bonuses to the ultimate level with his “Ultra LP” version of Lazaretto.

#3.  Digital download (mp3)

I hate paying money for something that does not physically exist.  If I have to, I will, but I only “have to” when there are bonus tracks unavailable on any physical format.  Given the choice and the money, I will always buy the physical version, not just 1’s and 0’s floating around on a magnetic hard drive.  I hate that you (usually) don’t get any info or liner notes with an mp3.  I hate that your hard drive just needs to have a nice crash for you to lose this music that you paid for.  I understand the convenience, but digital downloads do not service my needs.

I know there are high quality download formats such as FLAC, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of not being on a physical format that won’t crash, and my issue of paying for a non-physical entity. I also know that a lot of people don’t care about these things, and I wanted to understand why. I asked Deke over at Arena Rock why he loves his iTunes:

“Here’s my deal: At the time when iTunes first came out, I had three young daughters. Getting to the record store (when there were record stores) was tuff to say the least, let alone the cost as well! I just couldn’t drop $20 all the time. Sure, I made exceptions and I bought actual product like Maiden and Rush, but iTunes became my way of music buying. Especially re-buying albums I had owned on cassette or vinyl. I just re-buy them on iTunes and download straight to my iPod! Now that my daughters are teens, I have just stayed the course with iTunes. I pre-order product from them, like the latest Priest, and the Van Halen live album. Convenience is just the way of life for me now! Don’t get me wrong though, I would still enjoy buying the actual product, but man it does boil down to affordability! iTunes delivers that and I can stay current with adding to my dinosaur rock collection! Ha!”

#4.  Cassette

IMG_20150420_174810Once the mighty majority of my collection, cassettes have been reduced to a mere novelty.  I treasured them for portability and convenience, but now I loathe them.  I debated putting mp3 last on my formats of choice, but the truth is, cassette is far worse.

Cassettes have several things going against them.  The first is moving parts.  A CD or LP requires no moving parts, but a cassette has spindles and rollers that rub against and wear the magnetic tape.  Sometimes a cassette’s parts can be too tight inside, causing it to warble when you play it.  But it’s the analog tape itself that is the real problem.  Even brand new, a cassette will not sound as rich as an LP because it’s not capable of reproducing the same range of frequencies.  A cassette has a built-in high level of static noise.  Then once you start playing it, magnetic particles begin to wear off.  In fact over time, tapes will degrade to be unlistenable, no matter how well you take care of them.  Even worse, record companies used the worst quality tape for their releases.  If you bought a cheap blank Sony tape, you would have better quality than a store-bought record label’s cassette.

The poor sound and lack of longevity are the two main reasons I’m still replacing all of my old tapes with CDs and LPs.  Anybody got a copy of Bonham’s Mat Hatter on CD for me to upgrade to?  How about Wolfsbane’s first?  Still looking for those!

#5. Miscellaneous

Not really ranked last, I just wanted to mention other formats that I own music on.

5.1 surround sound can’t be encoded on a standard CD, so DVD and Blu-ray have to step up to the plate.  I have several Rush, Queen, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple albums (among many others) that have been given official Quadrophonic or 5.1 surround mixes.  Often, these mixes include bits of music that are not in the stereo versions, such as guitar solos and fills.

The problem with DVD and Blu-ray is that I only have one home theater system.  I only have one place, one room in the house, where I can listen to these special albums.  I can’t play them in the car, on a walk, or at the cottage.  As such, a Quad or 5.1 release gets limited listens at Chez LeBrain.

How many people are there like me?  Let me know your favourite formats in the comments section!

REVIEW: The Darkness – “The Horn” (2013 single)

NEW RELEASE

THE DARKNESS – “The Horn” (iTunes single)

It was with great excitement and anticipation that I hit ‘play’ on my brand new mp3 copy of “The Horn”, a new single from The Darkness.  Like much of the preceding album Hot Cakes, this is a dirty little number about (surprise) sex!

I would like to take this opportunity, to mention the fact that while some of the acts that I may have described in this song appear to be degrading, they were in fact consensual. — Justin Hawkins

I won’t share the details, except to say that the words “my pale buttocks” are uttered.

Musically, “The Horn” is heavy as…well, not quite as heavy as lead.  Platinum perhaps?  It has a merciless guitar riff, bloodthirsty drums, and a hefty groove.  Sonically speaking, “The Horn” strikes me as one of the heaviest Darkness songs.  The guitars have some chunkiness to them, and the direction seems simple enough: let’s rock out!   With Justin’s particular brand of lead vocal, there’s no mistaking this band for anyone else.

I would like to take this opportunity to mention that fact that Justin is still singing as great as ever.  He has a knack for some utterly odd vocals, but at the same time, he makes them awesome.  Acrobatic, never too serious, but always fascinating to listen to.  By the end of this song, I’m picturing a coop full of chickens singing in harmony.

This bodes well for a new Darkness album.  Not only are they quickly out of the gates with new material, but it’s really good material.  Without a doubt, I like “The Horn” better than many of the songs on Hot Cakes.  And I liked Hot Cakes a lot.

5/5 stars

There was a vinyl 7″ single, but only 500 copies.  There’s also a new Darkness demo out there, a ballad called “Second Fiddle” .  This song boasts multiple vocalists and an uber-catchy chorus:  “We are the Hawkins Brothers / And I am Frankie Poullaine / We are the Hawkins Brothers / And this is Eddie Graham.”  Solid!

More of The Darkness at mikeladano.com:

Hot Cakes (Deluxe Edition) + “Girlfriend” (10″ shaped disc) + “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again” (mp3 single) + Hot Leg – Red Light Fever + The Stone Gods – Silver Spoons & Broken Bones + Record Store Tales Part 80: The Darkness

REVIEW: Stone Temple Pilots – “Out of Time” (2013)

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS – “Out of Time” (2013)

I don’t like Linkin Park too much, but Mrs. LeBrain does so I’ve heard a lot of their albums.  I did like their singer Chester Bennington, I thought he had amazing pipes.  It was more the rapping and the samples I didn’t like.  I always kind of wished Chester was in a band that I liked.

I do like Stone Temple Pilots though, and “Out of Time” sounds like Stone Temple Pilots!  It sounds like the young STP, when Weiland could really wail.  I don’t think I’m alone in saying that Scott’s voice is simply not what it once was, but Chester is in his prime.  And the song is great!  Solid riff, powerful sound.  If it lacks any of Scott’s swagger, the track makes up for it with Chester’s lungs.  It’s just great to hear Eric Kretz and Robert & Dean DeLeo rocking behind such a strong song.  Album and a tour?  Sure.  My interest is peaked.

Download it here, for free:  http://stonetemplepilots.com/

4/5 stars

STP

REVIEW: Bill Ward – “Straws”, “The Dark Half Hour”

STRAWS

BILL WARD – “Straws” (mp3: October 9, 2002  CD: October 11, 2003)

A true rarity indeed, this is one that I wished I owned a physical copy of.  Sadly I do not.  Only 2200 were made.  1200 were sent out to the heads of state all over the globe, including George W. Bush.  The other 1000 copies were sold at billward.com, and are so rare now that Discogs doesn’t even have a listing for it.  Each copy was signed and numbered with the proceeds going to your choice of five charities.  For all the details, check out Joe Siegler’s excellent article at black-sabbath.com.

Jesus Murphy!  George W. Bush owns a Sabbath related CD that I don’t??

I’ve had to make due with a mere mp3, also purchased directly from Bill’s site.  The charity I chose was the National Veterans Foundation.  Now, even the mp3 is unavailable for purchase, making this a true rarity today.  We can hope that Bill’s Beyond Aston solo album will one day be released, as over 10 years have passed since this single from it was released!

Previously on LeBrain’s Record Store Tales & Reviews, we took a look at Bill’s excellent debut, Ward One: Along the Way.  “Straws” is reminiscent of that and his second solo album, When the Bough Breaks.  Like much of his solo work, it is complex and passionate.  Understated but powerful.  It begins jittery but soon evolves into an anthem of sorts with some very heavy Bonham-esque drums performed by Ronnie Ciago.  On this track, like When the Bough Breaks, Bill does not play drums.  He is only singing on Beyond Aston.  He did, however, write all 17 tracks slated for that album himself.

“The Dark Half Hour” (2005)

According to Joe Siegler’s information, Beyond Aston has been completed but shelved.  I hope this is not a permanent situation.  The only other track released was called “The Dark Half Hour (web mix)”.  It was made available for free in 2005 and is still available for free.  It too has the stomping Zeppelin drums, but is much heavier than “Straws”.  This is Sabbath-level heaviness.  It has some solid riffing and some amazing buzzy noisy solos on instruments I can barely identify!  This is one heavy track, saturated with distortion.  Since this is “not the final version” I would expect the sound to be cleaned up for CD.  I kind of like it overdriven and noisy though.

If these two tracks are any indication, Beyond Aston is going to be an incredible album, if it is ever released.

5/5 stars for each track

BEYOND ASTON

REVIEW: The Darkness – “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again” (2004 mp3 single)

GYHOMWATHE DARKNESS – “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again” (2004 Atlantic mp3 single)

After the surprise hit Permission To Land (which was essentially just a released demo) The Darkness were determined to make a better sounding second album.  At first it was announced they were going to be working with one Mutt Lange; that didn’t pan out.  Up next was Roy Thomas Baker, of Queen fame.

Their first released collaboration was a re-recording of “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” re-titled “Get Your Hands Off My Woman…Again”.  It differs only slightly from the original.  Better sounding bass, better sounding drums, but almost identical otherwise.  There are only two moments were the song deviates from the original:  a 5 second piano break at 1:54, and a different, more abrupt ending.

This was released November 8 2004, for one month only, for 99p on the official Darkness site.   Since then I understand it’s been very difficult to find online.  I like when bands release stuff like this, even though for most people it’s fairly redundant.  A lot of bands test the waters by re-recording older material, Axl’s done that and so have others.  When they make it available for almost nothing for a limited time, sure, I’ll bite.  It’s a kind of immediate release that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

Not to mention that this is just one of the Darkness’ best songs, ever.  Gratuitous language, hot riffs, screeching high vocals, ripping solos, and hooks for miles.  I was sold on the original song on first listen.  As for this re-recorded update, I like the better quality sound, but I don’t like the piano break or the ending.  Great tune, great sonics thanks to RTB, but I’ll stick with the original!

3.5/5 stars

Since you can’t take a picture of a non-physical product, here’s the CD single that I burned!

REVIEW: Steve Harris – British Lion (2012)

STEVE HARRIS – British Lion (2012 EMI)

Add my voice to the chorus of people disappointed with British Lion, the debut solo offering from Iron Maiden’s visionary founder, Steve Harris.  It’s not just because it doesn’t sound like Iron Maiden, because I wouldn’t want it to sound like Iron Maiden.  It’s because Steve’s hired the most bland lead vocalist I’ve heard in many moons.  Mr. Bland’s name is Richard Taylor, and he lacks any sort of grit, power, or character.  I’m sure there was a method to Steve’s madness, and a reason he chose Mr. Bland to sing for him.  I’ll be damned if I can figure it out.

Steve self-produced this album, with Kevin Shirley mixing, and sonically it sounds good, especially the final track:  The lush “The Lesson” features strings and acoustics, and sounds great.  Unfortunately a good sounding production can’t inject life into these dull songs.

I hate to use such harsh language as “dull” and “bland” where Steve Harris is concerned, but I’ve played the album five or six times now, and I still can’t remember most of these songs distinctly.  There’s one standout:  the pop metal “Eyes of the Young”, which has a catchy chorus and is instantly memorable.  There are far more songs that are instantly forgettable:  the single “This Is My God”, for example, and the aforementioned “The Lesson” despite its production values.  “Us Against the World” isn’t bad, starting with keys and organ before some dual guitar harmonies kick in.  But then Mr. Bland opens his mouth.

Steve’s trademark bass is more groove oriented and less rinky-dink, which is fine.  He seems to gel well with the rest of the band, but unfortunately aside from some tasty guitar solos, the rest of the band is generic sounding and lack a distinct identity.  I lay most of that straight at the feet of Mr. Bland.  A really great singer could have injected some passion into these otherwise unremarkable songs.

A nice added touch:  The CD comes with mp3 copies, so you don’t have to rip to your portable device.  It comes in two forms:  mastered loud, and mastered very loud!

2/5 stars