new wave

REVIEW: Honeymoon Suite – The Singles (1989)

ontario-bands-weekWelcome back to Ontario Bands Week, presented by BoppinsBlog,  Keeps Me Alive, Stick It In Your Ear, 1001 Albums in 10 Years, and mikeladano.com.  

NIAGARA FALLS.

scan_20161110HONEYMOON SUITE – The Singles (1989 Warner)

In the mood for some good old fashioned Canadian AOR rock, but don’t know where to turn?

Easily solved.  Just drive down to Niagara Falls and take a left at Honeymoon Suite.

The Singles compiles all their best tunes from the first three LPs (Honeymoon Suite, The Big Prize, Racing After Midnight).  If you are a native of the Great White North, chances are you have already heard all 12 of these tracks.  Honeymoon Suite have been radio staples ever since their 1984 debut single, “New Girl Now”.  Even when they dropped off the face of the earth for much of the 1990s and 2000s, they got consistent radio play and gigs.  T-Rev and I saw them at Lulu’s in the 1990s when they were supporting a live album.  Even though singer Johnnie Dee seemed a lil’ tipsy they pulled out all the stops for an enjoyable gig.

When Honeymoon Suite kicked it off with “New Girl Now”, they tapped into a rock/new wave hybrid that earned them tons of video play in Canada.  Derry Grehan was (and is) a fine guitarist, certainly one of the most respected in the Great White North.  He gave the band the rock credibility they needed, meanwhile Johnny Dee had the pipes and the heartthrob looks.  The 80s angst of “Burning in Love” landed them another hit, with one foot a little more firmly in the rock arena. Bonus points for the very 80’s chorus echo. “I am still (still! still! still!) a lonely man burning in love,” sings Dee, and you know many ladies swooned.  The sound is not too distant from the Bon Jovi of the same period, burning up the clubs many miles away in New Jersey.


Filmed on location in Niagara Falls Ontario

“Stay in the Light” captures the same vibe, a keyboard-y tension with guitars providing the edge.  A sharp rhythm and indelible chorus keeps “Stay in the Light” burning in your memory long after it ceased playing.  “Wave Babies” is a bit hokey but that hasn’t kept it from airplay 30 years later.

Album #2, The Big Prize, edged their sound further into keyboard pop, which provided more hits but also turned some fans off.  “Feel It Again” maintained the guitars without straying too far, but the ballad anthem “What Does It Take” was a full-on 80s pop ballad.  The band had some serious firepower in the studio control room this time out.  The success of the first album gave them a shot with Bruce Fairbairn, and a young engineer named Bob Rock.  You can hear their impact in the improved sound of the drums, and the sonic clarity overall.  The production values help make “What Does It Take” palatable, but there is too much syrup for some.  “Bad Attitude” has some crunch but it’s overshadowed by those omnipresent keyboards.

Racing After Midnight returned rock to the forefront.  There were a couple lineup changes including on the keyboards.  The captain’s chair was manned this time by veteran Van Halen producer Ted Templeman.  With him they recorded “Lethal Weapon” for the film soundtrack of the same name.  Because it was written by Michael Kamen for a movie, we can forgive Honeymoon Suite for another soft rock ballad.  The guitar laden “Love Changes Everything” was a more proper introduction to the new album.  Derry has a chance to show off his enviable chops at the start, and has a good crunchy sound.  One of Honeymoon Suite’s most memorable choruses made it easy to love.  “Lookin’ Out for Number One” was equally powerful, especially when it comes to Derry Grehan’s impeccable shreddery.

Any good greatest hits album needs new material.  The Singles had two new songs:  big hit “Still Loving You”, and “Long Way”.  For a big anthemic ballad, “Still Loving You” nails it with class.  “Long Way” finishes it with a dark edgy acoustic vibe.  These two tracks do not negate the album title The Singles, because both were released as singles.

Factor in some great liner notes and lots of band photos, and The Singles is a pretty easy purchase to justify.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Alice Cooper – DaDa (1983)

ALICE COOPER – DaDa (1983 Warner)

DaDa is one of the most fascinating albums in the Alice Cooper catalogue.  So interesting in fact that this is the second time I’ve tackled a review of it.  The first, posted on Amazon years ago shortly after buying the album, was not flattering.  The entire thing is below:

 

This is what happens when you drink too much and can’t remember years of your life anymore.

This is what happens when your producer is nursing his own drug problems.

This is what happened to Alice Cooper in the early 80’s. Guitars, drums and bass have been jettisoned in favour of samples, keyboards, and programs. Songs? Non-existant. This album is worthless, filled with dreck that Cooper wouldn’t have even considered a decade earlier, or later. I defy anyone to explain the concept of the story to me. No songs ever played live, no tour.

One novelty track: “I Love America”, which is actually hilarious. It is also available on the Cooper boxed set. Pick that up, not this.

0/5 stars. The absolute nadir of the man’s storied career.

 

That’s what I said then, and I have to own it now.  I could delete it and pretend I never said it, but that would be dishonest.

Rich at Kamertunesblog did a fantastic Alice Cooper series a few years back.  When he got to DaDa, I said that “I still have not really penetrated [it]. I don’t know if I so much as appreciate it, rather than like it.”  When Rich said he found that surprising, I realized I must be missing something with DaDa.  So how does DaDa sit now, after a few years to let it absorb?

It’s different.  It’s creepy.  It’s funny.  It’s worth the time spent with it.

The story of DaDa itself is almost as interesting as the story of how one man can go from hating it to loving it.

Alice re-teamed with Bob Ezrin on this album, for the first time in years.  Dick Wagner came back for guitar, bass and songwriting duties.  Wagner claimed in his autobiography that Alice wasn’t that enthused about making this album, and confessed that contracts stipulated he had to.  Backing up Wagner’s claim is the fact that this was Alice’s last album for Warner, followed by a three year hiatus to finally get clean and sober for good.  There was no tour, in fact no band.

In lieu of a drummer, all beats are programmed.  This lends a stark early 80’s synthpop sound to DaDa.  It works exceptionally well on the title track, an Ezrin instrumental creation.  The echoey electronics sound as if from a frightening science fiction horror movie from the period.  Punctuating this is the mechanical repeating sample of a child saying “da da”…and heavenly new age keyboard melodies.  Talk about chills!  If that doesn’t get you, perhaps the spoken word conversation between a therapist and a patient will give you the shivers.  “I have a daughter too,” says the elderly patient.  “You don’t have a daughter,” responds the doctor.  “Yeah, I have a daughter,” insists the sick man.  “Sir, you have a son,” insists the doctor as the conversation gets creepier.  Alice Cooper is not even on this piece.  Perhaps that is one reason it failed to make an impression on me all those years ago.

Alice emerges on “Enough’s Enough”, changing to the perspective of the son.  “I just want to tell you, you’re a lousy dad, to hell with you!”  Dark but strangely upbeat, “Enough’s Enough” has some of those Bob Ezrin touches that you love, such as the perfectly arranged backing vocals.  The Dick Wagner guitars are the only real touch of rock and roll; the song otherwise lives in a punky new wave land.  The best song is much creepier:  “Former Lee Warmer”.  Alice alludes to the character of “Former Lee” on the previous song: “Why’d you hide your brother?”  “Former Lee Warmer” reveals that the body of the brother was locked in a chest in the attic.  “All the mops and brooms keep him company, misconceived of the family.”  Musically and thematically, this is just as good as Welcome to My Nightmare!  This is all done in Alice’s brilliant speak-sing style.

The concept becomes harder to follow on “No Man’s Land”, a good rock and roll song only weakened by the clanky electronic percussion.  Wagner is outstanding.  Similarly disconnected is “Dyslexia”, which sounds like Devo snuck into the studio.  Harmless fun; I wonder how many songs have been written about dyslexia in popular music?  It’s not clear who is on bass (probably Prakash John rather than Wagner), but the bass pulse is brilliantly subtle and perfect.  “Scarlet and Sheba” is an album highlight, electronically exotic and heavy too.  It’s perfectly dressed a with killer chorus and kinky lyrics, topped with a brilliant Ezrin arrangement.

“I Love America” is admittedly a novelty track, but I still like it today.  Taking on the persona of a redneck, Alice lampoons every cliche about his homeland.  “I love Velveeta slapped on Wonder Bread!  I love a Commie…if’un he’s good ‘n dead!”  The reason it works is because it’s Alice Cooper.  I don’t think anyone else could have pulled it off.  Ezrin provides suitably pompous backing music, turning it into a rock national anthem.  (My favourite lyric is the last one:  “I love my bar, and I love my truck.  I’d do most anything to make a buck!  I love a waitress who loves to ffff…flirt.  They’re the best kind!”)

Going into “Fresh Blood” you’ll notice the synth horns, not really a substitute for the real thing.  It’s actually a pretty good funky rock tune.  Alice sings melodically with layered vocals, and once again the bass sounds awesome if you pay attention to it.  The final track is another drama-laden burner called “Pass the Gun Around”.  The character (referred to as “Sonny”; perhaps the son from earlier in the album) wakes up in a hotel room after another blackout night.  It’s not a pretty scene but it ends the album on a suitably serious and musically complex note.  It’s actually one of the better Cooper tracks from any era, thanks in no small part to Bob Ezrin and Dick Wagner.

Interesting trivia:  Probably because Ezrin recorded the album in his native land (Canada), Lisa DalBello is credited on backing vocals.  Queensryche would later cover one of her singles, “Gonna Get Close to You”.  She was also a part of Alex Lifeson’s Victor project.

Today’s rating:  4/5 stars, but only after a long journey.  And the concept still seems to derail halfway through the album.

MOVIE REVIEW: Hot Tub Time Machine

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (2010, Unrated)

Directed by Steve Pink

Warning:  The delightfully titled Hot Tub Time Machine is the same as every other modern comedy.   Outrageous situations! Gross-outs! Swearing!  Hollow characters!…but I liked it. What can I say, I’m easily amused. I don’t mind this kind of movie, plus it has an 80’s metal slant.  The performances by John Cusack and Rob Corddry  were good enough to keep me entertained long enough.

Plot in a nutshell: Three dudes plus Cusack’s nephew are going nowhere in life and in their relationships. Trying to dip back into the past, they visit the same ski resort that they went to back in ’86. It’s gone downhill since then, but after a drunken night in the hot tub, they wake up (gasp!) back in 1986, forced to relive one of the most interesting vacations of their lives! Will they do things the same? Will they try to change the future? Can they even get back to the future? What about the nephew?  Watch to find out!

Each character has his own trip to relive, Corddry’s being the lynchpin of the whole situation. The plot is pretty simple but the movie is fun. Great music from the 80’s — Poison, Motley Crue, and more — make this a movie for the balding generation. Heck, there’s even a vintage-looking Poison concert complete with some dude that looks exactly like C.C. Deville circa Look What The Cat Dragged In.

To its credit, the ending was a twist I didn’t expect, and I enjoyed the cast including Chevy Chase. It was fun revisiting some aspects of 1986 (even though some tunes, such as “Kickstart My Heart” didn’t come out until ’89).

Blu-ray special features include commentaries, deleted scenes and extended scenes. The best deleted scenes were multiple hilarious takes of Corrdry, who’s comes across as a pretty funny guy. Digital copy is included but don’t ask me about it, because I don’t use them. All I know is that the digital copy is just the “rated” version of the film.

3/5 stars. Don’t stop believin’!

  • John Cusack as Adam Yates
  • Rob Corddry as Lou Dorchen
  • Craig Robinson as Nick Webber
  • Clark Duke as Jacob Yates
  • Chevy Chase as Hot Tub Repair Man
  • Crispin Glover as Phil Wedmaier

REVIEW: The Jam – Greatest Hits (1991)

 

THE JAM – Greatest Hits (1991 Polydor)

I’ll admit that this is the only Jam that I own; about 10 years ago I decided that I loved this compilation enough to buy the Direction Reaction Creation box set. That box contained the entirety of their studio recordings.  Maybe it was too much Jam at once, or maybe their albums were just not as good as their singles. Whatever; I found that this Greatest Hits was enough Jam for me.  Yet I love all 19 songs.  You’d think I’d be into their albums, if I already liked 19/19 Jam songs on this CD

There’s a great variety of tunes on Greatest Hits: everything’s here from the punk rock snarl of the opener “In The City” to the mournful “That’s Entertainment” to the upbeat fun of “Beat Surrender”. In between you will find some of the catchiest bass lines ever recorded, topped by the undeniable lyrics of Paul Weller. To write this many truly great singles…well you just don’t see it that often.

The Jam rocked, The Jam were cool, from punk rock to Motown soul and funk, these guys did it all and did it well. You would be well advised to pick this up.  It’s cheap now, too.  Less than $5, used.

Songs I really, really like that you may already know:

  • “Down at the Tube Station at Midnight”
  • “The Eton Rifles”
  • “Town Called Malice”
  • “David Watts”
  • “The Bitterst Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)”

I later bought a second Jam compilation album called Collection.  It concentrated on album tracks and deep cuts and I didn’t like it.  Normally I would advise readers to pick up original studio albums rather than compilations.  This time I feel the opposite way.  I have to rate Greatest Hits:

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Hot Leg – Red Light Fever (2009)

HOT LEG FRONT

HOT LEG – Red Light Fever (2009 Barbecue Rock Records)

It was a dark time for rock and roll.  The Darkness had split into two factions:  The Stone Gods, and Justin Hawkins’ Hot Leg.  The Gods were out of the gates with their album first in 2008, while Justin followed in 2009 with Red Light Fever.  Bizarrely, he credits himself as Justin “Dave” Hawkins in Hot Leg.

The Stone Gods made an excellent album, concentrating on rock and metal sounds.  Justin, on the other hand, has synthesized everything he does into one gestalt on Red Light Fever. There are still those cherished AC/DC-like moments that you may remember from Permission To Land (Hawkins even uses the lyric “permission to land” on one song) mixed with those operatic high vocals, taken to new levels of absurdity (“Chickens”). This is mixed with the polished Queen-like moments from the second Darkness album, One Way Ticket…, and the 80’s “keytar” sounds of his solo project British Whale. The result is, quite frankly, an album only Darkness fans will like.

I am a Darkness fan, and I do like it. The album kicks off with the aforementioned “Chickens”, which at first tricks you into thinking Hawkins has gone back to basics. Then the operatic chorus in full falsetto hits, and you realize that Hawkins is just as outrageous as ever.

“You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore”, the second track, reminds you that Hawkins is still one hell of a guitar player. Coming up right down the middle between Thin Lizzy and Brian May harmonies, it is Justin’s guitar work that keeps this band most anchored in rock.  The aptly titled “Trojan Guitar” is a cool workout, multi-faceted and complex.

By the time you get to the single, “Cocktails”, you will wonder just how Hawkins crammed so many notes into a word with just two syllables. Many will find this to be simply too much, like coffee with too much sweetener, or a cake with nothing but icing.  It’s a great song, with that Def Darkness vibe that I like so much, but the chorus is ridiculous!

“Gay in the 80s” is the most British Whale of the tracks, keytar up front and in your face, and Justin’s lyrics embracing the kitsch of that decade. Not a track for insecure rockers by any stretch.  Yet “Whichever Way You Wanna Give It” is the most reminiscent of early Darkness. It has that “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” vibe, with a chorus straight out of One Way Ticket…, and some solid guitar riffs with ample space between the power chords.

TAKE TAKE TAKEThe album ends a mere 35 minutes after it began, which some will find absolutely offensive after spending close to $30 (Canadian) on this import. However, if you wanted more, the band used to offer a vintage-Darkness sounding bonus track called “Take Take Take” on their website for free.  Unfortunately with the band now defunct, the song has been taken down.  Another free song, a bouncy upbeat number called “Heroes”, was available for a limited time only.

According to the inside notes, the album is to be filed under “Man-Rock”.

4/5 stars

Part 180: Google

RECORD STORE TALES Part 180:  Google

We first got email and internet at the record store in the late 90’s.  One of the big fears back then was the dreaded computer virus, but of course we also had to deal with internet abuse.  I remember coming in to work one day to find our computer’s MSN Messenger still active from the night shift; Spoogecakes left herself logged in.  Myself, I was never that fussed about MSN, I was more an email guy.  I got busted emailing a few times, I had verbal warnings, but I never did anything like leaving myself logged into MSN!

The powers that be were concerned about time wasted on the internet, and the viruses. This put into effect a strict internet policy.  Part of that was blocking nearly every useful site on the internet.  There were only a handful of sites available to us.  There was a secret password override, which made the rounds once leaked.  The guy who figured out the password decided to share it on his very last shift.  His name shall go down in hallowed halls, somewhere, someday.

Some of the sites that we were allowed to access included Canoe, so we could print out the charts, and Allmusic so we could do album lookups.  Allmusic was next to useless, being so slow and inaccurate.   I preferred Google.  The beauty of Google was that you didn’t have to use it to actually go to another (potentially shady) site, you could use it just to answer a simple question.  For example:

CARLY RAE JEPSEN

So there’s your answer, without even having to click on one of those shady lyric sites.

Now, I showed my bosses how to use Google to answer the toughest customer questions.  Often, a customer would come in and say, “I’m looking for a song, but I only know a few words.  Can you help?”  This was long before you could hold up your iPhone and use an app to do it for you.  You had to ask the folks on the radio, or at the record store.

Google was the easiest most accurate way to answer these questions.  So, here’s a question you might get:  “I’m looking for a song by somebody that goes, ‘in the midnight hour, I want more more more'”.

Plug it into Google like so, and you get your answer.

REBEL YELL

Again, you don’t even have to click on the shady lyric sites.  Then once you know the artist (Billy Idol) you could just run over to the shelves and see if you had that song.  If you didn’t, Allmusic could tell you which album you want, now that you knew the name of the song and artist.

I showed them this trick, but they would not budge on the block policy.  They insisted that Google be blocked.  They thought you could use Google to visit a blocked site.  Just clicking the link, they thought, would bypass the block.  They thought the block only applied to the address bar.

I explained this but the answer remained “No.”  Google was to remain blocked, purely because they didn’t understand how Internet Explorer worked.  Essentially, we were blocked from a simple tool to answer common questions.  At least many of us secretly had the override password, but before that leaked, we couldn’t access a search site like Google.  I had a customer say to me, “Can’t you check the internet?  The guy at HMV can.”  And no, technically I couldn’t.  Allmusic didn’t have a feature to look up song lyrics, and its search engine was pretty shitty as it was.

With today’s technology you can do this easily with a cell phone, that was unimaginable to us 10 years ago.  Regardless of the policy, I used the password to use Google and answer questions.  And I checked my email, too!

NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES…

Part 181:  Jim Carrey’s clone