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REVIEW: Frank Zappa – Baby Snakes (1983)

Third review from Mike and Aaron go to Toronto…Again!  This Zappa bought at Sonic Boom for $10.99, original green Rykodisc case intact.

BABY SNAKES_0001FRANK ZAPPA – Baby Snakes (1983, 1995 Rykodisc)

Baby Snakes is the soundtrack album to the Zappa film of the same name, famously using clay animation by Bruce Bickford.  This bizarre landmark of a movie deserves a bizarre soundtrack, which Frank ably delivers with his ace band including Tommy Mars (violin) , Terry Bozzio (on two tracks),  Adrian Belew (guitar) and more.

Yet the title track is remarkably accessible.  Sure, there are the typical Zappa elements: high munchkin voices, low Zappa moans, eclectic and humourous lyrics…and playing out the wazoo!  There’s nothing wrong with these “Baby Snakes” as long as you can keep up with the time changes.  (This is an edited version of the same song from Sheik Yerbouti.)

Before you know it, you’re live in funky New York listening to “Titties and Beer”.  These live tracks were recorded Halloween 1977 at the Palladium.  Will Frank sell his soul to the Devil?  Is Frank rough enough to get into hell?  Does he have the style that it takes?  Listen to “Titties and Berr” and find out (I won’t spoil it).

“The Black Page #2” is infamously hard to play, so just listen up and hear how the pros get it done.  The percussion alone makes heads spin.  Another seamless transition goes into “Jones Crusher” which has a classic soul of rock.  The vocal parts are damn fine, the lyrics hilarious, and Frank’s outro solo smokes.  A rock and roll slant on “Disco Boy” is a tad faster than the studio counterpart.  This hilarious ode to vanity and ultimately masturbation is just fun, because who doesn’t love ripping on disco?

PUNKYSide two of the original LP was made up of just two tracks, both long bombers:  “Dinah Moe Humm” and “Punky’s Whips”.  The Ryko CD blends the two sides together without a break.  You can hear the band quote “Sunshine of Your Love”) at one point  in “Dinah Moe” (they quoted “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” on side one).  “Punky’s Whips” is a completely different deal.  Apparently, Terry Bozzio had a bit of a man-crush, or at least a fascination with Punky Meadows from the band Angel.  This satire poked a bit of fun at the expense of Punky, but who can blame them?  Who could blame anyone?  “Punky’s lips, Punky’s lips, his hair’s so shiny, I love his hips!”  I mean, how can you not make fun of this guy?  Even though the lyrics are distractingly hilarious, the music goes into epic soundtrack mode by the time Bozzio’s shouting “Jack it Punky, jack it faster!”  Frank ends the song with one of his signature guitar jams, a sound that this world truly does miss.

Of note: this album was originally released on 12″ picture disc.  The Ryko CD cover replicates this effect.  I like that.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: White Lion – Pride (1987)

Enjoy this first of two White Lion reviews. Stay tuned for the second in a couple days!

PRIDE_0001WHITE LION – Pride (1987 Atlantic)

I’ve had some fierce arguments with some rock fans about this album.  Regardless of its flaws, I steadfastly defend it and especially the talents of one Vito Bratta, the best guitarist to never become a guitar hero.  After the breakup of White Lion in 1991, Bratta retreated from public life and music completely.  Some have argued to me, “If he was such a talent, he’d still be around.”  Such talk is ignorant of the facts.  Bratta spent many years as a caregiver to ill parents, and whatever decisions he made have to be respected.

I mentioned that this album is flawed, so I’m going to get that part out of the way first.  There are two things about this album that suck.  One is the production, by the normally awesome Michael Wagener (engineered by Canadian “Gggarth” Richardson).  It’s really muddy, echoey, and annoying.  It is indicative of the times.

The second thing that drives me nuts are the lyrics.  I know Mike Tramp is Danish and English is his second language, but there were three guys from New York (Staten Island and Brooklyn) in the band that could have helped.  As Exhibit A, I present you “Lady of the Valley”:

Lady of the valley
Can you hear me cry
In the stillness of the night
I have lost my brother
In the fights of the war
And my heart has broken down

I always stumble over that “In the fights of the war” line.  That’s one of the “serious” songs, something that White Lion tackled frequently (improving over the years).  For their flaws I’ll at least respect Mike Tramp’s willingness to present a personal point of view on specific issues (“Little Fighter”, “Cry For Freedom”, “Warsong”, “El Salvador”).  Unfortunately Pride is loaded with songs about young girls and what Mike Tramp would like to do with them.  Below, Exhibit B:

Keep your engine running high
When you take my love inside
But hold the trigger on my loaded gun (“Hungry”)

Little miss Dee’s got a dirty mind
All around the boys she’s one of a kind
If you wanna good time you can take her home
Cause everyone knows she is good in bed (“Sweet Little Loving”)

I’ll stop there.

Musically, and performance-wise, Pride is a joy to listen to.  What an untapped well of talent Vito Bratta is.  In the guitar magazines, he was noted for having captured some of the magic of Eddie Van Halen, and I agree with that.  Bratta has definitely mastered the Van Halen book of rock.  His riffs are much like Van Halen’s, with one guitar playing the rhythm and flicking in and out with tricky little licks.  It sounds difficult as hell.  “Hungry” is the most Van Halen-like.  The difference is that Bratta sounds like a much more schooled player.  Everything sounds meticulously planned and written.  When he takes a solo, it’s a combination of Van Halen and neoclassical discipline.  And every song is absolutely loaded with fills and tricks.  Pride is very busy guitar-wise, in a good way.

“Hungry” is a great song, a dark Dokken-esque opener.  Also similar to Dokken is the second track, the mid-tempo “Lonely Nights”.  It’s another strong track, and I find Mike Tramp’s raspy voice similar to Jon Bon Jovi’s from time to time.  Bratta executes a fluttery solo, and then it’s on to the next one, “Don’t Give Up”.  Again, I find the lyrics tedious.  I like positivity, but I don’t find, “Don’t give up, even when it’s tough,” to be very profound.  Thankfully this uptempo banger is another winner musically.  Once again I struggle to keep up with Bratta’s stunning fretwork.

“Lady of the Valley” is pretty impressive.  It’s the “epic” I suppose, 6 1/2 minutes in length.  The riff is choppy and smoking, and the rhythm section of James LoMenzo and Greg D’Angelo is spot-in.  Then Bratta gets his echoey acoustic guitar out and the song mutates.  An anthemic chorus tops a great song.

Side Two of the album was packed with singles:  the hits “Wait”, “Tell Me”, and “When the Chrildren Cry”.  “Wait” and “Tell Me” are both songs that Bon Jovi would have given their nuts to write.  Tramp’s raspy vocals are absolutely perfect, as was his blonde mane, and the girls went wild.  “When the Children Cry” was and still is an impressive acoustic performance.  Even in 1987 I was impressed that White Lion chose to forgo drums and backing instrumentation.  This simple, quiet song is the template for what Extreme would do three years later with “More Than Words”.  Bratta was a guitar player able to pull off such an arrangement without sacrificing integrity.

The album is rounded out by “All Join Our Hands” and “All You Need Is Rock N Roll”, two odes to the greatest music ever invented.  “All You Need Is Rock N Roll” is quite cool, beginning with what sounds like a drunken acoustic jam, and ending with with some killer bluesy playing from everyone.  Both songs are great.  I have always felt that the album tracks were as strong as the singles; like an album of 10 singles.

Shame about the sound and the lyrics, though.

 3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: KISS – The Ritz On Fire (2013)

NEW RELEASE

KISS – The Ritz On Fire (2013 Gold Fish, recorded 1988)

This is hard to get. I got mine via eBay; Scott the Scot found his locally. Fandom went into panic mode when all Amazon pre-orders were abruptly cancelled. We all figured that Kiss’ lawyers stopped its release. It had still made it to the manufacturing stage, and enough copies have surfaced on the market that it is already a collectible that can be afforded.

If you love that poorly documented period that is late 80’s Kiss, you will love The Ritz On Fire. August 12, 1988, The Ritz, New York City. A radio broadcast, from the Crazy Nights tour. It’s not live album quality, but it’s a radio broadcast and therefore listenable. There are issues on some songs, such as “Love Gun” where Paul’s voice is too low in the mix while the drums remain more than audible. It’s such a joy to have a live recording with Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick that fans will be happy to overlook such defects.

It’s also cool to revisit some under-appreciated Kiss klassics: “Fits Like A Glove” from Lick It Up, “War Machine” from Creatures, and “Tears Are Falling” from Asylum are among the songs that are hard to find in live form. It’s also a pleasure to hear this lineup tackle Destroyer‘s “Shout It Out Loud” which was rarely performed back then.

MVP: No disprect to the late Eric Carr intended, but Bruce Kulick blows me away with his dexterity and diversity. His solos are highlights of every single song. He doesn’t emulate his predecessors, nor does he play inappropriately for the songs. Also worth mentioning is Paul Stanley. Once they get the vocal levels right, it’s a pleasure to hear Paul Stanley at his vocal peak singing live. The songs aren’t all downtuned like they are today, and some songs like “Crazy Crazy Nights” are really up there.

Eric Carr…he had his own style, and after hearing Eric Singer ably fill his shoes for so long now, we can be reminded how Eric Carr played them. He had his own signature drum rolls, and of course that unmistakable raspy voice on “Black Diamond”. Nobody was confusing Eric Carr with Peter Criss, on the drums or on the microphone; Eric’s rasp was completely different from Peter’s. He was almost a cross between Criss and Simmons.

Best of all, this is really live. We saw Kiss “singing” to backing tapes at Dodger Stadium on Saturday January 25 on national television. Meanwhile, Paul wasn’t actually singing anything at all. Not so on The Ritz On Fire. Yes, keyboardist Gary Corbett was backstage sweetening the sound and adding backing vocals, but they were live. The Ritz On Fire is all the stronger for it.

4.5/5 stars

RITZ ON FIRE_0002

More KISS at mikeladano.com:

Complete KISS reviews + Complete ACE FREHLEY reviews 

PETER CRISSCriss EP review + GENE SIMMONSAsshole review

Record Store Tales Part 3:  My First KISS + Part 8:  You Wanted the Best +
Part 77:  Psycho-Circus Part 151:  24kt KISS…cheap at twice the price +
Part 152:  Carnival of Lost Souls Part 173:  Gene Simmons’ Asylum Demos 
Part 179: Phantom of the Opera Part 241:  Halloween, KISS style!

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Speak of the Devil / Talk of the Devil (1983)

 

OZZY OSBOURNE – Speak of the Devil (1983 Epic)

After Randy Rhoads died, Ozzy really seemed to have gone into a tailspin. He just seems to have been completely miserable at the time and he really tries to bury the albums he made in this period. Speak Of The Devil, a live album featuring Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) on guitar, was not even included on Ozzy’s 2002 reissue program and went out of print.

Ozzy owed his label a live album, and had actually recorded one too (Randy Rhoads Tribute).  With fresh wounds from the loss of Randy, Ozzy didn’t want to do a live album at all.    So a compromise instead; Speak of the Devil (Talk of the Devil overseas) consisted entirely of Black Sabbath songs.  At the same time, Sabbath was releasing their own double live album, Live Evil.  This direct competition poured fuel over an already volatile feud.

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL_0003I always hate to compare Ozzy’s versions of Sabbath songs with the originals. Ozzy’s have always sounded different because of the guitar players he’s chosen to use over the years. These Gillis versions are about as authentic as Ozzy’s been, until the fortuitous discovery of Zakk Wylde five years later.  Gillis is a flashier player than Iommi, but without Randy’s intricate classical bent.

You absolutely cannot argue with the track list (from the Ritz, in New York). This is Sabbath boiled down to its black core. These are the desert island songs, and I love that “Never Say Die” and “Symptom of the Universe” were included.  Through the classics, Ozzy sounds tremendously drunk.  Colossally smashed, not quite completely out of his fucking head yet, but close.  Still lucid, not yet totally annihilated.  His voice takes on an angry shade when he starts reminiscing about the the groupies at the old Fillmore East (“The Wizard”).  (Sounds like a naughty word was awkwardly edited of out this ramble, too.)

I do love a moment when, just before breaking into the aforementioned “Wizard”, Ozzy says to somebody (a roadie?) “Hey, what’s happenin’ man?”

The vocals sound like they’ve been sweetened in the studio.  They’ve been double tracked, or manipulated to have that effect.  I’m normally not a fan of that kind of thing, but it’s still a great listen.  There’s some annoying feedback at points…it doesn’t bother me too much, hell, when I first heard this album (on cassette) in 1991, I couldn’t even hear the feedback, for the shitty fidelity of cassette tape.  I’m sure Ozzy considers the album to be sonically embarrassing, that seems to be his modus operandi.

Of note, “Sweet Leaf” did not manage to make the original CD release, but has been restored to this version, its CD debut.  It was on the original cassette version, a cassette-and-LP-only “bonus track” at the time.  (Aaron, that means you gotta buy remastered or LP.)

Band lineup: Osbourne/Gillis/Sarzo/Aldridge/Airey.

4.5/5 stars

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL_0004

 

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (12″ single)

This is the third review from the The Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale!  Wes bought me this 12″ single, which was real nice of him.  So for Wes, here’s the review!

For the last review in this series, click here.

TWISTED SISTER  – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (1984 Atlantic single)

I’ll skip the formalities, and I won’t be discussing the single A-side.  What is understood need not be discussed.  On the off chance that you spent your youth in Antarctica, here’s the very clever and original music video (later ripped off by Michael Jackson for his own “Black or White”).

The B-sides are three of Twisted’s all time best, recorded live, and unreleased on CD to date.  All three are classics from You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll:  “The Kids are Back”, “We’re Gonna Make It”, and the album’s title track.  These were recorded live in Poughkeepsie, New York.  Although it seems odd, Dee’s usual spoken opening, “We are Twisted fuckin’ Sister” skipped the expletive.  I’m not sure if it’s edited out or not, for the release of this single.

As far as a single side of Twisted onslaught goes, I don’t know if you could have selected three better songs.  The performances are typical live Sister; fast and reckless.  In other words, perfect.  The live tracks were co-produced by bassist Mark “The Animal” Mendoza so you know that the band at least had their hands in the mix, too.

Another cool fact:  neither “The Kids are Back” nor “We’re Gonna Make It” are on the Live at the Marquee CD, minimizing overlap with that later release.  They were recorded within the same time frame, so the band is in similar ferocious shape to that great live album.

4/5 stars