Nita Strauss

REVIEW: Nita Strauss – Controlled Chaos (2018)

NITA STRAUSS – Controlled Chaos (2018 Sumerian Records)

Nita Strauss became a household name touring the world and playing lead guitar with Alice Cooper.  Her natural ability and charisma ensured that the next question would be “when is she putting out a solo album?”  In 2018 Strauss released her entirely instrumental debut Controlled Chaos, playing everything except drums and keyboards.

Her choppy rhythm on “Alegria” soon gives way to extremely melodic (and fast) lead work.  Strauss’ talent seems to be taking a melody and making it as exciting as possible with only six strings.  There are shades of Yngwie, Joe and other assorted big-namer instrumentalists without sounding like any specific one.  The weakness is unfortunately the drums (by Josh Villalta) which are robotic and flat.  “Our Most Desperate Hour” sports blurry fast drum blitzes that should be exciting but instead sound artificial.  Worst track:  “Mariana Trench” due to long stretches of bland double bass.  Fortunately this album is more about the guitar.  Lots and lots of guitar.

Track after track, Nita blazes a tapestry of technique.  Her guitar creates moods — tension is in the air.  But she also does excellent ballads.  “Here With You” is the first.  Guitar instrumental ballads are a thing unto themselves.  She creates a powerful presence on “Here With You” with layers of guitars working together.

“The Stillness at the End” is a an examination of one of Nita’s techniques: densely layered guitars in harmony.  Here she mostly forgoes speed in favour of building up the melodies.  Keyboards are used sparingly, such as the intro to “The Quest” which goes full Yngwie in dragon-hunting mode.  But ballads like “Hope Grows” might give us a better look at Nita’s inner workings.  The sparse arrangement lets you really hear the feeling in her playing.  She has an excellent sense of composition, knowing exactly when to throw on some emphasis.  Indeed, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the ballads are the best tracks.

“Lion Among Wolves”, “Pandemonium 2.0” and “The Show Must Go On” all have their own guitar thrills to enjoy.  “Pandemonium” stands out due to an excellent outro guitar melody.  And if you’re wondering, “Hey, is ‘The Show Must Go On'” the old Queen song?  Indeed it is, featuring Nita sharing the stage with a cello (Tina Guo).  Great choice on which to end the album.  The cello solo is freaky.

Controlled Chaos is a good debut.  The drums are a sonic stumbling block.  As far as playing, composition and entertainment, Nita delivers the goods.  The songs could use a little more variety to give them album some texture, but there is plenty of room for Strauss to grow as her career is just going to get bigger.

3/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – “Don’t Give Up” (2020 iTunes)

ALICE COOPER – “Don’t Give Up” (2020 iTunes)

Thank God for Alice Cooper! 50 years ago, he was considered by the mainstream to be nothing more than an untalented shock rocker. In 2020, he is inspiring people to keep on keepin’ on. He’s got a powerful message for anyone who needs to hear it.

“Don’t Give Up” is the most direct, the most topical and the least “Alice” song that the Coop has ever done. Why the “least” Alice? Because this time he is not playing a character. He’s not telling some horrifying bedtime story. Or is he? “Don’t Give Up” is about Coronavirus and blatantly so.

“Yeah, I know you’re struggling right now. We all are, in different ways. It’s like a new world that we don’t even know. It’s hard to sleep, even harder to dream. But look, you got seven billion brothers and sisters all in the same boat! So don’t panic. Life has a way of surviving and going on and on. We’re not fragile and we sure don’t break easy.”

This single was recorded in home studios.  It’s accompanied by a cool video expertly produced by Canuck Frank Gryner, using footage sent in by fans.  It is so rare for Alice to really make a statement that pertains to current events.  And it is a very specific song; there are no underlying stories or metaphors to untangle.  But when you think about Coop, it’s not really surprising that he came out of the gates so fast with a song like this.  Alice Cooper is a human being that cares about other human beings.  The message is simple:  keep fighting and don’t give up.  Sometimes people need to actually hear the words.

Musically you could call “Don’t Give Up” a power ballad.  It has a very 80’s guitar figure, with Alice speaking his message over it.  The chorus is more modern, with Alice singing as plaintively as he can.  “Don’t Give Up” is unremarkable as a rock ballad, but as a lyrical accomplishment, Alice has forged new ground 50 years on.  He has written some remarkably powerful words.

“Our enemy is a cold, indiscriminate monster.  It doesn’t care if you’re old or a newborn.  It exists to kill.  You and I are nothing to it.  It has no heart or soul or conscience.  Do we fear it? Yeah! Do we cower before it? Hell no! We’re the blood-n-guts human race. And we win.”

The important thing that Alice says here is that it is alright to be afraid.  Look, Alice has fought demons, and if this scares him then there is no shame in feeling fear.  People are being labelled as cowards for wearing a mask in public.   Alice is right — we will win, and we will do whatever it takes to win.  If you’re scared right now, you tell ’em that Alice Cooper said that’s OK.

3.5/5 stars

 

#829: Freestylin’ 6 – A Wasted Candy Script for Chaos

GETTING MORE TALE #829: Freestylin’ 6 – A Wasted Candy Script for Chaos

Buy local! That’s the mantra these days. The last time we went “Freestylin’“, I explained that I was going to try and buy as much of my music from Encore Records.  Having consumed the four albums I ordered last time, I decided to order four more!  Like before, I tried to (mostly) focus on albums I’ve never heard before.   At the same time I also wanted to pick up some music that people have been recommending to me.

First into the shopping cart:  Love/Hate – Wasted in America.  Your Heavy Metal Overlord was pleased that I enjoyed their debut album, Blackout in the Red Room, and so commanded me to acquire their second, Wasted in America.  Encore had in stock the Rock Candy reissue with two bonus tracks:  “Castles From Sand” and “Soul House Tales”.  I trust HMO with my dollars — he has rarely, if ever, steered me wrong.

My second purchase was Nita Strauss’ debut CD Controlled Chaos.  If you didn’t know, Nita plays lead guitar with Alice Cooper.  This one came highly praised by John over at 2loud2oldmusic.  “Nothing short of spectacular,” he said.  Funny enough, the last time he inspired me to purchase an album, it was another guitar instrumental:  Joe Satriani’s Shapeshifting.  I am looking forward to hearing a guitarist that, aside from live performances playing someone else’s songs, I’ve never really had a chance to listen to.  If Nita is as much of a beast in the studio as she is live, this oughta be a good album.

Uncle Meat has been telling me to buy some Cars studio albums for ages.  All I owned to this point was a Cars anthology called Just What I Needed.  Meat specifically recommended Panorama, but Encore had the expanded edition of Candy-O for just $16.99.  Maybe I’ll get Panorama next.  There is no point in getting the versions without the bonus tracks.  This one has a number of alternate versions, one B-side, and one previously unreleased song called “They Won’t See You”.

Because I ordered four CDs the first time I ordered from Encore, I randomly decided that I had to get four again this time.  My fourth was a re-buy, but a pretty mega re-buy.  The nice thing about this one is that it doesn’t replace the version I already own.  Rather, it complements the earlier version.  EMI already did a pretty excellent job when they reissued the Marillion catalogue in the 1990s.  Each of the first eight albums was stuffed with bonus discs packed with rarities and unreleased material.  My new copy of their debut, Script for a Jester’s Tear (4 CDs + 1 Blu-ray) duplicates only one track from the EMI original!

For the 2020 box set version of Script, the entire album is remixed, meaning I will need to hang onto my original.  The Market Square Heroes EP is also remixed.  The only song duplicated over both versions is “Charting the Single”, but here it is in a fresh 2020 remastering.  Discs three and four are an unreleased concert, Live at the Marquee Club.  “But I have that already!” you protest.  Do you?  No.  The concert on the Early Stages box set was recorded December 30, 1982.  This one was recorded the day before, December 29th!  While the setlist is identical, the concert is a completely unreleased one.

Finally the Blu-ray disc has the usual music videos and hi-def audio tracks, but most importantly it also has Script remixed in 5.1 surround.  It even includes the entire Recital of the Script live video (81 minutes)!   In other words, this version of Script is packed to the gills, yet amazingly without rendering your old copy obsolete.

Guitarist Steph Honde told me that the official Marillion website is sold out and he hasn’t been able to find a copy anywhere.  Fortunately the Marillion store says they will have more this week.

Thanks to Mark at Encore Records for keeping the rock rollin’.  This has been so important to my mental health.  I have always ordered new music to give myself something to look forward to in the mail.  The only difference in this new reality is that I sanitize the parcels thoroughly.  After too many weeks of no new music, ordering from Encore has been awesome.

Wonder what I’ll order next time?  Recommend four CDs to me.  If Encore carries them, there’s a possibility I might end up buying your favourite album next.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – A Paranormal Evening With Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris (2018)

ALICE COOPER – A Paranormal Evening With Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris (2018 Edel)

You don’t so much ask if a new Alice Cooper live album is good; instead you just ask what songs are on it.

A Paranormal Evening With Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris (what a mouth full) features “Hurricane” Nita Strauss on lead guitar, Chuck “Beasto Blanco” Garric on bass, drummer Glen Sobel, and guitarists Ryan Roxie and Tommy Henriksen.  Guys like Garric and Roxie are the veterans, but Nita Strauss is a serious focal point.  She can really shred.

The setlist spans most of Cooper’s career.  The CD even opens with “Brutal Planet”, which was the set opener back in 2000 on the Brutal Planet tour.  The industrial-tinged song is less jarring live.  From there, onto the oldies:  “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, “Under My Wheels” and “Department of Youth”.  Alice’s band are capable backing singers and they tend to focus on the melody while Alice does his schtick with character.  I won’t tell you who Alice name-drops in “Department of Youth” (remember, it used to be teen idol Donny Osmond).  That’s a surprise.

Another surprise:  the fabulous “Pain” from Flush the Fashion.  The powerful dark pop is heavier live, enriched by three guitars in harmony.  Alice can still infuse the song with suffering, even decades later.  Back to an oldie for a moment with “Billion Dollar Babies” (absolutely massive with three guitars) and then another surprise:  “The World Needs Guts”.  Very few songs from Constrictor get played live, and this one is a live album debut.  There’s a certain nostalgia now for the Kane Roberts era, and “The World Needs Guts” thrills my gorilla on this album.  Then to another niche album, 2005’s garage rock of Dirty Diamonds.  It’s an underrated gem of an album, and so “Woman of Mass Distraction” is a welcome selection, though others would have been more interesting.

“Poison” is a perennial, and here it is again representing 1989’s Trash album.  Every Cooper lineup has its own touch with it.  This one isn’t the sleekest version but it’s the most thunderous.  To cap off the first CD, it’s “Halo of Flies” from “Killer”, almost 11 minutes in length.  This is the kind of deep cut you crave, complete and unedited.  Once again, the three guitars really enrich the sound.

Another regular, “Feed My Frankenstein”, is one I could live without.  But this one is a generational song.  Fans who grew up in the early 90s remember it from Wayne’s World.  It’s the song Mrs. LeBrain sang along to in the car.  Boring to some, a highlight for others.  Then it’s back to “Cold Ethyl” from Welcome to My Nightmare, a stone-cold classic (pardon the pun) highlighting the rock and roll side of Alice.  The trade-off guitar solos are a newer twist.  From the same album comes “Only Women Bleed”, and really the only slow song in the set.  Alice doesn’t need to take it slow!

It took this long to play the one and only new song, “Paranoiac Personality“.  It’s not always like this — in the past Alice has peppered his set heavily with new material.  For whatever reason, this time the focus is on the variety.  There are new songs that will unfortunately never get the chance to shine live.  Still, it’s hard to complain, especially when the next song is “Dwight Fry”, the second epic on the album.  A medley of “Killer” and “I Love the Dead” keep that same vibe.

“I’m Eighteen” is the beginning of the end, with “School’s Out/Another Brick in the Wall” ringing the final bell.  Listen to the band introductions for something that Alice rarely does.  Take a minute and appreciate how great Alice’s band is — and always has been no matter the lineup!

A Paranormal Evening With Alice Cooper at the Olympia Paris (say that three times) comes highly recommended.  Anyone who collects Alice Cooper will find something here that they’ve wanted to hear live.  Has any artist been as great as Alice for as long as Alice?  Very few, and this album proves he’s still the one and the only.

4/5 stars