Phil Soussan

REVIEW: Vince Neil – Exposed (1993)

 

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VINCE NEIL – Exposed (1993 Warner)

When Vince Neil finally unleashed his first solo album Exposed in 1993, it looked like he was the early winner in the great battle:  Vince vs. Motley.

As is par for a volatile band like Motley Crue, the acrimony behind the split was intense and overshadowed any music either party was about to come out with.  Even after reading Motley’s book The Dirt, it’s not really clear what happened.  Vince was complaining that he wasn’t into the new Motley music they were working on.  “Like 4th rate Physical Graffiti outtakes” he once commented in Metal Edge, with too much emphasis on keyboards and backing singers.  Crue, meanwhile, felt the lack of dedication coming from the singer.  He had missed a few rehearsals.  After driving through a torrential rainstorm making him late at the studio, he was confronted.  “We’re thinking about having new lead singer auditions again,” said Nikki Sixx to Vince Neil.  The band put out a bogus statement saying Neil was diverting his focus to race cars, and Vince was battling from the bottom again.

After working on one tune with the Damn Yankees (three out of four anyway, minus Ted Nugent) called “You’re Invited (But Your Friend Can’t Come)” for the opening song of the Encino Man soundtrack, it was time to put together a new band.  An early lineup consisted of ex-Ozzy Osbourne bassist Phil Soussan, but that didn’t last.  When Soussan left, newcomer Robbie “Ichabod” Crane (a nickname he pretty much stopped using immediately) switched from rhythm guitar to bass, while the legendary Steve Stevens of Billy Idol fame was the main shredder.  Vik Foxx from Enuff Z’nuff was hired on drums, and another newcomer named Dave Marshall took over the vacant rhythm guitar spot.  Vince wanted two guitars, unlike Motley’s one.

With the ex-Billy Idol axeman by his side, Vince Neil already had everything he needed to make an incredible album.  The help of Stevens, Soussan, and Tommy Shaw & Jack Blades from Damn Yankee meant he had a songwriting dream team.  Fired up and motivated to prove everybody in the music business wrong, Vince was in the zone, and the chemistry was working.  He also beat Motley to the punch by 11 months.

The last thing I expected from a new Vince Neil song would have been a six minute epic with more guitar action than Motley Crue had packed into six albums.  Vince was in great voice at this time, and his singing on this album is exemplary.  On every track, he sounds like he means it.  Crisply captured by producer Ron Nevison, the song is driven forth by the relentless Vik Foxx (sounding like he’s doing his best Rush impression) and the space-age technique of Steve Stevens.  It’s an exotic metal groove, with flash and tricks like you have never heard before.  I don’t know how Stevens does some of the things he does, but that’s why he’s the guitar hero and not me.  If record labels weren’t scared shitless of releasing a six minute single, then this should have been the single.

Instead “Sister of Pain” was the single, a song that does not make as strong an impression.  It’s a hard boned sleezy cock rocker in the Motley fashion, which is probably what they were going for.  Vince felt that since Motley were changing styles, it was up to him to keep the old Crue sound alive.  That’s “Sister of Pain”, a catchy and satisfactory rock single, although still five minutes due to the intense soloing. This is one of the tunes that Vince wrote with Shaw and Blades.

“Can’t Have Your Cake” has a neat slippery riff, and it too was used as a single.  This fits the niche of the “fast Motley rocker”, like (say) “Kickstart My Heart”, though it’s not as heavy.  Thankfully it’s a song to its own, thanks to Stevens’ creative licks.  I like “Fine, Fine Wine” better.  Vince is as dirty as ever, proving he doesn’t need Nikki Sixx to write a sleezy rock lyric.  It’s just a kicking groovy guitar song, perfect for playing air instruments to.

Stevens fans know his flamenco work is incredible.  He gets to show it off for the first 30 seconds of “The Edge”, finally a song about Vince’s supposed true passion — racing!  Not an instantaneous song in any way, “The Edge” has a lot going on but it’s worth the challenge.  This kind of technical rock was beyond Motley Crue before, but with guys like Steve Stevens, Vince was able to show them up a bit.  There’s more of Stevens’ incredible classical guitar on the ballad “Can’t Change Me”, a sentiment I have always identified with.  This is the kind of pop ballad that would have made Vince the king of radio only two years earlier.  Not surprisingly it’s a Tommy Shaw co-write, because that’s exactly who it sounds like.

Scan_20160216 (2)Nothing like a cover to kick off side two, and “Set Me Free” by the Sweet is basically the original “Kickstart my Heart”.  May as well go back to the original and amp it up a bit with some slippery Steve Stevens fretwork.  It’s a heavy, layered presentation of guitars and ass kicking drums, and we can certainly forgive Vince for putting a cover on his album.  Besides, the next track “Living is a Luxury” has a nocturnal, smoky vibe that makes it one of the most interesting cuts.  The jazzy guitar is like nothing on any Motley Crue album.

Then we’re down to a remake of “You’re Invited (But Your Friend Can’t Come)” from Encino Man.  Damn Yankees played on the original, and sonically and vocally, that is the one I prefer.  The album version of course has more guitars.  It’s too bad they couldn’t add that one in as a CD bonus track, but the Encino Man soundtrack was on Hollywood, not Warner.  Regardless of which version we’re listening to, this is still a dynamite blast of adrenaline that seems over way too soon.  I used to play the soundtrack version on repeat in the car.  Rewind and go again.

“Gettin’ Hard” is a great mid-paced rock tune, but what’s odd is that the lyrics in the booklet are nothing like the actual song, except for the choruses.  It’s as if they changed the words at the last minute but forgot to tell the people who print the CD sleeves!  A strange little oddity to go with a grooving cool song.  Out come the acoustics again for the last track, “Forever”, a really sweetly made ballad.  The layers of shimmery guitars make it a class above most ballads of this ilk.  It ends the album on a glowing nostalgic note.

Unfortunately for Vince, he was unable to follow this album with anything decent.  We realistically knew that Steve Stevens wasn’t going to hang around long, but what hurt Vince most was his ill-advised attempt to cross over, getting the Dust Brothers to produce.  1995’s Carved in Stone failed to make any impression whatsoever.  Meanwhile, his former cohorts in Motley Crue quietly cooked up a beast of an album with Bob Rock.  1994’s Motley Crue was about the only thing that could have topped Exposed.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Best of Ozz (1989 Japanese exlusive)

Second of an Ozzy double shot! For the other review, Randy Rhoads Tribute, click here.  

OZZY OSBOURNE – Best of Ozz (1989 CBS Japan exclusive)

Japanese releases are such interesting things.  Sometimes they are chock full of bonus tracks and additional goodies, and sometimes they are not.  This CD is one that is not.

Even though this album came out after No Rest for the Wicked (1988),  this Best Of Ozz includes no songs from that album or with guitarist Zakk Wylde.  The songs are drawn from the first four Ozzy studio albums only, and the CD contains only 10 tracks.  You have to shrug your shoulders at some of the song selections.  “Secret Loser” and “Centre of Eternity” are on this, but not “Suicide Solution” or “I Don’t Know”.

Those two aside, however, this ain’t a bad but brief run through the land of Ozz.  “Crazy Train”: check.  “Bark at the Moon”: check.  “Mr. Crowley”: check.  “Shot in the Dark”: check.  They get some bonus points for deeper cuts such as “Diary of a Madman”, “Over the Mountain” and “Goodbye to Romance”.   I’m also glad “The Ulimate Sin” was included, as that song has sort of been erased from Ozzy’s canon since then, in a manner of speaking.  He doesn’t like reissuing any songs from that album.

Interestingly, each track alternates guitar players: Randy, Jake, Randy, Jake, through the whole BEST OF OZZ_0005album.  The result is an uneven listen.  I don’t know why they did that.

The tracks are most likely the original CD masters.  There are no liner notes indicating they had been remastered and I think it would be highly unlikely.  Since there is nothing exclusive to be had on Best of Ozz, and since it is limited to just 10 tracks and lacks Zakk Wylde, this CD is nothing more than a collectible to me.  I don’t remember what I paid for it, but I bought it from T-Rev’s store.  I probably paid about $16.99 or so.  The CD itself is scratched a little bit, but not bad enough to skip or play defectively.  Most appealing to me, the original obi strip was intact, and there’s a lyric sheet with Japanese writing and amusing sketches.  Bizarrely, some of these sketches are of Zakk Wylde, even though he’s not on the album.

I’ve listened to Best of Ozz exactly twice: when I purchased it, and when I reviewed it.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Ultimate Live Ozzy (picture disc EP)

Welcome to the third WEEK OF SINGLES!  Once again, we’ll be looking at singles and EPs all week.  Up first is a really odd one.

Click here to see directories for the last two installments:  The Week of Singles, and the Week of Singles 2.

OZZY OSBOURNE – Ultimate Live Ozzy (1986 CBS picture 12″ record)

T-Rev bought this for me a year or two ago, God knows where he found it!  All I know is that one day I got a text from him saying, “Mikey, Ultimate Live Ozzy picture disc, do you need it?”  I obviously said yes,  I didn’t care what it was exactly.  I figured it was probably live cuts from The Ultimate Ozzy home video release.  I know that Ozzy picture discs go for crazy amounts of money at record shows, and this one was affordably priced.

Picture discs don’t sound the best, and this one even has a label on the front warning the consumer of this fact.  Unfortunately my plastic sleeve isn’t in the greatest shape, although the record is absolutely perfect.  I love the way the turntable spindle sticks out of Ozzy’s tongue on one side.  The other side has a picture of Ozzy and guitarist Jake E. Lee with the girl from The Ultimate Sin album cover.  Jake’s taking a bite out of her bum.

Here’s the weird thing.  Even though the label clearly states these are live versions from Kansas in 1986 (the Ultimate Ozzy video shoot), there are no live songs.  There are three tracks per side, and both sides are identical.  They contain the studio versions of “The Ultimate Sin”, “Never Know Why”, and “Thank God for the Bomb”.  The studio versions — not live versions!  Somebody screwed up somewhere; you have to assume one side was meant to have the live tracks, and the other the studio counterparts.  Information is scarce, except that there are multiple reports of the same issue for this picture disc on the web.

Thankfully, the three missing live tracks are on the Prince of Darkness box set.   It’s always nice to get some live Ozzy stuff with Jake E. Lee, since it’s so rare to find.  Randy Castillo (R.I.P.) is on drums, and like him or not, he has a signature style that he utilized with Ozzy.  I enjoy his drumming.  The live versions are more keyboard heavy than the studio counterparts.  I enjoy Jake’s echoey guitar intro to “Thank God for the Bomb” which sounds cool live.

I’d love to know if these three live tracks were actually released on vinyl at all in 1986.  Prince of Darkness was released in 2005; that’s a long time to wait to finally get the tracks in an audio format!  I do have the Ultimate Ozzy video on VHS, but it has never been released on an official DVD.  Knowing of Ozzy’s loathing for this period, I wonder if it ever will be.  I doubt it.  It’s too bad, because some have a fondness for The Ultimate Sin and its songs.

If this picture disc had contained the live tracks it was supposed to, I’d give it 4/5 stars.  However, for a screwup this colossal:

0/5 stars.  At least it looks cool.

Final note:  When originally released, this disc came with postcards and a poster.  I have neither.

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – The Ultimate Sin (1986)

OZZY OSBOURNE – The Ultimate Sin (1986, 1995 Sony remaster)

I know Ozzy isn’t especially fond of this album (or anything about the whole Jake E. Lee period) but I love it.  Hell, Ozzy hasn’t even offered it in any of his reissue programs.  It’s out of print, and Ozzy never plays any of these songs anymore outside of “Shot in the Dark”.

I don’t know why I love it so much.  I get why some people aren’t fond of it.  Ron Nevison butchered the production, for one thing.  Randy Castillo was such a powerful drummer, with a recognizable style.  Here he sounds plastic with awful sounding cymbals.  It’s a shame because the drum parts themselves are great.  Ozzy acknowledges being in a real “down” state at this time, and it shows in the tired vocals.

Yet I love it!  Maybe it’s Jake E. Lee, who is incredible.  He’s flashy in that 80’s way, but with balls.  He’s not just fluttery solos, although he certain can do that.  His riffs are choppy his fills stunning and classy.  I think Jake was a great replacement for the late Randy Rhoads, even though his true self wouldn’t shine through until Badlands.

ULTIMATE SIN_0003I like every single song.  The title track, “Secret Loser”, “Fool Like You”, “Lightning Strikes”…these are punchy Ozzy rockers.  They are well written songs, and longtime contributor Bob Daisley has credits on 8 of the 9 songs.  To me, that speaks to a certain level of quality.  Verses and choruses are strong and melodic.  The guitar riffs, solos and fills are all equally catchy and adroit.  Even one of the less interesting songs, like “Never Know Why” is still listenable today due to the catchy melody, and Jake’s flange-y guitar part.

Many of the songs such as “Thank God for the Bomb” and “Killer of Giants” return Ozzy to the anti-war stance that Black Sabbath took in the 1970’s.  I remember the 80’s clearly, and it seemed like every other week, there was a TV documentary or movie about the Soviets and the nuclear threat.  To me as a kid, Ozzy’s voice of protest eased my mind! Surely, Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev would listen to Ozzy? “Killer of Giants” is quite an achievement musically, going from electric to acoustic to heavy all with Jake E. Lee at the rudder.  It’s an awesome song.

The big hit and first single was the last song, “Shot in the Dark”.  This is bassist Phil Soussan’s only writing contribution on his only Ozzy album.  Later, he’d go on to co-write the excellent Vince Neil album Exposed, which proved he wasn’t a fluke.  It’s a great mid-tempo rock song, although the video used to kinda frighten me as a kid.  Frighten and titillate all at once.  I was 13.

And on the topic of “Shot in the Dark”, why did bands in the mid-80’s always seem to wear sequined bathrobes? I’m looking at you, Mr. Simmons circa 1986…

I look at The Ultimate Sin as a 5/5 in terms of songs and musical performances.  I’ll dock it 1 star for Ron Nevison’s clunky production and Ozzy’s tired lungs.

4/5 stars

And maybe this is a good time to rant about these fucking 1995 Sony 22 BIt SBM Digital Remasters.  Oh, I have no problem with the sound of this CD.  It’s the fucking covers!  Why did they crop the awesome artwork and put that dumb OZZY along the side?  My Lord.  I had so many customers (Gord and Glen specifically) who refused to buy these remasters because the cover is dumb.  Not to mention putting the tracklist in a circle on the back cover, making it annoying to read.

  1. The Ultimate Sin (3:43)
  2. Secret Loser (4:08)
  3. Never Know Why (4:28)
  4. Thank God for the Bomb (3:53)
  5. Never (4:18)
  6. Lightning Strikes (5:13)
  7. Killer of Giants (5:41)
  8. Fool Like You (5:19)
  9. Shot in the Dark (4:16)