pop music

REVIEW: Hit Zone 4 – Various Artists (1998)

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HIT ZONE 4 (1998 BMG)

“If You Could Only See” the reasons I own this CD.

Nobody buys a CD like Hit Zone 4 and likes every single track.  Stuff like this was popular because it gave kids an easy way to get a bunch of one hit wonders from the rock and pop genres without buying the albums.  There were also big names on board.  CDs like this were always on the charts, year ’round.  Today, kids just go to Youtube or Spotify.  But even a curmudgeon like me can find a few songs here to enjoy.

In particular, I bought this CD for a rare non-album version of “If You Could Only See” by the underrated Tonic.  This was their big hit, and the version on Hit Zone 4 is an alternate recording with a slightly new arrangement.  The liner notes lie and say it’s from their album Lemon Parade; this is obviously false.  In fact there’s no obvious way to tell it’s a unique version without listening to it.

What else is good?  “All Around the World” by Oasis (from 1997’s Be Here Now) is one of their more Beatles-worshipping moments.  Here it’s in the form of a radio edit (4:50).  I’ve never felt “All Around the World” was one of Oasis’ best tracks, and it works better in the context of its grandly overblown album.  However, “All Around the World” is like freaking gold, compared to Boyz II Men….

Other decent music:  I have a soft spot for Chantal Kreviazuk’s ballad “Surrounded”.  Jann Arden too, and “The Sound Of” is one of her very best tracks.  I’ve seen Jann live, and she did a fantastic show with stories and jokes and unforgettable songs.  Then there’s fellow Canuck Bryan Adams, with his excellent acoustic rocker “Back To You”, from his Unplugged album.  Few Adams albums from the 90s on are worth a full listen.  Unplugged is.  “Back To You” was the “new” track used as a single.  It’s bright and alive in a way that Adams’ later music is not.  Fiona Apple’s dusky “Criminal” is classic, of course.  Finally, who doesn’t still love The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “The Impression That I Get”?  They were one band that truly deserved their hit.  They’d been at it for so long, and this song is really just that one perfect tune for the right time.

Unless you were a kid in the 90s, you’ll find yourself skipping over ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys, All Saints, Robyn, and even Hanson.  Young Hanson can be tough to listen to.  I mean, they were kids, making music that kids liked.  It couldn’t really be helped.  I also find myself breezing past Mase, The Verve Pipe and Imani Coppola.  One hit wonders, right?  Shawn Colvin’s OK, but Boyz II Men can fuck right off.  “4 Seasons of Loneliness”?  Maybe because you guys are all wearing matching sweaters.  You can’t win friends with sweaters.

Hit Zone 4 is the kind of thing you buy in a bargain bin if you find it for $1.99.  These were once front racked at the old Record Store for $16.99 because they had so many hits from the late 90s.  It really was great value, because really, are you going to listen to Imani Coppola’s whole CD?  Be honest!

2.5/5 stars

#473: Party For Two


“Flaming Turds” artwork courtesy of SARCA at CAUGHT ME GAMING.  Thanks Sarca!

Welcome to the WEEK OF FLAMING TURDS!  This week we will be looking at a collection of malodorous music.  Strike a match, you’ll need it for these stinkers!  Let us begin with a story from Getting More Tale.


GETTING MORE TALE #473: Party For Two

I found this old diary entry. Sometimes you don’t need any commentary. So here you go!

Date: 2006/10/05

Fuck, me. I am listening to Shania Twain.

“Party For Two” with Mark McGrath.

FUCK, ME. I am listening to Shania Twain AND Mark McGrath.

What the fuck has happened to me?

Jesus Christ. I can’t fucking believe this. I used to make fun of my buddy T-Rev who started listening to Shania Twain because his girlfriend liked them. In my case it’s not my girlfriend. She hates Shania Twain. It’s the fucking am radio at work. God damn them to hell and then may Satan skullfuck them until they bleed red scales out of the ears.

I better go put on a Testament or Anthrax CD or something. FAST.

OK fine, I’ll add some commentary.  One of the bosses at work dated Shania Twain when she was a teenager named Eilleen.  It’s true.  As far as I’m concerned, her music still stinks!



REVIEW: Gillan & Glover – Accidentally on Purpose (1988)

IAN GILLAN & ROGER GLOVER – Accidentally on Purpose (1988 Virgin)

Shit LeBrain’s Customers Said

I was playing this album in-store one afternoon in the 90’s.  A customer walked up to me and asked what I was playing.

“This is a side project by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover from Deep Purple,” I answered

He responded, “Roger Waters from Pink Floyd?

What…?  No!  No!  You got just two words of that right: “Roger” and “from”!

Deep Purple’s The House of Blue Light was an incredibly difficult album to make, especially for Ian Gillan.  A working vacation was in order, so he and Glover took off for the Caribbean.  They settled in to Sir George Martin’s recording studio AIR Montserrat, to record whatever they felt like.  The result was the light and tropical Accidentally on Purpose, an album that Gillan says has become the favourite record for a number of his friends.  He is very proud of it, especially since it came on the heels of a terrible creative experience in Deep Purple.  It would not have been born if not for the gloomy Purple process.  Many guests contributed to the jovial sessions, such as Dr. John, George Young, and Andy Newmark.

Jump in your TARDIS, and travel back in time to 1987.  Your destination:  a tropical island with plenty of rum, beaches and a recording studio.  Can you picture it?  Can you hear the sounds of the late 80’s in your mind?  Then you can imagine what Accidentally on Purpose sounds like.

There are no “Clouds and Rain” in the images in my mind, only boats and surf and sand.  Glover plays bass and keyboards, Newmark is on drums, while George Young contributes a light sax solo.  This is not for most Deep Purple fans, most assuredly.  This is for those who want to open their minds and have a trip into the clouds and sunshine.  This is about as light as light rock gets, but there is a quality to it above the pop morass.

Hard hitting electronic drum beats back “Evil Eye”, a much edgier track.  Still, don’t expect guitars, solos or Ian Gillan to scream his ass off.  If you enjoy the kind of pop rock that Robert Plant was doing in the 80’s, you’re in the right ballpark for this.  It’s blatantly commercial compared to Deep Purple, but at the same time it’s not because there are musical challenges to be found here.

“She Took My Breath Away” is a sweet love song, similar musically to the brightness of “Clouds and Rain”, but relying too much on electronics.  Then they get goofy on “Dislocated” which sounds like Ian Gillan having a blast.  (I recognize one of the keyboard voices on this song from our old Yamaha back in the day!)  Glover’s enjoying himself too; he plays some brilliant bass parts, very different from Deep Purple.  “Via Miami” ended the first side with an old time rock and roll party!   It’s the first significant guitar rocker, and it sounds like something the Honeydrippers could have gotten away with.  (In fact Plant would sound brilliant singing this.)  Bring on the sax!

There is plenty more guitar on “I Can’t Dance to That”, which unfortunately is not a good song.  It is not different enough from Deep Purple rawk, but not good enough for Deep Purple.  The old blues classic “I Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave” is incredible, giving Ian a chance to sing something different, and he does it with lung power!  Dr. John on the keys lends it that funky N’awleans drawl.  If you were to make a mix tape of Ian Gillan’s finest vocal performance, then this song should be on it.  The skippable “Lonely Avenue” only has synth to back it; largely forgettable.  Synth-rocking to “Telephone Box” is more fun; it’s probably the best rocker on the album.  Cool female backing vocals make Gillan sound even more suave.  He breaks out his trusted congas on it, and truthfully you could imagine the Deep Purple of today performing a song like this now.

The last tune on the record was “I Thought No”, rocking bluesily along to the end.  If you want a drunken, laidback jam session with scads of harmonica to go, then “I Thought No” will deliver the right thrills.  Just open a bottle and dive in…but the CD offers three more bonus tracks!   The cool rockin’ blues of “I Thought No” is contrasted by the most nauseating track, “Cayman Island”.  Ian’s done some kind of Jamaican twist to his accent.  Pure synth, with all those keyboard presets I remember from the 80’s, that’s “Cayman Island”!  And I love every second of it, as terrible as it is.  No matter how much you hate “Cayman Island”, you have to be a real hard hearted bastard if you don’t like “Purple People Eater”.  That’s exactly the song you think it is, and who better to do it than the guys from Purple?  You want a golden oldie performed by the guy who loves the golden oldies the most?  I sure do so fuck off if you don’t!  It’s brilliant, and you just gotta dance.  The last song is a synth throwaway called “Chet”, which references a boat called the Carrie Lee; Gillan also name-dropped the vessel in Cayman Island.

Accidentally on Purpose probably kept Ian and Roger sane at the time.  That has to be why it sounds so gleeful.  They needed this.  Does a Deep Purple fan “need” this?  No.  But they’d find some good times here regardless.

3/5 stars

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#421: First It Steals Your Mind, Then It Steals Your Soul

#421: First It Steals Your Mind, Then It Steals Your Soul

Pop music:  love it or hate it, it does exist!

I have found myself briefly flirting with popular hit songs from time to time, but I find that the rush goes away fast.  You can be totally into a new song, only to be bored with it after hearing it dozens of times over a week or two.  Then, on to the next thing.  This is nothing new, that’s pop music for you.  But why do modern-day pop songs lack longevity?  Whether it’s Ke$ha, Katy Perry, Beyonce or One Direction, their songs are hook-laden and catchy.  Yet there’s nothing about them that sticks with you for long.  People don’t really carry around a Beyonce track for life like they do with a Led Zeppelin number.  Why?

Pop songwriters always try to hit the biggest possible audience.  That’s what they are paid to do.  As such, a lot of pop music ends up sounding very “neutral”.   The songs are vaguely catchy and lyrically bland so as to appeal to “everyone”.   That doesn’t seem to be enough for a song to stick forever.  Rather than try and make a pop song interesting, producers would rather throw in whatever sounds, beats and hooks are “in” right now.  Rather than do something new, they go for something familiar.  That’s what the masses go for – songs that sound like songs they already like.  As long as it’s not much longer than three minutes….

I’m speaking very generally now.  I know there is pop music out there that defies the pigeonholes that people often want their music slotted in.  I’m not talking about those songs.  I’m talking about the same damn beats, same damn words, and the same damn melodies that you hear every day.

How does today’s pop music steal your mind and soul?  Below, find some reasons:

1. Today, pop songs trick you into thinking an artist can really write, play and sing. A look at the credits shows that 18 writers from Sweden wrote that song, and got sued by 7 different writers from America for stealing it.  A computer fixed every missed beat and note.  The song was almost completely untouched by human hands.

2. The lack of innovation and exploration in pop music leads to stagnation. Just copy, copy, copy.  Have a hit with an idea similar to someone else’s.  There’s very little new out there.  How can you expect your mind and musical taste to grow by listening to the same damn song every day?

3. Faceless performers don’t have much ability or personality compared to the golden days of the 60’s. Back then, you knew when it was Aretha singing.  Today, you have to use an app on your phone to see if that was Katy Perry or Demi Lovato.  Listen to them sing live – they do a low sultry voice, and then belt it out on the choruses, aided and abetted by computers.  Sure, Demi has lungs, but her voice gets pretty thin when she’s reaching for notes without assistance.  Thankfully this is usually covered up by the screaming crowds of teen girls.

4. We’re long past the days of people like Michael Jackson being the King of Pop. Jackson, a talented writer, worked with one of the best producers in the world, Quincy Jones.  Together they worked hard and played hard to create real pop music with actual soul.  Who is left in the world of pop of that stature and talent?  Surely not Justin Timberlake.  Timberlake has never written anything with the soul of “Billie Jean”, not that I have heard anyway.

5. Pop music and pop culture have become so intertwined that they have formed a complex web of stupidity. Remember when Britney Spears said, “I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes and we should just support that”?  Pop stars today are saying even dumber things.  Witness this zinger from Ariana Grande about “cow tit pus”:

“In America, almost everybody thinks you need to have meat for protein. Protein, protein, protein! And what’s in dairy? Calcium, calcium, calcium. It’s those kinds of proteins that latch onto the insides of your blood stream and make it easier for you to have a heart attack. Look, cows produce milk with nutrients for cows. Maybe that’s why Americans end up looking like cows! Ultimately, no one wants cow tit pus in their food, do they?”

And don’t even get me started on Biebs, the Little Turd from Stratford.

And these reasons, dear friends, are only some of the ways that modern pop music can steal your mind and then steal your soul.  Stick to the classics, and beware!  A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

REVIEW: Crowded House – Woodface (1991)

This is a special birthday review for my sister who turns “30 something” today!  Happy birthday kid!  By coincidence she got this album for Christmas three days ago…

WOODFACE1CROWDED HOUSE – Woodface (1991 Capitol)

Crowded House remain one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the 80’s and 90’s.  Formed from the ashes of Split Enz, they did two successful albums before Woodface.  Unfortunately the songs Neil Finn wrote for Woodface were rejected by the record company, so he asked his brother Tim (also ex-Split Enz) if he could use some songs they wrote together for a future project.  Tim said OK, and joined Crowded House as an official member to boot.  That partnership was only to last one album, but what an album it was!  It was arguably their most acclaimed record to date.

The packed-to-the-gills 15 track CD commences with “Chocolate Cake”.  The production is incredible on this.  The snare drum has an excellent snap to it.  Neil and Tim harmonize perfectly on this confection of pop perfection.  It’s a piano based jam with melodic hooks galore.  There’s a smoking harmonica solo and cool lyrics, immediately reeling you in.  This tune rocks.  “It’s Only Natural” is a little softer, an acoustic track more like what I was used to before from Crowded House.  It’s an immediate song, a timeless classic.  Neil and Tim’s harmony vocals seal the deal.  Too bad isn’t wasn’t a smash hit single around the world, because it could have been, if it didn’t come out right in the middle of the grunge downturn!

“Fall At Your Feet” may well be the best song here.  You know this one.  If you don’t, all you have to do is play it once and you won’t forget the chorus.  Neil wrote this one alone, but it is a major triumph of songwriting perfection.  The plaintive chorus is one that many singers wish they had written.  It is followed by the upbeat “Tall Trees”, a brief irresistible rocker.  Too bad it’s over in only 2:20!   It’s pretty guitar heavy for Crowded House.  This gives way to the Eastern sitar opening of “Weather With You”, which was the big hit.  The Finn brothers surely have a knack for a chorus.  “Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you,” and I can’t get it out of my head.  This is a very 90’s sounding hit single.  I’m sure Bono was pissed that he didn’t write it.  He probably would have ruined it, anyway.

A funky vibe introduces “Whispers and Moans”, which took me by surprise.  I like a bit of funky bass every now and again, and then some horns turn it up a notch at the halfway point.  I have to admit, the song was starting to lose me until the horns kicked in!  It grows on you.

The party stops there for now.  The soft brushes on “Four Seasons in One Day” tell us that the next song is a slow one.  “Four Seasons” sounds like a great lost John Lennon composition, with its harpsichord and children’s choir singing in the background.  I’ll single out drummer Paul Hester as an MVP here for his delicate touch, making his 2005 death that much sadder.  The drummer is the foundation, and although “Four Seasons” is an outstanding track in any universe, Hester helps make it that little bit extra special.   “Four Season in One Day” is pure composition and performance excellent, absolutely above the bar.

“There Goes God” combines a funky beat with an exotic riff and lots of harmonica.  It’s definitely a cool mix.  As weird as the song is, it still contains one of those patented Finn/Finn choruses.  Then “Fame Is” has a bombastic sound.  It’s a brief pop rocker, a fast head-nodder to get you out of your seat.  This leads into the gentle strings of “All I Ask”, a smokey slow waltz.  One of the strengths of Woodface is its diversity.   Each song has an idiosyncratic Crowded House sound, but many veer far and wide in many musical directions.  “All I Ask” is unlike any of the previous.

Another great chorus is the centerpiece of “As Sure as I Am”.  Accordion in the background loans it a folksy feel, as do the lyrics about the rhinos going extinct.  (Sad that 23 years later the rhinos are no better off.)   Drummer Paul Hester contributed “Italian Plastic”, an interesting title to say the least.  It’s anchored by cool guitar licks, and more great melodies, as strong as those that the Finns write.

The album closer, “How Will You Go”, is one very familiar to me.  Marillion covered it on their excellent 2001 live album, A Piss-up in a Brewery.  They are acknowledged Finn fans.  I can see why they chose “How Will You Go”, as it gave Steve Hogarth a chance to belt out some killer melodies.  Fantastic song, not a single but shoulda coulda woulda!

But it’s not really the ending, as a joke song called “I’m Still Here” occupies the coveted “hidden track” slot!  Sounds like they’re trying to be The Clash!  Why not?   (Hester wrote this hidden track, too.)

I’m very impressed with Woodface.  It’s easy to listen to, but there’s more there than just pleasant melodies.  There’s vocal brilliance.  There are instrumental passages that are intricately composed and performed.  There are also great lyrics, all topped with perfect production and a cracking drum sound.  Some songs are more memorable than others, but give it time.  Woodface is a grower.

4/5 stars



Marillion’s version of “How Will You Go”:

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: Bon Jovi – The Circle (2009 CD/DVD edition)

CIRCLE_0004BON JOVI – The Circle (2009 Island CD/DVD edition)

The Circle is an apt title for this Bon Jovi album. They returned from their pop country detour down the Lost Highway and returned to essentially exactly where they were on the previous album, Have A Nice Day. If you are familiar with Bon Jovi, you know that Have A Nice Day was an OK record full of pop rock like “Last Cigarette”, modern and slick. That’s what this record is too, but that’s starting to get a little old.

First single “We Weren’t Born To Follow” (I find that title ironic as Bon Jovi didn’t spend much of their career leading, musically) is a great, uptempo song with a catchy chorus and slick guitar playing by Richie Sambora. It’s another in a long succession of latter day Pop Jovi successes. The best tune on this record is the the “statement song” regarding the economic collapse: “Work For The Working Man”. However, isn’t there something we’ve heard here before? Doesn’t Hugh McDonald’s bassline sound a lot like the one from “Livin’ On A Prayer”?  Even if it’s little more than a rewrite of the same hook, it’s a great song with a powerful chorus.  It has some muscle to it, and is one of the few songs on the album that does.  Rhythmic and strong, this echoes not only “Prayer” but also “Keep The Faith” in some respects.

Elsewhere on the album, there are some intriguing sounds that almost remind me of the back-to-basics goodness that was These Days, and the heavier moments on Bounce (see: “Bullet”).  However “Bullet” is also bears unpleasant similarities to Collective Soul. There are also moments that take me back to Lost Highway and Crush ,but not in a good way.  Songs like “Fast Cars” and “Brokenpromiseland” (ugh!) just sit there like the flaccid Pop Jovi songs that they are.  Bon Jovi are on cruise control.

CIRCLE_0002My two favourite Bon Jovi albums of recent vintage (ie: post-Keep the Faith) are the criminally underrated These Days, and Bounce. What the band need to do is: A) get their MVP back, Mr. Richie Sambora.  B) write an album without all these outside writers like John Shanks and Billy Falcon, based on rock and roll, not the radio.  The Circle is close at times.  “Learn To Love” for example was written by Jon and Richie with Desmond Child, and approaches a vintage These Days epic quality.

How likely is Bon Jovi to rock out like they used to? The DVD documentary included with this edition of The Circle is not encouraging. Entitled When We Were Beautiful (named for the U2-like song on the album), it is an insightful look into the inner workings of Bon Jovi.  It also has some enticing live clips. (Please, Jon, please! Release a full length audio version of Richie singing “I’ll Be There  For You”, it’s great!) However it is quite clear that Jon is the driving force of the band, and the rest of the guys are salaried employees of the corporation.  Jon is very clear that he’s a businessman and he must make albums that he thinks people will like.  It’s unfortunate that he’s decided that pop music is the answer.  I think it’s unlikely Jon will be breaking new ground again soon.

But you never know.

3/5 stars

Part 288: The Lady In Red?

RECORD STORE TALES Part 288: The Lady In Red?

In mid-1996, I was minding the store one sunny morning. It was a pleasant summer day. A quiet morning, I was at the counter inputting new stock. As I slaved over a hot keyboard, entering CD after CD into inventory, I saw an old lady in a slinky red dress enter the store. As was our custom, I said hello as she entered. She didn’t respond and I went back to entering CDs as she looked around the easy listening section of the store.

That is when I noticed something terribly wrong with the lady in red.

LADY IN REDMy boss noticed it too, as he emerged from his office in the back. She barely had any hair on her head. We both came to the realization at the same time: the lady in red was a man!

An old, skinny, bald man in a red dress!

My boss and I exchanged glances. We looked back at the man, just to make sure our eyes were not deceiving us. No; that was most definitely a man in that red dress, casually browsing the easy listening section. Perhaps he was looking for some old Chris de Burgh?

My boss said to me, “Mike, can you go over there and see if he needs help finding anything?”

“Absolutely not!” I responded. “You can ask him if you want.”

“No that’s OK!” he chuckled. We watched as the man spent 10 or 20 minutes browsing, the only customer in the whole store. Then without a word, but with a flourish of his red dress, he left. I never saw him again.

I wonder if I would have made a customer if I had approached the man in red for help? Too bad I didn’t have a copy of The Very Best of Chris de Burgh. I could have popped in his theme song and made a sale!


DVD REVIEW: Classic Albums – Def Leppard – Hysteria (DVD)

Part 2 of a 2 part Def Lep extravaganza

DEF LEPPARD – Classic Albums – Hysteria (2002 Eagle Vision DVD)

Of all the Classic Albums DVDs that I own, this is one of the most frequently played. And I own a lot. In case you didn’t know, Classic Albums is a fantastic series of discs. Go back into the recording studio where the album was made, with the producer or engineer who recorded it, and the band themselves. You get to hear the original multitrack tapes deconstructed, and we get to hear the band talking about the genesis of the songs and what happened in the studio. Best of all, we get to see the band listening and discovering parts that even they forgot.

Hysteria is such a rich, textured, thick album with a long story so this DVD is an obvious slam dunk. The only thing it lacks is Mutt Lange’s knowledge (a notorious recluse). Otherwise, the band go back to the beginning with the early demos. “Animal” was sparse but remarkably recognizable while still in demo form, down to the false ending. Something like “Rocket” is deconstructed so you can hear the drum orchestra that was laid down, while Joe Elliott talks about how it was inspired. The backing vocals of “Gods of War” are laid out bare, virtually every single word sung and recorded separately! That’s the kind of album this is.

Along with that, Joe, Phil and Sav also perform bits live in the studio. This helps to illustrate the individual parts further.  It is revealed to “Love Bites” was brought to the band by Lange as a country song; you can hear the roots on this DVD.  Rick Allen is there to discuss his accident, an obviously emotional moment. Steve Clark is discussed too, and Vivian Campbell is on hand to talk about the numerous guitar parts that he inherited and has to play live.

JEFF RICHMy favourite feature of this DVD is actually in the bonus material.  It’s the chapter that covers the first shows that Leppard played after Rick Allen’s accident. Originally, Jeff Rich from Status Quo was tapped to play a second drum kit alongside Allen on stage, just in case Allen got tired, slipped out of time, or couldn’t finish the show. There were so many variables that nobody knew what would happen during what really amounted to Allen’s comeback shows. Well, for one show in the middle of nowhere, Jeff Rich was late.  If he had turned up on time, maybe Rick Allen would never have found out that he could play a full Def Leppard show on his own.  Allen did the show with no help on the drums, and he nailed it.  Rich told Allen that he didn’t need any more help, and that was it!   Jeff Rich is there to talk about that day, which was a nice touch.

Of the whole Classic Albums series, this one is certainly my favourite.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Greatest Hits: The Ultimate Collection (2 CD)

Part 1 of a 2 part Bon Jovi series.

ULTIMATE BJ_0001BON JOVI – Greatest Hits: The Ultimate Collection (2 CD)

I guess Bon Jovi were due for a new “hits” CD. Crossroads, after all, was 16 years old at that time, and Tokyo Road was only made available in Japan. Ultimate Collection isn’t the ultimate collection that I would have put out.  If you’re going to do two CDs, you have room for great also-rans like “Last Cigarette” and “Something For The Pain”.  Still, it’s not a bad Bon Jovi collection. Listening to it front-to-back, I was pleasantly reminded of all these hits, and man, Bon Jovi had a lot of hits. From early stuff like “Runaway” to the New Jersey classics such as “Born To Be My Baby”, to the newbies like “Have A Nice Day”, this has pretty much all the key Bon Jovi radio hits. Unfortunatly, you’re going to miss out on second-rung hits like “Dry County” and “Joey” but for the uninitiated, or those who just want a good sized Bon Jovi collection, this is the place to go.  I think it’s important to explore albums such as New Jersey (the review of which is Part 2 in this series) and Keep the Faith, as well as hits.

Almost every Bon Jovi album has hits included here, right up to The Circle. The song flow is excellent, hitting you with hit after hit after hit, landmark ballads sprinkled in between. And I give credit for the inclusion of “Blood On Blood”, a song that was never a single but has been a huge concert favourite due to its real life story of JBJ’s childhood. Not to mention it’s just a great song.

ULTIMATE BJ_0003The four new songs create feelings of moderate indifference to great dislike. “What Do You Got?” is another trademark Bon Jovi ballad, certainly nothing special, outshined to a great degree by all the other tunes here. It’s easily forgettable and feels tacked-on as an afterthought. But two of these new songs — “No Apologies” and “The More Things Change” are just awful songs. Cheesy, contrived, choose whatever words you like, they’re juvenile and awful and really don’t fit in among the classier hits. To me these are B-sides and perhaps should have been held back as B-sides.  Or just deleted completely.

Packaging is not the greatest. There are full songwriting and production credits, but they are arranged in such a way as to make finding information difficult. Performance credits are even harder to find — I couldn’t find bassists Hugh McDonald or Alec John Such’s names anywhere in the credits, and their pictures are also not included. There are a few more recent photos of the main four guys. No liner notes.

On the whole, despite the fact that I don’t really like the four new songs, I don’t regret this purchase. It’s going to be a great road CD. It is a good way to hear tunes like “We Weren’t Born To Follow” without listening to the album it came from, which I wasn’t too keen on. So, no regrets. I think most fans will like the album, they might even like the new songs.  Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom enjoyed it in the car and commented that she knew many of the songs.  Newcomers would be wise to pick this up as it has a great hit-per disc ratio!

3/5 stars