pop punk

REVIEW: Big House – Big House (1991 BMG)

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Thanks for joining us for Canadian Rawk Week!

 

BIG HOUSE – Big House (1991 BMG) Not to be confused with the country band also called Big House.

BIG HOUSEBig House hit the ground running out of Edmonton, Alberta in 1991, but it was hard to take them seriously at the time.  The hair and headbands were pretty silly, and they had annoying song titles such as “Refuse 2 Run” and “Nothing Comes 4 Free”.  I acknowledged they had a pretty cool single “Dollar in My Pocket (Pretty Things)”.  This was lifted from a prior EP called Pretty Things, very hard to find.  They also claimed to be former punk rockers.  Drummer Sjor (pronounced Shore) Throndson once stated that the band used to have mohawks when they were teenagers, but shaved them off and had a change of musical direction.  With that, the silly hair and the dumb name, it was pretty easy to ignore Big House.

Then a co-worker at the Record Store named Kam talked me into listening to it.  The year was 2005 and my feelings quickly turned from indifference to delight.  Big House, for all their flaws, were actually pretty good!  Every song on this album has swagger. It doesn’t sound like a debut album at all, and perhaps that’s due to the experience of having done a prior EP. The band, and singer Jan Ek in particular, make this sound like a second or third album.

“Dollar in My Pocket” made for a good first single, but what a cheesey video. I still cringe at the 30 second mark, when Sjor glances flirtingly down towards his pants on the line, “I got a dollar in my pocket for you.” Fortunately, just a taste of their punk background shine through in the melodies, making this song a bit more unique than the crowd in 1991. Jan Ek has a good scream going on, and lungs of power. They had a knack for writing catchy guitar licks like the one in “Dollar in My Pocket”. The song is all about attitude, so “come along, you can have it if you want it, baby.”

The first chunk of the CD was top-loaded with singles. “All Nite” was a minor hit, a Motley-Poison mixture of rock thrills. Generic, but with that knack for melody once again, not to mention the leathery lungs of Jan Ek. Those two factors elevate the song beyond the morass of crap swimming in the seas of cheese in 1991. Another decent rocker, the Kiss-like “Refuse 2 Run” stays the course before you’re up for the next single, the ballad “Baby Doll”. Generic acoustic sentimental tacky stuff is this, but why do I like it? Maybe that quiet moaning slide guitar? Sounds a lot like Cinderella. Truthfully it’s not bad, but it’s really not that different from any of a hundred ballads. Thankfully “Can’t Cry Anymore” has some noisy guitar and plenty of attitude, especially in the punk rock blowout ending. Once again, it’s remarkable what a handle Big House had on writing great rock melodies. “Can’t Cry Anymore” is one of many on this disc.

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“Devil’s Road” sounds like the opening of a second side, and a strong opening it is. “So make the music faster, for the spells we’re castin'” sings Jan Ek on the fine choruses. None of these songs are particularly fast, but they all rock in one way or another. For example “Nothing Comes 4 Free” is slow, but has a menacing vibe and the requisite hooks on the chorus. The closest they get to filler is “Happiness” but even that is not bad. It’s an unusual cross of pop melody with classic rock guitars — Cheap Trick meets Kiss, perhaps?

Final track “Angel on My Arm” is a celebratory tough little rocker, but the penultimate track “L.A.” is my favourite of them all. It seems Mr. Ek’s girl has left to go to L.A. and a be big movie star, and isn’t coming back. But then Jan gets a long distance call from L.A. It seems she mis-dialed and got Jan when she expected to get “Jack”.  He responds incredulously, “Jack who?! Jack Palance? Jack Nicholson? Jack…Jack who?!” It’s great fun! Listen to that bouncy bass. That’s pop punk, baby. So are those unabashed “la-la-la-la” pop hooks. Just a killer, instantly likeable fun song is this. “I been drinkin’ with every damn girl in town,” sings Ek after the disappointing phone call. “If I seem a bit too forlorn, I’ve been loving her too long.” People, I’m serious: This song is a triumph of songwriting and execution. You are free to disagree, but all I know is that I have played this song on repeat countless times. In fact I’m doing it now. I’m already on spin #3 for this session.

Silly name and album cover aside, I suppose it all works as a package. It’s no wonder the band never made it big with a cover this horrible; imagine my shock when I saw that it was done by none other than Hugh Syme, master of many Rush records. And this faceless cover conceals within it one of the best hard rock albums of the era. Sadly that era died before Big House could make a second album, but let’s celebrate that we have this one. Just like we are glad for the first two Skid Row albums, or New Jersey by Bon Jovi, I’m happy now to have Big House in my, err, house.

4.5/5 stars

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#343: Tyler and LeBrain episode 3 – The French Invasion

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RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale
#343: Tyler and LeBrain episode 3 – The French Invasion

Please welcome Sebastien to Getting More Tale. Seb is a Sausagefester who also happens to play drums, produce, and own a recording studio. Today we discuss the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer, Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, and modern music.

REVIEW: Weezer – Everything Will Be Alright in the End (2014)

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WEEZER1WEEZER – Everything Will Be Alright in the End (2014 Republic)

I’m not a Weezer hater, but I definitely have said that their best days were behind them in the past.  The first two records (particularly the second) were great.  The third had some good stuff on it, but they really lost me on the fourth.   This new one Everything Will Be Alright in the End is their first with Ric Ocasek producing since Green (2001) and the first single “Back to the Shack” seems to proclaim that Weezer want to return to their indy garage rock roots.

I do love the lyric, “Let’s turn up the radio, Let’s turn off those stupid singing shows.”  Weezer and I may not always see eye to eye, but that’s something we agree on.

Leader Rivers Cuomo wrote the opening song “Ain’t Got Nobody” himself, but on at least half the album he is sharing co-writing credits.  It tricks you at first into thinking it’s a new Linkin Park single by it’s heavy guitar and keyboard riff, but the vocal is unmistakably Weezer.  I find the lyrics annoying:  “Ain’t got nobody to kiss and hug me?”  Come on Rivers, put on some balls and let’s rock.  The song straddles a line between pop-punk and 80’s rock, something overdone in my opinion.  The aforementioned single “Back to the Shack” is second up, but something about it annoys me.  I think it’s the simple repetitive nature of the song.  It is catchy, admittedly, but I don’t know if it’ll have much longevity.  “We belong in the rock world,” sings Rivers, but he hasn’t proved it to me yet.

Another great Weezer music video

“Eulogy for a Rock Band” sounds like a 90’s song, so if going back to the shack was Weezer’s quest, I think they succeeded.  I don’t think too much of this song.  I like when the vocals homage the classic rock n’ roll of the 1950’s, but that’s about it.  It’s indy pop sticky taffy with loud n’ proud drums, but it ain’t my cup o’ java.  Something of the edge that Weezer had back in ’94 is missing here, though I’ll be damned if I can put my finger on it.  “Lonely Girl” on the other hand is awesome.  It has a real toughness and drive that the other songs so far had been missing.  Though the caveman guitar solo is extraneous, the song is a keeper!

Justin Hawkins of the Darkness co-wrote “I’ve Had it Up to Here” with Rivers, and you can absolutely hear that.  Rivers’ falsetto echos Justin’s.  It sounds in fact that Rivers is singing along to a Justin guide vocal, so obvious is the influence. This Weezer-meets-Darkness track is another keeper.  Maybe The Darkness should record it for their new record, too.  Then “The British are Coming” starts with swampy acoustics, before it turns rock.  I didn’t like the song to start, but it grew on me fast.  It has a genuine epic rock quality, like a Styx song.  I like the guitar solo a lot.  But something I dislike about Weezer is their tendency to glue catchy, rocking choruses to goofy soft pop bits, like on “Da Vinci”.  I don’t think the choruses can make up for the limp verses.

I like the guitars on “Go Away”, which sounds like a natural “side two” opener.  Appropriate since we’re halfway through. This 50’s homage is a duet with Bethany Cosentino, and it’s absolutely awesome.  “Cleopatra” is an expected country rock jaunt and another standout.  Then it transforms into Weezer-metal with a suitably Maiden-inspired guitar solo.  Great song.  “Foolish Father” is strong, and then it’s into a three part “Futurescope Trilogy”.  This too is excellent, with shimmery anthemic guitars to start with on “The Waste Land”.  “Anonymous” is the stuff that rock operas are made of.  I like when bands dig out their Queen albums for inspiration.  This mini-suite ends the album on a stellar note, leaving me with a hankering for more.  That’s a good way to end an album.  Too bad it didn’t start like it finished.

3.25/5 stars

1. “Ain’t Got Nobody” Rivers Cuomo 3:21
2. “Back to the Shack” Cuomo, Jacob Kasher 3:05
3. “Eulogy for a Rock Band” Cuomo, Daniel Brummel, Ryen Slegr 3:25
4. “Lonely Girl” Cuomo, Joshua Berman Alexander 2:49
5. “I’ve Had It Up to Here” Cuomo, Justin Hawkins 2:49
6. “The British Are Coming” Cuomo 4:08
7. “Da Vinci” Cuomo, Joshua Berman Alexander 4:05
8. “Go Away” Cuomo, Bethany Cosentino 3:13
9. “Cleopatra” Cuomo 3:11
10. “Foolish Father” Cuomo, Patrick Stickles 4:31
11. “I. The Waste Land” Cuomo 1:56
12. “II. Anonymous” Cuomo 3:19
13. “III. Return to Ithaka” Cuomo 2:17

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REVIEW: Deadline – Tangible Vibe (1996)

DEADLINE_0005DEADLINE – Tangible Vibe (1996 Deadline Productions)

When we last checked in on this old Canadian indi band, it was on the 1994 EP So This is Limbo, which I rated a 2.75/5.  I haven’t played Tangible Vibe, the full length followup, in quite a few years.  I remember liking it back in 1996, when hard rock was all but dead and we were forced to seek out other kinds of rock music.  Will I still like it now?

“Another Low” is a pretty simple pop punk track, not the kind of thing I usually listen to.  It’s fast with heavy guitars and poppy vocals.  What stands in for a guitar solo is a simple melody.  It’s more annoying than likable.  “Frustrated” is more entertaining, taking the tempo back to a radio-ready pace.   Seems that I still like this one!  You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a new single by Sum 41.  Hopefully you’ll forgive me for liking it.  Back then we didn’t call this stuff “pop-punk”, we called it “alt-rock”.

I recall liking “Living Proof” which sounds very much like Green Day.  It’s still a catchy little tune, that just it needs identity.  There’s certainly no reason it couldn’t have been a hit.  On the other hand, I remember not caring too much for “Headtrip”.  Its seemingly pro-drug message didn’t appeal to me and I didn’t think the song had much individuality going for it.  My feelings haven’t changed too much although I do appreciate the great vocal performance and guitars, but it could have been half as long.

Then and now, I love the title track “Tangible Vibe”.  Almost Monkees-like, it’s a soft rocker with a heavier chorus. I really like the recurring guitar melody.  Maybe I shouldn’t say Monkees-like, when I have heard Weezer do songs similar to this.  It’s a standout and now that I have re-discovered it, I plan on playing it a lot more.  Equally good is “Kill Me Slowly” which again is firmly in pop-punk territory, with vocal harmonies.

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As back in 1996, “Mary” bores me.  It feels like it’s a repeat of ideas from previous songs.  Such is the problem with these simple melodies.  Sure they’re catchy, but you run the risk of ideas that sound too similar.  There’s nothing wrong with it, but we’ve heard it before.  “Amore di Gatto” (“Love Cat”?) is a beautiful classical guitar intro to the dark song “Circus”.   This song has more in common with Deadline’s early hard rock roots than modern pop rock.  It’s mournful with with the strong melodies still intact, and a tricky guitar solo to boot.  It has the most emotion on on the album, and remains its best song.

“I Don’t Even Like You” is fast and fun; the drums are played with brushes and the guitars are acoustic.  It’s one of the shortest songs, which good because novelty songs are best kept short.  “Friend In Me” was the “hit”, and it’s the exact same version as on the So This is Limbo EP, which is great.  Closer “Go With the Flow” is another Green Day copycat, unfortunately.   It’s the early, heavier side of Green Day, but still the comparisons are unavoidable.

Shame.  A really great EP could have been made from the best songs on this album.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Deadline – So This is Limbo (1994)

Review dedicated to Scott the Skeptic.

DEADLINE – So This is Limbo (1994 Deadline Productions)

Ahh, the 90’s, how I do not miss thee.  When I think of the 90’s, I remember how bands I liked simplified things to fit in better with the new alt-rock hordes.  Guys like Deadline initially showed a lot of promise.  They combined diverse elements and showed potential for future growth.  Then they cut down the guitar solos and streamlined everything to its melodic basics.

I like So This is Limbo, (a five song EP) but it is safe to say that I do not like it as much as their self-titled debut.  Its five songs all fit into a soundalike form.  The first two (“Friend in Me” and “Going With a Smile”) are so similar that they both feature harmonica parts as one of the hooks, bouncy basslines, and a simple guitar melody where a solo would go.  That’s not to say they’re bad songs.  They’re good for what they are: happy-go-lucky 90’s pop rock.  “Friend in Me” got a bit of airplay at the time, and it’s the best song here.  The second best is “Going With a Smile”.

MuchWest interview with Deadline by TDM and “Galactic premier” of video

“Laundry Day” is a little darker, but “You know it’s laundry day again,” isn’t the kind of chorus that really gets my angst out.  This one has a guitar solo too, and it’s a gooder.  Too bad that the song isn’t as good as the solo.  The pop-punk of “Darkest Hour” is better.  Why did singers always use distortion on their voices in the early 90’s?  It’s too bad.  “Darkest Hour” isn’t bad at all.  The last song is the dreary “Better Things to Do”, which kind of leaves the EP on a downer note.

It’s too bad really because I know they can do better.  They did do better, on the Deadline EP.  Would they redeem it on the Tangible Vibe album?  I remember liking it back then, but I haven’t played it in a long time.  That’s the next review.  As for So This is Limbo?

2.75/5 stars

Part 282 / REVIEW: Neurotic Outsiders – Neurotic Outsiders (1996)

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 282:
T-Rev, Mike, and the Neurotic Outsiders…

T-Rev called me from his store one afternoon in 1996.

“Mikey!  Have you heard this Neurotic Outsiders CD?  It fuckin’ rocks!”

I had not heard the Neurotic Outsiders CD.

It actually took T-Rev some talking to get me to buy it.  (Playing it in-store was forbidden due to the foul language contained therein.)  I knew Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum were in the band, with Steve Jones and John Taylor from Duran Duran.  I was getting pretty bored with GN’R related solo albums, and while I found this combo intriguing, I was also inundated with other new releases at the same time.  These included a new Rush studio album, a Rush tribute album, a new Scorpions, and a new King’s X.  I had plenty of new music to keep me occupied!

He persisted, T-Rev did, and I caved and bought the CD.  It only took one listen to know that he was right about the Neurotic Outsiders.  They did indeed fucking rock.  I was hooked immediately.

We played Neurotic Outsiders in the car a lot that summer.  If I was driving, Trevor would be playing air drums along with Matt Sorum.  Trev’s a drummer and he was damn good at doing Sorum’s style.  You know that rolling drum intro to “You Could be Mine”?  T-Rev had that one mastered, and there’s loads of that on Neurotic Outsiders.  “Good News” is a great example.  Trevor used to say my car had “good bass”, but he wasn’t talking about my stereo system.  He was talking about the sound he could make when playing double bass on my floor with his feet.   He could bruise his legs (snare drums) just from playing in the car.

I didn’t really drink back in those days so I was usually designated driver, which worked out really well.  Driving home from a party, Neurotic Outsiders blasting, T-Rev playing slightly tipsy but always awesome air drums next to me.   I didn’t have a CD player in that car either, which would have been my old Plymouth Sundance.  Piece of shit car.  The left driver’s side speaker was blown, making everything sound absolutely weak and lopsided.  I recorded Neurotic Outsiders to cassette for car play.  T-Rev’s modus operandi was the mix tape, whereas I chose to record entire albums.  Either way, we heard “Good News” and “Angelina” a hell of a lot that year.

Fuck, that was a good summer.

NEUROTIC OUTSIDERS – Neurotic Outsiders (1996 Maverick)

This album kind of snuck in under the radar in ’96. Guns N’ Roses was disintegrating (Slash quit in October), but Matt & Duff teamed up with Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and John Taylor of Duran Duran to form this supergroup of sorts. Lead vocals are handled by everyone except Matt Sorum, who provides plenty of his unique double bass/snare/crash cymbol pounding. In fact if any one member dominates in this album, I’d say it’s Matt Sorum!  The other three guys all have their own songs, but Matt is the consistent common thread.  Taylor tends to handle most of the slower material, Jonesy the heavy snarky stuff, and Duff sings a couple rockers too.

Very few stinkers on this album. Lots of winners. Lyrics with loads of attitude! “The good news is / You’re dying, the bad new is / I’m alive.” (“Good News”)  Then, there’s “Jerk”:

OUTSIDERS_0006“You’re a bitch, I’m a jerk,
I don’t think that we can work,
You’re a prat, I’m a prick,
I don’t think that we will stick,
I’m a cat, you’re a chick,
I think you deserve one more lick.”

There’s a Clash cover, a deliciously noisy “Janie Jones”, but even that great song is overshadowed by the Outsiders’ originals.  Check out the opener “Nasty Ho,” one of Jonesy’s hilarious and thunderous punk songs.  And if you have any doubts as to punk rock authenticity, I think Duff McKagan is well on record on a connoisseur of fine punk rock.

“Union”, a ballad, seems to be Jonesey lamenting that the Sex Pistols were never a real united band, slagging off everyone (himself included), except his “mate, old Cookie”.  It’s a slow song but it has some bite to it.  Two John Taylor songs are two of the heavier ones:  “Always Wrong” and the smokin’ “Feelings Are Good”.  Both these songs were also featured on Taylor’s solo album Feelings Are Good and Other Lies.  (The title track was renamed “Feelings R Good”.) Best tune is “Angelina”, a fast punk rocker (today would they call this pop-punk?) with an insanely catchy chorus.

The only tunes that I could skip over are the really slow ones:  “Better Way” and “Story Of My Life”.  Yet even so, they have some charm.  They’re not bad songs at all, just completely overshadowed by all the super-fun punk rock songs.  Producer Jerry Harrison captured a raw performance, and I like that you can hear the ambiance of the room on “Story Of My Life”.

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As you read in the above Record Store Tale, I was hooked immediately on Neurotic Outsiders, and that proved to be a lasting feeling.  I wanted more, and at a visit to HMV Toronto (333 Yonge) I found the CD single for “Jerk”.  It contained a “clean” version of “Jerk” (kind of pointless, but you have to at least try to get played on the radio, right?).  Most interestingly was the B-side track “Seattle Head”.  Duff was born in Seattle and had a connection with many of the artists that came from that city.  (He was also one of the last people to speak to Kurt Cobain.)  I can’t say that this song has that “Seattle sound”, it sounds like Duff McKagan to me.  But it’s also obvious why it’s a B-side; because it’s the weakest of all the songs.

There was another single, a Japanese import for “Angelina”.  This one had two more B-sides: “Spanish Ballroom” and “Planet Earth”. I would really, really, really like to have that. Amazon is asking $45. Hard to justify for two songs (although I have done things like that before).

It’s a shame Neurotic Outsiders never made a second album. But maybe not — maybe a second album would have tarnished my memories. As it stands, it is just a one-off and will likely remain so, but it is also an album I still listen to 18 years later.

5/5 stars, and one middle finger!