pop rock

REVIEW: Extreme – III Sides to Every Story (1992)

scan_20170129EXTREME – III Sides to Every Story (1992 A&M)

Of Extreme’s five studio albums, there can be little doubt that Extreme III is the most ambitious.  It is a sprawling set over 80 minutes in length; too long for a single CD.  So long that only the cassette version has all 15 tracks in one place.  In contains three distinct sides, each different from the other, countless styles, and an orchestra.  Extreme took what made them popular on the last album, and what was currently going on with grunge rock, and tossed it all out the window.  They followed their own direction and were not rewarded with sales, but something more important:  a masterpiece.

The first “side” (keep in mind this is a CD) is subtitled “Yours” and consists of rockers both hard and funky.  After a comedic intro, “Warheads” annihilates the speakers.  A short choppy riff blows in, tempo opened up wide.  Gary Cherone tries to keep his messages entertaining, and this anti-war anthem has a pretty obvious message.  Nuno Bettencourt joins him for the choruses and breaks for a cool neo-classical solo.  The same message carries over into the first single “Rest in Peace”, introduced by a  string quartet playing the song’s melody before Nuno kicks it with a funky riff.  During the solo, Nuno even quotes Jim Hendrix.  “Rest in Peace” was not an immediate single, it takes some growing.  This is true of the whole album.  There is a lot going on.  Even that little Hendrix lick — blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s there making the solo that much cooler.  It is worth mentioning that Extreme did a fantastic video for “Rest in Peace” based on a 1952 National Film Board of Canada short called “Neighbours”. This wordless film served as the blueprint, but as a result they got sued and had to change it.

Gary Cherone loves creating his own portmanteaus (“Americocaine”, “Pornograffitti”), so “Politicalamity” is the title of the third track. It’s a wah-wah soaked funky rocker with fully-loaded horns making their first album appearance, in the tradition of “Get the Funk Out”.  Lyrically it continues the anti-war theme dominating the first side, and also social injustice, but in a fun catchy style. “Rich and poor, salute your country’s colours. Less is more, When one oppresses the other.” That was 1992; I wonder what Gary would have to say about today? Racial equality dominates “Color Me Blind”, one of the hardest rockers on the side. “I had a dream last night, I was blind, and I couldn’t see colour of any kind.” It is possible that the lyrical tone of the album turned off some old fans, though Gary keeps things from getting preachy.

“Cupid’s Dead” is the only song on the first side without a serious message. This rap-rock hybrid features a guest rapper (John Preziosa Jr.) and a chugging, funky riff.  Hard rock bands who incorporated rapping were seldom successful, but Extreme dodged this bullet.  “Cupid’s Dead” is good enough that is was recently dusted off for the Pornograffitti Live 25 tour.  Drummer Paul Geary and bassist Pat Badger keep the funk rolling in heavy fashion.  The side-ending “Peacemaker Die” features Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, surely some of the most powerful words in American history.  It is difficult to not get the chills when Dr. King speaks, framed in this excellent funk rock lament.

Take a moment’s break here and pretend you’re flipping a record.  Side two is subtitled “Mine” as a contrast to “Yours” for side one.  “Mine” consists of six ballads, but only five are on the CD due to the 80 minute time restriction.  Nuno expressed regret that the sixth track didn’t fit and hoped one day a 2 CD edition would be released.  Still hoping!

“Seven Sundays” is a romantic song, a piano ballad with Gary in falsetto mode.  Nuno adds synth strings for textures.  “If I had one wish, it wouldn’t be hard to choose.  Seven Sundays in a row, because that’s the day that I spend with you.”  Quite a turn from “Cupid’s Dead”, but that’s why it’s on another side.  “Tragic Comic” was the natural successor to the hits on Extreme II, a fun acoustic track with a “Hole Hearted” beat.  The lyrics are clever comedy and the track was selected as a single.  Many will identify with the hapless romantic, the titular stut-tut-tuttering p-poet.  “And when we dine, I forget to push in your seat.  I wear the wine, spillin’ it all over my sleeves.”  Been there done that Gary!  The lighthearted song is a delightful contrast to the darker material on side one.

Van Halen-style volume swells make up the intro guitar melody of “Our Father”, an electric power ballad with some stunning six-string mastery.   “Stop the World” was chosen as a single, a light melancholy ballad reminding us that if we forget history we are bound to repeat it.  These serious songs were not destined to repeat the big singles of albums past.  When you play these songs, you feel things and you think things, and not everybody wants music to do that to them.  Nuno’s solo on “Stop the World” is warm, immaculate perfection.  “Stop the World” merges directly into “God Isn’t Dead?” (except in single form of course).  “God Isn’t Dead?” is the darkest spot yet, quiet and painfully plaintive.  Piano and orchestra paint a stark picture.

The final song on the side, and a hint of the daybreak ahead, is “Don’t Leave Me Alone”, which is only on the cassette version.  Fear not however; it can be found in CD form on CD singles.  Just rip everything to your computer and slide “Don’t Leave Me Alone” into the correction position in the running order.  It belongs here at the end of the “Mine” side.  It deliberately ends it on a brighter note than “God Isn’t Dead?” though it is still far from a good-time ballad.  It is dusky lament, but with hints of light in the tunnel.  Nuno’s moog solo is a treat.

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At 12 songs, the “Yours” and “Mine” sides would make a complete album on their own, and it would still be an ambitious project at that.  Regardless, the third side titled “& the Truth” is the most industrious of them all, an eager fulfillment of talents bursting at the seams.  III Sides to Every Story…”Yours”, “Mine”, “& the Truth”.  This time, the side is made up of one massive 22 minute song called “Everything Under the Sun”.  It in turn is subdivided into three parts.  This is where the orchestra really comes into play.

Part I, “Rise ‘n Shine” is the sunrise after the blackness of the second side.  Gentle acoustics rouse you from your slumber, and Nuno takes the first verse of this duet.  Gary follows on the second as the orchestra swells.  “Rise ‘n Shine” is the most hopeful sounding music on the album, a bright and steady composition brilliantly structured.  Daniel and his dreams may be a Biblical reference but they don’t have to be.  A brief interlude foreshadows the melody of Part III, but first is Part II, “Am I Ever Gonna Change”.  This section was chopped out and used as an individual song live and on compilations.  You can hear why, since it has that echoey Van Halen guitar lick and a powerful nut-kicking chorus.  The orchestra returns and it’s Extreme at full power.  This eventually fades into the quiet start of Part III, “Who Cares?”.  Inaudible voices whisper during a piano passage, and then the orchestra returns at maximum.  Biblical overtones:  “Tell me Jesus, are you angry?  One more sheep has just gone astray.” Nuno’s singing is run through a vocoder giving him a computerized voice.  Some might think it sounds like The Elder gone wrong, but that would be selling “Who Cares?” short.  Finally Nuno breaks out of the circuit boards and come in at full voice for the final choruses.  The melodies from “Rise n’ Shine” and “Am I Ever Gonna Change” are reprised as the epic piece finally comes to a close.

There is little debate that “Everything Under the Sun” is the grandest thing Extreme have attempted in the studio.  It was a successful experiment, as it remains interesting and engaging through its entire 22 minute length.  You cannot say that for every Rush song of that nature.

Unfortunately for Extreme, the timing was all wrong, and this album soon found its way in bargain bins at cut rate prices.  The good news is that means you can get a copy yourself for next to nothing.  Try also to track down copies of the “Stop the World” or “Tragic Comic” singles, in order to get the full package.  They are plentiful on sites such as Discogs, and it’s important to hear the album at its full complete length.  III Sides to Every Story is an unsung hard rock masterwork, and if you want some softer rock songs with lots of brains and a huge heart, give it a shot.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Extreme – Saudades de Rock (2008 European & Japanese editions)

scan_20170115-2EXTREME – Saudades de Rock (2008 Frontiers in Europe, Victor in Japan, with exclusive bonus tracks)

Extreme were one of those bands that always seemed to resist reuniting. Nuno didn’t seem interested, or was too busy with Perry Farrell and Rihanna. When they finally did get the band back together, they did it right with a few tours and a new album to prove they still had the goods. 2008’s Saudades de Rock (Portuguese for “Nostalgic Yearnings of Rock”) earned positive reviews from rock critics.  It did moderate sales but the important thing was that it was good.

Immediately “Star” reminds us why Extreme were special in the first place:  Those harmonies, the good time Halen-inspired riffs, the kick-ass singer and a solid beat. Gary Cherone’s voice has aged well, coming over as a cross between Sammy Hagar, Freddie Mercury and Paul Stanley (good company to be in).  This song best exemplifies the “nostalgic yearnings of rock”, as the arrangement could have come from 1990.  Extensive (jaw-dropping) solos and a big chorus immediately remind us why this band was so critically acclaimed 25 years ago.

It’s not all longing for days gone by.  “Comfortably Dumb” concentrates its focus on the groove, like a bizarre cross between Soundgarden and the Trews.  The space-age guitar work by Nuno Bettencourt separates it from anyone else.  His style has matured nicely but still makes you wonder just how the hell he does it.  His machine-gun guitar riff on “Learn to Love” does the same.  It’s not all trickery:  these are also great compositions, with challenging rock arrangements.  Time changes and flurries of notes keep it interesting.  The middle section gives all the members a little time to shine including new drummer Kevin Figueiredo.

The first knuckleball is thrown on “Take Us Alive”, a genuine electric bluegrass shuffle.  Remember Extreme always prided themselves in their diversity, modeling themselves after Queen who were unafraid to do anything.  “Take Us Alive” is a new step for Extreme who have never gone this twangy.  Unsurprisingly they mastered this direction too.  A saucy funk rocker called “Run” goes in another direction, akin to Queen’s own funky experiments, just heavier.  Like Queen, Extreme topped it with a fine melodic chorus, but stay tuned for a superb outro.

“Last Hour” is not a ballad; more of a heavy dirge.  Nuno takes a quiet solo full of volume swells before going full shred. He then rips a page from the book of his solo album with the punky “Flower Man” (I say “punky” rather than “punk” since few genuine punk songs have a blazing Nuno Bettencourt guitar solo).  “King of the Ladies” is something else entirely, featuring Nuno on lead vocals.  It’s trippy, slinky, drony, modern and sultry with smoking instrumental sections and sounds like nothing else you can think of.  Few bands can take so many directions on one album and have it sound like a cohesive whole.

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Every Extreme album has at least one ballad, and “Ghost” is a wonderful continuation of this tradition.  With the focus on the piano, it’s a reprieve in the relentless guitar assault that makes up the majority of Saudades de Rock.  You have heard this sound before on albums like Extreme III.  We then visit the Houses of the Holy with “Slide” which possesses the unmistakable Zeppelin funk.  You’ll be wondering, where’s that confounded bridge?  The riff is a wink and a nod to “Sweet Emotion” and there is definitely some of that Aero-groove mixed with the Zoso Magic.

An acoustic reprieve is offered with “Interface”, a floaty ballad that fits this leg of the running order.  It merges into the funk-Halen of “Sunrise”, a nice heavy track before “Peace (Saudades)” takes us out on a dreamy, Queen-like ballad.  Yes that’s a lot of ballads late in the game and on paper it shouldn’t work.  It does because Extreme are consummate balladeers (each one being different) and successful composers of album-length works with a start, middle and ending.  “Peace” is a triumph and uplifting finale.

There are two bonus tracks available at the end of different versions of Saudades de Rock.  Both are old demos from the vaults, ancient relics of a pre-fame Extreme.  It’s a cool idea to release old unheard songs as bonus tracks, though unorthodox.  “Mr. Bates” (1986) is exclusive to Japan only.  It’s something like seeing old baby photos, or highschool yearbook grad pictures.  You wince and think “Well, they were young.”  Even so young, Nuno obviously had more talent than the average bear.  Europe got the better song “Americocaine” (1985), which shows off that blend of Gary and Nuno’s voices that, one day, would earn them millions.  You could imagine “Americocaine” showing up at the end credits of a minor 80s action movie.

Extreme played to their strengths, didn’t try to repeat anything from the past, while giving fans exactly the kind of album they needed.  The bonus tracks don’t fit, but who says a “bonus track” has to fit?   These are bonuses in the truest sense.  Rare little treats you can’t find anywhere else.  Any fan of the 1989 debut album Extreme will love them, because that is the era they resemble.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Extreme – Pornograffitti Live 25 (2016 Japanese 2 CD set)

scan_20170114-4EXTREME – Pornograffitti Live 25 (2016 Victor Japan 2 CD set)

When you hear that an album like Pornograffitti (which defined one of our teenage summers) turned 25 last year, don’t it make you feel old?  Maybe you haven’t played it in a while.  (If you haven’t, here is a refresher course.)  It was one of those discs that had appealing songs from start to finish, each different from the last.  All 13 songs (14 if you include the solo “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”) are reproduced in sequence on this new live CD release, fresh from a hot show in Vegas in 2015.  You can buy a blu-ray or DVD of the concert too, but CD collectors will want to spring for this Japanese double set.  On a second disc you get “Play With Me” (given more exposure in the movie Air Guitar Nation) and “Cupid’s Dead”, normally exclusive to the video version.  The total package is close to an hour and a half of some of Extreme’s best songs.  The Japanese printing also has its own cover art, though no other exclusives.

The familiar taped intro of rain and piano inaugurates the “funked-up fairy tail” that is Pornograffitti.  “Trying so hard to keep up with the Joneses!” begins Gary and and the Vegas crowd knows all the words.  With Nuno Bettencourt and Pat Badger helping out, the Extreme vocals are nice and thick live.  The sound is beefy goodness, wound up in electric guitar strings.  Kicking it on drums, Kevin Figueiredo keeps things pretty close to the way original drummer Paul Geary did it.  “Decadence Dance” is sincerely good nostalgia.

Following the vague storyline of the original album, “Lil’ Jack Horny” shows up amidst shimmery guitar harmonics and a funky lil’ riff.  The horn parts (tapes?) jack up the funky little guitar number, which carries over to “When I’m President”.  Nuno squeaks and squonks while Gary waxes poetic.  “So go ask Alice, ah you know what he said?  What did he say — remember, I wanna be elected?”   Maybe one day Gary, because it is indeed true:  just about anyone can be president!  Cherone promises that things’ll be different.  You can even be in his cabinet!

The funk peaks (obviously) on “Get the Funk Out” which remains as silly and fun as it was 15 years ago.  (Listen for a little bit of a lyrical modernization from Nuno!)  It’s pure live smoke only slowed down by the obligatory audience participation section.  This appropriately segues into “More Than Words”, which is slightly more than a singalong.  Stripped naked of the loud guitars, Nuno and Gary can still harmonize as clean and perfect as they always have.

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“Money” resumes the rock, as Gary bemoans the modern worship of the almighty dollar.  Nimbly killing it on both guitar and harmonies, Nuno Bettencourt is a super hero.  He does it again on “It (‘s a Monster)”, a stock album track that goes from point A to point B at top speed.  Some real gems start showing up a in steady string from there.  “Pornograffitti” possesses some serious funk metal riffage and guitar tricks, performed at an unbelievable level of rock supremacy.   Then it is time for the slow jazz lounge croon “When I First Kissed You”.  Piano flourishes and Figueiredo on brushes lend it a really pretty dusky sound.

“And now back to our regularly scheduled program!” shouts Gary as Extreme once again puts on their rock and roll shoes.  It’s time for “Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)”, another funky rock combo.  Nuno plays some of the fastest licks ever attempted, but that is mere warm-up, for next is “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”, the legendary guitar instrumental that re-defined the guitar instrumental for a short while.  There is no time to recover because it’s straight into “He-Man Woman Hater”.  This Van Halen-like blast contains some of Nuno’s finest fret abuse.

Pornograffitti was also a little different, and one aspect of that is that it ended with two ballads.  Historically that has been demonstrated as a risky way to end an album, but Extreme pulled it off by using two that were different from any of the others on the CD.  “Song For Love” was a big pompous Queen-like anthem, and you can all but see the lighters and cell phones waving in the air.  “Hole Hearted” was the memorable acoustic closing number, great for campfires and rock concerts alike.  Live is just as solid as the studio original.

Onto to the Japanese bonus CD with its two bonus tracks.  “Play With Me” has always been a bit of a novelty, but notable for its sheer velocity and Mozart-a-go-go guitar dexterity.  Few players have chops like these.  “Cupid’s Dead” is a set highlight – heavy, funky and progressive at times.  Extreme III deserves as much praise as Extreme II: Pornograffitti so it is quite pleasing to have this adventurous track close.

Bravo to Extreme for making this trip back in time a real treat.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Joe Lynn Turner – Rescue You (1985)

jlt-ryJOE LYNN TURNER – Rescue You (1985 Elektra)

Post-Rainbow, Joe Lynn Turner embarked upon a solo career.  With the last Rainbow drummer Chuck Burgi on hand, Joe debuted his solo self with Rescue You in 1985 on Elektra.  Roy Thomas Baker, best known for his work with Queen, worked on the production.  All songs were written by Joe and guitarist Alan Greenwood.  The direction was heavy on keyboards, and sampled drum sounds.  The only thing in common with Rainbow is the voice.

That voice cannot be mistaken.  Nobody can sing soul-driven broken hearted AOR rock like Joe Lynn Turner.  Opening track “Losing You” fits this description like a glove.  The samples and keyboards are occasionally distracting, but the melodies are strong.  Joe has always been a fine writer.  Perhaps Journey should have knocked on Joe’s door for some help when they were struggling to come up with Raised On Radio.  The second song, “Young Hearts” is pure pop rock like Steve Perry did on Street Talk in 1984.

“Endlessly” was the single/video, a keyboard rock ballad, and a decent one at that, but it is overwhelmed by the title track. “Rescue You” is once again very keyboard heavy, but rocks better than anything else on the album. It has a European flavour, sounding a bit like some of the material Glenn Hughes was doing in the 1980s. Back to the Americas, “Feel the Fire” is a bit limp, but sounds like something that could have been played on radio.

The LP continued on side two with “Get Tough” which isn’t that at all. The toughest thing about it is Burgi’s excellent drumming at the start. The bassline sounds like “Livin’ on a Prayer” but before that song was ever conceived. One gets the feeling that many of these songs could have been hits if only recorded by someone more famous. “Eyes of Love” is a decent moody mid-tempo song, and Joe sounds awesome on it. “On the Run” is a bit more upbeat, boasting a strong chorus that’s as good as anything on Slippery When Wet.  Moving into Purple territory, “Soul Searcher” could have fit in well on their Slaves and Masters LP.  One almost aches to hear what Blackmore and Lord would have added to it.  Going into the closer, “The Race is On” really has the life sucked from it with the keys and samples.  You can distinctly hear a heavy blazing rocker desperately trying to get out.  The recorded song sounds half-arsed, with those unnecessary keys taking up valuable sonic ground.

Not a bad solo debut from Joe, but certainly inferior to the Rainbow that came before and the Purple that came after.

3/5 stars

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Songs written by Greenwood/Turner except noted

“Losing You” – 4:25
“Young Hearts” – 3:52
“Prelude” (Newman, Turner) – 0:56
“Endlessly” – 3:40
“Rescue You” – 4:31
“Feel the Fire” – 3:28

“Get Tough” (Delia, Turner) – 4:33
“Eyes of Love” (Turner) – 3:49
“On the Run” – 3:53
“Soul Searcher” (Greenwood, Newman, Turner) – 4:08
“The Race Is On” – 3:23

REVIEW: The Whitlams – Eternal Nightcap (2000 Canadian version)

Scan_20160513THE WHITLAMS – Eternal Nightcap (2000 Black Yak Canadian version)

I honestly can’t remember who I saw the Whitlams opening for in 2000. I know it was the Center in the Square in Kitchener, so by process of elimination, they were probably opening for Blue Rodeo on their Days In Between tour.*  I actually expected a country band, because I confused the Whitlams with the Wilkinsons.  What I got, much to my delight, was an Australian piano-based pop rock band with witty lyrics and a couple absolutely unforgettable songs.  I like piano rock:  Ben Folds, or Elton John for example.  You can see similarities with both in the Whitlams.

At that time the Whitlams were in Canada promoting Eternal Nightcap, essentially a compilation of selections from their Australian releases.  Having never heard those albums, I don’t know if you would consider this a “best of” or not, but upon listening for the first time, I was clueless that these songs weren’t all from one album.  They sound cohesive.

The opening track “No Aphrodisiac” showcases Tim Freedman on vocals and piano with a melancholy opener.  One of the most impressive things about the Whitlams is their lyrical prowess.  “There’s no aphrodisiac like loneliness,” sings Freedman.  Ain’t it the truth?  It’s “I Make Hamburgers” that has perhaps the wittiest words.  “I make hamburgers, I get all the girls,” sings Freedman, and somehow I believe him in this amusing tale.

Jazz pervades “You Sound Like Louis Burdett” until the pure pop chorus.  “All my friends are fuck-ups, but they’re fun to have around.”  Eternal Nightcap is a diverse album, and the “Charlie” suite (three songs) has a quieter, more serious tone.  I have wondered if these songs are at least partly based on the Whitlams’ late guitarist, Stevie Plunder.  “You’re killing your soul with an audience looking on.”  Plunder died of a suspected suicide.  These are beautiful songs, but lyrically very heavy.  Plunder himself sings “Following My Own Tracks”, a great rock tune that actually reminds me a lot of early Blue Rodeo — the Greg Keelor songs.  Then there is some Beatles-y mellotron on “Melbourne”, a mid-tempo track that I remember them opening with at the Kitchener show.

With such a strong mixture of soft and rocking material, coupled with hard to forget melodies and skilled wordmanship, Eternal Nightcap (the Canadian version anyway) is a pretty easy CD to justify adding to your collection.  Now, to be transparent and honest, I will say that I did own a copy of their next album Torch the Moon, given to me by a co-worker.  I didn’t keep it because there was nothing on it that struck me as memorable like Eternal Nightcap.  Whether or not this CD is all the Whitlams you need, I cannot say.

4.5/5 stars

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*Confirmed via the Wikipedias.

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Burning Bridges (2015)

FLAMING TURDS

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

It’s 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!  

For a “drunk review” of this same album by Aaron over at the KMA, click here!

BURNING BRIDGESBON JOVI – Burning Bridges (2015 Mercury)

Like the gambler, I lay my cards on the table:  Richie Sambora was a critical component of Bon Jovi, perhaps as important as their leader.  That’s the way we see it here at LeBrain HQ.  A Bon Jovi without Sambora is a far less interesting animal.  Still, we do have a responsibility to listen to their first post-Richie album, Burning Bridges, with open ears and report back with accuracy.  So let us begin.

Burning Bridges is a set of unreleased and new songs, and also their last record with Mercury.  By calling it a gift to the fans and not considering it a “real” album, the pressure was off.  Producer/co-writer John Shanks handles guitar duties with Jon Bon Jovi on acoustic.  Billy Falcon also co-wrote a number of tracks, and there’s even one lone Richie co-write.

Things begin slowly on “A Teardrop to the Sea” but there is a dark edge to it that is appealing and reminiscent of the underrated These Days album.  I question the wisdom of opening an album wish such a slow number but it does make a strong first impression.  It is sparsely arranged yet powerful, and with or without Richie it sounds like Bon Jovi.  All it needs is one of his bluesy, soulful solos…alas.  Shanks does his best to imitate the axeman. “We Don’t Run”, the single, starts off well but then it descends into another glossy, overproduced digital mess with another imitation Richie solo. Potential wasted.

Sambora co-wrote “Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning” but it’s just paint-by-numbers Pop Jovi. You can predict the hooks coming, although you gotta give credit to the talent of Tico Torres for throwing in some cool drum beats. Pop Jovi strums the acoustics again on “We All Fall Down”, a ballad completely interchangeable with similar ones on any Bon Jovi album over the last decade. Ditto, “Blind Love”. It’s like Kleenex: You pull one out, and an identical tissue takes its place!  Pop Jovi continues balladeering on “Who Would You Die For”.  It does have a dark and low key These Days kind of vibe, but the slick production and programming are completely unnecessary.  I’d give the song a C though rather than a D or lower, because it’s dramatic enough, crap production aside.

Unplugged “Fingerprints” is horrid, flaccid and flatulent for its entire six minute length.  Lyrically, at this point I’m convinced that Jon is just writing down the first things that come to his mind.  “I gave you my fingerprints, guilty or innocent,” he sings with false passion.  More woah-oh-oh singing commences on the nauseatingly contrived “Life is Beautiful”, clearly a leftover from Bon Jovi’s new country period (Lost Highway).  The crapslide continues with “I’m Your Man”, upbeat at least but without a spine.  Finally we have “Burning Bridges”, the song Jon wrote about leaving Mercury, and it’s actually the best song on the album!  Yes, it’s country, but it sounds more or less like a jam, without the annoying production.  The lyrics are pretty hilarious and are by far the most interesting ones on the album.  It’s pretty obvious what it’s about so if you want a taste of the music industry from Jon’s perspective, give it a listen:

“After 30 years of loyalty,
They let you dig the grave,
Now maybe you could learn to sing,
Or even strum along, I’ll give you half the publishing,
You’re why I wrote this song.”

Ooft!  Elsewhere he invites them to play this song in hell!  A bitter end indeed.

Burning Bridges is an unnecessary album to own.  It’s bookended by two decent songs, with the last being the only one that I would consider for a mix tape.  The “real”  new Bon Jovi album, This House is Not for Sale, comes out this spring.  Perhaps with new guitarist Phil X (formerly of Triumph) in the mix, some chemistry will finally return.

1/5 stars

 

1. “A Teardrop to the Sea”
2. “We Don’t Run”
3. “Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning”
4. “We All Fall Down”
5. “Blind Love”
6. “Who Would You Die For”
7. “Fingerprints”
8. “Life Is Beautiful”
9. “I’m Your Man”
10. “Burning Bridges”

REVIEW: King’s X – XV (2008)

quiz

Complete studio albums (and more!), part 17 – the Final Chapter!


KING’X – XV (2008 InsideOut)

King’s X faced many setbacks over their long 30+ year career. Their last obstacle has been the hardest and most serious of all, and because of that, 2008’s XV album remains their most recent. That’s a tough pill to swallow, because for many fans XV was largely considered a return to form.

“Pray” immediately starts things right: face-crushing bass, a groove you can’t get out of, and a funky melody. You are transported back in time to the late 80’s and early 90’s, but with modern slants and production…and funk! The song boasts a soulful, powerful chorus just like the classics King’s X built their foundation on. What a satisfying opener. Peel yourself off the floor though, because it’s over before you know it and the next song “Blue” has launched. King’s X have always been successful at balancing their sound with soft songs, while maintaining their integrity.  It’s a great track sonically, though missing a killer chorus.  XV strikes me as the best produced King’s X album since the mighty Dogman.

Better than “Blue” is the gentle “Repeating Myself”, Ty Tabor’s first vocal outing on XV.  Everything is in its right place:  Ty’s delicate picking, the patented King’s X harmonies, and just a touch of Beatles-y psychedelia.  “Repeating Myself” is possibly the most perfect song King’s X had done in many years.  It melds perfectly right into “Rocket Ship”, a mid-tempo heavy rocker with “single” written all over it.  The 60’s psychedelia remains, but wrapped up in a heavy stomping riff. “Society-sanctioned brain-washing tries to wrap its arms around me,” sings Dug Pinnick, still unafraid to tackle issues in his words. Jerry Gaskill takes his first XV lead vocal on the lovely “Julia”. Another perfect song. It’s a ballad that reminds me of everybody from the Beatles to Shaw-Blades and Motley Crue, of all people. Then it’s foot to the gas on the irresistible “Alright”. This is a classic King’s X rocker, but this time with gang vocals on the chorus. It’s gangbusters. One of the catchiest King’s X songs yet.

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Greasy blues rock guitar kicks off “Free” with an unusually simple Gaskill beat behind it. This transforms into possibly the most soul-infused King’s X song ever, with it’s inescapable “Na na na na, yeah!” backing vocals. For the first time since Ear Candy in ’96, it seems King’s X just wanted to write and record some catchy songs. Of course this is done with all of their diverse influences and talents, but it does not mean the band stopped progressing in order to write some pop rock. “Free” is catchy indeed, and easily could have been on the radio, but it also has lyrical integrity. “The debt is rising, and you overload, because you’re broke, is this a joke? So go buy something, that you can’t afford, because you’re broke, is this a joke?” Musically, by turning the soul knob right up to 11, King’s X have progressed again.

Ty Tabor takes his turn on a mournful ballad called “I Just Want to Live”. A fine song, “I Just Want to Live” won’t be remembered as well as the previous tracks. Then the aptly titled “Move” has a pulse that you won’t believe. It’s Dug Pinnick’s bass that drives this thing, in a very 80’s kind of sparse arrangement. The awesome chorus seals the deal: it’s killer. Ty once again provides the soft side on “I Don’t Know”, another simply beautiful King’s X ballad, much like his Ear Candy material. His guitar solo here is a work of pure magic, and I swear to you that I did actually feel a chill go up my spine. Honest truth.

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Winding it down, Dug makes “Stuck” stick to your brain with some unusual melodies. It’s an unorthodox song and in that way it reminds us of early King’s X, though it sounds little like it. The return of the massive grooves on “Go Tell Somebody” turns this church singalong into a groove metal classic. “If you like what you hear, go tell somebody!” Yeah Dug, you said it! Word of mouth, baby. That’s kept King’s X alive through some difficult decades. They must have known, recording this song, that it was going to be awesome.

I’ve never seen a version of XV without bonus tracks, but my import digipack has ’em too. “Love and Rockets (Hell’s Screaming)” is an interesting song with a good riff. Dug sings the vocal with a calmness, as opposed to the wailing of “Go Tell Somebody”. Then “No Lie” is a jokey blues. “I’ve never sung this song before,” says Dug at the start. This one truly is a bonus track; although it has instrumental integrity, it doesn’t feel like a sincere part of the album. Another version of the album (probably Japanese) has a demo version of “Rocket Ship” as a bonus track. (Add to “Holy Grail” list)

XV is a solidly entertaining album with only a few moments that drag. For all the complaints about albums like Manic Moonlight or Black Like Sunday, XV sounds like redemption.

4.5/5 stars

Scan_20151201 (2)Jerry Gaskill suffered his first heart attack on February 25 2012. He required surgery but was feeling strong. King’s X had a tour booked to start only one month later, which had to be cancelled. Then in October of that year, his home was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Fans rallied and donated money to help the Gaskill family rebuild. As if all of this was not enough to deal with, Gaskill had a second heart attack two years later. This required a double bypass. Once again, King’s X cancelled all gigs. They released special live albums to benefit the drummer, and only now in 2015 have they managed to get back on the road and start work on a new album.

We have waited a long time, but we will continue to wait as long as we need. King’s X will return!

This series is dedicated to Dug, Jerry and Ty.  Long may they reign.

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)
Part 9 – Best of King’s X (1997)
Part 10 – Tape Head (1998)
Part 11 – POUNDHOUND – Massive Grooves from the Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998 Doug Pinnick/Jerry Gaskill)
Part 12 – Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous (2000)
Part 13 – PLATYPUS – Ice Cycles (2000 Ty Tabor)
Part 14 – Manic Moonlight (2001)
Part 15 – Black Like Sunday (2003)
Part 16 – Ogre Tones (2005)
Part 17 – XV (2008)

REVIEW: King’s X – Ogre Tones (2005)

quiz

Complete studio albums (and more!), part 16


Scan_20151123KING’S X – Ogre Tones (2005 Inside Out)

The previous few albums split fandom.  Many found it hard to grab onto the loose structures of Mr. Bulbous, and the drum loops of Manic Moonlight.  For this review, we are trying an experiment.  I have never  heard Ogre Tones before (in fact I’ve never heard any of these 14 tracks), so this will be a first-listen review.  Does King’s X have the same impact on first listen as they do on 21st?  Probably not, but let’s find out.  In a sense this is a “live” review, so please join me as I listen!

“Alone” could have alienated fans again, starting as it does with distorted alt-rock screaming.  This introduces a short pop-rock duet with Doug Pinnick and Ty Tabor, not a bad little song.  Even though it’s only three minutes, it still boasts multiple sections and lush harmonies, as well as the trademark King’s X groove that only they can play.  Ty dumbs-down the guitar solo for the 2000’s, as it mostly consists of one note.  It’s over quick and then it’s into the even shorter “Stay”, a Doug pop ballad with balls.  Some of those balls come from the heavy detuned guitar, some of it is purely in the ragged soul of Doug’s voice.

Pleasant sailing is “Hurricane”, not too challenging.  The trademark Beatles-meet-King’s X backing vocals lend it a psychedelic feel.  Thankfully, the kind of massive grooves you crave return on “Fly”, the first King’s X Klassic on Ogre Tones.  Biting bass licks nicely accent a catchy rock tune, old-school style meets new-school production.  “If” is another good song, kind of similar to the pop rock delicacy Ear Candy.  Onto the jazz-metal of “Bebop”, Doug throws a very different song into the mix but the album is the better for it.  Just before the halfway point of the album, “Bebop” becomes a highlight.

I like Ty’s acoustic numbers, and “Honesty” is a bare, emotion-filled Tabor classic.  Sounding a lot like Faith Hope Love-era King’s X, “Honesty” is hit-worthy.  You need some heavy riffing after that, and “Open My Eyes” has a big, phat Sabbathy riff behind it.  The song is a bit disjointed though, at least on first listen.  Just a riff without a song.  “Freedom” goes in one ear and out the other (albeit with a great guitar outro).  Unfortunately like many albums with so many tracks on them, Ogre Tones starts to sag in the middle.  “Get Away” is another one.  The lyrics don’t hit the spot anymore:  “Hey God, I watched the news tonight, why are your people so fuckin’ mean?”

The only long song on Ogre Tones is “Sooner or Later”, at 7:00.  It’s a decent slow dirge that I suspect will require a few more listens to appreciate, and even if it doesn’t, there’s plenty of Ty Tabor noodling to go around.  Then there is another decent ballad in the oddly-titled “Mudd”.  I was hoping this was a song about the classic Star Trek character, Harcourt Fenton Mudd.  Sadly, it is not.  The strangest song of all might be a remake of “Goldilox” (from Gretchen Goes to Nebraska).  True to the original, but of course not as timeless and perfect, it is nonetheless a welcome inclusion.  After all, can you really fault King’s X for putting one of their best songs out for a second time?  Considering they tried, and tried, and tried to catch a break, why give up?  Of course I don’t need to tell you that “Goldilox (Reprise)” was not a hit in 2005, but maybe they should try again in 2020!  The album then closes with “Bam” which is exactly what it sounds like.  Bam!  A crash of instruments…followed by almost three minutes of feedback, noise, and the bizarre.

There is a video included on the first run of the CD, which you can still buy.  “Alone” has girls shaking their hair for no reason.  This video is now on Youtube, of course.

Ogre Tones strikes me as a good album, one that should deliver more on further listens.  However I wonder if the sluggish middle section will be a difficult obstacle.

3.25/5 stars

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)
Part 9 – Best of King’s X (1997)
Part 10 – Tape Head (1998)
Part 11 – POUNDHOUND – Massive Grooves from the Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998 Doug Pinnick/Jerry Gaskill)
Part 12 – Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous (2000)
Part 13 – PLATYPUS – Ice Cycles (2000 Ty Tabor)
Part 14 – Manic Moonlight (2001)
Part 15 – Black Like Sunday (2003)

REVIEW: King’s X – Black Like Sunday (2003)

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Complete studio albums (and more!), part 15


 

KING’S X – Black Like Sunday (2003 Metal Blade)

After a couple albums that were…well, they were pretty far out, man…King’s X may have needed to get back to basics a little bit.  Mr. Bulbous was undoubtedly a very experimental beast, and then Manic Moonlight introduced the drum loops.  A number of fans had dropped off the train, this one included.  It is only now that I have purchased 2003’s Black Like Sunday.

The concept of the album was pretty simple.  Fans had been begging for Jerry Gaskill, Doug Pinnick, and Ty Tabor to re-release their very first indi album when they were still known as Sneak Preview.  It is estimated that fewer than 500 copies of this album exist, but the band have never been eager to release it again.  Indeed, rumour has it that the band destroyed over half of the original 1000 themselves.  What they chose to do instead was re-write and re-record some of the old Sneak Preview songs, and release them as King’s X.  There is no explanation of this inside the CD, so unless you were paying attention to the press, you might just think this was an ordinary everyday King’s X album.*  Armed with 14 mostly shorter songs, they once again switched gears.

Laying it down right from the start, “Black Like Sunday” kicks rumps and gets ’em shakin’.  Without having a clue what these songs might have originally sounded like, “Black Like Sunday” is admirable for its stock solid rock groove.  Nobody in rock can groove like King’s X, but this is more straight than they normally play it.  Jerry Gaskill is uncharacteristically laying down simple 4/4 drums and Ty has a nice rockin’ riff to hammer out.

“Rock Pile” is…different…takes some getting used to…but once you do?  It’s in your head.  It’s like two songs jammed together.  A weird Van-Halen-esque unmelodic spoken word chunk, welded to a chorus from a corny Beatles song.  On first impression, I thought “This is awful”.  On third listen, it was, “Oh yes, this song!  The heavy one with the catchy chorus…” and I was hooked.  “Danger Zone” is also on the weird side, melding an oddly melodic vocal with a hair metal ballady electric chug.  Much like “Rock Pile”, initial impressions are not good.  Further listenings reveal that these songs stick in the memory, and that Ty’s rich guitar sounds are an absolutely highlight.  His solo on “Danger Zone” is right out of the Neil Young book of awesome.

It has nothing to do with Rush, but “Working Man” rocks at mid-pace with many shades of the 80’s.  “Dreams” has an odd reggae vibe, but grafted onto a heavy detuned King’s X riff.  It’s not the greatest tune and probably the first that really fails to make an impact.  Up next is “Finished” which is a pleasant pop rock tune.  Nothing special once again, but instrumentally King’s X always have something to offer, and this time it’s Doug’s busy bass runs.  Then things do get black like Sunday, on “Screamer”, an exotic vintage-Sabbathy stormer.  Deep Iommi string bends meet tribal drumming meets Doug Pinnick.  It’s a challenging listen but it has plenty to offer.  “Bad Luck” is more down the alley of traditional King’s X, and it kills with its heavy groove.

King’s X have always been capable of tender ballads, so though unremarkable, “Down” will appeal to fans of that side.  In contrast, “Won’t Turn Back” is stuttery chunky heavy metal.  All of these songs have some strangely melodic vocal parts, and “Won’t Turn Back” is like that.  It often feels like a chorus from a pop song has been  transplanted onto a heavy metal song on this album.  It’s one of the factors that makes Black Like Sunday hard to digest on first listen.  At times it’s hard not to ask, “What the hell were they thinking?”

Steering the ship back on course once again, the song “Two” could have been on Tape Head since it has that bass-heavy stripped back kind of sound.  “You’re the Only One” does not sound much like King’s X, but it does sound like quality hard rock.  Maybe even pop punk.  The Beatles harmonies work well here overtop a song that could have been written by Weezer.  I wouldn’t doubt that Rivers wishes he wrote this song!

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The only long song on the album is the incendiary, 11-minute-plus “Johnny”.  Very Rush-like, “Johnny” is smouldering King’s X goodness with a big fat bow on top, so get ready to get down.  Most of the 11 minutes is a long jam, a laid-back one in fact, but just listen to the interplay.  Fantastic stuff.  After an exhausting listen like that, what you really need next is the pop-punk-country-funk of “Save Us”.  Ending the album with a short pop rocker really snaps you back to attention, and then it’s all over.

Assigning a rating to a King’s X album is difficult when you haven’t had years to absorb them and grow into them.  Having said that, Black Like Sunday” makes a good impression.  The songs are adventurous if a bit awkward, and there are enough gems here to warrant a purchase.  Added bonus:  the booklet doubles as a 2003 calendar!  An amusing touch.

3.5/5 stars

*There’s no such thing as an ordinary everyday King’s X album.

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)
Part 9 – Best of King’s X (1997)
Part 10 – Tape Head (1998)
Part 11 – POUNDHOUND – Massive Grooves from the Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998 Doug Pinnick/Jerry Gaskill)
Part 12 – Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous (2000)
Part 13 – PLATYPUS – Ice Cycles (2000 Ty Tabor)
Part 14 – Manic Moonlight (2001)

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Jaded (2001 EP)

Scan_20150922AEROSMITH – Jaded (2001 Sony EP)

It’s not unfair to suggest that I might be a little J-J-Jaded when it comes to 2000-era Aerosmith. People ask me when I think the decline hit. I answer, the abomination that is “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”.  Nine Lives was a good album.  It might not be an Aerosmith classic, but it was good, no two-ways about it.  By the time Aerosmith hit 2001 with Just Push Play, the co-writers and love ballads had taken over completely.

That said, the first single from Just Push Play, “Jaded”, was a pretty good song.  Joe Perry didn’t write that guitar hook, but it’s more the drum part that I am drawn to.  Joey Kramer was capable of turning crap into class (not that “Jaded” is crap), he is so talented.  “Jaded” boasts both catchy verses and choruses, and is firmly ensconced in acoustic-electric-pop land.  I think it’s a great track actually, but in the context of its album, it was one of very few.  You can handle something like this as a commercial track on a single.  On an album where each song is more sold-out than the last, “Jaded” was a very minor victory.

But wait, there’s more!  There is an acoustic and a “guitars mix” of “Jaded” as well.  The stripped down acoustic version is pretty cool although it lacks punch.  If you want to hear the song taken back to the basics without embellishment, here it is, and it’s still a good song.  It just misses the soft/loud contrast of the album version.  The guitar mix is the opposite.  It’s the album track with the electric guitar parts turned up in lieu of the strings.  So with the three tracks, you kind of get it in the full spectrum, from the light to the heavy.  (Incidentally, there’s also a radio remix of “Jaded” out there, on a 2 CD version of Just Push Play from Japan that I don’t have.)

“Angel Eye” is a non-album track from the Charlie’s Angels soundtrack, saving you from buying that CD for one song.  Thankfully it’s a heavy song, but without any serious hooks.  The guitar riff is devastating, but once again, Joe didn’t write it.  When it comes to this aeon of Aerosmith, perhaps we should just be grateful for a heavy song, period?

The final track is a bit of a throw-away at a mere 1:00.  “Under My Skin” sounds like an album outro, or a piece of incidental music recorded for a soundtrack.  I guess it’s a teaser for the full-length song that appeared on the album?  Too bad because “Under My Skin” is one of the most irritating songs on Just Push Play.  I don’t recognize this bit from the song, but I also don’t really want to investigate any further.

2/5 stars

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