pop rock

REVIEW: Mötley Crüe – Too Fast For Love (1981 Leathür and CD remasters)

MÖTLEY CRÜE – Too Fast For Love (Originally 1981 Leathür Records, 2003 CD reissues)

I was so lucky to grow up not with the Elektra remix of Too Fast For Love, but the original Leathür Records version. Though I didn’t know anything about it at the time, Motley Crue’s debut existed in two different versions and I had the rarer of the two on an old cassette.  The original mix released in 1981 on the band’s own label was a raw beauty.  When Elektra signed the band, Roy Thomas Baker remixed the album for worldwide reissue.  But in Canada, we received the original mix on cassette first before the remix was even released.  This was so Motley had some music to promote on their first Canadian tour.  We were very lucky.  The Elektra mix came out and eventually replaced the original on shelves.

The differences are significant, including the deletion of an entire song (“Stick To Your Guns”) from the original on the Elektra release.  For nostalgia reasons, I always preferred the Leathür mix of this album.  “Come On And Dance” for example is a completely different and much longer recording.  It must be stated the Roy Thomas Baker mix is technically the better of the two.  It’s well balanced and has the required punch.  Vocal lines are thickened up.  It will undoubtedly sound better on your high end stereo.  There is more nuance.  The changes are especially audible on songs like “Starry Eyes” and “Live Wire”, but I simply have a preference for the raw, rough version I grew up with.  There’s something to be said for independent production values.  Additionally, the track listing was jumbled and the original running order flows better, so that’s the order we’ll be discussing the songs in.

Fortunately for you, you don’t have to track down an original vinyl or even an obscure Canadian cassette release to get the original Too Fast For Love.  It was officially reissued one time only on CD, in the 2003 Motley Crue box set called Music To Crash Your Car To Volume I.  In fact that box set includes both mixes of the album, plus the related CD bonus tracks.  (Actually, the box set is only missing one song, which we’ll discuss further on.)  For the money, Music To Crash Your Car To Volume I is the best way to get “all” the tracks.

The audio for the original Leathür mix is sourced directly from original vinyl, with the tapes presumably lost.  Audiophiles take note as you will hear the telltale sound of old vinyl.


It took a while for young me to get into Too Fast For Love.  The album was generally much different from the metal assault of Shout at the Devil.  That was the Motley I was familiar with.  The basic garage glam metal of Too Fast For Love was alien to me.  When I first received the cassette, I gave it a fair shake but didn’t start clicking with it until Easter of 1986.  It was a deliberate effort on my part.  “I want to hear and appreciate this album like my friends do.”  Bob Schipper had the songs he liked:  “Live Wire” (there was a music video, but he did not like the part with Mick Mars spitting up blood), “Merry-Go-Round”, and especially “On With the Show”.

No matter which version of the album you own, we begin on “Live Wire”, a blitzkrieg of an opener with punk-like pacing.  It’s dirty and messy cocaine-fueled mayhem, and the Leathür version sounds sharper and more chaotic.  Vince Neil is so young, less seasoned and a little shrill.  But the band is on fire with Mick Mars puking out one of his trademark riffs.

The Elektra reissue goes into “Come On and Dance” here, but Leathür puts “Public Enemy # 1” second.  It’s perfectly at home in this slot.  With the careless glee of youth, the song is one of Motley’s early pop rock deep cuts.  There is a lot of pop on Too Far For Love, especially in the vocal melodies.  “Public Enemy # 1” must go back to Nikki Sixx’s days in the band London, since it’s a co-write with London’s Lizzie Grey.  It then gives way to another blitzkrieg of a riff on “Take Me To the Top”.  This turns into a choppy groove, and yet another melodic Vince Neil vocal to keep you hanging on.  There’s that pop side again.  You could isolate Vince’s vocal and turn it into a pop song.  It’s like you have this three-man wall of pounding rock with Tommy Lee, Mick Mars and Nikki Sixx slamming in unison.  But on top of that you have Vince Neil singing a candy-sweet melody.

A ballad “Merry-Go-Round” gives your ears a slight rest.  Though Nikki wrote it, Mick has a way with these kinds of chords that makes them just sound “Mars”.  This song is given an urgency by Vince who, as it turns out, was quite a great singer in his early days.  The first side closes on “Piece of Your Action”, a song that has been remixed a number of times over the years.  It’s also Vince Neil’s first co-writing credit (lyrics).  With a sharp steely riff and aggressive vocals, this song will knock down walls.

The old mix of “Starry Eyes” sounds overblown and slurred compared to the Baker version, yet that’s its charm.  “Starry Eyes” has a disco-like groove and another sugar sweet Vince Neil vocal.  Nikki Sixx doesn’t get a lot of attention as a bassist, but he’s not content just to hang around banging out a rhythm.  He likes to play melodically too, and “Starry Eyes” is a fun song to listen to him play.

Only the Leathür version has “Stick to Your Guns” at this point in the running order.  It’s a busy song with different tempos and flavours, from fast verses, to a slow and choppy chorus riff, and a funky instrumental jam out.  Perhaps it was left off the Elektra reissue because it’s a little more complex than the rest of the album.  It also might have been because the song had been issued a couple times already:  “Stick to Your Guns” was also the flipside of Motley Crue’s very first single, “Toast of the Town” (to be discussed further on).

“Come On and Dance” has a heavy riff that flows well out of “Stick to Your Guns”, but it’s the most different between the two versions of the album, so you can choose your preference.  The original is longer and the vocal is better.

Regardless of which version you own, “Too Fast For Love” is always the second-last song on the album…but in two very different mixes.  4:16 on Leathür with a unique intro, and 3:21 on Elektra, going straight into the riff.  On Leathür the slow, ballady opening acts as a feint.  Mick then cranks up an unforgettable riff, and we are off into one of Motley’s true early classics.  The primitive gang backing vocals are quaint by modern standards, but again, that’s the charm.

Finally “On With the Show” is the emotional closer.  “Frankie died just the other night, some say it was suicide, but we know how the story goes.”  In real life nobody died (yet) but “Frankie” is Frank Feranna, the birth name of Nikki Sixx.  That name was his past, and Nikki Sixx was his future.  The ride was just beginning, and this song has both a sadness and a certain amount of glee.  “But you see Frankie was fast, he was too fast to know.  He wouldn’t go slow until his lethal dose.”  That part turned out to be somewhat prophetic.  Regardless, “On With the Show” is the fist-pounding pop metal album closer needed for a record like Too Fast For Love.  If you’re headbanging along with it, the you should feel well pooped out by the end!


In 1999, Motley Crue began reissuing all their albums on CD in a series called Crucial Crue on Motley Records, but the end result was disappointing.  The bonus tracks varied in quality, but the real problem was that each CD was given an additional bonus track in Japan, and they were pretty good ones too.  Fortunately this was rectified in 2003 with yet another series of reissues, adding the Japanese bonus tracks.  The box set Music To Crash Your Car To Volume I has all this bonus material as well.  For Too Fast For Love, the Japanese bonus track that was restored in 2003 was a live version of “Merry-Go-Round” recorded in San Antonio with an obviously very young Vince Neil on vocals.  Though the singing is shaky live, it’s a genuine live recording capturing the band at this early stage of their careers.

“Toast of the Town” was one of those song titles I kept hearing about as a kid, but nobody I knew had ever heard the first ever Motley Crue single.  According to the liner notes in the box set, this single was only given away at shows in L.A. for a limited time.  Both it and its B-side “Stick to Your Guns” are restored on the CD reissues as bonus track.  “Toast of the Town”, like Too Fast For Love itself, is a pop rocker with punch.

An unreleased song called “Tonight” is actually a Raspberries cover (there’s that pop side again).  And it’s bloody awesome.  They were already halfway there by covering it, but they made it work with their sound, basically just by adding distortion and turning it all up.  It sounds like this version was fully recorded and produced for release, so why it wasn’t, we don’t know.  Too pop?  Perhaps.

The last bonus track to discuss is “Too Fast For Love” with the alternate intro.  This is the same intro as on the Leathür version of the album, but it sounds like it was mixed to the higher standards of the Elektra version.  Regardless, there are three distinct versions of the song for you to enjoy.

One track is missing from these releases.  The one from this same era that they neglected to include is called “Nobody Knows What It’s Like to Be Lonely”.  Its only official release to date is as a bonus track on a 20 year old Motley Crue live DVD.  At seven minutes long, it plods along with a deliberate and heavy groove.  Nikki Sixx has praised the guitar work of Mick Mars, and it has a bizarrely funky drum breakdown at the end.  In order to get the complete picture of this era of Motley Crue, track down “Nobody Knows What It’s Like to Be Lonely”.  You can understand how a seven minute song didn’t make an album release, though it is certainly well overdue for a re-release on any format other than DVD.


Any way you go, Leathür or Elektra, CD or vinyl, or bloody Canadian cassette tape, Too Fast For Love is a hell of a debut album.  Few bands have as many haters as Motley Crue, but this album is an innocent reckless joy.  Shout at the Devil sounds contrived by comparison, with Motley Crue adopting a doomier metal sound and dropping the pop-punk pretences.  As good as Shout at the Devil undoubtedly is, this one sounds far more natural.  It’s the real deal.  This is the Crue laying it down hard, fast, getting it done quick and not messing around.  Love it or hate it.  I know how I feel.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Bounce (2002, 2010 special edition)

BON JOVI – Bounce (2002 Universal, 2010 special edition)

Wrote off Bon Jovi after Keep the Faith?  Not so fast!

It was a post-911 world, which in strange hindsight was a more optimistic time than today.  Bon Jovi, always patriotic, had to respond.  While only a few songs relate to the tragedy, Bounce is easily the strongest Bon Jovi platter from the last 20 years.

That was my brother lost in the rubble,
That was my sister lost in the crush,
That was our mothers, those were our children,
That was our fathers, that was each one of us.

“Undivided” makes no bones about its subject.  It’s also one of the heaviest songs the band have ever laid down.  Much of this, according to the band, came down to a new guitar that Richie Sambora was using.  His tone is certainly aggressive and modern.

“Where we once were divided, now we stand united.”

If only temporarily.  It was certainly more inspiring in its time.  At least nothing can be taken away from the music, and Sambora’s always sublime soloing.

Lead single “Everyday” is less successful, leaning on modern production values instead of rock and roll.  At least it rocks hard and chunky for the most part.  The samples and effects could have been ejected without hurting the song.  But Bon Jovi’s biggest weakness after Keep the Faith was a dependence on ballads.  At least most of the Bounce ballads stand strong.  The first of these is one of the strongest, “The Distance”.  It utilizes Sambora’s crushing guitar effectively to create a rock/ballad hybrid.  You can headbang to the riff while crooning to the verses.  It’s topped with strings courtesy of David Campbell, making the whole thing so overblown…and so Bon Jovi.  That’s their style.  You either like it or you don’t.

“Joey” is less successful as a ballad.  It’s one of those “growing up in New Jersey” songs that Jon is good at writing.  “Blood on Blood” is the best example of that kind of song.  “Joey”, not so much.  The arrangement is generic and the words, well:  “I never cared that Joey Keys was slow, he couldn’t read or write too well but we’d talk all night long.”  I’m sure there are more lyrical ways of telling this story.

Midtempo “Misunderstood” is an album highlight (and second single).  The chorus is the selling point.  Vintage Bon Jovi melody and charisma.  Unfortunately single #3, “All About Loving You” is profoundly putrid, with drum machines and tinkling acoustic guitars aplenty.  A heavy rocker called “Hook Me Up” is also less than inspiring, although you can at least rock heavy to it in dumb fashion.

A pleasant ballad, “Right Side of Wrong” is similar to “Joey” but without the awkward lyrics.  What does it sound like?  Bon Jovi, with all the references he loves:  James Cagney, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Next, Sambora’s wah-wah guitar on “Love Me Back to Life” brings some heavy to another ballad, which is good, because there are three in a row.  It’s all about Sambora and the strings by David Campbell, which add some needed punch.

Most of the ballads to this point have featured piano with strings, but “You Had My From Hello” is a sweet acoustic number.  Pleasant is the word.  But the second last track “Bounce” is an ass-kicker and best track on the album.  “Call it karma, call it luck, me I just don’t give a f…f…f…”  OK, that sounds pretty cheesey.  Jon refusing to drop the F-bomb is funny when you think about it, but “Bounce” was a single, so it’s not like he’s going to swear all over it.  Richie’s solo is 2000s-era perfect, as good as mainstream music got back then.  “Bounce” rocks.  Unfortunately the album concludes on another cookie-cutter ballad, “Open All Night”.  It was written about an Ally McBeal episode that Jon guested in.  Hard pass.

The 2010 special edition includes a cool backstage pass and four live bonus tracks:  “The Distance”, “Joey”, “Hook Me Up” and “Bounce”.  The added value makes the upgrade worthwhile.

This album “bounces” back between rockers and ballads a bit much, but when the songs are solid, it fires on all cylinders.  Let’s say you trimmed two songs from the album to make it an even 10, like Slippery When Wet.  Then Bounce would be a more consistent listen, and perhaps considered a bit of a latter day classic.  It’s still probably the last “good” album they’ve released.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: The Beaches – Late Show (2017)

THE BEACHES – Late Show (2017 Universal)

Don’t waste your summer without visiting The Beaches.

With influences from the Go-Gos through alternative and surf rock, The Beaches have found an intoxicating sound perfect for summer partying.  Their debut long player Late Show is chock full of fun, energetic and catchy songs.  A couple of hit singles (“Money” and “T-Shirt”) are storming the charts, and a Juno win this year has raised their profile considerably.  Armed with an album produced by members of Metric, it is now their time.

Singer/bassist Jordan Miller is the lynchpin.  She can wail but tends to keep it subtle.  The songs swing from slinky to punk.  The Beaches are at their best when delivering sheer hooks caked in attitude.  That’s what made “Money” such a perfect single.  The simple, understated guitar hook works its way into your brain, and it’s topped with a punchy chorus.  The Beaches can write songs.  Most are credited to the four band members.  Some bands are afraid to showcase candy-coated hooks, but The Beaches have the confidence for it.  The hooks are paired with biting rock guitars, keeping the edges sharp.  They never let the pacing slip, and they keep things fun.  It’s right there in the lyrics to “T-Shirt”:  “Don’t take me so serious.  I just like to make a fuss.”

There are plenty of tunes that pack the goods.  “Gold” has a knack for sticking.  Even the slower tunes like “Highway 6” and “Back of My Heart” have an unexpected catchiness. “Keeper” is a like a blast from the late 80s, and “Sweet Life” is a jolt of caffeine at the end.

Get some Beaches into your life.

3.5/5 stars

#664: Heading to The Beaches

GETTING MORE TALE #664: Heading to The Beaches

I’m exposed to a lot of music through the radio.  I am lucky enough to hear roughly seven hours of radio at work every day.  I feel a bit like Milton from the classic movie Office Space.  “I was told that I could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven.”

I just celebrated my 10 years at my job.  There was always a bit of a battle between staff and receptionists over the radio.  You see, everybody’s desk phone gets the radio piped in from the same station.  It was also the “on hold” music for incoming callers.  When I first started, the station was Chym FM.  That was a downstep from my prior job at United Rentals, who had Dave FM and all the rock and roll that entailed.  But soon enough, my current job switched the station to Dave, after several complaints about the repeat repeat repeat of Chym.

This went back and forth, back and forth, between Dave and Chym.  Some clients who were on hold would tell me, “I was really enjoying your AC/DC there.”  The receptionist really hated Dave, though.  One afternoon she switched us over to a new country station.  (That ended swiftly!)   Eventually I determined the best course of action was for me to turn off my phone radio, and just bring in my own.  So that’s what I did and for the last many years I’ve had my own radio tuned to Dave.  I’m happy that this small luxury is accommodated.  Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution.

Dave introduced me to many bands that I love today.   The Arkells, Monster Truck, Greta Van Fleet and July Talk are just a few from the last couple years.  I’m really grateful I get to hear great music every day.  The good bands more than make up for the Nickelback, Three Days Grace, My Darkest Days, and other assorted shit they’re forced to play.

The other day, a younger guy at work named Leo came up to me and asked, “Have you heard of the band The Beaches?”

“No,” I answered immediately.  “Let me Google them.”

I pulled them up, had a look at the four women that make up the band, and read a few blurbs.  “Undertook a tour in 2011 opening for Allstar Weekend” was the line that jumped out, and I said simply, “Yeah, they suck.”  Leo laughed that I could know such a thing in 60 seconds of Googling but my judgement had been declared.

I continued reading.  “Album was produced by Emily Haines and James Shaw of Metric.”  Metric?  Hey, they’re cool.  They probably wouldn’t produce shit.  I approached Leo and told him of my new research.  I re-opened the case of The Beaches.

Time goes by.  A song comes on the radio.  “Here’s ‘Money’, by The Beaches, on Dave Rocks,” said Craig.

Holy shit, The Beaches on Dave Rocks?  I put down my pen and listened.  It was a song I already knew and liked, but couldn’t remember who it was by.  I assumed the singer of “Money” was a guy.  Somebody with a high voice, like the guy from Royal Blood, maybe.  It turns out, I already liked The Beaches.  A band that I declared “sucked” after looking at a Wikipedia page.

Well, fuck me!

That should teach me about judging bands by appearances (a lesson I should have learned decades ago).  Double dumb-ass on me.  I didn’t even guess the gender of the singer correctly, while declaring that they sucked, also while already liking their single.  Triple dumb-ass on me!

So who are The Beaches anyway?  Toronto sisters Jordan and Kylie Miller are on lead vocals/bass and guitars respectively.  They were joined by friend Eliza Enman-McDaniel on drums, and a guitarist named Megan Fitchett.  They formed a teen pop rock band called Done With Dolls (a pretty cool name for an all-girl teen pop band) and it was actually they, not The Beaches, who toured with Allstar Weekend.  This early Done With Dolls incarnation does not resemble the band they transitioned to.  In 2013 Fitchett left and they took on double threat Leandra Earl (guitars/keyboards).  They evolved into a sleeker garage rock band.  Their image became cooler with a 60s and 70s-inspired evolution.  Yet they still have bite.

Check out that irresistibly simple guitar riff. The backing keyboards of Leandra Earl give it some depth, and then the chorus jumps right out. With tunes this good, Jordan Miller won’t have to worry about making money. It’s gonna happen.

Unlike my crush on Avril Lavigne 15 years ago, nobody can accuse me of liking The Beaches just because they’re attractive.  Turns out, I liked them when I thought they were dudes.

The title track to their debut LP Late Show is real punk rock, via Debbie Harry and the Go-Gos.  It alleviates any question that these girls will kick your ass.  They will indeed, and you will like it.  It really is easy to like these energetic tunes.

Don’t be surprised if you hear more about The Beaches as summer approaches. Their music sounds like a good fit for summer action, whether in your car or at a party. The buzz is building. They were nominated for Breakthrough Group of the Year for the 2018 Juno awards, taking place this Sunday (March 25). Keep your eye on The Beaches and wish them luck at the Junos!

REVIEW: Europe – Best Ballads (unauthorized Russian release)

EUROPE – Best Ballads (1999 unofficial Russian compilation)

Ah Russian imports!  Those funky and cheaply printed covers, the lack of liner notes or label information…how quaint.  It is clear the Tempest Administration had no collusion with anyone in Russia.  Yet the Russians did hack their database and release Best Ballads anyway, a weird collection of 12 Europe songs and three solo tracks by Joey Tempest.  This CD originated during the period right before Europe’s triumphant reunion album Start From the Dark, so Best Ballads only contains music from the first five Europe discs.

Because it’s unauthorized and the Russians can do whatever they want, why not have both versions of “Open Your Heart” on one CD?  The sweeping 1988 version from Out of this World inaugurates the album, a brilliant version often forgotten in favour of the 1984 original.  What’s the difference?  John Norum played on the 1984 version from Wings of Tomorrow, and the re-recording has his replacement Kee Marcello.  The 1988 version also has more modern keyboards added.  Since both are included, you don’t have to pick a favourite.  We can all agree it truly is one of Europe’s Best Ballads.

What else is present?  The “big one” of course, which would be “Carrie”.  It’s the only track from The Final Countdown, because it was the only hit ballad from that album.  Other crucial Europe ballads:  “Dreamer” (Wings of Tomorrow), “Coast to Coast” and “Tomorrow” (both from Out of this World).  All timeless and flawless ballads.  From their first album (1983’s Europe) are a couple songs I wouldn’t have considered ballads.  In my review, I stated that “Words of Wisdom” has “an acoustic verse [but] that doesn’t make it a ballad!”  The other track, “Return of the King”, is “still pretty epic and wouldn’t be considered wimpy by anyone”.  Do they belong on a CD called Best Ballads?  Who gives a fuck; it’s just a Russian import!

You’ll even find a couple rarities included.  “Sweet Love Child” and “I’ll Cry For You (Acoustic version)” are both B-sides from the Prisoners in Paradise (1991) period.   The title track “Prisoners in Paradise” is also present but again, not really a ballad.  Either way…all the Europe tunes included are fantastic no matter how you classify them.  Each one has at least a foot in ballad territory so it all works out.

But what about those Joey Tempest “bonus tracks”?  Surprisingly good and un-Europe.  “Under the Influence” flies close to adult contemporary levels.  “Lord of the Manner” could have been a hit for Rod Stewart, but that’s not a bad thing!  This is more like soft rock than balladeering.  “Elsewhere” sounds more like a ballad, enhanced with strings and all the accoutrements.  All good songs and worth checking out.

Europe’s Best Ballads is not a bad little CD, but being an unofficial release, it’s difficult to reason out a rating out of 5.  I did the best I could.

/5 ЗВЕЗДЫ

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.

extreme-dont-leave-me-alone-tragic-comic-single

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

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.