rarities

REVIEW: The Hellacopters – Head Off (2008 Vinyl Disc)

THE HELLACOPTERS – Head Off (2008 Wild Kingdom Vinyl Disc)

If you don’t know what a “Vinyl Disc” is, that’s OK.  It was a niche format that only last a year or two.  Essentially it’s a CD with an LP groove on the label side.  You could get over 80 minutes on a single disc this way, by placing a bonus track on the vinyl side.  The Hellacopters, however, aren’t an 80 minute album kind of band.  Head Off, their final CD, is only 35 minutes long, plus a 3:20 bonus track on the vinyl side.

Head Off is a covers album, but having heard none of the originals, that wasn’t immediately obvious.  They usually do songs you’ve never heard of.  Covers or not, Head Off is a pretty great collection of the kind of hard rocking melodic gems that the Hellacopters usually specialize in anyway.

The hands-down best track is the last one on the CD:  “Darling Darling” originally by The Royal Cream.  Hard rock with melancholy melody and a guitar solo that slays.  There’s even a Kiss “Easter egg” in the Hellacopters’ version.  We already know they are Kiss fans since they even have a track called “Paul Stanley”, using a bit of one of the man’s awesome riffs.  This time, the Hellacopters lifted a lick that Paul plays live on the intro to “Black Diamond”.  You can hear the lick in the outro, at the 3:00 mark in “Darling Darling”.  The original is found in “Black Diamond” at the 18 second mark, on Kiss Alive!  The Hellacopters turned it into one of the best hooks in “Darling Darling”, and it happens to fit like a glove.  A leather glove, with tassels.

Back to the start, the album opens with a punky rock and roll vibe.  “Electrocute” is by a Swedish band called Demons, and this excellent boogie-woogie will make you want to check ’em out.  Another killer, “Midnight Angels” (The Peepshows) is melodic rock nirvana.  How are these not the biggest rock songs in the world already?  “I’m Watching You” (The Humpers) is a blitz, heads-a-bangin’ along.  It slows a bit on “No Salvation” (The Turpentines), which turns towards down a darker alley, though just as ear-pleasin’.  “In the Sign of the Octopus” (The Robots) is like a vintage Kiss track circa Love Gun, lost to the ages but just as good as the songs you remember.  The Robots stole my love!  The New Bomb Turks are covered next on “Veronica Lake”, pure good time punk rock.  Boogie piano makes it accessible to even the strictest hard rocker.

The CD continues to rock through track after track of brilliance that you’re probably unfamiliar with.  Every song is stuffed with hooks and melodies, no ballads.  The Hellacopters treat each one with the kind of guitar thunder they’re known for.  There are no duds anywhere on the entire album, and even though it’s all covers, it’s not uneven or inconsistent.  You would completely believe that all the tunes were originals, if you didn’t know ’em.  “Rescue” (Dead Moon) could have been a Hellacopters song, easily.  Even the soulful “Making Up For Lost Time” (The Bellrays) sounds natural to this band.

The only track that is a letdown is “Straight Until Morning” (The Powder Monkeys), the bonus track on the vinyl side.  As discussed in the article about Vinyl Discs, the audio quality on this side is utterly atrocious.  Especially when compared to the sharp sounding CD side, this track is flat and noisy.  It is, however, the heaviest and punkiest song on the album, so perhaps this is appropriate?  Even intentional?

Ignoring the sonic issues on the vinyl side, which was really just a novelty factor, Head Off is worth a solid:

5/5 stars

This limited edition also included a pin and a patch, so if you’re looking for your own copy, make sure it’s complete!

 

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NON-REVIEW: KISS – Hit Collection 2000 (Russian import)

kiss-logo – Hit Collection 2000 (E.S Records – Russian import)

I call this a “non-review” because I’ve never actually listened to this CD.  I’ve never even opened it.  This disc is one of dozens of Russian imports sold to us by a guy named Serge.  Ah, Serge — part time Russian CD distributor, part time male model.  And a total pain in the ass.  Most of what he tried to sell us was utter shit.  “This is really big in Europe”, he would say about just about every dance CD that I would pass on.  Because this CD is more a curiosity than anything else, I’d like to keep it sealed.  These compilations are so shady that Discogs won’t even allow them for sale.  Think of them as bootlegs.  It’s not the real Kiss logo at the top and that should be cautioning. Because I don’t want to open it, I’ll just listen to the songs on other albums, and review it that way.

The track “Psycho Circus” is a logical opener for a CD released in 2000.  The Psycho Circus album was Kiss’ most recent, and they opened their shows with the title track.  It’s the closest thing to a classic from that album.  Never mind that Ace Frehley and Peter Criss aren’t really on the song; that was typical for Kiss.  It just takes one play and you know it’s Kiss.  Nobody else sounds like this.  Kiss basically ripped themselves off on this song.

Off to a good start, but then things go a bit strange.  “Charisma” from 1979’s disco album Dynasty follows, and by contrast to “Psycho Circus”, the band has never played it live.  (The internet will tell you they played it in Mexico in 1981, but this was just miming for a TV performance.)  The Russians then dropped “Detrot Rock City” (yes, that’s how they spell it) in the third slot.  Then it’s “God of Thunder” which works really well immediately following “Detroit”.  Strangely, back to disco next.  It’s the hit “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”, before it gets even weirder.  Sandwiched between “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and a slew of tracks from the Kiss solo albums is the ballad “Beth”.  Granted, “Beth” is pretty out of place no matter where she is placed.  It’s also strange that three of Kiss’ biggest hits are crammed together in a small group like this.  It’s even stranger when you look further down the tracklist and realize that one of the biggest hits (“Rock and Roll all Nite”) is completely absent in any form.

The only thing more jarring than hearing Gene Simmons’ solo track “Radioactive” immediately after “Beth” is when the painkillers start to wear off in the middle of a root canal.  Were the solo albums big in Russia?  All four solo albums get a track on this CD, though not all were singles like “Radioactive” was.  Frehley’s “Rip It Out” is arguably a better song than his single anyway (“New York Groove”).  “Rip It Out” is more than welcome here since it so rarely makes it onto compilations.  It’s only on two others:  Best of Solo Albums, and Ikons.  Stanley’s next with “Ain’t Quite Right”, an interesting choice since it’s such a laid back track.  His album has so many better songs for compiling.  Last of the solo tracks is Peter’s single “Don’t You Let Me Down”, a nice ballad, but as you’ll see this CD already has enough ballads.

Back to the mainstream Kiss songs, “Do You Love Me” works really well as a transition out of the solo stuff.  Then it’s time for some Elder.  “A World Without Heroes” isn’t shunned like it used to be.  It’s been on a few compilations, like Kiss 40, Icon 2, and the Box Set.  Another hit from the disco era, Frehley’s “2000 Man” (a Stones cover) is a welcome addition.  The only other compilation it’s been on was Ikons (not including live). Here’s a fact for you:  a Kiss compilation is only strengthened by more Ace.  Fortunately this isn’t the last.

As we get close to the end, “Shout It Out Loud” is rolled out, which makes up for the lack of “Rock and Roll all Nite”.  Then the Russians go full Chernobyl by including the weak ballad “I Finally Found My Way” as the last song in the set.  Why?  Was this a hit in the motherland?  Was it a hit anywhere?  Peter sings it, but he didn’t write it.  Paul did.  And Paul was writing a lot of shit ballads back then.

Russian imports usually had “bonus tracks”.  Sometimes they’d use tracks from live or solo albums.  They went live in this case, with three tracks from the Psycho Circus bonus CD.  Ace sings on “Into the Void”, one of those undeniable Frehley riffs.  “Into the Void” was a highlight from the disappointing Psycho Circus, and this live take swaggers.  “Black Diamond” is dramatic as ever, but where I give the Russians the most credit is closing the CD with “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll”.  Think back and realize, that’s how the original Kiss Alive ended too.

I’m not going to bother giving this CD a rating (what’s the point?) but I will point out that the Russians go all over the place, from genius to asinine, with this track list.  Sometimes it feels like they just threw a bunch of stuff to the wall and didn’t wait to see what stuck.  At others it sounds well thought-out.  It’s probably just random.

?/5 stars

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Just Push Play (2001 2 CD Japanese edition)

AEROSMITH – Just Push Play (2001 Sony Japan 2 CD set)

Funny thing about some pretty bad albums: sometimes the bands con you into buying them twice. They do this with bonus tracks you may need and can’t find elsewhere. Aerosmith have been guilty of this on multiple occasions. You know what they say about fools and money.

In 2001, Aerosmith did it with Just Push Play. They placed a bonus track on the European CD (“Face”), and a completely different set of bonus tracks in Japan…but excluding “Face”. As one of the looser songs on a pretty stiff album, “Face” is pretty enjoyable.  So what about Japan’s exclusive song, “Won’t Let You Down”?  Well, for one it’s heavy.  For Aerosmith, it’s really heavy.  You could picture it on a better album like Nine Lives.  Though not perfect it’s a damn fine latter-day Aerosmith track.  It just needs another hook.

“Won’t Let You Down” and its associated Joe Perry guitar wizardry is the most interesting of the bonus tracks, but that doesn’t mean the rest are not.  Though “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” is more than slightly boring today, it was Aerosmith’s biggest hit to date.  This was the first time it appeared on an Aerosmith album, and only in Japan.

The second CD has a diverse stew of bonuses.  The first is a 3:17 radio remix of “Just Push Play”.  It’s mostly a matter of making the guitar, drums and other elements more prominent in the mix.  It’s quite a bit better than the album cut, though just as silly.  You gotta wonder if anybody in the studio told Steven to try it without the rasta accent.  That’s the remix I want to hear, because the chorus is great.

Moving on to live rarities, Aerosmith included a handful of previously released tracks that weren’t necessarily already in your collection.  First up:  California Jam II.  “Same Old Song and Dance”, “Draw the Line” and “Chip Away the Stone” were all available on the various artists album California Jam II.  If you have this, you don’t need to buy that.  The year was 1978 and Aerosmith were still cooking live.  Whether it comes from youthful or chemical energy, these tracks are faster than their studio counterparts.  Rough and dirty live Aerosmith without the backing tapes and fixes:  what’s not to love?  “Draw the Line” has more…definition?…than the original.  Still, smoking so hot that Joe Perry probably melted his strings.  It’s just plain great to any live version of “Chip Away the Stone“.  Top five Aerosmith song?  Welcome to the collection.

That’s not all folks, as we stick to 1978 and the famous Texxas Jam.  “Big Ten-Inch Record” and “Lord of the Thighs” would be familiar if you own Pandora’s Box.  Strange they included two tracks that were readily available, but here they are and there’s nothing wrong with ’em.

A brief word on the album Just Push Play itself.  We’ve already reviewed it in full, so let’s not rehash.  Joe Perry’s least favourite Aerosmith albumy panders for hits in the most embarrassing ways.  Hi-tech recording and outside songwriters watered it down.  The old Tyler/Perry combination was not to be found on a single track.  The other three guys have not a single writing credit between them.  It’s a sad state of affairs.

If you’re a masochist like me, you’ll want to get this one for the bonus tracks.  If not, just stay away.

Just Push Play1/5 stars

Bonus CD – 3/5 stars

#766: The Blue Tape (1991)

GETTING MORE TALE #766: The Blue Tape (1991)

This blue Scotch tape has seen a lot of use over the years.  It was my first blank tape, 120 minutes.  This cassette was well loved.  Back in ’83, it contained open-air recordings of songs like “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” and “The Mighty Quinn”.  At some point in history (early 1991) I must have recorded over it.  Let’s have a listen.

Play ►

I have a feeling I know what it is now.  Sounds like something I recorded for a girl!  It would have been for my long distance crush Tammy.

This tape was never anything more than a cheap cassette, and it sounds awfully horrendous today.  The contents, however, are still identifiable.  The reason I never sent it to her was that it didn’t pass the sound quality test when I played it back.  That was the shitty thing about cassettes.  You could pour hours into making something, and then abandon the entire project.

I’m writing this in real time as I listen.  If I’m right about my original intentions with this cassette, then I know that I’m going to find a specific song buried somewhere in the track list.  Let’s find out.

Side 1

1. Tesla – “Love Song”

The acoustic intro to the song made a perfect run-in for this lovey-dovey tape.  I’ll spare the identity of the poor girl who this was made for, but she knows!  This Tesla ballad is still utterly perfect.  Off to a good start.

2. Kiss – “Shout It Out Loud”

Whew, I sure am glad it’s not all ballads.  This track took me by surprise.  I’m glad I used a classic Kiss rocker as the second track, instead of pandering for romance with “Reason to Live”.  Good for me!

3. Cheap Trick – “The Flame”

I read a lot of hate for this song today.  In the 80s, it was my favourite Cheap Trick and it’s still in my top five.  It may be a ballad but like the Tesla one, it’s utterly perfect.  This tape is now clearly made for a girl.  I’d never do 2/3 ballads for my opening trio otherwise.

4. Warrant – “Thin Disguise”

Here I go again with the rarities!  She loved Warrant but there is no way she had this song unless she had the cassette single for “Cherry Pie”.  I did — I collected that stuff even back then.  Turns out the B-side “Thin Disguise” is one of the best Warrant tracks, even today.  It’s an acoustic/electric killer.  Jani wrote some incredible songs in his time.  This is one.

5. Warrant – “I Saw Red (Acoustic version)”

Another rarity, this time from the “I Saw Red” cassette single.  I think this simple acoustic track (just Jani and a guitar) is better than the bombastic A-side version.  Even then, I was trying to impress a girl with my music collection — how comical is that?

6. Kiss – “Reason to Live”

Ahh shit, there it is!  That is hilarious.

7. Cinderella – “Nobody’s Fool”

OK, I’m getting a little sick of the power ballads now.  The cool thing is, I know for a fact that I taped this off a cassette that she gave me for Christmas called Rulers of Rock.  I wanted to show that I appreciated the gift by including this song.  Kind of like when your favourite aunt gave you a sweater and you had to wear it when she was over to visit.

Enough with the ballads though.  Let’s get a rocker next.  Let’s hope for a rocker.

8. Kim Mitchell – “Easy to Tame”

Well, it’s not a ballad, but it ain’t a rocker either.  Kim Mitchell was a good way into a girl’s heart in the late 80s and early 90s.  Everybody loved “Patio Lanterns”.  “Easy to Tame” was kind of like it’s cooler, lesser known cousin.

9. Paul Stanley – “Hold Me, Touch Me (Think Of Me When We’re Apart)”

Jesus fuck!  I went full ballad.  This was probably my favourite ballad of all time back then.  Stanley’s guitar solo is flawlessly written and executed.  And I got three Kiss songs right there on side one.

10.  Kiss – “I’ll Be Back”

Four!  Four Kiss songs!  What a wild inclusion, too.  This is a brief, very quick, Beatles tune done a-cappella for Kiss eXposed on VHS.  I dubbed this from the video for a “soundtrack tape” that I made, and then recorded it here tape to tape.  Just a filler between two other songs, but fuck…that’s cool.

11. Killer Dwarfs – “Doesn’t Matter”

At least this ballad has balls.  We played this song a lot the previous summer.  Bob had the cassette for Dirty Weapons, and he loved this song.  A couple years later it was still good enough to include on their next album Method to the Madness.  It’s still great.

12. Triumph – “Let the Light (Shine on Me)”

I’m getting steadily more and more disgusted with myself as the ballads play on.  This one was recorded from the 7″ single, but at this point I don’t care and I just want the side to be over so I can flip the tape.

13. Quiet Riot – “Don’t Wanna Let You Go”

I’ll let myself off with a warning here, because this electric song is still pretty great.  Truthfully, I included it hoping she’d like it, as Quiet Riot wasn’t really her thing.  I was feeling nostalgic for the early 80s, the simplicity and quality of the Metal Health era.  You didn’t need a ballad to have a hit then, and indeed “Don’t Wanna Let You Go” isn’t a single.  Even in this shitty tape, Carlos’ guitar sound incredible.

14. Slaughter – “Fly to the Angels (Acoustic version)”

I put this on because she loved Slaughter but didn’t have a CD player, and this was a CD bonus track.

Side 2

I need a break from all the balladeering, but I have a feeling the mush will be just as relentless.  On the whole of side 1, there was only one track that you could call a rocker!

1. Judas Priest – “Out in the Cold”

Here it is!  Yes, I sure do remember making this tape.  The main motivation was — get this — to trick her into liking Judas Priest.

She hated Priest.  Meanwhile, we were in the Painkiller era and I was riding a Priest high.  I planned to write this song on the cover as:

1. Exciter – “Out in the Cold”

I used an alias (disregarding the thrash band with the same name because I know she wouldn’t recognize it) because I wanted her to hear this awesome Priest song with no preconceived notions.  I wanted her to love it.  I never found out since the cassette sounds so terribly bad and I never sent it, but this proves that I remembered my intentions correctly.

This sheds a new light on all the balladry.  I was trying to really lull her in.  I figured I needed a tape with nothing but the best soft songs in the world to really get her with the mighty Priest.  It’s all coming back to me now.

2. Frehley’s Comet – “It’s Over Now”

I didn’t think she would know this one, but I hoped she’d like it.  I was a big proponent of the second Frehley disc, appropriately called Second Sighting.  I always thought this song should have been a huge, huge hit.  I was hoping she would agree.  Unusually for a Frehley song (but wiser from a commercial ballad point of view), it has both lead vocals and lead guitar by Tod Howarth.

3. Frozen Ghost – “Promises”

This one takes me completely by surprises.  It’s a great song, but I didn’t have it back then.  My sister did — I must have poached it from her collection for this tape.  Bob played this a lot in the car over the last couple summers, so our whole gang would remember it fondly.  She would have been in the car when we were rocking Frozen Ghost.  Lead singer Arnold Lanni later went on to become quite a successful producer.  Guitarist Phil X made it even bigger, now touring the world with Bon Jovi!

4. Lee Aaron – “Only Human”

I don’t think this is one of Lee’s finer moments, but I thought she’d like it, so on it went.

5. Winger – “Miles Away”

Putrid.  Just awful.  Fast forwarding.

6. AC/DC – “Moneytalks”

Holy shit!  Finally a rock song.  AC/DC were huge in ’90-’91.  I couldn’t have gone wrong with AC/DC.  Then why the fuck didn’t I include more?  “Who Made Who”.  “You Shook Me All Night Long”.  Everybody likes those songs.  Holy shitballs.

7. Motley Crue – “Home Sweet Home”

Tammy had Dr. Feelgood before I did, but I don’t know if she would have Theater of Pain back then.  There was no such thing as a Motley greatest hits (can you imagine such a world?) so I thought this would be nice for her to have.

8. Van Halen – “Dreams”

OK, probably not a ballad.  Very keyboard-heavy.  Very easy to enjoy, and Van Hagar were still cool as fuck.

9. Van Halen – “Dancing in the Streets”

Some folks that are not necessarily Van Halen fans really like their version of “Dancing in the Streets”.  It’s probably better than Bowie/Jagger, at least.  I’m pleased with myself for including both Sammy and Dave on this tape, and one after the other no less!

10. REZ – “Shadows”

Woah!  Deep cut.  This was a tape, of a tape, of a tape, of a tape.  You can imagine what it sounds like today.  Bob and I loved this song by the Christian rock band REZ, formerly Resurrection Band.  You can see that I snuck in a few unfamiliar songs like this, hoping she’d get into them.  This one is pretty easy to like.  Total shock to find it here.

11. Kiss – “Hard Luck Woman”

Kiss Count:  five.

12. Brighton Rock – “One More Try”

This also comes as a surprise.  Then I think to myself that my music collection wasn’t very large back then and I would have to pull a few obscure ones out.  If I remember the details clearly, Tammy had MTV and so didn’t necessarily hear as much Canadian content like Brighton Rock.

13. AC/DC – “You Shook Me All Night Long”

Ah, good.  What’s interesting to me about this is that at this point of the tape, the right channel is completely inaudible.  So all I get is Angus (no Malcolm), Brian, and maybe half of Phil Rudd.

To my surprise, that is the last song.  Usually I snuck something short and goofy at the end of a tape.  “You Shook Me All Night Long” does make a good final song….

Wait!

I didn’t erase the tape to the end!  There is something left at the tail.  Older contents; older than 1991.

It’s “On the Road to Rock” by Kick Axe!  It is a mystery how that song got on this tape in the first place, as I didn’t own it back then and don’t even own it now.  I must have recorded it off someone.  Who, I have no idea.  Perhaps my next door neighbour George had it.  It was him or Bob, but I’ll never know for sure.  George is gone now and Bob wouldn’t remember.

Knowing when I made this tape, and all the motivations behind it doesn’t forgive it for being a piece of shit. I did a shitty job here folks! Too many ballads, not enough variety. It’s a real slog to listen to without a fast forward button. At least half of those ballads could be axed, and replaced with something else that I had in my collection at that time.

Usually when you make a tape for someone, you give it away and never hear it again. In this case I had the rare chance to play back a mix tape that I made 28 years ago and never sent. It’s just as bad as I feared though not without some surprises and the odd cool inclusion.

That blue Scotch tape, an ancient C-120, goes back to at least 1983 making it 36 years old at minimum.  120 minute tapes are never any good, and this one was always particularly cheap.  Now that I’ve satisfied my curiosity, I will never play this tape again.

REVIEW: Vinyl Disc – a CD and a record all in one

VINYL DISC

If you love physical media (and chances are that you do or you wouldn’t be reading this) then you probably love it in all its myriad shapes and forms. Let’s be honest, when it comes to sheer varieties, there are far more weird vinyls out there than CDs. Picture discs, shaped discs, discs with liquid or actual objects inside the record, odd speeds, colours, thicknesses…you can take the vinyl LP in so many different directions. When you mess around with the CD format (shaped discs, enhanced discs, CD/DVD DualDiscs) you often end up with a product that won’t play in all players. Vinyl tends to be good to go for whatever turntable you have, though you will need a manual over an automatic when it comes to the Vinyl Disc.  That’s because it’s a 5″ disc, not a 7″, so you want to make sure you drop the arm on the media and not the platter.

When it comes to odd formats, Youtuber Techmoan (or Mat if you’re not into handles) is the expert.  When I saw his video on the subject, I knew I wanted to get a Vinyl Disc just for the novelty value.  This is a CD that has normal CD content on one side, but a groove on the other.  This groove can be played on a record player, revealing a bonus track.  I wondered if any bands I liked had ever released one.

It turns out, one had:  The Hellacopters, who are vinyl-mad in the first place.  I have a couple albums of theirs with vinyl-only bonus tracks.  I didn’t own the album Head Off, so I went to Discogs and got the Vinyl Disc version.

In his video, Techmoan complained of the poor sound quality on the vinyl side of the CD.  My copy of Head Off was factory sealed, but still suffers from pops.  Perhaps I should not have played the CD side first.  The vinyl side could have picked up dust from inside my computer.  I played the vinyl side twice, the second time after a light cleaning.  Both times there were loud, distracting pops.  You can see them clearly in Audacity.

The sound quality was never going to be as good as a real record, not with those grooves packed so tight.  And how deep can they actually be?  Of course it has to play at 33 1/3 RPM.  While it’s not as bad a flexi-disc quality, don’t expect much better performance than that.  It’s flat and indistinct.

You also end up with inner groove distortion over the entire song, simply because a Vinyl Disc is basically all inner groove.  Look at the pictures below.  The entire disc is well within the runout groove on an LP, being just a little larger than the label.  It’s darned close on a standard 45.  Point is, compared to real vinyl, this disc is tiny, and that has consequences.

Distortion and noise matters less with a band like the Hellacopters.  A little inner groove distortion sounds OK on them, but not for other groups.  So, the vinyl side of the Vinyl Disc is a novelty.  Serious record fanatics are not going to want to listen to it, because it won’t be up to par for them.

What about the CD side?  No issues whatsoever.  It plays exactly like it should, with no side effects that sometimes plague non-standard CDs.  In this case, the album is only 36 minutes long, which I am sure will have many people asking “then why bother with putting another song on the other side?  Why not put them all together on the CD side?”

A very good question.

Look, this type of CD was launched in 2007 and only lasted about a year.  There was a reason it didn’t catch on, and you can hear that reason.  For 99% of the population, all they would have needed was all the songs on the CD.  It’s the 1% of us nutters that love weird stuff like this.  There is a very, very low number of people who sit up at night thinking, “Would it possible to play a CD on a record player if it had grooves?”  But I promise you, we exist, and our questions have been answered.

Yes, it’s possible.

But no, there really isn’t a good reason to want to do it.  Oh, I suppose if you had an album that was just over 80 minutes, and you needed to leave a song off (like Extreme did), you could have put it all on one Vinyl Disc.  But for far less cost, you also could have just included two CDs.

The vinyl disc comes with a little spacer, like a foam donut, so the larger CD hole will fit nicely on a record player.  This ensures nice smooth play.

Whoever it was that figured out how to marry a CD to a record, they are unsung geniuses. They answered the questions of insomniac format-heads worldwide, and they got it to work.

Just because it doesn’t work particularly well doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth it.


REVIEW: Whitesnake – Flesh & Blood (2019 Japanese import)

WHITESNAKE – Flesh & Blood (2019 Cynjas Japanese import CD)

So you got the new Whitesnake.  Think you got all the songs just because you got the deluxe version on CD or iTunes?  Naw!  Think again!  Once again, it’s Japan with the hardest to find bonus tracks.

To be fair, it’s a give and take.  While Japan often gets their own exclusive songs, they also miss out on others.  In North America, we got a deluxe edition with “Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong”, “If I Can’t Have You”, and three remixes of album tracks.  The Japanese CD has none of those, but instead has its own exclusive remix.

The ballad “After All” is surely one of the highlights on Flesh & Blood.  As a simple, fairly unadorned acoustic love song, it’s right in the wheelhouse of more recent “unzipped” ‘Snake.  Well, the Japanese bonus remix is even more stripped down.  The “Unzipped” mix is the same recording, just with less stuff in the mix — no electric guitars, no keyboards.  An insignificant difference?  Absolutely.  But with an acoustic song this fucking good, you may enjoy the purity of the unembellished version.  Up to you really, but if you’re the kind of collector that needs “all the tracks”, then you do need this, don’t you?

“I don’t care about bonus tracks,” you say.  “Just tell me if the album is any good!”

Check out our track by track review for full details, but in short:  fuck yes!

Flesh & Blood is being described by enthusiastic fans as “the best album since Slip of the Tongue.  They are probably correct in that declaration.  It’s stunningly good:  diverse, well written and well played.  It draws from a broader palette of sound than many of the past albums, and even dips back into the 1970s on “Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong” (which isn’t on the Japanese CD).  There are no songs to skip through, and while not all are equally strong, none suck.  It has a high ratio of songs that could become future classics, like “Gonna Be Alright”, “Good To See You Again”, and “Sands of Time”.  So yes, to answer your questions, it’s a bloody good album no matter what version you can afford.

The domestic CD is the best buy for its songs-per-dollar value (18 tracks on the deluxe), over the Japanese (14 tracks).  Rating this purely as an album with its bonus track, it’s still a solid:

4.5/5 stars.  Could be the album of the year.

REVIEW: The Darkness – “Love Is Only a Feeling” (CD and DVD singles)

THE DARKNESS – “Love Is Only a Feeling” (2004 Warner UK CD and DVD singles)

Collecting singles isn’t as easy as just buying the single anymore.  Which versions are out there, with what tracks?  The Darkness’ singles are usually interesting for the different bonus tracks and variations out there.  Their hit ballad “Love Is Only a Feeling” was available on CD, DVD and 7″ vinyl.  You only need the CD and DVD to get all the tracks, but there’s a catch:  the DVD is in PAL format (common in Europe), so you need a player that can decode it.

No problem.  LeBrain HQ has a collection of frankenstein multi-media tech that can convert the most popular physical formats into something easier to play!  It’s not a pretty setup but it gets the job done.  All the tracks from all the versions of “Love is Only a Feeling” can be compiled in a single file folder!

As far as ballads go, The Darkness didn’t wimp out with “Love is Only a Feeling”.  The Lizzy-like intro harmonies meld into an acoustic mandolin verse.  A bombastic band like the Darkness is at home with a bombastic ballad, but early Darkness didn’t use a lot of frills and extraneous instrumentation.  “Love is Only a Feeling” doesn’t go overboard, but sticks to pretty a traditional rock arrangement.  You can blast it out the car windows — no problem.

The first of the single B-sides is “Planning Permission”, an unpolished song that almost stands with the ones that did make it onto Permission to Land.  It could use a little more tightening up but the roots of a good song are there.  Next is the bizarre “Curse of the Tollund Man”.  It might even be considered educational.  The actual mummy of the Tollund Man was found buried in peat as described in the song.  It sounds like the Darkness were really trying to write a Queen B-side.  It’s amusing but all over the place.

The music video for “Love is Only a Feeling” is the main feature of the DVD single.  I’m a sucker for mountaintop videos.  “Love Is Only a Feeling” is almost as epic as the Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses clips that came before .  Then, they take it over the top by going under the ground, in a cave!  A behind-the-scenes video reveals safety ropes, helicopters and elevated platforms to heighten the drama.

The real reason to seek the DVD single is to acquire the final bonus track, “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” live at the Astoria.  The action-packed track features Dan Hawkins on all guitars, so Justin can jump around and do the splits.  Vintage live Darkness with the original lineup is scarce, as far as official releases go.  This live Darkness is full speed, filmed in the raw.  It doesn’t matter if you get it for watching or just listening.  It’s a great version.

If you’re fortunate enough to play DVDs from multiple regions, the singles are usually dirt cheap on Discogs.  This one even came with a poster!  DVD singles were a fad and never really caught on.  They can, however, patch some holes in your Darkness collection.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Psycho Circus – Psycho Circus (1992 cassette)

PSYCHO CIRCUS – Psycho Circus (1992 indi cassette EP)

Psycho Circus put out their one and only album in 1993.  They were a talented band who avoided grunge cliches and instead dove into funk-metal and a darker Faith No More sound circa The Real Thing.  The album was split down the middle between the two sides.  Decades later I found an earlier indi cassette, released after they signed with SRO Management, the team behind Rush.

It’s quite clear this band had musical chops.  Opening track “Picky Purple People” is killer.  Faux-horns, massive bass and busy drums are relentless.  This is a goofier side of the band, but well executed.  If the Chili Peppers and Faith No More had a baby, it would sound like “Picky Purple People”.  Next is “Funk in Our Souls”, a track that was re-recorded for the album later.  The cassette version sounds more bass heavy.  It’s more enjoyable for that reason, not to mention the smoking guitar solo.  “Can You Feel It?” was also re-recorded for the album, but this is one of those darker songs that eschew the funk.  Singer Vince Franchi hits unreal notes.  His voice is versatile.  It’s Faith No More without the twisted mind.

The final track didn’t make it onto the CD.  “Psycho Circus” opens with traditional circus music, a full six years before Kiss did the same thing with their own song called “Psycho Circus”.  Maybe they should try suing Kiss?  It would be fun to see!  That’s the only similarity.  This is another funky track, and though the circus music is a bit silly, the chorus rocks.

The tape comes with a nice J-card and full lyrics.  In a way it’s a better listen than the album.  It doesn’t have as many great songs, but it also has less filler.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – The Verdict (2019 “Masterpiece Edition”)

QUEENSRŸCHE – The Verdict (2019 Century Media 2 CD “Masterpiece Edition”)

The Todd La Torre era of Queensryche is now three albums deep. There’s no more mucking around. When drummer Scott Rockenfield went on personal leave, they didn’t let that stop them from writing and recording The Verdict. La Torre, a capable drummer in his own right, took on the challenge quite seamlessly.

So what’s the verdict on The Verdict?

The first Todd album (2013’s Queensrÿche) was safe and too brief.  The second (2015’s Condition Hüman) was a lot to digest.  The Verdict may have struck a better balance.  They’re still exploring their own brand of metal, bringing in a few new sounds without departing from their core direction.  They sound more comfortable in their own shoes.  Don’t expect a progression into new musical territory.  That’s not what The Verdict is.  It’s a full-force metal album with nuance, complexity, and plenty of guitar harmonies.  That’s what Queensryche do now.  The writing is sharpened, and the songs sound assembled with care.

The album requires a few listens to sink in.  The immediate standout here is a track called “Light-Years”, a song written by bassist Eddie Jackson who seems to come up with amazing songs out of the blue.  Regal, riff-laden metal with bravery and hooks.  This song should surely go down as a future Ryche classic.  (Jackson also wrote “Propaganda Fashion” and co-wrote a bunch of others.)  Another impressive song is the ballady “Dark Reverie” contributed by Parker Lundgren.  Todd really kicks it in the ass with his outstanding vocals.  The longest track “Bent” is dark and epic.  The only real weakness on this album is a lack of diversity, which they seem to be trying to avoid lest they end up with another Dedicated to Chaos.

The balance is clear.  The complexity of Condition Hüman is tempered by sharper hooks and melodies on The Verdict.  They’ve cranked out a lot of music over the last six years and they’re sounding more confident today.  Speaking of “a lot of music”, the consumer has choose between the standard single 10 track CD or the double “Masterpiece Edition” with rarities and new recordings.

For many fans, this will be their first chance to own the songs “46° North”, “Mercury Rising”, and “Espiritu Muerto”.  To get those, you had to buy the (previously reviewed) vinyl box set version of Condition Hüman.  Fans will also be thrilled by the four live songs from 2013’s Queensrÿche.  One of them, “Eyes of a Stranger”, could only be found on the (previously reviewed) Japanese version.  These, of course, all feature Scott Rockenfield on drums, his only appearances in this set.

The percussion on the two new recordings is handled by touring drummer Casey Grillo.  If he ends up a permanent member one day, nobody can say, but these are his very first recordings with Queensryche.  They are acoustic versions of “I Dream in Infrared” (from Rage for Order) and “Open Road” from (Queensrÿche).  Both are quite excellent.  It would be cool to get more of these acoustic renderings.  (Geoff Tate did four on his Queensryche’s Frequency Unknown album.)

The “Masterpiece Edition” (9000 copies) comes packed in a nice big box similar to the one from 2013’s Queensrÿche.  Additional goodies inside include an iron-on patch, a Verdict fridge magnet, and bottle opener.  Now your kitchen can finally be complete.  Just extra fluff, really — buy it for the songs.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – “Wanted: Dead or Alive” (1987 cassette)

BON JOVI – “Wanted: Dead or Alive” (1987 Mercury extended play cassette)

Some rarities are easiest to find on tape.

That’s definitely still the case for “Wanted: Dead or Alive”, the 1987 acoustic version originally released only on an extended play cassette in most of the world.  This version, discussed below, is a Holy Grail collectable.  What about CD or vinyl?  There was a rare Japanese version with a slightly different tracklist, but for 30 years, all I had was this cherished cassette.

The tape has four tracks.  The original studio version (titled “Long Version” here to avoid confusion with the  4:10 single edit) leads side A.  “Wanted” is Bon Jovi’s first truly brilliant song.  An extended cowboy metaphor about the road, it’s timeless.  It always has been.  Richie Sambora’s 12 string guitar made all the young guitar kids want to play one.  His backing vocals were the real highlight.  Funny thing about Bon Jovi:  the backing vocalist was better than the lead singer!  Smoking guitar solo too, where every note counts.  You can hear Richie pushing those strings and wrenching that solo from the instrument.  It’s a perfect song, with every component serving a purpose and coming together.  The old west as seen from New Jersey.

The acoustic version of “Wanted” is the real delight here.  It’s just Jon and Sambora together with two acoustic guitars.  Jon explains the details in the liner notes, but only the cassette has this information: one more good reason to hunt down the tape.  Read below:

“On March 18, 1987 or somewhere there bouts, Richie and I flew into New York to mix some live tracks for a radio special.  After a couple hours of record making, donut eating, and MTV watching we got bored, picked up two acoustics and started to jam.  The results are here on tape, the way we wrote it, just like it was in the basement on that cold January night in Jersey.”

If that doesn’t set the scene, nothing will.  Richie sings more of the lyrics, and belts out a killer acoustic solo too.  It was this recording that demonstrated to me the talents of Mr. Sambo.  What it lacks in glossy finish, it makes up for in spades with vibe.

On side B, the live version of “Wanted” is another rarity.  It’s an extended 8:13 full band version, with a long instrumental prologue.  According to the liner notes (again, only on the cassette), it was recorded at Cobo Hall in Detroit on March 11, exactly a week before the studio jam was recorded.  It’s likely this is one of the live songs that Jon and Richie were in New York mixing on the 18th.  (Production is credited to both.)  You may have lots of versions of “Wanted” already, but owning an extended take from early ’87 is better.

The tape ends on “I’d Die For You”, a song that was good enough to be a single in its own right.  However, it wasn’t.  It’s just an album track from Slippery When Wet, but it’s safe to say it’s a bit of an unsung classic.  The Japanese CD version, on the other hand, comes with the non-album rarity “Edge of a Broken Heart”, one of their best tunes ever.  After “Edge”, there is an exclusive unlisted interview with all five band members.  Inside, Japan also got a “Bon Jovi Dictionary (R to Z)”.  Presumably the other volumes of the dictionary can be found in other Japanese CDs.

Though this cassette has an overabundance of “Wanted”, you simply need to get that acoustic version.  You want the one that’s 5:31 long, recorded in March ’87.  In fact, you need that one.  And even though CD is the superior format, the tape has the liner notes and other details you won’t find on CD.

5/5 stars

Thanks to Mitch Lafon for helping me locate a CD copy of these tracks!