rarities

REVIEW: Seagram Synth Ensemble – “Ephem” (2022 single)

SEAGRAM SYNTH ENSEMBLE – “Ephem” (2022 single)

How many formats do you own?  I know many of you own 8-track tapes, cassettes, CDs, different types of vinyl, DVDs, Blu-rays, and hybrids of said discs.  But do you own any music that comes self-contained in its own electronic box?  The Seagram Synth Ensemble’s new single “Ephem” only comes in this format, but it’s not that simple.  “Ephem” is more than a piece of music.  It’s a statement, an experiment, and an interactive art piece.

First let’s discuss the actual song “Ephem”.  Much like the group’s 2019 album No Moving Air, this track has an atmospheric though melodic quality.  A light beat backs up a couple of recurring and very enjoyable keyboard melody lines.  A sound like a flock of seagulls soaring overhead comes into play.  Things then get upbeat, and a nice fat bass synth sinks the hooks in.  The track builds with more fun melodic accompaniment, and then strips it all back to something like it was in the beginning.  It’s a great standalone song.


Learn more here in this extensive interview with Seagram Synth Ensemble

Here’s the catch.  You can plug in a battery and a pair of headphones, power up, and hit play to enjoy “Ephem”.  But you better pay attention because each time you play the song, it changes.  Like an old cassette tape, each play degrades the sound ever so slightly, almost like the wear and tear that comes with physical media.  Each time you press play, the track becomes slightly more distorted, thin, brittle.  Eventually it will deteriorate and become unplayable.  The point is to listen with intent, pay attention, and absorb the music.  Now, there is a reset function, which is awful nice of the guys, but they discourage using it.  At least that way you won’t be throwing your money away when it’s toast.  Don’t forget the whole point of it though.  To listen; to pay attention, because it will never sound exactly the same twice.  Every single time you play “Ephem” will be a unique experience.  Even the artwork on the box reflects this.

“Ephem” cost just $20 but is now sold out.  (A reissue is possible but not certain.)  Don’t expect these to turn up on the second hand market quickly.  And if it does, pray that it comes with the instructions so you can hear “Ephem” like it was brand new.

A+

 

 

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Hard Skool (2022 Nightrain club clear 7″)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Hard Skool (2022 Geffen 7″ Nightrain club clear vinyl EP)

Back in February, Guns N’ Roses released the Hard Skool EP (or single, or whatever!), containing the first two new Guns songs since 2008’s Chinese Democracy.  With five tracks total (two studio, three live) over three separate formats (CD, cassette, 7″), it was already a pretty good listen.  Axl’s voice has adapted to singing these demanding songs, 35 years after.  But there was always the promise of more in June 2022, and now it has come.

Members of the Guns N’ Roses Nightrain club received a brand new Hard Skool release on clear vinyl, with one exclusive live track added.  The cover art colour has been changed from red to dark charcoal grey, and a “Nightrain Limited-Edition Clear” notation has been added to the front.  This wasn’t cheap, costing $60 Canadian ($45 US) dollars to join.  There are other perks but really, the truth of the matter is I paid $60 for one song.

They had better not reissue this track!

The new exclusive song is “Shadow Of Your Love”, a recent live version recorded with Axl, Slash, Duff, Dizzy Reed, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer, and Melissa Reese.  If you cast your minds back to the recent Appetite For Destruction super deluxe edition, “Shadow Of Your Love” was released as a single and it got a bit of airplay.  Live with the new version of the band, it does recapture that Appetite vibe and let’s face it, the song was possibly superior to a couple tunes that did make the final album.  You can hear Melissa on backing vocals, a touch that isn’t on early live versions of the song.  That backing vocal part is present on the studio version from the third disc on the Appetite box, but not the others included.  It’s cool that they’ve brought it back.  This version is just as fast as the old ones too.  It’s awesome to hear Frank Ferrer playing the drum part originally recorded by Steven Adler.  As for Axl, he adapts.  This is one of the most high and raspy of the original Guns repertoire.  Axl delivers it smooth without the rasp and still manages to get his voice way, way up there.  Say what you want about Axl Rose, he’s sounding better than many of his contemporaries.  Of course the real treat is just hearing Slash wail on it, as he should.

As for the other songs on the single; we’ve discussed them before so we won’t spend much more time on them.  “Hard Skool” is a Chinese Democracy outtake that has been reworked with Slash and Duff McKagan.  The duo have writing credits on “Hard Skool” along with Axl Rose and former members Robin Finck, Josh Freese, Tommy Stinson and Paul “Huge” Tobias.  Formerly known as “Jackie Chan”, this song comes closest to capturing the classic Guns vibe – think Illusions era GN’R.  Slash imbues the riff with his trademark snakelike style, and Axl is in full-scream mode on the powerful chorus.  The cowbell brings us back to the 80s a bit, but the experimental solo section is more modern.  The other new/old song “ABSUЯD” is much more Chi-Dem, and more divisize.  Formerly known as “Silkworms”, Guns started playing “ABSUЯD” live after a 20 year absence last year as a surprise.  Axl’s voice is pretty strange here, sounding a bit muppet-ish.  (The screaming portion sounds like tape.)  This live track will take some getting used to.  It’s not that Axl’s voice is bad just…different than what you’re used to.

Both vinyl releases came with a sticker.  This fan club edition also comes with a Nightrain 2022 pin.  The pin comes packaged in a little mini-folder.  It is made of metal and heavy for a pin.  Made for a jacket, not a shirt.  For a higher tier, you could sign up for four pins and a hoodie.  But I really only wanted to shell out for the exclusive track.

You can’t blame Axl for wanting to get some of these old songs out since he laboured for years over them.  It’s fitting that only now with Slash and Duff back in the band, the songs are “finished”.  Keep the releases coming guys.  It doesn’t have to be an album.  It just has to be Guns.

4/5 stars

All cautions made
Every chance was given
No effort spared to save what we had
All in good faith
I would not hesitate
To extend myself and lend you my hand

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

As tempers fade
And lies forgiven
No cause embraced could break what we had
In its place
A storm is lifting
I would’ve thought you could be more of a man

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

You had to play it cool, had to do it your way
Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away
Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay
If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway

REVIEW: Ugly Kid Joe – Menace to Sobriety / “Milkman’s Son” single (1995)

UGLY KID JOE – Menace to Sobriety (1995 Polygram)

Let me tell ya folks, this album ain’t bad. Ugly Kid Joe made it hard to take them seriously sometimes, but on their second full-length Menace to Sobriety, they did what most jokey bands eventually do: Get serious. Get heavy. With former Wrathchild America drummer Shannon Larkin replacing original member Mark Davis, perhaps this was inevitable.  If not, co-producer GGGarth made it inevitable.

The first single “Tomorrow’s World” was dark-edged modern metal. No jokes, no wit, just Whit, givin’ ‘er at top lung. The album would pretty much follow suit. It felt like they got one side of their personalities out of their systems for the moment and wanted to do something a little more true to the heart.

An instrumental intro just called “Intro” gets a couple heavy riffs out of way in short order. The new drummer’s thick presence is felt immediately. This intro jumps right into “God”, a heavy wade through the mosh pit, spilling hooks all over the floor in violent celebration. Whitfield Crane sounds more menacing, but he’s still obviously the charismatic frontman. Cool wah-wah inflected solo too, which was one of the only ways you could make guitar solos work in 1995.

When “Tomorrow’s World” first hits, it’s with a beat and a rolling bass line, perfectly on brand for the 90s. After the quietly tense opening verses, Whit and the band rip it wide open with another ferocious riff and chorus. It’s well within Black Sabbath’s backyard (U.S. campus), while keeping a foot in 90s. A perfect mix of integrities.

Tempos get faster on “Clover”, with Whit taking his throat even further. The riffs are still the foundation, this one a little bit Priest-like. If the lyrics to “God” were a little on the nose at times, they’re more interesting in light of this one from “Clover”. “I was tempted, but the apple made me stronger.” Whitfield then screams that he’s here to free us. There’s more going on here than a guy who just hates “everything about you”.

The funky side returns on the speedy “C.U.S.T.” (“Can’t You See Them”).  Whit speed-raps through the impressive verses while the band jams hard underneath, wah-wah now back center stage.  Great tune and in fact better than some of the competition’s songs in this genre at the same time.  There’s a killer, clever percussion break in the middle that differentiates Ugly Kid Joe from the bands who were leading the pack.

“Milkman’s Son” was the single, an electric ballad and rightfully chosen.  It’s not soft, there’s a tasty jagged riff to keep it cool, but this is clearly the one that fills the part of prior Ugly Kid Joe hits such as “Busy Bee”.  Great tune, if a bit doomed.

The grind of a bass groove returns on “Suckerpath”, which seems about to about avoiding the ego and big head of rock stardom.  “Never goin’ down a suckerpath, baby,” insists Whit.  Unlike a lot of the tunes on Menace to Sobriety, “Suckerpath” never really explodes with power the way they have so far.  It remains in this wallowing groove, which rocks but never quite satisfies.

Another ballad:  “Cloudy Skies” has the kind of twang where you could called it “Western Skies”.  Still electric; no acoustic softness to be found, but quite excellent.  Crane seems to have tapped into something heartfelt here, and his singing is excellent.  Sticking to tunes with broad appeal, “Jesus Rode A Harley” is one of the most straight ahead and upbeat tracks on the album.

There’s an AC/DC vibe to the opening of “10/10” but then it goes pure grunge groove.  Suitably dark, impressively heavy, and utilizing tricks like conga and slide.  There’s a direction on this album and “10/10” is right down the middle.  Not an outstanding track overall but one you can headbang along to quite easily.  At the end, Whit tries to go full metal scream and does pretty good. This actually leads pretty well into the Priestly vibes on “V.I.P.”.  Priest circa Hell Bent, with a touch of Halford’s Fight.  The lead vocals are Jon Oliva from Savatage to a tee, whether intentional or not.

Finally, the jokey side emerges on “Oompa”, which is exactly what you think it is.  A heavy metal version of the Oompa Loopma song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  And why not?  Green Jelly were having hits with this kind of song.  It’s only two minutes long and hey…it’s Ugly Kid Joe. And just misdirection.  That’s not how the album’s supposed to end.

After long last, the acoustic guitars come out on the tender closer “Candle Song”.  There’s more than a hint of western twang, but if you wanted a traditional hard rock ballad closer, here you go.  “Candle Song” is excellent way to take the listener down after such intensely heavy rocking.

The band isn’t entirely done with their sense of humour.  Open up the booklet and you will find a rental house bill for damages including a food fight.  Total cost:  $12,896.81.

4/5 stars


UGLY KID JOE – “Milkman’s Son” / “Tomorrow’s World” (1995 Mercury CD single)

This single seems kind of like a double header between “Milkman’s Son” and “Tomorrow’s World” which was the music video getting all the play on MuchMusic at the time.  Two of the best tracks from the album, they are a terrific one-two punch for this CD single.

The bonus tracks are quite cool.  There’s a 1994 version of “God”, which is structurally the same but rougher sounding.  Amazing how close to the final mark it was.  Then there’s a really rough demo of “C.U.S.T.” but still very close to its final form.  Hearing these somewhat flatter sounding early versions after listening to the album is really interesting, since it is so consistently pounding, especially in the bass.

Great single for bonus material and a good score if you can find one.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Best Of (UK 2004)

Part Twenty-Nine of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Best Of (2004 Mercury UK)

Nine years after Vault, why not another “best of” collection?  And why not make it a double?  And a “limited edition” too?

The approach was all but perfect for Def Leppard’s double Best Of.  Except when you look at it in hindsight.  You always need some bait, and this time the bait was an unreleased new track.  Suggested by Phil for a forthcoming covers album, Leppard recorded “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks, and quite well in fact.  The problem was it was going to be re-released in two years on 2006’s Yeah!.  So we spent all that money on one new track that we were going to end up re-buying in two years.  Hard to justify.

Fortunately, “Waterloo Sunset” is an excellent version.  It defies expectation in fact.  Phil and Vivian sound absolutely stellar on guitar, with warm tones.  It’s soft, laid back, and Joe Elliott nails the lead vocal in his own style.  It does sound like Def Leppard, but it does not sound like them bastardizing the Kinks in any way.  It sounds just fine, like a Waterloo sunset!

The compilation kind of plays as if disc one was the “greatest hit” and disc two is the “bonus disc”.  The first disc is almost an exact repeat of the UK version of Vault., with only slight differences.  It opens with the “video version” of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, and then rolls through a what’s-what of Leppard hits.  Every song, in order, from the UK Vault, until you get to track 10.  Originally “Foolin'”, track 10 was swapped for “Action”.  Then for track 11, they inserted the recent ballad “Long, Long Way To Go”, a good selection.  “Make Love Like A Man” is also wedged in here, which let’s face it, most of us can do without.  The Vault tracklisting then resumes, with “Armageddon It” through to the end, but minus “Miss You In A Heartbeat”.  “Foolin'” eventually appears on CD Two, but “Miss You In A Heartbeat” does not.  In the end, CD One is two songs longer, and overall a better listen than the original UK Vault.

CD Two is the one that hardcore fans will enjoy more.  “Rock! Rock!”, what an opening number.  “Promises” is the only inclusion from Euphoria, and justifiably so.  Then you get “Slang” for a double dose of fun, and then the melancholy “Foolin'”.  An unfortunate inclusion is the morose “Now” from the X album, but it’s worth sitting through to get to “Rock Brigade” from the debut.  That’s an odd transition, by the way.  From Lep’s latest with programming and loops and bleeps and bloops, to their early hard riffing stuff.  Very weird.  Sounds like two different bands presented that way.

Every single track after the dull “Now” is a killer.  “Women” wasn’t on Vault.  Strange, right?  Rectified here.  Then onto “Let It Go”, the killer “Too Late For Love”, and “High ‘N’ Dry”.  A trifecta of perfect right there.  The disc takes a turn to the modern side again on “Work It Out”, but at least this track isn’t a waste of space.  It might not fit with the early Lep songs so well, but it has integrity and wickedly choppy guitars.  When it fades, we go into “Billy’s Got A Gun” which ups the Pyromania factor a notch.  “Hit and Run” and the ever-loved “Wasted” bring more of that old-school vibe, but sandwiched between them is the ballad “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)”.  A great ballad and highlight of the disc, but in an odd setting to be sure.

Following “Wasted”, the disc closer is “Die Hard the Hunter”, another strange choice.  Would “Billy’s Got A Gun” not made for a better closer?  Or even “Wasted”?  Probably.  Good song, but in the wrong position for sure.  It’s just not the kind that closes an album.  It’s more the kind that closes a side (which it did on Pyromania).

Sonically, the second disc is the most uneven since it combines tracks from both the first album and the most recent.  It’s also a much more fun listen just because it includes a couple deeper cuts and some lesser heard gems.  I mean…”Wasted”, right?  Just wish it was the closer.

On the plus side, Best Of Def Leppard has a nice booklet with track commentary from the band members.  There’s an essay and a few photos.  It also comes in a nice cardboard slipcase with an embossed Def Leppard logo in shiny black.  The cover art, with that slate background, is simple, cool and effective.  There’s even a picture of Steve Clark inside (but no Pete Willis).

So what about that covers album?  In the liner notes, Joe says it’s recorded, but it took them until 2006 to release it.  In the meantime, the US would put out their own 2 CD compilation album, with a slightly different running order, a few different deep cuts, a Badfinger cover instead of the Kinks, and a better closing track.  How does the US compilation stack up against the UK?  Check in next time.

3/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live
  27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (bonus disc)
  28. X

Next:

30. Rock of Ages: The Definitive Collection (US)
31. Yeah!

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – “Days O Deth” (2014 demo)

QUEENSRŸCHE – “Days O Deth” (2014 demo, released 2021 online by Scott Rockenfield)

If any rock band has had the #1 weirdest drama going on in their history, Queensryche must be considered a front runner.  First there was the “spitting incident” and 2012 split with Geoff Tate.  This drama was swiftly followed by the existence of two completely different bands touring and releasing albums as “Queensryche”.  The Queensryche brand issue was settled in a 2014 lawsuit, with original members Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield winning the rights to the name for their version of the group.  A year after, Scott Rockenfield took a six-month touring leave from the band, and never returned.  It appears Scott was finally fired from Queensryche in 2018 due to non-participation.  He has not been active with the group since their excellent 2015 Condition Hüman album, the last to feature the drummer in any regard.  Queensryche carried on with vocalist Todd La Torre playing drums in the studio,  and Kamelot’s Casey Grillo drumming live.

Then suddenly in 2021, Scott Rockenfield came out breaking the silence!  Presenting a new (now defunct) “Queensryche2021” website, Rockenfield essentially declared his own version of Queensryche.  Pictures on his site were Wilton and Jackson, but not La Torre, for whom he spared no ire.  Calling La Torre a “subcontracted employee”, he unilaterally declared the current active Queensryche illegitimate.

Proclaiming “Welcome to the New World” on his site, he posted “R ya READY TO F***in’ ROCK !!!?? ….I AM !!!!!!!” [sic]

You can always tell how serious a press release is by the number of exclamation points, question marks, and ellipsis are used.

Aside from a lot of sniping, Rockenfield promised new music in 2021, but only offered one old demo.  Ironically this demo from 2014 features his nemesis Todd La Torre on lead vocals!  For 99 cents, you could download “Days O Deth” from his now-defunct website.  With the website gone, so now too is the track.

“Days O Deth” is a shorter demo version of what became “Toxic Remedy” on 2015’s Condition Hüman.  Missing is the opening guitar harmony, as it goes into a riff that was refined for the final version.  Instead of the very ‘Ryche-ian guitar harmonies that “Toxic Remedy” opens with, this one focuses on the pounding of the riff.  It’s quite cool that way.  The verses are pretty much intact as is the chorus.  While the final “Toxic Remedy” sounds more Queensryche, this demo is rougher, heavier and perhaps a touch more unique as to how it treats the riff section.

One can be certain that the legitimate members of Queensryche never saw a penny of the 99 cents paid for this download.  Therefore it is understandable if a fan chose not to pay for a demo track that Queensryche certainly deserved compensation for.  Until events unfold further, perhaps in courts, we can have no real idea what is going on with Scott Rockenfield’s role in Queensryche.  Which is unfortunate, as diehard fans no doubt would very much want and enjoy this demo.  Will it ever see an official release?  See above.  Events will unfold as they will.

4/5 stars

  1. “Days O Deth” – Srock – Orig Demo 2014 (3:14)

(Photo by Brill/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

REVIEW: Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (2001)

Part Twenty-Seven of the Def Leppard Review Series

CYBERNAUTS – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts (2001 Arachnophobia Records)

While fans awaited the return of Def Leppard with another new album to follow 1999’s Euphoria, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen released more recordings from their Cybernauts side-project, a fun David Bowie cover band featuring members of the Spiders From Mars.  This time they entered the studio (both in Ireland and Japan) to lay down some covers.  These were released on a bonus disc in a very rare, very limited 2001 2 CD issue of the Cybernauts Live album.

Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” opens; organ-heavy and slightly more psychedelic.  After that rocks your socks, an awesome rendition of “All the Young Dudes” follows.  Purists may not like Joe Elliott’s straight-ahead delivery compared to the original, but his pure love of the song comes out.  He’s not trying to be someone else.  Just Joe.  And that’s fine for Leppard fans!

Phil Collen opens “Moonage Daydream” with some very delectable guitar.  An album highlight, the guys really do this one plenty of justice.  Keyboards add the appropriate subtle lush backdrop.  The solo section is sharp and wicked.  Just a killer cover.

A fairly standard version of “The Man Who Sold the World” is satisfactory but the song is picky about who sounds good covering it.  Phil’s guitar work is notable, as it has been throughout this set.

One tune that wasn’t on the live disc was “Time” from Aladdin Sane.  Dick Decent (R.I.P.) tickles the ivories in glorious glee.  From the same album comes “Panic in Detroit”, upbeat rock that doubtless inspired bands like The Darkness and Def Leppard.  The Cybernauts sound at home covering it.  The second half of the song is just a band jamming together and having a blast in the studio.

The closing track, “Lady Grinning Soul” is an excellent deep cut to go out on.  Complex, passionate and performed with expertise.  But is it really the end?  The track time of 19 minutes tells us something is up.  After a 10 minute silence, the Cybernauts return with an unlisted bonus track.  It’s an acoustic version of “Moonage Daydream”!  Probably even better than the first version!  Stunning acoustic solo by Phil.  Worth the wait?  Well, I invite you to edit out the silence yourself and just enjoy the music.

This double disc of the Cybernauts will cost you a pretty penny.  It goes for over $200 when you can find an original.  Good hunting!

4/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4
  26. Cybernauts – Live

Next:

28. X

REVIEW: Cybernauts – Live (2001)

Part Twenty-Six of the Def Leppard Review Series

CYBERNAUTS – Live (2001 Arachnophobia Records)

While fans awaited the return of Def Leppard with another new album to follow 1999’s Euphoria, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen released some recordings from their Cybernauts side-project, a fun David Bowie cover band.

But not just any cover band.

Cybernauts were formed as a tribute to the late Mick Ronson, featuring Spiders from Mars members Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey, and Dick Decent.  The liner notes are a little bit contradictory when it comes to specific recordings.  One page in the booklet says the disc was recorded at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, August 7 1997.  On another page, Joe Elliott states that the album was “pulled together” from a five gig mini-tour.  Dublin was the final date on that tour.  18 tracks, and almost 80 minutes of music comprise this live disc.

Without any preamble, we jump right into the rock and roll of “Watch that Man” from Aladdin Sane.  Cybernauts are naturally a little more heavy handed but Leppard fans will love it.  Things get punky with “Hang Onto Yourself”, full speed ahead, with Phil Collen whipping up some guitar magic to salute Ronson, while the original guys bang it out with bedevilling youthful energy.  Massive hit “Changes” comes next, a little chunkier than the version you’re used to but still brilliant.  Joe’s lead vocal has the Leppard sound, the Spiders’ backing vocals sound like Bowie.  It’s a mash-up of two bands.

Acoustic guitars come out for “The Supermen”, but then Phil kicks in with the distortion.  So far, an album highlight though purists might baulk at the heavier rock approach.  It’s followed by an emphatic “Five Years”, with Joe doing an excellent job of the complex vocals.  Bouncing from album to album, they do “Cracked Actor” next, a nice boogie.  The familiar “Moonage Daydream” is welcome, and the keyboards recreate the lush backdrop authentically.  Another album highlight with exceptional lead work by Phil.

A Mick Ronson solo cut called “Angel No. 9” from his second album Play Don’t Worry is rolled out next, with a wickedly tasty guitar lick.  A brilliant selection, the backing vocals by the Spiders are quite sweet.  “Jean Genie” is so familiar is almost skippable, but they pretty much had to play it — can’t blame them.

It’s pretty much non-stop classics from there on it.  “Life on Mars” featuring Dick Decent on piano has a more delicate touch and they do a fine job of it.  “The Man Who Sold the World” works well with the keyboards providing the backbone and Phil Collen doing his best Ronson.  “Starman” is great fun; Joe is clearly enjoying himself.

“The Width of a Circle” is the long bomber, clocking in at almost 10 minutes.  Progressive, guitar heavy and epic.  After that exercise, “Ziggy Stardust” is rolled out, and always welcome.  That guitar riff, the familiar melodies, they never tire.  Of course, Leppard covered it a couple times but not as convincingly as this.

The Velvet Underground’s “White Light, White Heat”, which also appeared on Ronson’s second album, is a party.  Backing vocals on this are awesome.  Joe teases a “goodnight” at this point, but the tracklist on the back reveals three encores.

“Rock and Roll Suicide”, “Suffragette City” and Mott’s “All the Young Dudes” are a pretty good three-for-three.  Encores that start slowly and laid back like “Rock and Roll Suicide” does are often like a mini-set unto themselves.  “Suffragette City” blasts forth with punky energy and then “All the Young Dudes” is the anthem to end the party.

But that’s not it for the Cybernauts.  In 2001 they did a Japanese tour, recorded some stuff in the studio, and released it.  We’ll talk about that next time!

4/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3
  25. Rarities 4

Next:

27. Cybernauts – The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Rarities 4 (CD Collection Volume 2)

Part Twenty-Five of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Rarities 4 (CD Collection Volume 2 Disc 7) (2019)

These box sets are not easy monsters to review.  It makes more sense to discuss the bonus tracks in context with the related studio albums.  Regardless, Rarities 4 deserves a little extra attention.  This is the disc that I had a little bit of personal involvement with.

Back in the years 2000-2001, before Def Leppard had an official standalone live album or box sets, the released 11 tracks worth of live material on their own website, for free.  Unreleased and sourced from the Slang and Euphoria tours, these tracks were not just valuable but essential additions to your Def Leppard collections.  Like many things that exist online only, they eventually disappeared.  If you had them, you had them.  If you didn’t, you wouldn’t.

The full 11 tracks were:  “Two Steps Behind”, “Women”, “Demolition Man”, “When Love and Hate Collide”, “Action”, “Animal”, “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak/Switch 625”, “Miss You In A Heartbeat”, “Rock! Rock! (‘Til You Drop)”, “Goodbye” and “Paper Sun”.

A few years ago, I was contacted about my Def Leppard live tracks.  I was asked if I could provide the files, for use in a future box set.  I said “Hell yeah!”  Having a thank-you inside this set is one of my proudest moments.  They didn’t use them all, but instead they even dug up some addition live tracks that had never been released before.  For the record, the tracks from the original download collection that remain physically unreleased are:  “Two Steps Behind” (San Antonio 2000), “Women” (Salem 2000), “Action” (London 1999), “Animal” (Nashville), and “Rock! Rock! (‘Til You Drop)” (Cardiff 2000).  Instead for this they focused on special songs that were a little harder to find live versions of.

It’s really cool for something that once only existed as a file on your hard drive, to now sit as an officially pressed black vinyl record.  Hearing the tracks in a way never before.

The live tracks are organized in batches.  The first grouping comes from Montreal on the Slang tour in 1996.  First is the epic medley of “Bringing On the Heartbreak” and the rare “Switch 625”.  These are awesome versions.  They have a raw, unpolished sound yet the band still nail all the vocals and guitar thrills.  “Switch 625” is always a welcome track for its heaviness.  This version is extra chunky.  “Ladies and gentlemen, the best drummer in the world, Mr. Rick Allen!”

Then another rarity:  the ballad “Miss You In A Heartbeat” acoustic with “Phillippe” Collen on lead vocals, but not before some shenanigans to the tune of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”:

“Mama take this gin from me,
I can’t drink it anymore,
Where’s the sink, I gotta pee,
Looks like I’m checking into Betty Ford…”

It’s a delight to finally be able to share this version I’ve had for years with the world!

“Miss You In A Heartbeat” is always best in its fully electric version, but acoustically with Phil on vocals, it’s something special.  Truly it sounds great live, stripped and with Phil’s rasp.

Def Leppard must have found the original tapes for this Montreal gig, because I didn’t supply them with “Work It Out” or “Deliver Me”, two rarely heard bangers from Slang.  “Work It Out” was a single, a stuttery 90s construction that explored new territory for the British band.  They had come a long way from their New Wave of British Heavy Metal roots and were still writing new kinds of songs.  “Work It Out” has interesting guitars happening live, very different from the usual, but still Def Leppard.  “Deliver Me” is dark, heavy and maybe not idea for a Def Leppard concert, hence its rarity.  It’s cool to hear Leppard apply their vocal talents live to a song like this.  There are hooks but not happy bouncy ones.  This is more serious rocking.

This wraps up the live material from Montreal.  The CD detours into some interesting studio B-sides before we return to live songs later on.

“When Saturday Comes” doesn’t feature every member of Def Leppard – just Joe, Phil and Sav, and written by Joe.  This song and the instrumental “Jimmy’s Theme” are from the CD singles for “All I Want Is Everything” and a film called When Saturday Comes.  As such, they’re a little different.  Even it’s from the Slang era, “When Saturday Comes” has the bright anthemic singalong quality of a movie theme song.  “When Saturday comes, nothin’ else matters to me!”  Sounds like the good-time Leppard we remember regardless of the year.

“Jimmy’s Theme” on the other hand is a laid-back instrumental with a slightly bluesy feel.

Other B-sides from the “All I Want Is Everything” singles show up on a later box set, so fear not if you’re worried they left some out.  Moving on to the Euphoria era, there’s a sudden sonic shift as the band returned to a polished production sound.  “Burnout” (from one of the “Goodbye” CD singles) immediately sounds like the Leppard of Adrenalize.  Whether that’s your preference or not, it’s a heavy tune that probably could have served a useful purpose in toughening up the Euphoria album.  Some great guitar trickery on this one, and the return of the Leppard hook machine.  “Immortal” (also from the “Goodbye” single) is more upbeat, but does have a certain B-side quality.  Not bad, but something about it says “B-side”.

The singles for “Promises” had a couple cool B-sides as well.  “Worlds Collide” has to be one of the heaviest Leppard songs to date.  A solid pounder with a psychedelic bent, “Worlds Collide” proves Leppard hadn’t lost it.  Even in the Euphoria era, which felt like a grasp at past glories, there’s cool stuff like this that rocks without repeating history.

Finally there is “I Am Your Child”, the original Japanese bonus track from Euphoria.  It would have been nice to have it restored to the end of that album, because it really does make a fine coda.  “I Am Your Child” is a truly great Leppard tune with a variety of light and dark parts, and a super chorus.

Missing B-side from the “Promises” single is the “Album Snippets” featuring a three minute medley of some of the album tracks.  Not really necessary even for completists, but if you want it out you’ll have to buy the original single.  The cover tune “Who Do You Love” from the “Goodbye” single will turn up on a future box set.

Back to my live tracks to close the set:  “Demolition Man” from Denver in 1999 is so fast it sounds like they can barely keep up!  A real rarity that doesn’t get live action anymore.  Definitely a valuable inclusion, and a great listen due to the sheer energy of it.

Three tracks from Tokyo in 1999 end this disc.  “When Love and Hate Collide” has been heard a number of times in this box set, but this is the first fully electric live version in The CD Collection Volume 2.  Joe’s voice has a touch of rasp which gives it a little more edge.  Pretty great live version, justifying its inclusion over some of the other tracks.  Finally it’s two rare Euphoria tracks:  the epic “Paper Sun” and apt disc closer “Goodbye”.  “Paper Sun” just lays waste to the land, as one of the tracks that really has serious weight.  “Goodbye”, being a stock ballad, doesn’t have as much impact, but a live rarity it remains.

This brings us to the end of the The CD Collection Volume 2, the biggest most epic release I’ve ever had my name in.  To have that honour is so cool, something I will always treasure.  I don’t think Leppard needed my help with the Montreal tracks after all, but Denver and Tokyo sound like mine.  I hope one day they find reason to release the rest of the 11 download-only live songs.  Perhaps they’ll find the full tapes for Cardiff, Salem, San Antonio, London and Nashville.  Perhaps not.  Leppard are far from done issuing rarities.

The CD Collection Volume 2 is absolutely a valuable purchase for any Leppard fan looking to add the B-sides and EPs to their collections.  It’s not 100% complete, but it does cover most of the bases.  You’ll still want to track down a deluxe edition of Slang, and perhaps some CD singles if you have to have things like all the edit versions.  You may have noticed that things like cover versions haven’t popped up too much; you’ll understand why when we get to The CD Collection Volume 3.

4/5 stars

Next though, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen blow off some steam in their Bowie cover band / Mick Ronson tribute, The Cybernauts.  We’ll take a close look at two discs:  Cybernauts Live and The Further Adventures of the Cybernauts before the Leppard story continues!

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2
  24. Rarities 3

Next:

26. Cybernauts – Live

REVIEW: Styx – The Same Stardust (2021 RSD EP)

STYX – The Same Stardust (2021 RSD EP)

Anecdote:  I wasn’t able to get this Styx EP with seven exclusive tracks on Record Store Day, so I knew I would have to pay the “late tax”.  I was surprised that pretty much every copy for sale on Discogs was coming from Russia.  Given the current situation I didn’t want to risk having a record coming in from Russia.  I found one from somewhere else (Estonia perhaps) and bit the bullet and ordered.  Two days later I got an email saying, “We are relocating to Russia!  We will mail your record from there!”  I almost asked to cancel but decided to be patient, and it has finally arrived.  In perfect shape.  Whew.

To accompany their excellent new album Crash of the Crown, Styx released an EP with two exclusive studio bonus tracks, and five live.  Not bad value for an EP when all of them are previously unreleased.  The record is on beautiful, heavy transparent blue vinyl, is low on surface noise, and just sounds wonderful!

The title track “The Same Stardust” opens, and it’s a theme we often hear in science:  we are all, every one of us, made of the same matter from a star that exploded billions of years ago.  It’s a unifying theme, but not a wimpy song.  A crescendo of drums leads us to an upbeat rocker with lead vocals by Lawrence Gowan.  There’s a great little riff after the chorus, and Gowan’s lead vocal recalls the Beatles.  “Walk away from hate!” he sings, reflecting the sentiments of the Fab Four.  Tommy Shaw sings the powerful bridge and then rips into a melodically cool solo.  Easily of album, or single quality.

The second exclusive studio song is called “Age of Entropia” and it is best described as progressive like Styx of old.  Tommy sings this number with a gentle acoustic opening.  It builds into a more robust construction in time, really sounding like only one band:  Styx.  Good song but less instant.

Side two contains the live material, and the side opener is a track as desirable as the unreleased studio songs, if not more: a new live version of “Mr. Roboto” from 2020!  This often shunned hit has finally been recorded again in a live setting, now with Gowan on vocals.  It’s been tuned down a bit, but it still thrills.  As soon you hear that trademark keyboard opening, you can’t help but smile.  Especially knowing how rarely it gets played live.  We all miss Dennis DeYoung but it is clear that Tommy Shaw doesn’t really want to hear about him.  Gowan does an admirable job, as do all the Styx vocalists, as there is a lot going on.  He even adds some of his own flare.  There’s a slightly harder edge on this “Mr. Roboto” and that’s just fine.

Another treat, at least to those in the know, is “Radio Silence” from the excellent album The Mission.  One of the best tunes from that sci-fi concept album indeed, and the first live release of any song from it.  So that’s special, even if Crash of the Crown may very well have topped The Mission.  That’s subjective…but possible.

Classics follow, dominated by Tommy Shaw tuneage.  “Man in the Wilderness” has the same vibe as the newer material, cut from the same cloth.  The heavy solo section is jaw-droppingly cool with wicked wah-wah effects.  James Young gets the spotlight on his heavy hitting “Miss America”.  Always a welcome listen, his unique vocal stylings are necessary for the overall Styx sound.  And that riff!  Speaking of riffs, Tommy closes the disc with the legendary “Renegade”.  Still classic, still awesome, still hard to resist the urge to shake it!  And though it does sound tuned down, Tommy’s voice has an incredible timeless youth.

The Same Stardust is a damn near essential add-on to your Crash of the Crown album.  It would have made an awesome bonus disc to a deluxe version of…oh, man.  After what I paid for this, if they put The Same Stardust on a future deluxe edition of Crash of the Crown, I’ll be pissed!

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Rarities 3 (CD Collection Volume 3)

Part Twenty-Four of the Def Leppard Review Series

DEF LEPPARD – Rarities 3 (CD Collection Volume 2 Disc 6) (2019)

The rarities continue with the CD Collection Volume 2 and the Slang era.  The Slang album cycle produced a number of rarities, including a bonus CD included in its first run.  When this first run of CDs sold out, so did the bonus disc, a six-song set called Acoustic In Singapore.  The whole tracklist is included in Rarities 3, in the right running order.  These songs were recorded at the Hard Rock Cafe in Singapore on the autumn 1995 promo tour for Vault.

“Give it up for Def Leppard!” says the man.  Opening with a bouncy “Armageddon It”, the band were really getting the hang of this acoustic thing.  Comparing one acoustic version to another is a somewhat pointless affair so we’ll just say “it’s great”!  With only acoustic instruments, Leppard are able to reproduce the upbeat party atmosphere of the immaculate original.  Of course they do the same with the vocals, weaving an impressive live facsimile of the layered album.

“Two Steps Behind” is up again, a song we keep hearing over and over since its original 1992 B-side release.  Good on Leppard for turning a throwaway into a perennial.  The Hard Rock Cafe audience positively explodes to sing along the chorus.  An interesting stripped version of “From the Inside” without the whistle and piano then stirs the cafe into silence.  It’s not the kind of song you whoop and holler through.  Phil’s solo is a blur of notes, but Vivian’s is more nuanced and chord-based.

A light “Animal” brings the mood back party.  Take note of Rick Allen’s subtle creative cymbal use on this classic.  Phil’s solo is another blaze of fast flying fingerwork – impressive but also perhaps a little abrasive.  The new ballad “When Love and Hate Collide” is then rolled out, similar to the version recorded at the Wapantake club for the Video Archive release.  The build up to the chorus pretty nice.

“Pour Some Sugar On Me” closes the acoustic set, a song that adapts well to the format.  The party resumes and concludes on a suitably bombastic note.  Amusingly, it seems to take the audience a second to realize what song they’re hearing.  With that, the Acoustic In Singapore CD is out of the way and we’re off to other rarities.

The “Piano & Strings” version of “When Love and Hate Collide” is the song’s second appearance on this disc.  It’s a pretty cool version, with little of the rock instrumentation left.  Like the title says, it’s piano and strings (and minimal guitar), with the vocals of Def Leppard.  This very rare mix comes from the “Slang” single with the “souvenir pack” – an envelope with a set of postcards.

A pretty awesome acoustic song called “Can’t Keep Away From the Flame” was on the same souvenir pack single.  It’s not sad or ballady, just an upbeat and basic acoustic song.  Guitars and vocals, no percussion.  The only critique would be that the song is just too short!

The “Original Version” of the Slang song “Truth?” is next, as we go into tracks from the “Work It Out” CD singles.  The songs for the Slang album went through a lot of experimentation before they took their final form.  Some like “Truth?” are vastly different and it’s a matter of preference which you prefer.  The original’s structure has elements that carried onto the album, but it’s a consistently heavy slam, and far less exotic.  The final version is probably the greater artistic achievement, but the original is the headbanger.

“Move With Me Slowly” also came from the “Work It Out” singles, and the Japanese release of Slang itself.  It’s long been a fan favourite, the kind of song that people say “should have been on the album”!  It’s a buttery, bluesy and soulful song with not a hint of Leppard going in over their heads.  The backing vocals are awesome, and the tune really swings when they start the engine.  Had it been on Slang internationally, it might have satisfied the fans who wanted less experimental songs on the album.

Of note (and this is where things get hairy), as good as this CD Collection is for getting rarities together, if there’s one weakness it’s that there’s a lot more Slang material out there, including a “1st Draft” of “Move With Me Slowly”.  This version is only available on the digital iTunes release of the 2014 Slang Deluxe Edition.  There are undoubtedly reasons for this, but be aware.  The “1st Draft” is very similar to the final version, but with Phil Collen (the songwriter) taking some of the lead vocals.  Pretty cool — and worth the download — but sadly outside the purview of this review.

A lot of the Slang album can be characterised as songs brought in by individuals, and then radically changed by the band process.  The last song on Rarities 3 is one of those:  “Work It Out” as originally demoed by Vivian Campbell.  Again this is taken from the “Work It Out” single B-sides.  Viv had compared the bouncy pop demo to a Crowded House song, and you can hear that kind of quirkiness.  That’s the word — quirky.  The song is more or less the same — same lyrics, same melody — but radically different.  And since it’s Viv’s demo, that’s him on lead vocals as well.  A mini-treasure.

Rarities 3, clocking in at a comfortable 45 minutes, is a solid listen with only one drawback of too much love and hate colliding, fer cripes sake.  I suppose such things are inevitable; a no-win scenario.

4.5/5 stars

One more disc of rarities to go, before we detour with Joe Elliott on a cybernautic adventure.  The next disc is the most special to me, as it’s the one that includes some of my own personal contributions to a box set that has my name in the thank-yous.  It includes more of the Slang demos, but be aware of the list below, all exclusive to the Slang deluxe:

  • “Turn to Dust” (Phil verse vocal) 4:03
  • “Raise Your Love” (version of “Slang” 3:01
  • “All I Want Is Everything” (1st draft) 5:19
  • “Work It Out” (1st draft) 5:19
  • “Breathe a Sigh” (Feb ’96 rough mix) 4:08
  • “Deliver Me” (Feb ’96 rough mix) 3:17
  • “Black Train” (version of “Gift of Flesh”) 4:06
  • “Blood Runs Cold” (Feb ’96 rough mix) 4:12
  • “Where Does Love Go When It Dies” (1st draft) 4:36
  • “Pearl of Euphoria” (Feb ’96 rough mix) 5:49
  • “All on Your Touch” (2012 revisit) 3:58
  • “Anger” (“Deliver Me” 1st draft) 3:15
  • “Move On Up” (Vivian demo) 3:31
  • “Gift of Flesh” (Phil vocal) 4:03
  • “All I Want Is Everything” (1st draft) 5:03 – iTunes only 
  • “Move with Me Slowly” (1st draft) 6:22 – iTunes only

The above tracks aside, Rarities 4 (and eventually the third box set) will get us caught up to complete all the rarities up to Euphoria.

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault: Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits / Limited Edition Live CD
  18. Video Archive
  19. “Slang” CD single
  20. Slang
  21. I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria – Record Store Tales
  22. Euphoria
  23. Rarities 2

Next:

25. Rarities 4

…and the Cybernauts!