Ray Danniels

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

Advertisements

REVIEW: Van Halen – Best Of Volume I (1996)

I will be live on the Craig Fee Show on 107.5 Dave FM this afternoon 12/01/14, around 5:20 pm Ontario time, to discuss one of the tracks included on this album. Listen live by clicking right here to stream!

EDIT – Show went great!  Thanks for listening!

This review is a companion piece to my previous “Van Halen (Not Van Hagar!)” series of reviews:
Part 1: The Early Years (Zero – 1977) VH_0003
Part 2:
On Fire (Van Halen – 1978)
Part 3: Somebody Get Me A Doctor (Van Halen II – 1979)
Part 4: Everybody Wants Some!! (Women and Children First – 1980)
Part 5: Push Comes to Shove (Fair Warning – 1981)
Part 6: Intruder (Diver Down – 1982)
Part 7: House of Pain (1984 – 1984)
Coda: Can’t Get This Stuff No More & Me Wise Magic (1996 singles)

VH BEST OF V1_0001VAN HALEN – Best Of Volume I (1996 Warner)

Van Halen’s first “greatest hits” compilation was historic in its fallout.  The band had talked for years about putting out a “best of” set, with one disc of Dave and one disc of Sammy.  That never happened but the concept continued to be discussed in the Van Halen camp, with Sammy Hagar adamantly against it.  When Hagar’s friend and Van Halen’s manager Ed Lefler passed away, he was replaced by Canadian Ray Danniels, who was also handling Rush, Extreme, and King’s X. Hagar and Danniels never quite saw eye to eye and when push came to shove, Hagar refused to participate in the recording of new music for the compilation.  The Van Halen camp considered this to be highly hypocritical of Sammy, since he had done just that for his own solo “greatest hits” CD, Unboxed (1994).  All of this led to a tense telephone standoff with Eddie Van Halen himself, the revelation that Ed had already started working on new songs with former singer David Lee Roth, and Hagar quitting the band.  (On top of all that, and unbeknownst to Hagar or Roth, was that was Van Halen were also eyeballing Gary Cherone, who Ray Danniels brought in from one of his other bands, Extreme. They had even recorded some test tracks with Mitch Malloy who ultimately turned the gig down.)

When Best Of Volume I was finally released in fall of 1996, there was so much confusion in the air that many fans really had no idea who was in Van Halen or what the hell was going on.   At the Record Store, I had one guy come in and return this on the day of release, October 22, 1996.

“Yeah, I want to return this CD,” he said.  “I already have these songs.”

What?!  You couldn’t tell that from the title Best Of Volume I?

That’s indicative of the confusion in fandom.  This guy had assumed, like many people, that Van Halen had a brand new album of songs out with David Lee Roth singing.

VH BEST OF V1_0004Another common urban myth was that there was such a thing as Best Of Volume II.  People would constantly ask if we had it, when it was coming out, and sometimes even insist they had seen it before in stores.  When asked when Best Of Volume II was coming out again and again, I started answering “18 years”, because that’s how long it took for them to come out with Volume I.

T-Rev wrote up a quickie review for our store newsletter.  He praised the remastering job, but bemoaned that only one song was included from Van Halen II, and that there wasn’t enough Dave in general.  I would agree.  At the very least, a song like “Can’t Stop Loving You” should have been ditched for something else like “Everybody Wants Some!!”  However, to put this into context, in 1996 that was one of Van Halen’s most recent hit singles, just over a year old.   The rest of the album takes tracks from each studio record (sans Diver Down which Eddie doesn’t speak too highly of). The most notable omissions were “Hot For Teacher” (only available on the Japanese release of Best Of) and “Love Walks In” (which I can do without). Presumably there would have been more tracks on a Volume II, which never materialized.  (18 years my arse!)

To me, the hits part of this disc is just preamble. The reason fans went out and bought this CD was the return of David Lee Roth on the two new singles. Nobody cared about the hits they already had.  Indeed, as implied by T-Rev’s review, most of us didn’t really agree with most of the hits selected.

They stuck “Can’t Get This Stuff No More” and “Me Wise Magic”, the first new songs by the original Van Halen in over a decade, at the tail end of the CD.  As fans, we were elated to hear new music that clearly hearkened back to the pre-synth, pre-1984 sound of Van Halen. Dave’s voice was lower and less powerful, but no less expressive.  His delivery is pure gleeful Dave, even on these darker songs. His lyrics (which according to Roth, Eddie didn’t like) are as Diamond Dave as ever.  As far as guitar goes, Eddie’s letting it, basing both songs purely on riffage. This was a pretty cool about-face from the too-commercial sounds of Balance.

Neither song was really single-worthy, but they would have made solid album cuts, had this incarnation of Van Halen continued to make an album.  Of course, that didn’t happen.  Best Of Volume I is, thus far, the only place you can buy them.  And that means if you love original Van Halen, you need to buy this album.

For Van Hagar fans, there was the excellent newbie “Humans Being”, with its angry modern verses and bright shiny chorus.  I’ve always liked the song, because of the chorus and Eddie’s guitar.  The verses, not so much, but as a song it holds together as something different for Van Halen.  In some ways it pointed the way forward to Van Halen 3.  This is the only ‘Halen album where you can get “Humans Being”, saving you from having to buy the terrible Twister soundtrack.

(Missing is a track called “Respect The Wind” billed by Eddie & Alex Van Halen from the same soundtrack.  It’s not really that good, and it’s not billed as Van Halen the band, so seek as per your own needs.  Presumably, “Respect the Wind” was from the batch of music that they were working on while Sammy refused to record.  See KeepsMeAlive for a review of the Twister soundtrack CD.)

VH BEST OF V1_0003

Roth mentioned in his autobiography Crazy From the Heat that he hated the cover art and booklet for this.  It looked devoid and sucked dry of all life.  I would agree.  A music video was planned but nixed.  The concept was the trio of Michael Anthony and Eddie & Alex Van Halen playing on a stage, with a big screen behind them of Dave singing.  Insulted, Roth refused to do it.

Of interest, if you’re lucky enough to own a first pressing of this CD, you might have a mini-rarity.  There was a version with an error on it.  You may own a very rare alternate mix of “Runnin’ With the Devil”, released by mistake, where the verses, chorus and solos were arranged in a different order than that of the originally released album version. Take a listen and see if you’re one of the few.  That version was quickly discontinued and corrected.*

3.5/5 stars. Despite the brevity, this album doesn’t overstay the party.


*My friend at 107.5 Dave FM, Craig Fee, had this to add about the “error” mix of “Runnin’ With the Devil”:

You just solved a huge mystery for me. Something that has been bugging me for YEARS.

When I first moved here, I was listening to Dave FM one day. I heard this fucked up version of “Runnin’ With The Devil” with the “whoooooo whooooooo” part at the end edited out. I mentioned it, but Darryl didn’t do anything about it. 5 years later, we are still playing this version. It sounded like a bad edit made by an overzealous producer who was trying to do something to the song.

Until this post, I had no idea why somebody would butcher the song like that. Now I know why. The majority of the big ‘hits’ were dubbed from that CD.

I have the version I bought the day it was released. I listened to it twice. I have no idea if it’s the edited version.

Craig advised me to load both versions (Best Of and Van Halen I) into Audacity and sync them.  I did and I could see right away visually that they did not match up.  I hit “play” and everything was synced until around 1:15.  Then, as Craig puts it, “all hell breaks loose” and the two versions completely deviate.    So apparently I do have both.

RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL WAVEFORM COMPARISON

 

The only modification I made to the tracks was to reduce the version from Van Halen in volume by 7%, so they were roughly the same.

More VH:

VAN HALEN – 3 (Collectors’ tin 1998)
VAN HALEN – 5150 (1986 Warner Bros.)
VAN HALEN – A Different Kind of Truth (2012)
VAN HALEN – Balance (1995 Warner – Japanese version included)
VAN HALEN – “Best of Both Worlds” (1986 Warner 7″ single)
VAN HALEN – The Best of Both Worlds (2005 Warner)
VAN HALEN – “Can’t Stop Loving You” (Parts 1 & 2, inc. collector’s tin)
VAN HALEN – “Right Now”(1992 cassette single, Warner)
BRIAN MAY & FRIENDS – Star Fleet Project (w/ Edward Van Halen)

REVIEW: Psycho Circus – Scarred (1993)

This was one of the first, if not the first, discs I bought with my staff discount at the record store!  I wonder if Deke remembers these guys?

SCARRED

PSYCHO CIRCUS – Scarred (Anthem 1993)

20 years ago, Psycho Circus were one of the bands hyped as the “next big thing” out of Canada. They originated in Mississauga, Ontario, just west of Toronto.  They signed with SRO management (Rush, Van Halen, King’s X, Extreme) and producer Terry Brown (also Rush) and released a trendy but still unique goth-rap-funk-metal album called Scarred.  They also released a music video for the excellent “Pulsate”.

These guys were hanging out with old dudes way before Our Lady Peace.

The problem with Psycho Circus is their split personality.  On one hand (roughly half the album) they inhabit this cool, dark land I call Diet Faith No More.  Singer Vince Franchi has the lungs and range to emulate Patton’s style on The Real Thing.  Their cool use of keyboards also reminds me of that band, but without the dementia.  On the other hand, there’s a goofy rap-funk side, which does not appeal to me in the least.  I think funk metal got stale very quickly, and the juvenile lyrics render the rapping limp.  “Acid Monkey Junk”, a song about the testing of cosmetics on animals, is painful at time.  “Monkeys in the ocean and fishes in the trees?”

A M.E.A.T Magazine interview by Karen Bliss, from 1993, reveals that the band had already dropped even more irritating material from their live set.  They name a discarded song called “Picky Purple People” as being particularly notable for its silliness.  Glad I didn’t have to hear that one.

 

I prefer the Diet Faith No More side of the band: hard, melodic and dark songs like “Thru the Backbone” (which also features rapping in a non-annoying way).  “Pulsate” is easily the best song on the album, demonstrating Franchi’s impressive vocal range and power.  I’m also fond of the angry “I Know”, the haunting “Leave Me Alone”, and the closer “Goodbye”.  The rest of the album is unfortunately skip-worthy and occasionally irritating to me.

There was also a CD single made for “I Know” featuring an exclusive “Psylicone Mix”.  Although I don’t enjoy the remix as much as the album version, it’s notable for being remixed by Brown and the band, not some outsider.  I happened upon this single within my first year at the record store, and it surely must be one of the rarest discs I have.

For half a good album:

2.5/5 stars

M.E.A.T Magazine

REVIEW: Slash Puppet – No Strings Attached (aka The Demo, 1989)

SAM_2113

SLASH PUPPET – No Strings Attached (2007 Sun City Records)

Slash Puppet were one of the biggest names of the burgeoning Toronto rock scene of the early 1990’s.  Unfortunately, unlike their competition Sven Gali and I Mother Earth, they never got signed to a major label.  They did, however, manage to sell out 2500 copies of their first recording, The Demo, an independent cassette, via mail order.  They were the darlings of M.E.A.T Magazine and appeared on MuchMusic’s Power Hour.  Slash Puppet signed a management deal with Ray Danniels and SRO (Rush) who later also handled Van Halen, King’s X, and Extreme.

SLASH PUPPET GLOSSY

I was one of the 2500 people who ordered The Demo.  Every mail order was accompanied by a glossy 8 1/2 x 11 autographed photo.  I still have mine, this is especially treasured since their talented lead guitarist, Lou Garscadden, passed away in 2001.   Today, lead vocalist Mif (originally billed as “Tony Terrance Dartanian”, for some weird reason) is a successful actor.   That’s him as the mob boss in Norm McDonald’s hilarious Dirty Work, billed under his real name, Anthony J. Mifsud!

Incredibly, for a band that never put out a major label release and split in 1994, Australia’s Sun City Records reissued The Demo on CD in 2007, as No Strings Attached.  A well-assembled package, it features liner notes, lyrics, and loads of photos.

This ass-kicker starts with a bang:  “Slow Down”.  This was the first video, and it even made a return appearance (in slightly remixed form) on the second Slash Puppet release, a self-titled EP.  “Slow Down” is an infectious hard rocker, a tougher and faster Faster Pussycat with a way, way raspier singer.  It has more integrity than most of the Sunset Strip of the time combined.  And this was from the bad bad streets of Mississauga!

The extremely catchy ‘Squeeze It In” follows, a mid-tempo groover, and my personal favourite song.  This one just drips sleaze with a knack for gritty melody.   Up next is “Hard On Love”.  It’s another concoction of raspy lead vocals, catchy backing gang vocals, and pure sex.  It’s twice as hard as anything Hollywood was producing at the time.  “Bad Girls”, which closed side one of the original cassette, is about the only misstep.  While the song is another adrenaline-filled sex romp, the chorus lacks punch.

It’s here that I think the CD edition of No Strings Attached differs from The Demo.  If memory serves correctly, side two began with “Overload” and closed with “Turn It On”.  On the CD, the track order seems switched.  Unfortunately, my original cassette copy is now lost.

Regardless, “Turn It On” is fast paced, raspy and built for sex.  It’s not an upper-echelon song, it’s more similar to “Bad Girls”, the chorus is a bit thin.  The band compensates with the excellent “Evil Woman”.  Great chorus, great hooks, and it sounds great in the car.  It also has a cool dual guitar solo by Lou Garscadden and Frank “Bart” Bartoletti, proving these guys had the chops.

The dark and slower-paced “Some Kind O’ Lady” provides some variety on an album that is otherwise very party-oriented.  This killer tune was always one of my favourites.  It has some killer soloing and a great riff.  The verses kind of remind me of a Testament ballad like “Return To Serenity”, but before Testament even wrote that song.  Maybe it’s the grit in Mif’s voice that reminds me of Chuck Billy.

“Overload” closes the CD on an upbeat note.  It has a fast, playful riff, sleazy lyrics and plenty of grit.  It’s totally headbang-worthy.  And with that, the CD ends, listener exhausted by half an hour of pure heavy glam rock!

The production values for this album are not the greatest.  Keep in mind this was originally a self-financed demo tape, never meant for wide release, and never intended for CD.  The guitar solos are often buried, and the backing vocals sound a bit thin.  What does come across is the grit of Mif, an underrated singer and frontman (by all contemporary accounts).

As mentioned, Slash Puppet returned with an EP later (released by indi Fringe), amped up, better sounding and more mature without losing an ounce of their street-tough sensibilities.  Look for a review of that ultra-rarity in a future edition of mikeladano.com!

As for No Strings Attached?

4/5 stars, baby!