remaster

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Ram It Down (Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Ram It Down (Originally 1988, 2001 Sony remaster)

Judas Priest seemed pretty lost in the late 80s.  They were bigger than ever, but they lost focus of their musical direction.  Producer Tom Allom had cursed them with a robotic plod, far removed from the lively firepower of yesteryear.  When they released Turbo in 1986, they had gone as far down those roads as possible.  It was am ambitious departure, but 100% a product of the 1980s.

For Turbo, Priest had written enough songs for a double album.  Twin Turbos, as it was to be called, was supposed to reflect all facets of metal, but the record comany got cold feet and a single disc was issued.  It contained the most techno-commercial tracks, while Priest held onto the rest for another day.  That day came in 1988 when Priest (again with producer Tom Allom) released Ram It Down, largely made up of Turbo outtakes.  The album was hyped as a return to the heavy Priest of yore, and this was at least partly true, but fans were unconvinced by it.  In comparison with Turbo, yes, Ram It Down was heavier.  But Priest had gone as far as they could with Allom.  Ram It Down was too sterile and bogged down with filler.

Certainly the title track opens Ram It Down on a thrash-like note.  As if to silence to critics, it was a proud metal statement with an opening Rob Halford scream that curdles the brain.  The weakness is drummer Dave Holland on his final Priest outing.  Only when Scott Travis joined Priest in 1990 did they acquire a drummer who could play the kind of beats at the speed they needed.  On Ram It Down, Priest were held back by the drummer and clunky production, two mistakes they fixed on 1990’s Painkiller.  The lyrics also seem dumbed-down for the 80s.  “Thousands of cars, and a million guitars, screaming with power in the air,” is cool but cliche.

“Heavy Metal” is more of the same lyrically, an ode to the power and glory of power chords.  Rob Halford’s performance is fantastic, and the man has rarely sounded as fantastic as he does on Ram It Down.  You can’t say the same for the words, the highschool equivalent of poetry.  On the music front, Priest were now following rather than leading.  They were on the same clunky metal trip as bands such as Scorpions at the same time.  There audible Kiss and Whitesnake influences on the album, with Rob sometimes sounding like he was trying to write a Gene Simmons tune.  “Love You to Death” on side two sounds right out of the Demon’s closet.  The embarrassingly terrible  “Love Zone” and “Come and Get It” both sound as if Coverdale co-wrote them on the sly.  Whether Priest were consciously copying other bands or just lost, who knows.  (“Love Zone” is one of the few songs that Halford almost seemed to write gender specific.  “With your razor nails and painted smile” are not specifically referring to a female, but certainly that was the general assumption.)

There are definitely a few cool tracks that deserve mention.  The first is “Hard as Iron” which had to be one of the fastest Priest songs to date.  It’s still held back by the production, but has some serious energy to it.  Like metal espresso injected right into the brain!  The other standout is “Blood Red Skies”, a forgotten highlight of this album and indeed of the Priest catalog in general.  (I actually used “Blood Red Skies” in a poetry project for school.  A girl liked it so much she asked for a copy of the lyrics.)  Using the synth effectively, “Blood Red Skies” paints a Terminator-like future with humans hunted by beings with “pneumatic fingers”, “laser eyes” and “computer sights”.  Halford  pours power and anguish into it, as a human freedom fighter.  “As I die, a legend will be born!”  Cheesey?  Absolutely.  Priest perfection?  Yes indeed!

There are also two mis-steps on Ram It Down that must be addressed.  The first and most obvious is “Johnny B. Goode”, from the 1988 movie Johnny Be Good starring Anthony Michael Hall and some guy named Robert Downey Something.  This track should have been kept off the album.  As a novelty single, sure, you can dig it.  It’s a stereotypical cliche-ridden metal cover, and that’s fun for a goof.  As a Priest album track, it only serves to completely destroy any momentum that Ram It Down managed to build.  Then there is “Monsters of Rock”.  This awful excuse for a song is only 5:31 long, but seems twice that.  It is the prototype for the even more awful “Loch Ness” from Angel of Retribution.  Most buyers probably didn’t finish listening to the album because of this bloated and aimless track.

The Priest Re-masters collection had two bonus tracks per studio album.  Ram It Down provides two completely unrelated but great tracks:  live versions of “Bloodstone” and “Night Comes Down”.  The liner notes don’t state when they were recorded, but live versions of either are always welcome in any Priest collection.  It’s interesting that bonus tracks from these actual sessions, such as “Red, White and Blue”, were used on other CDs but not Ram It Down.

Priest may have known Ram It Down wasn’t the metal album they hoped to make.  They cleared house afterwards.  Dave Holland and Tom Allom were done, and there is no question that Painkiller was superior to Ram It Down because of that.

2/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: Judas Priest – Turbo 30 (2017 deluxe 3 CD set)

JUDAS PRIEST – Turbo 30 (2017 Sony Legacy 3 CD set)

It is sheer delight to see Judas Priest’s once maligned Turbo to finally see some vindication.  There was a time this album was shied away from completely.  They played no tracks from it on the 1990-91 Painkiller tour.  In 1990, Priest finally pulled themselves out of a slide into dangerously commercial territory.  For a long time, Turbo was considered a musical detour that did more harm than good.  However the frost thawed quickly and Priest began to put the title track back into the set around 2001 for their Demolition tour with Tim “Ripper” Owens.  Today there is no longer any shame in cranking Turbo while hoisting a tall cool one.

The 30th anniversary edition of Turbo contains a freshly remastered edition and two live discs.  The sound is greatly improved from the 2001 version from the Priest Re-masters series.  As you can see by the waveform below, the 2001 version at bottom was a victim of the “loudness wars”, and much of the dynamic range was lost by pushing it to overdrive.  The 2017 version at top has more peaks and valleys.  The new version wins for overall for having more warmth.

What the 2017 version does not have are the two bonus tracks included on the Priest Re-masters version.  They were a live version of “Locked In” (which would be somewhat redundant here) and an unreleased studio track called “All Fired Up” which sounds like a Ram It Down outtake.  For a complete review of Turbo and these bonus tracks, please refer to our review of the Turbo 2001 CD edition.  The rest of this review will focus on the two live CDs inside Turbo 30.

The Fuel For Life tour that followed Turbo was one of Priest’s biggest.  Their stage featured a riser that “transformed” from a race car to a robot that would lift Glenn Tipton and KK Downing in the air with its claws.  It was commemorated by an album (Priest…Live!) and a separate home video from a concert in Dallas, Texas.  This new double live comes from a show in Kansas on May 22 1986.  It is 100% superior to Priest…Live! by every measure and could supplant that 30 year old album in your collection.

The set list varies a little from Priest…Live! but hits the same key tracks.  The ballsy synth ballad “Out of the Cold” still opens the set, a brave move even in 1986.  It is certainly the most unexpected of all Priest’s openers, so bravo.  “Locked In” is restored to its spot in the set; it was not on Priest…Live!  A version from an unknown concert (the liner notes are vague) was on the prior edition of Turbo as a bonus track.  “Locked In” isn’t a major track but still important due to its place as part of the “Turbo Lover” music video duology.  This live version is the best yet, loaded heavy with plenty of guitar thrills not present on the studio original.  From there it’s on to “Heading Out to the Highway”, nicely in the pocket.  Rob Halford’s screams are ferocious.  Next is the march of the “Metal Gods”, another version far more lively than the one on Priest…Live!  Seems there is much less mucking around with the recordings this time.

“Breaking the what?  Breaking the what?  Breaking the what?”  It’s that silly yet tried and true song intro.  Post-British Steel, you just can’t have a Priest live concert without “Breaking the Law”.  But always remember, that in the dead of night, “Love Bites”.  From 1984’s Defenders of the Faith, “Love Bites” was very different for Priest but still a set highlight.  (Incidentally, British Steel and Defenders of the Faith are the other Priest albums that had recent triple disc deluxe editions with live albums.)  Then more from Defenders:  Two killers in a row, “Some Heads are Gonna Roll” and “The Sentinel”.  Two songs that fans never tire of, and some credit must be given to the mighty guitar duo of Tipton and Downing.  Their trade-offs are sublime, and Halford curdles the blood.

Back into new material, “Private Property” was one of Priest’s more obvious grasps for a hit.  It’s far from a must-have, but better at least than the version on Priest…Live!  A mere five minutes later you will be transported to the “Desert Plains”, a Point of Entry deep cut that was excluded from Priest…Live!  It is far faster live and stay tuned for a long voice-shredding breakdown by Halford.  (Rob was clean at this point in his life.  Rob Halford recommends vocal rest between shows, menthol eucalyptus gum, and herbal tea to maintain a strong voice.)  A frantic “Rock You All Around the World” from Turbo ends the first disc with a filler track that is again better here than on the prior live album.

Screaming for Vengeance brings the fury for disc two, “The Hellion” (taped intro) and “Electric Eye” bring the focus clearly back to heavy metal, just in time to go for a spin with “Turbo Lover”.  This song is now a beloved classic, finally appreciated for its sharp songwriting and adventurous production.  Downing and Tipton pushed synths into heavy metal in a big way, but with integrity and ingenuity.  Better run for cover indeed, and fast…for next is “Freewheel Burning”, a natural for keeping with the theme of turbos and the like.

As the disc roars to its close, we are treated to some serious historic Priest.  The oldest track is “Victim of Changes”, from the immortal Sad Wings of Destiny (1976).  This most dramatic of Priest compositions is always welcome in the set, yet was not on Priest…Live! probably to avoid overlap with 1979’s Unleashed in the East live album.  This one boasts a blazing hot guitar solo and some of Rob’s most impassioned wailing.  This stretches out for nearly nine minutes of pure metal brilliance at its most vintage.  But the vintage metal gift-giving is not over, because “The Green Manalishi” (1979’s Hell Bent for Leather, via Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac) delivers the greatest of all riffs.

It’s nothing but the hits from there:  “Living After Midnight”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”, and “Hell Bent for Leather”, the standards that everyone knows.  “Another Thing Coming” is stretched out with Rob’s annoying back-and-forth with the crowd, but it is what it is.  “Heavy metal communication”, he calls it.  Nobody is buying this CD for another version of that song anyway.

“You don’t know what it’s like!”  So get this package, the triple CD set, and you will!

5/5 stars

For Superdeke’s amazing review including some tidbits about who the drummer(s) on this live album really is (are), check it out:  superdekes.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/judas-priestlive-in-kansas-city1986

REVIEW: Poison – Look What the Cat Dragged In (remaster)

POISON – Look What the Cat Dragged In (1986, 2006 Capitol remaster)

I remember seeing this album in the racks of our local Zellers store.  I didn’t know the band.  I thought CC Deville was pretty cute.

Taking the gender-bending makeup of the mid-80’s to its logical end point, Poison stormed out of Hollywood and onto the charts.  They did this with a handful of great singles, including “Talk Dirty to Me”, “Cry Tough”, and “I Won’t Forget You”.  Also huge, but barely tolerable as a song, was the singalong “I Want Action”.

Bass "rapin'?" Good god!

Bass “rapin’?” Good god!

Armed with just $23,000, Poison recorded Look What the Cat Dragged In with producer Ric Browde (Ted Nugent, W.A.S.P.) in less than two weeks.  What they emerged with was a fun, raunchy and terrible sounding album with some big hits and plenty of filler.

“Cry Tough” was a tight little opener, a hot and bright rocker about going out and givin’ er.  “You gotta cry tough, out on the streets, to make your dreams happen!” sings Bret Michaels in full-on cheerleader mode.  Unfortunately the sonics of the album leave much to be desired.  The guitar, drum and vocal sounds are demo quality at best, but that’s what you get for $23,000 and Ric Browde.

The other singles were all huge.  “Talk Dirty to Me” is now minor staple, and “I Want Action” (annoying as it is) is another.  The ballad “I Won’t Forget You” is an album highlight, well before Bret & co. had mastered the art of writing hit ballads.  Low key, basic and electric, “I Won’t Forget You” is very different from “Every Rose” and some of the later broken-hearted Poison love songs. Paul Stanley has a cameo in the road-ready music video, which didn’t hurt.

That leaves a hell of a lot of room for filler, and Look What the Cat Dragged In has plenty.  Of the album tracks, the decent ones include the saucy glam-slam rawking title track, and another song called “Want Some, Need Some”.  Both tunes could have used some last-minute tightening up, but neither are as bad as the dreck on the tail end of the album:  “#1 Bad Boy”, “Blame it on You” and the horrid “Mama Let Me Go to the Show” all suck absolutely.  “Play Dirty” on side one is also pretty awful.

Even with the quality issues in sound and songwriting, Look What the Cat Dragged In sold over 3,000,000 copies.  20 years later, it was given a fresh remastering and three bonus tracks.  The remastering could not fix the audio issues, but the bonus tracks are pretty good.  Single remixes of “I Want Action” and “I Won’t Forget You” are marginally better than the original album tracks.  Somebody realized that they were sonically deficient, and the remixes help a teeny tiny bit.  Then Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” is added to the end, a song that got more exposure on the covers album Poison’d!  The bonus tracks go a long way towards making the album a little more listenable from start to end.

2/5
stars

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REVIEW: Jethro Tull – Songs From the Wood (Remaster)

For JT!

Scan_20150807JETHRO TULL – Songs From the Wood (1977, EMI 2003, remaster)

I love the jaunty, lighter side of Jethro Tull.  One of the reasons I started listening to Tull was that acoustic side.  It’s unique among rock bands.  They could still be pompous, but in a fun kind of way.  The critics called it “folk rock”, but that is misleading. It’s much more complicated than that.  Songs From the Wood might be considered the epitome of this kind of Tull music.  It was also the first for keyboardist David Palmer as an official member of the band, and perhaps that has something to do with the direction of the album.

The title track begins things immediately with this type of soft playful Tull song.  A multi-layered Ian Anderson sings harmonies with himself, and then the band come in backing him with gleeful but complex music.  Palmer’s synthesizer is immediately obvious, as he doubles down with John Evan, also on keys.  Certainly Barriemore Barlow has to be one of the most underrated drummers in rock, and his work here is as excellent as it is difficult.

Ian plays all the instruments himself on personal favourite “Jack-in-the-Green”.  This character from old English folklore is usually associated with the coming of spring, and the music is appropriate for that kind of imagery.  This kind of song was in part inspired by the countryside that Ian had relocated to.  While there he read a book on folklore, and that made its way into the music.  It’s hard not to like “Jack-in-the-Green”, unless you’re just a Grinch.  “Cup of Wonder” is brilliant, a celebration with orchestration and bright melodies.

“Hunting Girl” is the first song that delivers a big heavy riff (thank you Martin Barre). The song has a gallop to it, as if you are riding horseback with the Hunting Girl herself.  Martin’s guitar solo is a delight, a brief moment of rock genius.  Up next is a song that was re-recorded many years later for The Jethro Tull Christmas Album:  “Ring Out Solstice Bells”.  It doesn’t feel at all out of place on Songs From the Wood.  It fits the direction and lyrical concept of other songs, with the solstice theme.  Barrie Barlow’s drums on the outro are something else!

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Side two of the album opened with “Velvet Green”, a very percussive song.  Of the tracks thus far, it is the least instantaneous.  It’s one of the longest track at six minutes, and has a very progressive bent.  “The Whistler” on the other hand is pretty instant.  I used to mis-hear the lyrics.  I thought Ian was singing, “I have a pipe, and I’ve come to play.”  I prefer my words to the actual ones, “I have a fife and a drum to play.”  This brilliant little song is about as bright and jaunty as Tull get.  “Pibroch (Cap in Hand)” gives Martin Barre a chance to make a lot of cool noises…weirdly Kiss-like, actually.  “Pibroch” is a long bomber (8:35) and a bit too long at that, but the moments of brilliance shine through, as always.  Especially enjoyable are the quaint “Dr. Who” sounding keyboards near the end.  Just great stuff.  The closer is “Fire at Midnight”, a title that Blackmore seems to have ripped off for his Fires at Midnight album.  It is a brief mostly-acoustic number that returns to the bright spring-like sound that commenced the album.

The Jethro Tull remaster series has been excellent.  Songs From the Wood only has two bonus tracks, which is a darn shame.  “Beltane” shares lyrical themes with other songs on the album.  I don’t know if it’s a B-side or what have you, but it’s clearly from these sessions.  It boasts some of Ian’s best flute work on the disc.  It’s of excellent quality, a worthy bonus track for a great album.  The other extra is a live version of “Velvet Green”, every bit as complex as its studio counterpart.  It’s a bit more lively, perhaps.

People who like Tull would probably love this album because it emphasizes a lot of traits that are unique about Jethro Tull.  Those who hate “folk rock” or progressive rock, or whatever else Tull gets pigeonholed as (classic rock?*) should keep their distance from Songs From the Wood.

4/5 stars

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* Hey, they won a Grammy as a “heavy metal” band.

REVIEW: Scorpions – Taken By Force (remaster)

The second review from Toronto Record Store Excursion 2013!  I paid $7.99 at Sonic Boom.

SCORPIONS – Taken By Force (1977, 2002 Hip-O/Universal remaster)

I don’t have all the Scorpions albums, but I’m filling in the blanks with some of the critically acclaimed early albums.  Through that process I discovered that I really like the Uli Jon Roth period!  Taken By Force was their last studio album with Roth, although it was followed in 1978 with the double live Tokyo Tapes.  Taken By Force was also the last Roth-era album that I needed in my collection.  Unfortunately, according to the Wikipedia, although this remaster contains a bonus B-side and live track, it also contains an edited version of “Sails of “Charon”, a flaw common with almost all CD versions.

Taken By Force immediately states its heavy metal purposes with “Steamrock Fever”; the sound of a jackhammer and pounding riff opens the album.  Its anthemic chorus, melded with some Roth six string trickery and that unrelenting jackhammer will knock you down.  The Scorpions are not winning any awards for lyrical poetry, preferring to take the sledgehammer route with their message too.

All this is well and good, because next is a respite.  At least for a few moments, “We’ll Burn the Sky” allows you to cool down, before a classic Schenker riff takes the fore.  “We’ll Burn the Sky” is classic Scorpions.  It combines their penchant for melody and talent for executing memorable guitar riffs.  Roth’s slippery classical-like licks are icing on the cake.

“I’ve Got to Be Free” is the first Roth composition and features the odd bluesy licks flickering in and out of an otherwise heavy rock song.  I really like the screamed verses.  The broken-English lyrics of “The Riot of Your Time” seems to refer to the death of Elvis Presley, while foretelling the future of “’94 or ’95”.  According to the Scorpions, if the world is still alive by 1995, it will “be the start for the riot of your time”.  I don’t know what that means exactly, but the guitar seems to echo The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” through a heavy metal filter.

The original LP would have been split there and side 2 introduced by wind-like sounds, before entering “The Sails of Charon”.  That windy intro is cut on this CD, so “Charon” commences with the riff.  Surely, “The Sails of Charon” must go down as Uli Roth’s greatest contribution to the Scorpions.  This majestic masterpiece is ambitious, elegant and exotic.  And heavy.  Let’s not forget that the riff, while highbrow, is as heavy as a load of concrete.  (Incidentally, Testament did an amazing cover of this.)

“Your Light” is a funky Roth composition, one of the most likeable on the whole album.  When I say “funky” I don’t mean Sly and the Family Stone, think more the Deep Purple variety of funky.  There is also common ground here with sounds that Van Halen would later inhabit.  Then, “He’s A Woman – She’s A Man” resumes the sledgehammer assault that dominated side one.  New drummer Herman Rarebell had his first writing credit on this single.  Album closer “Born to Touch Your Feelings” is a ballad, with a long outro and overlapping voices.  It’s a solid, dramatic closing to an album that grabbed my attention at every turn and every song.

This 2002 remaster contains two bonus tracks.  First is “Suspender Love”, which was originally the B-side to “He’s A Woman – She’s A Man”.  It’s a slinky tune, fun and all, but very much unlike Taken By Force as a whole.  Still, I have no problem with the inclusion of relevant B-sides, so I’m glad to have this. The other bonus track is “Polar Nights”, originally from Virgin Killer but included here in the Tokyo Tapes version.  This was done because when Hip-O reissued and remastered Tokyo Tapes, they did it as a single disc meaning this song wouldn’t fit.  It was included here so you could still buy a complete Tokyo Tapes.  This is kind of sloppy, but at least the whole package is still available.  Also, since “Polar Nights” is a showcase of Uli’s bluesy, funky fingering, it’s also a nice way to close his final album with the Scorpions.

5/5 stars

As usual, the Scorpions courted controversy with their album cover.  The original “graveyard gunfight” photo was replaced in many regions with a plain cover with band photo.  This remaster unfortunately has the alternate artwork.  Shame about that.

Record Store Excursion 2013!

PART 1

PART 2

REVIEW: Poison – Open Up and Say…Ahh!

POISON – Open Up and Say…Ahh! (1988. 2006 Captiol remaster)

Man, did I feel old when this 20th Anniversary Edition came out. I remember buying the cassette back in ’89 (the year after it was released). I even conned my dad out of the $10 for it by saying it was for a school project! (It was…sort of.)  I purchased this at A&A Records & Tapes on the way home from school.

I’m glad that today, Poison are still around (as a live entity, anyway), and back to the same four guys who rose to fame in the 80’s. Although Flesh & Blood is a good album, and Native Tongue is criminally ignored, Open Up and Say…Ahh! is actually quite strong and best represents the early Poison sound.

Starting off with “Love On The Rocks” (featuring the lyric “swallow this” which was actually the original title of this album), Poison are off to a strong start. The riff is catchy, somewhere between glam rock and old classic rock n’ roll. What C.C. Deville brings to the party is a love of rock n’ roll, and that’s why when he left.  The band went more bluesy, too bluesy for his tastes.  That and the drug addiction did C.C. in. I don’t evem mind his guitar sound on this, I kind of like it. It’s overdriven and shrill, but it rocks and C.C. manipulates his instrument to pull off some cool sub-Frehley solos.

From there it’s the classic “Nothing But A Good Time”. The riff seems ripped off from “Deuce” by Kiss, but then later re-ripped off by Kiss for their song “Never Enough”! Anyway, you know the hits already, so I won’t spend too much time discussing these songs.  Suffice to say that I still hear “Nothin’ But A Good Time” on the radio.

What was actually surprising was that Open Up and Say…Ahh! is more than the sum of its singles. The album tracks are almost entirely as strong. “Back to the Rocking Horse” is another fun, catchy Poison rocker, followed by the harmonica-laden-shoulda-been-a-single “Good Love”. “Tearin’ Down The Walls” ended side one on a fairly strong note, and actually features some interesting changes.

Side two started with “Look But You Can’t Touch”, a juvenile sex song (it sounded juvenile to me even then), which nonetheless has a lot of energy. Then, three singles in a row: “Fallen Angel” (best song on the album), “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (no comment required), and the Loggins & Messina cover “Your Mama Don’t Dance”. Why was bassist Bobby Dall getting arrested in that video? I still don’t know! The album ended with “Bad To Be Good”, a bit too slow and ploddy, and the weakest song on the record.

This special edition has just a scant two bonus tracks, and one is a useless interview. Most people will stop the CD before the interview. The other is the very raw B-side “Livin’ For The Minute” which, if memory serves, was originally the B-side on the “Every Rose” 7″ single. It’s a fast rocker, demo-quality, and is more akin to the sound of the first Poison album. I don’t know where the interview comes from. In all my years of collecting singles, I’ve never run across it before, so if you care about it, it does seem to be a genuine rarity. “Livin’ For The Minute” has been released multiple times elsewhere. (Missing is the B-side “Gotta Face the Hangman”, available on the Crack A Smile CD.)

Also of note, if you had the censored version of this cover, the original has been restored on this edition.  Yes, this cover was censored.  Columbia House sold a version with the tongue and everything below blacked out.  Packaging-wise, don’t expect much else.

As an album, this is fun and has a great 80’s sound, thanks to the production talents of Tom Werman.  Younger kids will dig it for the pop punk-like energy. Older fans will want it for nostalgia purposes. That, and it still rocks really well.

As much as I usually maligned C.C. DeVille (Swallow This Live is almost unlistenable), I really like his work here. He may be no guitar wizard, but at some point you have to recognize the fun guitar playing here. It’s like toffee — sticky, sweet, and good. Too much might make you sick, but in moderation, it hits the spot. And really, he weaves some really fun melodic fills over his riffs, like icing on a cake.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensryche – Hear in the Now Frontier

HITNF_0005

HITNF_0001QUEENSRYCHE – Hear in the Now Frontier (1997, 2003 EMI remaster)

I remember when this album came out in the spring of ’97. There was anticipation and a certain amount of fear: How could Queensryche possibly top Promised Land? The band, as always chose to do something different. In this case they dropped the production, sound effects, and themes, and created a stripped down album of individual unrelated songs. That’s the nice way of putting it. Critics of the album say “Queensryche went grunge,” or “Queensryche went alternative.”

Whatever you call it, this is not a great album. There are some truly great songs, but they are in the minority, swimming through a sea of padding. Guitarist Chris DeGarmo wrote the music for almost every song here, and about half of the lyrics. He even got his first lead vocal (“All I Want”).  Even though Hear in the Now Frontier (God I hate that title) isn’t a great album, Queensryche has missed DeGarmo’s presence.  This was his last album with the band.

As I said, there are some great songs.  They include:

  • “Get A Life” – Not very Ryche, but it’s a heavy rocker based on the riff and Geoff Tate’s shredding vocal melody.
  • “All I Want” – A piano-based ballad with a nice rhythm, very different from anything Queensryche have done before or since.
  • “Hit The Black” – Grungy, distorted lead vocals drive this heavy riff-oriented groove rocker.  I like it.
  • “Anytime/Anywhere” – Another heavy rocker that would have fit right in on the Q2k album.
  • “sp00l” – The only song that I might describe as progressive, and the one that sounds the most like Queensryche.  Powerful vocal and melody. Sonically interesting, and centered on the bass guitar much like “Della Brown” or “Promised Land”.

But that’s pretty much it for me. The other 9 tracks I would describe as dry, flat, not memorable, melodically poor and homogenous. It is clear that the vision for this record was to make something that sounded stripped down, and even with odd flourishes such as violin and piano, it’s just too boring. Even the cover art (by Hugh Syme again) stinks.

There are four bonus tracks, all of which are decent. Three songs come from the “Sign Of The Times” CD single; “Chasing Blue Skies” is a studio track, and had it been on the album, it would have been one of the best songs. Why it was left for a B-side, I don’t know. Maybe because they didn’t want another ballad on the record, which was already bogged down by slow numbers? Anyway it’s great, and sounds like something from Promised Land. Then there are three MTV Unplugged tracks, all fantastic. “Silent Lucidity” and “The Killing Words” were released as B-sides, but “I Will Remember” was completely unreleased in audio format until now. These songs are all considered rarities, as the singles have been out of print for over a decade.  They are at least worth having, even if you don’t like the album.

2/5 stars

More RYCHE:

REVIEW: Triumph – The Sport of Kings (1986)

Part one of a two-part series by request of the mighty DEKE!

TRIUMPH – The Sport of Kings (1986, remastered 2003, TML Entertainment)

And the award for Worst Album Cover of 1986 goes to…Triumph!

Seriously, can anybody tell me what the hell this is supposed to be? Methinks the band just didn’t care anymore, and the music contained herein bears me out.

The Sport Of Kings, following the double live Stageswas a total about-face for Triumph. Starting off with a turgid sequencer riff, the album shifts immediately into “coast” on “Tears In The Rain”. Keyboards, bad sounding drum samples, coupled with a sappy almost guitarless song, and that is the opening track! (I hereby trademark the word “guitarless” as my own creation.)  Post-split, Gil Moore and Mike Levine were pretty adamant in their blaming up Rik Emmett for the change in direction.  Certainly, the early part of Rik’s solo career backs up that claim.

I’ll admit to being into “Somebody’s Out There” at the time, but it is hard to listen to now in the car with the windows down.  Wouldn’t want anybody to see me.  (The remixed version from the recent Greatest Hits Remixed CD is better.)   This song is just pure pop, way further into that direction than anything Bon Jovi was doing at that time.  But not in a good way.

The sad thing is, I really used to dig this album to the point that I wore out my original cassette. Now, on CD, I once every few years.  I’ll claim that I didn’t know better at the time. When I owned this the first time, I’d never heard a single Led Zeppelin studio recording; not one. I had never heard of “Smoke On The Water”, and I’d never heard a Rush album. Perspective changes even if the songs remain the same. The problem is that Sport Of Kings is too pop:  not enough guitar, not enough rock, not enough Triumph, too many keyboards! Hell there are three keyboard players on this album (one being Kitchener’s own Scott Humphrey).

I’m trying to pick out some non-embarrassing highlights. I kind of like “If Only” for the lyrics and chorus.  “Play With the Fire” is Triumph trying to be progressive again, but the song isn’t any good.  I like “Take A Stand”, and I’ll admit to still enjoying “Just One Night” (an old Eric Martin demo, co-written by Martin and Neal Schon). I only wish the video remix was on an album of some kind. The superior original remixed version used in the music video has never been released on any music format that I own.  I’ll have to use Audacity to rip it from a DVD.

This is not the remixed video, unfortunately — they’ve replaced the remix with the album version

I used to enjoy “Don’t Love Anybody Else But Me”, and I think the melody is still OK, but man, those lyrics. Gradeschool stuff. Of course, I was in gradeschool at the time!  To me in 1986, these lyrics were probably pretty profound.  There’s nothing wrong with admitting that your tastes have changed and some music you just don’t dig anymore. In this particular case, the tastes of the entire world have changed. Richard Marx does not make top-ten albums anymore. This album lacks spark of any kind, it’s just a keyboard-ridden embarrassment. If you played anything on this album side by side with “Blinding Light Show” or “It Takes Time”, you’d never guess it was the same three guys.

But it is, and they had only one more “contractual obligation” record left in them after this. The end was nigh.

1.5/5 stars

Come back in a few days, and we will be discussing that very contractual obligation record!

REVIEW: Motley Crue – Motley Crue (Remastered edition)

MOTLEY CRUE – Motley Crue (1994 Elektra, 2003 remastered edition)

It is hard to forget that day in the winter of ’92 when I heard Vince Neil had been fired from Motley Crue. Or quit. Whatever. It was disbelief! I was so into their previous albums, Dr. Feelgood and Decade of Decadence with its crushing single, “Primal Scream”. The Crue were at the top of their game! How could this happen?

But it did happen, and when the spring of ’94 finally rolled around, I picked up Motley Crue (self titled, no umlauts).  I picked it up at the store that, in only a couple more months, I would be working in myself.  I realized after only two listens that Motley Crue had gone from strength to strength. They had produced what was and still is their heaviest album, the most uncompromised, groovingest (is that a word?), serious piece of metal they’d ever done. Sabbath-esque at times, this was one heavy album. John Corabi was in on vocals and (for the first time in this band) rhythm guitar.  John added new dimensions to a band that now demanded to be taken seriously.

The problem was, no one did. While I was working at a record store in ’94, I had a lonely stack of Motley Crue discs (sitting right next to a stack of David Lee Roth’s Your Filthy Little Mouth), going unpurchased. If this album had come out in ’94 by anyone else — Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden — it would have been a #1 smash hit and spawned at least 4 hit singles. It didn’t.

Originally just 12 tracks and now expanded to 15, the Motley Crue CD was heralded in by the grooving riff that was “Power To The Music”. A simple song accented by some of the best drum fills ever on a Motley disc (expertly captured by Bob Rock), “Power To The Music” was a rallying cry, something that the fans could relate to. Especially when Corabi shouts, “Don’t tell me to turn it down!” Lyrically this was not all that different from the old Crue. Musically, it followed the path set out by “Primal Scream”. Sound wise, this was a new different Crue, downtuned, with a gritty vocalist with power to spare, more guitars, clearer and louder drums, and sound effects.  Just more of everything.

Some backwards guitar introduced “Uncle Jack”, a song about a child molester, with a distorted Corabi screaming, “I wanna rip your god-damn heart out!” This, friends, was the new Crue for a darker and more serious time. Corabi’s gritty, bluesy vocal melodies were anchored by Sixx, Mars and Lee, grooving as they had never done on record before (with additions from Bob Rock). The new Crue was on fire after only two tracks!

The single, “Hooligan’s Holiday” was next. At 5:51, this was an odd choice for a single. It boasted a strong chorus, some unusual (for Crue) guitar drones, and some more amazing sounding drum fills. Rock really outdid himself on the sound of this record.  I think it’s the best sounding record that either the Crue or Bob Rock have made.

“Misunderstood” was the first epic piece and the second single. At nearly 7 minutes, it was again hardly a commercial song. It was the first song the band wrote together for the album.  It reflected a lot of Zeppelin influences.  It starts acoustic and somber, about a “little old man, left alone in desperate times, life’s passed him by.” Then it slows down, there’s some backwards parts, and the heavy riff kicks in. An orchestra backs Motley Crue, and the amazing Glenn Hughes joins Corabi on vocals.  Perfection.

From there the Zeppelin influences continue. “Loveshine” could have been on Zeppelin III. I’m not sure how many different acoustic instruments are present, but there are a lot, layered here and there.  There are also some odd percussion instruments that I have trouble picking out. This could have been another single, in a perfect world. One of the best songs on the record, “Loveshine” defied expectations by slowing the pace.  I didn’t expect there to be any ballads at all.

The pace picked up again with “Poison Apples”, which begins with a tinny transistor radio sound before kicking into gear. The only glam rock song on the album (the chorus contains the line, “We love our Mott The Hoople”), “Poison Apples” is really the only possible mis-step on a great record. It simply sounds too much like the Motley Crue of old, which to me confused the direction of the album. I would like to hear Vince Neil tackle this one someday (when hell freezes over).

Side two of the record began with “Hammered”, one of the earliest pieces of music written. I believe the riff and groove go back to when Vince Neil was still in the band. “Hammered” is one of the most Sabbathy moments on the album. I used to play the outro riff on my guitar all the time.  I loved that riff. This is a truly great song.

Another epic followed, this one “Til Death Do Us Part”. An ironic title considering that this was to be the only album with Corabi, it was also once the title track. Very Sabbathy once again, “Til Death Do Us Part” contains a slow droning riff, some clear and crisp cymbal work by Tommy, and some of the heaviest kick drums I’ve ever heard. A classic in any parallel universe.

My two favourite songs followed. “Welcome To The Numb” brings back more Zeppelin influences (think a souped up “Travelling Riverside Blues”), with Mars’ virtuoso slide guitar. The groove here is unbeatable and the guitar work ranks with Mars’ all-time best. Coulda woulda shoulda been a single.  I recall Nikki Sixx saying that this song barely made the album, as it had too much of the “old Motley vibe”.  I disagree; I think it was modern and cool.

“Smoke The Sky” is the “drug song”.  “We love our THC, when it’s time we smoke the sky!”.  It borders on thrash metal. Fast, riffy and heavy, this was single #3. The pace is incredible and the song will put you into a sweat.  Corabi makes absolutely no bones about the subject matter:

Marko Polo hailed it heaven,

Socrates inhaled it too,

Mr. President, tell the truth!

“Droppin’ Like Flies” brings back the Sabbathy grooves. Another slower riffy monster, it too is not brief at 6:26 with a long guitar oriented outro. It is followed by the final track on the original CD, “Driftaway”, which is another ballad. I think it took a lot of guts to end a CD this heavy with a ballad. This song too, perhaps, could have been performed by the original band. After banging your head for nearly an hour, this track acts as a comedown of sorts.  It’s my least favourite song, but it’s not a bad ballad.

The bonus tracks on the reissue include the first B-side, “Hypnotized”. This sounds like a demo to me. It is very heavy, very Sabbathy, and very raw. It has a long, drawn out droning outro. “Babykills” has a funky groove and clavinet. This has a bit of a glam metal sound, and was originally released on the mail-away EP Quaternary (which also contained 4 solo tracks, one from each band member). I am glad it has been returned to its rightful place on the Motley Crue album. Finally the CD ends with “Livin’ In The Know”, from the Japanese version of Quaternary. Not an outstanding track, it is clear that Motley Crue included the best material on the album itself. All killer, no filler — and “Livin’ In The Know” is admittedly filler.

It is very unfortunate that this album did not sell, and the fans couldn’t accept a Crue without Vince. In hindsight, it is great we got Vince back to (eventually) make the decent Saints Of Los Angeles CD. However, with Vince Neil solo at the time with his great Exposed album, and the Crue delivering this masterpiece, I was content for them to stay apart. While grunge had certainly taken over, Motley Crue did sabotage their own chances with some terrible interviews including one on MTV where they expressed indifference to their former lead singer being injured in a surfing accident.  They later walked out on the interviewer, and MTV played that clip ad nauseum. Stunts like these, and having swastikas on stage, tanked any chances this album ever had.

Once again I must give special mention to producer Bob Rock, who also played some additional bass and guitar on this CD. He managed to produce a heavy package without overproducing. There is heaviness, there is amp hiss, and yet the clearest crispest drums I’ve ever heard. He captured the downtuned guitars without making them muddy.

Pick up Motley Crue, turn off the lights, and get ready to rock to the heaviest and best album this band has ever made. It is a true classic in any just universe.

I even bought it twice, to get both booklets!  (And then again, in the Music to Crash Your Car to: Vol. 2 box set.)

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Jethro Tull – A / Slipstream (CD/DVD)

JETHRO TULL – A / Slipstream (2004 Chrysalis CD/DVD, originally 1980)

Unlike most Jethro Tull remasters, A did not contain any bonus tracks.  Rather, it includes the only official DVD release of Slipstream, an old Tull live/music video VHS release.

Cole’s Notes version of the history:  A began life as an Ian Anderson solo album, featuring new Tull bassist Dave Pegg and ex-Roxy Music multi-instrumentalist Eddie Jobson.  Jobson brought along his drummer friend Mark Craney, and then finally Ian asked his Tull bandmate Martin Barre to come in and play on a couple tracks.  Somehow, this turned into Martin playing on the entire album.

Anderson says that the record label, who were pushing for A to be released under the Jethro Tull banner, suddenly announced that Craney and Jobson were replacing current Tull members Barriemore Barlow, John Evan, and David Palmer.  This and other factors led to that exact lineup change, but with Jobson listed as a “special guest”.

A_0004Regardless of the office politics, A is a solid albeit very different and 80’s sounding Jethro Tull album.  I’m not a huge fan of the opener “Crossfire”, but I think that “Flyingdale Flyer” is a great combination of progressive rock Tull with the modern tweaks.  “Working Joe, Working Joe” is OK, but I’m not a fan of that funky synthy bass line.  I love the spacey sci-fi intro to “Black Sunday”, a precursor of sorts to “The Final Countdown”. Then it changes to something a little more challenging with the flute leading the charge.  At 6:39 and with multiple sections and tempos, this is easily the most epic track.

The digital pulse of “Batteries Not Included” is pretty cool, but it’s not really an outstanding track.  “Uniform” rolls along solidly.  “4.W.D (Low Ratio)” is a guilty pleasure.  “The Pine Marten’s Jig” sounds as the title implies, but perhaps just a little more complex than the average jig!  The closing song is the dramatic “And Further On”. Its mood is appropriate for a closer, and I dig that cascading piano.

Incidentally, this is one of those CDs that were “Copy Controlled”.  Boy, did that piss people off.  Some people said you had to take a black magic marker to the outer edge of the disc in order to copy them.  I never felt the urge to try this trick, and it doesn’t matter because the obsolete software does nothing to inhibit ripping today.

And that’s the album.  The DVD Slipstream opens with a homeless-looking Anderson (sleeping under a Thick As A Brick newspaper) being chased by the balloons from The Prisoner.  He then stumbles into a Jethro Tull concert, not a security person in sight!  When has this happened to you?

A_0005Tull then open with a hard rocking “Black Sunday”.  Martin Barre and Ian Anderson are really the only guys that look like they’re in the same band!  The excellent “Dun Ringill” is presented music video style.  It’s like Anderson playing over the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Bowman’s in the pod.  “Flyingdale Flyer” is better, with Tull as some sort of band of interstellar explorers.  Anderson’s facial expressions make this one irresistible.  The next song is once again live, and it is the classic “Songs From the Wood”.  Jobson’s got his hands full with two keyboards!  This is paired with “Heavy Horses” sounding unfortunately cumbersome due to the domination by those same keyboards.

“Sweet Dream”, one of my all time favourite Tull songs, ever, cannot be tamed by the keyboards.  They are there, but the song is powerful nonetheless, as it should be.  In this clip, Anderson plays both the homeless ragged man, and…a vampire!  I actually like this clip a lot.  My favourite clip is “Too Old  To Rock ‘N’ Roll”, the entire band dressed as old men.  This is the album version of the song.

Next is the lovely “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day”.  On this track, which is live, Eddie Jobson plays a neat electric mandolin.  “Aqualung” is pummeling, Mark Craney keeping busy while also hitting hard.  The set closes with “Locomotive Breath” which starts completely awful, as a new-wave-funk-prog song of some kind, before finally picking up steam as it should.  The flute solo is as brilliant as ever, and I’ll never get tired of watching Martin Barre shake his skullet wildly.

3/5 stars