remaster

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Sin After Sin (1977)

JUDAS PRIEST – Sin After Sin (Originally 1977, 2001 Sony reissue)

“SIN AFTER SIN, I have endured, but the wounds I bear are the wounds of love.”

This lyric from “Genocide” on 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny would have been little more than a throwaway, if Priest didn’t recycle the words “sin after sin” for their next album title.  Though the song may have appeared to be the same, much had actually changed.  For the first time, they had a producer that understood that kind of aggressive rock that the young band were trying to create:  Roger Glover, ex-Deep Purple, who had already recorded several albums for Elf, Ian Gillan and Nazareth.  Perhaps even more significantly, for the first time they had a serious drummer creating the beats:  the not-yet-legendary Simon Phillips, who had still already played on a Jack Bruce album.  This was just a session for Phillips, but it enabled Priest to break the shackles of rhythm and really start exploring.

Opener “Sinner” might have been the same kind of tempos that Priest were working with before, but there is a new slickness to the drums; an effortless drive with increasingly interesting accents.  With a solid backing, Priest sound more vicious.  “Demonic vultures stalking, drawn by the smell of war and pain.”  The apocalypse has never sounded cooler.  As Phillips drops sonic bombs left and right, KK Downing goes to town on what would become his live showcase solo.  His growls and trills sound like a beast inflicting wounds on a struggling combatant.  At almost seven minutes, “Sinner” is the album epic, and it’s the opening track!

Priest previously recorded a cover of Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust” for Gull records; that early version can be acquired on The Best of Judas Priest or Hero, Hero.  The Glover-produced track is the more famous and better of the two.  Radio play for “Diamonds and Rust” helped push the album to eventually sell 500,000 copies.  Rob Halford’s high pitched harmonies gleam like polished silver.

Ironic observation:  I hope by now we all know a light year is a measurement of distance, not time.  It is the amount of distance that light can travel in one year (9.46 trillion kilometres).  So, really really far.  Joan Baez playfully used it as a melodramatic measure of time in “Diamonds and Rust”.  (“A couple of light years ago”.)  On the next track “Starbreaker”, Halford refers to “light year miles away”, a crudely worded hyperbole for distance.  So with Sin After Sin, you get it both ways.  Regardless of scientific accuracy (or not) “Starbreaker” is a good track with a slightly flat riff.  Though Phillips is brilliant, it could just use a little more pep.

Like with Sad Wings of Destiny, you gotta have a ballad in there somewhere, and on side one that’s “Last Rose of Summer”.  This softie isn’t bad, though Priest have done and will do better.  Using a ballad to close a side isn’t always wise either, but on CD nobody really notices except us nerds.

“Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest” is a pretty epic side two opener, with harmony guitars playing an opening instrumental anthem.  Then a choir of Halfords joins in, and the band break in to what could be their fastest song yet.  From the wickedly fast dual guitar solos to the powerful rhythm, this song is a blitzkrieg of metal trademarks.  It’s relentless and all over the board, something that 80s Priest rarely was.

Side two keeps getting better with the groove of “Raw Deal”, which was Rob’s real “coming out” to fans in the know.  Today he calls it a “heavy metal gay rights song”.  It’s actually one of Halford’s best lyrics.  Instead of mashing together science fiction words and singing about battlefields, this time Halford paints a hazy picture of what is probably a gay club in Fire Island, New York.  It’s vivid but vague:  “The mirror on the wall was collecting and reflecting, all the heavy bodies ducking, stealing eager for some action.”  It’s also backed by some seriously cool Priest music, almost funky but always heavy.  “The true free expression I demand is human rights – right?”  It was all there in the lyrics all along.

A second ballad, the dirge “Here Comes the Tears” brings a cloudier mood.  An ode to loneliness, “Here Comes the Tears” is the one to play when you just can’t take it anymore.  When Halford starts givin’ ‘er at the end with the wildest screams in history, it sounds like an exorcism.  The guitars howl, a hint of piano can be heard, and there is an underlying choir of Robs singing sadly in unison.  Finally “Dissident Aggressor”, famously covered by Slayer, concludes the album on a violently fast note.  “Stab!  Fall!  Punch!  Crawl!”  This song is not for amateurs and might be the heaviest thing Priest have ever done.  There are plenty of contenders, but “Dissident Aggressor” must be in the Top Five Heaviest Priest Songs Ever.  But that being said, they still have the balls to end the song with another multi-layered harmony of Halfords.

The 2001 Sony remastered CD has two bonus tracks, and the first is the best in the entire series:  “Race With the Devil”, a cover of a track by The Gun.  This version, recorded for the next album Stained Class (Les Binks on drums) could easily have been a B-side all this time.  Why it went unreleased until 2001 is unknown.  Perhaps it was lost, but now that it has gotten a proper mastering job it is available on CD.  This is un-retouched, which cannot be said for other unreleased tracks in the Priest Remasters series.  “Run With the Devil” is raw, riffy, fast, and wicked.  All it really needed to make it album quality is a better guitar solo.  The second bonus track is a live “Jawbreaker” (Dave Holland on drums) from the Defenders of the Faith tour.  Out of place, but an excellent song regardless.

Incidentally, Sin After Sin is the last album before Priest adopted the first version of their current logo design.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: The Guess Who – Greatest Hits (1999)

THE GUESS WHO – Greatest Hits (1999 RCA)

Fun fact:  every Canadian citizen in good standing is issued a Guess Who album when they turn voting age.  Instead of that one, I upgraded to the remastered Greatest Hits in 1999.  The timing for a new compilation was right for the Canadian institution.  Though they never broke up, they had a big reunion tour in 2000.  Burton Cummings (Guess Who singer/pianist 1966-1975) and guitarist  Randy Bachman (1962-1970) had been out of the band a long time.  There was a 1983 reunion but even that was far in the past.  It was the Guess Who’s time in Canada once again, and in talking to Record Store customers, they couldn’t have been more excited if it was the Beatles.

18 tracks of Guess Who hits cover most of the well known bases.  Opening with the dramatic ballad “These Eyes” (made famous once again by Canadian Michael Cera in the movie Superbad) I’m reminded what a tremendous singer Burton Cummings is.  From the ballads to rockers like “No Time”, he could do it soulful or raspy.  Whatever the songs required.

And let’s not forget ex-James Gang six-stringer Domenic Troiano.  The Italian-Canadian guitar wiz was brought in on in 1974 and quickly aided and abetted the group in songwriting.  Only one Troiano-penned track is included here (“Dancin’ Fool”) but his slick riff is totally tasty.  (Unfortunately, Troiano is probably best known as the guy who Gavin Rossdale had to pay off to call his band “Bush” instead of “Bush X”.  Troiano had a band called Bush in 1970.)

The Guess Who were a remarkable band in their day, with a firm hand on both ballads and slick boogie rockers.  Yet their best known song, 1969’s “American Woman” is one of their least remarkable.  Written while tuning up at a curling club (look it up) in Kitchener (says Bachman) or Scarborough (says Cummings), it’s just sledgehammer rock.  Which is fine — there is nothing wrong with that kind of rock.  It’s just bizarre that it’s “American Woman” that people remember when The Guess Who had 20 or so better songs.   Check out “Albert Flasher”, a piano boogie that rivals the best of the genre.

This set is a fine listen from start to finish, and I can only really think of one rocker that’s not present — “Bus Driver”.  Otherwise it covers all the important stuff from the beginning to Cummings’ departure.*  It’s not an album for deep cuts or obscurities.  If you’ve spent extended periods of time listening to Canadian radio, you’ll know 50-80% of these songs.  If not, you hopefully already know “These Eyes” and “American Woman”.  Maybe even “Laughing” or “Undun”.  The Guess Who were always solid with just a little bit of quirk to them.  Solid bouncy musicianship, clever arrangements and lyrics, and a killer voice.  That’s Greatest Hits by The Guess Who.

4.5/5 stars

* The Guess Who continues today with a lineup including original drummer Garry Peterson and Quiet Riot’s Rudy Sarzo.

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

 

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

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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!