Roadrunner

REVIEW: Fish – Kettle of Fish 88-98 (1998)

scan_20170105FISH – Kettle of Fish 88-98  (1998 Roadrunner)

Kettle of Fish, the “best of” Derek W. Dick, is the first and only CD I’ve ever had stolen from me.

I got it cheap, something like $7 brand new, from one of our stores.  Then a year later, someone stole the CD player from my car, with the Fish CD inside.  Emotionally distraught, I sought to replace it right away.  The best I could do was $30 for a replacement copy shipped from Fish’s official site.  How crushing.  I wondered with bemusement what the thieves thought of Fish’s progressive rock poetry.  I imagine they tossed the disc into a snowbank.

While Kettle of Fish is no replacement for Fish’s debut solo album Vigil In a Wilderness of Mirrors, it is a fine collection of the man’s first decade as a solo artist and an enjoyable listen through.  It also boasts a nice colourful booklet with all the relevant singles covers, photos, lyrics and liner notes by Derek W. Dick.  Incidentally my original copy was missing pages.  I wonder if that is how it ended up in our store?  A defective run, sent off to a clearance somewhere, that eventually found its way into one of our warehouses.  Missing pages notwithstanding, it’s an excellent packaging job.

Since the album is made up of singles (and two new songs that we’ll get to), you will always find that critical deep album cuts are missing.  “Vigil” was not a single, but it’s one of Fish’s greatest achievements.  There’s no “The Company”.  “I Like to Watch” is missing in action.  Instead the CD is arranged to give roughly equal time to all of Fish’s output to date.  Tracks from Internal ExileSuits, Yin, Yang and Sunsets On Empire are given fair representation.

Some of the best tracks are the lesser known variety.  “Brother 52” is hip and modern, yet still obviously Fish.  The loopy drums are perfect for the track, lending it a 90’s groove with a rock integrity throughout.  The spoken word parts of “Brother 52” are sometimes distracting, but are by and large incorporated as part of the song.  A vibrant violin solo goes for the kill and that’s all she wrote.  The Celtic jig “Internal Exile” is another immediate favourite.  The lyrics evolved from a song Marillion were working on for their unfinished fifth LP called “Exile on Princess Street”.  It was the kind of stuff Marillion were getting sick of. According to Dick, “The lyrics started to follow a more political lean with a distinctly Scottish nationalist tone. The band weren’t happy.”

I saw a blue umbrella in Princes Street Gardens,
Heading out west for the Lothian Road,
An Evening News stuffed deep in his pocket,
Wrapped up in his problems to keep away the cold.

Grierson’s spirit haunts the dockyards,
Where the only men working are on the documentary crews,
Shooting film as the lines get longer,
As the seams run out, as the oil runs dry.

The finished lyrics make you feel it. Yes the music for “Internal Exile” is bright and chipper, with a tin whistle to take your worry away. It sounds nothing like the morose music Marillion coupled it with. Maybe that’s what made all the difference.

Tracks including “Credo”, “Big Wedge” and “State of Mind” are varied and of very high quality.  You might think you put on an unknown 80s Phil Collins single if you play “Big Wedge” unannounced.  Of the two new songs recorded for the album, “Chasing Miss Pretty” is the most enjoyable.  It’s simple silly light rock for the summer time.  Fish seems to have dropped the ball a little bit on the lyrics, but “Chasing Miss Pretty” is still far more poetic than anything Jon Bon Jovi has ever written.

First of all, I caught her reflection in the window of the pharmacy store,
There I was locked up in my pick-up in the rush hour on the Delaware road.
It must have been the scent of her perfume or the glimpse of that French lingerie,
A product of my imagination, I blame it all on a hot summer’s day.

Unfortunately the other new song “Mr. Buttons” is forgettable musically and lyrically.  A song about hackers and e-crime in 1998 is going to sound quaint in 2017.

The weight of Fish’s early career casts a large shadow on everything the man has done since.  Vigil was a triumph in every way for the singer.  The early songs generally outshine the later songs.  You will find favourites in the later material, but the early stuff will probably keep you coming back for another listen.  The new songs are a nice add-on, and the packaging makes it worth a go, especially if you don’t own any Fish.  Proceed!

4.5/5 stars

 

Roger doesn't appear happy with his Fish CD.

Roger doesn’t appear happy with his Fish CD.

REVIEW: Queensryche – Dedicated to Chaos (2011 special edition)

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QUEENSRYCHE – Dedicated to Chaos (2011 Roadrunner special edition)

Dedicated to Chaos will probably go down in history as the album that broke up Geoff Tate and Queensryche. The ironic thing was that Tate and the band hyped this album as a collaborative effort, with songwriting efforts from the whole band.  It seemed from the early press releases that there was a conscious effort to have the original members contributing as equal members.  Even Scott Rockenfield sounded genuinely psyched:

“It’s huge rock but with a great dance vibe to it, real modern dance. It’s kind of like Rage through a time tunnel, bringing it into the now. There are a lot of electronic elements to it. It’s a big rock thing that is going to have a lot of color to it — it’s good and really intense.”

Hearing that, I was excited. Not for the idea of “modern dance”, but for the Rage For Order vibe through a time tunnel. That could have been good. Unfortunately those are just words. Dedicated to Chaos may have elements from Rage and Promised Land (samples) but it is lightyears away from anything “rock”…certainly not “a big rock thing” as Rockenfield claimed.

Is it progressive rock? Who cares. It’s not good enough for a band of Queensryche’s stature. Tate’s friends Kelly Gray, Randy Gane, and Jason Slater also collaborated, watering down the attempt at re-integrating the band members. The impact of Jackson, Wilton and Rockenfield can barely be felt, even on the songs they co-wrote.

So here we are with Dedicated To Chaos, supposedly a rebirth but actually a funeral. It could have been my favourite album since Promised Land, had they delivered what they promised. The guitar patterns are more drony than riffy. There are electronic effects, as indicated. There is a huge emphasis on rhythm, but not necessarily groove. To its credit, much like Promised Land and Rage, there are unfamiliar sounds coming from everywhere. Some are percussive, others are more musical, but this is another true headphones album from Queensryche. If you actually wanted to hear what they were up to. Which I do not, I’ve given it a chance. I listened intently when it came out, and initially gave the album a rough grade of a 4/5, assuming it would grow on me. It did the opposite, and I liked it less with each listen.

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This layout annoys me to no end.

My biggest complaint with Queensryche was Geoff Tate’s aging voice. It seems to have lost so much range and power over the years to the point where I can’t listen to Take Cover at all. The voice isn’t getting any better. At least it was recorded better than Take Cover. He’s using more of his own voices too. This is done particularly well on “Got It Bad”.

The positives: “Get Started” which sounds almost Empire-lite.  Melodically strong was “Around The World”, which also has a nice positive message. You’ll hear more of Tate’s sax on “Higher” which is a modern sounding song with just a pinch of funk, yet with dual guitar solos. Lyrically, we’re all over the map. “Retail Therapy” is just pissed off at the world. “Around The World” has a kum-bay-a peace and love message. We’ve even got some civil disobedience and the hint of a conspiracy theory in “At the Edge”: “Time to look at what’s behind closed doors, Got gasoline, ammunition, like 911, a controlled demolition.” It also happens to be one of the best and longest songs on the album.

The negatives:  Most of the bulk of the album.  It’s just forgettable.  Go ahead — tell me how “Luvnu” goes.  Can’t remember, can ya?  This piece of crap was written by Tate with his buddies Randy Gane and Kelly Gray.  Surprised?

The “special edition” had three bonus tracks. They are mellow and atmospheric, but worth having only to the fan and collector.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Ratt – Infestation (2010 Japanese and iTunes editions)

RATT – Infestation (2010 Roadrunner Japanese and iTunes editions)

Ratt needed a comeback. Lineup changes galore, deaths, poorly-received changes in sound — forget all that stuff.  The band has since stabilized.  Pearcy’s back on lead vocals, and Carlos Cavazo (ex-Quiet Riot) has taken over guitar duties from John Corabi. Corabi’s a rhythm player, not a soloist (and that’s not a knock on Corabi).  Cavazo rocks out quite a few solos on this album. The difference is noticeable, and it’s a welcome return to something like the Ratt sound of yore. Do you like twin leads? Cavazo and Warren DeMartini rip out a few, each with his own distinct sound, but meshing well like they’ve been doing this forever. Cavazo also contributes strong co-writes to about half the album. Surely, you can’t imagine a better match than this for Ratt.

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[Note:  Since this release, original bassist Juan Crocier has also come back, replacing Robbie Crane.]

Pearcy’s in great voice, the passages of time disguise-able. But be forwarned, if you never liked Pearcy’s style before, this album is not going to change your mind. His vocals are augmented by some nice, but not overdone, backing vocals from the band. Longtime bassist Robbie Crane supplies backing vocals while holding down the bottom end.

INFESTATION_0005The sound of the album is pure Ratt, but modernly produced; surely the best sounding record they’ve done so far. Picture a heavier Out Of The Cellar. There are nods and winks to other eras of Ratt as well: I hear a little bit of “Way Cool” here and there, and damned if “Best Of Me” wouldn’t have fit right in on Detonator. Yet this is no retro-fest, as much as it does echo the 80’s. There are still sounds here that sound tougher and more modern, like the fast and heavy opener “Eat Me Up Alive” (my second favourite song).  There’s filler here, but even the filler is worth holding your finger off the skip button.  All except perhaps the dreadful “A Little Too Much”.

There Japanese bonus track is a cool slow groove rocker called “Scatter”, with a great memorable chorus. This is the best song to me.  Itunes got the track as well, but because I always prefer a physical edition, I bought the Japanese for my physical copy.  You will have to judge the value of that expenditure yourself, however I deemed it worthwhile.

There are also three live bonus tracks on the iTunes version, worth getting. These songs are “You Think You’re Tough”, “Tell The World”, and “Way Cool Jr.”, all previously unreleased and with Cavazo on guitar, “Live from the Rockline Studios”.  “You Think You’re Tough” is my favourite song from Ratt EP.

If you have ever liked Ratt, pick up Infestation if you’re curious what the band sounds like 25 years later. This is a solid Ratt album, not classic, but song for song among their better records.  They’ve retained their signature “Ratt N’ Roll” sound, but also what dignity and integrity a bunch of Ratts have. Well done.

3.333/5 stars