robbie williams

Part 242: The Ego Has Landed

RECORD STORE TALES Part 242: The Ego Has Landed

In the spring and summer of 1999, Robbie Williams suddenly got big in Canada.  Previously he was all but an unknown.  That is until they compiled the best songs from his first two solo albums (Life Thru A Lense and I’ve Been Expecting You) onto one CD and called it The Ego Has Landed.  This compilation went platinum in Canada, but before that I had never heard of Robbie Williams.

One of my staff guys Matty K started spinning The Ego Has Landed in-store.  It actually grew on me quite quickly.   I bought it and still own it today.  I don’t play it often, but I have three major memories of this album that still stick with me:

1.       Once I got into it, Matt and I would play this album almost every shift together.  He’d pull his sweater up over his nose and imitate the cover.  Then in horrible accent he’d recite the hidden poem at the end of the CD, “Hello Sir”.  Good times!

2.       When we first carried it, I wanted to find out who Robbie Williams was.  I knew nothing about him, except that people were asking for the CD.  I then discovered via the magical internets that he was ex-Take That.  I knew who they were, at least.  Also, Alex Dickson from Bruce Dickinson’s band was playing with him.  I had no idea!   I remember trying to tell one of my bosses these cool details, only to have them snap at me!

“Hey, did you know who this Robbie Williams is?” I asked.

“I don’t care!” they barked.  “You’re carrying it, whether you like it or not!”

“I was just going to tell you that he used to be with Take That,” I responded sheepishly.   Somebody needed to chill the fuck out.  Bad times!

3.       I’d been waiting patiently for a used copy to come in, so I could get it cheaper.  I had a big cottage weekend coming up, and my friend Shannon was coming with me.  I didn’t want to subject her to thrash metal in the car trip, and I really wanted Robbie for the journey.  The weekend was fast approaching, so I decided to spend the money on a brand new copy.  We had a great trip and a great weekend, but the following week, guess what came in used and much cheaper?  The Ego Has Landed!  Fuck me.

I was given a free copy of the followup album, Sing When You’re Winning, by Warren from Global Bass magazine.  Unfortunately, I didn’t like it nearly as much as The Ego Has Landed.  In fact I’ve never bought a Robbie album since!

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Part 192: Mix One

MIX ONE

RECORD STORE TALES Part 192:  Mix One

Blank discs are so cheap, and musical tastes so fleeting today, that I wonder if anybody but me still has the first mix CD they ever burned?

I’m hoping some of you have, and I’m hoping to hear it about from you too.  My first disc was made in early 2001 when we got our first burner.  It was made for a very specific purpose.

At the store, there was an informal rule that if you were closing one day and opening the next, it was “OK” to borrow a movie overnight, watch and return it.  So if that was true for movies, why not a CD?  Why not a dozen?  A few nights after having the CD burner installed, I borrowed a bag full of discs and burned this compilation on a Maxell CD-R 650.  74 minutes!  Up to 16x certified!

I returned the discs the next day, all albums that I wanted one or two songs from, but not the whole album.  Many were soundtracks and tribute albums.  I ended up buying The Strokes’ album a few weeks later, an ill-advised purchase that yielded only two or three listens.  I don’t have that one anymore.  But I still have my mix CD with “Last Nite”!

The Robbie Williams + Queen track is taken from the soundtrack to A Knight’s Tale.  I shall maintain the anonymity of the store employee who had the crush on Heath Ledger and inundated us with this soundtrack.  The same disc also yielded “I Want to Take You Higher” by Sly and the Family Stone.

Track 3 is an industrial-rock hybrid tune called “Violent New Breed”.  I later purchased the Violent New Breed album by Shotgun Messiah.  Industrial rock fans will know that Messiah’s original bassist/singer was Tim Tim, aka Tim Sköld of KMFDM, Marilyn Manson, and his eponymous band.  I liked the title track enough to later buy the album and the prior one too.  Both were keepers.

I’ve been a Goo Goo Dolls fan for a while so I thought I would grab their INXS cover “Don’t Change” from an Ace Ventura soundtrack.  Their cover of “Bitch” came from the 1993 No Alternative compilation album.

Apparently I was on a Warrior Soul kick at that time as well.  Shame that there isn’t a great Warrior Soul compilation album that suits all my needs.  I bought and sold their studio albums.  As for Michael Jackson, I later decided to add a single disc compilation to my collection, offsetting my burning of “Billie Jean”.

This being a real odds n’ ends disc, it’s not a spellbinding listen today.  It’s fun to remind myself of some oddball tracks that I liked enough to burn but not enough to buy.  I’m also amused by the title Mix One, the first of many!  And I was even doing cover art back then, too.  On the cover is myself dressed up as the alien from Part 148: Navigate the Seas of the Sun!

2/5 stars!

NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES…

The return of the Dandy!

REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Skunkworks, Skunkworks Live EP (1996)

Part 24 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – Skunkworks (1996)

Bruce’s studio band from the last album, Balls To Picasso, had a regular gig to get back to (Tribe of Gypies) and Bruce formed a new young band he called Skunkworks:  Alex Dickson (guitar), Chris Dale (bass), and Alessandro Elena (drums).  Dickson’s since turned up on Robbie Williams albums.  (I know because I bought one.)

Why Skunkworks?  Well, you know Bruce and his love of aviation.  Skunk Works is the top secret project that brought to life the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird among other advanced aircraft.

Dryden's SR-71B Blackbird, NASA 831, slices across the snow-covered southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California after being refueled by an Air Force tanker during a 1994 flight. SR-71B was the trainer version of the SR-71. The dual cockpit to allow the instructor to fly.

Skunkworks, the album, was a new direction once again.  Just as Balls To Picasso was very different from Maiden, Skunkworks was another hard left turn.  It polarized fans:  Some praised Bruce for doing something new and different again, others were puzzled and disappointed.

And some were just pissed that he’d cut his hair.

With most songs of the 13 clocking in between 3 and 4 minutes (none exceeding 5), Bruce and Alex had written a set of tight songs.  Bruce was clearly in tune with what was happening with music in the 1990’s as most songs have that alterna-90’s vibe mixed with a heady prog-rock tendency.  The sound of the album is dry and in your face.

The problem for me is most of the songs are just not memorable.  The single “Back From the Edge” (which we’ll talk about later) is great, a rocket trip to the moon in a very sleek vehicle.  Also great is the metallic and  angry (but lyrically obtuse) “Solar Confinement”.  These songs I like a lot.  Most of the lyrics have a sci-fi bent that Bruce would revisit on later solo albums, which is also fine by me.

I don’t mind the epic closer “Strange Death In Paradise”, nor the chrome choruses of “Inside the Machine”.  I like the velocity of “Innerspace”.  But a day after listening to it, I couldn’t tell you how it went.

I love the Floydian artwork that unified the album with its singles.  Compared to later Bruce albums, the artwork doesn’t stand out as much, but as a whole with all the singles it works great.

As I mentioned, fans are really polarized on this album.  There has to be something here that I’m missing.  I do like the B-sides, which were mostly fantastic!  Some were heavy, some melodic, some acoustic.  All worth having.

 

“Back From the Edge” CD1 contained:

  • “Rescue Day”
  • “God’s Not Coming Back”
  • “Armchair Hero”

 

“Back From the Edge” CD2 contained:

  • “R 101”
  • “Re-Entry”
  • “Americans Are Behind” (one of Bruce’s trademark joke songs)

 

And the “Back From the Edge” 7″ picture disc contained:

  • “I’m In A Band With An Italian Drummer” (another joke song based on Alessandro Elena)

SKUNKWORKS – Live (1996 Japanese EP)

There would also be a cool live EP, billed under the name Skunkworks, and just titled Live.  This was only made available in Japan, and I paid $30 for a copy at HMV 333 Yonge St.  Now, this and all the B-sides are available on a deluxe edition of the album.  Then, I spent a lot of money to get all the songs, but the end result is a bunch of cool looking discs with united artwork.

The Live EP had four tracks, three from Skunkworks:  “Inertia”, “Faith”, and “Innerspace”.  It was capped off by a Maiden cover, “The Prisoner”, something Bruce was only beginning to do as a solo artist.  As a cover it highlights the differences in bands.

For the album Skunkworks:

2.75/5 stars

For the EP Skunkworks Live:

3/5 stars

Perhaps Bruce felt a tugging in his heart for heavy metal, or perhaps the fans were too vocal in their rejection of Skunkworks.  Whatever the case may be, Bruce decided to abandon the band Skunkworks.  He turned to his friend Roy Z, from Tribe of Gypsies and co-writer of Balls To Picasso.

“I want to make a heavy metal album,” said Bruce.  “Do you have any metal riffs?”

As it turned out, Mr. Z had plenty.  The Balls To Picasso lineup was back.  And that wasn’t the only reunion in the works.