rock music

The Big Lebowski radio, tonight!

I will be LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning java!  Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET).

This Week On Visions In Sound – The 20th Anniversary Of The Big Lebowski – Drop in to see what condition your condition is in this week as this week we celebrate the 20th of the Coen Brothers cult classic The Big Lebowski. We will also be live on Facebook!

I’m a bit of a fan of both the movie and its excellent soundtrack.  My movie review can be found here.  Check out my cool Lebowski ID and swag!

 

 

Advertisements

GUEST REVIEW: Rock and Rule (1983) by Robert Daniels

Please welcome guest writer Robert Daniels, from radio’s Visions In Sound 

ROCK AND RULE (1983 Nelvana)

“Oh what will the signal be for your eyes to see me…”

Back in about 1984 or 85 I remember watching TV one afternoon and stumbling on an animated movie. Interested, I stopped to watch. It had weird, trippy images and some scantily clad cartoon woman singing and a strange creature growling. My 14 year old mind was intrigued and then was completely blown when one of the animated characters said “Shit!” Cartoon characters were not supposed to swear!! Clearly this was a mistake. No, it was not a mistake, it was Rock and Rule. Although at the time I didn’t know the title and didn’t see the movie on TV again for a while.
Rock and Rule was set in a post apocalyptic future where the street animals evolved into a human like society. MOK is an aging rock star trying to find a specific voice in the guise of a worldwide talent search. MOK hopes to unleash a powerful demon from another dimension, his dwindling popularity driving him to destroy the world in vengeance and immortalize himself in the process. After returning to Ohmtown he finds the voice he’s looking for in Angel, a singer in a local band along with friends Omar, Dizzy and Stretch. MOK invites her to join him and when she refuses he kidnaps Angel and forces her to sing to raise the demon.

This was the era of the edgy “adult” cartoon, Heavy Metal, American Pop, Wizards, Starchaser: The Legend Of Orin and others. I do remember getting into an argument with my Mom back in 1981 about not being able to see Heavy Metal. “It’s a Cartoon…it HAS to be for kids!!!”.

It would be several years later when I was in high school that I described the ending scene to someone and they said “Oh yeah, that’s Rock and Rule…” Bingo, I had a title and looked high and low for a copy on VHS. Nothing. I was obsessed to find Rock and Rule. Of course, in the late 80s early 90s there was no internet so the only thing I could do was continue to bug the people at Steve’s TV to try and find a copy. Again, nothing. Then one day out of the blue I got a call from Steve’s. They said they found a copy and would order it for me. “Great” I said, “How much.” “$129.99”. My heart sank, that was far too expensive for my blood. So the film continued to sit in the back of my mind for years.

“My Name Is MOK, thanks a lot”

Then one day in (about) 2003, I heard of a showing at the former Hyland theatre. A local Anime expert and film buff rented the then-empty theatre to show the a cut of the film.

Also Don Francks, the voice of MOK, was going to be there. I jumped at the opportunity.

The film was nothing like I thought it was going to be. First, it was produced by Nelvana Studios that I only knew for Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, Droids and Ewoks, etc. All kids’ cartoons. It was also one of the first films I ever saw that listed “Songs by…” first above the main cast. This list included Cheap Trick, Debbie Harry, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, with a special performance by Earth, Wind and Fire. After the movie there was a Q & A with Don Francks, who I later found out provided the voices for such characters as Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget, Lackki from Captain Power and the un-credited voice of Boba Fett from the Star Wars: Holiday Special. I asked him if he based his performance of MOK on David Bowie. He said that he didn’t have any particular person in mind when he voiced MOK. I later found out that MOK’s full name was MOK SWAGGER a spin on Mick Jagger. However, the talent representation of The Rolling Stones’ lead singer objected and forced the producers to drop the character’s surname. It’s also interesting to note that David Bowie, Tim Curry, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger and Sting were all considered for MOK but the budget of the film couldn’t afford them.

“I dunno about this, nobody seems to be buying these ‘I survived the MOK concert’ T-shirts.”

This year (2018) is the 35th anniversary of this masterpiece of Canadian animation. Rock and Rule is the first English speaking Canadian animated feature film entirely produced in Canada itself. Unfortunately the film sat in near obscurity for years after being shelved by distributor MGM and never got released in North America. The film did develop a cult following after being shown on CBC (who held the Canadian TV Rights), HBO and Showtime. Bootleg copies would show up at comic book conventions oddly enough with Ralph Bakshi being credited as director.

“She can sing, or she can scream!!!”

Much like Heavy Metal from 1981 music was a huge part of the film and also much like Heavy Metal the music got tied up in rights issues.

Back in about 2005 just before the release of the Rock and Rule DVD, I was actually in contact with someone from Nelvana Studios who told me that director Clive A. Smith, whose wife Patricia Cullen had also written the score, had the tape masters for the soundtrack in his garage and that he might be willing to let me have them for mastering. Unfortunately nothing came of this as I lost contact but it was the closest I came to producing a soundtrack release. In 2010 the film was released on Blu-ray and unfortunately has become quite expensive on the used market.
It was previously believed that no official soundtrack album had ever been issued for Rock and Rule. In fact, Deborah Harry mentions on a “Making Of…” documentary that she hopes the music gets a soundtrack release.  However, as it turns out, a handful of film critics received a cassette tape featuring nine songs (“Hot Dogs and Sushi” and “Send Love Through” were omitted). All songs are extended from how they appear in the film and in familiar copies. “Born to Raise Hell,” “I’m the Man,” “Dance Dance Dance,” and “Ohm Sweet Ohm” have been officially issued on CD, along with an alternate version of “Pain and Suffering,” and “Maybe For Sure” (an alternate version of “Angel’s Song”).

Though a deliberate Google search will turn up a couple of versions of the soundtrack, this is the most common track list:

[2:46] 01. Born To Raise Hell (Cheap Trick – Album Version)
[5:14] 02 Angel’s Song (Deborah Harry)
[4:22] 03 My Name Is Mok (Lou Reed)
[2:11] 04. I’m The Man (Cheap Trick – Album Version)
[3:12] 05. Earth Wind And Fire – Dance Dance Dance
[2:49] 06. Ohm Sweet Ohm (Cheap Trick – Album Version)
[3:15] 07. Triumph (Lou Reed)
[1:28] 08. Hot Dogs & Sushi (Melleny Brown)
[3:28] 09. Invocation Song (Deborah Harry)
[3:41] 10. Pain & Suffering (Iggy Pop)
[5:56] 11. Send Love Through (Deborah Harry and Robin Zander)
[4:30] 12. Maybe For Sure (Deborah Harry)
[5:22] 13. Angel’s Song (Cassette Mix)
[3:29] 14. Invocation Song (Mono Cassette Mix)
[4:35] 15. My Name is Mok (Cassette Mix)
[3:42] 16. Pain And Suffering (Iggy Pop)
[0:52] 17. Triumph (Movie Mix)
[2:35] 18. Angel’s Song (Movie Mix)
[1:38] 19. Invocation Song (Movie Mix)
[1:49] 20. Pain & Suffering (Movie Mix)
[2:06] 21. My Name is Mok (Movie Mix)
[3:36] 22. Triumph (Mono Cassette Mix)

Rock and Rule falls into the category of “…what could have been”. Had MGM had more faith in the project and released it in North America it may have been a hit rather than the cult classic it would eventually become. If you haven’t seen it or are interested in a look at a piece of Canadian animation history check it out, you will not be disappointed.

A solid 4/5 stars.  Dark, and yet at the same time fun.

 

 

Robert Daniels

 

 

REVIEW: Led Zeppelin – “Rock and Roll” / “Friends” (2018 RSD remix single)

Unreleased Led Zeppelin?!  You don’t say!

LED ZEPPELIN – “Rock and Roll” / “Friends” (2018 Atlantic Record Store Day single)

The hype for Record Store Day exclusives is as strong as ever, but most of these releases are just empty cash grabs.  Coloured vinyl reissues of this, that or the other thing…nothing will compete with a mint original.  Sometimes you’ll see vinyl releases for albums that used to be exclusive to CD, but rarely will you be able to buy exclusive music.

Led Zeppelin saw to it that your Record Store Day dollars did not go to waste.

And as if you thought Led Zeppelin had “cleared the vaults” of unreleased material!  Here’s two more unheard mixes.  These cannot be found on the Zeppelin deluxe editions.  If you’ve collected all those already, then prepare to add two more tracks to your collection.  This is a pretty clear indication that Jimmy Page is not finished dusting off old tapes to sell.

There are no liner notes to explain when these mixes were done or by whom, but “Rock and Roll” was mixed at Sunset Sound.  Alternate mixes are fun for a fresh sound on an old favourite.  You can hear different nuances.  “Rock and Roll” has a nice clear heavy sound and maybe a little more echo.  “Friends” (from Olympic Studios) has a harsher sound, with the percussion part prominent in the mix.  The old intro is trimmed off in favour of a clean start with the acoustic guitar.

The yellow vinyl is a gorgeous bonus.  Add it to your Zep treasure chest.

4/5 stars

 

Thanks to Mr. James for picking this up for me.  You are a true gentleman, with a creepy Facebook avatar.

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Past Lives (2002)

BLACK SABBATH – Past Lives (2002 Sanctuary)
(CD 1 is a reissue of 1980’s Live at Last (NEMS))

Black Sabbath’s Live at Last (1980) has been reissued so often that its Discogs listing shows 81 distinct versions.  Those don’t include the Black Sabbath live set Past Lives, of which Live at Last forms its first CD.  The second disc is all unreleased live versions, from shows in 1970 and 1975.  These consist of some of the big Sabbath numbers that weren’t on Live at Last (“Iron Man”, “Black Sabbath”) and more obscure material like “Hole in the Sky”.

“Hand of Doom” from Paranoid is an unusual though doomy way to open the CD.  It rolls from gentle bass to a roaring mania.  It is a taut performance largely because of Bill Ward’s enviable swing.  “Hand of Doom” was recorded in 1970, but jumping ahead to ’75, Ozzy’s intro to “Hole in the Sky” is cute.  It wasn’t out yet.  “Listen to it, you might like it, OK?” asks Ozzy.  Then, “Are you high?  Are you high?  So am I!”

Some Sabbath songs are like a brand new bulldozer, unrelentlessly heavy, yet shiny and cool.  “Hole in the Sky” is one such riff-monster, an indispensable slab of heavy metal.  It’s followed by another new one, and even heavier:  “Symptom of the Universe”.  Young, wasted Sabbath blast through it — and stay the fuck out of Bill Ward’s way!  The drummer is a tornado.  “Megalomania” makes it a perfect trifecta of new songs.  It’s an epic 10 minutes of different paces, riffs and melodies.  Unlike other metal bands, Sabbath often welded two or three unforgettable riffs together into mega-compositions.  Look at “Black Sabbath” for example — they could have made two songs out of it, but instead we have one massive monolith.  On stage, “Megalomania” is tense and never boring.  Ozzy shreds his voice to pieces.

As far as Past Lives goes, these three songs (“Hole in the Sky”, “Symptom of the Universe” and “Megalomania”) are the nugget of gold in the middle.  It’s a first official live release for most of them.  A live “Symptom of the Universe” was issued by a Tony Martin-era lineup on 1995’s Cross Purposes ~ Live, but that cannot compete with the vintage original lineup.*

It’s only oldies from there in.  “Iron Man”, “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Black Sabbath” (with unique Tony Iommi guitar intro) make up for their absence on Live at Last.  “N.I.B.” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” from the first Sabbath round out the set.  Nobody did them better than the original band in the 1970s.

Today we have more original Sabbath to choose from that just Past Lives; two complete concerts were included in the recent Paranoid 4 CD box set.  Back in 2002, this kind of release warranted bigger fanfare.  The audio is not pristine.  Flutter, static and amp hum are part of the deal.  If you’re into buying archival live material, you know what this is about.

The original digipack release of Past Lives comes with a booklet, a poster, and most importantly a guitar pick.  Collectors will probably want to hold out for a version with pick intact, though finding one might be a “holy grail” item.  If you don’t care about such things, a simple jewel case release is widely available.

4/5 stars

 

* Sorry Harrison.

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Live at Last (1980)

BLACK SABBATH – Live at Last (1980 NEMS)

Although the Black Sabbath discography is not that complicated, we still struggle to know exactly how to file Live at Last.  Recorded in 1973 (Vol. 4 tour), it was shelved because the band were not happy with it.  Much later on (1980) it was released officially but without the band’s consent or knowledge.  They have shunned it, while Live at Last has enjoyed a number of re-releases and remasters.  For maximum fun, why not track down an old vinyl pressing with the singer’s name spelled as Ossie Osbourne?  (The vinyl pressing is also one way to get a completely unedited version; most CD releases lack at least the band intro.)

Live at Last was, for many many years, the only live Black Sabbath album with Ozzy.  Live Evil, released in 1982, had then-current frontman Ronnie James Dio.  Although considered a sub-par album, you didn’t have much choice back then.  Excessive Tony Iommi guitar feedback may be one reason the band weren’t happy with it.

Starting with new single “Tomorrow’s Dream”, Sabbath sound coked to the brim.  Iommi’s guitar pukes sonic sludge, Bill Ward floating behind, and Geezer playing bass melodies from another world.  “Sweet Leaf” continues the trip; Ozzy howling “I love you!” while the stoned band pummels through.  Original Sabbath has a looseness that no other lineup possessed.  It’s just something special that happens with those four guys, and Bill Ward had the swing to it all.

Brand new tune “Killing Yourself to Live” hadn’t been released yet, but it’s pretty intact in live form.  “Get high!” screams Oz.  The challenging song demonstrates Sabbath’s ability to meld multiple memorable guitar riffs together into a single whole.  “Killing Yourself to Live” has at least three distinct riff sections, each cooler than the last.  Unfortunately the recording doesn’t allow us to really hear how the audience responded to the new material.

“Cornucopia” alone could be responsible for birthing half of grunge rock.  The young band’s energy is remarkable.  “Snowblind” is a blast, with Ozzy shouting “CO-CAINE!” rather than whispering slyly. Closing side one, we come to “Embryo/Children of the Grave” and its unforgettable chug riff that launched many a metal band.  You can hear the crowd clapping madly at Ozzy’s command to “Embryo”, before the riff cascades down like the Biblical flood.  Bill Ward paces it faster than the album version by several notches.  “War Pigs” also swings, a little faster than album, but with an unusually jazzy touch.

For some serious swing, check out the 20 minute “Wicked World” medley.  Ward jazzes it up like nobody’s business, when he’s not crushing the heavy parts.  Tony Iommi has a varied guitar solo section, becoming “Into the Void”, then a blues jam and the old standard “Sometimes I’m Happy”.  That turns into “Supernaut” and a drum solo, before reverting right back into “Wicked World” for the finale!  This insane extended track is the one to buy the album for.

After asking the audience several times “What do you wanna hear?”, Ozzy closes with “Paranoid”.  Once again it’s quite fast with Bill ahead of the beat.  Osbourne tells the crowd that they’re beautiful and of course “we love you all!”  and that’s that — a one hour live album on a single LP, all done.  No “Black Sabbath”, no “Fairies Wear Boots” or “Iron Man”, but plenty of the blackest Sabbaths.

Recommended CD edition:  Black Sabbath’s 2002 Past Lives set, which includes a slightly edited version of Live at Last plus a whole CD more of unreleased live stuff.  It even has a sticker on the front that says “Live at Last…deluxe edition”!  Full review of that CD tomorrow.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Anomaly (2017 deluxe edition)

ACE FREHLEY – Anomaly (2017 eOne deluxe edition)

Ace Frehley’s solo album Anomaly was a comeback of sorts for the ex-Kiss guitarist.  Released in 2009, it was his first solo adventure since quitting Kiss for the second time.  In 2017, it was reissued as a questionable “deluxe edition”.  Why questionable?  There are only three added tracks.  The album was remastered (out of necessity so that the unreleased tracks match the album) and a new essay was included.

We reviewed Anomaly back in 2013 as part of a complete Ace Frehley review series.  There’s little point in rehashing it all.  The good songs are still the good songs:  “Outer Space” (Shredmill cover), “Fox on the Run” (The Sweet cover), “Change the World”, “Sister”, “Genghis Khan”, “Space Bear” and “Fractured Quantum”.  Three of those songs are instrumentals.  The filler is still there too:  “Pain in the Neck”, “Too Many Faces”, “Foxy & Free” and so on.

The best of the bonus tracks is “Return of Space Bear”, previously only available by download (and then disappeared off iTunes).  This is the first chance to get “Return of Space Bear” in any physical format, if you were lucky enough to get it at all.  What is “Return of Space Bear”?  Back on October 30 1979, Kiss did an appearance on the Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder.  Ace was “pre-lubricated”, so to speak, and had a little teddy bear Ace with him, “the first space bear in captivity”.  Gene Simmons tried to divert attention away from Ace, but a lovably drunk Frehley stole the show.  “Return of Space Bear” is a version of the album track “Space Bear”, with Ace’s dialogue re-enacted and added in.  Kiss fans will love it.

The other two extras are demos.  “Hard For Me” is an early version of “Foxy & Free” with different lyrics.  While less polished, the music is 100% intact and the demo is nice and lively.  According to the new liner notes, the record company thought that “Hard For Me” was a bit too dirty, and so demanded new lyrics.  Then there is a “slower” version of “Pain in the Neck”.  It’s not drastically slower, but a little heavier.

Is it worth re-buying Anomaly just for the bonus tracks?  Well, if you hated that weird fold-out box the original came in, then take note this version comes in a standard digipack (with nice embossed lettering).**  Online, fans were more excited about the vinyl editions, including a lovely picture disc 2 LP set.  Buying it again is justifiable if you haven’t already bought Anomaly, but difficult to do otherwise.*

3.75/5 stars

* I bought it to beef up an Amazon order to qualify for free shipping.

** On this edition, Les Paul’s name was added to the “In memory of…” on the reverse.  Presumably, when Les died in 2009, it was too late to add his name to the back.

COMPLETE FREHLEY REVIEWS

ACE FREHLEY – 12 Picks (1997 Megaforce Worldwide)
ACE FREHLEY – ACE FREHLEY (KISS solo album) (1978 Casblanca)
ACE FREHLEY – Anomaly (2009 version)
ACE FREHLEY – “Cherokee Boogie” (1996 Attic)
ACE FREHLEY – Frehley’s Comet (1987 Megaforce Worldwide)
FREHLEY’S COMET – Live + 1 (1988 Megaforce Worldwide)
ACE FREHLEY – Loaded Deck (1998 Megaforce Worldwide)
FREHLEY’S COMET – Milwaukee Live ’87 (radio broadcast CD)
ACE FREHLEY – Origins Vol. 1 (2016 eOne)
FREHLEY’S COMET – Second Sighting (1988 Megaforce Worldwide, 1998 reissue)
ACE FREHLEY – Space Invader (2014 E One/Victor Japan)
ACE FREHLEY – Trouble Walkin’ (1989 Megaforce Worldwide)
Return of the Comet – Tribute to ACE FREHLEY (1997 Shock Records)
Spacewalk – A Salute to ACE FREHLEY (1996 DeRock/Triage)

 

REVIEW: Rush – A Farewell to Kings (2017 super deluxe edition)

RUSH – A Farewell to Kings (2017 Anthem 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition, originally 1977)

And the men who hold high places,
Must be the ones who start,
To mold a new reality,
Closer to the heart,
Closer to the heart.

Today’s rock fans have a new reality of their own:  a market flood of “anniversary” or “deluxe” reissues far and wide.  The floodwaters are murkier when multiple editions of the same reissue are available, or when reissues are deleted in favour of new reissues!

2017 represents 40 years of Rush’s fine sixth album A Farewell to Kings.  An anniversary edition was guaranteed, but choose wisely.  For those who need the brilliant new 5.1 mix by Steven Wilson, you will have to save up for the 3CD/1 Blu-ray/4 LP super deluxe edition.  Only that massive box set contains the Blu-ray disc with Wilson’s mix.

To frustrate fans even further, A Farewell to Kings had a 5.1 reissue back in 2011, as part of the Sector 2 box set.  That 5.1 mix (by Andy VanDette) has received heavy scrutiny from audiophiles.  Steven Wilson, however, is well known for his work in the 5.1 field, and his work on the 40th anniversary mix lives up to his reputation.  His crisp mix is deep but unobtrusive.  It is occasionally surprising but always stunning, and over seemingly way too soon.  The separation of instruments is done with care, and without robbing the music of its power.  Rush albums were fairly sparse back then but Wilson managed to make a full-sounding mix out of it.

Powerful is A Farewell to Kings indeed.  Though the title track opens with gentle classical picking, before long you’re in the craggy peaks of Mount Lifeson, with heavy shards of guitar coming down.  Young Geddy’s range and vibrato are remarkable, though for some this is the peak of Geddy’s “nails on a chalkboard” period.

11 minutes of “Xanadu” follows the trail of Kublai Khan.  “For I have dined on honeydew, and drunk the milk of paradise!”  Neil Peart’s lyrics rarely go down typical roads, and “Xanadu” surely must be listed with Rush’s most cherished epics.  Volume swells of guitar soon break into new sections unfolding as the minutes tick by.

“Closer to the Heart” is the most commercial track, never dull, never getting old, never ceasing to amaze.  “Woah-oh!  You can be the captain and I will draw the chart!”  Poetry in motion.  “Closer to the Heart” may be the most timeless of all Rush songs.

“Cinderella Man” and “Madrigal” live in the shadow of “Closer to the Heart”, always there but not always remembered.  (Ironically enough, both these tracks were covered by other artists in the bonus tracks.)  “Madrigal” acts as a calm before the storm:  a cosmic tempest called “Cygnus X-1”.  Another great space epic by Rush cannot be quantified in language.  As it swirls around (even better in 5.1), you’re transported across the universe by the black hole Cygnus X-1.  Peart hammers away as Lifeson and Geddy riff you senseless.


The blacksmith and the artist,
Reflect it in their art,
They forge their creativity,
Closer to the heart,
Yes closer to the heart.

Next, Rush forged their creativity on the road.  They recorded their London show on February 20, 1978 at the Hammersmith Odeon.  Previously, 11 songs from this show were released as a bonus CD on the live Rush album Different Stages.  This newly mixed version adds intro music, the missing three songs and the drum solo.  (The missing songs were “Lakeside Park”, “Closer to the Heart”, and all 20 minutes of “2112”.)  Because this set has all the songs in the correct order, the old Different Stages version is obsolete.

Opening with “Bastille Day”, the London crowd is into the show from the start.  They cheer for the familiar “Lakeside Park”, which is followed by “By-Tor & the Snow Dog”.  This early Rush material is as squealy as Geddy has ever sounded.  He’s pretty shrill but Rush are tight.  It gets more adventurous when “Xanadu” begins, and from there into “A Farewell to Kings”.  Hearing Rush do all this live helps drive home just how talented they are.  The powerful set rarely lets up, as it relentlessly works its way through early Rush cornerstones.  “Working Man”, “Fly By Night” and “In the Mood” are played in quick succession, but is “2112” that is the real treasure here.  Anthems of the heart and anthems of the mind; classics all.


Philosophers and plowmen,
Each must know his part,
To sow a new mentality,
Closer to the heart,
Yes, closer to the heart.

What about bonus tracks?  You got ’em.  As they did for 2112, Rush invited guests to contribute bonus covers, and each does their part.  Headlining these are progressive metal heroes Dream Theater with their own version of “Xanadu”.  Dream Theater really don’t do anything small, so why not an 11 minute cover?  Mike Mangini is one of the few drummers who could do justice to such a song — well done!  Big Wreck do a surprisingly decent take on “Closer to the Heart”.  Not “surprisingly” because of Big Wreck, but “surprisingly” because you don’t associate Big Wreck with a sound like that.  Ian Thornley ads a little banjo and heavy guitars to “Wreck” it up a bit.  His guitar solo is shredder’s heaven.  The Trews’ take on “Cinderella Man” is pretty authentic.  Did you know singer Colin MacDonald could hit those high notes?  He does!  Alain Johannes goes last with “Madrigal”, rendering it as a somber tribute to the kings.

The last of the bonus tracks is a snippet of sound called “Cygnus X-2 Eh”.  This is an extended and isolated track of the ambient space sounds in “Cygnus X-1”.  Steven Wilson speculated it might have been intended for a longer version of the song.


Whoa-oh!
You can be the captain,
And I will draw the chart,
Sailing into destiny,
Closer to the heart.

Box sets like this always come with bonus goodies.  The three CDs are packaged in a standard digipack with extensive liner notes and photos.  Four 180 gram LPs are housed in an upsized version of this, with the same booklet in massive 12″ x 12″ glory.  The LP package alone is 3/4″ thick!

A reproduction of the 1977 tour program is here in full glossy glory.  This contains an essay called “A Condensed Rush Primer” by Neil.  Additionally, all three members have their own autobiographical essay and equipment breakdown.  Alex Lifeson’s is, not surprisingly, pretty funny.  Things like this make a tour program more valuable and as a bonus, this is a great addition to a box set.  Digging further, there are two prints of Hugh Syme pencil sketches.  These works in progress are interesting but it’s unlikely you’ll look at them often.  The turntable mat is also just a novelty.  Perhaps the goofiest inclusion is a little black bag containing a necklace with a Rush “king’s ring” attached to it.  Wear it to work next casual Friday!


Whatever edition of A Farewell to Kings you decide to own (the most logical is the simple 3 CD anniversary set), you can rest assured you are buying one of the finest early Rush albums.  If you have the wherewithall to own the super deluxe with 5.1 Steven Wilson mix, then let the photo gallery below tempt you.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Queen – Flash Gordon (with 1991 and 2011 bonus tracks)

Flash Gordon – Original Soundtrack Music by QUEEN (Originally 1980, 1991 and 2011 Hollywood CDs)

When mom and dad rented the movie Flash Gordon, we sat and watched it as a family.  “It’s terrible,” a family friend told us.  There were only so many movies available to rent at the local store (Steve’s TV), just one small wall of VHS and Betamax.  Flash Gordon came home with us one weekend, and because we tried to make the most of our movie rentals (including the VCR, also a rental) we watched it twice.

I have not seen Flash Gordon since that childhood weekend.  It really was awful.  Maybe we hoped for more because Max Von Sydow was in it.  Neither Sydow, nor Brian Blessed, nor a young Timothy Dalton could save Flash Gordon.

Flash Gordon, New York Jets

Queen also could not save the movie, though their soundtrack is certainly one of the best things to come of it.  (Another is the movie Ted, basically a love letter to the original Flash Gordon).   All four Queen members wrote music for the film, and recorded it as a band.  Brian May wrote the lion’s share of material, though Freddie Mercury was responsible for “Vultan’s Theme”, later ripped off for an Atari video game called Vanguard.  I wonder if Freddie ever saw a dime from that?  I knew Freddie’s song from the video game by heart, long before I ever heard the album by Queen!

The soundtrack gave us one Queen hit single, “Flash’s Theme” written by May.  The 2011 double CD has a single version, and a live cut from Montreal in ’81 (also on Queen Rock Montreal), as bonuses to the album track.  “Flash’s Theme” is sparse but catchy, featuring movie dialogue that makes it seem like the film should be much better.  Queen’s bombast was ideal for this.  When Roger Taylor sings the highest notes in the chorus, it’s sheer musical delight.

The album plays like a soundtrack, with lots of atmospheric keyboard instrumentals and movie dialogue.  Because of its ambient nature, you might not at first recognise some tracks as Queen.  Some is similar to the ambient work that closed their last album, Made in Heaven.  The music is far more grand than its onscreen imagery.

One of the most memorable instrumentals is “Football Fight”, a Mercury synth workout.  Perhaps sometimes we forget what a great keyboardist Mercury was, simply because he was such an amazing vocalist.  “Football Fight” is super fun, and you can also get it in a piano-based demo version on the 2011 CD.  Check out a Queen-tastic version of Wagner’s famous “Wedding March” performed by May on guitar.  Finally there is the rock track “The Hero”, a riffy song with full vocals by Freddie.  It reprises some prior themes from the soundtrack, such as “Vultan’s”.  Queen is augmented by an orchestra on “The Hero”, which is as grand as you would expect.  Like “Flash”, you can also get “The Hero” on disc two in live form, in Montreal 1981.

A long forgotten bonus track for this album was released on the 1991 Hollywood Records CD.  A remix by somebody called “Mista Lawnge” starts off well enough, with a grinding beat synched to May’s guitar.  It goes downhill when somebody starts rapping, “Flash, one time!  Flash, two times!”  Note to all remixers:  Never, ever add random rappers to rock songs.  Don’t.

Rest assured, no matter which version of Flash Gordon you pick up, there are some definite musts on the album.  Much of it will only appeal to fans of soundtracks.  If that sounds like you, take a ride with Flash to planet Mongo and get down with some Queen.  Skip the movie!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Merry Axemas – A Guitar Christmas – Various Artists (1997)

Welcome to…
…Hosted by Vinyl Connection

MERRY AXEMAS A Guitar Christmas (1997 Sony)

Do you have a favourite Christmas album? Perhaps you need some Merry Axemas in your life.  The first one, in particular.

I used to have an annual tradition of making a Christmas mix CD.  I dropped it because after a while I ran out of good Christmas tracks. Something from Merry Axemas used to make the list every year.  Not only are there great traditional songs, but also the finest guitar slingers in the world.  For an album of (mostly) instrumentals, this one really rings the bells.

Louisiana blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd gets things started with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  Anyone on board with the blues should enjoy the solid jamming going on here!  This isn’t for grandma.  This is for guitar maniacs!  Progressive stylist Eric Johnson has a beautiful “First Nowell”, on a classical and electric guitars with accompaniment.  Grandma won’t mind this one at all, in fact she might want a copy for herself.  The wizard of the wires, Jeff Beck, then presents his slide guitar version of “Amazing Grace” complete with choir.  A different mix of elements, but not too hard to digest.


Not the version from this CD, which is instrumental

The Brian Setzer Orchestra comes out swingin’ with their instrumental “Jingle Bells”.  If you ever needed reminding how awesome the former Stray Cat is on six strings, then check this out.  Brian keeps it all accessible while simultaneously blowing off your nuts.  The big band is icing on the cake.  Joe Satriani is next up to the plate with an adventurous “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam”.  This one is strictly for guitar-heads and players, as it’s more a Joe showpiece than anything else.  Picture Joe circa Flying in a Blue Dream and you’re in the right place, but not very Christmas-y.  This is the only song that has never made one of my annual Christmas mix CDs.  Steve Morse’s “Joy to the World” is far more successful as far as the Christmas theme goes.  Steve does do it his way, but at least you can tell which carol you’re listening to.  If anyone can capture angelic Christmas guitar tones, it is Steve Morse.

How big can these names get?  Try Steve Vai on for size.  You might recall “Christmas Time is Here” from the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special.  Vince Guaraldi made it popular for all ages, and Steve does a playful take on it, using his guitar like a voice.  And the names keep getting bigger.  Heard of Joe Perry before?  The Aerosmith guitar hero does Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” as a Hawiian guitar instrumental which suddenly goes surf rock.  Rush’s Alex Lifeson then brings “The Little Drummer Boy”, with a low-key and quiet instrumental.

“‘O Holy Night”, performed by Richie Sambora formerly of Bon Jovi, swings and just barely misses.  It just doesn’t have that Christmas feel.  The Japanese guitarist Hotei has the final track, John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, which is actually a traditional that Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote lyrics to.  He goes a little over the edge partway through, but it mostly maintains the right feel.

Here’s the great thing about Merry Axemas.  Even if you don’t care for Christmas music, there is usually a need for it around, once a year.  Merry Axemas, with some modest editing, could suit your needs.  Don’t celebrate Christmas?  No problem — if you’re a fan of these players (particularly Morse, Vai, Perry, and Johnson) then you’ll want to hear what they did with these tracks.

4/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Hit Zone 4 – Various Artists (1998)

Welcome to…
…Hosted by Vinyl Connection

HIT ZONE 4 (1998 BMG)

“If You Could Only See” the reasons I own this CD.

Nobody buys a CD like Hit Zone 4 and likes every single track.  Stuff like this was popular because it gave kids an easy way to get a bunch of one hit wonders from the rock and pop genres without buying the albums.  There were also big names on board.  CDs like this were always on the charts, year ’round.  Today, kids just go to Youtube or Spotify.  But even a curmudgeon like me can find a few songs here to enjoy.

In particular, I bought this CD for a rare non-album version of “If You Could Only See” by the underrated Tonic.  This was their big hit, and the version on Hit Zone 4 is an alternate recording with a slightly new arrangement.  The liner notes lie and say it’s from their album Lemon Parade; this is obviously false.  In fact there’s no obvious way to tell it’s a unique version without listening to it.

What else is good?  “All Around the World” by Oasis (from 1997’s Be Here Now) is one of their more Beatles-worshipping moments.  Here it’s in the form of a radio edit (4:50).  I’ve never felt “All Around the World” was one of Oasis’ best tracks, and it works better in the context of its grandly overblown album.  However, “All Around the World” is like freaking gold, compared to Boyz II Men….

Other decent music:  I have a soft spot for Chantal Kreviazuk’s ballad “Surrounded”.  Jann Arden too, and “The Sound Of” is one of her very best tracks.  I’ve seen Jann live, and she did a fantastic show with stories and jokes and unforgettable songs.  Then there’s fellow Canuck Bryan Adams, with his excellent acoustic rocker “Back To You”, from his Unplugged album.  Few Adams albums from the 90s on are worth a full listen.  Unplugged is.  “Back To You” was the “new” track used as a single.  It’s bright and alive in a way that Adams’ later music is not.  Fiona Apple’s dusky “Criminal” is classic, of course.  Finally, who doesn’t still love The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “The Impression That I Get”?  They were one band that truly deserved their hit.  They’d been at it for so long, and this song is really just that one perfect tune for the right time.

Unless you were a kid in the 90s, you’ll find yourself skipping over ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys, All Saints, Robyn, and even Hanson.  Young Hanson can be tough to listen to.  I mean, they were kids, making music that kids liked.  It couldn’t really be helped.  I also find myself breezing past Mase, The Verve Pipe and Imani Coppola.  One hit wonders, right?  Shawn Colvin’s OK, but Boyz II Men can fuck right off.  “4 Seasons of Loneliness”?  Maybe because you guys are all wearing matching sweaters.  You can’t win friends with sweaters.

Hit Zone 4 is the kind of thing you buy in a bargain bin if you find it for $1.99.  These were once front racked at the old Record Store for $16.99 because they had so many hits from the late 90s.  It really was great value, because really, are you going to listen to Imani Coppola’s whole CD?  Be honest!

2.5/5 stars