rock music

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Peter Criss (1978 solo album)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 13:  

 Peter Criss (1978 Casablanca solo album, 1997 Mercury remaster)

Peter Criss’ dreams of superstardom died with his first solo album.

To assuage egos and blow off steam, all four Kiss members agreed to record and release solo albums simultaneously.  This was done under the Kiss banner to unify them, but each member had complete creative freedom on their own.

A project like this had never been attempted before by anybody, and Casablanca records gambled on all four being equally huge.  They gambled wrong.  Peter Criss’ album was the biggest casualty.  It sold the poorest and charted at a lowly #43 (Billboard).  He assumed he was the star of the band due to “Beth” being their biggest single.  He set out to make an album like that, but Kiss fans were not likely to buy an R&B ballad album.

Criss hired Ringo Starr producer Vini Poncia (his first of a few Kiss collaborations), and wrote part of the album with his old Chelsea partner Stan Penridge.  He had a band of studio musicians, but was unable to play drums on the whole album due to injury.  For those tracks he used Allan Schwartzberg who also played on Gene Simmons’ solo LP.

There was a clear R&B direction, the stuff that Peter loved and couldn’t play in Kiss.  There are horns a’plenty and cool non-rock grooves.  Opening track “I’m Gonna Love You” pointed the way:  mid-tempo, loads of soulful backing vocals, easy beats and raspy singing.  His drums fit the sound perfectly.  “You Matter to Me” brought 70s synth into the mixture.  Easy listening light rock ballads go down smooth but don’t leave you feeling satisfied.

“Tossin’ and Turnin’”, the old 1961 R&B hit, was the only tune played live by Kiss on the 1979 tour.  Peter’s version of course does not sound like Kiss, but it’s a lively version suited to his style.  Another ballad, “Don’t You Let Me Down”, is a tender song but lighter than light.  Absolutely too soft for Kiss, but one of the stronger Penridge/Criss compositions that might have worked well covered by an easy listening artist.  Unlike “That’s the Kind of Sugar Papa Likes”, which is not a good song at all.

Criss played all the drums on side one.  Schwartzberg was on most of side two, opening with the quiet yet epic ballad “Easy Thing”.  It has a slow build into something big and orchestrated, and for this album it works.  Sean Delaney’s “Rock Me, Baby” brings things back to rock and roll, but with a mediocre track that wouldn’t be good enough for Kiss.  “Kiss the Girl Goodbye” was another soft and light ballad, pleasant enough but far from outstanding.  Penridge’s guitar is a delight, but the only delight.  “Hooked on Rock and Roll” on the other hand is a standout akin to “Tossin’ and Turnin’”, a little bit of an autobiographical track about the Catman.  “Every morning at the break of dawn, you could see him dragging home his drums.”

The final track, and one of the most polarizing, is Sean Delaney’s “I Can’t Stop the Rain”.  Some love it, some hate it, but one thing for sure:  it’s one of most bombastic ballads Peter’s ever recorded.  Piano, orchestration and stellar guitar by Elliot Randall (Steely Dan) make for a huge ballad.  Love it or hate it, “I Can’t Stop the Rain” is schlocky and bittersweet.

When Peter’s album failed to sell, Casablanca rushed out two singles.  The other Kiss members only got one each.  Neither “Don’t You Let Me Down” nor “You Matter to Me” made any impact.  The fallout from this album was that Peter Criss was perceived as out of touch by his band and his fans.  He was hoping to become a blue-eyed soul star, but his image never recovered.  From this point on, Peter’s dedication to rock was always under scrutiny, and his time in Kiss truly began to tick away.

Today’s rating

1.5/5 stars

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/17

 

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REVIEW: Faith No More – Angel Dust (deluxe edition)

Previously on mikeladano.com….

Faith No More’s deluxe edition reissue program began in 2015.  Two years prior to that, we reviewed two editions of Angel Dust:  An Australian 2 CD set with a bonus EP called Free Concert in the Park, and the 2 LP version with a “MidLife Crisis” remix.  For this Angel Dust deluxe edition review, we will be incorporating old text from that review into this new one.  We also reviewed the 2 CD single for “Everything’s Ruined”.  Those tracks are also on this deluxe, and we will borrow text from that review as well.

scan_20170205FAITH NO MORE – Angel Dust (originally 1992, 2015 Slash deluxe edition)

Incredibly anticipated, and massively misunderstood:  Angel Dust separated the fans from the wannabes.  Reviews were mixed.  M.E.A.T Magazine’s Drew Masters awarded it 2/5 M’s and failed to grasp the genius that is the chaos within.  It certainly is an ugly duckling and will take more than a listen to reel in anyone.  Faith No More wearied of the “funk metal” tag and sought to distance themselves from it.  Importantly, Mike Patton dropped the nasal tone he utilized on The Real Thing.  Instead he unleashed his full voice in all its extremes.  With enviable range and power, Patton pushed his capabilities to their furthest limits.  Meanwhile, guitarist Jim Martin and the band were butting heads, and most of the songs were written without him.  Mike Bordin, Roddy Bottom and Billy Gould would send him virtually complete songs, which he then “grafted” guitar parts onto.  In a guitar magazine interview, Martin stated that he thought some of the songs were better before he added his own parts.

Angel Dust commenced with double shot of weirdness:  “Land of Sunshine” and “Caffeine”.  Patton pieced together the lyrics to “Land of Sunshine” from a collection of fortune cookies.  Musically it is dramatic, keyboard heavy and foreboding.  “Caffeine” is dark and aggressive, but is Patton’s first bonafide knockout vocal on the album.  From the ominous, gravelly lows to off the wall screams, Patton delivers it.  His voice knew no limits on Angel Dust.  A year prior, he released the debut album by Mr. Bungle.  There is little question that this must have demolished any vocal inhibitions he had with Faith No More.

The first single “MidLife Crisis” was about as close as it got to a commercial track.  You can certainly hear every nu-metal band in the world (Korn! I’m looking at you Jonathan Davis!) ripping off Patton’s gutteral vocal stylings.  But he lets it soar in the choruses.  The bizarre pseudo-rapped  verses, the samples, and the anthemic, layered choruses all pointed to new directions for Faith No More.  The ingredients had never really combined like “MidLife Crisis” before, although 1991’s “The Perfect Crime” hinted at some of these elements.

Perhaps the most bizarre song (there are many more coming) is “R.V.”  The lullaby-like piano backs a grizzly soliloquy from Patton, via Tom Waits, playing a trailer park trash character.  “Somebody taps me on the shoulder every five minutes.  Nobody speaks English anymore!  Would anybody tell me if I was gettin’…stupider?”  Once the novelty value wears off, it’s still a memorable tune due to the powerful choruses.  Patton nails another awesome lead vocal.  “Smaller and Smaller” returns somewhat to more conventional song arrangements.  A repetitive piano hook backs a hypnotic Patton vocal.  The choruses are a bit on the insane side, and then the song deviates into a sample-laden section of challenging rhythms.  Yet somehow the song remains memorable and catchy.  This is followed by the single “Everything’s Ruined”.  It must have been chosen because it is a solid mix of aggressive rapping with a memorable soul-influenced chorus.  While it doesn’t sound like it would have been on The Real Thing, it’s about as close as Angel Dust gets.

“Malpractice” is one of the most delightfully messed-up tunes on the album, a mixture of disjointed sections, noisy guitars, smooth keyboards, feedback, all simmered to perfection.  By the time Patton’s screaming, “Applause, applause, applause, APPLAAAAAUUUUUUSSSSE!” we’re already clapping.  This song was a Patton baby, which explains it.  Certainly, the lullaby after the two minute mark is designed to lull you in before they hammer you with more guitars, samples and screams.  This closed side one.

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“Kindergarten” introduced side two with the sound of Patton barking thoughts about the ol’ schoolyard.  There’s no guitar solo, but Mike Patton muttering musically into a megaphone fills the void where the solo would go.  This is followed by Billy Gould throwing down a bass solo, and into the final verse.  The weak-willed will shudder before “Be Aggressive”, a graphic series of metaphors about swallowing.  This discourse is accompanied by a cheerleader chorus.  Jim Martin turns in a sloppy, Pagey guitar solo, the only one on the album.

After assaulting the listener with a song like that, “A Small Victory” is a welcome respite.  Its simple but bountiful melodies are perfect to soothe the ear canal.  This is also to prepare you for “Crack Hitler”, another bizarre sensory overload.  Funky bass meets distorted rapping, until it swerves into this weird, evil march.  Patton’s vocals run the gamut from light, to dark and monstrous. Even so, Jim Martin’s contribution “Jizzlobber” is the most extreme song of them all.  It has those creepy Friday the 13th keyboards, heavy guitar riffs and pounding drums, and Patton’s most aggressive lead vocal yet.  You don’t know what the hell he’s singing without the lyric sheet, so just be enveloped.  It’s just a pummeling assault, and unprepared listeners may find themselves overwhelmed and perhaps turned off from the album by this point.

The standard album ended with “Midnight Cowboy” supposedly because of some obsession that Billy Gould had with its storyline.  It’s a perfectly appropriate ending given the rollercoaster ride that preceded it.  It’s you, wandering off into the sunset, too wasted to really know if you’re headed in the right direction.  Just keep walking.  Some editions of the album (including this deluxe) added the cover of The Commodores’ “Easy” as the final track.  There are a couple different mixes of “Easy” out there, and this is one is from The Very Best Definitive Ultimate Greatest Hits Collection.  The horns are missing, the drums have more echo added, and Mike Patton speaks at the beginning.  The song is rendered remarkably straight, and it’s a performance like this that truly demonstrates Mike Patton’s vocal mastery.  The original version (the “Cooler Version”) with horns opens disc two, the bonus tracks.  It can also be found domestically on the EP Songs To Make Love To.

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Also from that EP is the bizarre German-language speed-polka “Das Schutzenfest”.  This is a novelty track, shits n’ giggles, nothing more.  A good laugh but unimportant.  The Dead Kennedys’ “Let’s Lynch the Landlord” was also released on the Songs To Make Love To, but it was originally on a compilation called Virus 100.  Jim Martin wasn’t there and the song is performed as a quartet.  An underwhelming acoustic performance, it sounds a little like the Faith No More of the future as Patton adopts a lower singing style.

The real treasure on disc two and rarest of the all is “As the Worm Turns”, a Japanese bonus track for that long out of print edition of Angel Dust.  “As the Worm Turns” was one of the most stunning songs on Faith No More’s debut We Care A Lot, with Chuck Mosely on lead vocals.  A full-throated Mike Patton re-recorded it for this bonus track.  Sacrilege?  It is the superior version now.

A couple included remixes are only a sampling of what is actually available on singles. The “Scream Mix” of “MidLife Crisis” is the extended, bass-heavier mix from the 2 LP edition of the album.  The “Revolution 23 (Full Moon) Mix” of “A Small Victory” is only one of four versions from a remix EP they released.  Then it is on to the live material, and there are some treasures there.  The live EP Free Concert in the Park, (recorded in Munich) is expanded from four to six tracks.  Mike Patton dedicates “Easy” to “everyone with hemorrhoids this evening!”  The guitar solo spot in “Easy” remains a Jim Martin favourite.  Even heavier and more chaotic versions of “Be Aggressive” and “Kindergarten” follow, replete with surprises.  The early obscurity “Mark Bowen” is another Mosely song given the Patton treatment live, adding his own spin and abilities.  Two tracks are added to the proceedings:  “A Small Victory” and “We Care a Lot” from the same show.  These live versions really hit the spot, as they are really cranked up, and “We Care a Lot” contains a segue into “Jump Around” by House of Pain.  It’s a shame the live recording is so tinny.   These tracks were also released on CD singles for “Easy” in Europe.

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Up next are the four live songs taken from the double “Everything’s Ruined” single, all recorded in September 1992.   “MidLife Crisis” is growly and impressive, and “Land of Sunshine” is amped.  “Edge of the World” is the point when the audience is asked to sing along, with Patton yelling “Fuck me harder!”  The trailer-trash-talk of “R.V.” sounds a little laid back live; something’s missing.  It would be much better with the full visuals of a Mike Patton performance.

The deluxe edition concludes with an outtake finally restored to the album it was written with:  “The World is Yours”.  It was originally made available on Who Cares A Lot? The Greatest Hits in 1998.  Like Angel Dust itself, it is sample heavy.  Marching soldiers and trumpeting elephants join Roddy Bottom’s ominous keyboards in a symphony of WTF.  It is a fully formed recording, with effects-laden vocals fully mixed and finished.  It would have fit the more experimental and anti-commercial direction of the album perfectly, but not without making the album overlong.

Angel Dust, unlike the more successful The Real Thing, has a timeless sound.  It is a once in a lifetime album, a perfect meeting of disparate elements.  Jim Martin was ejected after this, and never again would his heavy metal guitars be grafted onto the sonic experiments of Faith No More.  A pity, but they have since moved on even more expansive sounds.  Angel Dust in some respects can be considered the real debut of Mike Patton in Faith No More.  A triumphant one it is.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Extreme – III Sides to Every Story (1992)

scan_20170129EXTREME – III Sides to Every Story (1992 A&M)

Of Extreme’s five studio albums, there can be little doubt that Extreme III is the most ambitious.  It is a sprawling set over 80 minutes in length; too long for a single CD.  So long that only the cassette version has all 15 tracks in one place.  In contains three distinct sides, each different from the other, countless styles, and an orchestra.  Extreme took what made them popular on the last album, and what was currently going on with grunge rock, and tossed it all out the window.  They followed their own direction and were not rewarded with sales, but something more important:  a masterpiece.

The first “side” (keep in mind this is a CD) is subtitled “Yours” and consists of rockers both hard and funky.  After a comedic intro, “Warheads” annihilates the speakers.  A short choppy riff blows in, tempo opened up wide.  Gary Cherone tries to keep his messages entertaining, and this anti-war anthem has a pretty obvious message.  Nuno Bettencourt joins him for the choruses and breaks for a cool neo-classical solo.  The same message carries over into the first single “Rest in Peace”, introduced by a  string quartet playing the song’s melody before Nuno kicks it with a funky riff.  During the solo, Nuno even quotes Jim Hendrix.  “Rest in Peace” was not an immediate single, it takes some growing.  This is true of the whole album.  There is a lot going on.  Even that little Hendrix lick — blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s there making the solo that much cooler.  It is worth mentioning that Extreme did a fantastic video for “Rest in Peace” based on a 1952 National Film Board of Canada short called “Neighbours”. This wordless film served as the blueprint, but as a result they got sued and had to change it.

Gary Cherone loves creating his own portmanteaus (“Americocaine”, “Pornograffitti”), so “Politicalamity” is the title of the third track. It’s a wah-wah soaked funky rocker with fully-loaded horns making their first album appearance, in the tradition of “Get the Funk Out”.  Lyrically it continues the anti-war theme dominating the first side, and also social injustice, but in a fun catchy style. “Rich and poor, salute your country’s colours. Less is more, When one oppresses the other.” That was 1992; I wonder what Gary would have to say about today? Racial equality dominates “Color Me Blind”, one of the hardest rockers on the side. “I had a dream last night, I was blind, and I couldn’t see colour of any kind.” It is possible that the lyrical tone of the album turned off some old fans, though Gary keeps things from getting preachy.

“Cupid’s Dead” is the only song on the first side without a serious message. This rap-rock hybrid features a guest rapper (John Preziosa Jr.) and a chugging, funky riff.  Hard rock bands who incorporated rapping were seldom successful, but Extreme dodged this bullet.  “Cupid’s Dead” is good enough that is was recently dusted off for the Pornograffitti Live 25 tour.  Drummer Paul Geary and bassist Pat Badger keep the funk rolling in heavy fashion.  The side-ending “Peacemaker Die” features Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, surely some of the most powerful words in American history.  It is difficult to not get the chills when Dr. King speaks, framed in this excellent funk rock lament.

Take a moment’s break here and pretend you’re flipping a record.  Side two is subtitled “Mine” as a contrast to “Yours” for side one.  “Mine” consists of six ballads, but only five are on the CD due to the 80 minute time restriction.  Nuno expressed regret that the sixth track didn’t fit and hoped one day a 2 CD edition would be released.  Still hoping!

“Seven Sundays” is a romantic song, a piano ballad with Gary in falsetto mode.  Nuno adds synth strings for textures.  “If I had one wish, it wouldn’t be hard to choose.  Seven Sundays in a row, because that’s the day that I spend with you.”  Quite a turn from “Cupid’s Dead”, but that’s why it’s on another side.  “Tragic Comic” was the natural successor to the hits on Extreme II, a fun acoustic track with a “Hole Hearted” beat.  The lyrics are clever comedy and the track was selected as a single.  Many will identify with the hapless romantic, the titular stut-tut-tuttering p-poet.  “And when we dine, I forget to push in your seat.  I wear the wine, spillin’ it all over my sleeves.”  Been there done that Gary!  The lighthearted song is a delightful contrast to the darker material on side one.

Van Halen-style volume swells make up the intro guitar melody of “Our Father”, an electric power ballad with some stunning six-string mastery.   “Stop the World” was chosen as a single, a light melancholy ballad reminding us that if we forget history we are bound to repeat it.  These serious songs were not destined to repeat the big singles of albums past.  When you play these songs, you feel things and you think things, and not everybody wants music to do that to them.  Nuno’s solo on “Stop the World” is warm, immaculate perfection.  “Stop the World” merges directly into “God Isn’t Dead?” (except in single form of course).  “God Isn’t Dead?” is the darkest spot yet, quiet and painfully plaintive.  Piano and orchestra paint a stark picture.

The final song on the side, and a hint of the daybreak ahead, is “Don’t Leave Me Alone”, which is only on the cassette version.  Fear not however; it can be found in CD form on CD singles.  Just rip everything to your computer and slide “Don’t Leave Me Alone” into the correction position in the running order.  It belongs here at the end of the “Mine” side.  It deliberately ends it on a brighter note than “God Isn’t Dead?” though it is still far from a good-time ballad.  It is dusky lament, but with hints of light in the tunnel.  Nuno’s moog solo is a treat.

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At 12 songs, the “Yours” and “Mine” sides would make a complete album on their own, and it would still be an ambitious project at that.  Regardless, the third side titled “& the Truth” is the most industrious of them all, an eager fulfillment of talents bursting at the seams.  III Sides to Every Story…”Yours”, “Mine”, “& the Truth”.  This time, the side is made up of one massive 22 minute song called “Everything Under the Sun”.  It in turn is subdivided into three parts.  This is where the orchestra really comes into play.

Part I, “Rise ‘n Shine” is the sunrise after the blackness of the second side.  Gentle acoustics rouse you from your slumber, and Nuno takes the first verse of this duet.  Gary follows on the second as the orchestra swells.  “Rise ‘n Shine” is the most hopeful sounding music on the album, a bright and steady composition brilliantly structured.  Daniel and his dreams may be a Biblical reference but they don’t have to be.  A brief interlude foreshadows the melody of Part III, but first is Part II, “Am I Ever Gonna Change”.  This section was chopped out and used as an individual song live and on compilations.  You can hear why, since it has that echoey Van Halen guitar lick and a powerful nut-kicking chorus.  The orchestra returns and it’s Extreme at full power.  This eventually fades into the quiet start of Part III, “Who Cares?”.  Inaudible voices whisper during a piano passage, and then the orchestra returns at maximum.  Biblical overtones:  “Tell me Jesus, are you angry?  One more sheep has just gone astray.” Nuno’s singing is run through a vocoder giving him a computerized voice.  Some might think it sounds like The Elder gone wrong, but that would be selling “Who Cares?” short.  Finally Nuno breaks out of the circuit boards and come in at full voice for the final choruses.  The melodies from “Rise n’ Shine” and “Am I Ever Gonna Change” are reprised as the epic piece finally comes to a close.

There is little debate that “Everything Under the Sun” is the grandest thing Extreme have attempted in the studio.  It was a successful experiment, as it remains interesting and engaging through its entire 22 minute length.  You cannot say that for every Rush song of that nature.

Unfortunately for Extreme, the timing was all wrong, and this album soon found its way in bargain bins at cut rate prices.  The good news is that means you can get a copy yourself for next to nothing.  Try also to track down copies of the “Stop the World” or “Tragic Comic” singles, in order to get the full package.  They are plentiful on sites such as Discogs, and it’s important to hear the album at its full complete length.  III Sides to Every Story is an unsung hard rock masterwork, and if you want some softer rock songs with lots of brains and a huge heart, give it a shot.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: White Wolf – Endangered Species (1986 Japanese CD)

wwesWHITE WOLF – Endangered Species (1986 BMG Japan)

With a name like White Wolf you’d almost expect this band to come from the forests of Northern Ontario or Quebec.  No so; they hail from provincial capital of Edmonton Alberta (pop: 800,000).  So we’ll forgive that the music video for “Shadows in the Night” (from 1984’s Standing Alone) made them looks like outdoors winter survivalists.  Long-haired sidekicks of Les Stroud?  No; they look much more indoors-y on Endangered Species, their second album before disbanding.  The album cover is notable for being a Hugh Syme work, though obviously a lesser one.

They earned some minor video play with “She”, indicating a more keyboardy direction than album #1.  Mushy sounding drums distract from the killer Don Wolf (Don Wilk) chorus.  Akin to Dokken’s “Breaking the Chains”, “She” will appeal to hard rockers who like melody with their guitars.  It’s all about that chorus though, the kind that makes you hit “repeat” and go right back to the start.

White Wolf has a weird 80s metal thud and that combined with harsh production values make Endangered Species sound terribly dated.  Techy keyboard flairs sound lifted from David Bryan’s Slippery When Wet sound library.  Anyone craving mid-tempo 80s hard rock will find enjoyable music on Endangered Species, but few songs have the same impact as “She”.  Dull verses, bland choruses and generic song titles keep things from sticking.  Sub-Jovi with none of Jon’s then-irresistible innocence is a narrow niche.

“Just Like an Arrow” comes close, but the keyboards weigh it down when it should be flying.  Too many bands (Quiet Riot, Stryper, etc.) really let the keys have too much space around this time.  “Cryin to the Wind” has an excellent acoustic intro but not enough of a song to go with it.  The drum samples are obtrusive because they don’t sound natural.  It sounds like a lot of time was taken in the studio but the technology wasn’t up to the task, and everything came out tinny and powerless.  “Holding Back” doesn’t have enough hooks.  “Snake Charmer” steals a title and a hook from Ritchie Blackmore, and appeals as a Rainbow-like understudy.  The only other track besides “She” and “Snake Charmer” that hits the spot is “One More Time”.

Not a terrible album, not a flaming turd…but not a winner either.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – Hard Road: The Mark I Studio Recordings 1968-69 (5 CD box set)

scan_20170123DEEP PURPLE – Hard Road: The Mark I Studio Recordings 1968-69 (2014 Parlophone)

It’s fantastic that old mono recordings are getting the CD treatment.  The original mono mixes of the old Beatles albums were a revelation to those who had never heard them before.  The original mono versions of Deep Purple’s Shades Of and Book of Taliesyn are less surprising, but still a welcome addition for completists who want to hear it “as it was” in 1968.  Comparisons are difficult, but both albums sound like they were meant to be in stereo.  Unlike the Beatles pop rock compositions, Deep Purple’s featured a lot of solo work and even full-blown orchestral movements.  The stereo separation makes that easier to appreciate.  Only Purple’s third album, 1969’s self-titled Deep Purple, did not receive a mono mix.  It is presented here in stereo only.

Now, these three Purple albums all received the deluxe edition treatment (single discs) in the year 2000.  Those versions on Spitfire (links in above paragraph) are still excellent ways to get this early Deep Purple music.  They are fairly common, have great liner notes and pictures, and feature the stereo versions plus 14 bonus tracks combined between them.  There is also a compilation CD called The Early Years featuring more bonus tracks, including 2003 remixes and live takes.  Where Hard Road fails is in replacing these previous four CDs completely.  One would hope you would get  all the associated bonus tracks from this period in one handy-dandy box.  Sadly this box is not quite so dandy.  Here is a list of tracks missing from Hard Road that were on the remastered single discs:

  • “Kentucky Woman” (alternate take on The Early Years)
  • “Hard Road” (BBC session on The Early Years and The Book of Taliesyn remaster)
  • “Hush” (live from US TV)
  • “Hey Joe” (live BBC recording from the remastered Shades Of).
  • “It’s All Over” and “Hey Bop-a-Rebop” (unreleased songs, live BBC sessions from The Book of Taliesyn)

The live BBC songs above can also be found on the double CD BBC Sessions…except for “Hard Road”.

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Of course there is plenty of material on Hard Road that is not on those earlier discs, making things that much murkier.  In addition to the original mono versions, these include:

  • “Kentucky Woman” remixed in 2003
  • “Playground” in a non-remixed version
  • “River Deep, Mountain High” and “The Bird Has Flown” (single edits)
  • A fresh 2012 stereo mix of “Emmaretta”
  • The isolated single B-side version of “April (Part 1)”
  • An early instrumental version of “Why Didn’t Rosemary”

Irritating, yes.  But only to completists.  For just about anyone else, Hard Road will satisfy their need for pretty much all the Deep Purple Mark I they can handle.  It’s not as complete as the title would let on, what with that live “Hush” and alternate take of “Kentucky Woman” missing in action.  Instead you will receive a large booklet with plenty of notes and a new 2013 interview with producer Derek Lawrence.  He was on board early, before they were in Deep Purple.  He describes an early version of the band called “Roundabout” (with Bobby Woodman on drums and Chris Curtis on bass) as “bland”.  When Ian Paice and Nick Simper joined, they sounded better, but to Lawrence clearly Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Paice were the stars.

Each disc comes in its own LP-style sleeve.  It’s a gorgeous set.  It sounds fantastic, and was assembled with the usual care that goes into a Deep Purple album.  A few niggling missing tracks aside, this is highly recommended to those looking add the first three Purple to their collection.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: W.A.S.P. – The Last Command (1985, 1997 reissue)

scan_20170110W.A.S.P. – The Last Command (1985, 1997 Snapper reissue)

With W.A.S.P.’s second album The Last Command, Blackie & cohorts made a slight move closer to the mainstream.  Blackie Lawless gave the producer’s chair to Spencer Proffer who worked magic with Quiet Riot in 1983.  There was also a new drummer.  W.A.S.P. said sayonara to Tony Richards and hit Japan with new guy Steve Riley, who today is best known for L.A. Guns.  Riley’s pasty-white demeanor fit right in with W.A.S.P.’s horror rock fantasy.  This foursome (also featuring guitarists Chris Holmes and Randy Piper) became what many refer to as the “classic” lineup.

Each side of the original LP was top-loaded:  “Wild Child” led off side one while “Blind in Texas” was used to ignite side two.  This was a calculated move, as none of the rest of the songs are as memorable as the two singles.  The strategy worked as this album doubled the sales of W.A.S.P.’s first, and those two singles had a lot to do with it.  “Wild Child” in particular was proof that W.A.S.P. could write songs and not just iron riffs.  With a bright incandescence, “Wild Child” found its way onto radio.  It’s an early example of what Blackie Lawless can do when he gets everything right.

As for “Blind in Texas”?  It was always more of a novelty, a chance for the crowd to yell along with Blackie (just listen to the live B-side version on the Headless Children CD).  A cute ZZ Top cameo in the music video didn’t hurt their chances on the Power Hour, and even the staunchest critic must admit this is a blast of pure fun.

Delving into the deeper cuts, “Ballcrusher” is…a quaint love song, let’s say, with a metal chug and a cutting W.A.S.P. riff.  Throw on one of those shouty W.A.S.P. choruses and you pretty much know how “Ballcrusher” goes!  Wealth is celebrated on “Fistful of Diamonds” which is the blueprint for all the generic W.A.S.P. rockers to follow. Steve Riley made his songwriting debut on “Jack Action”, a cool but forgettable nocturnal chug. On side one, however you will discover one real diamond which is the slow and ominous “Widowmaker”. This one too is a blueprint, for classic W.A.S.P. prowls like “The Headless Children”.

Side two has its own pits and valleys. As a sequel to the first album’s ballad “Sleeping (In the Fire)”, “Cries in the Night” is less successful. However it does have a strangely futuristic Iron Maiden-circa-1992 vibe, as if Steve Harris nicked this song for some of his own on Fear of the Dark.  “The Last Command” is junk; limp and hookless.  Blackie plagiarized himself and not for the last time.  When Blackie goes “Running Wild in the Streets” it sounds as if he’s stealing from Quiet Riot.  Ask Spencer Proffer, but surely the similarity between the “all the way!” section and the “I want more!” part of “Scream and Shout” is not coincidence.  The point is moot as neither song is particularly amazing.  Closing The Last Command is “Sex Drive”, a “good enough” song but only just.

W.A.S.P. have been generous with their reissues and included virtually all their related B-sides on the CDs.  “Mississippi Queen” (Mountain) is actually a decent B-side cover.   You have to wonder if, in 1985, W.A.S.P. could have had a hit with “Mississippi Queen” just as Motley Crue did with “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room”.  Then “Savage” is better than 90% of the actual album.  Why are songs like “Savage” left off albums?  Who makes the decision to release it as an obscure B-side?  The rest of the bonus tracks are all live B-sides, and all W.A.S.P. classics:  “Fuck Like a Beast”, “I Wanna Be Somebody”, “Sleeping (In the Fire)”, “Hellion” and “On Your Knees”.  Some suffer from excessive crowd noise, but it sounds like W.A.S.P. were formidable live.  Blackie should consider selling a live album made up of single B-sides like these, all in one place.

So good are the bonus tracks for The Last Command that they even alter its final score:

3/5 stars (original LP)

to

3.5/5 stars (CD reissue)

REVIEW: Extreme – Saudades de Rock (2008 European & Japanese editions)

scan_20170115-2EXTREME – Saudades de Rock (2008 Frontiers in Europe, Victor in Japan, with exclusive bonus tracks)

Extreme were one of those bands that always seemed to resist reuniting. Nuno didn’t seem interested, or was too busy with Perry Farrell and Rihanna. When they finally did get the band back together, they did it right with a few tours and a new album to prove they still had the goods. 2008’s Saudades de Rock (Portuguese for “Nostalgic Yearnings of Rock”) earned positive reviews from rock critics.  It did moderate sales but the important thing was that it was good.

Immediately “Star” reminds us why Extreme were special in the first place:  Those harmonies, the good time Halen-inspired riffs, the kick-ass singer and a solid beat. Gary Cherone’s voice has aged well, coming over as a cross between Sammy Hagar, Freddie Mercury and Paul Stanley (good company to be in).  This song best exemplifies the “nostalgic yearnings of rock”, as the arrangement could have come from 1990.  Extensive (jaw-dropping) solos and a big chorus immediately remind us why this band was so critically acclaimed 25 years ago.

It’s not all longing for days gone by.  “Comfortably Dumb” concentrates its focus on the groove, like a bizarre cross between Soundgarden and the Trews.  The space-age guitar work by Nuno Bettencourt separates it from anyone else.  His style has matured nicely but still makes you wonder just how the hell he does it.  His machine-gun guitar riff on “Learn to Love” does the same.  It’s not all trickery:  these are also great compositions, with challenging rock arrangements.  Time changes and flurries of notes keep it interesting.  The middle section gives all the members a little time to shine including new drummer Kevin Figueiredo.

The first knuckleball is thrown on “Take Us Alive”, a genuine electric bluegrass shuffle.  Remember Extreme always prided themselves in their diversity, modeling themselves after Queen who were unafraid to do anything.  “Take Us Alive” is a new step for Extreme who have never gone this twangy.  Unsurprisingly they mastered this direction too.  A saucy funk rocker called “Run” goes in another direction, akin to Queen’s own funky experiments, just heavier.  Like Queen, Extreme topped it with a fine melodic chorus, but stay tuned for a superb outro.

“Last Hour” is not a ballad; more of a heavy dirge.  Nuno takes a quiet solo full of volume swells before going full shred. He then rips a page from the book of his solo album with the punky “Flower Man” (I say “punky” rather than “punk” since few genuine punk songs have a blazing Nuno Bettencourt guitar solo).  “King of the Ladies” is something else entirely, featuring Nuno on lead vocals.  It’s trippy, slinky, drony, modern and sultry with smoking instrumental sections and sounds like nothing else you can think of.  Few bands can take so many directions on one album and have it sound like a cohesive whole.

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Every Extreme album has at least one ballad, and “Ghost” is a wonderful continuation of this tradition.  With the focus on the piano, it’s a reprieve in the relentless guitar assault that makes up the majority of Saudades de Rock.  You have heard this sound before on albums like Extreme III.  We then visit the Houses of the Holy with “Slide” which possesses the unmistakable Zeppelin funk.  You’ll be wondering, where’s that confounded bridge?  The riff is a wink and a nod to “Sweet Emotion” and there is definitely some of that Aero-groove mixed with the Zoso Magic.

An acoustic reprieve is offered with “Interface”, a floaty ballad that fits this leg of the running order.  It merges into the funk-Halen of “Sunrise”, a nice heavy track before “Peace (Saudades)” takes us out on a dreamy, Queen-like ballad.  Yes that’s a lot of ballads late in the game and on paper it shouldn’t work.  It does because Extreme are consummate balladeers (each one being different) and successful composers of album-length works with a start, middle and ending.  “Peace” is a triumph and uplifting finale.

There are two bonus tracks available at the end of different versions of Saudades de Rock.  Both are old demos from the vaults, ancient relics of a pre-fame Extreme.  It’s a cool idea to release old unheard songs as bonus tracks, though unorthodox.  “Mr. Bates” (1986) is exclusive to Japan only.  It’s something like seeing old baby photos, or highschool yearbook grad pictures.  You wince and think “Well, they were young.”  Even so young, Nuno obviously had more talent than the average bear.  Europe got the better song “Americocaine” (1985), which shows off that blend of Gary and Nuno’s voices that, one day, would earn them millions.  You could imagine “Americocaine” showing up at the end credits of a minor 80s action movie.

Extreme played to their strengths, didn’t try to repeat anything from the past, while giving fans exactly the kind of album they needed.  The bonus tracks don’t fit, but who says a “bonus track” has to fit?   These are bonuses in the truest sense.  Rare little treats you can’t find anywhere else.  Any fan of the 1989 debut album Extreme will love them, because that is the era they resemble.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Extreme – Pornograffitti Live 25 (2016 Japanese 2 CD set)

scan_20170114-4EXTREME – Pornograffitti Live 25 (2016 Victor Japan 2 CD set)

When you hear that an album like Pornograffitti (which defined one of our teenage summers) turned 25 last year, don’t it make you feel old?  Maybe you haven’t played it in a while.  (If you haven’t, here is a refresher course.)  It was one of those discs that had appealing songs from start to finish, each different from the last.  All 13 songs (14 if you include the solo “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”) are reproduced in sequence on this new live CD release, fresh from a hot show in Vegas in 2015.  You can buy a blu-ray or DVD of the concert too, but CD collectors will want to spring for this Japanese double set.  On a second disc you get “Play With Me” (given more exposure in the movie Air Guitar Nation) and “Cupid’s Dead”, normally exclusive to the video version.  The total package is close to an hour and a half of some of Extreme’s best songs.  The Japanese printing also has its own cover art, though no other exclusives.

The familiar taped intro of rain and piano inaugurates the “funked-up fairy tail” that is Pornograffitti.  “Trying so hard to keep up with the Joneses!” begins Gary and and the Vegas crowd knows all the words.  With Nuno Bettencourt and Pat Badger helping out, the Extreme vocals are nice and thick live.  The sound is beefy goodness, wound up in electric guitar strings.  Kicking it on drums, Kevin Figueiredo keeps things pretty close to the way original drummer Paul Geary did it.  “Decadence Dance” is sincerely good nostalgia.

Following the vague storyline of the original album, “Lil’ Jack Horny” shows up amidst shimmery guitar harmonics and a funky lil’ riff.  The horn parts (tapes?) jack up the funky little guitar number, which carries over to “When I’m President”.  Nuno squeaks and squonks while Gary waxes poetic.  “So go ask Alice, ah you know what he said?  What did he say — remember, I wanna be elected?”   Maybe one day Gary, because it is indeed true:  just about anyone can be president!  Cherone promises that things’ll be different.  You can even be in his cabinet!

The funk peaks (obviously) on “Get the Funk Out” which remains as silly and fun as it was 15 years ago.  (Listen for a little bit of a lyrical modernization from Nuno!)  It’s pure live smoke only slowed down by the obligatory audience participation section.  This appropriately segues into “More Than Words”, which is slightly more than a singalong.  Stripped naked of the loud guitars, Nuno and Gary can still harmonize as clean and perfect as they always have.

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“Money” resumes the rock, as Gary bemoans the modern worship of the almighty dollar.  Nimbly killing it on both guitar and harmonies, Nuno Bettencourt is a super hero.  He does it again on “It (‘s a Monster)”, a stock album track that goes from point A to point B at top speed.  Some real gems start showing up a in steady string from there.  “Pornograffitti” possesses some serious funk metal riffage and guitar tricks, performed at an unbelievable level of rock supremacy.   Then it is time for the slow jazz lounge croon “When I First Kissed You”.  Piano flourishes and Figueiredo on brushes lend it a really pretty dusky sound.

“And now back to our regularly scheduled program!” shouts Gary as Extreme once again puts on their rock and roll shoes.  It’s time for “Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)”, another funky rock combo.  Nuno plays some of the fastest licks ever attempted, but that is mere warm-up, for next is “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”, the legendary guitar instrumental that re-defined the guitar instrumental for a short while.  There is no time to recover because it’s straight into “He-Man Woman Hater”.  This Van Halen-like blast contains some of Nuno’s finest fret abuse.

Pornograffitti was also a little different, and one aspect of that is that it ended with two ballads.  Historically that has been demonstrated as a risky way to end an album, but Extreme pulled it off by using two that were different from any of the others on the CD.  “Song For Love” was a big pompous Queen-like anthem, and you can all but see the lighters and cell phones waving in the air.  “Hole Hearted” was the memorable acoustic closing number, great for campfires and rock concerts alike.  Live is just as solid as the studio original.

Onto to the Japanese bonus CD with its two bonus tracks.  “Play With Me” has always been a bit of a novelty, but notable for its sheer velocity and Mozart-a-go-go guitar dexterity.  Few players have chops like these.  “Cupid’s Dead” is a set highlight – heavy, funky and progressive at times.  Extreme III deserves as much praise as Extreme II: Pornograffitti so it is quite pleasing to have this adventurous track close.

Bravo to Extreme for making this trip back in time a real treat.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Just Push Play (2001 import version with bonus track)

scan_20170109AEROSMITH – Just Push Play (2001 Sony, includes bonus track “Face”)

“I don’t think we’ve made a decent album in years. Just Push Play is my least favorite.” – Joe Perry

The sad and depressing fact of the matter is, Aerosmith could have retired long before Just Push Play, and we would have lost nothing terribly valuable.  They’ve pandered for hits before, but never as blatantly contrived as Just Push Play.  It’s an embarrassing state of affairs that deserves every inch of scorn we’re about to unload upon it.

Hi-tech digital tracks written and produced with outsiders make up Just Push Play, a weak attempt to be young hip and cool when Aerosmith were anything but. Look at the sleek haircuts in the band photo. Only Joe Perry appears to know what band he’s in. The album was recorded with sterility. At no time were all five members in the studio together, according to Joe, and that’s exactly how it sounds.

If their heads weren’t in the clouds (coming off their biggest hit single ever) they might have made a rock album.  “Beyond Beautiful” is a close imitation, a robotic and stiff carbon copy.  Ballads like “Fly Away From Here” sound as if faxed in from the office.  These blatant attempts to repeat past glories are among the most offensive on Just Push Play.  It is true that one of Aerosmith’s first hits (“Dream On”) was a ballad.  That was a long time ago and a long way from being flat broke and banging out a song in the middle of the night on a piano.  These new ballads like “Luv Lies” and “Sunshine” are written specifically by hitsmiths in order to appeal to people who would not normally buy an Aerosmith CD.  The result is that they appeal to nobody.

As bland and unappealing as these forgettable ballads are, none are as offensive as the title track “Just Push Play”.  Nobody asked Aerosmith to do a rasta-hip-hop track.  The Run-DMC version of “Walk This Way” is the definitive Aero-rap, a masterpiece of serendipity and cutting edge ambition.  Aerosmith thought it was necessary to revisit that sound 15 years later, and once again the result is a blurry facsimile that pales in comparison.

“Jaded”, the first single, is a great Aero-hit, one of the few from this era of co-writers and collaborators.  Fortunately you don’t have to buy the album to get it, as there was a five track EP you could buy instead.  If you go that way, you can still enjoy a couple different versions of the charismatic single.  “Jaded” had the kind of chorus that Aerosmith used to be able to write in their sleep, but now apparently need help to do.

There were different bonus tracks for different regions.  US and Canada got nil, but Europe got “Face” while Japan received “Won’t Let You Down” and a bunch of other stuff including five live tracks from 1978 (California and Texxas Jams).  That 2 CD Japanese edition might be worth tracking down for the bonus material, but “Face” remained exclusive to Europe.  Is it worth it?  Actually…it might be.  “Face” is an acoustic track that sounds a bit like a B-side.  It’s closest to “Jaded” in sound, and sounds looser than most of the rest of the album.  It’s certainly not going to become a lost favourite, but if you find a copy at the right price, consider it.

Just Push Play deserves the dreaded Flaming Turd.

FLAMING TURDS

1/5 stars

REVIEW: Rik Emmett & RESolution9 – RES 9 (2016)

Had I got it in time, this album could have made the Top Five of 2016 list.

scan_20161231RIK EMMETT & RESolution9 – RES 9 (2016 Mascot Music)

Rik Emmett had a long productive career as 1/3rd of Triumph, but he has rarely looked back.   Post-Triumph he has released a steady stream of jazz, rock, blues and acoustic music, sometimes revisiting Triumph songs in re-arranged form.  Finally the ice thawed and Triumph successfully conquered Sweden Rock.  In 2016 Rik released RES 9, a new rock album with his new band RESolution 9.

RES 9 is in fact a time machine.  Dial up track 1.  You will be transported back to 1990 with the rock boogie of “Stand Still”.  This is a spiritual sequel to “Drive Time” from Rik’s first solo album Absolutely.  Then punch track 2.  “Human Race” (not a Red Rider cover) could have been a single from 1986’s The Sport of Kings.  With Alex Lifeson guesting on guitar, Rik and the band tapped into the hookiness of 80’s Triumph, but with a modern integrity.  When you hit up track 3, you will find yourself in the future.  Accompanied by fellow Canadian James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Rik turns in a modern rock anthem with “I Sing”.  Big and uplifting choruses preceded by mellow verses are built for radio.  LaBrie’s vocals are the perfect compliment.  Without a shred of hyperbole, “I Sing” is absolutely one of the best songs Rik’s ever recorded.

The bluesy soul ballad “My Cathedral” gives Rik a chance to show off his impeccable chops.  His tone — unbelievable!  Moving on to “The Ghost of Shadow Town” effectively dials up 1976 in the time machine, with a dark heavy Zepp-ish blues.  “When You Were My Baby” continues down smoove blues street, throwing in some jazz licks.  “Sweet Tooth” is turn down a brightly lit side avenue, a sweet treat indeed.

A hard Triumph-like vibe permeates “Heads Up”, another fine hard rocker for the radio.  “Rest of My Life” adds the jangle of acoustic guitars to the rock and roll mixture, creating another fine concoction just begging to be a hit.  Things toughen up with the pure rock power of “End of the Line”, featuring the returns of LaBrie and Lifeson.  The sheer star power of all these Canucks in one studio must have driven the temperatures well below freezing.  Still the track smokes, and if you’ve ever wanted to hear Emmett and Lifeson go head to head, then wish no more.

But it is not the end of the line.  Back to the future, we have a bonafide Triumph reunion featuring the full trio of Emmett, Gil Moore and Mike Levine.  This long awaited reunion happens on the bonus track “Grand Parade”.  The genuine surprise here is that it’s not a hard old time hard rocker, but a thoughtful and musically deep blues ballad.  It strikes me as appropriate that this much anticipated track sounds nothing like old Triumph.  That was, after all, a long time ago.

With RES 9, Rik has re-established his rock credentials.  Whether he does another album like this is beside the point.  RES 9 is the point; a damn fine album indeed.

4.5/5 stars