rock music

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “My Morning Straitjacket”

AMERICAN DAD! – “My Morning Straitjacket” (Episode 7, season 5)

Has Stan gone too far this time? Daughter Hayley has gone to a rock concert!  According to a furious Stan, rock concerts are “the devil’s music!  It’s the number one cause of school violence, teen pregnancy and leather pants!”  But My Morning Jacket are “awesome” according to Hayley, and she plans on going again the next night, until Stan confiscates the tickets!

Fortunately for Hayley, mom Francine understands rock and roll.  She used to get backstage the hard way, not like today with those sissy radio giveaways.  She secretly returns the tickets to Hayley, infuriating Stan. Using his CIA noise-cancelling earplugs, he goes to the concert to “rescue” his daughter.  “Idiots!  Paying good money to hear something they already heard on a record!”  But when he removes his special earplugs, he hears the music…and finally feels something!  Where Stan used to feel only anger, he now feels everything!

Jim James has an “angelic” voice according to Stan.  “He makes Enya sound like a Russian couple arguing at the bowling alley!”  He can’t get enough.  “I want to hear all their music!  Right now!”  This leads to an unhealthy obsession with the band, accompanied by a smorgasbord of their songs:  “Wordless Chorus”, “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream (Part 2)”, “I’m Amazed”, “Remnants”, “Highly Suspicious”, and “Phone Went West”. The animation for Stan’s musical fantasy sequence is suitably trippy. Stan flies through space carried by owls, with My Morning Jacket singer Jim James riding on his back! As usual for Stan, his obsessive behaviour leads to neglect for his family and job. Something has to be done! The final straw is when Stan spends $900 on a bootleg CD of Jim James gargling in the bathroom before a show.

Stan is under the delusion that he and Jim James are soul mates, so Roger the alien comes up with a plan. Dressed as his groupie persona Abbey Road (“I’m Abbey Road, and when it snows I need to be plowed!”) they go to follow My Morning Jacket and meet Jim James. When they finally encounter James in person, he convinces Stan that he already has a real soul mate — his wife Francine.

The music of My Morning Jacket is diverse and entertaining, and although their softer moments are a bit limp, when they rock they rock. As for this episode? It rocks.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Europe – Best Ballads (unauthorized Russian release)

EUROPE – Best Ballads (1999 unofficial Russian compilation)

Ah Russian imports!  Those funky and cheaply printed covers, the lack of liner notes or label information…how quaint.  It is clear the Tempest Administration had no collusion with anyone in Russia.  Yet the Russians did hack their database and release Best Ballads anyway, a weird collection of 12 Europe songs and three solo tracks by Joey Tempest.  This CD originated during the period right before Europe’s triumphant reunion album Start From the Dark, so Best Ballads only contains music from the first five Europe discs.

Because it’s unauthorized and the Russians can do whatever they want, why not have both versions of “Open Your Heart” on one CD?  The sweeping 1988 version from Out of this World inaugurates the album, a brilliant version often forgotten in favour of the 1984 original.  What’s the difference?  John Norum played on the 1984 version from Wings of Tomorrow, and the re-recording has his replacement Kee Marcello.  The 1988 version also has more modern keyboards added.  Since both are included, you don’t have to pick a favourite.  We can all agree it truly is one of Europe’s Best Ballads.

What else is present?  The “big one” of course, which would be “Carrie”.  It’s the only track from The Final Countdown, because it was the only hit ballad from that album.  Other crucial Europe ballads:  “Dreamer” (Wings of Tomorrow), “Coast to Coast” and “Tomorrow” (both from Out of this World).  All timeless and flawless ballads.  From their first album (1983’s Europe) are a couple songs I wouldn’t have considered ballads.  In my review, I stated that “Words of Wisdom” has “an acoustic verse [but] that doesn’t make it a ballad!”  The other track, “Return of the King”, is “still pretty epic and wouldn’t be considered wimpy by anyone”.  Do they belong on a CD called Best Ballads?  Who gives a fuck; it’s just a Russian import!

You’ll even find a couple rarities included.  “Sweet Love Child” and “I’ll Cry For You (Acoustic version)” are both B-sides from the Prisoners in Paradise (1991) period.   The title track “Prisoners in Paradise” is also present but again, not really a ballad.  Either way…all the Europe tunes included are fantastic no matter how you classify them.  Each one has at least a foot in ballad territory so it all works out.

But what about those Joey Tempest “bonus tracks”?  Surprisingly good and un-Europe.  “Under the Influence” flies close to adult contemporary levels.  “Lord of the Manner” could have been a hit for Rod Stewart, but that’s not a bad thing!  This is more like soft rock than balladeering.  “Elsewhere” sounds more like a ballad, enhanced with strings and all the accoutrements.  All good songs and worth checking out.

Europe’s Best Ballads is not a bad little CD, but being an unofficial release, it’s difficult to reason out a rating out of 5.  I did the best I could.

/5 ЗВЕЗДЫ

REVIEW: Tonic – Lemon Parade (1996)

TONIC – Lemon Parade (1996 Polygram)

“If You Could Only See” was both the song the put Tonic on the map, and the one that put the bullet in their career.  If you’re over a certain age, you remember the powerful and tasteful ballad from when it hit the charts in 1997.  I had the album already.  I bought it when it first came out, after reading a glowing review in the local paper and seeing a used copy pop in at the Record Store.  Finding Jack Joseph Puig’s name in the producer credits got my attention too.

Tonic’s debut Lemon Parade is a great sounding CD, thanks to Puig and the richly arranged guitars of Emerson Hart and Jeff Russo.  When the guitars are center stage, all is well.  The opening duo of “Open Up Your Eyes” and “Casual Affair” have the punch that people don’t always associate with Tonic.  These guys could play.  “Casual Affair” in particular has angst and emotion ripping out of those six-strings.  When they get heavy, like on “Wicked Soldier”, there is always something bright and chiming going on with backing guitars.  Check out “Celtic Aggression” for a fine example of their guitar expertise.  Emerson Hart has an emotive voice, whether rocking out or serenading the ballads.

It’s the ballads the people remember, and you have to admit that when you break it down, “If You Could Only See” is a fantastic song.  Layers of chiming, chugging and sliding guitars are right there beneath the core melodies.  On the mandolin-infused “Mountain”, plus “Soldier’s Daughter” and “Lemon Parade”, you can absolutely hear old-tyme southern influences creeping through.  Tonic have traits that sound as if from another era, in many ways.  These are actually quite great songs, largely forgotten because of that one hit.

There are only a few songs that don’t score top marks:  “Thick” (no hooks), “Mr. Golden Deal” & “My Old Man” (both too sleepy).  The rest is pretty solid.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Big Ones (1994)

AEROSMITH – Big Ones (1994 Geffen)

There is an informal rule that a band should have at least three albums out before they entertain the idea of a live or “greatest hits” release.  Aerosmith obviously had lots of albums out in 1994, but on two different labels:  Columbia, and Geffen.  Their 1994 best of, not-so-cleverly titled Big Ones, drew from only three Geffen albums.  Therein lies its weakness, though Aerosmith have often had issues trying to balance their classic and pop hit eras on compilations.  Big Ones is easily made redundant by later compilations, but how is it for a straight listen?

A long one:  73 minutes with lots of hits and perhaps a few too many ballads, although there is no denying their chart power.

Three songs were new to the majority of buyers.  “Deuces Are Wild” was a fine ballad, one of their best from this era.  It wasn’t entirely new; it was written for Pump and considered for Get A Grip before being released in 1993 on the Beavis and Butt-head Experience CD.  The other two were brand new recordings:  “Walk on Water” and “Blind Man”.  Fans who dug the heavy Aerosmith on tunes like “Eat the Rich” will enjoy “Walk on Water” as one of their harder rockers.  OK song, but long forgotten now.  Unfortunately “Blind Man” is just another ballad, this one similar to “What It Takes” from Pump.  It’s the better of the two new songs, but sadly another ballad is not what Big Ones needed.

Making this CD even less valuable to buyers, every single track is on the later album Young List: The Aerosmith Anthology (2001).   Even the three new songs!

Otherwise Big Ones plays much like a run-though of Aerosmith’s radio staples that you can hear on the FM dial just about everywhere.  Each and every big hit from the three massive Geffen albums is here.  How often do you need to hear “Crazy”, “Cryin'”, “Amazing”, “Janie”, “Rag Doll”, “Angel”, “Dude”, “Elevator” and the rest?  That is up to you.

Even the cover art is devoid of imagination.

2/5 stars

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

 

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)