rock music

REVIEW: Europe – Last Look at Eden (2009)

EUROPE – Last Look at Eden (2009 Ear Music)

When it was released on September 9 2009, Joey Tempest and Ian Haughland were quoted talking about how this was the best album Europe had done in the reunion era. I personally don’t agree; I think Start From the Dark is the best. However that’s not a slight against Last Look at Eden, a regal very European platter of great songs.  From rockers, to ballads, to blues (like the closing epic “In My Time”), Last Look at Eden is a well-rounded Europe album.

You can tell what you’re in for right from the opening prelude: Grand arrangements, lush recording. The Europe of old, in the world of today. This goes straight into the title track, a sort of “Final Countdown” for the new era. Indeed, Last Look at Eden combines sounds from Europe’s past, brought sharply into the new millennium. A good example is “New Love in Town”, a great ballad that would go toe-to-toe with the lush landmark ballads this band did in the 80’s.  There’s even a hint of Zeppelin on “Mojito Girl”.  I hear a smidge of Marillion in “No Stone Unturned”.  Elsewhere you will find groove, such as on the driving “Gonna Get Ready”.  “The Beast” is unstoppable!  If it wasn’t for Joey Tempest’s voice and the thick tone of John Norum, you wouldn’t know it was Europe.  But it is, and has the kind of chorus that they do so well.

To me the weakest parts of this album were some of the lyrics, “Catch That Plane” being the worst. It’s not 1986 anymore guys.  “It’s getting hard, so very hard, I’m gonna need some attention.”  What on Earth could Joey be singing about?  “Catch that plane and get your ass, your pretty ass over here.”  Oh.

I also find the album cover to be a poor representation of the music inside.  It’s not bad, with the apple (“Eden”) and the ferrofluid spikes.  Everybody will have their own interpretation, but it just doesn’t do the music justice.

There are two bonus tracks on this edition, more on different editions. Here you get a live version of the old B-side track, “Yesterday’s News”, probably the best version of this song released yet. There is also a live version of “Wake Up Call” from Start From The Dark.

Pretty damn good.  Lots of killer, only a little filler.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Sexdwarf – Has Disappeared Into the Mystic Dawn (2013)

The Meat Challenge:  Listen to an album we’ve never heard before, and write about it while listening for the first time on headphones.  I was given Sexdwarf by Meat.

SEXDWARF – Has Disappeared Into the Mystic Dawn (2013 Busted Flat)

No background, no story, straight into the songs.  The only disclosure I owe you is that Meat and I both know the lead singer of Sexdwarf, Chris Boyne.  I briefly worked with him at the Record Store, but I am putting that completely out of my mind for the sake of the purity of this first listen.  Let’s go.

“Thomasina” – A slinky, 70s jazzy piano starts us off but then a solid beat gets the feet moving.  This kicks.  I could dance to this.  Great lead vocal, Killers-like with slight distortion.  I keep coming back to that catchy piano bit.  It’s disco and it’s rock and it’s brilliant.

“Love is a Boner” – Ah, I’ve been waiting a long time to hear a song with “boner” in the title.  I am not disappointed.  I didn’t expect a Beatles-like psychedelic rock gem.  If the Beatles did a 14th studio album, I hope “Love is a Boner” would have been on it.  There is even a dual lead vocal, perfect for Lennon and McCartney.  Paul would sing the higher part.

“Spazzy” – Not as “spazzy” sounding as I expected.  Great guitar tones here.  This is the kind of stuff July Talk is doing now.  It’s frantic but well-constructed.

“Tear It Out” – “I think I’m gonna break your fuckin’ heart again,” goes the opening line on a song that reminds me a little bit of Jellyfish.  This one seems to be about one of that asshole manipulative boyfriends that everybody hates.  It has one of my favourite guitar solos on the album.

“Young Girls” – Acoustic guitars now, and a fun little keyboard riff.  Excellent, summery tune you could party to.  I hear the quirk of the Kinks.

“People in Trees” – The first…ballad?  Sparse, quiet, atmospheric, bird-like guitars.  And there’s people in trees, apparently and they live to be free.  Hold on — well, that picked up.  Drums, guitars, all fuzzed out.  Everything is fuzzy and it’s beautiful in the headphones.  The ending is like listening to a moon landing.

“Paid Me for Sex” – See, this is more the kind of song title I’m expecting from Sexdwarf.  Back to a vintage bopping pop rock sound.  I prefer this kind of stuff.  The whole album so far is covered in this fuzzy vintage amp kind of sound that makes it easy to imagine it was recorded in 1971.

“I Don’t Think About People” – A surprisingly warm song about a cold antisocial character.  “I don’t think about people, they’re assholes.”  Brilliantly melodic and simple.

“Gold Rush” – Echoey acoustics and then crashing electrics.  Slow and mournful, with a nice noisy Neil Young guitar solo.  Not as outstanding as some of the previous songs but it could be a grower.

“Centre of it All” – A nice grand chorus, lots of crashing drums…sure, I like it.  The vocal arrangement in the chorus is quite excellent.

“Magnolia” – Jazzy piano and bass again, and then the guitars kick in.  It’s another good song in the Sexdwarf vein — which I am hopefully describing to you well enough.  Jangly guitars give way to an awesome solo bit that is the highlight of the song.

“Therapists” – Loud bangy drums.  A strange combination of sounds from the 60s, 70s and 90s.  A ballad by the Ronettes on acid?  Who knows.  It’s Sexdwarf.  It’s its own thing.

“Mystic Dawn” – Finally we arrive at the end after a frankly trippy 50 minutes of quirky music.  Meat insisted we had to use headphones to write these reviews and this time it’s perfect because there’s a bit where the mix bounces back and forth from right to left.  This finale has everything from Black Sabbath chords to trippy Yellow Submarine passages, and then straight into a racing Deep Purple instrumental section.  This, people, is how you end an album!

Sexdwarf, where you have been all this time?  Why have you not been in my life?  Well now you will be — forever and ever.

4.5/5 stars

#852: On The Loose

GETTING MORE TALE #852: On The Loose

Though they formed in 1979 and were already on their third album, I didn’t notice Europe until 1986.  Even then, I managed to ignore their first few airings on MuchMusic’s Pepsi Power Hour.  Host J.D. (John) Roberts made a big deal out of the fact that they were from Sweden, which I didn’t understand since Yngwie Malmsteen was also from Sweden and nobody mentioned that as the most interesting thing about him.  Roberts warned us that Europe didn’t really sound like heavy metal but they were playing them anyway.

After the second or third run, the hook to “The Final Countdown” was stuck in my head and I decided that I liked the band.  I asked for their album for Easter of 1987.  What did I think about this new band from Sweden when the Easter bunny granted my wish?

Didn’t care for it much. The title track still had me hooked, and a song on side two called “Cherokee” was a sure-fire hit.  The rest of it sounded like awkward filler.  “Rock, now, rock the night!”  What kind of chorus was that?  I knew English wasn’t their first language but it didn’t hook me. Likewise “Stranger on the Track”, which I still envision as a guy running around on a 400 meter track & field course.  Even the mighty “Ninja” slipped past me with lines like, “If I were a noble ancient knight, I’d stand by your side to rule and fight.”  As for “Carrie”, it was just too soft.

But I was committed now; I had received this cassette tape as a gift and I had to give it a fair chance.  “Ninja” did rock, and so did a song called “On the Loose” on side two.  It was this song that rocked the hardest.  It also featured some amazing shredding by guitarist John Norum, which turned me into a fan.  That and his cool guitar strap.

By summer it was safe to say that I really liked the album.  Once the big singles wore themselves out on me, I found favourites on side two.  “Love Chaser”, “Heart of Stone”, “Time Has Come” and of course “On the Loose” were great songs.  As I learned more about the band, I discovered that John Norum had already departed and been replaced by Kee Marcello, who was in the video for “Rock the Night”.  But all anybody remembers about “Rock the Night” now is Joey singing into a ketchup bottle. the band miming their instruments on silverware in a diner.

Though clearly dated to a specific part of the 80s, The Final Countdown still stands as a thoroughly enjoyable album. Every song is fondly remembered.  It’s brighter and more instantly appealing than its following Out of This World.  Though they burned out by ’92, they have enjoyed a quality second era with Norum back in the fold.  Who could have imagined that back in ’87?

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Screaming For Vengeance (30th Anniversary Edition)

JUDAS PRIEST – Screaming For Vengeance (Originally 1982, 2012 Sony 30th Anniversary Edition)

While people recognize British Steel as a platinum Judas Priest landmark, it was Screaming For Vengeance that went double platinum.  It introduced Priest to the MTV generation and opened them up to bigger American audiences.  But before we get to Screaming For Vengeance itself, a cornerstone Judas Priest album in anyone’s books, the “Special 30th Anniversary Edition” must first be addressed.  The extra content is a full concert DVD, and four bonus audio live tracks from the same DVD.

To have Priest live at the US Festival is a wish fulfilled for many.  The daylight show with full classic costumes (Rob decked in silver) is a nostalgia blowout.  The band look lethal although drummer Dave Holland appears overwhelmed by the demanding tunes.  The setlist isn’t half bad, with “Green Manalishi”, “Diamonds and Rust”, and “Victim of Changes” being highlights and filling the need for old classics.  The bulk of the set is made up of more recent material from the three 1980s Priest albums thus far.  Tempos are fast, cowbells are in the air, and Rob is at his confident shrieking best.  The audio is great and the video is well reproduced.  Owning this edition of Screaming really is a must since it’s the only official release of this show on DVD.

Unfortunately only four tracks from the DVD are included in CD form, to keep costs down.  Otherwise it would have to be a triple disc set.  (Which is probably coming for a 40th anniversary edition anyway.)  The re-imagined cover art is nice, fitting in with other Priest deluxe reissues (see images at bottom).  In an unfortunate oversight, the clean and sharp original artwork is included nowhere inside this set.  They did include the two bonus tracks from the previous remastered CD release, which we’ll get to after we discuss the album in full.

Screaming For Vengeance was a sudden change of style for the Priest, after two rather soundalike albums.  Similarly the next album Defenders of the Faith would be cast from the same mold as Screaming.  All these albums were produced by Tom Allom.  Tempos were turned up, guitars sharpened, and as per the title, Rob Halford screamed.  A lot.  The refined 80s Priest was evident on the opening duo “The Hellion/Electric Eye”.  The guitars are sleeker, the vocals processed and robotic.  The riffs are just as sharp.  Priest were going for the throat.  This opening one-two punch was more punishing than any music I ever heard at that time.  Though you could not claim it’s heavier than a Priest oldie like “Saints In Hell”, the production is louder and more in your face than ever before.

Drummer Dave Holland sprays a bloodbath of bashes at the start of “Riding on the Wind”, Priest speeding on the highway once again.  With Rob in high register, this catchy tune is perfect for keeping the wind in your face.  The first respite in terms of tempo is “Bloodstone”, though its glorious riffs need no accelerant.  Halford’s scatting at the end is classic and a rare reappearance of his old sassy self from Hell Bent for Leather.

“(Take These) Chains” is one of the most immediately accessible tracks, a mid-tempo delight as Priest do so well.  They end the side with a slow metal grind called “Pain and Pleasure”, drums soaked in echo.  Rob alludes to an interest in BDSM again, but with music this heavy most people just headbanged and ignored.  (In another sad oversight, the lyrics are not contained within this edition, but were reproduced on the previous CD remaster.)  Don’t assume that because it’s a slow one it’s weak.  “Pain and Pleasure” is a resounding an d memorable side-ender.

The second side opens with the sudden shock blitzkrieg of the title track.  Speed metal turned up to 11, “Screaming For Vengeance” is over the top and almost self-parody.  It’s one of Priest’s most overdriven blasts of might, but it also verges on mindlessness if not for a spirited solo section in the middle.  But then in another jarring shift, the sleek mid-tempo groove of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” rears its familiar head.  When I was a kid, there was no question this was Priest’s “big hit”.  It was the song everyone knew, and the music video was on constant rotation.  Classic clip.  The man pursuing Priest is meant to represent the tax man.  When Rob essentially yells at him “no tax man, you will not take my money,” his head blows up.  They used a little too much TNT on the mannequin, and so the tax man’s pants fell down in an added humiliation.  Such is the power of heavy metal, folks.  Got tax problems?  Rock and roll right in that tax man’s face.  Eventually his head will blow up.  If you’re lucky the pants might also fall.  This is what Priest have given the world!

“Another Thing Comin'” is a brilliant song.  Radio super-saturation cannot dull its simply-constructed hooks.  Its placement (second song, side two) is odd but that didn’t stop it to #4 on the US Billboard rock chart, nor did it impede the album rising to #17 on the Billboard 200.

The album begins drawing to a close, with an echoey tremolo effect on “Fever”, one of the album’s best cuts.  Then the echo ends, and a clean guitar accompanies a plaintive Rob.  Mid-tempo, powerfully built and loaded with hooks, “Fever” is a late-album winner.  Then, three quarters in, Halford turns on the high voice and the song transforms into something else equally cool.  Finally the echo-guitar returns to help bring the song to its dramatic end.

“Devil’s Child” is the last hurrah, a fun and heavy indictment of an ex-lover who’s “so damn wicked” and “smashed and grabbed all I had”.  The album ends as suddenly as it begins; jarring transitions being a sonic theme on Screaming For Vengeance.

Tom Allom’s production is often maligned as inferior to the more raw and loose sounds of Priest on their 70s albums, and there’s certainly an argument to be made there.  Screaming For Vengeance is not a warm album.  It is cold, sharp and steely.  It has a precise, digital undertone.  But it’s also heavy, considerably more so than Point of Entry which preceded it.  The cover art indicated that we were entering a new phase for Judas Priest; a simpler streamlined 80s phase but still deadly enough for the old fans.

The live bonus tracks included on the CD were not chosen willy-nilly.  Instead of including the best hits from the US Festival DVD, they use the ones from Screaming For Vengeance:  “Electric Eye”, “Riding On the Wind”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” and “Screaming” itself.  Watch out for the squealing feedback!  Finally the original bonus tracks from the 2001 CD are edition are tacked on so you don’t have to own two copies.  These include a raspy, smoking “Devil’s Child” live from another concert, and a demo from the 1985-86 Twin Turbos sessions called “Prisoner of Your Eyes”.  I hate when Priest use bonus tracks from the wrong era, but the Screaming For Vengeance reissues are the only place you can get this song.  In a stylistic shift, this slick ballad sounds more like “A Touch of Evil” from Painkiller, but far tamer.  (The guitar solos were overdubbed and tracks finished in 2001.)

Good special edition, but not great.  As these things go I’m sure we can expect a better 40 anniversary edition.  It won’t be long now.

5/5 stars for the album

3.5/5 stars for the 30th Anniversary edition

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Point of Entry (1981, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Point of Entry (1981, 2001 Sony remaster)

Point of Entry will always be one of those “other” Judas Priest albums. It wasn’t a ground breaker and wasn’t a massive seller. It will always just be “the album that came after British Steel” or “the one that came before Screaming for Vengeance“.  It did fine (500,000 US sales) and spawned a killer single called “Heading Out to the Highway”, but it didn’t make history like the other two records.

Coming after British Steel, Priest continued with producer Tom Allom and drummer Dave Holland, and it doesn’t sound like they were overly interested in taking chances.  Sonically Point of Entry is a carbon copy, though with less impactful songs.  In 2001, it was issued remastered by Sony with two bonus tracks.

For me, Point of Entry occupies an interesting space.  Listening to it on a recent road trip took me back to 1987 or 88, when I was in the midst of seriously trying to collect “all the Priest”.  From the perspective of a kid in 1988, Point of Entry was what I thought 1981 must have sounded like, though it wasn’t that long before.  So Point of Entry takes me back not to the early 80s, but the late 80s.  And in the late 80s, it sounded good.

Sure, I was aware that it sounded a lot like British Steel before, but without the massive landmark tracks like “Metal Gods”.  But what about “Desert Plains”?  Why wasn’t it as important as “Metal Gods”?

To this day, I don’t know.

Point of Entry does boast a few songs that could go toe-to-toe with any on British Steel.  Certainly “Desert Plains” and “Heading Out to the Highway” can stand up to the prior album.  “Highway” has one of those riffs so classic that I sometimes find myself humming it in a grocery line wondering what song was in my head.  As a mid-tempo road song, it does the job.  One could argue it’s just a sequel to “Living After Midnight”, but you just try and resist this one.

“Heading Out to the Highway” was made into an unintentionally funny video, mixing on-set with on-location footage in an obvious way.  Worse though were the two videos that followed:  “Don’t Go” and “Hot Rockin'”.  “Don’t Go” features the band playing trapped inside a small room, with a door that leads various impossible locations including outer space.  Fortunately the song is better:  slow and plaintive, yet with that solid rocking beat and a killer guitar solo.  “Hot Rockin'” is high-speed but tends to be forgotten because Priest have better material at this tempo.  The video is situated in a sauna, and then a concert stage where Rob’s flaming feet light fire to his microphone, and the microphone to a couple guitars.  Funny to look at, but I think it’s one of those cases where we’re laughing at the band, not with them.

“Turning Circles”, and a lot of the rest of the album, fall into various categories.  This one fits alongside “Don’t Go” as a slow but hard track.  “We’ve all got somethin’ wrong to say,” sings Rob in this song that seems to be about ending a relationship.  The “ah ha, ah ha” break in the middle is an album highlight, and to me it sounds exactly like my bedroom in 1987.

It’s “Desert Plains” that really brings it home.  There is a pulse to this song, created by Dave Holland and Ian Hill.  You don’t associate those two guys with awesome rock beats often, but here it is.  “Desert Plains” is an instant classic, and it’s alive with movement.  From the verses, to the choruses, to Holland’s drum “sound effects” (like “wild mountain thunder”), this is a Priest classic and shall forever remain so.  This side one closer should have been a video way before “Hot Rockin'”.

The second side opens with “Solar Angels”, another track with an interesting rhythm (slow drums, fast guitar chug).  The song feels like it could use some more substance, but it’s still enjoyable albeit in a “Metal Gods” knock-off kind of way.  Though heaviness is always celebrated, who doesn’t enjoy when Rob Halford gets sassy?  That’s “You Say Yes”, an outstanding shoulda-been hit.  The verses verge on punk rock as Rob spits out the words as only he can.  Then the airy “what I do, what I do, what I do” middle section goes right to heaven — or my room in ’87, I’m not sure which.

Point of Entry ends on three decent but unremarkable mid-tempo tracks, which perhaps always served to weaken the album’s impressions.  “All the Way” might be an attempt to rewrite “Living After Midnight”, and although it’s a cool track we all know Priest have better stuff in this vein.  “Troubleshooter” might even be more of a rewrite, with that opening drum beat sounding a little familiar.  But Rob’s vocals kill it.  Finally “On the Run” is a screamy album closer where Rob is once again the star.

As with previous CDs in this Priest remasters series, there are two bonus tracks, one of which has nothing to do with Point of Entry.  “Thunder Road” sounds a lot like Ram It Down era Priest, so you can safely assume it’s from those sessions in the late 80s.  Clearly outtake quality, almost like a prototype for “Johnny B Goode”.  Then there is a live version of “Desert Plains” from what sounds like the 1987 tour judging by the big echoey drums and Rob’s added screams.  It’s much faster than the album cut, all but destroying the pulse of the original.  Yet the song still kills!  Somehow it didn’t make it onto the Priest…Live! album, which was already stuffed full.

In the late 90s, a guy sold a used copy of this on CD to me, but he left something inside.  Something I wish I’d kept because it was so bizarre and funny.  The back cover features five white boxes in the desert.  The guy left a little white piece of note paper inside, explaining what he thought the back cover was about.   “Maybe they are graves,” said part of it.  I wish I could remember the rest.  (I always thought the five boxes represented the five band members, with the large one in the back being Dave Holland and the drum kit.)  And speaking of the cover, this album does look better on vinyl.  I have vinyl for almost all the Priest up to Ram It Down, and they all look better on vinyl.

Although Point of Entry will always live in the shadows of the towering albums that came before and after, it still leaves a glow behind.

3.75/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Sin After Sin (1977)

JUDAS PRIEST – Sin After Sin (Originally 1977, 2001 Sony reissue)

“SIN AFTER SIN, I have endured, but the wounds I bear are the wounds of love.”

This lyric from “Genocide” on 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny would have been little more than a throwaway, if Priest didn’t recycle the words “sin after sin” for their next album title.  Though the song may have appeared to be the same, much had actually changed.  For the first time, they had a producer that understood that kind of aggressive rock that the young band were trying to create:  Roger Glover, ex-Deep Purple, who had already recorded several albums for Elf, Ian Gillan and Nazareth.  Perhaps even more significantly, for the first time they had a serious drummer creating the beats:  the not-yet-legendary Simon Phillips, who had still already played on a Jack Bruce album.  This was just a session for Phillips, but it enabled Priest to break the shackles of rhythm and really start exploring.

Opener “Sinner” might have been the same kind of tempos that Priest were working with before, but there is a new slickness to the drums; an effortless drive with increasingly interesting accents.  With a solid backing, Priest sound more vicious.  “Demonic vultures stalking, drawn by the smell of war and pain.”  The apocalypse has never sounded cooler.  As Phillips drops sonic bombs left and right, KK Downing goes to town on what would become his live showcase solo.  His growls and trills sound like a beast inflicting wounds on a struggling combatant.  At almost seven minutes, “Sinner” is the album epic, and it’s the opening track!

Priest previously recorded a cover of Joan Baez’ “Diamonds and Rust” for Gull records; that early version can be acquired on The Best of Judas Priest or Hero, Hero.  The Glover-produced track is the more famous and better of the two.  Radio play for “Diamonds and Rust” helped push the album to eventually sell 500,000 copies.  Rob Halford’s high pitched harmonies gleam like polished silver.

Ironic observation:  I hope by now we all know a light year is a measurement of distance, not time.  It is the amount of distance that light can travel in one year (9.46 trillion kilometres).  So, really really far.  Joan Baez playfully used it as a melodramatic measure of time in “Diamonds and Rust”.  (“A couple of light years ago”.)  On the next track “Starbreaker”, Halford refers to “light year miles away”, a crudely worded hyperbole for distance.  So with Sin After Sin, you get it both ways.  Regardless of scientific accuracy (or not) “Starbreaker” is a good track with a slightly flat riff.  Though Phillips is brilliant, it could just use a little more pep.

Like with Sad Wings of Destiny, you gotta have a ballad in there somewhere, and on side one that’s “Last Rose of Summer”.  This softie isn’t bad, though Priest have done and will do better.  Using a ballad to close a side isn’t always wise either, but on CD nobody really notices except us nerds.

“Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest” is a pretty epic side two opener, with harmony guitars playing an opening instrumental anthem.  Then a choir of Halfords joins in, and the band break in to what could be their fastest song yet.  From the wickedly fast dual guitar solos to the powerful rhythm, this song is a blitzkrieg of metal trademarks.  It’s relentless and all over the board, something that 80s Priest rarely was.

Side two keeps getting better with the groove of “Raw Deal”, which was Rob’s real “coming out” to fans in the know.  Today he calls it a “heavy metal gay rights song”.  It’s actually one of Halford’s best lyrics.  Instead of mashing together science fiction words and singing about battlefields, this time Halford paints a hazy picture of what is probably a gay club in Fire Island, New York.  It’s vivid but vague:  “The mirror on the wall was collecting and reflecting, all the heavy bodies ducking, stealing eager for some action.”  It’s also backed by some seriously cool Priest music, almost funky but always heavy.  “The true free expression I demand is human rights – right?”  It was all there in the lyrics all along.

A second ballad, the dirge “Here Comes the Tears” brings a cloudier mood.  An ode to loneliness, “Here Comes the Tears” is the one to play when you just can’t take it anymore.  When Halford starts givin’ ‘er at the end with the wildest screams in history, it sounds like an exorcism.  The guitars howl, a hint of piano can be heard, and there is an underlying choir of Robs singing sadly in unison.  Finally “Dissident Aggressor”, famously covered by Slayer, concludes the album on a violently fast note.  “Stab!  Fall!  Punch!  Crawl!”  This song is not for amateurs and might be the heaviest thing Priest have ever done.  There are plenty of contenders, but “Dissident Aggressor” must be in the Top Five Heaviest Priest Songs Ever.  But that being said, they still have the balls to end the song with another multi-layered harmony of Halfords.

The 2001 Sony remastered CD has two bonus tracks, and the first is the best in the entire series:  “Race With the Devil”, a cover of a track by The Gun.  This version, recorded for the next album Stained Class (Les Binks on drums) could easily have been a B-side all this time.  Why it went unreleased until 2001 is unknown.  Perhaps it was lost, but now that it has gotten a proper mastering job it is available on CD.  This is un-retouched, which cannot be said for other unreleased tracks in the Priest Remasters series.  “Run With the Devil” is raw, riffy, fast, and wicked.  All it really needed to make it album quality is a better guitar solo.  The second bonus track is a live “Jawbreaker” (Dave Holland on drums) from the Defenders of the Faith tour.  Out of place, but an excellent song regardless.

Incidentally, Sin After Sin is the last album before Priest adopted the first version of their current logo design.

4/5 stars

#836: Transformers 2 – Revenge of the Schnauzers – How It Was Made & Full Movie

GETTING MORE TALE #836: Transformers 2 – Revenge of the Schnauzers

For one weekend in the summer of 2012, I put the music on pause.  Transformers 2 – Revenge of the Schnauzers was the title.  It was a series and  I made four movies in total.  Five, if you count the final one that I shot but never edited.  There’s something so satisfying about animating Transformers.  I wanted to go big or go home this time, and what I ended up with this time was a 44 minute movie (originally split into two parts for file size reasons).

It’s amazing to think I did this movie in a single weekend in July 2012.  Probably Canada Day weekend.  I filmed the whole thing in just two days.  You can see the the light change as I filmed from sunrise to sunset, in order to squeeze time out of every minute.  And this movie was just my side project!  At the same time, I was also posting 1-2 articles per day for my main gig:  reviews and Record Store Tales.

I came prepared for Canada Day weekend with my Nokia C3 cell phone as my only camera.  Here’s something you didn’t know.  Cell phones back then were so much easier to do primitive animation with.  There’s a pause button you could hit when you’re making a video, and it essentially allowed me to do the stop motion very single-handedly, very quickly, just by hitting that pause button.  Sure, I made a few mistakes along the way.  I had to reshoot entire scenes when I didn’t know I was pausing “off” instead of “on”, but it did enable me to do this entire thing in just two days.  I barely stopped to eat, and I was just wiped by the end of it.  I think it was a manic episode to be honest with you, but a doctor never diagnosed that so it’s just my opinion.

I chose the characters (and more importantly, toys) that I wanted to use for the movie.  Most of them are from the Generations lines, with some third party add-on kits for Hound and Goldbug.  Others are reissues of G1 originals:  Soundwave and his tapes, Predaking, and Ultra Magnus.  I needed figures that would be easy to transform on the fly.  Magnus and Predaking were brand new in my collection and I wanted to show them off.  I decided to bring more Decepticons with me than Autobots to give them a real disadvantage.  I built the teams and roughed out a story.  Dialogue was improvised on the spot but not fixed in place until the editing stage a few days later!

I used Windows Movie Maker, then and now, to edit.  It was much less stable then (or at least my computer is more powerful now).  The amount of edits I used numbered in the hundreds and crashes were frequent.  Even though I was essentially editing “live” in-camera as I filmed and animated, I was also tightening up those edits with Windows.  Funny enough, Windows has no more features in the current version than it did in 2012.  For the laser blasts, I added a “split” and inserted a “fade in from white” effect.  They are remarkably effective.

I originally edited the movie with mainstream rock music as the soundtrack.  I used Van Halen, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson, and AC/DC among others.  Needless to say, YouTube never let me upload it, so it sat on my various hard drives and DVDs all these years.  Until I recently had an idea.

Uncle Meat’s hatred of my “playing with action figures” inspired me to use his music to get around the YouTube issues.  More accurately, Max the Axe’s music (with a little of my sister’s mixed in).  It worked brilliantly.  Just as well as the original version, though with music you’re not familiar with.

Now you can hear many of these great Max the Axe tracks for yourself.  While watching robots blow each other to bits!

Sure, it was cool when I used “Accident of Birth” by Bruce Dickinson as the entrance music for the Colossus Schnauzers and….

Oh!  You’re confused about the Schnauzers.  Having grown up around the wee beasts, I realized that in action figure scale, you could use them as giant monsters if you could get them to do what you wanted them to do.  With Kathryn Ladano’s help, we used treats as incentives to chase and attack Autobots.  I affixed Decepticon logos to their foreheads and wrote them into the story as Shockwave’s latest creation:  Colossus Schnauzers.  With DNA stolen from a secret lab (named after the two doggies Laci and Ali), the Decepticons engineered giant versions of the beasts.

It’s up to the Autobots to find out what they are up to, with a small squad led by Ultra Magnus.  (I had focused on Optimus Prime in the preceding chapter with his death and rebirth as Powermaster Prime, so I wanted a different leader figure this time.)  I used two Bumblebee figures.  One was modified with a third-party head that made him into a Generations version of Goldbug, his rebuilt form.  This is all roughly based on an original Marvel comics storyline.  I also took inspiration from the TV show.  One figure that I wanted to show off next time was my transparent “Ghost Starscream”.  I didn’t have time to get into that with this chapter, so I ended it with some foreshadowing that would allow me to introduce my ghost version of the figure next time.

I coloured the dialogue to make it easier to tell which ‘bot is talking. I did an “infodump” introduction for the Predacons.  This is the much-critisized technique used by Bob Budiansky in the 80s Marvel series.  Each new toy had an introduction, because the comic was just a device to sell toys.  That was my homage to Budiansky.  The characterisations of the figures in my film are meant to be true to their toy bios and comic book appearances. Although my story takes place in a universe all its own, it’s similar to the ones you know.  The “release the Schnauzers” scene is of course a parody of the the Kraken scene in Clash of the Titans.  I wanted something that reminded me of Poseidon pulling the chain that opened the big gate.

I haven’t watched this movie for a long time. I had forgotten that I even included a “blooper reel” at the end. This is the only part of the movie that still has its original music soundtrack. Though I’ve forgotten the name of the track, that’s Kathryn Ladano’s music playing and that’s her in her only cameo!

Consider that I shot this thing in two days, sunrise to sunset, and edited it together in a couple more, all while posting new daily reviews and Record Store Tales. That’s unbelievable and probably also unhealthy. But I still enjoy the results! I legitimately like this. I also enjoyed adding the new music by Max the Axe and seeing how it worked out.  I’m proud enough to post it here for you to enjoy. And I hope you do!

GUEST REVIEW – Roky Erickson and the Aliens – The Evil One – The Meat Challenge

The Meat Challenge:  Listen to an album we’ve never heard before, and write about it while listening for the first time on headphones.  Meat was given Roky Erikson by LeBrain.

ROKY ERICKSON & THE ALIENS – The Evil One (1981)

How did we get to where we are now?  Let’s have a very quick nutshell synopsis of a pretty incredible story (a story which is captured in much more detail in a very good 2005 documentary titled You’re Gonna Miss Me.  Have you seen it? It’s a beauty.)

Roky Erickson was born in 1947 in Dallas, Texas.  He co-founded an influential psychedelic rock band called The 13th Floor Elevators, who had some chart success in the late 60s. In 1969, Roky Erickson got arrested for smoking a joint and to avoid jail, pled guilty and was sent to the nuthouse until his release in 1974.  Roky Erickson & the Aliens were born and released their debut album in 1980.

Now that we have that out of the way, I have not heard the debut album.  Nor have I heard any other Roky Erickson album going into this.  I was not sure what to expect and what I got was different and frankly more than I expected.  The Evil One was produced by ex-CCR bassist Stu Cook, and together he and Roky definitely came out with a great sounding record…that talks about Lucifer a lot…and the devil …and ghosts….  Basically, you could look at this album a collection of crazy stories.  More specifically, I now look at The Evil One as a collection of 15 short B-movies expressed through exceptional Pop-Rock songwriting.  Imagine if Hall and Oates got a bit of Rock balls and started worshipping Satan.  Here are some thoughts I had while listening to each song/movie on The Evil One.

  1. “Two Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)” –  The first track is the only song I had actually heard before on this album.  LeBrain picked this for a tribute back in the days when Sausagefest was doing them.  Hearing this again, I enjoy it like I did when I first heard it.  Great rock song with guitar licks that kinda surprised me.  Roky Erickson possesses a great voice with a naturally high register, which allows him to belt out the hearty Rock.
  1. “I Think of Demons” –  Another solid rock song bringing to mind everything from the Ramones to Thin Lizzy to “insert 70s melodic rock band here”.  A lot of poppy goodness here.  Perhaps the happiest song ever with “Demons” in the title?  You’d be right if you guessed there is more of this kinda thing to come.
  1. “Creature With The Atom Brain” –  Nicholas Cage would have been the star of this movie.  I really like the twin guitar parts in this track.  Bit of a hillbilly rock song.  Some conspiracy-minded strange banter in the middle which leads to even stranger banter at the end.
  1. “The Wind and More” –  This is probably my favorite track on the album.  I really got a Max Webster meets Wishbone Ash vibe from this song.  Erickson seems to have a great way of finding his way melodically through rock and roll riffs.  Of course Lucifer is mentioned again.   Speaking of…could this be what Pye Dubois would have sounded like if he made music? Hmmmm.
  1. “Don’t Shake Me Lucifer” –  Yes, this time the one of the Prince of Darkness’ given names makes the title.  Roky really channels his inner Mick Jagger in this track.  Very Rolling Stones-esque all around really.  A bit more of an aggressive punk thing going on here.  Perhaps Teenage Head would be a better comparison.   Not one of my favorite tracks on the album to be honest.
  1. “Bloody Hammer” –  This is another stand out track on the album.  Bit of a cock-out rock song that probably just cooks live.  Some epic ranting in this too.  For some reason I was thinking about Budgie during this song.  As for lyrically?  I am really not sure if I really wanna know what the actual bloody hammer was that inspired this song.
  1. “Stand For the Fire Demon” –  I don’t know what to make of this one.  While I admire the passion poured out in this track, there is a bit of a drag to it.  Another Nicholas Cager here.  You know…the crazed, bug-eyed Cage where he makes no sense but is really adamant about it?  I think this might be a prayer to Satan.
  1. “Click Your Fingers Applauding the Play” –  Fun Thin Lizzy twin-guitar licks in this.  Other than that nothing especially stands out about this track.
  1. “If You Have Ghosts” –  …You have everything.  This is a hell of a song.  The middle musical part in this song starting with the solo is a fun piece of music.  Very good slightly-off-road rock song.
  1. “I Walked With a Zombie” –  Imagine if you were watching an episode of Happy Days, and instead of a jukebox they had a really fucking high Tom Petty playing music for the acid-tripping kids at Arnold’s.  I think Ralph Malph lost his virginity to this song.   Just another sock-hop with the devil.
  1. “Night of the Vampire” –  This song is very Alice Cooper.  This would be the Rob Zombie directed movie set in the 70s.  By the way, I’ve given up trying to analyse these lyrics.
  1. “It’s a Cold Night for Alligators” –  An average silly mid tempo rock song.  Actually it’s better than that.  I’m getting a Max Webster vibe again, and some fun twin leads once more.
  1. “Mine Mine Mind” –  Starting off with a tribal Alex Harvey rock feel, this is pretty much everything I like about 70s pop-rock.  This is basically what Trooper and Streetheart were doing around this time, but in this case, instead of singing about cars and girls, Roky Erickson chooses to sing about the Devil.  To each his/her own I guess.
  1. “Sputnik” –  The second this song started, I was thinking about Ace Frehley.  Even the lyrics seem cosmos and NASA inspired.  This is the KISS song of the album.  I really like this track, and it could right now be one of those songs everyone is sick of hearing on FM radio.  Why isn’t it?  Well… the science fiction lyrics.  Oh…and Satan.
  1. “White Faces” –  The album ends with more driving rock and roll.  The first verse of this song is:

Friends with a beast,
Because of sharp teeth,
The devil so red,
The fiery evil blieb.
 

WHAT!?!?!?!?!??!

 Once again we have melodic and poppy mid tempo rock referring to Satan.  This man is just too happy about demons.

Overall I would call this a better than average rock record.  Perhaps with multiple listens some of the melodic hooks would sink into me deeper, but as of now better than average is pretty much what I feel about this record.  Anyone who loves 70s rock would really love this album.  The devil is in the details.  No…I’m serious…The devil is truly within the details of this album.  I think the title speaks for itself.  This is an album about The Evil One.

3.75/5 demons

 BY MEAT

REVIEW: ZZ Top – Chrome, Smoke & BBQ (2003 limited edition BBQ shack)

ZZ TOP –  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ (2003 Warner limited edition BBQ shack version)

Though it seems an outlandish thought today, there was once a time when if you desired to hear original ZZ Top music, you couldn’t do that on CD.  You had to purchase original ZZ Top LPs.  In 1987, most of the original ZZ Top albums were issued on CD as part of the ZZ Top Six Pack, which featured remixed percussion to make them sound more like Eliminator and Afterburner.  Needless to say this was a very unpopular idea, though it didn’t stop the Six Pack from selling.  The original ZZ Top albums were finally given a CD reissue in 2013.  Until then, your best bet on compact disc was to buy the 4 CD Chrome, Smoke & BBQ anthology.

Because Chrome, Smoke & BBQ features original mixes and a helping of rarities, it still makes for an enjoyable listen and valuable collectible today.  The limited edition version came housed in a box like a little BBQ shack, but both have the same four discs of bluesy, greasy ZZ rock.  A well-assembled anthology can make for a great listen even well after its expiry date, and this is one such set.

Disc 1 of Chrome, Smoke & BBQ features three tracks from Billy Gibbons’ first band the Moving Sidewalks.  The guitar work is brilliant even in Billy’s youth.  These tracks are notably more psychedelic than ZZ Top.  The year was 1969, the same year as the first ZZ Top single “Miller’s Farm” / “Salt Lick”.  This early version of ZZ Top (credited as “embryonic ZZ Top”) was a transition from Moving Sidewalks and didn’t feature Frank Beard nor Dusty Hill.  Organ on a ZZ Top song is an unusual sound, and it’s quite prominent on “Miller’s Farm”.  It’s a pretty standard blues with the emphasis on the keys and with one foot solidly in 60s rock.  “Salt Lick” has a bit more of the mid-tempo ZZ groove, but the with the organ still part of the whole.  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ remains the easiest way to obtain this rare single.

ZZ Top’s First Album takes the spotlight next with three tracks including “Brown Sugar”, the first “real” ZZ Top track.  An impactful one it is, and so obviously ZZ Top.  It seems by the time the right three guys got together, the ZZ Top sound was born.  “Brown Sugar” is so essential to the ZZ Top sound that maybe the box set should have opened with it, chronology be damned!  Dusty’s pulse on bass is already present, and Frank’s sheer style adds some much needed character.  Then “Just Got Back From Baby’s” has the spare nocturnal blues that is a ZZ signature.

The next three ZZ Top albums – Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres and Fandango! are featured much more prominently with seven tracks apiece.  This part of the set is deep with essential music.  “Francene”, obviously “Francene”, the catchiest song during this part of history, is present and accounted for.  (Even in Spanish!)  For relentless groove, ZZ Top never nailed one as hard as “Just Got Paid”, slide guitar right in the pocket.  “Chevrolet” showed how they could just lay back.  For shuffles, “Bar-B-Q” got the spice you need.  “Sure Got Cold After the Rain” covers the sad, spare blues that Billy’s guitar can evoke.  The music goes on, and on:  “La Grange”, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers”, “Heard It on the X”, “Blue Jean Blues”, “Tush”.  Though the songs in between are all excellent as well, it’s hard to ignore the hit power of these tracks.

Six tracks from Tejas feature on this set, still more than half the album.  The ZZ Top direction was gradually making tentative steps towards modernizing.  “It’s Only Love”, a bluesy country pop, sounds like something new.  They hadn’t left anything behind though, as told by the menacing “Arrested for Driving While Blind”.  It’s a cleaner, more studio-driven sound, as heard on “El Diablo” with its subtle overdubs and dynamics.  “Enjoy and Get it On” is a nice sentiment, with the slide all greased up and ready to go.  Two of the most interesting of the Tejas tracks are the quiet instrumental “Asleep in the Desert” and the twangy “She’s a Heartbreaker”.

At this point ZZ Top took a break to decompress after years of consecutive touring and recording.  The Best of ZZ Top came out during this break, but what was going on behind the scenes was to be far more important down the road.  ZZ Top’s image began its final evolution when Gibbons and Hill returned from vacation with matching full length beards. Their next album Degüello allowed the music to evolve as well.  Six songs from Degüello represent this period, along with a rare radio spot advertising the album.

ZZ Top’s cover of Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You” is iconic enough that many people probably assume it’s an original.  What was original was “Cheap Sunglasses”, a staggering hangover of a track — the new ZZ Top.  Same with “Maniac Mechanic”, a track so bizarre that you could mistake it for Zappa.  Meanwhile “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” has the laid back, cruisin’ ZZ Top vibe that fans always loved.  “A Fool For Your Stockings” showed that Gibbons could still play the blues, too.

Another six tracks from El Loco account for the last hits before the MTV generation took hold.  “Leila”, a 50s inspired ballad is clearly an experiment albeit a successful one.  As is the surf rocker “Tube Snake Boogie”, a track unlike any ZZ Top ever attempted before.  Another ballad, “It’s So Hard” is not out of place, with its roots in soul music.  “Pearl Necklace” has surf vibes but is most memorable for its dirty double entendre.  “Heaven, Hell or Houston” is even weirder than “Maniac Mechanic”.  It’s quite clear that ZZ Top were stretching out, while still maintaining a foot in their bluesy, rock and roll roots.

And then came MTV, the music videos, the car, and the girls.  The music was laden with sequencers and electronic percussion, but this unlikely combination is the one that really struck oil.  Black gold, Texas tea, and platinum records.  Eight tracks from Eliminator are included here, almost the whole album minus three.  Only “Thug”, “I Need You Tonight” and “Bad Girl” are left behind.  So you get all the hits, and then some.  “I Got the Six” had to be on here, a dirty but slick little favourite from the day.  “Dirty Dog” is a fun also-ran too, but didn’t need to be on a box set.

When ZZ Top found their successful formula, they really ran with it, right into the next album Afterburner.  As we know a sequel rarely tops an original, but the album still features eight songs, and this is where Chrome, Smoke & BBQ begins to stumble.  By featuring so many songs from this period, the box set is really unfairly weighted.  Surely another few tracks could have been included from ZZ Top’s First Album instead of so many from Afterburner and Recycler.  “Can’t Stop Rockin'” and “Woke Up With Wood” could have been dropped, but let’s keep “Sleeping Bag”, “Stages”, “Rough Boy”, Delirious, “Velcro Fly”,  and “Planet of Women”.  Around Afterburner, ZZ Top had taken their music to its most commercial extreme.  They decided to reduce, though not remove, technology on the third album of the MTV trilogy Recycler.  Notable from this period:  “Concrete and Steel”, “My Head’s In Mississippi”, “Give It Up”, “2000 Blues” and “Doubleback”.

ZZ Top switched from Warner to RCA for their next studio album 1994’s Antenna, and nothing from that era onwards is included.  There is still some more music on this box set to enjoy.  In 1990, ZZ Top recorded a cover of “Reverberation (Doubt)” by Roky Erickson for the tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye.  Gratefully, this ZZ Top rarity is included here.  You can note the Recycler-era sequencers, but they compliment the psychedelic track nicely.  This is followed by the two “new” songs that ZZ Top recorded for 1992’s Greatest Hits.  “The corniest Elvis song ever” is “Viva Las Vegas”, sung by Dusty Hill, and overproduced to the gills.  Huge hit of course.  “Gun Love” is also included.

Disc 4 ends with six “medium rare” tracks.  Some are actually super rare.  These include a spanish version of “Francene” with Dusty Hill singing.  It sounds like thie audio could be taken from an actual vinyl single.  A live version of “Cheap Sunglasses” comes from a 1980 promo-only single, and it smokes.  Then there are some dance mixes from 12″ singles, easily the most skippable part of this box set.  None of these will be played regularly by you, the listener.  Especially not “Viva Las Vegas”.

The booklet included with Chrome, Smoke & BBQ is impressive on its own.  It’s packed with music and text, including a track by track commentary by the band.  “Seems like all our songs are about dicks and pussies,” says Frank Beard.

Limited edition box sets are fun to get while they last.  Chrome, Smoke & BBQ boasts its box shaped like a steel shack, including corrugated roof.  (It’s actually great because it doesn’t collect dust!)  Include the box, all four CDs are safely housed in individual jewel cases.  If you dig inside a little more you’ll find cut-out characters to add to your BBQ shack display.  You could scan and print these cut-outs yourself.  Enjoy a picnic table, ribs, sausages, cacti, and of course the guys from ZZ Top themselves (on a bike, or disembarked).  Also hidden in the box is an animated flip-book.  See the video below for a quick demonstration.

As with many box sets, tracklists could use a little tweaking and everybody will have their own ideas for how to fix that.  Perhaps instead of dumping all those remixes at the end, they could have been included chronologically so the set doesn’t end on such a…tepid concept as the extended dance remix.  The set could certainly use some balancing away from Afterburner and Recycler with more focus on the earlier stuff.  The exclusive rarities are adequate and appropriate for a set of this stature.  Not too few, not too many.  The ZZ Top completist will want this set for them and will still enjoy giving it a complete spin from time to time.

The regular edition will do nicely, but if you can find a complete limited version for a good price, don’t hesitate to snag it.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Tenacious D – Post-Apocalypto (2018)

TENACIOUS D – Post-Apocalypto (2018 Sony)

I don’t know how this is supposed to work. Do you have to watch an animated series in order to “get” Post-Apocalypto?  I’m not doing that.  I’m listening to an album; I’m reviewing an album.

21 tracks, half an hour.  Most of the tracks run a minute and a half.  So what’s the concept?  Humanity has destroyed the Earth in a nuclear holocaust.  Tenacious D survived, though their songwriting abilities did not.  Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Yo-Yo Ma have been saved, and now live on a space station.  Kyle Gass wasn’t good enough to make the cut and now has a two-headed dog named Hope to keep him company.  Unfortunately the KKK seems to have taken over security on what’s left of Earth.

Post-Apocalypto is part uninspired sketches, part uninspired songs.  Some are decent, or half-decent, like “Take Us Into Space” and “Woman Time”.  Most are too soft, light and forgettable, and the sketches are tired.  Jack Black’s “Arnold” accent isn’t bad, but the joke wears out.

Bottom line:  as stated by Uncle Meat, “18 minutes of music isn’t an album.”  Iron Tom adds, “Although I’ll listen to some tunes individually, I don’t see myself listening to it again as an entire album.”

1/5 stars