rock music

REVIEW: Aerosmith – Just Push Play (2001 2 CD Japanese edition)

AEROSMITH – Just Push Play (2001 Sony Japan 2 CD set)

Funny thing about some pretty bad albums: sometimes the bands con you into buying them twice. They do this with bonus tracks you may need and can’t find elsewhere. Aerosmith have been guilty of this on multiple occasions. You know what they say about fools and money.

In 2001, Aerosmith did it with Just Push Play. They placed a bonus track on the European CD (“Face”), and a completely different set of bonus tracks in Japan…but excluding “Face”. As one of the looser songs on a pretty stiff album, “Face” is pretty enjoyable.  So what about Japan’s exclusive song, “Won’t Let You Down”?  Well, for one it’s heavy.  For Aerosmith, it’s really heavy.  You could picture it on a better album like Nine Lives.  Though not perfect it’s a damn fine latter-day Aerosmith track.  It just needs another hook.

“Won’t Let You Down” and its associated Joe Perry guitar wizardry is the most interesting of the bonus tracks, but that doesn’t mean the rest are not.  Though “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” is more than slightly boring today, it was Aerosmith’s biggest hit to date.  This was the first time it appeared on an Aerosmith album, and only in Japan.

The second CD has a diverse stew of bonuses.  The first is a 3:17 radio remix of “Just Push Play”.  It’s mostly a matter of making the guitar, drums and other elements more prominent in the mix.  It’s quite a bit better than the album cut, though just as silly.  You gotta wonder if anybody in the studio told Steven to try it without the rasta accent.  That’s the remix I want to hear, because the chorus is great.

Moving on to live rarities, Aerosmith included a handful of previously released tracks that weren’t necessarily already in your collection.  First up:  California Jam II.  “Same Old Song and Dance”, “Draw the Line” and “Chip Away the Stone” were all available on the various artists album California Jam II.  If you have this, you don’t need to buy that.  The year was 1978 and Aerosmith were still cooking live.  Whether it comes from youthful or chemical energy, these tracks are faster than their studio counterparts.  Rough and dirty live Aerosmith without the backing tapes and fixes:  what’s not to love?  “Draw the Line” has more…definition?…than the original.  Still, smoking so hot that Joe Perry probably melted his strings.  It’s just plain great to any live version of “Chip Away the Stone“.  Top five Aerosmith song?  Welcome to the collection.

That’s not all folks, as we stick to 1978 and the famous Texxas Jam.  “Big Ten-Inch Record” and “Lord of the Thighs” would be familiar if you own Pandora’s Box.  Strange they included two tracks that were readily available, but here they are and there’s nothing wrong with ’em.

A brief word on the album Just Push Play itself.  We’ve already reviewed it in full, so let’s not rehash.  Joe Perry’s least favourite Aerosmith albumy panders for hits in the most embarrassing ways.  Hi-tech recording and outside songwriters watered it down.  The old Tyler/Perry combination was not to be found on a single track.  The other three guys have not a single writing credit between them.  It’s a sad state of affairs.

If you’re a masochist like me, you’ll want to get this one for the bonus tracks.  If not, just stay away.

Just Push Play1/5 stars

Bonus CD – 3/5 stars

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#760: Eliminated Headlight

GETTING MORE TALE #760: Eliminated Headlight

As children, we were told many stories of what being a kid was like in the 1940s and 50s.  The greatest toy was Mecanno.  (My dad’s Mecanno #7 set was a treasured possession.)  Movies were 12 cents on Saturdays, and you could stay as long as you like.  (Once my dad went to go see Red Rider with his pal Jerry Irwin.  He stayed for four — well, three and a half — showings.  Then his father phoned the theatre looking for him, as he was supposed to home a long time ago!  Boy did he catch hell at home!)  One thing my dad always emphasized to us was how sad he was that all his childhood toys were gone.  His little brother wrecked some, and his dad threw out the rest.  He says they’d be priceless today.  All gone; somewhere in a Guelph landfill.

When kids move away from home, they don’t take everything with them.  Things like old toys get left behind.  That’s how my dad lost all his stuff.  I had trust in him that the same wouldn’t happen to me, and my sister.  The number of times we had to hear about his lost toys, his Mecanno #7 set, and all that stuff…I assumed he wouldn’t do that to us.

I assumed incorrectly.

A few months ago my sister was over at his house, went down into the basement to look at the board games…our old childhood board games…and they were gone.

We found some of them in a storage bin, but the rest had been thrown out.  That included my copy of Chopper Strike, a turn based combat strategy game that came with intricate little pieces and a massive two-level board.  I bought it at a garage sale for a couple dollars in the early 80s.  It was complete.  The game came with an army of plastic jeeps and helicopters.  The copters had rotating blades, and the jeeps had moving anti-aircraft guns.  Lots of easily lost components.  Rare for an such an old game (1976).  We played it over and over and over again as kids.  I thought it would remain safely stored at the old house.  It cost over $50 to replace it with a complete one again (thanks, Mom).

At least my dad saved some of the obviously valuable games, like our original Star Wars and Transformers.  Everything else from Admirals to Careers ended up in the trash, lost forever.  Feeling bad, my mom bought my sister a new Careers game on Ebay (and replaced my Chopper Strike).

I thought that was it.  I thought the point was made.  I thought our possessions were safe again.

Wrong again.

Some of my old model kits are at the cottage.  The cottage is a great place to build a model.  My ZZ Top Eliminator kit has safely lived at the cottage for 30 years.  A few years ago I took it out, dusted it off, and secured a few loose pieces with glue.  The last time I saw Eliminator, it was fine.

This time, I noticed a few things on my shelves had been moved.  When I returned them to their proper places, I saw Eliminator was now a one-eyed cyclops car.  A headlight came off and was nowhere in sight.  It’s gone.  If it had simply fallen off, it would be on the shelf, next to the car.  I only had two suspects.  One of the two was more credible, while the other claims to know nothing.  I know it was my dad!

“You can always pretend it was in an accident,” said my sister.

I used to think my stuff was safe in the hands of my dad.  Now I realize I need to keep valuables far, far away from him!

REVIEW: The Sword – Greetings From… (2017)

THE SWORD – Greetings From… (2017 Razor & Tie)

This is one clean sounding live album.  Yes it’s live, and you can tell, but there’s not a lot of crowd noise or wasted time.  Opening with a full-on “Buzzards”, The Sword sound made for the stage.  The Sword may not have invented the guitar riff, but they have certainly mastered the art of creating them.

“The Chronomancer I: Hubris” (from Warp Riders) has a slower Sabbathy groove circa Ozzy, but rendered heavier on the metal scale.  They’re tight live, but there’s a certain rock n’ roll loosey-goosey vibe on this album as well.  “Maiden, Mother & Crone” is another hot riff, amplified by the live environment.

New material is rolled out, with “Tears Like Diamonds”, “Mist & Shadow”, and “Agartha” presented in sequence.  “Tears Like Diamonds” combines hook and groove into one steamrolling song.  The heaviest track could be “Tres Brujas” from the third album which flies at Warp speed.  Then they go into a cover of “John the Revelator” which works amazingly well as a heavy metal celebration.

The only track to appear from the debut Sword LP is “The Horned Goddess”.  It ends a pretty steady onslaught of riffs with…even more riffs.  If you’ve endured it, congratulations — you just might be a rocker!

No fluff, no filler.  Greetings From… flies by just as fast as the spaceship on the awesome cover art.

4.5/5 stars

R.I.P. Roky Erickson (1947-2019)

He didn’t have an easy life, so we hope he will rest in peace.  Roky Erickson was a songwriter extraordinaire, an innovator, and an influencer.   He impacted a young Dave Grohl and befriended ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.  He was a founder of the psychedelic rock movement with the 13th Floor Elevators.  He also suffered from schizophrenia and endured horrific electro-shock therapy.

Roky Erickson eventually got the right treatment and made a return to recording and touring.  Yet it’s his 60s and 70s material that remains immortal.

Recommended listening:  The Evil One on CD, which is essentially two albums combined into one.  Every single song is amazing, but here’s “Mine Mine Mind” (produced by Stu Cook of CCR).  You can tell he was haunted.  Rest in peace, Roky.

REVIEW: Alice in Chains – Rainier Fog (2018)

ALICE IN CHAINS – Rainier Fog (2018 BMG)

It’s always disappointing when you give a new album a fair shot, but it refuses to stay in your skull. Such is the case with the latest Alice In Chains, Rainier Fog.

It’s especially disappointing since their last platter, 2013’s The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, was so crushingly perfect.  It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why Rainier Fog lacks the same impact.  It’s not singer William Duvall — this is his third album with Alice In Chains, and he’s done an admirable job every time out.  It’s also not the fault of the lead track, “The One You Know” which is a terrific starter.  “Rainier Fog” is also slammingly good.  From there on, the songs are less memorable, with the exception of “Never Fade” which has a chorus that goes on for miles.

What’s the issue?  Is it that we’ve heard all this before?  Ever since the passing of Layne Staley, Alice In Chains lost that certain “fucked up” quality to their music.  Staley seemed to bring an unschooled approach, completely unafraid to make unconventional music.  Rainier Fog is terribly conventional by comparison with Dirt.  There are verses, choruses, melodies and all the accoutrements.  And they are all good ones.  Little guitar hooks snake in and out of verses, cool as hell.  Riffs are constructed from the strongest mortar.  These foundations support a collection of well written songs.  But most of them refuse to stick.  It’s baffling.

Perhaps Rainer Fog is one of those albums that doesn’t click until the 100th listen.  They exist and when they do, they often become favourites.  If that happens here, we will line up Rainier Fog for a re-review.

3/5 stars

#752: Chip Away the Stone

GETTING MORE TALE #752: Chip Away the Stone

I didn’t have any childhood friends who were into Aerosmith.  I had to get into them on my own.

Well, that might not be entirely true.  Next door neighbour George may have been into them, but the rest of us ignored Aerosmith because they were “the band with the singer with the weird lips”.  They weren’t “metal” enough to be in my wheelhouse at that young age.  There wasn’t much Aerosmith being played on MuchMusic in the early 80s.  Maybe “Lightning Strikes”, but that was about it.  The music video with the greasers didn’t appeal to us metal kids.  The Joe Perry Project didn’t do it for us either.  The video with the pink saxophone?  (“Black Velvet Pants”.)  Not metal enough!  We were strict metal heads as kids, and pink saxophones were not metal.

What was it that finally caught my Aero-attention?  Joe Perry’s plexiglas guitar.

This all seems silly from an adult perspective, but we were just kids.  We loved metal, not just for the music but also that all-important image.  Videos were so important to us.  A band not only had to sound cool, but they had to look it.  Aerosmith didn’t look cool to us, with the tights and the lips.  That changed in early ’86.

Ironically enough the video was called “Let the Music Do the Talking”.  It was and is a killer song.  I didn’t know, or care about its history as a song by the Joe Perry Project.  What caught my eye was that guitar.  A transparent guitar?  I’d never seen anything like that before.  My best friend Bob and I were obsessed with unusual guitars.

“I have to tape this and show it to Bob,” I said.

The video itself was pretty cool.  A group of bootleggers snuck a camera into a concert to make their own video.  It was a glimpse at an adult activity we’d yet to experience: the live concert.  “Let the Music Do the Talking” made concerts look just as cool as we imagined they would be.  There was even a twist ending.  And like that, Aerosmith began to chip away the walls around me.  Once they got me to pay attention, I was loving the song!  Sure it wasn’t “metal”, but it was fast and rocked hard.  The singer may have looked kind of weird, but the guitar player was cool as hell!  I’d never seen anyone use a slide before.  Watching Joe Perry hammering away at that clear guitar gave me a million new air guitar moves.

What came next was “Walk This Way” with Run DMC, Permanent Vacation and mainstream recognition.  Before long everybody was into Aerosmith (again).  “Angel” came out when I was really into ballads, and it was a fantastic ballad.  On a kid’s allowance, I wasn’t able to get the album for many years, but Aerosmith were still on my radar.

Only a year after Permanent Vacation came the song that I grew to love the most.  What came out a year after Permanent Vacation, you may be asking?

Many people didn’t catch the 1988 release of Gems.  It was on their former record label Columbia and didn’t get a lot of notice.  What Gems had wasn’t a new song, just an obscure one dusted off:  “Chip Away the Stone”.

Written by Richie Supa, “Chip Away the Stone” is one of a few hit songs the guitarist gave to Aerosmith.  Others like “Amazing” might be more well-know, but “Chip Away” is special.  When the music video hit in late ’88, Supa was featured in it via archival footage (look for the guy with the moustache).  If anyone knew “Chip Away” in ’88 prior to Gems, it would have been through their album Live! Bootleg.  The studio version was only available on a rare single!  If you were a kid living in Kitchener in the late 80s, good luck finding it, or even knowing it existed.  For us, and the majority of fans, “Chip Away the Stone” was a brand new song.

I was getting into piano in rock songs around this time too.  “Chip Away the Stone” had just a hint of boogie-woogie and it hit the right chords for me.  Even though I was expanding my musical horizons slowly but surely, the music video still had a huge impact.  Considering it was made up of old live footage, it was surprisingly well edited, fresh and cutting-edge.  The shots of the piano were spliced to look like somebody was playing on one super-long piano keyboard.  I assumed it was Richie Supa playing piano:  the credits are unclear.  Either way, that video got me deeper into Aerosmith.  Way deeper.

Today my two favourite songs are “Chip Away the Stone” and “Let the Music Do the Talking”.  I have plenty of others — “Seasons of Whither”, “F.I.N.E.”, “Draw the Line” — but those first two just stick with me.  Part of that is nostalgia, but the other is that they are just great fucking songs.

REVIEW: The Darkness – “Love Is Only a Feeling” (CD and DVD singles)

THE DARKNESS – “Love Is Only a Feeling” (2004 Warner UK CD and DVD singles)

Collecting singles isn’t as easy as just buying the single anymore.  Which versions are out there, with what tracks?  The Darkness’ singles are usually interesting for the different bonus tracks and variations out there.  Their hit ballad “Love Is Only a Feeling” was available on CD, DVD and 7″ vinyl.  You only need the CD and DVD to get all the tracks, but there’s a catch:  the DVD is in PAL format (common in Europe), so you need a player that can decode it.

No problem.  LeBrain HQ has a collection of frankenstein multi-media tech that can convert the most popular physical formats into something easier to play!  It’s not a pretty setup but it gets the job done.  All the tracks from all the versions of “Love is Only a Feeling” can be compiled in a single file folder!

As far as ballads go, The Darkness didn’t wimp out with “Love is Only a Feeling”.  The Lizzy-like intro harmonies meld into an acoustic mandolin verse.  A bombastic band like the Darkness is at home with a bombastic ballad, but early Darkness didn’t use a lot of frills and extraneous instrumentation.  “Love is Only a Feeling” doesn’t go overboard, but sticks to pretty a traditional rock arrangement.  You can blast it out the car windows — no problem.

The first of the single B-sides is “Planning Permission”, an unpolished song that almost stands with the ones that did make it onto Permission to Land.  It could use a little more tightening up but the roots of a good song are there.  Next is the bizarre “Curse of the Tollund Man”.  It might even be considered educational.  The actual mummy of the Tollund Man was found buried in peat as described in the song.  It sounds like the Darkness were really trying to write a Queen B-side.  It’s amusing but all over the place.

The music video for “Love is Only a Feeling” is the main feature of the DVD single.  I’m a sucker for mountaintop videos.  “Love Is Only a Feeling” is almost as epic as the Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses clips that came before .  Then, they take it over the top by going under the ground, in a cave!  A behind-the-scenes video reveals safety ropes, helicopters and elevated platforms to heighten the drama.

The real reason to seek the DVD single is to acquire the final bonus track, “Get Your Hands Off My Woman” live at the Astoria.  The action-packed track features Dan Hawkins on all guitars, so Justin can jump around and do the splits.  Vintage live Darkness with the original lineup is scarce, as far as official releases go.  This live Darkness is full speed, filmed in the raw.  It doesn’t matter if you get it for watching or just listening.  It’s a great version.

If you’re fortunate enough to play DVDs from multiple regions, the singles are usually dirt cheap on Discogs.  This one even came with a poster!  DVD singles were a fad and never really caught on.  They can, however, patch some holes in your Darkness collection.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Psycho Circus – Psycho Circus (1992 cassette)

PSYCHO CIRCUS – Psycho Circus (1992 indi cassette EP)

Psycho Circus put out their one and only album in 1993.  They were a talented band who avoided grunge cliches and instead dove into funk-metal and a darker Faith No More sound circa The Real Thing.  The album was split down the middle between the two sides.  Decades later I found an earlier indi cassette, released after they signed with SRO Management, the team behind Rush.

It’s quite clear this band had musical chops.  Opening track “Picky Purple People” is killer.  Faux-horns, massive bass and busy drums are relentless.  This is a goofier side of the band, but well executed.  If the Chili Peppers and Faith No More had a baby, it would sound like “Picky Purple People”.  Next is “Funk in Our Souls”, a track that was re-recorded for the album later.  The cassette version sounds more bass heavy.  It’s more enjoyable for that reason, not to mention the smoking guitar solo.  “Can You Feel It?” was also re-recorded for the album, but this is one of those darker songs that eschew the funk.  Singer Vince Franchi hits unreal notes.  His voice is versatile.  It’s Faith No More without the twisted mind.

The final track didn’t make it onto the CD.  “Psycho Circus” opens with traditional circus music, a full six years before Kiss did the same thing with their own song called “Psycho Circus”.  Maybe they should try suing Kiss?  It would be fun to see!  That’s the only similarity.  This is another funky track, and though the circus music is a bit silly, the chorus rocks.

The tape comes with a nice J-card and full lyrics.  In a way it’s a better listen than the album.  It doesn’t have as many great songs, but it also has less filler.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – The Verdict (2019 “Masterpiece Edition”)

QUEENSRŸCHE – The Verdict (2019 Century Media 2 CD “Masterpiece Edition”)

The Todd La Torre era of Queensryche is now three albums deep. There’s no more mucking around. When drummer Scott Rockenfield went on personal leave, they didn’t let that stop them from writing and recording The Verdict. La Torre, a capable drummer in his own right, took on the challenge quite seamlessly.

So what’s the verdict on The Verdict?

The first Todd album (2013’s Queensrÿche) was safe and too brief.  The second (2015’s Condition Hüman) was a lot to digest.  The Verdict may have struck a better balance.  They’re still exploring their own brand of metal, bringing in a few new sounds without departing from their core direction.  They sound more comfortable in their own shoes.  Don’t expect a progression into new musical territory.  That’s not what The Verdict is.  It’s a full-force metal album with nuance, complexity, and plenty of guitar harmonies.  That’s what Queensryche do now.  The writing is sharpened, and the songs sound assembled with care.

The album requires a few listens to sink in.  The immediate standout here is a track called “Light-Years”, a song written by bassist Eddie Jackson who seems to come up with amazing songs out of the blue.  Regal, riff-laden metal with bravery and hooks.  This song should surely go down as a future Ryche classic.  (Jackson also wrote “Propaganda Fashion” and co-wrote a bunch of others.)  Another impressive song is the ballady “Dark Reverie” contributed by Parker Lundgren.  Todd really kicks it in the ass with his outstanding vocals.  The longest track “Bent” is dark and epic.  The only real weakness on this album is a lack of diversity, which they seem to be trying to avoid lest they end up with another Dedicated to Chaos.

The balance is clear.  The complexity of Condition Hüman is tempered by sharper hooks and melodies on The Verdict.  They’ve cranked out a lot of music over the last six years and they’re sounding more confident today.  Speaking of “a lot of music”, the consumer has choose between the standard single 10 track CD or the double “Masterpiece Edition” with rarities and new recordings.

For many fans, this will be their first chance to own the songs “46° North”, “Mercury Rising”, and “Espiritu Muerto”.  To get those, you had to buy the (previously reviewed) vinyl box set version of Condition Hüman.  Fans will also be thrilled by the four live songs from 2013’s Queensrÿche.  One of them, “Eyes of a Stranger”, could only be found on the (previously reviewed) Japanese version.  These, of course, all feature Scott Rockenfield on drums, his only appearances in this set.

The percussion on the two new recordings is handled by touring drummer Casey Grillo.  If he ends up a permanent member one day, nobody can say, but these are his very first recordings with Queensryche.  They are acoustic versions of “I Dream in Infrared” (from Rage for Order) and “Open Road” from (Queensrÿche).  Both are quite excellent.  It would be cool to get more of these acoustic renderings.  (Geoff Tate did four on his Queensryche’s Frequency Unknown album.)

The “Masterpiece Edition” (9000 copies) comes packed in a nice big box similar to the one from 2013’s Queensrÿche.  Additional goodies inside include an iron-on patch, a Verdict fridge magnet, and bottle opener.  Now your kitchen can finally be complete.  Just extra fluff, really — buy it for the songs.

4/5 stars

Just Listening to…Aerosmith – Permanent Vacation

This revisit is due to your Heavy Metal Overlord, who told me that Permanent Vacation is his favourite go-to album for reunited Aerosmith.  Due to the tremendous respect (and fear) I have for HMO, I decided that I needed to give it another listen.

My conclusion after hearing it again is that I had it dead wrong in my album review.  Yes, there are a couple filler songs.  “St. John” and “Girl Keeps Coming Apart” still don’t resonate with me.  But, man, there are some bangers on Permanent Vacation.  I didn’t remember how awesome “Heart’s Done Time” really is.  I forgot about the cool Beatles cover “I’m Down”.   I didn’t give due credit to the terrific title track. But most important of all is “Magic Touch”.  Is Joe Perry playing a whammy bar in the beginning?  What a song.  Could it be the best song on the album?  It certainly has a chorus that goes on for miles.

Permanent Vacation, as an album, might be overshadowed by its own singles “Dude”, “Angel” and “Rag Doll”.  But I’ll be damned if “Angel” doesn’t still make the hair on my arms stand up to this day.

I’ve been unfair to Permanent Vacation. It’s far better than I thought it was.