russian imports

NON-REVIEW: KISS – Hit Collection 2000 (Russian import)

kiss-logo – Hit Collection 2000 (E.S Records – Russian import)

I call this a “non-review” because I’ve never actually listened to this CD.  I’ve never even opened it.  This disc is one of dozens of Russian imports sold to us by a guy named Serge.  Ah, Serge — part time Russian CD distributor, part time male model.  And a total pain in the ass.  Most of what he tried to sell us was utter shit.  “This is really big in Europe”, he would say about just about every dance CD that I would pass on.  Because this CD is more a curiosity than anything else, I’d like to keep it sealed.  These compilations are so shady that Discogs won’t even allow them for sale.  Think of them as bootlegs.  It’s not the real Kiss logo at the top and that should be cautioning. Because I don’t want to open it, I’ll just listen to the songs on other albums, and review it that way.

The track “Psycho Circus” is a logical opener for a CD released in 2000.  The Psycho Circus album was Kiss’ most recent, and they opened their shows with the title track.  It’s the closest thing to a classic from that album.  Never mind that Ace Frehley and Peter Criss aren’t really on the song; that was typical for Kiss.  It just takes one play and you know it’s Kiss.  Nobody else sounds like this.  Kiss basically ripped themselves off on this song.

Off to a good start, but then things go a bit strange.  “Charisma” from 1979’s disco album Dynasty follows, and by contrast to “Psycho Circus”, the band has never played it live.  (The internet will tell you they played it in Mexico in 1981, but this was just miming for a TV performance.)  The Russians then dropped “Detrot Rock City” (yes, that’s how they spell it) in the third slot.  Then it’s “God of Thunder” which works really well immediately following “Detroit”.  Strangely, back to disco next.  It’s the hit “I Was Made for Lovin’ You”, before it gets even weirder.  Sandwiched between “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and a slew of tracks from the Kiss solo albums is the ballad “Beth”.  Granted, “Beth” is pretty out of place no matter where she is placed.  It’s also strange that three of Kiss’ biggest hits are crammed together in a small group like this.  It’s even stranger when you look further down the tracklist and realize that one of the biggest hits (“Rock and Roll all Nite”) is completely absent in any form.

The only thing more jarring than hearing Gene Simmons’ solo track “Radioactive” immediately after “Beth” is when the painkillers start to wear off in the middle of a root canal.  Were the solo albums big in Russia?  All four solo albums get a track on this CD, though not all were singles like “Radioactive” was.  Frehley’s “Rip It Out” is arguably a better song than his single anyway (“New York Groove”).  “Rip It Out” is more than welcome here since it so rarely makes it onto compilations.  It’s only on two others:  Best of Solo Albums, and Ikons.  Stanley’s next with “Ain’t Quite Right”, an interesting choice since it’s such a laid back track.  His album has so many better songs for compiling.  Last of the solo tracks is Peter’s single “Don’t You Let Me Down”, a nice ballad, but as you’ll see this CD already has enough ballads.

Back to the mainstream Kiss songs, “Do You Love Me” works really well as a transition out of the solo stuff.  Then it’s time for some Elder.  “A World Without Heroes” isn’t shunned like it used to be.  It’s been on a few compilations, like Kiss 40, Icon 2, and the Box Set.  Another hit from the disco era, Frehley’s “2000 Man” (a Stones cover) is a welcome addition.  The only other compilation it’s been on was Ikons (not including live). Here’s a fact for you:  a Kiss compilation is only strengthened by more Ace.  Fortunately this isn’t the last.

As we get close to the end, “Shout It Out Loud” is rolled out, which makes up for the lack of “Rock and Roll all Nite”.  Then the Russians go full Chernobyl by including the weak ballad “I Finally Found My Way” as the last song in the set.  Why?  Was this a hit in the motherland?  Was it a hit anywhere?  Peter sings it, but he didn’t write it.  Paul did.  And Paul was writing a lot of shit ballads back then.

Russian imports usually had “bonus tracks”.  Sometimes they’d use tracks from live or solo albums.  They went live in this case, with three tracks from the Psycho Circus bonus CD.  Ace sings on “Into the Void”, one of those undeniable Frehley riffs.  “Into the Void” was a highlight from the disappointing Psycho Circus, and this live take swaggers.  “Black Diamond” is dramatic as ever, but where I give the Russians the most credit is closing the CD with “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll”.  Think back and realize, that’s how the original Kiss Alive ended too.

I’m not going to bother giving this CD a rating (what’s the point?) but I will point out that the Russians go all over the place, from genius to asinine, with this track list.  Sometimes it feels like they just threw a bunch of stuff to the wall and didn’t wait to see what stuck.  At others it sounds well thought-out.  It’s probably just random.

?/5 stars

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

Part 153: Russian Imports

SAM_1771

RECORD STORE TALES Part 153:  Russian Imports

One of the weirder items that we used to see regularly were these Russian import discs.  Their status as official releases was very questionable, the quality was cheap at best, and the guy that sold them wanted top dollar for them all.

His name was Serge, and he was a Russian model.  Seriously.  He gave me his business card one time.  He was a model, and he had the perfect Fabio hair and everything.  On the side, he’d bring CD’s over to Canada from Russia. They would usually come without jewel cases, just the CD and the paper cover art, so he could transport more of them.  The discs often ended up terribly scratched because of this.  He’d bring over “greatest hits” releases from everybody.  Springsteen, Abba, Bon Jovi, even bands that didn’t have greatest hits releases like AC/DC.  Often the Russians would throw on “bonus tracks” from live or solo albums.

The guy was a real pain to deal with, and most of the stuff he brought over was obscure European dance, trance, techno stuff that nobody had heard of over here.  He’d assume he was going to get a lot of money for them, because they were big in Europe.  But if nobody had heard of them in Canada, and they sat on my shelf for a year, no, I’m not paying top dollar for it.   So, eventually Serge stopped coming in.

I bought two albums from him that I’ve never played, but bought just “for the collection”.  One is a Kiss disc called Hit Collection 2000, the other by Europe, called Best Ballads.

Hit Collection 2000 is on a label called “DJ’s Club”.  It does not have the official Kiss logo, just a poor attempt to copy it.  There are some spelling errors on the back — I don’t know where “Detrot Rock City”  is.  The tracklist itself is pretty weird, containing newer songs like “Psycho Circus” and “I Finally Found My Way”, along with one track from each of the four Kiss solo albums.  There are three songs from Dynasty, and three rare live cuts from the Psycho Circus Live Australian disc.  This one came sealed but I didn’t even bother to open it.  Even Serge’s sealed discs often ended up scratched to pieces, I don’t know how that happens because these are clearly factory sealed.

The Europe album, Best Ballads, is notable for not depicting keyboardist Mic Michaeli on the front cover, even though he plays on the majority of songs.  The album contains ballads from Europe’s first monumental self-titled disc through to 1991’s Prisoners In Paradise.  The Russians picked some cool songs this time:  “Words of Wisdom” and “The King Will Return”, from the first album, “Dreamer” from Wings of Tomorrow, and “Coast To Coast” from Out of This World.  As usual there are three “bonus tracks”; “Under the Influence”, “Lord of the Manor”, and “Elsewhere” from Joey Tempest’s 1995 solo album A Place to Call Home.   Not that you would know this from the liner notes, since there are none.  Just a paper sleeve.

In the end I don’t think we missed Serge when he decided not to deal with us anymore.  A lot of his product sat on the shelves.  In fact I tried selling my Kiss Hit Collection CD back to the store last year, and they refused to take it.  Lesson learned!