scorpions

#987: The Summer Awakens

RECORD STORE TALES #987: The Summer Awakens

It’s official:  the earliest swim on record for any summer at the lake is May 13!  If you don’t believe in global warming, then I can tell you that past weekends in early May, we were snuggled up in jackets and long pants.  This year, early May was as warm as early July used to be.  What an incredible weekend.  Clear and sunny until late Saturday.  By then we were indoors waiting for the Toronto Maple Leafs to once again exit the playoffs in the first round.  But I’m jumping head of myself!

Traffic was light but the music was heavy.  Albums for the drive up:

As expected, both were awesome on the road.  There was no clear winner.  Interestingly, Jennifer liked “Roots In My Boots” by Scorpions, which I considered a bit of a throwaway.  Regardless, both albums did well on the highway and rocked us safely to the cottage in two hours.

First music on the porch:

  • Kathryn Ladano – Open

Not a new release, but since the good Doctor was next door, it felt right to serenade her with some of her best music!

From there we settled in with the first hot dogs of the year, and I began to prep for my show that night (Top 11 Star Wars movies) by watching The Phantom Menace.  10 years ago, the only way to do that would be to bring a DVD and watch it on the laptop.  If we wanted to watch a Star Wars movie 30 years ago, we needed to bring the tape and a VCR!  Everything is so easy now, but dependent on a good internet connection.  That connection enabled me to do the first cottage show of the year, and a success it was.  I experimented with some new lighting and it worked way better than last year after sundown.  A successful show — and one of the best we’ve ever done.   Certainly one of my favourites.

It’s always hard to sleep after a caffeinated show like that.  I got four or five hours, and was up and at ’em early Saturday.  It was so quiet.  Most cottagers have not opened yet — their loss!  They were not able to listen when I rocked Kiss on the front porch on Saturday.  Kiss albums this weekend included Dynasty, Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, Peter Criss, and Rock and Roll Over.

I made fish for breakfast (trout) and went to go pick up my new bass from neighbor Donna.  Her brother was Don Simmons of Helix, and this bass used to belong to him.  It is my honour to play it on the porch in his memory.  Although I use the word “play” very loosely.  I have never played bass before and can only “barely” play guitar as it is.  It took some time to get used to the size of the body.  Even the neck felt huge.  But it sounded great and really rumbled the porch.

I made chicken and steaks on the barbecue and burned up a bunch of old wood — without losing my glasses this time.  After being on my feet all day Saturday, I took it easy in the evening, missing the bright orange sunset.  I had been on my feet all day and it felt good to rest up in the evening.

We departed for home early Sunday.  Albums for the road home:

These albums, Priest especially, gave me some serious retro vibes, as if I had stepped into a time machine and was 16 again.  I had this happen numerous times last year, and I wrote about that feeling in multiple previous chapters.  It’s a very intense feeling, as if I was no longer living in the year 2022, but had stepped into 1987 again.  It felt as real as the steering wheel in my hands.  Looks like this summer will be no different.  Lots of flashbacks in store!

An excellent start to what I hope will be an amazing year.

Unboxing Four Japanese Imports – live!

Sometimes the easiest way to make a video is to do it live. Last night I unboxed four new arrivals from Japan!

There’s one seller in Japan who has dozens of items on my wishlist. They’ve helped me add many long-sought items to my library over the years. This time, I added to my Scorpions and ZZ Top collections, while taking a chance on a serious Iron Maiden rarity that was priced inexplicably cheap.

Wanna see how it turned out? Watch the short video below.

REVIEW: Scorpions – Rock Believer (2022 2 CD)

“Steamrock fever, screaming rock believers.” – Klaus Meine, 1977
“Scream for me screamers, I’m a rock believer.” – Klaus Meine, 2022

SCORPIONS – Rock Believer (2022 Universal 2 CD edition)

The album of the year could be from a 57 year old band!

Although they’ve been trying hard, off and on, to recreate the past for the last 20 years or so, Scorpions never convinced us it was the 1980s again. Until now.

Whatever happened (be it the intense focus granted by a worldwide pandemic, or just the magic of interpersonal chemistry), Scorpions have issued their best record since Love At First Sting. Even the cover art recalls an earlier time in Scorpions history. With Rock Believer, the band have proven that time is no obstacle.

There are a lot of songs here and almost all of them are highlights. Opener “Gas in the Tank” feels like vintage, top-notch Scorpions. While Matthias Jabs emulates the sound of a car chase on his guitar, Rudolph Schenker lays down the first of many fully-leaded riffs. Though vocalist Klaus Meine no longer screams all the time, neither does Ian Gillan or very many other singers his age. The singer is still recognizable as nobody else, hanging onto his power and range. Nowhere on the album do you miss the screaming. Never do you say “all this song needed was a scream.” With the title “Gas in the Tank”, Klaus Meine may have unknowingly come up with a new anthem for 2022.

The only track that comes off as substandard by comparison is the second one, “Roots In My Boots”. On any past album from Crazy World on, it would be a high-speed highlight. On Rock Believer, we headbang along knowing that something better is coming. The chorus fails to land and neither do the lyrics. We are redeemed on third track “Knock ‘Em Dead”, which has the patented mid-80s Scorpions chug. Throw some candy-coated Matthias fills on top and it’s the classic sound. Klaus mentions “The Zoo” in the lyrics but it’s not all Judas Priest-like self-referencing (though there’s plenty of it on this album).

The gem of the album is “Rock Believer“, a truly remarkable ballad/rocker that strikes all the boxes. Klaus’ vocal performance is truly remarkable, going from forceful to tender in a single line. I am a rock believer like you too, Klaus. “Rock Believer” is an example of hard rock songwriting perfection. Every ingredient and aspect of the performance is flawless. Nothing extraneous, although drummer Mikkey Dee gets to go a little nuts at the end, which is a brilliant touch. It is rare to hear a song as immediately catchy as “Rock Believer” these days, but here you go, rock believers! This chorus is the kind that can stick in your head for the whole of a long weekend. (Trust me.)

A loud gothic riff on “Shining Of Your Soul” gives way to a familiar lighter reggae vibe similar to Scorpions classic “In Trance”. It’s a brilliant melding of two styles, and one that reaches back to the glorious 1970s era of the band. Certainly not a re-write of “In Trance”, but possibly a sequel. Jabs’ solo is absolutely brilliant, but don’t ignore underappreciated bassist Paweł Mąciwoda who brings a schooled melodic approach.

“Seventh Sun” stomps like the Scorps of old, recalling “The Zoo”. The bass leads the way while a sharp, sparse riff punctuates the song. It sounds like a huge mammoth of a beast, prowling heavily through the steppe. Scorpions don’t lose sight of melody and so “Seventh Sun” is strong in this regard as well. At 5:30, it is longest song on the album and closest to an epic.

Back to high-octane rockers, “Hot and Cold” really kicks. The riff is heavy and Paweł really goes for those low bass notes. While the chorus on this song is fine and dandy, it could be an example of a tune where the verses are superior. At least in terms of interesting and mind-grabbing guitar work, they are. Soon there’s another stinging riff, on the thrash-paced “When I Lay My Bones to Rest”. If you like your hard rock blasting fast and loud, then you will love “When I Lay My Bones to Rest”. Another heavy tune, “Peacemaker”, has been well received by fans. Scorpions have a long history as a band with a consistent anti-war stance. “Peacemaker” is the latest and possibly heaviest of these tunes. From the guitars to the chorus, “Peacemaker” rocks massive with melody and catchy stabs of guitar.

“Call of the Wild” is a different kind of song for this album. Klaus mentions a “Lovedrive”, but this song is one of their heavy and slow sex romps. It is somewhat unremarkable next to other tunes on the album, but it is different and picks up towards the end. Dig the slight “Sympathy for the Devil” homage. But have you noticed it’s been 10 songs, and not a real ballad among them? Ballads used to be a scourge of Scorpions albums, becoming too numerous especially on 1996’s Pure Instinct. This time there is only one, and it’s a classy one left for the end. “When You Know (Where You Come From)” is a thoughtful song, but it is the rare Scorpions ballad that stands as strong as the classics. It has a late 70s, early 80s construction and an absolutely epic guitar solo section.

11 songs with no instrumentals, interludes or fillers already makes for a hearty album. Scorpions had enough material written to make it a double, and so there’s a bonus CD with six bonus tracks. Seven in Japan, including their exclusive bonus track “Out Go the Lights”, an Accept-like heavy metal warehouse stomp. While “Out Go the Lights” is clearly bonus track material, the other six songs are not. Some of them are among the heaviest songs.

“Shoot For Your Heart” is album-worthy, with a cool unique lick in the riff that leaves you crying for more. This is a high-speed driving tune, the Scorpions bread and butter. “When Tomorrow Comes” has spoken word choruses with a forceful heavy metal riff and more “ahh, ahh, ahhs” than you can shake a scorpion’s stinger at. Good banger, but perhaps a bit too different for the proper album? It would not have weakened the record, but could possibly alienate listeners with weaker stomachs. “Unleash the Beast” is another bangin’ track, and check out Paweł’s deft bassline. “Unleash the Beast” doesn’t have the same kind of melodic might that most of the album has, but its strengths lie elsewhere, such as the creative guitars or Klaus’ talk-sing stylings. The vibe changes on “Crossing Borders”, a laid back rocker with charm and hooks. The guitars have a sleazy rock vibe and the lyrics follow suit. The final bonus track is an acoustic version of the closing ballad “When You Know (Where You Come From)”. The acoustic guitar solo perfectly augments Klaus’ flawless vocals. It’s a lovely coda and an appropriate way to end the extended version of Scorpions’ best album in decades.

Even with the wealth of of material on the deluxe edition of Rock Believer, missing is the ballad “Sign of Hope“, their 2020 standalone download-only lockdown single. Hopefully we’ll get a physical release of that eventually, though with the world now emerging it seems less relevant.

Though there are a couple songs that strive to be as good as the others, there’s nothing here worthy of the skip button. Even with the bonus tracks, Rock Believer is a solid listen from front to back. You cannot go wrong with either version, so just get one. Lockdown sucked and it was good to know Scorpions were using the time to create new music. Let’s support them in their efforts and celebrate their success.

5/5 stars

Sunday Screening: Scorpions – “Rock Believer”

Scorpions are back with their new album Rock Believer!  The excellent title track, an uplifting ballad-like construction of anthemic quality, must surely be one of their best songs from the past two or three decades. From the vintage-looking artwork to the mighty Teutonic rock melodies of the Scorpions, it is clear that Klaus and the gang are back.  Unlike some past records like Humanity: Hour 1 and Comeblack, praise this time is fairly unanimous.  It’s clear this band still has “Gas in the Tank” as they “Knock ‘Em Dead” in 2022!  Have a great weekend and as we absorb the new album; enjoy the fabulous title track!  Are you a Rock Believer?

Sunday Screening: Kathryn Hahn Rocks You Like a Hurricane

Is 2021 the year of Kathryn Hahn?

Though she has been active in film for over two decades, Hahn Awareness hit critical mass this year with 2021’s DisneyPlus series WandaVision.  Tim to dig back into her hilarious past, like this ad for the Chrysler Pacifica!  Rock you like a Hahn-icane!

REVIEW: Jim Crean – The Book of Cryptids Volume II (2020)

JIM CREAN – The Book of Cryptids Volume II (2020 Dark Night Records)

Jim Crean, hard rock singer extraordinaire from Buffalo, New York, has issued another covers album called The Book of Cryptids Volume II.  Many will shy away at the thought of a covers album, but Crean always picks interesting covers off the beaten track.  The Book of Cryptids Volume II works because A) these are not songs you typically hear covered, and B) Jim kicks ass on them all.

It’s a varied album.  “Medusa” by Anthrax opens heavily and melodically.  You might wonder how a hard rock singer like Crean tackles Anthrax.  Without difficulty!  Jim has a bit more rasp, but where Joey Belladonna gets aggressive, Jim pays more attention to the notes.  It’s a fine trade-off.  Second in line is the seldom-covered Aerosmith classic “Kings and Queens”, which is right up Jim’s alley.  Sounds like a banjo is thrown in for texture during the verses.  For an even deeper cut, check out the flawless version of Def Leppard’s “Mirror Mirror”.  It ticks all the boxes from dual guitars to throbbing bass.  Old raspy Def Leppard is well suited to Jim, who wrenches some panache from the chorus.  An ace performance.

Gowan’s “A Criminal Mind” is definitely an unexpected cover.  The only band known for covering it is Styx — featuring Lawrence Gowan.  Jim Crean could be the only other singer to dare tackle it?  This song might be a bit of a sacred cow in some quarters, but Jim does an admirable job of it.  Not vastly different, but with its own unique vocal colours.

Keeping with a synthy 80s plot twist, “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)” is the old Mike + the Mechanics hit.  Cool guitar solo on this track that stays pretty true to the original.  Then “Cry For Freedom”, the White Lion slow burner from 1989, is another surprise.  Crean has covered White Lion before, but “Cry For Freedom” is a special song.  Not a ballad yet not a rocker, it leans heavily on the beat and the vocal.  Then it has a guitar burn-up near the end, and this one sounds exactly like Vito Bratta.

A keyboardy piano ballad called “Love Is” (Vanessa Williams) …well, let’s just say it takes balls of steel to put it on the same album as an Anthrax song.  Fortunately Jim makes it cool, but not as cool as the earlier “Criminal Mind”.  But then it’s a whole different ball park:  Mother Love Bone, and “Star Dog Champion”.  Again, a song that might be considered sacred in some quarters.  Jim’s voice is well suited to it, and this “Champion” is fully enjoyable.

We begin to draw to a close on the Scorpions early dark ballad, “When the Smoke is Going Down”.  It’s another song that Crean is capable of bending to his will.  Brilliant vocal on this one, especially considering that Klaus Meine has to be a top-five metal singer.  Coming down from that climax, the final denoument is surprisingly authentic to the original:  the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”.  This is one of those mountainous peaks that only fools dare to climb.  Yet Crean’s winning streak continues unabated.  The sonics are so close to the Stones, and everything sounds completely natural.  How the hell do you replicate Charlie Watts’ drums on “Gimme Shelter”?  Dunno, but it sounds really good!

All this said, you’re still skeptical, right?  Covering “A Criminal Mind” and “Gimme Shelter”?  A healthy dose of skepticism is warranted when reading a glowing review of a covers album.  To me, covers are worth listening to when you enjoy the spin that another artist puts on the song.  In this case it’s Jim’s voice, a classic hard rock voice that I like a lot.  So I’m cool with hearing “A Criminal Mind”, because I like the way Jim sings.

Consider this.  We’re 10 months into a worldwide pandemic and gigs have dried up.  Some artists, like Jim Crean, are recording and releasing music, and we should be supporting that.  He gives you good value for the money.  This copy came signed, with a custom Jim Crean guitar pick and signed photo.  Not to mention some quality covers of great songs off the beaten track.  The Book of Cryptids Volume II comes with cool artwork of various cryptozoological specimens including a kraken, Bigfoot, some sirens and an alien.  You can buy this package direct from the artist, so you know the money goes to the right people.  Check it out — guaranteed a few of these tracks will put a smile on your face.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Scorpions – “Sign of Hope” (2020)

SCORPIONS – “Sign of Hope” (2020 single)

The Scorpions, in the midst of writing their next album, are the latest band to release a lockdown single in 2020.  It will come as no surprise that it’s a ballad.  “Sign of Hope” is a reassuring song from the guys who know how to write ballads (and reaaaally know how to paaartaaaaaaay!).  Of course a ballad is appropriate for these sombre times.  “Sign of Hope” sounds like Scorpions circa 1996, the Pure Instinct album.  It’s gentle and peaceful.  For accompaniment, it’s primarily acoustic guitars, with slight electric guitar accents that pop in and out.  It’s actually quite a good ballad, short and to the point.  The sparse arrangement really lets us hear the nuances of guitar, and Klaus Meine’s voice.  It’s well written and memorable enough.

One could ask, “Why do we need another Scorpions ballad?”  Perhaps the simplest answer is because the Scorpions are still around making music.  So why not?  Will they ever top “Still Loving You” or “In Trance”?  It doesn’t matter, because they are in their 55th year and are still creating.

“I see empty places, empty roads,” sings Klaus, and though the streets are fuller now it’s hard to forget the sight of a deserted world.  It also strangely seems like such a long time ago that this all began.  But the Scorpions reassure us that “it’s gonna be alright,” and eventually it will be.  We are getting there.  We are indeed seeing signs of hope, but everybody needs to treat themselves well.  So treat yourself to some music and grab the new Scorpions on iTunes.

3/5 stars

I also really like the single artwork, I think it’s striking and has several layers of meaning.  It’s also nice to see the word CANADA so prominently!

REVIEW: Scorpions – Box of Scorpions (2004)

SCORPIONS – Box of Scorpions (2004 Universal)

Don’t worry – this Box of Scorpions cannot hurt you!  If fact if you allow yourself to be stung, you will find your reality injected with musical ecstasy.

This isn’t a box set to buy if you are looking for unreleased treasure.  It’s strictly a compilation, although you may be able to get a few tracks you didn’t have before.  Box of Scorpions covers every album from the debut Lonesome Crow, beyond 1999’s Eye II Eye, going as far as 2002’s Bad For Good: The Very Best of Scorpions.  That compilation CD included two new songs called “Bad For Good” and “Cause I Love You”.  They were recording specifically for Bad For Good, but it makes sense to get them on the beefier Box of Scorpions instead.

The first disc of this set is inaugurated by “I’m Going Mad”, the same technicolor workout that opened their first album.  The early psychedelic Scorpions songs are only represented by a couple, with “Fly to the Rainbow” being the second.  Stone cold classics form the bulk of the disc, with “Speedy’s Coming” being an obvious focal point.  “In Trance”, “Steamrock Fever”, “We’ll Burn the Sky”, and “Virgin Killer” are all essential cuts.  You can’t fit ‘em all in, of course, but the live album Tokyo Tapes fills in some of the most obvious blanks.  “Top of the Bill”, “Dark Lady” and “Robot Man” are great live inclusions.  The disc ends with the first steps into the modern Scorpions sound with a pair from 1979’s Lovedrive.

Disc two showcases the 80s and all the big Scorpions hits.  The band streamlined their sound.  Some may say “dumbed down”.  The Scorpions of the 80s were massive, but certainly were not challenging your grey matter with complex music like the 70s band were prone to.  They also lost the regality of the Uli Roth era, something his guitar brought to the band.  It was replaced by solid 4/4 hard rock, with plenty of hits.  There is only one live song (from World Wide Live) here, “Another Piece of Meat”.  The rest are all studio originals:  “Big City Nights”, “Still Loving You”, “Rhythm of Love”, “The Zoo”, “No One Like You”, and of course that unstoppable “Hurricane”!  Deeper cuts like “Coast to Coast” and “Dynamite” provide some serious meat.  This disc would make a pretty good standalone compilation.

The third disc concentrates on the 90s, which saw the Scorpions reborn by the success of “Wind of Change”.  Unfortunately, this ushers in a slew of ballads.  The few rockers like “Tease Me, Please Me”, “Alien Nation” and “Don’t Believe Her” are almost drowned by the ballads.  There are some songs you may have missed the first time around.  In addition to the aforementioned “Bad For Good” and “Cause I Love You”, you’ll also get “Over the Top” and “Life Goes Around” which were released in 1997 on Deadly Sting: The Mercury Years.  “Cause I Love You” is really the only keeper of these four obscurities.  It was originally written in 1978 for Lovedrive, and recorded in 2002.  That’s how it sounds, too.  As for the rest, at least getting by these songs all in one place, you don’t really need the other two compilations.  Disc three also contains the unfortunate “Mysterious” from the dreadful Eye II Eye album, and the soul live song “Hurricane 2000” from Moment of Glory with the Berlin Philharmonic.  Neither are really essential though “Hurricane 2000” has its fans.

Box of Scorpions adds up to a good set with plenty of value and a few minor surprises.  If you don’t own all the albums already, this is a good buy.  Be sure to get a copy with the outer plastic slipcase still intact!

3.5/5 stars

 

#770: Encore!

GETTING MORE TALE #770: Encore!

I’ve been avoiding downtown Kitchener for the last couple years.  All that construction (five years’ worth) installing our new light-rail transit system…it’s been hellacious.  But that construction is now over, and the LRT train (called the ION) is running every 15 minutes.  Only two years behind schedule!  And guess where one of the stops is?  Right by legendary record store Encore Records.  Perfect!  No need to worry about parking.

Mrs. LeBrain and I hopped on a bus to the mall, and a few minutes later the train pulled in.  Using the free Wi-fi, I live-streamed myself making goofy faces on our new train.  The ride was quiet and fast since it only stopped a handful of times.  These new trains are lovely!  Now that they are finally running, I can see that the headaches will be worth it.  Clean and quick – I’d use the ION again.  It’s a shame but there are still people who hate the train so much that they would actually like to spend taxpayer money on ripping up the tracks!  What a waste that would be.  Let’s give this LRT a fair shake.

We disembarked the train at the City Hall stop, only a brief walk from Encore.  Not only was this my first ride on the train, but also my first visit to Encore since they moved from their old Queen St. location.  The new store, though not wheelchair accessible, seemed bigger and cleaner.  Old pal Al “The” King was there, happily still slinging the rock for us patrons.

We chatted a bit.  Al really enjoyed working at Encore.  There was a guy that I trained at my old Record Store about 15 years ago.  He left shortly after to work at Encore, and he’s still there!  When you find a place you enjoy working, I guess you stay!

Time to go look at music….

It didn’t take long for me to exceed my budget for the day.  First snag was from the new release rack:  The Beaches’ excellent new EP The Professional, $9.99.  A great recording; it will be getting a few spins this summer.  Next:  the used CD racks.  Plenty of stock as usual.  I came looking for old Styx, but there was no used Styx that I needed.  Instead I grabbed three Scorpions remasters:  World Wide Live (with DVD), Savage Amusement (with DVD), and Animal Magnetism.  $20 each.

Whoops!  I already owned Animal Magnetism.  No big deal; looks like some lucky person will be getting a free copy from me.  I really have to keep track of reissues better.  This is happening more and more frequently as my collection grows.

I still wanted some more classic Styx.  I’ve been playing my Styx albums repeatedly.  I needed some more classics to throw in the shuffle, so I moved on to the new CD racks.  There I picked up Pieces of Eight and Crystal Ball.  $9.99 each.  One by one and I’ll get them all.

Continuing through the racks of new stock, I spied two Kick Axe remasters by Rock Candy.  I’ve wanted both these albums for a long time:  Vices and Welcome to the Club, $22.99 each.  I’ve spun through both twice and was impressed with both the music and liner notes.  What an underrated singer George Criston is.  This sparked more Kick Axe purchases later on Discogs and Amazon.  The third album, Rock the World, is coming in the form of another Rock Candy remaster.  And thanks to the excellent liner notes inside Vices, I also tracked down some early Kick Axe on Discogs.  Debut single “Week-End Ride” / “One More Time” from 1981 is inbound!  Also coming, from the same year, is a compilation LP called Playboy Street Rock.  Kick Axe have a live track on that called “Reality is the Nightmare”.  It’s going to be cool hearing those early songs, which had a different singer.

It’s funny about Kick Axe.  One of the first buttons I ever bought for my jacket was Vices.  It only took close to 40 years to finally get the album.

Finally we closed the Encore trip with some vinyl.  A lovely reissue of Alice Cooper’s Zipper Catches Skin, on clear “black smoke” vinyl.  It looks and sounds great, and now I finally have all the Alice Cooper studio albums.

We bid farewell to Al and headed home again on the ION.  Now that the train is up and running, I do believe I’ll be making Encore a fairly regular weekend stop.

5/5 stars

 

 

VHS Archives #24: The Scorpions discuss Crazy World (1990)

Usually Scorpions interviews involve Klaus, Rudolph and Matthias.  In October 1990, Dan Gallagher got to talk to Herman “Zee German” Harebell, Rudolph Schenker and Francis Bucholz.  Topics discussed include replacing producer Dieter Dierks with Keith Olsen, and Canada!  “You know how to rock and roll!” says Herman.

Roger Waters’ The Wall – Live in Berlin had just been released.  The Scorpions were asked to open the show with the first song “In The Flesh?”  Dan inquires about that gig and playing behind the Iron Curtain, and then asks them to say “apple strudel”!

Check out this cool interview with the Scorpions, another great example of the kind of quality television we got with the Pepsi Power Hour.