shite photies

REVIEW: Rush – Snakes & Arrows (2007 MVI 5.1 version)

You’ve heard of Epic Meal Time?  They should call me Epic Review Time.  Here’s a couple hours of music, text and video distilled down and covered in detail.  This is a double-sized review for the price of one.  Dive in and engorge!

RUSH – Snakes & Arrows (2007 Warner Music Interactive DVD album)

Rush’s Snakes & Arrows album was considered a progression from the previous record, Vapor Trails. The pummeling of Vapor Trails has been tempered with light and shade, bringing a more balanced Rush.  It was also mixed in 5.1 for a special “Music Video Interactive” DVD by Richard Chycki and Alex Lifeson, who oversee most of Rush’s 5.1 mixes.  I haven’t listened to any version of Snakes & Arrows for many moons, so this is a review from fresh ears.

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First though, there is a 40+ minute documentary video called “The Game of Snakes & Arrows” so we can learn a bit about how the album came to be.  Geddy Lee says that their priority for choosing a recording studio was that they wanted the best drum sound imaginable.  They chose an old mansion out in the Adironacks.  47 individual microphones were used to record the entire drum kit.  Neil Peart says that the isolation of the studio led to the three guys reconnecting as musicians and friends like the old days at Le Studio.   According to Alex Lifeson, the plan for writing this time was to take it easy, working on the writing part only part time.  Later on, more time was spent on just rehearsing and playing the new songs, which transformed them along them way.  The documentary contains snippets of some intricate Lifeson acoustic 12-string, in the studio, where Alex makes it look easy.

Producer Nick Raskulinecz was not a passive participant; indeed there was give and take with the band in order to make the best out of each song. It was a process that worked well according to Alex.  I enjoyed hearing Alex explain the suspended F chord in “Far Cry” — there’s a story behind it. There is some great footage of Geddy playing Mellotron on “Good News First” too.  I also love a fly on the wall scene of Geddy jamming a bass lick on his brand-new-out-of-the-box Jaco Pastorius bass.  The lick sounded good and Geddy says, “We’ll jam to it later.  We’ll get the Big Guy on drums.”  Chills up my spine.   Raskulinecz  asks, “Would it be bad if we had two instrumentals on the record?”  Geddy immediately responds, “No, it’ll be a first.”  Peart shows up and they start to jam, and when Alex arrives it only takes him a day to come up with his guitar part to the Grammy-nominated Rush bass-drum jam called “Malignant Narcissism”.  Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.  This is how the big boys play.

Although this doc is only 40 minutes in length it’s well worth having.  This is great stuff.   Neil Peart crafting drum parts in front of our very eyes is a treat that few other DVDs deliver.  Seeing Geddy applauding his bandmate shouting, “He’s killing it, woo!” is glorious.

As if all this isn’t enough, there is a many-paged (I lost count) essay by Peart called “The Game of Snakes & Arrows: Prize Every Time”.  My favourite detail is what producer Nick Raskulinecz was nicknamed:  “Boujze”, based on the sound he’d make when trying to convey to Peart a drum fill suggestion.  “Bappitty-bap-bap-booooujze!”

The DVD photo gallery is a total joke:  FIVE pictures.  At least the package comes with an expanded booklet with lots of Hugh Syme’s surreal artwork.  Since the photo gallery on the DVD was just shite photies, I’ll give you some shots from the documentary that are loads better.


So, let’s get on with the album then.  Pushing play

Delicacy and aggression describe album opener (and first single) “Far Cry”.  The acoustics of Lifeson are easily overwhelmed by the pummeling band.  “Far Cry” boasts one of those powerful 90’s-style Rush riffs that groove rather than exercise the brain.  Immediately I am overwhelmed by a dense 5.1 riff.  I do not know how many guitars I am hearing, but Alex has unique parts coming in from all sides, including an acoustic on the left that I never noticed before.  I have loved “Far Cry” since its triumphant release in 2007; it is just as powerful and engaging today.  New appreciation for Lifeson will be had on this mix.

“Armor & Sword” was a standout then and now, just as “Far Cry” before.  The song has always shimmered, but more so in 5.1.  This track has much more of Alex’s acoustic guitars, and more texture.  It has a regal 80’s Rush-like quality without the keyboards.  In fact there are no keyboards on Snakes & Arrows, only the Mellotron.  The 5.1 mix becomes a little dense at times, and the layers of guitars oppressive, but it is indeed a massive song.  Then, you can audibly hear the Mellotron on “Workin’ Them Angels”, a phrase taken from one of Peart’s books.  It is a brighter song than either of the first two, and I like the reference to the “moving picture”.  “Workin’ Them Angels” is an album highlight, particularly the mandolin near the end.

SNAKES AND ARROWS_0007Somber moods inhabit “The Larger Bowl”, with Alex’s acoustics again giving it mood and texture.  The hippy-ish chorus sounds like the 1960’s to me, and with the acoustics it paints a picture in my mind.  This is a very good song, but Alex’s well composed guitar solo is the focal point for me.  His tone is very different on the solo, very warm.  It’s an excellent song.  “Spindrift” is less overwhelming to me.  There is nothing wrong with it; it is simply less enchanting than its predecessors since they set the bar quite high.  The song was, however, performed on the Snakes & Arrows tour and kicks of CD 2 of the album Snakes & Arrows Live and there is no denying it is powerful.

“The Main Monkey Business” is the first instrumental, again featuring Geddy on Mellotron.  The main melodic element to this song feels familiar to me — it reminds me of one of Ace Frehley’s “Fractured” instrumentals in terms of melody.  In terms of playing and structure, it is nothing like Frehley.  The 5.1 mix here is nicely balanced.  I’m getting plenty of distinct acoustic parts, with Geddy and Neil front and center.  The chiming guitars behind me envelope the listener in warmth.  Then, suddenly during a solo guitar section, the mix retreats almost all way to stereo before returning again on all 5.1.  Things bounce back and forth between intensely heavy and intensely heady.  This is a masterpiece of instrumental craft.

SNAKES AND ARROWS_0005“We can only go the way the wind blows,” claims Peart on the next song.  “The Way the Wind Blows” has two distinct sections:one heavy and one with layered acoustics. I prefer the acoustic section and I’m not too much into the heavy parts which sounds a bit same-y to 90’s Rush stuff.  Then, “Hope” is a short Lifeson acoustic showcase.  This might be the point at which some Rush fans started to doze a bit.  Admittedly Snakes & Arrows is the most acoustic-based Rush album I can think of. I just don’t think that’s a bad thing.  Not when you have Alex Lifeson in your band.  “Hope” leads into “Faithless”, a strong Rush composition.  There seems to be some sort continuity of theme here, or perhaps it is all in my head?  First Neil says we can only go the way the wind blows.  Then we go from “Hope”, to a discussion of faith.  On “Faithless”, Neil says that like the willow, he will quietly resist.  Seems like a total 180 from going where the wind blows to me, and I don’t care if it’s not intentional because I think it’s cool.  On the guitar end, Alex plays a cool bluesy solo, once again classing up the song several notches.  What a player.

The song that doesn’t work for me is “Bravest Face”.  I find the verses annoying.  “Good News First” is better, returning us to the regal Rush territory I prefer.  Alex’s magnificent chords are enhanced by the Mellotron.  Weak verses are compensated for here by other elements.  It sounds like an incomplete song to me, but better than “Bravest Face”.  The aforementioned “Malignant Narcissism” is a mind-tornado as opposed to a mind-blow.  But it’s actually a distraction; you’re about to be blown away by the sheer power of closer “We Hold On”.  Rush closers usually just bowl me over, and “We Hold On” is one of those.  Fucking awesome.  This time, Alex concentrates on the electric guitar and comes up with numerous unique and enhancing licks.  This is a complete Rush triumph.  Neil is absolutely relentless.  It leaves the album on an exhausted, satisfied note.

And a good thing, too — I was starting to worry as the song quality was dipping towards the end there.  I’m happy Rush redeemed it with a stunner like “We Hold On”.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Journey – Red 13 (2002 EP)

Welcome to the end of Week of EPs! We checked out some famed and obscure EPs all week:

MONDAY: Aerosmith – The Other Side (1990)
TUESDAY: Wolfsbane – All Hell’s Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place! (1990)
WEDNESDAY: AC/DC – ’74 Jailbreak (1984)
THURSDAY: Marillion (as “Remixomatosis”) – You’re Gone (2005)

JRNY RED 13_0003JOURNEY – Red 13 (2002 Journey Music)

I chose an obscure, semi-forgotten release to end the Week of EPs.  Time seems to move slowly in Journey-land.  Their first track released with “new” singer Steve Augeri was in 1998, and the album Arrival was released in 2000. (2001 in America.)  Generations wouldn’t come out until mid-2005.  There was a lot of upheaval at the time for classic rock bands like Journey who were lacking key original members.  No longer on a major label, Journey tried releasing a self-produced EP on their website in 2002.  It came and went without a lot of people even noticing.  Fans who knew what was going on were interested in what Journey might sound like now, free of the constrictions of a record company.

I don’t know where the title Red 13 comes from, but if you add up studio albums including the soundtrack Dream After Dream, Red 13 would be the band’s 13th studio release.

The fact that there’s an intro (simply called “Red 13”) tells you that Journey are at least stretching their wings a bit.  It’s an interesting intro, with programmed techno beats, new-agey prog keyboards, and noisy, exotic Schon licks.  Even though I loathe these kinds of beats, I am at least excited by the sound of Journey experimenting with their sound again.  This intro takes us directly into a song called “State of Grace” which expands on the exotic vibe.  It’s one of the heaviest things recorded by Journey to date.  Augeri lacks the vocal superpowers of Steve Perry, but he fills the role acceptably well.  “State of Grace” combines anthemic Journey with experimental, guitar-dominated hard rock.  It is a successful mix.  Red 13 is off to a promising start.

JRNY RED 13_0001The track simply titled “The Time” is a Zeppelin-esque slow groove, with nary a keyboard to be found.  Instead, Schon and Jonathan Cain lay on the rhythm guitars, complimenting what the other player is doing.  While something like “The Time” is an admirable achievement to a listener such as myself, I don’t think average Joe Six-pack Journey Fan will appreciate what the band are doing here.  They might consider it a “piss break” song.  Meanwhile I’m hanging on waiting to see what Schon’s going to do for a solo.    (Answer: he does what Schon does!)  I’ll also single out drummer Deen Castronovo as an MVP on this song.  I’ve always been candid about my preference for Steve Smith in Journey, but this song is a different kind of Journey and Deen’s frenetic fills are more than ample.

The third song “Walking Away from the Edge” was co-written by, of all people, Geoff Tate.  This is a solemn piano-based ballad.  It resembles some of the things the band did in the past with Steve Perry.  Unfortunately it’s not as memorable as, say, “Send Her My Love”.  It does boast a powerful chorus but at 6:17, the song is a little too long.  It fades abruptly, and then the final song is “I Can Breathe”.  This one is little more than a standard sounding Journey rocker.  It is not particular special unfortunately, until close to a 3-minute mark when a horn section kicks in.  They should have had the horns there from the start!

Red 13 is not a bad EP, but the production is sub-par, as can happen when bands self-produce.  However, had a producer been there in the studio the songs would undoubtedly turned out differently so that’s the trade off.  The worst thing about it is the band photo, which just looks cheap and bad.  What is that on your face, Neal?  Dirt?

3/5 stars

Part 311: Record Store Gallery IV (Shite Photies)

RECORD STORE TALES Part 311: Record Store Gallery IV (Shite Photies)

This is what it’s come to in this crap-fest known as Record Store Tales:  Another batch of semi-embarrassing photos of a much younger and thinner LeBrain.  These are from a party circa 2003 or so.  I can’t remember the names of anybody in these photos except one, which is Jesse Villemaire (last photo), the owner of Thrive tattoo studios in Cambridge.  I can’t remember a single other name!

Long time LeBrain readers will recall that vintage Marillion tour shirt (that I don’t fit into anymore) from Part 126:  The Marillion Shirt.

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Slang (Deluxe Edition 2014)

NEW RELEASE

DEF LEPPARD – Slang (Deluxe Edition, 2014 Bludgeon Riffola)

This is the second time I’ve reviewed a version of Def Leppard’s ill-fated Slang CD.  As Joe Elliot says in the booklet inside, the band were considering calling it Commercial Suicide, such were the changes in sound.  The mid 90’s was not a kind time for rock bands of Def Leppard’s ilk.  Everybody had to adjust, and Leppard chose to do so by making their sound darker and more organic.  That was fine with me.  I’ve already reviewed Slang; a 4/5 star album in my books.  For your convenience I’ll talk about the original Slang album at the end of this review.  For now I just want to talk about the “Deluxe Edition” and the bonus tracks.

Like many Def Leppard albums before it, Slang produced a number of excellent B-sides. Some are on this CD.  Some are only available on the iTunes version.  I have all the singles anyway, but iTunes also have two exclusive unreleased tracks of their own.  (You can buy these songs separately; you don’t have to buy all of Slang again to get them.)   These two songs are early demos of “All I Want Is Everything” and “Move With Me Slowly,” the latter with Phil singing.   While “Move With Me Slowly” is similar to its incarnation on CD 1, “All I Want Is Everything” is drastically different.  It’s a much more standard “power ballad” at this stage, little resembling the song it would become.  This take is not to be confused with the “first draft” of “All I Want Is Everything” on CD 2, which sounds a lot more like the album counterpart.

That’s one issue with the Deluxe Edition of Slang.  There is a lot of repeat.  Songs you will hear three times in one version or another include “All I Want Is Everything”, “Gift Of Flesh” (previously known as “Black Train”) and “Deliver Me” (previously known as “Anger”).  Especially when you include all the different bonus tracks, the Deluxe can be a hard slog to listen to in entirety.  I had to split it up over two nights.

But it is worth it.  Although some demos barely differ from the album counterparts, some have different lead vocals by Phil or Vivian.  There are some unreleased songs that I have never heard before.  “All On Your Touch” is a nice ballad that was only finished in 2012.  Then there’s Vivian’s funky-Zeppelin song “Move On Up” which is quite adventurous.  Some of the demo versions, such as “Raise Your Love” (an early version of “Slang”) differ quite a bit from the album versions.  Although listening to the Slang Deluxe is a long journey, it’s also a very interesting one in terms of hearing how Def Leppard wrote and recorded it.

SLANG DELUXE_0004Almost all the B-sides for Slang were included on one version or another, except for live B-sides.  Songs included are the old-school sounding “When Saturday Comes,” and the instrumental “Jimmy’s Theme” which are only on the iTunes version.  (See below for complete track listing including all iTunes bonus tracks.)  “Move With Me Slowly” is a bluesy, ballady number that could have been a single in its own right.  Ditto “Can’t Keep Away From the Flame” which could have been an acoustic single.  “Burn Out” and “Worlds Collide” are also B-sides, but these two were not released until 1999 on the singles for “Goodbye”.  Both are heavy, heavy rockers.

Let’s talk about the packaging.  I’ve heard a lot of surprise and complaints when this CD arrived inside a big fat “double” CD case.  That is kind of a surprise; you don’t even see these with 3 CD sets anymore let alone a double.  The booklet inside is nothing to write home about.  There are some words from Joe and lots of live photos, but nothing in the way of specific liner notes.  If you’re wondering where these songs were recorded or released before, info inside is vague.  There are track listings for all the Slang singles, but that only covers part of it.

As our friend the Heavy Metal OverloRd says, this probably doesn’t deserve the title “Deluxe Edition”.  In fact, I asked HMO if he’d like to weigh in on this, since he has some strong opinions about it.  For fun I asked him to comment in Scottish slang:

Def Leppard ur a bunch a fannybaws by the way. They hink the new edition of Slang is a “deluxe edition”. But it isnae. This widnae even huv been deluxe in 1995, never mind noo.

When it turned up I wis pure gutted. I thought the booklet had better be snazzy but it wisnae either. Just a wee hing where Joe tried tae mind stuff fae back in the day. Nae liner notes. Nae lyrics. Nuhin. Just some shite photies. My old copy had two discs, a slimmer case and lyrics. And some photies an aw! Gid wans. One of them oan a bus like they were aw goin doon the toon or somethin. How wis that no deluxe but this is deluxe? If they’d called it a “2CD Edition” that wid huv been awrite but they didnae. This is “deluxe”… cept it isnae. I don’t have a Scooby whit they’re playin at. Eejits.

Well said.  Lastly, I want to leave you with a look at the actual original album, Slang.  Here’s all the pertinent text from my previous review in case you’re too lazy to click the link.  It’s a great album and I’m glad it’s getting a second look today.

SLANG FRONTDEF LEPPARD – Slang (1996)

“Truth?” is a thunderous opener, laden with modern sounding samples and rhythms.  Even better is the hypnotic “Turn to Dust”.  Although it moves slow, it has loads of exotic atmosphere and instrumentation.  Neither of these songs sound like old Def Leppard.  There are major changes, including acoustic drums, darker tones and a noticeable lack of shout-along gang vocals.

It’s still the same spirit though.  There’s an obsessive attention to detail, layers of backing vocals, and tasty choruses.  It’s just 1996’s version of those things.  Listen to the title track, “Slang”, for example.  It doesn’t sound like anything Leppard have done before, but you can see it as “Sugar” a decade later if you like.

“All I Want Is Everything” is another personal favourite, a great ballad but again unlike what Def Leppard has done before.  It has a certain power to it, without being loud and obnoxious.  It has a plaintive quality and a fantastic chorus.

WORK IT OUT 1Next is “Work It Out” , a contribution from “new kid” Vivian Campbell.  It is absolutely loaded with cool guitar squeeks and squonks, no wankery, but a new kind of guitar heroism.  These little adornments are there in the mix waiting to be discovered, under suitably thick drones of rhythm guitars.  I love this song, which really proved to me that Leppard had successfully adapted their sound to the mid-90’s.  A shame it didn’t sell.

Phil’s “Breathe A Sigh” is one that threw a lot of people for a loop.  Either Spin or Rolling Stone (I forget which) compared it to TLC.  Indeed, loops make up a large part of the percussion parts, and the band seem to be trying R&B on for size.  What keeps it Def Leppard are the layers of droney guitars in the back of the mix, and the immaculate vocal choirs.

BREATHE 1 FRONTInterestingly, Slang was stacked with four singles in a row, “Breathe A Sigh” being the final single.  This does not mean the album is out of ammunition.  “Deliver Me” brings back the heavy.  Leppard In Chains?  Def Temple Pilots?  Not one of the best songs, “Deliver Me” at least balances some of the softer material.  Better is “Gift of Flesh”, a driving riff rocker with some slammin’ drums from Rick Allen.  Phil wrote this one.  I bet it would have been smokin’ live if they ever played it.

This fades directly into a lush but quiet ballad called “Blood Runs Cold”.  I could imagine some old-timey fans running away in fear that their nuts would shrivel, at the sound of this one.   I love this song, but I’m not sure it needed to be followed by yet another ballad, “Where Does Love Go When It Dies”.  Although not a single, “Where Does Love Go When It Dies” was recently dusted off by the band as part of their recent acoustic medley.  It is more upbeat than the previous song, and has a folky campfire quality.  It also gives the album a sense of flow: an upturn before the dramatic closer.

“Pearl of Euphoria” is that dramatic closer, which returns the listener to the dark, powerful tones that we began with.  Leppard don’t often reflect a strong Led Zeppelin influence, but you can definitely hear some “Kashmir” here.  Not only is Rick Allen laying down a Bonham-esque groove, but some of the guitar bits flying in and out of the speakers remind me of the sound collage section in “Whole Lotta Love”.  It’s a great closing song.

4/5 stars

iTunes bonus tracks:

1. “Truth?” (Demo Version) – Previously on “Work It Out” CD single.
2. “Work It Out” (Demo Version) – B-Side from “Work It Out” with Viv singing and completely different from the other versions on the Deluxe. Viv referred to it as his “Crowded House” version.
3. “All I Want is Everything” (Demo Version) – Exclusive.
4. “Move With Me Slowly” (1st Draft) – Exclusive.
5. “When Saturday Comes” From the film When Saturday Comes and “All I Want Is Everything” single.
6. “Jimmy’s Theme” From the film When Saturday Comes and “All I Want Is Everything” single.
7. “Cause We Ended as Lovers” (Solo track by Phil)  From the Jeff Beck tribute album Jeffology: A Guitar Chronicle and “All I Want Is Everything” single.
8. “Led Boots” (Solo track by Viv)  From the Jeff Beck tribute album Jeffology: A Guitar Chronicle and “All I Want Is Everything” single.