Sil Simone

VHS Archives #25: Rik Emmett of Triumph – the Holy Grail of videos – Power Hour 1987 live performance!

It’s Friday so here’s something you’ll want to watch from start to finish.  This episode of the Pepsi Power Hour on MuchMusic should be considered a “Holy Grail” find for fans of Triumph. Foreshadows of Triumph’s impending breakup can be sensed in this excellent interview, coupled with a performance of “Let the Light (Shine On Me)” and a guitar duel with protégé Sil Simone! All on live, national television.

Rik was always comfortable in the Much studios and gave great interviews.  (I have at least two more on tape.)  He is one of the world’s premier guitarists, as you will hear in the guitar duel!  Rik also performs Triumph’s “Let the Light (Shine On Me)” acoustically.  (Listen for that one bum note!  Live television, people.)

Topics discussed include going solo (seriously!), guitar, heavy metal, Whitesnake, Steve Vai, and more.

Believe me when I say you won’t regret watching this whole interview/performance.  Special mention must go to Erica Ehm, a charismatic host who had great rapport with Rik.

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REVIEW: Rik Emmett – Absolutely (1990)

RIK EMMETT – Absolutely (1990)

Alright, to be fair, with 20/20 hindsight now we all know that Rik Emmett wanted to be a jazzbo. Back in 1990, those of us that weren’t expecting the second coming of Triumph were at least hoping for something with some balls. Either alternative would have been acceptable, but Absolutely is so middle of the road, so directionless, so antiseptic, so horridly contrived and ill-conceived, that we just had no idea where the man’s head was at.

Absolutely is purportedly a rock album, but the sterile cover reveals the terrible secret within.  Absolutely is glossy and clean; overloaded with ballads and lite-rock dreck.  You’re left with only a couple real rock songs. “Drive Time,” which deceptively opens the album, is a Van Halen speed boogie.  (Drummer Randy Cooke is frickin’ amazing.)  “Big Lie,” the second song, has a bit of that latter day pop-Triumph sound. It also has decent lyrics which are more relevant than ever today.  On side two, there’s a song called “Heaven Only Knows” that has some hard rock trappings. But that’s where it ends.

“The disappearing forests should be no cause for alarm, the greenhouse effect won’t do you any harm.”

The single “When a Heart Breaks” is sappy crappy, the kind of boring ballad that was too common at the beginning of the 90’s. The rest of the album is just shamelessly pop rock. That’s not always a bad thing, I enjoy quite a bit of pop in my life, but this isn’t even good pop rock.  “World of Wonder” makes me want to retch.  I mean, wait until you get to “Smart, Fast, Mean & Lucky”. Think that title sucks?  Wait till Rik starts rapping. When Rik raps, it’s like the Bartman. Hey, at least it was current for the time, but why did rock bands think they had to start rapping in the early 90’s?  (Kip Winger, I’m looking at you.)

For fans of Rik’s guitar, there’s just not enough. A song like “Stand and Deliver” has some smoking guitar work, but it’s drowned out by claptrap and clutter.   It’s a shame. I’m glad that Rik is now doing what he loves, and even found time to do a mini-Triumph reunion. Anything to forget this misguided solo project.

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: Triumph – Surveillance (1987)

Part 2 of a 2 part series by request of reader DEKE! Today we look at the final album by the original Triumph. For the first installment, The Sport of Kings, click here!

TRIUMPH – Surveillance (1987 MCA, 2003 TML)

Triumph bassist Mike Levine once called this album your proverbial “contractual obligation” record. What he meant by that, was that Rik and the boys were barely on good terms anymore, the end was near, but the band needed to crank out one more album (plus a “greatest hits” record entitled Classics) before they could call it a day.

And who can forget that awkward interview on MuchMusic’s Power Hour, when Erica Ehm unwittingly asked Rik, “Have you ever thought of going solo? Wait a second, I have the chance to break up Triumph with this question!” Rik mumbled something about how the guys in the band always gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted, and there was no need to go solo. Then a couple months later, WHAM!  The headline was all over the Toronto Sun — RIK QUITS TRIUMPH.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this sounds like the last album by a once powerful band. It sounds like a band out of ideas, a tired band, a band who doesn’t care anymore.  It has an atmosphere of “let’s see if this one will stick to the wall.”

Yes, Rik Emmett was and remains a genius guitar player.  Mike and Gil, God bless ’em, were the average backing band, given a tremendous boost in our native land due to the fact that they are Canucks. There’s a certain Canadian mediocrity to Triumph — not quite as good as Rush, but similar. A loyal fanbase, but with not nearly the treasure-rich back catalogue that Max Webster has. A talented guitar playing frontman, but as a vocalist a bit shrill even by Geddy standards. A T-shirt-and-jeans type image, maple leaf proudly emblazoned on their hockey jerseys, but an image just too bland for anybody but us hosers by the late 1980’s.

Surveillance struck me from the start as Rik taking control of the machine for one last spin. It treads the progressive tendencies, with two instrumental intro tracks, a guest shot by Steve Morse, and some lyrically interesting pieces (“All The King’s Horses”). This is tempered by Rik’s increasing interest in pop — “Let The Light (Shine On Me)”, and “On and On”. On Gil Moore’s side, we have nothing but terrible filler tracks, the worst of which is “Rock You Down”. This is perhaps the worst song Gil’s ever foisted upon us. At some points trying to be R&B, at others hopelessly lost in a morass of bad lyrics and muddy mix, it is a bit of a train wreck.  The whole album suffers from this muddy mix and too many odd crashing keyboard samples.

Dark Helmet.

The best tune was the lead single, “Never Say Never” (co-written by Rik’s new protege Sil Simone).  Unfortunately this is a video that Rik soon found embarrassing to watch.  The bouffant hairdo (or as Rik referred to it, “good hair production”), the fancy wardrobe…what was wrong with jeans and jerseys?  It was 1987.  That’s what was wrong with it.

I wanted to give this album one star, as I believe it truly has some of the worst songs of Triumph’s career. Upon reflection I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t because lyrically, I like some of this album, and musically there are a couple good moments here and there that save the album from being a total torpedo. The guitar playing, like on “Carry on the Flame”, is absolutely fiery.  You know a guitar player like Rik Emmett isn’t going to lay a turd.  There are a couple interesting riffs. And, as a Power Hour nerd, I loved the voice cameo by J.D. Roberts (now known as CNN’s John Roberts).

Much to my surprise (and delight, because I didn’t like it when bands broke up), Triumph carried on with one more album (Edge of Excess) and a new guitar player.  Phil X (ex-Frozen Ghost  and currently on tour with Bon Jovi) joined the band, while Toronto’s Mladen Zarron wrote on played on the majority of the album.  Sound wise, they rocked it up several notches before calling it a day.

When they did reunite with Rik, they didn’t play any songs from Surveillance.  Can’t say that I’m surprised.

This album serves as a reminder of what a terminally ill band sounds like. You can hear the tension and lack of cohesion. Despite that, there are still a couple interesting tracks and melodies here for the Triumph fan, some of which have not yet resurfaced on a compilation CD. Check it out if you’re a fan, avoid like the plague if you are not.

2/5 stars

Also worth noting:  The guy on the cover of Surveillance is the same dude from the Never Surrender album!