skunkworks

#321: That Crush on Avril (RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale)

NEW SERIES

Welcome to the first of my new continuing series; the “Post-Record Store Tales” I’ve been talking about.  Here are the RECORD STORE TALES MkII:  Getting More Tale.  Featuring my Simon Pegg action figure as the new “Mini-LeBrain”! Title suggested by Aaron!

To quote David St. Hubbins, “Hope you like our new direction!”

LEBRAIN AND AVRIL

RECORD STORE TALES Mk II:  Getting More Tale

#321:  That Crush on Avril

One of those lingering points left after the conclusion of Record Store Tales was this: my unexplained, unusually large Avril Lavigne CD collection.  This is that tale.

When Avril’s first album arrived in 2002, I was encouraged to listen to it by a new hire at the Record Store.  “I hear that this album has some of the best pop songwriting that has come out in years,” he said.  “From a technical point of view.  I read that the album is just mathematically perfect, from a songwriting perspective.  Mind if we listen to it?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Throw it on.”  I scanned the credits.  Each song was co-written by big name mega-writers with more gold records than I have socks.  There were big name producers on every song, and some familiar names from my metal collection:  Josh Freese might be best known as the drummer in the Vandals (among many others) but I first heard his name in regards to Guns N’ Roses who he was with for a short time.  Another guy, Alessandro Elena, was the drummer in Bruce Dickinson’s Skunkworks.  (He’s the subject of their song, “I’m In a Band with an Italian Drummer.”)

I know that the album was mostly pre-fab, but I didn’t mind it.  Since I was limited in what I could usually listen to in-store, and Avril was fairly safe, I played it a lot.  I always recommended it to customers who were looking for new music for their kids, who thought Britney was getting too skanky.  As a bonus, punk kids seemed to hate her.  Eventually I bought a copy myself.

I probably annoyed the shit out of my co-workers.

AVRILAvril released her heavier second album (Under My Skin) in 2004, and this is where my crush really began. Avril had a new image and a new sound.  I don’t like thinking about that crush anymore; I have been mocked enough.  Hell, Craig Fee mocked me for it on the air just this past Wednesday!  It is true that I had a crush on Avril.  The new grown-up Avril had gothed out and turned up on the cover of Maxim.  Maxim agreed with me, just look at that headline!

Today, the thoughts of “Chavril”, that unholy union between Avril and Horse-man, makes me feel ill.  It’s like finding out your ex-girlfriend is now seeing that jock in school you just fucking hated.  We recently heard that Chavril was splitting.  If so, I say good for her!

So anyway, the second album: It had more names from my metal shelves.  In addition to Josh Freese, the legendary Kenny Aranoff and the astounding Brooks Wackerman played drums.  Phil X of Bon Jovi and Triumph was on axe.  Finally the Canadian duo of Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida were playing and co-writing on most songs too.  This is accompanied by an overall darker and harder approach.

I liked the album a lot in 2004.  Will I like it in 2014?  Let’s find out tomorrow, for a full review.

To be continued…

AVRIL_0003

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DVD REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Anthology (2006)

I acquired this DVD for ridiculously cheap at my old place of employ via their web order service, but after I left their employ so no staff discount.  Its condition is impeccable!  Very impressive.

BRUCE DICKINSON – Anthology (2006 Sanctuary)

Bruce Dickinson is that rare kind of artist, one whose solo work has the same level of quality, integrity and emotional impact as the work with his better-known band. I think it is safe to say that most Iron Maiden fans have enjoyed Bruce Dickinson’s solo work, or at least most of it. This DVD Anthology is a complete collection of all of Dickinson’s solo video material in one 3-disc package.

Up first is Bruce’s live video supporting his first solo album whilst still in Maiden, Tattooed Millionaire. This video, which was extremely rare when it first came out (I never located a copy), was called Dive! Dive! Live! and featured Maiden guitarist Janick Gers. It also features every song from that Tattooed Millionaire performed live, plus several B-sides and a handful of covers.  No Maiden.  As Bruce was proud to say, this video is very raw. Also on the first DVD is the video Skunkworks Live, which was released in the mid 1990’s. It featured Dickinson’s new solo band, also called Skunkworks, featuring guitarist Alex Dickson. I was not a huge fan of Skunkworks, as I found their style (particularly the bass by Chris Dale) not to mesh so well with Bruce’s songs. Most of the Skunkworks album is performed live, plus some older songs and B-sides, and one Maiden cover (“The Prisoner”). This is another very rare performance as once again, the original video was very hard to find.

Disc 2 is the Scream For Me Brazil show, featuring my favourite lineup of Bruce’s band. Roy Z and Adrian Smith on guitars, the hulking Eddie Casilias on bass, and the talented tribal and bizarre Dave Ingraham on drums. This to me was Bruce’s finest moment as a solo artist. The performance itself was never meant to be released at first, this is a rough and raw video feed. However, as grainy as it is, the raw energy and sheer performance chops of Bruce and his ace band come through. The tracklist is a mix of songs from the three albums featuring Roy Z (Balls to Picasso, Accident of Birth, and Chemical Wedding).

Disc 3 is my personal favourite disc, seeing as Bruce’s music videos were rarely shown on Much. Every video is included here. There are some really off the wall videos directed by Storm Thorgerson (check out “Tattooed Millionaire”! Shoes for hats?) and some really cool horror-chiller-theater-type videos directed by Julian Doyle. Further on, I loved “Accident Of Birth” (directed by Bruce himself), mainly because Dave Ingraham makes awesome faces while playing the drums, and is wearing this funny leather aviation hat through the whole thing. But that’s nothing, wait until you see “Road To Hell”. Ingraham is now wearing a gas mask through the whole thing! Julian Doyle’s “Abduction” video is also cool, as Bruce himself is captured by mysterious Men in Black, and experimented upon….

But there are some pretty bad videos too. “Tears of the Dragon” comes to mind, a great song, but a terrible video. Here’s Bruce, looking all pensive…then there’s some weird sumo wrestler looking guy…fire…a beach…Bruce wrecking stuff…I would have preferred to see his band. It was the early 90’s, and this was the kind of video that people were sick of seeing, pompous and self-important. Awful video.

Lastly as a bonus there is an old Samson video directed by Julian Temple. I don’t even know what to say about Biceps of Steel except it’s an odd one! There is also a lot of supplimentary bonus material, including some introductions and explanations from Bruce himself….

This package was extremely well assembled, and is very enjoyable for all Bruce Dickinson fans. You won’t be let down.  Completists in particular will appreciate that Bruce is very hands-on with his product and tends to give the fans what they wanted along with stuff they didn’t know existed.  Full endorsement from LeBrain.

5/5 stars

More BRUCE DICKINSON at mikeladano.com:

Accident of Birth (1997) Man of Sorrows EP (1997)
Balls To Picasso (1994 & deluxe edition)
The Chemical Wedding (1998 Japanese import)
Skunkworks, Skunkworks Live EP (1996)
Tattooed Millionaire (1990, 2005 Sanctuary 2 disc set)
Tyranny of Souls (2005, Japanese version)
RECORD STORE TALES Part 148: Navigate the Seas of the Sun

Part 242: The Ego Has Landed

RECORD STORE TALES Part 242: The Ego Has Landed

In the spring and summer of 1999, Robbie Williams suddenly got big in Canada.  Previously he was all but an unknown.  That is until they compiled the best songs from his first two solo albums (Life Thru A Lense and I’ve Been Expecting You) onto one CD and called it The Ego Has Landed.  This compilation went platinum in Canada, but before that I had never heard of Robbie Williams.

One of my staff guys Matty K started spinning The Ego Has Landed in-store.  It actually grew on me quite quickly.   I bought it and still own it today.  I don’t play it often, but I have three major memories of this album that still stick with me:

1.       Once I got into it, Matt and I would play this album almost every shift together.  He’d pull his sweater up over his nose and imitate the cover.  Then in horrible accent he’d recite the hidden poem at the end of the CD, “Hello Sir”.  Good times!

2.       When we first carried it, I wanted to find out who Robbie Williams was.  I knew nothing about him, except that people were asking for the CD.  I then discovered via the magical internets that he was ex-Take That.  I knew who they were, at least.  Also, Alex Dickson from Bruce Dickinson’s band was playing with him.  I had no idea!   I remember trying to tell one of my bosses these cool details, only to have them snap at me!

“Hey, did you know who this Robbie Williams is?” I asked.

“I don’t care!” they barked.  “You’re carrying it, whether you like it or not!”

“I was just going to tell you that he used to be with Take That,” I responded sheepishly.   Somebody needed to chill the fuck out.  Bad times!

3.       I’d been waiting patiently for a used copy to come in, so I could get it cheaper.  I had a big cottage weekend coming up, and my friend Shannon was coming with me.  I didn’t want to subject her to thrash metal in the car trip, and I really wanted Robbie for the journey.  The weekend was fast approaching, so I decided to spend the money on a brand new copy.  We had a great trip and a great weekend, but the following week, guess what came in used and much cheaper?  The Ego Has Landed!  Fuck me.

I was given a free copy of the followup album, Sing When You’re Winning, by Warren from Global Bass magazine.  Unfortunately, I didn’t like it nearly as much as The Ego Has Landed.  In fact I’ve never bought a Robbie album since!

REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Skunkworks, Skunkworks Live EP (1996)

Part 24 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – Skunkworks (1996)

Bruce’s studio band from the last album, Balls To Picasso, had a regular gig to get back to (Tribe of Gypies) and Bruce formed a new young band he called Skunkworks:  Alex Dickson (guitar), Chris Dale (bass), and Alessandro Elena (drums).  Dickson’s since turned up on Robbie Williams albums.  (I know because I bought one.)

Why Skunkworks?  Well, you know Bruce and his love of aviation.  Skunk Works is the top secret project that brought to life the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird among other advanced aircraft.

Dryden's SR-71B Blackbird, NASA 831, slices across the snow-covered southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California after being refueled by an Air Force tanker during a 1994 flight. SR-71B was the trainer version of the SR-71. The dual cockpit to allow the instructor to fly.

Skunkworks, the album, was a new direction once again.  Just as Balls To Picasso was very different from Maiden, Skunkworks was another hard left turn.  It polarized fans:  Some praised Bruce for doing something new and different again, others were puzzled and disappointed.

And some were just pissed that he’d cut his hair.

With most songs of the 13 clocking in between 3 and 4 minutes (none exceeding 5), Bruce and Alex had written a set of tight songs.  Bruce was clearly in tune with what was happening with music in the 1990’s as most songs have that alterna-90’s vibe mixed with a heady prog-rock tendency.  The sound of the album is dry and in your face.

The problem for me is most of the songs are just not memorable.  The single “Back From the Edge” (which we’ll talk about later) is great, a rocket trip to the moon in a very sleek vehicle.  Also great is the metallic and  angry (but lyrically obtuse) “Solar Confinement”.  These songs I like a lot.  Most of the lyrics have a sci-fi bent that Bruce would revisit on later solo albums, which is also fine by me.

I don’t mind the epic closer “Strange Death In Paradise”, nor the chrome choruses of “Inside the Machine”.  I like the velocity of “Innerspace”.  But a day after listening to it, I couldn’t tell you how it went.

I love the Floydian artwork that unified the album with its singles.  Compared to later Bruce albums, the artwork doesn’t stand out as much, but as a whole with all the singles it works great.

As I mentioned, fans are really polarized on this album.  There has to be something here that I’m missing.  I do like the B-sides, which were mostly fantastic!  Some were heavy, some melodic, some acoustic.  All worth having.

 

“Back From the Edge” CD1 contained:

  • “Rescue Day”
  • “God’s Not Coming Back”
  • “Armchair Hero”

 

“Back From the Edge” CD2 contained:

  • “R 101”
  • “Re-Entry”
  • “Americans Are Behind” (one of Bruce’s trademark joke songs)

 

And the “Back From the Edge” 7″ picture disc contained:

  • “I’m In A Band With An Italian Drummer” (another joke song based on Alessandro Elena)

SKUNKWORKS – Live (1996 Japanese EP)

There would also be a cool live EP, billed under the name Skunkworks, and just titled Live.  This was only made available in Japan, and I paid $30 for a copy at HMV 333 Yonge St.  Now, this and all the B-sides are available on a deluxe edition of the album.  Then, I spent a lot of money to get all the songs, but the end result is a bunch of cool looking discs with united artwork.

The Live EP had four tracks, three from Skunkworks:  “Inertia”, “Faith”, and “Innerspace”.  It was capped off by a Maiden cover, “The Prisoner”, something Bruce was only beginning to do as a solo artist.  As a cover it highlights the differences in bands.

For the album Skunkworks:

2.75/5 stars

For the EP Skunkworks Live:

3/5 stars

Perhaps Bruce felt a tugging in his heart for heavy metal, or perhaps the fans were too vocal in their rejection of Skunkworks.  Whatever the case may be, Bruce decided to abandon the band Skunkworks.  He turned to his friend Roy Z, from Tribe of Gypsies and co-writer of Balls To Picasso.

“I want to make a heavy metal album,” said Bruce.  “Do you have any metal riffs?”

As it turned out, Mr. Z had plenty.  The Balls To Picasso lineup was back.  And that wasn’t the only reunion in the works.

REVIEW: Bruce Dickinson – Balls To Picasso (1994, deluxe edition)

Part 20 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

BRUCE DICKINSON – Balls To Picasso (1994, deluxe edition)

I remember working at the record store, and a guy asked to listen to Balls To Picasso, by Bruce Dickinson.  I put the disc on the player and he slid on the headphones.

About 2 minutes later, he took off his headphones.  “You put on the wrong CD.  This isn’t the right one.”  I went over and checked — Balls To Picasso.  Sometimes, though, CD’s could be misprinted with the wrong music, so I put on the headphones.  “Nope, this is it.  This is the right album,” I told the guy.

He responded, “It can’t be.  I know this singer.  That’s not him.”

Just one of many reactions to Bruce’s second solo album (and first since leaving Maiden)!

Regardless of the weird title and cover, Balls To Picasso is an album that I loved immediately.  Right from the opening grind of “Cyclops” and its vicious lead vocal, I was hooked.  Yeah, it does throw me from time to time (rapping, on “Shoot All The Clowns”) but this is a solid album by Bruce.  Fans have grown to appreciate it more over the years.  And you can’t fault its lineup, Bruce’s first album with Roy Z, Eddie Casillas, and Dave Ingraham from Tribe of Gypsies.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYu1tCuLNqA&w=560&h=315]

The album had a torturous birth.  He started it once using the British band Skin, and aborted.  He tried again with Keith Olsen.  I suspect that this is the “very different” Peter Gabriel-type album he’s spoken about.  It is very different, with a lot of drum programs and keyboards, and very lush, polished production.  To me it is very Fish-like.  It is definitely not metal in any way, which is fine, but for whatever reason,  Bruce opted to shelve this album. Then he finally completed the task with Tribe of Gypsies, the only song making it to all versions of the album being “Tears of the Dragon”.

The end album sounds like alterna-metal, the kind of thing that a lot of metal artists were doing at the time to stay relevant.  It is bass heavy, 90’s sounding, and not very Maiden at all until you get to “Tears of the Dragon” itself, which could have easily been on a followup album to Fear of the Dark.

While not every song here was universally loved by the fans, there are many that were. “Change of Heart”, “Cyclops” and especially “Tears” are now considered fondly by Maiden fans. Tribe of Gypsies were a latin-flavored rock band, and they really lent Bruce a cool vibe for this record. There’s a lot of nice percussion stuff going on, and the occasional bit of flamenco guitar thanks to Mr. Z.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QO2tIqkBMfY&w=560&h=315]

I think “Change of Heart” is the best tune on the album.  Perhaps it reflects Bruce’s feelings on leaving Maiden.  Perhaps not.  Either way it is a side of Bruce we’d never seen before, and he shows it with depth and taste.

“Tear of the Dragon” has got to be about Maiden.  It seems so on the surface:

Where I was
I had wings that couldn’t fly
Where I was
I had tears I couldn’t cry

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shfZzTJYZWs&w=560&h=315]

The remastering job on this 2 CD deluxe is stellar. I can hear some percussion parts on songs that I didn’t know existed before. I’ve played this album a hundred times in the past, and this time it sounded really fresh.

And of course the real reason I buy this stuff:  a second CD of B-sides. I really love it when somebody puts out a quality reissue like this. They have gone to the care of putting on a complete set of every B-side associated with this album. Present are the tracks for the CD singles, as are the tracks that were exclusive to 7″ and 12″ vinyl.

I would have had to buy 8 singles total in different formats to get these songs.  Thus far I’d only managed to get 4.  So I’m cool with this.  The B-sides were songs from the Keith Olsen album, live stuff featuring his new band Skunkworks, and remixes.

4/5 stars

Also seen below:  A rare 1994 promo CD featuring a “Shoot All The Clowns” club mix. (!)

…but what you hungry readers are really waiting for is the next Maiden.  Well the wait is over.  Next time, we’ll get X rated…