Sony

REVIEW: The Essential Kinks (2014)

THE KINKS – The Essential (2014 Sony)

A question I often get is “Have you heard ‘x‘ by ‘band y’?”  I’m always eager to offer up opinions, but like any other music collector, there are albums I simply have not heard yet.  Friends and fellow writers continually offer fantastic suggestions, but time and money are always limited.  I like to listen to my old music too, and not just stuff that is new to me all the time.  Getting caught up on bands I may have missed is a time consuming process.

The Kinks are one such band.  Growing up as a rocker, I was aware of their hits and the overall narrative of their career.  As an adult, I wanted to start with a compilation.  When you have a band with a career as long and varied as The Kinks, I very much enjoy getting a snapshot of the whole thing rather than pick off albums one by one.  Sony’s double disc Essential Kinks is 48 tracks of rock from 1964 to 1993.  It’s a rather monolithic slab, but it does tell a story.

The beginning is hard and ragged British invasion rock and roll, and the road is windy.  Whether you know these tunes from movie soundtracks (“Nothin’ in This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl”) or Van Halen riffs (several), many songs are familiar.  Early on, their pop and rock stylings could be compared with equal respect to that of those Beatles.  The songs are just as unique, memorable and British.  The charismatic vocals of Ray Davies immediately capture the imagination.  His knack for melody is uncanny.  As time goes on, their music becomes more unique and conceptual, but no less captivating.  It is here that I discovered my favourite Kinks song, “Apeman”.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised that I already knew many of these songs as covers.  Queens of the Stone Age did “Who’ll Be the Next in Line”.  Def Leppard did “Waterloo Sunset”.  The Jam tackled “David Watts”, and made a hit out of him again.  I can also hear a lot of Dave Davies’ guitar in the rock bands that followed.  There is no denying the influence of the Kinks.

The only imperfection with this compilation is that live tracks are substituted for studio ones on “Lola”, “Till the End of the Day” and “Where Have All the Good Times Gone”.  You’ll tell me “just buy the albums, then” and to that I respond, “OK”.  (“Lola” live is a single B-side.)

I’ll be lazing on a “Sunny Afternoon” with the Kinks.

4.5/5 stars

Advertisements

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – No More Tears (remaster)

“Politicians make decisions, they’re the ones to blame, so don’t blame me.”  — Ozzy Osbourne

OZZY OSBOURNE – No More Tears (originally 1991, 2002 Sony remastered edition)

No More Tears was a big hit for Ozzy and is usually hailed as a “comeback” and “his best album since Randy Rhoads”. But is it?

No More Tears certainly offers chills, thrills and new sounds.  Slide guitar on an Ozzy album?  Check out “Mr. Tinkertrain”.  Zakk Wylde was starting to spread out and grow, really exploring his southern roots and adapting that to heavy metal.  No More Tears might be the peak of Ozzy’s collaborations with Zakk, as they really did produce some magic here.  Some of the stuff Zakk does on “Mr. Tinkertrain” alone is career-defining.

Ozzy was also trying to escape his “satanic” image, and No More Tears was his step away from that.  It’s also a step towards the mainstream.  Second track “I Don’t Want to Change the World” is an example of Ozzy’s turn to radio-ready hard rock.  It’s a shame because after the chunky guitar assault of “Mr. Tinkertrain”, a speedy metal track like “Don’t Blame Me” would have been perfect in the second slot.  “I Don’t Want to Change the World” is unfortunately not much better than a Motley Crue filler track.  It’s repetitive and despite Zakk’s squeals and licks, fails to launch.  His solo at least scorches hot.  Then the whole thing gets stuck in the mud.  “Mama, I’m Coming Home” (lyrics co-written by Lemmy) was the hit ballad that I never liked.  “Mama” more than any of the other tracks really represented Ozzy’s desire to break free of the shackles of his own image.  There are better ballads on the album.  “Mama” is so generic it could have been recorded by literally anybody.

Moving past, the album catches a little air due to the groovy chugging riff of “Desire”.  The stock melody doesn’t do it many favours, but momentum is restored.

Ozzy did well by discovering his newest member, bass player Mike Inez who later went on to Alice in Chains.  Inez was a co-writer on the title track “No More Tears” and his bass line has become a signature hook.  “No More Tears” is one of Ozzy’s greatest achievements as a recording artist.  This is a direction he should have explored further.  Even though it’s incredibly memorable and accessible, “No More Tears” has slightly progressive and psychedelic elements mixed in.  Its groove was detuned and modern, but the samples and keys bring it levels above what most other mainstream bands were doing in 1991.  And then there’s Zakk’s slippery slide guitar expertise.  It just doesn’t get any better than “No More Tears”.  Ozzy wanted to move beyond being the clown prince of devilish metal?  Mission accomplished and then some, in a completely fearless 7:24.  Ozzy was an innovator when he was in Black Sabbath, and in 1991 he became that again on “No More Tears”.

Opening side two, “S.I.N.” is great old-school Ozzy metal.  Call it “S.I.N.” or just “Shadows in the Night”, this track has the kind of classic hooks and soaring vocals that Ozzy is so good at delivering.  Ozzy had a core writing team of Zakk and drummer Randy Castillo, who wrote this killer.  Lemmy stepped in to help out on “Hellraiser” which Motorhead recorded as well on 1992’s March ör Die.  “Hellraiser” is too middle of the road to be classic.  Even Motorhead’s version kind of sucks.

A stock ballad called “Time After Time” is a tad better than “Mama, I’m Coming Home”.  It has some pretty sweet melodies and harmonies going for it, and another brilliant Zakk solo.  “Zombie Stomp” brings back the heavy, simply by living up to its name.  You got a name like that, you better stomp, and this one stomps like all the beasts in the jungle are coming for you now.  It’s also plenty of fun.  Surely an underappreciated Ozzy career highlight.  Drummer Randy Castillo had a lot to be proud of on this one, as he took the spotlight for the two minute tribal intro.  When that’s all over, Zakk powers the groove.

More fun ensues on “A.V.H.” (no idea what that stands for).  A little bit of southern pickin’ from Zakk gives way to an adrenaline powered blast.  It’s a shorty compared to some of the more epic lengthy songs.  Finally “Road to Nowhere” ends the album with a retrospective.  “I was looking back on my life, and all the things I’ve done to me.”  It’s easily the strongest ballad on the album and one of Ozzy’s personal best.  “The wreckage of my past keeps haunting me,” wrote Ozzy in 1991, perhaps not knowing that it always will.

There is no arguing the importance of the song “Mama, I’m Coming Home” in the career of Ozzy.  It went top 30, and was huge on MTV.  Would No More Tears be a better album without it?  Should Ozzy have released it as a single or on a movie soundtrack?  Try this.  Remove “Mama” from the album, and put the B-side track “Don’t Blame Me”* in between “Mr. Tinkertrain” and “I Don’t Want to Change the World”. There is something to be said for a good B-side, and Ozzy has done a number over the years.  Yet “Don’t Blame Me” is far too good for that fate.  It combines riff with groove and hooks like nothing else on the album, and just listen to Zakk’s funky pickin’.  Fortunately it’s on the 2002 Sony remastered CD, along with a lesser B-side called “Party With the Animals”.  You might remember it from the 1992 soundtrack Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  “Animals” is definite B-side material.

Back to our original question.  Was No More Tears the “best album since Randy Rhoads”?  It’s quite good and easily his biggest since Randy Rhoads.  But it has filler, and some of that filler is downright annoying.  The remastered edition is the one to get, since you don’t want to miss out on “Don’t Blame Me”.  Bark at the Moon is likely the high water mark since the passing of Rhoads.  No More Tears is still one to own, even if you have the hits, for some killer and underrated album tracks (and one B-side).

3.5/5 stars

* Two early album titles used for this record were Don’t Blame Me and No Dogs Allowed.

REVIEW: Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Stranger In Us All (expanded edition)

RITCHIE BLACKMORE’S RAINBOW – Stranger In Us All (originally 1995, 2017 Sony expanded edition)

Blackmore said “adios” to Deep Purple for the second and final time in 1993.  He beat them to the punch with new music, in the form of a resurrected Rainbow…sort of.  As he is prone to do, Blackmore assembled an all-new Rainbow of unknowns.  The only familiar face was bassist Greg Smith who happened to be in Alice Cooper’s band when Wayne’s World was filmed.  The new singer was the smooth-voiced Scot, Mr. Doogie White.  White’s career almost broke in a completely different direction earlier, when he was one of two finalists in the running to replace Bruce Dickinson in Iron Maiden.  It went to Blaze Bayley.  Signifying new beginnings, Blackmore reverted the band’s name to Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow once again.

Back in 1995, my impressions of Stranger In Us All, the new album by Blackmore’s Rainbow, were significantly underwhelming.  It has taken its time, but over the years the album slowly penetrated my stubborn refusal to accept it as legitimate.  By now I think we know all Rainbow needs is the Man in Black.  And there he stands on the front cover, pilgrim-hatted again, gloriously silhouetted against a cloudy sky.

The only serious weakness in Stranger In Us All has nothing to do with the lineup.  The production (by Pat Regan and Blackmore) sounds low budget and the drums sound muddy.  Blackmore’s guitar tone is thankfully impeccable and his neo-classical leanings on the first track “Wolf to the Moon” were refreshing.  “Wolf to the Moon” is one song that has stood the test of time.  It is thoroughly still enjoyable today, and Blackmore is unleashed.  And the singer?  It is true that Doogie White stands in the shadows of some great lead vocalists.  I’ll resist ranking and comparing.  White has a very smooth voice with impressive power and range, and he doesn’t sound like any of his predecessors.  Where White really impresses is in live renditions.  He is an entertaining and amicable frontman.

Track two brings a slower grind to Rainbow, and White slinks along with him, adapting perfectly to every vibe.  Going slower still, “Hunting Humans (Insatiable)” really prowls.  It is spare, dark and sweaty.  Moving on to inspirational hard rock, Rainbow brings the harmonica-inflected “Stand and Fight”.  What is not to like?

Rainbow ended the first side in typically epic fashion.  “Ariel” was quite a track, featuring backing vocals from the lady who is now Ritchie’s wife, Mrs. Candice Night.  She co-wrote a number of the album’s tracks including “Ariel”.  This kind of thing is Ritchie’s bread and butter, he’s been writing epics like this since “Child in Time” back in 1970.  As an added bonus, the extended edition of Stranger In Us All has the single edit of “Ariel”, trimming it to a tidy format-friendly 4:00.  This is more like a re-edit, moving parts around and making it more compact.

They step on the gas again for “Too Late for Tears”.  Side two has a couple “stock” rockers — “Too Late for Tears” and “Silence”.  Good blood-pumping tracks, nothing to save for your greatest hits album, but decent enough.  “Black Masquerade” is better, as it has a dark neo-classical edge.  Thing go kind of goofy when they cover Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King” and add lyrics.  They also have another go at the Yardbirds’ “Still I’m Sad”, this being the second time.  The first Rainbow version was an instrumental.  This one has vocals, and it’s pretty good.  Just like with lead singers, I don’t think it’s worth comparing this version to the 1975 one.  It’s unique enough that it’s almost two different things.

Back in 2013 I found the Japanese edition of Stranger In Us All at the 2013 Toronto Musical Collectibles Record & CD Sale for $15.  Instant no-brain purchase right?  Now that this expanded edition is out, I no longer need it in my ever-expanding collection.  I am passing it on to massive Rainbow fan Brian over at Boppinsblog.  Now that CDs are worth nothing, I like to pay it forward with my retired music.  The expanded edition contains the Japanese bonus track, “Emotional Crime”.  It has a cool, “smoove” groove and a bluesy feel.  Think Purple’s 1988 remake of “Hush” in terms of vibe.  The other extra tracks are the aforementioned “Ariel” edit, and a live take of the old Rainbow classic “Temple of the King”.  This is and the “Ariel” edit are taken from the old out of print CD single.  “Temple of the King” was recorded in Stockholm October 2 1995, meaning it is not the same as the one on the double live CD Black Masquerade.  That was recorded exactly a week later in Germany.  (Thanks to Scott the Heavy Metal Overlord for pointing this out.)  It’s a brilliant arrangement giving Candice Night and Doogie White a chance to harmonize over a very quiet backdrop.  The Man in Black whips out a solo that surely must be considered one of his most passionate.

That’s how this version of Rainbow succeeds — by a putting a fresh spin on it.  You avoid trying to compare to other versions of the band and just enjoy.  Ritchie reveals in the extensive liner notes that he wanted to call the band Rainbow Moon.  And speaking of the liner notes, there are also recollections from Doogie White.  In short this expanded edition is worth every penny, even if you’ve bought it before.

3.75/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Ram It Down (Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Ram It Down (Originally 1988, 2001 Sony remaster)

Judas Priest seemed pretty lost in the late 80s.  They were bigger than ever, but they lost focus of their musical direction.  Producer Tom Allom had cursed them with a robotic plod, far removed from the lively firepower of yesteryear.  When they released Turbo in 1986, they had gone as far down those roads as possible.  It was am ambitious departure, but 100% a product of the 1980s.

For Turbo, Priest had written enough songs for a double album.  Twin Turbos, as it was to be called, was supposed to reflect all facets of metal, but the record comany got cold feet and a single disc was issued.  It contained the most techno-commercial tracks, while Priest held onto the rest for another day.  That day came in 1988 when Priest (again with producer Tom Allom) released Ram It Down, largely made up of Turbo outtakes.  The album was hyped as a return to the heavy Priest of yore, and this was at least partly true, but fans were unconvinced by it.  In comparison with Turbo, yes, Ram It Down was heavier.  But Priest had gone as far as they could with Allom.  Ram It Down was too sterile and bogged down with filler.

Certainly the title track opens Ram It Down on a thrash-like note.  As if to silence to critics, it was a proud metal statement with an opening Rob Halford scream that curdles the brain.  The weakness is drummer Dave Holland on his final Priest outing.  Only when Scott Travis joined Priest in 1990 did they acquire a drummer who could play the kind of beats at the speed they needed.  On Ram It Down, Priest were held back by the drummer and clunky production, two mistakes they fixed on 1990’s Painkiller.  The lyrics also seem dumbed-down for the 80s.  “Thousands of cars, and a million guitars, screaming with power in the air,” is cool but cliche.

“Heavy Metal” is more of the same lyrically, an ode to the power and glory of power chords.  Rob Halford’s performance is fantastic, and the man has rarely sounded as fantastic as he does on Ram It Down.  You can’t say the same for the words, the highschool equivalent of poetry.  On the music front, Priest were now following rather than leading.  They were on the same clunky metal trip as bands such as Scorpions at the same time.  There audible Kiss and Whitesnake influences on the album, with Rob sometimes sounding like he was trying to write a Gene Simmons tune.  “Love You to Death” on side two sounds right out of the Demon’s closet.  The embarrassingly terrible  “Love Zone” and “Come and Get It” both sound as if Coverdale co-wrote them on the sly.  Whether Priest were consciously copying other bands or just lost, who knows.  (“Love Zone” is one of the few songs that Halford almost seemed to write gender specific.  “With your razor nails and painted smile” are not specifically referring to a female, but certainly that was the general assumption.)

There are definitely a few cool tracks that deserve mention.  The first is “Hard as Iron” which had to be one of the fastest Priest songs to date.  It’s still held back by the production, but has some serious energy to it.  Like metal espresso injected right into the brain!  The other standout is “Blood Red Skies”, a forgotten highlight of this album and indeed of the Priest catalog in general.  (I actually used “Blood Red Skies” in a poetry project for school.  A girl liked it so much she asked for a copy of the lyrics.)  Using the synth effectively, “Blood Red Skies” paints a Terminator-like future with humans hunted by beings with “pneumatic fingers”, “laser eyes” and “computer sights”.  Halford  pours power and anguish into it, as a human freedom fighter.  “As I die, a legend will be born!”  Cheesey?  Absolutely.  Priest perfection?  Yes indeed!

There are also two mis-steps on Ram It Down that must be addressed.  The first and most obvious is “Johnny B. Goode”, from the 1988 movie Johnny Be Good starring Anthony Michael Hall and some guy named Robert Downey Something.  This track should have been kept off the album.  As a novelty single, sure, you can dig it.  It’s a stereotypical cliche-ridden metal cover, and that’s fun for a goof.  As a Priest album track, it only serves to completely destroy any momentum that Ram It Down managed to build.  Then there is “Monsters of Rock”.  This awful excuse for a song is only 5:31 long, but seems twice that.  It is the prototype for the even more awful “Loch Ness” from Angel of Retribution.  Most buyers probably didn’t finish listening to the album because of this bloated and aimless track.

The Priest Re-masters collection had two bonus tracks per studio album.  Ram It Down provides two completely unrelated but great tracks:  live versions of “Bloodstone” and “Night Comes Down”.  The liner notes don’t state when they were recorded, but live versions of either are always welcome in any Priest collection.  It’s interesting that bonus tracks from these actual sessions, such as “Red, White and Blue”, were used on other CDs but not Ram It Down.

Priest may have known Ram It Down wasn’t the metal album they hoped to make.  They cleared house afterwards.  Dave Holland and Tom Allom were done, and there is no question that Painkiller was superior to Ram It Down because of that.

2/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Turbo 30 (2017 deluxe 3 CD set)

JUDAS PRIEST – Turbo 30 (2017 Sony Legacy 3 CD set)

It is sheer delight to see Judas Priest’s once maligned Turbo to finally see some vindication.  There was a time this album was shied away from completely.  They played no tracks from it on the 1990-91 Painkiller tour.  In 1990, Priest finally pulled themselves out of a slide into dangerously commercial territory.  For a long time, Turbo was considered a musical detour that did more harm than good.  However the frost thawed quickly and Priest began to put the title track back into the set around 2001 for their Demolition tour with Tim “Ripper” Owens.  Today there is no longer any shame in cranking Turbo while hoisting a tall cool one.

The 30th anniversary edition of Turbo contains a freshly remastered edition and two live discs.  The sound is greatly improved from the 2001 version from the Priest Re-masters series.  As you can see by the waveform below, the 2001 version at bottom was a victim of the “loudness wars”, and much of the dynamic range was lost by pushing it to overdrive.  The 2017 version at top has more peaks and valleys.  The new version wins for overall for having more warmth.

What the 2017 version does not have are the two bonus tracks included on the Priest Re-masters version.  They were a live version of “Locked In” (which would be somewhat redundant here) and an unreleased studio track called “All Fired Up” which sounds like a Ram It Down outtake.  For a complete review of Turbo and these bonus tracks, please refer to our review of the Turbo 2001 CD edition.  The rest of this review will focus on the two live CDs inside Turbo 30.

The Fuel For Life tour that followed Turbo was one of Priest’s biggest.  Their stage featured a riser that “transformed” from a race car to a robot that would lift Glenn Tipton and KK Downing in the air with its claws.  It was commemorated by an album (Priest…Live!) and a separate home video from a concert in Dallas, Texas.  This new double live comes from a show in Kansas on May 22 1986.  It is 100% superior to Priest…Live! by every measure and could supplant that 30 year old album in your collection.

The set list varies a little from Priest…Live! but hits the same key tracks.  The ballsy synth ballad “Out of the Cold” still opens the set, a brave move even in 1986.  It is certainly the most unexpected of all Priest’s openers, so bravo.  “Locked In” is restored to its spot in the set; it was not on Priest…Live!  A version from an unknown concert (the liner notes are vague) was on the prior edition of Turbo as a bonus track.  “Locked In” isn’t a major track but still important due to its place as part of the “Turbo Lover” music video duology.  This live version is the best yet, loaded heavy with plenty of guitar thrills not present on the studio original.  From there it’s on to “Heading Out to the Highway”, nicely in the pocket.  Rob Halford’s screams are ferocious.  Next is the march of the “Metal Gods”, another version far more lively than the one on Priest…Live!  Seems there is much less mucking around with the recordings this time.

“Breaking the what?  Breaking the what?  Breaking the what?”  It’s that silly yet tried and true song intro.  Post-British Steel, you just can’t have a Priest live concert without “Breaking the Law”.  But always remember, that in the dead of night, “Love Bites”.  From 1984’s Defenders of the Faith, “Love Bites” was very different for Priest but still a set highlight.  (Incidentally, British Steel and Defenders of the Faith are the other Priest albums that had recent triple disc deluxe editions with live albums.)  Then more from Defenders:  Two killers in a row, “Some Heads are Gonna Roll” and “The Sentinel”.  Two songs that fans never tire of, and some credit must be given to the mighty guitar duo of Tipton and Downing.  Their trade-offs are sublime, and Halford curdles the blood.

Back into new material, “Private Property” was one of Priest’s more obvious grasps for a hit.  It’s far from a must-have, but better at least than the version on Priest…Live!  A mere five minutes later you will be transported to the “Desert Plains”, a Point of Entry deep cut that was excluded from Priest…Live!  It is far faster live and stay tuned for a long voice-shredding breakdown by Halford.  (Rob was clean at this point in his life.  Rob Halford recommends vocal rest between shows, menthol eucalyptus gum, and herbal tea to maintain a strong voice.)  A frantic “Rock You All Around the World” from Turbo ends the first disc with a filler track that is again better here than on the prior live album.

Screaming for Vengeance brings the fury for disc two, “The Hellion” (taped intro) and “Electric Eye” bring the focus clearly back to heavy metal, just in time to go for a spin with “Turbo Lover”.  This song is now a beloved classic, finally appreciated for its sharp songwriting and adventurous production.  Downing and Tipton pushed synths into heavy metal in a big way, but with integrity and ingenuity.  Better run for cover indeed, and fast…for next is “Freewheel Burning”, a natural for keeping with the theme of turbos and the like.

As the disc roars to its close, we are treated to some serious historic Priest.  The oldest track is “Victim of Changes”, from the immortal Sad Wings of Destiny (1976).  This most dramatic of Priest compositions is always welcome in the set, yet was not on Priest…Live! probably to avoid overlap with 1979’s Unleashed in the East live album.  This one boasts a blazing hot guitar solo and some of Rob’s most impassioned wailing.  This stretches out for nearly nine minutes of pure metal brilliance at its most vintage.  But the vintage metal gift-giving is not over, because “The Green Manalishi” (1979’s Hell Bent for Leather, via Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac) delivers the greatest of all riffs.

It’s nothing but the hits from there:  “Living After Midnight”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”, and “Hell Bent for Leather”, the standards that everyone knows.  “Another Thing Coming” is stretched out with Rob’s annoying back-and-forth with the crowd, but it is what it is.  “Heavy metal communication”, he calls it.  Nobody is buying this CD for another version of that song anyway.

“You don’t know what it’s like!”  So get this package, the triple CD set, and you will!

5/5 stars

For Superdeke’s amazing review including some tidbits about who the drummer(s) on this album really is(are), check it out:  superdekes.wordpress.com/2017/02/06/judas-priestlive-in-kansas-city1986

REVIEW: Dust – Hard Attack / Dust (1972/1971)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Supplemental:  Kerner and Wise.

DUST – Hard Attack (1972) / Dust (1971) (2013 Sony Legacy)

fans know the names of Richie Wise and Kenny Kerner.  This production team laid down the first two Kiss records, and although their production was not the best, they were the first.  But where did they come from?  A little trio called Dust.  Wise was the singer and guitar player.  Kerner was the manager, co-producer and co-writer.  They released two records as Dust, also featuring legendary Derringer bassist Kenny Aaronson and drummer Mark Bell.  These two albums, Hard Attack and Dust, were remastered and compiled as one CD by Sony in 2013 (presented in reverse order).

The cool thing is the Dust albums actually sound better than the Kiss albums.

Dust were a hard rockin’ band, distinguished by having loads of slide and pedal steel guitars (handled by Aaronson).  Dust were travelling the same roads as other bands such as Aerosmith, Cream, Free or Zeppelin, but with less of an identity.  The songs were good.  “Stone Woman” is slippery slick blues rock, while “Goin’ Easy” is a laid back southern acoustic blues.  And they could get heavy.  “Love Me Hard” is the kind of proto-metal that Budgie, Sabbath and Purple were doing on the other side of the Atlantic.

3.5/5 stars

This was a 200 word review in the tradition of the #200wordchallenge.

 

 

REVIEW: Joe Satriani – Shockwave Supernova (2015)

Purchased at BMV for $7.99 during Toronto Record Store Excursion 2016.

scan_20161217JOE SATRIANI – Shockwave Supernova (2015 Sony)

Like a manic version of “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, the title track from Joe Satriani’s latest Shockwave Supernova will render you mute as you pick your jaw up from the floor.  Syncopated guitars and drums unite before Joe focuses everything on the melody.  Joe’s brand of instrumental rock usually features the lead guitar in a melodic position where a lead singer would normally deliver the hooks.  That’s Joe’s job and he has done it consistently well.

New age-y guitar twinkles highlight the ballad “Lost in a Memory”, which pulses with understated rhythms.  It is only appropriate that this spacey music was recorded at Skywalker Sound.  What atmosphere and what power.  Things take a turn down Weird Street on “Crazy Joey”, a showcase for sounds you didn’t know a guitar could make, but still with a cool melody to remember.  Unbelievable accuracy and dexterity here.  “In My Pocket” brings back Joe’s bluesy harmonica work (often overlooked) with a stripped basic track.  Then we fly “On Peregrine Wings”, but the song itself is heavy as granite.  An unorthodox guitar hook reminds us that Joe isn’t a typical songwriter or player.  Thunder returns on “Cataclysmic” which moves along with the grace of a herd of rhinos.

Joe hops in his Tardis for a trip back in time to the early 60s on “San Francisco Blue”, but of course with his own space age sound.  He just has to “Keep On Movin'”, but it’s still a surprise when the piano shares the spotlight.  There is no shortage of string majesty, but the piano is a nice touch.  Things cool down on “All of My Life”, a gentle song with breezy congas and unexpected twists.  “A Phase I’m Going Through”, track 10, is the point at which the listener begins to get a little bit of ear fatigue.  15 songs might be normal for a Joe album, but 10 songs might be the ideal length for the average listener.

Take a break if you have to because there are still great moments ahead.  “Scarborough Stomp” is an apt title for the snare-heavy 11th track.  It’s all about that uncomplicated beat, but there is a cool baroque section in the middle that sounds as if lifted from Joe’s brief stint in Deep Purple (1994).  A tender ballad (“Butterfly and Zebra”) is a transitional song leading to the ominous backwards guitar intro to “If There is No Heaven”.  This song is reminiscent of past Joe blasters like “One Big Rush”. Then you will see the “Stars Race Across the Sky” on one of Joe’s more atmospheric tracks. A “Goodbye Supernova” sends us off in dramatic fashion with heavy keyboard accents by veteran Mike Keneally.

Very few Satriani albums will let you down.  Though some might argue “if you have one Joe, you have them all”, his fans will appreciate the differences.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Warrant – Cherry Pie (1990, remastered)

scan_20161207WARRANT – Cherry Pie (1990, 2004 Sony remaster)

It was bands like Warrant, and albums like Cherry Pie, that made the 1991 grunge onslaught inevitable.

If Motley Crue were the poor man’s Kiss, and Poison were the poorer man’s Motley Crue, then Warrant are the pauper’s Poison.  Heck, Poison’s C.C. Deville even shows up on guest lead guitar on Cherry Pie‘s title track.  Think about that a moment.  How bad do a band have to be to warrant (no pun intended) a C.C. Deville guest guitar solo?  Guitarists Joey Allen and Erik Turner even confessed to having guitar tutors in the studio helping them come up with their own lead work.

Cherry Pie was an improvement in some regards over the prior album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich.  The second single, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, remains a high point for this band.  Swampy bluesy guitars and a kick ass melody?  Who cares if that’s not Warrant playing on the acoustic intro (it’s singer Jani Lane’s brother Eric Oswald), and so what if that’s not Warrant on the banjo (that’s producer Beau Hill)?  “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is one of those rare Warrant songs that you just have to get.  Instead of singing about girls, Jani chose to write a story about a murder and a coverup.  It’s far more entertaining than “She’s my cherry pie, put a smile on your face ten miles wide.”

Speaking of “Cherry Pie”, as embarrassing as it is, did you notice that’s not Jani Lane on the opening scream?  It’s an uncredited Dee Snider, sampled from Twisted Sister’s song “I Want This Night (To Last Forever)”.  Guess who produced both albums?  Beau Hill.   Rather, he overproduced the hell out of both albums. Rather misleading.

Warrant’s biggest hit was a ballad, and so Cherry Pie has more.  “I Saw Red” was glossy and enhanced with piano, but the acoustic version that was later released as a B-side was better.  The second ballad, “Blind Faith” had more heft, though it is little more than a rewrite of “Heaven”.  Another acoustic track called “Thin Disguise” was even better than either of these songs, but was relegated to a B-side.  Too bad.  This album could have used it.

Warrant are better when just rocking out.  There are a couple indispensable Warrant rockers on Cherry Pie.  “Mr. Rainmaker” is remarkably powerful with dark clouds.  It’s in the same mold as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, with a chorus that is still memorable today.  “Bed of Roses” and “Song and Dance Man” are strong also-rans.  There are other notable songs (“Sure Feels Good to Me” set speed records for this band) but on the whole they are a harsh blend of sound-alikes.

Buyers should be aware there are two versions out there of Cherry Pie, “clean” and “dirty”.  The “clean” version is missing the track “Ode to Tipper Gore”, and has a naughty word beeped at the start of the Blackfoot cover “Train Train” (1979).  How unexpected it was to hear that beep, and how ripped off did we feel since it was not advertised as a censored version?  A beep in a rock song is a rare thing indeed.  If you get the uncensored version, you’ll hear the “All a-fuckin’ board!” intro correctly, which is important since “Train Train” absolutely smokes.  “All a-BEEPin’ board!” just didn’t cut it.  Covering “Train Train” was one of the best decisions Warrant made on this album.  Warrant transforms it from a hard southern rocker to a plain old hard rocker, but the transformation works and the groove is the only solid one on Cherry Pie.

As for “Ode to Tipper Gore”, it is just a joke track made up of naughty outtakes from Warrant concerts spliced together into one stream of “fuck”.  (Tipper Gore was behind the PMRC, the scourge of 1980s censorship.)  It is included on the 2004 Sony remastered edition, along with two bonus tracks.  Strangely enough the two bonus tracks have nothing to do with this album.  “Game of War” is the long-sought 1988 demo that garnered Warrant attention at the labels.  It’s unpolished but you can hear how an A&R person looking for the next Poison would have signed this band.  Finally there is a track called “The Power” from a 1992 Cuba Gooding Jr. movie called “Gladiator”.  It is the only song on the CD not produced by Beau Hill.  Erwin Musper gave the band a less cluttered sound, and the song has a corny stadium-ready stomp like “Rock and Roll, Part 2”.

Although you don’t need the remastered version if you just want to check out Cherry Pie, you do need to at least seek out the uncensored version with “Ode to Tipper Gore”.  That way you won’t have to listen to the beep in “Train Train”, which is a song worth having.

2.5/5 stars

scan_20161207-3

REVIEW: Journey – Time3 (1992 box set)

scan_20161015-2JOURNEY – Time3 (1992 Sony 3 CD box set)

Very few box sets satisfy the way that Journey’s Time3 satisfies.  When it was released in 1992, Journey wasn’t even a functioning entity anymore.  Sony’s box set still represents the kind of care and attention to detail that makes for an extraordinary listen.  It is arranged (mostly) chronologically with ample rare and unreleased material.  What is most remarkable is how great this rare and unreleased material is.  Aerosmith did a similar looking box set in 1992 as well (Pandora’s Box), but their set isn’t as steady a listen as Time3 is.  Time3‘s ample wealth of worthwhile rarities rank it easily as the superior set.

From start to bitter 80’s breakup, every Journey member from 1975 to 1986 is included.  George Tickner, Aynsley Dunbar, Robert Fleischman, Randy Jackson, Mike Baird and anybody else you may not have known were in Journey are represented in this box.  There are ample liner notes and photos explaining the roots and branches.  (Humorously the notes claim the early Journey instrumental “Nickel & Dime” may have been the prototype that Rush ripped off for “Tom Sawyer”.)  Valuable early rarities include the unreleased jazz rock number “Cookie Duster” and an excellent vocal track called “For You” recorded  with Robert Fleischman singing.  Fleischman might be best known as the original singer for Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion a decade later, but in Journey he turned in a pretty powerful pop rock song.  This was just before Steve Perry joined the band as its first full-time lead singer.  Keyboardist Gregg Rolie took care of the vocals before Perry joined, in addition to performing several smoking organ solos included herein.

There is a distinct change between the early progressive jam rock tracks and “For You”.  When they hired on a lead singer, it was with the intention to get a big break, and Steve Perry was the final ingredient.  With Perry they recorded brilliant classics such as “Patiently”, “Anytime” and the unforgettable “Wheel in the Sky”, which unfortunately is only included here as a live version.  Indeed, the Journey box set’s only weakness is a substitution of (non-rare) live versions for studio originals.  “Lights” is another such substitution.

Just as the band were making this prog-to-pop transition, drummer Aynsley Dunbar left.  His style was more progressive and frankly too highbrow for the direction Journey were going.  He was replaced by another total pro, the feel-oriented Steve Smith, a jazzbo at heart who can play R&B like nobody’s business.  “Too Late” from 1979’s Evolution is a perfect example of what he did to the Journey sound, as things simplified.

scan_20161015-4

With Smith behind the kit, the hits kept pouring in.  “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” (also included live), “Any Way You Want It”, “Line of Fire” and many more burned up speakers across America.  The band very quickly went from “point A” to “point B”, but also with several exceptional looks backward.  Some of these lesser known gems include “Little Girl” from a rare Journey soundtrack album called Dream, After Dream done for the Japanese market.  There is also the live “Dixie Highway” from Captured that shows off some serious instrumental chops.  A rare highlight is the soulful and unreleased cover of “Good Times”, with full-on horn section, from 1978.  It’s one of the songs that make it worth buying a box set like this.

Rolie left after Dream, After Dream and did not appear on the one new Journey song on Captured:  “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)”.  This brilliant pop rocker pointed the way towards the next era of Journey.  From The Babys came new keyboardist (and sometimes guitarist and singer) Jonathan Cain.  Cain forever brought Journey into the 1980’s, with modern keyboard accompaniment and serious writing abilities.  He has since become an indisposable member of the band, as important as founding guitarist Neal Schon himself.  Jon Cain’s first was the Escape album, which has sold nine million copies to date.  Not a bad little debut.  With “Don’t Stop Believin'” , “Stone in Love” and the smash ballad “Open Arms”, Journey ascended to the top of the mountain.  These tracks are all included as their studio originals.

There are a number of notable and great rarities from this period included in Time3.  “Natural Thing” was the soul-laden B-side to “Don’t Stop Believin'”, but feast your ears upon “La Raza Del Sol”, which snuck out as the progressive flipside of “Still They Ride”.  This blazingly recalls the arrangements of the early years with an unusually contemoplative lyric.  Check out Schon’s flamenco guitar solo.  There is the understated and brilliant rocker “Only Solutions”, from the 1982 Tron soundtrack.  These are valuable songs, that any Journey fan should enjoy completely.  Moving forward, “All That Really Matters” is a synthy demo with Jon Cain on lead vocals.  It doesn’t sound like Journey, but Cain fans will find it interesting.  Two more soundtrack songs are indispensable:  “Only the Young” from Vision Quest, and “Ask the Lonely” from Two of a Kind (both 1983).  Each song was significant enough to include on 1988’s Greatest Hits, so fans are well acquainted with both.  It’s incredible to think that Journey had songs of this quality to give to soundtracks.

scan_20161015-5

Towards the end, as bands often do, Journey began falling apart.  Steve Perry had a hit solo debut Street Talk (1984) and he returned to Journey more confident, imposing a soul/R&B direction upon the band.  Steve Smith and founding bassist Ross Valory were out.  Randy Jackson and Mike Baird were in.  Raised on Radio took forever to record and underwhelmed fans upon reception.  A live version of “I’ll Be Alright Without You” with the new members indicates that Journey had sanded off the rough edges.

Even at the end, there were still interesting happenings.  The liner notes reveal that even as the band was ending, they were winning awards.  Journey performed at the 1987 Bay Area Music Awards with a different singer — Michael Bolton.  One has to wonder where that could have gone.  The last music on this set chronologically comes in the shape of two unreleased instrumentals called “With a Tear” and “Into Your Arms”.  They were recorded in 1986 but not used for Raised on Radio, and so they were finished in 1992 by Schon and Cain for this box set.  Sadly these instrumentals are better than most of the tracks on Raised on Radio.  One is a ballad, and one is a rocker, but both are exceptional.  Journey started life with instrumentals, and so it’s fitting that Schon and Cain polished off the box set with a couple as well.

scan_20161015

This box set was reissued a number of times, but for the money you can’t beat the original 1992 printing with the long box and large booklet.  The liner notes are ample but the rare photos may even top them.  From the earliest days there are pictures of the band with original guitarist George Tickner and drummer Prairie Prince.  Prince was invited to join permanently, but chose to join the Tubes instead, a band he found more creative.  He was replaced by Aynsley Dunbar who recorded the first LP.  Also pictured within are some truly impressive hair styles, clothes, and moustaches.

With tracks this strong from start to finish, great packaging, and such a wealth of rare material, it seems Time3 should be an easy 5/5 stars.  However, that niggling issue of live tracks (particularly “Wheel in the Sky”) replacing studio cuts is really devious.  It’s unnecessary.  It all but forces casual buyers to also own Greatest Hits for the studio versions.  It seems very calculated.

Otherwise, proceed.

4.5/5 stars

scan_20161015-3

 


 

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Ozzmosis (1995, remastered)

Scan_20160727OZZY OSBOURNE – Ozzmosis (1995, 2002 Sony remaster)

It is fair to say that Ozzy’s solo recording career post-No More Tears is not considered as classic as the music from before. Admittedly it was a confusing time. Ozzy finished his “No More Tours” tour while all the talk was about a Sabbath reunion that never happened. Retirement wasn’t in the cards, so Ozzy re-teamed with a few former members of his band: Zakk Wylde on guitar, and Geezer Butler on bass. Joining the band behind the drums was a pre-Journey Deen Castronovo. Ozzy sat down to write with a number of talents including Steve Vai, and eventually produced the “post retirement” album Ozzmosis.

Ozzmosis was considered by some fans to be inferior to No More Tears, although song for song, No More Tears isn’t as great as people seem to remember it.  Ozzmosis has a heavier, more bass-centric sound and certainly boasts at least four Ozzy classics in its grooves.  Osbourne has gone on record as preferring the demo versions of some songs better than the album tracks, but Ozzmosis boasts a hell of a heavy sound.

Ozzy was also struggling with his public image.  He didn’t want to be seen at the bat-biting madman anymore.  I suppose that’s why we see songs like “Perry Mason” on Ozzmosis.  Not a bad track, it was chosen as lead single.  But the subject matter?  Not sure why, but:

“Who can we get on this case?
We need Perry Mason,
Someone to put you in place,
Calling Perry Mason.”

Certainly a far cry lyrically from “Bark at the Moon”, but musically it’s still Ozzy prowling in the shadows, warning you of the dangers.  It’s delightful to hear Geezer’s trademark slinky bass all over it.  (I have often said that Ozzy’s best solo band, post-Randy, had Geezer and Zakk.)  Ozzy was sufering from some vocal issues at the time, but “Perry Mason” isn’t one of the songs you can tell this from.  Only Ozzy Osbourne & Co. could make a song about Perry Mason this cool.

“Perry Mason” would be one of the four album classics.  Also up there is “I Just Want You”, which he wrote with Canadian songsmith Jim Vallance.  Ozzy was rightfully proud of this heavy ballad.  Rick Wakeman provided keys, classy and absolutely perfect.  At times he’s playing synth parts that sound like mellotron, at others like a big fat Hammond organ (bigger than Orlando Bloom’s wang).  At all times, it is awesome.  Zakk Wylde plays an effects-laden solo that sounds underwater, but in a good way.  It’s haunting and not robbed of its power.  He utilises this “watery” sound on a number of tracks on Ozzmosis.

Standing with these songs is “See You on the Other Side”, another fab ballad from the dark side.  Ozzy’s preferred demo version (with sax solo) can be found on his Prince of Darkness box set.  There’s nothing wrong with this version though, haunting as it is.   It was written by Ozzy, Zakk, and Lemmy Kilmister, who helped Ozzy out with the words.

The fourth and final classic is the album closer, “Old L.A. Tonight”.  As one of Ozzy’s piano ballads, it has been largely forgotten over the years.  The piano and Zakk’s very emotive playing only amplify what Ozzy’s singing.  Zakk’s solo is one of his finest.  Why some things become hits and not others, I don’t always understand.  “Old L.A. Tonight” is superior in almost every way to a track like “Mama I’m Coming Home”, or “So Tired”.   This is one of the tracks that does reveal cracks in the Ozzman’s voice, as he reaches for very high notes and quavers.  I can’t hit the notes he’s hitting, though.

You’ll notice that of the four album classics, three are ballads, and that’s a problem.  Yes, even as far back as “Changes” or “Planet Caravan”, Ozzy has been a master of the art of the heavy ballad.  His core audience tends to buy albums for his heavy metal songs, and the heavy material on Ozzmosis is lacking.  Few of those songs really congeal into something solidly memorable.  The album sounds heavy on effects, and while that strategy worked on the four classics, it tends to choke and strangle the other songs, inhibiting Ozzy’s voice with a nasal muffler.  It’s surprising how much time he spends singing higher than what sounds comfortable, and that too is a weakness.

Sony tacked on two bonus tracks for this 2002 reissue — a rip off, and I’ll explain why.  The album includes two B-sides:  “The Whole World’s Falling Down” and “Aimee”.  (That makes two songs about Ozzy’s kids on this CD, including “My Little Man” about Jack.)   There were however four B-sides released for this album, and two are not included for no good reason.  Missing are “Living With the Enemy” and “Voodoo Dancer”, but fear not.  None of Ozzy’s B-sides this time out were really keepers.  “Aimee” isn’t bad, but Ozzy has done much better stuff for his B-sides in the past.  Songs like “You Said It All”, “Don’t Blame Me”, and “Liar”.

Zakk Wylde didn’t do the tour for this album, even though he co-wrote and played on it.  Zakk seemed to be trying to establish himself separate from Ozzy at the time, and so Ozzy toured with Joe Holmes who had finished up a stint with David Lee Roth.  (Though Ozzy stuck with Holmes for five years, I never thought he sounded right playing the Ozzy or Sabbath material.)  After a brief leg, Ozzy fired Deen Castronovo and re-hired his previous drummer Randy Castillo.  Ozzy made a backhanded statement about Castronovo being a talented session drummer, and that’s what he should continue to do.  Ouch.

It’s a mixed bag, but when you hit a gem in the grooves of Ozzmosis, it is worth the price of purchase. Shame about the stinky cover art.

3.25/5 stars