PAUL STANLEY’S SOUL STATION – Now and Then (2021 Universal)
Reviewing Paul Stanley’s new album, Now and Then featuring his new band Soul Station, is probably the most challenging task I have ahead of me this morning. It’s difficult for several reasons, primarily three. Full disclosure.
Paul Stanley might be my favourite artist of all time.
His voice is in decline and this is always evident.
How can I review Paul’s soul covers without comparing to the originals?
The truth is I like soul just fine, but the bulk of my collection is made of different grades of rock. I have an Etta James CD. I’m far from qualified to review this. But I have to, so I’ll try.
Paul’s band is 10 members (excluding himself) augmented by a horn and a string section. 18 musicians are credited total, with Paul as “lead singer”: the first time on any of his albums where Paul plays no instruments. Unexpectedly, Paul’s Kiss bandmate Eric Singer is Soul Station’s drummer.
There are 14 tracks: nine covers, and five originals. You can’t accuse Paul Stanley of taking the easy route.
Remember when Kiss were accused of going Disco in 1979? “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love” really sounds Disco, and certainly there’s nothing wrong with the flawless arrangement, from the lush strings to the punchy horns. In fact, Paul’s diminished voice is the only noticeable weakness. He covers for it pretty well. He used to belt it out all time; now he usually holds back in a soft whispery falsetto. A performer has to adapt to their limits at every age. Good tune. But this is a new Paul Stanley and he’s not the best singer in his band. He’s just the lead singer.
The first original, “I Do”, sounds like the real thing. It’s a light ballad, arranged with the strings and full band treatment to sound pretty much just like the covers. But the really surprising original is “I, Oh, I”, a terrific upbeat dance-y number. Not only does it sound authentic but it’s also catchy as hell. You could imagine it in a rock arrangement, and Paul points out in the liner notes that he wrote, arranged and orchestrated all his originals.
“Ooo Baby Baby” is a Smokey Robinson cover, and like the original it’s in falsetto. It’s one of the harder songs to listen to. “O-O-H Child” is better, though no substitute for the original. Paul does well on the upbeat tracks with plenty of melodic hooks. One of his backing singers take the lead on a few lines. And although Eric Singer does a mighty job on the drums, he is a rock drummer playing soul, and that’s evident in the fills. The groove of the 70s just isn’t something that can be recreated easily.
You can tell by the title that “Save Me (From You)” is a Paul original. Sounds like a leftover from the Live To Win album, jazzed up for the Soul Station. That said, it’s a pretty good track. It’s a nocturnal rumble that does really well standing up to the classics. It cannot be denied that Paul Stanley has a knack for writing a melodic song. All of his writing credits on Now and Then are solo credits.
“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” is not bad. It’s the falsetto again, but massaged in the studio, and backed by the Soul Station, this one makes the grade. Nobody doubts Paul’s genuine love of this music. In the liner notes he takes ample time explaining his roots with Detroit soul. And it was him that was hanging out in New York Disco clubs, when he decided he could write one of those songs for Kiss.
“Whenever You’re Ready (I’ll Be Here)” is a duet with one of his backing singers; upbeat, well done. “The Tracks of My Tears” exposes the weaknesses in Paul’s voice but there are plenty of backing singers to cover for him. That aside, it’s another great Soul Station cover. “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green) underwhelms; I mean how can it not? The best thing I can say is that it’s better than Michael Bolton’s version. “La-La — Means I Love You” also kind of just sits there, threatening to send the listener off to sleepytime land. Fortunately, Paul’s original “Lorelei” revives the album, with upbeat melodic charm. Cool guitar solo on this one too.
Two more covers to get through — “You Are Everything” (no thanks) and “Baby I Need Your Loving”. Fortunately the latter song closes the album, on an earnest upbeat note with Paul giving the lungs a little exercise. Solid ending.
Observation: I enjoyed Paul Stanley’s Soul Station more the first three or four times I played it — as background music. When it comes to listening intently, it didn’t capture me.
Observation 2: Peter Criss got shit all over for trying to make an album somewhat like this back in 1978.
If Paul had released a mini-album (or extra large EP) with only seven or eight tracks, I think we’d be praising his originals and taste in covers. Unfortunately chinks in the armour appear too frequently on the bulk of the album. Good background music, but not an outstanding set.
I missed their first EP, Name Your Poison. None of the local record stores knew who Little Caesar were, but rock magazines like Hit Parader were already tootin’ their horn. When their major label debut Little Caesar hit the shelves, it was none other than Bob Rock in the producer’s chair. “Chain of Fools” was selected for the lead single/video, which was probably a mistep. It did show off Little Caesar’s knack for crossing Skynyrd’s southern rock innards with soul, but a more mainstream rocker like “Down-N-Dirty” would have been less of a shock to the uncultured longhairs of 1990.
Soulful blues rock was all the rage in 1990, with the likes of the Black Crowes and The London Quireboys hitting the charts. Was Little Caesar just one too many bands? They didn’t have the impact of the other two, though they certainly stacked up in the quality department. Lead howler Ron Young’s lungs are enviable, with a southern gritty drawl and authenticity to go.* The rock continues through “Hard Times”, which puts out a killer street rock vibe, able to tangle with any Hollywood competition. “Chain of Fools” serves to show off Young’s limitless talents, but as a hard rock adaptation, falls shy of their original.
Diversity points are earned for a stellar ballad called “In Your Arms”, delivering on a solid soul vibe. Young’s voice is the focus, revealing depth track after track. There’s a darker turn on “From the Start”, foreboding but with anthemic chorus. The first side’s closer puts you in a “Rock and Roll State of Mind” with a harmonica-inflected blues burner.
Gotta big monkey and he’s on my back, It’s warmer than China, it’s better than crack, It’s burnin’ like fire, it’s takin’ my soul, yeah, So damn addicted to rock ‘n’ roll.
You may as well call this one my theme song. The history of rock is delivered in under five minutes.
White boys stole it back in ’55, Turned in to disco in ’75, Said it all started with “Blue Suede Shoes”, yeah, For years brothers called it just rhythm and blues.
Tell it how it is, brother!
Money can’t buy it ’cause it can’t be sold, If you say it’s too loud, then you’re too fuckin’ old.
Flip the tape. “Drive it Home” takes the car/sex metaphors to a dirtier level. On, Ron, I bet you’d like to drive it home! Another dusky ballad called “Midtown” changes the mood and the groove. A ballad with balls and a banjo? Then, “Cajun Panther” is its own descriptive, but the slippery guitar will hook you right in. Greasy slidey goodness from Creedence county. The next song, “Wrong Side of the Tracks” is actually closer to the mainstream and doesn’t stand out amongst more unique material. Unique like “I Wish It Would Rain”. It may be another ballad but its southern flavouring make it clearly different from anything on the radio in 1990. “Little Queenie” nails the soul-rock vibe one last time, going out in style, but also with a song that doesn’t really sound like a closer. Perhaps a little song shuffling would have put “Little Queenie” in a better spot to showcase its strengths.
Sonically, since this is a Bob Rock production, you already know what it sounds like. It’s a big sounding album that captures the band in top shape and presents them in an appropriately dressed frame. It’s a 12 track album and although that was becoming the norm, Little Caesar would have been a more effective debut if it were 10 songs, focusing on the ones that made it unique.
* Tragically, Ron Young was killed in 1991 by a time-travelling Arnold Schwarzenegger, in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. ** ** Fake News. But he was in the movie and did get his ass kicked.
GETTING MORE TALE #576: “Why’d You Lick My Pee-noose?” The Sausagefest 2017 Countdown
By the time it was all over I fairly surmised that, personally speaking, Sausagefest 2017 (the 16th annual) was the best one yet.
There are many reasons for this. One happened by pure change.
The weather reports for the weekend were changing daily. I contacted Uncle Meat on Wednesday to tell him they were calling for rain all weekend. He responded, “No they’re not, are you new?” But they were! And the next day, the forecasts had changed again.
By our Friday departure the skies were partly cloudy, but we’ve seen worse. After we arrived and set up our tents it started pouring for a short while. The old fire pit was flooded. When the rain stopped the decision was made to move the location for the Countdown, uphill on dry land. This was the first time the actual location had ever been changed after 15 years down by the river. It turned out that this was the best possible decision. The new location was wide open, more conductive to mingling and conversation, and as you have seen, provided some beautiful photographs. The new location will be permanent from now on.
I felt one of the reasons things went so well for me was good preparation, but that may not be the case. Uncle Meat also had a great time, and was so ill-prepared that he only arranged a tent to sleep in when we were halfway there! Way to be ready, Uncle Meat!
The vibe was right from the get-go and the Countdown began on time.
Highlights from the first night included some lesser-heard tracks:
Queen – “We Will Rock You” – the “fast” version
Deep Purple – “Vavoom: Ted the Mechanic”
Kiss – “Shock Me” – live version from Alive II with solo
The Beatles – “Helter Skelter” – mono version
Queen – “My Fairie King”
Mercyful Fate – “Into the Coven”
There were lots of cool tunes this year: 87 in total including tributes (more on those later). “Indians” by Anthrax was a perfectly appropriate song this year too, since I pulled a large chunk of my own recorded bits from the Brocket 99 CD, a spoof of reservation radio stations. (I voted for “Indians” as #22 on my list.)
And plenty more! You can check out the Countdown list yourself. It was also a treat hearing Ray Charles’ “Mess Around”, which you probably know from John Candy in Planes Trains and Automobiles. Rainbow’s “Light in the Black” was a personal favourite for my air guitar workout.
The comedy sketches were on-point, and I had tears streaming down my face laughing so hard. The Lord of Lamb, Zach Britton, wrote a sketch regarding my insistence that a Bacon Big Mac is not the same thing as a Big Mac. Bacon is not in the Big Mac song, therefore a Bacon Big Mac is not the same thing. Britton rebutted me successfully, and hilariously. “Loosey Goosey” is now a catch-phrase. As a peace offering, he gifted me a bottle of Big Mac sauce.
The first night it rained, but it mattered not as we huddled in our waterproof tents. We were up by the crack of 10:00 to grab breakfast at the Spatula – not the “Flying” Spatula anymore, please note. They have officially changed the name of the place, but still offer the “Flesherton Fill-up” for breakfast. Not as large, nor as good as it was in the past. On the way up, Uncle Meat yelled “Loosey Goosey!” at anyone we passed on the road.
You have to give credit to our Spatula server Heather. I sat with Max “I’m kind of a big deal” the Axe, and I got to witness him working his magic on Heather the server. He promised her the last CD copy in existence of one of his albums. What a deal! Max told me I had a good singing voice. Was he hitting on me, too? Wayne also had a golden line at the store Top of the Rock, with the girl who was distributing bags of ice. “Are you the ice lady? Ice to meet you!”
There was a new exciting twist this year at the 16th Sausagefest. Submitting lists (aka “paying your rock and roll taxes”) has long been a problem. Some people are always prompt. Those people were rewarded with an extra song, a “tribute” this year. Mine was The Police – “Next to You”. That was a blast for air guitar. You can see by the list at bottom, only eight people got tributes. That means only eight people got their lists in on time without nagging! Due to the amount of time it takes to compile the votes and actually record the Countdown, it was decided that this time, you must vote for 2018’s songs by the end of the weekend. And so Saturday afternoon was spent socially compiling lists. It was weird seeing a bunch of guys at Sausagefest with clipboards and pens, furiously writing, colluding and discussing. It was also successful. All lists are in. There will be a whole year to compile and record for 2018!
The second evening had more great rock. Ghost, Dunsmuir, The Sword, Iron Maiden, CCR, Floyd, Purple, Tenacious D, Sabbath and Zeppelin…all building up to the top ten. Not only building up to the top ten, but also setting up the very first Sausagefest live theater….
There were plenty of fake-out tracks in the top ten, as they pretended they couldn’t read the songs written on Uncle Meat’s upper thigh. Sabbath, Rush and Metallica were played eventually. After the #2 track “The Immigrant Song” (Zeppelin), there was an announcement made.
Tom, father of four, the co-founder, the Captain himself, wanted to take a step back. Recording the Countdown was no longer possible for him, due to family demands at home. This made sense, since the guy does have four rugrats and was absent from some of the top ten due to a supposed argument with his wife about it. They saved the announcement for the #1 spot. Only one person was told in advance, and that was the immortal Lord of Lamb himself, Zach Britton. As the song lyrics state, “He is the reason we still do this shit.” He was given a 20 minute heads-up to collect his emotions.
As the announcement was made, they said there would be no #1 song this year. They’d play it first in 2018. Instead, they played the traditional “Happy Trails” by Van Halen as Tom clinked glasses and shook hands with attendees. And then Zach got up to make a speech. He was obviously still shocked and upset by this sad turn of events.
His speech began as expected: melodramatic, sad, and stirring…until it was interrupted.
There was a 4 minute 30 second gap built into the Countdown…specifically timed for Zach to start his speech but not finish. All part of the pre-planned “live theater”. Then….
“ZACH BRITTON!” boomed the speakers.
Suddenly the Countdown recording continued, as a pre-recorded Bucky urged Zach to shut the fuck up and sit back down because he had just been pranked! Tom wasn’t retiring. Zach didn’t have a clue, nor did any of the rest of us! We all bought it, hook line and sinker, even though Tom has 12 months to record for 2018. It seemed so believable especially with that supposed “argument” with his wife built into the recordings. So I raised my goblet of Romulan Ale to Zach “the Lord of Lamb” Britton for being a great sport and a diamond geezer! The “live theater”, the first ever attempted at Sausagefest, was a tremendous success. As Uncle Meat said afterwards, “They will never ever trust us again.” It easily could have gone sideways, if Zach didn’t stand up to make his speech. They were counting on him and he fell right into it. Brilliant live theater!
The actual #1 song, played after the live theater, was “Cygnus X-1” by Rush, a fantastic song on which to close.
The following morning, we packed up to go home. As per usual, Uncle Meat kept singing and repeating one sentence. This year, it was a ditty called “Why’d You Lick My Penis (Rectum)”.*
“Why’d you lick my pee-noose…why’d you lick my pee-noose, rectum…” Over and over again. You can hear this on the Sausagefest video.
We made our way home, but for many of the guys, it was time to rock again. Five Alarm Funk played a free show in London on Sunday night, and a few tired ‘Festers trekked out to party some more. Totally fitting, since Five Alarm Funk had three songs on this year’s Countdown.
What a Sausagefest! Best one ever? Until next year, maybe….
THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Daylight Again (2009 21st Anniversary Edition)
Haggis was itching to make some music again, but not with Frank C. Starr. When the original Horsemen split in 1992, Haggis cut off contact with Starr, and the two never spoke again. Instead Haggis hooked up with a singer and harmonica player named Tim Beattie, who did some mouth organ on “Homesick Blues” from the first LP. Tim could sing too, with a slight southern drawl as a contrast to Starr’s AC/DC shred. Guitarist Dave Lizmi and bassist Ben Pape were not interested in rejoining the band, so Haggis brought in two new members: Rick McGhee handled the guitar leads, and Duane D. Young held down the bottom end. Dimwit Montgomery flew down from Canada to complete the lineup.
It wasn’t to last long. Even without the explosive Starr, the volatile band began to melt down shortly after writing a batch of new, soulful rock tunes. Rick McGhee quit. Dimwit too; Les Warner ex-of The Cult came down to record the drums. Even Dave Lizmi came back briefly, but left after recording an album’s worth of demos. Lizmi was replaced by a new guitarist named Mike Valentine before it all hit the wall again.
The album that became Daylight Again was recorded in 1994 (with Lizmi) and shelved. According to Haggis, the fate of the band was “an inevitable outcome. We had evolved to the point of being unrecognizable from the group that had been signed five years previously. We started out as card-carrying members of the Bon Scott fan club, and ended up sounding like the house band at an Arkansas chicken ranch.” The label lost patience and dropped them. Haggis quit music completely, while up in Toronto, Lizmi decided to give the Horsemen one more try….
Daylight Again wasn’t intended for release as-is. These are cassette and DAT recordings, cleaned up as much as possible for CD. Hiss and noise are part of the deal, so buyer beware, this is not the gloss of a Rick Rubin production. You can taste the rawness; not even blue-rare, just pure raw blues unfettered by mixing consoles. The sound is modified by banjos and pedal steel. The location is somewhere in the deep south. You can feel the humidity in the rehearsal space and sense the hot tube amps humming away. Somewhere in between the Allmans and Skynyrd, the Horsemen found some inspiration from old grooves.
You can even find a little funk (“Trailer Park Boogie”) among the blues, soul, folk and rock influences. These traditions are given a boost with a touch of gospel. Nowhere is this more obvious than the closer, an 11 minute jam on “Amazing Grace”. Each Horsemen album ended with a long, emotional song of epic quality. It was “I Need a Thrill/Somethin’ Good” on the first LP, and “What the Hell Went Wrong” on Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By. “Amazing Grace” trumps both in the emotion and time categories. It’s also Beattie’s best performance on the album. The guitar melodies are just sublime.
Daylight Again is an incredible, albeit unfinished album. Some arrangements sound fluid and not quite there yet; it’s a flawed gem of a recording. The thing about the blues is that it has a timeless quality. You can’t nail this album down to a specific period because the blues are eternal. Whether it’s Beattie blowing away on some harmonica jams, or Lizmi’s pure feel, there are loads of tradition to dig into on this album.
As discussed in a previous instalment of this series, Dave Lizmi formed a new Horsemen lineup himself shortly after the Haggis/Beattie version disintegrated for good. With Frank C. Starr back in the saddle, Lizmi’s Horsemen released the “official” second LP, Gettin’ Pretty Good…at Barely Gettin’ By. However, Daylight Again pre-dates those recordings by almost two years and showcases a “lost” period in Horsemen history. The 2009 reissue does a great service by finally bringing this lost LP to light.
Thanks for hanging out this week for six new instalments of the ongoing series Getting More Tale! Today we bring the week backfull circle.
GETTING MORE TALE #502: Sausagefest XV: The Complete Countdown
Clickity-click the glorious list below to enlarge. This complete countdown was a blast to enjoy over two nights. A few people said, “This was my favourite mix of tunes so far.” As the 15th Sausagefest, that’s a mighty statement.
A couple notes:
Songs with names but no numbers are “tributes” to that particular Fester.
Only three songs that I voted for made the list this year:
“Take Hold of the Flame” – Queensryche
“Hollywood (Down On Your Luck)” – Thin Lizzy
“Empire of the Clouds” – Iron Maiden
You may be wondering what’s up with that version of “Whiskey in the Jar”. What they did here was an interesting experiment. Tom called it “ham-fisted”, and it was, but it was still a lot of fun. We had three votes for “Whiskey in the Jar”, but by three different artists. Technically, that would count as one vote each for three songs, rather than three votes for one song. Instead, Tom creatively mixed together a medley of all three versions by the Dubliners, going into Thin Lizzy, then Metallica, back to Lizzy and ending with the Dubliners again. Ham-fisted perhaps, but an interesting contrast that went over very well with the crowd.
If there are any tunes below that you haven’t heard before, I recommend giving them a spin!
Welcome to another week of Getting More Getting More Tale! Join us each day this week for a new instalment of the Getting More Tale series, including the all-important, top-secret #500.
GETTING MORE TALE: #497: Sausagefest 2016 Official Report
I have returned, bitten by many insects of all kinds, from Sausagefest.
Every year, Countdown has its own personality, or personalities. This year, the fifteenth annual, the 81 songs were drawn in almost equal amounts from the fountains of heavy metal and soul/funk. There was Metallica, and there was Five Alarm Funk. There was Iron Maiden, and there was Charles Bradley. It was a stunning mix, also including long bombers by Yes and ELP. Because of this year’s countdown, I will soon be purchasing Close to the Edge by Yes, and a number of Clutch CDs.
The countdown began, appropriately, with a song by Hibakusha and a previously unheard Paul MacLeod comedic bit. MacLeod had a comeback show scheduled for the same weekend as Sausagefest. It is sad that it could not come to pass.
I was given 10 songs to do “LeBrain” intros for. They were as follows:
78. “Hanger 18” – Megadeth (for this I did a 7-minute comedic steam-of-consciousness bit as my own intro) 67. “Go Down Gambling” – Blood Sweat and Tears 60. “Snakes for the Divine” – High on Fire 55. “Rock and Roll Suicide” – David Bowie 49. “Why is it So Hard” – Charles Bradley 42. “Old Joe’s Place” – The Folksmen 36. “Burn In Hell” – Twisted Sister 29. “Fade to Black” – Metallica 18. “The Sounds of Silence” – Disturbed 11. “Empire of the Clouds” – Iron Maiden
Now, I do not care for Disturbed, and I did not want to introduce that song. I wanted another tune because I had an intro planned already for it (“Hollywood”, by Thin Lizzy). Tom and Uncle Meat refused to give me Thin Lizzy. They did not want to hear Disturbed so they left it to me. I told Meat, “Fine, but I am going to record my intro in the bathroom while taking my morning shit.” And that’s exactly what I did. The intro was received…with grace, all thing considered, by the people who voted for Disturbed. I have no issue with David Draiman, he is an incredibly gifted and obviously trained singer. It’s just not my cup of tea. It’s not a song I wanted to hear done that way. So I did my intro the only way I knew how: with exaggerated disgust. Love it or hate it, nobody ignored it!
The weather was a challenge, but not unbeatable. Friday afternoon and early evening, we were pelted with rain, hail and lightning. Due to the weather forecasts, it was decided late last week that there would be no live jams this year. The more capable among us assembled tarps and gazebos to protect the precious Wall of Sound, and us. Standing in the refreshing rain on such a hot day, I felt like Andy Dufresne after having climbed through the mile-long shitpipe. There were many personal highlights for me this year, but I will say this. I am glad that I slept in Saturday morning, and did not go into Flesherton to get breakfast at the Flying Spatula. A highlight of previous trips, the Spatula is now under new, surly ownership. Our guys were treated to disinterested and slow service. One group of eight guys was asked to share one booth. Disappointing. We’re disappointed in you, Flying Spatula.
The most important part of Sausagefest besides the countdown is the camaraderie. Every year it gets better, too. Many of these guys only see each other once a year. Some of us show up fatter, balder, or both. Some of us even showed up with a broken ankle. That’s dedication. It’s that important to us.
Or, as Uncle Meat sang during his interpretation of Pink Floyd’s “Hey You”:
“HeyScott, Where the fuck are you? Did you have better things to do Than rock and roll, man?”
Around this time, I stepped off the King’s X train.
A while after this album came out, a friend of mine from London (Ontario) named Edith-Rose came to help paint the new condo and hang out. As part of the deal I was to take her record shopping in all our decent stores. She bought a shit-ton of CDs. From the HMV up in Waterloo that doesn’t exist anymore, to Encore Records, to our own stores, she spent a lot of money that day. I came home with a few discs as well. Among them was Manic Moonlight by King’s X.
I bought it because it was used and it was the first time I’d seen it used. Truthfully, Mr. Bulbous lost me. Buying their next album didn’t seem a priority. We took the CD back to my place and gave it a spin. Edith-Rose liked it, especially the track “Static”. As for me, “Static” was the only song that stuck out. I have not listened to the CD in well over a decade. All I can really remember is that this is when Jerry Gaskill and the band started experimenting with drum loops. That is not a bad thing, but that is all I can remember about this album. Reviewing it with fresh ears, let’s have a listen, shall we?
The drum loops opening “Believe” are unlike anything on prior King’s X albums. Fortunately, the steam-powered real-life Jerry Gaskill comes in soon enough for this funky slam-dunk. The funk is emphasized by clavinet, and of course Doug Pinnick’s perpetually soulful voice. This slow funkster is bass-heavy and melodic, with just enough of those heavenly King’s X harmonies. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with this song, no! Computer-ish loops open the title track, “Manic Moonlight”, which aside from the modern production isn’t a far stretch from the classic King’s X sound. The psychedelic side of King’s X is out to play; lush 1960’s hippie vocals over a heavy 2001 rhythm.
There seems to be a theme playing out. Songs seems to open with loops, every time, and this is becoming a predictable drag. Fuzzy electronics open “Yeah” which basically a chorus without a song. It’s a great chorus, and if only it had some more meat on that bass heavy skeleton, it could have been a King’s X classic of the ages. It is cool to hear King’s X digging deep into the funk; Doug slappin’ da bass as best he can. The soft sounds of tabla are the loop of choice on the dreamy “False Alarm”. The production of the day seemed to be to distort Doug’s deep voice, which is a shame. Anyway, “False Alarm” is a King’s-Beatles-X strawberry field in the sky with diamonds, and it’s just shy of being great. Very close to the mark but not quite there.
“Static” is just as intense as I remember. You can hear why it jumped out to Edith-Rose and I years ago. For the first time on the album, the loops (tabla again) seem to be an integral part of the song rather than just an intro. Tense and direct, “Static” is bare-bones and absolutely nothing like King’s X of old, and good on them. Music is not about standing still. Music is about emotion, and “Static” is not short of those. Without a doubt, “Static” is the centerpiece of Manic Moonlight, and coincidentally (?) this is at precisely the point where an album would be split between side A and side B….
Down with the funk again on “Skeptical Winds”, plenty of new ground was being broken with this band. Strangely this song has a vibe similar to a 1994 Kim Mitchell rap-rock song called “Acrimony”; coincidental I’m certain but if you know the song then you can imagine “Skeptical Winds”. Doug’s spoken word vocals (distorted again, but that’s OK this time) are reminiscent of Kim’s, but the sparse and uber-funky bassline is 100% Doug. It’s a very different song, but cool. Although it isn’t loaded to the gills with time changes and riffs like King’s X of yore, it is still a long bomber jam session at almost seven minutes.
Having a knack for ballads, “The Other Side” has some beautiful moments built into it. It doesn’t hit the ball out of the park, but it has quality and ambition to spare. “Vegetable” has more cool funk, and importantly a soulful chorus that kills. “Jenna” has one of the heaviest riffs on the album, but doesn’t stand out…which is a shame as it is the last song. The final track, “Water Ceremony” is a joke track, closing the album on a burp! That’s…odd!
Of note: the always lucky Japanese fans got two bonus tracks. These were longer versions of “Believe” and “Vegetable”.
Manic Moonlight was a surpise to revisit, and with only a few sluggish moments (“Jenna” among them), it’s certainly a lot better than I remember.
KING’S X – Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous (2000 Metal Blade)
Starting with 1998’s Tape Head, King’s X would write and self-record new material in the studio. The following album Please Come Home…Mr. Bulbous was done the same way, in a quick time frame of under two months. On Tape Head they captured tremendous energy and groove with that method. Perhaps the drawback to this approach is that you have less time to live with and tighten up the songwriting. On the other hand, on Mr. Bulbous it sounds like songwriting was a minor concern next to instrumental experimentation.
Songs like the opener “Fish Bowl Man” sound like several loose ideas floating together. It is a chorus without a song, unfortunately, because that chorus is a King’s X winner. The beat poetry section of the song is very interesting indeed, but it’s not among King’s X’s finer moments. Darkly simmering is the next song “Julia”, but its soft pulse is not enough. Two important ingredients are missing, and they are Doug’s soul singin’, and the patented King’s X groove machine. “She’s Gone Away” also fails to lift from the runway (although it sounded better live). This is more like King’s X for the dreamtimes.
This band is always been interesting instrumentally, and that holds true on Mr. Bulbous. Exploring laid-back musical landscapes while only blasting occasionally is more than fine. “Marsh Mellow Field” for example has a rock-heavy chorus featuring Doug in full lungs. The issue is that the songs are loose and sparsely arranged affairs that don’t sound coherent. It’s a challenging listen, and there are moments of riff and solo brilliance, but one must be patient.
Jerry Gaskill’s drums on “When You’re Scared”. This guy is such an underrated drummer. “He plays with his whole body,” said my friend Uncle Meat. You can hear that, too.
“Charlie Sheen”. No idea what the words are about, but this is about the only true “song” on the album. It’s really good, with one of those Ty Tabor choruses that you remember for days. “Kill the king, strip the queen, are you my friend dear Charlie Sheen”? Who cares, it sounds good and that’s what works. The song also has a very twangy Morse-like guitar part that makes this the catchiest track of the bunch.
“Move Me” parts 1 and 2. Although Doug’s vocals are mixed in a nasal John Lennon fashion, this rocker has some movement to it. It’s one of the most constructed songs on the album, with the light and shade finally making sense within the structure of a song. An epic triumph almost worthy of the classic period of the band.
It’s a mixed affair but because it’s King’s X there is always going to be quality to it.
Next in this series: a previously published review of a Ty Tabor side project named Platypus. Platypus are a band consisting of Ty Tabor – Guitars & vocals. John Myung (Dream Theater) – Bass. Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Alice Cooper, Kiss) – Keys. Rod Morgenstein (Dixie Dregs, Winger) – Drums. Their second album,Ice Cycles, was loaded with fun time progressive hard rock. Ty gets a chance to shred jazzily and in other different contexts, and it is just delightful. You can check out that review now by clicking here.
You never knew what you’d get with a new King’s X album. Monstrous musicianship, intelligent lyrics, and integrity certainly; but they like to fly in all sorts of directions. Tape Head, following the sweet pop rock of Ear Candy, was a monolithic slab compared to that earlier album. In many regards Tape Head is a brother record to Doug Pinnick’s solo project PoundHound (more on them later). The focus here is the groove.
Witness, the first song “Groove Machine”. “Welcome to the groove machine,” sings Doug, letting his bass lay it down. “Music oh music, such a funky thing. The closer you get, the deeper it means.” He’s right. Ty Tabor lays on a heavy wah-wah for his guitar solo, but not to be left out drummer Jerry Gaskill gets a bit of a solo too. It’s simple, straightforward and unpretentious. “Groove Machine” has but one purpose.
“Fade” continues the heavy groove direction, slower now, and with Ty Tabor taking the vocals in the chorus. From the ultra-heavy bass to Jerry Gaskill’s beats, everything hits you exactly in the right spot. A break in the groove occurs on “Over and Over”, a Doug ballad with sincere soul. When Ty joins him in the chorus, the song becomes timeless. Heavy again again but with the same kind of powerful chorus is “Ono”. When you have an album as single-minded as Tape Head, you tend to grasp onto standout melodies like this even more. King’s X let their 1960’s flag fly a little bit on “Cupid”, which doesn’t let up in the groove department, but does have shades of their hippie melodic bent. That’s an appropriate way to lead into “Ocean”, a mellow Ty Tabor song that sounds like Ear Candy, but turned up to 11. Doug’s hella-sonic bass just crushes, even though you could fairly call this song a ballad! The difference between this and Ear Candy is all in the production. Tape Head is self-produced and you can tell they just wanted to hear everything heavier and lower!
Pure ear candy is “Little Bit of Soul” which sounds like it should. Heavy rock knows no singer with as much soul as Doug Pinnick. He even brings soul into “Hate You”, which is pretty straightforward in the lyric department! Then “Higher Than God” is one of the mightiest choruses on the album, thanks again to Doug, with Ty and Jerry backing him. Only King’s X can infuse R&B with their rock the way that they do. Listen to Doug’s low vocal crooning on “Happy”. Then he turns it up, lets it loose. There is only one Doug Pinnick and he is a rock and soul treasure.
You might not expect the slight twang that starts off “Mr. Evil” but like most King’s X songs, it mutates into different forms. (Nice steel guitar solo by Ty.) If you were craving just one more killer chorus before it’s all over, then “World” delivers that and some heavy-ass grooves too. The highlight here is a blazing rock n’ roll guitar solo, very different for Ty. That’s not the last song though; there’s a surprise at the end that defies description except to say it’s pretty funny!
Tape Head is an impressive monument of rock indeed. It bleeds pure gobs of soul, and it rocks the brain really, really hard. It’s slimmer in the catchy melodies stockpile, but the relentlessness of direction draws you back in for another listen. Some may lament that with Tape Head, their progressive metal past seems long behind them. I think that was road they already turned from, with 1994’s Dogman. They transformed into a heavier band, with echoes of their past but a sound that blends it all up. The songs are not as distinct, but the groove is king on Tape Head.
Blank discs are so cheap, and musical tastes so fleeting today, that I wonder if anybody but me still has the first mix CD they ever burned?
I’m hoping some of you have, and I’m hoping to hear it about from you too. My first disc was made in early 2001 when we got our first burner. It was made for a very specific purpose.
At the store, there was an informal rule that if you were closing one day and opening the next, it was “OK” to borrow a movie overnight, watch and return it. So if that was true for movies, why not a CD? Why not a dozen? A few nights after having the CD burner installed, I borrowed a bag full of discs and burned this compilation on a Maxell CD-R 650. 74 minutes! Up to 16x certified!
I returned the discs the next day, all albums that I wanted one or two songs from, but not the whole album. Many were soundtracks and tribute albums. I ended up buying The Strokes’ album a few weeks later, an ill-advised purchase that yielded only two or three listens. I don’t have that one anymore. But I still have my mix CD with “Last Nite”!
The Robbie Williams + Queen track is taken from the soundtrack to A Knight’s Tale. I shall maintain the anonymity of the store employee who had the crush on Heath Ledger and inundated us with this soundtrack. The same disc also yielded “I Want to Take You Higher” by Sly and the Family Stone.
Track 3 is an industrial-rock hybrid tune called “Violent New Breed”. I later purchased the Violent New Breed album by Shotgun Messiah. Industrial rock fans will know that Messiah’s original bassist/singer was Tim Tim, aka Tim Sköld of KMFDM, Marilyn Manson, and his eponymous band. I liked the title track enough to later buy the album and the prior one too. Both were keepers.
I’ve been a Goo Goo Dolls fan for a while so I thought I would grab their INXS cover “Don’t Change” from an Ace Ventura soundtrack. Their cover of “Bitch” came from the 1993 No Alternative compilation album.
Apparently I was on a Warrior Soul kick at that time as well. Shame that there isn’t a great Warrior Soul compilation album that suits all my needs. I bought and sold their studio albums. As for Michael Jackson, I later decided to add a single disc compilation to my collection, offsetting my burning of “Billie Jean”.
This being a real odds n’ ends disc, it’s not a spellbinding listen today. It’s fun to remind myself of some oddball tracks that I liked enough to burn but not enough to buy. I’m also amused by the title Mix One, the first of many! And I was even doing cover art back then, too. On the cover is myself dressed up as the alien from Part 148: Navigate the Seas of the Sun!