The Alarm

REVIEW: Rulers of Rock – Various Artists (1988 cassette)

RULERS OF ROCK (1988 PolyTel)

When the front cover features crumbled tinfoil, you know you’re in for a seriously good time.

This tape still sounds amazing!  It was a gift 30 years ago from an old girlfriend, and it somehow survived all my cassette purges (even the one that sent most of them to Thunder Bay.)

From the fine folks at PolyTel, you get an assortment of hot rock that makes for a remarkably good listen today.  Opening with Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” you couldn’t ask for a better embarkation point.  That goes right into the back-to-basics brilliance of “Love Removal Machine” by the Cult.  I remember that old girlfriend really hated The Cult, so it was kind of her to give this to me.  I didn’t have Electric yet, so this was my first ownership of the song.

The Ozzman cometh on “The Ultimate Sin”, still relentless today even though Ozzy tries to ignore most of the Ultimate Sin era.  Ozzy and Jake made some incredible music together and this is one.  The cassette swings back towards hair metal with Cinderella and their early hit “Nobody’s Fool” from 1986.  On tape, the ballad sounds thicker and heavier.  It also appears to be the full length version and not a single edit.  Up next, it’s the non-metal of The Alarm, but “Rain in the Summertime” fits like a glove.  It’s really no softer than “Living on a Prayer” when you think about it.  Unfortunately the cassette has a warbly spot right in the middle of the song.  Kiss close the side with the softest one yet:  “Reason to Live” from Crazy Nights.

Flipping the tape, side two opens with a hit just about equal to the one that commenced side one.  The keyboards sound carpet-deep on tape, as you recognise “The Final Countdown” by Europe.  If there were only two bands battling for rock supremacy in 1987, it was Bon Jovi vs. Europe.  Side one vs side two!

Our first Canadian content is predictably by Rush.  Hey, it had to be either Rush or Bryan Adams.  “Time Stand Still” featuring Aimee Mann was the kind of mainstream hit perfect for a tape like this.  Less predictable is the presence of Yngwie Malmsteen with “Fire” from Trilogy, a song totally out of character for a tape with The Alarm and Cinderella.  Deep Purple are next to crash the party with 1987’s Bad Attitude.  Once again, it was my first time owning a song.  I imagine Deep Purple with a little less shocking next to Yngwie, though probably just as unfamiliar to an unsuspecting buyer.

Why not a little Christian content, since so many styles of rock are represented here?  Stryper’s “Honestly” may sound like a romance, but it’s a cleverly disguised prayer.  And finally, because why not? It’s “Hourglass” by Squeeze!  I was 17 years old, and I hated it!  Different story today.

30 years down the road, Rulers of Rock was a delightfully entertaining listen with twists, turns and surprises.  And it’s still the only place I own those Squeeze and Alarm songs!

4/5 stars



REVIEW: Skid Row – Revolutions Per Minute (2006)

Scan_20160614SKID ROW – Revolutions Per Minute (2006)

Skid Row did a pretty good job of replacing the irreplaceable Sebastian Bach on their fourth LP, Thick Skin.  It earned a more than healthy 4.25/5 stars, in part due to the charismatic vocals of Johnny Solinger.  For their second album with Johnny, they re-teamed with producer Michael Wagener, but had mixed results in repeating the magic.

Revolutions Per Minute is heavy enough; there was no issue of the band going soft.  There was a dip in quality from the songwriting department, strongly dominated by bassist/leader Rachel Bolan.  Strangely, they chose to pad out the album with a cover (The Alarm’s “Strength”) and a remix.  It’s worrisome when the best song is a cover.  There’s a distinct pop-punk vibe on many songs, which one has to trace back to Bolan.  Dave “Snake” Sabo has two co-writes, and Scotti Hill a mere one.

“Disease” is very Skid Row, nothing outstanding, but a strong enough way to open the album.  The punk-like “Another Dick in the System” is better.   With Solinger scraping the ceiling with his screamy high notes, it’s reminiscent of old Skid Row circa Slave to the Grind.  “Pulling My Heart Out from Under Me” follows with an 80’s Elvis Costello vibe to the guitars.  This one is quite a departure from Bach-era Skid Row, and a decade later I’m still not sure if I like it.  You can’t fault a band for experimenting, but if the results aren’t good enough, that’s a tough call.  I’m not sure if “Pulling My Heart Out from Under Me” is good enough.  The worst of the punk influenced songs is “White Trash”, which is so indescribably bad that I won’t even try.  It’s not funny and not good.  Back to something that sounds like Skid Row, “Nothing” is one of those tunes that you could imagine was written in 1988 for the debut album.

Scan_20160614 (2)Influences collide on “When God Can’t Wait”.  Johnny Solinger is a country guy, and Rachel Bolan is a punk guy.  It seems 1+1 does indeed =2, and the sum total of punk and country is rockabilly.  I have to admit to liking this one, even though I’m still not sure if it’s any good.  I definitely prefer it to the next tune, “Shut Up Baby, I Love You” which doesn’t have much going for it aside from the full-metal tempo.

Strangely, the best original song is “You Lie” which begins as nothing but pure country.  Only after the twangy guitar solo does it accelerate into rock territory, but it’s the country part that rules.  The final track is a “Corn Fed” remix, which adds slides, harmonica and accoutrements.  At least that ends the album on a good notes.  The CD does start to drag a bit with two lacklustre songs, “Love is Dead” and “Let it Ride”, so the remix of “You Lie” is a smart way to end it.

You get the feeling that Skid Row had potential for a great album, but only came up with enough good songs for an EP.

2/5 stars