The Party

REVIEW: Max Webster – A Million Vacations (1979)

MAX WEBSTER – A Million Vacations (originally 1979, 2017 Anthem remaster)

Why are Max Webster still held in such high esteem by their devoted fanbase?  Possibly because they concocted an ideal mixture of humour and incredible playing and composition.  Much like Frank Zappa, Max Webster felt that humour does indeed belong in music.  It’s “smart kid rock” but never taking itself too seriously.  From playful musical sections to the words of lyricist Pye Dubois, Max could also be counted on to poke you in the ribs.

A Million Vacations is certainly one of their best albums, if not their absolute magnum opus, but that’s all a matter of opinion.  At this stage of the game, Max was really cooking.  The 10 songs within represent some peak level songwriting, and several are still on the radio today.  Through the airwaves, “Paradise Skies”, “Let Go the Line”, “A Million Vacations” and “Night Flights” might be speeding over Canada somewhere as you read this.

“Paradise Skies” indeed!  One of Max’s most immediate tracks is the party opener.  Total mainstream Max: catchy hooks, insane playing, and a chorus that’s ready to blast off.  Terry Watkinson’s “Charmonium” is more complex but no less catchy.  The keyboardist wrote the song and does the lead vocals as well.  Dig into those flurries of notes making up some tasty solo sections.  Losing no momentum, “Night Flights” keeps a jaunty pace.  Pye Dubois’ poem about the love of touring reminds us how important Pye was to the band.  How many bands have a touring lyricist?

Breaking the fun-loving character for just a moment, a day-dreamy “Sun Voices” has connections to the next songs, “Moon Voices” and “A Million Vacations”.  “In my chair, chaise lounge…” and how many songs can you think of with a chaise lounge in the words??  “Sun Voices” is a meditative poolside view.  Perhaps then the side-closing instrumental “Moon Voices” is the loud party, after the sun goes down?

“A Million Vacations” (written by drummer Gary McCracken and Pye Dubois) on side two is a party-ready Canadian summer anthem.  Part of being Canadian is hibernating for our cold, dark winters.  Once we have endured the freeze, and life returns with the spring thaw, it is like a celebration.  “A Million Vacations” has that feeling.  “Throwin’ out all kinds of fishing line, Friday Friday is a good time to shine.”  Yes indeed, hitting the outdoors is a Canadian weekend tradition in the summer time.

“Look Out” is an often forgotten buried gem.  The chorus is written around a catchy keyboard riff, which suddenly gives way to a conga jam.  It’s Max as only Max can do, daring but never fearing.  But side two’s centerpiece is undoubtedly the magnificent ballad “Let Go the Line”, with Watkinson back on lead vocals.  Kim Mitchell orchestrates a guitar chorus for the main instrument hook and it’s instant love.  For sheer smart pop songwriting, “Let Go the Line” is Max’s finest.  The new 2017 remaster from the recommended box set The Party really reveals a lot of nuance in the back that were hard or impossible to hear on previous CD editions.

Kim gets a little goofy with “Rascal Houdi”, an undeniable party rocker.  “I’m switching out, I’m out to lunch,” and it’s a teenage blast.  But the party finale, “Research (At Beach Resorts)” takes it to the max (pun intended).  “Line up crowds at the pavilion, Max is playing ‘Vacations'”.  It’s a beach party, and Max is “in Newport for research, to get abreast of things…”  What about Wasaga Beach on Georgian Bay?  Already taken care of, friends.  “We’ve just researched Wasaga Beach, bonfire pits at midnight.”  But what the heck are they “researching”?

“What is it that we stare at?
Is it the passports and campsite stars?
Or the monogrammed bikinis and cars?
Or maybe we just need some perspiration ’cause we’re frostbitten Canadian boys!”

There are few bands better than Max Webster, folks, and Max’s A Million Vacation is an easy album to love, so flip it over and play it again like I’m about to.

5/5 stars

 

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#626.4: The Big Lists of 2017 Part Four: LeBrain brings the reign

LeBrain’s Top Lists for 2017

2017 was, from almost every angle, a shit year.  Another onslaught of losses in music, entertainment and sports (another list on its own).  2017 was as devastating as 2016, but perhaps all that loss was turned into musical dividends.  Before the year was even half over, I had already found my #1 album of 2017 from a surprising corner.  I knew as soon as I heard it that it was something remarkable.  I pencilled it into the #1, wondering who would topple it.  Over the months, no-one did.  Though my annual Top Five Albums list was not finalised until last week, the #1 album never changed.

Before we get to albums, however, let’s check out some winners in other categories!

BEST BOX SET

MAX WEBSTER – The Party

I put my reputation on the line when I recommended The Party to everyone I knew.  I only got good reviews in return.  For the record, it was our own Uncle Meat, back in July, who broke the news of this box set.  He knows someone involved with the remastering and was aware of the project well before the public was.  Though the packaging was bare bones, the reissue otherwise hits all the bases.

BEST REISSUE

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria 30th anniversary edition

What was probably my #1 album for Christmas 1987 is my favourite reissue in 2017.  In a year featuring fantastic reissues by Marillion (Misplaced Childhood) and Whitesnake (1987), none brought me back in time like Leppard’s Hysteria did.

 


TOP FIVE ALBUMS OF 2017

In case you doubt, check out Deke’s list over at “Arena Rock”.  One of my favourite rock scribes agrees with me on most of these releases.  ‘Twas Deke who turned me onto the #5 album — thanks bud.

Normally I exclude live albums from my lists, but this has been a special year.

 

5 1/2 IRON MAIDEN – The Book of Souls: Live Chapter

5. STEPHEN PEARCY – Smash

4. ALICE COOPER – Paranormal

3. THE DARKNESS – Pinewood Smile

2. GRETA VAN FLEET – From the Fires

1. STYX – The Mission

I haven’t cared so much about Styx since I was 10 years old!  What an incredible album The Mission is.  And I’m counting it as CanCon, because of singer/pianist Lawrence Gowan (but you can call him Larry).


 

Other fun categories!

BEST NEW ARTIST – Greta Van Fleet

BEST SOUNDTRACK – John Williams, Star Wars: The Last Jedi

BEST SOCIAL MEDIA – Michael Sweet (Stryper)

BEST ARTWORK – Deep Purple, for InFinite

MOST IMPROVED BEHAVIOUR – W. Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses)

BEST COMEBACK – Quiet Riot, for Road Rage

BEST GUITARIST – Tom Morello (Prophets of Rage)

BIGGEST DOUCHEBAG – Gene Simmons (KISS)

SECOND BIGGEST DOUCHEBAG – Kid Rock

BIGGEST MISTAKE – Black Sabbath and Bill Ward not playing together at all before The End, a wasted opportunity to set things right.

 

REVIEW: Max Webster – Live Magnetic Air (1979)

MAX WEBSTER – Live Magnetic Air (originally 1979, 2017 Anthem remaster)

So you’re the canker banker?  They’re just Max Webster, here to thin the thickness of your skin.

Any good 70s act worth their salt had to have a solid live album. Max released theirs after four studio albums, a good basis for a fulfilling concert set. The 10 songs (plus one reggae jam) only begin to scratch the surface of their bizarre and rocking history, but a good 10 songs they are.

Want some rockers? Tap into “America’s Veins”. 70s radio rock? Take a lift up into the “Paradise Skies”.  Looking for some progressive rock?  You’ll find it “In Context of the Moon”.  The adventurous and quirky arrangements of some tunes are a direct contrast to the catchiness of others.  “Gravity” blends quirky and catchy into one successful gestalt.  “Charmonium” both challenges and pleases the ears at once.  Whether you’re soaring on “Night Flights” or biting into “Lip Service”, there is no filler on Live Magnetic Air.

One expects great playing on any Max Webster platter. Live Magnetic Air has plenty of that gonzo Kim Mitchell guitar work that he is known for.  Terry Watkinson’s keys explore different tones within single songs, never getting boring.  Yet it’s Gary McCracken’s drum work that seems to really shine, especially on the 2017 remaster from The Party boxed set.

It is difficult to throw too much praise at Max Webster, because surely they deserve it.  They were not as famous as Rush and not as worshipped as Zappa.  But those are the kind of names thrown about when speaking of Max Webster.  Each Max album is loaded with amazing material, but if you were looking to start with something, why not make it Live Magnetic Air?  The party atmosphere and ace selection of songs are the basic ingredients of a classic live album.  Now that it’s finally been properly mastered for CD, you can hear it the way you were always meant to.  For those who just wanna rock, the guitars have the crunch.  The discerning fan will enjoy the new clarity and depth that this remaster offers, without overdriving the levels.

Once again we wholeheartedly recommend The Party boxed set, but if you find Live Magnetic Air on vinyl, pick it up and hear what some genuine “Sarniatown Reggae” sounds like.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Max Webster – The Party (2017 box set)

MAX WEBSTER – The Party (2017 Anthem 8 CD box set)

Normally when we review box sets like this, we prefer to review each album individually.  Three of the eight discs have already been covered here:  Max Webster (their debut), High Class in Borrowed Shoes, and Universal Juveniles (their final album).  The rest of the Max Webster albums will be reviewed in due time, so for now we will take a general look at their brand new CD box set, The Party.

The Max Webster catalogue (and to a lesser extent, the solo Kim Mitchell discography) has been well overdue for a remastering.  The original Anthem CDs are thin and tinny.  Rock Candy did a fantastic remaster of the first three albums with better sound and a generous booklet, but what about the rest?  I first heard about this project via Uncle Meat this past summer at Sausagefest.  It was one of those “know a guy who knows a guy” stories, but the bottom line was, Max Webster’s catalogue was being remastered.  And now we have The Party in hand as proof!

The contents include all five original Max studio albums, their concert opus Live Magnetic Air, Kim Mitchell’s very rare solo EP, and a bonus disc of rarities called The Bootleg.  Those who buy the forthcoming vinyl version will also receive a booklet with rare photos and other goodies.  The CD version has no booklet, but it does have nice gatefold packaging for each album.  It’s affordably priced, so we forgive the lack of a booklet on the CD edition. Vinyl owners can look at it as a bonus for buying vinyl.

If improved audio is what you are longing for, then you should be very satisfied with The Party.  It’s not overdriven, but it sounds fuller and deep.  They didn’t go for loudness.  This is all very good.  You can safely ditch your old CD versions, rendered obsolete by this box.

The Bootleg will be the main draw for many.  It does not disappoint.  In fact, it intrigues, because it teases that there is more.  Unreleased demos are listed as “Contraband” — reports suggest this refers to a collection of unreleased material still in the vault.

Max Webster apparently recorded their 2007 reunion show, or at least “Let Go the Line”.  It sounds brilliant and makes you pray for a live album of the show.  Terry Watkinson’s classic ballad sounds a little older, a little wiser, but just as brilliant as ever.  Other live stuff from 1979 was recorded in Oshawa.  “Oh War” simply smokes, and was not included on Live Magnetic Air.  Then there’s the crazy jam centred on “Research (At Beach Resorts)”.  These insane live sessions really show why Max Webster is held in such high esteem, almost like a second coming of Frank Zappa himself.

The unreleased demos include some songs that didn’t make Max’s albums.  Fans know “Deep Dive” from Kim Mitchell’s solo live album, I Am A Wild Party.  Max’s original 1982 demo is completely different.  Same melody, same words, but a vastly different arrangement.  It’s like rock and roll bluegrass, fast as possible, and insanely good.  It was likely deemed too different to be on the Universal Juveniles LP, but there’s no doubt it’s awesome and the highlight of this box set.

Another standouts from the batch of demos is a version of “Battle Scar” without Rush; just Max!  It’s a revelation; an interesting work in progress.  There are also two songs you’ve never heard before, “Walden 5” and “Better”, both from 1979.  Let’s just say that the quality of these unreleased Max songs is album level.  “Walden 5” just needed some editing.  A demo version of “In the World of Giants” from 1979 has way more guitar soloing.  Kim fans will love it!  Oh — and stay tuned for a surprise unlisted bonus track.

The box itself is just a cardboard sleeve, but at least an attractively packaged one.  Yes, a booklet would have been appreciated.  In lieu of that, we recommend Martin Popoff’s brilliantly detailed book Live Magnetic Air: The Unlikely Saga of the Superlative Max Webster to accompany this otherwise perfect set.

Oh, one last thing:  The two “new” songs that were included on the hits compilation Diamonds Diamonds are not in this box set.  So, to be a completist, you’d still need to track that one down.  Vinyl is recommended; and then you’d own “Hot Spots” and “Overnight Sensation” to complete the picture.  Just a word to the wise.

4.5/5 stars

 

QUIZ ANSWER: What was in LeBrain’s Bag?

The startling conclusion to What’s in LeBrain’s Bag?

You had a picture and five clues:

 

  1. There are two records in there.
  2. One is a double, one is a single.
  3. One is a new release, one is a reissue.
  4. One is Canadian content, the other is not.
  5. You can kinda make out one.

 

And we had a winner, immediately.  A man who knows his metal like he knows his haggis.  SCOTT, your HEAVY METAL OVERLOrD correctly guessed the first record (the new release, non-Canadian double LP) and wins a picture drawn by me!

It was…ACCEPT – The Rise of Choas.

I did what any sensible shopper should do before buying the album.  I looked it up on CD Japan to see if the Japanese version had any bonus tracks.  They did not, so I grabbed the double vinyl.  10 tracks, 2 records, orange and blue swirl vinyl, limited to 700 copies.  Those numbers add up for me!  I can’t wait to sink my needle into those.

 

 


Scott’s picture is a Schnauzer on an airplane!

The second LP (which I didn’t seriously expect anyone to guess) nicely fills a gap in my collection.  You see, I have CD remasters for every Rush album from the first one to Test For Echo…except one.   Roll the Bones continued to elude me,  so instead of CD, I opted for something possibly better:  200 gram vinyl LP remaster.  As far as I can think of, this is my first 200 gram vinyl purchase, though I own a few 180 grams.   Aaron correctly guessed Rush (with an initial guess of VoiVod) so I offered to draw him a picture of a cookie.  Sadly it turned out looking more like vomit (even when I added the cookie fumes), so I hope you will excuse the lack of a prize.

RUSH – Roll the Bones 200 gram remastered LP.  Now I have all the Rush remasters!


And now, the conclusion to the “How did Mike get the Max Webster The Party box set?

Because, oh yes, I did get it.

Sunrise had it for $64.99, but I had trouble cancelling my Amazon pre-order at $89.99.  I bought my Rush and Accept records, and drew a prize:  a new fidget spinner!  (I think I have four now?)  I went home and kept trying to cancel my Amazon order.  An email said that the issue should be resolved in a few hours, so I sat tight.

Around 4:30 that afternoon, I got the email that my pre-order was successfully cancelled.  I hopped in my car; four minutes later was back at Sunrise.  I grabbed Max Webster, and drew another prize:  a Transformers mini-comic!

So, really, everything went down about as perfectly as you could imagine.  I got The Party box set and an extra prize for coming back.

The Party is very bare-bones for packaging.  There are no booklets, but the discs are housed in mini-LP gatefold sleeves with inner graphics.  For that reason, I am going to hang onto my remastered Max Webster debut CD on Rock Candy, which has an extensive booklet.  A buddy of mine named Scott has dibs on the rest of my old Max Webster collection.  Hey, it’s a lucky day for guys named Scott!

I have a lot of listening to do, which will hopefully lead to a little reviewing.  Hope you enjoyed this game!  Back to reviews tomorrow.

QUIZ: What’s in LeBrain’s Bag?

Saturday September 30th was Sunrise Records’ “Grand Re-opening” across Canada.  I’ve been shopping there for months now, but the 30th was a ceremonial event.  They had prizes and sales, but as usual I came for music.

Brother Tom sometimes asks me, “Why do you go to Sunrise?  Go to Encore Records — a real record store.”  I get what he means.  Encore has long reigned as the Best Music Store in Kitchener-Waterloo.  Even back when Tom and I were in the business, we knew Encore had the game all sewed up in this town.

I like going to Sunrise for a number of reasons; one is location.  I got there in four minutes.  Two, I want them to do well with this re-opening.  The mall needs a record store.  A mall without a record store is just a Walmart with a food court.


On to the quiz:  What is in LeBrain’s Bag? Examine the picture at top and post your answer in the comments.

Clues:

  1. There are two records in there.
  2. One is a double, one is a single.
  3. One is a new release, one is a reissue.
  4. One is Canadian content, the other is not.
  5. You can kinda make out one.

The Prize:

I WILL DRAW A PICTURE FOR YOU, yes that’s right I WILL DRAW YOU A PICTURE!

Guess just one record and I will draw a picture for you, probably of a Schnauzer, but you never know.  Airplanes are also cool.

Guess both records and we will send you to Dr. Peter Venkman to be tested for ESP ability.


The big new release this week was the long awaited 8-disc Max Webster box set, The Party. It’s all their albums (except the “greatest hits” Diamonds Diamonds), a disc of unreleased rarities and the Kim Mitchell EP too.  Encore Records had it — 15 copies.  Sunrise had it too.  My copy was on pre-order from Amazon, for $89.99.

When I arrived at Sunrise, I nearly shit my pants.  They had it for $25 cheaper — only $64.99.  I jumped on my phone immediately, logged into my Amazon account and tried to cancel my pre-order.  It was already staged for shipping.  The cancellation wouldn’t go through?

What happened?  Was I able to cancel my Amazon order?  Would Sunrise still have the box set when I came back?  Tune back later today for the answer to today’s quiz and the conclusion to the story!