the tea party

#923: The Dead 90s (A Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list)

RECORD STORE TALES #923: The Dead 90s (A Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list)

I think it was around 1995 that I really gave up into the ’90s.

What do I mean by this?  It’s simple.  In late 1991, there was a sea change in rock music.  The old guard was suddenly unhip, while a new unkept kind of rock was surfacing in Seattle.  Within three years, classic rock bands such as Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Poison, Ratt, Whitesnake, and even the once-bulletproof Guns N’ Roses were in some sort of decline, losing key band members or just breaking up completely.  They were replaced on the charts with a swath of new bands, from Nirvana, to Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.  Rock had been on such a high in mid-91 with #1 albums by Skid Row, Metallica, Van Halen and more.  It only took months for the landscape to darken.  But really, the warnings were in place well back in ’89.

It was a disorienting change and it got to a point in the middle of the decade where my favourite bands were dropped, broken up, or transformed.  Bon Jovi survived this period unscathed, losing only the inconsequential Alec John Such.  They were one of the few exceptions.  Motley Crue put out a killer record with their new singer that was criminally panned at the time by its critics and many longtime fans.  Winger couldn’t catch a break.  Some of the bands that did put out records in the 90s released sub-par trash.  Quiet Riot:  guilty with Down to the Bone.  Judas Priest:  Jugulator.  Dokken:  Shadowlife.  Unless your name ended with Jovi, it seems like every old guard rock band put out albums that were crap, sold like shit, or both.  Then, half of ’em broke up.

What was a metal head to do?  Still buy the old bands’ records and hope for the best, yes, but when you’re buying so much shit on a wing and a prayer, you start looking for something else.  I had to open my heart to some newer bands that, I felt, had something in common with the old.

Here is a list of 11 bands that made their way in.


1. OASIS.  I still love those first three records, and all the B-sides that came along with the tide.  My mom got me into the Beatles, and while I never bought into that “the new Beatles” crap, I did like that Oasis brought back some of what I liked about the fab four.  They were the only Brit Pop band I could put my heart behind.  Not metal at all, but Lars liked ’em.  They had guitar solos at least.


2. GOO GOO DOLLS.  Right around the time of “Slide” and “Broadway”, I let the Goo Goo Dolls into my life.  They reminded me of Bon Jovi without the bombast (and the solos).  They would have to do during the time when I needed a surrogate Jovi, which happened in the late part of the 90s when Jon released the stinker Destination Anywhere.  Goo Goo Dolls nailed the lovestruck acoustic/electric vibe that was once a Bon Jovi strength.


3. THE BARSTOOL PROPHETS.  Amazing Canadian band that could have been the next Tragically Hip.  The Prophets might have been a little more hard edged, and I identified with their lyrics more than the labyrinthic words of Saint Downie.  T-Trev was a fan and he recommended I give ’em a try, and I have loved them since.


4. sandbox.  A band that did not win me through a friend or a music video, but through the live experience.  Opening for the Barenaked Ladies, sandbox (all lower case) were a bit gloomier and heavier.  But there was also something magical about their songs “Curious” and “Lustre”.  They soothed my soul when I was lonely.  Later on, I found out that guitarist Mike Smith was on a television show called Trailer Park Boys


5. THE PRODIGY.  Who didn’t buy Fat of the Land in ’97?  It was a good album and Crispian Miller from Kula Shaker had lead vocals on one track.  This new heavy brand of electronica had hooks and a rock-like vibe.  It was like dance-y industrial rock.  I could dig it.  They even had a guitar player named — no word of a lie — Gizz Butt.


6. THE TEA PARTY.  I couldn’t get into Splendor Solis; I foolishly dismissed the band as a Zep clone.  I came to my senses on their third album The Edges of Twilight.  The Zeppelin comparisons were obvious (and I didn’t care about the Doors), but who else was making music like this anymore?  Nobody.  The Tea Party would do!


7. SLOAN.  It was not until their fourth album Navy Blues that Sloan scratched the itch.  Yes, I was a late comer.  Yes, I got into them during their commercial peak.  But the truth is it was really their double live 4 Nights at the Palais Royale that really nailed it.  One of the best live albums since the mighty Kiss Alive.  The comparisons don’t end there, as both bands feature four lead singers — a configuration I always enjoy.  (Hello, Goodbye, Beatles!)


8. RANCID.  Incredible band, two lead singers, and one great album that just slayed me.  Many of the rock bands I liked, such as Guns and Motley, extolled the merits of their punk rock backgrounds.  Just as Zeppelin and ZZ Top encouraged me to check out Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, Nikki Sixx pushed the Pistols on me.  Rancid were much better than the Pistols, but they had the same snot in their noses.  Rancid brought with them the ska and reggae side, which appealed to me immediately.


9. OUR LADY PEACE.  For one album, anyway.  Maybe it was Arnold Lanni that made this band buzz for me, but they were really a single album group.  Naveed is a monster.  Jeremy Taggart was a good enough drummer for Geddy Lee!  It had some things in common with hard rock, like loud guitars.  I could build them a bridge into my heart.


10. LIVE.  I maintain that everybody bought Throwing Copper in 1995.  This band just had tremendously broad appeal.  Unusually, every song was up to the same lofty level of quality; no duds, all keepers.  A number of strong singles led to massive radio and video play, but no followup album of the same stature ever emerged.


11. NINE INCH NAILS.  I was just starting to get into Nine Inch Nails.  The Downward Spiral is my album when it comes to this band.  They took such a long break after it that I lost interest.  What I liked were the riffs built from noise, the layered approach, the angst, the self-loathing, and the anger.  The album is still is trip to play, but I have never liked “Piggy” or “Closer” and think them a bit contrived.  Admirable though that the video for “March of the Pigs” is 100% live, music included.


Although there were many good albums made by metal bands in the 1990s that I have not mentioned, it was not enough for a music addict.  I needed to expand my horizons or remain stuck in the past.  There were more — Ben Folds Five, Steve Earle, Robbie Williams, Mel C. (yes that Mel C.) and Tonic to name a few.  Anything that had some kind of integrity of connection to the rock music I loved.  Ben Folds didn’t even have a guitar player, but his music rocked nonetheless.  These were all great picks to sample some of the best of the 90s.  Have a listen.

REVIEW: Play It! ROCK – An EMI In-Store Play Compilation – Various Artists (1997)

Play It! Volume Seven – ROCK – An EMI In-Store Play Compilation (1997 EMI promo)

“Woah!  I own ‘Song 2’.  How about that.”

That was my first reaction upon revisiting this old promo CD from the Record Store days.  I really didn’t know that I had that song, and I’m sort of glad that I do.  This was a freebie, and not a bad one as it had some rarities on it.  In fact there’s only one artist on this disc I’d flat-out skip.  Let’s dive on in.

The first track is a rarity:  an unadvertized single edit of “Temptation” by the Tea Party.  “Temptation”, crossing the new sample-driven sounds of the late 90s with classic exotic Zeppelin, was huge.  The single edit snips off the extended intro.  Industrial rock band Econoline Crush is up second, who also had a big album (The Devil You Know) at the time.  “Home” was a memorable fast-paced single, but their big single “All That You Are”  is also included as track #14.  Far more mainstream, “All That You Are” was omnipresent in 1997.  It’s still a little too over-familiar to be enjoyable.

Skip Meredith Brooks.  I’ll be happy if I never hear the novelty song “Bitch” ever again.  Brooks has a second track on this CD, “I Need”, which suffers due to the spoken word verses.  No thanks.  Skip ’em both.  “I Need” reminds me of what I hated about 90s music.

Foo Fighters’ “Monkey Wrench” and “Everlong” were two of the greatest singles of 1997.  Fast paced, drums-a-blazing, and perfectly rifftastic.  In ’97 Grohl could do no wrong.  He released one of the few perfect albums of the year.  ’97 was Peak Foo — prove me wrong.  Flawless songs, still not taxing on the ears.  Probably never will be.

Queensryche had a new album in 1997, the ill-fated Hear in the Now Frontier.  “You” wasn’t one of the most notable songs, and here on this mainstream compilation, doesn’t fare well.  I don’t think EMI knew what to do with Queensryche, so hey let’s pick a song with 90’s intonations and throw it on this store play disc.  A second Tea Party song, “Transmission”, is its full unedited length, combining the same ingredients as “Temptation” but at lower velocity.  “Song 2” follows that, I song I’m admittedly not bored with at all.  A second Blur track later down the line, “M.O.B.” boats a cool riff and pop sensibilities.

I Mother Earth were riding a wave with their second album Scenery and Fish.  I’m not a fan of that disc and I can usually do without “Used to Be Alright”.  Fortunately Megadeth bring some metal to the proceedings.  From the underrated Cryptic Writings comes “Almost Honest”, a hard rocking single with nary a glimmer of thrash.  Great song from a period when Megadeth were quite adept at writing mainstream metal.

Rarities ahoy!  Moist’s “Tangerine” is remixed here, a mix that is far more industrial than the album, but that’s why remixes go on weird compilations I suppose.  Always fascinating, Glueleg are up next with “Dragonfly”, one of their catchiest numbers, still maintaining their weird genre-bending tendencies.

Alice Cooper steps in with a live version of “School’s Out”.  This being 1997, that automatically means it’s the one from A Fistful of Alice.  It’s a little strange hearing “School’s Out” on a compilation of all-new material, but I suppose EMI didn’t have confidence that a new Alice song (“Is Anyone Home?”) would attract new buyers.  But they were more likely to hear Radiohead’s “Let Down” and buy OK Computer instead.  It’s a stunning ballad that might have been unfamiliar to those who hadn’t bought the album yet — the exact people this CD was aimed at!  The CD closes on the slide-inflected “Faded” by Ben Harper.  It’s choked by unnecessarily grungy production.

Record companies rarely sent us free CDs, because we were a used CD store and they assumed we’d sell ’em.  What they didn’t realize was that it was usually guys like the asshole at CD Plus that would be selling their free CDs.  We’d try to be educated about what we bought, and avoid the promos like this one.  If a customer left it behind for us to take for free, it was up for grabs.  As a store-play disc, this would have been pretty good, assuming we had all those albums in stock to sell.

2.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: The Tea Party – Transmission (1997)

For a review of The Tea Party’s Live in Australia album by Deke at Stick It in Your Ear, click here!


Scan_20160526THE TEA PARTY – Transmission (1997 EMI)

Tea Party fans are often split on Transmission.  There is little doubt that the previous Edges of Twilight album was a high water mark.  With over an hour of exotic and varied folks-blues-rock hybrids, it’s a favourite for many.  The band took a stark turn on Transmission, embracing electronics.  Jeff Martin produced the album himself, and you could not expect a more opposite album to Twilight.  Thanks to the opening single “Temptation”, the album was another hit.  Most fans seemed OK with the changes.

At first, it doesn’t seem like anything is unusual in Tea Party land.  “Temptation” (the album version anyway) opens with a fair bit of exotic strumming on some sort of stringed instrument, as the Tea Party often do.  Then the samples and looped drums kick in, and they are huge!  Middle Eastern exotics, radio noise, keyboards and a killer riff all combine with loops to create a new kind of Tea Party.  So far so good — the experiment paid off.

Martin had a penchant for odd song titles on this album, like “Army Ants”.  Vocals furiously distorted, this makes for a heavier Tea Party.  Jeff Burrows is providing some excellent drum backbeats, but at times they are buried under other sounds.  The title track “Transmission” is way better though, burning like electronic incense.  Static, loops and acoustics return for “Psychopomp”, one of the five singles they released.  While it takes a while to get there, “Psychopomp” boasts a powerfully melodramatic chorus, Martin roaring as he does.  “Gyroscope” has a spinning sound, one of the more hypnotic tracks (and also a single).  One of the more impressive singles was the ballad “Release”.  This was eventually given an EP of its own which we’ll look at another time.  A basic keyboard/drum ballad, it is simple and bleak but hard to forget.  It almost reminds of early 80’s Robert Plant.

There isn’t a lot of variety and distinction between the songs.  “Alarum” repeats the formula:  Electronic effects, exotic sounds, roared-out chorus.  This was the disappointing factor with Transmission.  The band had established themselves with a diverse sound, but that sound is narrowed on Transmission.  All the same ingredients are there, but they are focused by the electronic lens, which sharpens them but also bleaches them to all one colour.  “Babylon” is one of the exceptions, with drum & bass elements, and off-kilter song structure.  It was appropriately given a very bizarre music video.  An interesting experiment, but not as affective a song as something simpler like “Release”.

The Tea Party had some fun in other ways too. They like hidden bonus tracks, but this time they didn’t stick one at the end. They stuck an instrumental (dubbed “Embryo”) at the end of track 8 (“Babylon”). It’s actually a cool little piece of music.

Since the Tea Party are an ever-evolving band, it was safe to assume they would not stay in the electronics lab forever. Their next album, Triptych, was different again. Transmission remains their most loop-heavy album to date.  At least they did it at the right time — The Prodigy’s massive mainstream album The Fat of the Land was released mere months before.  The public were ready and hungry for computer-precise beats and samples, and the Tea Party delivered a unique hybrid with their own brand of rock.  For the most part, it worked.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: The Tea Party – The Edges of Twilight (20th anniversary deluxe edition)


 

Scan_20160409THE TEA PARTY –  The Edges of Twilight (20th anniversary Universal deluxe edition, originally 1995)

The Tea Party have long been slagged as derivative.  “They sound too much like the Doors!” screams one corner.  “Zeppelin copy-cats!” cries another.  The first complaint isn’t true; singer Jeff Martin has a Morrison-like vibe but the Tea Party sound nothing at all like the Doors.  The second carries some weight to it, especially when it’s 1995’s The Edges of Twilight we’re talking about.

Due to an early connection with folk singer Roy Harper, a cover of “Train Kept a-Rolling”, and exotic world music influences, the Tea Party have long been compared to the mighty Led Zeppelin.  This was cranked up a notch on The Edges of Twilight.  From dirty electric blues, folksy English-sounding ditties, and and wealth of stringed instruments from all around the world, the Tea Party just went for it.  Though many praise the band’s prior album Splendor Solis (their major label debut) as a high water mark, Twilight exceeds it in almost every way.  I seem to remember reading that the album had something like 50 different instruments on it.  The sheer ambition and skill involved in pulling off an album this complex has to be admired.

That all sounds very heady and sophisticated, but the first single and opening track “Fire in the Head” rocks plenty hard.  A perfect 50/50 mix of the exotic and heavy sides of the Tea Party, “Fire in the Head” is savoury.  The Zeppelin comparisons are unavoidable, but because Jeff Martin is not that kind of singer, it has a darker more ominous ambience.  “The Bazaar” then takes it up a notch and into North Africa.  Still heavy, but with the world music more prominent, “The Bazaar” too was a single and a hit.  Let’s face it, the last major band to combine Gibson Les Pauls and world music in this way was in fact Led Zeppelin.  Is that a reason to criticize the Tea Party?  The answer is no, because they did not choose to do something easy.  They took the hard road with The Edges of Twilight.

There are many excellent songs on the album, including another single “Sister Awake”, one of the most complex tracks.  There are heavy electric blues tracks like “Turn the Lamp Down Low” and “Drawing Down the Moon”, and fully acoustic songs like “Shadows on the Mountainside”.  The best tracks are the most pompous.  Similar to the singles from the CD, tracks such as “Walk With Me” and “Coming Home” are big and bold with loud choruses.  Though not a single, “Walk With Me” is a fan favourite and considered one of their must-haves.

But that’s not all!  After several minutes of silence (oh, the 1990’s!) there is a hidden unlisted bonus track!  “The Edges of Twilight” is a poem written and spoken by Roy Harper backed with music by Jeff Martin.  Having a guy like Harper in the band’s extended family lent them credibility that other bands could not hope for.  And then there’s even another hidden snip of music.  After another silence is a few seconds of a rehearsal of the song “Correspondences”.

Harper also appears on the bonus CD, on a song called “Time” which originally appeared on the 1996 Alhambra EP.  This is a full-on 70 minute Tea Party track with Roy Harper singing instead of Jeff Martin.  Ballady and somber, and then explosively electric, “Time” is a triumph that deserves a second look.  (Other tracks lifted from that EP are acoustic versions of “Inanna” and “Silence”.)  The bonus disc is otherwise loaded with demos, acoustic versions and alternate versions, and live takes.  With the exception of “Time”, this is all purely supplemental stuff and mostly interesting to fans of the band.  The demo versions are remarkable for how near-complete they are.  The band did not need to tinker much with arrangements in the studio.

There are ample liner notes and photos.  Co-producer Ed Stasium praises the CD and says it is one of the top five he has ever been involved in.  Serious praise, but the album deserves it.  The Tea Party took a detour after this into the world of electronica, with 1997’s Transmission.  20 years later, The Edges of Twilight remains the most impressive Tea Party album and the most heady mix of world music and rock and roll.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Crash Karma – Crash Karma (2010)

CRASH KARMA – Crash Karma (2010 E1 Entertainment)

I wrote a review for this album back in 2010, not so glowing.  For me, the album just sat there.  Even though Crash Karma are made up of members of some of my favourite Canadian bands from the 90’s wave of alterna-hard rock, nothing happened.  I did the review, gave it a middling review and forgot about it.

About six months later, I’ll be damned if the whole thing didn’t just suddenly “click” with me. Rethinking my position, I had to re-write my review.  I think Crash Karma works best after a few listens.

Crash Karma consist of Edwin (ex-I Mother Earth) on lead vocals, guitarist Mike Turner (ex-Our Lady Peace), drummer Jeff Burrows (The Tea Party), and someone named Amir Epstein on bass.  They combine some of the best elements of the bands that spawned them. At first I saw a another faceless post-grunge band rocking past their prime, but now I’m getting it a little more. To the contrary, it sounds like these guys have some ideas to get off their chests. Wracked with Mike Turner’s angular guitar riffage and some mature and pensive lyrics by Edwin, this album rocks. Edwin is singing better than he has in years, pushing the voice to the limits we remember from the heady I Mother Earth prime. Turner is rocking much harder than Our Lady Peace, and much more straightforwardly. Burrows, freed of The Tea Party’s exotic leanings, lays down hard fast fills, recorded expertly by Turner. The result is a collection of songs that combines some of the best elements from the original bands, mixed in with some latter-day Rush.  (Edwin is a veteran of Alex Lifeson’s Victor album.)

Best songs include IME-like “Like A Wave” (the opener), “Awake”, and the furious “Fight”. Another track I begrundingly like is “Lost”, a slow one that sounds a bit too close to Edwin’s solo hit “Alive”. The melodies and vibe are suspiciously alike. However there is no filler on this album. It works better as an album, a single piece, than individual songs. Rather than make a road CD with your favourites on it, this one works as a front-to-back listen.

I still don’t like the cover.  The punk dude makes it look like I’m buying something from fucking Simple Plan or Theory Of a Dead Man.  It’s not like the guys’ faces are all that recognizable, even in Canada. It’s a shame because this album just disappeared. I never heard the tracks on the radio and back in the early 90’s, these guys were the kings of radio. I rarely saw it in the stores, I never saw ads for these guys on tour. It seems that this album will appeal to dudes from the post grunge era, not so much for younger kids.  They did release a second album in 2013, called Rock Musique Deluxe (co-produced by Terry Brown) — but I have not heard it yet.  (Send me a copy, E1, and I’ll be happy to review it!)

Crash Karma:  great musicianship, great songs, very good album.   Check it out.

3.5/5 stars
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Part 171: VIDEO – Record Store Gallery

RECORD STORE TALES Part 171:  Record Store Gallery

Part 110: FAQ

For those of you just joining us, I felt now was as good a time as any to answer some FAQ’s about working in a record store in general, and my experience specifically!

RECORD STORE TALES PART 110: FAQ

FAQ 1:  So, it’s just like Empire Records, right?

NO!  Not even close.  We never had a couch.  I hate that movie.

FAQ 2:  I thought working in a record store was supposed to be fun?  Why is your blog so bitchy?

This is something I am trying to be especially conscious of – a good balance.  Yes, working in a record store is fun.  The treasures that float your way, the characters you run into, and the situations can be quite funny/cool/exciting.  But my experience was both sides of the coin.  Being a manager, reporting to a corporate structure, during the beginning of the downloading era had plenty of sucky moments too.  It is easy to look back with the benefit of hindsight and say, “We did this wrong, we missed the boat here, and we messed this up.”   My bottom line has always been to make you laugh and hopefully that happens from time to time!

FAQ 3:  So you got a discount, right?

Yes!  New employees didn’t get one until they were done probation, due to past abuses.  Once it kicked in, it was pretty sweet.  The only thing that we couldn’t get discounts on were rarities.  Anything rare, like let’s say the first Tea Party CD, we were not allowed discounts on.  But that discount allowed my collection to grow 20-fold!

         

FAQ 4:  How do I get a job in a music store?

In my experience, there are two ways.  One is to know somebody that works there to get you in. Keep shopping there and chatting up the staff until they know you.  Another way is to apply like any other job, and have a wealth of musical knowledge to back you up.  I don’t know how important musical knowledge is anymore, with Google able to answer most questions, but that’s how it was for us.

FAQ 5:  What’s the rarest thing you ever saw come in?  

Well, that depends.  Rarity is relative.  What was rare then can be common now.  But one thing for sure was that rare Tea Party album.  I also saw a Japanese import Deep Purple box set.

FAQ 6:  So, it’s just like Empire Records, right?

GAHHHH!