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DVD REVIEW: Rushmore (The Criterion Collection) #WesAndersonBlogathon

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Scan_20160807 (2)RUSHMORE (1998/1999 Criterion DVD)

Directed by Wes Anderson

Whether they know it or not, everybody has their first Wes Anderson movie.  Mine was Rushmore, an easy entry point, and I had never seen anything like it before.  It has a genuine quality, an old-fashioned look, and a killer soundtrack — all Wes Anderson trademarks.

The Criterion Collection (“a continuing series of important classics and contemporary films”) deliver some of the best colour transfers, and that is necessary for any Wes Anderson film.  Soaked in dark but rich colours, Anderson fills his work with vibrancy.  His visual trademarks are apparent right from the first scene, a hilarious fantasy sequence introducing our main protagonist Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman).  Max is more than a dreamer though.  He is a doer.  He dreams things and makes things happen.  As such he is the founding (and sometimes sole) member of multiple clubs at Rushmore Academy.  He writes, produces and directs lavish school plays with no thought given to compromise, or safety.  Unfortunately, Max doesn’t dream much of his own schoolwork, and never seems to get it done.  He is on notice.  Fail one more class, and he’s expelled from the school he loves so much.  Brian Cox (Super Troopers) is excellent as Dr. Guggenheim, the school principal.

Max soon meets steel magnate Herman Blume (Bill Murray), to the tune of “Making Time” by The Creation (1967).  The retro music and formal dress at Rushmore Academy gives the movie a timeless feel.  Could it be the 90’s?  The 80’s?  The 70’s?  Sure, why not.  Instead of working at getting his grades up, Max continues to dream.  He dreams of saving the Latin program in school (for no real reason other than just to do it), and of new teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams).  He’s a charmer, but often with ulterior motives.  He and Blume manage to find a bond together.  That is, before Blume himself falls for Miss Cross.

This leads to a strange rivalry between Max and Blume, with each jockeying for position in the Miss Cross stakes, with little thought given to how she feels about the whole thing.  It also sets up some pretty amusing situations, such as Max trying to build a school aquarium for Miss Cross.  He almost succeeds, too.  Max is a hard character to read, as he often wants to make certain impressions.  Blume, on the other hand, is clearly depressed, living in a sham of a marriage with two barbarian sons he doesn’t even seem to like. As their rivalry grows in intensity, so does the music, culminating in The Who’s epic live version of a “A Quick One While He’s Away” from the deluxe version of Live at Leeds.  Wes Anderson has a knack for a musical montage too, and Cat Stevens’ “Here Comes My Baby” is host to one such montage.  (Stevens also appears later on with “The Wind” in another song-appropriate scene.)   The Stones’ “I Am Waiting” is more great music for marking the passage of time.

Max might not have been the best student, but genius does not always get good grades.  His plays have an epic scope, and his aquarium does too:  $35,000 cost, just for the initial plans.  (Some of the aquatic movie footage that Max views may foreshadow a future Anderson film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, starring Bill Murray).  He’s also a perfectionist.  When it comes to his plays, every line matters.  “Don’t fuck with my play!” he screams to the star of his version of Serpico, right before getting punched right in the nose.  Finally young Max possesses a razor sharp wit, which he uses at will especially when it comes to those he considers love rivals, like Peter Flynn (Luke Wilson).

Rushmore is an ode to the creative mind.  After some humbling experiences, Max learns to use his inventiveness to bring people together.  His final triumph, to the strains of “Ooh La La” (The Small Faces), is to bring all the film’s characters (even the bully student Magnus) together in solidarity.  It’s all done with plenty of laughs, smiles and a few tears.

Wes Anderson utilizes a cast of talents he would work with repeatedly, with Bill Murray being the most obvious.  Kumar Pallana as Mr. Litteljeans, the groundskeeper, was an Anderson regular.  Brian Cox, who also participated in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, brings a sour delight to Dr. Guggenheim.   Secret weapon in this movie however is Mason Gamble as Max’s ally Dirk Calloway.  Another Anderson trademark is that each frame possesses astonishing detail and visual information.  Like beautifully painted and impossibly detailed storyboards, his scenes have a life and tell a million stories in the background.  Much like one of Max’s plays, actually.

Without a doubt, one of the best special DVD features is a selection of play adaptations by the Max Fischer Players, from the 1999 MTV Movie Awards.  The players do their own on-stage takes of:  Armageddon, The Truman Show, and Out of Sight.  MTV were producing some very funny bits for their movie award shows at the time, and these are some of the best. Utilizing the original cast and familiar music from the film, these feel like a fairly natural extension of Rushmore.

Other valuable trinkets include an on-screen program for Max’s Vietnam drama Heaven & Hell, and his adaptation of Serpico.  Of course there must be an audio commentary and that is by Wes Anderson, co-writer Owen Wilson, and star Jason Schwartzman.  There are also the requisite making-of featurettes and supplements.  The biggest selling feature of this Criterion edition for those who value physical products is the giant fold-out map.  From here you can follow the events of the movie on a delightful full colour sketch by movie artist (and director’s brother) E.C. Anderson.  In fact all the packaging for this DVD was designed by Anderson.

5/5 stars

RUSHMORE MAP

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REVIEW: Rachel Fuller presents: In the Attic with Pete Townsend & friends (2 CD/1 DVD)

Hey folks! It’s The Best Fucking Collaboration Week Ever, Pt. 2! Just like last time, Mike and Aaron will be doing simultaneous daily reviews of albums these two intrepid music reporters have sent to each other. Buckle up, buttercups, it’s gonna be a blast!

RACHEL FULLER presents: In The Attic with Pete Townsend & friends (2009 Eel Pie 2 CD/1 DVD set)

A long time ago, Aaron found this triple disc set at Giant Tiger, for the ridiculously low price of $1.00!  Not being a foolish man, Aaron bought three of them.  One for me, one for the Heavy Metal OverloRd, and one for himself!

Pete Townsend and Rachel Fuller are life partners and musical collaborators.  She hosted a web show called In the Attic that featured performers from all over the musical spectrum.  The Pete Townsend & Friends installment was gifted to me by buddy Aaron!  What he did not know is this:  I’m only a casual Townsend fan (not a collector), but by buying me this, he added some more Tenacious D to my collection of that band!

The DVD contains most (but not all) of the same material as CD, but also a lot more.  For example Tenacious D’s “Tribute” is only on the DVD.  Jack Black was suffering from strep throat that night, and they had to lower the song an octave. For a guy with a sore throat, he still sings pretty great…and even more demonic and evil!  Their “Tommy Medley” is damn impressive, but it’s really too bad that Jack wasn’t in full voice.  Kyle Gass apologized to Pete for this jokey, uber-fast medley, but I don’t think the apology was necessary, since Pete yelled for an encore!

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Joe Purdy was unfamiliar to me before, a folk musician with a large discography.  When he invites his dad Dad onstage, and Pete Townsend fixes his mic stand, there is a brief “we’re not worthy” moment that must have been mind-blowing.  The pair does an original song called “Daisy” (great bluegrass) before Joe performs a couple more: “Let My Love Open the Door” and “Talk About Suffering”, both with Pete.  “Let My Love Open the Door” is the familiar Townsend classic, and delightful in its tender acoustic guise.

Rachel Fuller then performs her original song “Sir Walter Raleigh”, an f-bomb laden piano ballad!  A song is cut here from the DVD, another Fuller original called “I Can Fly”, on CD 1.  This pretty song is a nice contrast.  British solo artist Alexi Murdoch is next with two songs, both originals:  “Dream About Flying” and “Orange Sky”.  His impressive bluesy picking creates a dark folk sound on these songs.  “Orange Sky” is performed with Pete and Rachel which I would imagine reduces most people to jelly.  Imagine having Pete Townsend and his significant other playing on a song YOU wrote….

Most folks should be familiar with Ben Harper who takes the stage next with cellos and violins!  “Please Bleed” is incredible.  With Pete, he does his hit “Diamonds on the Inside”, still great today.  Finally, and still with Pete, they do “I’m One” from Quadrophenia together.  I imagine this is something you would stroke off a bucket list.  “I want this to last a really long time!” says Ben mid-song.

The final guest of the evening is Pete himself, with four acoustic songs.  “The Real Me” takes on a funky vibe, but brilliant as always.  “Acid Queen”, “Drowned” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” complete this Who set.  Even just solo on an acoustic guitar, this set is incredible.  Townsend’s presence and expertise soak through every note.

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That’s the end of that night’s show, but not the end of the DVD.  The release is split in two sections – “The Hotel Cafe” and “Joe’s Pub”.  The “Joe’s Pub” section has plenty more big name stars.  This came from a traveling version of Fuller’s show, shadowing the Who at their festival gigs.  In New York, they did a show at Joe’s Pub, and the first guest was a starstruck Amos Lee.  His two songs are “What’s Been Going On” and “Freedom” (CD only), with special accompaniment by Pete himself.  “What’s Been Going On” is an incredible moment of folk power and feeling.  “Freedom” celebrates with a big soulful chorus.  These are great songs.

Rachel Fuller played two songs at Joe’s Pub:  “Jigsaw” (CD only) and “Cigarettes and Housework” (what, you mean you and Pete can’t afford a maid to do the housework?).  “Jigsaw” is bright and pretty with lyrical references to some certain Who songs!  Fuller’s remarkable voice is the main feature on the sparse “Cigarettes and Housework”.

Of all people, Jimmy Fallon is next.  “Carwash for Peace” reveals that he actually has a pretty good singing voice.  It’s a silly but fun sing-along.  “Let’s have a car wash for peace, there’s trouble in the Middle East,” he sings.  If we do this, there’ll be no more wars, or dirty cars!  It’s hard to argue with that logic.  “President’s Day” is a folksy send-up on the subject of getting totally wasted on President’s Day, because hey, it’s a day off.  “Beer and a shot with my man Dick Cheney!”  Hey, it was 2007, still the Bush years.

Rachael Yamagata takes the stage with Pete Townsend and Kevin Salem for “Paper Doll”, a sultry original acoustic number with some amazing soulful singing.  There’s a nice moment on the DVD when Rachael smiles, looking at Pete playing her song, a real “pinch me” experience I’m sure.  Her other song, “Be Be My Love” (CD only) has a similar chord progression as Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There For You”.  This is her first song on her first album and I’m sure any similarity is coincidental.  Then it’s Townsend’s turn to go it alone, with “Acid Queen” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (both CD only).

The final guest on this set is Mr. Lou Reed.  “White Light/White Heat” with Pete is a moment so gravitous* that news reports suggest a new black hole formed over New York that night!  “Pale Blue Eyes”, with accompaniment by Pete on the chorus, is delicate and weighty at once.

For a mere buck, I would postulate that In the Attic with Pete Townsend & friends has to have the most bang-per-dollar value of any purchase made for my collection.  This is great stuff for music fans of all tastes.

4/5 stars

* Not an actual word.

 

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Raise the Dead: Live from Wacken (2 CD/1 Blu-ray)

NEW-ish RELEASE

Epic review time.

ALICE COOPER – Raise the Dead: Live from Wacken (2CD/1 Blu-ray, 2014 UDR)

This beast of a set was a gift from the ever-faithful Aaron, and I do thank you so much for it.  Alice Cooper in 1080i hi-def, 5.1 surround sound.  The CD has more songs than the Blu-ray, so I’m going to review both simultaneously, but let you know when it’s a track that’s exclusive to CD.  Let’s give’r!

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“Hello Hooray”!  It’s still daylight in Wacken, when Alice proclaims to “let the show begin, I’ve been ready”.  Alice is resplendent in his sharp red and black stripped tux.  Australian beauty Orianthi has a drip of blood in the corner her mouth, and smears of it on her guitar and arms.  “Hello Hooray” leads directly into a modern version of 1989’s “House of Fire”.  With the three guitars live, it has a lot more bite to it, and neat six-string twists.  (“House of Fire” briefly segues into the riff from “With a Little Help From My Friends”.  Remember that.  That’s important.)  Not letting up for a second, it’s into “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and then immediately “Under My Wheels”!  There’s simply no let up as the crowd starts surfing.  Alice’s six piece band are visual and boast three lead soloists.

IMG_20150102_104812Newer song “I’ll Bite Your Face Off” is one of only two songs from Welcome 2 My Nightmare.  The cool thing is how easily Orianthi digs into the vintage guitar stylings of it.  She is an absolute natural.  Even though there are four other talented musicians on stage, she commands attention without even trying.  Alice chases her around the stage, as she casually throws down classic guitar licks.  He has changed into a black leather jacket.

“Billion Dollars Babies” takes the focus temporarily back to the oldies.  Alice wields a sword impaled with money, taunting the crowd.  The wheels temporarily come off with “Caffeine”.  I always welcome newer material, but I’d prefer just about any other song from Welcome 2.  Alice has traded the sword for a giant coffee mug that he holds dear like his “precious”.  Thankfully Orianthi lays down a blazing solo (actually two) , because otherwise I’d say this is my song on which to pee.  But, I wouldn’t want to miss the classic “Department of Youth” from the original Welcome to my Nightmare, one of my top 10 Alice tracks of all time.

I like a rock show with variety, so I’m glad Alice pulled “Hey Stoopid” out of his 1991 hat.  In the 5.1 mix, I don’t like the way some of the guitars just kind of drop out in the verses of this arrangement.  I’ll have to listen to that again.  It didn’t sound right.  Otherwise it’s great with plenty of shredding.  “Dirty Diamonds” was another surprise.  I saw Alice play that one here in Kitchener on the Dirty Diamonds tour.  That whole album is excellent, but the title track has a smoking riff.   Drummer Glen Sobol gets a moment in the spotlight, accompanied by bassist Chuck Garric.  A drum solo in the middle of an Alice Cooper show is not always a good thing, but this is actually a cool, worthwhile solo.  There’s some crazy hand-over-hand stuff, tricks with sticks, and interesting cymbal work.  Then it’s Orianthi’s turn.  She is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the best guitar players out there today.  Every note is worth something.  The whole band come together at the front line, and the crowd goes nuts!  Meanwhile….

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As good as the solos are, in the context of the Alice Cooper show, they were merely a distraction.  Where did Alice go?  The opening strains of “Welcome to My Nightmare” indicate Act II has begun.  He has emerged as the Showman.  Weilding a dagger in one hand, he leads the charge into 1976’s “Go to Hell”.  The two songs serve as a wicked intro to the theatrical part of the show.  Alice attacks lead soloist Ryan Roxie with a whip, but it doesn’t phase the guitarist who safely evades him.

IMG_20150102_120925Out of Alice’s trick bag comes “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” the legendary campy 80’s theme from Friday the 13th Part III.  Stripped of the keyboards and drum machines, it functions as a living, rocking entity.  The three guitars enable the band to fill the spaces previously played by synths in the studio.  Orianthi’s guitar solo just leaves my jaw on the floor.   Keeping with the monster theme is “Feed My Frankenstein” from Hey Stoopid and Wayne’s World.  Alice has changed into a blood smeared smock.  He is strapped to an evil looking device by “Igor” and electrocuted!  Then a monster-sized Franken-Alice appears to finish the song!  The real Alice returns in a straight jacket for the still haunting “Dwight Fry”.  This most intense Cooper classic is well served by three guitarists, loaning a “Freebird” epic quality to it live.  “I’ve gotta get out of here!” screams Alice with the agony he manages to muster for every performance.  Breaking free of his bonds, he attacks Nurse Sheryl, only be executed to the tune of the exit music from “Killer”.  It’s the guillotine again for Alice Cooper.  His head is hoisted into the air by a black-clad executioner to a chorus of “I Love the Dead” (Alice singing off-stage).  Act II is over.  Act III is beginning.

Though uncredited, the opening music for “DaDa” (from 1983’s DaDa, a cool cameo) plays as Alice is surgically resurrected in the graveyard of the Hollywood Vampires. The Hollywood Vampires were the drinking club down at the Rainbow…the teachers and the students.  Lennon and Keith Moon passed down the ways of drinking to the likes of Vincent Furnier and Marc Bolan. A voice booms to Alice, “What are you going to do?  Raise the dead?”  So that’s what Alice does….

RAISE THE DEAD 2_0001First it’s Morrison.  The Doors’ “Break on Through” finally has balls to it!  I never liked the Doors.  I like Alice doing the Doors, so they can’t be all that bad.  What’s interesting is how Alice can morph his voice to suit these covers.  He uses a lower, howling early Alice voice to do the Doors.  For the next track, “Revolution” (exclusive to CD) he uses his nasal Cooper voice, to cop that Beatles feel.  He also does the opening McCartney scream…of course.  You have to have that.  The band hit the high backing notes perfectly too.  The classic riff to “Foxy Lady”(exclusive to CD) indicates that Jimi Hendrix is the next Hollywood Vampire to be honored.  Another cool connection is that both Alice and Jimi were important musical icons honored in the movie Wayne’s World.  And the song was “Foxy Lady”.  Next it’s Keith Moon and “My Generation”.  Chuck Garric gets a moment to shine on those glorious Entwistle bass licks.  It’s quite a bit more modern and slick than the Who’s, but the backing vocals are remarkably authentic.

Thematically “My Generation” connects to “I’m Eighteen”.  Ryan Roxie and Orianthi both play solos on “Eighteen”, and smoke each one.  Then, “Poison” is the final song of the set, a slick reminder that Alice Cooper survived the 1970’s only to become more popular than ever in the 80’s, 90’s and present.  “Poison” has stood the test of time.  It’s not a particularly simple song; just listen to those backing vocals.  They have to be right, they can’t be off.  Although I hadn’t really thought of “Poison” as a set closer, it does work in that slot and ends the show on a celebratory note.

RAISE THE DEAD 2_0003The encore of “School’s Out” is the real celebration of course; the stage ablaze with lights and Alice clad in gold.  It’s a mash-up with “Another Brick in the Wall”, proving again that mash-ups can sometimes produce fascinating results.   I love Alice’s stage introductions for the musicians.  “In a world where evil has a name, and that name is…Orianthi!  And playing the part of Alice Cooper tonight…me!”

But Nurse Sheryl returns to the stage one last time and stabs Alice!  I have a feeling our anti-hero will be back to terrorize us again on another tour….

There is only one Blu-ray bonus feature.  The pre-Wacken interview with Alice is cool because it’s completely uncut.  It’s only 20 minutes, but it’s insightful. Cooper is always a pleasure to listen to.  The concept behind Raise the Dead revolves around his old, long gone buddies from the Hollywood Vampire.  With this show, Cooper is paying tribute back to those guys, his idols and friends.  The show has some history to it, he says.  A little bit of a lesson.  But the kids already know the songs, says Alice.  The tunes like “Foxy Lady” and “Break on Through” are already familiar to them.  Every kid seems to own a classic rock T-shirt.

Cooper muses that his live show is probably as close to Broadway as many of his new young fans will ever see.  He reminds us that he has his own Broadway influences — “Gutter Cat vs. the Jets” from West Side Story, for example.  His own solo band is so tight now that he doesn’t have to worry about the music part.  Alice can get on with the show and performance, because the music is in good hands.  He has particular praise for the stage presence and chops of Orianthi.  As for the show, It’s no longer about shock, says Alice.  You can’t shock the audience anymore.  Now, it’s about entertainment.  Give them something entertaining and of good value.

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The hidden theme in the show is that everything is connected.  The kids pick up on the connections behind the music.  “School’s Out” and “Another Brick in the Wall” are presented as a medley.  Who produced both songs? Whose kids are on both songs? Bob Ezrin.  Connections!

The Blu-ray also has a substantial booklet included, the kind of thing that people who buy physical product still care about.  I’d rather have this than a crappy photo slide show or text on a DVD.  My only quibble is that I was underwhelmed by the 5.1 mix.  I may have had my setting messed up, and I will have to try again.  It was “Hey Stoopid” where this was particularly unpleasant to me.  I’ll have to check that and try again.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the CDs, which sound friggin’ great.

4.5/5 stars

This product is…

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REVIEW: W.A.S.P. – The Headless Children (Remastered)

WASP HEADLESS CHILDREN_0001W.A.S.P. – The Headless Children (1998 Sanctuary remaster, originally 1989)

When this album came out in ’89, my friends gave me a hard time for buying it. “You still listening to W.A.S.P.? Don’t they suck?” Then later on that summer, the ballad “Forever Free” was released as a single, and suddenly everybody wanted to tape my W.A.S.P. album! Funny how that worked out.

This is W.A.S.P.’s best. As far as the early stuff goes, It’s their meanest, heaviest, most aggressive and honest record. It’s the last before Chris Holmes split (for the first time anyway) and it has Frankie Banali (Quiet Riot) on drums. This is it. If you’re going to own one W.A.S.P. album, it has to be this one. The first single “The Real Me” (a Townshend-approved Who cover) was misleading, as the album is much heavier than that. The title track, “Thunderhead”, and especially “The Heretic” all kick some serious metallic ass. Double-bass, fast riffs, eerie Sabbathy organ, it’s all here.

Blackie outdid himself on this one, even his concept album opus The Crimson Idol couldn’t top it. Lyrically this is (mostly) more serious territory, tackling subjects such as hard drugs, Reagan, and the decline of western civilization. Occasionally they lapse back into joke material (“Mean Man”) but soon it’s back to serious rocking.

Blackie was inspired to get serious by his old song, “B.A.D.” from the first album. A fan had come up to Blackie and said that song had helped her kick drugs. It was the line, “It’s the bloody fix you do” that inspired her to quit. Blackie realized, “Here we did this thing without even trying. What could we do if we tried?”

Hence, songs like “Thunderhead”. Even the excellent ballad “Forever Free” has some serious spirit to it, an ode to someone who is no longer with us. Regardless of the lyrics, music is the most important thing, and The Headless Children is W.A.S.P.’s strongest collection of music to date. It was all there:  heavy metal with solid riffs and influences dating back to the roots. Mood wise, we are firmly in the blackest of Sabbath territory on many songs.

The bonus material is interesting on the remastered edition. “Locomotive Breath” is a W.A.S.P.-ified version of a Jethro Tull classic, much simpler but heavy as lead. Other tracks are outtakes, and some musical and lyrical bits would be re-used on Crimson Idol. See if you can spot them.  The closing track “Blind In Texas” (a live B-side) is unfortunately a useless version with some drunk dude being invited to sing the chorus. A waste of plastic.  Fortunately the rest of the album proper makes up for it.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Poison – Hollyweird (2002)

Dedicated to Iron Tom Sharpe, who doesn’t understand that sometimes you just have to blow off steam and review a shitty album.


POISON – Hollyweird (2002 Cyanide Music)

I have a soft spot for Poison, and I have every album. Every album that is, except Hollyweird. After several spins in-store, I realized this was never an album I was going to listen to again. (Although I did, for this review actually — you’re welcome.)  Let’s face it, a “classic Poison lineup” reunion is not exactly earthshaking, especially when they traded down a true maestro in Blues Saraceno for CC to return. Not to mention Richie Kotzen before him.  CC will never be classified as a guitar hero. It’s CC’s songwriting that he brings to the Poison table, that and some sloppily good rhythms. However Poison’s songwriting on Hollyweird is much like the production values — flat and dull.

13 songs clocking in at just over 40 minutes, this is a collection of short pop rockers and ballads. The cover of “Squeeze Box” is pretty putrid, and Who fans would cringe if they happened upon it.  Most of the originals are just plain dull, lacking the bombast, hooks, flash and excitement of any previous Poison album, Native Tongue included. If only Poison could have continued along the lines that they were pursuing with Crack A Smile, or even re-recorded it with CC. Alas, this is the worst of all Poison studio albums, and it was such a lame duck that the band never recorded another one (as of 2014, this is the most recent Poison studio album aside from the covers-only Poison’d).

The opening and riff to “Hollyweird” is pretty decent, but the song itself is pretty suck-tastic.  Maybe I should take back what I said about CC.  He’s the only good thing about this song.  “Shooting Star” (a supposed sequel to “Fallen Angel”) is annoyingly bass heavy, and Bobby Dall ain’t that great a bassist.  CC’s riff is the only good thing about it, since the chorus is drowned out in mush.  Thom Panuzio isn’t a hack producer by any stretch, but he didn’t even show up on Hollyweird.  Then, somebody thought it would be a good idea to let CC DeVille sing lead on “Emperor’s New Clothes”.  The sad thing is it’s one of the better songs (even though it sounds more like Sum 41 than Poison).  CC sings three songs on Hollyweird, but who cares?

Lowlights:  Stinky “Squeeze Box,” whack “Wishful Thinkin’,” generic “Get Ya Some,” dull “Devil Woman,” horrible “Home”…or should I say “Homes,” since both Bret and CC have their own versions of this pop-punk wannabe? (In a row!)

Highlights:  “Wasteland,” maybe.

Tired, dull, derivative…pick your adjective.

1/5 stars

  1. “Hollyweird” – 3:15
  2. “Squeeze Box” – 2:32 (The Who cover)
  3. “Shooting Star” – 4:39
  4. “Wishful Thinkin'” – 2:49
  5. “Get ‘Ya Some” – 4:22
  6. “Emperor’s New Clothes” – 2:15
  7. “Devil Woman” – 3:47
  8. “Wasteland” – 3:56
  9. “Livin’ In The Now” – 2:37
  10. “Stupid, Stoned & Dumb” – 3:10
  11. “Home” (Bret’s Story) – 2:49
  12. “Home” (C.C.’s Story) – 2:47
  13. “Rockstar” – 3:33

Sausagefest XII: MY top 20 picks

SAM_2878Most of the stuff I picked this year was too obscure.  Stuff like “The Cut Runs Deep” by Deep Purple.  “The Hockey Theme” by Neil Peart.  “Wall of Sound” by Kiss.

I did however vote for the Countdown’s #1 song, “Toronto Tontos” by Max Webster.  It was 33rd on my list, but six people also picked it, putting it at the #1 spot on Saturday night.

Four picks from my top 20 made the countdown:  “Die Young”, “Zero the Hero”, “Caught Somewhere in Time”, and “Breadfan”!

So, here were my top 20 picks.  Tomorrow, I will post the entire Countdown!  Stay tuned…

1 HERBIE HANCOCK WELL YOU NEEDN’T
2 IRON MAIDEN FOR THE GREATER GOOD OF GOD
3 BLACK SABBATH DIE YOUNG
4 KISS BLACK DIAMOND
5 QUEEN IT’S LATE
6 UFO LOVE TO LOVE
7 ALICE COOPER BALLAD OF DWIGHT FRY
8 JOHNNY CASH DON’T TAKE YOUR GUNS TO TOWN
9 TED NUGENT GREAT WHITE BUFFALO
10 QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE IF ONLY
11 THE WHO A QUICK ONE
12 BRANT BJORK CHICO
13 JUDAS PRIEST THE RIPPER
14 IRON MAIDEN CAUGHT SOMEWHERE IN TIME
15 BLACK SABBATH ZERO THE HERO
16 FAITH NO MORE SURPRISE YOU’RE DEAD
17 FAITH NO MORE LAND OF SUNSHINE
18 FAITH NO MORE EVIDENCE
19 BUDGIE WHISKEY RIVER
20 BUDGIE BREADFAN

The official video

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – No Prayer For the Dying (1990, 1996 bonus disc)

Part 13 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – No Prayer For the Dying (1990, 1996 bonus disc)

Regrouping after a six-month break, Maiden returned to writing mode a changed Beast.

The Seventh Son of a Seventh Son album was artistically rewarding but the band were eager to return to their stripped down heavy metal roots and make a live-sounding album more like Killers or The Number of the Beast, without the production values and ten minute songs that were becoming the norm.

Both Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson were coming off solo albums (A.S.a.P.’s Silver and Gold featuring Zak Starkey (Oasis, The Who), and Bruce’s Tattooed Millionaire).  Bruce’s was successful commercially and critically, Adrian’s less so.   Still, it came as a complete shock to the fans when it was announced that Adrian Smith had left Iron Maiden.

Or, perhaps, been nudged out.  Steve Harris was worried that Adrian was becoming unhappy, and it was especially obvious during the writing sessions for the next album.  While Steve, Dave and Bruce were contributing heavy songs, the usually prolific Adrian had nothing but a song called “Hooks In You” that he had written with Bruce.  He was clearly unhappy that Maiden were not progressing down the road pointed to by Seventh Son, and were going heavier.  Steve took him aside.

When asked how into it he was, the answer came “about 80%”.  Steve has always had a simple policy for membership in his band — you had to be into it 110%, or it wouldn’t work.  The fans wouldn’t buy it, and Steve couldn’t look them in the eye knowing somebody on stage wasn’t completely into it.  Adrian was out.

The band already knew Janick Gers, and he and Bruce had developed a successful writing partnership on his Tattooed Millionaire solo disc.  Janick was nevertheless shocked when Bruce phoned him up and asked him to learn some Iron Maiden numbers.  Janick initially said no, because he assumed Bruce was talking about his solo project, and they had already agreed to do no Maiden numbers.  When Bruce explained it wasn’t for the solo band, it was for Maiden, Janick was horrified.

Janick Gers was really the only guy I can think of that was right for Maiden, also being from the era of the NWOBHM bands (White Spirit).  He’d also been in Gillan (the incredible Magic album) and worked with Fish.  The songs for the album were already written, all Janick had to do was head over to Steve’s farm, where they were recording the album, and learn the songs.

But that’s all just background, just context.  That’s all important, especially to this album, but what is also important is the bottom line.  And the bottom line is that this is the first time Maiden turned in something that was almost universally received as a disappointment.

While some fans were clamoring for a return to basic heavy metal songs, short and bangin’ and to the point, others preferred the epic scale of Seventh Son.  And it was clear that you can’t just replace Adrian Smith.  The songs on the new album, titled No Prayer For the Dying, seemed less finished and not quite up to standard.  Not to mention Janick and Dave hadn’t had time to properly gel together, and never quite sync up on this album the way Dave did with Adrian.

The opening song “Tailgunner” is good enough though, not quite an “Aces High” but certainly adequate.  Being tailgunner might have been the worst job on the Lancaster bomber, since it didn’t have a belly gunner! (Neither did Enola Gay, tailgunner was certainly the worst job on a B-29)!  But Steve and Bruce failed to really nail it lyrically, with lines such as “nail that Fokker, kill that son, gunna blow your guts out with my gun” not living up to past Maiden historic glories.

Steve and Bruce also wrote “Holy Smoke”, the first single.  This reckless fast number showcased a manic Janick Gers solo, demonstrating how different he was from Adrian.  Where Adrian used to compose solos with beginnings, middles and endings, Janick just went for it!  Dave was also somewhere between the two approaches.  Now, without Adrian’s melodic touch, the band were moving sharply to a more live and spontaneous guitar style.

“Holy Smoke” is about TV preachers, and while they always make a good target in heavy metal songs (I prefer Ozzy’s “Miracle Man”) this one also fails to excite.  As a song it doesn’t have much in terms of melody.  On No Prayer, Bruce is shouting as often as he’s singing, and with the songs’ new emphasis on raw power, there’s less memorable melody to go around.  Janick’s manic gonzo solo does fit the vibe of the song!

The title track is third, a number that tries to be an epic in under 5 minutes.  It does indeed have all of the trademark qualities of a Maiden epic except the length:  Multiple parts, multiple tempos, soul-searching Steve lyrics, and ample anthemic guitar melody.  Yet the song fails to nail it home like, say, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” did.

Better is the badly titled “Public Enema Number One”.  This Dickinson/Murray rocker is riffy, straightforward with some decent melodic bits.  But again Bruce is hoarsely shouting the verses, and the song careens from section to section that don’t feel like they quite all fit together probably.  Like other songs on No Prayer, the song sounds slightly unfinished.

And better again is “Fates Warning”, this time written by Steve and Dave.  The opening soft guitar part is a nice change of pace, and a great example of Dave Murray’s tremendous feel.  Perhaps in a past life he was a bluesman.  Nicko then kicks the song into gear while Steve’s lyrics question the seemingly random nature of life and death.  In the middle, is an old-school dual Maiden guitar lead, before Dave nails another perfect one of his own.

Side two begins with the stuttery “The Assassin”.  Written solo by Steve, it is rhythmically complex as it is propelled forward.  It has a fairly decent chorus but it doesn’t quite resolve itself nicely.  Some of the guitar and bass melodies are reminiscent of “To Tame A Land” from Piece of Mind.

This is followed by the superior “Run Silent Run Deep”  Submarine warfare is a good topic for a Maiden song, and the song chugs forward like those big diesel engines.  This is one of the better songs on No Prayer.  Steve and Bruce wrote it together, and Nicko’s precise drum fills accent the song perfectly.

Next is the worst song on the album:  Bruce and Adrian’s “Hooks In You”.  Lyrically this is one of the worst things ever on a Maiden album. Judging by the opening line, “Got the keys to view at number 22,” it sounds like Charlotte is back to her old tricks.  Unfortunately, the band subjected people to this song live.  I’ll admit it’s got a great little riff, but Bruce’s shout-growl vocals, lack of melody, and lack of any lyrical intelligence just sinks this one.

And then the baffling #1 single, “Bring Your Daughter…to the Slaughter”.  This Bruce song is actually an outtake from his solo project.  He recorded and released the original version with Janick Gers on the soundtrack to A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.  I seem to remember that soundtrack being panned as “the worst soundtrack of all time” at one point.  Steve heard the song, went nuts, and said, “Don’t put it on your solo album:  I want to save this one for Maiden.”

Somehow, Steve was right, as it went straight to #1 in the UK, the first and only time this has happened to Iron Maiden.  I don’t get it.  I don’t get what people like about this song.

“Mother Russia” ends the album on a sour note.  Lyrically simple, musically pretty good, “Mother Russia” is certainly not up to the standards of past Maiden album closers.  Although it tries to be an epic along the lines of “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” (featuring a similar keyboard section in the middle), it’s just not as great as past epics.  At five and a half minutes, “Mother Russia” is the longest song on No Prayer.  It is made up of excellent components; I like the melody and the solos big time, but it’s just…not comparable in quality.

Nicko McBrain said on MuchMusic that No Prayer was “the best Iron Maiden yet.”  Steve said that the album’s biggest problem is that it didn’t sound live enough without an audience track.  I disagree with both.  I think the album has an abnormally high quantity of unfinished songs and filler.

Even the cover art was substandard.  To go with the live, stripped down sound, Riggs too stripped his artwork of the symbolism and fantasy.  Instead, Eddie goes for the throat of a groundskeeper as he emerges (once again) from the grave.  All hints to continuity are gone, as Eddie’s lost his lobotomy scar, cybernetic implants, and that bolt that kept his skull on!  He even has his hair back.  I guess somebody wasn’t happy with the artwork, because it was heavily tweaked for the 1998 remaster, repainting much of it and removing the groundskeeper.

The B-sides to the first single, “Holy Smoke” were the excellent “All In Your Mind” (a cover from somebody called Stray) and Golden Earring’s “Kill Me Ce Soir”.  Both songs are pretty damn good.  I prefer both to some of the album tracks!

“Bring Your Daughter” had two of its own B-sides:  “Communication Breakdown” and “I’m A Mover”.  Maiden tackle Led Zeppelin and Free less successfully than they did they other two B-sides.  “I’m A Mover” ain’t bad as it allows Maiden to get into a groove they normally wouldn’t, and Bruce seems to have fun with the vocal.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Glenn Tipton – Baptizm Of Fire (1997, 2006 reissue)

GLENN TIPTON – Baptizm Of Fire (1997, 2006 reissue)

One cool thing about working in a record store:  I actually bought this album 3 times.  Essentially, I bought it once and the other two times were upgrades!  When it first came out in 1997, I ordered in three copies — one for myself, and one each for my regular customers Len and Shane.  Then another regular, Conrad, traded in the Japanese version.  I upgraded mine, trading it in and paying the slight difference.  Then in 2006 when the remastered edition came out (with the addition of the bonus track “New Breed”), I traded up once more, this time getting some money back for my Japanese printing.  All for an album I don’t even like that much! 

In fact, if this album came out today, without my staff discounts, most likely I would have skipped it. Back then though, things were very different.  Priest was seemingly on ice since 1991.  There wasn’t a new Priest album to look forward to. Halford’s most recent solo material (Fight’s A Small Deadly Space) had failed to excite me the way his debut album had.  Now it was now up to Glenn to carry the Priest flag for me, and I eagerly ordered three copies of his debut solo CD from our distributor, for me and my customers.

The problem with Baptizm of Fire is, sadly, Glenn’s voice. Glenn’s always sung backup vocals with Priest, but as a lead…sorry. I don’t think so. Sounding like an out-of-breath Dave Mustaine, Glenn definitely gives it his all, which just isn’t enough.  Not for metal this powerful.  You need a soaring vocal to give you a melody to sing along to, not to whisper.

The songs are good enough though. I really liked “Fuel Me Up”, “Hard Core”, and “Extinct”. Back then, mainstream magazines like Rolling Stone treated rockers like Tipton as dinosaurs, better off extinct!  Well today, things have changed and they are considered living legends. Such was the 90’s! Tiptop furiously refutes the claim that he was a dinosaur in “Extinct”, one of the best songs on Baptizm Of Fire.

The original Japanese bonus track, “Himalaya” is included on the remaster, a tribute to the Japanese people according to the liner notes on that version of the CD. Well, Glenn, I am really sorry to be the one to break this to you. Japan is nowhere near the Himalayas. I’m not sure I get it.  The other bonus track is included, “New Breed” is of unknown origin but I assume from the album sessions.

In fact so much was recorded that there’s a companion album available:  Edge of the World, consisting of tracks recorded with the late John Entwistle and Cozy Powell.  More outtakes, they were released under the name Tipton, Enwistle & Powell

Glenn generated some pre-release hype by loading up this album with guests. Besides the aformentioned Entwistle and Powell, there’s also the devastating Billy Sheehan, Rob Trujillo, Neil Murray on bass! Cozy Powell on drums! Don Airey on keys! And Ugly Kid Joe drummer, the excellent Shannon Larkin!  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the performances.

Production-wise, this is a little over-processed sounding, a bit like the soon to come Jugulator album by Judas Priest.  Tipton had a hand in producing both. 

I’m sorry Glenn. I really wanted to love your solo album, but today it sits on a shelf, seldomly played. Sorry man.

2/5 stars

  1. “Hard Core” – 4:39
  2. “Paint It Black” – 2:56 (yup…Stones cover…and not that good) 
  3. “Enter the Storm” – 5:56
  4. “Fuel Me Up” – 3:02
  5. “Extinct” – 5:33
  6. “Baptizm of Fire” (Instrumental)5:16 (one of the best tracks if not the best!)
  7. “The Healer” – 4:56
  8. “Cruise Control” – 4:08
  9. “Kill or Be Killed” – 3:21
  10. “Voodoo Brother” – 5:36
  11. “Left for Dead” – 3:45
  12. “Himalaya” (Bonus track on Japanese and remastered editions)
  13. “New Breed” (Bonus track on remastered edition)

Part 40: Record Store Bands

All record stores have their fare share of record store bands.  The names are fading into obscurity, but there are two that I still remember because I still listen to the CD’s more than a decade later.

It doesn’t matter if a band ever makes it big, or if you’re the only fan.  If the music moves you enough to still listen to it over a decade later, then that is all that matters.  Two bands that I still listen to over a decade later are Here Comes Jim and The Candidates.

Both Here Comes Jim and The Candidares were bands fromCambridge, Ontario Canada.  They were “our” bands – made up of record store guys, our friends, and talented ones at that.  They didn’t sound anything alike, but in my opinion, both had the potential to get signed.

THE CANDIDATES

This four-piece was a rock band influenced by The Who, The Jam, and the mod scene in general.  They started out with all four members wearing suits and ties on stage but this later evolved into a looser image.  Their stage presence was such that they could have played a hockey barn, as they acted as if there was a thousand people in the audience even if there were only a handful.  Their tunes were solid, well composed, and well played.  They boasted three lead vocalists, including this guy Neil M, who came all the way from Scotland to rock the tri-cities.

Their tunes were full of attitude.  For example, “Who’s Your Daddy Now” was a song written for Trevor, about this girl that ended up using him for a ride to her home town (Ottawa) and then breaking it off.  She was obsessed with pictures of herself:

Sold your soul for a photograph,

I tore it up and had the last laugh,

Who’s your daddy now?

He ain’t got nothin’ on me!

The Candidates eventually split and morphed into other bands.  For me personally, nothing was better than the original four-piece, the band that I went to see as often as possible.  They hit me right in the nuts and I think their debut album had all the right moves in all the right places.  They made an equally good second album, but it’s the debut that was special to me personally.

HERE COMES JIM

Another four-piece, this was a more experimental band.  The lead singer was this extremely talented guy named Matty G.  I believe that he was actually a trained singer, which would help explain why he was able to sing so many different styles (often within one song).  I used to compare him to a Mike Patton, a comparison that he was flattered by.  Yet I think the comparison was accurate.  The difference is that Matt used to sing and play lead guitar too.

They had quite a few good tunes.  My favourites were “She Is”, a melodic winner with a chorus that kills, and “Negator”.  “Negator” was just a pissed-off, scream-loaded, headache inducing pile of distorted guitars and vocals.  I would compare it to Faith No More tunes such as “Surprise! You’re Dead!” for sheer power and aggression.  Either song could have been a hit, in a just world.

Neil, Matt, and the rest of the gang that I’ve lost touch with are still some of the most talented musicians that the tri-cities have produced.  I’m glad I saw these bands back in the day, bands that are now forgotten in the dusts of time.  However, if you’re ever in the area, wandering through the pawn shops and music stores, and you run into a copy of either album, pick it up.  It’ll be a better listen than whatever Nickelcrap that MTV is pushing these days.

r-l: Me, Tom, Meat

GALLERY: Box Sets

Any requests to see anything up close?  Post a comment below.