tom werman

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Blow My Fuse (1988)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 4 in his KIX series

KIX – Blow My Fuse (1988 Atlantic)

When Kix released their fourth album on Atlantic, the band would finally receive the recognition and popularity that they deserved. Blow My Fuse is one of the most fun hard rocking albums of the late ‘80s without the guilty feeling that you get listening to the other “hair bands” that were dominating MTV. You could blast this record in a way that you couldn’t with say, Warrant, and not care who heard you, because Kix aren’t a hair band. They’re a hard rock band. These glorious Maryland hicks with a collective explosion fetish crafted a glorious hard rock album in the mold of AC/DC, with the pop hooks necessary to get proper attention on the radio, without ever watering down the rock. Produced by Tom Werman (with help from Duane Baron and John Purdell), Kix finally teamed up with a production team that knew how to turn their material into charting hits without diluting it.

Album opener “Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT” displays Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant reclaiming his territory after an Anton Fig substitution due to a broken arm on the end of the last album. Pounding away with a simple but effective beat, he sets the stage for the duo of Brian Forsythe and Ronnie “10/10” Younkins to blanket the track with midrange guitar goodness. The production on this album is really outstanding. The power of Kix clearly shines through, but with a new sheen to polish some of the rough edges. Steve Whiteman builds anticipation with restraint in his singing at the beginning of the song. Kix are masters of both tension and dynamics. They know just how long to string the listener along before delivering the heavy payoff. The twin guitar duo comes in with the song’s main riff, and Steve Whiteman pumps on the gas taking his vocals full throttle with rasp and power. Note the background vocals before the chanted chorus, which add some killer harmonic melody to the blistering hard rock. A call and response section between the harmonica and the guitar build off each other to end the song leaving the listener with his ass bruised and sore from being kixed for four euphoric minutes.

After taking a minute to ice the destroyed rectum, “Get It While It’s Hot” starts with a synthesizer run and some backwards vocals that recall their new wave roots. However, this is a clever ruse. Soon the guitars come in and betray the intro. This is another full on rock tune with the drums really in the driver’s seat during the verses. The guitarists play a few chords, rest, and then play a few chords, then rest; each phrase expanding upon the last to complete the picture at the end of five measures. It’s a tension building technique Kix would use again. The chorus drastically changes things up, but the energy level doesn’t dip at all. At this point we’re greeted by the song’s hook. With some era appropriate multi-tracked backing vocals, it drives the point across well.

Even with all the fantastic tunes, the reason that this album went platinum was because of the ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. A number eleven hit in America, the song put the band on map, and on MTV. However, it wasn’t originally released as a single. When Kix were on tour with Great White, their manager Alan Niven asked the band why the song hadn’t been released as a single. Niven, despite being the manager for Great White, called up Doug Morris (president of Atlantic Records at the time) and told him they were sitting on a massive hit. They released it, and the rest is history. As for the song, it’s not a typical fluffy power ballad of the late ‘80s. It has more in common with “Dream On” than it does “Home Sweet Home”. The song is an anti-suicide PSA, a reassuring topic that proved Kix had more on their mind than just sex and explosions. It’s a great song, haunting and emotional. The lyrics and the conviction with which Whiteman sings them makes the hairs on your arm stand up. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” is a powerful song that has probably saved more than one or two lives as well, and is one of the most respectable power ballads of the 1980s.

But who cares when they’re singing about sex when the music backing it is of such high caliber? “Cold Blood” was the first single, and it sold much better after “Don’t Close Your Eyes” became huge. This song deserved to be a huge hit. It’s a stone cold classic. Starting out with a riff sounding like Electric-era The Cult, and progressing to total pop harmony payoff, this one is definitely one of the band’s best tunes. It also received moderate MTV airplay, and became the band’s second most popular song, a place only challenged by the album’s title track. A very fun and electrifying number about singer Steve Whiteman getting his fuse blown, his tower shook, his wires crossed, his hair lit up, his senses overloaded, and his juice felt. The lyrics speak for themselves; this one is another genre classic.

The album is rounded out with several other dynamic hard rock tunes, and a supernatural ability to insert pop melodies into them without diminishing the power one iota. There is no filler on this album, every song is a keeper. A 30th anniversary edition remixed by Beau Hill was announced earlier this year. Start off with the original that has been serving the public well for three decades now. If you were only to buy one Kix album, this is the one.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Ted Nugent – Double Live Gonzo! (1978)

scan_20161129-2TED NUGENT – Double Live Gonzo! (1978 CBS)

Ted Nugent has expressed his displeasure with Double Live Gonzo! I wish I still had the 1990 magazine interview where he trashed the record, because I have to strongly disagree. To these ears, Double Live Gonzo! is another one of those incredible 1970s cornerstone live albums that every self respecting rocker should listen to at least once. It’s the album that spawned the name “Nashville Pussy”, and houses the definitive live take of “Great White Buffalo”.

Double Live Gonzo! was recorded at multiple shows. The shout-outs to Nashville and San Antonio (“suck my bone-i-o!”) make that obvious, but it’s not a detriment to the LP. With Derek St. Holmes on guitar and vocals, Ted and the gang bring the rock and roll noise to the best party in town. All you have to do is hit play and hold on tight.  It’s an intimidating track list at first: three songs run over 10 minutes, with the majority over 5:00. There is Terrible Ted on the front cover, covering his ears as if in pain from the powerful feedback contained inside.

Ted’s hits are present (“Catch Scratch Fever”, “Stranglehold”, “Yank Me Crank Me”) but are overshadowed by more epic rock orgasms. “Great White Buffalo” and its incredibly dexterous riff is the main attraction.  Though this song was originally recorded by Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, the live version is the most important.  Love Ted or hate him, no serious rockers should have to live without “Great White Buffalo” in their collections.   It’s all about that riff, which is hard to duplicate but impossible to forget.

The Indian and the buffalo,
They existed hand in hand,
The Indian needed food,
He needed skins for a roof,
But he only took what they needed, baby,
Millions of buffalo were the proof.

But then came the white man,
With his thick and empty head,
He couldn’t see past the billfold,
He wanted all the buffalo dead,
Everything was so sad.

The Amboy Dukes’ “Hibernation” grandstands with some equally impressive musical chops (as do all the songs).  Almost as good as “Hibernation” itself is its live intro.  Ted introduces his guitar to the crowd:  “This guitar right here is guaranteed to blow the balls off a charging rhino at sixty paces,” he claims.  “You see this guitar definitely refuses to play sweet shit, you know, it just refuses.”  However “Hibernation” is pretty sweet, as far as rock n’ roll goes.

If you are looking for some “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang”, then Terrible Ted has your prescription:  it’s “Just What the Doctor Ordered”.  The Nuge has done a few live albums over the years, but none as beloved as Double Live Gonzo!  For its minor faults (it could sound beefier with less crowd noise), Double Live Gonzo! serves the needs of the masses looking for some full bluntal Nugentity. His gut-busting guitar playing can’t be touched and with Derek St. Holmes in the house, you also don’t have to listen to Ted singing lead on every track.

Double Live Gonzo! isn’t just for guitar players, but guitarists will absolutely dig Ted’s incredible licks and control of feedback. Few guitarists can command the instrument like Ted does. Players will find much to examine, while the average listener can just look forward to a double serving of 1970s live rock. No lyrical messages, just brutal sonic massages.

4.5/5 stars

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The back cover has a mis-print.  “Hibernation” is 16:55 long, not 6:55.

REVIEW: Stryper – Against the Law (1990)

AGAINST THE LAW_0001STRYPER – Against the Law (1990 Enigma)

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t, Stryper finally took the second biggest gamble* of their lives and dropped the overtly Christian themes in their lyrics.  It was a decision they would quickly regret.  Changing their lyrical message did nothing to help them sell records, and they found themselves without a record deal.  They spurted out some new songs for a greatest hits album called Can’t Stop the Rock before Michael Sweet bailed and the band dissolved.  In the liner notes to that album, drummer Robert Sweet states, “We were making a grab for musical freedom, but we never should have let that be misinterpreted as a change in our beliefs.”

Before the change, cynics accused Stryper of faking the sincerity of their beliefs in order to “cash in” on the “gimmick” of being a Christian metal band.  Now that they had dropped those lyrics, they were accused of cashing in once again.  There was no winning at this point for Stryper.  No wonder the band caved in.

The shame of it is, fans in the know consider their 1990 album Against the Law to be among their very best.  It earned a cult classic status with those who ignored the hype.  The change wasn’t just lyrical, but total.  Eager to reverse the musical damage of In God We Trust, Stryper toughened up their sound and got veteran producer Tom Werman behind the console.  They also changed their image for the better.  Gone were the massive hairdos and the yellow and black bumblebee suits.  In were beards and goatees, and darker understated clothes.  The stripes were still there in the stage costumes, but they were now gray and black.  New logo, new start.  Or not.

A thunderous new sound opened the new album — a funky heavy metal riff.  No, this isn’t Extreme, it’s Stryper.  “Against the Law” is a really cool shuffle with echoes of Van Halen too.  The band were displaying a new toughness, and Werman captured a more appropriate raw sound from the band.  Guitar-wise, Michael Sweet and Oz Fox are not content to just law down some solos, but instead leave jaws on the floor with their creative shreddery.

“Two Time Woman” is not the kind of song title that Stryper fans were used to see on their albums.  This Motley Crue/Scorpions-ish rocker is strong but not a standout, despite its release as a music video. It’s just nice to hear Stryper rocking out with solid production behind them.

The next track “Rock the People” takes the album back to a funky “extreme”. It’s the lighter “Two Bodies (One Mind One Soul)” that really had hit potential. The acoustic guitars lull you in, but the chorus kills! “Two Bodies” gets my vote for best track on the album. It really is a shame that it never became a hit in this universe. Maybe on another Earth, where rock never fell to grunge….

“Not That Kind of Guy” is a blazingly fast Van Halen-style shuffle. David Lee Roth would have given his left nut for a song this much like his old band at the time. This kind of tune really reveals why Stryper were right to free up their songwriting a bit, if only for one album. This kind of music does not really fit spiritual lyrics all that well, so good on them for stretching out and writing a few songs like this. And listen to Michael Sweet’s scream at the end! Never before on a Stryper album had he let loose like that.

The big surprise of the album was the song chosen as lead single: a cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star”! In a 1990 MuchMusic interview, bassist Tim Gaines recalled that the song was suggested to them and the reaction was “‘Shining Star’? What the hell is that going to sound like?” Not bad, actually. “Then we ended up making a video for it, which I’m not sure how that came about,” said Gaines.

“Shining Star” did not grab me at all, at the time. Today I really find it fun and enjoyable. Stryper already had funky metal elements on this album, so why not cover Earth, Wind & Fire? I’d say they pulled it off in their own way. The only mistake was choosing this song as the lead single! Leading with “Two Bodies” might have given the hard rock fans at the time something more familiar to sink their teeth into, than an Earth, Wind & Fire cover. That’s Randy Jackson on bass for this track by the way — that’s one reason why it’s so dang funky!

A few songs ago, Michael Sweet claimed to be “Not That Kind Of Guy”, now he is saying he is just an “Ordinary Man”. This smooth mid-tempo track retains those classic Stryper angelic harmonies, but better arranged to suit harder rock music. Of course, every hard rock album needed to have a ballad. Rather than keep re-writing the same old piano ballads as they had been, Stryper went acoustic for “Lady” (not the Styx song). It was a good move, and a good song. It too had hit potential, but alas, it was not to be for Stryper. They were “Caught in the Middle”; so goes the next song. It is as close as we got to old-school metal Stryper. It’s good that they did not neglect that side of the band’s sound. Again, Sweet throws in some of those unearthly screams that he is capable of.

The sleek metal stomp of “All For One” sounds like classic Dokken to me, and that’s not a bad thing. It has the same dark, ominous chug that George Lynch is so capable of. No wonder Sweet & Lynch hooked up later on! The chorus kills it, too. Against the Law is ended by “Rock the Hell Out of You” which is about as preachy as Stryper get on this album (not very). It’s another killer speedy metal scorcher to go out on. Kudos to Robert Sweet on drums for being able to play like this!

I like stories with happy endings, so I’ll share this. Stryper has since reunited, heavier than ever. Christian lyrics and ordinary rock songs co-exist on the same albums now, and fans couldn’t be happier that they are back. The fact that their reunion-era albums are so damn good doesn’t hurt, either. If the story of Against the Law has a bright side, it is that it was a step on the journey to Reborn, Murder By Pride, The Covering and beyond.

4/5 stars

*Their biggest gamble was trying to be a Christian metal band in the first place.

REVIEW: Poison – Open Up and Say…Ahh!

POISON – Open Up and Say…Ahh! (1988. 2006 Captiol remaster)

Man, did I feel old when this 20th Anniversary Edition came out. I remember buying the cassette back in ’89 (the year after it was released). I even conned my dad out of the $10 for it by saying it was for a school project! (It was…sort of.)  I purchased this at A&A Records & Tapes on the way home from school.

I’m glad that today, Poison are still around (as a live entity, anyway), and back to the same four guys who rose to fame in the 80’s. Although Flesh & Blood is a good album, and Native Tongue is criminally ignored, Open Up and Say…Ahh! is actually quite strong and best represents the early Poison sound.

Starting off with “Love On The Rocks” (featuring the lyric “swallow this” which was actually the original title of this album), Poison are off to a strong start. The riff is catchy, somewhere between glam rock and old classic rock n’ roll. What C.C. Deville brings to the party is a love of rock n’ roll, and that’s why when he left.  The band went more bluesy, too bluesy for his tastes.  That and the drug addiction did C.C. in. I don’t evem mind his guitar sound on this, I kind of like it. It’s overdriven and shrill, but it rocks and C.C. manipulates his instrument to pull off some cool sub-Frehley solos.

From there it’s the classic “Nothing But A Good Time”. The riff seems ripped off from “Deuce” by Kiss, but then later re-ripped off by Kiss for their song “Never Enough”! Anyway, you know the hits already, so I won’t spend too much time discussing these songs.  Suffice to say that I still hear “Nothin’ But A Good Time” on the radio.

What was actually surprising was that Open Up and Say…Ahh! is more than the sum of its singles. The album tracks are almost entirely as strong. “Back to the Rocking Horse” is another fun, catchy Poison rocker, followed by the harmonica-laden-shoulda-been-a-single “Good Love”. “Tearin’ Down The Walls” ended side one on a fairly strong note, and actually features some interesting changes.

Side two started with “Look But You Can’t Touch”, a juvenile sex song (it sounded juvenile to me even then), which nonetheless has a lot of energy. Then, three singles in a row: “Fallen Angel” (best song on the album), “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (no comment required), and the Loggins & Messina cover “Your Mama Don’t Dance”. Why was bassist Bobby Dall getting arrested in that video? I still don’t know! The album ended with “Bad To Be Good”, a bit too slow and ploddy, and the weakest song on the record.

This special edition has just a scant two bonus tracks, and one is a useless interview. Most people will stop the CD before the interview. The other is the very raw B-side “Livin’ For The Minute” which, if memory serves, was originally the B-side on the “Every Rose” 7″ single. It’s a fast rocker, demo-quality, and is more akin to the sound of the first Poison album. I don’t know where the interview comes from. In all my years of collecting singles, I’ve never run across it before, so if you care about it, it does seem to be a genuine rarity. “Livin’ For The Minute” has been released multiple times elsewhere. (Missing is the B-side “Gotta Face the Hangman”, available on the Crack A Smile CD.)

Also of note, if you had the censored version of this cover, the original has been restored on this edition.  Yes, this cover was censored.  Columbia House sold a version with the tongue and everything below blacked out.  Packaging-wise, don’t expect much else.

As an album, this is fun and has a great 80’s sound, thanks to the production talents of Tom Werman.  Younger kids will dig it for the pop punk-like energy. Older fans will want it for nostalgia purposes. That, and it still rocks really well.

As much as I usually maligned C.C. DeVille (Swallow This Live is almost unlistenable), I really like his work here. He may be no guitar wizard, but at some point you have to recognize the fun guitar playing here. It’s like toffee — sticky, sweet, and good. Too much might make you sick, but in moderation, it hits the spot. And really, he weaves some really fun melodic fills over his riffs, like icing on a cake.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition)

TS SH R_0003

My Twisted reviews: “We’re Not Gonna Take It” single, Under the Blade, Live at the Marquee

TWISTED SISTER – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition, Atlantic, 2009 originally 1984)

Fact:  When I was a kid, I used to think that Jay Jay French might in fact be blind; I never saw him without his dark shades!

25 years of Stay Hungry?  Actually 29 years at press time!  I don’t want to believe it.  Anyway, this reissue was a pretty big deal because Stay Hungry was out of print on CD.  For whatever reason (legal, contractual?) when Twisted issued their series of remasters with bonus tracks back in 1997, Stay Hungry was not one of them. Then in 2004, the reunited band recorded an album called Still Hungry, which was all of Stay Hungry re-recorded “the way they originally wanted it to sound” (cough). As a fan, I only enjoyed it for the new and unreleased bonus tracks. I was underwhelmed by the re-recording. It’s impossible to duplicate a specific recording, especially when the singer can no longer hit the high notes in “The Price”.  And it just didn’t sound good.

That was then, this is now, and Stay Hungry has finally been remastered and beefed up with a bonus disc of unreleased material and one brand new song! (None of these unreleased songs were even heard on Still Hungry, but a couple were remade by Dee on a solo album.) The album itself remains one of Sister’s best, although my preference is to You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll.  The bonus disc sheds light on what else the band was writing at the time.

IMG_00000189_editThe remastering and liner notes are excellent. The album sounds like it should, the way a pristine vinyl copy would sound back then. Still Hungry was mastered way too loud; this is much better.  The liner notes reveal friction between the band and producer Tom Werman. Werman rejected a lot of what the band had written, which makes up disc two. However, he was also a big supporter of their heavier songs such as “Burn In Hell” and “Horror-Teria: The Beginning”, while disliking “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.  Dee Snider, in fact, wanted to save “Horror-Teria” for a rock opera he was composing, but Tom Werman wisely insisted it go on this album.

The special thing about the original Stay Hungry album was that there was not one bad song on it. From all three smash hit singles (“I Wanna Rock” and “The Price”), to album cuts like “Don’t Let Me Down” and “S.M.F.”, every song here is a classic. And only one ballad!

Twisted Sister appeared in the 1985 comedy, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Highlights include the opener “Stay Hungry”, which smokes the speakers immediately.  “Burn In Hell” (seen performed by Twisted Sister in the 1985 film Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) turns up the scare factor with some unholy Snider vocals.  Snider’s epic “Horror Terria” is split into two parts.  “Captain Howdy” (later to become Snider’s character the film Strangeland) is a warning to stay away from the title character.  It’s ominous, Snider obviously hamming it up as Captain Howdy.  As a kid I never fully appreciated exactly what the song is depicting, unfortunately this kind of thing is now in the news on a weekly basis.  Part two is “Street Justice”, an angry song that inspired scenes in the film.

The man was caught, and brought before a judge,
who had just returned from a three-drink lunch.
His lawyer screamed, “You must set him free!”
And off he went, on a technicality.

Side two commenced with two of the big singles, “I Wanna Rock” and “The Price”, but equally good was “Don’t Let Me Down”.  This would have been another single as far as I’m concerned.  “The Beast” is evil and Sabbathy, but the album ends with the TNT blast of “S.M.F.”  At this point you are blown back into your seats.

TS SH R_0006The sound quality on the bonus disc varies from track to track, as is bound to happen with demos this old. Don’t let that spoil your enjoyment. These are some of the heavier songs that Twisted were writing, that Werman simply did not feel were strong enough. Perhaps with some fleshing out and proper studio time, tracks like “Death From Above” or “We’re Coming On” could have stood proud on the album as well. Clearly these demos are unfinished, most are very brief and unadorned. Some are a bit too similar to stronger songs that did make the album. Listening to the whole disc makes you wish that they had been fleshed out and released on B-sides or albums, as some are pretty good.

The highlight of this disc is the brand new Twisted Sister song, “30”. Finally, somebody has written an anthem for older rockers! It’s about time! And it’s a great tune, as well! “30 came and went a long long time ago,” sings Dee, with absolutely no shame, and rightfully so!

If you’re a new fan, or an old fan who has heard Stay Hungry a million times, this is a compulsory purchase. It renders the original release obselete. Still Hungry pales to this reissue. Well done, if only all reissues were put together with this much care and effort.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Motley Crue – Theater Of Pain (remastered, bonus tracks)

 
MOTLEY CRUE – Theater Of Pain (1985, 2003 Motley Records remastered edition)
Crue’s third was a mess, a smokey muddy mess of an album that served only to confuse and disappoint those who were enthralled with Shout at the Devil. The Crue, now wearing ridiculous striped (stryped?) jester suits had dropped the chromium metallic sheen of Shout, and replaced it with nothing but a notable lack of direction.
Theatre of Pain was one of the most anticipated albums of the ’85, and one of the most biggest disappointments. Yes, “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” is a fun jokey novelty, but it is also a novelty cover. “Home Sweet Home”, billed by the band as their “Dream On”, is not really. Broken down, it is a cliche-ridden proto-ballad, the type of thing that every L.A. band has done at least once. And usually, better.  I mean, think about it — you can name better ballads by Bon Jovi or Cinderalla, can’t you?  I can.
There is precious little metal on this album, the terrible “Use It or Lose It” being the only foot on the gas pedal, but itself also being nothing more than a grade C song worthy of most bands’ album outtakes. There is absolutely nothing on this album that would have made the cut on the great Shout at the Devil. Even a track like “Louder Than Hell”, one of the better songs, was demoed for Shout and dropped; the band obviously lowered their standards.
The mix is muddy, an alcoholidaze of robotic drumming and lifeless, uninspired vocals. You can hear the wasted band barely trying. Or, rather, trying as hard as they were capable given the chemicals. If a major band released this today as the followup to a beloved classic, it would be a career-ender. Not so with the Crue, as the 80’s were much kinder.
Bonus tracks on the remastered edition are laughable. Did we really need three versions of “Home Sweet Home”? The vaults must be a lonely place indeed. Tommy’s sleepy “drum piece” is worthy only of the skip button.No standout songs, terrible mix, and dull performances aside, the one guy who swims to the top is  Mick Mars, who plays several solos that rise above.
1.5/5 stars
1. City Boy Blues
2. Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room
3. Louder Than Hell
4. Keep Your Eye on the Money
5. Home Sweet Home
6. Tonight (We Need a Lover)
7. Use It or Lose It
8. Save Our Souls
9. Raise Your Hands to Rock
10. Fight for Your Rights
11. Home Sweet Home [Demo Version]
12. Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room [Alternate Guitar Solo-Rough Mix
13. City Boy Blues [Demo Version]
14. Home Sweet Home [Instrumental Rough Mix]
15. Keep Your Eye on the Money [Demo Version]
16. Tommy drum piece from Cherokee Studios
CD-ROM. Home Sweet Home [Video – Bonus Track]