tommy shaw

REVIEW: Styx – Caught in the Act – Live (1984)

For Deke’s review at Arena Rock, click here!

 

STYX – Caught in the Act – Live (1984 A&M, 2018 BGO reissue)

“Hey everybody it’s Music Time!”

Sorta, anyway!  Styx were just about toast after “Mr. Roboto“, and Tommy Shaw didn’t want to sing any more songs about androids.  (Mars, however, was fine.)  He departed to check out some Girls With Guns, but not before Styx put out one more product before hiatus.  That would be the traditional double live album, which was actually Styx’s first.

Styx have lots of live albums now, but only two with Dennis DeYoung.  Caught in the Act is essential for a few key reasons.  It sounds great although there are clearly overdubs in places.  It is the only one with the classic lineup of DeYoung/Shaw/James “JY” Young/Chuck Panozzo/John Panozzo.  And it has plenty of classic Styx songs that still shake the radio waves today.

Like many live albums, Caught in the Act contained one new song.  Dennis DeYoung wrote the uppity “Music Time”, a very New Wave single without much of the punch of old Styx.  Shaw was so nauseated that he barely participated in the music video.  “Music Time” isn’t one of Styx’s finest songs.  It’s passable but clearly a misstep.  No wonder it was a final straw of sorts for Tommy Shaw.

With that out of the way, on with the show.  Styx opened the set with “Mr. Roboto”, a mega hit that got a bad rap over the years until nostalgia made it OK to like it again.  Fortunately only two songs from Kilroy Was Here were included, the ballad “Don’t Let It End” being the other.  Live, “Roboto” pulses with energy, far more than you would expect.  The disco-like synthetic beats complement the techno-themed lyrics.  Every hook is delivered with precision.  With the human factor that comes out in a live recording, “Roboto” could be one of those songs that is actually better live.

Styx have always been a diverse act, and this album demonstrates a few sides of the band.  Shaw and Young tended to write rockers, and “Too Much Time On My Hands”, “Miss America”, “Snowblind”, “Rockin’ the Paradise” and especially “Blue Collar Man” are prime examples of the best kind.  Long nights, impossible odds…yet a killer set of rock tunes.  Then there are the ballads.  “Babe” is a slow dancing classic, and “The Best of Times” is even better.  Finally, the tunes that verge on progressive epics: “Suite Madame Blue”, “Crystal Ball” and “Come Sail Away” have the pompous complexity that punk rockers hated so much.  This album is a shining live recreation of some of rock’s most beloved music.

The 2018 CD reissue on BGO Records sounds brilliant with depth, and has a nice outer slipcase.  You’ll also get a nice thick full colour booklet with photos and an essay that goes right up to 2017’s The Mission.  BGO is a well known, respected label.  This reissue is a must.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

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REVIEW: Styx – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004)

STYX – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004 A&M)

Styx need to get their albums remastered and reissued pronto.  In the meantime, you can Come Sail Away with The Styx Anthology.

The great thing about the Styx Anthology is that it covers virtually all Styx history, even the first four albums on Wooden Nickel records.  Each one of those early albums is represented by a track (two for Styx II).  Those early albums had some good material on them that usually only diehards get to hear.  “Best Thing” and “You Need Love” are bright and rocking, just like you expect from Styx.  “Winner Take All” and “Rock & Roll Feeling” are consistent toe-tappers.  The jovial harmonies, and lead vocals (by Dennis DeYoung and James “JY” Young) on these tracks could easily be mistaken for later, more famous Styx.  Don’t forget the original version of “Lady” from Styx II, their first big ballad.  Styx’s flair for the dramatic was there right from the first.  (Remember “Lady” as performed by the Dan Band in the movie Old School?)

Shortly thereafter Styx signed with A&M.  1975’s Equinox boasted hits galore.  You should know “Light Up” and “Lorelei”.  But Equinox was their last with founding guitarist John Curulewski.  He was replaced by a guitarist with prodigious talent and a voice to go with it:  Tommy Shaw.  Shaw’s “Crystal Ball” is one of the best songs from the album of the same title.  “Mademoiselle” and “Shooz” are not far behind.

Styx enjoyed an abnormally long period of great, classic albums in a row.  After Crystal Ball came The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight, Cornerstone and Paradise Theatre.  With a solid lineup they continued to crank out radio staples.  Their music became grander and more conceptual thanks to Dennis DeYoung.  Tommy Shaw and JY tended to provide balance with rockier songs.  Songs like Dennis’ “The Grand Illusion” are balanced out by Young’s “Miss America” and Shaw’s “Renegade”.  Sure, Shaw could write a ballad or two, but his are more rootsy like the acoustic “Boat on a River”.

Through “Come Sail Away”, “Babe”, “The Best of Times” and “Too Much Time on My Hands”, it is impossible to understate how hit-laden this CD set is.  “Blue Collar Man”, “Rockin’ the Paradise”…it’s seemingly endless!

Until it ends, right after “Mr. Roboto”.  Though their lineup was stable, Styx were volatile.  DeYoung was fired at one point for being too controlling.  Shaw threatened to quit if the song “First Time” was ever released as a single (it wasn’t and it’s not on here).  It came to a head for real with “Roboto”, from 1983’s Kilroy Was Here.  Though it went to #3, the tour did poorly and the band were not happy with DeYoung and his rock operatics.  Tommy Shaw stated that he couldn’t get into songs about robots (long before he wrote an album about Mars).  The Styx Anthology cuts you a break by not subjecting you to their last single before splitting, “Music Time”.

When Styx reformed in 1990 it was without Shaw, who was doing very well in the supergroup Damn Yankees.  He was replaced by singer/guitarist Glen Burtnik.  Burtnik’s single “Love is the Ritual” is a jarring change.  The seven years between it and “Roboto” are audible, as Styx forged a clear hard rock sound with the single.  Sporting synth bass and shouted “Hey!’s”, you couldn’t get further from the core Styx sound than “Love is the Ritual”.  With the new member singing, it’s hard to hear any similarity to Styx at all.  Dennis’ “Show Me the Way” has proven to be a more timeless song.  Although it resonated with Americans at the time of the Gulf War, today it is just a great song about keeping the faith.

Styx split again, but reformed with Shaw in 1995.  Unfortunately, founding drummer John Panozzo died from years of alcohol abuse and was replaced by the incredible Todd Sucherman.  “Dear John” is Sucherman’s first appearance on the disc, a tribute to Panozzo.  The somber Tommy Shaw ballad (from 1997’s Return to Paradise) simply had to be included on a Styx anthology.  The only Styx studio album ignored on the set is 1999’s Brave New World, and rightfully so.  Instead we leap ahead in time for the final song, featuring yet another lineup change, and one of the most significant.  Dennis DeYoung was let go and replaced by Canadian solo star Lawrence Gowan.  This has proven to be a fortuitous undertaking for both Styx and Gowan.  Gowan plays keyboards on “One With Everything” (from 2003’s Cyclorama), an epic six minute Tommy Shaw progressive workout.  It’s a brilliant song, and a perfect indication that for Styx, a whole new chapter had opened.*

Do yourself a favour. Go and buy Styx’s new album The Mission, and put The Styx Anthology in the basket too.  Then enjoy, and congratulate yourself for a great start on your Styx collection!

5/5 stars

* Two more lineup changes:  when bassist Chuck Panozzo fell ill, he became a part time bassist for Styx.  Glen Burtnik returned on bass this time and played on Cyclorama.  When he left again, he was replaced by Ricky Phillips from Coverdale-Page.

 

#701: Amazon You Bastards

A big shout out to Derek Deke for bein’ around.

GETTING MORE TALE #701: Amazon You Bastards

This is the story of how 18 cents cost me $21.63.

I’m always on the lookout for cheap Star Wars figures.  I collect the 6″Black Series exclusively.  I keep my core collection sealed, but any time I can buy a double for cheap, I go for it.  May as well have an open one for play display.

The other night I was bored and browsing Amazon, as you do.  I noticed they had a couple Black Series figs for under $20 — usually a guaranteed threshold for buying a double.  I picked up Lando (Billy Dee Williams version) for $12.46 for my sister last week.   This week I noticed Liam Neeson, err, Qui-Gon Jinn, for $12.08.  After consulting my sister I decided to pull the trigger.  Qui-Gon isn’t the best character and for a Jedi he is pretty bland, but I like the little toy lightsabers.  He also comes with an extra hand that you can swap out to give him a Force-push kind of pose.

(I like the ability to easily swap out hands.  Dr. Kathryn does not.  Look for a future story on this called “Extra Hands”.)

“Go for it!” advised Dr. Kathryn and so I looked for something else to qualify for free shipping.  I went to my wishlist and remembered Tommy Shaw’s Girls With Guns album.  I’ve loved the title track for eons, but the CD was always somewhat rare.  In fact it ended up on a very primitive version of the old Holy Grail list.  It turns out that the quality label Beat Goes On Records has done a reissue along with the album What If in a single package.  I recently picked up BGO’s reissue of Styx’s Caught In The Act – Live and I was very happy with the audio and packaging.  I added Girls With Guns / What If to my cart at the price of $22.74, a solid buy.

Total:  $34.82.  A measly 18 cents short of free shipping.

Well, fuck!

There was only one copy of Tommy Shaw left in stock.  I wanted to keep it in the cart.  Only one thing to do.  Add another item to the cart to get free shipping.

I browsed and browsed a bit more.  Lots of Black Series figures under $20 (mostly from Rogue One), but I had doubles already.  There were a few just over $20 and ultimately I decided to buy a second Imperial Range Trooper at $21.63, far exceeding the cost of the original Qui-Gon figure that set me off on this particular shopping quest.  And here’s the kicker!  At first I decided I didn’t want to get any figures from Solo.  There are so many Black Series characters now that I had to draw a line somewhere.  But I broke when some of the new figures turned out so good, and Range Trooper is one of them.  He’ll be joining the rest of my opened Imperial troopers soon.

But:  Fuck you, Amazon!  I bet you have banks of computers spitting out algorithms to keep me just under the $35 minimum for free shipping!  Weird prices like $12.08…you think you’re getting a deal but then you buy three fuckin’ things!

I’m on to you, Amazon….

REVIEW: Styx – Styxworld Live 2001

STYX – Styxworld Live 2001 (2001 Sanctuary)

There are plenty of live Styx albums, the majority with current singer Lawrence Gowan.  2001’s Styxworld is as entertaining as the title implies.  It really does represent the world of Styx:  oldies, solo hits, and obscure tracks too.  Because the Styx lineup in 2001 included guitarist/singer Glen Burtnik, there are a couple songs he wrote that Styx don’t play anymore.

Styx have had a credible career, post-Dennis DeYoung.  Adding Gowan, a solo star in Canada, was a brilliant move.   Though Gowan and DeYoung don’t sound alike, Lawrence is capable of performing Dennis’ more dramatic hits like “Come Sail Away”.   You wouldn’t want that song dropped from the set!  But Gowan also adds his own solo material:  “A Criminal Mind” (from 1985’s Strange Animal) is more than welcome.  A great song is a great song, and “A Criminal Mind” has since become a part of Styx.

Credit should be heaped for including lesser-heard classics like “Boat on a River” in the set, just as good as any of the missing songs.  You’ll also hear “Rocking the Paradise”, “Miss America”, “Sing for the Day”, “Crystal Ball”, “Half-Penny, Two-Penny” and “Lorelei” (James “JY” on lead vocals).  Essentially the setlist was whittled down to songs co-written by Tommy Shaw or James Young, with “Come Sail Away” being the only solo DeYoung-written song.

You could fill a whole other album with missing songs like “The Grand Illusion” or “Renegade” but what makes Styxworld strong are the songs included in their place.  Like it or not “Love is the Ritual” was a minor hit for Burtnik-era Styx, and an effort seems to have been made to include everybody’s material.  A big hit (though not by Styx!) is “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” by Patty Smyth and Don Henley…written by Smyth and Burtnik.  It’s cool to have a Styx version though it’s shortened for the stage.  Of course there’s “Criminal Mind” by Gowan, and even the ballad “High Enough” by Tommy Shaw’s Damn Yankees.  Though it seems like a ballad-heavy set, there is plenty of rock and roll.

Check out Styxworld for a taste of this period of Styx history.  If you like Gowan, it’s a win.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Styx – The Mission (2017)

STYX – The Mission (2017 Universal)

Did anyone in 2017 expect Styx to come out with one of the best albums of the year?  Even though Styx have successfully carried on with Lawrence (But You Can Call Me Larry) Gowan on keys and vocals, nobody really predicted this!  Yet here it is:  The Mission, surely one of the best albums of the year so far,* and the best Styx in decades.

Here’s another unexpected twist:  The Mission is a concept album about colonizing Mars!  It has a coherent story and recurring hooks.  In many ways The Mission sounds like a lost album from Styx’s progressive rock heyday.  But you wouldn’t guess that if you only heard the Gowan-sung lead single “Gone Gone Gone”.  Although it’s about a rocket launch, you might not catch that on first listen.  The year is 2033.  “Light it up, let’s get this show on the road!”  This hard rocker came out of nowhere as one of the big surprises this summer.

“Hundred Million Miles From Home” (vocals by Tommy Shaw) has a funkier 70s groove.**  When the band harmonizes together, it sounds like vintage Styx.   “Hundred Million Miles” is a great song and also fairly accurate.  Mars was 100 million miles away from Earth as recently as the 2012 opposition.  Problems happen on “Trouble at the Big Show” (vocals by James “JY” Young), a slower groove with killer bluesy guitar work.  This moves into the ballad “Locomotive”, about the brave pilot of the ship Khedive.  Shaw pours passion into it, as he does the next one “Radio Silence”.  Just as interesting as the actual music is the spacey backing sounds.  It certainly adds atmosphere to an excellent vintage sounding song.  “Radio Silence” recalls some of Shaw’s 70s hits like “Boat on a River” at times.

Gowan returns to the microphone on the lovely piano ballad “The Greater Good”.  It sounds like quintessential Styx; hit quality material with soul.  Things start to get upbeat again on “Time May Bend” (another Gowan vocal).  If you’re not familiar with Lawrence Gowan, he is not a Dennis DeYoung clone, sounding closer to Steve Hogarth of Marillion.  (He even looks a little like “H”.)  Listen for a subtle musical “S.O.S.” signal in the backing track.

There are musical segues and radio voices between some tracks, but  “Red Storm” is the next full song. It’s a very progressive song with all the trimmings.  It’s based on Tommy Shaw’s excellent acoustic work, and it paints a picture.  The crew of the Khedive must brave a dust storm on the surface of Mars.  “Carry what you can, there’s no turning back, gonna make it to the mothership.”  There are avante-garde flashes of guitar noise that emulates the squeals of a radio, or perhaps metal on metal.  Then a rocking riff and solo…”Red Storm” has it all.

Gowan absolutely proves his mettle on the piano opus “Khedive”.  The blur of piano recalls classical compositions, and the guitar solo is pure Queen.  The minimal vocals continue the story:  “Onwards!  Onwards!”  Then we revisit the sounds of the 80s on “The Outpost”, the triumphant conclusion to the story.  The 80s synth and beats remind of the classic “Mr. Roboto” period of Styx, but it rocks solidly too.  Listen for a reprise of the “Overture” music from the start for the album.  Finally “Mission to Mars” is the denouement, a bright and lively end.

The Mission is brilliant for a number of reasons.  First and foremost — great songs.  You will play The Mission over and over, simply because it has great songs, as good as the days of old.  Second, although Lawrence Gowan has his stamp all over the album, it sounds like Styx and nobody else.  Having Gowan more involved is a good thing.  He has a 40 year career in Canada, and he didn’t have enough time on the Cyclorama (2003) album.  But this sounds way more like Styx than Cyclorama did.  Finally, this album is loaded with incredible playing by all the members.  This is easily the best lineup Styx have had since Kilroy Was Here (1983).***    Fans of the guitar (both electric and acoustic) will find many moments of musical ecstasy.

For Styx, this is mission accomplished!

5/5 stars

* One of the best album covers too.  Is that a port hole, or a turntable?  You decide.  

** Bassist Chuck Panozzo plays the funky bass on “Hundred Million Miles From Home”, his only appearance.  Chuck, the other original member besides JY, is only able to make sporadic appearances with Styx due to his battle with AIDS.  Ricky Phillips plays the rest of the bass parts, meaning Styx have two official bassists!

*** Lawrence Gowan (piano/vocals), Tommy Shaw (guitar/vocals), James “JY” Young (guitar/vocals), Todd Sucherman (drums), Ricky Phillips & Chuck Panozzo (bass)

REVIEW: Damn Yankees – Damn Yankees (1990)


Scan_20160525DAMN YANKEES – Damn Yankees (1990 Warner)

Now here is an album I haven’t played in a long time!

When the supergroup known as Damn Yankees first emerged in 1990, they quickly became my favourite new band.  Ted Nugent, Tommy Shaw (Styx), Jack Blades (Night Ranger) and drummer Michael Cartellone emerged with one of the hottest new albums of the summer:  Pure radio-ready hard rock, but with the integrity added by the Nuge himself.  All aboard!

(I like that Ted is in the credits also as “security”.  You can picture it.)

So what is Damn Yankees?  Light rock, Great Gonzos, or a mixture?  The answer is:  all of the above.

The predominant direction is radio-ready hard rock circa the time. Even though all these guys had been around for a while (especially Ted), if you didn’t know who they were it was easy to mistake them for the new hot band.  Their lyrics are geared to the young.

Dressed to kill and lookin’ dynamite,
With her high-laced stockings and her sweater so tight,
I asked her name,
She said her name was ‘Maybe’…

Oh come on guys!    Jack Blades was 36 years old when he sang that.  We already have one Gene Simmons.  Thankfully, the lead single “Coming of Age” was musically impeccable for hard pop rock.  Lyrically, there is nothing of any value here, just meaningless male drivel.  The Van-Hagar like licks of “Coming of Age” are enhanced by the aggressive lead guitar work of Terrible Ted, who probably thought the lyrics were pure poetry.

The bluesy riff of “Bad Reputation” screams Nugent, but the vocals of Blades and Shaw blend as if they have always been a vocal team.  Of course as we all know, Damn Yankees led to a long and very productive partnership for the two, with Shaw-Blades being a personal favourite album.  The most remarkable thing about Damn Yankees is indeed the blend of vocals.  Just listen to that bridge in the middle of “Bad Reputation”.  Two rock singers rarely complement each other as well as Shaw and Blades.  But just when you thought it was going too folksy, Ted returns with a fluttering blitzkreig of strings and (probably) freshly killed meat.

“Runaway” features some of Shaw’s great slide guitar work, on a mid-tempo rocker with an unforgettable anthemic chorus.  Damn Yankees is often forgotten for its guitar work.  Think about it though:  Tommy Shaw and Ted Nugent are two of America’s best from the old school.  While the songs are simple pop rock, the solos are simply awesome.

By the time fall 1990 rolled around, it was time to drop a ballad for a single:  “High Enough”.  In the year 1990 there were a number of acoustic ballads that were all very similar sounding:  “Silent Lucidity”, “More Than Words”, and “High Enough”.   There is no better way to describe “High Enough” than “sounds like summer 1990”.  Unfortunately it does not stand out or have any qualities that make it more memorable than the other ballads out that year.  The saccharine strings just do me in.  I get ballad-fatigue. And let’s not even talk about that awful music video.

The band’s namesake track “Damn Yankees” sounds like a Nugent song.  It has a chunky, ballsy riff, though nothing to write home to mother about.  Unfortunately the lyrics are terribly dated, the kind of pro-American intervention sentiment that went out fashion many years ago.  With references to Manuel Noriega and the Middle East, this is all much less glorious with the benefit of hindsight.  There’s a lesson to be learned there:  avoid overly politicizing your lyrics, young rockers.

For a better ballad than “High Enough”, check out side two’s opening track “Come Again”.  This one is old-school, sounding something like Styx’s “Boat on a River” colliding with the Nuge on “Stranglehold”.   It builds into a frenetic solo section that is just to die for, Nuge seemingly doing his best Eddie VH impression.  Then on “Mystified”, Ted brings the blues while Tommy gets down on the pedal steel.  This is a great little blues rock jam of the kind ZZ Top are comfortable with.  I’m certain Rev. Billy would approve of the Nuge’s blues licks, authentic as they come.

“Rock City” ain’t bad at all, accelerated for your pleasure and name-dropping Jimmy Page in the lyrics.  It’s not the heaviest song on the album — they save that for the end — but it’s definitely second.  There is little doubt, based on interviews with the band, that the heaviness came from Ted.  Let’s all take a moment now to thank Ted Nugent for rocking so damn hard.  Thank you, Mr. Nugent.  Penultimate track “Tell Me How You Want It” is a pretty good mid-tempo song, with classy vocals from Tommy and Jack.  Had they released more singles from the album, this one would have been up for the job.

And then finally…

A blues lick, and Ted speaking:  “Nice lick!  I have a feeling this is gonna be a rhythm and blues song…nice, real nice.  Tasty.  WAITAMINUTE!”

“Piledriver” is just a dumb sex song, but it’s also pure Gonzo Ted, the Ted you knew was hiding somewhere on this album.  You wanna hear Ted go friggin’ top gear for four and a half minutes?  “Piledriver”, baby!  Tommy and Jack on the backing vocals even drop an F-bomb!  Can you believe it?  They’re the nice guys of the band!  But let’s not forget Michael Cartellone on the drums, hammering relentlessly, not only keeping up with Great Gonzo but setting the freakin’ pace!  Even without headbanging along (strongly recommended), you’re exhausted by the end of the tune.

I say again, thank you Mr. Nugent.

As it turns out, Damn Yankees is still an entertaining listen 26 years later.  I didn’t properly appreciate the smoking guitars on it at the time.  Back then, I was interested in ballads and singles and catchy tunes.  Even so I still liked “Piledriver” back then…because it’s awesome.  The album’s real flaw is on the lyric sheet.  I know these guys can do better than some of these tracks.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Vince Neil – Exposed (1993)

 

Scan_20160216

VINCE NEIL – Exposed (1993 Warner)

When Vince Neil finally unleashed his first solo album Exposed in 1993, it looked like he was the early winner in the great battle:  Vince vs. Motley.

As is par for a volatile band like Motley Crue, the acrimony behind the split was intense and overshadowed any music either party was about to come out with.  Even after reading Motley’s book The Dirt, it’s not really clear what happened.  Vince was complaining that he wasn’t into the new Motley music they were working on.  “Like 4th rate Physical Graffiti outtakes” he once commented in Metal Edge, with too much emphasis on keyboards and backing singers.  Crue, meanwhile, felt the lack of dedication coming from the singer.  He had missed a few rehearsals.  After driving through a torrential rainstorm making him late at the studio, he was confronted.  “We’re thinking about having new lead singer auditions again,” said Nikki Sixx to Vince Neil.  The band put out a bogus statement saying Neil was diverting his focus to race cars, and Vince was battling from the bottom again.

After working on one tune with the Damn Yankees (three out of four anyway, minus Ted Nugent) called “You’re Invited (But Your Friend Can’t Come)” for the opening song of the Encino Man soundtrack, it was time to put together a new band.  An early lineup consisted of ex-Ozzy Osbourne bassist Phil Soussan, but that didn’t last.  When Soussan left, newcomer Robbie “Ichabod” Crane (a nickname he pretty much stopped using immediately) switched from rhythm guitar to bass, while the legendary Steve Stevens of Billy Idol fame was the main shredder.  Vik Foxx from Enuff Z’nuff was hired on drums, and another newcomer named Dave Marshall took over the vacant rhythm guitar spot.  Vince wanted two guitars, unlike Motley’s one.

With the ex-Billy Idol axeman by his side, Vince Neil already had everything he needed to make an incredible album.  The help of Stevens, Soussan, and Tommy Shaw & Jack Blades from Damn Yankee meant he had a songwriting dream team.  Fired up and motivated to prove everybody in the music business wrong, Vince was in the zone, and the chemistry was working.  He also beat Motley to the punch by 11 months.

The last thing I expected from a new Vince Neil song would have been a six minute epic with more guitar action than Motley Crue had packed into six albums.  Vince was in great voice at this time, and his singing on this album is exemplary.  On every track, he sounds like he means it.  Crisply captured by producer Ron Nevison, the song is driven forth by the relentless Vik Foxx (sounding like he’s doing his best Rush impression) and the space-age technique of Steve Stevens.  It’s an exotic metal groove, with flash and tricks like you have never heard before.  I don’t know how Stevens does some of the things he does, but that’s why he’s the guitar hero and not me.  If record labels weren’t scared shitless of releasing a six minute single, then this should have been the single.

Instead “Sister of Pain” was the single, a song that does not make as strong an impression.  It’s a hard boned sleezy cock rocker in the Motley fashion, which is probably what they were going for.  Vince felt that since Motley were changing styles, it was up to him to keep the old Crue sound alive.  That’s “Sister of Pain”, a catchy and satisfactory rock single, although still five minutes due to the intense soloing. This is one of the tunes that Vince wrote with Shaw and Blades.

“Can’t Have Your Cake” has a neat slippery riff, and it too was used as a single.  This fits the niche of the “fast Motley rocker”, like (say) “Kickstart My Heart”, though it’s not as heavy.  Thankfully it’s a song to its own, thanks to Stevens’ creative licks.  I like “Fine, Fine Wine” better.  Vince is as dirty as ever, proving he doesn’t need Nikki Sixx to write a sleezy rock lyric.  It’s just a kicking groovy guitar song, perfect for playing air instruments to.

Stevens fans know his flamenco work is incredible.  He gets to show it off for the first 30 seconds of “The Edge”, finally a song about Vince’s supposed true passion — racing!  Not an instantaneous song in any way, “The Edge” has a lot going on but it’s worth the challenge.  This kind of technical rock was beyond Motley Crue before, but with guys like Steve Stevens, Vince was able to show them up a bit.  There’s more of Stevens’ incredible classical guitar on the ballad “Can’t Change Me”, a sentiment I have always identified with.  This is the kind of pop ballad that would have made Vince the king of radio only two years earlier.  Not surprisingly it’s a Tommy Shaw co-write, because that’s exactly who it sounds like.

Scan_20160216 (2)Nothing like a cover to kick off side two, and “Set Me Free” by the Sweet is basically the original “Kickstart my Heart”.  May as well go back to the original and amp it up a bit with some slippery Steve Stevens fretwork.  It’s a heavy, layered presentation of guitars and ass kicking drums, and we can certainly forgive Vince for putting a cover on his album.  Besides, the next track “Living is a Luxury” has a nocturnal, smoky vibe that makes it one of the most interesting cuts.  The jazzy guitar is like nothing on any Motley Crue album.

Then we’re down to a remake of “You’re Invited (But Your Friend Can’t Come)” from Encino Man.  Damn Yankees played on the original, and sonically and vocally, that is the one I prefer.  The album version of course has more guitars.  It’s too bad they couldn’t add that one in as a CD bonus track, but the Encino Man soundtrack was on Hollywood, not Warner.  Regardless of which version we’re listening to, this is still a dynamite blast of adrenaline that seems over way too soon.  I used to play the soundtrack version on repeat in the car.  Rewind and go again.

“Gettin’ Hard” is a great mid-paced rock tune, but what’s odd is that the lyrics in the booklet are nothing like the actual song, except for the choruses.  It’s as if they changed the words at the last minute but forgot to tell the people who print the CD sleeves!  A strange little oddity to go with a grooving cool song.  Out come the acoustics again for the last track, “Forever”, a really sweetly made ballad.  The layers of shimmery guitars make it a class above most ballads of this ilk.  It ends the album on a glowing nostalgic note.

Unfortunately for Vince, he was unable to follow this album with anything decent.  We realistically knew that Steve Stevens wasn’t going to hang around long, but what hurt Vince most was his ill-advised attempt to cross over, getting the Dust Brothers to produce.  1995’s Carved in Stone failed to make any impression whatsoever.  Meanwhile, his former cohorts in Motley Crue quietly cooked up a beast of an album with Bob Rock.  1994’s Motley Crue was about the only thing that could have topped Exposed.

4.5/5 stars

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#426: The History of the Holy Grail

KNIGHT

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#426: The History of the Holy Grail

I don’t know when I started referring to this list as my “Holy Grail” items, but the idea is simple.  I wanted to create a wishlist of musical items that would be my ultimate, most sought after records and CDs.  For example, there is a rare Iron Maiden EP called Live!! +one.  It was released in Japan in 1980, and featured two exclusive recordings still unavailable anywhere else:  “Sanctuary” and “Drifter” from the Marquee show.  In 2014, I found a copy in Mississauga.  Should I have bought it?  It was $100.  It was not in the budget that time.  Will I ever see it again?

Those are the kinds of things I’m referring to as Holy Grails.  The kinds of things that you see only ever one or twice in your time as a fan.  When you find a Holy Grail item, how much are you willing to pay?  I paid $300 for a copy of the rare live album marillionrochester on eBay.  I don’t think I’ll ever do that again though.  That was a once in a lifetime buy.  (Only 2000 copies of it were ever made, which were sent directly to fans who donated to their 1997 American tour fund.  It will never be reissued.)

In the digital age, curating a Holy Grail list has never been easier.  My solution today is simple.  I have entrusted my Holy Grail list to Aaron over at the KeepsMeAlive site.  There, he has created (and continues to update) several bloggers’ personal lists as the Master Grail Search List.  Using this list from our smartphones, we have hunted for items for others, too.  The increased range provided by the Master Grail Search List has resulted in a couple scores.

While searching one of my hard drives, I discovered what is probably the very first Grail list I ever made, and it is over 10 years old now.  Apparently I wasn’t calling it a Grail list yet (like I said, I don’t know when we started using that term), but below is my 2005 “Ultimate All-Time Want List”.  I have since found a number of these…but have also added many more to my list!  Check out the list, with added notes from today in [red].


CHICKARA

Date: 2005/06/11

ULTIMATE ALL-TIME WANT LIST

To be modified and added to periodically.

In no particular order:

  • KISS – Chikara (CD or LP)

[I should have bought this when I had the chance in ’96 at Dr. Disc in Hamilton!  I blew it.]

  • marillion – Web Christmas 1998 CD
  • marillion – Web Christmas 1999 CD

[Still missing these two.  I’ve downloaded them from their official site, which is nice, but not as nice as an original CD.]

  • Metallica – The 5 1/2 Year Anniversary Box Set LP

[Saw this one at Flying Monkey Music in Waterloo in 1997, priced around $120.  I should have bought it.  Scott, our Heavy Metal Overlord has a copy, but he is also apparently immune to my Jedi mind tricks.]

  • Tommy Shaw – Girls With Guns CD

[Hahaha, what!?  I don’t remember wanting this!]

[I mean, sure, I’ll take it, I like that one song…it’s a great music video too, all one continuous shot with no edits…but the CD is certainly not a Holy Grail item anymore!]

  • KISS – Alive III (Japanese CD)

[No longer needed, since the release of Kiss’ comprehensive Alive! 1975-2000 box set!]

  • Iron Maiden – “Wasting Love” (CD single)
  • Iron Maiden – “Hallowed Be Thy Name” (CD single)
  • Motley Crue – Generation Swine (limited edition Japanese with bonus track “Song To Slit Your Wrist By”)

[FOUND, FOUND, and FOUND!  All of these came from eBay.  None were cheap, but I had a budget threshold for each under which I was willing to pay.]

  • Black Sabbath – “The Shining” (12″ single)

[No longer needed, due to the excellent Sabbath deluxe edition of Eternal Idol.]

  • The Sultans Of Ping F.C. – Casual Sex in the Cineplex CD

[FOUND by Aaron in 2012!  Holy Grail lists work!]

  • ZZ Top – Chrome Smoke & BBQ (limited edition CD box set)

[FOUND, quite easily, and very soon after I made this original list.  I just went down to Best Buy and bought it.  Hey, sometimes it’s the simple way.]

  • KISS – Instant Live CDs (ALL of them)

[Three have been FOUND!  I would still love “all” of them, but I’m not made of money!]

SWINE_0001


I’m actually surprised to see so many items crossed off this decade-old list!  Surprised, and pleased.  I know how much I wanted some of these items, such as those Iron Maiden CD singles.  That Motley Crue import also dogged me for years.

The internet helped me gain access to many of these.  It has also broadened my realization of what lay in the nooks and crannies of a band’s discography.  When I made this list 10 years ago, I didn’t even know about Maiden’s Live!! +one EP.  I didn’t know that the same band’s Best of the Beast 6 LP box set had one exclusive bonus track (“Revelations” live) that was tucked away unnoticed.  As I have crossed items off my list, two more sprang forth in their place!

Thanks to Aaron’s Master Grail Search List, the never ending quest continues!

DVD REVIEW: Styx – 20th Century Masters: The Video Collection (2004)

STYX – 20th Century Masters: The DVD Collection (2004 Universal)

These 20th Century Masters DVDs were a fun way to pick up key music videos from major bands at a cheap price.  Today this role is largely filled by sites such as YouTube.  The Styx edition features six of their cheesy best, and Styx did indeed make some cheesy music videos back in the day.  There are no frills and no extras, just the vids, so let’s have a look.

Tommy Shaw’s “Blue Collar Man” is a rock staple with cool lyrics.  This is a live version, and because of the big KILROY backdrop, I’m assuming this is from the Styx Caught in the Act DVD.  I love the 80’s clothes although the haircuts haven’t changed as much as you’d think.  The best part of this video is watching the late John Panozzo flailing away on drums, a sight that Styx fans certainly miss.

Thankfully, “Come Sail Away” is not live:  it is the cheesy original.  A bearded Dennis DeYoung croons and tinkles, hair highlighted by the spotlights.  John Panozzo’s afro can be seen bobbing over the drum kit, before Shaw and James Young kick in with the chords.  The band dressed in white appear to glow on stage, and it’s a gloriously terrible music video.  Things like this have kitsch value to me.  “Too Much Time On My Hands” is also the original, and this is just indescribably bad, so I’ll just present you these still photos to show you what I mean.  It’s pretty hilarious.  Fortunately it’s a good song!

“The Best of Times” is among my favourite Styx songs, in fact I had it played at my wedding reception. Judging by Dennis’ sparkly vest, it’s from the same video shoot as “Too Much Time On My Hands”.  It has some of the same camp value, but without the embarrassing “acting” scenes.  But damn, isn’t this a great song?  Shaw’s “Boat On a River” is also excellent.  Tommy plays mandolin, while bassist Chuck Panozzo weilds a big stand-up double bass.  DeYoung’s on accordion, mustachioed instead of bearded.  The folksy tune has always struck me as very Queen-like.

Finally, “Mr. Roboto” closes the DVD, as it must.  Taking scenes from Styx’s short Kilroy Was Here film, it depicts Jonathan Chance (Tommy Shaw) searching for imprisoned rock star Kilroy (Dennis DeYoung).  Kilroy is seen attacking a “Roboto” prison guard and thereafter making his escape wearing the mask of the robot.   It’s a nifty little sci-fi music video, something I’m a huge sucker for.  “Mr. Roboto” is still a great memorable song with a cool little video.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Styx – Kilroy Was Here (1983)

“I am the modren man…”

STYX FRONT

STYX – Kilroy Was Here (1983 A&M Records)

I was just 11 years old when I first heard of Kilroy.

Allan Runstedtler at school had it first.  He was always talking about it…this cool song called “Mr. Roboto”.  This album where the songs all told a story.  It had robots in it, it was an album with pictures and a story…not unlike those Star Wars story soundtracks we used to listen to.  In hindsight it seems obvious that Kilroy Was Here was my gateway drug to rock music.

I went over to Allan’s house, with my little Fisher-Price mono tape deck, as he put Kilroy Was Here on the hi-fi.  I hit “record” and we all quietly left the living room…so as to not disturb the open air recording.  Only once did we step downstairs, but this was only to flip sides on the LP and cassette.

You can see why it was so appealing.  The robots didn’t look that dissimilar from the childhood classic film The Black Hole, plus there were robot vocals on the song, but it wasn’t guitar heavy or threatening.  It was catchy though, “Mr. Roboto” being the song that hooked us in.  We had the lyrics completely memorized (the handy lyric sheet was a revelation to us) and could sing any part of the song by heart.

With the benefit of hindsight, “Mr. Roboto” todays sounds quaint, a harmless boppy synth radio hit nothing like the Styx that emerged onto the scene over a decade earlier.  Dennis DeYoung’s vocals are all spellbinding as ever, the man as identifiable on this as he was on “Lady”.  Where’s the guitars from Tommy Shaw and James “JY” Young?  I’m really not sure.  There are a few things here and there, fuzzy buzzy melodies that might well be guitars.  Only once in a while in the course of a 5-minute-plus song can you really hear any sort of instrument that wasn’t programmed or played with keys!

Tommy’s “Cold War” was another upbeat one we liked as kids, and yes you can hear some guitar in the intro and chorus.  There’s even a solo!  Otherwise, it’s just a dreadful synth pop piece, with loads of those annoying synth-claps and other assorted sounds that are supposed to sound like percussion.  Tommy plays a character named Jonathan Chance on this album, and “Cold War” reads like a manifesto from that character.

STYX INNER

The album came with a story, so it was quite easy to break it down and figure out what was happening.  It’s a dystopian tale, and the setting is…”the future”. Dr. Righteous (James Young) has risen to power, using a clever manipulation of media and government.  Rock N’ Roll music…is banned!  Robert Kilroy (DeYoung), a legendary rock musician, is jailed for a murder he did not commit.  But Jonathan Chance (Shaw), a young rebel hoping to bring back Rock N’ Roll, is using Kilroy’s image and music as a rallying cry for his cause.  One night Kilroy escapes prison, and disguises himself as a “Roboto”, the labor robots pervasive in this future world.

Got all that?

Drummer John Panozzo is credited as a character named “Col. Hyde”, and bassist Chuck Panozzo as “Lt. Vanish”.  I have no idea who those people are supposed to be.  There was a minifilm that went with the album and tour, and opened the live shows.  It’s incredibly funny and campy, the Styx version of the Star Wars Holiday Special.

“Don’t Let It End”, a DeYoung ballad is a song we always skipped as kids.  I played the ballads maybe once the whole time I owned the album!  But it’s actually a pretty good tune, and you can see why it was a hit.  This is followed by “High Time” with DeYoung, introducing the character of Dr. Righteous:

“I flip the switch on my laser video,
And there’s the man staring back at me,
He starts to speak in a voice so righteous,
About the sins of society”

It’s a fun song, upbeat, very showtune-y, with DeYoung having a chance to cut loose a bit.  It’s alright, and it sounds like the horn section are real horns, not some synth.

JY gets to be the one to bring the rock on “Heavy Metal Poisoning”.  In this song, Dr. Righteous takes to the airwaves with the ironically hardest rocking song on the album.

What the Devil’s going on?
Why don’t you turn that music down,
You’re going deaf and that’s for sure,
But all you do is scream for more!

We were always amused by Dr. Righteous using heavy metal music as his musical vehicle to attack heavy metal music, and wondered if there was a hidden message there?  Something about hypocrisy.  Righteous complains that rock and roll will lead to sex and drugs, while punishing his guitar with some seriously heavy riffing and a smoking solo.  Unfortunately, some goofy keyboard bits detract from the song and keep it from being a pure heavy rocker.

“Just Get Through This Night” is a ballad we skipped as kids, but in retrospect this is a great dramatic ballad.  Tommy wrote this one, a long, atmospheric meandering 6 minute piece that would have been too long to hold our kiddie attention span anyway.   Even though it didn’t do anything for us as kids, it stands as one of the bright spots on an album that so often just gets too goofy.  Tommy’s guitar solo, recorded backwards, is a highlight on this song.

Our second-favourite song was next: “Double Life” written and sung by JY.  It’s certainly one of the highlights on the album, a menacing, dark stomp with the synths this time supporting rather than fighting the song.  No idea how this fits into the story, but who cares!

Tommy’s final ballad, “Haven’t We Been Here Before” is kinda skip-worthy, although it’s nice when Dennis accompanies him on the chorus.  There’s also a nice harmony guitar solo, but loaded down with effects, blunting its edge.  Fortunately, the album ends with “Don’t Let It End (reprise)” which is actually a reprise of “Mr. Roboto”, but with Tommy singing and more guitars.  The album ends on a bright note, as Jonathan Chance seemingly takes the mantel of rock leadership from Kilroy, vowing to keep Rock N’ Roll alive!  Then Dennis comes in, doing his old rocker schtick, sending up Elvis, Little Richard and many more, and that’s the album.  Great finish.

I think if we were to discuss this album in 1983, I would have raved and rated it 4/5 stars.  I also probably would have overused the words “awesome” and “cool-a-mundo”.  That was 30 years ago…man.  That’s a long, long time.  Listening to it now…

2/5 stars