Tony Levin

#799: Mix CD 10 – “I’m So Bad Baby I Don’t Care” (2003)

GETTING MORE TALE #799: Mix CD 10 – “I’m So Bad Baby I Don’t Care” (2003)

Welcome back to an informal series of stories on the subject of musical rediscovery!  It is a blast listening to mix CDs (or tapes) that you made ages ago. To get you caught up, you can check out the below if you so choose!

This is one I have been looking forward to, for a couple reasons.  One, I love the cover artwork.  I recently reconnected with an old friend from the UK named RooRaaah.  He drew this rabbit, “Rab C. Rabbit”, and I always thought the crude sketch was hilarious.  If I hadn’t used it on my 10th mix CD, I might have lost it forever.

The second reason is that I burned this CD in the aftermath of dating Elli, as told in Record Store Tales Part 15: Dating a Radio Station Girl.  I was seeking all sorts of music, from heavy and angry to soft and soothing.  There’s a healthy dose of nostalgia, as I knew I could always return there to fill the holes in my heart.  There are even some rarities here, the kind of things you found by browsing Limewire.

As usual, I opened with a comedy bit:  Trey Parker and Matt Stone yelling “Dude!” at each other, from the movie Baseketball.  “I guess you’ve got a point there.”  Then straight into the brand new Anthrax:  “Safe Home”.  We’ve Come For You All was fresh and this song captured part of how I felt.  “My whole world has moved on.”  It was a strong, albeit mainstream single for the thrash pioneers, and one that still holds up.

From there to full-on nostalgia:  “Mr. Roboto”!  Wow, she must have really done a number on my heart to make me go all the way back there, the first rock record I ever bought.  At this point in my history, I lost my original LP copy and hadn’t yet got one on CD since it was so hard to find.  Hence the Limewire download.  A co-worker picked up the Styx CD for me in Toronto a year or two later.    Then, first of three Motorhead tracks is a wakeup:  “I’m So Bad Baby I Don’t Care”.  I was definitely pissed off!  But then it’s onto the Faces classic “Ooh La La”, a taste for which was acquired by repeated viewings of Rushmore.

Albums and artists tend to repeat on this CD.  Even certain songs repeat!  Jellyfish’s excellent “The Ghost at Number One” is the first of two appearances.  I can taste the nostalgia, as I retreated to a simpler time, sitting in front of the TV watching music videos on Much.  I always appreciated the Beatles-esque track, which I haven’t heard in years.  Back to the 80s again, and the Gowan classic “A Criminal Mind”.  Comfortable MuchMusic memories in the basement.  A dark, plaintive song that spoke to me.  “And you will never break me, till the day I die.”

Motorhead’s “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” reflects a fresh appreciation for punk rock in my post-Elli haze.  You could thrash out to it and just rock the frustrations till they were gone.  This song will lift you up no matter how deep the hole.  A real weird rarity follows this, a Limewire discovery:  Mike Patton & Dillinger Escape Plan covering Justin Timberlake’s “Like I Love You”.  And they fucking kill it, too!  Just a bootleg, but good enough for a mix CD.

Back to the movie Rushmore.  One of the most impressive tracks in that movie is the Live At Leeds version of “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” by The Who.  Once a co-worker told me exactly what that song was (from expanded edition of Live at Leeds), I grabbed it (before buying the CD later on) from Limewire.  The track is an utter marvel, and I maintain the live version is the superior one.  I couldn’t believe it was actually live!  It’s as clean as a studio cut with perfect harmonies, but with explosive live energy.  It’s my favourite Who song, hands down.  It’s the kind of song that made me feel smug, like “Yes, I have fucking great taste in music.”

The first repeat band (and song) is “The Ghost at Number One”, this time live.  Jellyfish’s immaculate live version is tight as a drum.  Then, a magnificent double repeat:  Styx, now with Lawrence Gowan on lead vocals, with “A Criminal Mind”!  And not just “A Criminal Mind”, no; live in Kitchener Ontario, this one!  It’s cool that James “JY” Young threw down that wicked guitar solo right across town.  So this one is special to me no matter how you slice it.  The centerpiece of the CD, perhaps.

Don’t read anything into “Crabsody” by AC/DC being on this CD.  It’s not on any of the US albums, so I downloaded it when I searched for “rare AC/DC” on Limewire.  (Strictly a novelty song, incidentally and not a lost AC/DC classic.)  You can definitely read “nostalgia” into the next track.  Back to 1981 (Jesus!) and “Believe It Or Not” by Joey Scarbury.  And I clearly went for the most mangled transition I could manage, since the very next song is “Chinese Arithmetic” by a Patton-fronted Faith No More (second appearance for Mike).  The track opens with Patton announcing, “The word of the day is…fuck.”  Which he then repeats a few times, before seguing into “Vogue” (as they often did).

Finally it’s back to Gowan again, and “Strange Animal” (featuring Tony Levin on the Chapman Stick).  The rhythm that Levin lays down is a beast!  Even in shitty Limewire quality, this song moves.  Motorhead make their final appearance on the war ballad “1916”, a song which I found real affecting at that time.  I got the album as soon as possible.

Ending the CD (sort of) is CKY, whose only real claim to fame is an attachment to the Jackass guys via Bam Margera’s brother Jess.  The details are lost to me now, but I would have heard this song either a) on a Margera DVD or b) on a mix CD played in store.  It’s a good little ballad circa the millenium, and it suited my grey heart.  It’s been years since I last played it, and I can hear what I liked in it.  Thank God I’m not that sad sack o’ shit anymore, though.

The real final track is just a coda, a preview of the new Metallica song “Frantic” via a show called MTV Icon.  Remember, when they paid tribute to Metallica and had Snoop up there doing his thang to “Sad But True”?  Well Metallica closed the show with their own song, and then I guess the credits must have rolled or something, because this thing just fades out before James can even deliver one “Fran-tic-tic-tic-tic-tock!”

I put some effort into typing out an interesting looking tracklist on the back, and Rab C. Rabbit looks fab on the front.  I even glued the two together to make the insert.  Here’s the funny thing though.  I guess I must have needed a case to put this CD in, so I swapped out one from a local band called Vacuity, and threw their CD in the trash.  The vacuity.net sticker is still on the back.  This is funny, because one of the guys from Vacuity worked at the Record Store, and, well, he really wanted me to like his band.  When he and store parted ways, I parted with the CD!  Dick move, I know, but he was kinda a dick.

I think this my mix deserves:

5/5 Rab C. Rabbits

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Liquid Tension Experiment – Liquid Tension Experiment (1998)

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT – Liquid Tension Experiment (1998 Magna Carta)

Liquid Tension Experiment is a supergroup on Magna Carta, which should tell you much.

Featuring not one, not two, but three guys from Dream Theater, plus Tony Levin, Liquid Tension Experiment is the progressive fan’s dream band.  Granted, keyboardist Jordan Rudess wasn’t in Dream Theater yet when they did this CD, but that’s where people know him from today.  Drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci are the other driving forces behind Liquid Tension Experiment.

To use phrases like “mind blowing”, “insane”, “incredible” or “the shredder’s wet dream” don’t even begin to touch what the album Liquid Tension Experiment is about.  The liner notes by Mike Portnoy reveal that this project was assembled based on a wish list of players and their availability.  Rudess and Levin were on the list but guitarists just weren’t available, so that’s how Petrucci stepped in.  Together they had six days to write and record this album.  That it turned out so incredibly well says volumes about these guys as musicians.

Liquid Tension Experiment is not just an instrumental album with wicked playing.  The compositions are strong enough to make the album rise well above similar projects.  Magna Carta is loaded with insane projects by the best players in the world, but how many of those albums are good for repeated listenings?  The melodic and tonal sensibilities of Petrucci in particular really keep the album grounded, in a way that even lay people can enjoy.  Levin adds the Chapman Stick and a new agey flavour to the lighter material.  Check out “Osmosis” for a fine example of this.

Most of the album is heavy jammin’. It’s Mike Portnoy, and he does that so well. Together, they create a challenging sound but one with enough hooks that anyone can get into it. You might not realize how many time changes, weird chords and tempos you’re being exposed to, but you are, and you’ll be far better for it.

Together the album consists of nine songs and one spontaneous jam that exceeds 28 minutes! In fact, the tape ran out while recording, so the tail end of the song is from a DAT tape that Portnoy always runs when rehearsing. According to the notes, this piece ironically called “Three Minute Warning” was 100% improvised. “Not a single beat or note was discussed beforehand.” And no fixes or overdubs were made after the fact. It’s over 28 minutes of pure improvisation, and it came out brilliant. Everybody needs some of that in their life, to experience what pure free-form musical genius sounds like.

Must-hear pieces include “Paradigm Shift”, “Osmosis”, “Freedom of Speech” and “Universal Mind”.  It goes without saying that the 28 minute jam is essential as well.

This self-produced album also just sounds incredible.  The sonics are huge, but when the layers are peeled back, you can hear everything so clearly.  The Chapman Stick also adds a huge palette, sometimes heavier than lead and others lighter than a feather.  I’m sure the excellent audio is partly due to the mixing skills of one Kevin “Caveman” Shirley.  Don’t hesitate to pick up Liquid Tension Experiment if you see it.  There was also a second album made called 2, but this is the one to get if it crosses your path.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (1976)

Happy Halloween, folks!  And what better way to celebrate this day than with the king of horror rock, Alice Cooper?

ALICE COOPER – Alice Cooper Goes to Hell (1976 Warner)

Last time, he welcomed you to his nightmare.  Now, journey with Alice as he takes you straight to hell!  Subtitled (in the inner booklet) as “A Bedtime Story”, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell is another concept album, to follow a concept album.  Steven is back.  It’s a pretty mad concept, and one that ties into not only Nightmare, but also Nightmare 2, decades later.  Steven will fall asleep, and follow Alice down a dark endless staircase, “the pit where he doesn’t want to go, but has to.”

Written and produced by Alice, Bob Ezrin, and Dick Wagner, Goes to Hell features a backing band with a name you might recognize: The Hollywood Vampires.  It’s not the same band, obviously (Johnny Depp was 12 years old), but it does demonstrate just how long Alice has been using that name for a band.  Among the many musicians herein, you will recognize many:  Steven Hunter, Dick Wagner, Tony Levin, and Allan Schwartzberg are probably in your record collection many times (credited or otherwise).

Goes to Hell doesn’t have the fire, or the reputation, of Welcome to My Nightmare.  It is the beginning of a long slide that did not fully right itself until after Alice had kicked the booze for good.  It is, however, an under-appreciated album with fun and nuance in the dark shadows.  The title track is one song that still graces the live stage.  Here, Alice seems to be paying for his crimes committed.  “For criminal acts and violence on the stage, For being a brat refusing to act your age, For all of the decent citizens you’ve enraged, You can go to hell!”  You’ll never have so much fun on the road to H-E-double-hockeysticks, this side of an AC/DC album.  Quintessential Alice, this is, and indispensable too.  Anyone who has ever liked the biting humour and celebrated riffs of Alice Cooper will love “Go to Hell”.  Bob Ezrin adds the usual accompaniment to the mix:  horns, keys, and gang vocals condemning Alice to hell!

A full three years before Kiss, Alice Cooper went disco.  If you like disco rock metal music, then “You Gotta Dance” to this one.  This is a track that some Alice fans would probably love to bury, but it has its moments.  Steve Hunter plays a wicked funky guitar solo.  There is always instrumental integrity.  “I’m the Coolest” slows the pace to a jazzy drawl.  At this point I imagine the character of Alice is meeting various people down in hell, perhaps the man in charge himself.  “Didn’t We Meet” suggests this.  “To look at you, deja vu, chills me to the core.”  Then, “They say you’re the king of this whole damn thing.”  These three tunes are all quite a departure from hard rock, but Alice has always been so diverse.  The hit ballad “I Never Cry” (#5 in Canada) is very pretty, unusually so for Alice.  It is, according him, an “alcoholic confession”, and not the only moment on the album that touches on his drinking.

The first side of the album has some great tracks, but only the first (“Go to Hell”) really rocks.  Side two is similarly diverse and dark.  “Give the Kid a Break” is a campy musical number, with Alice pleading his case before the judge.  “I don’t know why I’m down here, I don’t deserve to roast or bake.”  Predictably, things don’t go well, since the next song is called “Guilty”!  “Guilty” is the hardest rocker on the album, and one of the only songs to be played live occasionally through the decades.   Not that all the other songs on the album suck; Alice just sounds right when he’s rocking like he always has.  And the lyrics rule:

Just tried to have fun, raised hell and then some,
I’m a dirt-talkin’, beer drinkin’, woman chasin’ minister’s son,
Slap on the make-up and blast out the music,
Wake up the neighbors with a roar,
Like a teenage heavy metal elephant gun.

If you call that guilty, then that’s what I am.
I’m guilty, I’m guilty!

This is right up the alley of a tune like “Escape” from the last album.  It’s a shot in the arm and just when you need it.

With “Wake Me Gently”, we are back in ballad land, and it is unfortunately the longest song on the album.  It sounds like an Ezrin creation, but in comparison to his other works, it is among his lesser creations.  The string section is the highlight.  Then he turns up the funk again for “Wish You Were Here”, with the help of Wagner on funky gee-tar.  “Havin’ a hell of a time my dear, wish you were here.”  Sounds like Alice has more than enough of hell by now.  Steve Hunter plays the blazing Lizzy leads at the end of the song.

In a surprising-but-not turn, Alice pulls “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” out of the hat, an old Vaudeville song (1917) once performed by Judy Garland in 1941.  It actually works within the concept of the album, and predictably, Alice perfectly camps it up.  It blends splendidly into “Going Home”, with Steven finally escaping his nightmare.  Was it a nightmare?  “I wonder what happened to Alice,” he ponders.  This is pompous, overdone Ezrin, just the way you like it.  Orchestration and thunderous percussion lend themselves well to this dramatic close.

It’s pretty clear that the reason Alice Cooper Goes to Hell is not as fondly remembered as Welcome to My Nightmare is the sudden change in direction to balladeer.  There are only three rocking songs on an album of eleven tracks, and Alice was always primarily a rock artist, albeit an experimental one.  You still found his records in the “rock” section of your friendly neighbourhood record store.  Three rockers aside, the rest is a diverse assortment of music, well put together and played.  Clearly, that has to be the key.  But there is more to it than that.  Nightmare seemed a more celebratory affair.  It felt lively; it felt alive.  Goes to Hell sounds less so.  Alice’s lungs seemed weakened, just a smidge, from how they used to bellow.

Alice Cooper Goes to Hell is worthy of praise, not derision.  Just remember — it’s not a rock album.  At best it’s rock opera.  Proposed analogy:  Goes to Hell is Alice’s Music From the Elder.  They even have the same producer!

3.5/5 stars

Happy Halloween kiddies!