union

REVIEW: Union – Union (1998, 1999 reissue with bonus track)

The third and final Kulick review from our Kulick week at mikeladano.com!

Tuesday: Blackjack – Blackjack (1979)
Wednesday: Blackjack – Worlds Apart (1980)

scan_20160928UNION – Union (1998, 1999 Spitfire reissue)

A mighty Union was formed from the ashes of two classic bands’ lesser-known lineups.  First up is Bruce Kulick, formerly of Kiss and now in Grand Funk.  Kulick had been taking an increasingly important role within Kiss, leading to the Carnival of Souls LP which Bruce was instrumental in writing and recording.  With him was John Corabi who had just been booted from Motley Crue after making (arguably) their best album (or one of).  Corabi was in a bit of a state.  His confidence in himself was shaken after the Motley experience, who seemed impossible to please when their album tanked.  John told Bruce that he didn’t want to sing anymore, he just wanted to play guitar.  Bruce’s response was “Dude, you’re fuckin’ high!”

And so it was that Bruce and John teamed up (with Brent Fitz and Jamie Hunting) in the aptly named Union.

You wouldn’t call Union a supergroup, but they did create a fine album.  It is in the mold of the last albums these guys made separately (Motley ’94 and Carnival).  Union turned out as an angry, dark rock record, very much a child of the 1990’s.  With Kulick on guitar, Union was more than a 90’s alt-grunge retread.  The 90’s are omnipresent in the droning riffs and staggered rhythms, but then Bruce dumped out his tackle box of guitar tricks.  Bruce evolved over the years from a guy who played really fast on 80’s Kiss albums to a serious player interested in pushing his own limits.  Where he used to be content to play flurries of notes, on Union he goes for maximum gut impact.  It’s less about playing the notes than bending them to his will.

It’s also quite clear how much writing Bruce and John did in their respective bands, judging by the sound of this.  “Around Again” bears groovy similarities to tracks like “Jungle” by Kiss and “Uncle Jack” by Motley.  There’s a pissed-off attitude, and musicianship that would make Nikki Sixx crap his pants.  Thankfully Union have a good batch of songs backing them.  Much like the previous Kiss and Crue records, Union is not instant love.  It takes about three good listens to penetrate its metal-grunge (with a touch of Beatles) hybrid sound.  Union usually seem to go for the guts rather than singalong melodies.

One of the exceptions to this rule is the pure fun “Love (I Don’t Need it Anymore)”.  This is the one that hooks you on the first round.  With a funky little riff and a chorus that sinks right in, it slays.  The ballad “October Morning Wind” is another catchy track, an acoustic number a-la Zeppelin.  Think of a track like “Loveshine” from the Motley album for the right ballpark.  Stealing a Zeppelin title, Union’s song “Tangerine” is a groove rock tune like a heavier Aerosmith.

On the other side of the spectrum:  psychedelic rock.  “Let It Flow” is a trippy song broken up into sections called “The Invitation”, “The Journey” and “The Celebration”.  I think John was smoking something green when he wrote the lyrics, but Bruce’s sitar-like guitar is the perfect complement.  “Empty Soul” has similar scope, being a pretty huge song with musical goodness coming out the wazoo.

Adding the Beatles cover “Oh Darlin'” to a reissued version of the album is a little greedy, but fortunately worth it.  As it turned out this band only made two studio albums, so more Union is good Union.  If you recall the original song, Paul McCartney gave it his best rasp screams.  Up to bat is John Corabi who can sing that way in his sleep.  It’s a perfect match and “Oh Darlin'” is a nice little extra on which to end an exceptional album.  The only issue I have with “Oh Darlin” is actually its placement as the last song.  Previously, the solo-written Corabi acoustic ballad “Robin’s Song” was the closer, much like “Driftaway” was on the Motley album.  You become accustomed to “Robin’s Song” as a closer, because it has that quality to it.  “Oh Darlin'” is not a closer.  It would have worked better earlier in the track list, so feel free to shuffle as you choose.

Whatever version you acquire, any fan of Kulick and/or Corabi would be foolhardy to live without this CD.  It ranks as one of the best albums by either.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Bruce Kulick – BK3 (2010)

Scan_20160527BRUCE KULICK – BK3 (2010 Rocket Science)

There is so much more to Kiss than just the original members.  Sure, you may think Ace Frehley rules, and that his solo albums are awesome.  You’d be right — I’ve reviewed every single Ace Frehley album.  But let’s not forget about Bruce Kulick, who humbly held down the fort from 1984-1996.  Today, Kulick’s rocking the house with Grand Funk, and doing a fine job of it.  But just as there is more to Kiss than just the original members, there is more to Bruce than just Kiss or Grand Funk.  Bruce has always treated Kiss with respect, and his solo music shows the same care and love put into it.  BK3 is my favourite of his solo albums, including Audio Dog and Transformer.

Surely one of the draws to this Kulick record has to be the big name guest appearances.  The best of these is the late Doug Fieger (The Knack) on “Dirty Girl”, an incredibly catchy radio rocker.  So good is it, Classic Rock magazine listed it as the 29th best tune of 2010.  Hey, that’s a proud moment!  If I didn’t know it was Fieger singing, I wouldn’t have guessed.  I figured it was some young unknown with a great voice.  As great as this song is, and how hit-worthy it could have been, I don’t think it would have suited Kiss.  It’s too pop for Kiss, I think, but it’s not sell-out in any way, because Kulick makes sure the guitars are sweet, crunchy and loud.  Other guest shots include Steve Lukather, dueling with Bruce on the only instrumental “Between the Lines”.  Tobias Sammet shows up to sing the grinding “I’m an Animal”, and on drums is Kiss drummer Eric Singer.  As if that’s not enough, there are not one but two Simmons on this album.  The old man sings “Ain’t Gonna Die”, a heavy Kiss-like armor plated beast.  Then the Son of Simmons, young Nicholas, sings on the even better “Hand of the King”.  Almost a dead ringer for his old man, Nick lends the song a demon-like aura.

There is one more cool guest shot that needs to be highlighted.  There are 3/4 of Bruce’s old late-90’s band Union, on a great tune called “No Friend of Mine”.  John Corabi lends his unmistable gravel to this melancholy rocker.  With shades of acoustics and ripping lead vocals, this as good as anything in the original Union catalogue.  I still think their debut album was incredible.  Canuck Brent Fitz is on drums, also from the Union days but probably on a break from Slash.  Only bassist Jamie Hunting is missing, but it’s safe to say that this song could easily fall under the Union umbrella.  Kulick’s shredding on this one is insane, used sparingly but effectively.

BK3 is also diverse.  Bruce sings the rest of the material, but the most interesting is the closing ballad “Life”.  It sounds like a King’s X track circa Faith Hope Love, augmented with violins and the flute!  This is truly is an outstanding ballad.  Bruce would be the first one to say “I’m not a singer”, so it takes courage to do the lead vocal on a track like this.  Bruce’s voice has his personality in it:  it sounds like the Bruce Kulick we know and love.  It’s a very human sound, and he does a great job.  His voice is similar to Steve Vai’s, another artist who is not afraid to sing lead.

If you appreciate great rock music, meticulously and lovingly assembled, then give BK3 a shot.  There are so many great songs on here.  If you’re a fan of Kiss, The Knack, Motley Crue, or any of the other guests, then this purchase is somewhat of a no-brainer!

4.5/5 stars

Most Unrightfully Ignored Albums of the 1990s – LeBrain’s List Part 4

This is it!  The end!  In alphabetical order, here’s Part 4 of 4:  88 albums that meant the world to me in the 1990′s but never got the respect I felt they deserved.   Thanks for joining in!

Savatage – Streets:  A Rock Opera (sheer brilliance, their first and best rock opera)
Savatage – Edge of Thorns (an album to give Queensryche a run for their money)
Savatage – Handful of Rain (recovering from tragedy to create a triumph)
Savatage – The Wake of Magellan (how did this band just keep getting more brilliant?)
Scorpions – Face the Heat (had a couple good heavy rockers on there like “Alien Nation”)
Shaw/Blades – Hallucination (Tommy Shaw, Jack Blades, campfire goodness)
Skid Row – Subhuman Race (when you’re pissed off and you know it, bang thy head)

Sloan – 4 Nights at the Palais Royale (one of the best live albums of all time – ignored internationally)
Dee Snider’s SMF’s – Live / Forever Twisted (fuck, I missed Dee in the 90’s!)
Spinal Tap – Break Like the Wind 
Stryper – Can’t Stop the Rock (a compilation with two great new tunes)
Sultans of Ping F.C. – Casual Sex in the Cineplex (see here)
Talas – If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now… (Billy Sheehan and the boys reunited for one night, and has the wisdom to record it)
Tesla – Bust A Nut (in some ways it’s better than their prior records)
Testament – The Ritual (really heavily slagged at the time as a sellout)
Tonic – Sugar (much better than the first record, you know, the one that was a hit)
Devin Townsend / Ocean Machine – Biomech (one of his more accessible albums)
Union – Union (Bruce Kulick + John Corabi = better than what the Crue or Kiss was releasing)
Steve Vai – Sex and Religion (Devin Townsend — lead throat)
Veruca Salt – Eight Arms To Hold You (their best album, better than the big hit one)
White Lion – Mane Attraction (it was a little mushy, but brilliant guitars by Vito Bratta)
Whitesnake – Restless Heart (back to his blues rock roots, it wasn’t even released here)

We’re done!  88 albums that meant a lot to me in the 1990’s, but in some cases were criminally ignored.  Check them out.