vinyl

#604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

GETTING MORE TALE #604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

Now that vinyl is back in a big way, you may have noticed more and more heavy vinyl in your local record store.  180 gram vinyl records are very popular, particularly for reissues.  You’ll notice the front cover stickers touting the weight, but what does this all mean?

As it turns out, not very much.  Heavier weight vinyl is a preference, but not one that particularly pays off in improved sound quality.

Typical records are pressed on 120 grams on vinyl.  It starts as vinyl pellets, which are melted and expertly pressed between two plates.  A record is plenty thick enough to accommodate grooves pressed into both sides.  Thickness is not the issue.  Sound quality depends on other factors much more.  Virgin plastic, not recycled, is preferred by connoisseurs.  The quality of the presses, the experience of the engineers, and of course the mastering of the music for vinyl are all critical.  Thickness, not so much.  The groove in a record depends more on surface area in order to get a good sound, and that comes from width.  Sound issues arise when a side of a record is so long, that the grooves need to be squeezed onto that 12″ diameter.  Then you lose clarity and distinction.  A thick record might cut down on vibration from the turntable, but a good platter will do the same job.

200 gram vinyl.  Notice the thick edge.

Heavy vinyl feels amazing in the hand. 180 grams or even 200 grams are very common today.  Like buying a heavy-duty vehicle, you feel the weight and sturdiness and associate it with quality.  Generally, you would be correct.  When a label presses a release on 180 gram vinyl, it’s often the case that this is some special reissue.  Perhaps it’s been specially re-mastered for vinyl, or manufactured in limited quantities too.  Sometimes these come in special gatefold packaging.  If the remastering is done well and not overdriven like a lot of modern releases, chances are you’ll be getting a good sounding record.

120, 180, 200 grams…how heavy can these things get?  Is there an upper limit?  I asked Gerald McGhee, vice-president of Precision Pressing in Burlington Ontario.  He also sings in Canadian band Brighton Rock.

“You can go higher.   200 is in vogue right now.  140 is standard,  and 180 is getting more traction, but very little difference in sound quality,” says McGhee.

In theory you could take vinyl to absurd limits, but what would be the point?  Maybe if you’re Blink 182, you could do a special 182 gram release.  (Make sure I get my cut for the idea if you do.)  If you as a consumer buy heavy vinyl, you’re doing it mostly because you enjoy it for reasons other than sound.  Perhaps you buy them because you are used to getting a good mastering job with such releases.  Perhaps, like me, you also enjoy the satisfying feeling of handling such a record.  Perhaps you just like to collect variations.  But if you are not one of those, you may just want to save the extra few bucks and buy a cheaper version.

 

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REVIEW: Queens of the Stone Age – Villains (2017)

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – Villains (2017 Matador double vinyl)

At my heart, I am a skeptic.

I was skeptical that Star Trek: Discovery would be any good, and that it wouldn’t piss all over the fans.  (It was and it didn’t.)  I like to share light doses of my skepticism with social media followers.  One record I have been consistently skeptical about is the new Queens of the Stone Age, Villains.    The first single, “The Way You Used to Do” did little for me.  It sounded more like Eagles of Death Metal than my beloved Queens.  Craig Fee over at 107.5 DaveRocks dubbed it “The Way You Used to Write Good Songs”.

Skepticism remained high, but vocal friends such as the trusted J at Resurrection Songs urged me to be open minded and give it a listen.  Fast forward to September 2017.  While browsing at my local Sunrise Records, one of the new Queens songs came on.  I liked it.

“I’m going to ask her if this is the new Queens,” I said to myself, “and if it is, I’m going to buy it.  On vinyl.”

It was and so that’s what I did.  The song was called “Fortress”.

My fears were assuaged on first listen.  “Mark Ronson’s a pop producer,” I thought.  Ronson has probably never recorded anything as heavy as “Song for the Dead”, but the songs on Villains have their own heaviness.  It comes from a deeper place.  It’s not about the volume of the guitars and the speed of the drums, but the melding of parts in a simmering cauldron.  Even “The Way You Used to Do” has grown on me.  The stuttering guitars are layered brilliantly within that dance beat.

Villains‘ nine songs  are a unique concoction, like Queens meets Faith No More meets David Bowie at the Apple store.  You might miss Nick Oliveri or Mark Lanegan (who doesn’t?), but the current Queens are still lethal.  Be lulled into the pulse and fuzzy landscapes of these new songs, and be slowly drawn to their unmistakable melodies.  They have always been eclectic, and Villains is the latest in that tradition.  With “Un-Reborn Again”, Josh Homme quotes from the Georgia Satellites “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”, on a song that sounds crafted from the leftovers of Van Halen’s “Sunday Afternoon in the Park”.

Why vinyl?  For the gatefold vinyl and the graphic etched fourth side.  Also for the rich sound and included mp3/Flac download.

If you are one of those who has a general “No Josh Homme” rule, this album will not convert you.  If you merely skeptical like I was, then be fearless and delve right in.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Arkells – High Noon (2014)

ARKELLS – High Noon (2014 Universal)

Thank rock and roll for new bands like the Arkells!  I’ve been happily enjoying their singles for years.  I really fell in love when I saw the Hamilton band open the 2017 NHL Awards.  A starstruck Max Kerman (vocals) gleefully fist-bumped with Wayne Gretzky.  I knew I had to get one of their albums.  On vinyl!  I chose their 2014 release High Noon to be my first Arkells, for its unforgettable single “Leather Jacket”.

Kerman managing to keep his shit together on national TV with The Great One

High Noon was a sound choice.  “Leather Jacket” has been an earworm for a long time.  High Noon also has another sterling single, “Come to Light”.  Its basis is similar to Bowie’s “Modern Love”.  While there is no mistaking the year, the Arkells put a slick 80s slant on these songs.  Whether it’s in the beats or the keyboards, there is a love of 1980s rock here on High Noon.

There are numerous highlights and few forgettable ones.  Album opener “Fake Money” has a strong piano riff, a classic U2 vibe, and an anti-corporate attitude.  One of the catchiest, more summer-y fun tracks is ironically “Cynical Bastards”.  Good time upbeat rock with solid beats to shake your butt to!  “11:11” is primed for dancing .  Everyone will pick out their own favourites, because there aren’t any poor songs on this wax.  Check out “Crawling Through the Window” for a slower tune with all the integrity intact, or the strange Disco hop of “Systematic”.

A band can make or break based on the lead singer.  I really like the expressive and sincere singing style of Max Kerman.  He stands out from first listen.  It’s hard to say exactly what makes him stand out, but he certainly does.  A band to watch.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – “Paranoiac Personality” (2017 single)

ALICE COOPER – “Paranoiac Personality” (2017 Edel 7″ single, white vinyl)

In 1969, the original Alice Cooper group released their debut album for Frank Zappa’s Straight records.  The band consisted of Vincent Furnier on lead vocals using the stage name of “Alice Cooper”, Michael Bruce & Glen Buxton (guitars), Dennis Dunaway (bass), and Neal Smith (drums).  This legendary lineup laid waste to rock and roll until 1974 when they split for Alice to go solo.  Though Glen died in 1997, the surviving member eventually reunited on vinyl in 2011 for three tracks on Welcome 2 My Nightmare.  Since then the original band has worked together with surprising regularity, including on Cooper’s latest album Paranormal.

To go with the Paranormal brew-ha-ha, Alice put out a 7″ white vinyl single for “Personoiac Paranality” “Paranoiac Personality”.  It’s an easy track to like with a vibe reminiscent of his classic single “Go to Hell”.  This is likely to be a concert classic for as long as Alice tours.  The chorus is meant for a crowd to sing along.  “Paranoid!  Paranoid!”

A great B-side is what makes a single memorable.  In 2017 you see all kinds of gimmicky singles, from coloured vinyl to ridiculously low production numbers.  That stuff won’t make me buy a single; but an exclusive B-side will.  “I’m Eighteen” is performed by the aforementioned original Cooper band!  They are augmented by current Cooper guitarist Ryan Roxie, filling in for Glen Buxton.  What a great version this is, and how much more authentic can it get?  Alice has a nice intro for Glen, and it’s stuff like this that makes a single worth spending the money (and shipping) on.  My copy came from Seismic Records in the UK, but it was worth it to me.  The pristine white vinyl is just the icing on top.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: July Talk – Touch (2016 vinyl)

JULY TALK – Touch (2016 Sleepless Records)

Surely one of the most exciting bands to emerge from Toronto in the last few years has been July Talk.  Defying categorization, they’re often lumped in with “blues rock” and “indie”, neither of which really describe July Talk.  You could also call them “art rock” because July Talk truly treat their music as high-energy art.  Loud art.

July Talk are a five piece rock band known for their volatile live shows where anything can happen.  Lead singers Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay offer a contrast, he of the gravel voice and she as the smooth one.  They songs are like battles between characters, little stories with Fay and Dreimanis playing the parts.  Dreimanis and bassist Josh Warburton have also entered the visual world, with each directing some of July Talk’s most interesting music videos.*

Picture yourself in a tangle with another, you’ll feel your body awaken.  That’s the opening lyric to “Picturing Love” but also apt listening advice.  Some of these songs sound like the act of sex in motion, limbs tangled and struggling to get free.  On “Picturing Love”, Leah Fay contrasts Dreimanis’ grit with a sassy vocal.  “I suppose, I’ll strike pose…”  A band is usually lucky to have one memorable front person.  July Talk have two and that’s their secret weapon.  “Picturing Love” is one of three singles.  Another is the next track “Beck + Call”, a bass-heavy groove that hits with body blows.  Dreimanis screams “She loves me, she loves me not!” while Leah Fay floats above it.

Things get dancey on “Now I Know”, a track which recalls certain aspects of the 1980s and a little bit of U2.  Fay takes the center stage with an irresistible shouted chorus.  We go punky on the brilliant “Johnny + Mary”.  Fay has a punky sass that she employs with pure attitude.  Meanwhile the band chug away on some heavy riffing.  One lick even sounds like an Iron Maiden melody.  A dusky ballad called “Strange Habit” closes the first side.  This delicate song shows that July Talk can do it quietly too, and successfully.

If you have not heard the first single from Touch, “Push + Pull”, do so now.  A slinky groove turns into a battering ram.  “Push + Pull” is a great representation of the July Talk sound.  Whether you are dancing or thrashing, “Push + Pull” will work for ya.

“Lola + Joseph” rests on a spare but killer guitar hook.  Fay and Dreimanis trade off vocals seamlessly, as things get hot.  “But I’ve never done this, can you show me please,” pleads Dreimanis during one sexy exchange.  “Just count to five, not too fast,” whispers Fay in response.   “Lola + Joseph” is the hidden gem on this album.  It’s the nice little surprise that you get for playing the album through.  It’s just killer.  Leah Fay goes for a new wave punky snarl on “So Sorry”, another brilliant and loud track.  “Jesus Said So” has a completely different vibe, more like classic 50s doo-wop in a modern song.  Closing with a haunting song, the last is the title track “Touch”.  Piano is the main feature as it builds to a dramatic close.

Check this band out.  Touch is only their second album.  Time to get on board!

5/5 stars

* “Guns + Ammunition” directed by Warburton is one of the coolest technical achievements in a music video you’ll ever see.  Check it out below.

#587: Jean’s Stormy Weekend Vinyl Tales (With Video)

GETTING MORE TALE #587: Jean’s Stormy Weekend Vinyl Tales

Another long weekend in Ontario has come and gone.  Yes, international friends, the first weekend of August is a long weekend for we Ontarians.  Despite a stormy start, it was just a lovely time.

Every holiday weekend needs its weekend music (unless your name is “1537” or some similar number).  The car trip commenced with the finish of a double live album called Black Masquerade by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.  This 1995 concert features Doogie White on lead vocals.  We enjoyed it as a contrast to the newer Live in Birmingham 2016 with Ronnie Romero singing, which had been in the car during the week.  On the whole, I think I prefer Romero to White in Rainbow, but that’s not an easy choice to make.  Both are very talented and charismatic frontmen, but with very different voices.

When Black Masquerade came to its natural closing point with “Smoke on the Water”, I switched the deck over to the new Styx.  Don’t be surprised if you see the new Styx album The Mission on many 2017 year-end lists.  It’s been a favourite of mine the past few weeks, and Mrs. LeBrain was very impressed herself.  “And this is their new album?” she asked, since it sounds straight out of the 1970s at times.

We got to the cottage Friday night.  A storm was blowing through.  It was too cold for funnel clouds to form, but as you will see in the video I put together, it was gale force weather.  And then the next day?  Completely calm.

Brand new video!

For weekend entertainment, I brought with me some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.  Thanks to Mr. BuriedOnMars, who has been reviewing the MCU films in order, I have been re-watching the early ones again.  This weekend I chose Iron Man 3 and The Avengers, because neither are on (Canadian) Netflix at the moment.  Both were enjoyable entertainment, but Iron Man 3 is just too gosh darn long and weakly plotted.  And of course there was more music to be heard.  Some friends down the road were partying to George Jones.  It reminded me of the old days when my Grandpa would have done the same but maybe with Kenny Rogers instead.

Mom and dad provided the meat for the weekend, and I did the cooking.  Jen did up her potatoes and I took care of the steaks.  On the holiday Monday, we hooked up with old buddy Peter and his sister Jo.  Regular readers may recall some of my adventures with Peter, particularly Getting More Tale #559:  Hotel Hobbies.  It was fantastic catching up with the two of them at the newly renovated Jean’s for breakfast.  Jean’s is bigger and just as busy.  It’s one of those reliable breakfast places that we have been going for years.  Still reliable!

Peter told me something at breakfast that did surprise me.  I noticed that the old Record Store in which I worked was now buying used vinyl again.  In the past, only Tom‘s store stocked used vinyl but times they-are-a-changin’.  Sadly Peter’s dad passed away late last year.  He had some old vinyl.  Not a lot, just about 20 records or so.  Pete’s dad would have had old German music, nothing of any particular monetary value.  Peter decided to give my old store a call to see if they’d take them off his hands.  What he was told was so strange:  He’d have to send them into the head office, and they’d take a look and get back to him within one month.

One month?  Peter took the old records to Value Village and dumped them there.

I don’t know what the story is with the one month thing.  Maybe they realized the records weren’t their thing and were trying to brush him off?  Seems a bizarre answer.

I’m sure if Peter’s dad somehow had any rare German Scorpions records, he would have let me know, as unlikely as that is!

Great to see old friends again.  After breakfast the weather was starting to turn rotten, so we made our way home.  And what a musical ride it was!  All of Deep Purple’s Purpendicular album.  All of Rush’s Moving Pictures.  Side one of the next album, Signals.  It was a smorgasbord of so called “smart-guy rock”!

Hopefully we’ll make it up a couple more times before the summer is over.  There are still quite a few new albums here at LeBrain HQ that need road trip testing.  Styx’s The Mission passed the road trip test, securing a big point in this year’s Best Album stakes.  To be continued….

 

 

#583.5: Going the Distance at Sunrise Records

The return of Sunrise Records to Canada has been one of the most exciting stories of 2017 for fans of physical product.  I rarely leave without new music under my arms.  This time I went for the new Alice Cooper album Paranormal, deluxe edition CD of course.  It was there front racked, $29.99.  A bit pricey compared to Amazon, but I wanted to buy it so I went for it.

I always get good customer service at Sunrise, and I went to the counter to ask a question.  The lady working looked it up — the Alice Cooper “Paranoiac Personality” single on 7″ vinyl.  No luck, as it turns out Sunrise don’t get many 7″ singles that aren’t for Record Store Day.  And that’s fine, but here’s where she went the extra mile.  She was working on something else and said, “I’ll be right over here in this isle if you have any more questions.”  Cool.  I appreciated that.

I had no more questions as I came for a few specific things.

  1. Something on vinyl that I didn’t already have on CD.
  2. A fidget spinner.

Mrs. LeBrain bought me a fidget spinner for my birthday, but I didn’t know how many levels of quality there are in those things.  That one is a light silver metal and doesn’t spin very long.  Mrs. LeBrain’s is much heavier and spins much longer.  I timed it once at 11 minutes!  It so happens that Sunrise had a buy one/get one free sale on fidget spinners.  So I bought the heavy one that Mrs. LeBrain owns, and a second metal one that looks like a ninja star!

Finally, some vinyl.  There were plenty to tempt me, but I didn’t want some crappy reissue.  I chose July Talk’s Touch.  And it’s excellent!  This band is impossible to describe.  Lead singer/guitarist Peter Dreimanis has a whiskey soaked Tom Waits howl, but it’s his own twist.  Leah Fay (lead vocals) contrasts Dreimanis, sometime delicate and sometimes loudly.  There is nothing easy to pigeonhole on this album.  They go from bluesy to punky to dancey.  But always with a toe in another genre too.  They get heavy and they get soft and every track is good.

Thanks Sunrise for another successful music run.  It won’t be our last I assure you.

#579: Entering the Asylum

GETTING MORE TALE #579: Entering the Asylum
(Supplement to the  Re-Review series)

Back in Record Store Tales Part 3 (!), we took a nostalgic look at my first ever Kiss albums, that all arrived in one glorious batch.  The year was 1985, but Kiss also had a new album coming out in a matter of days.  Now that I had started on a Kiss collection, I would have to get their newest album too, called Asylum.  I didn’t even know how to pronounce “asylum” correctly, nor did I know what the word meant, but I did understand that it was their third album without makeup.

Next door neighbor George, who was my introduction to Kiss, came over one day talking about the new single “Tears Are Falling” and how much I would love it.  I didn’t have much money but by the time the snow fell, my dad bought me a copy of Asylum on cassette.  We got it at the Zellers store at Stanley Park Mall in Kitchener.

My meager Kiss collection at that point consisted of Alive!, Asylum (cassette) and a bunch of LPs I recorded off George.  I didn’t know much about the discography but George was a good teacher.  George actually named one of his first bands Asylum.  Before long I could name all the albums, in order.  I even predicted that the next single would be “Uh! All Night”.  I didn’t foresee the third single “Who Wants To Be Lonely” because Kiss hadn’t done a third single in ages!

George was only missing two Kiss albums:  The Elder, and Double Platinum.  He was dying to get both and finish the collection.  His record collection was fascinating to me and a goldmine of music to tape and explore.  The album covers, particularly for Kiss and Iron Maiden, had me hooked.

As my interest in Kiss grew, a new kid at school who I later found out was a “liar liar pants on fire” claimed he had “all” the Kiss albums at home.  His name was Joe Ciaccia (pronounced “chee-chaw”).  I asked him if that meant he had The Elder.  He said yes.  I told George I knew a kid who owned it, and he just about shit his pants.  I made arrangements with Joe to meet up at his place on the next Sunday to do a trade.  All I asked for brokering this trade was recording the album.

George was really excited.  “I don’t care what he wants for it, I’m not leaving without that record.”  I distinctly remember a small group of us trudging through the snow to meet Joe at his apartment.  Who came with us?  I can’t remember.  Joe lived on Breckenridge Drive, just down the street from Brian Vollmer of Helix.  One thing that I can remember very clearly was grabbing my Sanyo ghetto blaster loaded with D-cell batteries, my Asylum tape, and rocking while walking to Joe’s.

Listening to a cassette on a ghetto blaster powered by D-cells was a warbly experience that kids today don’t understand.  Our small group lollygagging through the slush listening to “King of the Mountain” on that old Sanyo is an image I’ll always remember.  I carried it through the wet melting snow.  Those Sanyo ghetto blasters were built like tanks!  You could drop them and they’d keep on ticking.

We arrived at Joe’s apartment and buzzed.  No answer.  Buzzed again.  No answer.  I began to realize my fears.  Joe was all talk and no Elder.  We hung out down there a while but there was no sign of Joe.  George was partly crushed and mostly pissed off.  At school, Joe gradually earned a reputation for tall tales.  His were beginning to rival the lies of Ian Johnson – they even lived on the same street.

We flipped the Asylum tape over and began the walk home.  A wasted trip, and Joe dodged me at school the next day.  George kept pestering me to arrange a second hookup with Joe, thinking he still had that copy of The Elder that he wanted so badly.  I realized Joe was full of shit and told George the sad truth.  The record was not there.  Joe was telling stories, trying to seem cool to me for having all the Kiss albums.  Then he got caught in the lie, after going so far as to arrange a trade and giving me the address.  Very un-cool.

George did get a copy of The Elder a few months later, and he still taped me a copy.  It was a strange album, after being immersed in Asylum for many months.  Then, I definitely preferred AsylumAsylum was special to me.  It was my first “new” Kiss album since getting into the band!  I had boarded the Kiss train and I wasn’t getting off!

REVIEW: Rich Robinson – Got to Get Better in a Little While (10″ EP)

RICH ROBINSON – Got to Get Better in a Little While (2016 Universal 10″ clear single for Record Store Day)

This really pretty record (a single or an EP, who cares?) was found on the Taranna 2016 expedition with Mr. Books.  It’s apparently a Record Store Day exclusive from April 2016, although I had no problem getting this one for $16.99 in October.  This my first purchase of anything by Rich without his brother Chris.  Knowing the Black Crowes, I was fairly certain it wouldn’t suck.  I was still surprise to see on the back, an ad for not one not two not three but FOUR Rich Robinson “Expanded Editions” on CD and LP!  Who knew?  Not this guy!

“Got to Get Better in a Little While” is a Derek and the Dominoes cover, apparently one that Crowes used to do regularly, as does Rich.  You have to hear this if you like bluesy rock that produces pure smoke from sheer musical chemistry.  Yes, Clapton is God and the original can’t be touched, but a real jackass could easily make this song sound like shit.  Rich does the opposite, and it sounds as part of his musical being.  There’s some deep bass that just cuts through, and this goes on for eight and a half minutes of jam session heaven.  Just bop along.

The second side has two Rich originals.  Greasy late night blues is on the menu.  “Look Through My Window” sets a scene of steamy Tennessee dusk.  Brilliant stuff for any fan of slippery slidey guitars.  Then an acoustic/electric tune called “Falling Away” closes on a first light of a quiet dawn.  Great tunes, both, making up a tidy little 16 minute EP.  Or single.  Whatever!

The vinyl itself is clear and thick.  The package doesn’t say anything about clear vinyl, but you almost expect clear or coloured when you buy these limited editions.  It looks lovely spinning with its green label.  Great little EP, reasonably priced for the collector and fan.

4/5 stars

 

RE-REVIEW: KISS – Creatures of the Night (1982/1985)

The KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES Part 22:

  – Creatures of the Night (1982 Casablanca, 1985 Polygram reissue, 1997 Mercury remaster)

The internal problems with Kiss continued full-bore into their next album, the surprisingly powerful Creatures of the Night.  Ace Frehley was on the cover, and in the music video, but like Peter Criss before him, he didn’t play a note.  In the midst of recording with new producer Michael James Jackson (Red Rider), they were also auditioning new guitarists to replace the Ace.

As a result of the embarrassing failure of their concept album fiasco Music From the Elder, Kiss had little choice in what to do next.  If they had any hope of survival as a musical entity, they had to return to rock.  What may have come as a surprise given their recent history including two pop “Kissco” albums was that their new music was really, really heavy.  Kiss were unleashed and went full-bore heavy metal.

Aiding and abetting this:  drummer Eric Carr was unchained on Creatures of the Night.  His drum sound, inspired by the massive slam of Zeppelin’s John Bonham, was completely off the hook.  These are by far the biggest sounding drums on any Kiss album.  Also helping the band get heavier:  a new songwriting partner.  Vincent Cusano wrote and played on several tracks on Creatures.  His talent was evident to all.

In fact there is a school of thought today regarding Mr. Cusano, later redubbed “Vinnie Vincent”.  A large vocal group of fans proclaim today that “Vinnie Saved Kiss”.  And that theory does hold some water.

Other contributors to the LP included Canadian writing team Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.  Adam Mitchell and Mikel Japp also wrote with Paul and Gene.  Guitarists Robben Ford, Steve Farris and Adam Mitchell lent chops and solos to the album.  One guy who Gene claims came to the studio, but did not play, was one Eddie Van Halen.  According to Gene Simmons, Eddie came down and poured his heart out complaining how miserable he was in Van Halen…and then asked to join Kiss.  Believe it…or not?

The incendiary title track “Creatures of the Night” is powerful and instantaneous enough to be used as a concert opener.  The metallic chug was new to Kiss, but not alien to them.  This anthemic Paul Stanley rocker had the goods.  Kiss were back, and in a big way.  Just listen to those opening drums!  It’s as if Kiss knew that Eric Carr still needed a more suitable introduction, and they gave it to him.

Creatures is notable for one major “first”.  It was the first of many Kiss studio albums to only feature two lead singers, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.  Gene’s debut on Creatures is the incredible “Saint and Sinner”, heavy but low-key and based on a killer verse melody.  “Get me off this carousel, you can do as you please…you can go to hell,” sings an angry Demon.  And that’s Vinnie, absolutely smoking with a brilliantly melodic guitar solo.  What a player…but only when he can control his instincts to play too fast.

Paul turns up the sex on “Keep Me Comin’” (har-de-har har!), a sleazy Kiss rocker with a heavy Zeppelin groove.  While not quite filler material, “Keep Me Comin’” and another Paul track called “Danger” are definitely on the lower rungs of this album.  “Danger” is the prototype for a kind of speed metal Kiss rocker that Paul threw on all the albums from this point to 1985.

One of Paul’s best songs, and longest lasting in concert, was the ballad “I Still Love You”.  This is one heavy ballad, but Paul’s singing is completely over the top.  Again, it’s more like a heavy Zeppelin blues ballad.  A track like this proves why Paul is considered one of the greatest hard rock singers of all time.  Not too many can do it like Paul on “I Still Love You”…and that’s Eric Carr on bass, by the way.  Gene doesn’t play bass on most of Paul’s songs.  Jimmy Haslip (ex-Blackjack featuring Michael Bolton and future Kiss member Bruce Kulick) and Mike Porcaro took over bass duties on “Danger” and “Creatures” respectfully.

As for Gene, Creatures really sounds up his alley, with tunes like “Rock and Roll Hell”, “Killer”, and “War Machine” suiting his dark persona.  And what tunes these are, particularly “Rock and Roll Hell” which simmers with a midnight intensity.  The song rides the basic bassline with not much in the way of additional crunch, into chorus time.  The interesting thing is the song is actually a thorough re-working of an old Bachman-Turner Overdrive song written by Jim Valance.  In fact, Valance claimed that Simmons only insisted on reworking the song in order to get writing royalties.  Either way, “Rock and Roll Hell” just burns like an ember.  Then in another interesting twist, the song was later covered by Ace Frehley (Origins Vol. 1)!  A Kiss cover of a Kiss song he never played on.

“Killer” reeks of Vinnie Vincent.  One of the key guitar riffs sounds quintessentially Vinnie, and kind of similar to his later solo track “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”.  It’s a brilliant track, right up Gene’s alley, with intense speed and hooks.  The female backing vocals in the outro are a surprise.  “War Machine” on the other hand sounds purely Gene, even though it’s a co-write with Valance and Bryan Adams.  Something about it personifies the “monster plod” sound that Gene specializes in. It’s apocalyptic Kiss metal for your nightmares.  It’s strong and relentless.

The single was, of course, the overplayed “I Love it Loud”, which in turn was transformed into a killer music video featuring Ace Frehley miming Vinnie Vincent’s guitar.  “I Love it Loud” is insanely catchy and unshakeable during its first several listens.  After that, it’s too simple to maintain interest too long.  It’s kind of baffling how this song has remained in set lists well past its sell-by date, especially when tracks like “Killer” and “Saint and Sinner” are not.

In 1985 this album was reissued with new non-makeup cover art.  On the cover they replaced Ace Frehley, who never played on the album, with Bruce Kulick…who never played on the album.  Three songs were remixed:  “Creatures of the Night”, “War Machine”, and “I Love it Loud”, but only “Creatures” was included on the 1985 album.  The remixed “I Love it Loud” was later issued on a compilation, and the remixed “War Machine” has yet to be released.  The remixes by Dave Wittman generally toned down the awesome drum sound, weakening the experience overall.

Vinnie Vincent joined the band officially after Creatures was recorded, and was given his own makeup design:  The “Ankh Warrior”.  A strange choice for a new character; perhaps Kiss were plain out of ideas or just didn’t care.  It’s the only Kiss makeup design to never be seen on an album cover.  Then, Kiss embarked on their first American tour in years, the 10th Anniversary Tour.  It featured a stage with a tank for a drum riser.  “Killer” indeed!

Today’s rating:

4.5/5 stars


Uncle Meat’s rating:

2.5/5 steaks 

Meat’s slice:  When Creatures of the Night was released in 1982, Kiss had been on the back burner for me for a couple years.  Obviously still loved the classics, but 12 year old Meat was starting to become a huge fan of Heavy Metal music.  Two different friends of mine and I were discovering new music together.  Albums like Ace of Spades, Maiden Japan and Saxon’s Denim and Leather were the gateway drug for me on my way to being addicted to Heavy Metal. So when Creatures came out I recall being so into it, primarily because this was a “Heavy Metal” Kiss record.  What’s not to like?  The video for “I Love it Loud” was awesome and renewed my love for the band at the time.

So I listened to Creatures from stem to stern the other day, 35 years after it was released, and my take on this album is now quite a different story.  I am expecting that many will disagree with my slice on this one, but circumstances dictate my review.  Metal music just doesn’t inspire me the way it used to.  The love is still there but the lust is gone.  Obviously there are staples that I will always love, and new exceptions pop up all time time, but the truth is I would rather put on stuff like Steely Dan, Sly and the Family Stone, Grand Funk Railroad, Yes, Steve Earle, Drive by Truckers etc etc.

If I would have done these Meat Slices let’s say…20 years ago?…I probably would have panned Unmasked and praised this album.  But now it is the opposite.  The album’s title track, “I Still Love You” and “I Love it Loud” are still enjoyable to me, but pretty much every other song sounds very forced and downright boring to me.  This is what happens when a band, who was used to ruling the world, tries to regain said status by joining the new Heavy Metal revolution.  Trying to be something they are not.   The albums previous (with maybe the exception of the song “The Oath”) and the albums that followed were not Metal albums.  The following albums have some heavy songs, but are definitely not Heavy Metal records.  You have to fast forward a decade until they released Revenge, and even that album had some different styles within it.  It’s so strange to me that a Kiss record that sees Kiss trying SO HARD to be a heavy metal band, turns to Bryan Adams for inspiration?  What’s Metal about that?  Hello.  McFly?

Rating this album was tough for me. I had to consider how much I loved it when it came out, and that the Creatures of the Night tour was my first Toronto arena concert.  I can’t say I dislike the album, but I can say that of all the Kiss records I have revisited doing these slices, it’s this album that truly disappointed me because I went into the listen looking forward to hearing it again.

My final thoughts are this.  Would diehard Alice Cooper fans consider Flush the Fashion a classic Alice Cooper record?  It’s an album I owned on vinyl and I like the album, but it’s a blatant grab at the New Wave market and sounds nothing like the rest of his career.  Celtic Frost has done everything possible to erase the memory of the deplorable Cold Lake, since it is a very un-Celtic Frost like record for the band.  Creatures of the Night is not genuine to me.  Most of the album sounds like the inspiration for Spinal Tap’s album, Smell the Glove. Especially the song “Heavy Duty”, and not surprisingly it was released not long after this in 1984.  So, to end this slice I will refer to the immortal Derek Smalls and put it like this.  Creatures of the Night is a disingenuous collection of head banging bullshit that to me is forgettable.  It sounds square, clunky and has way too many forgettable songs on it.  I would rather listen to Bryan Adams’ 1983 album Cuts Like a Knife.   But Kiss…I still love you.

 Favorite Tracks:  “I Love it Loud”, “Creatures of the Night”, “I Still Love You”

 Forgettable Tracks:   The rest


LeBrain’s rebuttal:  You’re Wrong on Creatures

For this Kiss Re-Review series, I have purposely avoided reading Uncle Meat’s reviews, and vice-versa, until they are ready to post.  We wanted to avoid influencing each other.  Creatures is an exception.  Meat sent this to me a couple weeks ago, long before I even started my review.  And now that I have read it…I feel like crying a single solitary tear of sadness, just like the one Gene shed in the video for “A World Without Heroes”.

Uncle Meat has a point about the switch to heavy metal music seeming like an act of desperation.  I don’t doubt that if The Elder had been a hit instead of an abject nearly career-ending failure, Kiss would have continued in that direction.  But we are talking about Kiss here.  This is a band that have usually been followers, not leaders.  Were they the first to wear makeup and heels?  No.  Did they invent disco with “I Was Made For Lovin’ You”?  No.  Going forward into the future, you will see Kiss continuing to chase other people’s sounds, such as Jon Bon Jovi and Alice in Chains.  Even Revenge, which Meat mentioned above, seemed like an effort to bring things in line with what was happening in rock and roll.

Having listened to Creatures again for what must be the 30,000th time, my love for it is still strong.  I’ve bought Creatures five times over the years.  Every time I play it, I’m a 13 year old again.  I sink into the guitar tones, which Vinnie just nailed on this album, and enjoy the booming echo of the drums.  “I Love it Loud” no longer pitches my pup tent, but mostly due to overexposure.

On this, the Meatmaster General and I will have to agree to disagree.  It’s something we often do when it comes to music, but the benefit is that it generates rich discussions, just like this one.  — LeBrain

To be continued…

Original mikeladano.com review:  2012/07/28