Walmart

#S18-0: Sausagefest 2018 prelude

#687: Chronic Complainers

GETTING MORE TALE #687: Chronic Complainers

There will always be people who relish complaining.  Maybe they feel that life wronged them somewhere.  Perhaps they got up on the wrong side of the bed.  Some people are just miserable and like to spread the misery.  Others are just cheapskates.  Whatever the category, we saw ‘em all at the Record Store.

If you don’t like a store, why do you shop there?  Chronic complainers had many grievances, but were still coming on a regular basis.  It’s not like we were the only game in town.  We weren’t the cheapest either.  So why did the chronic complainers like to make our lives misery?  Every retail job has “horror stories”, but those are amplified in a buy-and-sell environment.

I think a lot of people used to have the wrong about idea about what a “used CD store” was all about.  One of the old managers, Joe, used to say we were nothing but a “glorified garage sale” disguised as a store.  A lot of complainers seemed to see it that way too.  They wanted to haggle.  They wanted a better deal than what was on the sticker.

Me personally, when I walk into a store, I don’t assume every price is negotiable.  Some people do.  I still know people who love to haggle.  At the store, we all hated when customers tried.  Only the owner had any real authority to haggle, and he didn’t work at a cash register.

We carried a small selection of new CDs in addition to our used stock.  Some folks loved to whine about pricing.  Chronic complainers would tell you that “Walmart has the new Metallica for cheaper than you.”  Great, super, thanks for the help.  You know that an indy shop can’t compete with Walmart’s buying power, right?  Their costs were much less than ours, and there was no way to beat them.  Why didn’t you just buy Metallica at Walmart when you were there if the prices are so great?

Selection was another subject for complaint.  We might have had 10,000 used CDs in stock but complainers loved to point out what we didn’t have.  “This is the only Zeppelin you have?” they’d ask as they held up a copy of Encomium – A Tribute to Led Zeppelin.  “You never have any good Zeppelin.  When are you getting more?”  I’d explain that you can never predict when a specific used CD would be traded in, but I could put them on a waiting list.  “Nah, I’ll just check back.”  Well, then don’t complain when someone else snags the next Zeppelin before you.

We had a pretty good system for a waiting list.  It was all computerized so if something particular came in, it would automatically get flagged.  We could also have stock sent from other stores to pick up locally.  There was one woman that only came in during our first summer open…a chronic complainer that eventually fucked off.  She always had a complaint, every visit.  You don’t have this, you don’t have that, why is this taking so long?  She ordered in a CD from another store, didn’t pick it up on time, and by the time she came in (a month later), it was gone.  I remember telling the staff, “Keep this one on hold.  She’s really mean.  Give her extra time.”  Eventually though I had to put the album out and sell it.  I know that we called and left a message that she only had a week left to pick it up.  She still came in too late, and that’s when she ripped me a new one.

“I had to drive an hour to get here!” she complained.

“Would our Waterloo location be more convenient for you?” I asked, trying to be helpful but also hoping to dump this annoying customer on another store.

“NO!” she exclaimed.

Maybe you should have called in to see if the CD was still here before you made the trip.  I would have.  I think that was her last visit, and it was one customer I was happy to lose.  The owner probably wouldn’t like to hear me say that, but he didn’t have to deal with her.

When I was running our website in the early 2000s, I received a complaint about one of our locations that would not refund some used CDs.  I called the manager up to get her side of the story before I responded.  She said that the guy was yelling and screaming and wouldn’t let her finish a sentence, as she was trying to explain the return policy.  Some customers treated our female employees like dirt, preferring to deal with males.  I got the sense that this complainer was one of them.  He threatened to go to the Chamber of Commerce, but he didn’t get his refund.

There were also chronic complainers who primarily just sold CDs to us.  They wanted a lot more for their CDs than you can offer, and sometimes even act insulted about it.  When you wouldn’t give in to them (because you’re not allowed), they’d be grumpy about it, to put it mildly.  There was one construction worker that came in regularly who was my first surly nemesis.  (And no, he never sold me any Village People albums.)  Then there was the prick that worked at CD Plus down the street.  He kept coming in over and over again to sell, even though he complained each time.  He had tiger-striped hair.  What an annoying fuck he was.  I sure was glad when CD Plus shut down operations and I never saw him again.  (The former CD Plus owner, David Cubitt, still has his mullet but now sells beer for a living.)  Whatever that fucking tiger-stripe guy’s name was, I couldn’t stand dealing with his arrogance.

Tiger-stripe loved to argue.  He quizzed me about what kind of CDs we would pay the most for.  At the time, the Beatles’ original albums were expensive and in demand on CD, so that was one.  “We’ll pay top dollar for the Beatles, they’re still very popular.”

“Why the Beatles?  Neil Diamond has sold more albums than the Beatles.”

Yeah, not the point man.  You could buy a Neil Diamond CD brand new for half the price of a Beatles CD at that time, and he knew that.  His store made their coin selling “super saver” titles.

Any time he brought in a bunch of discs, he would only sell a handful of them and keep all the best ones.  If he could get more for them elsewhere, why was he coming to us at all?

The constant negativity of the chronic complainers could become a real drag on your day.

If you catch yourself complaining regularly at a favourite establishment, maybe it’s not a favourite after all, and maybe the problem is you.

REVIEW: Stryper – God Damn Evil (2018 Japanese import)

STRYPER – God Damn Evil (2018 Frontiers Japan)

Timothy Gaines ejected from Stryper, unfortunately not on the best of terms.  He was swiftly replaced by Perry Richardson of Firehouse, who fit into the rock regime smoothly and easily.  God Damn Evil is Stryper’s first with the new bassist, but latest in a long string of credible and crucial Christian metal albums.

But first a word about Walmart, who refused to stock this album based on the title alone.

This exemplifies two huge problems in society today.  One:  the inability to think for oneself.  Two:  pandering in fear to the whims of the general public.  Walmart were afraid they’d get complaints about an album called God Damn Evil, and so refused to offer it.  It’s patently obvious what the title means; just look at the cover art.  God is damning the evil.  Spelling it out even further, the evil is clearly depicted as “money”.  (Maybe the corporate mega-giant doesn’t like this anti-capitalism message.)

Maybe Stryper should have titled this album God Damn, People Are Stupid.  You can’t buy God Damn Evil at Walmart, but you can buy Night of the Demons on Blu-ray.  Go figure.

The music is what matters most, and the word on the street is that God Damn Evil is their best album yet.

That’s a tough claim.  After all, Fallen and No More Hell to Pay are both excellent metal albums, and surely rank among Stryper’s top five.  God Damn Evil shares a similar heavy direction, and even matching cover art, forming an ad-hoc trilogy.  The new one is the heaviest of the three.  Fans were taken aback by lead track “Take It to the Cross”, the closest Stryper have been to thrash metal.  From guttural grunts to screams so high they border on self-parody, “Take It to the Cross” is aural shrapnel of the best kind.

The only other track that comes close to “Take It to the Cross” in terms of speed is the Priest-like closer “The Devil Doesn’t Live Here”.  There is no question that Stryper can make metal as gleaming as their heroes do.

More traditional is “Sorry”, a metal groove with a slaying chorus on top.  It’s one of many contenders for “favourite song”, along with a swaggering “Own Up”.  “Lost” reduces the tempo, but not the power.  The message is there too, but not overwhelming.  Anyone can headbang along.  The title track “God Damn Evil” is unexpectedly different, being a straightforward hard rock tune with an anthemic chorus.  Stryper fear no evil in “The Valley”, a heavy metal retelling of Psalm 23 (“the valley of the shadow of death”).  Another top track is “Beautiful” which bears a Sabbath groove the likes of which is the basis of the genre.  It’s melodic, but not a ballad.  There’s only one of those:  “Can’t Live Without Your Love”, available in Japan in two versions.  The standard 80s-sounding power ballad would stand proudly next to “Is This Love” by Whitesnake.  The Japan-exclusive acoustic version is even better.

The highlights are many, and filler nonexistent.  Without giving up a shade of their integrity, Stryper have managed to remain true to their origins and yet evolve into higher, heavier grooves.  The key is the eternal youth of singer Michael Sweet.

Although some still think Stryper are a synonym with bad 80s bands, you’d be wrong to discount them now.  Stryper may well indeed have done their best album in 2018.

5/5 stars

#581: Attention Walmart Shoppers

GETTING MORE TALE #581: Attention Walmart Shoppers

On June 10 2017, Mrs. LeBrain was at the Walmart at Fairview Mall looking for Transformers for her husband (me).  She came home with an injury so bad she was immobile for the rest of the night.

She already has mobility issues due to numerous falls and fractures, but June 10 she aggravated her sciatica.  Some idiot was there with two kids, but too busy texting to notice what was about to transpire.  The baby was seated in a shopping cart, and a young boy had control of the cart.  Mother was deep in texting.  You can see it about to happen can’t you?  Kid hits my wife in the leg with the cart, then does it again.

Jen says to the lady, “Would you mind watching your kids?”

The lady responded with the very typical, “Why don’t you mind your own business.”

“It is my business!  Your kid hit me in the leg with your shopping cart, twice!”

There’s a baby in this shopping cart, remember!

The lady then said to the kid, “Stop that.”  She didn’t offer an apology.

When Jen got home that’s when the nerve pain really kicked in.  We managed the pain the best we could through a very sleepless night and went to the doctor (emergency appointment) the following day (a Sunday).  All that because some kid wasn’t being minded by his distracted mother.

People, we’ve bitched about Walmart shoppers here before, but Walmart’s not to blame.  It’s the idiot parents, and this is nothing new.  Back in Record Store Tales Part 29, we recalled the dad who didn’t care about his kid that just demolished the country section.  People, watch your kids.  It’s not hard, and if you do such a poor job that your kids cause injury to someone else, maybe you should have got your shit together before having kids.

Sunday Chuckle: 8:30 am Walmart Run

When you know the guy ran out of toilet paper at 8:30 am on a Saturday, but didn’t want to put just the toilet paper on his debit card.

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And then I got home and it turns out I bought the “wrong” toilet paper.

Blu-ray REVIEW: Star Wars: The Force Awakens [Full-on spoilerific]

NEW RELEASE – SPOILERS

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015, 2016 Lucasfilm Blu-ray DVD set)

When we last saw our heroes in 1983, Evil had been defeated.  Seemingly, Luke Skywalker fulfilled the prophecy of the chosen one who would bring balance to the Force, via his father Anakin Skywalker.  Appealing to the good still within Darth Vader, the evil henchman of the Empire turned back to the light and betrayed his Sith lord, Emperor Palpatine.  The Rule of Two was broken and the Sith were destroyed, along with their ultimate weapon, the second dreaded Death Star.  In death, Vader redeemed himself.  Luke smiled when he saw the ghost of his father standing next to those of his old masters Yoda and Ben Kenobi.  He turned to rejoin his friends in the celebration of victory.  Roll credits.

For decades, we were told “that’s it”.  That’s the end of the story, said the man who wrote it, George Lucas.  Sure there was talk of a sequel trilogy before, even two sequel trilogies!  This seemed highly unlikely in 1983 as George was adamant that he was letting Star Wars go to work on other projects.  The legacy of a sequel, of “what happened to Luke, Han Solo and Princess Leia later” was left first to novelist Timothy Zahn and then to a whole new generation of writers who filled the galaxy with stories of what came next.  Of course, we all knew that should George actually change his mind and allow sequels to be made, all of that old stuff from the books would go out the window.  No way was anybody going to try and adhere to continuity that somebody else wrote in a novel.

In 1994 there was hope.  Lucas re-emerged and began working on the mysterious and long-awaited Star Wars prequels, Episodes I, II and III.  Questions now could finally be answered.  Who were the Jedi?  Who is Luke Skywalker’s mother, only briefly mentioned before and never seen or named?  Most importantly, how did Anakin Skywalker transform into Darth Vader, and why did the Repulic fall to be replaced by an Empire?   One of the problems with this situation was that some questions are often best left to the imagination.

It was undeniably wonderful to finally return to the Star Wars galaxy, but it is also impossible to overlook how ill-received by fans the prequel movies were.  The stiff acting, the wooden dialogue, the unlikely scenarios and muddled plots of these movies made them difficult to fully enjoy.  Although entire cottage industries had grown out of anticipating the possibility of a sequel trilogy, many fans were happy all the same if they never got made.  Lucas pooh-poohed the idea, now claiming Star Wars was always two trilogies, six movies, and the story of Anakin.  There were no stories beyond that, he continued.  It would be fun, he said, to see what Luke and Han were up to later, but ultimately they would just be extraneous to the actual story of Darth Vader.  The end.

 

"Everyone said, 'Well, are you going to do sequels to the first three?' But that was an afterthought; I don't have scripts on those stories. The only notion on that was, wouldn't it be fun to get all the actors to come back when they're 60 or 70 years old and make three more about them as old people."

“Everyone said, ‘Well, are you going to do sequels to the first three?’ But that was an afterthought; I don’t have scripts on those stories. The only notion on that was, wouldn’t it be fun to get all the actors to come back when they’re 60 or 70 years old and make three more about them as old people.”

 

Or not.

Quietly and in secret, Lucas once again had a change of heart and began work on the Star Wars sequel trilogy.  Realizing that he would not be able to undertake such a massive project at his age, he made the brave choice of handing Lucasfilm over to Kathleen Kennedy, and selling Star Wars to Disney.  Lucas’ story and characters were thrown out, but used as inspiration for what would eventually become Episode VII.  Artists dug way back into the Ralph McQuarrie archives for inspiration, and so decades-old designs for Star Wars were finally able to leap onto the big screen.

Much of this information is the included documentary, Secrets of the Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey.  Though that feature does document the emotion and gravitas of what a sequel really means, it fails to really express the true feeling of it all.  For decades, we were told this movie was never coming, but Episode VII was what we all really wanted, not Episode I.  After the credits rolled on Return of the Jedi, did we all not grab our action figures of Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie and try to play out what happened next?  The toy company Kenner tried to come up with new villains (I’m sure “Mongo Beefhead Tribesman” would have been a big hit), and Marvel Comics introduced a new villain called Lumiya, the Dark Lady of the Sith.   Mace Windu, Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn did not exist.  The truth is, even in 1983, we didn’t really care about prequels.  We wanted to know what happened next much more than what came before.  So the dual challenge with Star Wars Episode VII was to not only make a movie that continues the story of the Skywalker family appropriately, but also to live up to everything we imagined and played out as kid.  No pressure, right?

Director JJ Abrams felt the pressure, but what he and his creative team emerged with in The Force Awakens is everything that fans needed it to be.  Not that there were no complaints.  The heaviest criticism laid against The Force Awakens is that it imitates the first Star Wars (A New Hope) slavishly.  Some derisively refer to The Force Awakens as a “reboot”.  The parallels are there, but let us also not forget that Lucas himself tried to make his trilogies “rhyme” with similar circumstances.  Did they go too far trying to copy the original?

A cute heroic droid carries a secret message on a desert world that must get back to the heroes.  A new young character, a loner who is unwittingly Force sensitive, meets this droid and decides to help it.  The desert world is escaped in the Millenium Falcon.  They are pursued by the bad guys, led by a Force-using guy in a black mask and cloak with a crimson red laser sword.  The bad guys have an ultimate weapon, a planet destroyer, and they use it.  Our heroes must stop them from using it again.  This large spherical weapon must be blown up, and a battle of X-Wings vs Tie Fighters will decide the fate of the galaxy.  An old hero from a prior trilogy makes the ultimate sacrifice.  Finally, our young new hero character concentrates to use the Force, and defeats the evil.  Roll credits.

That paragraph describes both A New Hope and The Force Awakens perfectly.   But a lot has changed, too.

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Although we know the events that occurred 30 years prior off by heart, we know very little about what actually took place between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.  Here is what we do know.

After the Battle of Endor and the defeat of the Emperor, Han Solo and Princess Leia had a son named Ben.  The Blu-ray special features reveal that Ben Solo was powerful in the Force, but with equal portions of light and dark within him.  Director JJ Abrams tells us that the man known as Snoke, a dark side user, had his eyes on Ben Solo from the very start.  So, much like his grandfather Anakin Skywalker, young Ben was being watched by a dark side master from the very beginning, and slowly seduced to the dark side.  We also know that Luke was training a new generation of Jedi, but that Ben destroyed it all.  Luke went into hiding, feeling responsible for his failure.  We do not know anything concrete about this Snoke, or where he comes from.  All that we know is that he seems very, very afraid of Luke.  Ben Solo wants to find the map that leads to Luke’s hiding place.  Snoke on the other hand wants that map destroyed if it cannot be recovered.  He would rather that Luke never return to the affairs of the galaxy, where Ben is desperate to find that map, and therefore his uncle Luke.

Our new hero, the girl known only as Rey, has a Force vision in the movie that tells us a little bit more about what happened.  We see brief clips of a massacre in the rain.  Betraying Luke’s students by surprise in the night, it appears Ben, now known as Kylo Ren, has slaughtered Luke’s younglings with the help of his henchmen, the Knights of Ren, about whom we know nothing at all.  We glimpse Luke placing his robotic right hand on his trusted droid R2-D2, perhaps shutting him down.  And most interestingly, we see Kylo Ren killing someone through the back with his lightsaber, from the perspective of someone down below.  Someone small like a child perhaps.

In that vision, which seems to be from the perspective of Rey as a little girl, Kylo Ren appears to be killing one of his fellow Knights of Ren.  Is that indeed what is happening?  Why did Kylo kill that man from behind?  Did Kylo spare Rey from him?  And who is Rey?

There seems little question that Rey is indeed a Skywalker.  It also seems clear that Kylo Ren knows, or at least feels, that there is more to Rey than anyone else knows.  It is Kylo who freaks out every time somebody mentions the scavenger girl from Jakku.  Why?  What is it about the idea of a girl from Jakku that has him so on edge?  Rey is powerful enough to not only resist Kylo’s mind probe, but also reverse it and read Kylo’s mind.  “You’re afraid,” she boldly proclaims, “that you will never be as powerful as Darth Vader!”  She is strong enough to defeat Kylo Ren, at least semi-trained in the lightsaber, in a dual.  Much like three other key characters in Star Wars (Luke, Leia and Anakin Skywalker), she has latent Force talents that are emerging on their own.  And this terrifies Kylo Ren, very much.  “You need a teacher!” he tells Rey, trying to avoid being bested by a girl.  “I can teach you the ways of the Force!”

Kylo Ren is an interesting and complex villain.  He has the fiery temper of his grandfather, but even more wild and untamed.  His unfinished lightsaber is amaturish and dangerous.  Unlike Anakin, he does not feel pulled to the dark.  “I feel it again.  The call to the light,” he confesses to Darth Vader’s melted helmet in meditation.  “Show me again, the power of the dark side,” he begs the spirit of his grandfather.  Wait…”again”?  What’s this “again” business?  When Anakin died, did he not revert to good?  It seems highly likely that Kylo Ren’s master, Supreme Leader Snoke, is manipulating him with this Vader business.  We will not know for sure until Episode VIII…or IX.

As for Snoke, we know he’s a Force user because we are told that he senses Kylo’s weakness, his compassion.  We also know this because he says he’s going to complete Kylo Ren’s training.  And that doesn’t sound too good for Kylo!  His mucking around, trying to retrieve the map from Rey instead of destroying it in BB-8, caused the First Order to lose their gazollion-credit superweapon, the Starkiller.  Think Darth Vader was in shit when he let the first Death Star get blown up?  Just imagine the shit that Kylo Ren is in now.  That new scar across his face his the last of his worries.  When Snoke finds out that he not only got the base blown up, but also let the girl get away and the Resistance find Luke Skywalker…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be Kylo Ren right now.  The “completion” of his training will result in an even meaner and more intense Kylo Ren in Episode VIII.

Kylo’s father Han Solo went down a hero in The Force Awakens.  Now, true Star Wars fans could have seen this coming right from the day they announced the movie was going to be made.  Han Solo was supposed to die in Jedi.  At first, George Lucas wanted balance.  The victory of the heroes should be balanced by a tragic loss, because that’s life.  He eventually backed out of this.  It seemed obvious that the idea would be resurrected for The Force Awakens.  But for Han to go down the way he did?  Perfect.  Flawless.  Some complain that Han should have had the last word;  he did though — his hand on his son’s face says 1000 words.

Chewbacca’s rage in that moment reflected the shock of everyone in the movie theater.  Rey and Finn’s shock and sorrow was what we all felt, even though it was telegraphed from a mile away.  If those gangsters chasing Solo earlier in the film didn’t hint that his luck was running dry, then the moment Solo walked out onto that catwalk surely indicated it was time for his end.   If there is one rule in Star Wars, it’s be careful of catwalks.  Have these people not yet invented the safety rail?  On Earth, that catwalk would have violated so many regulations that General Hux would have been busted down to Colonel.

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The Blu-ray has deleted scenes, and some of them reveal a little bit more detail.  In one, Rey is told that Finn is going to be just fine, something left ambiguous in the final film.  In another, Kylo Ren and a squad of Snowtroopers board the Millenium Falcon after its crash landing on the Starkiller planet.  Knowing Ren would have grown up on that ship, you can only imagine his feelings as he stands in the cockpit.  Other cut scenes, like a battle with Finn and Rey using Snowspeeders, would have made the movie drag.  So here they are for your enjoyment, and separate from the film on a bonus disc.

The bonus disc also includes interesting bits about the different BB-8 droids that were built for the film, and the various creatures and monsters.  Composer John Williams is the star of one featurette.  The CG effects are gone over, and so is the end lightsaber battle with Kylo and Rey in the woods.  Few lightsaber battles in past movies were filmed in a night time setting.  In order to get the reflective glows on film, the actors used actual glowing lightsaber props for the scene.  The result is more realistic lighting in a scene featuring many trees and lots of snow.  Finally, there’s a bit about the famous “table read”.  When the cast were assembled and the script was read in one room for the first time, the photo of this epic “table read” went viral.  You may wonder, what did Mark Hamill do during this table read?  Did Luke have zero dialogue or not?  Good question:  Mark read the narration.  It’s only a shame the full two hour table read wasn’t included.

That brings us to Mark Hamill and Luke Skywalker, the ideal place to leave this epic review.  There he was at the end, after 30 years of wondering “What happens to Luke, the only Jedi left in the galaxy?”   Hamill’s face speaks volumes of what happened to Luke.  Epic pain…sad wisdom…incredible knowledge.  Luke has seen these things and much more, and it is in his eyes.  His light beige cloak is a sharp contrast to the black clothes we last saw him in.  In Star Wars, this communicates a purity awash in the good side of the Force.  Whatever he has done in the years since he left, it is implied that Luke has become as powerful as the Emperor predicted.  Probably more powerful even than Darth Vader ever was.  Supreme Leader Snoke fears Luke Skywalker more than anything the pitiful Resistance can muster.  Who do you think gave Snoke those horrific scars on his head?  Perhaps the reason Snoke fears the last Jedi so much is that he has tasted the blade of that Jedi.

The Force Awakens may take all its plot cues from the original 1977 Star Wars, and that is a fair critique.  As we have shown here, there is also much more to it.  There are layers of mystery that are waiting to be peeled.  When George made the first Star Wars in 1977, he didn’t know he would ever make another one.  There were not as many questions to answer.  What Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt came up with here was a story once thought impossible to write.  They succeeded in coming up with a sequel idea that continues the story of the Skywalkers, introduces new heroes and villains, and doesn’t seem tacked on or mismatched with the original movies.  It feels completely organic and natural.  Indeed, The Force Awakens feels far more like Star Wars than any of the three prequels did.  That’s something many thought impossible, like making the Kessel run in 12 parsecs.

Everybody’s going to buy this Blu-ray, so the only question left is which version to buy?  I chose Walmart’s which came in a BB-8 case with a little “trading disc” inside.  Only humbug: all those trailers we sat around and watched are not among the bonus features.  But there are many versions out there and here’s a breakdown of them:

  • Walmart – BB-8 case and trader disc.
  • Best Buy – Steelbook case.
  • Target – 20 minutes of additional bonus features including interviews with John Boyega and Daisy Ridley.
  • Disney – free lithographs.

Buy accordingly!

4/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (2009)

TAYLOR SWIFT & DEF LEPPARD – CMT Crossroads (2009 Walmart exclusive DVD)

“Of course that country cop out track (“Nine Lives”) is brutal…Leppard has no place for CMT! I remember hearing about the Swift deal…I had zero interest. I was like, ‘How can a band that put out stellar product (basically the first four albums) go and cross over!??’ I mean right out of the Sixx play book entitled Following Trends!”Deke from Metal Shatz

“There’s always a first day when you discover a band, be it the Beatles or Taylor Swift, when you hear the name for the first time and then you go and check it out. So we just Googled her, iTuned her, listened to it all and said, ‘Wow’!” — Joe Elliott

“I like to write songs about what’s going on in my life.” — Taylor Swift, stating the obvious

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Before the Swifties come and tear us apart for what you’re about to read, let’s be perfectly clear. Taylow Swift is very talented and has a genuine love for Def Leppard’s music. She is also an incredibly bright individual, and she has written more hits than Def Leppard in a fraction of the time. Both of them started in their teens, and are guilty of using outside writers. In the included interview footage, she and Def Lep seem like a mutual admiration society. We have nothing against Taylor Swift here, though her brand of pop music is never heard around LeBrain HQ…save this Walmart exclusive DVD release.

How did they hook up? Taylor was on tour with “Tim and Faith” (McGraw and Hill) who’s tour manager was Rick Allen’s brother. She expressed interest in doing an episode of CMT Crossroads with them, and then the phone rang.

Leppard and the Swift’s band share the stage, dual drummers, umpteen guitar players, and fiddle…but on a heavier track like “Photograph” you can’t really hear her group. Taylor gets the first line (she says she felt like a kid in a candy store to do so); then she and Joe swap. It’s clear that she doesn’t have the power nor the control that Joe Elliot has. Her voice is whispy by comparison. It’s also weird to see a girl in a gold mini-dress and cowboy boots fronting Def Leppard, but talk about dreams come true! I’m sure Def Leppard didn’t mind the national exposure either.

“Picture to Burn” is the kind of candy-coated pop country that irritates so many fans of the old fashioned stuff. Taylor is more at home on her own songs, but Joe has never sounded more awkward. Taylor’s band dominates on this song, with only a few Phil Collen guitar squeals to remind you he’s there. Tellingly, Joe Elliot says of her music, “You take the banjos and fiddles off, and you’ve got pop.” The next Taylor number, “Love Story” is one I’ve heard on pop radio many times, but it’s hard to suffer through. It brings back bad memories of Leppard’s pop disaster, X.

Taylor butchers my favourite Def Leppard ballad, “Hysteria”. The song successfully absorbs the twang, but again, Swift just lacks the vocal power to blast it the way Joe can. Her own ballad “Teardrops on my Guitar” is so laid back that most of the Leppard guys are sitting down for it. The bands mesh well and the song is pretty good, although she has a guitar player who kind of looks like a goth country emo Russell Brand. She’s at home on Leppard’s “When Love and Hate Collide”. Once again the meshing of the two bands works well here. There’s a full string section, plus backing vocalists crowding the already overloaded stage, but that’s what the song calls for and it’s genuinely great version of the well-worn hit. “Should’ve Said No” is a Swift song I don’t know, but it’s one of those pop tracks that just feels like it was written by a computer. It transforms directly into the show closer “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, but…damn. Taylor’s out of breath. She is audibly gasping (a big no-no) between lines and unable to deliver the goods. With the fiddle and extra accouterments added, this one’s a write-off.

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There are three bonus tracks that weren’t broadcast as part of the show: One Swift, two Leppard. Taylor says she wrote “Our Song” in ninth grade (“three years ago, actually”). That’s exactly what it sounds like, ninth grade pop, but obviously there is a need in the world for that kind of kid-friendly music. Leppard fans won’t find any appeal here. They will however appreciate “Love”, the only new Leppard song in the set. Interestingly it starts with only Taylor and two of her guitarists on stage, then Leppard emerge from the shadows. As a duet, it’s enjoyable, and it’s overall probably the heaviest thing all night. The much-overplayed “Two Steps Behind” is the final bonus track. The fun thing here is trying to count the number of people playing guitar on stage. (Eight plus fiddle and Rick Savage on acoustic five-string.)

Phil Collen gets bonus points for wearing a jacket on stage, dressing up a bit for the television, but he sticks to tradition by having no shirt on underneath.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Poison – Poison’d! (2007 Walmart version with bonus track)

POISOND_0001POISON – Poison’d! (2007 Capitol)

Talk about defying expectations.  As a general rule, covers albums suck.  By extension of that, you would certainly predict that a cover album by Poison would absolutely suck.  After all, the band Poison haven’t made a decent studio album in well over 20 years.  2002’s Hollyweird was junk.  Maybe it’s the presence of legendary producer Don Was, but Poison somehow managed to make a good cover album!  I’m almost worried about losing credibility by saying this.  I did indeed get Poison’d by it.

I think Poison are at their best when playing upbeat but hard pop rock numbers.  “Little Willy” by the Sweet is a great example of that kind of song, and it’s right up Bret’s alley.  It’s obvious that he doesn’t have the voice he once had (which wasn’t much to start with) but when Bret’s at home with a particular style it always works better.  “Little Willy” is hella fun.

Here’s my Bowie confession — this guy here is not a fan.  Maybe it’s over-exposure.  I do like the hits, and of those “Suffragette City” is one I enjoy.  Once again, Poison are at home, putting their slant on Bowie and somehow making it work.  I don’t even mind C.C.’s over the top guitar slop — silly but that’s his style.  I’m sure Bowie diehards will absolutely hate this.

The classic Alice Cooper ballad “I Never Cry” is a great song, and Poison throw a little twang on it while keeping it pretty true to the original.  Dick Wagner had a knack for writing incredible songs, and “I Never Cry” is one of the best he’s ever written.  As for Bret, he’ll never be Alice Cooper but he’s not trying to be.  Too bad C.C. can’t seem to hit the notes he’s searching for on the solo!  If Poison had done this in 1988, they absolutely would have had a hit with it.

You wouldn’t expect a band like Poison to have too many Tom Petty records in their collection, but they do a great job glamming up “I Need to Know”.  They nailed it by doing it in their style, and as long as you’re not too attached to Tom Petty’s original then you’ll dig it.   On the other hand, I can picture Bret having a whole bunch of albums by the Marshall Tucker Band.  “Can’t You Say” has that laid back, southern gospel rock vibe that Bret has been trying to copy for 25 years.  Unsurprisingly, “Can’t You See” is better than most of Bret’s originals in the same style.  Guitar solo aside it’s actually pretty great!

One song I really don’t care for anymore is “What I Like About You” by the Romantics.  Hearing a decent cover though ain’t so bad.  Surprisingly, once again, Poison do a great version.  C.C.’s soloing doesn’t fit the track, but hey, that’s C.C. for you.  Bret’s enthusiasm carries the track, which is in Poison rock mode.  Then they slip by covering the Rolling Stones.  “Dead Flowers” isn’t a song I would be brave enough to do, and Poison should have erred on the side of caution and not tried it.  This is filler, but I love the Cars, so I had my hopes up for the next track “Just What I Needed”.  No need to fear — this one is in that hard pop rock mode that Poison do very well.  It reminds me of their own song “So Tell Me Why” in tone.   Count this one as an album highlight and personal favourite.

Some previously released tracks fill out the set.  A Poison covers album should include their first cover, “Rock ‘N Roll All Nite”.  This Kiss cover (produced by Rick fucking Rubin, no shit) was first released on the Less Than Zero soundtrack in 1987.  You can also hear it in the background at the start of their music video for “Nothin’ But a Good Time”.  I do not like it, but it’s nice to include.  The Who’s “Squeeze Box” was originally from the aforementioned Hollyweird CD, and it’s sadly (but not surprisingly) a stinker.  Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” is a demo from 1987, previously released on the remastered Look What the Cat Dragged On.  Not bad when you want a taste of that old-style Poison.

I think it’s kind of odd to put “Your Mama Don’t Dance” on this CD, since pretty much every Poison fan in the world already has that song.  But here’s the overrated Loggins and Messina cover for you one more time!  “We’re An American Band” was also previously released, on the Poison best of 20 Years of Rock.  (“Rock ‘N Roll All Nite” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance” are also on that CD.)  It’s a good tune on which to end the CD.

Except it’s not!  Walmart’s version of the CD had a bonus track, and it’s a baffling one.  I’m very proud to say that I have never heard the song “Sexy Back” by Justin Timberlake.  Having said that, I’m sure it’s better than Poison’s industrial-flavoured version.  A colonoscopy is better than this.  So essentially what Walmart have done is ended the album with a colonoscopy for you.  You’re welcome!

Missing: “Cover of the Rolling Stone” from the Crack A Smile album. Too bad, as that would have been better than getting “Your Mama Don’t Dance” yet again. Also missing (but not missed): “God Save the Queen” from the remastered Flesh & Blood.

Overall though?  Good CD.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Journey – Revelation (2008 2CD/DVD edition, import with bonus track)

JOURNEY – Revelation (2008 Nomota)

It’s funny to surf the reviews on Amazon for this CD. “Super and Awesome” says one. “Best Journey album since Escape” says another. (Really? Better than Frontiers?)

OK, cutting through the glowing fanboy reviews, let’s be dispassionate here. Journey hasn’t truly sounded like Journey since Steve Smith and Steve Perry left for good in the late 90’s. In my unassuming personal view, Trial By Fire from 1997 was the best Journey album since the glory days. They tried to replace Steve Perry with a clone singer named Steve Augeri on three releases (Arrival, Red 1, Generations) and the result was a generic band that sounded like (guess what) a Journey tribute band. The fact that the smooth-as-butter Steve Smith was gone didn’t help.

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Journey did what I thought was a really smart move afterwards. They brought in the brilliant veteran Jeff Scott Soto to sing, and there are some pretty awesome bootlegs out there of Journey with Soto singing. Soto was no Steve Perry, but a unique singer in his own right, loved by his own legion of fans for his powerful voice. But he was no replicant; no duplicate.  The band actually fired him to bring in someone more Perry-like.

That person is Arnel Pineda, who has an incredible set of pipes. I mean this guy can sing! Unfortunately, Pineda’s been singing Journey pretty much his whole life. He’s a Perry clone. He’s Perry-lite. He’s an imitator. And you can tell. He lacks the character, the grit, the personality, the soul, and the experience of Steve Perry.

Also, let’s not forget that Steve Perry was one of the major Journey songwriters, and without him Neil Schon and Jonathan Cain are left to their own devices. The soul is still gone, the heart of Journey is still ripped out. Revelation is no comeback album. It’s another Journey-lite album, it sounds like the best Journey tribute band in the world, but still…just a tribute band.

Having said that, it’s not bad. It’s not a comeback, it’s more of the same. There are good songs here – “Never Walk Away” being the strongest. “Like A Sunshower” is a nice, generic ballad. “The Journey (Revelation)” is the most adventurous tune here, an instrumental where Schon gets to show his stuff, shredding and classing up the place several notches. The rest of the tunes are just nice. Pleasant Journey-esque ditties where you can tell Cain and Schon were saying, “Let’s write a Journey rocker,” or “Let’s write a Journey ballad”.

The album is roughly half new songs, half old. The second disc is entirely re-records with Arnel singing classic Journey tunes. It’s nice but certainly no replacement for Greatest Hits. It’s great that they tackled “Stone In Love” and “Be Good To Yourself” on here. The rest are the hits, and you know ’em and love ’em already so I won’t talk about them too much. Except to say, this is where you notice first and foremost that Steve Perry is missing. The nuances are not here, rendering this disc nothing more than a novelty.

There are two other re-records, both (oddly enough) from the Augeri era. One is the Japan-only “The Place in Your Heart” which I don’t have so I can’t comment on it. The other, which is on all versions of the CD, is “Faith In The Heartland”, one of the better songs from Generations. I’m guessing they did these two re-records because nobody heard Generations. “Faith In The Heartland” is probably better on Generations, sung by the guy who actually wrote it, Steve Augeri.

There is also a great bonus track on the Mexican edition: great song, loaded with atmosphere, called “Let It Take You Back”. It’s about nostalgia, ironically, but I can relate and it’s a great tune backed by a strong riff. One of the best tunes on the album. Track it down, you won’t be sorry.

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The Walmart exclusive edition has a really good DVD: live (in Vegas) performances with Arnel singing. “Mother, Father” shows that Arnel can sing. Man, can he sing! I think Journey at this point are a stronger band live than in the studio. Live, Arnel has more character and you’re just in awe of the man’s pipes. This is a good DVD. And for free, it’s worth the price of admission.

So there you have it. Ignore the fanboys and let’s be unbiased here. This isn’t the Journey comeback we hoped for. It’s just another medium-rare Journey album. Until Perry comes back (and let’s face it, he has to one day) and records an album as great and progressive as Trial By Fire, this is a tired band spinnin’ tires.

3/5 stars

DVD:

  1. “Sky Light”
  2. “Any Way You Want It”
  3. “Wheel in the Sky”
  4. “Lights”
  5. “After All These Years”
  6. “Never Walk Away”
  7. “Open Arms (Prelude)”
  8. “Open Arms”
  9. “Mother, Father”
  10. “Wildest Dream”
  11. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”
  12. “Faithfully”
  13. “Don’t Stop Believin'”
  14. “Be Good to Yourself”

REVIEW: The Black Crowes – Freak ‘N’ Roll…Into the Fog (2006)

The rather late first review from Toronto Record Store Excursion 2013!

 

CROWES FREAK ROLL_0002THE BLACK CROWES – Freak ‘n’ Roll…Into the Fog: All Join Hands, The Fillmore, San Francisco (2006 Eagle Records)

I somehow missed this when it first came out!  This double live album (acquired at Sonic Boom Music for the awesome price of $7.99), recorded in 2005, reunited the Robinson brothers with members from the classic era.  Returning are Marc Ford (guitar),  Ed Hawrysch (keyboards, from Toronto Ontario), Sven Pipien (bass) and original drummer Steve Gorham.  I believe the original bassist, Johnny Colt, was busy with Rock Star Supernova at the time…

Anyway, with a set concentrated on classic Crowes tunes from the earlier albums with a few other gems, this is an awesome collection.  There are a few later songs, such as a mind-blowing psychedelic version of “Soul Singing” (Lions).  Many of the songs, “Soul Singing” included, turn into long extended jams.  I wouldn’t call them meandering jams; they are spellbinding and with purpose at every moment.

The Crowes are backed by guests:  the Left Coast Horns and backup singers.  The horns kick ass on the extended “(Only) Halfway to Everywhere”.  They transform “Welcome to the Goodtimes” into something a little more sassy, likewise with “Let Me Share the Ride”, and “Seeing Things” from the first LP.  They also help stretch “Non Fiction” into 10 minutes of exploratory rock.  The backup singers really compliment “My Morning Song” transforming it into an ecstatic moment.

I have always taken a bit of flak from other Crowes fans over my favourite album.  Mine is Amorica, and most people I knew favoured Southern Harmony.  Regardless, it’s a delight to hear “Wiser Time” from Amorica on this album.  Songs like this are really special, and with most of the original players on it, “Wiser Time” shines.

I enjoy that the Crowes threw some rarities, covers and B-sides on Freak ‘n’ Roll.  “Sunday Night Buttermilk Waltz” and “Mellow Down Easy” are among the highlights of these tracks, but I was most excited about “The Night they Drove Ol’ Dixie Down”.  The original is a favourite of mine so I couldn’t wait to hear the Crowes’ interpretation.  And guess what?  It’s awesome.  It would be ludicrous to compare it to the original by The Band.  All that matters is that the Crowes wring more soul out of the song than you’ll hear in modern rock on any given day.

The Walmart version of the CD came with a download code for a bonus track, the Stones’ “Loving Cup”.  I obtained it via the seedy underbelly of the internets.  On the DVD this was played after “Welcome to the Goodtimes”.  I’m glad to have this song because the horns really fatten it up nicely, and it’s also a great tune!

5/5 stars

Record Store Excursion 2013!

PART 1

PART 2