Welfare Boogie

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Nobody Said it Was Easy (2018 vinyl reissue)

THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Nobody Said it Was Easy (originally 1991 Def American, 2018 vinyl reissue with bonus tracks)

Though defunct for well over two decades, the Four Horsemen are like the gift that keeps on giving.  When they bit the dust, all they initially left behind were two albums and an EP.  Today there are a set of reissues with bonus tracks, live releases, and a “lost” second LP that was never released before.  In 2018, another handful of unreleased tracks came to light on a brand new vinyl reissue of Nobody Said it Was Easy.  This is the second reissue of the album now, the first (on CD) having three completely different bonus tracks (“She’s Got It”, “Homesick Blues (harmonica version)” and “Born to Boogie”).  The vinyl replaces those with a bunch more you didn’t have.

First, about the album Nobody Said it Was EasyWe reviewed it back in 2016 and stand by every word.  It was a shining beacon of rock n’ roll when it was in danger of drowning in a sea of grunge.  Rick Rubin gave the album an edgy, loud and crisp sound.  The band had a dirty vibe at odds with the Poisons and Motley Crues on the charts.  And they boasted one of the greatest unsung frontmen ever:  Frank C. Starr.  A real life bad boy, there was nothing phony about Frank, nor any of the Four Horsemen.  The nucleus was the man known as Haggis, ex-The Cult, ex-Zodiac Mindwarp.  His slippy-slidey guitars melded perfectly with the southern soloing of Dave Lizmi.  On bass was a chap named Ben Pape, but the secret weapon was drummer Kenneth “Dimwit” Montgomery.  This mountain of a man, a Canadian punk rock veteran, had presence and a deep Bonham-like beat.  The Four Horsemen couldn’t be touched by anyone in their field.  The 12 songs that made up Nobody Said it Was Easy sound derived in equal parts from early AC/DC and the American South, with a healthy dose of sleazy intent.

“My name is Frankie, let’s fuck up the place!”

The three singles are flat-out indispensable.  I wouldn’t want to live my life without “Rockin’ Is Ma Business” any more than I would want to live it without “Let There Be Rock”.  “Tired Wings” is a greasy southern revelation, while the title track has more hooks than a tackle shop.

As an added bonus, this package also includes the first Four Horsemen EP, Welfare Boogie.  It was available separately on a remastered CD with bonus tracks, but now you can get it on vinyl right here.  The four EP songs were pretty high octane.  “Hard Loving Man” remains a ridiculous highlight.  Tattooed pecker indeed!

Onto the unreleased tracks, of which there are six:  five songs and an interview.  All of these are exclusive to this LP; nowhere else.  The interview is a vintage road call from a humorous Haggis to a Calgary radio station, but it’s inconsequential at only 2:30 long.  (My copy of the second LP has the sides labelled incorrectly.)

Check out the original open-G tuning of “Tired Wings”.  It’s remarkable how changing the tuning made the difference between a good song and a great one.  Now it’s timeless.  Frankie did a completely different lead vocal on “’75 Again”, without the screaming (some of the guitar bits are missing too).  I think I prefer the screaming version when you hear them side by side.  An alternate version of “Can’t Stop Rockin'” is a different take, also without screaming (or backing vocals).  These versions that ultimately didn’t make the album are as well produced as the record, but ultimately it’s a matter of taste which you prefer.  It’s certainly startling to hear different versions after this many years.

“The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” is an instrumental, recorded Christmas Day 1991.  This certainly foreshadows the direction the Four Horsemen would go on their “lost” second album, Daylight Again, which was more Band than AC/DC.  Finally it’s an extended 8:32 live jam on “Can’t Get Next to You”, a non-album rarity.  Another version can be found on the CD/DVD set, Left For Dead.  Dave Lizmi really gets to cut loose on this.

It doesn’t really matter which version of Nobody Said it Was Easy you end up with.  The original 12 track CD was 5/5 stars then and now, but which is best?  The remastered CD gives you unreleased tracks exclusive to the format, so there’s that.  This LP gives you even more, plus the original Welfare Boogie EP, but it is limited to just 500 copies.  Better act fast before it’s too late.

5/5 stars

MORE FOUR HORSEMEN:

  1. Record Store Tales #224:  Rockin’ Is Ma Business
  2. Welfare Boogie (1990 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  3. Nobody Said It Was Easy (1991 – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  4. Daylight Again (1994 “lost” album – 21st Anniversary edition CD)
  5. Gettin’ Pretty Good…At Barely Gettin’ By (1996)
  6. Left For Dead 1988-1994 (2005 – CD/DVD set)
  7. Death Before Suckass – Live at Saratoga Winners 1991 (2012 CD)

 

 

 

REVIEW: The Four Horsemen – Welfare Boogie (21st Anniversary Edition)

scan_20160918THE FOUR HORSEMEN – Welfare Boogie (originally 1990, 2009 Anniversary Edition with bonus tracks)

It feels right to review this re-released EP only after we have already discussed Nobody Said it Was Easy and Gettin’ Pretty Good at Barely Gettin’ By.  Until I met T-Rev at the old Record Store, I didn’t even know such an EP existed.  But he had it; an original copy purchased somewhere in the States before we met.  He taped it for me (same songs both sides) and that was the first I heard of the Horsemen’s 1990 debut EP.  I hunted high and low for another CD copy, but failed until this 2009 reissue.  Originally and simply titled The Four Horsemen, the reissued EP sports the new title Welfare Boogie, and five bonus tracks.

According to the liner notes, the band didn’t mind if they sounded a bit like AC/DC since “nobody is doing AC/DC anymore, not even AC/DC”.  The EP has the same raw and rough vibe of Powerage-era Bon Scott, but with a guy who can also scream like Brian Johnson.  “Welfare Boogie” itself works as an example.  It’s a basic riff, a rawk vibe, a shout-along chorus and a charismatic shrieker (Frank C. Starr).  This track and the laid-back rock and roll “Shelly” were both written solely by drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery.  Dave Lizmi’s guitar solo is equal parts Angus Young and Ace Frehley.  The date might say 1990, but it sounds more like 1978.  “High School Rock N’ Roller” was written by founding member, Haggis (aka Kid Chaos aka Stephen Harris), who had finished a world tour with the Cult.  Once again, it’s easy to point at early AC/DC as the prime influence.  The one track that sounds more like punk rock (Dimwit was from D.O.A.) than AC/DC is “Hard Lovin’ Man”.  Starr might not have written it, but it’s clearly about him.  I have heard him reference his tattooed weiner before in a RIP Magazine interview.  (“It has eyes!” he seemed to beam with pride.)  The lyrics:

“I got heart of stone,
And a hand of steel,
Got a tattooed pecker,
And a Batmobile.”

“I”m a hard lovin’ man,” he boasts, before inviting “come here baby and see how hard I am.”  All this to the rock and roll blitzkrieg of a song so fast that it doesn’t even break the 2 1/2 minute mark.  The four tracks combined make for a grand little EP, not even 13 minutes long!  In and out, mission accomplished.  Thankfully the bonus tracks extend the experience for those wanting a little bit more action.

A cassette demo of “Rockin’ is Ma Business” demonstrates a work in progress as the band fiddled with the arrangement.  Comparing the final track to the demo, it sounds like it ingested a steady diet of coffee and gin before cranking it up to 11.  Always interesting to hear these early works in progress.  The bones are there but the meat is only being added.  “The Needle” is an unreleased song, a menacing night prowler with teeth flashing in the gloom.

“Born to Boogie” transformed completely between this demo and a later demo included on Nobody Said it Was Easy.  According to the liner notes here, this song eventually mutated again into “Can’t Stop Rockin'” from the album.  This track however is just a good time boogie with a bouncy riff lifted from “New York Groove” by Ace Frehley.  Then there is “Ain’t Telling Me”, a purely AC/DC stomp with a hint of Guns N’ Roses on top like a cherry.  Finally, a fun track called “Bring On the Girls” goes down like a round of tequila.  You can hear that the chords here later became “Moonshine” on the LP.  Even the bass line is identical, but this is a more party-hearty version of a fondly remembered deep cut.

This collection of songs was never meant to be more than a warm-up.  The main course was always intended to be the LP.  When a band is as good as The Four Horsemen were, the EP still impresses more than a thousand other bands’ proper albums.

3.5/5 stars