Thursday, November 12, 2015

Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor dead at 61

Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor
September 21, 1954 - November 11, 2015

Phil Taylor, former drummer of metal band Motorhead, passed away yesterday. Taylor was 61 years old. The news was confirmed by former Motorhead guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke, who said that Taylor had "been ill for sometime." 

Motorhead was formed in 1975 by bassist/singer Lemmy Kilmister, who had just been kicked out of space rock band Hawkwind. Taylor joined Motorhead in 1975, replacing original drummer Lucas Fox. By the follow year, Motorhead consisted of Kilmister, Taylor and Clarke. This line-up would go on to become the band's classic line-up, as they released five studio albums- including Overkill, Bomber and Ace of Spades. Taylor left the band in 1984 but would rejoin three years later. Taylor officially left the band for good in 1992 after Kilmister fired him for his poor performances. Aside from Motorhead, Taylor played in several other bands including Waysted and the Deviants. Before his passing, Taylor had reunited with Kilmister and Motorhead several times. The last time was in November of last year, where the current line-up of Motorhead were joined with Clarke and Taylor for a performance of "Ace of Spades." 

It's sad to hear of Phil's passing. He was a great drummer and I wasn't aware of his illness. Another thing that has occurred to me is that Motorhead still have yet to be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. Sadly, Phil won't be there. 

Rest in peace, Phil. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

W.A.S.P.- Golgotha album review

 W.A.S.P. - Golgotha
Rating: ****

Heavy metal band W.A.S.P. are back with a brand new studio album. The album, Golgotha, is the band’s fifteenth studio album, as well as their first album since 2009’s Babylon. In fact, it’s the third album to come from this line-up of W.A.S.P.- consisting of singer and leader Blackie Lawless, guitarist Doug Blair, bassist Mike Duda and drummer Mike Dupke (who left the band shortly before the album was released). Lawless is keeping W.A.S.P. alive and well by touring constantly. For Golgotha, Lawless was able to spend more time in the studio and it has paid off: Golgotha is a damn good album.

            The album opens with the hard rocking “Scream.” Although it sounds a bit like “Crazy” from the last album, it is a great song nevertheless. The following track, “Last Runaway,” is better. From Blair’s blazing guitar work, Duda’s throbbing bass playing and Dupke’s thunderous drumming, it really is a strong song. “Miss You” is another highlight, a mini-epic in some ways as it transitions from a slow paced to a downright heavy tune. The lyrics are wonderful, as Lawless seems to question his faith and beliefs. “I found this thing that I make sing/Can you hear me now?” sings Lawless. “Why did you go and leave me alone?”

Lyrically, this album is religiously themed. There’s a reason why: in recent years, Lawless has considered himself a born-again Christian. Some longtime fans have been puzzled by this, as Lawless has reworked lyrics in older songs and chooses not to perform the controversial “Animal (F**k Like a Beast).”  Personally, I don’t mind the religious themes and imagery on this album. In fact, I think it benefits from it.  The aforementioned “Miss You” is an example, as is the head-banging “Fallen Under.” The song has a bouncy but rough feel and uses powerful religious imagery: “Pull me up from saints of darkness/Breath me back to life/Slave in hostage slain in bondage/Bathe me in your blood back alive.”  More religious themes can be found in the hard-hitting “Slaves of the New World Order” and the gritty “Eyes of My Maker.”

While a great album, Golgotha is weak in spots. Some of the songs on here sound like other songs from W.A.S.P.’s past. This is nothing new as Lawless has even admitted he’s reused old riffs. The aforementioned “Scream” is one while “Shotgun” is another: the latter is a good song but musically sounds like a continuation of “Last Runaway.” The opening for “Hero of the World” sounds like “The Rise” from the first Neon God album, but is otherwise a good song. The album closes out with the beckoning title track. Lawless and the band are in fine form here and it closes out the album fittingly, with Lawless bringing the album full circle. The chorus is pretty song too:  “Jesus, I need you now/Free me I’m lost somehow/Oh remember me today/I’m a leper left to hang/Oh yes I need you now/Jesus, I need you now.”

Overall, Golgotha is another great album from W.A.S.P. It sounds like Blackie and the guys put a lot of work into this album and it really has paid off. Personally, I think I enjoyed this more than Babylon. No matter what kind of W.A.S.P. fan you are, this album is definitely worth your time. 

Steve Mackay dead at 66

Steve Mackay
September 25, 1949-October 11, 2015

Saxophonist Steve Mackay has passed away. While the cause of death is not known, Mackay was rushed to Seton Medical Center in Daly City, California a month ago. At that time, Mackay was in critical condition as he had been battling sepsis. Mackay was 66 years old.

Mackay is probably best known for his work with Detriot proto-punk rockers the Stooges. Mackay appeared on the band's sophomore effort- 1970's Fun House. Mackay would rejoin the group when the band reunited with Iggy Pop and Ron and Scott Asheton in 2003. The Stooges would crank out two more studio albums with 2007's The Weirdness and 2013's Ready to Die. In 2009, Ron Asheton passed away. The band recruited Raw Power guitarist James Williamson to take over for Ron and continued to perform. Just last year in 2014, Scott Asheton passed away- leaving Pop as the sole surviving original member of the band. Since then, the band has been on hiatus- although Pop has performed some solo gigs earlier this year. Outside of the Stooges, Mackay worked with other artists such as the Violent Femmes and Snakefinger. Mackay was also able to release a few solo albums, his last being 2010's Sometimes Like This I Talk

Iggy Pop has released a statement on his Facebook page about Mackay's passing saying:

"Steve was a classic '60s American guy, full of generosity and love for anyone he met. Every time he put his sax to his lips and honked, he lightened my road and brightened the whole world. He was a credit to his group and his generation. To know him was to love him."

It's sad to hear of Steve's passing. I was not aware of him being in the hospital. He was a great musician. Fun House is my favorite album from the Stooges and he really spiced up the whole second side of that album ("1970," "Fun House," "LA Blues").

Rest in peace, Mr. MacKay.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Rock N Roll Hall of Fame 2016 Nominees- My Thoughts

The nominees for the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame 2016 were announced today. In total, the Hall has nominated 15 acts. This is also the Hall's fourth time in which they've allowed the public to chime in and cast their collective vote. In all honesty, this isn't a bad list of nominees. I'm really impressed with some of the choices they've made. However, only five acts will be inducted.

These are my thoughts on all of the acts.

My ballot
The Cars
Cheap Trick
Deep Purple

These are the five that I would like to see get inducted. Obviously, I highly doubt this will be the five since the Hall like to make the inductees diverse. Deep Purple needs to go in already. They are probably the Hall's biggest snub. These guys have been waiting for so long, but then again they don't really seem to care if they get in. I think it's an insult that Jon Lord isn't alive to see the band inducted. The Hall should get it over with already. The same goes for Yes, as bassist and only consistent member Chris Squire passed away in June of this year. I'm surprised to see Cheap Trick pop up on the list. If they can get in, perhaps other power pop acts such as Big Star can get in. While I'm not a big fan of The Cars or Chicago, it's a joke that they've waited this long.

Sure, why not? 
The Smiths
Steve Miller
Nine Inch Nails
Janet Jackson

If I could pick a sixth act for my ballot, I would pick The Smiths. Nine Inch Nails have been pretty consistent. I'm not a fan Steve Miller but classic rock acts like him should be in. As for Janet Jackson, her music really isn't my thing (I like Michael's material more) but the Hall needs more women in it.

Chaka Khan
The JB's
Los Lobos
The Spinners

Once again, the Hall have lumped in a bunch of groups in that no one really cares about. This is Chic's TENTH TIME being nominated. If they don't get in this time, then I think the Hall should stop nominating them already. As for the others, I really don't care.

PISS OFF...but they're going to get in anyway

It makes me very sad that NWA are most likely going to get inducted in 2016. I've said it before: I hate rap and hip hop music. I really do. I can understand some R&B acts getting in and whatnot but I just don't think rap belongs in the Hall. Alas, the damage has already been done: Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys are already in. I think if the Hall has called themselves the Music Hall of Fame, then they would've gotten away with it. However with that, we'd need to have a shit ton of country and pop acts in there. So why is it I'm so convinced that NWA are going in? People are crazy about them and a biopic on them Straight Outta Compton has gotten positive reviews. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Gail Zappa dead at 70

Adelaide Gail Zappa (nee Sloatman)
January 1, 1945-October 7, 2015

Gail Zappa, wife and widow of musician Frank Zappa, passed away today in her home. Mrs. Zappa was 70 years old. According to a statement posted by the official Frank Zappa website, Mrs. Zappa was surrounded by her children as she passed away peacefully. As for the cause of death, articles are reporting that Mrs. Zappa health was declining due to her battle with lung cancer.

Mrs. Zappa was born in 1945. Her father was a naval officer, in which he was a nuclear weapons research physicist. In kindergarten, Mrs. Zappa knew future Doors singer Jim Morrison, as his father was a naval officer as well. After graduating from college in New York in the mid 1960's, she hitchhiked to Los Angeles where she became interested in the music scene. Mrs. Zappa met her husband at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, where she was a secretary. The couple married in 1967 and would go on to have four children: Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva. When her husband died in 1993, Mrs. Zappa became in charge of Frank's estate. Mrs. Zappa later created the Zappa Family Trust and was able to release a total of 38 posthumous albums by her husband, as well as reissues of his discography. Earlier this year, ZFT released Dance Me This, the 100th Zappa album released. Before her death, Mrs. Zappa had plans made for future releases- including a documentary and a release of the long lost Mothers' Roxy concert. At the same time, it was also revealed that Ahmet would be taking his mother's place. 

It is very sad to hear of Gail Zappa's passing. I was lucky enough to communicate with her a little in 2011, when she was taking in questions for her "Ask GZ" column on the Zappa site. I asked when the original Bat Chain Puller by Captain Beefheart would come out since I heard her talk about. She said it was coming soon. When I asked if I could share the news on my blog, she replied "Why not?" The album ended up coming out a year. I know there are many people who've said some nasty things about Gail. She was very protective of her husband's work but I think she carried out Frank's legacy quite well.  

Rest in peace, Mrs. Zappa. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Paul McCartney- Tug of War & Pipes of Peace reissue review

The Paul McCartney Archive Collection continues in 2015 with the reissues of 1982’s Tug of War and 1983’s Pipes of Peace. These two albums have been newly remastered as well. As with the previous entries in the collection, a second disc of bonus tracks comes along with the original album. Personally, I feel this is an overlooked time in Paul’s career and it’s nice to see it get some love with these reissues.

 Paul McCartney - Tug of War
Tug of War
Original Album Rating: ****
Remix rating: ***
Bonus audio rating: *** 1/2

            Released in 1982, Tug of War is an interesting album from Paul McCartney. Not only is it the first album he released after the break-up of Wings but it sees McCartney working with Beatles producer George Martin again- for the first time since Abbey Road in 1969. Now almost two decades after the release of Please Please Me, this was the final product the two came up with. Tug of War is considered by many to be one of Paul’s best and I would agree. Hit singles came out of “Ebony and Ivory” and “Take It Away.” The former is a duet with Stevie Wonder while the latter is a catchy, fun ska-flavored track. There are some wonderful album tracks on this album such as the 1950’s rock n roll of “Ballroom Dancing,” the funky “What’s That You’re Doing” and the powerful “Wanderlust.” Aside from “Take It Away,” my personal favorite song on the album is “Here Today,” a song Paul had written as a tribute to his former bandmate John Lennon, who was tragically murdered in late 1980. Paul was in the studio recording material for the album when he first heard of Lennon’s death. The lyrics are heartfelt, as McCartney expresses his admiration and love for his late songwriting partner.

            Unlike the other albums in the Paul McCartney Archive Collection, Tug of War has received a new remix. From what’s been written online, Tug of War was recorded when digital recording was new. In short, Paul wanted to remix the album. As much as I hate to say it, I’m not crazy about the remix of Tug of War. I did do some sound comparisons with the original mix (the 1993 remaster, which Amazon gave me a free MP3 version of after pre-ordered the reissue) and the remix. Comparing the two in Audacity, Paul’s vocals are just too loud for the most part. The changes made in the remix aren’t anything too special. Still, the remastering is top notch. I just prefer the original mix. If you don’t care about which version you’re listening to, then you can go ahead and get this. The original mix is included with the super deluxe edition but the retail price for that is expensive. If you’re looking for the original mix, you can try finding the 1993 remaster or just get an older copy on vinyl.

I did take some notes while listening to the remix. Here’s my track-by-track analysis of the remix:  

1. Tug of War- vocals sound more up front, the orchestra might be a little over-the-top or loud 
2. Take It Away- Paul's vocals aren't double tracked or echo in the second verse. You also get to hear George Martin's piano playing in the bridges/instrumental bits. I feel the vocals and backing vocals bury the other instruments. I miss the ska feel. 
3. Somebody Who Cares- Paul's vocals are air-y, sounds a little more stripped down with the bass and drums there in the background 
4. What's That You're Doing?- The "Good morning" bits are less robotic. I thought there were less sound effects on here but in Audacity, it sounds funkier. 
5. Here Today- sounded more acoustic and had more echo. Paul sounds like he's the only one in the studio aside from the strings. 
6. Ballroom Dancing- Bass is strong but Paul's vocals are too loud and the piano is almost out of the mix. 
7. Pound is Sinking- eh more guitars? 
8. Wanderlust- Paul's vocals are too loud, the music does sound nice though 
9. Get It- a little stripped down, Paul and Carl Perkins' vocals sound balanced
10. Be What You See- N/A 
11. Dress Me Up As a Robber- eh hard to tell. Guitars sounded good on remix. 
12. Ebony and Ivory- Less reverb and/or electronic sounds, Paul and Stevie's vocals are up front and clearer.

The bonus disc doesn’t offer too much, with a run time of 32 minutes. Demos of the album’s tracks can be found on here. The demos are all fair but there isn’t anything special on there, although I will say the demo for “Take It Away” sounds slightly different from the album version (I think some of these demos will be familiar to avid bootleggers, so it might not be anything new for them). Along with the demos are some tracks that haven’t seen an official CD release before. There’s an alternate version of “Ebony and Ivory” with Paul singing the whole song and then two B side songs- “Rainclouds” and “I’ll Give You A Ring.”  

 Paul McCartney - Pipes of Peace
Pipes of Peace
Original Album Rating: *** 1/2
Bonus audio rating: ***

            Pipes of Peace received mixed reviews when it was released in 1983. Paul had George Martin producing again but critics didn’t see it as a worthy follow up to Tug of War. I have to admit that before getting this reissue, I didn’t think Pipes of Peace was a good album. I thought the first three or four songs were good and that was it. After listening to this remaster, I like it a little bit more and part of that has to do with the remastering (which I will get to later). Compared to Tug of War, it is a weak album but there are some good songs on here. “Say, Say, Say,” duet between Sir Paul and Michael Jackson, is the biggest song on this album- as it was a #1 hit duet for Paul. The title track is also solid pop tune and received some airplay back in the day. The album tracks vary from underrated to mediocre. Before listening to this remaster, I personally liked the self-observant “The Other Me” and fast-paced 80s pop sounds of “Keep Under Cover.” With the new remaster, I can now appreciate some of the other songs. I still can’t get into “Hey Hey,” “Tug of Peace,” or even the squeaky clean “So Bad.” However, I do enjoy the whimsical “Average Man” and “The Man,” which is another song that features Michael Jackson. It isn’t as fun as “Say, Say, Say” but the vocal harmonies are great and I love the opening guitar work on here.

 I think the remastering job has really made this a slightly better album. My other copy of Pipes of Peace was an issue from 1989. I always thought that copy sounded lifeless and too quiet. This is much louder but not too loud. It sounds perfect, I think. With the new remaster, I can appreciate the production here. Even the songs I don’t care for still sound great (especially “So Bad.” The bass and drums are wonderful.)  As for the second disc, it contains 31 minutes of material. It follows the same structure as the bonus disc for Tug of War, in that the tracks are organized from demos to actual tracks. The demos, once again, aren’t that great though “It’s Not On” and “Simple As That” might keep some completists happy as I’ve been reading these cannot be found on bootlegs. The B-side to “Say, Say, Say”- “Ode to a Koala Bear” makes its debut on CD. There is an interesting remix of “Say, Say, Say” on here, which features MJ singing some of Paul’s verses!  

Overall, these reissues of Tug of War and Pipes of Peace are good for what they are. However, I have to admit of the entries released in the Archive Collection- this is probably my least favorite release. I’m not saying that they are bad. Although I can applaud the effort, I really don’t see me going back to the remix of Tug of War. In terms of the music, the remix of Tug of War is great. When it comes to the better remaster and/or reissue, Pipes of Peace is slightly better as I feel it benefited from the remaster. I can do without the bonus audio but it’s still nice to own. The Paul McCartney Archive Collection will continue with 1989’s Flowers in the Dirt. While I will pick up the next reissue, I feel that Paul and the powers that be are holding back. I would love to see reissues of Red Rose Speedway and Back to the Egg: both would offer a lot of bonus audio and maybe even DVD releases of the James Paul McCartney and the Back to the Egg  TV Specials (though those would probably only come with the super deluxe editions for each album). In the meantime, enjoy these two new reissues. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Iron Maiden- The Book of Souls album review

 Iron Maiden - The Book of Souls
Iron Maiden
The Book of Souls
Rating: **** (4.25-4.30)

It was in April 1980 when British heavy metal band Iron Maiden unleashed their self-titled debut album. 35 years and several line-ups later, Iron Maiden are still together performing before their rabid fan base. In this year of 2015, Maiden have released their sixteenth album. The album, The Book of Souls, is their first since 2010’s The Final Frontier. Personally, I found The Final Frontier difficult to listen to: the album’s mixing was distracting, there was some filler and the album’s runtime of 76 minutes didn’t help either. When I first heard that Maiden were releasing their first two-disc studio album- with a runtime of 92 minutes, I was skeptical. However, I listened to the album on Spotify the day it was released and I have to admit I was impressed: The Book of Souls is a damn good album. While it is a long album, all of the album’s eleven tracks are worth listening to.

            The album’s opener, “If Eternity Should Fail,” begins with the sounds of synthesizers before the band gets down to business and up the irons. In this song, frontman Bruce Dickinson sings of humanity’s downfall in this heavy track. Dickinson’s voice may sound hoarse at first but throughout the album, Dickinson gives a solid performance. Even as he approaches his 60s, the man knows how to take care of voice.

After the opening track, it’s a whole musical journey with Maiden. With two discs, The Book of Souls is an album full of Maiden goodness. In some cases, casual music listeners may think that Iron Maiden are one of those bands that play songs that all sound the same. This isn’t the case with The Book of Souls, as it’s an album that has Maiden interpreting their sounds in many different ways. Also with a title like The Book of Souls, one could approach the album as an actual book of souls: the eleven songs could be thought of as chapters in a book, each with something different to offer.

For a few songs, it seems that Maiden are showing their influences. The Deep Purple-esque rocker “Speed of Light” and the progressive metal sounding title track are examples of this. The former is the lead single for the album while the latter features Yes-like acoustics at the beginning and the end of the song (similar to “Roundabout”). Head banging tunes come out of heavy duty “When the River Runs Deep” and the hard-hitting “Death or Glory.” While the band might be recognized as a heavy metal band, Iron Maiden can even pull off heart-felt ballads. “Tears of a Clown” is an example of this. According to Bruce Dickinson in an interview, the song was interestingly inspired by the suicide of comedian Robin Williams last year. The song is well written, with strong lyrics that wonder why someone so funny would succumb to depression.   

For a double album, there are quite a number of epics that go over ten minutes. Of them, “The Red and the Black” might be my personal favorite: it begins with a flamenco-like guitar solo before it becomes heavy. The songs has this “Rimes of the Ancient Mariner” feel and the “whoa” vocal chants are a nice touch. The album even ends with an epic- the 18-minute “Empire of the Clouds. With poetic lyrics and an orchestra playing in the background, it closes out the album perfectly. 

The Book of Souls is a great album from Iron Maiden. Ever since CDs kicked off, artists have been able to make albums that go over 50 minutes. Some are able to do this well while others could’ve cut a few songs off the final product. Even today, some artists will continue to release albums that have a runtime of an hour or more. Iron Maiden felt the material they were working on was so strong; they had to release it all on one album. Maiden really pulled this off, although it isn’t too surprising: all six members in Maiden are excellent musicians. For a band that’s been together for almost four decades, Iron Maiden still have it. Need proof? Just listen to The Book of Souls