Sunday, September 3, 2017

Walter Becker dead at 67

Walter Carl Becker
February 20, 1950 - September 3, 2017


Walter Becker, musician and co-founder of Steely Dan, died today. Becker's death was announced on his official website. Becker was 67. At this time, the cause of death is unknown. 

Becker was born in Queens, New York. Having graduated from high school in 1967, Becker pursued a career in music. Originally starting on saxophone, he switched to guitar and was shown by fellow musician and future Spirit guitarist Randy California how to play the blues. While attending Bard College in Annadale-on-Hudson, New York, Becker met musician Donald Fagen. Together, Becker and Fagen were in several groups before finally forming Steely Dan around 1971. From 1972 to 1981, Steely Dan became one of the most commercially successful bands of all time. Their combination of rock and jazz music made them stand out compared to their peers. The band would have hits with "Reelin' in the Years," "Do It Again," "Dirty Work," "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" and "Hey Nineteen." The band broke up in 1981 but Fagen and Becker would reunite in 1993 and release another two studio albums in 2000 and 2003. Becker also managed to release two solo albums,  11 Tracks of Wack in 1994 and Circus Money in 2008.

Becker is survived by his wife and two children. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Accept- The Rise of Chaos album review

 Accept - The Rise of Chaos
Accept
The Rise of Chaos
Rating: *** 1/2

When Accept reunited with former TT Quick lead singer Mark Tornillo in 2009, many fans didn’t think it would work. Without original singer Udo Dirkscheider, it seemed as if this reunion was pointless.  Accept made those people eat those words in 2010 with the release of Blood of the Nations, the band’s first album with Tornillo. Much to the surprise of many people, Blood of the Nations was a great album and Tornillo was accepted as the band’s lead singer. The band were able to follow this up with 2012’s Stalingrad and 2014’s Blind Rage- both of which received fairly positive reviews as well. The band’s latest album, The Rise of Chaos, is their fourth album with Tornillo. As much as it pains me to say this, The Rise of Chaos is just okay. Don’t get me wrong: the music on here is another brutal onslaught heavy tunes delivered by the German metal band.  Still, it feels like it’s missing something that the three previous albums had. While the weakest of the four Tornillo albums, The Rise of Chaos still manages to have some decent tunes.

While not up to par with the previous openers, “Die by the Sword” is still a decent tune: it has a killer guitar riff and the lyrics are relevant to today- as they question what has become of humanity.  The title track continues the apocalyptic theme (with the focus now on survival) while the hard hitting “No Regrets” features some impressive drumming from Christopher Williams. As far as the weaker songs go, there are two in particular that stick out. The first of them is “Koolaid,” a song that (sadly) isn’t about the flavored drink mix but instead a biographical song about Jim Jones and the 1978 Jonestown massacre. While the story fits with the album’s theme, it’s hard to take seriously when you hear the chorus of “Don’t drink the Koolaid.”  The second clunker is “Analog Man,” an anthem for the generation who can’t buy into today’s technology. The lyrics are extremely cringe-worthy, with Tornillo sings such lyrics as “My cell phone is smart than me” and “Don’t need no Wi-Fi/Just want my Hi-Fi.” The last few songs, however, balance the album out. “Worlds Colliding” is pleasantly melodic while “Carry the Weight” just might be my favorite song from the album lyrically. “Don’t carry the weight of world on your shoulders” warns Tornillo, as he sings about the world as it stands today- with mentions of global warming, bombings and earthquakes.

Overall, The Rise of Chaos is a very average album from Accept. If this review is too short for any reason, it’s because I don’t think there’s anything here to review. It isn’t a bad album but then again, it isn’t a classic. It’s just another album from Accept and that’s all. It’s worth at a listen at least. Personally, I don’t see myself coming back to this album all that much. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Alice Cooper- Paranormal album review

 Alice Cooper - Paranormal
Alice Cooper
Paranormal
Rating: *** 1/2


This review was originally posted on Pop Culture Beast on July 30th, 2017. 

It’s been a while since Alice Cooper has released no frills, non-conceptual hard rock album. Alice’s last two projects, 2015’s Hollywood Vampires and 2011’s Welcome 2 My Nightmare, were both albums with a concept or a theme- with the former being an all star covers album and the latter being a sequel to Alice’s 1975 solo debut. Alice’s latest album, Paranormal, sees the shock rock icon going back to basics. While it isn’t a perfect album, Paranormal still features some kick ass rock music.

            There are twelve new studio tracks on Paranormal. Some of the songs on here are infused with 1970s classic rock. This can be found on songs such as the organ-heavy “Fireball” and the glam rock hooks of “Private Public Breakdown.” The album’s lead single, “Paranoiac Personality,” is also worth noting- as it’s a sinister sounding rock tune with a killer plodding bass line. While Alice is known for writing some down-right scary tunes, the man’s sense of humor must also be acknowledged. Over the years, Alice has written some funny songs. The bluesy “Fallen in Love” can now be added to that list, as Alice exclaims “I’ve fallen in love and I can’t get up!”

            Paranormal isn’t without its weaknesses. While long-time producer Bob Ezrin was at the helm for this album, the production here isn’t the best- which is to be expected with modern day audio mastering. There’s also this religious overtone/theme on a few songs, some of which I think are the weakest tracks on here. This includes the Southern rock influenced “Dynamite Road” and the jazzy “Holy Water.” Still, the album closes out nicely with three new songs featuring the surviving members of the original Alice Cooper band. The band shows off their chops on the guitar heavy rocker “Rats” and the anthem-driven “You And All of Your Friends.” Strangely enough, my favorite of these songs is the R&B/doo-wop inspired “Genuine American Girl.” Not only is it my favorite of the songs featuring the original band but it’s also my favorite song on the album. This is yet another funny song from Alice, as he describes himself in all of his feminine glory. “I’m only 30 out of 50 shades of grey” sings Alice. “What do you say?”

            For what it is, Paranormal is a decent album. It might not be one of his most consistent albums but you have to give Alice credit for trying to go back to basics. The album also comes with six live bonus tracks recorded last year in Columbus, Ohio. Speaking of touring, Alice will be on the road in support of the album. Alice has also stated that he will begin work next year on an all originals second album with the Hollywood Vampires super group.  For time being, fans can listen to Paranormal.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Alice Cooper's "Welcome to My Nightmare" DVD set for release in September

Alice Cooper's 1976 concert film Welcome to My Nightmare will be re-released on DVD on September 8. Not only will this new DVD release feature the movie but it will also feature the 1975 ABC TV Special Alice Cooper: The Nightmare- which is seeing its debut release on DVD. 

Released in 1975 after the split of the original Alice Cooper band, Welcome to My Nightmare served as Alice's first album as a solo artist. The album, produced by Bob Ezrin, revolves around the concept of the nightmares of a boy named Steven- a character that would later go on to appear on some of Alice's other albums. The album was a hit when released in 1975, featuring classics such as the title track, "The Black Widow" and "Only Women Bleed." The success of the album lead to the 1975 TV special and the 1976 concert film. 

Alice Cooper: The Nightmare first aired on April 25, 1975 on ABC. The special plays out as a visual representation of the album, as Alice goes from one musical number to another. Legendary actor Vincent Price is also in the special, as he was also featured as a guest on the album- giving the narration leading into "The Black Widow." The special was last released in 1983 on VHS and Betamax. Prior to the upcoming DVD release, the special had been widely bootlegged amongst fans. 

The 1976 concert film was shot during Alice's tour in support of the album- with the shows coming from performances at the Wembley Arena on September 11-12, 1975. The movie was a failure at the box office but found a second life as a midnight movie years later. Unlike The Nightmare, the concert film was released on DVD back in 2002 but that release has since then gone out of print. 

The tracking lists for both releases are as follows: 

Welcome to My Nightmare (1976 concert film)
1. The Awakening
2. Welcome to My Nightmare
3. Years Ago
4. No More Mr. Nice Guy
5. I'm Eighteen
6. Some Folks
7. Cold Ethyl 
8. Only Women Bleed
9. Billion Dollar Babies
10. Devil's Food
11. The Black Widow
12. Steven
13. Escape 
14. School's Out
15. Department of Youth

Run time: 84 minutes

Alice Cooper: The Nightmare (1975 TV special)
1. Welcome to My Nightmare
2. Devil's Food
3. Some Folks
4. Only Women Bleed
5. Cold Ethyl
6. The Black Widow
7. Years Ago
8. Department of Youth 
9. Years Ago (Reprise)
10. Steven
11. The Awakening
12. Ballad of Dwight Fry
13. Escape
14. The Awakening (Reprise)

Run time: 66 minutes

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Anita Pallenberg dead at 73

Anita Pallenberg
January 25, 1944 - June 13, 2017


Italian-German actress/model Anita Pallenberg, former partner to Brian Jones and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, died today. At this moment in time, the cause of death is unknown. Pallenberg was 73.  

Born in Rome in 1944, Pallenberg started her career as a model at 16 after being expelled from school. During this time, she lived in Rome, Germany and New York. It was during her time in New York City at she was seen with the people from Andy Warhol's Factory. In her life, Pallenberg appeared in some dozen films. Her best known movies including the 1968 Roger Vadim sci-fi flick Barbarella and the 1970  Donald Cammell-Nicols Roeg mind-bending crime drama Performance. The former starred Jane Fonda while the latter was Mick Jagger's acting debut. Over the years, both of these movies became cult favorites.    

In the music world, Pallenberg is perhaps best known for her association with the Rolling Stones. She first met the band in 1965 when they were touring in Munich while Pallenberg was on a modelling assignment. Around that time, Pallenberg started a relationship with guitarist Brian Jones. The couple were together until 1967 when Jones was said to have been violent towards Pallenberg while on vacation in Morocco. Soon after her split with Jones, Pallenberg started a relationship with guitarist Keith Richards. From 1967 to 1979, Richards and Pallenberg were together. Though they never married, Pallenberg gave birth to three of Richards' children: Marlon (born 1969), Dandelion Angela (born 1972, who goes by her middle name) and Tara Jo Jo Gunne- who died ten weeks after his birth. Tara's death is said to have been from either SIDS or pneumonia. Even after their split, Richards and Pallenberg were still close. Richards would later marry model Patti Hansen, who he has been married to since 1983.

After her relationship with Richards ended, Pallenberg struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. She stopped drinking in 1987 (with the exception of a relapse in 2004 after a second hip surgery) and was able to stay sober from drugs around 2000.  Prior to her death, Pallenberg was suffering from Hepatitis C. Despite her health struggles, Pallenberg was able to appear a few more movies in the late 2000s. 

Pallenberg is survived by two children (Marlon and Angela) and five grandchildren. 

It's sad to hear of Ms. Pallenberg's death. Performance is one of my favorite movies, which she's fairly good in. I can't say I've seen any of her other movies but it's just sad to hear that someone in the Stones camp has died. 

Rest in peace, Anita. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Beatles- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 2 CD Anniversary Edition review

 The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Beatles
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band 2 CD Anniversary Edition
Original album rating: *****
Remix rating: a low ****
Sessions disc rating: ****


It might be hard to believe but it has been 50 years since the Beatles released their iconic 1967 masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. With an album this historically significant, this anniversary is one that’s worth celebrating. To celebrate, a massive reissue of the 1967 album has been released on a wide variety of formats. Of the many variations out there, the 2 CD version is probably the one to get- not only for its price but for its content.

            The first disc is a new remix of the album completed by Giles Martin, son of the late George Martin. The last time the Beatles album were reissued and remastered was in 2009- which was a pretty big deal as the albums hadn’t been touched since 1987 when they were first released on CD. Instead, Giles Martin has presented us with a remix of the album- which can be best described as a cross between the stereo and mono mixes of the album. Most Beatles fans will probably know that back in the day, the Beatles and George Martin put more effort and work into the mono mixes of their albums- given that mono records were still the norm at that point. This changed for the bands last two albums- Abbey Road and Let It Be- which were both mixed in stereo. Before then, the stereo mixes were done by other people. Today, those stereo mixes are still the ones that are sold in stores as the main albums. With that, a lot of listeners are missing out on what the music sounds like in mono.

            On a first listen, the remix just sounds okay. I’ve noticed that the vocals are more upfront in this remix- kind of like what was done with Let It Be with Let It Be…Naked in 2003. However, this isn’t necessarily a stripped down version of Sgt. Pepper as you can still clearly hear the instruments. There’s more emphasis put on the bass and drums on almost every song too. The one song that sounds drastically different from the 2009 remaster is “She’s Leaving Home,” which takes after the mono version and is played at a faster speed. When comparing the remix with the 2009 remaster in Audacity, the remix is much louder- but not too loud. Switching back and forth to the two tracks, it sounded as if the audio had been transferred to 3D when listening to the remix. So on a second listen; I can say I enjoyed the remix a little more. I’ve been able to pick up on little things here and there that I never noticed before on the album, which is cool. While it wasn’t necessary, the remix is still nice to have.

            The second disc consists entirely of outtakes from the album’s sessions. Of the two discs, I find myself liking the second disc more: it has an outtake for each of the 13 songs and they are sequenced in the same order as the original album. Whereas the remix sounds slightly different, this is a really cool alternate version of Sgt. Pepper in outtake form. A few outtakes from the Pepper sessions have been released before on the Anthology 2 set. For this second disc, a good portion of it has not been officially released before. This alternate version of Sgt. Pepper reminds me of what Rhino Records did with the T. Rex albums a couple of years ago, in that they’d give you the original album on the first disc and an alternate version on the second disc. With an album like Sgt. Pepper, I’ve listened to the original album oh so many times. So this second disc is more fun for me, personally. The second disc also comes with new mixes for “Strawberry Field Forever” and “Penny Lane,” which are also accompanied by an outtake or two each.


            If you’re a long time Beatles fan and can’t decide on which version of this reissue to get, I’d say go for this two disc version: you get a little bit of everything. As per usual with these big reissues, there is a bigger set available for diehard fans. The super deluxe edition of Sgt. Pepper comes with six discs- four CDs, a DVD and a Blu-Ray- along with a 144 page picture book and reprints of posters. This sells for a little over $100. I typically don’t buy box sets devoted to just one album so the two disc version does it for me. You don’t get the DVD or Blu-Ray but you do get the remix and a disc of sessions, along with a colorful booklet full of insightful liner notes- all for a little under $20. No matter what version you choose to purchase, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.   

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Chris Cornell dead at 52

Chris Cornell 
(born Christopher John Boyle)
July 20, 1964 - May 17, 2017


Singer/songwriter Chris Cornell, lead singer for Soundgarden and Audioslave, died last night in Detroit, Michigan. According to his representative, Cornell died after performing a concert with Soundgarden. At this time, the cause of death is unknown. Cornell was 52. 

Cornell was born in Seattle, Washington. One of six children in his family, Cornell became interested in music after listening to the Beatles for a period of two years. Struggling with anxiety, rock music was an escape for Cornell. After dropping out of high school, Cornell took a few odd jobs before deciding to become a musician. Prior to forming Soundgarden, Cornell had been in the Shemps. It was in the Shemps that Cornell met bassist Hiro Yamamonto and guitarist Kim Thayil. In 1984, the trio had formed Soundgarden- although it wasn't until 1988 when the band released their debut album Ultramega OK. The band were at their peak when the line-up of Cornell, Thayil, bassist Ben Shepherd and drummer Matt Cameron came together around 1990 after Shepherd joined. This line-up would release two best-selling albums, Badmotorfinger in 1992 and Superunknown in 1994. Along with Nirvana and Alice in Chains, Soundgarden became one of the many successful grunge rock bands to come out of Seattle. Some of the band's best known songs include "Rusty Cage," "Outshined," "Spoonman" and "Black Hole Sun."  

Soundgarden broke up in 1997 but Cornell would quickly resurfaced in the supergroup Audioslave with Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk.  From 2002 to 2006, the band would release three albums. In 2006, Cornell scored a solo hit single with "You Know My Name"- the theme tune to the 2006 James Bond movie Casino Royale. Cornell reunited with Soundgarden in 2010, which resulted in the band releasing a new studio album King Animal in 2012.  

In his life, Cornell was married twice. His first wife was Soundgarden manager Susan Silver. With Silver, Cornell had a daughter- Lillian (born 2000). The couple divorced in 2004. Cornell's second wife (and now widow) was publicist Vicky Karayiannis. With her, Cornell had another two children- Toni (born 2004) and Christopher (born 2005). 

It's a bummer to wake up and learn of Mr. Cornell's death. He was a great singer and he was fairly young. This is a surprise. Still, the guy left behind a whole catalog of music during his time here. 

RIP, Mr. Cornell.

Update (2:52 EDT): Wayne County Medical in Michigan have released a statement to the press- officially ruling Chris Cornell's death as a suicide-by-hanging. A full autopsy, however, has not been completed yet.

More details on Cornell's death have been revealed, with sources ranging from the Detroit Free Press to police statements. After his performance with Soundgarden Wednesday night, Cornell was checked in at the MGM Grand Casino in downtown Detroit. Sometime at midnight, a friend of Cornell's family had discovered Cornell his hotel bathroom. A 911 call was received over at the Detroit Police Department on soon after on Thursday morning, according to director Michael Woody. By the time units arrived, the officers were greeted by the family friend, after which the officers entered the hotel room and saw Cornell laying in the bathroom. Cornell was unresponsive and pronounced dead. It has been also been reported that when Cornell was discovered, he was found with a band around his neck. Other reports have said that at the end of Soundgarden's concert, Cornell sang part of "In My Time of Dying," a song best known by Led Zeppelin from their 1975 album Physical Graffiti. Cornell had inserted the song into the last song the band performed- "Slaves and Bulldozers."