Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013: Year in Review

While not as massive as last year, 2013 has turned out to be a pretty good year in the world of classic rock and heavy metal. It’s true: we did lose some good people but we also received some good albums and reissues. As I always do, I will split these all into separate categories. I’ll also throw in movies as there’s been a number of them this year (I didn’t include them last year but earlier this year I did see Searching for Sugar Man- great documentary).

New albums
  David Bowie - The Next Day
David Bowie
The Next Day
Rating: ****


            Well this is a first: the first album I get this year turns out to be my favorite of the entire year. I’m not picking this as my favorite just because this is Bowie’s first studio album in ten years. I truly believe this is a great album. Sure, I was bummed to hear “Where Are We Now?” as the first single but overtime, I’ve come to like that song along with many others. Bowie is indeed back, with an album he apparently had been working on since 2010 (which is a surprise given these “TMZ days”). Bowie is in fine form with songs such as the catchy “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”, the surprisingly glam “Valentine’s Day”, the Krautrock sounds of “How Does the Grass Grow”, the rocking “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” and the dark “Heat”. While the album cover might not the best cover ever (borrowing from 1977’s Heroes), there really is a great variety of songs. With long time producer Tony Visconti at the helm, The Next Day is a real treat for Bowie fans.

  The Stooges - Ready to Die
The Stooges
Ready to Die
Rating: *** 1/2 or ****

            After their disappointing reunion album The Weirdness in 2007, people didn’t know what to expect from Iggy and the Stooges. Sadly, we did lose Ron Asheton in 2009 and Iggy decided to make one or two French albums. Now with James Williamson taking Asheton’s place, the Stooges have released a new album. The result: a surprisingly solid rocking album. “Burn” is a great rocker while the somewhat comedic “Job” just shows that Iggy’s still got it in him. All of the songs are great and to think this is what the Stooges come out with four decades (!) after the release of the legendary Raw Power is amazing.

 Black Star Riders - All Hell Breaks Loose 
Black Star Riders
All Hell Breaks Loose
Rating: ****

            Before recording a new studio album, the reunited Thin Lizzy did the right thing and changed their name. Although guitarist Scott Gorham is the only member of this new band to be in the Phil Lynott-led Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders are a band very much dedicated to the music and spirit of Thin Lizzy. All Hell Breaks Loose is an album that celebrates this. “Bound For Glory” could easily have been a song made by Thin Lizzy back in the day while “Kingdom of the Lost” harkens back to the Irish roots of the band. While sounding like a Thin Lizzy album, Black Star Riders have managed to become their own band. Something tells me that Phil would’ve been proud.

 Black Sabbath - 13 
Black Sabbath
Rating: ****

            It’s hard to believe: Black Sabbath are back. Well to be fair, three of the four original members (Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler) are back together for a new album and tour to support it. Even without original drummer Bill Ward, 13 still manages to deliver the goods. It’s also the first Sabbath album to feature Osbourne on lead vocals since 1978’s Never Say Die. While the songs might not be up there with their influential classics, this doesn’t mean the album is bad. “God Is Dead?” is a wonderful song while songs such as “Loner” and “Dear Father” just go to show that the band can indeed still write good material. While it is weak in the production side from Rick Rubin, 13 is still worth a listen.

  Queensr├┐che - Queensr├┐che
Rating: ****

            After last year’s nasty public feud with original lead singer Geoff Tate, Queensryche have decided to continue on with their new front man Todd LaTorre. The new album, simply titled Queensryche, sees the band going back to their progressive metal sound. While I have not bothered listening to the post Chris DeGarmo albums, this new album sounds something leaning more towards Rage for Order or Operation: Mindcrime. La Torre’s vocals are frightening similar to Tate’s old voice (sorry, Geoff. You’re voice just ain’t the same). “Redemption” is a brilliant lead single while the other songs show the band back in form.

  Anvil - Hope in Hell
Hope In Hell
Rating: *** ½

            Canadian metal band Anvil are back with a new studio album. Hope In Hell, their first since 2011’s Juggernaut of Justice, is another solid album from the band.  The self titled track and several others are all good but unfortunately, the album has its weak spots. The band, who was the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary, are still going strong. I guess you have to give these guys some credit.  

  Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - Take Me to the Land of Hell
Yoko Ono
Take Me To The Land of Hell
Rating: ****

            Go ahead and laugh all you want: at 80 years old, Yoko Ono’s still got it. While others have made her out to be this villain, I am among a minority who thinks Yoko’s music is relevant. As the follow up to 2009’s Between My Head and the Sky, Take Me To the Land of Hell sees Yoko at it again with an album filled with eclectic tunes. “Chesire Cat” is good psychedelic fun while “Tabetai” sees Yoko dabbling in the music of today.  Even her collaboration with the Beastie Boys “Bad Dancer” is good!

  Paul McCartney - New
Paul McCartney
Rating: ****

            Just one year after the release of Kisses on the Bottom, Paul McCartney has released a brand new studio album. The album, simply titled New, might be McCartney’s first solid release since 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. For this album, McCartney did something different with having four different producers on the album. The title track is a brilliant pop tune and the same can be said for the bouncy “Queenie Eye”. Personal favorites include the fuzz rocker “Save Us”, the whimsical “Alligator” and the ridiculously catchy “I Can Bet”.

Rankings (and please keep in mind- I liked all of the new albums I got this year)
1.      David Bowie- The Next Day
2.      Paul McCartney- New
3.      Black Star Riders- All Hell Breaks Loose
4.      Black Sabbath- 13
5.      The Stooges- Ready to Die
6.      Queensryche- Queensryche
7.      Yoko Ono- Take Me to the Land of Hell
8.      Anvil- Hope in Hell

Reissues/Archival Releases

 Wings - Rockshow
Paul McCartney & Wings
Wings Over America and Rockshow (DVD)

Rating (for both): ****

            In 1976, Paul McCartney were at the peak of their career. They decided to tour the US that year and as a result, a triple live album came out of it. Several years later in 1981, a concert film of that tour was released. Before this reissue, Wings Over America was barely in print while Rockshow had been bootlegged for years on VHS and DVD as it was only released on Betamax and LaserDisc back in the day. Luckily, both are now easy to get as they have now been reissued.

            Wings Over America is an outstanding live album. Sure, the recording and/or mixing isn’t the best but it is indeed an enjoyable album to listen to. Macca really knew how to put on a show back then. As for Rockshow, the remastered picture looks fabulous…for at least the first few numbers. I have to be honest here but from what my eyes can see, the film starts to show some wear a few songs in. Still, you got to give MPL the credit they deserve: the film wasn’t well protected to begin with so this is the best we’re going to get.

  Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
Trout Mask Replica
Rating: **** ½

            Yes you read this right: Trout Mask Replica was reissued on CD this year. Much like last year’s release of the original Bat Chain Puller, this new remaster of Trout was sold only through the Frank Zappa webshop, Barfko Swill. According to Zappa’s people at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen found that the master tape used for the now out-of-print 1990 CD issue had seen some damage. In other words, the original CD version of Trout was not properly remastered. While I can admit the CD sounds fine, I was all for getting this new remaster. The verdict: it’s worth it. Doing side-by-side comparisons to the original, Bob Ludwig’s new remaster of Trout Mask Replica sounds much richer and cleaner than the 1990 CD. The 1990 CD isn’t terrible. If you still have your CD copy and think $27 is too much, I wouldn’t worry too much. If you’re a big Beefheart fan like I am, you’ll want to get this soon.

  Fleetwood Mac - Then Play On
Fleetwood Mac
Then Play On
Rating: ****

            After years and years of waiting, Reprise have finally issued a proper version of Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 lost gem Then Play On. This is an album that has been messed around with for several years, including different tracking lists and editing segues into other songs. The 1990 CD issue is an absolute disaster for diehards of Peter Green’s version of the Mac: the analog to digital transfer had a little too much reverb and did not have the original UK tracking list, which meant the other songs were scattered on other compilations. This is the first time the UK version has seen a CD release. While it may not sound remastered to some people, I can safely say that this is the best version of the album I’ve heard. There are also bonus tracks, including both parts of “Oh, Well”, “The Green Manalishi” and “World in Harmony”.


A Band Called Death
Rating: ****

            The rock documentary renaissance of underground heroes continues with this film about a band that never made until decades after their formation. This proto-punk trio of black brothers were determined that they would make it but they didn’t- reasons varying from their race and to their name. The film gives audiences a biography on the band as well as showing how the band resurfaced in the 2000’s.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
Rating: ****

            This fan-funded documentary gives audiences a great overview of the on the Nashville power pop band Big Star. The movie feels complete, giving us insight and information on all four of the original members of Big Star. It’s impressive as to how much interview footage they had of Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel, given they both passed in 2010. The only negative to this movie is that is feels it runs longer than it should. Still, this is a minor flaw that shouldn’t keep anyone from watching it.

Metallica: Through the Never
Rating: ****

            Were you unhappy with Metallica’s collaboration with the late Lou Reed? This concert movie should make up for it. Filmed during one of Metallica’s reasonably recent concerts, Through The Never not only gives us a brilliant performance from the thrash metal band but also impressive visuals. The film is present in a way similar to Led Zeppelin’s cult classic concert movie, The Song Remains the Same- a movie that combines concert footage with fantasy sequences. While Metallica perform a show, audiences will also follow the surreal journey of Metallica roadie Trip (played by Dane DeHann). The movie is also presented in 3D, which is actually quite impressive. In general, I really don’t care for movies being converted to 3D in recent years. Through the Never is an exception- this is brilliant. I don’t know if home video viewers will be able to get the same experience (though there is a Blu-ray 3D version slated for release- I’m not sure if it will be like seeing it in theaters).

Other (things I heard or have seen this year- but not released this year)

Searching for Sugar Man
Rating: ****

            This documentary won the Oscar for Best Documentary of last year and for good reasons: it’s just really good. Searching For Sugar Man is a documentary that might be harder for people to watch blindly given all the publicity its subject, Sixto Rodriguez, has been getting recently. The documentary tells the story of cult hero Rodriguez, a man who released just two albums before disappearing completely. While his albums did not sell in the US, they had a major impact on the citizens of South Africa. It came to the point where several devoted fans decided to try and find him. While there are some facts missing, Searching for Sugar Man is a movie well worth checking out.

Julian Lennon
Everything Changes
Rating: *** ½

            For years, Julian Lennon has tried to explore other ventures to express himself other than making music. It hasn’t been easy for Lennon: with being the son of John Lennon, the critics were expecting a little too much from him. His latest album, Everything Changes, was actually released in late 2011 but only in the UK. This year, the album was finally released though with an altered tracking list- including two new songs. I listened to the album with the original tracking list. Everything Changes is just a good album from Jules. I only have his debut Valotte on CD (along with a cassette copy of The Secret Value of Daydreaming), which I think is a great album. Everything Changes isn’t too memorable but that doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable listen.

In Memoriam
Alvin Lee- guitarist and singer of Ten Years After
Peter Banks- guitarist for Yes
Clive Burr- drummer for Iron Maiden
Ray Manzarek – keyboards for the Doors
Trevor Bolder- bassist for Uriah Heep
George Duke- keyboardist for Frank Zappa
Lou Reed- singer/songwriter, member of the Velvet Underground

Friday, November 22, 2013

Riot announce Todd Michael Hall as new lead singer, band set to tour

It has been announced today that singer Todd Michael Hall is the new front man for New York hard rockers, Riot. The band previously announced that they would continue without founding member and sole original member Mark Reale, who passed in January 2012 after a lifelong battle with Crohn's Disease. Riot, now being billed as Riot V, have also announced tour dates.

Feb. 7, 2014 Brescia, Italy
Feb. 8, 2014 Wurzburg, Germany / Metal Assault Festival
Feb. 9, 2014 Athens, Greece

The band have also announced they have an album coming soon, planned for a summer 2014 release.The band now consists of...

Todd Michael Hall- vocals
Mike Flyntz- guitar
Donnie Van Stavern- bass
Bobby Jarzombek- drums

I'm very happy to hear that Riot will continue. I am, however, a little confused by the Riot V name. I did read on the band's Facebook page that the "V" marks their fifth phase in terms of lead singers. The first being Guy Speranza, second being Rhett Forrester, third being Tony Moore, and fourth being Mike DiMeo. I would think Mike Tirelli is "phase 5" but whatever: Riot are back!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed dead at 71: A Look Back at His Life and Career

Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed
March 2, 1942- October 27, 2013

Photo credit: http://flickr.com/photos/dannynorton/186795352/

Singer/songwriter Lou Reed, one of the founding members of rock legends Velvet Underground, has passed away today. The cause of death has not been confirmed though it has been reported Reed did have a liver transplant earlier this year. Reed was 71.

Born in New York, Reed started his career in 1964 with a minor hit single called "The Ostrich".  It was around this time that Reed met a Welsh multi-instrumentalist named John Cale. With Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Angus MacLise- the Velvet Underground were formed in 1965. Before they played their first show, MacLise left the band. Replacing MacLise was drummer/percussionist Maureen "Moe" Tucker. Tucker was different from other drummers, as she chose to stand while playing the drums. 

With Tucker, the band played around New York until they caught the eye of artist Andy Warhol. Warhol offered to be the band's manager and managed to get them signed to Verve/MGM Records. Warhol also insisted they add German model/singer Nico to the band as their lead singer. The band were against this idea but Reed managed to write three songs for Nico to sing on the band's debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. The album was released in 1967 to mixed reviews and as a result, the album fell out of the Billboard charts. Tensions between the band and Warhol led to Warhol's departure, taking Nico with him.

The Velvet Underground continued as a four-piece band, releasing the aggressive White Light/White Heat in early 1968. Cale left shortly after due to tensions between he and Reed. Doug Yule replaced him for the band's  1969 self-titled album, which was more acoustic and tame compared to the loudness of the band's first two albums. Before the release of 1970's Loaded, Reed left the band. In fact, Reed had gone missing for a period of time. He decided he would stay home with his parents and find a "real" job.

Reed eventually came back with a self-titled album in 1971, which did close to nothing. This was when David Bowie came to the rescue. Bowie, an avid Velvet Underground fan, decided he would produce Reed's next album. That album, 1972's Transformer, would become the most successful album of Reed's career. It even earned Reed an unexpected hit single with "Walk on the Wild Side", a song that paid tribute to Warhol's Factory. 

Transformer  was followed with the ambitious Berlin in 1973. While not well received by the critics at the time of its release, it is regarded as a classic today. The rest of Reed's solo career could be best described as "hit or miss": when he made a good album, it was good (The Blue Mask, New York and Magic and Loss are examples). When he made a bad album, it was BAD. Take 1975's Metal Machine Music: although the album served as the perfect "f*ck you" to the record label, it alienated fans as the double-album was filled with nothing but endless guitar feedback. 

Reed would reunite with his Velvet Underground band mates in the early 1990's. In 1990, he and John Cale release a studio album entitled Songs For Drella, a heartfelt tribute to the recently deceased Andy Warhol. The Velvet Underground briefly reunited in 1992-1993 for a European tour with Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker in tact. 

 Before his death, Reed kept recording and performing. His last album was 2011's ill-fated Lulu, a collaboration with Metallica. The album was universally panned by critics and fans. Metallica fans even went as far to sending death threats to both Reed and Metallica. This did not bother Reed, citing that he thought he lost all his fans after Metal Machine Music

Reed is survived by wife and performance artist, Laurie Anderson. 

As you can tell by my post, I'm deeply saddened by Lou Reed's passing. He's truly one of the greatest rock musicians ever. As a singer/songwriter, the man was amazing. I also have to give credit to the Velvet Underground for expanding my music tastes when it comes to both experimental music and alternative rock. 

Goodbye, Lou. 

Say hello to Nico, Andy and Sterling for us. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Alice Cooper Raises the Dead in Wilkes Barre

In this era of music, it seems that some of these newer bands lack a great stage show. If an artist is going to perform live, they got to give their fans a show. This is something that Alice Cooper would muss about. The godfather of shock rock, now 65, gave his fans in Wilkes Barre, PA a show on October 18, 2013 in a sold-out concert at the FM Kirby Center.

            The show began a little after 8 pm to the sounds of screaming fans. The lights went out and the curtain dropped, ushering in a mushroom of smoke. Out the smoke came the one and only, Alice Cooper. The audiences roared with applause as Alice and his band went into “Hello Hooray”, a perfect song to open the show as it opened the Billion Dollar Babies album 40 years ago.  Next came “House of Fire” from 1989’s Trash and then came the hits- “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Under My Wheels”. During the former, Alice led the crowd in singing the chorus- conducting the high notes with the lift of his cane.

            Props came out during songs such as “Billion Dollar Babies” and “Caffeine”, in which Alice came out with a sword stuffed with big dollar bills and a large white mug respectively.  One thing to note about Alice Cooper is that when he is on stage, he is in character (that is also named Alice Cooper). Some might note that Alice doesn’t talk in between songs. His is because he’s in character. This show was no different: during “Dirty Diamonds” in which Alice threw out necklaces into the crowd, he made eye contact with one of the audience members as if he was going to give this person one. But no: Alice gleefully threw the necklace elsewhere.

            The band Alice had with him was great throughout the show. Of the people in Alice’s band, Australian guitarist Orianthi stands out the most. She might sound familiar as she was the guitarist for Michael Jackson for his ill-fated This Is It concerts in 2009. She won the crowd over with her impressive guitar solos. She was dressed in a black coat and hat, as if she were a female Ritchie Blackmore.

            Fan favorites such as “Welcome to My Nightmare”, “Go to Hell” and “Feed My Frankenstein” came next. Much to my surprise, Alice and the band played “He’s Back”- the song he made for Friday the 13th Part VI. One of Alice’s actors came out as Jason Voorhees during the song. More theatrics came into play during “Feed My Frankenstein”, in which Alice was put into a contraption to disappear and turn into a tall Frankenstein looking monster that took up nearly the entire stage! Alice came back, decked out in a straitjacket for “Ballad of Dwight Fry” which was followed by Alice’s traditional death by guillotine.

            After the beheading, Alice was rolled back in on a hospital stretcher for the next part of his show: cover tunes. While many may roll their eyes at this, I actually found the concept for this part of the show to be clever. When Alice came back on stage, a voiceover explained how Alice has cheated death and has now joined his dead rock star friends- the Hollywood Vampires. Alice then covered “Break On Through” (for Jim Morrison), “Revolution” (for John Lennon), “Foxy Lady” (for Jimi Hendrix) and “My Generation” (for Keith Moon). The covers were all pretty good and fun to hear. Alice is actually planning for his next album to be all covers. I wasn’t crazy about the idea when I first heard it but after seeing this, I’ll be interested in what Alice comes up with.

            The covers were followed by “I’m Eighteen” and “Poison”, both of which were crowd pleasers and had the audience singing along. For the encore, the band went into “School’s Out”. A bubble machine was on during the performance, much like the original Alice Cooper band had when they were on Top of the Pops performing the song. Alice led the audience in singing the song’s famous chorus before yelling “It’s party time!” Alice was not kidding: confetti and streamers went off and fell onto the audience while big balloons were thrown into the audience, which Alice popped with his cane. Alice then introduced his band before saying,

“Thank you, Wilkes Barre! Happy Halloween!”

            Seeing Alice Cooper in concert was amazing. Even at his age, he still knows how to put on a show. This was my second time seeing him, the first time being in 2006. I think I preferred this show because of the setlist and location. With this being my senior year at King’s College, I’m glad I was able to see at least one of my favorite artists while here in Wilkes Barre. I guess I am worthy. Thanks, Alice!

1.      Hello Hooray
2.      House of Fire
3.      No More Mr. Nice Guy
4.      Under My Wheels
5.      I’ll Bite Your Face Off
6.      Billion Dollar Babies
7.      Caffeine
8.      Department of Youth
9.      Hey Stoopid
10.  Dirty Diamonds (with drum and guitar solo)
11.  Welcome to My Nightmare
12.  Go To Hell
13.  He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)
14.  Feed My Frankenstein
15.  Ballad of Dwight Fry (with excerpt of Killer)
16.  I Love The Dead
17.  Break On Through
18.  Revolution
19.  Foxy Lady
20.  My Generation
21.  I’m Eighteen
22.  Poison


23.  School’s Out (with Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rock N Roll Hall of Fame 2014 Nominees are announced- my breakdown

Finally after weeks and weeks, the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame have announced the 16 nominees. The list, in all honesty, is pretty good. I would like to see many of these artists get in. However, there are those that the Hall will just not give up on. Also, the Hall is letting the public vote once again for the second time. So this is my breakdown of how I see the Hall's nominees this year.

Put them in!: My ballot

Deep Purple- Deep Purple have been nominated once again, the first time being just last year. I think they should've gotten in last year with Rush and Heart. I think it's a joke that they aren't in the Hall yet. Deep Purple are one of the most influential rock bands of all time and are seen as one of the pioneers in heavy metal music. I think all the members of Mach II should get in, including the late Jon Lord.

Kiss- Kiss have been nominated, their first time since the 2010 nominees. Love them or hate them, Kiss are one of the most successful rock bands of all time. Despite their haters, Kiss have managed to build up a loyal fan base known as the Kiss Army. I was bummed when they didn't get in for 2010 but obviously, you had to put Alice Cooper in first. Rolling Stone are known to not be the biggest Kiss fans but even their haters have to admit: they deserve it. As for who to induct- the original line-up. I wouldn't hold your breath for a reunion.

Yes- The Hall is lacking very much in progressive rock. Yes are obviously one of prog's best bands and like Deep Purple, they should've been in years ago. As for the members who should be inducted, I would pick the members who were on Fragile and Close to the Edge.

The Replacements- Though younger than most of the other artists, I think the Replacements deserve to be in the Hall. They're one those bands that you only know of if someone tell you about them but with the internet and the way it is, I've been hearing many good things about the Replacements. I recently got their installment in the Original Album Series box sets, which came with their first 5 albums. I think they're a great band. As for who to induct- the original line-up of course (though Bob Stinson has been dead for nearly 20 years). The band recently reunited with singer Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson at the helm.

Cat Stevens- It's hard to believe this man has not be nominated once. Cat Stevens is a well-respected folk artist. Personally, I don't really own any of his albums but rather borrowed a few. I think his contributions to the soundtrack for Harold and Maude should get him in automatically.

Sure, why not?: I wouldn't mind seeing getting inducted

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band- I don't own an album of theirs but I had them on my ballot last year. I really wouldn't mind seeing them in. I believe they were the first rock band signed to Elektra along with Love.

The Zombies- They should've been in a long time ago given how much people talk about them.

Hall and Oates- Not a fan but they deserve it.

Peter Gabriel- I'm surprised to see Peter Gabriel nominated for his solo career given it's been since 2010 when Genesis was inducted. Personally, I haven't really been able to get into his solo material. I only own his third album, which is a great album. I should give that another listen soon. But seriously- the guy's solo career is so diverse: he's tried African music, pop music, and experimental music. I wouldn't mind seeing him get in but I think it's a little too soon.

Linda Ronstadt- I've never been a fan of her's but seriously, it's an absolute joke that she's not in the Hall yet. That should've happened eons ago. Also given her recent retirement, I think she's a shoe-in. She sure could sing!

Whatever: A band that'll get in no matter what

Nirvana- Oh boy, where do I begin? I don't think I've said it in my blog before: I'm not a fan of Kurt Cobain and/or Nirvana. I just think they're a little bit overrated and the music is just okay. I will not argue that they don't deserve to be in because I think they do deserve to be in even though I'm not a fan. However, this is their first time being nominated since their debut recording came out in 1988. There are at least a dozen other bands that should be in first before Nirvana. However, if Nirvana get in it could be the "Metallica effect" in which the members of Nirvana could now go around and try getting vote for their favorite bands. Once a band is inducted, they are allowed to vote in the nominating process. Dave Grohl is a man with good taste (as evident in his speech inducting Rush earlier this year). So yeah...

Who?: I don't get why they are nominated

Chic, Link Wray, The Meters- I have some knowledge as to who these people are but seriously, how many times does the Hall have to nominate Chic? I just don't get it. If one of the three gets in, I really don't care.

GO AWAY!: Keep 'em out!

N.W.A. and LL Cool J- How many times do I have to tell you all?: RAP DOES NOT BELONG IN THE ROCK N ROLL HALL OF FAME!! Jesus, I feel like a broken record. Just please, leave them out.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Paul McCartney- New album review

 Paul McCartney - New
Paul McCartney
Rating: ****

Believe it or not, Paul McCartney has released a new studio album. The album, New, is McCartney’s first album since last year’s Kisses On The Bottom, which saw McCartney taking on American standards. So this makes New McCartney’s first studio album of all original material since 2007’s Memory Almost Full. McCartney, now 71, has made an album that sounds very modern but also reminiscent of his work with the Beatles, Wings and his solo career.

            For this album, McCartney decided to do something interesting: for each song, they are produced by either one of four producers- Giles Martin (son of Beatles producer, George Martin), Ethan Johns, Mark Ronson and Paul Epworth. This is an interesting move for McCartney since it’s not common for someone like him to have multiple producers. Still, the final product is impressive.

            The album opens with “Save Us”, a fuzz guitar-driven rock song. The song is pretty catchy while McCartney sounds fine. It’s no lie: McCartney’s voice has seen better days but for what he can pull off at his age is remarkable. “Alligator” is a bouncy track with slightly whimsical lyrics while a song like “On My Way To Work” is somewhat autobiographical. “On my way to work/I rode a big green bus” McCartney sings. “I could see everything/From the upper deck/People came and went/Smoking cigarettes.” The acoustic dominating “Early Days” is another autobiographical song, in which McCartney recalls the days of his youth with his “hair slicked back with Vaseline” and visiting the local record shops.

            Even at 71, McCartney still delivers with great pop songs. “Queenie Eye” is very catchy bopping pop tune as is the self-titled track, which is the lead single from the album. The latter is a personal favorite; as it sounds surprisingly much like something the Beatles would’ve done in the mid to late 1960s (“Penny Lane” comes to mind).  “I Can Bet” yet another catchy tune that sounds like something he would’ve made with Wings except modernized with voice effects and electronics. McCartney even knows how to end an album with class- the piano line in “Road” brings back memories of the piano heard in “Nineteen Hundred Eighty Five” from Band On The Run. There’s even a hidden track called “Scared”, similar to how “Her Majesty” is a hidden track from Abbey Road.

            New is a surprisingly good album from Paul McCartney. I’m quite impressed. I would go as far to saying this is his first solid album since 2005’s Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, in which all of the songs are good. If you’re a fan of McCartney, I don’t see why you shouldn’t have the album already. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Yoko Ono- Take Me To The Land of Hell album review

 Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - Take Me to the Land of Hell
Yoko Ono
Take Me To The Land Of Hell
Rating: ****

Many things have been said about Yoko Ono over the years. For some, she is seen as the person responsible for the split of the Beatles as she was the wife of John Lennon. Some deem her as controlling and simply cashing in on her late husband. For others, Yoko Ono is seen as an amazing artist. When it comes to her musical career, some critics have gone as far as saying that she was ahead of her, influencing artists such as the B52’s and Lene Lovich. Ono’s latest album, Take Me to the Land of Hell, sees her at it again with her son Sean Lennon and the revamped Plastic Ono Band. This is Ono’s first studio album since 2009’s Between My Head and the Sky. Even at 80 years old, Ono has made an album that sounds very modern.

            For this album, Ono has collaborated with artists who are familiar with electronic music. In recent years, Ono has been able to nab several #1 hits in the Billboard Dance Charts. The collaborations actually pay off. Even with the collaborations, it still sounds like a Yoko Ono album. Ono’s genre of music would be best described as experimental rock or avant garde, which this album certainly is.

            The album’s opener, “Moonbeams”, isn’t the strongest song but it opens the album perfectly: the futuristic sounds mixed in with Ono’s spoken word poetry sets you up for what you’re about to hear. Once you hear Ono’s traditional scream, you know what you’re in for. This is followed by the pleasantly psychedelic “Cheshire Cat”. It has an impressive bass line that drives the entire song in this stoner rock rhythm. “Tabetai” is collaboration with tUnE-yArDs and it’s a very good one: the track is catchy and has great drumming/percussion work. The most interesting of the collaborations would have to be the bouncy “Bad Dancer”, which features the surviving members of the Beastie Boys. I really like this one and the strangest thing is that I have no interest in the Beastie Boys whatsoever.

            Ono also has the chance to shine with several ballads. The self-titled track and “Watching the Dawn” have pretty melodies. The former uses violins while the latter is piano-oriented. While Ono isn’t known for having the greatest voice, she knows how to use it when it comes to ballads. It isn’t much but I think she knows it works. Ono leaves time on the album for the autobiographical “NY Noodle Town”, the funky spoken word “7th Floor” and the surprisingly jazzy “Leaving Tim”.

            Overall, Take Me to the Land of Hell is a very good album from Yoko Ono. It’s impressive that she can pull this off at her age. However, I can’t say I’d recommend the album. Obviously, Yoko’s music isn’t for everyone. I’d say if you happen to appreciate some experimental music (i.e. Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and/or Tom Waits), give Yoko’s music a chance. If you’re already a fan of Yoko’s music, this is a no brainer: you must get it. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Kiss Solo Albums- 35 years later

By 1978, Kiss were one of the biggest rock bands in the world. From their iconic make-up to their explosive concerts, they were instantly loved by teenagers alike. In fact, a 1977 Gallup poll showed that Kiss were the most popular band. The band were also known for their long line of merchandise. Everything from action figures to pinball machines were out there for people to buy.

It was also it 1978 that their management decided that the band was movie material. During this time, the band took part in filming the campy made-for-TV-movie Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park. The filming for the movie was disastrous: the band couldn't act to save their lives and there were also tensions within the band. The movie would later premiere on ABC in October 1978. While it was a hit in the ratings, the movie was panned by critics. Some countries went as far to releasing the movie theatrically (under a different title and with additional scenes).

After the filming of Phantom, guitarist Ace Frehley felt like it was time for him to leave the band. He was told not to and instead, make a solo album while still in the band. This idea grew and in the end, it was decided all four members would  make their own solo album.

The albums were released on September 18, 1978.

Usually in anniversary articles, I go into detail about how the songs were written and came to be. In this case with their being four albums to cover, I will simply review each album.

As for the order I review them in...most Kiss fans will go by the cataloge number of the album. If this is the case, this is the order:

Gene Simmons
Ace Frehley
Peter Criss
Paul Stanley

 Gene Simmons - Gene Simmons
Gene Simmons
Rating: ***

According to his 2002 autobiography Kiss & Make Up, Gene Simmons had one thing in mind when he was making his solo album: his would be the best. The result: eh...it certainly isn't the best but there are some very interesting songs on Gene's album. Of the four albums, Gene's is by far the most diverse. While this is a rock album, Gene experiments with disco, soul, R&B, and even a classical tune. When it comes to rockers, Gene does okay: songs such as "Radioactive" and his re-recording of Kiss' "See You In Your Dreams" are examples. However, Gene doesn't shy away from showing his Beatles influences in "See You Tonight", "Mr. Make Believe" and "Man of 1000 Faces". Gene's album is also the most star-studded featuring musicians such as Joe Perry and Rick Nielsen. Donna Summer is on backing vocals on "Burning Up With Fever" and Cher can be heard on "Living In Sin".  Now what's bad about this album? Well, the soul/R&B songs are the weak spots this album as they are pretty forgettable. He even has the balls to end his album with a cover of "When You Wish Upon a Star".

 Ace Frehley - Ace Frehley
Ace Frehley
Rating: ****

It's pretty funny: it was suggested he should make a solo album and he ended up making probably the best of the four albums. At this point in time, no one had really heard Ace Frehley take the mic. His singing debut was "Shock Me" from Love Gun but this time, he was singing an album's worth of songs. Statistics show that Frehley's album sold the most copies and there's a reason why: it's a great album. Even Kiss' harshest critics have a soft spot for this album. I think what make Ace's album so great is because of its simplicity: basic, hard-hitting rock n roll- no frills. It sounds as if he really wasn't trying. He just went in and made a rock album. Ace certainly doesn't mess around with rip roaring rockers such as "Rip It Out", "Ozone" and "Speedin' Back to My Baby". There even more melodic numbers with "What's On Your Mind" and the instrumental "Fractured Mirror". Unlike the other solo albums, Frehley was able to score a hit single with his cover of Hello's "New York Groove". 

 Peter Criss - Peter Criss
Peter Criss
Rating: ** 1/2

It really hurts me to do this: Peter Criss' solo album is, without a doubt, the weakest of the solo albums. Even sales show that his album sold the least of the solo albums. I really don't know what to think of Peter Criss. I think he's a great drummer but he just seems very bitter when he talks about his times in Kiss, especially about the current line-up. As for the album,  it's just boring. I will admit that Peter has a great singing voice but the songs here are dull. I only really like a few songs on here: "I'm Gonna Love You" is a nice pop track while "Tossin' and Turnin'" is good fun. I even like the album's closer, "I Can't Stop the Rain". The rest of the album is mediocre at best. I do like that Peter tried something different but this album could've really used some good hard rockers. There's even a song on here titled "That's The Kind of Sugar Papa Likes". Seriously? Still, I can somehow sit through Peter's album but that doesn't mean it's easy.

 Paul Stanley - Paul Stanley
Paul Stanley
Rating: ****

With him being my favorite member of Kiss, Paul Stanley's solo album has albums been a favorite of mine. Sometimes, I can't decide whether I like Paul's or Ace's more. The thing I like to say is Ace's is the best but Paul's is my favorite. I know that doesn't really make any sense but please work with me for a moment here! Of the four solo albums, Paul's album sounds the most like a Kiss album which what I think I like about it: it's a great combination of hard rock and pop hooks. "Tonight You Belong to Me" is a killer opening track while "Wouldn't You Like To Know Me" has a very power pop sound to it. There are more hard rockers in the form of "Love in Chains" and some more on the pop side such as "It's Alright" and "Goodbye". Paul can't help but have several ballads. The strongest of them, for me personally, is "Take Me Away (Together As One". Paul's vocal performance alone makes that song great.

The solo albums by Kiss were big sellers but critically, the albums were not well received at the time. The band were blamed for being lazy just for taking on such an unusual project. In 1979, the band regrouped for Dynasty. The album was another big seller and featured the hit single "I Was Made For Lovin' You". The fans, however, felt that the band had sold out given the single and the album leaned more towards a disco sound than a hard rock sound. Criss left in 1980 and Frehley followed in 1982. After a series of poor selling albums in the early 1980's, Simmons and Stanley decided it was time for the band to remove their iconic make-up. On September 18, 1983 (five years to the day the solo albums were released) Kiss finally unmasked on MTV and released Lick It Up. It was a brand new chapter for the band and Lick It Up was well received.  

As of 2013, Kiss is still performing (though with the make up back on since 1996). Simmons and Stanley remain the two sole constant members of the band. Since 2004, they have been with guitarist Tommy Thayer and long time drummer Eric Singer. 

As for the Kiss solo albums, some overlook them as flops. Still, there are members of the loyal Kiss Army who still enjoy listening to these four albums. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Paul McCartney's New to be released October 15

After months of speculation, it's official: Paul McCartney will have a brand new studio album out before the year ends. The album, entitled New, will be McCartney's first studio album since last year's Kisses On the Bottom. Since Kisses was mostly an album of standards, New will be McCartney's first album to consist of original material since 2007's Memory Almost Full. The self-titled track is out now for digital download while the album will be released on October 14 in the UK and on October 15 in the US.

I'm very happy to hear this news. It's great that Paul is coming out with a new studio album so soon after Kisses On the Bottom. I thought Kisses was okay and know it was an album that Paul wanted to make for some time. His previous solo efforts have been good. I enjoyed Memory Almost Full but I think the last great one he released was 2005's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. My only problem with this news: the album title. C'mon Paul! New? You couldn't think of a better album title? However, the new song is pretty good. It reminds me very much of "Penny Lane" or something the Beatles would've done back in their later years.

So yeah, I'll be looking forward to this.

I'm going to try something different and put the YouTube video right here so you can listen to the song.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fleetwood Mac- Then Play On reissue/remaster review

 Fleetwood Mac - Then Play On
Fleetwood Mac
Then Play On
Rating: ****
Bonus tracks: ****

Some might find it hard to believe that before their success with albums such as Rumours and Tusk, Fleetwood Mac was actually a blues rock band then they were formed by guitarist Peter Green in 1967. Fleetwood Mac’s third album, Then Play On, is often considered by many to be their best effort when Green was in the band. The album is also the last the band would make with Green, as he left the band a year after the album’s release in 1970. Now in 2013, the album has been reissued and remastered with the original UK tracking list and segues.

Fleetwood Mac was formed in 1967 by guitarist Peter Green. With Green was guitarist Jeremy Spencer, bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood. Green named the band using the surnames of the band’s rhythm section of McVie and Fleetwood. By 1969, the band had released two studio albums- a self-titled debut and Mr. Wonderful. Both efforts were simple blues rock albums and good enough for the band to make a name for themselves. IT was also around this time the band added a third guitarist, Danny Kirwin. The band soon achieved success with a hit single in the UK, the instrumental “Albatross”.

An album like Then Play On was a huge step for the band. Green decided that while sticking to their blues roots, why not dabble in progressive rock? “Coming Your Way” is a great intro and fits with the album cover painted by Maxwell Armfield. Green, Spencer and Kirwin all get to shine on this track. Blues comes in the form of the instrumental “Fighting for Madge”, Kirwin’s 12-bar “One Sunny Day”, the boogie riddled “Rattlesnake Shake”, and the sorrowful “Like Crying”. Songs such as “Closing My Eyes”, “Without You” and “When You Say” are beautiful ballads while “Underway” and “Searching for Madge” create this a sort of psychedelic atmosphere.

As for the sound, it’s fantastic. Then Play On is an album that has been retooled and messed with by the record labels for years. As mentioned before, this reissue is a remaster of the UK version. The US version was released twice in 1969. Both versions omitted songs from the UK version and rearranged segues. For example, the giggle at the start of “Like Crying” is moved to the end of “Searching for Madge”. When first released on CD in 1990, the album was changed up again. While mostly following the US versions, the segues were put in different places and once again, omitted several songs.

One major criticism of the 1990 issue that had fans complaining was the sound quality of the digital transfer, citing that there was too much hiss and distortion. I’ve done several sound comparisons of the 1990 issue and the new remaster. The 1990 version sounds much louder but very hissy and perhaps a little too much reverb. The new remaster does not sound distorted nor does it sound hissy. In fact, it sounds perfect. I’ve never heard the original vinyl but I can believe this is what people heard back in 1969. There’s no need to worry about any massive clipping either.

There are a few bonuses with this reissue. Insightful liner notes are written by Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke and there are a few bonus tracks. First, there’s the band’s hit single “Oh Well”. Unlike the 1990 issue in which the track as one nine minute track, the song is split into its original two parts like the original 45 single. Also on is another single, “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)” and its B-side “World in Harmony”. The former may sound familiar as it was covered by Judas Priest in 1979 while the latter is seeing its debut appearance on CD.

If you were disappointed by the 1990 issue of Then Play On, this is a no brainer: get this remaster immediately. If you are a stranger to Fleetwood Mac’s bluesy beginnings, Then Play On is a pretty good place to start.