Monday, December 15, 2014

2014: Year in Review

2014 has been quite a year for classic rock music. We’ve seen the release of many new albums from classic artists, as well as some solid reissues/remasters. As I do every year, I will briefly review every album I’ve bought this year. Note that there are some albums in this article that I didn’t review the first time around.


NEW ALBUMS
 David Crosby - Croz
David Crosby
Croz
Rating: ***

            Much to the surprise of many people, David Crosby decided to release his first album in 20 years. Croz was handed to me by my college radio station and I’ve only heard it once. While not a particularly memorable album, Croz is an enjoyable album. I can’t really pick out any stand out tracks. It’s just okay.

  Steel Panther - All You Can Eat
Steel Panther
All You Can Eat
Rating: ****

            For their third album, comedic hard rockers Steel Panther decided to stick to their guns by presenting their fans with more juvenile-humored tracks. While it can get tiresome to listen to the same over-the-top sexual jokes, the songs on here are pretty damn good. “Party Like It’s the End of the World” is a hilarious anthem while the hard hitting “Gloryhole” is good fun. Musically, the band are tighter than ever. While songs such as “Bukkake Tears” have disgusting subject matters, the music is very pretty and melodic. The stand out track on here, in my opinion, is “The Burden of Being Wonderful.” This is an impressive song coming from the band, as there is no dirty humor to be found in the lyrics. Instead, singer Michael Starr musses about why he’s so perfect while everyone else around him isn’t.

  Various Artists - Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life
Various Artists
Ronnie James Dio- This Is Your Life
Raing: ****

            After years of waiting, an official Dio tribute album has been released. In all honesty, I’ve only listened to this once. Still, it’s a great collection of tunes from some of the best metal artists. Friends of Ronnie such as Rob Halford and Glenn Hughes are on the album. The highlight, for me, is Metallica’s suite of Rainbow tunes.

  Uriah Heep - Outsider
Uriah Heep
Outsider
Rating: ****

            45 years after their formation, Uriah Heep are still together making music (although of its founding members, guitarist Mick Box is the only one). Outside is an important album in band’s discography, considering it’s their first release after the death of long-time bassist Trevor Bolder. With new bassist, Davey Rimmer, the band manages to crank out a couple of songs on here. “Speed on Sound” is an electrifying opener while “Looking at You” shows that the band can make keyboard-heavy sounding track cool in 2014. “Can’t Take That Away” is a personal favorite as it does certainly try to capture the band’s 1970s sound. While I prefer its predecessor Into the Wild, Outsider is still a good album.

  Quiet Riot - 10
Quiet Riot
10
Rating: *** ½

            Much to the surprise of many fans, Quiet Riot released a new album this year just days after announcing its release. Since 2010, drummer Frankie Banali has been touring with a new version of Quiet Riot- taking the surviving members of the band’s last line up (guitarist Alex Grossi and bassist Chuck Wright) along with a new lead singer. Ex-Love/Hate and Ratt singer Jizzy Pearl is now the band’s new frontman. While many have criticized Banali’s choice to reform Quiet Riot without the late Kevin DuBrow, the new band has been doing fairly well paying tribute to the music. The new album, 10, is a strangely structured album featuring six new studio track and four live tracks. While strange, the end result isn’t bad at all. The new tracks featuring Pearl are good while the live cuts featuring the late DuBrow are a nice touch.

  Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls
Judas Priest
Redeemer of Souls
Rating: ****

FAVORITE ALBUM OF THE YEAR

            Despite embarking on a “farewell tour” and the departure of guitarist KK Downing, Judas Priest have managed to release a new kick-ass studio album. Now with guitarist Richie Faulkner, the band delivers the goods throughout the album’s 13 tracks. Songs such as “Dragonaut” and “Halls of Valahalla” prove the band can still make hard n’ heavy tracks. Even Rob Halford is a good form, especially on “Metalizer” and “Battle Cry.”  The title track is strong while the album bravely closes with the ballad-esque “Beginning of the End,” which sounds as if it came from Sad Wings of Destiny. This album is so great that it’s almost frightening.



 Accept - Blind Rage 
Accept
Blind Rage
Rating: ****

            As their third album since reuniting with new singer Mark Tornillo, Accept’s Blind Rage is another heavy album from the German heavy metal band. Compared to 2010’s Blood of the Nations and 2012’s Stalingrad, this one follows them up nicely. In fact, I think I might like this better than Stalingrad. Accept still knows how to make rapid-fire head bangers such as “Stampede” and “Trail of Tears.” The band even offers the melodic “Dark Side of My Heart,” and the anthem-driven “Wanna Be Free.”

 Riot - Unleash the Fire 
Riot V
Unleash the Fire
Rating: ****

            Sole original member Mark Reale might’ve died from Crohn’s Disease in 2012 but that didn’t stop guitarist Mike Flyntz and bassist Donnie Van Stavern from continuing to perform the music of Riot. Now under the name Riot V, the new group has been touring all year long with new singer Todd Michael Hall at the helm. From beginning to end, Unleash the Fire is a touching tribute to Reale as the album’s 12 tracks celebrate all eras of Riot. “Ride Hard Live Free” is a guitar heavy track while “Metal Warrior” is lyrically filled with references to other Riot songs. The band even offers throwbacks to the classic Riot era with “Return of the Outlaw” (a sequel to “Outlaw” from Fire Down Under), “Take Me Back” and “Land of the Rising Sun.” I think it’s safe to say the legacy of Riot is in good hands.

  Pink Floyd - The Endless River
Pink Floyd
The Endless River
Rating: *** (3.25)

            Much to the surprise of many people, it was announced in July that Pink Floyd would have a new studio album out this year. The truth is that the material on this album isn’t new, has it comes from session previously known as “The Big Spliff.” This project was recorded by Pink Floyd as a side project during the recording of The Division Bell. It was originally an electronica affair that wouldn’t be released under the Pink Floyd name. However, David Gilmour and Nick Mason thought it was good enough to release not only as a swan song but as a tribute to the late Rick Wright. With that, Gilmour and Mason recorded new music to the unfinished product. While it does sound like a Pink Floyd album, The Endless River also comes across as an album I’d probably hear playing at a massage parlor. At times, the album can become boring to listen to. With the exception of one song, the album is entirely instrumental. Still, there are some good tracks on here with most of them last for only some two minutes. The sole track with vocals, “Louder Than Words,” is a great song. Despite a few positives, this album didn’t need to be released.

  AC/DC - Rock or Bust
AC/DC
Rock or Bust
Rating: *** ½ (3.75)

            Despite the retirement of co-founding member Malcolm Young, AC/DC have decided to soldier on without him. Rock or Bust is the band’s first album since 2008’s Black Ice. The album runs at a little under 35 minutes, making this the shortest album the band has ever made. Still, there some great songs such as the title track, “Play Ball” and “Dogs of War.” Of the 11 tracks, there are a few weak songs. Personally, I feel the songs on Black Ice were stronger although that album had the longer runtime (55 minutes- the band’s longest album ever). For what it is, Rock or Bust is good fun.


RANKINGS (excluding Crosby and the Dio tribute album, given I didn’t listen to them much)


1.      Judas Priest- Redeemer of Souls
2.      Riot V- Unleash the Fire
3.      Accept- Blind Rage
4.      Uriah Heep- Outsider
5.      Steel Panther- All You Can Eat
6.      AC/DC- Rock or Bust
7.      Quiet Riot- 10
8.      Pink Floyd- The Endless River



REISSUES AND ARCHIVAL RELEASES

  Love - Black Beauty
Love
Black Beauty
Rating: ****

FAVORITE (AND ONLY) ARCHIVAL RELEASE OF THE YEAR

            In 1974, Arthur Lee was still with his band Love. At that time, the band featured an all-black line up of the group. This line-up recorded an album entitled Black Beauty. While the album was complete, the album ended up being shelved due to their record label folding. Lee meant to properly release the album before his passing in 2006, although the album had since then been widely bootlegged amongst music lovers. In 2011, a new label called High Moon Records announced they would release the album as one of their first two releases (the other being a long out-of-print Gene Clark album). With High Moon Records being a new label, the release date kept changing. The vinyl was released first just last year and now the CD is here in 2014. If released in 1974, Black Beauty could’ve been a comeback for Arthur Lee and Love. The mix of hard driving rock against R&B and soul sounds make this album. The remaster used an acetate copy of the album and it still sounds wonderful. Songs such as “Midnight Sun,” “Young and Able” and “Beep Beep” are all great. Along with the album, High Moon have treated Love fans to some previously unreleased bonus tracks. If you’re a Love fan, this is well worth the $27.

  Wings - Venus and Mars
 
Paul McCartney and Wings
Venus And Mars & Wings At The Speed of Sound
Venus and Mars rating: ****
Speed of Sound rating: *** ½

            The Paul McCartney Archive Collection continues with two Wings albums, Venus and Mars and Wings At the Speed of Sound. As with the previous installments in the collection, both albums have top-notch remastering and a bonus disc that’ll make any completist happy. Venus and Mars has always been a favorite of mine so hearing it remastered is very cool. Speed of Sound has always been an odd album for me but the new remaster makes me appreciate the album a little more.

George Harrison
All Things Must Pass
Album and Remaster Rating: **** ½

            The George Harrison Apple albums were reissued and remastered during the fall, in a box set form and as individual albums. Instead of buying the expensive box set, I decided to give All Things Must Pass a listen. After listening to it a few times, I have to agree with fellow audiophiles: the 2014 remaster is better. The last time the album was released was in 2001, one of the last things George ever worked on (released months before he passed). While the 2001 remaster was fine for people then, it’s actually pretty loud (especially on songs like “Wah-Wah”). The 2014 remaster sounds warmer in comparison and according to what other people are saying on the web, it’s closer to the vinyl. No matter which version of the album you own already, I’d say go for it.

As for the rest of the box set, I’m not too sure. Personally, I won’t repurchase Living in the Material World given it was last reissued in 2006. Still, some think the 2014 one sounds better. If anything, it’s good to know that all of George’s albums are in print.

DVDS

The Doors
Feast of Friends
Rating: ****

            After years of being bootlegged, the long lost “surreal documentary” about the Doors has finally been released. Filmed in 1968, Feast of Friends is a short 40-minute documentary that shows the Doors on tour in 1968. The film was later completed by friends of Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek from UCLA and released in 1970, submitted for several film festivals. The movie has never received an official home video release but footage from the movie has been used in other Doors media such as home videos and music videos. Of the 40 minutes in the movie, I’ve already seen most of it in the videos MCA released (which can all be found on The Doors: Collector’s Edition DVD, three videos in one. It’s probably the best Doors DVD out there). Still, it’s good to see the original movie. The bonus features, especially a half hour of extra footage entitled “Feast of Friends Encore” strengthens the movie itself. Also included is a BBC documentary from 1968 and a performance of “The End.”

BOOKS

Face the Music: A Life Exposed
By Paul Stanley
Rating: ****

            It might be hard to believe but as of this year, all four original members of Kiss have released an autobiography. Rhythm guitarist and frontman Paul Stanley is the last of the four to publish a book, but this was well worth the wait. For me, Paul has always been my favorite member of Kiss as I think he’s a great singer and songwriter. While most of the information in this book might not be anything new, most of it is brutally honest. In the book, Stanley describes his life as a shy, awkward kid with a stump ear who would later become one of the most charismatic frontmen in rock history. Stanley’s journey isn’t an easy one, filled with some regrets and tragedy. As one might’ve guessed, he rips his former bandmates each a new asshole: Ace Frehley was apparently racist, Peter Criss could be a moody bitch and Vinnie Vincent was just difficult to work with. He even sheds more light on the late Eric Carr, who was loved by all of the fans but didn’t always like his position in the group. In the end, Face the Music is well-worth reading.

2015 releases
It’s been confirmed that both Bob Dylan and Black Star Riders will have new album out next year. Other than that, we’ll just have to wait.   

In memoriam
Scott Asheton- drummer of the Stooges
Tommy Ramone- original drummer of the Ramones
Johnny Winter- guitarist and solo artist
Dick Wagner- guitarist, Alice Cooper and Lou Reed
Glenn Cornick- original bassist of Jethro Tull, Wild Turkey and Paris
Jack Bruce- bassist of Cream
Bobby Keys- saxophonist and sideman for the Rolling Stones
Ian McLagan- keyboardist of the Small Faces and Faces



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