How the Stones delivered the album they needed into their sixth decade of rock’n’roll

Music reviews

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Photo: Getty Images


Leave it to the Rolling Stones to make an album consisting of blues covers relevant in 2016. Anticipation was it would be decent, good at best—and let’s be honest, covers albums are not much to get excited at— but surely not a contender for album of the year right? Wrong.

You could be forgiven for putting in question why four rich rockstars in their seventies would release a. After all it is rather late in the game for the lads. Wrong. Blue and Lonesome possesses all the qualities that made the Rolling Stones legends while delving into the band’s early sound. It’s a love affair. Each band member makes love to the blues resulting in a torrid affair for the ears.

Many point to Tattoo You as the Stones’ last hurrah, and that was back in 1981. That’s not to say the band hasn’t produced decent material since, however their best studio days are decades past. With each subsequent Stones album come the inevitable murmurs of “a return to their roots”. The album really is worthy of a such title with the band playing the songs that influenced them in their, um, youth. Blue and Lonesome puts its money where its mouth is and delivers on that statement.

It’s been 11 years since A Bigger Bang. Blue and Lonesome marks the Stones’23rd British and 25th American albums respectively to be exact—how do to the septuagenarians (although Ron Wood at 69 will always remain the “baby”) fare in the studio?

 

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Well, I’m happy to report that Blue and Lonesome is the real deal. It’s raw, sexy and bold. Many rock bands have tinkered with the blues an attempted a similar approach, but few understand and play this music better than the Rolling Stones. This is more than a mere covers album. It’s an exploration and journey through the blues.

Recorded in three short days, it seems all too easy to write off the album as lazy. A covers album? Could it be that the Stones have run out of things to say? It’s clearly not the case as the conversation happens musically and admittedly, there’s plenty to say. Their take on these blues standards is rich and honest.

Blue and Lonesome exudes a lot of confidence. It’s old, yet it’s new. It’s organic, raw soulful and as promised—bluesy. This is the modern-vintage sound companies like Levis dream of using to sell jeans in their commercials.

Keith Richards’ playful is soulful and rich in emotions. It’s sad when needs be and straightforward when it should. Anyone still questioning his bluesmanship only needs to listen to Blue and Lonesome. His playing here is nicely complemented by Ronnie Woods. Mick Jagger is back on the harmonica and that’s a good thing. His playing is rich and warm, like rediscovering an old friend. It’s adds texture to the Stones’ sound. Charlie Watts, the oldest member of the band at 75, does a commendable job on the drums.

The list of artists covered goes back more than half a century. Names like Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon will no doubt be familiar to some while others such as are not likely to be recognized unless one possesses a vast collection of blues records.

The opening licks of Just Your Fool set the tone for what is a bulk of the album’s sound:, bouncy, straight ahead blues-infused rock. Commit a Crime is perfect contrast of happy music with dramatic lyrics, a staple of the blues. The title song, Blue and Lonesome is a heartfelt ballad brought to life by Jagger’s screams and Richard’s guitar fingering. All of Your Love is a diamond. A smooth, sexy number that makes the best use of instrumentation of any song on the album, particularly the piano. I Gotta Go is a fun fast-paced rollicking number with excellent harmonica. Just Like I Treat You is a vintage upbeat number with just the placement of piano. The album concludes on a high note with the classic blues staple I Can’t Quit You Baby, a song covered by the likes of Led Zeppelin and countless others. The Stones’ version pays tribute while simultaneously being unique. Jagger is an animal possessed on this cover and it’s beautiful.

The band’s passionate performance brings these oldies back to life. The fact that the Stones play this well at their age puts them in a category of their own. There’s just the right amount of added instrumentation on the album, be it piano here or harmonica there it makes a world of difference.

You can’t always get what you want, but any new Rolling Stones is welcome. And while it’s not revolutionary by any means—or everyone’s cup of tea—Blue and Lonesome is no Exile, but it’s a project the band can be damned proud of.

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Hardwired… To Self-Destruct: Metallica retains some fire in their bellies into middle age

Music reviews, Uncategorized

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image: metalinjection.net


Despite it being more than 25 years since their best works, anytime Metallica releases a another album it ends up being scrutinized under a hypothetical microscope to be dissected and picked apart. Anytime a band of Metallica’s stature has a new album out it’s an event. It’s exciting even if it disappoints.

It hasn’t been easy to be a Metallica fan for the last 20 years. Excuse me while flashes of eyeliner, Mamma Said and Kirt Hammett dramatically losing his smartphone hit me… It’s especially hard to sympathize when a band of millionaire cry and whine as they produce the poorest album of the career and exploit the distrous results on film in the form of Some Kind of Monster. Never mind suing Napster, questionable albums with Lou Reed, “hyped” 3D movies and expressing support for Justin Bieber. The last two decades have eaten at the Thrash-Metal giants’ cool cred. They also made it incredibly difficult for fans to defend their favourite band.

Okay, we’ll forgive them after heavy rotations of Kill ‘Em All and Ride The Lightning. 

How does Hardwired… To Self-Destruct fare? Surprisingly decent if you compare to the band’s outputs since oh, 1991. 2008’s Death Magnetic was a great attempt to recapture some of the fire of earlier-ish Metallica, something Hardwired almost achieves a little more organically and with less effort. Death Magnetic’s production gave it a raw sound but was heavily criticized. By contrast, Hardwired sounds much more natural.

 

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                                                                                                                    Album artwork.

All things realized, it’s Metallica sounding how they should in 2016. It’s not 1983 or ’88 or even ’91 for that matter. The Metal icons do a respectable job of staying true to their sound while taking cues from their past. As such Hardwired is a pleasantly effective Metallica album, in its better moments.

Hardwired is all over the place style-wise, and that’s a good thing. Some songs could fit on Kill ‘Em All and others would be right at home on the black album. When a band has a long history such as Metallica’s, fans will obviously have favourite eras and albums. Hardwired covers all ground; one moment its reminiscent of the black album, the next its Load. Now middle-aged men, Metallica prove they still have the fire necessary to come up with some adequate material.

Look, not everyone will be pleased with the whole album, but there’s something for every fan—or else they’re lying. The first disc is fast, aggressive and heavy. It stands strong with all 6 tracks.

The self-titled track is an indication of what fans are in for. Short, heavy and fast with an almost punk edge, Hardwired does fans of the band proud. Atlas, Rise! has subtle tinges of Iron Maiden in the guitar playing and a chorus just catchy enough. Now That We’re Dead sounds like the better parts of Load and Reload. It’s slightly more accessible Metallica. The single Moth to Flames is bold and uncompromising Metallica. It stands as possinly the best song on Hardwired and should please the majority of the band’s fans. Dream No More lurks on  like a Sad But True-esque epic complete with tremendous breakdown and solo, one of the album’s finest moments. Halo On Fire is on the more melodic side with great lyrics and one of the album’s best breakdowns and vocal deliveries by Hetfield.

Unfortunately this is where the album starts to unravel, its momentum shifting.The middle part of Confusion stands as one of the best moments on Hardwired. It’s when we get to disc 2 that the momentum turns. Songs like ManUNkind and Am I Savage have similar tempos and are weaker moments as a whole. Although Spit Out the Bone concludes the album on a brighter note, its hard to shake off the notion that the first part of the album is much stronger than the second.

Theren lies the problem. The second disc. The realization that it consists of mostly mid-tempo songs hits the listener sinks halfway through. The songs all sound similar. This is largely due to structure and tempo, slowing down the energy and momentum achieved with disc one.

James Hetfield is one of the genre’s most recognizable voices. On Hardwired, it’s almost as if more often than not Hetfield tries to sing beautifully. It works, but it’s not what one expects or wants from a band like Metallica. For all the hate he receives, Lars Ulrich is competent drummer. He gets the job done and proves himself to be quite capable here.

Guitars are heavy and crunchy when they should be and they’re melodic and dare I say, elegant when need be. The solos are some of the best we’ve had since the black album, but longtime fans know that’s not a huge benchmark. Breakdowns are well-executed and sometimes unpredictable in their candor.

In my book, Hardwired…To Self-Destruct is the most enjoyable Metallica release since the black album. Hardwired is a great moment for fans of the band, for the time being. The album will no doubt be celebrated and touted as “classic”for a short period of time following its release, a status it will never achieve. Its first 6 songs range from very good to excellent, but ultimately most of it bound to be forgotten in favour of the classics as time passes.

After what will likely be a triumphant and succesful tour in support of the album, Metallica will go right back to setlists mostly consisting of material their classic albums. There’s no point for Metallica to compete with their own legacy and they shouldn’t have to. They prove they still have the energy and gave us a couple decent songs, there’s no real need to release another studio album after this one. ***

MOTLEY CRUE LAY 34-YEAR CAREER TO REST WITH “THE END’,

Concerts, Music reviews

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Farewell tours are tricky affairs. Bands come and go—and come back—members leave and return in revolving door fashion and some bands have only one original member left. In short, its not always pretty. In the process certain artists hurt their legacy by staying in the game too long. Mötley Crüe wanted a different kind of farewell.

Mötley Crüe shocked the world in January of 2014 when they announced to decision to call it quits. The Saints of Los Angeles had chosen to end the party sooner rather than later. The band signed a cessation of touring contract, a first in rock history, prior to embarking on a two-year long farewell. In true Crüe fashion, the event served as a tremendous publicity stunt. With displays of “RIP Mötley Crue”, complete with tombstones that read each band member’s name, it would prove to be one can’t miss funeral.

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The End press conference, London, England, 2014. Photo credit: Rolling Stone

If The End has taught us anything, it’s that Mötley Crüe was a wild, untamed beast for more than 34 years. A Mötley Crüe show remained a spectacular, reckless and even chaotic event right up to The End.

Complete with big choruses, pyrotechnics, stage production values, female backup singers and dancers in scantily clad outfits, tears and displays of emotions from the band and fans alike, The End is an exciting visual memento and the end of an era. From the bombast and fire that begins with “Girls, Girls, Girls” to Nikki Sixx adressing the audience, Tommy’s roller coaster drum solo, the flamethrower bass and Vince Neil in tears during the last song of the set “Home Sweet Home”, it’s a relentless, unforgettable journey. It’s one last big, epic, blow-out to top off a truly memorable career.

Let’s get one thing out-of-the-way. Anyone who’s been to a Crüe concert in the last decade can attest that frontman Vince Neil’s voice is not what it once was—by a long shot, some would say—and its true [It becomes especially evident on the live CD of the concert]. In the dysfunctional environment that is Mötley Crüe, however, it works.

Vince Neil’s voice and charisma is part of what made the band so successful. Neil remains one of rock’s ultimate frontmen. Even if his voice isn’t quite up to par at times, the energy and excitement level is there.

Nikki Sixx does a commendable job of looking like one of the coolest human beings on the planet. These are his songs and this is his band. The flamethrower bass bit would make Gene Simmons blush.

Tommy Lee lays down a beat like only he can, providing a solid groove and backbone for the band. While performing a drum solo on his roller coaster contraption, the whole stops unexpectedly in mid-air, Lee’s reaction is nothing short of exceptional.

Perhaps most impressive of all is Mick Mars, Crüe’s sole guitarist. Mars often falls under the radar whenever the band is mentioned, but his playing never ceases to impress even after all these years.

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An emotional Vince Neil in tears during “Home Sweet Home”.

Mötley Crüe’s imperfections are exactly what made them a perfect rock band. Rock was never about perfection. Somehow, when these four beings come together magic happens. New year’s eve 2015 would be the last time this magic would be displayed. Thankfully, the Crüe’s send-off was captured in high-definition for the whole world to relive over and over.

The End comes in standalone DVD or Blu-Ray edition and in DVD/CD, Blu-Ray/CD packaging.

Objectively, the live CD is not incredible—most of the blame can be attributed to Neil’s singing— but the excitement of Mötley Crüe’s last concert was captured and that’s enough. The heart wrenching version of “Home Sweet Home” is almost worth the price of admission alone.

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Nikki Sixx, litterally in the heat of the moment. Photo: Motley.com

The cinematography however, is among the best I’ve seen in a concert film. The cameras capture every bit: the action, emotions and pyrotechnics with beautiful wide angles, just enough slow motion bits, subtle close-ups and depth-of-field shots that would make any rock band envious. Concert cinematography has always been about the emotion and feel, less so about the visuals. The End stands in a category of its own. It sets a template for the next generation of live rock documentation.

There’s a documentary portion just before the concert that serves as a reminder of the dedication fans have for this band. It also legitimizes how big of a draw and band Mötley Crüe really was. The End comes with a few extras. Nikki Sixx talks about his flamethrower bass and Tommy Lee details the history behind his roller coaster drum set.

There are a few more interview that will no doubt be interesting and give insight to fans. Take this particularly one with Nikki Sixx for instance:

“The fact that we’ve lasted is a miracle. Maybe that’s why we’re putting a bullet in its head…We know it’s inevitable that we’re going to break up or blow up or something. Maybe we’re just doing it before it happens anyway. We shouldn’t have lasted this long,” says Sixx in the interview portion of The End.

If anything, The End is a proper send off for Mötley Crüe and one heck of a burial. One final motorcycle ride under the sunset for one of the all time great rock bands. It’s reassuring to see a farewell done right in the world of rock, a landscape where the word “retirement” isn’t always taken seriously. I’ve never been this happy and sad watching a concert on home video.

RIP Mötley Crüe, 1981-2015, you will be missed.

mcrue2.jpg                                                                           Photo cred: Ultimateclassicrock.com

LIVE DVD TRACK LISTING:

1.) Intro
2.) Girls, Girls, Girls
3.) Wild Side
4.) Primal Scream
5.) Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S)
6.) Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
7.) Rock N Roll Part II / Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room
8.) Looks That Kill
9.) Motherf***** Of The Year
10.) In The Beginning / Shout At The Devil
11.) Louder Than Hell
12.) Drum Solo
13.) Guitar Solo
14.) Saints Of Los Angeles
15.) Live Wire
16.) T.N.T (Terror ‘N Tinseltown) / Dr. Feelgood
17.) Kickstart My Heart
18.) Home Sweet Home
19.) My Way (Credits)

LIVE CD TRACK LISTING:
1.) Intro
2.) Girls, Girls, Girls
3.) Wild Side
4.) Primal Scream
5.) Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)
6.) Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
7.) Smokin’ In The Boys’ Room
8.) Looks That Kill
9.) Mutherf***** Of The Year
10.) Shout At The Devil
11.) Louder Than Hell
12.) Saints Of Los Angeles
13.) Live Wire
14.) Dr. Feelgood
15.) Kickstart My Heart
16.) Home Sweet Home

MOVIE/ALBUM REVIEW: KISS rolls the dice in Vegas

Movie reviews, Music reviews, Uncategorized

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In November of 2014 KISS did one of the very few things they hadn’t tried up to this point: a Vegas residency. After all many hard rock artists have tried their hand at Vegas —successfully so— over the years; Both Guns N’Roses and Motley Crue twice, Def Leppard and more recently, Scorpions and Billy Idol. Las Vegas, Nevada is no longer the place where acts go to die, the stigma has faded with time. It seemed obvious KISS would roll the dice in Sin City eventually.

Vegas would force the hottest band in the land to play shows on a smaller scale than it is accustomed to resulting in a slightly more personal performance. That is not to say KISS toned down the fanfare. The antics like pyrotechnics and fire-breathing are still there—they’re just a little less elaborate. While Rocks Vegas is not a particularly fresh concept, it sure is good to see some new live KISS content in an albeit unique setting.

KISS Rocks Vegas initially saw selected showings in movie theatres on May 25th before its impending home video release. KISS looks spectacular on the big screen but watching the Blu-Ray/DVD at home is the next best thing. The last official stand-alone KISS live concert DVD come over ten years ago —Rock the Nation back in 2005— and featured the same lineup.

 

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The accompanying CD also marks the first official live album KISS had issued under this current lineup (unless you count the Instant Live CDs). Is it necessary for a band like KISS to put out a live album in what is likely the twilight of their career? For one thing it would shock many to know at just how few live albums KISS has in comparison to bands like Rush and Iron Maiden. If anything I’m surprised we haven’t had more live KISS. Documenting live performances becomes important as a band ages.

Its latter-day KISS, a lineup that features Tommy Thayer on guitar and Eric Singer on drums alongside Gene and Paul. That means no Ace and Peter, a fact that should be well outlined by now. This lineup, although quite capable, has its hit-and-miss moments— a fact that becomes more evident when listening to the CD. Let’s be honest for a minute: Paul’s voice is shaky, Gene forgets lyrics and Tommy’s solos are sloppy on ocasion. They may no longer be in their prime, yet KISS is still more than capable of putting on an incredible and visually compelling show.

KISS doesn’t stray too far from its usual setlist of classics like Love Gun and Detroit Rock City, but nevertheless the band took a chance and added Tears Are Falling to the set and chose to play no less than three songs from fan-favourite Creatures of the Night. The inclusions of Parasite and War Machine are worth mentioning as is Hell or Hallelujah from the latest studio effort, Monster.

 

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As an added treat, Rocks Vegas features a 7 song acoustic setlist. Paul Stanley shaking his head after filling in for Gene’s forgotten lyrics during Christine Sixteen is simply priceless. Seeing a relaxed KISS as people with no makeup, pyro or costume playing as Love Her All I Can and Goin’ Blind is a great experience. I think it really says something about KISS that the band is this effective in an acoustic setting. I initially was apprehensive of Eric Singer doing Beth, a song that was always Peter Criss’ baby, but its the definitive highlight of the session. You can watch the acoustic performances but if you want to hear them on CD you’ll have to shell out more money as they are part of an $80 box set exclusive to Amazon. KISS and marketing, indeed. 

It’s a monumental task to substitute the live concert experience for a DVD or CD. Rocks Vegas doesn’t quite achieve that feat, but it displays a determined KISS giving a crowd-pleasing performance. The Blu-Ray version is crisp and looks great on my HD TV and the live CD kept those imperfections and mistakes giving a real live feel and that’s a good thing.

Now bring back I Stole Your Love, pretty please.
Setlist:

01. Detroit Rock City
02. Creatures Of The Night
03. Psycho Circus
04. Parasite
05. War Machine
06. Tears Are Falling
07. Deuce
08. Lick It Up
09. I Love It Loud
10. Hell Or Hallelujah & Tommy Solo
11. God Of Thunder
12. Do You Love Me
13. Love Gun
14. Black Diamond
15. Shout It Out Loud
16. Rock And Roll All Night

 

Acoustic set:

01. Coming Home
02. Plaster Caster
03. Hard Luck Woman
04. Christine Sixteen
05. Goin’ Blind
06. Love Her All I Can
07. Beth

Weekend Hangover: The top 50 Hair-Metal albums of all time

Features, Music reviews, Uncategorized

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When men were men who wore big hair and makeup


It’s the genre that simply refuses to die. It always ends up peaking its teased-up hair, leather and spandex through the underground from which it came. While the eccentricities and the hair have been toned down ever so slightly over the years, the music went underground, but it never quite left us. Sometimes maligned in the Metal community, often prone to shaming. I’m talking of course about Hair-Metal. It’s been called Glam-Metal, Cock-Rock, Stripper-Metal and Butt-Rock among other names.

The songs had chunks of hooks, the choruses were simply too catchy to ignore, and no power-ballad was too big for MTV. The genre never fully went away thanks to camera ready stars like Bret Michaels, Dee Snider and Sebastian Bach who kept themselves in the public eye as they turned to outlets such television, radio and yes, even broadway. It was the golden age of something.

While a talented few within the genre some want to be seen as respected musician who care about more than image —with the implication being that Hair Metal is all about image— others could care less about the music’s label as long as they’re being talked about, just ask Vince Neil.

The musicians are as much fun to talk about as the music they play. Rumours, dirt about band members, lineups with one original member, whispers about hair pieces and who’s —wait for it— bald. I can’t think of too many other genres of music where rumours and speculations go hand in hand with the genre as much as Hair-Metal. Talking about the music as is as much part of the fun as listening to it.

While there likely isn’t a Hair-Metal revival happening anything soon, bands like Steel Panther, Crashdiet, Reckless Love and Crazy Lixx are keeping the genre alive and well. Besides everyone likes at least one Hair band, if you don’t admit to it, you’re lying plain and simple.

A few rules for this list: No one band can be featured twice. No Greatest Hits. No modern Glam bands. Van Halen and Guns N’Roses are not Hair-Metal. Finally, no originators (that means no New York Dolls, Sweet, Slade, Hanoi Rocks and no 70s-era Aerosmith and KISS albums).

Keep your death-metal, alternative and indie darlings to yourself, I’m off to spin Cinderella and Poison’s debuts.

 

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50. Triumph & Agony, Warlock (1987)

With songs like All We Are and Make Time For Love Warlock carved themselves a spot on the list. Doro Pesch’s unique voice is as powerful as the music. The album cover suggest a Dio-type Dungeons and Dragon type of metal but Warlock so  clearly belongs to Hair-Metal.

 

 

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49.  Enuff Z’Nuff, Enuff Z’Nuff (1989)

Enuff Z’Nuff proved to be a hippy-ish, weird form of Hair-Metal with their colourful imagery (mostly peace signs) over the years as they did their own thing but they do belong in the genre. The New Thing and the tender ballad Fly High Michelle from their debut are wonderful remnents of the era. Donnie Vie and Chip Z’Nuff should never be without one another.

 
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48.  Damn Yankees, Damn Yankees (1990)

Known as Glam-Metal’s very own supergroup the Damn Yankees featured an all-star lineup in Ted Nugent, Jack Blades (Night Ranger), Tommy Shaw (Styx) and that one guy who join Lynyrd Skynard on drums. It’s the ballad High Enough that put them on the map but songs like Coming of Age aren’t too shabby either.

 

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47.  In Rock We Trust, Y&T (1984)

Saxon had Denim & Leather, Y&T had Lipstick & Leather. One of the lesser known bands of their era they were certainly ahead of their time. Almost the Glam version of Anvil, people took influences from them and left them dead. In Rock We Trust is not their most Hair-Metal sounding-release but it is quite possibly their best.

 

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46.  Metal Magic, Pantera (1983)

Bet you weren’t expecting to see Pantera on this list were you? I’m sure Pantera wasn’t either. It is sometime whispered on the internet that the mighty Pantera’s first three albums are straight up Hair-Metal. The allegations are true. Metal Magic is Pantera’s first album, and their best of the pre-Phil Anselmo era. Terry Glaze was their singer then and boasted much of the same vocal qualities as many frontmen did during those days. Quite a change from the Anselmo-fronted Pantera metal fans know. Songs like Ride My Rocker and Tell Me You Want It displays their KISS and Van Halen influences as well as a touch of NWOBHM, but make no mistake it is glam.

 

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45.  Trilogy, Ynwgie Malmsteen (1986)

Where else was Yngwie going to show off his musical dexterity but in a Hair-band? Say what you want about the music but the shredders of the era were technically proficient on their instrument. The man is better known as a guitar hero but when restrained Malmsteen is capable of producing some fine candy-coated songs. Case in point: You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget, Queen In Love.

 

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44.  Two Steps from the Move, Hanoi Rocks (1984)

It’s true I said no originators. Hanoi Rocks aren’t just originators, they were doing the music as others were making their way up in Hair-Metal. The band’s drummer Razzle got in a car with a drunk Vince Neil and Hanoi Rocks was never the same. They never got due credit outside of their native Finland and were the country’s most famous rock export for years before bands like Children of Bodom, Nightwish and HIM made their mark on metal music. Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Up Around The Bend make for excellent blues-rock wrapped up in glam coating. Better known for being one of Guns N’Roses’biggest influences than their own music.

 

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43.  Black N’ Blue, Black N’Blue (1984)

Produced by none other than Gene Simmons, Black N’Blue never hit the big time but they did feature a future KISS collaborator and current-Spaceman in Tommy Thayer. Some of the songs have held up better than time would suggest. Tell me Hold On To 18 doesn’t flat-out rock. There’s plenty to like: Chains Around Heaven, Wicked Bitch, The Strong Will Rock.

 

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42.  Lita, Lita Ford (1988)

With Kiss Me Deadly we have one of Lita’s signature songs. Then there’s Close My Eyes Forever the duet with Ozzy Osbourne she later famously abandoned. Falling In and Out of Love was written by ex-beau Nikki Sixx. Best Lita Ford album? No. But it is her most recognizable work and fits every criteria on this list.

 

 

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41.  Trouble Walkin’, Ace Frehley (1989)

It took years for Ace Frehley to surface as a solo artist following his departure from KISS but “Ace is back when he told you so”. It was hard to choose between this and the debut Frehley’s Comet album but Trouble Walkin’ just edges it out. Frehley is known for covering other artists and so it should be no surprise that the best tunes of the album are covers. Ace covers The Move’s Do Ya brilliantly and put out an effective version of KISS’Hide Your Heart.

 

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40.  Midnight Madness, Night Ranger (1983)

Some would call Night Ranger rock but I disagree. The sleek and polished sounds of Don’t Tell Me You Love Me, Rumours in the Air and their band’s definitive song Sister Christian have more in common with Glam-Metal than rock. If you get one Night Ranger album, this is it.

 

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39.  Bulletboys, Bulletboys (1989)

Often described as Van Halen-esque, Bulletboys are more than carbon copy or one hit wonder. Marq Torien’s voice made the band unique. It’s a shame they’re only known for Smooth Up In Ya because they added different flavours to their brand of music; they swing with Shoot The Preacher Down and get a little funky with For The Love of Money.

 

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38. Metal Queen, Lee Aaron (1984)

She come like thunder risin’ from the gound. Lee Aaron was the Metal Queen (sorry Doro). Although she became more pop as the years went on —including a period where she became a Jazz musician— Lee Aaron’s 1984 opus remains her most memorable album to this day largely due to the title-track and Lady of the Darkest Night.

 

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37. Britny Fox, Britny Fox (1988)

The album jacket just screams Glam. Looking and sounding like Cinderella’s Gypsy cousins, Britny Fox were not one of the top-tier Hair-Metal outfits but they’re better than logic would dictate. Long Way To Love, Girlschool and Gudbuy T’Jane have held up better than you remember.

 

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36.  Vixen, Vixen (1988)

Is it sexist if I call them the female equivalent of Poison? Too late, I just did. Yes, we all know they didn’t write Edge of a Broken Heart but that doesn’t detract from how catchy the song is. Besides, I always preferred Want You To Rock Me and songs like Cryin’ are worth their salt.

 

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35.  Cocked & Loaded, L.A. Guns (1989)

Any of L.A. Guns’ first two albums could be considered as their best but if pressed I’ll have to give the edge to Cocked & Loaded. Sleazy Come Sleazy Go and I’m Addicted just ooze junkie Hair-Metal. It also happens to features their signature song in the form of The Ballad of Jayne.

 

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34. Faster Pussycat, Faster Pussycat (1987)

Faster Pussycat was too sleazy for MTV— OK maybe except House of Pain—but in a post-GNR era they found a niche ready to pounce on their filthy Glam-Rock. Unlike their contemporaries, they sound like they listened to the New York Dolls instead of just stealing their look. With tunes like Bathroom Wall and Babylon Faster Pussycat is vulgar, sexist and occasionally disgusting —all by design, of course.

 

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33.  All Systems Go, Vinnie Vincent Invasion (1988)

KISS axeman Vinnie Vincent teamed up with future Slaughter members Dana Strum and Mark Slaughter on his second and best album. Vinnie Vincent lnvasion had commercial success with That Time of Year on MTV and Love Kills was on the soundtrack for Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. The only reason the band disbanded was sadly Vinnie Vincent himself. Mark and Dana went on to form Slaughter. Vinnie Vincent went on to co-write songs with KISS for their Revenge album, sued his former employers a gazillion times (never winning once) and became a recluse.

 

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32.  Leather Boys With Electric Toys, Pretty Boy Floyd (1989)

Pretty Boy Floyd made exactly one worthwhile album and that’s Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz. The melodic Wild Angels and I Wanna Be With You would’ve made be great songs on any Hair-Metal record. They also did a decent Poison-esque cover of Motley Crue’s Toast of the Town. This debut is often more remembered for its album cover than the music, but Pretty Boy Floyd delivers.

 

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31.  Firehouse, Firehouse (1992)

Its rock sprinkled with pop and its done oh so well. For my money Firehouse’s debut album is still the best thing they’ve ever made. Infectious songs like Don’t Treat Me Bad and Shake & Tumble scream good times while ballads like Love of a Lifetime are powerful and genuine.

 

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30.  Trash, Alice Cooper (1989)

By the end of the decade Hair-Metal was so big that even of the granfathers of rock, Alice Cooper himself, tried his hand at it. The result is an Alice tailor-made for 1989. It gave him a shot in the arm and his highest charting song in 12 years with Poison. Songs like House of Fire and Spark in the Dark are fun to this day. The guest list is impressive: Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry (and most of Aerosmith) and Kip Winger among others.

 

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29.  Winger, Winger (1988)

The band Beavis and Butt-Head made cool to hate. Metallica once threw darts at a picture of Kip Winger in the process of recording the black album. How could we possibly have an all-glam list without Winger? Sure it’s very pop and sometimes borders on the creepy —Seventeen may not see a release in this age— but Winger were undeniably some of the finest musicians in the genre.

 

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28.  Steelheart, Steelheart (1992)

Miljenko Matjevic’s voice. The man possessed an impressive instrument capable of vocal summersaults. Steelheart seemed poised for success before an onstage accident nearly killed their singer and put a halt to their career. The band’s debut remains one of the strongest album in the genre with essentials like She’s Gone and Everybody Loves Eileen.

 

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27.   …Twice Shy, Great White (1988)

Its difficult choosing between this or Once Bitten but …Twice Shy sounds more glam to my ears. Great White were more a blues-based band than anything until they were locked in the studio to produce catchy, radio-friendly rock and they did exactly that. Once Bitten, Twice Shy, House of Broken love and The Angel Song are bonafide Hair classics.

 

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26.  Aerosmith, Permanent Vacation (1987)

Once originators now less um, original, this is the one that brought Aerosmith back to the big time. More of a Hair record than Pump and sleazier than anything they’ve done in ten years. This began a new era for the band, one featuring outside writers like Jim Vallance and Desmond Child. Cock-rock opener Heart’s Done Time, the poppy Magic Touch and the groovy Rag Doll are Aerosmith’s best shots at Glam-Metal. Angel is one of their all-time great ballads and who could forget Dude (Looks Like A Lady)?

 

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25.  Exposed, Vince Neil (1993)

Speaking of Dude (Looks Like A Lady), Vince Neil was the inspiration behind the song. Released after the Grunge explosion was already in full swing, Exposed lived in a vacuum that ignored everything surrounding itself. You’re Invited but Your Friend Can’t Come was the hit from the album, but thankfully its not the only good song as its accompanied by the likes of the heavy Sister of Pain and the cruelly underrated Living Is A Luxury. Steve Stevens of Billy Idol does once again an admirable job on guitar.

 

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24.  After the Rain, Nelson (1990)

The Nelson twins. Boy can they ever craft a well-written song that will stay in your head for days. Say what you will about these songs being quote-on-quote soft, Nelson had better musicianship than many of the peers. It never got better than the debut as far as Nelson is concerned but this collection of song is fantastic. Oh and it did sell 10 million copies.

 

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23. Pride, White Lion (1987)

A thinking man’s Hair band? Cries for the environment and the children’s future? White Lion was something of an oddity in the Glam cannon even then, now they stand out even more. Tunes like Wait and Hungry were all good-natured fun but there’s a definitely a somber side to songs like Lonely Nights and When The Children Cry. Oh yeah, before I forget, Bratta shreds.

 

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22.  To Hell With The Devil, Stryper (1986)

Good Christian boys can’t rock, can they? It turns out they can and they still deliver great albums even today. Besides, a little research will show you that Michael Sweet and the band weren’t always walking along the righteous and holy path (check out Against the Law). The band’s ’80s output is great Pop-Metal but To Hell With the Devil was their breakthrough album with the title track, Free, and the tender god-loving ballad Honestly.

 

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21.  Turbo, Judas Priest (1986)

In 1986 Judas Priest wasn’t a Heavy-Metal band dabbling with Glam, they were drenched in it. Listen to songs like Locked In, Parental Guidance and the somber ballad Out In The Cold and tell me I’m wrong. Or the title-track. It’s a more accessible Priest, one that crafted very good pop songs at that.

 

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20.  Lick It Up, KISS (1983)

It’s no wonder KISS chose to take the makeup off with Lick It Up. The band’s new pop-metal direction and look was in style and this remains their strongest Hair Metal release. KISS emphasized visuals as did MTV who showcased the band’s exclusive unmasking live. The only album to officially credit the lost Egyptian Ankh warrior Vinnie Vincent. A Million To One is of the best things ’80s KISS ever did.

 

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19.  The Ultimate Sin, Ozzy (1986)

It’s better than the jacket sleeve, I swear. Ozzy with bouffant hair and ridiculous costumes is a sight to see. The music made during this time period is largely ignored by the Ozzy camp but there’s some gems on The Ultimate Sin. Shot ln the Dark is one of Ozzy’s catchiest song and one of his biggest hits. Hair gems such as Secret Loser and Lightning Strikes have a respectable place among Hair-Metal classics as do melancholic tunes such as Killer of Giants. Jake E. Lee,man.

 

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18.  Eat ‘Em & Smile, David Lee Roth (1986)

I’m talking about a Yankee Rose! I know, I said no Van Halen but surely David Lee Roth solo has to count? DLR replaced Eddie Van Halen with Steve Vai and the party continued as if nothing happened. Eat ‘Em and Smile sounded more like Van Halen than Van Halen did at this point. Many of the songs on here are up to par with Van Halen classics. Shy Boy, Going Crazy and Yankee Rose make for good argument.

 

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16. The Great Radio Controversy, Tesla (1989)

It was a tough decision between this and Mechanical Resonance but I’ll give a slight edge to The Great Radio Controversy. Tesla were more of a ’70s Arena-Rock band than anything else but their songs fit right in the ’80s landscape. Love Song was the hit here but hard rockers like Hang Tough remind us of why Tesla was more than your average Hair band.

 

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17.  Blow My Fuse, Kix (1988)

Kix unleashed many great songs in the ’80s and Blow My Fuse has a good chunk of them. Never has a more beautiful anti-suicide ballad been written than Don’t Close Your Eyes. One of the guitar players in a band l was once in sang this song just about every time he opened his mouth. Cold Blood is one of the anthems of the era and songs like Gets It While Its Hot and She Dropped the Bomb are well-worth a listen.

 

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16.  Metal Health, Quiet Riot (1983)

Hold the distinction of the first #1 Metal album on the Billboard charts. Of course by reaching the top so early it was all downhill from there. Maybe there was too much tension within the band, perhaps they ran out of Slade songs to cover, but if you put on Metal Health and close your eyes, it’s 1983 and you feel the “noize” again. Surprised to see it a little low on the list? The singles were the best songs and the rest paled Thunderbird and Slick Black Cadillac never did much for me. That or Kevin DuBrow’s attitude.

 

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15.  Danger Danger, Danger Danger (1989)

Lexxi Foxx’s favourite band. I swear they’re not on the list just because I like to repeat the words Danger Danger. Drummer-turned-singer Ted Poley has one of the best voices in Glam and the band’s debut is full of upbeat pop-metal anthems. Songs like Naughty Naughty, Bang Bang, Don’t Walk Away and Feels Like Love are no good for anyone’s IQ but we’ll forgive them because they’re so damn catchy.

 

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14.  The Final Countdown, Europe (1986)

Yes it’s the one with that song, but there’s more to this band than a hit single. The Final Countdown is filled with chunks of hook-laden songs like Rock the Night, Cherokee, and tender ballad Carrie. Although Europe tries very hard to distance themselves from the genre these days, this is the version of the band —and Joey Tempest’s hair— we liked most.

 

 

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13.   Love At First Sting, Scorpions (1984)

Scorpions made their teeth long before the Glam explosion, but it doesn’t change the fact that for a period time in the 80’s and ’90s they were for all intends and purpose a Hair band. They also had massive hits but never more so than on Love At First Sting. Mid-paced rocker Big City Night aged like fine wine. Still Loving You is one of the most poignant power-ballads. Do I even need to bring up Rock You Like a Hurricane? 

 

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12.  Slaughter, Slaughter (1990)

If you ask me some of the best Hair-Metal came out in the early ’90s. Slaughter is a prime example of that. The band’s eponymous release features many glamtastic songs: Eye to Eye, Burning Bridges (about none other than Vinnie Vincent), Spend My Life and that’s not including the hits Up All Night and Fly to the Angels. Like many bands on this list, Slaughter’s debut album marked their commercial and career peak.

 

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11. Under Lock And Key, Dokken (1985)

Sure, Tooth & Nail was heavier and Back for the Attack has Dream Warriors and Mr. scary but Under Lock And Key has the hits and some of Dokken’s most melodic, memorable work and if there’s one thing the band was about it was melody. Songs like Unchain the Night, The Hunter, It’s Not Love and In My Dreams are enough to make any album great. Oh and they had a certain George Lynch on guitar, you may have heard of him.

 

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10.  Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, Warrant (1989)

Where’d the down boys go? Say what you want, this one is still miles ahead of Cherry Pie althought Bobbie Brown was nowhere in sight. Jani Lane could write, RIP. Down Boys, Sometimes She Cries and what is the band’s ultimate song, Heaven. Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich is one of the must-have Hair-Metal albums.

 

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9.  Detonator, Ratt (1990)

Shocker! I’m sure many would’ve expected Out of the Cellar to make it on the list, but I feel Detonator is a little stronger overall. Ratt’s 80s output is well-known but this early ’90s effort contains gem after gem. Shame, Shame, Shame is pure Ratt. Lovin’ You’s a Dirty Job is sleazy, let’s do it in the back of the car-rock. Then there are songs like the mature Givin’ Yourself Away, the flashback-inducing One Step Away, the speedy Can’t Wait On Love. Stephen Pearcy never sounded better than he did on Detonator and Hard Time is still my favourite vocal performance of his.

 

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8.  Whitesnake, Whitesnake (1987)

Has such a simple keyboard pattern ever been used more efficiently than the one in Is This Love? This album is home to the one video every car-humping scene in cinematic history has attempted to reproduce. There’s more than the display of affection for cars that is Here I Go Again or the masturbatory Led Zeppelin-esque Still of the Night. Gimme All Your Love and Cryin’ in the Rain for instance. The album sometimes known as 1987 was a monster Hair-Metal album. It repackaged David Coverdale for a new generation and made a video vixen out of Tawny Kitaen, thank god.

 

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8.  Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi (1986)

Although he probably would never admit any correlation to the genre, Bon Jovi was glam. The early incarnation of the band was, at the very least. Slippery When Wet is as big as it gets for Bon Jovi or Hair-Metal for that matter. Livin’ On A Prayer, You Give Love A Bad Name, Let It Rock, that’s quite the list. Wanted Dead or Alive was so good it transcended the notion of musical genres. Without Love is a sleeper hit. Not my favourite Bon Jovi (that would be the debut), but how can you go wrong with this one?

 

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7.  Stay Hungry, Twisted Sister (1984)

There’s more to Twisted Sister than two big singles. I’ll even go on record and say We’re Not Gonna Take It and I Wanna Rock are not, I repeat not the best songs on the album. Burn In Hell and Horror-teria are both infinitely better. A mighty fine Hair album and one that could swing with some of the heavier bands out there too. Metallica once opened for them.

 

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6.  W.A.S.P, W.A.S.P. (1984)

A little heavier, rougher around the edges and definitely more metallic than their peers, W.A.S.P irked Senator Al Gore’s wife and is the main reason parental advisory stickers even exist.Blackie Lawless’voice is so good because it sounds like he’s broken. He literally sounds like a soul-sucking demon from hell who just experienced a painful breakup and learned to play melodic Heavy-Metal. There’s so much to like about W.A.S.P.’s debut. The explicit Animal (F*** Like A Beast). The catchiness of I Wanna Be Somebody. The pop qualities of L.O.V.E. Machine. The irresistible, occultism of Sleeping (In The Fire). The jury is still out on what the name W.A.S.P. means. Lawless once said, “We ain’t sure pal”.

 

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5.  Skid Row, Skid Row, (1989)

While 1992 Skid Row could swing with Pantera, 1989 Skid Row were playing pretty-boy rock and earning a living doing it. It’s also the Sebastian Bach-fronted incarnation of Skid Row that most of us remember. It’s the ballads 18 and life and I Remember You that stole the show but let’s not forget Youth Gone Wild.

 

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4.  Long Cold Winter, Cinderella (1988)

Night Songs may be more glam but it’s Cinderella’s sophomore album that takes the cake. It’s a blusier, better-written and more mature effort.  With melodic tunes like Gypsy Road and Last Mile, the dirty blues of Bad Seamstress and the honesty of Don’t Know What You Got (Till Its Gone) it’s no wonder Cinderella and Long Cold Winter is so high on the list.

 

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3.  Pyromania, Def Leppard (1983)

I like Hysteria, but I love Pyromania. It just rocks harder. With Pyromania Def Leppard were able to crossover to mainstream commercial success while keeping the rock crowd happy, no easy feat. This was when Def Leppard was still cool to like. If you ask me the sound of Def Leppard is perfectly encapsulated in Photograph. Its got some serious companionship with the anxious Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop), the memorable intro to Rock of Ages, the desperation of Too Late for Love and the beauty of Stagefright.

 

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2.  Look What The Cat Dragged In, Poison (1986)

An argument could be made for any of Poison’s first three albums but the debut edges everything out by a single Aqua-Net sprayed hair. It was the first time the world heard of and saw them. MTV, the album cover, from the moment they first showed up on TV screens across America the very image of Poison had been etched into popular-culture. As such Poison is perhaps the utmost definition of glam and Hair-Metal. Between Talk Dirty to Me, I Want Action, Cry Tough, I Won’t Forget You and the title track there’s enough bubblegum-rock to chew on for days. A favourite now as it was then.

 

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1.  Dr. Feelgood, Motley Crue (1989)

Best Crüe album? Arguably. Glammiest? That would be Theatre of Pain. Biggest album with the most hit singles? It has to be Feelgood hands-down. Dr. Feelgood blends together everything that was fun about the ’80s —and the genre for that matter— in a decadent, unapologetic cocktail. The title track, Kickstart My Heart, Same Ol’ Situation, Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Got Away), Without You, Slice of Your Pie, Time For Change are all reasons why Dr. Feelgood is numero uno.

 

 

“Country is the new rock’n’roll”-Steven Tyler

Music reviews

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We’re All Somebody From Somewhere, Steven Tyler, Dot records, 2016.

“Country music is the new rock ’n’ roll, it’s not just about porches, dogs and kicking your boots up – it’s about being real.”-Steven Tyler

Steven Tyler gone country? Get Joe Perry, quick! Aerosmith, the bad boys of Boston, are best known as rock’n’rollers with strong association to blues music, not country. In all seriousness, it is not surprising that Steven Tyler decided to branch out with a solo album (his first ever) but it is a little odd to imagine him doing country, yet that’s precisely what he does with We’re All Somebody From Somewhere.

Steven is an ambassador of rock who takes pleasure invading whichever territory he sees fit; one day it’s being a judge on American ldol, the next it might be a role in a movie or yes, country music. Perhaps we should be accustomed to the unexpected with Steven Tyler by now.

Can we really blame Steven Tyler for trying his hand at country music? Bon Jovi took the country route with Lost Highway and the album was met with commercial success. Steven’s take on the genre is less formulaic, not as produced and ultimately, more honest. Part of the project ends up sounding very similar to Aerosmith which comes as little surprise because, after all, Steven’s voice is Aerosmith. I had my doubts initially, but it sounds like something the demon of screamin’ really wanted to put his heart and soul into.

“My Own Worst Enemy” starts the album softly. Not exactly the country I anticipated and not quite rock. Nor is it a ballad, but it slow-paced nonetheless. It’s surprising how good Tyler sounds for his age, most his peers haven’t aged nearly as well in the vocal department.

The title song “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere” is like Tyler; proud, loud and in your face.

“Hold On” features delicious guitar licks. Unfortunately, they stand in the shadows of unnecessarily loud percussions and the love-it-or-hate-it “radio” effect on Steven’s voice, both proving to be too much.

“Love Is Your Name” is well justified as a choice of single. With it’s southern vibe and summer feel the song has an authentic flavour.

The soft country-pop “Gypsy Girl” is the sleeper hit here as it will probably overlooked in favour of other tunes.

I’m fond of “Somebody New”, one of the most country-sounding songs of the album. It sports a hearty chorus with especially effective backing vocals.

Like much if the album, “Red, White & You is rooted in Country and Americana. The song has summer nights listening to the radio written all over it.

It should come to the surprise of exactly 0 people that Steven tackled Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”. The song became one of Joplin’s most enduring songs, but it fits Tyler so well you’d think it was tailored for him. The Loving Mary Band backed him on this number as well as his last solo tour.

Tyler even takes a shot at covering his own band, Aerosmith, on “Jani’s Got A Gun”. Perhaps because it is acoustic, the song’s melancholic and dramatic qualities are more prominent in contrast to the classic version. It doesn’t touch the original, but I don’t dislike this version.

It’s sad to think of Steven Tyler without Aerosmith, but if we get there —and rumours of an impending farewell tour suggests it will— the 68 year-old has no problem reinventing himself and embracing a completely different musical style. I could see Tyler continue down this path or try his hand at any musical style he desires, and do so with success.

We’re All Somebody From Somewhere was met with much apprehension from fans who saw it as a roadblock for more Aerosmith. The album wasn’t made with Aerosmith in mind, or rock for that matter. Rather, it was a chance for Steven to jam with other musicians and satisfy a craving for something new and different. It is very much an experiment. Maybe not one that will be held with high regards by purists, but one that offers a few good songs and a detached, relaxed pace.

It is beneficial to listen with an open mind because there are really good songs to be discovered. A few of the songs on We’re All Somebody From Somewhere are better than some of the material on the last few Aerosmith albums. However, the die-hard Aerosmith fan might just have repeated spins of Toys In The Attic or Rocks to forget it exists.

rating: ***/*****

An Idol strikes Rama

Live/Concerts, Music reviews

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Image: Billyidol.net

Armed with all the black leather in his closet, signature snarl and trademark bleached punk-hair, Idol rocked Rama on Wednesday night. 2016 marked the “White Wedding” singer’s return to Casino Rama stage for the first time in three years.

Idol showed no signs of slowing down at age 60, only pausing briefly for wardrobe changes and to take off his shirt.

The band opened with “Shock to the System”, a bold choice, before launching into a string of songs from all eras of his career ranging from new tunes such as the fist-pumper “Can’t Bring Me Down” (off Idol’s 2014 effort Kings & Queens of the Underground) right down to classic Generation X-era crowd-pleaser “Dancing With Myself”.

Idol, the man, is possessed on stage. With facial expressions that would make Linda Blair circa The Exorcist blush, he proved himself once more to be quite the ringleader. Even when the paces slows down and during weaker songs he remains in complete control, with his every move captivating the audience. His voice today is not quite what it was during it’s peak as Billy struggled with some of the higher notes but gave a commendable performance nonetheless. Idol’s energy and charisma more than made up for vocal limitations.

Idol, the band, worked as a tight and well-oiled cohesive unit after wearing decades of touring on their collective sleeves, and it shows. For far too long guitarist Steve Stevens has been an unsung hero of rock’n’roll, behind Billy Idol’s world-famous face. The raven-haired guitarist had the chance to show off his talents on multiple occasion with intimate solos spots as well as bits and pieces of Top Gun and Led Zeppelin to the delight of the crowd.

To the untrained ear, the catalogue selection would consist of somewhat obscure songs until the concert staples (save the best for last of course, of course) : “Rebel Yell”, “White Wedding”—performed acoustically in it’s first half with only Idol and Stevens before an electric finish with the full band— “Eyes Without a Face” and “Mony Mony” arrived much later in the set. The devoted fan knows that Billy played selections from new material, classic hits, and middle-day era Idol, effectively covering his entire recording career. Kicking off the show with “Shock to the System” from the underrated Cyber Punk album was pleasantly unexpected , well done Billy.

On this night two obvious favourites in the Billy Idol cannon —“Hot In The City” and “Flesh For Fantasy”— went missing from the setlist, nowhere to be seen (although the band did play Flesh the very next night in Ottawa).

The man with the perpetual sneer even found time between and during songs to sign the occasional records, book and piece of memorabilia for a some lucky fans in the first few rows.

Next time, I only ask Billy ldol to rightfully put “Flesh for Fantasy” in the setlist.

Setlist:
Shock to the System
Dancing With Myself (Generation X song)
Pumping on Steel
Scream
Can’t Break Me Down
Prodigal Blues
Eyes Without a Face
Steve Stevens Guitar Solo – Zeppelin Solos
Don’t Need a Gun
Cradle of Love
Blue Highway
Steve Stevens Guitar Solo
Rebel Yell

Encore:
White Wedding
Mony Mony (Tommy James & the Shondells cover)

With all things considered…

Music reviews, Uncategorized

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Book of Souls, Iron Maiden, Sanctuary, 2015.

 

An Iron Maiden album in the realm of Heavy Metal music is an event. Metalheads and fans of the band await and dissect each subsequent album as they are released. It’s amazing that in 2015 we were lucky enough to witness these titans and pioneers of Metal release all-new music once more, especially given singer Bruce Dickinson’s recent health scare. Iron Maiden doesn’t follow rules, plain and simple.

Book of Souls walks in those same footsteps. It is brave and bold enough to be a double album and take risks like closing the album a 20+ minute piano-focused song. If anything Book of Souls is very ambitious for a band almost forty years in its career obviously not content to rest on it’s laurels. It won’t be for everyone and it certainly doesn’t cater to the Maiden fan who wants The Number of the Beast part II. Iron Maiden is not or never will be about that, and you know what? More power to them. They don’t just play “Greatest Hits” they challenge themselves and do things their own way on their own terms.

This is the band who went on the road supporting A Matter of Life and Death playing that particular album in it’s entirety. They keep challenging themselves and finding reasons to move forward. Now they’ve given us their first double album and their longest song to date proving themselves time and again.

“If Eternity Should Fall” is a fist-pumper and sure to be popular with the crowds. It starts off the album with a bang, great buildup, strong lyrics and excellent melody. One of their best choruses in years. The way they had the demonic and evil vocal effects for the outro was very cool and something they haven’t done before.

I listened to the single “Speed of Light” prior to the album’s release and I wasn’t blown terribly impressed by the song and it’s cowbell. It felt like it was going to be this album’s “El Dorado” and that’s more or less what it ended up being. I’m glad that it’s not one of the better songs.

“The Great Unknown” is the first song on Book of Souls that feels longer as it takes the listener on a journey. It starts on the slower side, gradually build up and goes places. It’s not bad upon listening but it isn’t very memorable.

“The Red And The Black” is the second longest song clocking in at 13:34 featuring some spectacular (although quite long) display of musicianship. Those “woooohoo’s” chants echo shades of “Heaven Can Wait”.

“While The River Runs Deep” is one of the fast-paced songs only slowing down to catch it’s breath during the chorus that unfortunately, cannot keep up with the rest of the song.

Up next we have the title track “Book of Souls” marking the end of disc one. With elements of orchestration and a wonderful vocal melody, this lengthy conceptual piece may be the sleeper hit of the album. As it hits the 6 minutes mark it goes into this whole other dimension that only serves to elevate the song further.

“Shadows of the Valley” is the song that’s been commonly referred to as the “Wasted years sounding one”. Does it sound like “Wasted Years”? In short, no. It borrows the same classic opening melody, albeit much slower before launching to it’s own beat.

“The Man of Sorrows” (nope, nothing to do with the Bruce Dickinson solo track of the same name) is a shinning moment for me with it’s melodic and passionate playing/singing.

“Tears of a Clown” seems slightly out of place here and it interrupts the flow of the album. As much as it tackles a sensitive topic (Robin Williams), I feel it’s one of the weaker moments on Book of Souls.

Of course Book of Souls has everyone wondering and talking about “Empire of The Clouds”, the 22 minutes epic penned by Bruce Dickinson. It starts out with only beautifully played piano, something you’d never expect from the band. This is a big deal. Think about it, Iron Maiden doing piano? Not keyboards, orchestra or arrangements of some kind. We’re talking piano. Guess what? It works—surprising I know— but it does. It’s a long and demanding song, I’ll give you that. Yet, it doesn’t feel like a never-ending song. It goes through such changes and progressions that it keeps the listener engaged.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: I can’t picture too many Iron Maiden fans listening to a 22 minute song very often, much less a piano-driven one. I know I haven’t played it more than 3 times since buying the album. Great for a band like Pink Floyd, not so much for Iron Maiden.

A popular comment regarding this album is how some of its songs sound like a Bruce Dickinson solo album. It’s true, of the four songs he has written l can clearly see 2-3 of them being on a Dickinson solo opus in one way or another, but they don’t feel out of place as they are tailored specifically for Iron Maiden. I was reminded of Balls to Picasso and Accident of Birth, which is not a bad thing.

Book of Souls is undoubtedly and distinguishably an lron Maiden record—and a modern one at that. You have your slow in-your-face rockers, your long intro and outros with gallops in the middle sprinkled with some surprises. I don’t think anyone expected Maiden to come out with a piano ballad or their first double album for that matter. Dickinson remains impressive as he loses nothing with age delivering a splendid performance throughout. All the while unknowingly dealing with tongue cancer!

There is nothing wrong with the performances. The band sounds great and excited about what they play and do. The trio of guitarists is afire and at it again, Harris delivers some terrific bass lines and Nicko is thunderous on drums. I give credit where credit is due, but this time it just feels like more of the same and as if the band has shifted on autopilot. If I can be honest there are only so many times where you can have a 10 minute song with a 2 minute intro and a 2 minute outro and have it sound captivating. I’m getting a little saturated from the process with I feel they’ve exhausted since, oh, about Brave New World. I’m sorry Iron Maiden fans *ducks*.

I think the word “epic” is thrown around to often these days, and it’s what I think the band was aiming for with The Book of Souls. As big as the anticipation was and as dearly as my appreciation and love for Iron Maiden is, I don’t think it’s quite a five star release.

To me, the album suffers from the length of it’s songs, especially when it comes to the intros and outs. We get it Maiden, you like long intros and outs, but on every song? It’s getting to the point where you’re a parody of yourself. After all, this template has been used since Brave New World and started to get tedious around A Matter of Life and Death.

I don’t think it’s as mind-blowing as some would have you believe nor is it an instant classic, but it has merits. This was probably the right album to release at this point in their career, almost forty years on. I applaud the band for attempting a double album and trying something new (“Empire of the Clouds”) and Bruce for his performance given his condition. Worth a try to curious and fresh ears? I say start with one of the classics. Is it an amazing, incredible Iron Maiden record for fans? Not quite, but there are some worthwhile moments, it just doesn’t feel fresh or special anymore. It’s more like a tied and true formula but of course, fans will hail it as an instant classic. 3 stars.

They did it again— Horror inspired Goth-rock with a misunderstood romantic flavour

Music reviews, Uncategorized

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Universal Monsters, The 69 Eyes, Nuclear Blast America, 2016.

The 69 Eyes are back it again. With their last two albums, Back In Blood and X, the band seems to have found a balance in both sound and style that works quite while for them. On Universal Monsters however, the Helsinki Vampires take a step back and take a slightly more vintage approach that harkens back to a sound reminiscent of the Paris Kills days.

If anything, the album title cover are very indicative of Universal Monsters’ musical direction: good old horror inspired goth-rock— with a a misunderstood romantic flavour, it’s what the 69 Eyes does best.

“Dolce Vita” is vintage 69 Eyes complete with the slow, dark, ominous goth-rock ambiance and feel of old. This should have been the first choice of single.

I wasn’t overjoyed by the first single “Jet Fighter Plane”. It sounded like something from X which isn’t bad in itself but felt a little political. It’s a good song but perhaps not single-worthy.

“Blackbird Pie” is with some choice acoustic guitars in certain places (intro, breakdown) that complement the song surprisingly well. One of the finest songs on Universal Monsters. Jyrki’s voice just like this song is memorable and haunting. A monster of a song.

“Lady Darkness” is a moody piece that would be fit for a classic Universal monster movie. The song even sounds black and white. It’s as melodic as it is delightful.

“Miss Pastis” is the weakest song in my opinion. It has a punk edge to it but a very weak “Salut, sa va, miss Pastis” chorus sang in French. I like the accompanying French-sounding elements, but l didn’t too care much for the fake accents.

“Shallow Graves” is a ghostly number featuring a menacing riff, rather upbeat with strong gang vocals.

“Jerusalem” features beautiful musical arrangements and a passionate vocal delivery. Melancholic with an interesting progression.

“Stiv & Johnny” has a decidedly punk flavour to it. From the riffs to the drum beat this one screams punk yet it also features elements that are completely different and it works to great effect when everything is put together.

“Never” is perhaps the catchiest song on Universal Monster with it’s doomy chorus and a lifted-from-a-movie instrumentation. This is one made for the repeat button.

“Blue” is a soft, slow gothic prose. Very poetic.

“Rock And Roll Junkie” is a satisfying song but l was surprised to see it close the album. To me, it’s a very fun and upbeat song that l would put for track number 2 or 3. Doesn’t take away that it’s a good song, very rock’n’roll like it’s title implies.

Universal Monsters sees The 69 Eye displays different musical flavours and styles in the context of Goth-Rock/Metal—with stunning results. This feels like a natural direction for the band. The Helsinki Vampires are expanding their sound while going a bit retro and keeping their edge and personality.

Jerky 69’s voice is as deep and pleasant as ever, guitars sound wonderful, the rhythm section is tight and the array of instruments and accompanying background music used enhance Universal Monsters. I’m not disappointed and neither will you be 4.5/5 stars.

Overlooked debut shows great promise

Music reviews

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Breaking the Chains, Dokken, Carrere 1981, Elektra 1983.

If you look at Dokken’s 1980s output objectively Tooth & Nail (1984) is known as the band’s heaviest, Under Lock And Key (1985) the most melodic, Back For The Attack (1987) is perhaps the band’s finest moment and Beast From The East (1988) is an excellent live effort to this day.

Where does that leave the band’s debut Breaking The Chains (1983) and where does it stand? The answer is there are usually two types of debut album. The first type sees a band in a raw, unpolished form pawing at future greatness with a sound that is not quite defined or polished. In this instance it is used as a stepping stone.

Then there’s bands whose first album is their best release. They are already at the peak of their powers and have a very defined sound from the get-go. Van Halen’s self-titled  album comes to mind as does Ratt’s Out of the Cellar.

For Dokken, it’s the former. Their debut album serves as a stepping stone, a blueprint of what the band was to become with hints of the goods already present. Breaking the Chains has it’s own charm; it’s more elementary and without much of the polish that would make up future releases.

Breaking The Chains was not my first Dokken album but the title track was the song that got me into the band with it’s melodic style of metal, crunchy guitars and instantly memorable guitar courtesy of George Lynch. Still a favourite to this day.

When I was younger I always thought it was odd that “Paris ls Burning” was a live song on a studio album and not some sort of outtake or extra but a genuine album track. Now I think it’s way cool that they put this. It starts off with a blistering George Lynch solo, an introduction that is very much the Lynch equivalent of “Eruption”. Worth seeking out is the studio version from 1981.

“In The Middle” is slower paced but terrific with it’s short breakdown, it makes for a great piece of rock candy.

“Felony” was never one of my favourites here or one l’d be tempted to go back to but I have to say it grows on me with every listen.

“I Can’t See You” has a bit of a 70’s feel to it, catchy and a more pop number.

“Live To Rock (Rock To Live)” is my least favourite song on the album, it’s just subpar compared to the rest of Breaking The Chains.

“Nightrider” was a favourite live among fans in the early days and it’s easy to see why. Soft during verses then goes in strong during the chorus with an overall dark feel, it’s one of the highlights.

“Young Girls” is catchy but it’s harder to listen to this today, especially picturing the guys getting up there in age.

“Seven Thunders” is another high point. A catchy rocker, underrated song.

“Stick To Your Guns” (no relation to the Motley Crue song of the same name) is not filler but not terribly memorable either. It fails to succeed because of the chorus.

The lineup of Dokken at this point had gone from being a trio when they released their  Back ln The Streets EP in 1979 to a four member outlet with Lynch on lead guitar (Don handled guitar duties until then). The lineup was more or less solidified by this point with Dokken and Lynch, “Wild” Mick Brown on drums and on bass Juan Croucier of Ratt fame.

It wasn’t the classic lineup but soon after the album Croucier left to be a permanent member of Ratt (he only played on 3 songs here) and Jeff Pilson took over for him. Don’s voice, Lynch’s guitar work and solos, Brown’s powerful drums, it was certainly all coming together with some very catchy songs. Those catchy, melodic and heavy elements would only be further enhanced with succeeding albums to even better effect.

Truth said, Breaking The Chains tends to be out-shined by the string of excellent releases that followed but it’s not a bad album by any means. It’s rougher around the edges but very enjoyable and one that fans should definitely be looking into. It’s a promising debut that would be improved upon, but also one that has it’s share of good and underrated songs. 3/5 stars.

 

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