The new update can’t salvage the sinking ship that is Pokemon Go

Feature, Game reviews, Uncategorized

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Pokemon Go’s festive holiday title screen 


Despite its recent update, it is too little too late for Pokemon Go. There. I said it.

Yes the game now boasts new content, but month after month of pointless updates with no significant change/additions means Pokemon Go is simply no longer appealing to its core demographic.

Flashback to summer when generation 2 couldn’t possibly have come out soon enough. Fans were aching for Gold & Silver generation Pokemon at the peak of the game’s craze in July and August. September would’ve been ok even. But December? Your audience is too far gone Niantic. Catching the same Pokemon over and over has gotten incredibly stale in the months following the game’s release in July. Gotta Catch ‘Em All, but then what?

On December 7 Niantic released a new update with meaningful content. Only the update doesn’t give players generation 2, yet. Fans are instead treated to baby Pokemon—who really serve no purpose other than filling up a Pokedex and look cute—and for a limited time only, a novelty Santa hat-wearing Pikachu.

But what exactly are baby Pokemon? They are essentially devolved forms of existing creatures as introduced circa Pokemon Gold & Silver. For instance Elekid becomes Electabuzz and Pichu evolves into Pikachu. The update gifts us 7 of these baby Pokemon: Igglypuff, Magby, Elekid, Cleffa, Pichu, Smoochum and Togepi.

Here’s the catch: the new Pokemon need to be found as eggs at Pokestops and then hatched.

Although walking 5 or 10 km to hatch an egg in winter conditions doesn’t sound too appealing does it? Unless you live warm climate, of course.

 

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One of the biggest additions is the game’s tracking system which now had been updated to show players exactly where Pokemon are located.

Oh, and players can now transfer multiple Pokemon to Dr. Willow. Convenient, but it’s nothing to get excited about, at least not in December.

Generation 2 Pokemon will rolled out over the upcoming months, so says Niantic. The hype surrounding the game’s latest update had many believing we would get the next generation of pocket monsters. No word on those legendaries either.

Trading remains non-existent. Battling between two players is still not possible. This is a far cry from the game Niantic displayed in their advertisement, an echo of promises never materialized.

After the Halloween and Thanksgiving celebration events, fans can expect or rather are demanding a Christmas update with increased XP and bonuses. It’s still early and an announcement should be coming sooner than later. Events like these won’t necessarily have fans rushing back to the app but its better than nothing.

Admittedly, Niantic’s Pokemon journey was bound to have a short shelf-life from the start. As fun as Pokemon Go was initially—and in warm weather—the game was clearly not made to last. A novel concept, it was truly a flash in the pan. Now that Pokemon Sun and Moon are out, those who still hang onto Pokemon Go are few and far between.

It was the app of summer 2016 hands down, no contest. Kids were playing, your neighbour and your grandma were seeking rare and elusive creatures like Dragonite and Lapras. Pokemon Go has gone from being a worldwide phenomenon to “you still play that game?” almost overnight.

Even if Niantic somehow manages to come up with a massive update it will still be too late. Understandably, Niantic operates under a small crew but it’s becoming harder and harder to defend the game.

At this point, it’s hard to believe anything could salvage the rapidly sinking ship that is Pokemon Go.

How Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ditches tradition and quenches a thirst for cultural diversity

Feature, Uncategorized

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Star Wars: A Rogue One Story official cast photo


Yes, it’s true. Star Wars was once a white world, one filled with albeit weird creatures, but still very white.

When Star Wars: A New Hope ushered a new era of science-fiction movies in 1977 it featured an all-white cast (James Earl Jones, despite being the voice of Darth Vader was never seen on-screen). It took until the first sequel, Empire Strikes Back (1980), to see a person of color in the franchise, the beloved Lando Calrissian (portrayed by Billy Dee Williams).

By contrast, Star Wars in 2016 features a different face, and a remarkably multicultural one at that. There was a time when Star Wars seemed almost out of reach if you weren’t white, it is no longer the case.

If race in cinema really wasn’t an issue, we wouldn’t be discussing it. Our current reality shows us differently. Hollywood is still this all too white territory where racial barriers continue to persist, unfortunately.

As proven by the #oscarssowhite movement (where many expressed their discontent at the apparent whiteness displayed by the Oscars), audiences everywhere are thirsty for cultural diversity. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is more than happy to quench that thirst.

Last year’s The Force Awakens featured John Bogeya in the role of Finn, a black man, as one of its lead characters. Many applauded Disney for this move. But featuring diverse ethnicities in movies isn’t bold or daring anymore, it’s a no brainer in this day and age. After all, shouldn’t art and entertainment be all-inclusive and therefore be reflective of our culture? And More importantly, does it matter? Yes, and again, yes.

A multicultural cast has mass appeal. As such it is able to reach a larger demographic and touch significantly more lives. It’s what art is supposed to do. Gone are the days where only white people played in Star Wars. Hey, it’s a start.

OK—white British actress Felicity Jones is technically the star of Rogue One, but with a cast that feature Mexican actor Diego Luna, Chinese actors Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed and African-American actor Forrest Whitaker— it’s culturally rich. Star Wars in the 2010s has evolved to reflect diversity and it’s beautiful. Rejoice.

I attended a conference with Dr. Reza Aslan earlier this year and he summed up race and diversity in popular-culture as follows:

“When shown diverse ethnicities in media like television and movies they become a part of popular-culture. People just see it over and over to the point where it becomes ordinary, it becomes a part of their everyday lives,” he explained.

Now I’m not suggesting the work is done by any means, and we have ways to go, but in this age of Trump a movie like Rogue One is refreshing. A movie the size of Star Wars could be an enormous boost when it comes to including more diverse ethnicities on the big screen.

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                                 Starwars.com

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story detaches itself from the mold of tradition in the movie’s first minute by ditching the iconic scrolling text that begun every entry in the franchise thus far. I hear you. Geeky cries of “How dare they?” and “Blasphemy!” are heard everywhere in a galaxy far, far away.

If there’s anything Star Wars fans expect, it’s tradition. Rogue One is anything but. Star Wars dishes another healthy dose of nostalgia, but isn’t content to simply thread on old ground. It takes a heroic war movie approach without abandoning its space opera roots. It certainly had its space in the continuum of the franchise. It’s a Star Wars movie, but it’s a clearly different Star Wars.

Here’s where it gets confusing: Rogue One is a sequel to the prequels (I-III), but a prequel to the sequels (IV-VI) —its events unfolding between episodes III and IV—it also ties in with The Force Awakens and answers some unanswered questions about the beloved sci-fi saga. Confused yet? It’s essentially a side Star Wars movie not meant to be a part of the current VII-IX trilogy, but rather to be taken in as a stand-alone film. It’s a new concept in the Star Wars universe and one that effectively display potential for the following stand-alone stories to come in the series.

The film holds the dubious distinction of being harder to follow than perhaps any other entry in the Star Wars cannon, largely due to its odd placement in the saga. The brand new characters also play a part in this equation. Seasoned fans will understand the events occurring in the movie, but the casual moviegoers following the hype will likely get lost in the story. In this regard, Rogue One is directed towards hardcore fans and less so the newer ones it amassed from The Force Awakens, Disney is not at the point where it cashes-in. At least not yet.

In case you’re wondering, there are plenty of Easter eggs to keep fans on the edge of their seats. Blink and you’ll miss a brief R2-D2 and C3PO appearance and that’s just to name one.

Is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story worth seeing? Absolutely. With a jaw-dropping appearance by Darth Vader that will no doubt send legions of fans into hysterics all across the galaxy, rich visuals, a compelling story and an array of Easter Eggs, it is definitely worth the price of admission.

The movie’s climatic ending is as satisfying as it is heart-wrenching and necessary. In spite of box office performance and overwhelmingly positive reception by critics and fans alike, I have a feeling Rogue One’s ultimate achievement and legacy will be what it did to promote cultural diversity in Hollywood.

Believe the hype.

 

“The force is with me, I am the force.”—Chirrut Îmwe

 

 

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. ***

My interview with an artist from Marvel comics

Feature, Interviews, Uncategorized

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Covers by Geof Ishwerwood. Photos from author’s website.


He’s an illustrator, painter, sculptor and part-time teacher. Spider-Man, Thor, Conan the Barbarian, Dr. Strange and Silver Surfer are just a few of the titles on his extensive resume. With a portfolio that speaks for itself, Geoffrey Isherwood—who prefers to go by Geof—has lived his dream by making a living in the arts, a field many have found themselves discouraged to pursue.

The signs that he would pursue artistic ventures, specifically comic books, were visible even at an early age.

“When I was 12 [my parents] told me to stop buying comics,” says Isherwood. “I did anyway. I got a bachelor of fine arts from Concordia University and within a year of graduating I was working with Marvel.”

It wasn’t an overnight process, however, the materialization of his ambitions required a combination of talent, timing and a bit of luck.

“When I was 16-years old, my family took a trip to Manhattan and I snuck into Marvel studios with my drawings and met artists who encouraged me and pointed out things I should work on,” he begins. “I stayed there for 20 minutes and went home. You could walk right into marvel talk to the receptionist and they’d send you to see somebody.”

Would it be possible to do the same today? The longtime Marvel artist says it’s improbable.

“Not at all, not today. There’s a big corporate wall, it’s the like the CIA or something. It’s crazy. Disney all these places, it’s really tough to break in,” he admits. “Nowadays its really about online, a lot of editors look at digital comics and find artists that way or its networking and word of mouth.”

Isherwood’s career path was a self-inflicted and conscious decision that grew out of his love for comic book medium.

“Just as a lot of kids are, and this was the 60s, I was drawn to comic books. I really liked the storytelling aspect of it,” he says. ” I decided when I was ten-years old I wanted to draw comics.”

The illustrator digs deeper into his past as he expands on his childhood.

“I really loved drawing and I wanted to find out what possible career I could get into where I could keep drawing. That’s when I saw a picture of Charles Shultz at home in his studio and I thought that’s what I want to do,” he explains.”I don’t know how I got the crazy idea that I could just wake up, get my breakfast, sit down and draw.”

And that’s exactly what he did. Needless to say, it never left him.

But when he’s too busy with projects, “Geof” recommends up and coming artists for jobs he can’t take.

“Recently for instance, I was able to recommend a young artist to do a comic about Iron Maiden, the Heavy-Metal band, a pseudo-biopic [of mascot] Eddie the Head.”

 

photo credit: Tommy Morais

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Geoff Isherwood during a signing at Comic-Book Addiction, Whitby.

Where do superhero movies fit in the grand scheme of it all? Isherwood argues that movie producers have been effective in bringing the action-packed panels to life over the course of the last decade, something that had previously been lacking. He also points out how studios have benefited from the rich history of comics.

“When you look at what Hollywood has done, they’ve finally been able to bring out the visual aspect of comics that superhero movies had been lacking with special effects,” says the artist. “It took a while, but they’re now realizing the have a gold mine of stories with comics.”

As he points out, the relationship between the artist and the finished product can be a love-hate affair.

“It’s difficult for us artists,” says Isherwood. “If you work on a specific title you become very proprietary of the character, it becomes one of your children.”

The artist highlights the difference between the heroes featured on the big screen and those on the panels inside comic books.

“If you’re watching a movie it’s more passive, but the comic medium is more interactive,” he says. “You have to fill in the action between the panels.”

But what attracts us to comics in the first place? According to Isherwood, it has a lot to do with the characters and the medium itself.

“Its colourful. These characters are modern myths, they’re larger than life. It’s very theatrical and operatic with the grand gestures and the colours,” he says. “It was originally an escape from the war and people bought into that.”

He pauses.

“They still do.”

 

 

For more of Geof’s work and upcoming convention appearances you can visit goeffreyisherwood.ca

 

 

Costumed fans heroes of Toronto Expo

Uncategorized

 

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Over a period of four days from September 1-4, costumed heroes, Trekkies and families felt right at home at the latest edition of Fan Expo Toronto.

The fans were the real heroes of what was a supercharged weekend full of celebrities, Q & A sessions, photo-ops, merchandise booths and various activities. Despite its numerous celebrity guests, Fan Expo is all about the fans, communities and people who unite them.

Fan Expo Toronto is Canada’s answer to the American Comic-Con. Although Comic-Con Toronto exists, it has yet to reach the magnitude of Fan Expo. The comic-con scene is a phenomenon that has seen its stock rise in the last decade. It is no longer solely about comic books and instead expands to celebrity guests, movies, video games and offers an incredible outlet for exposure and product placement.

 

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Overhead view.

Once subject to mockery and ridicule, such conventions now play host to thousands of fans every year. Attendees dress up as their favourite characters from colourful universes and established franchises dear to the hearts. Some call it dressing up, others know it as cosplay.

Fan Expo Toronto has grown to exponential proportions since it’s debut in 1995 as a humble comic book convention. The Metro Convention Centre has hosted the event since 1997 when it reached an estimated figures of 3800. Forward to 2016 where its attendance was projected to be over a hundred thousand [source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_Expo_Canada%5D. It’s a place where comic books, video games and anime juxtapose, and one where celebrities and fan meet.

 

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Volunteers kept a vigilant eye on the merchandise

The main attractions of the weekend included comic book giant Stan Lee—Lee was a popular guest with previous announcements that the 2016 edition of Fan Expo Canada would be his last— Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame and Star Trek Enterprise Captain William Shatner among a plethora of other guests.

 

Here’s just a few things that happened at Fan Expo:
•93-year-old Stan Lee’s last ever Canadian appearance.

•Sony displayed its new virtual reality headset.

•Eb Games held a Q & A and autograph session with former WWE/WCW Goldberg.

•Various panels were held with celebrity guests such as Mark Hamill and cast of Star Trek.

•Gamers got a taste of upcoming video games before their release in specific booths.

•Artists performed sketches and sold art for a fee.

•An abundance of merchants sold everything from comic books to character-themed weapons, Pokemon plush, mangas and much more.

•People in attendance could touch a rock that had been on the moon at the Royal Ontario Museum booth.

•Justin Trudeau was immortalized as a comic book character.

•Countless pictures were taken with various cosplayers, a vintage Batmobile and a giant Pikachu.

The festivities weren’t limited to what happening in the Convention Center, however. The Fan Expo also held events outside the venue such as a retro 90s after-party at the Orchid Nightclub and a Pokemon Go Lure party near the south building main entrance.

 

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The event didn’t quite go without flaws, however. Maybe, just maybe, Fan Expo Toronto wasn’t prepared to host this many fans. Delays and confusion were a recurring theme at the Metro Convention Centre leading to criticism throughout the four day-long event. Attendees turned to social media to voice discontent over last-minute detail changes, scheduling conflicts and cuts.

The Stan Lee merchandise table, for instance, was a classic example disorganization and lack of communication. The booth was swamped with autograph-seekers who were met with apprehension from Fan Expo volunteers as they had the daunting task of maintaining order and safety. Some patient fans were turned away and told to come back the next day. Others were asked, less than kindly, to buy tickets elsewhere and move away from the fire safety zone. To its credit, the Fan Expo twitter account was very active and did its best to solve problems.

Fan Expo Toronto 2016 put forth a celebration of fandom that spread across thousands of smiles, young and old, seasoned fans and newbies. The event is truly an enduring testimony of pop-culture’s long and ever lasting appeal.

We can’t wait to see what the 2017 edition will bring.

 

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I interviewed a cab driver this is what he had to say

Feature, Interviews, Uncategorized

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image: globalnews.ca


The other night I took a cab ride home at a much later hour than I’d like to admit. My driver was a man with glasses and kind eyes who wearing mostly black. We hit it off as I asked him about his job out of curiosity. I told him about my journalistic projects and asked him if he would be interested in doing an interview. He gave me a card with a phone number and told me to give him a call in the next couple of days.

The driver works for a Canadian cab company in the town of Whitby, Ontario. Due to the nature of his occupation he wished to remain anonymous for obvious and professional reasons. There are currently two cab companies in Whitby, but according to the cabbie they are far from being each other’s biggest competition.

Uber has experienced a surge in popularity in the last few years, one that directly affects the cab business.

“Uber is killing us. It’s really eating at our business,” he says. “A lot of people would rather take a Uber than a cab now “.

But if we’re talking about money just how exactly is the money shared between the cab company and its employees?

“We split 50-50. The cab company gets half and we get half. It’s not too bad,” he admits.

When l asked him about his previous evening night shift his voice took a happier tone.

“A guy wanted a ride to Durham College on Simcoe [street]”, he begins. “He asked how much it [the fare] was. I told him $30 and asked me if l could do it for ten. I told him, ” Look, I’m a nice guy, but I can’t do that.”

This story has a bright ending, however.

“Someone outside the bar just gave him the extra twenty and said he owed him a couple of drinks if they ever saw each other again.”

He told me the highlight of his last shift came from a group that required him to make multiple stops.

“I drove girls from the club earlier. They all came as a group and l dropped each of them to their homes. I made $64 total so that’s not too bad.”

The cabbie admits the business is not as profitable as it once was and reveals he faces challenging prospects for the future.

“I’m making half the money l used to make 5-6 years ago doing this,” he said. “I only do this part-time on the weekends but it’s not what it used to be. My cab license expires in a few months and frankly l don’t know if I’ll still be driving a year from now.”

Next time you take a cab you might want to think about tipping the driver, especially if he or she is kind and friendly.

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.

 

 

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Coke vs Pepsi. Nike vs Adidas. Jordan vs LeBron. Nintendo vs Sega. Some of the greatest philosophical debates of our time —at least in the context of popular-culture.

I’m not going to take sides on the whole Sega versus Nintendo argument. I enjoyed and played Nintendo and Sega equally as much in the 1990s. That said, gamers of today have Sega to thank for the delightfully violent and blood-filled games that sit on their shelves. Sega targeted a different audience than Nintendo, a cooler, more mature one. Someone’s older teenaged brother perhaps. Looking back, Sega seems to be focused towards feeding the hardcore gamer crowd. They were edgy and something about them was cool in a way Nintendo wasn’t. I was too young to comprehend the whole console wars as it was happening in the ’90s but my fascination with this era of gaming remained. Why all the Sega talk? Because Console Wars focuses on Sega.

Soon to be adapted for the big screen, Blake J. Harris’ Console Wars is largely told from the perspective of former Sega CEO Tom Kalinske. This choice will perhaps raise gamer’s eyebrows but it makes perfect sense. How can a book on a pivotal moment in video game history be seen from one point of view? The short answer is somehow, strangely, it works. Telling the story through Kalinske’s eyes—at least for the most part—creates a narrative and emotional connection with the reader. Harris could have chosen just as well to tell it from a faceless, corporate point of view or that of an obsessive and enthusiastic fan. Instead, having someone whom the reader can actively live the console wars through works to maximum effect.

To this aspect, a lot of names are thrown and mentioned. Many are recurring and given importance, others get a mention here and there. That’s not to say readers will remember everyone who was mentioned in the book and played a part in the war, they won’t.

The book portrays Sega as an underdog and rightfully so. Even if one isn’t a fan of The company or overtly prefers Nintendo, its hard not to root for Sega with each page turned and newly arising conflict. Most serious gamers already know how the console war ends (as well as the eventual downfall of Sega as a hardware manufacturer). It’s a long road to get there and Console Wars does an admirable job of helping the reader relive these moments. From the creation of the blue blur, Sonic the Hedgehog, and his rivalry versus Mario and Nintendo, to the internal struggles at Sega, its a journey.

Truth is while the book centers on the console wars, a large part of the book comes down to strategy, advertising and marketing. In that sense, it’s a very good business book. Console Wars delves into tactics, resources used by Nintendo and especially Sega. Some tactics are fairly ridiculous and over-the-top and on occasion, downright slander. How appealing that will be to someone who enjoys video games might vary, unless they enjoy the history of games that is.

In retrospect, it is fascinating to read about Sega’s imminent implosion. In this case the manufacturer tried to push too many different products at once effectively cancelling some of its own revenue and marketing. Too much, too fast, too soon.

Most of Sega’s troubles were caused by… Sega. They stuck it to Nintendo and gained the bigger share of the market only to effectively dismantle its own success through internal conflicts. Therefore Sega’s biggest competition may have very well been itself. For instance, it is almost comical that Sega of America was given the task of finishing Sega of Japan’s 32X concept, a console SoA didn’t want on the market, in order to let their subsidiary concentrate on the Sega Saturn. It’s interesting how Tom Kalinske wanted to prolong the life of Genesis—a system who was dominating the video game market—only to be met with opposition from his Japanese.

There a few issues with Console Wars. The book focuses almost entirely on Sega. While Harris really delves into Sega it feels like Nintendo is either ignored or overlooked most of the time unless they are mentioned in the context of rivalry. The book takes a look at the history of Nintendo, it’s relationships with third-party publishers such as EA Sports and Rare, it’s grip on the gaming industry and the development of the Nintendo Power publication. There is Nintendo content. Yet I still can’t help but feel the book is extremely one-sided. Nintendo’s coverage is minimal compared to Sega’s. There are a few recurring names from the Nintendo camp, but it’s only a fraction of the amount devoted Sega employees. Same with promotions, games and events. As such, Console Wars  might have benefited from an alternate title —one preferably using the words “Tom Kalinske” and “Sega”.

Harris tells the reader in the introduction that he had to recreate dialogue for the story to take shape. The problem is that we’re left with dialogue that is not 100% accurate and some of the quotes and sentences are overemphasized and exaggerated for dramatic effect. The author adds dramatic effects and colourful adjectives that, although movie-ready, are out-of-place. I also wasn’t a fan of the occasional two-page chapters, I felt they took away from continuity.

There are great lessons in Console Wars. A lot of what caused Sega’s eventual fall was due to what happened on the inside. The divisions between Sega of America (SOA) and Sega of Japan (SOJ) most notably. It is clear that a company split into parts without clear focus on one singular goal cannot succeed.

Console Wars looses steam towards the end where it feels slightly rushed at some point after the launch of Sonic 3. Reading transcripts of a Nintendo conference and a play performed by Nintendo employees is about as thrilling as it sounds. There is no definitive ending to the war as we know it in the book: Donkey Kong Country came out for the SNES and sold 7.5 million copies, the Saturn came out and Tom Kalinske leaves Sega. It would’ve benefited from more reflection and insight.

The foreword by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg is both amusing and engaging. They are clearly video game fans and I was surprised to see their names in the book and delighted at how their personalities shone through their words.

Is it worth reading? Yes. It’s insightful and offers a worthwhile look at the events that shook the video game industry between 1989-96. Fans of video games will no doubt find great content but it doesn’t delve as deep into the games as they might hope from this type of book. As previously mentioned, it is very business-oriented. I really enjoyed Console Wars and liked that the book was told from Tom Kalinske’s perspective. It is well researched and provides good information. With the issues I’ve addressed, it lacked a certain closure, was too focused on Sega and the recreated dialogue wasn’t always on point.

Some key/interesting points:

*Tom Kalinske’s career pre-Sega, how he came to be at Sega, his decisions, marketing strategies, advertising, etc.

*Nintendo making life difficult for software publishers, stores carrying their products and video rental stores.

*Sega taking advantage of Nintendo’s difficult relationships with the above. Making deals with Electronic Arts, publishers and retailers.

*Nintendo essentially shrugging their shoulders at how bad the Super Mario Bros. movie was.

*Sega’s use of marketing and advertising to brand itself as a hip, edgy alternative to Nintendo.

*Sega gaining the lead in the war only to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot.

*Sega of Japan’s constant insistence on wanting to be in charge, going as far as deliberately sabotaging Sega of America’s efforts.

*Nintendo’s stubborn ways, effectively being labelled as a bully by many game publishers. Console Wars almost pushed the notion of Nintendo as a villain in the video game industry.

*Nintendo’s early relationship with Sony leading to the development of Sony’s Playstation.

*Relationships of Sony with Nintendo and Sega and entry into the world of video games.

Batman, the joker and one long overdrawn joke

Misc, Movie reviews, Uncategorized

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Just remember. “All it takes is one bad day…”        DC Comics


 

A celebrated, yet often divisive and debated entry in the Batman library, The Killing Joke is dear to a many a Bat fan’s heart. While there’s room to ague the comic’s rank and merits, there is no denying Alan Moore’s brainchild is one of the darkest, most sadistic Joker stories ever put to paper.

In The Killing Joke, the Joker went over the edge —even by Joker standards. He no longer behaves like a lunatic buffoon, the man who laugh is out to prove a point: all is takes is one bad day to reach insanity. The story represents a case in character study, examines the morbid aspects of human nature and what drives a sociopath from a comic book’s point of view—essentially its a deliciously macabre Joker origin story.

I love that DC didn’t change the main story and formula too much. The Killing Joke is already a memorable chapter for Batman and the Joker, it didn’t need to be tinkered with or alternated in any shape or form. The animated film adaptation did quite well in regards to staying on par with the comic.

The main gripe I have with The Killing Joke is with its first 30 minutes where material that wasn’t in the book was added. Sure it’s related to the story and they did their best to tie it in but the storyline they tried to develop for Barbara Gordon/Batgirl simply didn’t work as well as DC might have anticipated.

 

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DC promo

 

Barbara/Batgirl is a pivotal character in The Killing Joke, therefore it is understandable that DC wanted to give its audience a semblance of insight as to her personality. I’ll give the writers credit for trying to add to Batgirl’s story, but rather than attain its desired effect it feels like it was merely pasted onto the original story to stretch out the film. The further dialogue and backstories really didn’t end up adding anything crucial. Although I won’t go into details, Batgirl’s relationship with Batman in the film was in particularly poor taste and very much unlike the character fans have known.

I was happy to see a few of my favourite lines from the comic were left intact as there are many memorable quotes. As a fan, hearing the words I’ve read so many times over being brought to life by Mark Hamill was fantastic. At The Killing Joke‘s apex, the satisfying confrontation and word exchange between Batman and the Joker kept the same spirit as its source. The dialogue isn’t always on point however. One “joke” in particular is in bad taste. A criminal receiving a beating courtesy of Batgirl looks at her and says, “Must be that time of the month”. BadCringe-worthy.

Speaking of Mark Hamill, his voice acting is possibly the best aspects of The Killing Joke. Hamill as made left his mark on the comic book genre with his work as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series and various Batman video games.

The animated film doesn’t quite match the intensity or pace of the comic largely due to its first part. They managed to get some of the art direction right yet the tone of the story isn’t as dark and perverse, but it tries. The Killing Joke falls short in its attempt to prolong the story, but it is a very faithful adaptation of its comic counterpart.

At an hour and sixteen minutes (including credits) it is by no means a long Batman film, however it feels longer due to added Batgirl backstory which decidedly does not work in its favour. Do yourself a favour and skip the first half-hour of movie, you won’t regret it. 3 stars.