Category Archives: Rock

“Too late to talk about it”: Spirit – The Thirteenth Dream (1984)

Although their original line-up was together for just 3 years, Spirit are one of my favourite bands.  Now, while some chap named Jimmy Page might disagree, he was a big fan of their first album, and it is said that his walls were plastered with Spirit posters.  In fact, he liked them so much that he used Taurus as the blueprint for Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven.  It’s not all that hard to see why folks like Spirit.  Here’s a band who drew a line between Love and The Doors.  Some incredible pop-rock numbers (like The Family That Plays Together’s I Got A Line On You), off kilter psychedelic shenanigans (Fresh Garbage) and jazz leanings (see Clear and the Model Shop soundtrack).  They were incredible.

However, it all went awry after Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus.  Although the album was a highlight – one of the most consistently inspired psychedelic rock albums of, well, of ever – the band just couldn’t survive.  California pursued a solo career, Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes formed Jo Jo Gunne, and John Locke and Ed Cassidy flew the Spirit flag for a while by recording the fairly pedestrian Feedback and touring for a bit.  Locke and Cassidy eventually called it quits (Locke going on to have a stint in Hawkwind before joining Nazareth) and Spirit was pretty much done.  After Epic rejected the follow-up to California’s brilliant Kapt. Kopter and the (Fabulous) Twirly Birds, he put together a new Spirit and, alongside Cassidy, became the keeper of the flame.

There’s a good chunk of Spirit albums out there, but nothing was ever quite as inspired or fully realised as those first four albums.  Of course, the success of those was due to the musical chemistry the band had and the song-writing contributions of California, Ferguson and Locke (as well as his piano and keyboard flourishes).  Don’t get me wrong, there are some pretty worthwhile cuts among the CassiFornia years, but the best of that can be found on the Mercury Years compilation (though there is also a bit of filler on there – par for the course with double CD sets, right?).

Although they had reformed for Further Along, it would be another couple of years before the original line-up would record together again… and, well, that’s the subject of this here post.  Hurrah! 1984’s The Thirteenth Dream (Spirit Of ’84 to friends in Canadaland and Americaland) is that reunion album and, well, it’s pretty much a ‘greatest hits’ collection for Mercury – some re-recordings of old favourites and three new tracks – penned by Ferguson and one with Randy California.  It’s a strange album, but I’ve been listening to this a fair bit over the last few weeks.

I guess the tracks to focus on here are the originals. Of those, Black Satin Nights stands out.  It’s unlike anything Spirit had recorded during their original run; it’s a straight-up 80’s rocker with a punchy hook and a great chorus.  Locke provides a nice bit of synth over the choppy guitar and, like I say, that chorus.  It’s easy to think of this as a rock radio hit and it’s familiar without sounding 80’s rockageneric.  It’s actually pretty brilliant and you’ll find yourself singing along.  Then before long you’ll be singing unaccompanied.  I dare say if Merury got behind it, Spirit could have had a hit on their hands.

The second new one is Pick It Up.  While it’s not a poor track, it does suffer from that rockgenericitus thing with it’s… well, actually, it’s just not very memorable or worthwhile talking about.  It’s pop rock by numbers and definitely not one of Ferguson’s best.  All Over the World, meanwhile, is a bit better, even if it’s a bit mnah.  Lyrically it’s all peace and love, but again it’s just not all that memorable and, like Pick It Up, it gets a bit repetitive.

On the other hand, the revisited ‘hits’ are fairly decent.  Well, mostly.  I guess they allow the band a chance to jam on tracks that they had fun playing during their initial run, while also seeing how they translate in the new slick digital world as slick 80’s rock numbers.  It also gives Mercury a bit of a pay day too, right?

thirteenth dream inner

Although not exactly brilliant, the slick pop-rockery of these versions of Mechanical World and Fresh Garbage are pretty enjoyable if unnecessary.   The most successful tracks are those that already illustrated Spirit’s pop-rock side (1984 and Mr. Skin, for example), but the seven minutes plus of this I Got A Line On You is a bit trying.  Unfortunately, it comes off sounding a tad laboured.  In fact, I dare say I’d sooner listen to Alice Cooper’s version.

So, like I say, I’ve had this on a few times over the last couple of weeks and I’ve been enjoying it. California is as great as always on the guitar, but it does feel as though the magic of this line-up is lost.  Maybe if they’d have spent a bit more time in the studio and collaborated on another 7 tracks rather than revisiting and restructuring tracks that were pretty much perfect there would have been a different trajectory for the band.  Especially if Mercury had got behind Black Satin Nights.  Or maybe not.

I guess my enjoyment of this one serves as a reminder that sometimes familiarity is all you need to enjoy music.

Next stop, the Sunset Highland Motel.

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All Hail the Crown – All Hail the Crown (Whammybox Records, 2011)

The story of All Hail the Crown is an interesting one.  The band has its roots in a project led by guitarist Kevin Wood to bring the lyrics left by his late brother, Andrew Wood, to life.  The story goes that Wood and Regan Hagar began to compose music and recruited Corey Kane and Shawn Smith to form From the North.  An album was recorded and made available at shows before eventually receiving a wider release as Kevin Wood & From the North.

ahtc3_4_640After a couple of personnel changes (Hagar and Kane left the fold and Mike Hommel and Rob Day entered), the band began working on new material.  As From the North was a project to bring Andrew Wood’s lyrics to life, the band renamed themselves All Hail the Crown.

At times it sounds like Steve Vai has joined up with Alice in Chains and other times it sounds like Jimi Hendrix channelled through Tony Iommi.  The opening salvo of High Noon and From The Swamp To The Stars are perfect examples of those heavy twisting cosmic jams, while Planet Of The Apes and Victory Ride are big rusting iron gates.  The highlight, though, might just be the instrumental English Rule.  That’s outrageously good.

If you like Alice in Chains or Soundgarden, I imagine you’ll be just as taken All Hail the Crown.  It hasn’t happened yet, but here’s hoping that they feel like treating us to a second record.

* I first started writing about this album in January 2013.  This post features some of that very draft, but I was inspired to jot down some thoughts following Aaron’s post yesterday about the Mother Love Bone set and figured I would just revisit this post.  I didn’t change too much of it.  Throw your money at this instead.

“I’m the burning bush, I’m the burning fire, I’m the bleeding volcano” – The Rolling Stones – Emotional Rescue (1980)

emotional cover2This was the first Rolling Stones album I bought on vinyl.  Not one that folks hold in high regard, but I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for it. Don’t get me wrong, there are times I just can’t be bothered with it at all.  See, the thing with Emotional Rescue is that it sounds a bit lazy at times. Other times it lacks focus (flirts between R&B Stones and disco Stones) and doesn’t really seem all that fresh given there’s probably not a melody that you haven’t heard on another Stones record.  If, however, they just decided to go make a straight-up rock disco album they would have had another Some Girls on their hands. Anyhoo, I can’t help but reach for this one on a weekday evening when the last thing I want to do is rock the party. Maybe that’s a damning statement, but it’s actually not meant to be.

It’s an odd record.  Sounding much like an odds and ends release (interestingly the follow-up, Tattoo You, features a bunch of songs that they left off this one which really would have lifted this a fair bit).  I guess the lacklustre feel is expected due to relationship shenanigans.  Richards was recovering from addiction and battling with Mick for some sort of control over the Stones.  Meanwhile, Mick was seguing into cosmopolitan Mick and Bill Wyman was on the edge of quitting (he’s notably absent on a couple of tracks here).  However, despite all that, the emotional rescue is more financial than ’emotional’ – mail-order type on Send It To Me, Summer Romance (“I need money so bad”), and the title track (“you can’t get out, you’re just a poor girl in a rich man’s house”).  I’ll be honest, sometimes it plays like a Jagger solo record with the band often sounding like they lacked inspiration (well, aside from the distinctly Rolling Stones sounding shambolic-blues of Down In The Hole and Keith’s All About You).  Which is a tad disappointing.  If they’d dealt with things head on they may just have created a classic.

emotional rescue

Dance gets things off to a promising start.  A nice bit of rhythm happening and a great vocal from Mick and backing from Keith.  Summer Romance and Send It To Me don’t really do too much, though the latter does provide some wry smiles thanks to the splendiferous work of the lyric and pronunciation departments.  Let Me Go is the kind of loose and bluesy hit we’ve come to expect from the Stones and, on any given day, it’s my favourite on side 1.  My favourite lyric here however belongs to the mariachi flavoured ballad, Indian Girl.  Seriously wonderful stuff thrown together in the song and delivered in Mick’s finest country drawl.  Then he hits us with this in a non-descript exotic monologue:

“Mister Gringo, my father he ain’t no Ché Guevara.
He’s fighting the war in the streets of Masaya
Little Indian girl where is your father?
Little Indian girl where is your momma?
They’re fighting for Mr. Castro in the streets of Angola”.

Where The Boys Go is a rotten attempt at punk.  Like they spent an evening listening to the Sex Pistols and thought “oh aye”.  There’s a horrible female backing, too.  Seriously not my cup of coffee.  But while side 2 got off to the worst of starts, along comes Down In The Hole, which is the album’s highlight.  Some nice ramshackle guitar and harmonica sparring on here as Mick asks “will all your money buy you forgiveness? Keep you from sickness or keep you from cold? Will all your money keep you from madness? Keep you from sadness when you’re down in the hole?” before deciding that “none of your money will buy you forgiveness”.  It also signals a significant upturn in the album’s quality, actually.  Like DanceEmotional Rescue is great even if it’s nowhere near the disco awesomeness of Some Girl’s Miss You.  Again, like Dance, the grooves are loose and infectious, and, as well as Mick’s falsetto lead, there’s some of that Bobby Keys sax woven in there, too.  She’s So Cold is a lazy Stones cut, but it’s not dreadful (there’s a familiar Mick vocal and he sounds like he’s having a bit of a good time even if the band are going through the motions), Let Me Go is loose, but driving, and Keith’s loose bittersweet ballad, All About You a very suitable closer – a very public display of where the Stones were at that point.  Or, more specifically where the Jagger and Richards relationship was (“if the show must go on, Let it go on without you”).

But anyway, as I say, aside from the closing number, there’s not much in the way of real emotion and the whole thing.  There’s Jagger often having a ball, but the band sound like they’re less than enthusiastic about things.  It’s strange that only two years earlier they released a similarly disco influenced album, but while Some Girls had a confident strut, Emotional Rescue lacks the wit, stubbornness and swagger.  But I like it.  Or do I?  Listening to it today with the view of putting my thoughts on it down on this internets, I’m enjoying it a bit more than I did last week.  I mean, there are enough good tacks even if there are no timeless Stones numbers here.

Y’know, I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll always have that relationship with this one.  I’m still trying to find excuses for it’s lacklusteredness.  It’s better than Dirty Work and Undercover, but only just.  And I’m okay with that.  I really am.

2016-02-27 19.52.16My copy of this is in pretty good nick. Few surface marks, but certainly nothing sinister.  The sleeve itself has some shelf wear, but overall a fine copy.

I should also add that the album gets bonus points for a front cover that reminds me of Predator.

“Out of the engine came a flame with a name. It burned up my mind and it made me insane”: Masters Of Reality – Masters of Reality (1988)

masters of reality front

Another largely overlooked album here.  This one being Masters Of Reality’s self-titled debut.  Often referred to as The Blue Garden on account of John Leamy’s painting, it’s an alternative rock masterpiece and one of my absolute favourites (so much so that I paid £36 for a CD copy once upon a time!).  Like Burning Tree’s sole albumMasters Of Reality is an outstanding showcase of creativity and pshychedelic tinged blues rock revisionism.  Unfortunately, just like Burning Tree it’s criminally overlooked; suffering from arriving at a time when rock was represented largely by hair metal bands who were pedalling drivel while fighting it out with soulless pop music and the Golden Age of Hip Hop.  Just before ‘grunge’ hit.

Although the band had taken their name from a Black Sabbath album (legend has it from a Warner Bros. pressing of Master Of Reality with misprinted labels that read Masters Of Reality instead), there’s only traces of shrapnel from the heavy slabs of concrete those chaps threw around.  Instead, the music is laced with late-1960s and early-1970s riffage as well as insatiable grooves.  A modern take of The Doors if you will, with a splash of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Queen, ZZ Top and pinch of those psychedelic noodlings that Cream had going on with their awesome Disraeli Gears (Ginger Baker was even a member of the band for a brief period). Under it all, there’s the melodic influence of the Beatles and some blues.

Rick Rubin signed them to Def Jam in 1986 and, after splitting with partner Russell Simmons, released the debut on his Def American label. Rumour has it that it all fell apart during a cold and wet chicago evening in 1989 when the jazz meandering of guitarist Tim Harrington and stick man Vinnie Ludovico got in the way of the songs. A phone call was made and Delicious Vinyl got involved – buying the contract, album, publishing rights, etc – and set about re-mastering the album and releasing it with an alternative track-listing (also cutting Magical Spell by 2 minutes and adding the amazing Doraldina’s Prophecies) and horrible, horrible cover.

However, they were clearly excited about having this one:

“An amazing, mystical, rocking experience, the album delivers with a crunching authenticity rarely heard in today’s rock arena. It is, in our not so humble opinion, one of the best albums of the last ten years”.

gatefoldI discovered Masters Of Reality in 1998.  The name appearing in an article about Stone Temple Pilots’ frontman Scott Weiland.  See, Weiland had appeared with them at a gig at The Viper Room, guesting on a track called Jindilee Jindalie.  As luck would have it, that gig was recorded and released as part of the live album, How High the Moon. I then discovered that Masters of Reality is a project led by Chris Goss. The same Chris Goss who acted as a vocal engineer on Stone Temple Pilots’ marvellous Tiny Music … Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop (I dare say if you pick up any proper good alternative rock album made over the last 20 years or so you’ll see Goss in the credits. Be it Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age, Lanegan and The Duke Spirit, Stone Temple Pilots or The Cult).  So, I kept an eye out for some Masters of Reality goods – without much success – until I finally got my hands on a copy of How High the Moon at a record fair in 1999. Cost me £7, but it was the best £7 I’d spent that day. I remember pressing play on the stereo and thinking “what’s this?”  Goss’ vocal was smooth, there was an insatiable groove … some blues riffery, but a pummelling rhythm.

That album happens to be my favourite live album. It’s tremendous – from the energy of the band and the love the crowd has for them. I soon picked up a CD copy of the Delicious Vinyl reissue of their first album.  Now, as I said, the artwork on that CD was really, really horrible and the tracks are in a different order, but I really love Doraldina’s Prophecies (it’s one of my all-time favourite songs).  However, I was keen to get a copy of the original Def American release.  So keen, in fact, that when I saw a copy I honestly paid £36.  Yes.  £36.  For a CD.  Off eBay.  But man, did I play that album over and over.  Despite missing Doraldina’s Prophecies, the album went from ‘awesome’ to ‘OMG awesome’ thanks to the additional solo shenanigans in the extended Magical Spell and the sequencing. Man, that running order is just perfect.

The line up for Masters Of Reality differed from How High the Moon, too.  Here Goss was joined by Tim Harrington (guitar), Googe (bass) and Vinnie Ludovico (drums).  Goss’ voice has always been one of my favourite elements of the band – a mellow but rich tenor delivering lines that could have been:

  • ripped from the pages of Billy Gibbons’ songbook (“go down and see the sugar girl, she’ll know just what to do” (The Candy Song))
  • sinister hocus pocus spell conjuring shenanigans (“Then when the circle spoke. The light fell. The spell broke…” (The Blue Garden) or “Eraticus, Kill the King. Magentus, Kill the King” (Kill The King)); or
  • just some plain ol’ alchemist riddling (“Call the fire in winter when it snows and it won’t be cold. Call the wind in summer if the salt should reign as gold” (Kill The King)).

masters inner closeAs one of my all time favourites, I was seeking a copy for my modest record collection.  However, finding an album like that in the racks of my local haunts was proving difficult.  That was until my wife and I attended a record fair a few years ago.  While I browsed through the many records of various sellers, she caught my attention and said, all casual like, “James – is this one you’re looking for?”  I look over and she’s holding the record!  Zoiks!  I reckon she never seen me move so fast.  £8, too.  My word!

Side A starts with Theme For The Scientist of the Invisible, which, despite sounding like the title of a Flaming Lips track, is actually a short instrumental intro before the driving fuzz of Domino.  Goss sings “Paint me a picture. Make it the devil. Then run down the hole if the roof ain’t level”.  There’s elements of Sabbath here, but the big fuzzed blues licks suggest there’s certainly something more.  “Dominos fallin’, black spiders spinning”.  Welcome to stoner rock, baby!  It also happens to appear in Steven Seagal’s outrageously awesome Marked for Death.  Just before the big shoot-out in the bar.  So that’s double points there.

As well as DominoThe Blue Garden and Candy Song are highlights of Side 1.  The former being a nice slice of prog-psychedelia, with some wah drenched soloing complimented by a wordless mantra.  The drumming is brilliant, and Harrington and Goss’ guitars really get to sparring.  Goss drags out the hook “lightning came downward and I fell as a tear”.  Oooft!  So good.  There’s a bit of ZZ Top sizzle during Candy Song.  Seriously, this could have been a cut from Tres Hombres, Tejas or Deguello.  Goss explains that he’s “been working so hard, baby, working all night and day.  Sometimes I feel like getting blind and jumping in the bay.  If you feel like I do too, you know what you gotta do?  Go down and see the sugar girl and she’ll take care of you” before proclaiming that he wants a “piece of that stuff”, that he’s “crawling outta my skin and I’m down on my luck”, that the sugar girl “knocks me off my feet”, and that the “price is high but the candy’s sweet”.  The marvellous drunken tinkering of Magical Spell wraps the side up perfectly.  There’s some really outlandish guitar shenanigans happening on there also.  Top marks!

masters of reality recordSide 2 is one of the best sides of recorded music ever.  Fact.  It kicks off with the dusty and spiralling blues of The Eyes of Texas before the Led Zeppelinisms of Sleep Walkin’ and Lookin’ to Get Rite.  Goss’ vocal is particularly brilliant during Sleep Walkin’.  The delivery staggered and deliberate when he says “I got nothing in my eyes and an aching in my bones” and particularly unsettling when he explains that he “got taken away when the sun went down. I stood there in my own mind, the way a stranger prowls around”.  It’s a highlight.  A swirling dusted blues pie drenched with psychedelic gravy.  The blues driver John Brown is an anthem for that town called Red.  Bells chime as Goss shouts “Holiday, holiday, I declare a holiday. Holiday, holiday, no matter what the doctors say” before closing “we pull John down at noon today”.

Kill The King is all sorts of crackin’ and is an epic closer.  A 7 and a bit minute big bowl of awesome – complete with whammy-bar noodling, slide guitar, a sweet stop-start thunder drum, tempo change, and some surreal Ren & Stimpy type imagery (“and in many degrees of heat, the fire looked at the meat, and said ‘if I cook you the least you could do is lay there and be sweet'”).

And then it’s over.  The record spins.  The needle picks up static.  Then I flip it over.  Here we go again.

Trust me, Masters Of Reality is a masterpiece.  A stellar album and one that I’ll never tire of.  Ever.
masters innerThis is the original Def American pressing of this one.  John Leamy’s painting splashed across the gatefold sleeve, some bits and bobs of lyrics, band images, and symbols on a scrawling and intriguing inside spread, and a nice Def American inner sleeve.

It’s worth looking out for the most recent Delicious Vinyl double LP reissue. The second LP is that How High the Moon live album, which really is tremendous.  The set includes the track order of that 90s CD reissue I mentioned, meaning that Doraldina’s Prophecies is included (the live version from How High the Moon is the essential one, though).  Thankfully, the 5 minute Magical Spell is restored and John Leamy’s splendid painting adorns the cover of that reissue, replacing that alternative (Microsoft Paint rendered) cover.

For further reading, check out the Delicious Vinyl site and this piece from a fellow enthusiast.

“I found the simple life ain’t so simple”: Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)

van halenVan Halen are a band that I never paid any attention to.  Overlooked them completely, to be quite honest.  I knew Jump and part of me even liked it, but it was no more than a novelty really.  Big keyboards and guitars, flourescent lights, cocaine smiles and long hair.  That was my opinion on that stuff. Then over the last year or so I started reading about Van Halen over at Mike Ladano’s place and I thought “eh?”  Then a ‘heavy metal’ loving friend gave me a bunch of albums in an attempt to broaden my musical horizons.  An attempt to get me on-board the heavy metal and hard rock train.  Among those albums was Van Halen and Van Halen II.  Oh, okay then.

Fast forward a couple of months and, a few grumbles aside, I’ve fallen in love with the band.  I hadn’t really appreciated just how unusual Eddie Van Halen’s style was.  Especially given these guys came on the scene in the 70s!  He’s definitely not your typical 70s ‘hard rock’ guitarist; most of the others are clearly influenced by the blues, while he plays all sorts of hard rocking grooves that were more angular and out the box.  A real signature sound with added bells and whistles.  How he utilised the whammy bar, the finger tapping, and the harmonics within his playing. Not just to hang, but to shred. tap-tap-hammer-on-hammer-off-tap-tap-harmonic-whammy …

Aside from Eddie there’s Roth.  Man, he just swaggers all over this record.  Confident, charming, and outright audacious.  Lyrically he doesn’t tackle much, but his character looms equally as large as the shredder.  Anyhoo …
vh1Opener Runnin’ With The Devil is outright outlandish.  The riff is brilliant, and Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony give it a prehistoric swagger.  Roth’s opening line is “I live my life like there’s no tomorrow”.  Each time I hear that riff and the swagger I shake my head in disbelief – why hadn’t I explored Van Halen further?  I mean, this is awesome.  That whole guitar thing I mentioned earlier?  All over the short guitar Eruption.  A perfect intro for their take on The Kinks’ You Really Got Me.  Brilliant stuff and a real highlight.  Roth’s vocals are excellent too – smooth yet visceral.  The high energy and the fun is dropped a bit for the dark Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.  Probably my favourite song this one.  As much as Eddie’s riffing is great and all, Roth’s performance has a gravity to it (“I’ve been to the edge and there I stood and looked down, you know I lost a lot of friends there baby, ain’t got time to mess around…”) that sticks.  I’m The One ends the side on a high note with that monstrous rhythm, Eddie’s noodling, Roth’s flair and a whole load of fun.  They even through in some barber shop quartet / Beach Boys shenanigans.  It’s one of the best sides of music in my collection.  Really pretty brilliant stuff. Mike described it as “non-stop smoke” and I tend to agree.

The second side doesn’t quite reach those heady heights, but it’s really pretty close thanks mainly to Jamie’s Cryin’, Feel Your Love Tonight and Little Dreamer – all of which are great songs.  Jamie’s Cryin’ is the one I love most on this side – the backing vocals as well as the guitar and vocal melody during the chorus are really excellent.  Sandwiched between that and Feel Your Love Tonight is Atomic Punk, which is a bit of a diversion.  Here the band let their punk tendencies loose a bit more.  It’s strange, cause I actually didn’t appreciate this one fully until today.  Listening again after a chat with Craig Hughes last night about this album it’s hit me that the relentlessness of this is really pretty ace. Plus, the way the guitar compliments (or is complimented by) the delivery of “Nobody rules these streets at night like me – the atomic punk” is just perfect.   Little Dreamer is a slow burner with a nice stomp, great vocal and really marvellous solo.  Things are rounded off in a bit of inconsistent manner with the last two numbers.  The first of which is a swell (and less than subtle) reading of an old John Brim number (Ice Cream Man), though I’m not so keen on the closer, the throwaway On Fire.

Seriously, though – this one surprised me.  Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it did.  Big time.  I mean, here’s an album released 37 years ago by a band I thought were all cocaine smiles and big hair and it sounds vibrant and urgent and all that good stuffs (what a sentence, eh?).  More importantly, it’s just damn good fun – full of strutting and big riffs.  I love it.
back coverMy copy is a Dutch reissue and it’s in really good condition.  The cover has a few battered corners, but the original inner is in there which includes some of the usual stuff – credits and some images and the likes.

“Run in the front door, run out the back”: Keith Richards – Talk Is Cheap (1988)

keefI remember not so long ago someone commented that they had the very same t-shirt I was wearing.  It was a Stones Tee.  Black with the logo … “the tongue”.  They didn’t have the very shirt I was wearing, of course.  Given that we’re in an age where bands like the Stones, Ramones and Led Zep are pretty much nothing more than a clothing brand to many, I pretty much concluded that they don’t listen to the Rolling Stones.  My experience, y’see, is that most of the folks that wear these tees have no real liking for the band.  For example, a friend and I attended a music quiz a few months back.  There was a Ramones round.  The chap in the Ramones Tee was in the team that scored a big zero in that round.  How did that happen?  Popular culture, my friends.

I remember getting hooked on the Stones during secondary school.  They’d just released Voodoo Lounge.  Interestingly, one of the enduring memories of that time was the ridicule and mockery that followed them.  First album in 5 years – “pensioners” and the likes.  Since Steel Wheels they had become caricatures.  Me, I loved Voodoo Lounge.  Loved it!  I didn’t care how old these guys were – they had great tunes and Love Is Strong was the best song I’d heard in ages.  I’m fairly certain my friends had thought I’d gone mad.  But seriously, that album was on mega-heavy rotation and when the tape got all twisted and stuck in the Walkman I took great care of getting it unstuck and winding it up.  Sure there was some warping, but it would have to do for now.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yeah, Keith Richard‘s Talk Is Cheap.  An astonishing album.  Seriously.  I love this one.  Keef’s response to Mick Jagger’s solo flight of fancy? Create an album more consistently inspired than anything the Stones had put together since Tattoo You (which itself is an album that, although great, was largely compiled of off-cuts and unfinished material and such).  This one was recorded by the excellent band he’d earlier assembled for Chuck Berry’s birthday celebration (documented in the Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll).  Way to go, Keef!
keef2

Listening to this one, it’s pretty clear the focus was in creating a record that was true to who he and the X-pensive Winos were.  Who the Stones were before the metropolitan rock of Undercover and Dirty Work (two albums that, aside from the covers, aint worth any attention).  It’s all rock n’ roll and blues based riffage and swagger.  Take It So Hard, You Don’t Move Me, Whip It Up, and Struggle are all classic Keef Richards material.  They’re Stones gritty!  Complete with that voodoo groove and the Berryesque flourishes.  Rockawhile has a nice loose groove and Make No Mistake even has some Memphis horns in there.

So yeah, Talk Is Cheap is a winner and worthy of attention.  It’s more than just a Richards solo vehicle, too.  It’s truly a band effort – trust me, the X-pensive Winos do way more than just turn up to play – they make a major contribution.  Not just because of the writing partnership Keef formed with Steve Jordan, but because the band sound like they are really invested in the arrangements and to the feel of the record they were creating.  Keef is away from the duelling and the needle.  He’s focused only on his love of the guitar, blues and rock n’ roll.   Don’t get me wrong, it stumbles lyrically at times (“you made the wrong motion, drank the wrong potion. You lost the feeling, not so appealing” or how about “well it’s a struggle, baby. It’s a struggle, yeah. If it’s a struggle between love and hate, baby’s gonna have to wait”), but you know what, that doesn’t even matter, baby!  If you want style go for some o’ Mick’s solo stuff or those two dreadful Stones albums, cause this is just honest rock ‘n’ roll.  That’s what we loved about the Stones … and it’s essentially what we love about Talk Is Cheap, right?

“If you’re into Evil, you’re a friend of mine”: AC/DC – Back In Black (1980)

The first AC/DC album I ever heard was Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.  An old friend had handed me the CD as a birthday gift back in the mid-to-late 90s.  I dare say 1997 or 1998.  Before that I was very familiar with a bunch of songs and liked some o’ them, too (mostly Big Gun from the Last Action Hero soundtrack and the likes of Highway To Hell, Back In Black and Thunderstruck).  I had that CD for a good while, though I’m fairly certain I could count on one hand how many times I listened to it all the way through.  Aside from the odd song pick, I also never bothered to do any further listening.

About a year ago on one o’ these ‘fill social media with music’ things I was given AC/DC.  Y’know, name your favourite album and such like.  I relayed the tale above and some friends were wondering whether they really knew me at all.  Friendships were at risk, I tell ya!  Anyhoo, a couple of friends had offered to compile AC/DC mixes guaranteed to rock my socks off.  In the end, it wasn’t until a few months later during another AC/DC related conversation that one friend highlighted that a rock-your-socks-off compilation already existed in the guise of an Iron Man soundtrack.  He duly threw it my way and I gave it a spin.  It pushed buttons and I was starting to listen.  I picked up some albums and got to know them a bit.  Three stuck with me – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Highway To Hell and, of course, Back In Black.

Y’see, my thing with AC/DC was always that they were a bit gimmicky – what with the blazer, lyrics (Big Balls) and the AC/DC riffs-o-meter and such.  During a conversation with another friend a few months ago he brought up that he always found ZZ Top to be way more gimmicky than AC/DC due to their suits, moves, lyrics and beards.  Having ignored ZZ Top for most of my music loving life as a result of their 80s output I appreciate that thought.  However, as someone who has fallen hard for ZZ Top over the last few years I cannot accept that thinking.  Those who truly love AC/DC may disagree with me.

Despite it all, though, I really love those three albums and for the last few months I’ve made it a priority to pick them up if I seen them for a reasonable price.  I missed out on a Highway To Hell in my favourite haunt (one of those situations where the eyes spotted it just about the time the hands of someone else reached for it), but I got my hands on two of them.  This one, though, I picked up for £5 from my favourite haunt.  It was playing when I was browsing and as I approached the counter to pay for the records I picked up, the owner placed the empty cover in the rack.  Nabbed.  Held close.

It’s a damn fine album, too.  Without fully knowing the AC/DC history I heard it as the successor to Highway To Hell.  As I’ve grown to dig these albums and learn more about Bon Scott and Brian Johnson I start to appreciate things a bit more.  For example, the significance of the ominous drone of hell’s bells ringing at the beginning. The bells that essentially bring in the Brian Johnson era.  Sure, the riffs make this an unmistakable AC/DC album, but there are subtle differences in both Scott and Johnson’s vocal approaches that really allow Johnson to add something rather than just become a replacement.

… and looking over the back cover as I sit here I note that the songs that make up this one reads like a best of.  The big AC/DC anthems that I was familiar with from the bits and bobs folks had shared, those I’ve heard over the years, and even some that have appeared in Marvel’s Avengers and Iron Man movies.  Hell’s Bells, Shoot to Thrill, You Shook Me All Night Long, and, of course, Back In Black.

Hurrah!

“I got a million ways to make a million dollars, but some things come from the heart”: Kill For Thrills – Commercial Suicide (1989)

kill for thrillsKill for Thrills, anyone?  One of Gilby Clarke’s pre-Guns N’ Roses gigs and pretty much what you’d expect from a band featuring Gilby and formed in Los Angeles, California in 1988.

Rumour has it that MCA snapped the band up following one show.  Fairly easy to understand given that Guns N’ Roses had just exploded and the majors were out seeking their very own LA sleeze rockazoids (think about the signing of all the ‘grunge-lite’ acts following the Nirvana explosion).  Thing is, Kill for Thrills weren’t really cut from the same cloth as GN’R and all those other sleaze rockazoids.  No sir.  They would never be another ‘most dangerous band in the world’.  Nope, no way.  They had pop-punk sensibilities and some smashin’ long jackets.  They were, after all, fronted by Gilby Clake.  The Gilby Clarke who had made some splendiferous sounds with Candy?  Yup, you got it.  Gilby Clarke.  A man who wore his his pop and new wave influences on his sleeve.

Commercial Suicide was released on World Of Hurt (which I believe was an MCA imprint) in 1988.  A way to create a stir ahead of their debut album (Dynamite from Nightmareland).  I had bought this one many years ago from Missing.  Possibly 1997 or 1998 – when it was located at Trongate and stocked new releases.  I hadn’t listened to it or Kill for Thrills in a very long time and doing so now it’s really nice to hear that it lacks that big 80s gloss production.  I don’t know if that was due to budget things or the fact that they just weren’t that type of band, but seriously, it really means that it’s not sounding as ‘of it’s time’ as you might think.
back coverFor those who are familiar with Gilby’s output you can expect all the hooks you can shake a stick at.  I should also mention that the lead guitarist here is Jason Nesmith.  Yup, son of Michael Nesmith.  He and Gilby really play off each other brilliantly, with Jason providing some pretty exceptional melodic flourishes.  He also tends to avoid any self-absorbed shredding.

The opening salvo of Commercial Suicide and Silver Bullets appear on that one and only album of theirs.  Both really pretty splendid and punchy pop-rock numbers, too.  Commercial Suicide itself is actually pretty magic and kicks off what is essentially a pretty good set (Side A is all good in my opinion).  Gilby shouting about the state of the dead LA scene and generation X, I guess.  Intentional or not it’s some music and politics.  The final song on Side A is I Wanna Be Your Kill.  This is really magic (it would be with a title like that though, right?).  Nesmith and Gilby hitting and locking into a groove and Gilby’s punk and new wave influences all over it. Side B is short, with just 2 tracks.  Danger is a tad meandering, but there are some nice touches there.  A cover of Pump It Up brings the curtain down on this little show.  And it’s a good one, too.

On yirsels, Kill for Thrills … On yirsels.

“There’s so much space I could cut me a piece”: Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988)

nothing

Ok.  So it’s no secret to those who know me that I’m of the opinion that Jane’s Addiction are simply one of the most important bands ever.  I guess it’s not just my opinion; after all, it’s a written-in-stone fact.  But in my own list of favourite bands ever they’re easily in my top 5.  Now, my introduction to their music (aside from Been caught Stealing, of course) came around 1997, so I got on the bus after a few stops.  In fact, you could say the bus was at the depot for servicing.  However, I didn’t have to wait too long for my first moment of new release excitement, when just a few short months later saw the release of the odds and ends compilation, Kettle Whistle.

Anyhoo, what struck me about Nothing’s Shocking was how it differed from the ‘alternative rock’ that I was heavily into at the time (Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees, Soundgarden and the likes (intentionally missed out Nirvana there – that’s a given)).  It appealed to me on the same level that Guns N’ Roses had done previously, but it transcended that.  Challenging that whole notion of rock n’ roll excess – this wasn’t just excess, it was thoughtful, sensitive, true and ferocious!

So when I got the record player it was high up on the ‘Grail list’ and I had been toying with picking up the Rhino reissue, as it had been hanging around one of the local record shops.  I often picked it up during a few lunch break visits, but also decided against it.  Mostly due to what I’d read about the Rhino reissue of Purple (if anyone has any thoughts on the Rhino stuff I’d certainly like to hear, as I’m currently weighing up their recent press of Gram Parsons’ GP …).

So, I honestly don’t know if Jane’s Addiction ever really topped this one.  I sometimes think Ritual de lo Habitual is my favourite (the second side of that record is one of the best sides ever), but then I think about this one again and give that notion some more thought.  Anyhoo, sonically, Nothing’s Shocking packs a punch.  It’s pretty slick, but still gritty and capturing the essence of the band (I think).  The tension between Navarro, Avery, Perkins and Farrell morphing into the sounds they each created and as a result it sounds as though it could explode or crumble at any moment.  It’s fractured, sensual and visceral.

Up the Beach, Ocean Size, Had A Dad and Mountain Song really build on Avery and Perkins’ wonderful grooves before Navarro lights up the skies with his incredible guitar work.  Wham!  Bam!  Like fireworks!  Explosions and wailing and all that good stuff!  It’s never indulgent, but just enough psychedelic flights of fancy to throw him in with the best there is.  Those transcendental psychedelic work-outs continue as the band stretch themselves out on the marvellous Ted, Just Admit It … as Farrell muses on the violence obsessed media – “the TV’s got them images, the TV’s got them all, it’s not shocking … now the news is, just another show, with sex and violence”.  Summertime Rolls is another one of those slow burning numbers with it’s bass and drum groove driving it and Navarro bringing the juice.

There’s a lot more to this one, though.  Like I say, it’s thoughtful.  Pretty complex, I guess.  There’s Standing in the Shower … Thinking, which is an utterly magnificent song.  There’s even some horns in there as Perry tells us that Idiots Rule and some nice jazz moves on Thank You Boys … and then there’s the brilliant Jane Says.  The heartbreaking portrait of an addict who keeps promising to quit, but just can’t (Damn you, Sergio!).  As an album, it’s honestly pretty remarkable.  Near perfect and still fresh despite it’s 26 years.

So yeah, I spotted this really splendiferous original copy over in Mixed-Up Records.  Snapped that up before I looked at the wee price sticker.  Happened to cost me £12.  I reckon that was a winner.  Hurrah!

… and Look at that cover, too.  Conjoined twins sitting on a sideways rocking chair with their heads on fire.  From what I’ve read, the sculpture was created by Perry Farrell from casts of his then girlfriend.  Of course, retailers objected to it and the majors even said they’d only sell it if it was in a bag or some such thing.  Nothing’s Shocking, right?

“What you got was a bunch of cowpokes on blues twisting knobs from outer space”: ZZ Top – Eliminator (1983)

That’s what Billy Gibbons said about the recording of ZZ Top’s eighth album, Eliminator.  Released shortly before I turned 4, but its success (hundred million zillion albums sold) and MTV’s endorsement of its synth-tinged rock, ensured that I would hear a whole bunch of its songs throughout my youth and it would leave a lasting impression.  Turns out that the whole bunch of songs weren’t actually from this record; they just sounded like they were.  It also turns out that the lasting impression wasn’t favourable.  No more than a bad 80s novelty band with beards, sunglasses, matching suits and synchronised steps.

It wasn’t until late 2012 that I learned that ZZ Top were actually more than that novelty band.  In fact, turns out they had albums in the 70s!  Say what now?   Truth be told, I thought two friends of mine were on the noise up when they were talking about them and their smashin’ “album from a few years ago”.  I had to check that out.  So I did.  Fast forward 16 months or so and I’m the proud owner of their entire back catalogue, having either picked them up cheap on CD or, better still, vinyl.  I’m preaching to the converted here.  Preaching to anyone who will listen.  Someone mentions the word ‘top’ and they have a conversation about Billy Gibbons & Co.

DSCN5311So, anyway, the first ZZ Top album I bought on vinyl was Eliminator.  I had spotted it for just £2 during a lunch break visit to one of the few record stores within walking distance from the office.  Now, while it wasn’t high on the want list, I’d spotted it cheap on two occasions prior to this (in the space of about a month) and I was real close to buying it.  When I say close: 1) there was no vinyl!  It had gone missing!; 2) the record was in pieces – literally.  So, knowing that it’s difficult to get a copy in one piece how could I ignore it?  And there’s that car that I remember from pretty much every video of theirs I ever seen on the tellybox.  One that I would later learn is Billy Gibbons’ very own custom 1933 Coupe.

It’s an album that defined ZZ Top to a fair few folks.  Like I say, this is what I thought ZZ Top were before a friend told me otherwise.  When I started listening to their older stuff I used to marvel at the fact that they had decided to throw all their awesomeness in the bin in order to redefine themselves as some sleek 80s rockers.  But you know what, I’ve realised that was never the case.  This here is a pretty great album.  I dare say one of their best, actually.  They embraced the MTV age and they just had fun with it.  The way they always had.  It wasn’t until I immersed myself in their music that I truly appreciated that.  It was the logical step and, while this might sound preposterous given the mechanical nature of the sound, its completely organic.

So, when the guitar hits the first note of Gimme All Your Lovin’ the hooks are in.  In fact along with Got Me Under Pressure and Sharp Dressed Man its a three song cycle I consider to be flawless.  Complete with the groove, hooks, swagger and boogie that has been ZZ Top’s trademark.  It’s evolution, baby!  In my opinion Side A is one of their best.  Although Side B never hits the same stride, it also kicks off with a splendid three song cycle before it fades (Legs, Thug and TV Dinners).  All of it plays like the best slices of Americana.  The American Dream.  Freedom of the road, adventure and your beautiful girl by your side (or girls in this case).  There might be hot rods instead of motorbikes and bad convenience foods, but this here is ZZ Top’s Born to Run … and it’s every bit as good.

There’s no doubt that the thing that defined the ZZ Top sound at this stage was the introduction of some pretty heavy synthesiser, but what really separates this from Afterburner and Recycler (the albums that followed the formula) is the guitar sound.  Not just fuzzy and with real grit, but it’s so loud you can pretty much hear it rip up the speaker of the amp.  I guess this is why it works so well with the 80s sheen?  Ach, who knows … but I tell you, it’s marvelloud.
DSCN5312

… There’s also a whole bunch of interesting ‘behind the scenes’ shenanigans that I’d read on Wikipedia (must be true then, right?).  In his book, Sharp Dressed Man, David Blayney states that a chap named Linden Hudson actually co-wrote much of the album.  He happened to be teaching Gibbons and Beard some high-tech tricks, y’see.  Whether there’s any truth in that is something else, but apparently the band did pay him $600,000 when he proved he held the copyright to the song “Thug” (oooft!).  Blayney also claims that Hill and Beard weren’t around during the writing and recording of Got Me Under Pressure (one of the best tracks on the record) and that Hudson done all the rhythm tracks on the ol’ synthesizer.

One of the most magnificent little bits of true-or-not info is the rumour that the Hudson chap had actually analysed tons of tracks and had suggested that 120 beats per minute was the most popular tempo in rock music at that time.  So, if you’re wondering why Eliminator jogs along at the pace it does, look no further than the influence of Mr Hudson.