Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy, aka the Joyful Gadfly! Musician, podcaster, writer, historian ... here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album is unique in some way. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Vanilla Ice ~ Hard To Swallow

(Click heading to visit official website.)
Style: heavy metal, rap, punk
Label: Republic
Year: 1998
Home: n/a

Members: Rob Van Winkle "Vanilla Ice" ~ vocals
Shannon Larkin ~ drums
Scott Borland ~ keyboards/bass
Doug Ordito ~ bass
Sonny Mayo ~ guitars
DJ Swamp ~ scratches

Guests: Casey Chaos, Zero, Jimmy Pop Ali, Rod J, Cyco ~ vocals

I can remember my middle school dances where once an hour "Ice Ice Baby" would ring out from the DJ. It was considered cool to request the most popular white boy hip-hop dance track on the charts. Sadly, through a mix of bad business decisions & fickle fans Vanilla Ice quickly crashed from his high perch. Facing insurmountable hurdles to reclaim his fame, fortune or at least self-respect, Ice abandoned his glossy over-commercialized image & music replacing it with hardcore rock/punk, continuing to release new music every couple years ... between stints on reality shows ... all to little fanfare that tends to be more focused on what he was than what he is. But, credit is owed him for being nothing less than a dedicated & creative showman looking for new musical styles to exploit & bend to his own voice & ideas. Few have had the stamina to keep going like Ice, particularly when most of his fan base left him seemingly overnight not long after getting their membership cards. Many, if not most, musicians have done the same & Ice shouldn't be faulted for trying but because the glossy image he debuted with was everything but reflective of his true persona fans hesitate to now trust the honesty of his later incarnation. Beyond just creating interesting music he faces a challenge greater than any in making fans trust him again. That his current image is who is truly is is something many fans will find ... hard to swallow. The gig isn't helped any by his being overly vocal about his fall from fame, which at times seems more of interest than any artististic integrity or creative expression. But, in many ways reputation is all he has because Ice doesn't play any instrument, isn't the greatest of singers or lyricists or most dynamic of performers, thus resusitating his career is more in the hands of creating good material, getting a good producer & lots of old fashioned luck ... & lots of hard work. Hard To Swallow, his second release post "Ice Ice Baby" & fourth total, presents a hardcore/punk image that chases the same sound & attitude as Korn, Slipknot & Limp Bizkit, due to a shared producer. As opposed to the looping beats of his earlier music, Ice now works with real instruments as distorted guitar riffs clobber each other over electronic drum beats & scratches mixed with Ice's own shouting/rapping making for an hour long angry rap metal pill. It might sound corny at first, but it's far from being as bad or as hard to swallow as one might expect. If anything it sounds corny becuase we remember where Ice came from, but actually the some of the metal/rap moments are no different then what Eminem would do years later but much heavier ... though Eminem is the greater lyricist & singer. Ice has even remade "Ice Ice Baby" into a hard rock anthem rechristened as "Ice Cold", marking this album as a highlight let alone template of his hardcore output, which isn't that bad compared to the corniness of the original & might in some ways be better. It's definetly more emotional. Though, there's songs on the album that are far more interesting so "Ice Cold" shouldn't be one's only incentive to check out Hard To Swallow. Sadly, few are probably going to check this out for anything more, let alone with any interest that isn't nostalgia based. This is too bad because it's so far beyond what has come before that Ice deserves a second chance, particularly as this is quite a labored release with lots of dynamics that are far more interesting than a good chunk of the hardcore rap & metal artists of similiar sounds. Let alone, it's far more emotional than many of his musicial peers as lyrical themes include discussing his drug addiction, abusive childhood & fall from fame. The Eminem comparison should make more sense now. It's the most honest music Ice has made. If anything bad can really be said about this album it's that there's no ups or downs. It's pretty much one long angry rant with no soft moments, which, according to press releases at the time wasn't deliberate but Ice had so much venom that in its cathartically release the anger become the dominating sound. While Limp Bizkit fakes anger Ice gives us the real thing. Though, he obviously forgot that even the heaviest & angriest bands drop back sometimes to just chill because sometimes the soft spots can be often more angry sounding. The ballads of Nine Inch Nails are a good example. While, at times there is a bit of boredom hearing yet again his rise & fall story. It's not really an album's worth of material, but the music is so heavy & dynamic with lots of instrumental breaks & guest rappers that its easy to overlook this fault ... considering his peers aren't exactly doing any better lots of time. They never reached the highs Ice did & when you go that high the world no longer treats you fairly when you come down. It's really ashame because this isn't as hard to swallow as one might think.



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