Welcome to the meandering musical insights of Aaron Joy (me!), formerly known as the Roman Midnight Music Blog. Here you'll find nearly 750 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie, good & bad, U.S. & foreign. A new review every Monday.

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June 27, 2022

The Strokes ~ The Modern Age (EP) (album review) ... Jim Morrison meets Iggy Pop meets Lou Reed!

Style: alt rock, post-punk
Year: 2001
Label: Beggars Banquet
Home: New York City, New York

Members: Julian Casablancas ~ vocals
Nick Valensi, Albert Hammond Jr. ~ guitars
Nikolai Fraiture ~ bass
Fabrizio Moretti ~ drums

If I've heard the Strokes, I can't remember. I likely have in passing, but I've never given them much attention & they've obviously not stuck in my memory, or if I know a song by them I don't know that it is their song. Coming across their 3 song debut EP on youtube I decided to give them a listen. I was blown away by who the opening track, the title track, sounded like with the crack of the first notes. While the next 2 songs took me in 2 places I didn't see coming. Before I go farther, obviously I know nothing about this band beyond they exist & I believe are popular or were popular. Thus, what I say about this album might not come close to reflecting where their music & career went. This review becomes about first impressions & my interpretation as a listener. While I might be completely off track, & I welcome links in the comments putting me on track, I'm going to go on a limb & say the Strokes like classic rock based on my first impressions. I'm even going to say they were deliberately aiming for a classic rock sound with this debut release. I'm not referencing the lo-fi production quality, but the songs themselves. The title track is totally Lou Reed & the Velvet Underground! I'm a huge fan of everything Lou. I seriously can't believe these guys are just coincidentally sounding like the V.U., via their arrangement of just a few chords, steady drumbeat, muffled quasi-monotone vocals & lyrical phrasing & style. Let me explain. I find the only major difference between this first song & the V.U. post their debut album is the pacing. It sprints in a way the V.U. didn't even do on their upbeat pop album Loaded. Slow it down & throw in a little kick & this this would be the V.U.. I dare you to compare to see what I'm talking about! Even more so, the lyrical style of Lou at that point in his career is present, though it may be a bit unintentional on the Strokes' part. "Up on a hill is where we begin / This little story a long time ago" brings to mind Lou's "26 dollars in my hand / Up to Lexington, 125 / Feel sick & dirty, more dead than alive" from V.U.'s classic "Waiting For My Man". While "Let me go, oh darlin' let me, oh, g-g-g-g-g-g-g-go" echoes the repetition of Lou's lyrics in "Run, Run, Run" with "You gotta run, run, run, run, run / Take a drag or two / Run, run, run, run, run" or in "I Found A Reason" Lou's refrain is "Pa papa papa papa / Pa papa papa papa / Pa papa papa papa / Pa papa papa papa." This repetition isn't exclusive to Lou's writing, but its something that was prominent in his lyrics at that time he was in the V.U.. For the Strokes to sound musically like the V.U. & to have some lyrical similarities I find too coincidental to be just coincidence. Now, I'll confess, maybe nobody hears Lou in this other than me. I might be off in left field, though I think not. If anything, maybe the V.U. isn't a good or accurate comparison, but the Strokes are absolutely drawing on classic rock. I can't see how they're not. I believe this because of the song that follows which keeps the classic rock feel alive. "Last Nite" is less V.U. & a bit more glam. This is partly due to the singing, which now has the big voiced sound that seems to be floating across the beat like Jim Morrison in a druggy haze. Its also far too pop for the V.U., though the guitar solo is reminiscent of Lou's time in the 1980's with Blank Generation guitarist Robert Quine. If someone said this song came out of 1970's New York glam scene I wouldn't question it. The final track, "Barely Legal", turns the table again for a singing style that sounds like early solo Iggy Pop. Reckless, like Iggy, is how I describe the mood, but with a modern touch via the Killers. Its like The Modern Age gives us a slight tour of underground non-mainstream classic rock. That's at least how I hear it. Though, I'm the first to confess a 3 song EP is not the best way to discover a band as you don't get enough of them to hear who they really are. Maybe if I heard a dozen other songs I wouldn't think of the V.U. at all, or call them very contemporary in their sound. For all I know, my comparison to the past has done the Strokes a disservice, though I would hope being compared to Lou Reed they take as a compliment. If you disagree with my evaluation of how the Strokes have reached into the past & churned out a great modern interpretation, let me know in the comments. All 3 songs were re-recorded for their debut full length, which I obviously haven't heard. 

June 20, 2022

U.D.O. ~ Dominator (album review) ... Metal perfection!

Style: heavy metal, speed metal
Label: AFM
Year: 2009
Home: Germany

Members: Udo Dirkschneider ~ vocals
Stefan Kaufmann ~ guitars/keyboards
Igor Gianola ~ guitars
Fitty Wienhold ~ bass/keyboards
Francesco Jovino ~ drums

Guest: Mathias Dieth ~ lead guitar

This is a perfect slab of metal. Listen to it. Tell me if you disagree in the comments. End of story. I've listened to this multiple times over multiple days, actually more like non-stop over multiple days, & I've yet to hear anything that isn't perfect about this album. This is the album I've wanted so many bands to make. This is the album I was expecting to hear from bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Kiss & others, but got something that everyone has rightfully forgotten. This stomping beast reminds me a lot of Halford & Judas Priest at their later day best, but with more emphasis on groove than screaming vocals & thunderous riffs & atmospheric moments. It has all the ingredients right for some heavy as fuck melodic metal, whether driving rockers or lush power ballads: interesting lyrics, great singing with lots of variety, backing vocals that sound fierce vs the typical big gang vocals, riffs that are more than just notes but actually are moody & scary, addictive melodies & stomping rhythms that sound like giant robots walking, thick guitars that don't ever get too muddy or try to out riff each other, & even just the right amount of atmospheric keyboards. Even the 1930's-esque cabaret of "Devils Rendezvous" is delightful, though it shouldn't work & likely wouldn't on any other album. It provides a breathing moment before the album closes with some moody speed metal & a big keyboard heavy power ballad in "Whispers In The Dark" that feels a bit like some of Ozzy's work. Dominator keeps your interest from start to finish with a masterfully produced thick wall of sound full of little nuances that will have you head-banging or listening in for the details. I listened to this following writing the reviews of Accept's classics Restless & Wild & Balls To The Wild. I chose the album because it got decent reviews on allmusic. I haven't heard anything else from Udo solo, but can he do no wrong or am I just listening to the best of his catalog? I could go on, but I really have no words to describe the beauty & wonder of the beautiful album. Just listen. If you think I'm wrong put it below, but I likely won't be persuaded by anything but the most detailed arguments that this isn't perfection.

June 13, 2022

Built To Spill ~ Ancient Melodies Of The Future (album review) ... The future never sounded so fascinating!

Style: indie rock, experimental
Label: Warner Brothers
Year: 2001
Home: Boise, ID

Members: Doug Martsch ~ vocals/guitar/keyboards/percussion
Sam Coomes ~ keyboards
Scott Plouf ~ bass/drums
Brett Netson ~ bass/drumsguitar/hi-hat/thumb piano

This doesn't have the awkward rhythm kick of some of their earlier albums, such as Perfect From Now On, which was the first album I heard by the very unique B2S. B2S is led by intrepid guitarist & songwriter Doug Martsch who draws from Allen Holdsworth & mixes it with indie rock in an way that is immediately fascinating. Ancient Melodies Of The Future doesn't stray far from the intricate melodies of weaving waves as typically heard from the group, famous famous not just for the guitar lines but also Martsch's lazy yet tortured voice. Guitars intertwine over a strange hypnotic grooves creating something really unlike anything else in the musical landscape, or at least anything immediately referenceable. The music is intimate & approachable, maybe more so on this album than in the past. B2S is one of those bands that really needs to be checked out & I recommend them fully. I'm also biased as I was introduced to their music in concert, as they opened for Sky Cries Mary at my college. They're also one of those bands that you actually can't pull apart their albums too much. Yes, songs blend into each other, some fade from memory, others leave you wondering what you heard played, some meander a bit too much & too long, others you have to hear again, but its the experience of the whole here that's the magic. Martsch will run you through the gauntlet & other times craft a lullaby. Yet, he somehow never sounds like a show-off pretentious guitar rocker making music just for musicians. Intricate & unpredictable & unlike anything you've heard before - B2S is the real ultimate alt rockers.

June 6, 2022

Fisc ~ Handle With Care (album review) ... Slightly improved more of the same!

Style: hard rock, glam metal
Label: N.E.W. Musidisc
Year: 1988
Home: France

Members:Jimmy Martin ~ vocals
Alain Aime, Jean-Michel Mauffray ~ guitars
Dominique Henry ~ drums
Pierre Bechet ~ bass

Additional: Scott Gorham ~ keyboards
Dave McClain, Greg Youtsey, Mike Thomas, Scott Gorham ~ b. vocals

Sometimes a band strikes me as, honestly, not very good. Strange as it may seem, this actually sometimes drives me to seek out more of their music. Maybe I want to know if they are really bad, or maybe I want to know if I just heard a band album or bad line-up, or maybe they are huge & I want to figure out why I'm totally missing what the hype is all about, or maybe I just want to verify my instincts. Sometimes I find my first impressions are wrong, & I just was missing the good stuff. Sometimes I realize I'm not a fan of a band, but I've done my leg work & can justify with a list of valid reasons why I don't like them or may just like a few hits. Sometimes I still don't get it & just figure fans must be wrong, or just like the band because its their fave or sounds like something they like. I'll even accept the criticism that I'm overly critical of some music, but when there's so much amazing music out there why settle for anything but the best & why call someone the best when they really aren't? If you have a choice between Lil Wayne's guitar playing vs Steve Howe, or Nick Cave's lyrics vs Rok's of Sadistik Exekution (known for singing the word "fukk" over & over & over in every song), I don't think I'm being overly critical by saying music doesn't have to be dumb to rock nor do we have to say Rok is the next Jim Morrison or Lil Wayne the next Joe Satriani. Let's be honest. We're not doing each other any favors by declaring non-sense. So, all that being said, I turn to Fisc's 4th & final album Handle With Care. I've previously reviewed their 3rd album Too Hot For Love. My summary was they were the kings of imitation, to the point where zero personality of their own comes through. They were so much imitation that it just made me sad, particularly as it cast a shadow over anything good they had to offer. I did mention how their frontman had a baritone versus the expected tenor, which helped differentiate them a little. So, I decided to give them another listen coming across this album. They're so bad, I couldn't resist & was I right or wrong? Here the singer taps into more of his higher range & the songs aren't all fast rockers. They are slowed down & stripped back for a more creative output. There is also a great instrumental showing off the bassist & guitarist in "Got To Beat The Clock." I would like to hear more of this one. Overall, this is the better of the two albums & the one I would recommend listening to. By far. But, its still so incredibly imitative outside of a few moments, that it fails in all the same way. It even opens the same with a soft guitar before going into some power chords. Not good & its sets up the album poorly essentially telling the listener that they've heard this before. This album sounds a lot like the Scorpions. There's even the compressed clipped drums on "Let Met Leave" that the Scorpions are known for. The other album was not so Scorpions, so Fisc have shown us they are good imitator. I recommend "Hold Your Head Up" & the instrumental as all you'll need to hear. I realized listening to this but a day after the other album I couldn't remember at all what the earlier album sounded like, which is not a good sign. Bands kept coming to mind who they sound like. Very sad state of affairs. So bland. Its no wonder their time came when it did after nearly a decade in existence. If as far as they got is a lackluster being everyone else with no personality of their own, its shocking they lasted this long. The changed line-ups likely kept things moving. Coming back to the instrumental "Got To Beat The Clock" ... I feel like they could have done a great powerhouse guitar album with only half the songs as vocals & maybe gone farther in their career. This one song has more personality than both albums combined. They've got the skills, no doubt, but just a huge damper on their creativity. Imitation is great, but you have to make it your own. These guys spent too long imitating & for one moment let their creativity fly. Too little too late.

May 23, 2022

Kiss ~ Crazy Nights (album review) ... Not so crazy nights on what might be mistaken for a Paul solo album!

Style: hard rock, heavy metal
Label: Mercury
Year: 1987
Home: New York

Members: Paul Stanley ~ vocals/rhythm guitar/keyboards
Gene Simmons ~ vocals/bass
Eric Carr ~ drums/b. vocals
Bruce Kulick ~ guitars/keyboards/bass/b. vocals

Additional: Phil Ashley ~ keyboards
Adam Mitchell ~ guitar
Tom Kelly ~ b. vocals

Here are my immediate thoughts, from the notes I took as listening to Crazy Nights over multiple spins & days: I don't want keyboards on a Kiss album; this has to have outside songwriters; Kiss has lost their balls; no, Gene, no, no; I'm so sorry, Bruce, you are in this drek; is this a Paul Stanley solo album in disguise with his backing band being Kiss? I shall elaborate a bit, though you are likely either nodding in agreement or say I'm being too harsh. That's what the comment space is for. I read everything & respond. "Here's a little song for everybody out there," Paul states to open the album. That should be a hint that this is not going to be Kiss as we know them & love them & want them, but instead a continuance on their self-destructive path to make music for the masses, but not for their fans, while even then the masses can do better with other big hair bands. Its such diminishing returns for Kiss in the '80's.  They started with a misstep in Unmasked in 1980, yet were musically if not commercially strong with Music From "The Elder", Creatures Of The Night, & Lick It Up, then there is a fast decline to the pits of Hell with Animalize, Asylum & 1987's Crazy Nights. So, 4 out of 7 albums in my book I can't honestly recommend outside of a track here or there. Essentially, there's Kiss in the '70's & then Kiss after Lick It Up. These are different beasts. One should be rejoiced in. The other should be handled cautiously. I imagine a level of Dante's inferno where you are stuck wearing covid-19 masks, its always windy & rainy, & you constantly hear post-Lick It Up Kiss with non-Ace Frehley tracks from Unmasked for quasi-relief. I have elsewhere called late '80's Kiss a neutered Kiss. No balls. No guts. No growl. No beast. Kiss light. If Kiss had been done on the Donny & Marie Osmond show, i.e. wholesome family entertainment. Crazy Nights keeps the trend going. I seriously can't believe Kiss thought this was a good album, or that to continue on the path of playing bland '80's rock was the way to keep going. Not to mention pushing the keyboards high in the mix just makes me ask about their sanity even more. What were they thinking? Keep keyboards in the background, as Kiss is a guitar/bass strong band. End of story. Its thus ironic when Paul sings "Nobody is going to change me / cause that's who I am / these are crazy crazy nights" in "Crazy Crazy Nights", cause change is exactly what this album is about. Changing into something even farther from the Kiss mold. This is thus the most meaningless phrase ever sung by Paul in his dire rush to sound relevant ... rush into a brick wall. How far can you go with this sound? How did Kiss even make it through these years without falling apart? Too big to fail is likely the cause. The only thing I can say good about this album is Paul sings really really well & few songs I thought were catchy. But, you shouldn't describe Kiss as catchy. That's like describing Barry Manilow as headbanging or Nirvana as heavy metal. Speaking of Barry Manilow, is it just me, or does "Crazy Crazy Nights" have a melody line that sounds like a Broadway musical? Only Barry Manilow gets to do Broadway songs in my book. Sorry, Paul.Gene Simmons's "No, No, No" is not one of his strongest moments on record. Actually, he doesn't have any strong moments on this album, to the point where I had to look up if it was really him singing. Yet, I do want to give kudos to Bruce Kulick who goes crazy on this track. The song sounds perfect for the stage with an extended solo & flashing lights. Yet, it would be perfect with different vocals. Stop singing it weakly, Gene, like you're trying to be Barry Manilow. Give this a growl. This album badly needs some growling! Gene's "Thief In The Night" has an interesting riff and lead guitar part, & it sounds like its trying to growl ... but we need a better bass line & less of the backing vocals & a less tinny guitar. This is an interesting song & I mention it because it was recorded by Wendy O. Williams, produced & with bass by Gene, on her 1984 debut solo album WOW. Guests on the album included Paul, Ace, & Eric Carr. Her version will clobber you with throaty vocals, powerful drums that would make Eric blush, & a thick ass guitar. Gene then he did this version. Its amazing how one can turn a dirty ass song into something that might be sung in church. A Mormon Church, no less. Gene, oh, Gene, no, no, no. Just so many no's for Gene on this album. Of note, the lead guitarist on Wendy's version is Michael Race, who played on Creatures Of The Night on 4 songs instead of Ace, including the title track. Ah, but that was back when Kiss kicked ass! This album and others of the era by Kiss, which I remember being promoted when I was young, are the reasons I never got into Kiss as a boy. "Reason To Live" was the big MTV hit. Big as in, I guess, MTV had nothing else to play of value. If I heard this at the time I would have passed on it. I likely did & doing the same in my 40's.

May 16, 2022

Keel ~ The Right To Rock (album review) ... Gene Simmons was behind the wheel of this headbanger!

Style: hard rock, glam metal
Year: 1985
Label: Gold Mountain
Home: Los Angeles, California

Members: Ron Keel ~ lead vocals/guitar
Marc Ferrari, Bryan Jay ~ guitar/b. vocals
Kenny Chaisson ~ bass/b. vocals
Steve Riley ~ drums/b. vocals

There's not enough honest to goodness headbanging albums out there. There's a lot of flashy glam metal albums full of wild solos & melodies. There's a lot of overly dramatic power ballads that kinda rock. But, there's not enough albums that from start to finish that just rock with a groove, with riffs that go right for the groin & have your fist pumping. I mean, headbanging like you do to 'Welcome To The Jungle' or 'Balls To The Walls' or AC/DC, Danzig, 70's Kiss, Motorhead, W.A.S.P.. Keel's The Right To Rock sounds nothing like those bands, though Accept might be close at times, but has the same groin & head banging energy of all of the above. Its something that you feel in your soul & don't have to fake it. You can't help but pound your fist. This is an absolutely great headbanging album from the vocals, to the lyrics, to the guitars. It might be glammy, flashy, have big gang vocals, but also has guts & substance. There's so much energy here. Its like some dynamite was lit & went off under the band's collective asses, & now they are running for their lives & only headbanging rock will save them. Keel's The Right To Rock lives up to its name & I highly recommend it. The producer behind this rock monster is the beast himself, Gene Simmons. He did not play on the album, but co-wrote 3 songs, & would produce the follow-up. Yet, this doesn't sound like Kiss, though it does rock in a big way like them. If anything, Ron Keel's vocals have the same punch & phrasing as the way Gene sometimes sings. "Easier Said Than Done", "So Many Girls, So Little Time", & the W.A.S.P.-esque "Electric Love" could be sung by Gene in Kiss & I doubt anyone would know the difference. The first two are coincidentally co-penned by Gene. The sad irony is this rocks far better than a lot of what Kiss was putting out in the 1980's. Paul Stanley has said at times it felt like he was doing solo albums, as Gene was off producing bands, starting magazines, acting & doing everything but focusing on Kiss. His work here is good. If only he had done this quality work with Kiss their 80's days might be very different. I could totally hear Paul Stanley singing "Get Down", also by Gene. One last thought. Take a listen to this album but skip the third track, "Let's Spend The Night Together." There are many reasons why bands include covers. One reason is to attract attention when things aren't commercially popping. This is the second Keel album, while the first didn't make much of an impact outside of getting Gene's interest, so having a cover might attract listeners. I love the Rolling Stones. They pretty much can do no wrong for me. Keel turns in a good thick guitar version, but its the weakest track on the album by miles. They have dumped the bluesy swagger & the quasi-romantic vibe, neither are in Gene's palette, and just inserted some pumped up guitars. Keith & Brian's original guitars, or even Mick & Ronnie's, are way better. Their guitars weave, but here the boys just drone. There's no swagger. Its something that sounds like a weak covers band at your local bar where they don't actually know the correct chords to play. Skip this one track & this will be an awesome album. Oh well. Its a minor complaint on an otherwise must hear rock outing.

May 9, 2022

Jon Anderson ~ Song Of Seven (album review) ... Jazz rock meets forest dance!

Style: world beat, prog, folk rock
Label: Atlantic
Year: 1980
Home: England

Members: Jon Anderson ~ vocals/acoustic guitar/keyboards/harp
Damian Anderson, Ronnie Leahy ~ keyboards
Ian Bairnson ~ guitar/bass/b. vocals
Clem Clempson ~ guitar
Jack Bruce, Mel ~ bass
John Giblin ~ fretless bass
Simon Phillips, Morris Pert ~ drums
Johnny Dankworth, Dick Morrissey ~ sax
Deborah Anderson, Chris Rainbow ~ b. vocals

I was as big a Yes fan as one could get in high school. Who was my fave guitarist? Steve Howe. Fave keyboardist? Rick Wakeman. Fave drummer? Bill Bruford. Singer ... you see where this is going (i.e. Jon Anderson & any singer who sounded like him). This was a time when the internet was very young. There was no resource to hear every Yes album, nor even a place to get a list of every album. I discovered Yes' legacy by pouring through music store shelves. With each album I pieced together a new player & historical moment the best I could. A part of me misses those days where a new album might be a many month obsession. To place a little more context on the era, I remember when Yes' Talk was released. I heard it on the radio on the way to high school. After work I ran to the music store before coming home to get the cassette, which was more affordable than the CD. Cherished memories, but I must confess ... Today I don't rush out to buy Yes albums. Actually, I don't listen to them much anymore & don't get excited over new releases. They are still iconic prog rock pioneers, but their new music doesn't grab me like they once did. I don't claim any of the members as a favorite musician anymore, either. All the players currently in the group are super talented & the new albums, both studio & live, are pretty good listens on the whole. They may not ring my bells, but I don't say they are a tribute band that should retire, as some long time fans do. If they came to Portland, Maine I might see them. I've reviewed one of Billy Sherwood's solo albums here happily. Yet, what about the new Yes music doesn't grab me? There's a few little things, but one big thing. Essentially, the thing that instantly got my attention with the very first Yes album I ever bought, which was Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe, is the thing that pushes me away now: Jon Anderson's soaring vocals & mystical lyrics. I can't count the hours I have spent memorizing his lyrics & trying to sing like him. I became just as much interested in his solo career as I did Yes. Anything he touched, even with Vangelis though I don't care for that style of music, I wanted to hear. So, when Jon left Yes, so did I. I don't mind the singers that came after him, but they are not the voice of Yes I grew up with & the reason I became a fan on first listen. Sorry, loyalties, you know. My apologies for what is a very long & likely unnecessary introduction to a review of a non-Yes album. I wanted to be clear about my bias. I'm totally biased when it comes to Jon. I would even love to talk to the guy, though I don't know what I would say. When I first heard Song Of Seven, Jon's second solo album, you can imagine from all I've described it was like finding a buried treasure. I spent a lot of time listening to it, having already fallen in love with his debut. Thus, its interesting to come back to it to review decades later, particularly not having heard it in decades & falling out of love with Yes. First, both then & now, its shockingly not Yes, outside of passing moments like a guitar solo in "For You For Me" & some vocal lines in the title track. I'm not sure if Jon was deliberately going for a new musical direction, but Jon solo from day one to the present is not Yes. Lyrically he tends to avoid multi-part songs, & he doesn't create sonic landscapes topographic landscapes with his backing bands to take those lyrics into orbit. He finds a mood &/or style, puts some lyrics into it that are more personal & less abstract than Yes, with the outcome always feeling like a rather simple & modest affair. Considering his later solo work of which I've about half of, I feel that Song Of Seven is where Jon came into being as Jon without Yes. This is where he found his comfort zone & started to explore non-prog directions. This album also debuts his new solo band, the New Life Band, after doing all the instruments himself on his debut. This album lays foundation of so much that would follow in the years to come I feel far more than his debut. I have not reviewed his debut here since it arrived before my cut-off of 1980. With Song Of Seven Jon's vision of what he wants to have his solo career is forming, but its not yet there. Every song here is pretty cool, but there is an uneven musical focus as he is clearly trying to find himself. It would take till the 1990's till I believe he really found his niche, which is not prog or pop rock. The album opens with some songs that might be called jazz-rock. There is the funky cosmic-sounding keyboard-heavy opener "For You, For Me" & the more pop oriented "Some Are Born." From there comes some unexpected R&B with "Don't Forget (Nostalgia)" & danceable "Heart Of The Matter." These two tracks are a complete change of feeling from where the album was but minutes before. Each one of these songs could have spun out an album of their own, but instead we are left wondering where Jon is going next. Its exciting in a chaotic way. Every song is worth a listen, but one wants to hear an album of R&B or maybe more jazz rock. The diversity is like a tease of things not to come here. This diversity is likely due to the fact part of the album was demoed while he was still in Yes recording Tormato. "For You For Me" sounds like a demo for Yes, not too far removed from "Don't Kill The Whale" on Tormato. It even has a Howe-esque lead guitar line that crashes around like waves, courtesy of Clem Clempson of Humble Pie & prog group Colosseum. With the fifth song "Hear It" the album begins to change & fall into a softer more lyrically introspective groove. The keyboards are largely replaced by percussion, flutes & more organic instruments. "Everybody Loves You", "Take Your Time", "Days" & the title track feel more like a cohesive whole of a more new age influenced folk rock album with introspective lyrics, a firm contrast to the first 4 radio friendly songs. This is particularly true over the 11 minutes of the title track that ends on the album on something that might be comparable to modern new age music. Its a bit out of place with its synths going for orchestral sounds over spacey jazz-rock. Only the meandering lead guitar, with a Steve Howe tone, links the two songs as being on the same album. When I was young I like the opening 4 songs far more than the rest of the album. The over the top nature of the songs appealed to youthful me. Though, now in my 40's far from high school prog geek, I actually find everything past those first 4 get my attention far more. The rest of the songs are less glossy & cliched, intricately crafted, introspective & very personal. There is my old age speaking, excuse me. While the R&B of the early tracks is undoubtedly fun, the later half of the album sounds like Jon being Jon & not trying to be anyone else. He is the elf, the spiritual wander, the down-to-earth visionary wandering in the forest. The second half of the album is him speaking his mind crafting something more than just throwaway R&B dance songs, but a musical journey in time & space. He would attempt to find a balance between these 2 sides of his personality in the follow-up albums, with mixed results. His debut didn't have much of this down to earth feel, going for more of a heavy prog experience that always reminded me of keyboardist bandmate Patrick Moraz's early solo albums. Here he really tries to connect with nature & spirituality, almost like he was trying to discover something about himself at this point in time. We are on a journey with him, so this is not really just another album. Its a quite a journey, that is absolutely worth hearing & one of his best earlier solo albums, but be prepared to go all over the place & not necessarily find home. Its been a wonderful ride revisiting this album after so many years.

May 2, 2022

Haymaker ~ We Apologize To Nobody (album review) ... European Skinhead Oi for the modern world with great working man lyrics!

Style: oi, metal, skinhead
Label: The Firm Records, Skin Collector, KB Records, Tough Times Music (depending on region)
Year: 2018
Home: Prague, Czech Republic

Members: Tim Steinfort ~ guitar/vocals

Stöbi ~ drums/b. vocals
Rick Groenewegen ~ bass

Prague's Haymaker was formed in 2016 by Dutch singer/guitarist Tim Steinfort, also of the oi! band Discharger & the folk band Tim Steinfort & the First Time Offenders, to carry forth the skinhead banner to a new crowd. This is their first full length album, which I found on youtube. My first response is how much the music sounds like Motorhead. Over these ten songs the instruments growl & churn venomously pushing one's ears forward, while Tim also has Lemmy's throaty rasp. Haymaker - who promote themselves as "Skinhead Rock'n'roll Prague" & have the bald heads, fearless lyrics, & boots & braces to prove it - could find a second career as a Motorhead cover band. But, aside from who they sound like, there's a lot more here worth listening to. Skinhead music came out of & was reflective of the 1970's punk scene, but times have changed, & now the instruments are played far better, the musical textures are more interesting, while the music often is much more metal than punk. Its still as aggressive as ever, but has expanded its musical sights. Haymaker is a testament to how far the music has come from just being angry young man music with some churning guitars & screaming frontmen. A message is important (if the band is one that has a message they are looking to share, i.e. something other than boy meets girl lyrics), but so is the foundation on which the message is placed. I've encountered bands that have had their message not go far as the music wasn't appealing or well made. If your ears want the skinhead message, but also some great music, than Haymaker is a band I recommend checking out. It should be noted the album closes on an acoustic version of "Hold On To Your Dreams." One might find this shocking for such angry music, but the iconic Skrewdriver used to do acoustic shows. This just shows the range of Haymaker. Not just do they have interesting grooves, but are willing to do something really out of the metal box. Any mainstream metal band might do this, & thus a skinhead metal band shouldn't be an exception. I've been holding off talking about the message, which is the most important, & most controversial, part of any skinhead album. "No one likes us / we don't care" is an early line from the anthem-like "Underdogs", that opens the album with a call to arms. Haymaker are literal musical & cultural underdogs with the boots, braces, shaved heads, beer, hard partying & are ready to fight ... & just don't care what anyone thinks. If you are like them, join the team. The guitar & bass roll with a vengeance, as "underdogs will go to war / like nothing ever seen before." Its unabashed pride of identity that sets the mood for the album. We fight. We party. Now, be prepared. I bet these guys are great in concert. My only complaint with this album is sometimes the lyrics by so fast in his gruff voice that I couldn't get them all, & was unable to find the lyrics online. Though, it is all such a bulldozer of energy, so where deciphering was harder, the energy was hot as a torch & made up for it. What lyrics I did get, they range from narrative stories of running from the police (i.e. "Boys In Blue"), to comically being sadly too drunk to be in a fight but not realizing it ("Too Drunk To Fight"), to poseurs who dress like skinheads but don't understand the lifestyle ("Hang Up Your Boots"), to forgetting childhood dreams ("Hold On To Your Dreams"), to other songs that are just begging for a sing-a-long from those who identify with & defend the skinhead lifestyle ("Underdogs", "No Social Life", "Skinhead Rock 'N' Roll", "We Want To Apologize" with the great chorus "We want to apology to nobody / absolutely nobody / & if we do, we die"). "Only A Sinner Becomes A Winner", with its opening acoustic guitar deceptively feels like a pop song rolling out in the midst of a metal onslaught with its low key droning guitar melody, but might be a highlight of the album due to its inspiring lyrics. "... You got shit / don't mean you got to take it ... Sometimes you have to lie / because the truth is disappointing / so you fake it. / What a man's got to do what a man's got to do / are the words he's supposed to live / if he wants to make it. ... It takes awhile to understand / the kindness of mankind / is over-rated. ... We cross the line / so many times / as everybody knows / only a sinner / becomes a winner." I love the 'you do it cause you gotta do it, but don't let it get you down' spirit of the lyrics. This album is full of some great lyrics, but one needs special mention. Special as in I was listening to it on repeat, & even found an acoustic solo version by Tim which I was sharing on facebook. "Freedom" is haunting & dark as it sings about breaking from the routine of a 9 to 5 life to find that freedom that "people talk about", while the bass churns underneath in that Motorhead fashion. "Freedom" deserves extensive quoting, as I just love these words & the message. I'll let leave them here, letting you to interpret them how you wish. If you disagree with the message, the song is probably about you! "You have the choice to rent or buy / But they made the prices extremely high / So now you need to work 8 hours a day / To cover for the bills which you have to pay / ... Freedom is there for those who are rich / but if you're not you're society's bitch ... Some people put there trust & hope in politicians / Who hunger for power & look for recognition / Egos go high talents go low / It's time to face what we already know ... (chorus) The companies own your primary needs / If you lose your job you'll be out on the streets / People talking about freedom / People talking about bullshit they know nothing about."

April 25, 2022

Europe ~ Last Look At Eden (album review) ... Michael Sweet comes strangely to mind!

Style: hard rock, AOR, blues rock

Label: Universal
Year: 2009
Home: Sweden

Members: Joey Tempest ~ vocals

John Norum ~ guitar
John Leven ~ bass
Mic Michaeli ~ keyboards/b. vocals
Ian Haugland ~ drums/b. vocals

Additional: Andreas Carlsson, Titiyo ~ b. vocals

Kleerup ~ b. vocals/backwards piano outro
Magnus Sjolander ~ percussion
Czech National Symphony Orchestra

I reviewed The Final Countdown by Europe, their biggest commercial album & the one everybody knows due to the title track. I'd never heard anything other than the title track, so I was looking forward to hearing the album. I was paintfully disappointed. All the things I loved in the title track where missing from the rest of the album. My biggest criticism of the album was: "After its done playing I can't really remember what I've heard. Its not because I'm busy or not paying attention, but because none of the songs jump out at me. They all blend into each other as one long thing." I've found, more times than not, that there's a lot of bands from the '80's whose albums I don't care for so much. Yet, I like them now because their post-80's albums are awesome. Essentially, a lot of bands are making better music today. They don't have the hits coming, but they also don't have the label pressure to conform to a scene, while the scene they were a part of doesn't exist. Being there's no scene & no pressure, I've heard so many bands really make what I consider to be some of the best albums of their career. They have no limits put on them other than to make great music. Nobody is expecting anything of them. Plus they've grown as musicians, while many '80's singers have stopped doing the cliched tenor screaming & have more interesting baritones. I'd rather hear a gruff baritone than someone who can hit every note on the right half of the piano. So, I wondered if Europe might be in this boat? Answer: yes! This 2009 album, which was just a random youtube choice, hits me with the first track so much faster than anything on The Final Countdown outside the title track. The opening track, the title track "Last Look At Eden", is largely better than all of The Final Countdown! "Last Look At Eden" fuses heavy metal riffs with orchestral parts courtesy of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, versus synthesized strings. Joey's voice is a little rougher, but has more of a personality, plus feels fuller & more rounded. It has so much more feeling now that he's not screaming like his '80's peers. His older voice gives the music a blues feel never heard on the earlier album. While the guitar playing & rhythm section is just in your face fierce with lots of textures. I can't honestly say the title track is the most original song on the planet. I'm reminded a lot of contemporary Michael Sweet. Its good just the same, though, & worth a listen. As for the rest of the album, am I going to be let down again like I was on The Final Countdown? No, I'm not. This is a good strong album from start to finish. Lots of great music to dig into, great singing & it will have you rocking, with not a hint of filler. I almost feel bad comparing it to their earlier album, as its a completely different beast musically. For me that tried to rock, but this really does. I think its the fact the band is loose & experimenting here in a way they didn't before in their drive to be in the '80's template & find success in America. I'll hold up any of these songs to the entire album of The Final Countdown. Yet, two albums in to their catalog & I couldn't tell you what the Europe sound is to save my life. AOR? Hard rock? Power ballads? Big guitars? Blues rock? I hear nothing that connects these two albums. I lack words to describe what makes Europe different or unique when compared to other bands. Its bluesy AOR hard rock that is really well crafted, but a lot of bands do this now & at the time. I'm not going to call them groundbreaking. The songs are way stronger & more enjoyable here than the earlier album, & I'm more excited about the diversity of music, but I wish there was more personality & distinctiveness. This means if I turn to a third album I have no idea what I'm going to get. I should mention both albums have the same line-up, but you wouldn't necessarily know it. I do applaud them going out of the box with heavy keyboards in the past & with an orchestra now. I wished they did it more previously, that is more focus on the keyboards, while here I'd love to hear more of the orchestra beyond just a backing role that feels like the equivalent of a forgotten keyboardist. The band has described this album as a modern retro rock album. I disagree. I don't get a retro feeling. I get a blues rock feeling if anything. I've said in other reviews that bands like to say this, much like they like saying they are inspired by the Beatles. Its more often than not just empty words. This is no exception. They are marketing their album with attractive words. Nothing wrong with that, but don't expect the marketing to be true in this case. This is a modern rock beast with all the flavor of more mature modern metal with lots of polish & perfection. Though, I kept wondering if Michael Sweet was involved as it reminds me a lot of what he's doing. Far too much, actually. Allmusic compares this album with Led Zeppelin & Whitesnake. I completely disagree having hard all of those bands. I'm sticking to Michael Sweet. Having overblown songs named "Run With The Angels", "The Beast", "No Stone Unturned", "Gonna Get Ready" & "Last Look At Eden" is also in the corner of my argument.

April 18, 2022

Judas Priest ~ Firepower (album review) ... One of their best!

Style: speed metal, heavy metal, NWOBHM
Label: Epic
Year: 2018
Home: Britain

Members: Rob Halford ~ vocals
Glenn Tipton, Richie Faulkner ~ guitars
Ian Hill ~ bass
Scott Travis ~ drums


Fans & critics have called this album a return to a classic sound & even one of their best. I will say that as the first track, the title track, churned along I had to double check I was listening to the right album. This does indeed sound like something they might have done decades ago. The populous is right! It wastes no time in getting to a clobbering guitar riff, Rob's rhythmic singing with growls & cosmic highs, fist pumping lyrics, & a dual guitar solo that quite literally soars multiple times. Its everything you want from Judas Priest. What follows is more of the same for a superb modern album. Its a wonderful menacing assault over 14 tracks. Yet, laying alongside songs with a classic feel (i.e. "Evil Never Dies", "Flame Thrower", "Necromancer", "No Surrender") are also songs that have the epic flavor of some of their more recent albums (i.e. "Lone Wolf", "Lightning Strike", "Children Of The Sun"), while there is also some slowed down songs, or as slow as Priest gets (i.e. "Never The Heroes", "Spectre", "Traitors Gate"). There is even an emotive minute long piano & guitar interlude called "Guardians" leading into the power ballad "Rising From Ruins". Too many transitional parts like this slowed down some of their recent epic albums, but in this context "Guardians" provides a nice moment before going into the very un-Priest sounding ballad. While the album closes with the largely acoustic power ballad "Sea Of Red", which is a nice song though after such a strong album almost an unnecessary lull. It should also be mentioned that the album has throwaway rock songs, yet also songs laced with social awareness of the current world. The whole album rocks so hard that the two sides of the lyrical coin sit comfortably beside each other. If the whole album was empty rock cliches it might be boring, but if it was all message songs it might be too heavy. Together they balance each other out, something a lot of bands might want to take notice of. Your listeners hear the message, but also they want some fun in the mix. Thus, Firepower straddles both the past & the present in a way many bands say they do, but most really don't. There is a bit of the past here, yet nods to their contemporary musical explorations. Its amazing how they sound so fresh & vibrant going on 18 studio studios. This will find a place as a new favorite Priest album in your collection.

April 11, 2022

Vinnie Vincent Invasion ~ All Systems Go (album review) ... Guitar solos that would make Steve Vai blush!

Style: hard rock, heavy metal
Label: Capitol
Year: 1988
Home: n/a

Members: Mark Slaughter ~ vocals

Vinnie Vincent ~ guitar/b. vocals
Dana Strum ~ bass/b. vocals
Bobby Rock ~ drums

Additional: Jeff Scott Soto ~ b. vocals

Before Mark Slaughter fronted Slaughter, he fronted the Vinnie Vincent Invasion. I didn't know that before hearing this album & researching it. The guy has a super set of pipes & shows a bit of range on the album with 3 distinct voices. That really impressed me. Yet, for every moment I was impressed by him I was also turned off. At times his vocal phrase phrasing & use of echo, or chorus, makes him far too much of a Robert Plant imitator for my tastes. Other times his vocals were distracting or just plain annoying. I wanted him to reign it in more often than not, while other times I loved hearing the variety & wanted more of it. On the other hand, I might be laying blame at Slaughter's feet when the problem is really iffy songs that he was just trying not to be embarrassed by. Let me be clear. The songs are iffy. That doesn't mean they're bad. They're iffy for one huge reason: they are badly imitative. On multiple occasions I thought I was hearing a Jimmy Page riff. I do not listen to a solo album by the former guitarist of Kiss to hear Led Zeppelin. Need I say more? I'm 100% sure the riff on the opener "Ashes To Ashes" is pretty close to a famed Zep riff. Slaughter's singing "Baby, baby, yeah" with vocal effects just drives it into the Led Zeppelin imitation territory far too much for my tastes. "Heavy Pettin'" also sounds like a riff I've heard by Zep, & I almost found myself singing the other more famous song. This is not a good sign. The ethereal acoustic guitar part of "Ashes To Ashes" might be Zep, but I do have to give Vinnie kudos for nailing it perfectly. But, still, he's nailing a sound another band is known for. Though, its not all Zep Mach II. "Dirty Rhythm" reminded me of AC/DC, & the opening guitar part of "Love Kills" has an all too heavy '70's prog flavor. Essentially, who is Vinnie Vincent? A Jimmy Page imitator? I think not. I really like Vinnie's work with Kiss. I felt he was a good choice for their changing sound. Even when the songs were iffy, Vinnie shined through with great wild riffs. Thus, the few parts of All Systems Go that I enjoyed were the moments when Vinnie stopped being someone else & was himself. "Let Freedom Rock" & "Burn" had backing vocals that dominated in a bad way, but Vinnie makes up for it with some quirky almost violent guitar playing that would make Steve Vai blush. I love Vai, so that's a huge compliment. This is what I want to hear. "Ashes To Ashes", when not being imitative, has a guitar solo that is insane. It goes through about 8 distinct styles &/or sounds &/or techniques, including sounding like a violin, that might be found on a Spinal Tap album. I just wish it hadn't taken 3 minutes to get to that point playing riffs by another band. I would recommend this album to guitar fans & anyone who likes Mark Slaughter. It has weak parts, but the sheer force of the players is worth hearing. For anyone else, you might or might not like it. For me, I've heard enough wannabe Zep bands, not to mention writing the biography of a Zep tribute band singer, so I've had my Zep quota. One last note. I never ever need to hear ever again another musician doing an instrumental version of the "Star Spangled Banner". I don't care if you're Hendrix or Chris Squire. Its cool when singers do it, usually, as its a vocal challenge or a vocal embarrassment, but on a guitar or bass its not exactly anything that can't be done. Holding a note on a guitar is not impressive. Jumping an octave or whatever to the next note is also not impressive. Please stop, please.

March 28, 2022

AC/DC ~ Rock Or Bust (album review) ... Stripped down house rockin'!

Style: heavy metal, blues-rock
Label: Columbia
Year: 2014
Home: Australia

Members: Angus Young ~ lead guitar

Brian Johnson ~ lead vocals
Stevie Young ~ rhythm guitar/b. vocals
Cliff Williams ~ bass/b. vocals
Phil Rudd ~ drums

The title track opens the album with a simple guitar riff lasting a couple bars. Its nothing crazy, or interesting like "Thunderstuck" or "Hell's Bells." Just a basic groove soon joined by bass, drums, vocals. Lead guitar lines are thrown in sparsely until a frantic solo closes the song at 3 minutes. Its stripped back & bare bones. Its AC/DC like you haven't heard in years. Being a lean blues-rock machine is the name of the game here. Its their shortest album of 35 minutes, but its a solid 35 minutes that holds up as well as any other album. This is their 15th album, yet somehow take the very basic blues-rock template which they've done without variation & make it feel fresh. They strip it down, simplify it & had me hooked from start to finish. There's a lot of breathing room on the album. Its hard to really describe, other than saying its the opposite of the commercial The Razor's Edge. That's my fave album, but sounds so slick & stuffed compared to this. Check out the gritty blues of "Hard Times" & the bluesy swagger of "Got Some Rock'n'Roll Thunder." I can't remember them have such bluesy grit in awhile, just pure traditional blues. I have to mention "Rock The Blues Away" which sounded like AC/DC does country music a la Kansas. Not what I was expecting. Since originally drafting this a month ago I've come back to this album to listen again & recommended it to a few. I'm pretty much calling it my second fave album & its a must hear. I'd even recommend this over Power Up!.

March 21, 2022

Accept ~ Restless & Wild (album review) ... Thrash before thrash!

Style: heavy metal, speed metal
Label: Portrait
Year: 1982
Home: Germany

Members: Udo Dirkschneider ~ vocals
Wolf Hoffmann ~ guitars
Peter Baltes ~ bass
Stefan Kaufmann ~ drums

Balls To The Wall
is the most commercially successful Accept album. Yet, their fourth album, Restless & Wild, that came just before had already made waves in the metal community & holds classic status among many. Restless & Wild might be called the lesser known wilder younger brother, that is forgotten only due to timing & not charting in the U.S.. It is an in-your-face wild messy ride along the lines of Judas Priest, Motorhead & NWOBHM bands. Brutal power metal that might be considered proto-thrash. Part of this lays in the face melting opener "Fast As A Shark" which features some of the first speed metal double bass drumming. Also of note, there was a change in membership with guitarists. All the guitars on the album were by Wolf Hoffman, though a second guitarist was credited on the album. Wolf needs credit for crafting a great album churning out excellent rhythms & leads. The guitars just growl & drool with thick distortion, while Udo screams like Rob Halford. I do feel like the emphasis here is more on the guitars, whereas the vocals took a bit stronger role on the next album. While Balls To The Wall has a different guitar approach that relied more on the dual guitar sound, whereas this feel often more like rhythm with lead over it. Both albums are 2 sides of the same coin & show a band musically in their prime just before commercial success took things to a new level. Personally, I prefer the later album, as I like my metal a bit slower & melodic, but if you like heavy, fist pumping, headbanging music that will keep your air guitars rockin' for hours, than absolutely do not overlook this forgotten classic. "Neon Nights" has an interesting guitar opening that fuses an acoustic guitar with a guitar with its speed manipulated a couple times. It introduces a mystical power ballad. Usually I don't say such things, but its not needed. The song is strong & the flow of the album is interrupted by this instrumental moment, not accentuated by it. This is the only thing I'd dump on the album, or put it after all the songs as an instrumental coda as its kinda cool. I like the fact the band has power ballads more the flavor of Dio than Bon Jovi. Songs that might be sung by vikings, over syrupy love ballads that the '80's would overflow with to its detriment.

March 14, 2022

Brad Kleiman ~ Melodies & Words (hits comp) (album review) ... Quirky pop lyrics!

Style: pop rock, folk rock
Label: self-released
Year: 2016
Home: New Jersey

Members: Brad Kleiman ~ vocals/guitar/bass/keyboard/drums
Tom Doud ~ drums

This comp brings together many of Brad's solo songs between 2007 to 2015, many released as singles & including all 3 songs from the E.P. EP, which  I've previously reviewed. This is really a great place to get an introduction to his music. As a listener I feel this album has two sides in acoustic folksy rock & electric radio friendly pop rock. Though, that may only just be my interpretation. Starting with the folksy acoustic coffeehouse stuff ... "Modern-Day Classic" is from the E.P., which I previously described as reminding me of Lou Reed, but not so dismal & tormented. Or, to put it another way, it has that slightly brash New York/New Jersey underground style of singer/songwriter, versus something softer like Joni Mitchell. Brad's lyrics are witty & I like the ambiguity that on first listen you may not catch. It starts as a very nice romantic song laying out what is going to be a nice evening ... then the chorus says: "Don't get too comfortable / Don't get too content / Anything is possible / Can't rule out any event." Is this evening going good or bad? After listening for the past review & now again, I still don't know! I love not knowing! "Litter", also from E.P., has a lazy feeling with one of my favorite verses of Brad's: "Took to writing letters / You, know, the litter on your floor / Didn't feel much better / so I wrote some more." Haven't we all done that? I'm sure I have. One complaint I made in my review of the E.P. is none of the songs were long enough for me. I wanted to hear more lyrics. Seeing how the average length of the 10 songs on Melodies & Words are under 2:30 long, I still feel this way. Brad has some good lyrics, but I want to hear them fleshed out more. I've actually complained about some albums on this blog where I wish they were instrumental as the lyrics were distracting & bad. This is the opposite & thus might be a backhanded compliment. Essentially, its good stuff, but I'm still hungry! They say to always leave listeners wanting more! Brad's songs feature an array of characters, but the songs are so brief I don't get much personality. Who is this person you're writing letters to? Who is this woman whose night is before her? Or, who is the guy? What is the story here? I feel that sometimes he finds a witty lyric & leaves it there like a one liner by a stand-up comic. Yet, the songs to me are little stories wanting to be told beyond just the joke. To me he comes across as a storyteller with a guitar, not a comic with a musical background. I'd love to see longer songs that are more story-like where the witty lyrics help tell the story, versus the wit being the focus of the lyrics. The guy knows how to craft fun lyrics, but to quote my high school English teacher Steven Dolmatz, who was also a published poet & folk singer/songwriter, "flesh it out." I used to write that in the margins of papers before I turned them in, as I knew he would say it & I knew I should have done it. I speak from experience as someone who would find something good & then stop out of fear or insecurity of taking it to the next level. What I realized was where I could go was actually more interesting than the point I landed on & thought was awesome. Let the ideas flow, go crazy, then cut them back to workable size. Try it & see what happens. The worst that can happen is you write a bunch that doesn't work & are too long, but when you cut them back you actually create a couple songs out them instead of one. Continuing on from this English lesson, "Shoeprints" paints a very vivid picture of a sexy woman, from her arid wit, to her rapid comebacks, & "She's slender & tight in her jeans", while also talking of her eyes, lips, volcanic hair, & her meaningful walk. You'll drool in lust from his lyrics. You won't need xtube after this song. Yet, returning to my comments on wanting longer songs, what happens next? Essentially, "Her stare makes me panic / though the same pertains to most / When she wears a dark face / I leave open a space / a place to thaw out her ghosts." The song is the lament of a voyeur. It hurts because its not what you want to happen. Brad reminds of me Jack Kerouac, who takes in every detail but doesn't necessarily end up with what he wants & is often nothing more than a voyeur. Jack was the king of voyeurs. I would like to know what happens next in the story of the sexiest woman in song. "Crashpad" follows the same theme of loss with "Miss you badly / Couldn't hold you if I had you / drop-out melody girl" as the song sings of a past Xmas. The song comes out of a found photograph, which is a great writing device I've used myself, but then it throws in the descriptor "drop-out melody girl." She was a drop-out? Why does that matter? What does "melody girl" mean? This is an example of why I'd love longer songs. There's a story here that obviously is begging to be told about this melody girl. Being a drop-out is obviously something important, since its used as the descriptive term, versus describing her hair or personality. Moving on the to the electric pop rock side of the album. On my initial listening of the lyrics, singing & guitars, "Expectations" immediately reminded me of an Ace penned Kiss song. I'm a huge Kiss fan, & Ace's songs are highlights, so this is a big compliment. He has a wonderful quirky style both in lyrics & music, so to find the feeling in someone else is really a huge compliment. The only thing missing is a wild obtuse guitar solo, so this is like a subdued Ace or a demo version looking for Gene's approval. What makes this Ace-like is how the lead electric lines weave between providing melody & providing a solo to counter the singing, yet isn't distracting, while the strummed rhythm guitar is lower in the mix. Its a great balance of the parts. "Mousy Girl" is a fun song that feels ready for radio. The upbeat music disguises the somberness of the lyrics of a man watching a woman fade away & he can't go after her. Another voyeur moment! This is actually one of my favorite songs on the album, as I like the juxtaposition of the mood of the music versus the mood of the lyrics. "Tricky Grey Sky" is a heavily layered song where the music is like a solid wave of sound. Such a difference from the acoustic songs. "5 in the morning / The sky says it's night / I find it comforting / when it's day but not quite ... Tricky grey sky / threatening to storm / Will the dark clouds lie / like they've lied before?" I think the most commercial song is "The Letdown" with its repeating phrase "I know you're gonna leave me hanging" that is then followed by different things such as "like a wrecking ball from a crane" or "I know you're gonna let me down". Its where the simplicity of his lyrics work without needing more, since there's nothing here that is too specific. This song is a lyrical highlight, though it goes against my earlier argument of getting more specific. I'll confess there's always an exception to the rule! If anything it shows Brad's different approach to writing lyrics over the years & that he's regularly trying new things. I described the sound of "Hostage" in my review of E.P. as reminding me of George Harrison due to the vocals, but on later listening I'm more reminded of Robyn Hitchcock. Its a quirky song that sings about being the hostage of someone you love. I like the weaving of the electric guitar here. This is also true for the keyboard heavy "The Whole Platoon" where the lead guitar comes in & out creating a great effect. Its a track that comes out of nowhere in this collection, but is the most musically interesting. This is my other favorite song, even though during the Robert Quine-esque solo I kept humming Lou Reed's "Waltzing Matlida" as Brad is tapping into that Lou spirit again. This is also Brad's most poetic piece where he just lets the words roll. "Descend the depths of your dungeon / Climb to the crest of your cloud / Unharness the hounds for your hunting / Swim laps 'round your lake unallowed ... Love must be like death to you / Until you find it, seems untrue."

March 7, 2022

Cinderella - Heartbreak Station (album review) ... If Axl Rose fronted the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith!

Style: blues-rock, hard rock
Label: Mercury
Year: 1990
Home: Pennsylvania

Members: Tom Keifer ~ vocals/guitars/mandolin/piano/lap steel guitar/mandocello/dobro
Jeff LaBar ~ guitars
Eric Brittingham ~ bass
Fred Coury ~ drums/b. vocals

Additional: Bashiri Johnson ~ percussion
Jay Davidson ~ saxophone/piano
Rod Roddy ~ clavinet/piano
Dennis Ruello ~ baritone saxophone
Andrew Love ~ saxophone
Wayne Jackson ~ trumpet
Jay Levin ~ pedal steel guitar
Ken Hensley ~ organ
Brian O'Neal ~ piano/organ
Rick Criniti ~ keyboards
John Avarese, Roy McDonald ~ synthesizer programming
Elaine Foster, Sharon Foster, Tara Pellerin, Brenda King, Carla Benson, Curtis King, Evette Benton, Tawatha Agee, Eric Troyer ~ b. vocals

Some have called Cinderella's third album Heartbreak Station an improvement over what came before, others have totally dissed it. I didn't like their glam-laced debut & dismissed them without hesitance. When I heard their second album Long Cold Winter I suddenly reversed my opinion ... sort of. The second album saw them move from glam to blues-rock. I found the change a huge improvement. I didn't like their debut any better, but the second one made me interested & wanting to hear more. I did a review of Long Cold Winter & compared them to Tesla, '70's Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, & a less melodic & memorable wannabe Aerosmith. That's not a bad thing, & better than the glam, but I had problems with the album. I wrote: "Its so great hearing a band really doing something different, really breaking the mold, really having a unique personality that draws from some different sources. Yet, Cinderella falters, making this not the great album it could be, but just a really good blues-rock album. ... Too many songs never seem to take off. ... Its like the band was hesitate to experiment too much & stray too far from home." I further stated: "Tom's singing on "If You Don't Like It" would make Stephen Tyler proud, but the music doesn't rise to the same level of excitement, so he's pulling a dead horse. Thus, Tom sounds like a man singing for his life on the verge of drowning. Don't believe me? Hum some of the guitar parts of the album. Not the vocals melodies, but the guitar melodies. Doubt you can, or you won't get far. You won't find many of them & they won't stick with you. Its just a wall of chords weighing down the album." Essentially, I loved what I heard, but saw so much potential that was not developed. I saw what could be an awesome blues-rock band. Though, honestly, I think I loved the album more for what it could be, than what it was. So, coming to their third album I wonder if they went where I wanted them to: did they feel they didn't go far enough & in turn rip out an awesome blues rock album, no holds bar; or did they play it safe yet again; or did they regroup to glam in fear; or did they lean more into the Aerosmith/Stones/AC/DC rock end of blues, versus going where I hoped by jettisoning the rock? As for the verdict: Well, its okay ... not what I was expecting, but on the bright side it could have been worse. & I misjudged the band. I gave them too much creativity credit when I thought they might go to some great musical places. Not really. This album still has a repressed feeling on it, where they try for some musical height & then give up, just like they did on Long Cold Winter. On the other hand, I might have misjudged them by thinking they had a desire to be something other than a cock rock band. If I had a third hand, I might just say I'm disappointed overall & can sadly understand why their career wasn't bigger.  The album can best be described as a blues personality crisis. They do dig into the blues, but never with any conviction & focus, & eventually just jettison the idea when called upon to go beyond the surface of the style. On paper this album should be better than Long Cold Winter but they both kinda fail under their own ambitions. Heartbreak Station opens things up with a solo electric slide guitar that lets everyone know its time for some real down home blues with a rock edge, followed by a drum beat & scream. Yet, the song lets itself down, as take away the slide guitar & its a rather straight forward pedestrian rock song of a classic rock feel. This the blues doesn't anchor the song, but just become a gimmick to give it some personality. There's some horns tucked in the mix, but they don't do much. Its very disappointing. The acoustic slide solo doesn't even save it, as by then the gimmick is apparent. All the while Tom Keifer is doing his best Axl Rose. Its a pretty good imitation, but the result sounds like as if Axl fronted early Aerosmith. I feel like this is the G N'R/Aerosmith version of Dread Zeppelin, but without the humor. The fact that this song is named "The More Things Change" with the chorus of "The more things change / the more they stay the same" oozes unintentional. From there we go into the Aerosmith world of blues-rock even more with "Love's Got Me Doin' Time". Even with the horn section & wah-wah guitar it ends up sounding far too imitative for its own good. I wanted down home gutsy blues, but this still is firmly in the world of heavily polished unemotional big blues-rocks riffs over a bland rock song, with some sad, cliched & shallow lyrics. It really feels like the band doesn't have good songwriters & thinks that by throwing some horns & different guitar effects in then they've achieved something that could be called the blues. While if they imitate the music they grew up with then they'll be called original. I give them credit for sounding more like Aerosmith than any band at the time, given Aerosmith had moved past this sound at this time, but its not what I was looking for. Plus, Aerosmith did it better. From there the album moves between different styles of blues until they run out & just fall back to boring rock songs with sad rock lyrics. Its like they don't know what type of blues they want to play & will just do them all in the hope somebody likes something. It doesn't help that they have nothing to say & the lyrics are more rock than blues. While they also never do much original. Instead of aiming for a strong blues album they basically just go for imitating their heroes. "Shelter Me" is straight up acoustic blues, or acoustic blues with a bit of a kick, but is essentially the Rolling Stones with Axl Rose, horn line & female backing vocalists included. "Sick For The Cure" is more of this. The title track goes for acoustic with synthesizers imitating an orchestra for the power ballad approach to the blues. The only good thing is that Tom sings in a nice baritone versus his Blackie Lawless meets Axl Rose meets too many cigarettes with no range approach. "One For Rock & Roll" sticks to some acoustic country folk with a sad slide guitar, having not ticked that blues style off the list yet. I was waiting for a washboard to kick in during the song. There's other songs on the album, but they pretty much just sound like throwaway songs either full of blues gimmicks or just trying another blues style on for size. Kids in adult clothing is the result. The irony was that if Axl had released this instead of Chinese Democracy we would have loved it. Or, if Aerosmith & the Stones had returned to this classic sound we'd love them. The later sorta did on The Bigger Bang. For Cinderella, kudos for dumping their glam roots, but they really need to find themselves. They also need a stronger vision, more commitment to the music, something to say & better songwriters. I opened this review saying some critics hate this album, including saying its bland & non-distinct. After Long Cold Winter I couldn't understand what they meant. Now, listening to Heartbreak Station, I consider these critics more right than others. Sadly.