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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May 29, 2023

Metallica ~ Master Of Puppets (album review) ... Bow down to the master!

Style: heavy metal
 Year: 1986
Home: California

Members: James Hetfield ~ vocals/guitars
Kirk Hammett ~ lead guitar

Cliff Burton ~ bass/b. vocals
Lars Ulrich ~ drums

Today it seems like we either make fun of Metallica or dismiss them, or at least those of us older fans who remember when "Enter Sandman" could be heard playing on the radio nearly daily. We likely do both things, with a bit of sadness, as we remember when Metallica was a beast to behold & the greatest metal band on earth. We remember when their albums were the litmus test of true raging metal. We also remember when they didn't publicize their therapy sessions or shit on fans for downloading, or cut their hair short & put on make-up. At one point in time there were bands that were faster, louder, crazier, more proggy, better songwriters, better singers, but somehow Metallica put all the pieces together so it was just perfect. Even when they slipped, the fall was a short one. They made metal that slammed into your head as an ear worm every time you heard it, without fail, not to mention metal that even non-metal heads connected with. Everyone I knew growing up was a Metallica fan & I knew few metal fans at the time. Perhaps it was the era when hair metal Bon Jovi wannabes & angry young man grunge were dominating & folks desperately, & sometimes secretly, wanted an alternative. Perhaps Metallica just had a good promotion campaign with big label support. Perhaps they sold their souls to the devil to ensure the stars lined up in their favor. Its hard to precisely say, other than at one point in time Metallica were 5 gods (Cliff Burton RIP) whose position in the metal hierarchy was not up for debate. Love them or leave ... that is, you leave, not them. Their riffs & albums were were instant classics every metal fan needed to hear as a right of passage. I remember when "One" was on MTV. It was fierce & haunting to my young ears, almost frightening. It was something I wanted to hear, but not with my mother in the room. Yet, before that was Master Of Puppets, which  I didn't know until after hearing "One". On delivery this was enshrined as a classic. In the decades since it might have moved up or down the ladder, but it still gets on every list of classic metal albums. If you don't believe me, I'll tell you about the time I saw a Dragonforce concert in Manhattan, back when ZP was still singing with them. Maybe 1000 of us at the intimate standing only venue. It was before showtime & the obligatory background music was playing. "Master Of Puppets" came on. When it hit the chorus I realized this was a different version than I knew. Then I started looking around. I was standing not far from the stage. I suddenly realized this was the same version, but the audience of young men & women were actually singing along. Imagine a room of folks all in their own worlds, drinking, on their phones, talking to each other, lost in their own thoughts, but all on cue sing "Master, master of puppets...". I've never seen such happen in any other concert I've been to. That says something about the legacy of this song. If Master Of Puppets had been the finale album by Metallica I believe their legacy would be secure. Yet, listening again while writing this review, even having praised the album, does it hit my 40-something ears like it did my teenage ears, or my 30-something ears when I heard it sang in concert? Is it as good as I remember? I think it is. I might be a bit more critical now, but I still think its a must hear for every metal fan. What I loved & still love about this album is the distortion isn't so much you don't hear notes ring out. I really don't like the over-driven side of metal. The lyrics are fierce, but not growled & is some of James Hetfield's best & most raw singing. I wish he still sang like this, but we all fall into bad habits with time & put more focus into other aspects of our craft. The solos are technical moments up there with Eddie Van Halen, but don't dominate or take-over the song as the only thing the songs have going for them. While there's no real filler on this album. There's some obvious singles, but the other songs are great moody moments. While there's nothing slick in the sound, a problem with too many of their peers & would be a criticism of the entire hair metal movement. I'd actually forgotten how good a non-live version of "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" is, let alone how different it is from the other songs. This is not a one note album. Master Of Puppets very well might be Metallica's greatest moment, even better the self-titled, Black Album, coming a few years later. Is it the greatest metal album? No, I don't think so. I don't know what is, but this is up there as one of the greatest alongside albums by Megadeth & Black Sabbath. It doesn't have to be the greatest, as is without doubt a classic.

May 22, 2023

Dream Police ~ Dream Police (aka debut) (album review) ... Smoking blues-rock with hints of Van Halen & early Whitesnake!

Style: blues rock, acoustic blues
Label: CBS Records
Year: 1991
Home: Norway

Members: Rene Andersen ~ vocals/harmonica
Trond Holter ~ guitar/b. vocals
Ole Petter Hansen ~ drums/b. vocals
Rino Johannessen, Janne Titz ~ bass

Additional: Jon Terje Rovedal ~ organ
Leif Digernese ~ b. vocals

Started in 1989, Dream Police, named after the Cheap Trick album, fuse melodic hard rock with a heavy dose of the blues. It would have made more sense to name themselves after Cinderella, who takes the same approach. I have a sweet tooth for the blues, so I always am curious how hard rock bands interpret it. I did a review of Cinderella where I said they just needed to take the blues to the next direction & abandon the rock/glam thing that they came out the door with. Dream Police are doing it. The outcome is a must hear blues success for folks that like early Whitesnake or the rock end of Gov't Mule. Dream Police are gutsy, gritty, & straddling rock & blues in the best way. They aren't the most original of bands & wear their influences on their sleeves, but they have a good sound that is hard to not enjoy for those that like bluesy rock. Its almost a shame to call this a rock album as its gutsy than so many of the group's peers, but there's enough rock here to not be easily dismissed. Out the door with "Need Your Lovin'" there's strong hints of the groove side of Van Halen with David Lee Roth, in the guitar's style & the vocal approach. This swaggers so much, but doesn't have the over-the-top feel of Roth & company. The rhythm section even takes a laid back approach while the guitar chugs away, much like Van Halen, yet, this doesn't feel in the least like an imitator. Van Halen is only one of the influences that are heard throughout this album. A lot of the songs sound more like the blues rock in the way Whitesnake did it when David Coverdale first came out the door after Deep Purple (i.e. "Rock Me", "Surrender"), & before he became MTV's sex god with slick love ballads. There's also songs (i.e. "Little Angel") that are gritty & dark that would be bettered compared to early ZZ Top or perhaps Santana, while one will also find slow steamy ballads (i.e. "When The Sun Goes Down," "Surrender") that have more in common with Coverdale/Page's mood, to acoustic down home harmonica & slide guitar blues (i.e. "Hot Legs," "Uncle Gus"). This is so bluesy that when they break out the slide guitar it doesn't sound gimmicky or out of place. Its a bit of an addicting listen with a pretty solid set of songs from start to finish. I'd only skip "Moving" & "On Fire" which sound like lackluster Van Halen a bit too much. Think Van Halen before Eddie overdubbed a firecracker guitar solo. Other than that, I recommend this album a lot. I particularly like the singer who has the feel of David Lee Roth, but doesn't scream himself into orbit. Dream Police would make one more album the next year before breaking up in 1992. They occasionally reunite for concerts. The guitarist would go on to glam rockers Wig Wam, & has worked with Taylor Dayne & Jorn Lande. The other members have played with different European outings.

May 15, 2023

Cinderella ~ Still Climbing (album review) ... Their blues-rock shining moment!

Style: blues-rock, hard rock

Label: Mercury
Year: 1994
Home: Pennsylvania

Members: Tom Keifer ~ vocals/guitar/piano
Jeff LaBar ~ guitar
Eric Brittingham ~ bass

Additional: Gary Corbett ~ keyboards

Kenny Aronoff, Fred Coury ~ drums
John Purdell ~ Hammond organ/piano/percussion/b. vocals
Jay Davidson ~ saxophones
Steve Jankowski ~ trumpet/trombonium
Rosanna McNamara ~ violin
Annette Hardeman, Charlene Holloway, Luana Norman, Carla Benson, Evette Benton ~ b. vocals

Cinderella's debut was the glam end of '80's cock rock, but is for me a soundalike throwaway with an annoyingly pitched singer. They followed-up with a change of direction that saw them incorporate blues elements into an '80's rock sound. My review of Long Cold Winter essentially called it a good try & a huge improvement on the glam rock, but it didn't go far enough with the blues. For me, it feels like they didn't want to go too far into new musical waters out of fear of alienating their fan base or not getting on the charts. The result is that the album never really takes off. You keep waiting for it to fly like an eagle, but it instead flies like a penguin. My feeling was excitement for the hunt & disappointment at giving up before the hunt was over. Given where their career would go commercially, in hindsight, they really didn't have much to lose & everything to gain. Their third album, Heartbreak Hotel, did go deeper into the blues, for the better. Yet, instead of getting gritty & finding a new personality with a new hybrid sound, they went the route of being a soundalike throwaway again. This time instead of copying their '80's peers they copied their musical influences. The album sounds a bit too much like the Rolling Stones meets early bluesy Aerosmith, with Axl Rose fronting. They even copy the Stones with big female choruses & horn sections. It almost feels like they aren't actually blues fans, but just know the white boy blues, the Eric Clapton blues-rock blues, not the deep Mississippi stuff. The album also suffers from them trying to do a song in every blues style they can, acoustic included, but never really getting to the core of any style. Its like they picked up a book in the music store on how to play the blues, took an Aerosmith song as their composing guide, & played what was in the book. Its an odd outcome that at times is enjoyable, as it successfully dumps the glam into the garbage & streamlines the chunkiness of Long Cold Winter, but also fails by never really knowing any blues style enough to give it feeling. Blues without feeling is just rock & imitation. Still Climbing is their fourth album. Coming into this I'm actually feeling that I'll be disappointed rather than not, as I've come to feel Cinderella is the band that re-invented itself but never found themselves. The band of could be's & what if's. It's important to note, if they didn't make magic with this album, then they wouldn't. This would be the final album from Cinderella. They would be dropped by their label within the year after its release. They'd continue to perform until 2014 when irreconcilable differences ended the band. They would not record after Still Climbing. Both keyboardist Gary Corbett & guitarist Jeff LeBar died on the same day in 2021, limiting any future reunions. It thus feels strangely ironic that their final album would have a title looking into the future, i.e. they still have places to go. What those places are, we don't know. Maybe they did, or maybe they didn't. Did they see the end in sight? I don't know enough about them to say. All that being said, how did they end the musical side to their story? Does it climb or accidentally fall like its predecessors? Its climbs. This album has some of their strongest compositions career-wise. Its almost like they've given up on trying to get on the charts, & just want to turn in a gritty blues-rock album. The weakest part remains the lyrics, which I've complained about before. There is a fine line between blues song & rock power ballad. They often got on the wrong side of that line, which is where outside songwriters might have helped from day one. That being said, its really the only complaint I have with this album. The music shines so much here that even though the lyrics could be better, they don't drag the album down. There's also so much feeling in these songs, that where the lyrics lack the music makes up for it. That's something that hasn't happened before. The songs generally feel gritty, versus being made for the radio. The mood is generally tough & loose, versus overly polished, or at least polished in a way that still feels a bit raw, as in like AC/DC is raw but polished. George Thorogood is another who comes to mind as a good comparison. Beer drinkin' hard rockin' shufflin' blues-rock which he made a career out of with little deviation is the name of the game here. Actually, while editing this I was listening to Thorogood's 2006 album The Hard Stuff, & easily could have switched some of his songs into the Cinderella catalog. It really sounds like they've dug into the blues more than just trying to imitate the Rolling Stones & Aerosmith. They want something beyond imitation. Or, if there is an imitation, Thorogood is a far better fit for them, & doesn't sound like a suit that's the wrong size. In terms of the blues this album goes where I wanted them to go albums before ... finally. High octane high emotion wild blues with some rock elements that reflects Keifer & company, not another band. When the songs rock, like on "Blood From A Stone", they give it balls to the wall power, & happily no glam. Actually, all the songs are balls to the wall, even the grittier blues ones like the country blues meets Bret Michaels solo of "Hard To Find The Words." For when the styles change, having it all rock hard keeps the album feel more uniform than it might really be. "Bad Attitude Shuffle" gives a kick to a blues rhythm that starts the album off strong. It has bluesy laid back moments & over-the-top driving rock parts, a blues bass line, & the guitar sounds loose like mistakes are welcome. If you're going to do high octane blues-rock this is the way to do it. The energy keeps going as the songs roll on. The songs end up being memorable. This album has more personality than any before it. There's a lot of personality here ... another finally. This is it. This is the album I've waited for from Cinderella. It finds that perfect balance between blues & rock, since its obvious they're not becoming a straight rock band or going the way of Eric Clapton. The songs generally have big shuffling riffs that immediately grab you & shake you. While they all have so many great textures, versus just grinding chords like on Long Cold Winter. There's a lot to hear here without the songs sounded bloated. This is their shining moment with the mix is just perfect! Sadly, this is their final studio album. What would come after would only be live albums. Had they done this album years earlier maybe their career would have gone differently, but at least they got to make this great album before it ended. Its a good way to go out. They can go out knowing the finally did it. I walk away feeling great for them. RIP.

May 8, 2023

AC/DC ~ Flick Of The Switch (album review) ... Streamlined & raw under-rated moment!

Style: hard rock, blues-rock
Label: Atlantic
Year: 1983
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

This album was not a commercial success upon its release, but that might be understandable as it followed the powerful Back In Black & For Those About To Rock. Yet, its an enjoyable experience. It lacks the stand out singles those albums had, though "Guns For Hire", "Deep In The Hole", & oddly titled "Bedlam In Belgium" are wannabe singles. Though they don't stray far from the AC/DC template, but this is not an album about doing anything too different. This is an album with some straight forward blues-rock songs, largely interchangeable with many songs in their collection, but on the other hand its what we expect & enjoy from them. Where it may have failed at the time was its lackluster feeling. In comparison to those more successful albums this feel like a let down. Really, it just lacks the polish those albums had, which was a deliberate move by the band. The expectation was likely that the band would take things up a notch to more explosive heights, rather than trim things down for an almost low-key play-by-the-numbers affair. Its not an explosive album, but a slow ride that plays it safe but plays it good. Its raw, stream-lined, back to basics. If you like the big commercial sound of AC/DC like Back In Black or Power Up or The Razor's Edge this might sound like B-sides or filler. There's no bells or big choruses. Yet, if you think AC/DC without the polish & made for MTV sound is the real band, or you think Rock Or Bust was a great album, then you'll enjoy this lost moment. This sounds like a bar band churning out songs, but one of the greatest bar bands in the world.

May 1, 2023

Adam Ant ~ Wonderful (album review) ... Ant-Man's most introspective album!

Style: pop rock
Label: EMI
Year: 1995
Home: England

Members: Adam Ant ~ vocals
Boz Boorer, Marco Pirroni ~ guitars
Bruce Witkin ~ bass/mellotron/b. vocals
Dave Ruffy, John Reynolds ~ drums


This is such a different beast than anything Adam did before that its a bit shocking at first listen. There's no familiar ground to latch on to. There's nothing here like the many early hits he's known for, nor anything like the facelift of Manners & Physique. Adam & The Ants had only three albums from 1979 to 1981's Prince Charming. One can draw a logical musical progression from that through Adam's solo career, through 1985's Vive le Rock. M&P came out of nowhere breaking the musical progression with a brand new sound & look that was tailor-made for the 80's. Yet, one will find that Adam's solo career began to veer far from his roots early on, & ramble a bit as though he wasn't sure what solo Adam sounded like. M&P's new direction shouldn't be too shocking when looking at the broad picture, though it did make a huge jump from what came before. At least it still had the big beats that are the backbone of his music, given few talk about Adam in league of our greatest singers and songwriters. M&P was actually my introduction to Adam. I loved it the moment I saw "Room At The Top" on MTV. I would imitate the video while watching. Going backwards in time was a bit of a shock that took a lot of listening to get through. So, when I came to M&P's follow-up Wonderful I figured it would sound different, since that's the defining trait of his solo career, but it set me up for another shock as its nothing like M&P & hints even less at his past albums. Its via this album that I came to the conclusion that Adam is really a bit of a lost soul, & it can be hard to be a fan since you never know where he's going next. He's not going to repeat himself, so if you like something, don't expect more. Actually, given the years between albums, don't expect anything. The problem I have with digesting Adam's music is that he's really a creature of visuals & throw-away catchy songs over substance. Nobody talks about the deep moving lyrics of "Apollo 9", or any of his lyrics, really. Are there actually any lyrics to "Fall-In"? His songs traditionally focused on some fun phrase, a big beat, & little else, for the delight of all. His songs were so simple they were hard to ignore, fun to dance to, & easy to remember. M&P straddled the line between throw-away pop songs & a new taste for poetic lyrics. The later worked as they were often tucked behind catchy chorus phrases & memorable melodies. Yet, on Wonderful he takes a step further into the poetic & has seemingly decided to largely dump anything throw-away, while putting more focus on substance than visuals. For me, it does not work. I applaud the change of direction, but its not something I enjoy coming back to, while too many songs feel more like demos of soundscapes than anything. The catchy choruses aren't really catchy, while the music & lyrics are pretty much dreary. You're not dancing to any of this. "Stand & Deliver" is now sitting & pontificating. I'd call this his most introspective album to that time. I am glad to hear he's trying more & aiming for better lyrics, I wish he didn't jettison the pop for moody middle aged man. M&P was at times moody, but it was still fun, even if it was over-polished fun. Before going on, I should say I've been listening to this album off & on since it came out, trying to give it another chance. I listened again to write this review. I'll think of a song & the memory of it is good. Then I listen to the song & find my memory is making up for where it lacks. Its not quite as good as I remembered. I really hate when I have that happen. I hate to find my memory is better than the outcome. I also have songs on this album that I just can't recall for the life of me. I want to like this album. Even the fact it has guitarist Baz Boorer of Morrissey's band, & I am a huge Moz fan, doesn't help. What makes this experience worse is that Adam is on my super short list of musicians who I'd love to see live, & I'm not much of a concert goer as I'm ultra selective in who I see. Interestingly, I always struggle to remember any of the lyrics on this album, which is the opposite of "Room At The Top" & earlier hits. I remember the moods of the songs, but nothing too precise about them, particularly how they drone on. This was recorded in Abbey Road Studios. Some have compared it to the Beatles due to its prolific acoustic guitars & lush landscapes. That's a stretch. "1969 Again" tries to tap into the Beatles' later days, but doesn't really gel musically as it tries to fuse the 1960's with Adam's earlier punk sound with something that likely is trying to imitate drug use. It fails on every level & just becomes odd. If its the Beatles, its the outtakes that never made it to an album. "1969 Again" is actually a good example of what much of the album feels like. The guitars are less in your face than earlier albums, songs swirl in moods that are more mellow than not, acoustic guitars are plentiful, songs straddle retro sounds with a newly invented moody middle aged Adam, lyrics are ultra somber, & the big foot stomping beats are few. Ironically, he actually sings his heart out in what might some of his best vocals on tape. Honestly, there's nothing on paper wrong with Adam crooning over acoustic guitars with no big beat, but when he's done a career of something else its off-putting. While without the big dance beats the album stumbles under it own sobriety. There is nothing to lighten the mood, particularly as too many songs seem to go for droning soundscapes over anything. This album feels like it is trying to find itself in the 90's alt rock scene of wannabe poets. It puts the lyrics before the beats here, the reverse of his entire career. Prince Charming has left the building to make way for Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave? Sweeping musical landscapes over seemingly autobiographical songs are almost too heavy for someone who based his career on having fun. "Gotta Be A Sin", "Alien," "Image Of Yourself" goes for a modern rockabilly sound, but lack any beat & thus don't take off like they should, & blend together as one long unclimactic drag. The title track, "Won't Take That Talk" & "Beautiful Dream" are highlights for me, all popping in memorable Adam style. If only the rest did, too. After drafting this review I listened to its long delayed follow-up in Adam Ant Is The BlueBlack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner's Daughter, the only album by him I hadn't heard yet. That continues from the direction that Wonderful started, but its even more moodier, more varied, more anything but listener friendly. I won't be reviewing that album. I wanted to, but have very little good to say about it even after taking notes while listening. Okay, okay ... good for Adam for making another album, but did he never cringe in fear in the studio at the mess he was making? Its the worst album of his career, & even his singing can't lift it up ... given he warbles with strange melodies instead of singing properly. Has he forgotten how to sing? I wish he hadn't gone the direction of Wonderful & instead gone back in time. Baz Boorer returns on guitar, & his co-compositions are tough listens, as experimenting is the goal over great songs here. Essentially, this is the sequel to Wonderful with the kitchen sink included, & no focus. Time to get a new band & group of co-writers, Adam, or just retire again.

April 24, 2023

Kiss ~ Hot In The Shade (album review) ... Bad title, but good album!

Style: hard rock, pop rock

Label: Mercury
Year: 1989
Home: New York City, New York

Members: Paul Stanley ~ vocals/rhythm guitar/EBow
Gene Simmons ~ vocals/bass/rhythm guitar

Eric Carr ~ drums/b. vocals/bass
Bruce Kulick ~ guitars/bass/b. vocals

Additional: Phil Ashley ~ keyboards
Pat Regan ~ horns
Charlotte Crossley, Valerie Pinkston, Kim Edwards-Brown ~ b. vocals

Kevin Valentine, Eric Singer ~ drums
Tommy Thayer ~ electroacoustic guitar

Besides having my least favorite Kiss album cover, a bad album title, & none of the venom of early Kiss ... not to mention that the sphinx is certainly hot, but where is the shade, or should it be 'hot in the shades' ... I actually really enjoy this album start to finish. Or, most of it, as there are a few clunkers that should have been left as demos, such as the horribly titled "The Street Giveth And The Street Taketh Away" & "You Love Me To Hate You". Though, having said I really like this album, I actually consider it Kiss firmly doing their best AOR. The growling beastly early years are now absolute history, never to return. The chance to reclaim them deliberately ignored too many times. This is Kiss light rock, Kiss' pop explosion, Kiss power ballad plus, Kiss not really hot nor really Kiss. Its even hard to call this Kiss at times. Even when the bass growls, its only Kiss-like. Michael Bolton shows up co-writing the album's big single "Forever", which would never have been given to '70's Kiss but for '80's Kiss nobody likely blinked. That says it all about this era of Kiss. Yet, for their AOR flavor, the songs are actually really well crafted. I can't help but sing along to "Betrayed", "Forever", "Hide Your Heart", "Love's A Slap In The Face," & many others. They are hard to hate. They are the perfect AOR made for radio songs, which too many bands would die for. Actually, just to have one of these songs in a repertoire would be enough for many groups. They might not be the Kiss I want, but they are great. I've long said Kiss should not have brought in the outside songwriters & given them so much control, as they steered the band away from their roots & to something not-Kiss, but it all comes together here really well. The songs may not rock hard, but they have great lyrics & its hard to forget these melodies, while most I consider really well crafted. There's a few backing choirs I'd dump, & the above songs I don't like that feel like unnecessary padding that don't add much. I also might call this some of Gene's best singing in awhile, who was phoning in his performances for awhile. This would be Eric Carr's last album. I've said it before that he was a great drummer who was the perfect choice. He pounds the skins harder than Criss ever did. I credit him with giving this album the hard edge that it does. Sadly, Bruce Kulick is a good guitarist who can do anything, but also their least distinctive lead guitarist. I've heard many outings of his & not once have I been able to recognize his style, or even say he has one. Due to this, I believe the guitars on this album tend to be more subdued than I wish they were. They feel play-by-the-numbers, focusing on melodies over anything else. There's no guitarist here forcing his stamp on it. Imagine if Vinnie Vincent or Mark St. John was told to play "Forever", & you know they'd rebel & give the producer a headache ... but the riffs would be huge as a result, not tucked in the mix. Kulick is a soldier for me, not a force to be reckoned with. Talented, yes, but he doesn't have the ego. I wish they had someone with a bigger ego in the guitar chair, as I believe it would have kept the band from going too pop. But, they went there. At least they did it with good songs.

April 17, 2023

Ratt ~ Detonator (album review) ... The original Ratt goes out with glory with guitar porn!

Style: hard rock
Label: Atlantic
Year: 1990
Home: Los Angeles, California

Members: Stephen Pearcy ~ vocals
Robbin Crosby ~ rhythm guitars/b. vocals
Warren DeMartini ~ lead guitars/b. vocals
Juan Croucier ~ bass/b. vocals
Bobby Blotzer ~ drums

Additional: Guests: Jon Bon Jovi ~ b. vocals
Michael Schenker ~ guitar

Myriam Valle, Desmond Child ~ b. vocals
Steve Deutsch ~ samples/programming
David Garfield ~ keyboards

If you're not tired of Ratt by the time you get to their fifth album, Detonator, weren't put off bored by the lackluster hits & filler on its predecessor Reach For The Sky, then this will likely be a great listen. Personally, I think it might be one of their best albums, & its criticisms are unmerited. Its one I often come back to. As much as their debut actually. Its chock full of hits, some of their best in my ears, to the point where its nothing but hits to me. I don't mean hits that are good songs but forgettable, like Reach For The Sky had, but stuff that stands up with no embarassment alongside "Round & Round." Proof is that the songs here continue to be crowd pleasers. I say that having seen Ratt in 2019. Detonator has a slightly heavier feel than earlier releases, or more glam-like depending on one's view, but essentially is pretty much the same thing Ratt has always done. They came out the door with a sound & never went far from it. Growth by them is measured in minor ways rather than in huge creative jumps. Even AC/DC has more musical changes over albums than Ratt. They just got better at playing what they always played & never promised many surprises. Though, "Given Yourself Away" comes out of nowhere with Pearcy singing in a baritone. Its good, but power ballads are really not Ratt's thing. Its sounds out of place, though its a good song. You either like Ratt or don't. If you don't, then getting this far in their catalog will be painful. On the other hand, if you don't know Ratt & just want to hear or sample their best albums, I would put this album on that short list without hesitance. I don't give it that position because the band have necessarily become better musicians or better composers, but Warren DiMartino shines behind the guitar on this. Parts of this album might be called guitar porn. Though, to be fair, there are moments when these songs might sound like other songs you've heard from them. While, like always, Pearcy has nothing to say as a lyricist. Bringing in songwriter Desmond Child for everything but an instrumental introduction to "Shame, Shame, Shame" doesn't help change that. He writes memorable songs, but not emotional or personal ones. While Child's thumb print is clearly on "Given Yourself Away" which sounds more like him than the band, a common accusation of his writing where the bands mold themselves to him versus him to them. It would be seven years before they released an album after this. The music scene would be irrevocably changed by grunge, women singer/songwriters & hip-hop, while the band would lose two members. For me, this is a final nice hurrah of the original run of Ratt. They bow out with a high doing what they do best.

April 10, 2023

Mad Season ~ Above (album review) ... Poetic grunge supergroup with Screaming Trees, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Howlin Wolf members!

Style: grunge, rock, blues-rock
Label: Columbia
Year: 1995
Home: Seattle, Washington

Members: Layne Staley ~ vocals/rhythm guitar
Mike McCready ~ guitars
John Baker Saunders ~ bass
Barrett Martin ~ drums/double bass/cello/marimba/vibraphone

Everybody knows the grunge supergroup Temple Of The Dog, though technically it was recorded before Pearl Jam made it big, but the one album by the equally potent grunge supergroup Mad Season - made after all involved had become big - has seemed to have slipped off the radar. It featured guitarist Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, frontman Layne Staley of Alice In Chains, drummer Barrett Martin of the Screaming Trees, & bassist John Baker Saunders who had played with Howlin' Wolf's guitarist Hubert Sumlin. For many, the inclusion of Layne is enough to warrant interest. The band was formed when Saunders & McCready met in rehab in 1994. Mad Season released this one album, before inevitable drug issues got in the way ... which makes a long sad story very short. After Layne's death they transformed into Disinformation with Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan, who co-wrote a song here & sang on some songs that would appear as bonus tracks on re-issues of this album. Saunders death in 1999 brought the band to a close, before Disinformation could record a formal debut, though the remaining members have had some informal reunions on stage. I should mention that the bands these members were involved with, even Saunders, can all count me as a fan, so I'm totally biased going into this. Kurt killed himself when I was a junior in high school living over an hour north of Seattle. I had a lot of friends traumatized by this, so grunge was my childhood. I was too young to go to the bars, but the music was & remains an intrinsic part of my life. Mud Honey even played at my alma mater, Western Washington University - home of the Death Cab For Cutie & the Posies, who might have been in a class of mine - for the freshman orientation, while Bikini Kill & Sleater Kinney I saw in a converted lounge before the later went truly national. I still love the music as much as ever, & believe grunge was the last great music movement, & maybe the last hurrah before home studios, pro-tools & the internet. So, my bias aside, what does a whose who of grunge sound like? The answer is: it both hints at all the bands involved, but also completely & shockingly different. I do need to post a warning to curious listeners. You may love Alice In Chains or Screaming Trees or Pearl Jam, but this might not be your thing. 'Shockingly different' was a deliberately chosen phrase. On the other hand, you might not care for grunge at all, but find this album fascinating & addicting. Mad Season is thus an enigma. Where their peers Temple Of The Dog had a lot in common with the grunge sound, this really doesn't feel like grunge but instead has hints of grunge. It absolutely is not what I would expect from all involved. That's neither a bad nor good thing, but really depends on what you are looking for musically. I shall detail further. You can hear the melodic guitars & interesting rhythms that weaved through the Screaming Trees & Pearl Jam, but you won't mistake this for either band. Layne's voice is undeniably distinct, & these are mostly his lyrics, but he's not trying to imitate Alice In Chains. This album features a stripped back sound that none of those bands has ever had, or maybe just for a passing moment in a song or for one gimmicky song on an album. Mad Season ropes you in softly, & with rope made of tissue paper, versus pounding you on the head out the door. There is no mad rush like an Alice In Chains album has. The whole album is dreamy, floating & simplistic in its composition. Actually, the instruments almost have too much breathing room, as it often sounds improvised or like a jam with no real direction. The best comparison would be a Doors concert where the group is improvising through a contemplative Jim Morrison moment. That might be the best description of opener "Wake Up" where Layne pours out his meandering poetry, which sounds like poetry & not a typical song, over guitars that slowly roll out almost like an improvisation that is trying to take things extra slow. When things go up a notch for the guitar break its still pretty low key, like a drug trip that might be comparable to a bluesy Jimi Hendrix solo. There's very little polish here. The whole experience is raw & an emotional parade. It feels like an honest & real album, a real rarity. Its demons on display, not the next chart topping hit in the making. It sounds so different than the highly technical Alice In Chains you have to wonder if the inner Layne was stifled lyrically in that band, which says a lot given how dark some of those lyrics were. This is helped by the one thing that gets criticized: this album meanders. Songs don't feel like here's the verse, then the chorus, then the refrain. It has more in common with the Doors "The End" & "The Unknown Soldier," where the chorus is more a familiar point to regroup to than the big sing-a-long moment, yet without the big climaxes that Jim's songs had. Yet, there's so much  nakedness here lyrically that at times the meandering quality is a triviality. On the other hand, the 55 minutes can feel a bit long depending on one's mood when listening. It ends on an instrumental that personally dragged too much for my tastes. Rule of thumb: come to this not looking to rock, but instead to sit in a dark room in the rain with a glass of wine & maybe something to smoke. Its been said that Layne was reading The Prophet by Kahlil Gabran while writing & recording this, & felt like he was a on a spiritual mission. Having read the book, it absolutely feels that way.

April 3, 2023

Emerson, Lake & Powell ~ Emerson, Lake & Powell (aka self-titled) (album review) ... Emerson, Lake & what?

Style: prog rock, hard rock 
Label: Polydor
Year: 1986
Home: England

Members: Keith Emerson ~ keyboards
Greg Lake ~ vocals/guitars/bass
Cozy Powell ~ drums

Emerson, Lake & Powell was born when a re-union of Emerson, Lake & Palmer didn't happen due to drummer Carl Palmer's obligations with Asia ... the band, not the country. Replacement Cozy Powell at first seems like an odd choice. His reputation is largely centered not on progressive rock, but hard rocking outings with Rainbow, Brian May, Graham Bonnet, Whitesnake, Michael Schenker & later with Black Sabbath & Yngwie Malmsteen. Its easy to forget that underneath the hard rock is often some often adventurous non-straight ahead playing. While he also worked with the always limit pushing Jeff Beck, Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord, & Robert Plant. If Keith Emerson & Greg Lake were looking for a more '80's sound, yet not wanting to not completely push away the past, Powell had the chops to bridge both worlds. I'm honestly not a big enough ELP fan to be able to comment on how Powell compares to Palmer. While even though I've heard Palmer in all the Asia albums, I'm not a drummer & not good recognizing drum styles. I just know what works or doesn't, as in does it clutter up the music or make it groove or just pound away brainlessly. So, moving on from Powell, how is the end product in general? I don't blame Powell for this, but Emerson, Lake & Powell is clearly more '80's than '70's. The rock guitars & driving rhythms (i.e. "The Score") makes it firmly '80's, & thus very different than the Emerson, Lake & Palmer we all know. This is pretty much a distinct entity musically. Though, I will back-up & say it might not be that distinct, but I haven't heard Emerson, Lake & Palmer's '80's output. It might be exactly the same ... which is essentially, I'm going to guess, not what most people want when they turn to ELP. ELP was a proggy classical rock band unlike no other with long wandering songs. We want Brain Salad Surgery, not something that is proggy Bon Jovi or early Def Leppard. So, Emerson, Lake & Powell might be a different entity or the same, but the end result is pretty iffy whatever the context. If this is what Emerson, Lake & Palmer were doing at the time ... I'm not inspired to hear any of those albums. I would compare this album more to Asia & GTR, but not as good. The only thing that keeps it with a few toes in the '70's is the keyboards, which thankfully dominate with classic prog sounding arrangements. I was reminded of Rick Wakeman's solo outings (i.e. "Touch & Go") or the first few albums after Genesis became a trio. While Lake still has his recognizable vocals, absolutely sounding like no band in the '80's.Yet, the playing felt rambling & uninspired, & often tedious. It didn't have the proggy spark. So, I should clarify that the dominance of the keyboards gives this a '70's feel, but not the playing itself. So, put rambling playing against rock guitars & driving rhythms & this is Emerson, Lake & whoever in name only. Though, for their defense, many classic bands such as Yes were moving in this direction turning their prog into something commercial. Its not bad, but it lacks the emotional elements of the past with lots of boring flash. Instead of going through the whole album, I would recommend listening to the "The Miracle." This is a track worth putting in your playlist. Absolutely skip over the anti-war anthem "Lay Down Your Guns" and the Broadway musical wannabe "Step Aside". Or, at least, save the later for when the band includes Barry Manilow.

March 27, 2023

Dave Matthews Band ~ Come Tomorrow (album review) ... In which elevator will you find the Dave Matthews Band?

Style: folk rock, pop rock
Label: RCA
Year: 2018
Home: n/a

Members: Dave Matthews ~ guitars/lead vocals

Carter Beauford ~ drums/vocals
Jeff Coffin, LeRoi Moore ~ saxophone
Stefan Lessard ~ bass
Tim Reynolds ~ electric guitar
Rashawn Ross ~ trumpet
Boyd Tinsley ~ violin

Additional: Brandi Carlile ~ b. vocals
Butch Taylor, Mark Batson ~ piano
Buddy Strong ~ organ
Rob Cavallo ~ keyboard/organ
Jerry Hey ~ horns
David Campbell ~ strings

I spun Under The Table & Dreaming endlessly when it was released. I loved that album from the first single I heard. I loved the quirkiness of Dave's singing alongside the violins, percussion, overdubbed guitars & sax. The outcome was a wild & always surprising music that sounded like nothing I'd heard before, or actually since. The melody lines seemed to come from another planet & I wanted to go there. Yet, when the first single hit from the follow-up I was not hooked. When the next hit, I remained disinterested. I listened to parts of the next album with iffy response. They'd obviously stopped receiving signals from the great mysterious planet & instead started taking signals from the MTV audience on what would cause an album to hit the charts. The album felt slicker, more commercial & less zany. I never listened to anything else they did again. When I came across Come Tomorrow I decided to give them a listen. Many of the songs on the album have been in the band's live set for years, but I've never seen them live so I'm not familiar with anything coming into this. Supposedly there's a bunch of fan favorites there, but I'm obviously not a fan. Honestly, I'm not that big a fan of Dave solo, so when he appears as a guest vocalist with someone I am disinterested. The DMB was for me not about Dave, but about this vibrant group that turned his songs into a cosmic jukebox. His voice is just one quirky instrument, a bit grating on its own, but in the team setting a great unique asset. This means Come Tomorrow ... was a difficult listen & one where fans in my same boat should avoid. This came off as a demo album of Dave with some tinkling behind him. The focus is all on him & all the other instruments are largely relegated to a role I felt was the equivalent of elevator music. Take away his vocals & nothing was zany. It wasn't even that slick or commercial. It just sounded like demos waiting to be taken to a new level that had more in common with a singer-songwriter's folk album where the lyrics are the focus not the music. To say I was under-whelmed is an over-statement. If these are fan hits that are great jams in concert I couldn't hear it. There was nothing here that seemed to have any desire to go into orbit on it own, or be taken into orbit as a jam. I remember the DMB being vibrant , but this comes out as tired, worn, uninspired. They've lost some musicians, but not bothered to fill in the gaps & thus the whole thing feels empty. The tinny guitar solo on "Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin)" was so bad I was wondering if they sent to the album to press before recording the real solo, as this strange thing has to be a place holder of where the solo is to be slotted in. As I was contemplating this mystery, "Can't Stop" came up with Dave doing his best Tom Waits impersonation. Yeah, leave that one to the shower at home. Or, maybe it was Ray Charles with the subdued horn line? Forgettable demoes, outtakes, B-sides is what I would label this album as if, if I hadn't read that it wasn't. Such collections either are great unheard albums or just just not be heard. Come tomorrow ... I won't be listening to another album by them. If I want to do that just remind me to stand in an elevator.

March 20, 2023

Step Ahead ~ Step Ahead (album review) ... A forgotten dreamy prog rock classic!

Style: prog rock

Label: RCA
Home: Nice, France
Year: 1982

Members: Danny Brown ~ vocals, tambourine
Christian Robin ~ electric guitars
Gerald Macia ~ acoustic guitars
Claude Truchi ~ keyboards
Jean-Yves Dufournier ~ drums
Antoine Ferrera ~ bass

Additional: Claude-Marius David ~ flute
Thomas Quef ~ b. vocals

Genevieve Teuliere ~ cello

Step Ahead, 1980 - 1984, released only this album, but what a great album. If you're a prog rock fan than this is well worth hunting up. The Yes influence is very strong, with the Rick Wakeman-esque extended classical keyboard sequences, & guitar parts that recall Steve Howe with their single note soaring melodies moving into complicated mind bending rhythms. The difference is that it is two guitarists here. There is also the power & psychedelic realms of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, while one might also hear some of the lush moments of Pink Floyd getting a new interpretation. The music actually floats more like Pink Floyd, versus rumbling along like Yes, though it has the layers & genre defying sound of Yes' many ensembles. The listener will never know what is coming next. At one moment it might be cascading like ELP, the vocals here are a lot like Greg Lake, only to suddenly fall into a lush acoustic part or a cosmic keyboard melody or while electric guitar solo. Though, lush is a word that I would use to generally describe this album. Its lush, finely crafted, delicate, enchanting. Its dreamy in a way that Yes & the other prog bands have never really been. Its also not full of angst like Pink Floyd, or does it venture into the abstract territory of prog a la Gentle Giant. Its not out to bang you on the head with solos, but instead wrap you in a blanket & send you to sleep with an ever-changing array of dreams. So many colorful dreams! The balance between acoustic & electric guitar parts is a real highlight worth hearing. Its nothing like power metal where the acoustic takes the rhythm with the electric over it. This is more like trading parts & weaving off each other with very different textures. Absolutely stunning. Essentially, the complete range of mainstream prog-rock was brought together by Step Ahead. It is a shame they are not better remembered. Though, this album has been re-issued a couple times, as the minority who hear this likely can't forget it. Not to mention there's not a bad track here, nor a moment of filler. Just prog perfection.

March 13, 2023

Bad English ~ Bad English (aka debut) (album review) ... Crafting AOR is the name of the smile!

Style: pop rock, hard rock, AOR
Label: Epic
Year: 1989
Home: Los Angeles, California

Members: John Waite ~ lead vocals
Neal Schon ~ guitars/b. vocals
Jonathan Cain ~ keyboards/rhythm guitar/b. vocals
Ricky Phillips ~ bass/b. vocals
Deen Castronovo ~ drums/b. vocals

Bad English's self-titled debut opens with a soaring guitar that lets you know this is not going to be anything but top notch playing & of the same quality that folks have come to expect from the involved players. The players being a reunion of three members of the Babys, or more particularly the keyboardist of the recently disbanded Journey who had composed "Don't Stop Believin'"; his bandmate guitarist, whose resume also included Santana; the vocalist who had the number one solo hit "Missing You"; the bassist of the Babys, who would find more name recognition post-Bad English with Styx & Coverdale/Page; & finally the drummer of Jason Becker & Marty Friedman's Cacophony, who would go on to join the reunited Journey, Geezer Butler's GZR & appear on Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzmosis. Supergroup is a legit description for Bad English considering its past & future. The album would smash the Hot 100 charts with the number one hit "When I See You Smile", giving a legacy to Bad English that would last to this day. Its such a great song decades later its likely there's many listeners who don't know they've heard all the members in other outings. Yet, for all the skills of the players, this was not a hard rock fest or fist waver, but a collection of AOR ultra power ballads & some well crafted groin shaking hair metal. Crafting radio friendly songs is the name of the game. The melody out front. The guitars in the back, though when allowed to come forward they soar like a bird. The vocals don't try to break glass with impossible notes. The keyboards are a strong element. The rhythms get you moving & might best be experienced in the bedroom, not on the dance floor. In some ways, Bad English was typical of the era. The sound of this album can be heard elsewhere, from Firehouse's "Every Time I Look At You", & most of their debut album actually, to the Damn Yankees who upped the ante for a more bombastic approach. Yet, the songs also feel somewhat timeless, as good today as when they debuted. They don't make music like this anymore. Bad English did power ballads the way so many of us dearly miss. The songs hit fast & in the right place. They didn't break any molds & are full of musical & lyrical cliches, while this is no masterpiece, but it hits you in just the right place so you walk away feeling good. Of the 13 songs here, there's a couple that could be left off. "Ready When You Are" is absolute uncreative filler next to its brothers. "Best Of What I Got" has some cringy lines that could have been left on the cutting room floor saving this track. Robert Palmer came to mind listening to this, but not in a good way. "Like a locomotive burning down the track / you're my destination ... Put my key inside your door / feels so good. / When I come home at night gonna rock in the neighborhood" Neal Schon's guitar sorta saves the day, who really doesn't play anything bad on the album & is one of strengths making this worth a visit. "Heaven Is A 4 Letter Word" actually sounds so much like what Damn Yankees were trying to do that you're waiting for Uncle Ted to appear to send it over the top. He obviously doesn't, but its hard to say if that's a good or bad thing. Aside from those bumps there's "Price Of Love" which sounds so much like all the overly dramatic power ballads of the era, but its hard not to enjoy it just the same. "Forget Me Not" has ironically been forgotten, but is a standout due to its slow sly opening, sounding a bit like early Phil Collins era Genesis. The song rolls out with a lot of attitude over a hypnotic groove, though the lyrics almost feel like they're talking about stalking instead of romance. "Rockin' Horse" lives up to its name with a rollicking rhythm. "The Restless Ones" you'll immediately recognize, but is one of those songs you might have forgotten about. Just as good as "When I See You Smile". Speaking of which, if you don't start singing when "When I See You Smile" starts playing, please post in the comments below. I want to know what ails you.

March 6, 2023

Damn Yankees ~ Don't Tread (album review) ... Ted Nugent at his monster rock best!

Style: hard rock
Label: Warner Brothers
Year: 1992
Home: n/a

Members: Tommy Shaw ~ vocals/guitars
Ted Nugent ~ guitars/vocals
Jack Blades ~ bass/vocals
Michael Cartellone ~ drums

Additional: Robbie Buchanan ~ keyboards
Tower of Power ~ horns
Paul Buckmaster ~ strings

This album was a guilty pleasure when I first heard it. I'm a Yankee of two centuries, so the name immediately caught my eye, while I liked the single I heard on the radio, "Where You Goin' Now." I didn't need much more incentive to investigate, particularly as I was at an age where I wanted to hear everything & anything that was musical. I'll confess I didn't know Ted Nugent, nor could I tell you what hits Styx had to their name. Nor had I heard D.Y.'s even more commercially successful debut album. If I had heard the single from that album, "High Enough," I didn't know it was the same band. Many critics call that debut the better of their two albums, yet, stepping back from nostalgia & listening again as I write this, I think this is in many ways just as good as the debut. Really, they have different attributes. I think this album is more even & uniform musically than the debut. That album always struck me as a band exploring, not quite sure what their sound was. Yet, I will give it credit for being the more musically diverse album. Second, where this lacks diversity, it makes up that by packing a huge guitar swingin' groin thrustin' punch in the gut that I never got on the debut. The songs are all strong, though at times blending together, but never take the foot off the pedal. The dynamics & energy are cranked up high here, while the layers of sound rope you in & keep you in for the full ride. This is a monster rock album, maybe hair metal excess at its extreme best, where its failures are lifted up by its strengths. Ted Nugent shines in all his charismatic bigger than life glory with one amazing solo after another. He single-highhandedly catapults the album from its AOR basics to a high flying trapeze act of hair wavin' rock. I've heard most of his catalog & rate his work with D.Y. as some of his best.

February 27, 2023

Brain Medicine ~ Brain Medicine (aka debut) (album review) ... Overdosing bad on the medicine!

Style: black metal, experimental
Label: Randolph Street Records
Year: 2008
Home: Florida

Members: n/a

This obscure death metal band from Florida just adds another point to anyone's question of whether or not Florida is a musical hotbed just as valuable & vibrant as Seattle to grunge, L.A. to glam or Queens is to hip-hop. Part of the problem is that so many of the Florida bands that have made it national are in the thrash/death/black/speed metal world which has a limited audience & limited ability to break out out of a particular audience cross-section. Underground band BM might not be speed metal as they fall to the avant-garde side, culling more from Sunn O))) than Savatage (particularly on "Psyche"), but like all good Florida metal they are intimidatingly dark, moody & know their Norway-Scandanavia black metal forefathers. They also know that doom need not be relayed through slashing speedy guitars or any of the now standard approaches. Like Black Sabbath, who largely set the template, the doom is not in he speed but in the feeling, it's what is played not necessarily how. Nine mostly instrumentals of guitars/drums/keyboards leave behind any flashy guitar solos for drawn out musical landscapes that would be great if you're looking for a horror movie soundtrack. Swamp Thing & Dracula come particularly to mind. BM does a great job at creating these landscapes, or at least giving accurate titles, as "Spider" does indeed sound like something is crawling around with its haunting keyboard melody while "Island X" has title suitable African drumming. "Love Overdose" is the only real vocal track with heavily chorused moaning of the title over & over with little variations that makes it feel like a dirge more than love song. "Unnatural Living" which includes chanting against ringing bells & a single drum really is a dirge, though a bubbly guitar slowly mixes in with the chanting to create a wonderful mix of new sounds & one of the album highlights. Low production values at times makes this seem like a demo but at other times works perfectly for the haunting quality of the music. This is one of those bands that never made it out of its, figurative & literal, swampland, but makes the perfect soundtrack for its surroundings. If you like your metal avant-garde & incredibly dark, if not a touch mystical, hunt this little obscurity up. Once upon a time these lost albums were treasures, now in the internet age we've lost the wonder of finding such treasures.

February 20, 2023

Peter Criss ~ Out Of Control (album review) ... The cat meows!

Style: pop rock, adult alternative, blues-rock
Label: Mercury
Year: 1980
Home: New York

Members: Peter Criss ~ vocals/drums/percussion
Stan Penridge ~ guitars/b. vocals
David Wolfert ~ guitars/synthesizer
Tony Mercandante ~ bass/b. vocals
Stu Woods ~ bass
Benny Harrison ~ keyboards/b. vocals
Ed Walsh, Greg Zanthus Winter ~ synthesizer
David Buskin ~ b. vocals
George Young ~ saxophone

This, Peter's second solo album, has its collection of lovers & fierce haters. Comparing it to what came before I think this album shows an increase in Peter's confidence as a musician & singer. Its like he found his legs after doing his first solo album. This is a much stronger album, & the one I would recommend to hear first. He sings with more confidence. Peter often belts out like a blues rocker here to great effect. He lets his voice fly like a bird like he's auditioning to take over from Paul as Kiss' frontman. The album also holds up & gels better musically to me than his debut, which had good moments but felt unfocused in his drive to explore new musical avenues. Though, really, I find Peter's solo career more unfocused than not, with one good album not meaning what will follow will be in the same mold. I feel he has never founds himself solo-wise, with age & changing music styles not helping, just as long as he is known as something more than just the guy who sang "Beth" & played drums. He wants to do more, & particularly do things Kiss would never dream of doing. Or, at least, softer songs, more emotional & contemplative songs, songs that groove or pop over being full of pomp & roar. Yet, the problem is that his singing career really revolves around "Beth." One should note that his solo career focuses on his singing, not his drumming. "By Myself" doesn't even have any drums. There's also no drum solos to be found. Too often it feels like he's aiming for "Beth Part II" or The-It-Sounds-Like-Beth-But-Really-Isn't-Song. That was a great song, but it was a one time only moment. So what do you do when your one hit was a near fluke in sound? Well, I'm guessing Peter has crowned himself a sort a crooner, even if "Beth" was faux-crooning. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. He tries his best, but the material isn't always right for him. When he does hit a groove it becomes apparent what works for him, & what doesn't. The end result might have been stronger if it was more focused on one style, versus experimenting with different flavors. It should be noted this is really a pop album, not a rock album, though it has rock songs & elements. For some it may be a bit shocking if they are expecting Kiss. This follows more with what he was going for on his solo debut, while moving from hard rock to pop rock & back again. "In Trouble Again" sounds like it is going for an Ace Frehley groove & might be the closest thing to Kiss. The title track, "Words", "By Myself" & "Where Will They Run" is '70's pop with all the musical cliches that sound incredibly dated & a bit weak instrumentation-wise all these decades later. Think heavy on the keyboards with disco beats. They will hit or miss likely depending on how you like the classic 70's groove sound. I do like "I Found Love," which has all the keyboards but pops & rocks making it sound like a 70's hit in the making if only it came a few years earlier, & with nothing in common with "Beth." This is a highlight of the album. "There's Nothing Better" mixes things up with some Chicago blues, wailing guitars, shuffle groove & horns included. This is another highlight of the album for me, if for no other reason than its different than Kiss & really works for Peter's raspy voice. This bluesy approach is carried over for a second success in his cover of the Rascals' "You Better Run." Its raw, rough, & perfect. Though, perhaps it succeeds better than the more polished pop songs because it doesn't try to take itself too seriously. Though, "I Feel Like Letting Go" is one I struggle to recommend. It feels far too much like "Beth", but without the good lyrics. Its about as generically bland as rock lyrics come. It literally feels like he grabbed random song titles & put them together. The one thing that redeems this, or makes it a struggle to recommend, is he tears it up vocally putting his heart into it like no other song here. Its just too bad he has nothing to say. I see many Kiss fans proclaim the wonders of this album, but I really don't know if it was due to the fact it was not Kiss, over how well it actually holds up. Its not bad, but its not great. I feel like letting it just go.