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It's always easy to be sceptical about releases such as these. So often they're glossed up commercial imposters merely intruding on the sacred, ignorant of the promises their covers suggest. However, a quick browse down the list of artistes that perform over this 3-disc, 60-song voyage through 20s, 30s and 40s blues will give your agitation a sedative. The nicknames with their honest adjectives describing the mandatory ailments and disabilities that any decent bluesman should carry (come on, 'Healthy Pete Moneybags' or 'Muscleman Bob Sprightly' wouldn't draw the same empathy) are all out in force and go a long way to reassuring you that this is the real deal. If you're blind, sleepy, three-nippled or one-legged you're perfectly built for the blues -a genre of feel, spirit, and the most enjoyable curse you're ever likely to fall victim to. Sometimes there's nothing quite like the opening line of a blues song to get your heart pumping and blow a few cobwebs off the old soul, maybe that's why they repeat them so much thereon in.
The Vintage Blues Box provides us with true, untouched recordings from the original performers - many of which were born in the 1800s - and the sound quality is, as you would expect, quite variable. Some tracks are so quiet, delicate and hard to pick out that you fear for breathing upon your speakers should you turn the man and guitar down the other end into dust. As contradictory as this may sound, these uncooked and unrefined pieces are the blues in its purist form. For myself as someone who enjoys bare bones music I'm glad the temptation to toy with and enhance these tracks has been resisted as you feel you are getting a genuine slice of authentic blues history. They hiss, they crackle, they unashamedly feature background noise, it's as though the players have invited you into their homes.
In a strange way it almost feels like sacrilege to be listening to these on a CD as I suppose the only true way of sampling the blues is hearing it live whilst sitting on a creaking veranda with a low setting Mississippi sun enriching the hue of your whiskey. It's all about inhaling that feel, that ambience and taking root in something so soulful. I've always mused that the shimmering Deep South hazes are caused not by nature but by the vigorous vibrato emanating from the multitude of bluesy slide guitar licks. Ah, we can all dream for now but these recordings come pretty close to taking you there without having to build a time machine or clicking your heels and making a wish.
Rarely you'll hear more than one instrument played on these numbers. It's guitar in the main, occasionally assisted by some tremendous examples of harmonica playing. Other than this, you'll hear a bit of Wild West honky tonk pianism and some pretty mournful vocal harmonies.
The blues is represented in its various guises on here, for instance Charley Patton's '34 Blues', Blind Lemon Jefferson's 'Black Snake Moan' and Robert Johnson's 'Come On In My Kitchen' have that chain gang droning howl about them, whereas Blind Boy Fuller provides us with some captivating ragtime blues in 'Rag Mama Rag', 'Get Your Yas Yas Out', and 'Sweet Honey Hole'. Leadbelly's 'Goodnight Irene' is soaked in country, Tampa Red's 'I Wonder Where My Easy Rider's Gone' is marinated in jazz and Bukka White's 'Bukka's Jitterbug Swing' is based around a catchy bluegrass beat. Add to this the sing-a-long touch of gospel in 'The Midnight Special', the enjoyable narrative of 'Rock Island Line' and the hooky calls of 'C C Rider' and it's certainly one in the eye for anyone who claims that the blues is just the same 12 bar chug.
True, you can twin a lot of these songs together, I'm not going to defend the indefensible. For example Robert Johnson's 'Sweet Home Chicago' and Muddy Waters' 'Take A Walk With Me' are so identical only Mother Blues could tell them apart. And with others, just because they're old it doesn't make them gold, some can be quite hard to listen to, they can even become irritating at times. Jefferson's 'Long Distance Moan' sounds, well, just like a long distance moan. You're struggling to hear the accompaniment and this awful whining is just drowning everything out. You feel like throttling the poor bloke and telling him to get a grip of himself as you could with Skip James on 'Devil Got My Woman'. I actually think a misfiring vocal can often ruin a good piece. Tampa Red's 'You Got To Reap What You Sow' is a great example of how blues instrumentals can work with the guitar just content to weep out what would be the vocal melody with an easy, almost inebriated sway to it.
A common misconception with which the blues is repeatedly associated is that it's all so depressing. Sure, it has its moments but I prefer to liken the more sorrowful nature to that of gallows humour, something I'm a big advocate of. A million dollars is no good to you in a dungeon but you can bet your life the blues is, it has that fantastic defiance about it. Blues is the only type of music in which one could lament about getting hanged in the morning over a happy, bouncing, freight train-chugging ragtime tune. It always has a twinkle in its eye for me.
More often than not the lyrical content can be about the most mundane things such as simply going out for a haircut or eating a steak. There is also a surprising amount of sexual innuendo cheekily patrolling the seemingly innocent lyrics. Memphis Minnie, however, isn't as subtle and I do fear for the 'Ice Man' she openly invites upstairs. As always a sucker for a sound-a-like, her voice reminds me of the old dear with the snooker table legs and flapping underskirt who used to chase Tom out of the kitchen with a broom in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. But fair play to Minnie, she is the sole representative of the female species upon these discs.
Studying the style of guitar playing is interesting. A lot of licks you hear on these early recordings are still being used regularly today. In soloing the emphasis is on tune and melody rather than velocity - I admit as the blues evolved players such as Stevie Ray Vaughan proved that you can speed up when necessary providing it's done the right way. But the playing on here, although incredibly basic in parts is not to be sniffed at, in particular the ragtime songs when it's the thumb and finger of the bottom hand that's doing all the work. They make it sound effortless, but it isn't easy, it can sound corny at times but it's more complex than it's given credit for.
The collection features 17 different players, some similar but all with something to bring to the table. On listening to some songs you'll find yourself thinking 'Hey, this must be where such a song came from' (that is of course if you're a blues fan to start with, if not, you may be looking in the wrong place for musical delectation). Sometimes I'm torn between whether I'm enjoying the groove and the vibe or whether I'm just intrigued by the whole historical significance and enchantment of it all. It's definitely a collection for the serious blues fan and without wanting this all to sound too esoteric, maybe the casual music listener may find it a little heavy going due to its raw and primal nature.
I love the blues and I do get very protective about it, especially the early recordings such as these although I do feel its evolution over the years has been fruitful and respectful to its origins. It has to be to survive. There are dynamics that must remain constant for it to work, honesty, feel, trust and not to mention talent. This is where it all began and The Vintage Blues Box is a decent representation and won't disappoint.
It doesn't masquerade as anything other than a true portrayal of early blues, and genuinely sucks you into its sepia tinted cover, onto the streets and amongst the sounds of a bygone era. The actual collection was released by Eagle Records in 2000, what sort of claim they have to be in possession of these works is anyone's guess, chances are many of these players probably died paupers without a dusty dime to strum with for their efforts. I guess though a mark on musical history is something you can't put a price on.
Sounds like a good theme for a blues song to me.
"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
A delightful little quote but I'm pretty much sure that Dr. Seuss didn't have an act like rockers AC/DC in mind when he first uttered or scribed those profound words. But, as is the way my mind works I feel it befits a band that has continually both enthralled and annoyed me in equal measures down the years.
They are what they are and they do it their way, always have always will and though their songs are truly eternal, when they finally pack in and Angus Young folds up his school uniform for the final time and confines it to the grave, the epitaph of 'They stuck to what worked' will be chiselled into their tombstone - no doubt to a standard mid tempo 4/4 beat. A one trick pony some might suggest? There's nothing wrong with that, nothing at all, it's a good trick so there's no hardship in that but I do constantly ask myself why I can't seem to listen to 2 AC/DC albums back to back. Perhaps it's a case of fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Maybe their uncomplicated arid sound tightens my skin and forces out a few drops of musical snobbery that were lurking somewhere within my pores. Can't see that in fairness, rock n roll is no place for snobbery and I love the stuff (there are times when only 'Back In Black' will do) but one moment I'm rocking out like a good 'un, and the next track I'll be thinking 'Christ on a bike, these guys are getting away with murder'. I'll plead for a fluctuation in beat off Mr Rudd, even a drum fill, a roll, or even if he just opened his hi-hat a little wider sometimes. I'll hanker for a change of solo style, a wandering bass run, anything, anything... and then I just won't care and yell along with vein popping gusto and abandon. Simplicity can often be a thing of great beauty and power. They frustrate me, but I kind of like them doing it.
'Highway To Hell' was released in 1979 and is the band's final album of the Bon Scott era before the great man tripped over a pile of his empties and fell off the edge of the world.
As is to be expected there are no surprises to be had on here but as is the AC/DC norm, it rocks, entertains and has you tapping and nodding along to that stubborn, primitive beat that rarely deviates from its well trodden path. There are the usual sections where you find yourself switching off - perhaps it is down to that repetitive pulse that takes you back to a sleepy ball in the womb - but through their all-in gang chanting choruses the band has that hypnotist's ability to snap you out of your slumberous trance at will.
Dry, spacious, bony, rousing, infectious, all the usual AC/DC stalwarts are thrown into the mix and are suitably chained up by Scott's cutting vocals.
Scott was effortlessly cool, he even managed to pull off the hairy chest/stomach combo with heroic aplomb as he stood tight-jeaned and god -like upon the stage. For all his hell-raising wildness, the guy had a grand pair of lungs and he knew his craft. He could coax out a lyric with that unique strangulated mew but could penetrate right through to the song's core too. Bon possessed a classic rock voice for me, shrill at times but welcoming and charismatic. If shoved into a corner I'd have to admit I prefer him to his successor Brian Johnson, though it's a close one and these days it's hard to imagine an AC/DC without good old Gonzo and his Fred Dibnah cap but I feel Scott just holds the edge with slightly more depth to his tones.
As is often the case, the title track is the killer song on the album and 'Highway To Hell' is a glorious way to kick-start the whole thing off. Sure, the band's drive down Route 666 plucks a few clichés out of the air as it coasts along but the car's windscreen and bumper are splattered with the twitching limbs of the unbelievers, the ones who don't matter. This is pure gold, one to savour, a priceless blast of genuine, straight down to business rock that'll never age.
I don't think I'll ever make funeral plans, for all I care you can scoop out my insides and use me as a wetsuit when I'm gone and have a game of footy with my head (take my hat off first if you don't mind) but should someone get things drastically wrong (I don't do church) and do one of those agonisingly prosaic ceremonies for me then I want this baby pounding out of the speakers. It certainly beats 'Wind Beneath My Wings' and 'Angels' and has the added humour of terrifying the clergy. Along with 'You Shook Me All Night Long' from the 'Back in Black' album, this ranks as AC/DC's finest with its familiar distinctive riff and trademark arms aloft triumphant chorus.
Although the heights of the opener are never really scaled again the album does even out and holds a degree of consistency with the occasional peak and trough interrupting a steady line of solid enough rock songs. A definite trough would be 'Touch Too Much' which must have been the blueprint track for many a hair metal glam band of the 80s a few years after. I can picture Def Leppard in some Sheffield bar nodding approvingly when this minced out of the speakers thinking 'yeah this is the stuff we're after boys'. 'Beating Around The Bush', enjoyable though the surprisingly intricate riff is, really ought to buy The Who's 'My Generation' a pint and while it's at the bar I wouldn't be at all surprised if it saw 'Get It Hot' buying the Rolling Stones a half too. 'If You Want Blood (You've Got It)' offers up the band's 'riot' song for the album and canny observers may argue that a little bit of 'Shot Down In Flames' carried on down the years and resurfaced on the song 'Thunderstruck' from 1990 'Razor's Edge' album, oh you can run but you can't hide boys.
'Love Hungry Man' is another high spot. One of those tracks that just glides and fills you with a sense of relief and satisfaction when you hear the opening chords. Bon's vocals emanate a reflective warmth and though predictably basic in structure it's one you'll never grow weary of. Can't help thinking Gary Moore must have had this melody in his head when he wrote the chorus to 'Out In The Fields'. It's probably also the most adventurous bass player Cliff Williams gets but we're not talking a Stanley Clarke slap-fest or anything here.
I mentioned earlier that the band never stray too far from a certain path and perhaps the only time on 'Highway To Hell' where they find themselves scratching their heads at the fork in the road comes right at the end in plodding blues rock number 'Night Prowler'. At just over 6 minutes long it's the album's longest track and though a welcome drop in tempo and direction you still feel it keeps itself on a piece of string in case it gets lost, the AC/DC dynamic always seems to stay comfortably within reach. Lyrically, as with every song the band has ever done it doesn't set the world alight but those who mind...
Young's solo work isn't the greatest on 'Highway To Hell', it's far from being a shambles but there's nothing remotely innovative or inspiring about it and it's best to look at AC/DC albums elsewhere for more rewarding examples of his talents and ignore the 'Psuedo Muso' types who'll claim that they 'get what he's doing here'. (Mini Adder rant brewing). Ah yes, those people, those irritating, boring people with frizzy ponytails and protruding Adam's apples who lie awake at night dreaming of taping down wires for student Jamiroquai tribute bands and will tell you stuff like "Ooo, it's all about the notes he leaves out isn't it?" You sure sunbeam? So what are we to deduce from that 'Pseudo Muso' guy? That if he didn't play a note at all then we would be left with the work of a genius? If that's the case, then my nan wrote some bloody killer guitar solos and so has my neighbour's gerbil for that matter. I fully take on board that a solo doesn't have to be fast to work - I'm a lover of and campaigner for slower playing, but there has to be something there to get your teeth into to start with and this doesn't happen too much on here.
'Highway to Hell' is steady enough without being overly spectacular. As with every other DC album it will probably always be standing in the dusky shadow of the all conquering 'Back In Black' album but a couple of these wouldn't have been out of place on there and I often muse about how 'Black' would have sounded with Bon presiding over the vocal execution. Ah, a discussion, futile some might say, for another time.
Tricky one to mark this, 4 stars seem excessive and 3 doesn't seem enough. Ah sod it, it's getting a four, I'm in a generous mood. I still like 'em, guess I always will. Sometimes I don't, but they're the times that don't matter. When I hear one of these songs blast out of a duke box in the alehouse, my gut reaction is "oh yeah, bit of AC/DC, get in" so that can't be all bad now can it? Just pray that that little box of delight doesn't play their entire back catalogue in one sitting or you'll be banging your head against the bar in frustration rather than appreciation. I suppose if that did happen you'd probably be in the best place for it anyway. Pub rock? Yeah it is, and we salute ya.
Rarely has the title of an album seemed so fitting. Vocalist Blaze Bayley, born Bayley Alexander Cooke, is one of heavy metal's true survivors. Despite several knockbacks, unfair criticism and tragic personal heartbreak he remains chained to the railings of rock, weather-beaten, snarling, belligerent and clawing away at anything that moves in an act of spirited defiance.
I first became aware of Blaze in the mid/late 80s during his Wolfsbane days and also recall fond memories of him holding the audience in the palm of his hand as they supported the mighty Iron Maiden on their 1990 'No Prayer On The Road' tour. 4 years later, Blaze was chosen to replace the departing Bruce Dickinson in Maiden - effectively a knighthood in rock circles - but it's fair to say that eyebrows were raised within the metal community as the contrast in vocal styles differed considerably. Blaze's induction came at a period when Maiden's song-writing wasn't at its strongest and whereas I feel his range wasn't truly catered for, ultimately he wasn't what the band was looking for. He was made somewhat of a scapegoat for a slump in album sales, unfairly in my view as it was a time when CDs sales globally had dipped regardless of genre. A constant irritation for me is when I hear Blaze's actual vocal ability dismissed due to this less than fruitful period. Ok, the 2 albums recorded are far from world beaters but nor are they the disasters many fans make them out to be. In a nutshell, the songs just weren't tailored to suit Blaze's natural range and the suppression is painfully apparent and makes for frustrating and uncomfortable listening in several tracks. Many Maiden fans seemed to distance themselves from Blaze but let's not forget he had been handed the microphone from a legend in Bruce and that would have been one heavy baton to lift for anyone.
Dickinson returned to Maiden in 1999 and Blaze was effectively fired, a decision that I feel he has always handled with impeccable dignity even though it must have hurt like hell for a man as proud and passionate as he is. This was the prize job in metal, the pinnacle for any frontman and he had been de-robed and spurned. As seemingly damaged goods, there appeared only one direction to go.
Blaze licked his wounds, dusted himself down, reset his bandana and then soldiered on to form the band simply entitled 'Blaze', who released 3 solid enough studio efforts but the band struggled to hold a consistent line-up, which leads us to where we are now. For the 4th studio album 'Blaze' became 'Blaze Bayley' and the trials and tribulations Blaze had to go through to round up this particular group of henchmen could be detected from the various nationalities and backgrounds they have. It is as though he has physically scaled the globe to find members as dedicated to the cause as himself. 2 Colombian brothers in Nick and Dave Bermudez (guitar/bass), a submarine-mad Kiwi in drummer Larry Paterson and a fellow Brit Jay Walsh (guitar) make up his most settled line up to date (at the time of writing a second album 'Promise and Terror' with the same personnel has recently been released). This stability, togetherness and willingness to work hard, coupled with that 'click' factor that you need in any band regardless of ability levels pays dividends and truly vindicates Blaze's steadfast refusal to give in.
Released in 2008, 'The Man Who Would Not Die' is a metal gem, it rams a forearm across your throat, pins you to the wall and screams blue murder in your face and is certainly one in the eye for any critics and doubters who ever knocked Bayley's talent. (I'm trying desperately hard here not to slip in blaze/phoenix pun.)
If you're not a fan of metal then there's probably not going to be much here for you, even some hard rock fans may find it escapes their parameters somewhat as the album is in the main heavy, hard and fast, siding with a more thrash/speed metal orientation. The majority of riffs used are what I like to describe as 'ankle biters' - incredibly detailed and tight, reminiscent of Megadeth and Helloween in their pomp. There are no standout iconic 'take home' ones that you'll hear reproduced in guitar shops across the globe as the style favoured here is more of a busy hive of staccato stabs that nudge and nurdle. Naturally, as can't be avoided, these are infused with a generous helping of ringing power chords cast out into the mix and this bubbling cauldron of metal broth is in turn frequently supported by the pneumatic drill pulse of Paterson's double bass rolls.
Many riffs are accented and led by a snapping snare but I do enjoy the see-sawing pattern changes in the battle between guitars and drums. There's a great mix of role reversal and sparring that keeps segments fresh, or as fresh as down and dirty metal can be. When the chords ring, the bass drums fire and then when the guitars are a chugging Larry will ease off at times, an interesting and well worked conflict. Occasionally, it all takes a breather and broods a little letting the ride cymbal control and dictate at half pace. These are not new methods by any stretch but to be effective they need to be utilised at the right times. Paterson's contribution is not to be underestimated, he's a more than accomplished drummer and to keep this intensity up you have to have something about you. If you listen to the brilliant 'Robot' he has his afterburners on full tilt and the pace is relentless but he skilfully switches patterns and this changes the whole dynamics of the song. It's easy to suggest that studio recordings can be toyed with and bits are dropped in and over dubbed and all that malarkey, but I've seen these guys pull it off live at very close quarters so that kills that argument stone dead.
'The Man Who Would Not Die' isn't all a hard and heavy riot, there are some small pockets of calm reflection lurking within its granite constitution where we're treated to clean tones from Walsh and Nick Bermudez. Fair enough, there's always an explosion not far away but that's the nature of the beast. There are some melodic, twin breaks, a nod to Blaze's time spent with Maiden who have always been the greatest exponents of this. The band are actually Maiden fans so there's a common ground to be shared on certain fronts. Dave Bermudez (bass) is a truly inspirational find, playing frantic finger style in (dare we say it?) the mould of Steve Harris and I'll always prefer a finger player to a plectrum player (lazy gits) where bass is concerned, especially in up tempo music as I think it's more conducive to the feel offering up more elasticity and versatility, thus widening boundaries.
That leaves us will Blaze. As stated earlier I've followed his career for quite some time and have always been an admirer. He'll never be one for the ostentatious vocal gymnastics some of his mid 80s peers were more affiliated with but there is a rumbling force about him. A presence. He has a dark powerful drive to his vibrato, almost sinister in parts and a naturally low range with a wonderfully fierce undercurrent riding beneath a steel edge. I swear I can hear it gurgle sometimes as it dips below the surface. Blaze truly delivers here, this is the real Bayley, this is why he landed metal's most sought after job in the first place. His vocal work on the album is impressive and consistent, hitting a peak during the scintillating 'While You Were Gone' - a track that has taken on even more poignancy since the tragic death of Blaze's wife, Debbie, in September 2008. I ask anyone who ever doubted his vocal ability to have a listen to this track, particularly the opening stages where Blaze switches from a delicate, whispering croak to hit, in a flash, a fearsome, chest pounding note to start the song's fire. Though fundamentally a love song, it certainly doesn't fall into a tried and tested ballad routine. In keeping with the album it remains a meaty track and it's commendable and refreshing how the band successfully combines a heavy backdrop with some heartfelt, emotive lyrics.
'The Man Who Would Not Die' is a very dependable album. When I first slid it into the CD player I was willing it on, hoping it would be the true defining album that Blaze has threatened for so long. I wasn't disappointed. We are all probably different but when I get a new album I have various stages of listening. First off I kind of freewheel a bit and loosely let myself get immersed in the whole feel and mood. Second off it's a bit more intense, I become the sponge and start to properly absorb. Third off, I'm alive, dissecting the dynamics, pricking my ears at every drum fill, chord change and harmonic, even managing to take in a few lyrics. Fourth off, I'm primed and it's in the system, the next judgement being the test of time. By stage one and a half, I was realising that I was onto a winner with this one.
Out of the 12 tracks on 'The Man Who Would Not Die', there is only one weak link, ironically named 'Crack In The System' which fails to inspire. The rest is thoroughly enjoyable, the title track is actually one of the best metal songs I've heard in quite some time. There are some great hooky choruses on here, which seems a strange thing to say for such a thrashing no nonsense album but I guess that's what makes it work. 'Samurai' features a great little section to 'pogo' to, complete with a good old fashioned "Woahh" shout-a-long fist in the air line. 'Blackmailer' seems a little unconventional at first but somehow manages to weave its way into your psyche. 'The Man Who Would Not Die', 'Smile Back At Death', 'Robot', 'At The End Of The Day' and 'While You Were Gone' are all top draw efforts with the remaining tracks not far behind. Lyrically the album can range from the sublime to the basic and clichéd but you could hurl that at most metal albums that have gone before so I wouldn't worry.
So as Blaze now slips into veteran territory I feel this is his best work to date. Funded by himself and driven by a sheer love for what he does he could teach the new breed who pose around on 'Kerrang', 'MTV' and 'Scuzz' whilst having their arses wiped with $50 bills a thing or two. He is a metal character, a stayer. These fly-by-night mainstream Charlies haven't had to travel up and down the country for hours on end in tatty vans smelling each other's farts all day, nor hunked tonnes of gear and equipment over borders at midnight and suchlike. Blaze stills plays the smaller venues and delivers with the same fervour be it in front of 500 or 50,000. I've been 2ft away from him whilst he's performed these songs and had those dark menacing eyes bore right through me and trust me, he means what he does. This is a wonderful metal album, I just hope it gets the exposure it deserves. If not, Blaze and his band you feel will just keep going anyway as you can't kill a man who simply just won't die.
The Spirit of Music is a mischievous but nonetheless likeable imp. It doesn't really care who it manifests itself inside and its impartiality is to be applauded. In this instance it chose a humble gas fitter from Sheffield by the name of John Robert Cocker, or 'Joe' as he was eventually to be known. But another mischievous thing can be nostalgia and interestingly enough, if we were to shake those 9 letters around and jumble them about a bit it, they provide us with the anagram of 'lost again'.
Now we can all get lost again in the past and immersing ourselves in bygone events or experiences can be both a good or bad thing, but what it can also do is maybe cloud judgement, which is what I feel maybe happened during the naming of this particular compilation CD 'The Legend'.
Don't get me wrong here, Joe is a bona fide great but some of the songs on this album, for all their pampered buoyancy, weigh down on the man heavily and don't allow his soul to fly. The true legend of Cocker was built around the primal days of the 60s and early 70s. He started at out as 'Vance Arnold' with his band 'The Avengers', predominantly singing Ray Charles numbers and mainly playing the raw and rambunctious pubs of Sheffield. You can hear a bit of Charles in Cocker, in especial the mournful phrasing and the little adlib howls he interjects and even sometimes down to the utilisation of his backing singers although Joe opted for a more gospel feel to Ray's vintage, classic old school Disney touch.
After Vance Arnold, 'The Grease Band' and 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' followed, all incorporating that hearty mix of blues soul and rock and what I consider the true grit of Cocker and the whole essence of what he was all about before it slowly seemed to degenerate (for me anyway) into a glossy world of cabaret. He almost became the favourite uncle who would get up and give you a turn regardless of what he was singing over. Now if you look back at his Woodstock appearance of 1969, that was the big bomb. Those heroic sideburns stuck like clubs of Velcro to his jaw line, spring loaded hair bouncing to every one of his mistimed, maladroit and quirky attempts at air guitar (supporting my theory that the Spirit of Music is a true entity and can physically possess people), obligatory Thai dye shirt, appalling trousers, I could go on. All this tomfoolery and feral frippery is forgiven though because the 'sound' was there and a wonderfully abraded naturally bluesy sounding band to back up a firecracker voice can eradicate the evil of fashion. The blood curdling screams and flat Yorkshire accent might have confused a field full of somnolent lentil scoffing hippies and caused the flowers in their hair to wilt a little but this era was Joe at his brilliant best, this was the legend. This CD, however, starts with the duet 'Up Where We Belong'. See what I'm getting at?
Although Joe has penned a few songs over the years (and with another slight nod to Charles) it is the cover version with which he is most synonymous. For me, some have worked and some haven't. The voice has always been there but as stated earlier the selection and the musical direction of some tracks is questionable. While I admit that early recording techniques do pander to my love of all things natural within sound and music and I'm often unashamedly biased about this, Joe's later material was far too burnished for its own good. 'The Legend' is a mixed bag and makes you wonder, without being disrespectful, if the album should have been entitled 'The Enigma' instead. In fact on the CD cover, aside from looking like he's just opened bat for the All-Muggleton cricket team in a suspect white pullover, Joe himself looks a little reticent, with what could be described as an 'Are you sure about this?' expression ruefully daubed across his bearded chops. This 18 song scatterbox and ultimately misleading compilation was released in 1992 and also offers up 4 live numbers.
As expected, his phenomenal take on The Beatles' song 'With A Little Help From My Friends' features on here early doors at song 2. Now The Beatles are a band that I've never been able to get too giddy about (geez! - a bolt of lightning has just hit my brew a matter of inches away) and I feel the original of this song might as well have been sung by the Tweenies or Rod, Jane and Freddy from 'Rainbow' to a group of 7 year olds in the land of chocolate. What Joe does is give it some right royal cojones. The scream in the middle could frighten a police horse but the subtlety within the track is just as effective as regards passion. Cocker deals with the song a bit like an eccentric mad professor toying with his latest experiment, gleefully ecstatic over the thrill of it all but not forgetting the importance of his deft academic side. The result? Music gold.
The other classic Joe takes on here come in the forms of 'Delta Lady', 'The Letter', 'She Came In Through The Bathroom Window', 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood', 'Honky Tonk Woman' and 'Cry Me A River', the latter two being live recordings with the added comedy bonus of the guy who introduces the band before 'Honky Tonk Woman' sounding like he's doing a bad impression of Hercule Poirot.
Stupidly moustachioed Belgian detectives aside, these are the songs worthy of the legendary tag. They have that honest core about them, that natural feel and rhythm that his voice can grind against and produce those dazzling sparks, and when they hit ya, those babies may burn but they feel mighty fine.
The other live recordings on 'The Legend' lean toward Joe's frequent gospel forays. His cover of the Stephen Stills track 'Love The One You With' - a song that has been assaulted far too many times, is commendable enough if only for the fact that Cocker manages to get his falsetto to croak, which is brilliant but nevertheless the cover does take on a dirge like mentality the further in it gets, not helped by the audience's comical inability to clap in time toward the end. 'Please Give Peace A Chance' (arise you sleepy hippies of the Hydra) does momentarily flap the wings of interest but just for the little Dixieland Jazz twist the brass section fit in. Other than that it's repetitive and though energetic, ultimately dull and doesn't get too far off the ground proving that not every one of the old style songs hits the bullseye.
Disappointment and frustration prevails in near enough all the other tracks. Procol Harum's 'AWhiter Shade Of Pale' is a song I've always had a lot of time for and one you feel Joe would've worked his magic on. But instead of taking you on the magical journey he does with 'Little Help' he actually takes us to the seaside, to the end of the pier to be precise, where he sets up a mirror ball and gives us a truly cruise ship/working man's club rendition. If the dazzling sparks of classic Joe stung the soul in a healthy uplifting way, then each little reflective shard of the mirror ball that passes over you cuts deep and bleeds you dry to a slow morose, apathetic death. The guitar solo sounds like it's being played on bagpipes and again you feel the whole rhythm and lethargy suppresses more than encourages Cocker to put his stamp all over it. The same could be said for 'Many Rivers To Cross', a song that makes you wonder if he's got a mate to have a go on keyboards for him. Far too shiny, far too fake and a little toe curling at times.
The album goes a bit 80s for the cover of Steve Winwood's ' Talking Back To The Night'. Oh how the apple bounces far from the tree at times. This is undoubtedly the low point on the entire disc and believe me in parts there is some pretty fierce competition for that honour. You almost expect David Hasslehoff in a 'Who shot J.R?' t-shirt to leap out of the speakers and ride off into the sunset on a Sinclair C5 such is the song's painful mainstream embodiment of this most laughable of decades.
A funk offering of 'Fun Time' fails to truly inspire and although the composer Allen Toussaint isn't actually French, Joe's version does appear to open every door in the stale Brie factory allowing those pungent fumes to carry you further away from the legendary songs of the early Cocker. Funk is always a strange one for me, it feels good if you're actually playing it but you've got to be careful you don't bore the codlings off folk in the process as it can get a little samey and dull if you let it drag on.
Even 'Let It Be' - a song that's pretty hard to get wrong blows hot and cold, there's no need for backing vocals and it could have definitely done without what appears to be a Stylophone solo half way in. To be honest I'm not too sure who threw this album together, probably some suited nugget executive at Polygram with a phD in 'Not Having A Musical Bone In His Body'. Strange that the more commercial route favoured by 'The Legend' didn't feature Cocker's 'Unchain My Heart' or 'I Put A Spell On You', which are far better tracks than most on here - I'd have even settled for his version of the INXS hit 'Never Tear Us Apart'.
So for me the man from the Steel City with the steel voice is ultimately let down, the lone wolf has seemingly tried to howl at a heedless moon. How much say he has actually had over the years in how his songs are produced is unclear, but someone, somewhere has made some bad choices, probably influenced by the mighty dollar. When will people realise that when you have a prime cut of steak you don't make the sauce out of cat sick or pour water in the vintage red at its side? As long as the cash tills are pinging and rattling, probably never.
So I say nostalgia is good. Whether you think it's regressive and symbolises a reluctance to progress or whether a yearning for a time when things were simply just better is a natural thing to do, it's all down to personal choice and tastes. And as time sure as shit waits for no man, it also follows you around like a capricious shadow, a maze of memories in which to get 'lost again'. More often than not with music, it's the best place to be.
These are indeed strange and frustrating times we live in. The world gets more restrictive by the day and the earth on which we walk upon is now made of egg shells which in turn are held together by officious red tape. We can't live, breathe, eat, drink or talk without being watched and told we are doing wrong. We dare not teach our young that the sky is blue in case it offends the bloody Smurfs. I've no doubt as I write this there will be chameleons in some distant rainforest being forced to wear luminous hi-viz jackets just so it's fair to their predators and prey, adhering to yet more farcical health and safety regulations. Some days just seem great days to be getting a little older.
So in my despair, and before I change my name to Winston Smith, I often look for positive, reliable constants. Things that just don't change. Things that stick to their guns no matter what. Things that embody true rebellion. Yes, I look for bands like Motorhead to let loose their pheromones and liberate me from a state of mental torment.
They've never been my favourite act by some distance but I love their style, approach, attitude and Ian 'Lemmy' Kilmister's no nonsense in yer face street fighting spirit. As true rock 'n' roll legends go, they don't come more qualified than old mutton chops himself. By his own admission he's not the most technically gifted of players and has confessed he only took up bass because his guitar work was awful - (I feel genius bass exponents Stanley Clarke and Mark King choking on their food and spluttering out their drink at that one). But with a voice that could wrestle a bear to the floor and songs that are ground out from the very depths of Hades a hearty blast of Motorhead every now and again can remedy a world full of erroneous tosh.
Lemmy has always insisted they just play old fashioned rock 'n' roll, his cover versions of 50s hits 'Louie Louie' (Richard Berry) and 'Please Don't Touch' (Johnny Kidd And The Pirates) on this album pay a little testament to that. He is a also big fan of acts like Little Richard and The Beatles and cites them as big influences on his career, though I must admit, many a 50s prom dance might have had to change style if the 'Ace Of Spades' had blasted out of the speakers. For me, if you listen long enough, certain tracks do harbour shades of early rock 'n' roll albeit in let's say a more abrupt capacity. There's punk in there too, mainly due to Lemmy's distinctive distorted bass tones and also a more obvious metal aspect with regards speed and solo style though Lemmy always iterates that he was "before metal" - a point that you can't and frankly wouldn't argue with. But if there's one band's sound that you don't need to over analyse then that'll be Motorhead. They're nothing complex, no toying with time signatures or mid-song tempo changes, they border on the basic at times but it doesn't matter - they have that certain thing only few can muster. Charisma.
Personally, it all comes from Lemmy for me, the quarterback and only constant member of the band since they hatched from their hairy egg in 1975. It all centres around that voice, he must have been fed broken glass as a child and made to wash it down with sand. Belligerent, pugnacious, without any real range and you can forget vibrato or sustaining a note as his 'dogs of war' barking delivery is the fulcrum of their ferocious sound. It's strained to the point where you can only imagine him letting off loads of stingy, 'pippy' little farts on stage as he blasts out the hits on the very edge of his yield point.
They're a band that tells it as it is. A band that bleeds, sweats, growls and doesn't mind if you see it nipping off to the loo with a crumpled old copy of 'Razzle'. They're honest in other words, a gutsy, grit infested engine that just runs off adrenaline and the fumes of bourbon (amongst other things). Oh, and they're ear shatteringly loud too.
'The Essential' is basically a greatest hits album featuring 39 chronologically listed songs over two discs. Disc 1 covers 1977-1981 incorporating hits from the eponymously titled 'Motorhead' through to 'Overkill', 'Bomber', 'Ace Of Spades' and 'No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith' while disc 2 offers up tracks from 1982-1992 and albums 'Iron Fist', 'Another Perfect Day', 'No Remorse', 'Orgasmatron', 'Rock 'n Roll', '1916' and 'March Or Die'.
All through both CDs it is largely music to put hairs on your chest and generally not for the faint hearted. The slower songs to me seem more heavy and sinister than the breakneck rockets as Lemmy's voice churns out devilment over the top. There are songs to rev your engines to, songs to behead warlords to, songs to trudge through a battlefield of crumpled bodies to and songs to methodically nod to as you stand lonely and reflective at the end of the bar with no friends, staring into your pint as you ponder a life on the road (my early 20s just can't leave me sometimes). All of these hefty chugs are saturated in lyrics of evil wit, black humour and general rock 'n roll debauchery. Card playing, womanising, drinking, smoking and generally beating seven shades of shit out of everything that happens to come into the war zone - it's enough to keep you on your toes and feed a beast within.
Disc 1 dishes up the band at their most raw. It's like a roaring drunk that never seems to spill a drop as the loose drumming and beastly chords just clatter into everything on a relentless charge. When I first started out in bands in my early teens we used to just stick a tape recorder in the middle of the garage just to hear how we sounded, it seems this is same technique that Motorhead used throughout their early years judging by the majority of the recordings on here - but hey, I like that.
Plenty of vocal reverb for 'White Line Fever, invoking a psychedelic spirit, a moody march in the form of 'Iron Horse' and an insight that 'Overkill' could have possibly been a blueprint for their most well known hit 'Ace Of Spades', this is rock 'n' roll music stripped to its bare bones. The brilliant, almost amateurish 'We Are The Roadcrew' must have been written on the spot and was obviously some kind of in joke as you can gather when the tape keeps rolling at the end. Think it took drummer Phil Taylor (seriously not to be confused with the dart player) by surprise too as he epitomises the old drumming cliché of 'knocking up a shed' in this playful blast.
'Too Late, Too Late' will have fans of Black Sabbath reminiscing of 'Paranoid', 'Tear Ya Down' is a marauding biker track and I always feel 'The Chase Is Better Than The Catch' could have been written for Alice Cooper. Due to the basic structure of these earlier songs there is an element of repetition about disc one. For instance the same riff can be heard on 'White Line Fever', 'Overkill' and 'All The Aces' but you somehow let it go, similar to a lot of AC/DC material, because it still kind of gets you pumping.
If disc 1 was the wily older brother then disc 2 is the younger, more eager pup and offers more consistency quality wise and more variation but they still have the same dad if you know what I mean. Same drink slightly different bottle, I wouldn't call it experimental, that would be stretching it a bit, but there is a change about it. There are more detailed riffs and runs as heard in 'Shine' along with some truly magical quick fire blasts - the minute and half or so Lemmy dedicates to 'R.A.M.O.N.E.S' is one of the highlights of both discs and a personal favourite and the message he gives out during 'Rock 'N' Roll' is one to savour too.
But something different happens on disc 2 and I remember being truly shocked and taken aback when it did. Be still, my friends, for there are a couple of ballads. Hard to believe but those frayed vocals chords in that battered old throat are given a breather. When I first heard '1916' I thought he was having a laugh, it was such a surprise. To hear Lemmy almost reciting moving poetry over a gentle marching drum beat and string section was a shock to the system. But when I picked myself up of the floor and actually listened to it, I was totally entranced. It is an emotive ode about war and I think because it IS Lemmy singing it just adds to the innocence of it all. There's nothing wrong with a grave digger reading the 'Beano' in his dinner hour so why should this be different? It is one of the most moving things you'll hear and a distant cry from the subtly named 'Die You Bastard' (which starts with a deep guttural belch) earlier on the disc. It's simple but as is the Motorhead way, it works because of it.
The other ballad on 'The Essential', entitled 'I Ain't No Nice Guy', has a more definite mainstream feel about it. It's an acoustic assisted duet with fellow hellraiser John Michael Osbourne or 'Ozzy' as we know him. There's a little piano flourish that pops up now and then that strangely reminds me of the theme music to 'Baywatch' (didn't think I'd mention 'Baywatch' in this review when I got up this morning).The song, which also features a cameo solo from Slash, is quite a reflective piece for the band and odd as it may sound the clichés act as a bit of a curveball.
And that's 'The Essential' - there are no doubt several other compilations similar to this but with just a different cover. It gives you a decent spread and all the hits you want are on. Should only really be 3 stars, 2 in certain parts but it's getting a flippin' 4 just because I like 'em.
When all the dust settles nobody can ever deny Lemmy and Motorhead their place in legend. Dedicated to a life on the road, endless drinks, magic potions and more women than their pig ugly faces have any right too, they are true comic book heroes, and heroes these days are a dying breed. But thankfully their Harleys are still far from being left to rust in the yard yet and one hopes that their hum shall be eternal.
Find the lone room at the very top tower of rock HQ and as you enter amidst flashing buttons and giant video screens it will be Lemmy who swivels round in the chair and welcomes you with a big warty grin. And with matted strands of sweat laden hair clinging to his cheeks, nicotine stained fingers running through the white fur of the cat on his lap he'll beckon you over. Hopefully you can help him find the magic button that blows up Cowell, his cronies and his pearly white Gouda-based plastic empire of cack and hope it takes the rest of the country's arseheads with them too.
Then we few, we happy few, we band of rocking brothers will triumph, for he today that bangs his head with me, shall be my brother.
You can't kill rock 'n' roll.
Concept albums are always a tricky one to master. They can be a bit of a double edged sword and dangerous in the wrong hands as with them comes an extra pressure to merge both musical aptitude and lyrical theme into a tenable balance. More often than not they're a coin toss - 'Heads' the music way outperforms the topic deeming it a little futile or 'Tails' topic takes precedent and dilutes the music. But occasionally, miracles do happen and when you flip the coin up high it drops down and lands on its edge and you get to see the best of both. To quote Robert Shaw in Jaws, "...you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing".
It was in May 1988 that U.S band Queensryche, under the genre guise of 'Progressive Metal', hypnotised the psyche of rock fans everywhere when they unleashed their ambitious 3rd full album 'Operation: Mindcrime'.
The story, in short, is based around protagonist, Nikki, a dormant revolutionary and heroin addict who basically gets lured into an underworld organisation headed by the mysterious Dr X. The mission is to overturn corrupt American society from below with religion and politics being the main target. Nikki, brainwashed and dependant, becomes Dr X's puppet performing all his dirty work, assassinations and other such atrocities. Throw in a delightfully sordid love affair with prostitute/nun Sister Mary (oh what a tangled web we weave) and it all becomes, as you can imagine, a bit messy and ideal deviance for a rock band to put a score over. So strap yourself in, it will take you on a journey, not in a '3rd star to the right and carry on until morning' way - hey this ain't Kansas, Toto, but there's a route laid out if you want it and it's worth trying because the scenery is fascinating.
Queensryche's sound and style is fundamentally based in rock, touching on metal at times but obviously with the 'progressive' aspect of their work is full of surprises. The wonderful short ditty, 'My Empty Room' for example, could have easily featured on Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' album but with the added bonus of vocalist Geoff Tate not sounding like he was witnessing his own castration (sorry Mr Waters but you had a nightmare on 'Don't Leave Me Now'). They even manage to sound a bit like U2 for a section in the song 'Spreading The Disease' and the mischievous hyena that laughs through wicked teeth inside my mind can see a little irony as the song might seem a little preachy in parts.
They'll toy around with keys, 12 strings, lap steels and synths - whatever is suitable for lull or storm - and are all clearly gifted musicians. The solo work is well judged, well executed and not too in your face often offering up some melodic Maiden-like twin breaks for good measure. Backing vocal harmonies are tight, crisp, suitably nailed in the right places and not too ubiquitous. The consistency of the album is remarkable, every piece of the jigsaw is a gem and a triumph for song writing. Sure they can give you a catchy chorus, poppy in parts, but it won't be the one you were expecting. In actual fact the only predictability about 'Operation: Mindcrime' is that every track is peppered in excellence and stands out as a good pumping song in its own right regardless of the album's intellect.
The songs as you'd expect for a concept album are all intertwined and merge into each other more often than not with a voiceover to maintain the theme and keep the story moving. In all honesty the only negative aspect of the album comes in the first minute with the male spoken lead into 'Anarchy-X' sounding a bit wooden. Think of Keanu Reeves doing his nativity play - woah there are some serious splinters there.
I don't normally go overboard for album production, I hear notes first and foremost and I trust my ears to convey the soul of the song to my head and my heart regardless of how it has been recorded. I'd rather listen to a crackly bootleg of Hendrix playing in his back garden than a crystal clear version of 'Orville's Song' by Keith Harris and that bloody duck if you get my point. But for the type of album this is, I feel the clinical, flawless production does serve to enhance. You can barely get a cigarette paper between the overall sound which is pristine and measured to military precision.
The guitar tones are most agreeable - sharp and pinched when clean, decipherable through the distortion when rocking out. The drum sound is nice and bright, snappy on the snare and rattles out like gunfire at times. Hi-hats are slick, cymbals are piercing, there lies a resplendent clarity among the percussive conflict. The bass tone is a joy and provides an interesting resistance, almost making the notes sag from the stave, crying out to be punched along. This all serves to prepare the perfect canvas for Tate to paint upon. Geoff's voice levitates in the higher regions of the vocal stratosphere and he has a great range, reminiscent of Michael Kiske in underrated German speed metal ensemble 'Helloween'. This style could no doubt split opinion and annoy many observers but for me, and I don't want to appear wise after the event, it works to perfection. I feel a raspy and hoarse more archetypal 'straw eater' rock voice would have perhaps compromised and diminished the aura of insanity that the world of 'Mindcrime' is shrouded in. It is the wailing banshee and not the roaring giant who prevails in this 'ere tale folks.
Halfway in the album offers its centrepiece - its magnum opus if you like- in the form of the sensational 11 minute epic 'Suite Sister Mary'. This track is undoubtedly a focal point and delves into some serious rock opera territory though not in a media friendly 'Bat Out Of Hell' way. We have some haunting tension, rainfall, choirs chanting in Latin (oldie but goody), ringing notes, sirens, out and out rock riffs and a vocal cameo by Pamela Moore who plays the part of the strumpet nun. Moore's performance, short though it is, is fantastic, her voice has a pleading innocence about it along with shades of an 80s Toyah Wilcox and she sounds so, so sexy with it. This isn't one to play at parties and to be honest if someone walked in on you listening to it their face might contort into an expression that Phil Cool would be proud of. But it is a masterpiece around which the album rotates and thrusts 'Mindcrime' into the marbled halls of all time rock greatness. (Go on, how many of you are still thinking of Neo from The Matrix with a tea towel wrapped around his head refusing Mary and Joseph a room?)
If 'Suite Sister Mary' isn't your thing (and I think the band may have had one eye on this) then fear not because from here on in the shackles are fully released and 'Mindcrime' lets its guard down. The second half - not that the first was any less desirable - has a more free flowing nature to it. Pace and structure of albums has always been relevant but in the case of concept albums I feel it is essential and once more Queensryche get it spot on. 'The Needle Lies', 'Breaking The Silence', 'I Don't Believe In Love' and 'Eyes Of A Stranger' are all out and out sublime rock efforts. Catchy, bouncy but yet again with that element of surprise and effortless brilliance that the band could pull off at will. They're not just any old rock song, there is an ambience of professionalism about them, by that I don't mean they're stuffy or formal, they're just classy.
The Adder is going to shed a little skin right now but I feel it needs saying as it is relative to the piece. One supposed negative that has been thrown at 'Operation: Mindcrime' over the years is that it is self indulgent. This is preposterous in my opinion. Of course it is! So what? I've never heard such a bigger barrel load of bull's bollocks in all my born days (apart from about a month ago in my local when some clown said that Oasis made grunge better?!?!) As you can maybe glean, it's a term I hate and one I feel people misinterpret and always seem to see indulgency as somehow being a hindrance or a scourge on creativity. Something can be boring, over elaborate, pretentious and not to your particular tastes, but self indulgent? What of Salvador Dali? Sergei Prokofiev? Einstein? Shakespeare? Hendrix? I could go on. Over history if people hadn't indulged themselves and invigorated their mortal beings then there would not have been a song sung, a play acted, a film made, a discovery found, a book written nor a picture painted, and that, my friends, bodes for a truly soulless existence and a dull, pointless, uninspiring world. For those who see of self indulgency as a negative, I would call into question a capacity to facilitate matters out of their comfort zone.
*Takes swig of gin straight from bottle*
This album talks the talk and walks the walk, it delivers its promise, Anne of Cleves it ain't. The subject matter does not in anyway stultify the music. On both fronts the album is a triumph. It may take 3 or 4 listens to truly start appreciating the whole picture and what a fine body of work this is but trust me, you'll get there. I've been listening to 'Operation: Mindcrime' for over 20 years now (obviously I've done other things in between - least I think I have) and it gets better every time I hear it.
For what it's worth, this comes with a very strong Adder recommendation and, if I had the power, I would order a fly over by the Red Arrows every time it's played. But for now, Geoff Tate, Chris De Garmo, Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield and yeah why not - the luuurrrvelly Pamela Moore will have to make do with merely a glowing review.
'Operation: Mindcrime' never releases its grip and long after 'Eyes Of A Stranger' brings it to a close it stays with you. It's stayed with me for over two decades.
Head, tail...the whole damn thing.
It was in late 1991 that I was first introduced to The Almighty when they were the support act for Alice Cooper on his 'Hey Stoopid' tour. The M6 had once more worked its magic and I was uncharacteristically late for a gig at what was then the N.E.C in Birmingham. On arrival at the entrance to the arena, over the usual ramblings of frustrated ticket touts and the compulsory aroma of frying onions, I could just hear this unholy rumble emanating from the bowels within, which was obviously the swashbuckling sound of the band charging through their set.
Now when I go watching Alice I'm usually so excited and pent up that the support band could pretty much scoop copious shovel loads of camel dung into the audience and I would applaud regardless. But that night, through the blind ferment, a period of lucidity embraced my soul as I blew the froth off a very welcomed but over-priced cold one. Something registered and I thought that this energetic quad of reprobates had enough about them to warrant further investigation. A few days later, mullet flapping in the wind as I bounced down the high street, the pockets of my incredibly tight fitting stonewashed jeans were emptied and 'Soul Destruction' was duly purchased.
'Soul Destruction' is The Almighty's second studio album and was released kicking and screaming into the wild in March 1991.
Guitarist/vocalist Ricky Warwick (who once had a stint with New Model Army) leads them fist high into battle with their no frills, old school, muscular hard rock. It isn't guided by spells our coated in a haunted shroud of mystique nor does it take you on a magic carpet ride o'er vales and hills of lyrical genius. The sound in general is quite heavy, dirty and assisted by a hollow drum pulse. They have what I can only describe as a very underdog sound and appeal about them. Rock staples such as choking the odd cymbal on a stab and snapping in a power chord on the half beat are all present and correct although they can drop tempo from time to time to reflect and take a breather. Mostly though, they deal in the art of the 'bash-about crusade' and with band members with names such as Tantrum (gee-tar) Stumpy (drums) and Floyd London (bass) they'd be loathe to try anything else.
Warwick as a vocalist knows his limitations and probably isn't too fussed about it. In the main his style is staccato, rough and borders on breathless during the band's rarer more subtle moments. He can blast away when he needs to but you'll seldom hear him hold a note for too long. A prominent feature and one that perturbs me a little is the somewhat fraudulent American drawl with which he sings. Ricky was born in Northern Ireland and the band's origins are based in Scotland. Now I don't expect him to sing in the style of 'Ian Paisley does The Proclaimers' (hell, there's a polarising act) and a little twangy tweak is ok in small doses, but it seems a little forced at times, as though he is trying too hard to be too rock 'n roll. You've got to be careful it doesn't simply become a bad impression of a hundred average rock singers that litter pubs up and down the country or worse still, Otto Mann (the dude who drives the school bus in 'The Simpsons').
For me it drains the honesty away from several of the songs and compels me to muse on the quandary that if he were actually American what would I think then? I really don't know. My escape hatch is that it's all hypothetical but it is an indelible stain which remains stubborn throughout the album. In addition, Ricky's reluctance to hold a note does take some of the sting out of the crescendos that the songs offer with his voice falling away as the bar overtakes. I don't totally dislike his vocals on the whole, one could argue it fits the skinned and scalped sound the band has to a degree, but I just feel it teeters perilously close to the edge of integrity.
From a song writing perspective, 'Soul Destruction' lacks true consistency though there are some stonking songs on offer which in a way makes it slightly harder to take as I'm all for willing bands that have something about them to make it over the finish line. Opener 'Crucify' flicks on the band's afterburners and singes the scrotum of the Satan inside you to get you dancing on the hot coals of rock - fans of Van Halen will draw immediate comparisons with the track 'Hot For Teacher'. After this it really is a bit of a mixed bag.
Tracks such as 'Joy Bang One Time', 'What More Do You Want', 'Praying To The Red Light' and 'Love Religion' are all pretty mediocre. No doubt they were encompassed in the 'filler' holding pen to be released at strategic times during the running order. Though obviously not intended to slip under the radar entirely they do harbour that 'support band' vibe about them and you do find yourself occasionally switching your ears to autopilot. 'Hell To Pay' comes straight from the AC/DC scrapbook but features an agreeable blues harmonica intro which is a nice touch. You see that's my gripe - the band aren't totally devoid of ideas or originality. 'Love Religion' for instance, features a very short, sweet, basic acoustic interlude that really works and shows they were thinking about what they were putting out. 'Sin Against The Light' billows the smoke of a Billy Idol fire and drops tempo during the chorus allowing it to ricochet nicely.
'Free 'N' Easy' features the albums only true memorable riff and even though it's basic it stands proud and defiant enough to hold your interest. You know the type, the stage is a blackout then in it comes, full of triumph to slowly reveal heroic guitarist under a smoky conical green light.
'Bandaged Knees' sees Ricky bleeding some rock 'n roll tears in the rain and threatens to become a classic but there's just something stopping it, something in the flow that you want to unblock. Maybe again it's that 'dowg gowen' transatlantic twang (which hits a peak during this number) sapping its true strength.
The Almighty give a big shake of the ballad tree eight songs in and down falls every cliché in the book but it's still a decent punt. Think of any slowy by Bon Jovi, Poison, Aerosmith, Motley Crue etc and there you have it. You can see the video in your mind's eye as soon as you hear it - in a desert somewhere, sat around a campfire, cigarettes lolling out of mouths at barely smokable angles, bottles of JD scattered all around, cowboy hats, occasional black and white slow motion shot as our hero catches the eye of the blonde hottie in the denim hot pants across the flames. Hang on - that's a dream I had last night. Anyway, you get my point though it is a nice enough song.
Every album has its centrepiece though and 'Devil's Toy' is an absolute gem. This track is the silver bullet in 'Soul Destruction's' six shooter and unlike several of its misfiring counterparts this one pierces the chest and rattles about your ribs. It's hard rock gold - swinging, swaying, rocking and baying. This song is probably why I've been a little harsh in this review, it's because I'm a bit peeved. Peeved because the band can produce brilliance such as this and yet fall short in other areas. I know every song can't be a classic but if you've got this in your locker than you're halfway there. Moody slide guitar intro, a killer tension building verse and a hook of a chorus that any band anywhere would wish they'd have written. I'd have kept the tension a little longer and milked it a bit more but they can't resist the temptation to kick the sand in your face early doors. Anyway who am I to tell them how to write songs? They're the ones who played at Donnington, not I, and bloody good luck to them.
So that's the story of 'Soul Destruction', well, my take on it anyway. Very much a nearly album by a nearly band. It isn't bad at all. I do, for all the negative points I made, quite like it, but it's way off being a classic. As Brits it is decreed that support of the underdog runs in our blood, 'tis indeed a noble and commendable trait. But sometimes you feel the underdogs just don't help themselves and that can be pretty frustrating at times.
Soul destroying, some might say.
It has often been said that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but I firmly believe 99% of the time you can. I have the same theory with regards to band names as certain monikers can conjure up connotations reflective of the genre quite easily.
For instance, Level 42 (pop), LL Cool J (rap), Napalm Death (death metal), Blind Lemon Jefferson (blues) and Joe Dolce (shower o' shite) all give a decent indication of what is about to caress the old eardrums by title alone. So with a name like Thunder you could be forgiven for expecting this London based quintet to rumble out some guttural, nasty, malodorous metal that could induce an approving 5-gut group belch salute by hairy men in faded Hawkwind T-shirts. But no, their ambrosial blend of bluesy rock tinted with just enough playful catchiness to keep your mamma interested sees them slip into the 1% club with a style that I believe is more akin to a care-free spring morning rather than a brooding November thunderstorm. Further evidence that Thunder aren't as 'bayad' to the bone as their name suggests is apparent on the back cover of the album which sees lead singer Danny Bowes posing in a questionable white vest and yes, pedal-pusher jeans which make him look like some slightly androgynous jack-in-the-box.
But aside from his badly chosen attire it's his voice that counts and Bowes' performance on the album is sensational. Think of a hybrid between David Coverdale and Robert Plant - and those are two names I don't fool around with. He can howl and growl a vowel with the best of them folks. Our Danny Boy has a larynx of Lycra that can sustain a note, shake it until its last drop, bleed it dry, modulate with ease, provoke and empathise. Basically, he's got it all in his vocal locker. Seriously, he's that good and I have often stroked my stubbly chin in deep thought, wondering whether or not the band would have enjoyed the same success without his contribution. In short I guess the answer is no but this isn't to say it was all about him.
Written in the main by guitar player Luke Morley, 'Backstreet Symphony' is the band's debut album and was released in 1990 just as thousands of students in their oversized jumpers had started shaking their greasy mop-topped locks to grunge, seemingly trying to rid themselves of a fashionable angst that they had conveniently just discovered. Thunder were standing firm and planted their affable flag deep into the moist and welcoming grounds of Rockbluesville.
You hardly have to shield your eyes from the sun as you head into a brave new world of music but the album has a very likeable laid back vibe about it even though there is plenty of sharp attack in the guitar tones. This edgy sound remains constantly crisp throughout thus veering the balance of sound to a decidedly rocky influence. Of course, the bottom line is that fundamentally 'Backstreet Symphony' contains some bloody good songs. They are infectious, wholesome and played with a free spirited energy that you can't fail to get wrapped up in. Many of the slides, licks and bends do get slightly repetitive but that's an accusation you could throw at many bands since the dawn of time and if that's your sound and style then I guess you stick to what you know best. The solo work is adequate and tidy without being remarkable, and to be fair a down-on-the-knees trailblazing fret attack would take a lot away from the mid tempo vibe they have settled for, there's a time and a place for everything.
Lyrically the album isn't going to solve the meaning of life or indeed see Henry James scrambling for his dictionary, but in accordance with their sound they generally keep the content on the street although poetically, they can blow enough of an enchanting, romantic breeze to ruffle through the hair of all the dreamers out there.
Thunder are masters of the luring bridge and once you purposely bound across you know only too well that you're going to reach a hooky chorus. Some probably get a bit too poppy, 'Dirty Love' for example pours a little water on a decent classic rock riff by going all Motley Crue and 'Nah Nah Naaaah Na' on us. Aided by a deep reverb on the snappy snare drum sound they do occasionally become a bit Americanised but thankfully manage to stay on the right side of corny although it does steer a tad too close for comfort sometimes. This pseudo US trait also rears its big-haired glammy head on 'Higher Ground'. It's a decent effort but if you want 2 guitar players standing back to back whilst turning their heads over their shoulder to share a microphone for the chorus then you've come to the right place amigos - although come on, we've all wanted to do that at some point in our lives.
Once more Bowes excels on the 3 ballads that the album offers. Yeah, you could argue that rock ballads are tried and tested and stick to the same old formula, perhaps there is only one way to write one but as with a lot of country songs, sometimes it's all in the telling. Saying this, Thunder compose sublime ballads which in parts can deviate from the norm a little in construction, though we still see the strummed acoustic minor chords beckoning in a predictable 'power' section. Rock chicks everywhere will float butterflies out of their eyes at the lyrical content of 'Love Walked In', 'Until My Dying Day' and 'Don't Wait For Me' but you've got to hold your hand (or lighter?) up and say that they are top efforts and showcase the brilliant Bowes. His delivery is especially outstanding on the latter song of the trio, his phrasing being supreme.
The standout song on the album is without doubt the title track, 'Backstreet Symphony'. A jaunty rhythm with shades of Bo Diddley's 'Mona' about it but all in all it is in good company. The nearest thing you get to actual blood and thunder would be 'Girls Going Out Of Her Head' or 'Distant Thunder'.
But alas, the album, consistent though it is, is not without some minor niggles. For a start, 8 of the 11 tracks on here are faded out. I've rambled on about fade outs in other reports so won't go over old ground but it's fair to say I hate them with a passion. What's the problem? Finish the songs boys and start another for Christ's sake, it ain't that hard - you're going to have to do it live anyway. Also they've thrown in a rather pointless version of The Spencer Davis Group's 'Gimmie Some Lovin' - again I don't want to repeat myself but I find the popularity of this song totally baffling. Should I ever come within close proximity of Mr Davis he may well be advised to heed his own murmurings and 'Keep On Running' as that ba-loody song has blighted more albums and performances than I care to remember.
The only other naff song on here is the rather puerile 'Englishman On Holiday', a decent riff and melody spoiled by some 'oooh we're so tough abroad when drunk' lyrics. This song sees the wearing of the pedal-pushers take on multiple forms of irony as it steps in every cowpat in the field of apathy. It's a shame they had to ruin a great debut as these songs remain the two pimples on an otherwise firm-buttocked album.
But I guess you get a good view from the gallows, a time to reflect and maybe learn from your mistakes. Maybe it's just me who didn't like those songs, probably is, after all I'm a guy who once got strangely addicted to the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 so my tastes can deviate from what is considered the norm at times.
On the whole Thunder didn't do much wrong. A great indication of their universal appeal was shown at the 1992 Monsters of Rock Festival at Donnington. These were the days when you had to be a top, top band to get anywhere near the bill as there were only 6 slots available and they were like gold dust. Nowadays, if you turn up early enough with purple hair, a pair of maracas and an NUS card you'll probably get offered a slot on the 'Biscuit Lovers' stage or something.
Anyway, Thunder were sandwiched in amongst some intense metal acts such as Skid Row, Slayer, WASP, The Almighty and Iron Maiden and I must admit their presence seemed a little incongruous. I feared the worst for them and remember thinking at the time if any band today is going to get the famous 'bottle of piss' treatment then it's Thunder. But they didn't, they were well received (probably not too much by Slayer fans in fairness) and that was vindication their songs were here to stay. They just had something about them that you couldn't dislike.
So if you're partial to a bit of catchy bluesy rock with truly stirring vocal delivery, then I would strongly advise you to click on the advert somewhere to the side of this review, you'll enjoy it. Last time I looked you could buy it for around 400p, which is frankly a steal (about 1/37th of your road tax to put it into perspective). 'Backstreet Symphony' should grace the collection of any rock fan for it has stood the test of time and Luke, Harry, Snake (I get ya rock n roll brother), Ben and Oh Danny Boy did themselves and the genre proud.
For 'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow...
Founded and fronted in 1978 by comedic duo Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, 'The Blues Brothers' started out as a light-hearted musical sketch on the popular American TV show 'Saturday Night Live'. Backed by a plethora of well respected musicians, characters Jake (Belushi) and Elwood (Aykroyd) soon evolved into a phenomenon. They began performing as a band in their own right, playing legitimate gigs and released the album 'Breifcase Full Of Blues' before eventually outgrowing the small screen to star in the smash film 'The Blues Brothers'.
There was a slight downside to this as it spawned countless half-baked two man 'tribute' acts where you'd see a short dumpy bloke and his tall, thin counterpart stroll into pubs with their hats, shades and tape machines delusively thinking that clowning around for an hour in half-mast trousers somehow qualified them to be classed as an act. Ok, now I've coughed-up that particular nagging furball, we'll get on with the music.
This was their second album and featured selected tracks from the 1980 film which was penned by Dan Aykroyd and John Landis.
With such a proficient backing band behind them they must have had some jolly old fun sitting on the banks of the big musical river pondering which songs to fish out and fry. They ended up with quite a varied assortment which gave the album freshness and a sense of balance.
The album is awash with well known cover versions and a couple of tracks even feature the original artistes singing their own song to the distinct Blues Brothers orchestration. As always, when dissecting classics you've got to be careful. Do it in negligence with a rusty scalpel and they'll become a dirty infected mess, get it right and your plagiarism will be forgiven. Thankfully they get it right not least because they employed a shrewd surgical ensemble to guest including the likes of Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and the all round specialist of musical mastery Dr Ray Charles Robinson. Aykroyd and Belushi take the lead in 6 of the 11 tracks on here and it's fair to say that Aykroyd's contribution as a vocalist is minimal but Belushi can certainly hold his own although there is a little part of me that can't help feeling that during certain tracks he is ever so slightly carried by the band.
The band was spearheaded by guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T and the M.G's fame. If you've ever listened and loved a soul song then I can pretty much guarantee that Cropper has either played on it or co-written it. This also serves to argue my point that the songs sway toward a more soul orientation than a strict blues one. There can be a fine line between soul and blues at times with many of the chord progressions being very similar (the song '634-5789'springs to mind) but it does provide us with an enjoyable fusion on this album. Add to this a sprinkle of swing, a dusting of jazz and a smattering of rock then you have a lovely tuneful repast to pick the bones out of.
A big doff of the trilby must go to sax player Tom Malone who presided over all the horn arrangements. For me, the brass section is what gives the whole album its identity. Punctuated in the right places, subtle, sleazy and executed to perfection it ices the cake and sees the Blues Brothers' sound set in stone. Most prominent on the excellent cover of 'Sweet Home Chicago' the horns not only claim the song, they positively scalp it too. The swirling ostinato toward the end is one I could listen to all the lick-long day. Dedicated to the Windy City, it will blow you away, crank it up at full tilt and enjoy. It will always be quite a poignant song for blues fans as it was the last number performed on stage by the great Stevie Ray Vaughan just minutes before his tragic death.
'She Caught The Katy' is probably the nearest they get to straight blues but the brass stabs just allow it to deviate a little. It's the kind of thing that maybe the Stones or a young Rod Stewart would kick about with if it were in a less rounded format.
The 'Peter Gunn Theme', written by Henry 'Pink Panther' Mancini, stands alone as the album's only instrumental track. Again, lush swells by Malone's brass section and these float over and almost appear to chase after the stomping bass line giving us a sort of soul man's James Bond theme.
The Bluesmobile parks up outside the house of rock but marginally and somewhat deliberately overshoots its slot remaining half in and half out for the cover of The Spencer Davis Group's 'Gimmie Some Lovin'. Now I may have to venture forth a slice of personal opinion that may draw the odd gasp and howl of derision with regards this number. It is a song that for some reason has always annoyed me and I've never been quite able to truly grasp the concept of its overwhelming popularity. Maybe it's been far too overplayed, every man and his dog seem to have had a crack at it. People tell me it has a great rhythm, a great pulse and that maybe so... for them. But for me it just makes me think of a beakless woodpecker banging its head against a tree, or a bothersome neighbour banging at your door at stupid o'clock in the morning. Malone's horn section mimics the original keys and everyone seems delighted to be a part of it but it will always be silhouetted against a backdrop of mediocrity for my money.
A nice inclusion on here is a tongue-in-cheek adaption of the theme from 'Rawhide' which I guess they had to stick on because it was quite a pivotal part of the film when they played it to save their skin at the country and western bar they ended up in. I personally love a good TV theme tune and I must admit that our star spangled cousins from across the pond are the best in the business. 'Rawhide' comes second only to 'Champion The Wonder Horse' in my humble opinion. I know these shows were released closer to the Bronze Age than my actual date of birth (sincerest apologies if you remember these the first time around) but endless repeats were all we had during school holidays. It provides a pleasant and light-hearted interlude with its trotting rhythm and gunslinger delivery, and yes, it does slightly tempt you to hook your thumbs in your belt and squat somewhat comically in time with the beat.
The legendary Ray Charles makes a guest appearance on 'Shake Your Tailfeather', a fun rock and roll boogie that's just a simple 3 chord trick and soul sister Aretha Franklin sings like a bird as per usual on 'Think' which is soul in its roots but shuffles and flickers along trying desperately to sneak into funk territory.
The band makes a quality job out of Solomon Burke's 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love'. Steve Cropper's distinctive stabs from his Telecaster subtly pat the song down and shape it into a nice bouncing rhythm. Once more there's some sweet love going on between Tom Malone and his horn section with pinball machine brass arrows hitting their targets at all the right times. Aykroyd's introductory speech has also become an integral part of the song and it is always slightly amusing when our aforementioned tall/short tribute acts get all tongue twisted trying to replicate this mantra leaving them stood there looking like some bodged Dickensian experiment. The song is a simple but effective crowd pleasing romp.
The 'Godfather of Soul' himself, James Brown, makes a choir-assisted contribution on the gospel song 'The Old Landmark'. Gospel, for me, is a funny one as religion and I don't really meld (although I must admit to harbouring a secret urge to perform an exorcism just for the sheer drama). I do feel once you've heard one gospel song you've heard them all but you've got to admire the dog chasing tail aspect of the vibrant walking bass line and the all round musical aptitude. It's all happy and clappy and it's James Brown singing so you can't tell what in the blue balls the lyrics are anyway. Not my ideal subject matter but it sounds damn good and I'll always praise a meaty bass line.
Belushi takes the lead for a lively cover of 'Jailhouse Rock'. Now I fully buy into "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing", but I feel this version is in danger of possibly swinging a little too much - the cell door almost coming off its hinges allowing us to peer in at world of cheese laden cabaret but I'd say they just about get away with it to deliver a steady enough interpretation.
I have saved the best till last in the form of jazz great 'Minnie The Moocher'. This song is a true example of why the smoking ban should never have happened. Forget health issues this is a mood issue we're talking about here. This is a hit served best at foggy, dimly lit cellar bars where the notes can hitch a ride on those wispy swirls. Cab Calloway's classic crawls like the coolest cat in all Chicago. Back arched, tail up and footsteps healing the cracks in the sidewalk as it purrs along with a mute trumpet to die for. It smoulders, it smokes, it virtually catches fire during a 2/4 change of pace leading into the 3rd chorus. This provides a great platform for Calloway to rattle out one of his legendary skat call and response ditties. But, oh, that cry baby mute trumpet, Alan Rubin, take a big bow my friend. I'm convinced it could bring people back from the dead.
All in all, each song is performed with suitable aplomb and regardless of how much you enjoyed the film it does stand out as an album in its own right. What also makes it click is the variation. As I mentioned at the beginning of the piece, we have jazz, blues, soul, gospel - it keeps the album fresh and very listenable. There is an element of slapstick thrown in but that doesn't do it any harm. If I were to meet this album on the street I would offer it a strong profound handshake and take it for a pint.
Blues? Not exactly - but enjoyable? Yes. They fished out some good songs. Maybe could have fished out better ones who knows?
One thing that is for sure is that Ol' Man River, he just keeps rollin' along.
Music - damn I love it so!
Winds of change were blowing into the sails of the good ship Maiden for their 1990 release 'No Prayer For The Dying'. The British heavy metal emperors had also declared that their 8th studio album would be returning to a more raucous, rock sound more affiliated to their earlier work than the glazed synth tones of the previous couple of progressive albums, 'Somewhere In Time' and 'Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son', which in themselves had been a well received change in direction for the band.
The writing and pre-production stage of the album had seen the amicable departure of guitarist Adrian Smith who was reported to have struggled with inspiration at what he saw as a possible regression for the band. The beast had lost a limb but quickly grew a new one. Janick Gers (not a name you'd associate with someone from Hartlepool) was drafted in as Adrian's replacement. Being well known to the band and having played with luminaries such as Ian Gillan it was a safe and also promising appointment but naturally some fans dismissed him without actually hearing him play a note. The disappointment with Smith's exodus did run deep through the fans' veins, myself included. I'd no problem with Janick's induction but was somewhat downcast at the prospect of a Smith-less Maiden as I'd always thought of this affable, unassuming chap as the silent assassin in the band's song-writing armoury. He was also responsible for my atrocious mid to late 80's highlighted mullet - no, he wasn't my barber or anything, I just thought it looked cool - hey, there was a time you know.
So with this all new Maiden seemingly resetting the dials on their Marshalls back 10 years and leaving the dungeons and dragons of the brilliant 'Seventh Son' behind them for now, 'No Prayer' held a great amount of intrigue. With all the knowledge and experience gleaned from their 7 previous offerings at their fingertips, they couldn't fail and I'd never looked forward to the release of any album with as much anticipation and feverous excitement in all my born days.
I had in my mind a hybrid of their superb, uncooked, punchy and scandalously underrated 1981 composition 'Killers' combining gloriously with the rolling melodic fluency produced thereafter. Although they were going to be raw, the smooth harmonious side of their nature must still have surely harboured an influence no matter how much they tried to shake it off. It was the hammer against the knife. Old to meet new, a collision of two worlds, a chance to shower and bask in the divine debris it would leave in its wake. This could well be the perfect album, it was going to knock me for a loop.
But if you play poker with the past and the present don't let the devil deal or you'll get a dead man's hand. Satan was a-shuffling his pack.
Change... damned if you do, damned if you don't.
The weeks counted down and one grey, brooding day in October, the face of band mascot Eddie (who is just as recognisable as the band) beamed into the sky like some rock bat-signal looking down on me. It was time. To the Rockmobile!
I carefully unwrapped the vinyl, palms on edges only, and laid it down onto the turntable as though it were a baby wearing the crown jewels. Oh, that wonderful tension-building crackle of static (where did you go to my lovely?)...I stood at the entrance to this potential labyrinth of perfection and whistled for the metal Minotaur.
The opener 'Tailgunner' was of typical Maiden stock. High octane, six-shooting and a cobweb blowing charge out of the blocks but in reality it was just the poorer brother to 'Aces High' from the mighty 'Powerslave' album. No discernible shift in power or style as yet but a satisfactory start. I've always believed that the second song on an album or at a show is very important, the first is always "Hello, we're here, have some of that", but I feel the second is more, "Right, this is what it's gonna be all about". To a degree it was and served as a bit of disappointment as 'Holy Smoke' was pretty average. Again it wasn't terrible and I think a lot of fans new to Maiden at the time liked it. It was hectic, aggressive and (whoa) featured a couple of mild profanities that the band up until then had avoided but this made them a bit Americanized for me and it felt like a bit of a cheap vote-winning tactic. For the ear of the seasoned connoisseur the ringing power chord structures were a tad predictable and although the solo work was ok it wasn't truly inspiring. A hit for any other band but for Maiden, my Maiden, the Maiden I held in such high esteem, it just fell a little short.
3 songs in and there was a bit of a false dawn. The title track, 'No Prayer For The Dying' was indeed the standout song on the album. Its slower pace and clean execution through the verses lure you in before the hounds are released without mercy. Heroic shades of the 'The Number Of The Beast' album infused with the mid-late 80's sound riot through a blissful car-crash/battle scene of an instrumental section. The song also features the best vocal of the album too but sadly, this is where it had peaked.
A steady decline ensued and with each song I realized that the Minatour I'd whistled for was more of limping stray dog that I wanted to boot up its raggedy old arse but somehow couldn't because it had a cosy and sentimental familiarity about it. It was Maiden but it didn't have that rolling slickness about it which restricted drummer Nicko McBrain who couldn't seem to fit in his usual elaborate fills. The twin guitar breaks were not as prominent and didn't glide as much as they normally would. Maiden songs have always had volubility about them but it felt like they were in quicksand. It was heavy enough but felt laboured and cluttered as though the band themselves were uncomfortable with the new/old leaf they had supposedly turned.
One of the most salient aspects of 'No Prayer For The Dying' was that vocalist Bruce Dickinson had adopted a somewhat raspy snarl that seemed a little bit too contrived. Bruce possesses an incredible vocal range and his voice is highly consistent and durable but this new 'shouty' approach for me was a misguided and deliberate attempt at making the sound more earthy. It didn't feel right. It had always carried its own charm and effortlessly liberated songs - 'Maidenized' them in a way, but this hoarseness just served to restrict them and tighten them up, as though strangling the tracks themselves from the kick off. Constant and quite obdurate throughout, it did the album no favours and as much as I love Maiden and Bruce it did irritate me a little.
The album did spawn the bands first No.1 single, 'Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter' but for my money, this is not what Maiden are about. It's tongue in cheek and catchy and Steve Harris manages to get his trademark 'clucky' sound out of his bass but it plays into the hands of the Radio 1 mentality that love a stereotype. Many people would think this was all they do. "Yeah, long hair daughters and slaughters, hey that's heavy metal, I don't mind it for one song, yeah, I'll hilariously headbang to it when it comes on in the pub, cos it's only a jokey metal song isn't it?" Nah - the real Maiden aren't a 3 minute band, they write lengthy epics, they don't do commercial, they don't do mainstream, hell, they don't normally produce albums like 'No Prayer'.
'Public Enema No.1', 'Fates Warning', 'Run Silent Run Deep' (which features the signature Maiden 'gallop') are all barely memorable and do nothing to invigorate. They are very much of standard structure and in neither old nor new territory. Lazy isn't the right word as there is always an energy about Maiden songs but certainly they're slightly insipid, strained sounding and at the risk of contradiction a little rushed. These 3 felt as though they had been scooped up from the rehearsal room floor, blown down a little and recycled from some failed attempts long ago.
As for 'The Assassin' it's undoubtedly the low point on the album, and probably compelled Eddie to emit a sorry, sad, crimson tear out of his hollow eyes to roll down the bony cheek of his bowed skeletal head. The actual music isn't too bad, it's a creeper and holds an air of suspense but after the eloquent and cryptic lyrical content of 'Seventh Son' I was aghast that the band could let a poor basic attempt like this one out into the metal domain. This is all tough love for me.
'Hooks In You' (co-written by Smith prior to his departure) provides a little respite but it's not a Maiden song in my eyes. Bouncy with a catchy enough riff and probably Bruce at his most gravelly it seems to belong to another band. It's the closest they've come to doing straight laced rock but it feels like a nice car with the wrong engine in. 'Mother Russia' is the final track of the album and could have been a saviour. It features Maiden in their historical 'story-telling' mode and is cleverly done with a Cossack style riff nicely woven into its dark and cold demeanour. But again it falls short of being an epic, more of a watered down version of 'Alexander The Great' from 'Somewhere In Time'.
So no stand out riffs, no true anthem-like Maiden classics, no truly inspiring guitar work although I'm not blaming Janick Gers at all, he went on to become an integral part of the Maiden voyage but they definitely missed Adrian Smith. Even the album's cover art by the usually fertile and stimulating brush of Derek Riggs seemed to lack the previous enchantment and charisma. I know that is sod all to do with the music but for me it is tenuously associated with the 'No Prayer' apathy.
Out of all the Maiden albums this is the one I probably listen to the least and when I do it seems to be out of a morbid curiosity rather than true desire. Personally I felt 'No Prayer' was the catalyst of a barren run for the band which was to last several years. On the tour following the release, to me Bruce didn't seem himself, he could still hit the notes of songs old and new but something didn't seem right. The support act that tour? Wolfsbane - featuring a young and vibrant Blaze Bayley who would eventually replace Bruce for a two album spell.
So the good ship Maiden bobbed into the bay of mediocrity, not exactly rudderless but certainly with a wet sail. The dorsal fins of the staunchest Maiden fans did emerge and circle, wanting more than the few titbits that were thrown out. Patience possibly wore thin, the ship was barged and it slowly sank, as the band played on.
But fear not, for one day our gallant heroes would return, with a bigger ship and a refreshed crew. To plunder, to enlighten, to pillage, to enthral...
...to be Iron Effing Maiden.
A little after midnight on the 27th of August 1990, the blues world lost one of its most treasured sons. At just 35 years of age, Texan born guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan was tragically killed in a helicopter crash in Wisconsin, USA.
Released in 2007 by Sony BMG, 'The Best Of Stevie Ray Vaughan' is a compilation of Stevie's work with his band Double Trouble and contains 15 tracks - 6 of which are cover versions - from his all too short career.
First of all I would advise that you not be swayed by the title of the album. Posthumous releases sit a little uncomfortably with me. I've no problem at all with the contributing musicians getting a few extra dimes but when the great man himself isn't here to oversee and acknowledge an offering of his supposed best work then to me it smacks a little bit of grave robbing by the big wigs.
Stevie was born in Dallas, Texas so naturally always got labelled with the 'Texas Blues' sub genre tag. True, Texan blues probably leans toward a more emphatic guitar feel but Stevie didn't stick to a rigid style - he was far too gifted to be kept on a leash. His touch and feel was exquisite. Ghostly and wispy during silky flourishes that could tie knots into the fretboard of his beloved battered 1963 Stratocaster, to spring loaded nostril flaring twangs that could spar with anything that any guitar player from any genre could offer, he was a one-off. When Eric Clapton first heard Stevie play, he didn't pick up his guitar for days - this was not a sulky prima donna rock star strop it was in fact a compliment of sorts.
Whether played clean or distorted, Vaughan's signature on a piece is instantly recognisable. The secret to Stevie's distinctive thick tubey tone for me was not in the amplification but the heavy gauge of strings he used. Considering the bends and licks he was able to conjure up, his fingertips must have been gnarled to the bone and he would have needed a good strong left hand, but damn, it sounded good and when SRV boarded the blues train it stopped for nothing and no-one. He also used to tune slightly flat which would have added to the tone and taken some of the hefty string strain away though this was more than likely done to aid his vocal range.
What I think this album is trying to be is a 'Variations Of Stevie Ray Vaughan' rather than a 'Best Of'. Vaughan's best work in my opinion was his live performances and I do feel that live work is the only true way to comprehensively define an artiste. Sadly there are only but 2 on here but that doesn't mean the rest of the album is to be dismissed - far, far from it, Stevie's playing is gold dust.
On here we have the standard 12 bar chugs such as 'Pride and Joy', 'Texas Flood', 'Look at Little Sister' and also some lush slower blues in the form of 'Ain't Gone Gave Up On Love' and 'Life Without You' - which features a surprisingly agreeable sci-fi keyboard trill as an intro. There is also a cover version of the George Harrison written 'Taxman' which, although the lyrics are a bit cack, is quite listenable.
'Couldn't Stand The Weather' and 'Tightrope' account for the more funky blues aspect but if the album is trying to capture the versatility of Stevie's work then I can't help but think the subtle little jazz-seeped track 'Gone Home' from his 1985 release 'Soul to Soul' would have been perfect with its ever so slight shades of Barney Kessel. Or perhaps his version of Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition' could have got an airing? Hmm maybe not for Mr Sony and his munchkins.
However, I am pleased to say the brilliant concise blast 'Scuttle Buttin' made it onto here. At a mere 110 seconds I still regard it as a Stevie classic, clean, curt and with a noodle-like lick that bugs the hell out of amateur players worldwide, it's got Stevie's prints all over it.
The point though at which Stevie really lays himself on the line is in the cover of the Hendrix songs 'Little Wing' and 'Voodoo Chile'. Now a lot of decent guitar players think that because they are quite accomplished they can play Hendrix. They think because they have the tool and a modicum of ability they can pull it off. No sir, in fact sometimes it's painful, more akin to Joe Pasquale attempting to sing 'Nessun dorma' (apologies if I have implanted that thought in your head - 'None shall sleep' indeed). It takes a certain type of player to cover Hendrix. You need the ability (no problems there, Stevie, in my view, is technically the better player), the feel, the mood, the soul, the ear, the voice and basically the bleeding heart of a lion. A strip of magic must run through your very core otherwise it'll just fall apart at the seams. Vaughan has all these attributes in abundance making him thoroughly qualified to fly the flag. Although he puts a slightly more bluesy edge to proceedings they are quite similar players in the fact that they are both fond of the simultaneous lead and rhythm exchanges.
Basically, you can trust Stevie with these most cherished of works. 'Little Wing' is one of my favourite Hendrix songs and to be honest he's probably one of only a handful of other players I can stomach it being loaned out to. Deft and subtle, Vaughan caresses and charms the song from out of his Strat using glorious intervals, sweet bends and intricate labyrinthine licks. It's light and shade perfection. He keeps it as an instrumental which suits me fine, as Gustav Mahler once put it:
"If a composer could say what he had to say in words, he would not bother trying to say it in music."
I'm with you on that one Gus old son, though I have to add that Stevie has a great blues voice and as with many other top tier guitar players it often gets overlooked. It's not as growly as a few of the old school rocking-chair-on-porch guys but it does its job more than adequately.
The 12 minute version of 'Voodoo Chile' comes live and unleashed from Carnegie Hall of all places. It's absolute dynamite and worth buying the album for alone. Even the way he coaxes the cry baby wah-wah out of the intro spreads a wave of goose bumps across my skin. As the song finishes you can catch Stevie joking with the crowd, "It's fun playing Hendrix in Carnegie"- I love that, kind of the equivalent of shouting "Macbeth!" a hundred times at the Globe.
Would I recommend this album? Of course I would, with highly polished big dangly bells on. It's Stevie Ray Vaughan for gawd's sake, 5-stars no problem. I'd recommend everything he's ever done, but if you only had one to buy, I'd go for his live releases or better still the DVD from his show at El Mocambo, Toronto.
If you're already a blues fan, I'm probably preaching to the choir but if you're more of a casual listener than let a bit of SRV into your life. You'll be going in right at the top.
"The sky is crying, look at the tears roll down the street" - Elmore James.
It was Walt Disney's fault. Well, more so the songs from his films to be precise but definitely his fault. When I was a young wisp of a lad I loved the music from Disney probably more than the films. Not the girly ones I hasten to add, for me Snow White and her dwarves could take their ailments and afflictions and go impale themselves on Mary Poppins' brolly.
But the gutsy, soul driven ones and those jaunty jazz jives they got going, they were my thing. If that crow from 'Dumbo' didn't have the best voice ever then I'll be damned and as for the trumpet solo in 'The Bare Necessities', well, it's just nectar.
Now some 30 years ago I borrowed a Disney tape off a friend of mine, copied from the original (as most things were then) and clearly copied over something else as after King Louie's pleadings to become a Man-cub this delicate, dulcet song, clearly halfway in, floated out of the speakers. That song (I later found out after haranguing my mate's mum) was 'Diary' by Bread. Following in the gentle footsteps of this little taster 'Guitar Man' then presented its elegant credentials before the taped clicked off leaving my fledgling music brain well and truly hooked by this accidental snippet of melodious purity.
Released in 1996, 'Essentials' by Bread and David Gates is basically a Greatest Hits album featuring songs from their highly productive pomp between 1970-77. Gates was pretty much Mr Bread and gets his special mention due to the inclusion of a couple of his solo efforts on here brought about by the band's several splits. Tension was always in the air between main songwriters Gates and Jimmy Griffin as it was Gates' material that was always selected for single release. Strange that a band as soothing and inoffensive as Bread were susceptible to plenty of in-fighting but the musician's ego can be an unrelenting beast at times and can rear its ugly head in the midst of any genre.
Bread's sound is often described as soft rock but I think that's being a little generous. They do have occasional dalliances into more up tempo stuff but it is the slow, mellow, well crafted ballad with which they are most synonymous. For those unfamiliar, think a little of Simon and Garfunkel but with marginally better hairstyles.
Crystal clear and harmless, Bread are the band that probably serenade unicorns at the rainbow's end. Cleanly strummed, often plucked acoustics, sweeping strings, air-tight harmonies and a touch of piano here and there are evident in the majority of their songs. The intro to 'Aubrey' for a split second is reminiscent of 'Georgia On My Mind' by the great Ray Charles.
Although the band was formed in Los Angeles, Gates spent his early life in Oklahoma which is where I detect the little country twist to their sound stems from, and also possibly the lyrics. Ah Oklahoma! "The wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain" - this contrast could well be affiliated to the kind of poetry Gates weaves into his songs. Often touching, maybe a little too twee at times but rather than just tickling the belly of the casual listener there occasionally lies a dark undertone lurking within the content which can often be missed due to the sublime, relaxing delivery.
A large slice of the lyrical composition is about what has been lost rather than romantic intent but I'm still not altogether at ease with it. True, with a sound as feather-like and subtle as theirs they're not going to be singing about the bloody slaughter of fluffy virgin kittens but maybe my one gripe is that the scales do tilt with a groan-like creak towards 'tad soppy' at times but you forgive it somewhat because the melodies are absolutely angelic.
There are a couple of variations of 'Essentials' depending on where you get it from but it'll just be an extra song here and there. All the big hits are on here (you'll be surprised at how many you actually know when you hear them) such as 'Make It With You', 'Guitar Man', 'Baby I'm A Want You', 'Diary', 'Sweet Surrender', 'Everything I Own', 'If'... oh I could go on. They all have a certain sing-a-long quality about them, they are wide open for it, which leads me on to my next point.
I would strongly advise you only attempt to sing along to these when you're on your own. Gates' vocal range is a strange one to figure out. In most males, when switching into falsetto you sort of use your Adam's Apple as a clutch to change gear. Gates doesn't seem to have to do this. It just rolls up effortlessly making the songs quite unique and thus incredibly difficult to replicate. When people do attempt to cover Bread material they really have to change things around. Telly Savalas of 'Kojak' fame once recorded a version of Bread's 'If' where he just read the entire song as a poem. Telly had a very raspy 100 Malboro-a-day croak to his voice and possibly the only way he could ever have got near to the original was if he had inserted his lollipop in the alternative orifice of his anatomy other than his mouth. 'Who loves ya, baby?' Probably not Bread after you dished up this tudge, Tel.
You may also remember Boy George making an absolute bollock-cake out of 'Everything I Own' by ripping out its soul and doing a reggae version.
Gates plays the melancholy jailor to perfection. He can hold your interest without being in your face. The arrangements compliment his relaxing tones and the band are clearly at ease with themselves. The chord structures are generally nothing complex, a busker's dream, but with the versatility of Gates' voice, sections can float off at tangents, steering you down a fresh path away from predictability to pleasantly surprise the listener. These mild interjections act as no more than a tame rhythmic rollercoaster but are cleverly done. It is a manoeuvre that fully utilises his talent and what probably does separate them from the pack - a busker's nightmare.
As mentioned before some of their more up tempo material is on here such as 'Dismal Day', 'Down On My Knees', 'Mother Freedom' and 'Anyway You Want Me' (which actually gets a little funky - go Dave) and these are still worth a listen as they are decent songs in their own right. However, I feel they are just in there to break up the more frequent slower tracks which are obviously the band's forte and true calling.
I must admit Bread are a bit of an Achilles heel for me. Something tells me I shouldn't like them but I do. They take me somewhere but I don't really know where. There's a grinning rock n roll imp painting a white dotted line from my head to my toe smugly declaring to me that I am a middle of the road traitor. But it is not the frantic horns of juggernauts I hear as they evade my discordant presence but the sound of some rather pleasant music, gently massaging my mood. Horses for courses indeed.
In the song 'Guitar Man'(which ironically only features a token wah-wah gesture of lead playing) there's the line, "Then you find yourself a message and some words to call your own and take them home". This is actually what Bread force you to do in a strange subliminal way. They are very lyric oriented and certain bits do prick your emotions.
Mellow, that's the key word. Bread are definitely a red wine, eyes closed, cat curled up on the lap band. Rocky Balboa won't have them on his ipod as he charges through the streets at 4 in the morning but if the mood's right and you feel you want to relax your ears a touch, then a little bit of Bread is just fine. My rock n roll street cred has just plummeted, I know. I'm going to have to go off and fix a tractor whilst wolf-whistling pretty ladies or something after this to dirty my cleansed soul again. But I doff my hat to Gates and his band as I solemnly stand and declare, "My name's The Adder and I'm a secret Breadoholic."
My mate never got his tape back by the way.
With such an inventive imagination and a natural predatory sense for drama and intrigue, Alice Cooper has never had to hunt too far for inspiration. Following his 1977 tour he was thrown into a New York sanatorium in an attempt to wring out his alcohol infused body that had long been seeped in a beer and whiskey marinade.
Being the only one in there for alcohol abuse he was among some Grade A nut jobs as he himself acknowledged, "I was just a drunk, these guys had killed their grannies and made them into pies."
It played right into his hands. This was pure lyrical gold, easy pickings, the keys to the cuckoo store were all his. The characters with whom he were trapped were Alice Cooper people, the very fragile elite his on stage persona had so often embraced. His toy box of a brain began to hum as it tuned into their warped frequencies whilst contemplating his own sorry situation. As the liquor was drawn from his sinewy frame the creative juices flowed. The ingredients were perfect, and in the crazy cauldron that was his mind, his 11th studio album 'From The Inside' bubbled away nicely until its eventual release in November 1978.
'From The Inside' holds a slightly different sound to his previous efforts. Primarily based in rock as you would expect there seems to be a more lustral ambience to the songwriting. This would no doubt have been down to the influence of Bernie Taupin who co-wrote the album with Alice. Taupin was and is more famed for his work with Elton John, and perhaps eyebrows were raised a little when he decided to lock horns with the Master of Mayhem. The collaboration was clearly a success. Madness and Majesty combined to provide us with a memorable album. It's not quite Elton John meets Alice Cooper but sometimes it comes closer than you think. Hey, there's a thought -
"Goodbye Norma Jean...let me put your ...head in my guillotine." Maybe one day.
The feeling I get from a lot of Alice Cooper material is that when writing he always imagines them live in front of an audience. People already familiar with his act will know that his stage shows are legendary and I think that has always helped the writing process. He makes sure songs have that tangible, live 'bite' about them and this album is no exception. Though the lyrical concept of the album may dance with the deranged - albeit with a little twinkle in its eye - the music itself stays pretty much on a street level. The more upbeat tracks feature the trademark Cooper riffs, staccato and stabby with a playful air of insouciance about them. They're raw and crisp, guitars set to bottom pick-up no doubt giving them that bone dry quality. Lead parts, although not too frequent on here, are siren-like rather than intricate and often twinned.
Electric piano is a regular presence, be it a sprightly bounce or aiding the ballads with perhaps an unavoidable edge of predictability. Rock ballads can push you down certain corridors and into small spaces, and to keep with the theme, place you in your own musical straightjacket. Cooper, for all his evil ostentation, has always written a very good 'slowy'. He uses the space within to perfection. His tears of a clown delivery has always been one of his strengths, and if you're stuck in the restraints of a ballad you've got to make the vocals count. 'How You Gonna See Me Now' was released as a single and took most of the plaudits and it's a lovely song but for me the other ballad on here 'The Quiet Room' steals the show. It has that wonderful Cooper mischief about it, that balance between darkness and light, the lucid conflict of man and child.
Throughout the album there are many interesting touches. Slap bass - a rarity for Alice, ricochets around the verse sections to 'Nurse Rosetta', backing vocals are soulful, countryish almost Eagles-esque in parts. There's a duet with Marcy Levy (who later went on to perform in Shakespears Sister) on 'Millie and Billie' but I must confess it's not my favourite track on the album. It is sung beautifully but just dips its toe a little too much into Broadway territory for me. I also detect a little of Suzi Quatro's 'Devil Gate Drive' in 'Wish I Were Born in BeverlyHills'. When it's straight down the line rock such as the title track 'From The Inside,' 'For Veronica's Sake' and 'Serious' it's good pounding music to drive to. They wouldn't be out of place as movie intros.
I love the way he brings the album to a close and feel it is worth a special mention. Alice seemingly invites all his frazzled friends to sing along to 'Inmates (We're All Crazy)'. It's a typical end of show, all in finish. The chorus is straight from the schoolyard, a haunted skipping rope ditty if you like. The intro is the stuff of horror B movie excellence but it's the opening line that wins the day hands down.
"It's not like we did something wrong. We just burned down the church while the choir within sang religious songs." That, my friends, is poetry the Cooper way.
On the whole 'From The Inside' is a top notch album and in my view the last great offering of the brilliant early Alice era. It doesn't beat 'Welcome To My Nightmare' but could easily chase a few of the others barefoot into the night. A large slice of the credit though must go to Bernie Taupin, his contribution is there for all to hear. Lyrically it's one of the strongest albums of Alice's career and perhaps this fluent writing style pushed him into delivering a lot of it with a fruitful twang to his voice. It is also worth giving a nod to guitar player Dick Wagner who co-wrote a lot of this material too.
I do yearn for this style of song writing to return but I fear it is now a thing of the past. Cooper had always backed himself by trusting the listener. The content, the spaces he left, the delivery, the feel was everything . These days rock seems too impatient and contrived. If three heavily distorted power chords are not played whilst travelling on a skateboard by someone with a six pack, a thousand tattoos and four different hairstyles on the one head it doesn't seem to get much airplay. This is why we do not breed true performers anymore. There is no true rebellion, everything is too easy and there is nothing to enchant the younger listener only MTV bullshit. Ah, I digress, maybe that's an article for another time.
So once the drool has been mopped up, the bed pan emptied the sedatives dispatched and the lunatics locked firmly in their padded cells, the stethoscope is donned and placed upon the album. No worries here Mr Cooper. You're heartbeat is fine, pulse regular, brain alert and clearly in control of the madness. Maybe drink a little less (Alice didn't get sober until 1983 so the only good thing to come of his stay inside was in fact this album).
I love the quote on the inner album sleeve from Mary Chase's 'Harvey'
"I've wrestled with reality for 34 years, and I'm glad to say that I've finally won out over it." - Elwood P Dowd.
After an 80s sojourn into the stormy terrain of mainstream rock, Gary Moore returned to his blues roots with the aptly named 1990 release 'Still Got The Blues'.
Far from his Les Paul being suspended above him like some musical Sword of Damocles, the decision to journey back to his true vocation was a justifiable one as the album was a resounding success. Listening to his very early stuff it is quite clear the blues was a major influence on his playing style but he has dabbled in various techniques throughout his career and could be described as somewhat of a chameleon in guitar based circles. (Check out the stuff he did with Colosseum II, it's dynamite)
But here his Les Paul shaped anchor is firmly wedged into the bed of Blues Harbour and as he closed the door and left his rock sojourn behind, a few extra stray fans blew in with him and became acquainted with a new style. Or maybe that should be a fresh take on an old style.
'Still Got The Blues' is classed as an 'Electric Blues' album. The naming of sub divisions never fails to raise a little titter within me. With this name you could be forgiven for expecting the artiste to arrive on the stage with a Ready brek glow about him firing off neon bolts from the end of his guitar but it's not as extravagant as that. It basically means 'plugged in', amplified, and for all its modern connotations it has been around since the 1930s.
Out of the 12 tracks on here only 5 were written by Moore himself, this isn't uncommon on blues albums. You feel sometimes the aim they have is to put their own stamp on things and often the judgement lies in the adaptation of a standard. This may carry the scent of a lack of creativity but sometimes a good story is just in the telling - as a good blues song is always in the playing.
Moore uses a list of musicians as long as your arm on here which would be incredibly dull to index, though it is worth mentioning that blues legends Albert Collins and Albert King make guest appearances.
The album does cover a decent cross section of the blues but in a very modern, almost urbane, way. It is in parts aided by a harmless sprinkling of brass stabs that just help the flow along and polish the thing up a bit although Moore's tone can get raw in places.
Slide guitar is featured in curt opener 'Moving On', which needed to be short for me as bottleneck on electric can be quite limiting and evidence that Moore was still dusting away the rock influence comes to light during the solo sections of 'Oh Pretty Woman' and 'Walking By Myself'. This probably upset a lot of blues purists out there but personally I enjoy the hybrid of blues rock that he touches on at times. These purists, however, must be appeased and offer a nod in his direction as he performs the slower numbers with suitable aplomb.
You have to be patient when playing the slower side of the blues or you'll lose all the feel and mood and strangle the very core of the piece. Sure, build it up to its crescendo but let it breathe a little first, bit like a vintage red, you'll not feel the benefit if you glug it all straight from the bottle right away. Gary Moore does this stylishly on 'Midnight Blues' and 'As The Years Go Passing By'. He playfully fends off rolling bass lines with little nudges and nurdles of licks, suspending tension, almost provoking the listener. It's a pleasant surprise that he resists the temptation to explode during these two tracks - it's kind of the blues equivalent to a purgatorial limbo though it is far from torturous.
The big build up bomb is saved for the title track 'Still Got The Blues'. Fans of the 1979 classic 'Parisienne Walkways' would be drawing obvious comparisons and this song alone won Moore many new admirers. For any aspiring guitarists wondering how to build a solo, this is one track I'd point them in the direction of. It's a stunning piece of guitar work. Played over slow minor chords (minor chords are 'sad' sounding but not as widely used in the blues as one might imagine) its delivery is beautiful, soulful, perfect. 'Still Got The Blues' is one of those weeping guitar tracks that did manage to ensconce itself into the mainstream domain mainly as it was released as a single. But this does come at a price -for then it was destined to be played far too quickly by pub rock bands across the country, a trait that sadly is still evident to this day.
Bizarrely for a blues piece it started cropping up everywhere. You'd start hearing its delightful tones on the radio and the like. I even heard it filtering out through the speakers in the supermarket once and proceeded to tell everyone within earshot who it was with a slightly excited but manic grin on my face. Alas, old Eddie and Edith were not impressed and continued to grope test the potatoes for hardness.
'Texas Strut' encompasses (unsurprisingly) the upbeat Texas blues method as Moore continues to touch upon varying degrees of blues music. Now hold it there a moment. Not wanting to sound too critical but 'Still Got The Blues' is not a definitive blues album. It kind of looks at the blues at arm's length in a way. It's certainly entertaining, well produced and Gary Moore is a truly fantastic guitarist who knows the genre like the back of his incredibly dextrous hands. But the blues has a long, long deep history and a lot is left uncovered - there is no acoustic blues on here for one but I could also see the logic in not wanting to scare off the fans poached from the rock era too soon. It does seem like a balancing act at times but for the timing of the album and maybe the audience it was aimed at it was probably just right.
This is not to say it is dumbed down in any way or should be billed as 'blues listening for beginners'- that would be a slur on Gary Moore's ability - but the fact that a lot of these tracks are extended at live performances does lead you to believe that certain restraints are in place as far as the whole concept of the album is concerned.
There are 2 certainties in life. No, not death and taxes. These:
1. Any blues artiste, guaranteed, will do a cover version of Otis Rush's 'All Your Love'
2. Anyone who has their photo taken with Mohammed Ali will clench their fist and 'hilariously' place it under his chin.
Ok so the 2nd one is just a mere observation and has nothing to do with anything but sure as eggs are eggs, Mr Moore does 'All Your Love' and makes a mighty fine job of it although I can't help feeling it would have benefitted from a slightly cleaner sound.
Moore also makes all the vocal contributions. Whereas he doesn't possess an archetypal whisky and smoke bluesy howl, his voice is far from average. He does have a nice sheen to his tones and can certainly sustain a note. Perhaps he is often overlooked as a vocalist as his true voice is usually slung over his shoulders, hangs about waist high and has six strings.
At the end of the day life for me doesn't get too much better than cracking open a beer and listening to the blues. I strongly advise you give this a go - yes the beer as well. 'Still Got The Blues' is a thoroughly enjoyable take on the genre and confirms Moore's position as one of the leading guitar players in the more modern era.
A welcomed return for a guitar great.
The not so secret weapon in Queen's armoury was their promiscuous approach to music. The undisputed strumpets of song had solicited their roaming spirits through the streets of several genres since 1970. Be it operatic forays through Bohemia or down and dirty distorted guttural pub rock in shady back alleys, we can all pick our preferred gem from Her Majesty's mightily glistening crown.
Spearheaded by the inimitable Farrokh Bulsara (Freddie Mercury), their allure was their unpredictability. If you didn't like a particular song then hang about you'll probably like the next one. With an enjoyable degree of playful decadence they brought a little artistic glint into the mainstream. Often ostentatious and at times bordering on pantomime they were certainly a unique foursome with their varying personalities being the catalyst for their capricious musical results but often achieving the same goal. Entertainment.
'The Works' was their 11th studio album and was released in Feb 1984.
The album is the usual musical melange, a lucky dip of sorts consistent with the majority of Queen offerings. A bit like turning a rock, you never know what's going to be on the other side, could be gold, could be insignificant algae.
'The Works' could and should have been a Queen classic. I feel it was certainly poised to knock at the door of greatness before being unceremoniously dragged away feet first by its filler tracks. A strong core (that featured prominently in their show stealing 'Live Aid' performance a year later) was sadly diluted somewhat by the weaker songs.
In my eyes, this is a trait with which Queen have always been guilty of. It can be forgiven now and then because their great songs are true impregnable bastions embedded in the musical landscape for all eternity, but when the entire album's 9 songs are only spread over a meagre 37 minutes it does leave you with a feeling of being short changed.
As I reluctantly secure the black cap and prepare the epitaphs of the culprits, it is not in judgment of individual musicianship talent or ability, for after all we are dealing with deserving rock royalty here and all due respect is considered. But step forward 'Man On The Prowl', 'Keep Passing The Open Windows' and 'I Want To Break Free'.
The first of this Trio of Terror will draw obvious comparisons with the classic 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' but isn't in the same league. It weaves innocently enough around a Boogie Woogie 50's rock n roll hook but in fairness it is only a few 'do-wap-do-waps' short of becoming Working Mens Club cabaret.
Now as old Tommy sits at the entrance to the club, the belt of his high, badly fitting trousers supporting his 'chap baps' and his day old pint of mild gathering mildew, he hears the cheese laden strains of 'Man On The Prowl' emanating from the tinsel entombed stage and it pleases him greatly. He informs the people signing in that "these lot are pretty good aren't they?" Well yeah, certainly good enough for Tommy's Club but you'd expect more from a band that has performed masterpieces in front of audiences that have surpassed the 100,000 mark.
I guess if Tommy's clients aren't happy, they could no doubt take the lift out of there where they'd probably be subjected to the tones of 'Keep Passing The Open Windows' being piped through the walls. The elevator begins to fill up with a noxious gas, the auricular organs become apathetic, you feel the need to 'Break Free' from the 4 walls. Right on cue the cabaret continues with the John Deacon penned song. Quite a hit in the UK but a total flop in the US mainly due to the video which featured the band in drag (I wonder whose idea that was?).
I'm not having a pop at Mr Deacon here, he is responsible for my all time favourite Queen song 'Spread Your Wings', but 'I Want To Break Free' just smacks too much of mid-tempo cruise ship ambience for my liking.
But these 3 stilton-tipped arrows of treason inflict just mere flesh wounds. For the rest of the album it is quite safe to don a white vest clench your fist, grow a dodgy tache and... actually I'd best stop there, but normal service does resume.
The hard rock edge (probably craved by fans after previous album 'Hot Space') featuring Brian May's trademark flange/distorted sound is accounted for during 'Tear It Up' and 'Hammer To Fall' where Mercury switches effortlessly into the role of aggressor with consummate ease.
The trademark piano ballad comes in the form of 'It's A Hard Life'. Now this song is probably one of the most sweet-toned melodious tunes the band has ever composed. Yes, the intro is blatantly plagiarised from an operatic piece but it is so deliberate you feel it is more in appreciation than an act of thieving. The problem with 'It's A Hard Life' is that lyrically it hits every fluffy branch of the pink-leaved soppy tree as the words topple from their heart-shaped cloud. I'm not opposed to an outpouring of emotion in a song, after all any form of music IS emotion, but for me it can be laid on a little too thick at times.
The song 'Save Me' from the band's 'The Game' album proves you can deliver a heartfelt lament without being, well, a bit wet to be honest.
I've never been one for drum machines and synthesizers or as I like to call it 'outside interference' on songs. As music goes I can get pretty stubborn and protective about certain things. Maybe I've listened to too much rocking chair blues but I like seeing instruments being played rather than computers being programmed. Fancy effects have got to be done right or play a significant and justifable part in the make-up of a song for me to give it any credence. I acknowledge it is probably a bit of a failing of mine, but I can't help it, I'm pretty much a water from the well guy with music, if you can't replicate it live then don't put it on an album. (It still bugs me that Queen walked off stage during the operatic section to Bohemian Rhapsody)
So imagine my disgust with myself when I found myself enjoying the special effect embellishments of 'Radio Ga-Ga' and 'Machines (Or Back To Humans)'.
I feel 'Radio Ga-Ga' does warrant a few extra words. Yes we've all done the clappy hands things to the chorus whilst drunk at our sister-in-law's 40th and we marvel at Mercury's outstanding masterful delivery and the (often underrated) backing vocal prowess of drummer Roger Taylor. But aside from the audience participation aspect it is a very contemplative track, easy paced with some of the most poignant lyrics ever.
Generations past have long told tales of listening to Radio Luxembourg under the bedsheets as not to feel the wrath of strict parents after lights out. Whereas Radio Lux wasn't my choice and my ma and pa didn't object to my nocturnal musical obsessions, I can definitely relate to the unsung late night radio being a kindred spirit of sorts.
"My only friend, through teenage nights" - gets me every time that line.
Not a word is wasted during this track, I could read it as a poem to today's youth, but I fear the riposte would not be one of wonderment but just a blank vacuous expression.
The album ends with the short acoustic ode 'Is This The World We Created?', resounding echoes of 'Love Of My Life' reverberate forth even though the lyrical content differs.
Another little gripe of mine which features on this album is the 'fade out song'. Lord, how I hate fade outs. To me it means the song is unfinished, and in some parallel universe is still going on, audible only to beings not of this world. (No wonder we've never had an alien visit if the efforts of Status Quo are still fluttering about somewhere in the Galaxy. "No thanks, Earth we've heard your Quo")
So does 'The Works' live up to its title? We've had rock, opera, ballad, shades of techno, middle of the goddam road, one could say your archetypal Queen contribution. An accurate slice of the regal pie?
Well the ingredients are the same but not as strong as they should be. It's as well performed as always and Mercury's vocals have never been anything less than aural ambrosia. His versatility, not to mention his showmanship surely puts him in the frame for the best frontman of all time.
On the whole 'The Works' does let itself down although the play order of the songs is deliberate and sympathises with the weak ones, sandwiching them in between their stronger counterparts.
It's still very much worth having in your record collection. Would have been 3 ½ stars but I'll round up to a 4 on the strength of 'Radio Ga-Ga's' lyrics.