blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Juxtapositions
4 Out Of 5 Stars

On their last CD, Fall Out Boy announced their mission was to "Save Rock And Roll." On the follow-up, "American Beauty/American Psycho," it sounds like they're still headed out on that path. There's some righteous rock here. And there seems to be a theme here, it's all about the juxtapositions.

For example, the title track. You're blending a Brent Easton Ellis horror novel with a Grateful Dead album of classic Americana. Add Patrick Stump bouncing the word "Psycho" into a bouncy sing along, and you have the makings for a concert staple. The same with "Uma Thurman." Placing the "Pulp Fiction" star inside a song that mashes in the theme to "The Munsters" is something close to a work of genius. Then there's the heroics. Suzanne Vega's "dit dit doo doo" hook from "Tom's Diner" teases the intro before Stump challenges the listener. "You Will Remember Me...for Centuries" Stump wails to music meant to be played over a sports highlights reel. Same goes with "Immortals." Fall Out Boy are back to make rock that knows no limitations (there's nothing here that resembles a sappy ballad), and you'll have a very good time if you just let yourself follow along.


 
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Cast Your Spell Over Me
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Tom Petty may have been making albums for over 40 years now, but he never lost his will to rock. Even with the maddeningly uneven "Mojo," there was plenty of guitar to go around. Same with the "Mudcrutch" reunion. Now he's back in the studio after a tour that was comprised mainly of deep cuts from across all his albums and a couple of small theater residencies. All of this seems to have given Petty and the band a kick in the kiester, as "Hypnotic Eye" gets down to business and doesn't let up.

The first thing you hear is a great big fuzz blast and you know you're in for a good time. "American Dream Plan B" picks up where "American Girl" left off all that time ago, and brings her back with her boyfriend who still believes in the dream, but he's getting old enough to know it might never happen. But you'd never guess the song's a bit of a bummer because the band is laying done a sound that's pure retro Petty, organ and all. Speaking of retro, you might even feel a little Doors creep in on the next song, "Fault Lines."

All across "Hypnotic Eye," you'll find mesmerizing rock and more of the "Mojo" blues. There's a shuffling blues harp surfing the rhythm of "Burnt Out Town" and a bump and grinder nearly seven minute "Shadow People." What Petty also reminds himself here is that you can still deliver a knockout in under three minutes, and he gets that body blow in with "Forgotten Man" (dig those twin lead guitars featuring Petty and Mike Campbell) and "American Dream Part B." There's a little something for everyone here, and it's all good. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers' "Hypnotic Eye" will cast its spell and you won't mind a bit.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Stand tall, Rise up, Stay strong
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Judas Priest last appeared in the form of a metal fever dream: the double disc concept album "Nostradamus." While I happened to love it, some Priest fans were left shaking their heads. There were plenty of good tracks, but where was that one killer anthem? This time, they have nothing to worry about. "Redeemer Of Souls" is Judas Priest back to basics. Twin guitars, thunder drums, and Rob Halford's glorious shriek rising above it all. One of the songs may be titled "Valhalla," but for old fans, this will be nirvana.

You can tell Priest is back to business from the moment Halford sings the first stanza, "welcome to my world of steel." And while the departure of legendary guitarist K.K. Downing may have set fans on edge, his replacement, Richie Faulkner, plays off Glenn Tipton and kick mutual butt. Even so, with all the plundering of their iconic metal sound, you'll still find the soul of a bluesman as "Redeemer" comes to a conclusion. "Beginning of The End" echoes Black Sabbath (whose "13" was a comeback of a similar excellence) with the swamps of ancient mists folding around one of Halford's more subdued performances. Mix that up with the bludgeoning "Metalizer" or the creature feature "Dragonaut," and you'll have a Judas Preist disc that stands toe to toe with their best work.

The deluxe version offers five extra songs, starting with the riff heavy and lead stinging "Snake Bite" and the anthemic "Bring It On" being the best of the five, especially the lead guitar threads needling their way through "Snakebite." There's even a parting gift of "Never Forget," in which the band declare their eternal thanks to the loyal fans who've stuck with the band for 17 albums and multiple decades. They are defenders of the faith, indeed.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Pump Up The Volume
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Aerosmith continued their unlikely comeback with a second powerful album, "Pump." Working off the momentum supplied by "Permanent Vacation" and still collaborating with a few hired guns (Jim Vallance and Desmond Child snag a few songwriter credits), the Toxic Twins of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry were back in a groove that rivaled their heyday. "I'm a .38 Special on a Saturday night," growls Tyler on "F.I.N.E." and he means every word of it.

Not only did they have their groove back, they were also now MTV darlings. It turned "Love In an Elevator," "Jamie's Got a Gone" "The Other Side" and the power ballad "What It Takes" into hit singles. But it's the unlikely turns that made "Pump" into a little extra. There's a Sgt Pepperish middle section on "Elevator" that comes from outside the band's usual meat grinder. And would you have ever expected Aerosmith to pick up a Dulcimer and rock out with it (as does the "Dulcimer Stomp" that precedes "The Other Side." Despite "Pump" being a through-and-through Aerosmith album, they were stepping outside their box.

"Pump" was the peak of Aerosmith's second act. The outside influences began to overrun the band come "Get a Grip" and soon after that, the usual rock and roll demons took control. However, for sheer song for song bang, "Pump" offered conclusive proof that Aerosmith were one of America's classic rock bands that had the goods to outlast many of their 70's peers.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Santa Brough)
Songs Of Faith and Devotion
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming hot on the heels of their certified metal classic, "Screaming For Vengeance," it would be easy to slag off "Defenders Of The Faith" as sub-par. That would be a fool's errand, because while "Defenders" doesn't have the song for song knockout blows of "Screaming," it still delivers a mighty powerful blow. The twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing rip from the opening "Freewheel Burning," while adding sting to a couple of new Priest Classics, "Love Bites" and "Heads Are Gonna Roll."

This was the period in which Judas Priest were at their most aggressive, sometimes outlandishly so. The ode to rough sex, "Eat Me Alive," got the band in hot water with Tipper Gore and her Parents Musical Research Center (remember the PMRC and their obsession with dirty music overall and Prince in particular?) for its particularly graphic narrative. "I'm going to force you at gunpoint to eat me alive" can still rankle those of a sensitive nature, but this came from a band who titled one of their UK albums "Killing Machine." Between the snarling guitars, the double kick drums and Rob Halford's leather skybound howl, subtlety was not their watchword.

"Defenders Of The Faith" also marked the end of a creative run for Priest. After this, they got the jitters from the emerging new wave of metal and - oddly enough - hair bands, too. It lead to the underrated synth heavy "Turbo," an album that took the band several more albums afterwards to recover from. But when you look at the line-up of "Hell Bent For Leather," "British Steel," "Screaming For Vengeance" and then "Defenders of The Faith," it's a creative metal run matched only by the first four Black Sabbath albums.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Lost Among The Stars
3 Out Of 5 Stars

For their final proper album as Queen (I am one of those who is steadfast that there is no Queen without Freddie Mercury), Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon put in a valiant effort towards making an album worthy of their finest work. But there is no escaping that "Made In Heaven" is a patchwork effort, comprised of B-Sides, remixes and songs cobbled together from snippets of works in progress. It's a good album, but it is not a great one, and Queen is a band that produced more than their share of brilliance.

In 1995, four years after Mercury's passing, the band took a look over what they had. This included vocal tracks that Mercury had laid down prior to his death; he knew what was coming and did what any self respecting Diva would do, he made sure there were plenty of his grand voice tracks for his bandmates to choose from. These are the songs "Mother Love" and (I believe) "A Winter's Tale." Of the two, "A Winter's Tale" fairs the best as a relaxed song where Freddie ruminates on the finer yet unheralded things of life, before adding at the end, "ooo, it's bliss."

Then come the redoes, like "Made In Heaven" and "I Was Born To Love You," reworked from Mercury's underrated "Mr Bad Guy" album. "Born To Love You" started life as a disco-fied dance-rock number, here Mercury's vocal track is synthed out into a mid tempo rocker with the rest of the band adding their background vocals. The two songs where Freddie's vocals weren't originally there come from "Made In Heaven" and "Too Much Love Will Kill You" (now there's some bad irony) via Roger Taylor's unheralded band The Cross and a Brian May solo album, respectively. Both are grand in the traditional Queen fashion. Same with "Let Me Live," which features Taylor and Brian sharing leads with Freddie and a gospel chorus backing them up.

That's the good stuff. The rest of "Made In Heaven" is piecemeal and sounds it. Then there's the inexplicable 23 minutes of ambient chill-out that drags out the CD (thank heaven for the skip button) to a very WTF ending where the final thing you hear is Mercury exclaiming "Fab!" I'm sure someone, somewhere, thought this was a brilliant tribute to Mercury's ascendance into legend, but it wasn't. For Queen fans and completists, "Made In Heaven" is something you should own. But I can't recommend it to much anyone else except for the most ardent of Queen fans. "Innuendo" was the last Queen album that measured up to the bend's mighty legacy. Best it should have stayed that way.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
The Last of Journey's Bug Albums
3 Out Of 5 Stars


Journey had become hungry for the success they'd tasted via "Infinity" and "Evolution," each exponentially growing in sales. Steve Perry had effectively cornered the band's microphone and Neal Schon beginning to trim his soloing down to bite-sized arena ready applause grabbers, "Departure" was their most attention ready albums to date. The band's appetite for commercial success came with a price as keyboardist Gregg Rollie called it quits soon after (to eventually be replaced by Jonathan Caine). That seemed to matter little to Journey's growing legion of fans as "Departure" soon found itself in the top ten and the initial single, the pulse pounding "Any Way You Want It" soon entered the top 20, another first for the band. Even "Walks Like a Lady," Perry's attempt at while blues and one of the more unusual singles from the band's hits period, sounded effective.

However, Journey still had lingering traces of wanted to have their pop success and prog-rocker status and eat it, too. That meant for vocal production trickery on "People and Places" and phase shifting guitars that dominate "Precious Time," along with Rollie's harmonica. And while it didn't become a breakout single, Journey's penchant for mammoth balladeering, "Stay Awhile" gives a preview of the huge hits that would start once "Escape" became an even more successful album than "Departure."

Granted, FM album rockers fell all over "Departure" when it came to picking out songs to play. But it's obvious now that Journey's albums were never better than the singles. There's a reason the original "Journey's Greatest Hits" competes with the likes of similar sets by Bob Marley, Eagles and CCR for the greatest selling albums of all-time, and that is because when the band went looking for a hit, they knew how to make them fire off. You can't get around that many of these songs are just pedestrian rockers, like "Someday Soon" (sung by Rollie) or "Line of Fire's" run of the mill guitar boogie. That doesn't discount the fact that each Journey album in this three album arc had extraordinary hits. So collect away, fanatics. The rest of us can get by on best of collections, of which there are now many.


      
blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
The Last of Journey's Bug Albums
3 Out Of 5 Stars


Journey had become hungry for the success they'd tasted via "Infinity" and "Evolution," each exponentially growing in sales. Steve Perry had effectively cornered the band's microphone and Neal Schon beginning to trim his soloing down to bite-sized arena ready applause grabbers, "Departure" was their most attention ready albums to date. The band's appetite for commercial success came with a price as keyboardist Gregg Rollie called it quits soon after (to eventually be replaced by Jonathan Caine). That seemed to matter little to Journey's growing legion of fans as "Departure" soon found itself in the top ten and the initial single, the pulse pounding "Any Way You Want It" soon entered the top 20, another first for the band. Even "Walks Like a Lady," Perry's attempt at while blues and one of the more unusual singles from the band's hits period, sounded effective.

However, Journey still had lingering traces of wanted to have their pop success and prog-rocker status and eat it, too. That meant for vocal production trickery on "People and Places" and phase shifting guitars that dominate "Precious Time," along with Rollie's harmonica. And while it didn't become a breakout single, Journey's penchant for mammoth balladeering, "Stay Awhile" gives a preview of the huge hits that would start once "Escape" became an even more successful album than "Departure."

Granted, FM album rockers fell all over "Departure" when it came to picking out songs to play. But it's obvious now that Journey's albums were never better than the singles. There's a reason the original "Journey's Greatest Hits" competes with the likes of similar sets by Bob Marley, Eagles and CCR for the greatest selling albums of all-time, and that is because when the band went looking for a hit, they knew how to make them fire off. You can't get around that many of these songs are just pedestrian rockers, like "Someday Soon" (sung by Rollie) or "Line of Fire's" run of the mill guitar boogie. That doesn't discount the fact that each Journey album in this three album arc had extraordinary hits. So collect away, fanatics. The rest of us can get by on best of collections, of which there are now many.


      

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blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Roots Rocking of a Different Kind
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Ian Anderson always had a minstrel's soul, yet in all of Jethro Tull's discography, it wasn't laid bare until "Songs From The Wood." Martin Barre's electric guitar is turned off or down with the exception of one song, while Anderson conducts the ceremonies with his ever present lilting flute and eclectic lyrics.

"Let me bring you songs from the wood,
to make you feel much better than you could know."

Calling listeners into a quite countryside with this a Capella couplet, and then sing wistfully about getting back to the countryside. Come with them and visit such characters as "Jack In The Green," they cheerfully beckon. Follow "The Whistler," who might was well be Anderson himself, as he plays his fife while strolling through the fields. Join in the sense of medieval England, with songs that are as far away from the proggy world of "Thick as a Brick" or the rocking semi-autobiographical "Too Old To Rock And Roll, Too Young To Die!" as possible. The band sounds looser and less yoked in than they have since the earlier albums sported their side-long spunky epics.

The one time that the electric guitar rings out is on "Pibroch (Cap In Hand)," which begins and ends with Barre's echo-laden guitars before Anderson assumes control with his flute. It's also "Songs From the Wood's" longest song and most reminiscent of past work, slipping in and out of folk, jazzy passages and the rock of Barre and Anderson's dueling solos. It's a little out of place, but hardly a misstep. That honor goes to "Ring Out Solstice Bells," which stumbles over its lightweight lyrics. Oddly enough, this song became an unlikely hit in the UK.

Those songs not withstanding, "Songs From The Wood" is a delightful mix of fields and forest, and one of Tull's most enjoyable albums. They must have thought so as well, as the follow-up "Heavy Horses" and much of "Storm Watch" would stay on the same pathway.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
Roots Rocking of a Different Kind
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Ian Anderson always had a minstrel's soul, yet in all of Jethro Tull's discography, it wasn't laid bare until "Songs From The Wood." Martin Barre's electric guitar is turned off or down with the exception of one song, while Anderson conducts the ceremonies with his ever present lilting flute and eclectic lyrics.

"Let me bring you songs from the wood,
to make you feel much better than you could know."

Calling listeners into a quite countryside with this a Capella couplet, and then sing wistfully about getting back to the countryside. Come with them and visit such characters as "Jack In The Green," they cheerfully beckon. Follow "The Whistler," who might was well be Anderson himself, as he plays his fife while strolling through the fields. Join in the sense of medieval England, with songs that are as far away from the proggy world of "Thick as a Brick" or the rocking semi-autobiographical "Too Old To Rock And Roll, Too Young To Die!" as possible. The band sounds looser and less yoked in than they have since the earlier albums sported their side-long spunky epics.

The one time that the electric guitar rings out is on "Pibroch (Cap In Hand)," which begins and ends with Barre's echo-laden guitars before Anderson assumes control with his flute. It's also "Songs From the Wood's" longest song and most reminiscent of past work, slipping in and out of folk, jazzy passages and the rock of Barre and Anderson's dueling solos. It's a little out of place, but hardly a misstep. That honor goes to "Ring Out Solstice Bells," which stumbles over its lightweight lyrics. Oddly enough, this song became an unlikely hit in the UK.

Those songs not withstanding, "Songs From The Wood" is a delightful mix of fields and forest, and one of Tull's most enjoyable albums. They must have thought so as well, as the follow-up "Heavy Horses" and much of "Storm Watch" would stay on the same pathway.


     


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blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Death Comes Driving Down The Highway: RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Today, I heard that Allen Lanier died. It kind of hit hard as Blue Oyster Cult were one of my gateway bands into hard rock and heavy metal. Having an Aunt who gave me Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath albums helped, too. But BOC, they were pushing buttons with songs like "Dominance and Submission" and "Don't Fear The Reaper." So I became a fan. Loyal even through the albums like "Mirrors" and "Cultosaurus Erectus." Then, in the summer of 1981, "Fire Of Unknown Origin" arrived at my college radio station. All the detractors could then officially go to hell. "Fire Of Unknown Origin" kicked as hard as "Spectres" and "Agents of Fortune." And oddly enough, this may have been one of Lanier's finest moments with the band, as many of these songs are heavily keyboard and synth driven.

Take the lead-off of the title track. On top of one of Buck Dharma's fiery lead guitar solos, Lanier lays down a keyboard bed that was worthy of The Cars. This was, after all, 1981 and plenty of bands were playing catch up with the music of the times. But Blue Oyster Cult did so on a minimal level, relying mostly on Lanier's keys and tighter song compositions. It was those qualities that made "Burning For You," the second of only two singles to ever break the Top 40 for the band, such a marvel. Tightly wound up with a great Dharma lick to open it up, it was set up as a standard pop construction but with bigger sound.

There was an additional incentive for the band on "Fire Of Unknown Origin." They were approached by the producers of the upcoming "Heavy Metal" animated feature to contribute a couple of new songs. They responded with one of the band's best, "Veteran Of The Psychic Wars." A pounding martial drum gives marching orders to a soldier who has seen so many battles that "wounds are all I'm made of." It's a haunting and inescapable rocker, one of several compositions that band co-wrote with science fiction author Michael Moorecock (including another favorite of mine, "Black Blade" from "Cultosaurus"). The other was "Heavy Metal (The Black and The Silver)." Riding in on a squalling guitar feedback, it's a shame it wasn't in the movie, as it encompasses what the band was about from the beginning. (Although in my humble opinion, "Psychic Wars" is the better song.)

There's still more ominous story telling, like on "Vengeance (The Pact)," again a candidate for "Heavy Metal," or in the bizarrely funny and again, piano heavy "Joan Crawford" (...has risen from the grave!). "Fire of Unknown Origin" was a mighty comeback album, which was a shame as the band would start to fragment soon after, and the next album would be the generic "Revolution By Night."

RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013. Thanks for adding so much music to the soundtrack of my life.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Death Comes Driving Down The Highway: RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Today, I heard that Allen Lanier died. It kind of hit hard as Blue Oyster Cult were one of my gateway bands into hard rock and heavy metal. Having an Aunt who gave me Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath albums helped, too. But BOC, they were pushing buttons with songs like "Dominance and Submission" and "Don't Fear The Reaper." So I became a fan. Loyal even through the albums like "Mirrors" and "Cultosaurus Erectus." Then, in the summer of 1981, "Fire Of Unknown Origin" arrived at my college radio station. All the detractors could then officially go to hell. "Fire Of Unknown Origin" kicked as hard as "Spectres" and "Agents of Fortune." And oddly enough, this may have been one of Lanier's finest moments with the band, as many of these songs are heavily keyboard and synth driven.

Take the lead-off of the title track. On top of one of Buck Dharma's fiery lead guitar solos, Lanier lays down a keyboard bed that was worthy of The Cars. This was, after all, 1981 and plenty of bands were playing catch up with the music of the times. But Blue Oyster Cult did so on a minimal level, relying mostly on Lanier's keys and tighter song compositions. It was those qualities that made "Burning For You," the second of only two singles to ever break the Top 40 for the band, such a marvel. Tightly wound up with a great Dharma lick to open it up, it was set up as a standard pop construction but with bigger sound.

There was an additional incentive for the band on "Fire Of Unknown Origin." They were approached by the producers of the upcoming "Heavy Metal" animated feature to contribute a couple of new songs. They responded with one of the band's best, "Veteran Of The Psychic Wars." A pounding martial drum gives marching orders to a soldier who has seen so many battles that "wounds are all I'm made of." It's a haunting and inescapable rocker, one of several compositions that band co-wrote with science fiction author Michael Moorecock (including another favorite of mine, "Black Blade" from "Cultosaurus"). The other was "Heavy Metal (The Black and The Silver)." Riding in on a squalling guitar feedback, it's a shame it wasn't in the movie, as it encompasses what the band was about from the beginning. (Although in my humble opinion, "Psychic Wars" is the better song.)

There's still more ominous story telling, like on "Vengeance (The Pact)," again a candidate for "Heavy Metal," or in the bizarrely funny and again, piano heavy "Joan Crawford" (...has risen from the grave!). "Fire of Unknown Origin" was a mighty comeback album, which was a shame as the band would start to fragment soon after, and the next album would be the generic "Revolution By Night."

RIP Allen Lanier: 1946-2013. Thanks for adding so much music to the soundtrack of my life.


   




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blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
When Dinos Roamed The Earth
4 Out Of 5 Stars


"Black Blade" is one of my favorite Blue Oyster Cult songs. It marked their most successful foray into the science fiction/hard rock hybrids that made the meat of their first three albums, and is easily as great as the classic "Golden Age Of Leather" from "Spectres." That said, there are plenty of cool songs here for the BOC fan, and I pretty much figure this was their last really good album. "The Marshall Plan" is possibly one of the funniest songs the Cult ever made! Especially for the Guitar Riff 101 segment in the middle, this rates with right there with Blotto's "Heavy Metal Head." It may also be important to note that Blotto toured with Blue Oyster Cult and Dharma played on the previously mentioned parody.

If the thought that Blue Oyster Cult could possess a funny bone gets under your skin, then you should probably avoid this disc and go for "Spectres" or "Agents." But for "Cultosaurus Erectus," the BOC stretched their chops in a really fine way. Get this for "Black Blade," "Unknown Tongue" and the stunning "Divine Wind" ("if he really thinks we're the devil, then let's send him to hell..."). They were still capable of giving us hard rock (courtesy of super producer of the time Martin Birch) with brains.

As to the quality of the re-issue, it has the usual complaints aimed at Culture Factory's releases. It's hard to say that the CD is 'remastered' as much as 'made louder.' Audiophiles will cry foul, but they'll be plenty for whom the listening experience will be unsullied. "Cultosaurus Erectus" has none of the flaws from other in CF's collection (the shoddy digital skips in "The Romantics," for one example). I like the recreation of the album sleeve, with the caveat that the print is so freaking tiny. Proceed at your own risk.



     
blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
When Dinos Roamed The Earth
4 Out Of 5 Stars


"Black Blade" is one of my favorite Blue Oyster Cult songs. It marked their most successful foray into the science fiction/hard rock hybrids that made the meat of their first three albums, and is easily as great as the classic "Golden Age Of Leather" from "Spectres." That said, there are plenty of cool songs here for the BOC fan, and I pretty much figure this was their last really good album. "The Marshall Plan" is possibly one of the funniest songs the Cult ever made! Especially for the Guitar Riff 101 segment in the middle, this rates with right there with Blotto's "Heavy Metal Head." It may also be important to note that Blotto toured with Blue Oyster Cult and Dharma played on the previously mentioned parody.

If the thought that Blue Oyster Cult could possess a funny bone gets under your skin, then you should probably avoid this disc and go for "Spectres" or "Agents." But for "Cultosaurus Erectus," the BOC stretched their chops in a really fine way. Get this for "Black Blade," "Unknown Tongue" and the stunning "Divine Wind" ("if he really thinks we're the devil, then let's send him to hell..."). They were still capable of giving us hard rock (courtesy of super producer of the time Martin Birch) with brains.

As to the quality of the re-issue, it has the usual complaints aimed at Culture Factory's releases. It's hard to say that the CD is 'remastered' as much as 'made louder.' Audiophiles will cry foul, but they'll be plenty for whom the listening experience will be unsullied. "Cultosaurus Erectus" has none of the flaws from other in CF's collection (the shoddy digital skips in "The Romantics," for one example). I like the recreation of the album sleeve, with the caveat that the print is so freaking tiny. Proceed at your own risk.



     


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blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
What do you see?
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Blue Oyster Cult played a change-up on "Mirrors." Shuffling long-time producer Sandy Pearlman out for Tom Werman, they pushed the sound of the band into a more polished, pop-rock style instead of their usual harder rocking. That meant things like female back-ground singers, a single that was almost entirely acoustic based (the top 100 charter "In Thee"), and a new collaborator in science fiction author Michael Moorecock for "The Great Sun Jester." The slicker sound, however, kicked in a fan backlash and didn't win any converts. Hence, "Mirrors" became the first BOC album to barely reach Gold sales after a pair of million sellers.

Surprisingly, "Mirrors" has held up nicely. The much mocked "In Thee" may have been the strongest song here, to the point that the band still uses it as a concert number. "I Am The Storm" is a sinister song that follows the kind of rock Blue Oyster Cult was best known for. "The Vigil" is an epic piece and was the original opener for side two on the vinyl LP. It's just that the slickness does get to be a bit much, like on "Dr Music" and the haunting end song, "Lonely Teardrops." It's a misstep the band recognized; for the follow-ups Cultosaurus Erectus and "Fire Of Unknown Origin," BOC would team up with Metal producer Martin Birch. "Mirrors" is probably better than you remember it to be, and worth it's C grade.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
Walking Wild, Heavy Style
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Back in 1981, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing New England's lead singer John Fannon for my college radio station as we sponsored a "Week in New England" promotion for "Walking Wild." The finale was a 100 yard Wild Walk race, with the winner getting a Sony Walkman (a cool prize back then) and copies of "Walking Wild" on cassette to groove on. John was an amicable interview and even complimented me on having knowledge of the band and decent questions prepared for our chat.

So I have a certain amount of nostalgia involved with "Walking Wild." While it is my personal favorite New England album, it's probably not the most representative work of the band. ("Explorer Suite" claims that title.) The person to point the finger of circumstance at is producer Todd Rundgren, who helped the band whip "Walking Wild" together in less than a month. He stripped a lot of the layered production of the first two albums away and turned the album into a leaner and tougher record.

There are moments when Todd's hand weighs in very heavy, making New England sound like a fantastic Utopia cover band. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the album's first single, a goofy hook feast called "DDT." Short for "Dirty Dream Tonight," it steams away with a barreling piano, thick harmony and an insta-catchy chorus. This really should have been the band's breakout single, but maybe it was a little too risque for the moment.

The sound New England is better known for shines through in the lush ballad "Love's Up In The Air" and the progressive synths of "Get It Up." The rockers (the title cut and "She's Gonna Tear You Apart") are the kind of arena rock you'd probably peg right-off as 80's music. There's also a great rock-rebel lyric line in the opening track that states "he looks good, he feels good, he's fashionably mad." When I asked John Fannon what that meant, he replied that "it feels good to be a little crazy sometimes. It's hip to be a little mad." "Walking Wild" was New England's last big crazy swipe at the brass ring, and they went for it with all guns blazing.


 


     

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blackleatherbookshelf: (Default)
Great albums, disrespectful packaging
3 Out Of 5 Stars

As indicated by the title "The Studio Albums 1972 - 1979," all six of the Eagles' studio albums are here, and by now, everyone has their opinions of them. As for me, "Hotel California" is an indispensable album, and I have a very soft spot for "On The Border," the first Eagles album I owned. But what you get here is problematic.

The albums are from the 2002 remasters, which is fine. There are no bonus materials, so by now I am assuming that everything recorded from this decade that Don Henley and Glenn Frey want you to hear has been released. The CD's however, are packaged in single-slip cardboard sleeves. That means the gate-folds of, say, "Hotel California" or "The Long Run" are left behind. It also means that the print on the sleeves ranges from small to teensey weensie. There are no historical notes included with this box set. I guess if you want history, you'll have to watch "The History Of The Eagles" on blu-ray or read the copious notes in the two-CD "Very Best Of The Eagles" from 2003.

Also, since the box-set from 2005 could contain "Eagles Live," why not this one? Seems a bit skimpy to me. Still, you're getting the entire studio run of Eagles' albums, of which only "The Long Run" comes anywhere close to being a clinker. If you don't already have the discography or you want to delve past the greatest hits, this set will do as a quickie insta-collection.


     

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Bits and Pieces
3 Out Of 5 Stars

After hitting a new commercial and artistic peak with "The Grand Illusion," Styx wanted to prove that they could rock it with the best of them. "Pieces of Eight" was well received at the time of its release, but it hasn't aged well. It peaked at number six, and was made while the band was still getting along with each other.

"Pieces of Eight" also contains Styx's best rock song in the working man's anthem "Blue Collar Man." Anchored by a huge organ riff and Tommy Shaw's vocal, it sounded big, made for the arena. Shaw also penned "Renegade," the album's over hit and nearly as powerful. Problem is, Dennis DeYoung hadn't reached his ballad-meister phase and his two songs are the dopey "Lord of The Rings" and the title track. Led Zep had already done the Mordor thing and had done it infinitely better. The sword and fantasy thing had even been done better by Styx themselves on "The Grand Illusion's" "Castle Walls."

When the band lightened up a bit, they also showed a knack for delivering some decent material. The stately "Sing for The Day" and positive thinking "I'm OK" (James Young and DeYoung penned that one) were good, folksy pop. At the time, Styx were one of the most popular bands in America, and the solid rocking and prog-lite of "Pieces of Eight" made 1978 sound stately.


     


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The Improbable Reunion
3 Out Of 5 Stars


"Just for the record, we never broke up. We just took a fourteen year vacation."

With those words, the Eagles kicked off their first concert in over a decade for an MTV broadcast special titled "Hell Freezes Over." The band took it all in stride, playing a tight set, leaning heavily on their most popular album (5 of 11 live tracks are from "Hotel California"), and adding four new songs to the disc as a bonus. The best of those four, "Get Over It," is the hardest rocking song the band has ever produced. Based on a Chuck Berry riff and Don Henley's annoyance with "a whole lot of people saying don't blame me," it's an epic rant.

But no one is fooled by the new material. It's the classics they came to hear, and Eagles bests are as good as classic rock gets. The band does keep it mostly mellow, with favorites "Tequila Sunrise," "I Can't Tell You Why" and "Wasted Time" all being mid-tempo to downright slowpoke, while it isn't till the end that the electric guitars come out for "Take It Easy" and "Life In The Fast Lane." In fact. there is little straying from the original arrangements. The exception is the Spanish guitar version of "Hotel California," which significantly alters the opening of that song.

But throughout, the Eagles are in fine voice, with the ever so pristine harmonies fully intact. They turn Henley's solo song "New York Minute" into an Eagles song and the longing of the closing "Desperado" sounds as good as it did in 1973. Henley remains the band's dominant voice, singing the bulk of the material and two of the four new songs. That matters little to the audience, who cheer enthusiastically after classic after classic. Pretty much a souvenir of the band's unlikely reunion and subsequent tour, "Hell Freezes Over" is a polished document of that new beginning.


     




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A Quintessential American Band
5 Out Of 5 Stars

Love them or hate them, The Eagles are a band that ran up a string of hits through the seventies that defined much of the decade. They've been accused of being narcissistic, overtly mellow, egotistical, and other things not all that complimentary. "The History Of The Eagles" spells all this out in detail, which makes it almost indispensable for fans of the bands or for folks who wonder how a seventies band made it though the music industry.

While the band was centered around the songwriting axis of Glenn Frey and Don Henley, every band member, past and present, gets a say. It's a warts and all approach, often unflattering but frequently compelling. Managers, producers, album cover artists and fellow musicians (Bob Seger, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and more) get their say. The music drives the narrative, sticking closely to the evolution of tha band as they release their consecutive albums, up to the acrimonious split around 1980.

However, the movie is broken into two parts, and the second half details the members as they seek separate careers and the reunion that takes place 14 years later. Again, the footage is not always flattering to the band (Don Felder gets so frustrated that he walks out of one of his segments), but the Eagles get, As Henley puts it, "that rarest of things in America, a second act." This covers the period from "Hell Freezes Over" to the independently released "Long Road Out Of Eden." The whole deal clocks in at 3hrs and 15 mins, making the documentary as exhaustive as can be.

Loaded with plenty of vintage (those seventies haircuts!) and never before seen clips to add to the attitude of the movie. And as you watch these men, now elder statesmen of classic rock, make their case for the importance of the Eagles, you get the feeling that attitude (along with plenty of the big three, sex and drugs and rock and roll) fueled the Eagles through the run that continues to this day. Some will find it bloated and unwatchable, the rest of us, with memories of where the Eagles were in our lives, will find this invaluable.

     
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