blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
All Rock, No Bust
4 Out Of 5 Stars

There's no-one else alive that can power-chord the way Angus Young can. Or yowl the way Brian Johnson does. It's why any AC/DC album is met with such great anticipation. This time, from the powerful title track to the walking shuffle of "Emission Control," "Rock Or Bust" delivers hammer-down rock like only AC/DC can.

Another noteworthy thing about "Rock Or Bust" is its brevity. Clocking in at 11 songs in 35 minutes, it delivers short and sharp stabs of guitar and Phil Rudd's primitive thud, Each song delivers its message, solo and gets out of its own way as soon as the meat is delivered. Heck, the great "Play Ball" (heard during the 2014 MLB World Series) gets it done in under 3 minutes. While it may disappoint fans who would rather Angus wing-it off into super solo land or a blues workout or two, to me it's like a prize fighter dispensing with the dancing and heading straight for the knockout punch.




At times the lyrics fall into beer raising similarity (4 songs that have 'rock' in the title is more than a little telling), but the album doesn't suffer from it. You don't come to an AC/DC party looking for PhD material. "Rock Or Bust" is AC/DC proving their point. There's a nice shout out to founding member Malcolm Young in the CD booklet...like it or not, your favorite bands are growing older with you. Even so, AC/DC enter their 40th year as a rock and roll powerhouse, and they show no signs of stopping.



   
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)
Kiss Figure Out That Being Heavy is a Good Thing.
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The old school fans of Kiss had been drifting away for a period when Kiss reconvened for "Creatures of the Night." Bored by the pop metal of "Unmasked" and left confused by the weird concept album of "Music From The Elder," it was too much even for Peter Criss, who'd already bolted and was replaced by the terrific Eric Carr, and Ace Frehley, who still appeared on the album cover but was replaced on the disc by future Kiss members Vinnie Vincent and Bob Kulick. There's even a funnier story behind Ace's departure/cover shot; allegedly Kiss's contract stated that at least three of the original members had to be in the group or their contract could be renegotiated. Since Kiss's fortunes were on a decline, they faked Frehley's presence as long as they could in an attempt to avoid rewriting the conditions of their contract, ergo their royalty rate.

Even with that scenario in place, Kiss came on strong with "Creatures Of The Night." The title track was one of the heaviest tracks they'd ever recorded, and Carr pummels the drums in a way Criss could never manage. Simmons stops being a demon clown and goes for the jugular for "War Machine." Paul Stanley digs deep for a loverman blues rocker titled "I Still Love You," one he liked enough to include it when the MTV Unplugged reunion happened a few years down the road. Then there was a rock and roll stomper aimed at the same anthemic status as "Rock and Roll All Night" and "Shout It Out Loud," "I Love It Loud."In fact. there's only one true clinker in the batch and that's Simmons, who just couldn't resist one more cliche in "Rock and Roll Hell." But that's a solid 8 out of 9 songs.

Still, "Creatures of The Night" did not return Kiss to previous heights of glory. They'd have to radicalize their appearance (good-bye make up) and keep the tougher sound for "Lick It Up," the real comeback.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Platinum Roots
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Motley Crue started life as glam-metal before morphing into hard rocking, and "Tattoos and Tequila" is front-man Vince Neil's tribute to the bands and songs that helped formulate his contributions to the band, While it's not terribly inspiring or all that original, it is in good fun and Neil acquits himself just fine. It's also a pretty interesting look into the guy's pysche; just what was he listening to while he was dreaming little rock star dreams?

Some of the choices are obvious. I'd easily guessed Scorpions and Aerosmith, and perhaps Elton John's "The B---- is Back" given Elton's omnipresence on seventies radio. A bit more interesting are Sweet ("Ac/Dc") and a selection from the first Cheap Trick album, "He's a Whore." Then you get the oddballs. I wouldn't have pegged Vince for a fan of Elvis or Creedence Clearwater Revival, but they both turn up with "Viva Las Vegas" and "Who'll Stop The Rain," respectively. And how about them Sex Pistols?

As to the performances, they are spotty. He's got a basic three piece combo backing him for the bulk of the disc, and they bludgeon their way through just about everything here. Drums are pumped to arena boom levels and the drenching of reverb over everything (especially Vince's vocals) doesn't allow the songs much room to breathe. The couple moments of subtlety ("Who'll Stop The Rain" and new song - one of two fresh cuts - "Another Bad Day") unmask the fact that Vince isn't much of a singer these days, which is why he blasts his way through most of the CD. Frankly, the CCR track is painful to listen to.

But this is Vince Neil we're dealing with here. If you were expecting "Sgt Pepper," you were gonna get snookered anyway. "Tattoos and Tequila" is Neil have a good laugh with a night of oldies at the local pub. It's also tied into a book and Vince's own brand of Tequila, so it's just one prong in a three point marketing strategy. He's not taking it all that seriously (I have a hard time listening to him trying to snarl like Johnny Rotten on "No Feelings" without imagining him cracking up), so take "Tattoos and Tequila" for what it is; a bit of a lark and a savvy piece of salesmanship. To assume more would be exaggerating your expectations.


   
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: (Flames)
Very Evenflow
4 Out Of 5 Stars

What Pearl Jam did, maybe even unwittingly, was to weld the thick sludgy minor-chord sound (and general angst) of grunge to arena size rock choruses and guitar power. In doing so, they managed to quickly outshine their nearest peers (Nirvana) commercially and ultimately become the vanguard for rock through the 90's. Along with Red Hot Chili Peppers and maybe Soundgarden, they shaped the sound of a decade and thrived to see their success sustained creatively.

"The Essential Pearl Jam" (a repackaging of Rearviewmirror, as reflected in the title) reflects (har har) that 12 years between Ten and Binaural in solid fashion, even if does lean heavily on the first three albums. It also offers a dozen later track to show that, even while the band's spotlight had faded somewhat, albums like No Code were better even while the band purposely was making music that antagonized fans expecting more of "Jeremy." Treats like "Do The Evolution" and "Man Of The Hour" sound just as powerful as any of the pre-Vs. material.

And for those who argue that Eddie Vedder is a big old sourpuss, they miss out on fun stuff like the tribute to old 45's "Spin The Black Circle" or the totally un-ironic cover of "Last Kiss" (that actually hit the top ten in 1999). Guitarist Stone Gossard rips some particularly innovative riffs through the proceedings here, and it's worth noting that Goassard (as well as the rest of the band) usually co-wrote the band's songs. On "Rearviewmirror," they are divided into two CD's, with an "Up" disc of rockers and the "Down" side of more pensive or acoustic material.

It is the second disc where more of the interesting material lies for me. I've always personally felt "Better man" to be the best song Pearl Jam ever wrote, and the closer, "Yellow Ledbetter" is a damn good blues number with Mike McCready hitting a terrific facsimile of Jimi Hendrix. There is plenty of meat spread between the two discs, and for the casual radio fan of Pearl Jam, this is a great sampler at a fine price.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Like a Bolt From The Blue
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Pearl Jam's discovery that just being a great rock and roll band has its merits again has been a joy to hear. They continue this hot streak started with "Backspacer" with "Lightning Bolt," a mixture of pulse pounding rock and even some punk fury, along with some deeply touching songs that expose just what an affecting singer Eddie Vedder can be.

"Getaway" sets the tone from the beginning, decrying that everyone searching for a better place, but you have to come through "the dark stormy weather." Still, Vedder is happy to claim that "what's mine is mine." This is just before launching into the furious guitar attack of (first single) "Mind Your Manners," a barely three minute detonation. Even with that level of brevity, Mike McCready unleashes a spike of a guitar solo. If you were watching the videos for the Wrigley Field debut of "Lightning Bolt" (complete with Mother Nature adding visual effects), you already know that the mystery woman gives the band something to tear through as it builds to its crescendo.

The moments of balance come with the softer "Sirens" and "Sleeping by Myself" (which first appeared on Vedder's solo "Ukelele Songs"), where nuance rules the day. They've come to understand that softness doesn't always have to come with caustic. That's really driven home on "Lightning Bolt's" closer, the positively lush with emotion "Future Days." The sound of grown men taking on a world that perhaps "Jeremy" would have grown up to love, it's a gorgeous song, rating with the band's absolute bests.

Lest anyone get the idea that Pearl Jam might be forgetting their purpose in life, they haven't. The rock is still fierce, Vedder can still emote like few singers of his era, and McCready retains his status as the band's utility weapon of choice. They haven't forgotten their love for music, once again dipping to the spinning of the black circle for the guitar boogie of "Let The Records Play." But now that's tempered by a man who can say (on "Future Days") "I believe, I believe because I can see, our future days...days of you and me." "Lightning Bolt" may contain plenty of thunder, but Pearl Jam can now also see the calm after the storm.

PS. The Album packaging is sumptuous enough to give an old geezer like me nostalgia trips to when the album sleeve was part of the fun of buying new music. There are some things a download just can't replace.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Gett Jett
3 Out Of 5 Stars

A surprisingly supple and solid album, "Unvarnished" finds a mature Joan Jett and her long time associates, The Blackhearts, addressing life and the events that follow in a grown up world. Family, politics, personal strife are all touched upon. Even so, Jett commands a rocking album this time around, much more so than 2006's "Sinner."

Jett was affected by Superstorm Sandy, which she touches on in the opener, "Any Weather." As much a rallying cry as a discussion of the events of the devastation, it deals with its subject without turning maudlin. In fact, it kicks butt. Jett also hits a tough chord when she sings about the loss of family members in both "Fragile" and "Hard To Grow Up." She still loves rock and roll, but now she sees that love from the viewpoint of an adult.

That doesn't mean Jett gives rocking the short shrift. "TMI" (too much information) and "Reality Mentality" looks at a world where stars are viewed through a paparazzi lens 24/7, and how musical reality shows invent stars that might not be worth the effort to get to know. Coming from a woman who had to shake off the slime of over-hype to make her career count, show knows from where she preaches.

"Unvarnished" is a self assured look at this modern world, even to the point where the usually obligatory cover song is passed on. Jett wants her work to stand for itself, and for the first time in many albums, "Unvarnished" maintains a standard that Jett set for herself in her lengthy career. Not bad for someone who now sees music she's created enter a fourth decade.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Don't Hate Yourself for Loving Her
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Joan Jett is a true rock and roll survivor. After the crash of The Runaways, who were often derided as some kind of stunt/joke from Kim Fowley, she rose from the ashes, got rock impresario Neil Bogart to sign her, and released "Bad Reputation." While it was the second album, "I Love Rock and Roll" to really make the breaks happen, Joan rose from the ashes and has kept her career going into the next century. This two disc Greatest Hits anthology is a super way to find out just how (and why) she never went down without a fight.

First off, she dusts off a couple of Runaways tracks, "Cherry Bomb" "School Days" and "You Drive Me Wild" show that The Runaways were perfectly capable of turning out decent rock songs, and Jett takes them over with authority. She's had a knack for doing that from the start, as her choice selection of cover songs has always shown. Here you get "Do You Wanna Touch," "Crimson and Clover," "Everyday People," "AC/DC" (the Sweet song, not the band, although her version of "Dirty Deeds" could have fit nicely), and her explosive version of a song Bruce Springsteen handed over to her, "Light Of Day." Oh yeah, and an obscure song from a band called The Arrows, "I Love Rock and Roll." OK, so we've established that Jett has eclectic tastes in rock artists, but what about her own songs?

"Why should I care about a Bad Reputation?" she barked out on her debut LP. Indeed, she rocks without giving a darn about what the world thought of her. She mixed hard rock, punk energy and glam, sometimes in the same song. There's a direct line from "Do You Wanna Touch" to "I Hate Myself for Loving You." You can't deny the kiss off of "Fake Friends." Or a subversive sense of humor by recording "Love Is All Around" (the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore show) and punking it up. Jett proves she can still cook with a pair of songs from 2006's "Sinner," one of which is a gas of a redo of The Replacements' "Androgynous."

"Greatest Hits" has 21 songs between the two CD's, so there's not much to quibble about (and I am guessing Epic records kept control as very little of those years are represented). But for an enduring talent of Joan Jett's caliber, you'll get your money's worth from this set.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Your won't hear me, but you'll fear me
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Probably the most misunderstood of the Judas Priest albums featuring frontman Rob Halford, "Turbo" was 1986 Priest trying to march to the pop metal success if the likes of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. It also started life as a double album, with half being regular Priest and the other the revised Priest. The record label nixed that idea, and this version of "Turbo" was the end result. Fans did a serious freak out when the synthesized drums and dance beat of "Turbo Lover" opened the album, and the CD soon went platinum all the same, but stalled the momentum of the band for a brief spell.

I have a secret fondness for this CD. Despite the dance leanings, I love "Turbo Lover." It's the mist successful of the album's attempts to meld the twin personalities on "Turbo." For classic Priest, Halford lets loose on the heavy "Rock You Around The World." However, you can't escape that some of the songs here seem confused and schizophonic, like "Wild Nights and Hot Crazy Days," which sounds like just about every hair metal band of the 80's. Purist Priest never sounded generic before, and this time did, as "Parental Guidance" which was just a trendy slap at the rock hating Congressional hearings of that moment.

Still, this is Judas Priest. Even at their most off kilter, they still could kick the poo out of about any other rock band. "Turbo" may be the most average album of their 80's recordings, but it took them till 1990's "Painkiller" to right them back on the metal line. Seriously, I found "Ram It Down" to be a lesser album than "Turbo," so here's to playing with expectations.


   
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: (Flames)
Back to Sludge Metal
4 Out Of 5 Stars

After decades of waiting, 3/4's of the original Black Sabbath (including Ozzy) reunite for what has to be one of the most anticipated CD's of the year, the boomtastic "13." I can testify that it was worth the wait. Producer Rick Rubin told the band to go back to their early albums to get a feel for what he was expecting to produce, and the band took it to heart. This is metal so dense, it cuts like used crankshaft motor oil. It's that heavy.

If you're looking for speedy riff rocking, it's not here. This is the sound that created such anthemic dirges as "War Pigs" or "Sweet Leaf." There's even a touch of Ozzy the blasphemer as he raises the question "Is God Dead?" And they pound that riff into submission for over 8 minutes. Granted, Ozzy's voice is showing its weathering, but Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler still have the magic spooky touch. (Audioslave drummer Brad Wilk fills in for Bill Ward.) "End Of The Beginning" snakes a demented blues riff to kick the album off with a oozing pounce. Or there's "Dear Father," which tackles the subject of abuse.

The band has never been scared of heavier topics, which "Dear Father" and the anxiety provoking "Methademic" show. (Given Ozzy's recent trip to rehab, maybe even closer to home than known.) The band even throws a few touchstones from the old days in when "Zeitgeist" pays homage to "Planet Caravan." Even with that obvious reference, "13" pounds and stomps like the monsters Black Sabbath were at the peak of their powers. The sense of dread and thrill of doom still permeate the best of the songs here, and - despite their age - the band doesn't sound like they are pandering to their past or trying to stay current. "13" is every bit as tasty as "The Devil You Know" (by Heaven and Hell with Dio), just down tuned and packed with 50% more evil.

Worth the wait and better than anyone could have possibly expected at this point in their collective life, "13" is a triumphant comeback. "I ain't no hero to come and save you," Ozzy wails in "Peace of Mind." Well, actually guys, you are. Thanks for saving heavy metal for 2013.


   
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An Utter Sandblast of an Album
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The members of Nirvana were so caught off guard at the explosive success of "Nevermind" that it took them three years to record the follow-up. They were even quoted as saying they wanted to make an anti-nevermind to shed some of their fans who looked at the band (and in particular, Kurt Cobain) as movement leaders. "In Utero" was somewhat successful at that attempt, as it is possibly one of the loudest and most distorted albums recorded by a major rockstar band. Producer Steve Albini's original production was so harsh that the record company demanded a remix, which was done when the masters were turned over to REM producer Scott Litt, who remixed them under the title of "additional engineering."

But even he couldn't smooth out the roughest edges of "In Utero." The band got its initial wish as well. "In Utero" was selling on a slower pace than "Nevermind" was until Cobain decided addiction, success and depression were too much for him and he ended his own life. That act reignited the sales of "In Utero" and the whole Cobain as spokesman of a generation rage. His suicide still doesn't detract from the album's strengths and flaws. Cobain was a unique songwriter, in that his style of 'soft-loud-soft-screech' version of verse-chorus-verse altered songwriting for a whole generation of acts. And when he was on, he was stunning. There's no denying the power of "Heart Shaped Box" and "Dumb" or the depth of the haunting "All Apologies." Drummer Dave Grohl was the feistiest drummer in a long line of skinpounders, and bassist Kirst Novoselic held the bottom together in the midst of all the chaos.

At the same time, the album's flaws are glaring. The intentional dissonance can sometimes get in the way of the band (like on "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," which sounds like a slam against the record company's insistence on getting another "Smells Like Teen Spirit") or the crash and burn howling on "Scentless Apprentice." But when you consider that this was the kind of Stooges' "Raw Power" approach Nirvana was aiming for, it's pretty amazing that they got away with it. Also, given that the music was essentially Cobain's suicide note to the world, it cemented "In Utero" as a riveting punctuation point to the end of Nirvana's lifespan.


     


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One of the Great 70's Live Albums
4 Out Of 5 Stars

During the great live album glut of the 70's, it seemed every band had a double live set in their back pocket. Thanks to Peter Frampton and Kiss proving that not only could you break a not quite successful band to commercial success, but you could sell these records in tonnage, everyone from Lynyrd Skynyrd to The Tubes were putting their act on disc for all the world to listen to. For the really good ones, it could help define the band. "Live and Dangerous" did just that for Thin Lizzy.

Having broken in the states thanks to "Jailbreak," there was a lot of talk that Lizzy's studio work just didn't measure up to the band's, and especially the late, charismatic frontman Phil Lynott's stage presence. Recorded in London (1976) and Toronto (1977) for the tours supporting "Johnny The Fox" and "Bad Reputation" respectively (and like many other 70's live acts, heavily touched up in the studio), the band was at their creative peak. That means you get stunning versions of "Jailbreak" and "Don't Believe a Word," you also get songs like Bob Seger's "Rosalie" and some should have been hits like "Dancing In The Moonlight" and the lighter "Still In Love With You," where Lynott's presence shines through.

This was also the prime Lizzy lineup: Lynott, Brian Downey, Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham. Thin Lizzy knocks these songs out with the kind of energy fanatics knew was missing from the regular albums. The twin guitars are set for stun, and Lynott's underrated bass playing pins it all together. Interband troubles would start after this release in 1978, so this marks the close of a chapter in the band's history, covering many of the major songs from the band's catalog. If all you know of Thin Lizzy is "The Boys Are Back In Town," then "Live and Dangerous" is a great introduction to a great rock band whose career was ultimately cut short too soon.


     

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There's a Stardog waiting in the sky
3 Out Of 5 Stars

When hard rockers Breaking Benjamin went through a very ugly breakup and set guitarist Aaron Fink and bassist Mark James loose, they hooked back up with old bandmate and vocalist Nick Coyle (who served time with Fink and James in a band called Lifer - one album in 2000) from the critically acclaimed Drama Club, then found drummer Josh Karis. Laying low during the legal wrangling that was Breaking Benjamin's crash, the foursome started wood-shedding on new material. Taking their name from a Mother Love Bone song, they finally surface with this self released EP. "Exhale."

The album starts of promisingly enough with "Aphrodite," which plays to the band's strengths. I've always thought Fink to be an underrated guitarist who can create the heavy riffs but can also deliver atmosphere. Turns out Coyle is a pretty enthusiastic singer. There's also a very strong single contender with "When We Fall." Producer Grammy-nominated Neal Avron understands this kind of polished thump, and Stardog Champion follow through with the kind of high polished radio ready rock that would fit nicely on current AOR radio, especially anyone would take a shot at "When We Fall."

Unfortunately though, something is missing to my ears. Stardog Champion are certainly above the regular competence of plenty of bands mining this genre at the moment, but they seems to lack a certain sizzle that made Breaking Benjamin stand out over the crowd. I'm not sure if Stardog Champion needs to take themselves out on the road to gain that grittier feel, but the songs here come off as too polished, too eager to please. There's enough promise on "Exhale" to make me want to see where they go next, I just guess that I'll have to see where they head to as they continue onward.


 


     

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Cool Idea, OK Compilation
3 Out Of 5 Stars

This compilation of 17 Judas Priest songs is probably more interesting for its liner notes than the music. Which is pretty amazing, since Judas Priest are one of the top metal groups of all time. However, what sets "The Chosen Few" apart from most collections is the concept. Other hard rockers were invited to select a favorite Priest song and then contribute a brief word or two about why this song, above all the others Judas Priest have recorded, was the choice cut among the hundreds Priest have released.

It makes for some interesting insights. Who would think that David Coverdale of 80's hair band and Randy Blythe of thrash metal band Lamb of God would have something in common? Well, it seems they both have an affinity for Priest's cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi With The Two Pronged Crown." Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper both favor "Living After Midnight." Or who would have thought that one of the more maligned Priest albums, "Turbo," would find a champion in Korn's Jonathan Davis, who liked it because of the synths, not despite them.

Ozzy Osbourne, Gene Simmons, Joe Elliott of Def Leppard and others pull out their fandom hats and pitch in. It makes for some fun reading, as the participants are about as agog at the idea of contributing to a Judas Priest compilation as the rest of us mere mortals. It also helps that some otherwise passed-over songs, like "Dissident Aggressor," "Beyond The Realms of Death" or "Turbo Lover" make the cut. If you're already a fan of Rob Halford's operatic metal yowls or the twin guitar leads that characterize any great Priest selection, then this CD will probably be unnecessary, a collectable at best. However, if you're a newbie into this legendary band's decades long discography, "The Chosen Few" makes for an interesting gateway drug.


     

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Hell bent and heaven sent
4 Out Of 5 Stars

As each Judas Priest album became more and more successful,the band felt the need to top itself with each release. This album, "Hellbent for Leather," was a significant jump from "Stained Class." It also advance the groups image as leather clad bad boys playing the heaviest guitar rock out of England. As the title song put it the band was in a take no prisoners mode.

The album kicks off with a sexual innuendo "Delivering the Goods." Rob Halford delivers the song with grunts and a low-key growl. That doesn't mean he hasn't given up his operatic howl, evident on "Evening Star" and "Before the Dawn." "Before the Dawn" also showed the versatility of the band. Played as the acoustic set piece, it slips in the middle as a curio along with the band's cover version of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi with the Two Pronged Crown."it joins the ranks of great Judas Priest cover songs like "Diamonds and Rust." They may have been a hard-core heavy metal, but they had visions outside the format.

"Hellbent for Leather" contains a pair of classic Priest songs. Both the title song and "Living After Midnight" preserved the image of the band not just leather clad rockers, but knowledgeable about the way with a hook. By their next album, the five-star rated "British Steel," they would have that mastered. But for the moment, "Hellbent for Leather" added to the growing mythology of this great rock band.


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A Calling Card for early Aerosmith
4 Out Of 5 Stars

When this came out in 1980, Aerosmith were still one of the hottest rock bands in the world. The slippage of "Night In The Ruts" had just been released and the backlash (or the public breakup between the band and Joe Perry) hadn't happened yet. That meant the public's appetite for a Greatest Hits was still hot, and this ten song package filled in nicely. It collects songs from the debut to "Ruts," skips the "Live Bootleg" and adds one soundtrack single Beatles Cover from the camp classic movie "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (in which Aerosmith played the villains!).

The main reason to own this is the 1978 version of "Come Together" from Sgt Pepper. This has been the only CD you can find it on (unless you want the SPLHCB soundtrack, and you probably don't). It also doesn't bother with the Run-DMC version of "Walk This Way" which tends to show up on other discs. The two best songs from "Draw The Line" are here and the goofy cover of "Remember Walking In The Sand" are included. The down side is that several of the tracks are single edits ("Same Old Song and Dance," "Sweet Emotion" and "Draw The Line," to name three) and "Train Kept a Rollin'" could have easily been included among the single releases.

Other than "Oh Yeah," which culls both the CBS and Geffen years onto two discs, "Aerosmith's Greatest Hits" is about as good a bang for the buck as you'll get from this band.


     

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