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Entries by Thomas (63)

Thursday
Oct112012

KISS - "Monster"

by John Jeffrey
 
In 1985, KISS released "Asylum," touting it as their 20th record.  In 2012, KISS has recalculated the counting of their catalog (no longer including the solo albums in their tally) and have announced "Monster" as their 20th studio album.  Since "Asylum" was released, KISS started a trend whenever they had a new album coming out, where they would compare their upcoming release to something else that they had put out in the past.  Usually, KISS would describe their "new" record as a cross between "Destroyer" and whatever else suited their fancy at the time.  I always felt this was a bad idea, because it makes the fan conjure up a preconceived notion of how the record will sound, and if the release doesn't match their sonic hypothesis, it can leave a lot of room for disappointment.  But let me tell ya, "Monster" does not disappoint. 

Throw out the window whatever 'hybrid' they may have described "Monster" as, and just be certain that it is truly a solid rock record.  Leaps and bounds beyond 2009's "Sonic Boom," "Monster" has a little bit for everybody, no matter what era fan you are of the band.  Where "Sonic Boom" was a homage to mid-70's era KISS, and had quite a bit of 'references' to songs/guitar solos from that era sprinkled in, "Monster" is an homage to the artists/groups which influenced them.  There are many 'references' to groups like Led Zeppelin and Mountain on "Monster," and while I wouldn't say KISS ripped them off, I will say that there's definitely a 'tip of the hat' to those bands on the CD.
 
Instead of trying to emulate the flat, somewhat muddied sound of 70's records like "Rock and Roll Over" (as they did with "Sonic Boom"), the production on "Monster" is loud, crisp and in your face.  Very raw and organic sounding, with none of the edge rounded off.  I really like how Eric Singer's drum sound slightly varies from track to track.  At times, it sounds very tight and controlled, and at other points, it has a
 huge room sound, with the snare drum just emanating massively, making the whole thing just breathe.  What the low end may lack in the bass drum dept. is certainly made up with bass guitar, as Gene Simmons' bass has never sounded better on any KISS album.  Sounding like a cross between his "Alive II" tour distortion and his trademarked Punisher/Ampeg growl, you couldn't ask for anything more.  The guitars have a lot more teeth this time around, and the hard left/right panning of Paul Stanley and Tommy Thayer's rhythm guitar parts makes it interesting for the listener, especially when using headphones.
 
"Hell or Hallelujah" - The album opener really sets the tone for this great opus.  The main riff sounds like a cross between (now I'm doing what I criticized KISS for, LOL) a sped up version of "All American Man" ("Alive II") and the break down riff from "Get All You Can Take" ("Animalize").  The skeletal arrangement and drumming is similar to "I Stole Your Love" ("Love Gun"), but even with all of KISS-isms, for some reason "Hell or Hallelujah" reminds of Sammy Hagar's "One Way To Rock."  That's not a bad thing by any means, as "HOH" is a great song.  Awesome vocals by Stanley, which he has been able to replicate nicely in the live setting, and great (almost Angus Young-ish) lead playing by Thayer.
 
"Wall of Sound" - The first 'Gene song' on the disc.  While the main riff reminds me of the chorus of "Murder in High Hells" ("Animalize"), this song kicks ass.  Singer goes back to the beginning of his recording career, and delivers a Badlands style groove throughout, while Thayer's lead riffing during the song reaffirms why he is the lead guitarist in KISS.
 
"Freak" -  Perhaps the most 'modern' sounding track on the album, but not surprising since this is the tune they wanted to have Lady Gaga sing on. Lyrically, the song deals with the burden of being different and being outcast for being who you want to be, and following the march of your own drummer.  While it's not always easy being a KISS fan, I'm sure this song will resonate with a lot of it's listeners.  Great ad libbed vocals at the end by Stanley, as this track should be the next single.
 
"Back to the Stone Age" - Very fun song by Simmons.  Starts out with a great "Lick It Up" era style scream by Gene, followed by a riff that reminds me of "Thou Shall Not" ("Revenge").  Drum wise, the song has a very driving "Deuce" type beat, which suits the song perfectly.  Thayer once again delivers a stellar solo.
 
"Shout Mercy" - Another great Stanley song which seems to be an ode to Humble Pie's "I Don't Need No Doctor."  The 'whoot woos' in the song are absolutely infectious, and Singer's 'hand-clapping' snare hits throughout the song really tie the whole thing together.  The high note Paul hits at the end of the song will send shivers down your spine!
 
"Long Way Down" - I'd say this is the most unique sounding KISS song I've heard in some time.  It's totally KISS meets Led Zeppelin.  The song starts out with a grind like Zeppelin's "Out on the Tiles" and the music during the verses reminds me of the chorus from Bruce Kulick and Gene Simmons collaboration on Kulick's "BK3" ("Ain't Gonna Die").  The chorus of "Long Way Down" is also a nod to Zeppelin ("Ramble On"), but Paul Stanley makes it all his own with another killer vocal performance.
 
"Eat Your Heart Out" - On the first listen, this track sounds like the incestuous sister/brother song to "Hot and Cold" from "Sonic Boom," but upon further inspection, it appears that "Eat Your Heart Out" is actually a re-write of Simmons' 70's unreleased demo, "Bad, Bad Lovin."  Nevertheless, it's another fun song by Gene and has a very cool a cappella intro, where if you listen close, you can distinctively hear all four KISS members singing the harmony.  Thayer breaks out a wah pedal for this one, which adds a lot of character to his leads during the guitar solo and the outro passage.
 
"The Devil is Me" - This song should be called, "The Devil is Gene" as everything about this song totally fits with his 'Demon' persona.  Perhaps his best song on the disc, Simmons really delivers lyrically, vocally and his bass parts are totally killer.  You really have to listen, but the little runs and fills he's playing on this song tell the story of what an underrated bass player Gene Simmons really is.  The song also features another set of MVP performances by Thayer & Singer.
 
"Out of this World" - Tommy Thayer delivers a great follow up 'Spaceman' character song to "When Lightning Strikes" ("Sonic Boom").  As contrived as it may be to have every Thayer sung tune to be character driven, "Out of this World" is a nice addition to "Monster" and Tommy's lead vocals create an added dimension to the CD.  The very 70's, "Mississippi Queen" (Mountain) inspired verses are offset nicely by the upbeat 80's sounding chorus, and the phaser added during the driving outro piece was a nice touch.
 
"All For the Love of Rock and Roll" - Undoubtedly, the standout track on the CD, as the song is so different than all of the other songs on "Monster."  Sung by Eric Singer, the song has a very bluesy, R&B-ish type feel, probably the track most reminiscent of early KISS on the disc.  To me, the song reminds me of a slowed down version of "It's Alright" from Paul Stanley's 1978 KISS solo album.  I think it's great that they took a chance by putting a song like this on "Monster," as it makes it just that much more diverse.  Singer's lead vocals and Stanley's harmonies are pure perfection, and the non-cookie cutter arrangement is an added bonus.
 
"Take Me Down Below" - While I'm indifferent to Gene's spoken part in the beginning of the song, I have to say that the vocal tradeoffs between him and Paul during the verses are ultra cool.  Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of the "Crazy Nights"-esque chorus, but I'm certain that this song will certainly appease fans of 80's KISS.  Thankfully, the bubblegum choruses are broken up by a driving middle section and another sensational guitar solo by Thayer.
 
"Last Chance" - Starting out with a buzzing bass line (ala "Plaster Caster"), "Last Chance" delivers one of the best songs off "Monster."  Perhaps the heaviest Stanley song, conversely, the pre-chorus has almost a Lenny Kravitz feel to it.  While there have been several comparisons with parts of "Monster" to "Revenge," I feel this song is the one that truly fits that mold.  Between the intricate bass lines, the pounding drums, the blazing guitars and awesome vocals, what more can you ask for from a KISS song?
 
"Right Here, Right Now" - The bonus track off "Monster" starts with a creeping guitar riff and a soaring scream by one of the best vocalists in rock......ever....the one and only, Paul Stanley.  The verses harken back to early KISS, reminding me of the previously unreleased track from 1975, "Doncha Hesitate," while the chorus is very similar to the breakdown part in "Never Enough" ("Sonic Boom").  The song has a very cool middle section where the guitars are doubled with chimes (like in "Do You Love Me" from "Destroyer") and then goes into a cool harmony guitar solo (ala "Psycho Circus"), courtesy of Stanley & Thayer, and ends with a massive gong strike by Eric Singer.
 
While time will be the real test to whether or not "Monster" has the same shelf life of the most classic KISS albums, this CD is a true testament to who and what KISS is in 2012.  Kudos to another great album by "the hottest band in the land."

Tuesday
Oct092012

Heart - "Kicking & Dreaming " (book review‏) and "Fanatic" (CD review)

By John Jeffrey
 
Following the boxed set they released over the summer, Heart delivers a one-two punch with the fall releases of their autobiography, "Kicking and Dreaming" (written by Ann & Nancy Wilson, with Charles R. Cross), followed by a new studio album, "Fanatic."  While it may or may not have been originally planned this way, both the book and CD go nicely hand in hand with one another, giving their fans quite a bit to rejoice about.
 
"Kicking and Dreaming" (subtitled, "A Story of HEART, Soul, and Rock & Roll") is perhaps the best rock biography that I've ever read.  While it's not a dirt dishing piece of work, or the most detailed or descriptive memoir I've had the pleasure to read, it may be the most well written.  While the book starts out with a prologue written by Ann Wilson about a 'road story' in 1975, "Kicking and Dreaming" quickly delves back into the childhood of the Wilson sisters, and at the same time giving you a crash course into their fraternal and maternal family history.  With most of these celebrity or rock star bios, I've found the chapters about their early or formative years to be rather dull and boring, making me want to ship ahead to the parts when they start their journey on the road to what made them famous.  This certainly not the case with "Kicking and Dreaming."  From their tales about their great (x10) grandmother Hannah Dustin, to the military lineage of the Wilson family, their story is completely captivating, making it almost impossible to put the book down.
 
The Wilson sisters (including eldest sister Lynn) were not your typical 'girly' girls.  The stories of their youth were reminiscent of something I would have read in "The Adventures Tom Sawyer," as these were not tales of lipstick, tea parties and Barbies, but instead it was about pot, hitch hiking, and the Beatles.  Although Ann did need to seek treatment later on life to help deal with her alcohol issues, neither sister got that hard into the drug scene, as they rated their partying a "4" on the "Keith Richards scale."
 
The book chronicles the entire history of Heart, and gives great insight on how all 27 members of Heart wound up becoming part of the band and how the ones that are no longer in the lineup, eventually wound up leaving the group.  They mention some of the brief, and at times, odd encounters with their male rock and roll peers, as well discussing their long and short term romantic liaisons.  You read about their rise to fame in the 70's, their love/hate memories of the 80's, and how the Wilson sisters stopped performing together in the 90's as Heart (although they did perform periodic shows together as the Love Mongers).  Ironically enough, it was that separation that sparked the return of Heart in 2002, as Nancy Wilson fell in love again with the idea of being in a band (full time) with her sister, as she watched one of Ann's solo performances from the crowd, just like she did in 1974.  The book ends with the story of how Nancy, once again found love, and became engaged, and then married her second husband, Geoff Bywater, as the reader gets left off with Heart in the midst of writing and recording their 14th studio album, "Fanatic."
 
The "Fanatic" CD opens up with the title track that has an unbridled rawness and energy, which immediately gives the listener the 'heads up' that "Fanatic" is truly a rockin' disc.  Much heavier than 2010's "Red Velvet Car."  The verses in the song have a neat keyboard/organ part that locks in with the guitar finger picking which is very reminiscent of the Who's, "Who are We."  In fact, there are several 'references' on many of the songs to perhaps their biggest musical influence, Led Zeppelin.  From the slide guitar in "Dear Old America" to the added string instruments in "Mashallah" and "Corduroy Road," you can definitely hear Zeppelin being channeled.
 
Producer Ben Mink did a great job capturing some killer tones on "Fanatic."  While the mix is fairly straight ahead, Mink's layering and the funky guitar tones he dialed in, really give the album a lot of added character.  It seems almost repetitious to mention how great Ann Wilson's voice is on "Fanatic," but she sounds just as good at 61 as she did at 21.  Lyrically, it was pretty interesting to hear lines being sung which could of easily come right from the pages of "Kicking in Dreaming."  In "Dear Old America," part of the lyrics in the song go, "When I get back I'm gonna own this town/Shine that metal and wear the crown."  That reminded me of the time Ann wrote about when she went to her 10 year high school reunion.  She wanted to show all the people who ridiculed her, and especially those who had made fun of her because of her weight, that she had made it, and was astonished at how many of those people who were mean to her, were kissing her ass, because she was famous.  And in the song which features Sarah McLachlin, "Walkin' Good," one of the lines are, "I found myself in a brand new neighborhood/Don't worry about me cause I'm walkin' good," seems to be an ode to the Wilson's childhood, as they had to relocate and move countless times, because of their father's military career.
 
The only downside to "Fanatic," is although it's definitely a 'mood' record, is that not a lot of the songs have strong choruses, and the weaker ones didn't really seem to hold my attention as much.  I also think it was a mistake that they didn't include at least a couple of the bonus tracks from the deluxe version of "Fanatic" on the standard release, as I feel "Beautiful Broken" is a really great song, and Ann's Jim Morrison-y spoken vocals on "Two Silver Rings" are out of this world!
 
The "Kicking and Dreaming" book and "Fanatic" CD are definitely must have items for the diehard Heart monger and are also great introduction pieces for anyone who's on their way to becoming a fan!

Monday
Oct082012

CD Battle Royal - (Don) Dokken VS T&N (Dokken minus Don)

Review by John Jeffrey

Despite Don Dokken and George Lynch's recent appearance on Eddie Trunk's That Metal Show (VH-1 Classic) regarding a pending Dokken reunion, the stars in the sky did not align, and the reunion of Don Dokken, George Lynch, Jeff Pilson and Mick Brown never happened. However, what did happen, is two separate CD releases this fall, from all of the parties involved.

In one corner, it's Don Dokken, longtime replacement guitarist Jon Levin, bassist Sean McNabb and the only other original Dokken member, drummer Mick Brown. In the other corner is the creator of the Dokken sound, guitarist George Lynch, bassist Jeff Pilson, and appearing on both CD releases is drummer 'Wild' Mick. Don's regime still goes by his last name, "Dokken," and Lynch and co. go by "T&N" (which stands for Tooth & Nail), which (although the group doesn't neccessarily agree with this statement) is essentially a version of Dokken without Don.

Dokken's CD, "Broken Bones" came out at the end of last month, and T&N's "Slave to the Empire" will be released this Halloween. Oddly enough, both discs start out with a song about an 'empire.' "Broken Bones" "Empire" is a song about a burning empire and T&N's track is about being a slave to one. Go figure? Don's "Empire" gives "Broken Bones" a fast and furious start right out of the gate, as all of the songs on "Broken Bones" have the definitive 'Dokken' sound. With Don's smokey, ultra-melodic voice and Levin's grab bag of Lynch-isms, "Broken Bones" does not fail to impress. Definitely, the stand out track tracks are the rockers earlier on in the CD, as the disc kind of peters out near the end, with a heavy dose of acoustic driven, ballad type numbers. While "Broken Bones" is a solid release, my only complaint is that the sonic values on every song is identical, with no variation whatsoever with any of the tones (musical or vocal), making the whole thing sound very single-track minded, from a production standpoint. Also, with there being such an obvious emphasis on "Broken Bones" sounding like classic Dokken, there seemed to be a limited amount of creativity with the song writing process itself.

T&N's "Slave to the Empire" is like two albums on one CD, as the disc features 7 new original songs written by Jeff Pison and George Lynch (featuring Brian Tichy on drums), and 5 Dokken re-recordings, featuring a host of different singers for each song. The new tracks are all sung by bassist Pilson, and while sounding very Dokken-esque, they could have easily been songs that came from any of George Lynch's recent solo albums (ie: "Kill All Control"). All of the songs are very well written with the exception of of the song, "Jesus Train," which comes off very disjointed, melodically. Musically, there's a ton of great guitar layering and each song seems to have it's own identity, courtesy of of tone master George Lynch. Pilson's vocals are reminiscent of Don's, but are no way imitations, with the exception of the re-recording of "Into the Fire,"where Pilson was obviously attempting to channel the vibe of the original vocal track. Guest vocalists Robert Mason (ex-Lynch Mob, Warrant) and Sebastian Bach both do a great job on "It's Not Love" and "Alone Again," but I'm not exactly sold on Doug Pinnick (King's X) singing "Tooth and Nail" or Ripper Owens (ex-Judas Priest) singing "Kiss of Death." Different voices is one thing, but completely changing the vocal melodies, I'm not too fond of. I must note that T&N did change up some of the musical arrangements from the original studio counterparts, which was cool to hear, especially the 'live' version they did with "It's Not Love."

Overall, Dokken's "Broken Bones" is like eating an order of chicken wings, where at the end of your meal, you're definitely full, but your taste buds might get burnt out from eating just one type of food. T&N's "Slave to the Empire" is more like a sampler platter, where you get a variety of things to try, most of them good, but maybe a few things you didn't really care for. Being similar, yet so different, it's really hard to pick a winner between the two. However, the true winner is the listener, as although Dokken didn't reunite, in 2012 we get two Dokken-related CDs, with a bunch of great songs to enjoy.

This match has been ruled a draw, as Dokken retains the Heavyweight Championship.

Sunday
Jun242012

Lita Ford - "Living Like a Runaway"

by John Jeffrey
 
To preface my review, I have to point out that I have never been a diehard Lita Ford fan.  I totally acknowledge and respect her skills as a guitar player, and like many people, I dig her handful of hits, but for the most part, (as a songwriter) I find her material very 'hit or miss.'  I often feel that a lot of the mediocre stuff that she's put out, she's been given a pass for, because of her notoriety as a original member of the Runaways and because she's a 'hot chick' who plays rock and roll.
 
Musically, "Living Like a Runaway" is much of the same you'd expect from Lita Ford, but lyrically, I do have to really give her props for wearing her heart on her (album) sleeve, as this CD is probably the most personal and 'real' collection of songs that I've heard by any artist in some time.  From turning a 'F-You' note to her ex-husband, Jim Gillette, into a hard driving rock song ("Branded"), to taking her most heartfelt sentiments to her estranged children and creating a beautiful acoustic ballad ("Mother"), Lita is putting it all out there - for the world to share in her pain.
 
I've always felt Lita has a great vocal tone, but I would place her range on the thinner side of the spectrum.  That being said, on songs like "Devil In My Head," where she's going for a heavier sound (with down tuned guitars, etc.), her voice is not complimentary to the music it's been layered on top of.  And while there many good songs on "Living Like a Runaway" (Including a cool cover of the Nikki Sixx penned track, "A Song To Slit Your Wrists By"), I don't know if I would categorize any of them as being 'great.'
 
"Living Like a Runaway" may not be in heavy rotation for my personal listening enjoyment, but I think Lita's fans will find this release to be a true, return to form CD and hopefully will be a catharsis in rejuvenating her career. 

www.litafordonline.com

Wednesday
May232012

Great White - "Elation"

by John Jeffrey
 
When I first saw Great White live with Terry Illous singing for them last year, I knew that even a Jack Russell at 100% would have a difficult time getting his gig back.  His spot on voice, combined with his youthful energy and great stage presence is surely infectious.  However, the ultimate test would be Great White making a new record with Illous at the helm.  So when it was announced Great White was releasing a new record without Jack Russell, I wasn't surprised in the least.
 
To compare 2012's "Elation" with their classic material from the 80's would be completely unfair, so I decided to A/B "Elation" with the group's last CD with Jack Russell (2009's "Rising," which is their last release, period).  "Elation" actually transcends well from the previous "Rising" CD, as both records feature a very dry production, which is a huge polar opposite from the high gloss execution found on such records like, "Once Bitten..."  I don't feel the 'bare bones' approach suits them well, as I always considered Great White to be one of the premiere 'arena rock' sounding bands, almost a glammy version of Led Zeppelin.
 
Production aside, the songs just aren't there on "Elation."  While they definitely beefed up the 'rock' factor from their previous release ("Rising" has a lot of mellow songs and ballads), most of the songs are straight up, BORING.  Just kind of mid tempo, dry sounding blues/rock type songs that don't sound anything like Great White.  The songs that do sound (almost) like 'Great White' (which to be fair, there are about 4 decent tunes on the CD, one of them being the 'bonus track,' "Lowdown"), feature Illous completely biting the style and swagger of former vocalist, Jack Russell.  This I find rather sad, as I feel the group now lacks identity, and has no chance of moving forward as a 'new' Great White with Terry Illous as their singer.
 
The current lineup can easily continue their nostalgia tours, as they still do the classic material justice. However, I don't expect much "Elation" from the diehard GW fans to the band's current direction.

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