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Steve Perry – For the Love of Strange Medicine
January 26th, 2004 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1994
Tracks: You Better Wait; Young Hearts Forever; I Am; Stand Up (Before It’s Too Late); For the Love of Strange Medicine; Donna Please; Listen to Your Heart; Tuesday Heartache; Missing You; Somewhere There’s Hope; Anyway
Best track: You Better Wait
Track to skip: the title track is too cheesy for me, skip Donna Please & Tuesday Heartache too


Steve Perry’s second solo album, released 10 years after Street Talk & 2 after the Journey box set Time Cubed (which no doubt brought Steve Perry’s name back into public conversation), is sort of a continuation and expansion of the ‘classic’ Perry sound. This actually would have been his 3rd album, but the planned second one, Against the Wall slated for release in 1990, never got released because of corporate shakeups at Sony/Columbia. Thankfully a few of these tracks made it onto his Greatest Hits album. So, essentially, this was the first ‘new’ material we listeners heard from Steve Perry since Journey’s 1986 album Raised on Radio. Eight years is a long time.

Obviously, once this starts up you know who it is. I think You Better Wait was the perfect choice for the first single as it’s not only the best song on here, but also more of a rocker and something all Steve Perry fans would probably enjoy. I still think it’s a great song and it showcases his voice perfectly. I’m not sure who is and who isn’t a studio musician on here, but I like that the backing band is mostly intact for this whole recording. It gets a better feel of unity this way. Also, the band members co-wrote the songs with Steve, which further helped integrate the group. Both on the album and live the standout new member was guitarist Lincoln Brewster. Naturally he’s listened to some Neal Schon during his life. It’s obvious. I mean, if I was a rock guitarist in the 80’s I probably would’ve sounded like Schon too, as he’s all I listened to. Brewster actually gets to let out a bunch of good guitar playing all over this album and it’s a nice touch over the keyboard-heavy Street Talk. I assume Perry was aiming more for a “Journey” sound with this one. Regardless, I like Brewster’s playing on this.

The album is a little less eclectic than the last one, and has more moments of cheesiness, but I think overall I like the sound better on this album. Steve Perry does sing better on this one and like I said, there’s more guitar here which pleases me. Yes, there are tracks that I usually skip on here. And truthfully, I don’t usually listen to the whole disc all at once. It’s been a few years since I have. The second half of the disc isn’t as solid as the first and, except for Missing You, just kind of fades down until it’s over. I think Anyway is a bad choice for a closer, but a big part of that is the overall weakness of the 2nd half. Maybe if Perry had used or rerecorded some of the Against the Wall tracks this would be better? I don’t know. I like the production and playing/singing better on this album, but Street Talk stands out as a more cohesive statement. Of course, if you’re a Steve Perry fan you’ll love this. Some songs are just way too cheesy for me, but that’s expected and it doesn’t bother me. I mean, Steve Perry isn’t Journey; Neal Schon was just as important to Journey as Perry was. I think because of the weakness of the 2nd half I like Street Talk better. Still, For the Love of Strange Medicine (yeah, dumb title) is fine if you like Steve Perry.

Rating: 84


Led Zeppelin – II
January 26th, 2004 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1969
Tracks: Whole Lotta Love; What Is and What Should Never Be; The Lemon Song; Thank You; Heartbreaker; Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman); Ramble On; Moby Dick; Bring it on Home
Best track: I have absolutely no idea, they’re all great
Track to skip: none


This is huge. I have to say, that listening to Led Zeppelin on headphones is a wonderful and exciting experience. I’ve heard Whole Lotta Love 15 billion times, but it’s currently rocking my ass like it hasn’t been rocked in a long time. Damn. OK, breath.

Awright.

Here’s the easy review: Led Zeppelin II is a great album. I think you do have to compare it to the first album, just like we’ll compare III to this one, IV to III and so on. To me, Led Zep I flows better as an album, but I think the overall attitude is better on this one. I don’t know if the songs are better here, as really all 9 are wonderful things. Honestly you can interchange all the songs from the first two albums around and they’re all great any way you order them. I do think II’s are a bit more intense though. The rockers (Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker, the song part of Moby Dick, Bring it on Home) have more energy and drive on this album; and the slower material features better arrangements, orchestration and beauty. Where Led Zep I is more eclectic, II is more focused, more to the point. The only real psychedelic bit on the whole album is the small middle bit in Whole Lotta Love before the guitar solo, and that lasts maybe 60 seconds.

A lot of these songs, specifically Whole Lotta Love & Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid, are played multiple times on the radio every single day. Honestly, I get sick to death of hearing them. In this environment, their proper one, the songs do really take on a whole new significance. Nothing on the first album rocks as hard as Whole Lotta Love, and Heartbreaker has such a fantastic groove. Regardless of radio play, they are both are great songs. One thing I really love about this album is how they do things that are different. Like on Heartbreaker, you get an unaccompanied guitar solo. These things happen on live albums and maybe full solo tracks, but to completely stop everyone else during the song and have the guitar player wail by himself for a minute or so is actually pretty ground-breaking (regardless of how sloppy Page’s solo is, it’s still really cool and something a lot of us can sing note for note). Then there’s Moby Dick, another great rock song with a drum solo in the middle (opposite thing here, it’s rare to hear a drum solo with accompaniment from the other guys) but the original thing here is that for the first half John Bonham plays with his hands. THAT is cool. OK, yes, drum solos mostly bore me and Bonham’s are no exception, but I like the hands bit. He plays too long, but that’s just nitpicking.

Naturally after the success of the first album, the band was a lot more confident, even cocky, on this one. Plant is singing with more authority and John Paul Jones’s bass lines on this album never cease from blowing my mind. Listen to what he does on The Lemon Song and Ramble On… wow. Jones is a phenomenal bassist (the other guys aren’t too shabby either). Like I said above, Led Zeppelin I is essential. So is Led Zeppelin II. Guess what, so are the next two! I’ll get to those soon enough though. I’m giving this one the same grade as the previous one, but I’m more inclined to like that one more than this one. I like albums to flow, so I is just a smidge better, but II is so full of confidence and enthusiasm that it’s impossible to deny how good it is. Like I said, essential.

Rating: 96


Metallica – Master of Puppets
January 26th, 2004 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1986
Tracks: Battery; Master of Puppets; The Thing That Should Not Be; Welcome Home (Sanitarium); Disposable Heroes; Leper Messiah; Orion; Damage, Inc.
Best track: probably Master of Puppets, but Sanitarium, Orion & Damage Inc are also incredible
Track to skip: none


This is my favorite Metallica album and one that really shaped who I am as a musician. Every time I listen to this it’s obvious how much of an influence Cliff Burton was and is on my bass playing. For me, and most (real) Metallica fans, you can’t mention this album without significant talk of Burton. Not only because this was his last album before he died, but also because he’s a major player on here and a big part of the soul of this album. It’s no wonder that the 3 best tracks on here, Master of Puppets, Orion & Damage Inc have Burton writing credits. In listening to this album you really get the sense of how Metallica were the de facto leaders of Thrash/Speed metal in 1986. Anthrax was doing Spreading the Disease, Megadeth put out Peace Sells, Slayer unleashed Reign in Blood and bands like Testament were just beginning. Metallica was clearly light years ahead of all those bands at this point in time.

For the first time, no skippable tracks are on a Metallica album. Solid all the way through. Once again, the album starts off with acoustic guitar, except this time it’s nowhere near as pretty as the intro of Fight Fire With Fire. The band just grew huge leaps since 1984. The songwriting, the playing, the emotion, all of it increased massive levels since Ride the Lightning. All of the songs on here are in the 5-8 minute range, so there’s plenty of good stuff to go around. There’s the onslaught of Battery, the gorgeous harmonies in the middle of Master of Puppets, the trippiness of Sanitarium, the lyrics on all these songs, Cliff’s beautiful and perfect middle section of Orion…there is so much I love about this album. Simply put, Metallica does not get better than Master of Puppets. I don’t care what anybody says, this is their peak. This is one of the most intelligent, excellent and essential metal albums of all time.

Rating: 97


Jimi Hendrix – The Essential Jimi Hendrix
January 20th, 2004 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1978
Tracks: Are You Experienced?; Third Stone From the Sun; Purple Haze; Hey Joe; Fire; Foxey Lady; The Wind Cries Mary; I Don’t Live Today; Little Wing; If 6 Was 9; Bold as Love; Little Miss Lover; Castles Made of Sand; Gypsy Eyes; Burning of the Midnight Lamp; Voodoo Chile (Slight Return); Crosstown Traffic; Still Raining, Still Dreaming; Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland); All Along the Watchtower; House Burning Down; Room Full of Mirrors; Izabella; Freedom; Dolly Dagger; Stepping Stone; Drifting; Ezy Ryder; Wild Thing; Machine Gun; The Star Spangled Banner; Gloria
Best track: Third Stone From the Sun
Tracks to skip: Little Miss Lover, Still Raining, Room Full of Mirrors, Stepping Stone, Wild Thing


Yes, I sadly admit that this is the only Jimi Hendrix I own…a compilation. I’m gonna get that fixed soon enough, trust me. Anyway, this particular 2-disc compilation is long out of print; ever since Papa Al Hendrix won back the rights to the catalog. This is released on the Reprise label and the back cover notifies us that the album was “released under the supervision of Alan Douglas”. If you don’t know, Douglas is the guy who initially held the rights over Hendrix’s music until Jimi’s father finally won the rights in the 90’s. Many people have an extremely low opinion of Douglas, as he issued MANY posthumous albums, getting every last bit of product out there, as well as overdubbing new tracks onto what Jimi recorded before he died. Yeah, basically sacrilege. Most of disc 2 contains these posthumous tracks that came from the albums Rainbow Bridge, War Heroes & The Cry of Love. I *think* that all these tracks (maybe only the good ones?) have been re-released on First Rays of the New Rising Sun and the JH box set.

Enough history lesson, I want to talk about the music. I was about 5 years removed from living at the same time as Hendrix so I am definitely approaching his music in a different way than someone who grew up in the 60’s. And although it will angrify some people, I have to be honest about all this music. A lot of Hendrix’s music I love. However, I think that the post-Experience material is really lacking. Lemme clarify, I’m not talking about Band of Gypsies here; mostly the posthumous stuff. In fact, I’m not too gung ho about a lot of the songs from Electric Ladyland. Everything I’ve heard from Jimi’s debut (Are You Experienced), both on here and in other places, is beyond excellent. More than a classic album, it’s a perfect example of how music should be made. I think at least half of …Experienced is on here (first 8 tracks) so you get a good example of what that album is about. I think that Third Stone From the Sun is probably the coolest thing Hendrix ever did. Maybe it was the over-exposure from Wayne’s World, but I’m sick to death of Foxey Lady. It’s an average song on it’s own, but it’s past the saturation point and I can’t stand hearing it anymore. Still, it’s not bad enough to put down as a ‘track to skip’ because on its own it’s decent. Most of disc 1 is one classic after another and the entire disc is a really enjoyable listening experience. Disc 2 is just barely held together by a few great songs; the rest are boring. All Along the Watchtower, Freedom, the gorgeous Drifting and the intense Machine Gun are really the only things to make disc two needed here. OK, Gloria’s not bad, and it’s pretty amusing, and The Star Spangled Banner is an intense and important track, but really disc 2 is mostly hinging on the other 4 tracks mentioned.

I think overall I prefer Hendrix’s mellower songs the most. Stuff like Third Stone, Wind Cries Mary, Little Wing, Bold As Love, Drifting. I can’t immediately recall what exactly is on the recent 2-disc compilation, but that would probably suffice for an introduction to Hendrix’s music. However, in that and this one, there are SO MANY excellent songs left off, especially from the first album. So, my advice is to just go in order, starting with Are You Experienced. As for this, it does the job and totally leaves me wanting more. It also gives me direction on what to avoid.

Rating: 86


 


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