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Ratt – Ratt & Roll 81/91
March 28th, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1991
Tracks: Tell the World; You Think You’re Tough; Round and Round; Wanted Man; Back for More; Lack of Communication; Lay it Down; You’re in Love; Slip of the Lip; Dance; Body Talk; Way Cool Jr.; I Want a Woman; Lovin’ You’s a Dirty Job; Shame Shame Shame; Givin’ Yourself Away; One Step Ahead; Heads I Win, Tails You Lose; Nobody Rides for Free
Best track: Back for More
Tracks to skip: You’re in Love, Slip of the Lip, Dance, Body Talk, Giving Yourself Away, Heads I Win

Man, I love the guitar playing in this band.  It has to be said (and I’ll keep saying it) that Warren DiMartini is a freakin’ great guitar player.  Robbin Crosby is damn good too, but DiMartini was the primary lead guitarist of Ratt and he really shines on here.  One of the things that really jumped out at me in listening to this “best of” album is how clear the production is.  You can really hear everything – every guitar lick, every bass harmonic, every drum hit – perfectly.  I feel that so many records these days don’t have production like this.  Granted, the sound became denser as the decade went on for Ratt, but there’s no denying how freaking great the band sounds on the first two albums.  The opening two tracks, Tell the World and You Think You’re Tough, come from the band’s first EP and the guitar is so spectacularly raw!  It sounds beautiful and like those riffs could really cut you open.  The four Out of the Cellar tracks are slightly more polished, but still raw and intense.  The band was hungry at this early stage in their career and it shows.  These first six tracks are stellar.  There are some nice touches in the arrangements too, such as the galloping bass drum groove near the end of Round and Round and the killer verse groove on Back for More.  On an album of great tracks, Back for More stands out the best song Ratt ever came up with.

Two songs pop up from Invasion of Your Privacy, Lay it Down and You’re in Love.  I remembered liking the songs from this album, but I’m torn.  Lay it Down is an astoundingly great guitar riff and another great song.  Best riff of the album.  Then we get You’re in Love and I’ve always hated this song.  It’s gotten so much worse as time’s gone by.  It’s a really stupid song with an awful chorus, complete with super cheesy “lightning strikes” immediately following the line, “you’re struck by lightning”.  That’s cheesy, and not the good kind.  Of course, You’re in Love hits the dud part of this album and goes into the three (!) bad tracks from Dancing Undercover.  I hated this album when it came out and these songs still suck.  All three are easy skippers, but at least Dance has a cool opening riff.  After that, it’s total crap.  Steven Pearcy’s vocals on Dance are awful and the effects (the semi-backwards cheese swirls) are horrible.  You know, it’s really unfortunate that there are so many words that rhyme with “dance” in English, because Pearcy uses EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM here.

What I don’t understand is why there are three tracks from Dancing Undercover (the worst album of the classic Ratt albums) and only two from Reach for the Sky, a much better album.  Reach is only represented by the classic Way Cool Jr. and I Want a Woman.  Way Cool Jr. features such a great dirty groove and rides it all the way through.  I love the horns on here as well…and hell, kick ass guitar solo.  The band sounds so revitalized on these two songs.  Ratt headed into the 90’s with Detonator which was a nice continuation of the “groove” from Reach for the Sky.  I do have an issue with including *5* songs from this album though!  I mean, it came out a year before this compilation and there’s no need to have 5 from it.  I do have to give major kudos to the band for not putting out a power ballad until Detonator, 5 full-length albums later.  Big applause from me for that.  There’s a ton of confidence in the band’s playing of Giving Yourself Away, but ultimately it’s a forgettable song.  It’s formulaic and there are too many keyboards here for my tastes.  It has its moments, but I honestly end up skipping it.  I skip Heads I Win too because it usually bores me.  Shame Shame Shame is definitely the shining moment of Detonator and it still rocks.  The album closes with a new track, Nobody Rides for Free.  This one fits in with the rest of the good songs on here and it’s a great addition.

Ratt & Roll is the best example of LA heavy metal from the 80’s.  Yeah, there’s a ton of cheese here, but the songs are so damn good, as is the guitar playing.  As I’ve said, not *every* song is good, but for the most part this is a solid collection of Ratt’s biggest songs.  I know there are plenty of people who disagree with me about Dancing Undercover and that underscores the idea of this album – if you like even two of these songs, there’s a good chance you’ll dig all or at least most of it.  I know Ratt’s put out a few compilations, but this is still the best one because it focuses solely on the band’s classic decade/material.  When Ratt was good, which was often, there weren’t too many bands in the glam metal genre that could touch them.

Rating: 84

Jane’s Addiction – Jane’s Addiction (live)
March 18th, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: 1 ]

Released: 1987
Tracks: Trip Away; Whores; Pigs in Zen; 1%; I Would for You; My Time; Jane Says; Rock and Roll; Sympathy; Chip Away
Best track: 1%, possibly I Would for You
Tracks  to skip: Pigs in Zen, Jane Says, Rock and Roll, Sympathy, Chip Away

Well, that wasn’t very exciting to sit through!  While I can appreciate the band trying to do something different and have the second half of the album (original side 2) be all acoustic, it just doesn’t work.  Makes it painful to listen to, actually.  I’ll get to that, though.

I got into this band WAY too late.  I was certainly familiar with the big singles in the early 90’s, but I didn’t *get it* until over 10 years after they broke up.  In reviewing this band, like all of the others, I start from the beginning and, man, what a wasted opportunity this debut album is.  The first half of the album, side 1, is electric and in your face and exhilarating.  Dave Navarro’s absolutely ferocious guitar solo on Trip Away is a defining moment and made me wish I had a time machine so I could see this band back in ’87.  I absolutely love the energy of this band in a live setting.  Whores and 1% are two excellent songs that I wish had been made into proper studio recordings.  1% is an especially well-written song with excellent changes.  Pigs in Zen was recorded in a studio version for Nothing’s Shocking and it’s better for it.  The version here is average, but…what’s with those horrible overdubbed hand claps?  Equally lame is the “breakdown” section.  Thankfully the last of these electric songs is another great one – I Would for You.  It’s a very cool & mellow tune that thankfully never “kicks in”, it’s just a perfect mood piece all the way through.  Cool bass line on here.

As I said, the 2nd half of the album is acoustic.  Usually I love acoustic music, but it doesn’t work for Jane’s.  My Time is fine, not a bad song, but then comes the bands “title song” and this version of Jane Says is too repetitive for me.  Two chords, over and over.  Then comes a couple of covers -  Velvet Underground’s Rock & Roll and The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil.  Again, they’re so repetitive and they seem to go on forever.  Having Jane Says, RNR and Sympathy all in a row is a massive mood killer.  By this time I’ve completely forgotten about how awesome the first half of this album is and I desperately want to shut it off.  Maybe Chip Away will redeem it?  Heh, hardly.  Chip Away is a weird, psychedelic, tribal drum fest and while it might be really exciting if you’re tripping, listening to it on a CD is totally painful.  While listening I said out loud, “what a horrible way to end the album!”

Honestly, I don’t recommend this album.  The first half is mostly great; the second half is mostly crap.  The bad stuff leaves such an awful taste in my mouth.  I think I need to go put on Three Days to remind myself what this band is truly capable of.

Rating: 66

Dio – Holy Diver
March 17th, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: 1 ]

Released: 1983
Tracks: Stand Up and Shout; Holy Diver; Gypsy; Caught in the Middle; Don’t Talk to Strangers; Straight Through the Heart; Invisible; Rainbow in the Dark; Shame on the Night
Best track: Rainbow in the Dark
Tracks to skip: Gypsy, Invisible, Shame on the Night

I love Dio and I think he’s a fantastic singer and songwriter.  That said, I don’t know if he’s ever put out a consistent album that’s great front to back.  From the albums I’ve heard, it didn’t happen in Elf, Rainbow, Sabbath or his solo stuff.  Maybe there’s one in there somewhere.  I’d like to think so, because when he’s good…he’s pretty much untouchable.  Dio’s first album is, of course, no exception to this.  You get excellent songs like Rainbow in the Dark, Stand Up and Shout and Holy Diver…then you get the skippers listed above.  I’m willing to bet that some of my friends (Mr. Brainfart) think everything on this album is gold, but not in my opinion.

Stand Up and Shout is such a fantastic opening track.  I love the absolute rawness of Vivian Campbell’s guitar on this track.  It’s almost like he’s playing with complete abandon, but he still holds it all together.  This track is still shocking in just how “in your face” it is.  A stellar opener.  The title track continues on the great songwriting, even with the horribly lame keyboard intro.  You get plenty of warnings (“Look out!”) and quotable lyrics (“Ride the tiger!”) in this classic song.  For the life of me I can’t tell what the song is about.  Tigers, Diamonds and Holy Divers in mystic seas?  I have no idea!  Still, it’s a cool song.  Then comes Gypsy and, dammit, why does a crap song have to be after two such great ones?  Gypsy reminds me of a metal version of his Elf material.  It’s a very cheesy song with the only saving grace being the guitar solo.  And wow, what a stupid place for a fadeout!  I’m not too much of a fan of Caught in the Middle either.  It’s an average song, although with a good chorus, that I usually end up passing by for the last track of the original side 1, Don’t Talk to Strangers.  After the “creepy” opening, once the song properly kicks in, we’ve got another stellar Dio composition.  Don’t Talk to Strangers is an extremely cool song.

Straight Through the Heart is a solid track, but side 2 has another couple of not-so-great songs in Shame on the Night and Invisible.  Invisible has another weird slow intro before plodding into a really weak song.  The string of rhymes at the end of the song is just awful.  Shame on the Night is such a strange closer for the album.  It’s heavy, sure, but it’s just way too silly of a song.  The album should have ended with Rainbow in the Dark.  I have to say, I still hate the cheesy keyboards on this song, but dammit it’s SUCH A GREAT SONG!  Wow, Dio totally sings his ass off on this one.  Honestly, Rainbow in the Dark is so good that it makes up for the shoddiness of Invisible and Gypsy.  While listening to it, all I could think about was how great of an album Holy Diver was.  I mean, you’ve got Rainbow, the title track, Don’t Talk to Strangers and Stand up and Shout!  Of course, that euphoria is so rudely interrupted by Shame on the Night and then you’re reminded that yeah, there IS some crap here along with the great stuff.

Holy Diver is a great first solo album for Dio; between him and Vivian Campbell there are plenty of excellent moments.  Hearing Rainbow in the Dark in its proper place on the album, the song becomes huge and inspiring.  So there ya go, some true classics and a few duds, but overall it’s a solid album.

Rating: 86

David Lee Roth – Crazy from the Heat
March 16th, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: 1 ]

Released: 1985
Tracks: Easy Street; Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody; California Girls; Coconut Grove
Best track: Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody
Track to skip: none

It’s no surprise that David Lee Roth’s first solo release would be the type of “fun” songs that he perfected in Van Halen.  You look at VH and Roth’s influence comes in loud and clear in the fun songs.  Naturally, this introductory EP is all covers, and a bunch of fun ones at that.  The highlights are clearly Just a Gigolo and California Girls.  This is most certainly a “pop” release, as there’s not much Rock on here (save the electric guitar in Easy Street).  That’s fine, because he brought the rock with his next release, the full album Eat ‘Em and Smile and also….it’s cool to hear him in a different element than Van Halen.  Coconut Grove is something that VH could have never done.  It’s an unexpected, but welcome, twist in closing out the EP.  Honestly, my only complaint about this is that it’s a bit too heavy on the synths.  Otherwise, it’s solid.  Great song choices and the versions of California Girls and Just a Gigolo still make me smile.  This EP was released a few months before Roth split with Van Halen and while he’d get his chance to really compete with them in the next year, this initial release shows him having fun and being himself.

Rating: 84

“Weird Al” Yankovic – “Weird Al” Yankovic
March 15th, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1983
Tracks: Ricky; Gotta Boogie; I Love Rocky Road; Buckingham Blues; Happy Birthday; Stop Draggin’ My Car Around; My Bologna; The Check’s in the Mail; Another One Rides the Bus; I’ll Be Mellow When I’m Dead; Such a Groovy Guy; Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung
Best track: Buckingham Blues
Track to skip: Stop Draggin’ My Car Around, but there are a few others that aren’t that great

While I always enjoyed Weird Al’s music, I didn’t start to really delve into the full albums until recently.  This album is a lot of fun, certainly, but he’s still figuring things out and it’s not extremely cohesive.  I’ll say this, though, that every song manages to get at least one laugh out of me.  I think that’s a good place to start.  The production on this album is quite good, surprisingly good.  Right off the bat, the band that he has backing him up are quality players and they do great work on the parodies and the originals.

Of the 12 only 5 are parodies – Ricky, I Love Rocky Road, Stop Draggin’ My Car Around, My Bologna & Another One Rides the Bus.  Ricky gets old REALLY fast, but the breakdown at the end where he plays the I Love Lucy title song is pretty cool.  Rocky Road is one of the better songs on here and I really love the “hand-clap farts” that he does throughout the song.  I have no idea why hand-clap farts still make me laugh, but they do.  Both My Bologna and Another One Rides the Bus are quality parodies that continue to be enjoyable.  Stop Draggin’ My Car Around is the worst song on the album, by far.  I mean, the original isn’t even a good song!  That was one I couldn’t wait to get through.

As for the originals, there are a few that are just kind of there and quickly forgettable.  Songs like Such a Groovy Guy, I’ll Be Mellow When I’m Dead and the Check’s in the Mail don’t have too much to offer.  They’re not horrible, but like I said, they’re forgettable.  Gotta Boogie and Mr. Fump got some good laughs out of me, but Buckingham Blues is definitely the best track on the album.  There are really good lyrics on this one (including a cool nod to Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic) and the music is pretty good too.  Proof that Weird Al can do the blues!  It’s a great song.  I have to make a mention that I also LOVE the “amen” at the end of Mr. Frump.  That got a nice laugh out of me and it’s a great way to end the album.

I like the eclecticism that Weird Al brings (and he does on all future releases) to the table and the production and playing are quite good.  Some of the songs are iffy and drag the overall quality down, but there’s plenty here to make the album enjoyable.

Rating: 78

Steely Dan – Can’t Buy a Thrill
March 14th, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1972
Tracks: Do It Again; Dirty Work; Kings; Midnight Cruiser; Only a Fool Would Say That; Reelin’ in the Years, Fire in the Hole; Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me); Change of the Guard; Turn that Heartbeat Over Again
Best track: Turn That Heartbeat Over Again
Track to skip: Dirty Work

It’s always interesting to go back to band’s debut albums and see “where it all started”.  I’ve been doing a bit of that recently and always enjoy it.  It certainly helps with you deal with quality debuts like Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill.  I always find myself immediately changing stations whenever Do It Again or Reelin’ in the Years comes on the radio, but I like hearing them in their proper place on this album.  To be honest, they wouldn’t be such big hits if they weren’t good songs.  I definitely do like both of these tracks – great guitar playing on Reelin’ and some nice bass work in particular on Do It Again.  It’s too bad that US “classic rock” radio focuses only on these two songs, as there are so many other great tracks on this album.

I guess Dirty Work does get some occasional air time, but for me it’s such a forgettable song.  It’s a boring song, surely, but the killer for me is the lead vocal.  David Palmer (only appeared on this SD album and then pretty much disappeared) gets a couple of leads on this album – Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me) and Dirty Work.  I just don’t care for his vocal AT ALL and he completely sounds like a soft-rock singer on Dirty Work.  The song almost feels like a totally different vibe from the rest of the album.  As for Brooklyn, I do like this song a lot so that’s something for it.  Both of these would be better suited if Donald Fagen sang lead on them.  Same goes for Midnight Cruiser, a great song that would be even better if Fagen sang on it as well.  Thankfully after this album he found his confidence and handled lead vocals for the rest of Steely Dan’s career.  Honestly, his fantastic vocal on Fire in the Hole should’ve given him enough confidence to just go for it all.

The primary thing I take from listening to this album is that right from the get-go, Fagen and Walter Becker are already great songwriters.  All of these (minus Dirty Work) are great songs and show off the talent of the guys.  They certainly get much better over the years, but there’s plenty to enjoy here.  As for my favorite track on the album, I thought about maybe Kings or the two singles, but once I hit Turn That Heartbeat Over Again it was all over.  I LOVE that song!  You would never hear it on the radio or one of the numerous Steely Dan “best of” albums, but it’s a tremendous song with excellent changes.  A perfect example of the kind of songwriters Becker and Fagen are.  Can’t Buy a Thrill is a good start for this band and they certainly get better as the decade goes on.

Rating: 82

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
March 13th, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1970
Tracks: Black Sabbath; The Wizard; Behind the Wall of Sleep; N.I.B.; Evil Woman; Sleeping Village; The Warning; Wicked World
Best track: Black Sabbath
Track to skip: Sleeping Village

The opening track is one of the darkest, creepiest and heaviest songs ever written.  I love how you can point to the beginning of Heavy Metal as this song.  There were certainly other songs that led us to this point (Kinks’ You Really Got Me, any number of early Who tracks, Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild, Blue Cheer’s Summertime Blues, King Crimson’s Schizoid Man), but I think this is the first true heavy metal song.  It’s been over 40 years and the song hasn’t lost a single bit of its luster.  I absolutely love the use of the bells throughout the song – they give it a spooky feeling, like letting you know of a hanging or something equally dark.  I mean, you can’t go wrong with referencing Satan in the lyrics.  You wanna scare people? THAT’S how you do it!  All around, Black Sabbath is a fantastic song with great drumming, a classic guitar riff and perfect contributions from Ozzy and Geezer Butler. I never get tired of hearing this song.  It’s a great introduction to the band, the album and a brilliant beginning for heavy metal.

The rest of side 1 continues on the excellent songwriting and punishing heaviness.  Really, these four songs set the stage for so much that came later and they still inspire musicians.  NIB tends to be the other classic on this side (another excellent guitar riff) and shows how Tony Iommi, even on this first Sabbath album, is the Master of the Guitar Riff.  Others are great, but no one else comes close.  I love both NIB and The Wizard, but I tend to gravitate to Behind the Wall of Sleep.  A very cool and underrated song, it features more great riffs, cool changes and a fantastic heavy groove.  This side is possibly one of the greatest album sides in the history of rock music.  Absolutely monumental.

Side 2 is where the band experiments a bit and while it’s not consistently good, it at least shows Sabbath’s tendency to always be more than a heavy band.  With Ozzy, the band not only created the framework of heavy metal, but always pushed those boundaries.  I mean, yes, it doesn’t always work and Sabbath is always best in their “heavy” state, but I at least give them credit for trying.  Even though they sometimes fall on their face.  It seems to me that side 2 reverts back to their days as a blues rock band.  The songs aren’t as good and in a sense don’t fit with that band on the first side.  What’s with the sax in Evil Woman?  Not needed.  The groove’s not bad, but the song itself is only decent.  Sleeping Village is just a mess of a composition.  It starts out as a creepy slow song, but soon takes off into other, confusing, areas.  Good riffs, but they don’t work together.  The Warning starts off pretty well (and transitions wonderfully from Sleeping Village), but then for nearly half of the song the band decides to exercise their “jam” tendencies and Tony Iommi takes an unaccompanied guitar solo that sounds like a poor copy of Jimmy Page’s Heartbreaker solo.  This song is 10 minutes long and doesn’t need to be over 4.  It’s clear the band was just filling space on this second side.  Wicked World has some interesting political lyrics, but it’s not an amazing composition.

So there you go, side 1 is inspired and classic…side 2 shows the band experimenting/filling space and pretty much failing at it.  I’m not going to say the whole thing is “total fail”, but almost half of side 2 is an absolute waste.  It’s so hard to grade albums like this.  Side 1 is clearly in the 90’s, but side 2 is safely in the mid-70’s.  You know, for the greatness alone of this album I’m going to put it higher than just an average.  The first side is brilliant and some spotty filler on the latter half isn’t going to change that.  For the most part, this album is inspired and inspiring.  It changed heavy rock music and gave direction to so many future musicians.

Rating: 85

The Mothers of Invention – Absolutely Free
March 7th, 2011 under Album Reviews. [ Comments: none ]

Released: 1967
Tracks: Plastic People; Duke of Prunes; Amnesia Vivace; The Duke Regains His Chops; Call Any Vegetable; Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin; Soft-Cell Conclusion; Big Leg Emma; Why Don’tcha Do Me Right?; America Drinks; Status Back Baby; Uncle Bernie’s Farm; Son of Suzy Creamcheese; Brown Shoes Don’t Make It; America Drinks and Goes Home
Best track: either Duke of Prunes or Status Back Baby
Track to skip: eh, nothing really

I like that there’s a big leap from Freak Out, Zappa’s first album, to this second one.  The band had become tighter (and added some members – keys, horns and a second drummer) and their confidence in each other and their band leader definitely grew.  I think Zappa took more risks compositionally and branched out even further with the type of material that wrote.  That certainly culminates in one of his most popular songs, Brown Shoes Don’t Make It.  It’s a very crazy composition with so many different elements and sections; so much happens in this 7 and half minutes.  I love that Zappa utilized the talents of the new guys (Billy Mundi, Don Preston, Bunk Gardner & Motorhead Sherwood) in such excellent ways and definitely wrote with the (arguably greater) abilities of these new guys in mind.  I think more than anything, the confidence in Zappa himself really propels this album.

The album is divided into two “underground oratorios” (sides 1 and 2) with two bonus tracks added in the middle – Big Leg Emma and Why Don’tcha Do Me Right.  These two were a non-album single at the time and added to this album when it went to CD.  I like the two tracks well enough (esp. the great fuzz bass on Why Don’tcha), but they don’t really add a whole lot to the album.  They don’t take away; they’re just kind of “there”.  Plus there’s a much better version of Big Leg Emma from Zappa in New York 9 years later).

Side 1 has 3 main songs, Plastic People, Duke of Prunes and Call Any Vegetable.  Right off the bat on Plastic People you hear the excellent-sounding bass from Roy Estrada.  His tone is really beefed up for this album and it’s great to hear it so up front.  Really, the whole production on this album is wonderful, so spacious.  I love listening to well-mixed stereo albums from 1967 – they’re such fun to listen to because the engineers and bands tried so many different things with the sound spectrum.  Throughout this album, but on Plastic People specifically, there’s so much slight humor in the lyrics mixed in with the scathing societal/political stuff.  Call Any Vegetable has a great rhythm and a very cool Coltrane-inspired soprano sax solo in the middle (the “Invocation & Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin” section).  Duke of Prunes is possibly my favorite song on here.  The lyrics are silly, but the music and melodies on this are so amazing.  If you want to hear it in all its splendor, check out the version from Orchestral Favorites.  It’s one of my favorite things Zappa ever composed.

Side 2 flows together much better and is really like 1 big, jumbled song.  The opening track, America Drinks, has one of the craziest melodies by anyone – it’s a nice prelude to the lounge cheese version on the last track.  Status Back Baby…wow.  I love how it perfectly illustrates the absolute stupidity of high school.  Cliques and all that.  Son of Suzy Creamcheese (perhaps the first instance of Zappa’s Conceptual Continuity) features some great time signature changes before we get to the aforementioned madness of Brown Shoes Don’t Make It.  In Brown Shoes I really love the “be a joik, go to woik” refrain and how this band deliberately challenged the whole “American Dream” of go to school, get a job, get a spouse and then…what, live a boring life?  Zappa’s right there saying that you don’t have to do what’s expected of you.

I think this album was a big step for Zappa as a composer and honestly as a personality too.  You get much more of the sarcastic humor and biting lyrics, with a healthy dose of superb musicianship.  I think he perfected this original version of the Mothers on the following band album, We’re Only in it for the Money, but Absolutely Free is still a fine example of what he and the band could do.

Rating: 92


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