Judas Priest: Painkiller (Dual-Review)

Painkiller is an album I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Not because it thought I’d enjoy it but instead because it has my least favorite Judas Priest song of all time: “Painkiller”. The ultimate shrill Halford, it doesn’t come much worse than this. Every time I listen to this song it’s worse than I remember. That’s quite an achievement. It’s a dubious honor only held by this song as far as I can remember. Now however, things take an incredible about-face for the rest of the songs on the album, bar one. That’s right, “Hell Patrol” rules, along with every other song that isn’t called “Metal Meltdown” (first ten seconds of “All Guns Blazing” obviously exempt too). They’re heavy, they’re badass, and they all have wicked solos. I came into this album expecting to trash it to hell and back and instead I came out with one of my top five Priest albums. Ironic, isn’t it? Even with “Painkiller” on it I can’t deny it’s awesomeness. This is one hell of an album.

The verdict- 4/5 stars

Well, Harrison’s wrong about the title track. Sorry, but it’s fucking awesome.  If you don’t like shrill vocals I can understand why it wouldn’t be your thing, but to me it’s a statement of intent from Judas Priest. No more sissy shit, it’s time to rock your world. It’s a track that sounds like the signalling of the apocalypse, when it’s really The Painkiller that is preventing it! The lyrics are still cheesy as hell, as they are on most of the release, but the sweep picking solos and Halford’s ballbusting notes consolidate into a wall of metallic abandon. It’s a metal classic, sorry Poopison.

While I always loved the title track, the rest of the album had to grow on me considerably. It sounded to me like the awful Ram It Down with some extra heaviness to add some integrity. The lyrics are certainly on par, but the strength of the music ultimately prevailed and I now enjoy this release quite a bit. “Metal Meltdown” is another standout, and I fail to comprehend how my marsupial mate can deny how galvanizing the pre-chorus is in this track. Maybe because Halford goes too high for his sonar bat ears, I don’t know. We don’t get anything close to a wimp ballad, with the softest full-length song being the atmospheric “A Touch of Evil” and song so badass they had to name a future live album after it. The riffs are so strong on this album I don’t know what young me was thinking not liking it very much. The one in the chorus of “Night Crawler” is so infectious it’s a crime that it wasn’t featured in the Jake Gyllenhaal feature film of the same name.

Scott Travis of Racer X fame joining on the kit really amps up the intensity here too. Whereas the previous effort is a stupid drum machine, this features live, bashy drums, with a newfound clarity, balls, and intensity courtesy of Chris Tsangarides (RIP), who previously engineered Sad Wings of Destiny and did a few albums for the Minneanapolis band Slave Raider. The uptick in sound and overall production thanks to his involvement is undeniable, and the change was just what Judas Priest needed to prove all their doubters wrong. This was a new fresh sound, they sounded revitalized by the thrash movement rather than the glam scene as they had on the last few albums. What we get in return is their strongest work in some time, and yet another metal classic in the process.

4.5/5 Circular Saw Spare Tires

With this review concluded we will take a break from the series, so as to prevent Holen from getting burned out. In the meantime I shall continue my regularly scheduled stuff, but also be on the lookout for a post exploring just why “Painkiller” gets the reaction it does, and how my unorthodox views on Judas Priest developed.

Song of the Week: Layla

Welcome once again to song of the week everyone. Today we’re looking at Eric Clapton’s magnum opus. A song that is also statistically proven to be single-handedly responsible for 95% of the people named Layla. Let us begin.

Top 5 Renditions

1- Live at Montreux 1986

This is the ultimate “Layla”. The beautiful intro solo with the keyboards is my favorite intro this song’s ever had, and the guitar playing still rocks hard. But it’s the keyboards that give this one the top spot. You all know by now that I’m a sucker for keyboards and this version delivers big time, especially during the chorus, which also features excellent backing vocals by Nathan East and Greg Phillinganes. And if all that wasn’t enough it has the best solo during the middle, only further accentuated by those keyboards. Clapton sticking to rhythm guitar through the whole song also helps the keyboards shine. It is easily my favorite version of the song. And then Clapton’s YouTube had the audacity to misname the Eric Clapton and Friends version from the same year as Montreux. I’ve found the actual Montreux performance above

2- The Prince’s Trust Rock Gala 1988

This version is sort of an amalgamation of the other versions. You’ve got your female backing vocalists from live aid and the more rock oriented guitar playing of the studio but it’s got its own uniquenesses too. But the real draw to this one is the rhythm guitarist. You know you’re good when you’ve got Mark Knopfler on second guitar. And this also allows Clapton to play lead, resulting in a rendition quite close to the studio one. Objectively speaking this may be the best performance of the song.

3- The original

Keyboards are good and all, but sometimes you just need the fiery guitar of the original without any of those 80s embellishments. And that’s what the original does best. Straight-up no-nonsense rock.

4- Live Aid

The live aid version is a bit of a protoform to the Montreux version. It has a similar intro solo but retains a more rocking edge. My preference is simply with the keyboards of the Montreux. It’s quite similar to the studio version as well and the female backing vocalists are a nice touch, but the studio version wins out with a superior drum sound and production.

5- Unplugged

And now, behold the great hypocrite as he speaks! Yes it’s true that I’m on record on multiple occasions as deriding acoustic versions of songs as crimes against rock, but this one is the exception, partly because it’s so good. I consider it almost as good as the studio version

The Best Cover

Ed Sheeran!?

“Just what is HE doing on this site?”, you may ask. It turns out not not many people have the guts to cover “Layla” but Mr Sheeran does an admirable job. He’s just a bit not there on the ‘Layla!’ part, but the rest of the song is pretty good, especially for a contemporary artist covering a classic rock song. The orchestral elements are a nice touch too. And for today’s humorous sendoff we have a pun (one of my favorite types of humor) that never fails to crack me up.

Judas Priest: Ram it Down (Dual-Review)

Today we tackle the first entry in the third chapter of Judas Priest: Ram it Down. Now anyone who has been paying attention will have noticed a shocking run of positive reviews from me. But I’m afraid that ends here. Ram it Down is a pretty bad album. We get the only real positive out of the way right at the start with the title track. “Ram It Down” rocks so much. A very generous helping of midrange Halford, this song is better than the rest of this album, and the entirety of Stained Class too, put together. But that’s where anything resembling positivity ends. The rest of the songs, well they range from mediocre level filler to god-awfully bad. Special mention goes to “Johnny B Goode”. Priest obviously thought that it was against the law to make three stratospheric covers in a row. It’s the only explanation for how bad this one is. And the singing on the verses isn’t even too bad, but the chorus, oh the chorus. It’s so, so bad. But you know what the most egregious transgression of this album is? Everything in the title is capitalized except for the ‘I’ in ‘iT’. There is one good thing about this album (other than “Ram It Down”). The material on it was kept off Turbo.

The verdict- 1/5

You think it’s any better, Holen?

Leftovers from Turbo? Was there any chance this would be any good? Well we get off to a good start with the title track, a pounding fierce number that points the way towards the thrash Painkiller. Tipton and Downing absolutely shred the solos, some of their best guitar work is wasted on this mediocre album. Then we derail immediately into plodding mediocrity with “Heavy Metal” subjected to the horrors of “Love Zone”, before getting a cool riff in “Come and Get It”. “Blood Red Skies” is a wicked ballad, the only song where the drum machine replacing Dave Holland works due to the cybernetic subject matter. “Johnny B. Goode” is absolutely atrocious, a Spinal Tap level mockery of the Chuck Berry standard. Unfortunately, it’s awfulness hits me in the right way and it’s fun in the same way a C-list ‘80s horror film happens to be. Special mention to “Monsters of Rock” for being pure cheese stomp shit garbage fuck. “Hard As Iron” sounds like good Manowar, but the chorus is totally rambling and forgettable. Fuck, this album can’t even write entire good songs.

2/5 Monsters of Shit

And now we come to the infamous Painkiller

Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast Tour Setlist Discussion (Ramble)

Welcome to the first post classified as a “Ramble”. As the title suggest I shall spend it opining on Iron Maiden’s setlist for their latest tour. Some thoughts on Maiden tours in general though will come first. The first is that Maiden setlists are very unadventurous for the most part. The second is that I dislike how the setlists are pretty much unchanged for the entire tour. And I don’t mean just from gig to gig. I mean from leg to leg, with months of break in between. Is it not too much to ask for some never-before-played-live songs? Maiden would have to be the biggest band to not give songs live debuts. I might be a huge Maiden fan, but I’m not completely blind to their faults.

But anyway, let’s get to the analysis. The first song was “Aces High”. Now this came as a shock. I thought “Aces High” was out of Bruce’s range back on the Maiden England tour, but color me corrected. Listen to that

Now if I thought “Aces High” was out of Bruce’s range then I never in a million years would have guessed that we’d be hearing “Where Eagles Dare” again. But there it is. Spot number two, and Bruce is killing it. I mean, he was 60 there. That’s almost inhuman.

Things get a little less shocking next up, with “2 Minutes to Midnight”. I’m not the biggest fan of this one. It’s overstayed it’s welcome on live albums in the past. “Paschendale” would have fit in here nicely too. Now before the tour started Bruce said there’d be social media madness after the first show. I (correctly) decoded this to mean that “The Clansman” would be played. I also remained cautiously optimistic that we might get some No Prayer For the Dying material. Unfortunately only the former was true, but that was enough for me. “The Clansman” rules regardless of the singer and I’m glad the Blaze songs have withstood the test of time. The final song in the war themed area is “The Trooper”. Of all the ol’ reliables of the Maiden albums, this is the one I’d least like to see missing, so I’m glad it wasn’t dropped. The solo is one of my favorites from the Maiden boys.

“Revelations” then heralds the next area, a cathedral. “Revelations” is nice to see, and it’s nice to see Adrian and Janick alternate who gets Adrian’s solo. It adds some variety to these versions of the song. “For the Greater Good of God” is next. I’m glad to see some latter-day material make the setlist, especially from A Matter of Life And Death, but “For the Greater Good of God” is one of my least favorite songs on that album. This could have been Benjamin Breeg or “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns”. Another reunion era song is next: “The Wicker Man”. It’s a good songs, but it’s just a tad too by-the-numbers setlist-wise. I would have preferred a deeper cut like something from No Prayer For the Dying here. But I can’t complain too much because of the next song. I thought we’d only get one Blaze song, “The Clansman”, but I am both surprised and wrong (again). “Sign of the Cross” may have been the only other Blaze song to realistically make it into a Maiden setlist nowadays, and I welcome it wholeheartedly. The last song of the cathedral set, and also the rarest song of the whole set, is next. “Flight of Icarus” is very welcome to make its return (and the first time it’s been played with Janick), especially as Bruce still kicks butt vocally. And flamethrowers! Freaking flamethrowers.

We are then in the hell landscape, heralded by “Fear of the Dark”. Sure it may be played on every tour, but it was my favorite Maiden song until I had heard too many to be able to pick a favorite. I wouldn’t want it gone ever. And hell ain’t a bad place to be, we’ve got “The Number of The Beast” up next. Same as “Fear of the Dark” it’s quite common, but it’s necessary for a Maiden concert. “Iron Maiden” ends the main set, as you’d expect. No complaints here, it’s one of my favorite traditions. Now we get to the encores, and this is a pet peeve of mine with some bands, with Maiden being just one of the examples. I really don’t like it when bands treat the encore like an extension of their main set and just fill it with their hits. Encores should be special in my mind.

The first one is “The Evil That Men Do” and I’m happy that it’s something from Seventh Son, one of my many favorites from that album too. “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is next. I don’t mind it here, but with “The Number of the Beast” and “Run to the Hills” already in the setlist, I think this would have been a golden opportunity to play “Alexander the Great”, even though I don’t completely buy into the whole “It’s the best Maiden song ever! Play it live!” mentality. “Run to The Hills” ends the show, and this is the only ol’ reliable I object to. I consider “Run to The Hills” to be a bit overrated and would have preferred something off Somewhere in Time, even “Wasted Years”, which appeared on the previous tour. There’s just a bit too much The Number of the Beast material in the setlist. “Running Free” would have fit nicely here too (then again, could have been worse: it could have been “Sanctuary”).

This is easily my second favorite of the retro-tour setlists. Sure there were a lot of the ol’ reliables in this set, but the rarities were enough to make me look past it. On May 26 2018 I eagerly waited for the reports and videos of the opening night in Tallin. And when I got them I was thrilled. Bruce was in excellent form vocally, and the stage, oh the stage was so cool. The spitfire is probably my favorites Maiden stage prop, along with The Final Frontour’s big Eddie. Now I was supposed to be seeing Maiden on the first of May this year, but the circumstances have unfortunately prohibited that. So alas, I must wait until 2022 by the sounds of it. But in the meantime there is YouTube.

Slade: On Stage (Review)

Slide have a very unique approach to their musical endeavors. Couple of chart hits? Live album. Fortunes failing? Live album. People loved our Reading performance? Live EP. Revitalized career? Live album. Xmas? Live EP. Needless to say this is a very much appreciated approach, especially as Slade were incredible live. The live album we will be reviewing today is the revitalized career one. Slade’s On Stage was recorded during their 1981 tour and features most of the set from the Newcastle show it was recorded at.

The set starts with “Rock and Roll Preacher”, a good rock song, that does tend to get overshadowed by what’s to come. The highlight is the small crowd interaction in the middle where vocalist Noddy Holder parrots stereotypical church phrases. The following song is much more memorable. “When I’m Dancin’ I Ain’t Fightin’” is a much more lively rocker. It’s fast-paced, energetic and shows that Noddy has lost very little vocally in the ten years since the first Slade live album. And the guitar tone is perfect too. Slade had well and truly dropped most of the glam rock by now, and had settled into a more traditional hard rock style. The next song is the first one you’d expect to find on a greatest hits disc. “Take Me Bak ‘Ome” is certainly good enough to warrant it’s inclusion on both here and the hits discs, but it’s just overshadowed by many of the other, more energetic, songs on the album. It’s actually a bit of a feature of Slade live albums to have the lesser-known songs overshadow most of the radio hits.

“Everyday” is next. It’s a ballad. One of Slade’s few ballads, and another one from the hits disc club. I do prefer this version though, as there is electric guitar where there once was piano. It definitely suits the song better. And because this is Slade, the ballads still feature Noddy close to the top of his lungs. Almost as if to make up for this slight lull in frenetic rocking, the next song is one of the most unhinged on the disc, and one of my favorite Slade songs too. “Lock Up Your Daughters” is just absolute relentless rock and roll. This song is peak live Slade, not that the other songs aren’t. Immediately succeeding “Lock Up Your Daughters” is “We’ll Bring The House Down”, which I’m sure Slade did that night. Being sandwiched in-between two of the many great tracks on this album doesn’t help it, but it’s still a great listen, and certainly nowhere near filler territory. The next great song is “A Night To Remember”. It’s another one of the fast-paced energetic rockers that Slade is so good at, except it has a little extra to it. The back two thirds of this song is a medley/solo section, featuring some excellent musicianship, and some forays into “Purple Haze”, “Spirit in the Sky” (of all things), the drum intro to “Long Live Rock And Roll” and probably a couple other songs that I don’t know. Do tell me if you can pick any others out.

We then get another two hits disc tracks. “Gudbuy T’Jane” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”. They’re excellent live versions and very enjoyable, though not what I put this album on to hear, most of the time. The final track is actually just the crowd and Noddy singing the Liverpool FC theme song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. I’m not a Liverpool fan, but it’s still a nice way to end the album.

Slade are, and always will be, a live band. And this album shows why.


Judas Priest: Priest…Live! (Dual-Review)

Welcome everyone, to the last word in the second chapter of Judas Priest. Alright, let’s get the obligatory overdub joke out of the way first. This album really should have been called Priest… Actually Live This Time, But Maybe Not. But joking aside, this is a blistering live album. Rob ditching the drugs and alcohol has made an almost unquantifiable difference. Comparing this show to one of the Defenders tour really shows just how much better he is here. I truly think this tour was his best vocal performance ever. This show rocks so much. Just like Unleashed in the East, the tracklist is pretty much what I wanted. The two songs representing Screaming For Vengeance were the two I liked. The same goes for Point of Entry (though “Desert Plains” is not on the audio release but definitely benefited from the boost in tempo). There’s a generous four songs (one whole side of this album basically) from Defenders of the Faith, not only my favorite Priest album, but much appreciated given Rob’s dismal Defenders tour performances. You get some of the better songs from Turbo, and “Living After Midnight” too. In fact, the only two songs I could do without are “Breaking the Law” and “Metal Gods” (the latter of which is at least better than the studio version) and the only things missing are “The Green Manalishi” (which is also on the video release) and “Diamonds and Rust”.

The verdict- 4.5/5

But I do have to say that after the pure unfiltered awesome that was the Unleashed in the East cover, the cover art for this one blows. Big time. 

Speaking of things that blow big time, there was this girl I knew who got pregnant at 13 when I was a kid*. Moving on, what we have here is a live document of Priest on the Fuel for Life tour. Rob is in some of the best vocal shape of his life here, as my astute kangaroo fondling friend of mine mentioned earlier. While it’s missing the fury of Unleashed in the Atrium, it contains workmanlike professional performances of the group’s ‘80s material with no overlap from the original release. The performances sound big and arena ready, straight of the decade that spawned it. The set was captured entirely on digital tape machines, and sounds cleanly recorded but mixed with some mud. What we have here is two drummers, with Jonathen Valen playing alongside Dave Holland behind a curtain uncredited. The performances have spirit, but lack that certain spark and songwriting complexity that pushed their ‘70s material to its apex. It’s an entirely competent release, and I prefer “Out in the Cold” and “Freewheel Burning” to the studio versions even. More Halford = a better performance. The sing-along during “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” is a chore, but for the most part the CD doesn’t overstay its welcome.

3.5/5 Extra Drummers to Cover for Dave Holland

*Not of Holen’s doing.

Song of the Week: Diamonds and Rust

Welcome everyone, we return to the alternate song of the week format this week, as we are dealing with a song with many better covers. I would still like to mention though that ,for an acoustic folk song, I really don’t mind Joan Baez’s version at all. It’s pretty good for a slow song, and that’s saying something when it comes from me.

Top 5 Covers

But here’s why we’re here. As this was intended to be a spotlight on the Judas Priest version, the best covers section will understandably focus exclusively on them. Plus the only other cover I knew of was the Blackmore’s Night version.

1- The studio version

Every Priest version of this song rocks big time (except for the acoustic versions), but what the studio version nails was the tempo. None of the other versions matched this tempo, which in my opinion, just makes the song the juggernaut of metal that it is.

2- Live at the Seminole Hard Rock Arena 2009

This might not be the most aggressive version, and it’s certainly not the most faithful to the studio version, but Rob’s performance here is on another level. Particular the emotion in his singing. He puts so much of it into every word and every line, and that’s what puts this in second place. The delivery on the “I loved you dearly” line never fails to give me chills. However, Rob is still very lucky his vocal performance is so good here, because I have a couple choice words about his stage presence.

3- Unleashed in the East

A very solid vocal performance from Rob Halford here and it’s surprisingly the very slightly increased tempo of this rendition that sees it in third spot. It seems “Diamonds and Rust” is another one of those rare songs that isn’t automatically better when it’s faster.

4- Live Vengeance ’82

Another solid performance, but you can just start hear the vocal degradation that would peak on the Defenders of the Faith tour creeping in here.

5- Live at the US Festival

Very similar to the Live Vengeance ’82 version, just with a little more strains. It’s still a great rendition though, and gets major points for not being a sucky acoustic version

And today’s humorous image is a little observation I believe I found in the comments section of Judas Priest’s Live Aid video.

Judas Priest: Turbo (Dual-Review)

Ah, Turbo. Alright Holen, what do you say?

Turbo is definitely a polarizing affair, and it’s easy to see why. Judas Priest take the mechanical aspects from Defenders of the Faith and utilize those ‘80s production values for maximum appeal in the context of a metal setting. The ferociousness of their past few records is replaced with pop sensibilities, with massive hooks, gang background vocals, and newly implemented guitar synthesizers. For what it’s worth, despite all the mechanical aspects the whole thing sounds much more lively than the nearly narcoleptic British Steel and Point of Entry. I suspect this is due to the production more than anything else, since the metal factor in this delicate equation has been reduced. But are the songs there? Sort of. I definitely liked it better when I was a teen though.

Things start off on a high note with “Turbo Lover”, a song with dynamics that just build into that pop payoff chorus. Right out of the gate we get Holland playing an electronic gated kit and guitar synths, so you know you’re in for a different beast. This would be enough to turn off song longtime fans completely, but there’s no denying the infectiousness of the title track. The solo is imaginative as well, aping the song’s melody before spurting to a halt. “Locked In” is a decent but unsubstantial rock number with some nice dual guitar work from Tipton and Downing. “Private Property” with additional lyrics and backing vocals from Racer X’s Jeff Martin struts with a boastful swagger rarely heard with a big arena sing-along chorus. Then things slide off the rails with the rather embarrassing “Parental Guidance”. It belongs to a set of tracks on this album that sound too juvenile for their own good, with cheesy lyrics and cutesy melodies unbecoming of the men who wrote them. The others include “Rock You All Around the World” and “Wild Nights, Hot & Crazy Days”, though they’re not quite as egregious as “Parental Guidance”. Really everything on this record can be considered pretty cheesy, with sections being guilty pleasures.

There’s no guilt to be had in “Out in the Cold” though, a fantastic ballad-like number with a hypnotic synth guitar intro, and robotic drumming that actually helps the track’s ambience. It has great power, and some of the best dual guitar parts of the entire Priest catalog. It’s a total winner. “Hot for Love” has a cool riff and atmosphere, and “Reckless” was supposed to be used in Top Gun, but ultimately wasn’t. That’s too bad, it’s a powerful song that empowers. It’s super cliche bad boy brand bullshit, but it’s hard not to get pumped up with the ascending descending melody line in the verses and the shouted chorus. It’s just the right amount of macho confidence, it’s the sonic equivalent of the 1985 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Commando. Technically really stupid, but so overwhelmingly hilarious and masculine that you can’t help but like it if you possess a Y-chromosome. While Turbo isn’t as awful as its reputation, it feels like the boys could be doing more, especially lyrically. I know Halford can write better lyrics than what his effort here suggests, because I’ve heard  his ‘70s material. The longer the group has been around the further the lyrics of steel, metal, and leather slip into caricature. Still, some of the music is the most accessible and fun of the band’s career, and the guitar synths and solos here offer an interesting array of sounds.

3.25/5 Gear Stick Hand Job Visual Metaphors

Alright then, my turn. My favorite 80s Iron Maiden album is Somewhere in Time, so I was really really looking forward to Turbo, so much that I had to have a preview early. I chose “Turbo Lover”. I loved the first two minutes but regretted that we didn’t return to that style after the first chorus. The rest of the album did disappoint me at the time. It was nowhere near what I’d mentally hyped it up to be. 

But that was then. It has grown on me a lot since. A lot more than any of the other Priest albums. “Turbo Lover” was the first to. After a few listens I found myself liking the rest of the song as much as the first two minutes. It rules, but those first two minutes are something else. The building tension, the hushed tones, the chugging synth. I love it. Turbo isn’t at Defenders of the Faith level though. “Locked In” is alright, but has a chorus I described in my notes as “nah”. “Private Property” is similar though with a better chorus. 

We are now, however, treated to a trilogy of pretty good things. The first of these, “Parental Guidance”, though lyrically basic, has got melody and is an enjoyable listen. Second of the three is just as good. “Rock You All Around The World”, a fast-paced little rocker makes for an enjoyable listen too. It may be more commercial than previous material but I don’t care. I’m here to find great songs, not uphold traditional values on the Priest discography (If you couldn’t tell already). “Out in the Cold” is the last of the three. It’s leans a bit heavily on the synth but it is pretty damn good for a slower Priest song. Commercial as hell, but still good. More commercialness abounds on the next song, “Wild Nights, Hot & Crazy Days”, but like most of the other songs I like it a lot. It’s very AC/DC, especially the vocals, but there’s some good head banging on the pre-chorus and the chorus is good too. 

“Hot For Love” is next, another commercial song, but like the other ones, great. Great chorus, pre-chorus and much appreciated midrange Halford. It does overuse the synth a la ZZ Top’s “Sleeping Bag” a bit during the solo. Album closer “Reckless” is pretty good, not as good as the rest, but not bad at all. Having already heard Ram it Down, I think it’s safe to say that the Twin Turbos ideas was a mistake and that Priest picked, with the exception of “Ram it Down” itself, the better songs of the bunch for Turbo. Sure it’s commercial but me, a non Judas Priest fan, liked it a lot and did buy it (the 30th anniversary edition to boot), so it did its job. And it’s not like the songs are bad or anything. 

The verdict- 4/5

(Note: I will be retroactively boosting Sin After Sin’s score at the end of the series to account for the context of when I reviewed it.)

Baby Animals: Baby Animals (Review)

Welcome everyone. Today we are looking at out first Australian band, the 90s rock group Baby Animals. These guys (and girl) may not be familiar to some of you, but this debut of theirs did go platinum multiple time, so that’s nothing to sneeze at. This album was released in 1991, and as well as featuring the talented members of the band, also featured some big names behind the scenes. Kevin Shirley engineered and Mike Chapman was the producer and the mixer. No writing credits by either though. This album is pure band, and from this album it’s easy to see that they didn’t even need Chapman’s hit-writing pedigree.

Take opening song “Rush You”. Straight into the rock with some good riffing and good vocals by vocalist Suze DeMarchi, including a short but engaging hook. The next song is just as good. Another rocker, “Early Warning” continues the trend of excellence, and features a great hook and some sublime guitar work in the soloing. “Early Warning” is also the first song on the album to properly demonstrate Suze’s excellent and versatile vocals. She’s got a powerful voice capable of both softer singing and louder singing, something she uses this to great effect. And perhaps because of this not every song is an uptempo rocker, such as the next one. “Painless” is a more melodic tune, but even the softer songs feature great hooks and this definitely applies to “Painless”. The same goes for the following song “Make It End”. A bit more rock is reinstated on the next song, which is is “Working For The Enemy. Musically speaking it’s the most accomplished song on the album. Neither uptempo nor soft it sits in a unique middle ground, but it still has a great hook, as is becoming he tradition of Baby Animals. And I love the moment in the atmospheric bridge soloing just as it transitions to the final chorus.

We then make a return to the slower, more melodic, song style with “One Word”, “Break Why Heart” and “Waste of Time”. All three are just as good as the previous ones, but the lack of distinct rock does make me yearn for some of the other songs on the album, namely the next two. The first of these is “One Too Many”. It’s more pf a chugger than some of the other rocking songs but it still does rock, with another great hook. This album really is full of them. “One Too Many” also features my favorite moment on the album. Two seconds after the supposed end of the song, the band launch into a frenetic drum and guitar instrumental workout that eventually loosely reprises “One Too Many” for its end. It rocks hard enough to be it’s own little song a la “The Hellion”. And then we get to the final song on the album, and also my favorite song on the album, “Ain’t Gonna Get”. “Ain’t Gonna Get” doesn’t fool around. It’s straight into the fast-paced hard rock with a great head-banging riff and rocking vocals to boot.

Even with just a little bit too many slower songs, it’s not hard to see how this went platinum multiple times, and became the best selling debut Australian rock album for twelve years.

The verdict- 3.75/5

Debut albums don’t often come much better than this. I can think of some that do, but that’s nothing against this one

Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains The Same (Guest Review)

You’re all in for a treat today, a pure Holen MaGroin review. Knowing him there’s two ways this could go.

The concert that Jimmy Page can’t stop re-releasing. Seems strange since the band has lukewarm feelings about it. Rather than giving us the tapes from all three nights, he’s decided to remix/re-master it, and then re-master that remixed re-master again in 2018. Not only was the 2007 version remixed by Kevin Shirley, different takes from different nights were used than those utilized on the original soundtrack album mix done by Eddie Kramer. As with every version, different nights were spliced together for different sections of the songs. In the Shirley mix, they would take a vocal from one night and put it over a backing track from another and so on, but on the original the technology wasn’t there yet, so they just spliced each night together with the performances intact.

The original soundtrack recording was just nine songs, but still a double album. After the first side no song runs under ten minutes. Indulgent? Absolutely. Though I can’t help but love this incredibly diluted portrait of ‘70s excess from the kings themselves. Their studio albums may contain a brevity lost in this setting, but the experimentation sometimes yields fantastic results, such as the definitive version of “No Quarter” which contains one of Page’s best solos. Of course the Shirley version, the CD is the same as the film soundtrack, so it contains all the edits found in the film version. That means “No Quarter” and several other songs are butchered and edited. The original soundtrack album is what I’ve played into the ground, and therefore it’s the version that is being reviewed here.

Page hadn’t reached the pioneering levels of sloppiness he’d sink to on the 1979 tour yet. The rest of the band has always been pretty tight, with John Paul Jones being an utter profesional. Plant’s screech has degraded here, he sings many songs an octave lower in the more traditional rock and roll voice he’d adopt for the rest of his career. The lower vocals sit well with my ears. They’re not as primal, but they sound much less strained. It sounds like Robert’s having more fun singing when he’s not staying up in the fifth octave.

The extended runtimes mean that you have to be along for the ride when listening to this one. It’s best to just give in to the excess and see where they want to take you. Sometimes I think that they don’t even know, but most of the time it’s still a fascinating journey to watch.  Despite the edits, it’s also a rather faithful live outing. The only time the cutting is really obvious is on the opening song “Rock and Roll” in which the drum sound and the panning of the guitar changes depending on the show being used. The rest of the set is much more consistent sounding, and “The Rain Song” is even unedited from a single take on the second night. You can tell no real effort was made to clean up the recordings after the fact, because honestly how much tighter could Jimmy Page actually play even in the studio? The Eddie Kramer mix is warm and pleasant on the ears, with Bonzo sounding as bombastic as he ever would on record. The whole thing sounds lively, as if you were actually there instead of like a slaved over concoction. It feels much more organic than the more polished and compressed Shirley mix.

While a couple of requisite tunes are missing here on the soundtrack, the extended sections of what they do play never leave you yearning for more. Many of these are arguably better listens than their studio counterparts, particularly “No Quarter” and the song barred from all guitar shops across the nation “Stairway to Heaven”. Plant dodging the highest of the high notes during the climax helps the whole thing garner a consistency, a more melodic one. Page has a few moments of brilliance in the solo as well, amidst the missed notes and amateur noodling. The lively Kramer production is what really puts a lot of these songs over the top in my eyes. They just have so much more weight and warmth that the comparatively shrill studio counterparts. The low-end in this recording really thumps in a way none of their studio records did, with the exception of the floor shaking Led Zeppelin II, also recorded by Kramer.

While I’m sure few would argue the Madison Square Garden shows were the band’s best live performances, they’re an interesting document of a band at the height of its popularity. It’s an account of the hubris that came with that time, for better and worse. Every song on this record has become a classic, and listening to the band power through extended versions of them can be rewarding and laborious, depending on the cut. The Barry Diament double CD sounds great, and if you have any interest in the band at all, you’d be remiss not to explore the boundless wankery of the obligatory ‘70s double live excursion.

4/5 Note Success Rate from Jimmy Page

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