Metal Ballads, Vol. 2

Behold the Strange Beauty of the Metal Ballads Album Covers

I can’t tell if these album covers for a compilation series called Metal Ballads are serious or not, but they are 100% undistilled awesome either way. They were released in Germany between 1988 and 1991, before grunge made things like this look even more foolish than they already did, so I’m inclined to think that RCA Records didn’t realize they were unintentionally goofing on the entire hair metal scene. But still, look at these things.

You could take the title off these drawings and pass them off as the covers to some astoundingly bad romance novels. Ones that take place in a world where shirts are but a distant memory and only the tender, rocking ballads of the Scorpions will see you through another hellish day sharing body heat for survival.

Oh and for the curious, I’ve included the original track listing with each album cover. That should tell you whether nor not RCA was serious or just seriously messing around.

Metal Ballads, Vol. 1

Metal Ballads, Vol. 1 (1988) album cover art

Track listing

1. Whitesnake – Is This Love
2. McAuley Schenker Group (MSG) – Time
3. REO Speedwagon – Keep On Loving You
4. Heart – Alone
5. Darxon – Hungry
6. Phenomena II – Did It All for Love
7. Magnum – When the World Comes Down
8. Scorpions – Still Loving You
9. Gary Moore – Always Gonna Love You
10. Steeler – The Deeper the Night
11. Strangeways – Goodnight L.A.
12. Bonfire – Give It a Try
13. Europe – Carrie
14. Nazareth – Love Hurts

Metal Ballads, Vol. 2

Metal Ballads, Vol. 2 album cover art

Track listing

1. Cinderella – Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)
2. House of Lords – Love Don’t Lie
3. Deep Purple – Soldier of Fortune
4. Quiet Riot – Don’t Wanna Be Your Fool
5. Darxon – Don’t Give Up
6. Poison – Every Rose Has Its Thorn
7.  Bonfire – You Make Me Feel
8. Scorpions – Holiday
9. Kingdom Come – What Love Can Be
10. Gary Moore – Empty Rooms
11. Zed Yago – The Pale Man
12. Motley Crue – You’re All I Need
13. Nazareth – Dream On
14. White Lion – When the Children Cry

Metal Ballads, Vol. 3

Metal Ballads, Vol. 3 (1990) album cover art

Track listing

1. Scorpions – Always Somewhere
2. Great White – Save Your Love
3. Motley Crue – Without You
4. Kix – Don’t Close Your Eyes
5. Warrant – Heaven
6. Accept – Mistreated
7. Roko – Hold On
8. Skid Row – I Remember You
9. Alice Cooper – Only My Heart Talkin’
10. Giant – I’ll See You in My Dreams
11. Deep Purple – Wasted Sunsets
12. Axel Rudi Pell – Broken Hearts
13. Bonfire – Who’s Foolin’ Who
14. Gary Moore – Parisienne Walkways (live)
15. Whitesnake – We Wish You Well

Metal Ballads, Vol. 4

Metal Ballads, Vol. 4 (1991) album cover art

Track listing

1. Lita Ford & Ozzy Osbourne – Close My Eyes Forever
2. Robert Plant – Ship of Fools
3. McAuley Schenker Group (MSG) – Anytime
4. Scorpions – Believe in Love
5. Y & T – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
6. Cheap Trick – Wherever I Would Be
7. Gary Moore – Still Got the Blues (For You)
8. House of Lords – It Ain’t Love
9. Damn Yankees – High Enough
10. Winger – Without the Night
11. Marillion – Kayleigh
12. German Rock Project – Let Love Conquer the World
13. Tyketto – Standing Alone
14. Kane Roberts – Does Anybody Really Fall in Love Anymore
15. Crash N’ Burn – So Close to Me

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The Geoff Tate Queensrÿche Experience!

It’s the Geoff Tate Queensrÿche Experience!

I haven’t posted much of anything about the ongoing soap opera in Queensrÿche land, mostly because it’s all too depressing for this long-time fan to contemplate. But for those not in the know, vocalist and band co-founder Geoff Tate was fired from Queensrÿche about a month ago. Queensrÿche then went out and got a new singer. I figured Tate would leave well enough alone and just go for a solo career. I was kind of excited about this prospect, actually.

But nope, turns out we now get to deal with two Queensrÿches. That’s right, Tate put together his own version of the group — this one featuring former Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, and Whitesnake bassist Rudy Sarzo, ex-Ratt drummer Bobby Blotzer, and former Megadeth guitarist Glen Drover.

Maybe this band will be good, maybe not. But the first thing I thought of was all the different versions of the Beach Boys that Mike Love and/or Al Jardine trotted out before the recent reunion with Brian Wilson. And I just had to do my Photoshop thing. So here’s Geoff Tate and Friends in The Geoff Tate Queensrÿche Experience!

The Geoff Tate Queensrÿche Experience!

The Geoff Tate Queensrÿche Experience! (feat. John Stamos and Bruce Johnston)

Mastodon - The Hunter

The Music Year That Was: The Best Albums of 2011

The usual disclaimers about my year-end music lists still apply. I’m only one man and only have so much time to listen to new albums. So even if I hear an album and it’s really good, if nothing about it grabs me right away I may end up forgetting it. Also, naturally I’m going to gravitate toward music either from acts I already know and like or that’s recommended by friends and writers/critics I respect.

These, then, are the ten albums that I have returned to more than any other in 2011 and probably will in 2012. Because at the end of the day, isn’t that the only mark of a good record?

#1. Mastodon, The Hunter

Mastodon - The HunterAs much as I was disappointed with Crack the Skye, I absolutely love The Hunter. I’ve read a lot of comparisons between it and Metallica’s “Black Album,” and I can see why. It’s more streamlined, direct, and accessible. Of course only time will tell if Mastodon follows this triumph up with a Load-type train wreck. For now I’m simply digging on what to my ears is the best metal release of the year, and an album that is every bit as exciting as Leviathan.

Diehards may bellyache that Mastodon keeps slipping further away from their more metallic, Remission-era origins. I don’t buy that for a second. This band hasn’t been around long enough to get stuck in any one sound, and there has been a clear musical progression with every new release. I for one appreciate that they’re moving away (at least for now) from longer, more complex songs. They just don’t do them as well as short, chaotic bursts of energy like “Black Tongue,” “Blasteroid,” or “Spectrelight.”

But if all The Hunter had to offer were brevity and fire, it would merely be very good. What takes it — and the band — to the next level are off-kilter space metal songs like “Stargasm,” “Octopus Has No Friends,” and “Thickening,” which showcase Mastodon’s unerring sense of melody and songwriting. Those qualities, paired with the band’s ridiculous chops, are what convince me that Mastodon is the premiere metal band in the land.

Oh, and Brann Dailor still frigging owns on the drums. It just had to be said.

Prime cut: “Black Tongue”

#2. The Roots, Undun

The Roots, Undun

You certainly cannot accuse the Roots of getting soft due to their regular gig as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. As Undun proves, in fact, their chops are probably as strong as ever.

Call me a pessimist, but I like my latter-day Roots albums dark. In fact, the darker the better. And holy crap, Undun is easily the darkest Roots album since Game Theory. It tells the story (chronologically backwards) of Redford Stephens, a composite based on family and friends of the band, especially emcee Black Thought — who spits rhymes like a man on a mission. It’s not straight-up nihilism, but the overall effect is deeply impacting.

The Roots have clearly been influences by their collaborations with artists like John Legend and Betty Wright. Undun is really more of a neo-soul album than a hip hop album, as evidenced by tracks like “The Other Side” and “Make My.” But even indie rock is well within the band’s purview, courtesy the final four tracks — a cover of Sufjan Stevens’ “Redford,” stretched into four movements replete with a string section and piano (played by Stevens).

Undun is a true album experience, deep and engrossing. ?uestlove’s production is flawless at all times, and he melds traditional instrumentation with samples and orchestration so seamlessly that it’s impossible to peg this record as belonging to any one genre.

Prime cut: “Make My”

#3. The New Mastersounds, Breaks from the Border

The New Mastersounds, Breaks from the BorderThere’s a really fine line between skillfully bringing the sounds of vintage ’70s soul and funk into the new century, and sounding like nothing more than a respectable but ultimately hollow cover band. For just over a decade the New Mastersounds of Leeds, England have been among the finest and funkiest bands on either side of the Atlantic.

Breaks from the Border — the group’s eighth studio LP and first recorded in America — is a masterclass in 21st century rhythm. I’ve read that listening to some albums is like putting on a comfortable pair of old blue jeans. Listening to this record is like putting on… well, I have no fashion sense so I really can’t say, but whatever it is you’re going to have fun wearing it and you will probably get laid.

Prime cut: “Run the Gauntlet”

#4. Ladytron, Gravity the Seducer

Ladytron, Gravity the SeducerAs I said when I reviewed this album back in September, I prefer it to the more upbeat but abrasive Velocifero. There is a certain kind of sadness running throughout the album, but it’s cathartic rather than oppressive. Brian Eno called Ladytron “the best of English pop music” and the group does little to disprove him on Gravity the Seducer. Even straightforward songs like “Mirage” have an expansive, absorbing quality about them that’s hard not to love.

And then there are three of the most outstanding pop songs of the year. “White Gold” and “90 Degrees” are a pair of bleak, icy electropop numbers that combine the best elements of Gary Numan and Depeche Mode (and throw in the enchanting vocals of Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo as a bonus), while “Ritual” is an instrumental track right out of Discotheque of the Damned. And I mean that in the best way possible.

Prime cut: “White Gold”

#5. Sloan, The Double Cross

Sloan, The Double CrossWith a dozen songs spread over an economical 34 minutes, Sloan doesn’t waste a single second on The Double Cross. “Follow the Leader” gets right down to business, and proves that the venerable Canadian rockers haven’t lost a step in the last 20 — or XX, as the album title indicates — years. The first several songs melt into one another and you barely have time to catch your breath as Sloan lays out killer harmonies and endorphin-triggering melodies with unrelenting ease.

Just as Blur’s Parklife brilliantly surveyed the British pop/rock scene of past decades, so too does The Double Cross (but with more American flavoring). “Unkind” recalls peak Badfinger, while “Shadow of Love” is vintage New Wave all the way. Elsewhere, “She’s Slowin’ Down Again” is a meaty slab of British Invasion rock. When the band finally eases up at the halfway point with the gentle “Green Gardens, Cold Montreal” the album remains equally as potent. The Double Cross is perhaps the album with the most bang for the buck in 2011.

Prime cut: “Unkind”

#6. Dengue Fever, Cannibal Courtship

Dengue Fever - Cannibal CourtshipI’m so in love with Chhom Nimol’s voice I could listen to nothing but her isolated vocals from this album, just like with those old rock clips that seem to pop up all over YouTube. Luckily for Nimol and for fans of Dengue Fever the band’s music is still every bit as exotic and alluring as she is on this, their fourth studio LP.

On this album Dengue Fever applies their trademark sound but starts to stretch it out in interesting new directions — there’s the familiar tongue-in-cheek surf rock of “Cement Slippers,” but there’s also the smoky, fuzzy pop of “Cannibal Courtship” and the slinky funk of “Only a Friend” to mix things up. The group’s ever-decreasing reliance on Cambodian native Nimol’s Khmer language can sometimes rob the songs of their air of mystery, but that might just be my hangup.

Prime cut: “Only a Friend”

#7. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Race Riot Suite

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Race Riot SuiteSome of the greatest jazz from the genre’s commercial heyday was borne from the anger and frustration of racism in America. But back in the ’50s or ’60s artists had to be somewhat discrete about that, lest they offend the sensibilities of their audience. Of course we have no need for such niceties anymore in our “enlightened” 21st century world, and thus Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey is free to spend an entire album plumbing the depths of what may be that city’s darkest hour.

But take out the historical context, and Race Riot Suite loses none of its impact. This album is a dynamic melding of traditional (i.e. Dixieland) and modern jazz, with some dashes of hard rock thrown in. I can’t help but think that someone like Duke Ellington would look kindly on this record. I know I do.

Prime cut: “Black Wall Street”

#8. Gruff Rhys, Hotel Shampoo

Gruff Rhys - Hotel ShampooWhile this may not fit the strict definition of power pop, Hotel Shampoo is powerful pop. Gruff Rhys (he of Super Furry Animals) approaches the music on this record from an oblique angle, so that even though the music is fairly straightforward in composition it still feels fresh and invigorating. To simply call this “indie pop” would be dreadfully reductive.

Swirling keyboards, horns, and strings abound here, and the tunes move between melodic and dense (“Honey All Over” and the Bacharach-inspired “Vitamin K”) and simple and ultra-bouncy (“Sensations in the Dark”). For those who haven’t heard of this album, the closest comparison I can draw is Jim Noir.

And another point in Hotel Shampoo‘s favor — it was featured as part of my Album Cover of the Week series!

Prime cut: “Sensations in the Dark”

#9. DeVotchKa, 100 Lovers

DeVotchKa, 100 LoversDeVotchKa is like the normal, clean-shaven Spock to Gogol Bordello’s evil, goateed Spock. They both get tagged with the “Gypsy punk” label, but they really are drastically different bands. While the latter revels in its sneering, electric eclecticism, the former often sounds more like a beautiful postcard from an exotic, faraway land.

And make no mistake, the group’s 2011 postcard, 100 Lovers, is always beautiful. The album alternates between the sweeping, cinematic quality of “The Alley” and “The Common Good” and the down-home acoustic thump of “Exhaustible.” In the few moments when DeVotchKa ups the intensity — as on “The Man from San Sebastian”  — the results are stunning. Nick Urata’s quivering tenor and surf-rock inspired guitar line imbue the song with a timeless quality that I’ve returned to over and over. The remainder of 100 Lovers is equally as vibrant.

Prime cut: “The Man from San Sebastian”

#10. Mutemath, Odd Soul

Mutemath, Odd SoulDon’t call it a comeback. OK, call it a comeback. I found Armistice to be a downer and figured Mutemath (or is it MuteMath/MUTEMATH/Mute Math?) had one good album in them and that was it.

So when I finally got around to sampling Odd Soul it was my most pleasant musical surprise of the year. As much as the group’s first LP wowed me with its technical prowess and intricate arrangements, Odd Soul snagged me with its grit and thunder. I haven’t listened to a lot of the Black Keys, but it seems to me that this album borrows quite a bit from their sound. But no matter where Mutemath got their influences from, Odd Soul is the album that officially won me back as a fan. It grooves, it rocks, and best of all it’s really, really good.

Prime cut: “Prytania”

The Rest of the Best

Each of these albums has something to recommend it. But they didn’t make the Top 10 either because they didn’t fully stick with me or I just didn’t have the time to listen as much as I wanted to.

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Anthrax, Worship Music

Album review mini-roundup: Anthrax, Ladytron, and The New Mastersounds

Anthrax, Worship MusicAnthrax, Worship Music (Megaforce Records) — No disrespect to John Bush, but Anthrax only sounds like Anthrax to me with Joey Belladonna behind the mic. Interestingly enough, his first album with Anthrax in more than 20 years is a much more modern-sounding album than I expected. While parts of Worship Music — tracks like “Earth on Hell” — are right out of the Persistence of Time era, others (“Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t” and “I’m Alive”) sound more the like modern, radio-friendly hard rock found on more recent discs.

Belladonna was in a tough spot here, as he and Scott Ian publicly admitted that Worship Music was largely complete when he was brought in. So he was basically singing over songs that were written with former singer Dan Nelson in mind. To his credit, Belladonna sounds at home with most of the material and delivers a fine performance.

In the end, Worship Music is a decent album but nowhere near as strong as the group’s best. Maybe if Belladonna can keep his gig for a bit, we can hear what a more organically produced ‘thrax record with him sounds like again.

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Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments

My favorite music: 1983

If there’s one thing the internet lacks, it’s pointless music lists. So to fill that void, here’s a sampling of my favorite albums from some random year. Let’s say, 1983.

(Spotify users, check out the accompanying playlist and subscribe!)

Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments Robert Plant, The Principle of Moments — While I would in no way claim that Robert Plant’s solo output bests Led Zeppelin’s music, a lot of times I simply prefer to listen to Plant. In fact I’d say that Plant has enjoyed one of the most artistically rewarding solo careers of any artist who was part of a popular band that I can think of. The Principle of Moments is probably my favorite Plant solo effort (next to Fate of Nations) — he sounds freed from the constraints of creating larger-than-life rock and the music just crackles with energy. “In the Mood” and “Big Log” are all-time classics.

Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind — Four albums into their career, Iron Maiden had gone through just as many lineup changes. But when drummer Nicko McBrain replaced Clive Burr (trading Burr’s pocket groove for McBrain’s heavy metal thunder), the classic Maiden lineup was complete. With McBrain behind the kit the band released Piece of Mind, their most ferocious LP yet. While not the top-to-bottom classic that The Number of the Beast was, this album boasts some of the best songs in Maiden’s catalog — “Where Eagles Dare,” “Flight of Icarus,” and “To Tame a Land” just to name some. Even so-called filler songs like “Sun and Steel” or “Quest for Fire” are raucous fun.

“Weird Al” Yankovic, “Weird Al” Yankovic — It feels like Weird Al has been making fun of popular music forever, but in fact it all started with his modest self-titled debut in ’83. I can’t imagine this being of interest to someone just getting into his music, but I love all of it. The parodies are strong — “I Love Rocky Road” and “My Bologna” being the best — but the originals carry this disc. “Gotta Boogie” and “The Check’s in the Mail” are absolutely products of their time, but are musically strong. Capping the whole thing off is the absolutely twisted and hilarious “Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung,” a touching tale of the friendship between a young man and his terminally ill pal.

Yes, 90125 — I would have been perfectly happy with another album from the Drama lineup of Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, Trevor Horn, and Geoff Downes. I loved that album so much. But it’s hard to deny the greatness of 90125, even as slick and thoroughly ’80s as tracks like “Changes” and “Leave It” sound now (or perhaps because of that). This album (thanks in no small part to “Owner of a Lonely Heart”) achieved something most probably thought was impossible — it made one of the champions of ’70s progressive rock artistically and commercially relevant for a whole new generation of music listeners.

R.E.M., Murmur — There’s a small but vocal legion of R.E.M. fans who hold that nothing the band did after Murmur measured up to the group’s debut LP. I don’t buy that, but I can see where they’re coming from. There are just so many strong songs here — especially “Perfect Circle” and “9-9” — and they’re all delivered in such stark, simple fashion. And as I wrote in the second part of my ongoing R.E.M. exploration series, Murmur seems to get stronger as it goes on.

AC/DC, Flick of the SwitchAC/DC, Flick of the Switch — This is the last album AC/DC released in the ’80s that’s worth hearing, although admittedly it doesn’t stack up to Back in Black or For Those About to Rock We Salute You. Still, Angus Young’s thunderous riffing is mostly on the money on this record, and Brian Johnson still sounds energized behind the mic. Overall the tried-and-true hard rock-meets-blues formula feels fresh here, and songs like “Rising Power” and the thundering title track are the best examples of that.

Journey, Frontiers — I knew nothing of the older, more rock and fusion-oriented sounds of Journey before I bought this on cassette in ’83 and I didn’t care. Hell, I still don’t. I love everything about Frontiers — from the arena-ready rockers (“Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”) to the tender ballads (“Send Her My Love”, “After the Fall”) to the obscure, off-kilter cuts (“Back Talk”). In my mind’s eye, Journey will be forever rocking out on the pier with invisible instruments.

Frank Zappa, The Man From Utopia — One of the most-asked and most difficult questions in music fandom is, “Which Zappa album is the best for a non-fan to start a collection with?” There are a handful of outstanding options, one of them being The Man From Utopia. Zappa plays it relatively straight here — well for him anyway, although the music is unmistakably his. If the crude humor of tracks like “SEX” or “The Jazz Discharge Party Hats” isn’t your style, there’s always the excellent instrumentals “Tink Walks Amok,” “We Are Not Alone,” and “Mōggio.”

Genesis, Genesis — I’m not one of those Genesis fans who gnashes his teeth over any album that isn’t 100% prog rock. They have plenty of really good songs that are relatively straightforward and poppy. And this album (aka Mama) has very good pop songs (“That’s All”, “It’s Gonna Get Better,” and “Silver Rainbow”) as well as very good art rock (“Mama”, “Second Home By the Sea”). Yeah, “Illegal Alien” is a but much to take, but it’s the only really dodgy song here. It’s also a more consistent record than Abacab.

Paul Simon, Hearts and Bones — I’ve never been a huge Paul Simon fan but this album has resonated with me for some time. The title track alone is worth the price of admission, and ranks among Simon’s greatest compositions. The up-tempo tracks are uniformly good, but I go for the more melancholy numbers like “Train in the Distance” or the excellent “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” the latter of which was as much a eulogy to John Lennon as to the titular rock and roller.

Metallica, Kill ’em All — Raw, powerful, visceral. From the fade-in of “Hit the Lights” to the fade-out of “Metal Militia,” Kill ’em All is 50-plus minutes of some of the finest thrash metal ever recorded. Metallica wanted to release this with the title Metal Up Your Ass but was convinced by Megaforce Records to ease up a bit. But musically, there is no compromise on this album. And although guitarist Dave Mustaine was booted from the band just prior to the recording sessions, his fingerprints are all over it in the form of four co-writing credits and numerous uncredited guitar parts. (I’d include a song sample here but, you know, Lars.)

Randy Newman, Trouble in ParadiseRandy Newman, Trouble in Paradise — The sound is sleeker, and the arrangements are a little slicker, but this is Newman near the top of his game. This is worth the price of admission just for the timeless pop paean “I Love L.A.,” but the one-two punch of the melancholy “Same Girl” — his best ballad since “Marie” — and the acerbic yet mechanical “Mikey’s” is stunning.

Kiss, Lick It Up — A lot of people attribute Kiss’s resurgence in the ’80s to them taking off the makeup and getting out of the 1970s. That’s probably true, but I think it was also a case of them finally producing kick-ass rock for the first time in years. With short-timer Vinnie Vincent in the fold, the band effectively straddled the squiggly line between hard rock and heavy metal. Dismissing Lick It Up as mere hair metal is lazy and misses the point — groups like Poison and Cinderella never put out music with as much power or ferocity as songs like “Exciter,” Fits Like a Glove,” or “Young and Wasted.”

XTC, MummerMummer seems to take a bit of a beating from fans and critics who didn’t care for the more pastoral and introspective bent XTC took after Andy Partridge retired from public performing. As it turns out, this is the one album of theirs I never get enough of, and it’s by and large because of the pastoral and introspective moments (“Love on a Farmboy’s Wages” and “Ladybird” are simply divine). Of course if you like your XTC angular and nervous, there’s still the outstanding “Beating of Hearts” or “Deliver Us From the Elements” to satisfy.

Queensrÿche, Queensrÿche — While Queensrÿche’s debut EP did little to distinguish them as a metal act, it was a surprisingly mature and accomplished effort all the same. The entire band is ferocious, but it’s Geoff Tate’s soaring and Halford-esque vocals that push songs like “Queen of the Reich” into the stratosphere. The band’s full-length debut (The Warning) showcased their ambition much better, but the 18 or so minutes of this release are much more aggressive and laser-focused, setting the stage for things to come.

Pink Floyd, The Final Cut — Yeah it’s basically a Roger Waters solo album, so what? While more David Gilmour would have been welcome, it’s clear that the band was done by this point. Even so, this is a powerful album that is made all the more so because it largely bypasses the excesses of The Wall. Waters’ sense of weariness and betrayal is evident throughout the entire record on songs such as “The Hero’s Return” and it makes for riveting listening.

Mötley Crüe, Shout at the Devil — The amount of really good music Mötley Crüe released relative to their stature is not all that much. But this is one of the defining metal albums of the ’80s, and nothing can change that. This is the sound of a hungry and creative band, before drugs and glam metal excess took their toll. Side B runs out of steam just a bit, but there are so many killer songs on here — the title song, “Looks That Kill” and “Too Young to Fall in Love” just for starters — that you won’t even notice. And I still maintain that Tommy Lee’s name deserves to be included in the list of great metal drummers of all-time.

The Police, SynchronicityThe Police, Synchronicity — The transformation from the Police’s first album to Synchronicity is astounding. While some of the punkish aggression heard on Outlandos d’Amour is still present here (especially on the Andy Summers-penned “Mother”), there is a high level of gloss now. Sting is very clearly in the driver’s seat from a creative standpoint, although in retrospect it’s clear that Summers and Stewart Copeland kept him somewhat in check. How else to explain numbers like “Every Breath You Take” and “King of Pain”, which are still essential listening today rather than forgettable soft rock dreck Sting was to become known for?

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Texas Flood — I can count the number of blues or blues rock artists I like on one hand and still have fingers left over. And yet there’s something so positively mesmerizing about Stevie Ray Vaughan and his debut album. I guess the only way I can put it is that Vaughan just oozed authenticity. Oh yeah, and there’s that instantly recognizable playing style and guitar tone. How can a song like “Pride and Joy” not make you want to boogie? The best thing about this album is that as popular music was becoming buried in synthesizers and other artifice, this album took three musicians (Vaughan, bassist Tommy Shannon, and drummer Chris Layton) a total of three days to record.

Def Leppard, Pyromania — In retrospect it’s easy to see how Pyromania was just another step on Def Leppard’s road to blandness (under the guiding hand of producer Mutt Lange). But at this point, they still delivered the best pop metal in town. There’s enough crunch to please all but the most hardcore metal fans, and of course there are hooks and melodies to spare. You’d have to have a cold, cold heart not to love songs like “Photograph” or “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop).” And of course there’s my absolute favorite, “Foolin’.”

Billy Joel, "Tell Her About It"Misc. 1983 songs that I love:

  • U2, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
  • Black Sabbath, “Zero the Hero”
  • Frank Stallone, “Far From Over”
  • Tears for Fears, “Pale Shelter”
  • Culture Club, “Karma Chameleon”
  • Elton John, “I’m Still Standing”
  • David Bowie, “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl”
  • The Beepers, “History Lesson” (WarGames soundtrack)
  • Ozzy Osbourne, “Bark at the Moon”
  • Madonna, “Borderline”
  • Asia, “Eye to Eye”
  • Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson, “Say Say Say”
  • The Fixx, “One Thing Leads to Another”
  • Duran Duran, “Union of the Snake”
  • John Cougar Mellencamp, “Crumblin’ Down”
  • Dio, “Rainbow in the Dark”
  • Billy Joel, “Tell Her About It” & “Easy Money”
  • The Tubes, “She’s a Beauty”
  • Men at Work, “Overkill”
  • Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”
  • Herbie Hancock, “Rockit”
  • Steve Hackett, “Bay of Kings”
  • Tangerine Dream, “The Dream Is Always the Same”
  • The Human League, “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”
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Listening booth — Mastodon, “Spectrelight”

It’s probably not going to be as awesome as Leviathan, but Mastodon’s upcoming LP — The Hunter — promises to be better than Crack the Skye. At least based off the first three singles. First there was “Black Tongue,” which has the same vibe as Blood Mountain and is quite good. Then there was “Curl of the Burl,” which incidentally looks like the title of a Burl Ives exercise video. In any case, it was a bit disappointing.

Now there’s single/video #3, “Spectrelight,” which sounds the most like the Mastodon I love (and looks like a really cool screen saver to boot!). The rawness of the Remission/Leviathan era has been polished away but it’s still hella aggressive and cool. It features Scott Kelly from Neurosis on vocals.

The Hunter comes out September 26 on Roadrunner Records.

Jani Lane

Listening booth — RIP Jani Lane of Warrant

Jani LaneToday brings sad news for hard rock and metal fans around the world, as Jani Lane — lead singer of Warrant during their most successful period — was found dead yesterday in a Woodland Hills, California hotel room at age 47.

In addition to serving as Warrant’s lead vocalist, Lane wrote the band’s most popular songs, including “Heaven,” “Down Boys,” “Sometimes She Cries,” “I Saw Red,” and “Cherry Pie.”

I’ll admit that I was never a huge Warrant fan back in the day, but Lane was a very good vocalist and seems to have been a genuinely good — albeit troubled — person. So let’s remember Lane in happier days with a few classic Warrant cuts.

“Down Boys”

“Cherry Pie”

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

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Mastodon - The Hunter

Listening booth — Mastodon, “Black Tongue”

Mastodon - The Hunter

I really should know better by now than to predict how much I’ll like an album based off one song. I was certain Mastodon’s last album, Crack the Skye, would be a total face-melter, but I was sadly wrong. But I do have renewed hope for their upcoming LP, The Hunter. Why? Check out the first single, “Black Tongue.”

Aw yeah! This sounds like the Mastodon I love – heavy and vengeful, but still melodic. The Hunter is out September 27.

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My favorite music: 1972

If there’s one thing the internet lacks, it’s pointless music lists. So to fill that void, here’s a sampling of my favorite albums from some random year. Let’s say, 1972.

Fleetwood Mac, Bare Trees — Oh sure, I love Rumours as much as the next person. But there’s something about this particular, pre-Buckingham/Nicks incarnation of the band that speaks to me. Bare Trees is a bit uneven in spots but I keep coming back to it just the same. That said, the original version of Bob Welch’s “Sentimental Lady” found on this record is far superior to the 1977 hit single version.

Steely Dan, Can’t Buy a Thrill — I don’t care if Donald Fagen and Walter Becker want to disown this record, I love it and I know a ton of Dan fans love it. Like all classic Steely Dan records, the hits are only part of the picture. “Fire in the Hole” has a killer hook and an arrangement that presaged their more refined work on Katy Lied. And holy shit, that chorus on “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again” is so damn smooooooth.

Chicago, Chicago V — This is the perfect marriage of Chicago’s progressive arty side and their burgeoning pop sensibilities. “A Hit by Varèse” opens the LP and is as angry as the band got back in the day, while this album also boasts the bulletproof “Saturday in the Park.” How’s that for extremes? Peter Cetera, long before he discovered the glory of love, absolutely kills on bass all through this record. What the hell happened to that guy?

Yes, Close to the Edge — One of the crown jewels of progressive rock, bar none. Three songs, 38 minutes of pure bliss. “And You and I” and “Siberian Khatru” are fantastic all on their own, but the centerpiece is the nearly 19-minute title track. It encapsulates all that the genre has to offer musically, driven mainly by Steve Howe’s stabbing guitars, Chris Squire’s meaty, nimble bass, and of course Bill Bruford’s spastic, wrist-snapping percussion.

The Crusaders, Crusaders 1 — No longer the Jazz Crusaders, the newly christened Crusaders were finally free to embrace their funky side. The in-your-face horn section is still present and accounted for, but guitarist Larry Carlton brings a whole new dimension to the group’s sound.

Can, Ege Bamyasi — Even if you think Can would be too out there for your tastes, this album is not to missed. The skittering, insistent beat and nerve-fraying guitar on “Vitamin C” is the highlight of the record, but the whole thing is a case study in how Krautrock need not be scary.

Focus, Focus 3 — Man, what a year for prog rock eh? If you think this Dutch outfit is all about “Hocus Pocus,” you are mistaken. And it turns out that tender Focus (“Love Remembered” and “Focus III“) is just as entrancing and effective as rocking Focus (“Round Goes the Gossip” and “Sylvia”). Jan Akkerman is a guitar god but you almost never his name outside of fan circles anymore.

Genesis, Foxtrot — I can only imagine what a thrill it must have been to hear this band follow up on the promise of Nursery Cryme and just explode creatively. This seminal prog album is book-ended by two of the greatest songs the genre has to offer — “Watcher of the Skies” and “Supper’s Ready.” All of the other tracks (with the exception of “Time Table”) are just as strong.

Neil Young, Harvest — I’m not even that big a Neil Young fan, and this album is a must-own.

Deep Purple, Machine Head — Yeah yeah, “Smoke on the Water” and all that. Thing is, even without that song Machine Head is a stone cold classic. “Highway Star” is one of the few songs about car racing that is every bit as furious musically as it is lyrically. It’s all singer Ian Gillan can do throughout Machine Head to match the sheer intensity of Blackmore, Lord, Glover, and Paice. The album ends with “Space Truckin’,” which sounds like a stupid title but in fact has the riffage and groove to stomp your face into the mud and have you asking for more.

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