Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Another reminder of the transitory nature of life comes with the passing of actor/singer Davy Jones. At the height of his fame in the mid-sixties, he sang lead vocals on a number of huge hits while playing his role on TV as part of the pre-fab group, The Monkees. The quartet soon grew tired of having session musicians and outside writers steer their musical ship. It is to the credit of Jones and his band mates that they raised two middle fingers to the machine that created them. The first was to get involved in the writing/playing/production of their records.
Headquarters was an LP that reflected this new approach."Early Morning Blues and Greens" was a track on which Jones took lead vocal.
Their second greatest act of defiance was the psychedelic film "Head". Has to be viewed in a certain state to really be appreciated, though.
Davy Jones was a multi-faceted, talented individual, though my generation was quite far removed from Monkee-mania. I do remember seeing that infamous Brady Bunch episode as a child and wondering why Marcia was so excited about having the diminutive Englishman as a dinner guest.
Lastly, here's a tune which Jones had a hand in writing (from the excellent Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd.), whose title sums up sentiments shared by many upon learning today's sad news.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
GONE THOUGH NOT FORGOTTEN
Ranker.com ranks influential musicians by the order of how great their music was at the time of their death.
Los Angeles, February 21, 2012: While the pop music world is still reeling from the loss of Whitney Houston, Ranker.com has released a list of artists who have been deemed “gone too soon” by Ranker’s users. These artists are ranked not only by how great their music was at the time of their death, but what their future might have meant to the world of music. Having garnered thousands of votes and views by the site’s devotees, this list is considered to be the definitive word on the greatest rock stars who died prematurely.
According to Ranker.com, the most significant loss to the music industry was Jimi Hendrix, followed by John Lennon and Jim Morrison, rounding out the top five is Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain. The 46 artists on this list also included such legends as Freddy Mercury, Buddy Holly and Jerry Garcia, and ended with perhaps the less likely inclusion of Harry Nilsson. In addition, 15 other lists have been created by voters to represent a wide variety of opinions. The full list of Rock Stars Whose Deaths Were the Most Untimely may be viewed on Ranker.com here.
Ranker.com publishes lists created and ranked by its visitors that are data driven by popular opinion. Available on Ranker.com are lists on any topic imaginable, including everything from the best films of all time or the best vehicles for teenage drivers, to less serious fare like Simpsons jokes that actually came true. Truly something for everyone.
Monday, February 06, 2012
A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH
Doorbells...three of them...oddly harmonizing...have been uploaded to my cerebellum...flown in telepathically...as the swarm of notes reaches a crescendo, a snippet of the ringing sound that my parents' old dial-phone made is looped backward, dancing at 150 miles per hour...floating over the din is a familiar voice...the one with a wink between every word...though it's been a long time, I welcome this sound back into my life with a warm embrace...
Van Halen returns, emerging from an extended hiatus reunited with David Lee Roth, yet estranged from bassist Michael Anthony. Eddie Van Halen's son, Wolfgang, now holds down the low end, keeping time with his Uncle Alex. The quartet have gone back to the blueprint that made the six Roth-era discs so engaging then...and now. Wolfie wasn't even a gleam in his old man's eye when the last record with Roth (1984) was issued some 28 years ago.
Back then, this rectangular work of the devil was cutting a destructive swath through the music industry, snatching food from the tables of both the artists and record company CEOs.
Perhaps YOU were one of the dirty thieves who taped 1984 from your buddy's vinyl copy while you were over at his place to score some weed. You may have even mistakenly erased Pyromania while high, thinking that you were recording on the blank side.
Waking up in 2012 after a long slumber, the lads in VH look upon a musical landscape that has been peppered with a ton of awful, targeted missiles launched from the greasy silos of greedy, inept marketing weasels. Adding to that misery is the new arch-nemesis of the biz in the 21st century: file sharing and illegal downloading. The cassette tape? Long buried in the eternal landfill of obsolescence.
Lord, strike this poor boy down...
Taking up pretty much where they left off, the band welds together a number of old demos (ranging from the mid-70s through to cast offs from the 1984 sessions), polishing/re-recording them, re-writing lyrics and casting them alongside newly penned material.
Gone is the awful guitar tone that EVH adopted in 1986, keyboard noodling, over-serious pop-rock-radio confections and all traces of the Van Hagar period.
Good fucking riddance!
The untouchable Van Halen sound of old is restored to it's former glory (albeit missing the golden harmonies of Michael Anthony) along with the much missed humor that Roth brought to the table so effortlessly.
Result? A Different Kind of Awesome!
Welcome to "China Town". Eddie's scorching intro alone is worth the price of admission, but it gets even better with an opening line stolen from a classic New York Post front page banner
Headless body in a topless bar
Need some double-time, eight-armed Alex Van Halen action? It's all happening downtown. Frets burn, fingers move in a blur as Ed's solo is flight of the bumblebee stuck to the front windscreen of the Concorde.
All of this within three minutes. Quintessential Van Halen.
Highlights? "Blood and Fire" is beautifully catchy, without losing its edge. Eddie straddles the line between virtuosity and melody perfectly. This is one from the archives, given new life and lyrics courtesy of Roth. Same goes for the taster single/lead off track ("Tattoo") and the dirt-under-the fingernails, rotating-riff driven "She's the Woman", both of which pre-date the first album.
"Honeybabysweetiedoll" combines a number of motifs as the trio steers expertly through a minefield of time signatures, jaw-dropping guitar figures and Roth-rap. "You and your Blues" is another standout.
One thing that this set does not do is let up; not for a second. Relentless, the back nine of the proceedings demands your attention, as you have seasoned musicians inviting you to take part in a very thrilling ride. Picking up speed, the handful of songs that close out "A Different Kind of Truth" all contain much to be desired. "Stay Frosty" has an intro which is a huge nod to their past (think Ice Cream Man) and explodes into a buffet of electricity, shaking hands with the 2012 version of the group quite comfortably. It even has a big stinky ending that's evil enough to turn your lawn brown.
Icing on the cake? "Big River" bringing it all home, with a definite swing infused in the playing. As it fades, you will be exhausted and happy to start the wagon wheel rolling all over again.
All of the stylistic tricks in the VH book of magic are employed, though these devices still work better than a Swiss watch. It is refreshing to report that this is a truly energetic record, devoid of any embarrassing attempts to embrace the pathetic, soulless garbage sounds that are currently clogging radio play-lists. Definite cigar for all involved on that front.
This means that for you, the fans, you will mercifully NOT hear any of the following:
1) David Lee Roth rapping
2) A-list, hip-hop artists talking over tracks
3) Ugly sounding, auto-tuned vocals
4) Crappy, synthetic noises standing in for the musicians
5) Pretentious, angst ridden lyrics
6) Four guys phoning it in
Eddie Van Halen? Innovative genius, still eons ahead of his imitators. Everyone acquits themselves in admirable fashion here. This is simply great rock and roll and will be a breath of fresh air for those who have waited far too long to hear some.
Told ya I was comin' back...say that ya missed me
Saturday, February 04, 2012
III SIDES TO EVERY STORY
Nearly 20 years have passed since the release of the third Extreme disc. Muscular playing, tight arrangements and exceptional harmonies all coalesce beautifully, allowing the material to transcend the funk-metal genre that they were tagged in.
For all that, Extreme III was a spectacular commercial failure.
Critics at the time were effusive in their praise of the record, with some docking a few points here and there for the bombastic nature of certain selections. Generally, you can see great strides being taken toward the style of mid-70s Queen with melody taking precedence over sheer volume. They had proven themselves capable of writing a mother-of-an-ear-worm-for-the-masses when they unleashed "that fucking song" (More Than Words) on an unsuspecting populace in the early nineties. Unless you were dwelling in a cave in the mountains of Tibet, pondering your place in the eternal now, there was no way of escaping it.
Adept at both grinding riffage and softer fare, they were in danger of becoming overshadowed by this enchanting little ballad.
Hard to follow your own act
To their credit, they did so, without succumbing to the temptation of churning out another clone of their biggest hit.
What of these three sides?
Forcefully grabbing the listener by the lapels with "Warheads", the "other side of the story" is painted in lurid, aggressive shades of angry red. Nuno Bettencourt showcases his ability to literally melt the fretboard at every turn. Standout track in this section is "Rest In Peace" which shifts smoothly through a series of jaw-dropping, dynamic changes with hooks galore (and a little Jimi). Confidence brimming, they even fire off a clever tribute to their own recent past in the outro. You'll be in on the joke, though.
"Politicalamity" smokes and burns with another tip of the hat to Hendrix thrown into the riff for good measure. This section of the album is devastating, with plenty of vocal and instrumental gymnastics. Simply saying that these guys could really play vastly understates the true depth of their gifts as a group.
Perhaps sensing that a softer landing pad was required after the blitzkrieg attack that comprised the first set of tunes, we are treated to some well constructed pop to outline how most folks tell their own side of the story. Hands down favorite here is "Tragic Comic", which features Beatlesque harmonies, funny lyrics and a very catchy chorus. "Stop the World" runs a close second. Versatility? They make the transition between/amongst styles look deceptively easy.
Bringing this immaculate set to a close is a majestic, three part suite which gives the impression that the quartet were three summers ahead of their nearest competition in terms of vision and sonic ambition. The orchestral overdubs were completed within the hallowed studio walls of Abbey Road. Gary Cherone pushes his voice to its limit, displaying operatic echoes of Queen and this likely served to alienate those fans who wanted straight up metal. Soaring passages abound, this exploration of something more substantial can only be applauded as a very bold move. The use of strings only adds to the powerful climax that is carefully constructed to quicken the pulse as the race to the finish line doubles in its intensity.
It rarely gets better than this, yet those who were expecting a brainless, poodle-balanced-on-the-head, guitar-pyrotechnics-on-steroids romp through hair-metal heaven were turned off by the slightly proggy experimentation taken up here in earnest.
Here's the deal
This is one of the best kept secrets of its time. Out of phase with grunge, too adventurous for casual fans and considered as candy-assed by funk-metal maniacs, III Sides to Every Story failed to find the success of their previous release.
All that can be said is to give this one a second chance. It is truly a rare gem in their discography and deserves to be heard.