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Old 07-28-2011, 12:44 PM   #101 (permalink)
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Yes, it's time once more to fly the flag for Irish rock. And you thought I'd forgotten, didn't you? Well, there are several acts I have lined up to be reviewed over the coming months, but there's no point in putting them all out at once. So here's the next in the series, a little-known Irish band who really should (like a lot of Irish bands, it seems) have achieved better success than they did.

The long acre --- In Tua Nua --- 1988 (Virgin)


Another great Irish band that you've probably never heard of, In Tua Nua (literally, in Irish, “A new people”) released their third album overall, second since signing to Virgin, in 1988. “The long acre” is a mixture of rock, pop, Irish trad with some nice ballads in there too. It kicks off with guitar, heavy bass and violins all behind a steady drumbeat, as uileann pipes join in and the first track, “Woman on fire” gets going. The vocals of Lesley Dowdall are strong and impassioned, and the song rattles along at a great lick, Jack Dublin's jangly guitar forms the backbone of the piece, aided by sweet violin provided by Lovely Previn --- yeah, that's her name, and she's the daugher of world-renowned conductor Andre. Things stay at a good pace for “All I wanted”, the violins taking over a little from the guitar, and it's a great poppy/commercial song, which was actually released as one of the three singles from the album.

Things slow down a little then for “Wheel of evil”, and even more for the soft and tender “Meeting of the waters”, and its message of hope: ”When I return we will be wed/ At the meeting of the waters.” Some really nice acoustic guitar here, and Lovely gets to make that violin cry, with additional whistles and pipes from Brian O'Brian. It's a very short song, and precedes the best track on the album, and at five and a half minutes, the longest. “The innocent and the honest ones” starts off slow with uileann pipes and guitar, with some precision drumming from Paul Byrne, and gets more intense as Lesley rails at the Church for its repressive regime, and for twisting the teachings of God: ”You gave us sexuality/ Desire is no sin/ You gave out common sense/ But not in a catechism.” For an Irish band, in the eighties, this is a brave and risky attack on the most powerful institution in Ireland. ”I've learned to hate the holy hold on civil freedoms/ Rabble-rousing religious salesmen/ Self-denying catholic virgins/ The papal bull for useless reasons/ The holy wars against women/ Sacred vows against treason.” It's a very powerful and moving song, and builds to a crescendo that's hard to ignore, or forget.

After that, it's hard to imagine anything being as good on the album, and generally speaking, you'd be right. “World wired up”, while a good fast rocker warning about the dangers to the world, is no follow-up, and despite the anger in Lesley's voice, it's not as cutting or as sincere as she displays in the song she just sang, perhaps In Tua Nua's best ever. “Some things never change” is pure radio-friendly celtic rock, while “Don't fear me now” raises the bar a bit, with its acapella opening and great catchy melody, not to mention Lesley's tempting offer ”I'm too tired to talk right now/ But if you wish it I will kiss you once more.” Eh, yes please!

It's only as the album approaches a close that the songs begin to hold a candle to “The innocent and the honest ones”, with “Emotional barrier” a great, soulful ballad carried on some very gentle percussion, a showcase for the raw power of Lesley's vocals. The song has minimal instrumentation, with guitar, bass and violin there, but very much in the background. The title track then is a real “power-jig”, for want of antoher word: a very Irish, traditional song recounting the emigration from Ireland that has been a constant bugbear for us, down through our history, and persists even today. For the only time on the album the vocals are not delivered by Lesley, but are taken on by Martin Clancy, with Lesley providing backing vocals along with Lovely Previn. Some great uileann piping on this too.

The album finishes on “Sweet lost soul”, perhaps the fastest on the record, and really allowing Lovely to push herself on the violin, as she plays like some demented fiddler. Lesley's back on vocals to close out the album, and gives it everything she has. It's a great finale to a really great album.

Sadly, In Tua Nua are no more, one of those bands who flourished for a few years, never quite made it as big as they would have hoped to, and split to pursue different paths. Who knows what they would have come up with, had they achieved the success they should rightly have, but this album will forever stand as one of the very best Irish rock has produced. Give it a listen and see if you disagree.

TRACKLISTING

1. Woman on fire
2. All I wanted
3. Wheel of evil
4. Meeting of the waters
5. The innocent and the honest ones
6. World wired up
7. Some things never change
8. Don't fear me now
9. Emotional barrier
10. The long acre
11. Sweet lost soul
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Old 07-29-2011, 10:55 AM   #102 (permalink)
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Just came across this, and if you're into good prog rock you should check it out. Band are called "A thousand year dream" and don't seem to be signed yet, but this track is really great. It's called "Backwards motion". Just click on the "music" link on the page and listen, see if you're not impressed.

Music page of A Thousand Year Dream - MP3 music page on SoundClick
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Old 07-30-2011, 11:46 AM   #103 (permalink)
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Ghost opera --- Kamelot --- 2007 (SPV/Steamhammer)


Kamelot tend to get a lot of stick from people who describe them as “derivative”, “unoriginal” or just “crap”, accusations I believe are unfair and unfounded. Their releases, to me, have consistently proven that Kamelot are a force to be reckoned with, and are not going away any time soon (sorry, naysayers!), and the best thing that 2007's “Ghost opera” does is reinforce this suggestion, and place Kamelot's boots further on the road to success and longevity.

They have been going, in one form or another, since 1991, although their first album was not released until four years later. Since then, they have changed singers, keyboard players and drummers, but I believe found their feet with 1998's “Siege perilous”, their first to feature current vocalist Roy Khan, who has very much become the voice of Kamelot. Sadly, it appears Roy has left since this year's “Poetry for the poisoned”, and who will replace him is at this time unknown, but they'll have to be one hell of a vocalist to hold a candle to him.

But to the album. Known now to be the penultimate one to feature Roy Khan on vocals, it's quite a tour-de-force, beginning in laid-back style with the violin and keyboard intro called “Solitaire”, which lasts just one minute before the album revs up in proper with “Rule the world” (no, not a cover of the Westlife song!), more a keyboard-driven song than usual, sort of mid-paced and a little restrained for those who know Kamelot's usual work. Roy is in fine voice as usual, though to be honest this song doesn't allow him to shine as he normally does. All that changes for the title track though.

THIS is more like the Kamelot I know and love! Roy's impassioned vocal soars above Thomas Youngblood's familiar screeching guitar, at last given its head, while drummer Casey Grillo pounds the skins like there's no tomorrow. The keys of Oliver Palotoi , this his first outing with Kamelot, are still strongly in evidence, but somewhat forced to take a backseat to Youngblood's guitar histrionics, including one of those great solos we've come to know him for. The speed of the track is more classic Kamelot too, ie breakneck! Always keeping a hold on proper melody, Kamelot nevertheless manage often to play as fast as the fastest thrash metal band you can name.

“The human stain” is very much guitar-driven, albeit with some really nice piano lines here and there, and the catchy melodies Kamelot are known for. ”Don't you wish you were a child again?” Roy sings, ”Just for a minute?” “Blucher” is a strange track, not only because I don't know what the title means, or refers to, but it also features some vocoder work, similar to that employed by Savatage on “Complaint in the system” from “The wake of Magellan”, reviewed earlier here. Its melody comes somewhere close to “Across the highlands”, in places, from 2001's “Karma”. Great guitar work from Youngblood here, and some nice sequenced recordings. Weird little piece though.

Unusually for a Kamelot album, every track here is short, only one over five minutes, and this is next, the semi-ballad “Love you to death”, with some really nice orchestration and backing vocals from Amanda Somerville, Thomas Rettke, Robert Hunecke-Rizzo and Cinzia Rizzo, collectively known as “The Ghost Opera Choir”. Some sparse acoustic guitar and violin underscore this song, before Youngblood sets off on another solo. “Mourning star” is a real Kamelot rocker, starting off on gentle piano with accompanying chants from the Ghost Opera Choir, then becoming a real vehicle for Youngblood's guitar as it bops along at a great lick, with tremendous female backing vocals from Amanda Somerville. “Silence of the darkness” speeds everything up again, recalling the best from “The black halo” and “Karma”, and featuring a great keyboard solo from Oliver Palotoi, to take us up to the only proper ballad, “Anthem”, which truly showcases Roy Khan's mellifluous voice melding with the gentle piano melody and string section to produce a thing of real beauty which comes close to the opening part of “Memento mori” from “The black halo”. Some lovely uileann-pipes lend the composition a really celtic feel, adding to the atmosphere of the song, which apparently Roy wrote to welcome his soon-to-be-newborn baby son into the world.

Closer “Eden echo” is something of a jolt after the pure, breathless beauty of “Anthem”, and I personally feel it was a bad move. I think “Anthem” would have closed the album much more effectively, but there it is.

I believe “Ghost opera” proves Kamelot have more than one string to their bow, and shows us the band at their very best, creatively and musically. The orchestration, the choir, the whole feel of the album is polished, professional and powerful. This album shows Kamelot standing out on their own, as part of a small, select group of musicians who are not content to remain in the conceptual box they have been placed in, whether by fans, critics or even they themselves. The future can only hold good things for this band.

TRACKLISTING

1. Solitaire
2. Rule the world
3. Ghost opera
4. The human stain
5. Blucher
6. Love you to death
7. Up through the ashes
8. Mourning star
9. Silence of the darkness
10. Anthem
11. Eden echo

Suggested further listening: “Karma”, “Siege perilous”, “The fourth legacy”, “The black halo”, “Epica”, “Poetry for the poisoned”. Beware though of “Eternity” and “Dominion”, as they have a different vocalist and come across as quite different albums to those listed here.
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Old 07-30-2011, 11:47 AM   #104 (permalink)
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The Virgin Suicides (Original Motion Picture score) --- Air --- 2000 (Astralwerks)


Never thought I'd be into a band like Air. Jazz/electronic/ambient? Not normally my cup of tea, mate. But after hearing “Playground love” I just had to hear more. Now admittedly this album is a film score, but all the music on it is by Air, their own compositions, so I still consider it to be a “proper” album. There's no doubting the laid-back joy of the aforementioned “Playground love”, which opens the album, with its breathy keyboards and lazy sax, understated vocals and just general air of feelgood, nor second and much shorter track “Clouds up”, which is an instrumental, basically carried on growling guitar and synth, only a minute and a half long, nor indeed “Bathroom girl”, another instrumental which starts off with church-like organ and rides along on a wave of digital piano and guitar. But it's “Dark messages” which really ups the ante, providing a skewed anthem worthy of the most eccentric of Tom Waits' compositions, and making you feel just a little on edge...
(Unfortunately, EMI seem to have blocked most of the content from this album on YT, so this will have to suffice. Sorry.)
The album, as might be expected, is almost all instrumentals, bar the opener, and parts of the final track, and it's all very ambient music, which I have to admit I find a little hard to review (so why am I reviewing it? Cos I like it. Didn't stop me reviewing Vangelis' “Oceanic”, now did it?), but very impressive. “The word hurricane” features a spoken explanation of how a hurricane occurs, halfway through the track, which then goes a little crazy with mad piano and bashing drums to the end. Weird, with a capital W. Then we're on to the longest track on the album, over six minutes of music which goes under the title of “Dirty trip”, with a nice funky bassline and those churchy organs again. Nice hi-hats and tom-toms add to the feel of the piece, with some sort of weird growling sound, presumably made on a synthesiser or guitar and some cool reverb. I would say that for music of this nature six minutes seems a little long, and the track sounds and feels overstretched: maybe three or four minutes would have been better, as it really doesn't change much throughout.

Much better is “Highschool lover (theme from “The Virgin Suicides”)”, sounding like a throwback to seventies-era Supertramp, before it becomes an instrumental interpretation of “Playground love”, mostly on piano and synth, which works very well. “Afternoon sister” is introduced on acoustic guitar, which breaks the constant keyboard music up nicely, even if those organs are back again, with violins that no doubt were produced on a synthesiser keyboard. “Ghost song” comes in on haunting harpsichord and organ, suddenly joined halfway through by angry electric guitar (though to hear the way it's played, it could be the synth again, or one of those hand-held synth-guitars that were popular for a short time in the eighties). “Empty house” gives a great impression of panic, over keyboard arpeggios and organ backing with drum-machine sounding like a heartbeat.

“Dead bodies”, meanwhile, kicks up the tempo in no uncertain fashion, great piano playing and a real boppy rhythm forcing the toes to tap, with some nice choral synth about halfway in taking over from the piano. Some pretty cool bass work too. The album ends on “Suicide underground”, which opens with a spoken announcement concerning the reasons people commit suicide, then slips into a nice laidback synthy score while the voice continues to speak. I guess it helps if you've seen the movie. I haven't.

As I said, reviewing a film score is not easy. There are no lyrics to talk of, no real themes in the songs and add to that the problem that if you aren't familiar with the film being scored, you may miss out on some important points the music tries to make. Nevertheless, I like this album, and it certainly makes me want to hear more of Air's work. At worst though, like most scores, this is a good album to put on if you want to lie back, turn out the lights and close your eyes and just relax. Maybe leave out the last track though, as the voiceover is likely to spoil your relaxation and your enjoyment of the music.

TRACKLISTING

1. Playground love
2. Clouds up
3. Bathroom girl
4. Cemetary party
5. Dark messages
6. The word 'hurricane'
7. Dirty trip
8. Highschool lover (Theme from “The Virgin Suicides”)
9. Afternoon sister
10. Ghost song
11. Empty house
12. Dead bodies
13. Suicide underground
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Old 07-30-2011, 05:38 PM   #105 (permalink)
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You guys may not (will not) know this, but I used to work for a very local radio station, here in Dublin, and part of my weekly four-hour show was devoted to love songs, which I called The Tunnel of Love. I don't do radio work anymore, but in an effort to share some of the songs I consider the finest slow songs ever written, I'm sort of resurrecting that show. This part of my journal will be written in the style of that radio show (without the obligatory ads!), and will feature some of my favourite ballads, love songs, soppy songs, call them what you will, they're the songs you put on when you want to chill out and relax, or bring down the lights, if ya gets my meanings.... heh heh.

I'll be posting the songs that mean most to me, or that I just really like, and talking a little about each. They'll be posted in batches of seven (why? Cos it's my lucky number!) and unlike my other stuff will not be uploaded, as they'll all be here in YouTube form. Some may have cropped up in previous album reviews or other posts. I don't know if this “faux radio” format will be popular or not, successful or no, as I've never tried it before, but hey, it's different. If you don't think it works, if it comes across as too narcissistic, too boring, too annoying, whatever, just let me know.

As usual, comment is invited. By all means, if there are songs that mean a lot to you that you would like featured (requests, as it were), just let me know, and if I have or can get them, I'll include them in one of the selections. I can dedicate a song to someone who means something to you, if you want, or relate a personal story you wish to share. Anyway, we'll see how it goes.

So, tuning in.....

Hey, welcome along and thanks for tuning to Trollheart's Tunnel of Love. We have some really gorgeous tunes for you, and first up is one I consider to be one of the most moving, emotional and expressive lovesongs ever written, “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. Every time I hear this I just break down. Hey, I'm only human! See if you can hold back the tears. Simple, piano-based melody by a woman with a truly soulful voice. Magnificent.


Christy Moore is a real institution in Ireland, and he's had some great songs down the decades. This, however, I consider to be by far his best, written by Jimmy McCarthy, beautiful acoustic guitar, with stunning strings. “Ride on” just takes you places other songs can't...


Let's not forget that Rod Stewart has had his share of lovely ballads, among them “First cut is the deepest” (the old Cat Stevens number) and of course “Sailing”, but this is my favourite by him, also covered by Everything But The Girl, but I prefer his version. This is “I don't want to talk about it”.


Natasha Bedingfield is not someone you'll find in my record collection, but I must admit I loved this single, “Soulmate”. It's a surprisingly mature song from someone I would normally associate, perhaps wrongly, with more or less vacuous pop songs. Mind you, I did suffer through her entire “NB” album, and I have to say this is the exception to the rule, as far as that goes. Powerful song. Give it a listen.


And keeping with the ladies, Nanci Griffith has long been a favourite of mine. This is from her album “Lone star state of mind”, a gentle little song that became a hit for her, but was written by Julie Gold. This is “From a distance”.


Neil Hannon, also known as the Divine Comedy, knows how to write great ballads, and this is from his album “A short album about love”, the excellent “Someone”.


And to wrap up this first edition of “Trollheart's Tunnel of Love”, the original and the best, a classic among classics from Harry Nilsson, the superlative “Without you”. Maria who?


That's it for the first show, as it were. Hope you enjoyed it, and as I say, any suggestions, feedback, requests for inclusion, just post and let me know. Thanks for being here, and we hope you'll tune our way again very soon.

For now, it's goodnight and peaceful thoughts....
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Old 07-31-2011, 04:24 PM   #106 (permalink)
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Count three and pray --- Berlin --- 1986 (Geffen)


Yeah, there I was, back in the heady eighties, when I had a job, a full head of hair and a fuller wallet, and not all that much to spend it on, at age 23. No girlfriend (ah, through choice, through choice!), didn't drink or smoke and no real bills to worry about, as me ma took care of all that once I gave her her allowance from my wages. Oh yes, life was good! So what to spend money on? Why, music of course! And having been to see Tom Cruise's flag-waving nonsense Top gun, and with Berlin's “Take my breath away” riding high in the charts (remember that video with herself standing on the wing of a fighter?), sure I had to check out their album!

So, another band whose name did not give any clue as to where they came from: in the same way that Europe were not Europeans, Texas were from Scotland, Asia from America and America …. well, okay, America were Americans. But Berlin were most certainly not Germans, that was for sure. They actually hail from LA, wouldya believe?

A little surprised, maybe, to find that the gooey ballad was not at all what this band were all about, I listened as the first track pounded its way out of my speakers. “Will I ever understand you” throws down the marker from the off, with thumping drums, screeching guitar and did that voice really sing on the number one hit single?. Vocalist Terri Nunn sounds much raunchier, angrier and trashier than she ever did on “Take my breath away”, with the band adding backing vocals in a very punk-type way. It's a great track though, and a good start to the album. Rockin', for sure.

It's soon abundantly clear that, despite their smoocheroonie hit, Berlin are no Air Supply. Next track, “You don't know” starts off with spacey synth and guitar, before slow drums appraoch and a really nice bassline brings the song to life. In ways, this is a ballad, but it's a powerful one, and very catchy too. The message in it though is different to that of most ballads, as Terri sings ”If I walked away and left you there/ Would you know why?” Some nice programmed sequencing adds to this track's appeal, then we're back rocking with “Like flames”, introduced on cheerful whistles and then exploding into a rock/pop masterpiece with a great hook. Excellent guitar work from Ric Olsen, with nice keyboards from Matt Reid.

One thing that quickly becomes evident about Berlin is that their music is, almost to a track, catchy and memorable, with great melodies and hooks, and Terri herself is a powerful and passionate singer, and indeed, through songs like this and “Heartstrings”, which is up next, you begin to see the raw power she has in her voice, which she was able to inject into what could have been a very limp ballad, but instead comes across as one of the true power ballads of the eighties. “Heartstrings” indeed has a sort of Duran Duran-like guitar vibe, and then it's thatsong, which let's be honest, requires no coverage from me. If you don't know, or haven't heard “Take my breath away” at least once, then you're unlikely to be reading this, as you haven't yet discovered the Internet, or even computers.

“Trash” is throwaway fun, with its feedback guitar opening and Terri doing her best Debbie Harry, and there's a sharp edge to “When love goes to war”, with some nice backing vocals, but it's not until the magnificent “Hideaway” that we truly see Berlin at their best. A tender love song, played mostly against a jangling guitar, it's Terri at her most soulful and vulnerable as she sings ”Forget the pain/ Hideaway in my arms/ Where's the shame/ Cry away, there's no harm.” The song is a great vehicle for Terri's impassioned vocal, the instumentation mostly stripped-back, except for a great guitar solo from Ric halfway through and another, better one to fade out the song to its close.

The production on the album is perfect, handled as it is between the band themselves and two mega-producers, Bob Ezrin and Giorgio Moroder, the latter of which co-wrote “Take my breath away” for Berlin. Everything is crystal clear, nothing lost in the mix, the vocals are never subsumed and the overall impression is of clean, clear, professional production, as you would expect with such heavyweights involved.

It's interesting that the only song on which Terri and Ric collaborate turns out to be one of the very best on the album. Closing the album perfectly, “Pink and velvet” is another ballad, with dramatic keyboard and heavy drums, almost nineties Genesis-like, nice piano and Ric shining as he does his best Gilmour impression, providing a gorgeous musical backdrop against which Terri sings her song of love and seduction, showing her tender side as the album comes to a triumphant close.

TRACKLISTING

1. Will I ever understand you?
2. You don't know
3. Like flames
4. Heartstrings
5. Take my breath away
6. Trash
7. When love goes to war
8. Hideaway
9. Sex me, talk me
10. Pink and velvet
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Old 07-31-2011, 04:25 PM   #107 (permalink)
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Eliminator --- ZZ Top --- 1983 (Warner)


The enduring memory of one of the surprise hits of 1983 is of girls in short, tight-fitting leather skirts, three guys in shades and a super-cool classic car. These were the elements that helped make this album, ZZ Top's eighth, their most successful ever, selling over ten million copies. The marketing campaign was spot-on, and worked like a dream, as who otherwise would have wanted to hear songs sung by a Texas blues band? But those videos! Oh yes, they got the attention without question. And when we had all calmed down and had a cold shower, though the videos stayed in our heads so did the music. And it is of course the music that we're concerned with.

I'm as guilty as anyone of knowing no ZZ material prior to --- or even after --- “Eliminator”. I had heard of them, but only vaguely, mostly while leafing through the record bin in my local record shops and seeing the dusty cover of “Tejas” and “Tres hombres”, and moving right on. But this album marked a huge shift in ZZ's musical direction. Whereas previous albums had been low-key, blues and rock efforts that garnered little interest outside of their own fanbase, the one prior to this, “El loco”, had introduced the use of synthesisers and was a lot “poppier” and more accessible than past efforts, rewarding the band with decent sales (about half a million worldwide). So when they came to record “Eliminator”, it was commercial, catchy songs all the way, and it was a formula that absolutely worked.

Kicking off with the super-hit “Gimme all your lovin'”, you can't really listen to this without seeing the video in your mind's eye, but even apart from that it's a great song, with great guitar from Billy Gibbons, thumping drums courtesy of Frank Beard (the only one without a beard, incidentally!) and the chugging bass of Dusty Hill. It's toe-tapping, instantly catchy and spelled HIT all over. Which it was. “Got me under pressure” is faster, with some great guitar and the feel of a very tight band who know exactly what the others are doing, and want. “Sharp-dressed man” is another hit single, that familiar drumbeat carrying the song, and an excellent guitar solo from Gibbons at the end.

It's not till we get to the first slow track that we see ZZ Top in their natural element, with “I need you tonight” a blues masterpiece, squealing guitar and chugging bass under Billy Gibbons' growling voice as he sings ”It's three o'clock in the morning/ And the rain begin to fall/ I know what I'm needing/ But I don't have it at all.” A blues booty-call, the song is dirty, grinding and terrific. Some of Gibbons' best guitar work on the album is in evidence here, and it's a pity in a way that a song like this sort of got overlooked by the more upbeat singles that people always remember this album for, as it's a real piece de resistance. Too long to be a single (over six minutes) and to have cut it down would have been a crime, but even so, the standout track on the album in my view.

Sometimes it's hard to review an album that's so well known. You've heard all the hits. You know that “Gimme all your lovin'” is a rock classic. You don't need me to tell you that “Legs” is ZZ at their most electronic, but there are other good tracks on this album, some almost as good as those which got selected to be released as singles. “I got the six” is pure heads-down boogie rock, with its cheeky and irreverent ”I got the six/ Gimme your nine!”., while “If I could only flag her down” is just a rockin' good time. In between, there's the somewhat neglected “TV dinners”, (even though it was a single, it's not one people remember, in my experience) with its grinding, dirty guitars and truckfuls of innuendos.
Man, you feel like having a shower when it's all over! Or a smoke...

“Dirty dog” is galloping rock at its best, with no points scored with the feminist movement, with lines like ”You're just a dog/ A scummy dog!” The drumming on this track is excellent, and another fine Billy Gibbons solo too. Apart from “I need you tonight” and “TV dinners”, this album is a heads-down, nonstop charge to the finish, and sure you'd expect nothing less from an album whose cover features one mean-lookin' classic souped-up Ford Coupe comin' at ya like the Devil himself is at the wheel!

“Eliminator” will forever be known for those three singles, and ZZ will always be, for the majority, those three guys in beards and shades (despite Frank not having a beard: how the human brain can fill in these details to suit itself!), with twirling Ibanez guitars and that mega-cool car. But though it's fair enough that this should be the case --- the singles were fantastic, and did open up ZZ's music to a whole new audience, if only temporarily --- the album is so much more, and deserves more than just to be the vehicle (ahem!) that carries the three hit singles. Go on, give it another chance, you know you want to! Here's the key, climb on in, and beware of brunettes in leather miniskirts.

Or not...

TRACKLISTING

1. Gimme all your lovin'
2. Got me under pressure
3. Sharp dressed man
4. I need you tonight
5. I got the six
6. Legs
7. Thug
8. TV dinners
9. Dirty dog
10. If I could only flag her down
11. Bad girl


Suggested further listening: ZZ's music prior to “Eliminator” was MUCH different to what you would expect, listening to that album, but I believe “Afterburner” followed a little in its steps. Other than that, I don't know as I haven't heard any previous ZZ albums.
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Old 08-01-2011, 10:55 AM   #108 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Monday, August 1 2011
As promised some time ago, here is where I will be choosing one single track at random, via the shuffle feature on my media player, and reviewing it. It may be from an album, it may be a single, a hit, a one-hit-wonder. It may be something totally unknown, a live track or a bonus track, or something I may not even have heard myself. I'll be telling you why I like, or don't like it, and possibly a little about the album it comes from, assuming that's the case. It's Dame Chance in control again, so here we go...


Safeguard to Paradise --- Epica --- from The Divine Conspiracy on Nuclear Blast


As it happens, this is one I haven't heard. I've listened to Epica's “Consign to oblivion”, and very much enjoyed it, but this album is new to me. One of the many hundreds, perhaps even thousands waiting on my hard disk to be heard. So, let's give it a whirl, eh?



Starting off with a nice piano and keyboard melody, it sounds like it may be one of the slower songs on the album. The divine voice of Simone Simons comes through then, behind lovely strings and piano, no percussion as yet. The song is, apparently, concerned with the methods used to convince young Islamic men and women to become suicide bombers, so controversial at the very least. Beautiful strings counterpoint the dark subject matter as Simone sings ”It's the truth between his cunning lies/That hands him his suspicious alibis/ Persuading with your forms will never be/ The way to our destiny.”

With a subject like this, first of all bravo to Epica for tackling it, and also for not necessarily slanting it either way, but a lot of bands would have gone the hard-rockin', shouting way to make such a point. Epica, known for their dramatic heavy progressive metal, decide to take an entirely different tack, and create a gentle, haunting ballad that somehow hits home harder with its light piano runs and gentle strings than a battery of shredding guitars and pounding drums would, and it's quite a miniature masterpiece they've come up with here.

The power is also in the lyric, as in the closing lines: ”Many virgins wait for him to come/ Persuading with your force will never be/ The way to our destiny.” Full marks to Coen Janssen too, on his keyboard and synth work, which sounds like a string section and is extremely effective.

So, not bad for a first selection, and one I didn't know beforehand. Let's see what tomorrow brings then, shall we?
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Old 08-02-2011, 10:45 AM   #109 (permalink)
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Trilogy --- Yngwie Malmsteen --- 1986 (Polydor)


Considered by many of his peers to be one of the best guitarists in the world, Yngwie Malmsteen's primary influence on his music is not Jimmy Page, or Eric Clapton, or even Jimi Hendrix. He's a great admirer of nineteenth century violinist Niccolo Paganini, and it's this classical influence that characterises and sets his particular brand of music apart from other rock guitarists. In fact, he has been credited with pioneeering the style of guitar playing known as “shred”, among whose proponents are counted the likes of Steve Vai, Randy Rhoads and of course Buckethead.

Starting off with “You don't remember, I'll never forget” (also the longest title on the album), it's pretty much a keyboard-driven song, with powerful vocals by Mark Boals, of Royal Hunt, Seven the Hardway AND Ring of Fire, the keys handled by Jens Johansson. There are brief flashes of the brilliance later evidenced on the album by Yngwie here, but they're sort of held in check for now.

A quick word for the cool cover: Yngwie shooting an attacking dragon with his Fender. Awesome, as they say. But back to the music, and “Liar” is a faster track, with furious drumming by Jens' brother, Anders, and some great guitar, as you might expect, from Yngwie. The classical influence is very clear here, and Boals sounds like Ronnie James Dio at his very peak. There's a lot of anger in the lyric to this song, not surprisingly with a title like that. ”You smile in my face/ When I turn around/ You stick a knife in my back/ You think you're clever/ You know you're insane/ Your lies are not white/ They are black.” Okay, so the lyric is weak, but hey, listen to that guitar!

“Queen in love” is more a crunching rocker, slower but no less heavy, and more guitar-led this time, while the real standout is “Crying”, five minutes of pure guitar Heaven from Yngwie, a slow, classical piece with sparse accompanying organ and percussion. You can just see him sitting on a chair, bathed in a blue spotlight on stage, shaking his head and making those funny/tortured/ecstatic faces guitarists do when they're really into their songs. This is where Yngwie really comes into his own and shows what he can do when let loose. Great stuff.

It's back to the shredding then for “Fury”, Anders Johansson again punching out a steamhammer beat on his skins, Yngwie playing faster than it seems human fingers can move. “Fire” gives centre stage to Jens' keyboards, and comes across as almost Foreigner AOR, quite commercial. Elements of heavier Journey in there too, circa “Frontiers”. Speeding back up then for “Magic mirror”, with the spotlight firmly back on Yngwie's shredding guitar work, and slowing right down for another cruncher in “Dark ages”, with some great keyboard work by Jens. Very much a Dio feel about this one.

And finally we're into the centrepiece, and indeed the title track. “Trilogy Suite Op. 5” is a total Malmsteen-fest, with the man absolutely working his fingers off in a seven-minute display of every facet of his considerable skill, from furiously fast shredding to delicate classical guitar-picking, to chug-along soloing, with help from Jens on keyboards and Anders on drums. But this is Yngwie's show, and he is the consummate showman, secure if not smug in his expertise, perhaps a little narcissistic, but then, with talent like his, we can allow that.

I'll be totally honest: although I really like this album, there's no doubting that the songs on it are not right up there with the best. In many cases they're mediocre at best, formulaic and trite, but behind it all shines the blinding sun of Yngwie Malmsteen's amazing skill on the guitar. Listen to it just for that and you won't be disappointed. Hey, someone's gotta do the heavy lifting, right? We can't all be genius....

TRACKLISTING

1. You don't remember, I'll never forget
2. Liar
3. Queen in love
4. Crying
5. Fury
6. Fire
7. Magic mirror
8. Dark ages
9. Trilogy Suite Op. 5

Suggested further listening: “Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra in E Minor”
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Old 08-02-2011, 10:47 AM   #110 (permalink)
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Different light --- The Bangles --- 1986 (Columbia)


Back before “girl bands” like the Spice Girls and Girls Aloud were hip, the Bangles were sisters doin' it for themselves. A girl band in the true sense of the word, the Bangles all played an instrument, and they also wrote their own material. Their second album, “Different light”, broke them wide open commercially, spawning no less than four hit singles --- one of which hit the number one spot --- and quite possibly influencing the “girl power” movement before it had even been thought of. In a world where there were not that many female performers, and less bands made up of women, the Bangles were a breath of fresh air, and in many ways a risky proposition for a label to back, but helped by the writing talent of Prince, who penned their number two hit, “Manic Monday”, it was a gamble Columbia must have been glad they took.

I was more than a little surprised to find that it's a really good album. When I bought it, I of course knew the singles (who, at that time, had not heard of “Manic Monday”, “Walk like an Egyptian” or indeed “If she knew what she wants”?), but I had no idea how good the rest of it was. There is, literally, no filler material, and just about any of the other eight tracks could have been released as singles.

It starts off with the instantly recognisable “Manic Monday”, penned by Prince under the pseudonym of “Christopher”, but everyone knew it was him. It's not that surprising: if you listen to the verses you can sing those of Prince's “1999” to them. But it was a huge hit and sent the Bangles on their way to pop stardom and repeated chart success. It's a good song, if a little simplistic, but very catchy, and more to the point, it's something we can all relate to, that feeling ”Wish it was Sunday.../ Don't have to run day” The title track is a rockier affair, strictly speaking it's called “In a different light”, and sounds to me like Simon and Garfunkel's “Hazy shade of winter”, which they ended up covering later. Great guitar work from Vicki Peterson, and of course Susannah Hoff's honey-sweet voice which would become one of the hallmarks of the late eighties.

This is certainly a guitar-oriented album. In addition to those played by Hoffs and Peterson, bassist Micheal Steele also plays guitar, and there are “additional guitars” credited on the album to Rusty Anderson and Barbara Chapman. That's a LOT of guitars! The poppy sound continues on “Walking down your street”, a happy, breezy tune which was also released as a single, with some nice keyboard touches courtesy of Mitchell Froom and David Kahne. Then we're into their biggest hit, the number one smash “Walk like an Egyptian”. Personally, although this was their most successful single, it's not one of my favourites, but it's good fun.

The songs on this album are predictably all short. There's only one over four minutes, and many under three, or just over. No epic compositions then. But that's not what the Bangles are about. It's short, snappy, singable tunes they're into, songs you remember and recognise, and that appeal to everyone; songs that play well on the radio. It's perhaps telling that of the four tracks that became hits, only one of those is even co-written by any of the Bangles. This is rather a pity, as they write some pretty good stuff, much of which got ignored on this album. “Standing in the hallway” is a keyboard-led toe-tapper that I felt for sure would have been released as a single, but never was. The keys on this give it, to me, quite a sixties feel, and following track “Return post”, the longest on the album at just under four and a half minutes, is a great little blues/boogie tune with some nice bass lines and some great vocal harmonies.

But no, it's another non-Bangles-penned effort, up next, which gets released as a single, and to be fair, “If she knew what she wants” is a great little track, and a good choice for a single, but there are others which could have done as well, but as might be expected the rockier tracks on the album were overlooked in favour of the more commercial, accessibly pop ones. Nevertheless, I see no real reason why “Let it go” was not considered, with its close vocal harmonies and steady beat, nice piano and guitar that rocks but is still within the sphere of acceptable pop. “Angels don't fall in love” rocks out nicely, while “Following”, the slowest track on the album, is almost a spoken vocal, with guitar accompaniment only to open, then synth backing, but a very stripped-down, acoustic song, and certainly the only dark song on the album, where the Bangles show they can be more than just happy popsters. A great little track, very effective, written by bassist Michael Steele, and unless I'm very wrong, sung by her too.

As I say, no filler at all, with each track on the album capable of standing on its own merits, and more than a few unreleased ones which could have been singles. It's not a guitar solo-fest, it's not brimming with keyboard arpeggios or deep, meaningful lyrics, but it's more than just a pop record. Like I said at the beginning, bands like the Bangles set the bar for the plethora of girl bands who came after, so if nothing else the likes of Destiny's Child, Girls Aloud and Atomic Kitten owe these five “gurls” a debt of thanks. Like most things though, the Bangles had their day, and after the initial euphoria of this album wore off, much like already-reviewed “Eliminator” by ZZ Top, people lost interest and though the Bangles continued recording up to their breakup in 1988, and reformed ten years later, with an album due out this year, 1986 was the year of their breakthrough, and also the apex of their career.

Like many bands classed as “one-hit wonders”, or indeed “one-album-wonders”, the Bangles are still recording today, but sadly these days it seems trends have moved on, and few, if any, care. For their time the Bangles were a spirit of the age, something new and exciting, but since the oversaturation of boy and girl bands that hit the world since the late 1990s, and with shows like the X-Factor and American Idol bringing more and more often dubious talent to the fore, it would seem that the heady days of success for these girls is over.

TRACKLISTING

1. Manic Monday
2. In a different light
3. Walking down your street
4. Walk like an Egyptian
5. Standing in the hallway
6. Return post
7. If she knew what she wants
8. Let it go
9. September gurls
10. Angels don't fall in love
11. Following
12. Not like you
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