Sound Advice

Draw The Line – Aerosmith

Posted in Aerosmith, Album Reviews by mrneil1974 on May 19, 2011

Producer: Jack Douglas

Released: December 1, 1977

Rating: **** 1/2

In the grand scheme of things, very few bands will sustain careers as long as Aerosmith. Even fewer will do so with all the original members intact. There are so many reasons why bands don’t last more than 5 years and Aerosmith has survived almost all of those pitfalls. That being said, any band who has been around for nearly 40 years will have its ups and downs. If you talk to the members of Aerosmith, this is the album where you can hear their initial success begin to crumble. It can be a hard thing to hear a band you love trash one of their own albums that you adore. Regardless, I have read countless interviews with various members of the band who count this as one of their least favorite albums because they claim this is where you can hear it all fall apart.

Do I agree? No. Perhaps some background is necessary. The album was recorded in an abandon convent outside of New York City called The Cenical. Not only was the album recorded here, but the band lived here during the recording process as well. According to everything I have read, they spent a lot of time sleeping, doing drugs and shooting guns. It was an effort to get band members out of their rooms to record their parts and the band was rarely, if ever, together during any part of the process. Drug dealers would come and go and everyone, including producer Jack Douglas, was “gacked” out of their minds. If you are familiar with the Rolling Stones, it’s not unlike what that band endured while recording Exile on Main St.

Clearly, the band was falling apart and succumbing to their many vices. Although the band was on the brink of a meltdown, I personally don’t believe this album suffered for it. In fact, the madness that had engulfed the band (and producer) may have added a certain element of wild abandon not found on the previous two albums. With Toys In The Attic, the band was focussed on making an artistic statement. Rocks saw the band embracing their success and enjoying the spoils of fame. Draw The Line seemed to be a proclamation of all their wrong doing. But damn, doesn’t it sound good. The album could have been called Snort The Line, Chop The Line or better yet, Too Many Lines.

The album opener and title track has a simple, but catchy riff, not unlike Walk This Way,  and check out Steven Tyler’s screaming fit following the guitar solo. Amazing. The next four tracks are perhaps some of the best and most underrated tunes you’ll find in the band’s catalog. I Wanna Know Why, Critical Mass, Get It Up and Bright Light Fright are easily some of my favorite Aerosmith tunes, yet I rarely hear them mentioned. Sure, the lyrical content might be coked up nonsense, but musically these are some killer songs. The arrangement on Critical Mass is remarkable enough that the listener barely notices the non-sensical lyrics. The killer guitar work on Get It Up is spectacular enough that it doesn’t seem odd when Tyler is actually singing, “Can’t get it up”. Bright Light Fright is as much a road song as it is an absolute confession of the night before. With Joe Perry handling the lead vocals and an insane horn section, this quick little number perfectly concludes the first half of the album.

Kings And Queens, nearly a full band effort in terms of writing, is as ethereal lyrically and musically as the title suggests. The Hand That Feeds might be a throw-away track, but even at that it has a pretty remarkable vocal performance from Tyler. Sight For Sore Eyes is a funk-laden little ditty with an incredibly infectious riff and a killer guitar solo. Milk Cow Blues closes out the album in classic, blues influenced Aerosmith fashion.

I think Jack Douglas deserves as much credit for this album as the band. This is truly where I think you hear his best work as a producer. The sound is so warm. Nothing recorded in the PC driven, post 2000 world sounds this good. I’ve heard that Steven Tyler wants Douglas to record the band’s next album. Based on how 2004’s Honkin’ On Bobo sounds, I can’t imagine anyone else is even being considered.

I understand why the band doesn’t like this album. It conjures up bad memories and it’s probably difficult for them to accept that anything good came out of this period. Their feelings aside, I think this album is criminally underrated. While I know Toys In The Attic and Rocks are probably better albums, it’s this one I listen to the most.

Rocks – Aerosmith

Posted in Aerosmith, Album Reviews by mrneil1974 on May 2, 2011

Producer: Jack Douglas

Released: May 1976

Rating: **** 1/2

In 1975 Aerosmith released the mega-hit, Toys In The Attic, and they became a household name. Because it was the band’s third album, they didn’t necessarily have to worry about the “sophomore jinx”, but that didn’t mean following it up would be an easy task. Up through Toys In The Attic the band’s sound had been steadily evolving. When they went in the studio to record Rocks, they wisely chose not to mess with the formula that made them famous. At the same time, they didn’t simply duplicate Toys In The Attic. There is no denying, however, that this is a sister album.

After Permanent Vacation I’d slowly started collecting the band’s back catalog. While I appreciated the band’s first two albums, I wasn’t necessarily blown away. Once I heard Toys In The Attic I was hooked and wanted to own everything the band ever recorded. The next album I picked up was Rocks and was stunned. The band had accomplished a near impossible feat. They had recorded a follow-up to Toys In The Attic that was not only as good, but possibly better. By the numbers, Toys In The Attic is a more popular album, which to some, is an indication that it is also better. A lot of Aerosmith purists, myself included, will tell you that Rocks is a better album.

Toys In The Attic is an accomplishment. A Classic Rock statement. I’m not sure I’d say it’s more artistic, but the songs have a certain quality to them. I think Rocks is all of that, but there’s also an outlaw element that makes this album a bit edgier and a little more exciting. This is most evident in the albums opening track, Back In The Saddle, and the ode to a drug deal, Rats In The Cellar. My favorite Aerosmith tune is Uncle Salty, which is found on Toys In The Attic, but there is no doubt that Last Child is a very close second. Depending on my mood, I may actually like it more. The entire band sounds amazing on this funk laden track. Speaking of musicianship, Joe Perry’s guitar solo on the aforementioned Rats In The Cellar is mind-boggling. An absolute drug induced frenzy. Not an inaccurate statement of the band’s frame of mind during this period.

Other album highlights include Sick As A Dog, Nobody’s Fault, Lick And A Promise and Home Tonight. Nobody’s Fault is an eerie tune that many including Slash and James Hetfield have cited as their favorite Aerosmith tune. Home Tonight is a stunning pseudo ballad, not unlike November Rain from Guns N’ Roses. This tune is truly one of Aerosmith’s unspoken gems that I have never heard anyone mention when discussing the band’s work.

Toys In The Attic will always be regarded as the quintessential Aerosmith album and I understand why. It’s a phenomenal commercial rock album that is very accessible. Rocks is a little less easy to digest, but I sincerely believe it’s a better album. Clearly, we’re splitting hairs here. The fact is, if you love Toys In The Attic there is no doubt in mind that you’d love Rocks as well. Like it’s predecessor, the production on Rocks is nothing short of amazing. This is undoubtedly the most exciting period in the band’s history, musically speaking. Jack Douglas accomplished what a lot of producers attempt, but often fail to do. He helped them create an incredible sound, while also capturing the band’s raw energy. I recently read an interview with Steven Tyler where he said that he was hoping Douglas would produce the band’s next album. To that, I say “Amen”.

Toys In The Attic – Aerosmith

Posted in Aerosmith, Album Reviews by mrneil1974 on May 1, 2011

Producer: Jack Douglas

Released: April 8, 1975

Rating: ****

In 1987 I was 13 years old and like many kids my age, I was quickly falling in love with Aerosmith due to their unlikely, yet extraordinary comeback album Permanent Vacation. Like a junkie, once I got that first hit I couldn’t wait for my next fix. While Permanent Vacation was an excellent album, it wasn’t enough. I quickly began collecting the band’s back catalog and this, the band’s third album, was the second that I added to my collection. Was I pleased? In a word, very.

This was the band’s second collaboration with producer Jack Douglas, but the results were much more satisfying than the band’s previous album, Get Your Wings. When I first heard Permanent Vacation I felt somewhat enlightened. Prior to this, I’d heard Run DMC’s cover of their classic tune, Walk This Way, but not much else. Because many of the bands I was currently listening to cited Boston’s Bad Boys as a major influence, I was that much more interested in exploring Aerosmith’s music. Permanent Vacation certainly had a bluesier edge than any albums the hair bands were churning out, but this was 1987. As bluesy as Permanent Vacation was, it was also very slickly produced thanks to Bruce Fairbairn. Naturally, as I began collecting the band’s older albums I was expecting more of the same of what I’d already heard.

I was blown away the first time I heard Toys In The Attic. If hearing Permanent Vacation left me feeling enlightened, after hearing Toys In The Attic, I was awakened. The bluesy sound was there, but with a much rawer energy. The frenetic album opener, Toys In The Attic literally punches you in the face. I’ve always felt that Get Your Wings failed to, well, take flight. The songs seem to drone on and on. When you first hear Toys In The Attic, it’s clear within seconds that the band raised the stakes and took their song writing to another level. The songs found on this album are a tad more concise and the arrangements are brilliant. In addition, this is the album where lead singer and front-man extraordinaire, Steven Tyler finally found his voice. That, or Jack Douglas finally figured out how to capture it in the studio. Either way, the Demon of Screamin sounds perfect.

Following the title track and album opener is perhaps my favorite Aerosmith tune of all time. Uncle Salty is one of many narrative style songs in the band’s catalog, but this one is amazing. The narrative itself is that of a young girl who is orphaned, abused and eventually turns to a life of prostitution. Only Tyler and Co. could take such seedy lyrical content and marry it with a hip swinging, boogie beat. The song is also an early example of Tyler’s unique, yet perfect sense of rhyme.

Adam’s Apple is up next, which within the context of this album is an average tune, yet I can’t imagine a band in 2011 releasing a song of this caliber. With its simple “trot up the fretboard lick”, Walk This Way is perhaps the band’s signature song. It’s hard not to like this song, but it’s also possible it suffers a bit from over exposure. Certainly not a bad thing to have your music “over enjoyed”, many band’s would count themselves lucky to have their songs celebrated for 35 years.Big Ten Inch Record is a light-hearted cover of an old R&B tune, but if you didn’t know better you’d swear Tyler penned this one himself.

The super trippy intro to Sweet Emotion gets the second half of the album started and is another one of my favorite Aerosmith tunes. I actually think this is a far better riff than Walk This Way. According to the band’s autobiography, Walk This Way, the lyrics to Sweet Emotion are about Joe Perry’s then girlfriend. Hardly flattering. The album continues on in fine fashion with the slightly ethereal No More No More and the harder driving, Round And Round. Closing out the album is one of the band’s best ballads, You See Me Crying. I’m not sure if it’s the orchestra or Tyler’s vocal performance, but there is something about this tune that most of the 90’s Aero-Supply ballads were lacking. About half-way through the song Tyler squeals out something nearly unintelligible, but stunning nonetheless, followed by a grandiose orchestral break and a spot-on perfect guitar solo.

When people speak in terms of 70’s “Classic Rock”, Aerosmith was very much a part of that scene and this is the album that catapulted them into the pantheon of rock super stardom. This is a brilliant piece of work that not only made a musical statement upon its initial release, but also sounds just as fresh over 35 years later.

Get Your Wings – Aerosmith

Posted in Aerosmith, Album Reviews by mrneil1974 on January 3, 2011

Producer: Jack Douglas

Released: March 1, 1974

Rating: ** 1/2

A little more than a year after the release of their self titled debut album, Aerosmith released their sophomore effort, Get Your Wings. It was the bands first collaboration with producer Jack Douglas, who would go on to produce the band’s next four albums. Like many people my age, I was turned on to Aerosmith during the band’s hugely successful comeback in the late 80’s. In 1987 I picked up a copy of Permanent Vacation and immediately fell in love with Boston’s Bad Boys. Many of the band’s I was listening to at the time were very vocal about their love for Aerosmith and often credited them as an influence. Permanent Vacation was reason enough for me to start collecting the band’s entire catalog of music. Thanks to classic rock radio in Chicago, I was familiar with Same Old Song And Dance and Train Kept A Rollin’. I loved these song, specifically the super catchy riff to Same Old Song And Dance, so I figured if the rest of Get Your Wings sounded this good, the album should be amazing.

While Same Old Song And Dance very much foreshadowed where the band was headed with their next three albums, it was not a good indication of how the rest of Get Your Wings sounded. Same Old Song And Dance is a lot like the hook heavy tunes that the band would seemingly pump out in the blink of an eye over the next few years. Lyrically, it also is the first of many Aerosmith songs that seemed to have a narrative quality. Aside from this tune and the band’s version of Train Kept A Rollin’ (an excellent version at that), the only other tune that I can honestly say I like is S.O.S. (Too Bad). With their debut release, the band relied heavily on their blues influences. I’ve always felt that Get Your Wings is the sound of a band struggling to find an identity. That’s not a criticism. It’s a natural part (or at least it used to be) of the evolution that a young band goes through. Far more interesting than listening to a band devolve, which of course Aerosmith would toward the end of the 70’s.

I’ve been following Aerosmith for nearly 25 years and I’ve come to conclusion that I may be in the minority when it comes to how I feel about this album. There are many diehard fans who you will tell you that this album contains several classics including Lord Of The Thighs, Seasons Of Wither and Pandora’s Box. As much as I have tried over the years, I can’t wrap my head around these songs or this album. They seem to be lacking that Aerosmith punch. I’ve always felt that the album is somewhat depressing. Not just in lyrical content, but the overall mood and sound of the album as well.

My feelings aside, I firmly believe that with a band like this, a listener should try to explore the entire catalog. Sure, I don’t enjoy the album, but I also think that it’s interesting to hear the band’s sound progress throughout their entire career. This album pretty much marks the dawn of (in my opinion) the most exciting and prolific period in Aerosmith’s career. The next three albums the band would release are amazing pieces of work. If this was part of the path that lead the band to those albums, who am I to complain?

Aerosmith – Aerosmith

Posted in Aerosmith, Album Reviews by mrneil1974 on December 30, 2010

Producer: Adrian Barber

Released: January 13, 1973

Rating: ***

Long before they evolved into “Aero-Supply”, a somewhat poppy, hit-making, ballad-machine, Aerosmith was a blues based, classic rock band. At one point, they were labeled America’s version of The Rolling Stones. Their depth exceeded their immediate influences. Sure, they were influenced by The Beatles, The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and, yes, The Rolling Stones. The fact is, they were also heavily influenced by the same Chicago blues greats that influenced Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones.

In all fairness, this album was released nearly 40 years ago and the music industry was a completely different animal than it is now. Back then, labels invested in their artists over the course of several years and multiple albums, allowing bands to cultivate a sound that would, ideally, mature. Often times, a band would hit their stride somewhere around the third or fourth album which would ultimately be referred to as their signature sound. In 2010, the music industry is in shambles, labels are broke and artists are no longer given the freedom to explore their creativity. Maybe I am being a tad harsh, but a band like Aerosmith would never happen in today’s musical landscape. Labels don’t have money to invest and therefore need to mitigate the risk involved with new acts. They can ill afford to wait four years and three albums for an artist to find their audience and maybe release an album that charts.

Back in 1973, the as yet to be nick-named Boston Bad Boys released this, their self titled debut album. Fans of Aerosmith’s more popular work probably won’t recognize the band heard here. Dream On and (possibly) Mama Kin are the only tracks that the casual fan will know. The six remaining tracks find the band dwelling, perhaps too much, on their influences, having yet to truly define their own sound. Evidence of this is that with exception of Dream On, Steven Tyler‘s voice has an odd sound not heard on any other Aerosmith album. Sounding somewhat pinched, what it’s really lacking is the confidence displayed on future albums.

Regardless, this is a “must have” album if you are going to truly explore the band’s entire career. This is the launching pad that would eventually produce hits like Sweet Emotion, Walk This Way, Dude (Look’s Like A Lady) and Love In An Elevator. While those four songs might be considered the band’s calling card, there are some (unpolished) gems to be found here. The aforementioned Mama Kin is an amazing tune that is sandwiched between the album’s two best tracks, One Way Street and Write Me. On Write Me the listener will hear hints of where Tyler would eventually take his amazing vocal performances. Also worthy is an appropriate cover of Walkin’ The Dog.

As with many debut albums of the day, production is a tad lacking and the band sounds a bit thin. The cover is a bit trippy (for my taste) and the band’s legendary logo had yet to be created. These days, bands make the bulk of their money from touring. Albums (especially from older, “nostalgia” acts) aren’t given much, if any thought at all. Often times what you’ll find is that as a band prepares to go on tour, they’ll release yet another album that rehashes their greatest hits. Almost as if they are reminding the listener what they’ll hear if they buy a concert ticket. Years ago, when this album was released, bands made money selling albums and tours were a promotional tool used to encourage people to buy the new “product” at their local record store. Because of this, bands used to release a lot more albums as means of making money. It wasn’t uncommon for a band to release an album every year followed by the accompanying tour. The result with a band like Aerosmith is an impressive catalog (both in terms of output and quality) that fans are able to enjoy, explore and delve into. As the saying goes, this is where it all began. Buckle up, the ride has just begun and there’s plenty of good stuff on the way.

Whitesnake – Whitesnake

Posted in Album Reviews, Whitesnake by mrneil1974 on November 29, 2010

Producer: Mike Stone & Keith Olsen

Released: April 7, 1987

Rating: *****

As long as music and teenagers have co-existed, every generation has embraced a style of music to call their own. Since Elvis infected the ears of every teen-ager who grew up in the 1950’s, Rock N’ Roll, or some variation of it, has been the predominant music of choice for generations of kids navigating their way through those treacherous teen years. Some might justifiably argue that since the mid 90’s Rap/Hip-Hop has been the “choice of a new generation”. Regardless, Rock N’ Roll has always been identified with the music of our youth.  As one generation ends and another begins, tastes and styles inevitably change. When viewing a generation from the rearview mirror, its music is often remembered for a handful of albums that helped define or create its sound. Not surprisingly, these are usually the genres or decades biggest selling albums. Ideally, these albums would also be the best that a genre had to offer, but this is not always the case. Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet was undoubtedly one of the biggest selling albums of my generation, but I would challenge anyone who says it’s also one of the best. Hell, I don’t even think it’s their best album.

I’ve made many claims that Hair Metal was the soundtrack of a generation which is both true and misleading. It was undoubtedly the soundtrack of my youth and many others, but there was other music to choose from in the 80’s. The beginning of the decade was dominated by New Wave and Pop. Heavy Metal was still very much an underground sensation. Bands like Motley Crue, Ratt and Twisted Sister were beginning to build a fan base, but that wouldn’t really gain momentum until the mid 80’s. Even when Hair Metal exploded, artists like U2, INXS and Madonna were experiencing enormous popularity. That being said, from about 1987 – 1989 Hair Metal seemed to be everywhere. In a genre of music that has been brutally criticized for lacking any substance, these were the pinnacle years. It was during this time that some of the genre’s most enduring albums were released including Bon Jovi’s New Jersey (this, I feel, is their best album), Def Leppard’s Hysteria, Motley Crue’s Girls, Girls, Girls and Dr. Feelgood, Guns N Roses Appetite for Destruction, Poison’s Open Up & Say Ahh! and this album, Whitesnake’s self titled 1987 release.

It’s not uncommon that a band’s self titled album is also their debut release. Such is not the case here, but one might argue that the band were debuting their new sound. For all practical purposes, “the band” is David Coverdale and plethora of musicians who have come and gone since the band’s inception in the late 70’s. The band itself was more or less a continuation of what Coverdale had started during his days fronting Deep Purple. The original Whitesnake was very much a blues based, hard rock band whose sound was very much at home in the heavy metal landscape of the late 70’s. Through the early 80’s, the band’s sound lost its bluesy feel and could best be described as straight forward hard rock. By the mid 80’s the over produced, teased sound of hair metal was taking over and outdating bands like Whitesnake.

After the 1984 release, Slide It In, the band took a bit of a break.  At some point in 1985, writing for the band’s next album had begun, but would be put on hold due to health issues that Coverdale was dealing with. David Coverdale and John Sykes wrote the album and when recording commenced in 1986, were joined in the studio by bassist Neal Murray, drummer Aynsley Dunbar and keyboardist Don Airey. Prior to the release of Slide It In, Whitesnake had secured a major record deal with Geffen. Enter A&R mastermind, John Kalodner. If you listen to Slide It In (or any of the Whitesnake albums leading up to the release of this album) and their self titled, 1987 release, it’s impossible not to notice a huge difference in the band’s sound. The sound is enormous, very polished and, well, perfect. Kalodner’s influence and excruciating attention to detail, no doubt, helped in re-creating the band’s sound.

The results speak for themselves. At just 9 songs, the album may seem a tad short. In addition, 2 of the songs (Cryin’ In The Rain and Here I Go Again) were originally released on the band’s 1982 album, Saints & Sinners, and were re-recorded for this album. Regardless, this album shines from start to finish. After the 30 second vocal intro to the album opener, Cryin’ In The Rain settles into a very sexy, sleazy groove that pretty much sets the tone for the entire album. If Cryin’ In The Rain seems a little subdued for an album opener, the raucous follow-up track, Bad Boys is sure to get your blood pumping. While the first two tracks are impressive, the third tune is not only the album’s best, but also one of my all time favorite songs. Quite honestly, I could care less if Still Of The Night is a shameless Led Zeppelin ripoff. This is better than Zeppelin. This is epic without being pompous. This is cool without being arrogant. This is the definition of sexy. Every superior Coverdale vocal is followed up by an equally impressive Sykes guitar lick. This tune oozes cool. The song is a Zeppelin ripoff. The riff, the vocal delivery and, yes, the Kashmir-esque solo all reek of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. There are so many nods to Led Zeppelin it’s hard to keep track.

Without a doubt, the album and the band are remembered primarily for the next song, Here I Go Again. The song is both a blessing and a curse. Whether they want to admit it or not, most bands want to reach as many fans with their music as they possibly can. In order to do this, it’s almost mandatory to have a song or album that transcends genres. In today’s speak, they’d call it a crossover hit. Here I Go Again is absolutely a cross-over hit. Poppy, anthemic and very inspirational. The problem is that these songs undoubtedly receive way too much airplay and suffer from overkill. I live in Chicago which is polluted with cover bands. Some good, some bad. You could probably hit a different bar every night during the week and several on Friday’s and Saturday’s and find a different cover band, playing your favorite tunes from yesteryear. As many bands as there are to find, sometimes it feels like there is just one set list. There are a few songs that almost every band plays and this is one of them. I could go the rest of my life and never hear this song again.

Lucky for me the next song and the albums 5th single, Give Me All Your Love, is another fantastically well written and perfectly produced tune. A feel-good tune that is impossible to resist. Up next is the album’s 3rd single, the super moody Is This Love. It may seem like the requisite hair metal ballad if it weren’t so perfect. Hardly a throw-away or forced tune, Is This Love is dripping with emotion. Sure, it’s also dripping with 80’s keyboards, but somehow in the context of the rest of the album it doesn’t matter.

Children of The Night is arguably the album’s heaviest track that couldn’t have come from any other era than the made for the arena, 80’s hair metal. Classic fist pumping, riff driven rock. The album finishes off in fine fashion with Straight For The Heart and Don’t Turn Away. Truth be told, these songs are okay. What solidifies this album as a classic and what helped propel the album to over 8 million in sales in the US alone is the strength of the 5 singles. These 5 songs are amazing and most bands would be lucky enough to write 5 songs of this caliber throughout their entire career, let alone for one album.

Just prior to the album’s releases, Coverdale fired the studio band and hired a stage/video band. While the new band was certainly capable, there’s no denying they looked the part in the hairiffic 80’s. Adding to the sex appeal of the videos was Coverdale’s then gal-pal, Tawny Kitaen and a couple of Jaguar’s. To say that this album was “huge” is both appropriate and understated. For about 18 months it seemed like this was the only option if you liked music. In addition, it took a band that was on life support and introduced them to a completely new fan base. It’d be easy to remember this band and album soley for Here I Go Again, because that is the way radio chose to remember them. If you grew up when I did, when this album was released, you’ll recall a few more reasons why this band and album should be remembered for more than an over played, radio ready anthem.

Tattoos & Tequila – Vince Neil

Posted in Album Reviews, Motley Crue by mrneil1974 on September 26, 2010

Producer: Jack Blades

Released: June 22, 2010

Rating: ****

I’m not sure if I am a Vince Neil fan or apologist. In light of recent events, being a Vince Neil fan almost requires that you are an apologist. He doesn’t make it easy for his fans to outwardly support him when his name frequently shows up in police blotters and TMZ headlines. While the actions of many celebrities have prevented me from supporting their careers, I’ve always been able to forgive Prince Vince. As I said, I am an apologist.

All that being said, when Mr. Wharton prepares to release a solo album, his often bad reputation rarely has an impact on its success. While Motley Crue may still be able to pack ‘em in at the arenas, it’s highly unlikely that the majority of those same ticket buyers will purchase or even know about a Vince Neil solo album. It’s not a shot at Vince, it’s just the way it is.

For Vince’s third solo studio effort, he chose to record an album of mostly cover tunes. Probably a safe decision on his part, as his last solo album of original songs, Carved In Stone, was horrendous. The album is also, supposedly, supposed to follow his autobiography of the same title. This concept isn’t a new one for Motley fans as the band’s last studio effort, 2008’s Saints of Los Angeles, was a companion to their New York Times Best Seller, The Dirt.

Cover albums have become somewhat commonplace for hair metal bands. Most of them are completely forgettable and uninspired. It’s almost like the bands put no thought or effort into making these albums. Often times, the song selection is completely obvious, which is where Vince scores points. There seems to be a certain self referential, self deprecating sense of humor about these songs. It’s hard not to laugh when you hear Vince singing songs like He’s A Whore, No Feelings and Bitch Is Back. Over the years, I have heard Vince make a number of comments that would suggest he knows exactly who he is. When you hear him sing a tune like No Feelings, it’s clear that he totally knows what his shortcomings are. It’s almost as if the song had been written about him.

Some of the album’s highlights include Nobody’s Fault, Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress and the aforementioned Bitch Is Back. Without a doubt, the album’s best track is AC/DC. I’d never heard this Sweet song before, but it’s another one that sounds as if it was written specifically for Vince. The album also contains two new songs. One, Tattoo’s & Tequila, is pretty good and the other, Another Bad Day, is okay.Vince’s rendition of Viva Las Vegas is actually the album’s only loser. Perhaps it’s the arrangement of the song I don’t care for, but the album would have been better off without it.

What’s most impressive to me is the album’s production. Jack Blades of Night Ranger fame produced probably the best sounding album I’ve heard in the last decade. What it sounds like is a classic Motley Crue album. Nikki Sixx has always been the creative genius behind Motley Crue. He’s the chief song writer and it’s always been his vision driving the band’s success. When the band recorded their last album, Saints of Los Angeles, Sixx enlisted Sixx A.M. band mate, James Michael for production duties which helped update the band’s sound. Quite honestly, I think Vince Neil might be more in tune with what Motley Crue fans would prefer to hear and I would absolutely recommend that Blades produce the band’s next album, if there is one.

Vince Neil knows his role in this world. He’s an entertainer. He’s never pretended to be anything other than that. He’s the legendary frontman from one of rock’s most notorious bands. In many ways, this is probably the most honest album he could make. For fans looking for some artistic statement, I hear that Nikki is currently writing the next Sixx A.M. album. If you’re looking for an album that will put a smile on your face, I recommend that you pick up a copy of Tattoos & Tequila.

Greatest Hits – Journey

Posted in Album Reviews, Journey by mrneil1974 on September 9, 2010

Producer: Mike Stone, Roy Thomas Baker, Geoff Workman, Kevin Elson, Kevin Shirley and Journey

Released: November 15, 1988

Rating: **** 1/2

I’m a self-proclaimed music geek. There are people who could care less who is responsible for singing their favorite songs. There are others who are apologists, blindly following their favorite artists and approving of their every move. Somewhere in the mix, there are people like me who choose, or more accurately, are burdened with dissecting everything that makes music great. People like me hate Greatest Hits and compilation style albums. By their very nature, they are not “albums”. Bands spend months, sometimes years, perfecting an album. An album is a statement. Greatest Hits packages are, typically, a labels way of cashing in on their more popular artists. And with their less popular artists, it’s a way to fulfill album commitments.

The fundamental problem with Greatest Hits packages is that none of the songs were ever intended to spend time on the same album. Ideally, a Greatest Hits album should serve as a band’s résumé. It should showcase the best that the band or artist has to offer. All too often, what you’ll find is one or two extremely popular songs packaged with album filler garbage. I offer that only a few bands and/or artists are truly worthy of releasing such a pretentious sounding album.

For me, this is the one that all Greatest Hits or Best Of albums should be measured against. This album is amazing, not only as a Greatest Hits package, but as an album unto itself. Journey isn’t just an AOR band, they are the AOR band. It’s always great to be the best at what you do, unless you’re the best at something that garners little, if any respect. AOR has often been labeled “corporate rock” which was never meant to be a compliment. Whatever the original moniker may have implied, it now describes a brand of music that is ear friendly and radio ready. Very melodic, “sing-songy” tunes that are neither capable of inspiring or offending the listener…… according to detractors.

For those of us who grew up in the mid to late 70’s through the early to mid 80’s, this music provided an amazing soundtrack to the memories of our youth. Fact is, Journey transcends all of it. They are truly bigger than the FM stations and roller rinks that they dominated. Bigger than a moment in time, even though we’re glad they can bring us back to more than a few. In an odd way, they are The Beatles for the 80’s kids. Crazy? Let’s take a look.

The album opens with a curious choice, Only The Young. Curious, yet perfect. The song defines Journey’s message….. yet, somehow they all do. With slick production, soaring vocals and an infectious guitar riff, Only The Young sets the stage for a listening experience. Up next is Don’t Stop Believin’, which has the most memorable piano riff of all time. Cover bands and karaoke bars make a living off of this song. A true classic. As many times as I have heard this 80’s anthem, I never get tired of its message. Wheel In The Sky is a haunting classic rock track, while Faithfully is the quintessential Prom Song. It’s also, possibly, the most beautifully produced song of all time.

Bringing the mood down is I’ll Be Alright Without You, but it’s impossible not to smile as Any Way You Want It evokes memories of Rodney Dangerfield and Caddyshack. Ask The Lonely is one of the albums (few) forgettable tracks, perhaps only when compared to the other phenomenal tracks before and after.

Who’s Crying Now kicks off the second half of the album and is, without a doubt, my favorite Journey song. AMAZING is what it is. Very moody, very cool and totally unforgettable. Steve Perry’s voice, coupled with an amazing chorus and background vocals help make this, and most Journey tracks, impossible to resist. Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) is one of the band’s “heavier” tunes while Lights showcases their more sentimental side. Surprisingly, the band’s most “sing-songy” tune is Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’…… this bluesy “screw you” song will make a singer out of every listener. Another unspoken gem. If Faithfully is the ultimate Prom Song than Open Arms is the ultimate (80’s) Wedding Song. Sickeningly sweet, yet stunning.

Girl Can’t Help It is a mellow, but somewhat cool track. However, the ethereal, super moody Send Her My Love is another AMAZING, completely underrated tune. The last-minute or so of this song is spectacular. The album closes with Be Good To Yourself, which is a tad dramatic, yet perfect for an album of this caliber.

The only reason this album didn’t get a 5 star rating is because of song choice. The majority of the songs on this album are amazing. There are 1 or 2 that, if I had my way, would be replaced with a few other great Journey tracks.  Songs like Anytime, Still They Ride and Stone In Love. I’ve got a lot of nerve….. this ALBUM spent nearly 15 years on the Billboard Charts, sold 15 million copies and is one of the best-selling Greatest Hits albums of all time. It is the band’s most successful album. If a Greatest Hits package is truly a band’s résumé, than Journey is the CEO of a generation.

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Long Cold Winter – Cinderella

Posted in Album Reviews, Cinderella by mrneil1974 on August 29, 2010

 

Producer: Andy Johns, Tom Keifer & Eric Brittingham

Released: May 21, 1988

Rating: **** 1/2

Some albums are good simply based on their own merits. Other albums are good because they bring you back to a certain moment in time. These albums don’t necessarily have to represent a great musical accomplishment, but they do represent, or more importantly evoke, pleasant memories. Some albums are both. For me, Long Cold Winter is one of those albums. In 1988, I was 14 years old. This album was released as school was letting out for the summer. At 14 I was no new-comer to music. Truth be told, music is a part of my earliest memories. Because both of my parents enjoy music, it’s just always “been there”. It was around this time that I really began to appreciate music and understand the elements that can help make a good song great.

I can’t recall which road trip my family took that summer, but it was a lengthy one and this album spent a lot of time in my Walkman. I devoured this album. The band’s debut effort, Night Songs, is a classic hair metal album. Two years after the release of that album hair metal had become the soundtrack for a generation. 1987 and 1988 were probably the pinnacle years for this brand of music that many of us adored, even if critics told us not to. When it came time for Cinderella to follow-up their debut album, they chose to take their sound in a different direction. Rather than sticking to the standard hair metal sound that helped them achieve success with Night Songs, they opted for more of a “classic rock” sound.

Opening the album is the amazing slide guitar intro, Bad Seamstress Blues, which leads into Fallin’ Apart At The Seams. These tracks clearly reveal a bluesier sound and at 14 years old I truly felt awakened the first time I heard these songs. 22 years later I still think these tunes sound fresh and relevant. The criminally underrated Gypsy Road was the album’s first single and first indicator that this wasn’t just going to be another forgettable hair metal album. The album’s second single was the painfully beautiful Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone). This wasn’t a run-of-the-mill, record label mandated ballad. This is a perfectly written song of love lost. From the somber sound of the piano that opens the track to the mournful guitar outro, this song perfectly captures love’s more painful side. Surely, the mainly teen audience that Tom Keifer was singing to could relate. For me, the album’s highlight is the fourth single, The Last Mile. This is absolutely a “feel-good” song, which benefits from superior production, courtesy of Andy Johns. For the last twenty plus years, I’ve quietly included this on my list of favorite songs of all time. Closing out the first half of the album is one of the weaker tracks, Second Wind. By no means is the song bad, but it doesn’t quite live up to the same greatness as the first four tracks

When the album was first released, I was blown away by the title track, Long Cold Winter, but two decades later the song sounds a bit forced. It’s a good track, but a tad less impressive than it was when I was an impressionable teen. Although the anti authority lyrics are somewhat cliché, If You Don’t Like It, with its impossible to resist chorus and killer background vocals, is another stand out track. Coming Home is an amazing road song. The tune transcends genre and is simply a great song. It’s when I hear a song like Coming Home that I have a problem with Cinderella being labeled a hair band. This is just a great tune. Fire & Ice is another track that kind of gets lost among some of the album’s stronger songs, but Take Me Back finishes the album in fine style.

Not only did the band adopt a more mature sound for Long Cold Winter, but they also toned down their image. Night Songs was all about animal print spandex, whereas the band chose to stick with jeans and leather for the follow-up album. A wise choice that suited the album’s bluesier sound very well. Long Cold Winter has been certified triple platinum and is the last Cinderella album to achieve that level of success. I gave Night Songs a 5 star rating while Long Cold Winter fell a bit short at 4 1/2. It’s odd. If you asked me what I think is the band’s best, most accomplished album, I would tell you Long Cold Winter. If you asked me which Cinderella album I listened to the most, I’d tell you Night Songs. Both albums are great and for different reasons. I think with Night Songs you have a great hair metal album, whereas with Long Cold Winter you simply have a great album. More than Night Songs, Long Cold Winter is a time capsule album that truly takes me back to a very exciting period in my life, when I was discovering and truly “hearing” music for the first time, in a way that I never had before. While it may never be that special for a lot of people, I do recommend this album to anyone who enjoys straight forward rock n’ roll.

Night Songs – Cinderella

Posted in Album Reviews, Cinderella by mrneil1974 on August 4, 2010

Producer: Andy Johns

Released: August 2, 1986

Rating: *****

As the hair metal genre grew in popularity, several “sub genres” began to emerge, or at least it seemed that way. Sometimes these sub genres seemed legitimate, while other times it seemed like there was a lot being done to inject some credibility into a style of music that fans adored, but critics detested. The truth is, like any other style of music, some bands wrote some kick ass music, while other bands were just plain awful. One of the more legitimate sub genres to emerge within hair metal was the blues based sound. Simply put, these bands probably possessed more of a classic rock sound than their glitzy, Sunset Strip counterparts. Many of them may have been encouraged to adopt the teased look of the day, or perhaps they were willing to do anything to make it. Regardless, some of them were wrongly dismissed as just another hair metal act. Probably the best example, and one of the most underrated bands from this era that I can think of is Cinderella.

One look at the album cover for Night Songs and it’s easy to understand how this band got pigeon holed. As the band appears from the purple fog, draped in animal print spandex, leather, scarves and teased hair there’s no doubt what decade or genre of music they represent. Fortunately, the band’s look, although I was and still am a big fan, wasn’t their strong suit. With an intro that includes an ominous sounding church bell and a howling wind, the tempo of Night Songs, the album opening title track is a tad slow, yet it kicks ass. The slide guitar lick that is repeated throughout the song is pretty remarkable, but the rhythm track that backs it up is amazing. If the opening track was a bit too laid back for this genre of music, the second track and first single, Shake Me, truly gets the party started. The true sign of a great band is when an otherwise simple song or concept somehow sounds spectacular. There is nothing original about Shake Me and it could never be described as amazing. Yet this song is somehow able to sound fresh every time I hear it and it is probably one of the most memorable and infectious tunes from this era.

Nobody’s Fool is the albums obligatory ballad, but at the same time is not as formulaic as most of the syrupy, by-the-numbers ballads found on every hair metal album ever made. Keifer’s vocals are extremely powerful which help elevate the song to another level. This song reminds me a lot of Bringing On The Heartbreak from Def Leppard. In many ways, both tunes are actually anti-ballads. Closing out the first half of the album are two riff heavy songs, Nothin’ For Nothin’ and Once Around The Ride. By the time the listener reaches this point in the album it becomes clear that this isn’t your typical, glitzy Sunset Strip band with run-of-the-mill party anthems. Most of the tunes have a do or die attitude and are more about survival than partying.

Hell On Wheels clobbers the listener over the head as the second half of the album gets started. Somebody Save Me is the album’s third single and another unspoken gem. The mid-section and guitar solo on this track are simply stunning. The guitar tone in the solo is beautiful.

What really solidifies this album’s status as great rather than simply average is the power of the non-singles, specifically the last three songs on the album. Often times, by the time you reach this point in an album (of any genre) the band has “blown their wad” and you find yourself skipping to the next track halfway through each song. Cinderella closes out Night Songs with three of the album’s strongest tunes. In From The Outside with its swing-style riff is impossible to resist. The harder driving Push, Push is perhaps the album’s best track. Closing the album, much like the album opener, is another curiously, mournful sounding song, Back Home Again. The song itself is pretty hard-driving, but Keifer’s vocal performance brings an entirely different emotion to the track. Back Home Again is a somewhat hopeful song about the sacrifices it takes to “make it”. Not necessarily in a band either, this song tells the struggles of anyone who has chased a dream.

If you have read my blog with any consistency you probably know that I give credit to producers as much as I give credit to the bands. Andy Johns did an incredible job producing this album and Cinderella were probably all too happy to work with a man who served as engineer on several mega-successful albums from Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. The guitars sound amazing and the album sound is thick, whereas a lot of hair metal albums are severely lacking on the bottom end. At the end of the day, a producer can only do so much and if the song writing isn’t there, nothing will save the album. Fortunately, Tom Keifer penned some exceptional songs for his band’s debut effort. The album has sold a modest 3 million copies (although, how many recent band can claim that), but true fans of the genre recognize this as one of the best.

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