Tuesday, 31 May 2011

JOURNEY - Eclipse


Although a relative late-comer to the fold, vocalist Steve Perry will always be synonymous with the classic Journey sound, having performed on all of the band’s hits and classic albums, from 1978 to 1996. After Perry’s departure, the band enlisted former Tall Stories/Tyketto frontman Steve Augeri to take over the role of vocalist. His work on 2001’s ‘Arrival’ was stellar but it did not last, with 2002’s ‘Red 13’ EP possibly being the worst thing in the Journey back catalogue to date. Augeri also appeared on the 2005 album ‘Generations’ but by then, in the UK at least, it seemed to be only the hardcore fans who were taking notice.

Augeri subsequently left Journey in 2006 and the legendary Jeff Scott Soto was hired to fill in the vacant position, a role he held until 2007 when Arnel Pineda took on the role of vocalist permanently. The resulting album (‘Revelation’, released in the same year; eventually becoming a platinum certified seller in the US) featured lots of the Journey magic which had been missing for the previous few years. However, Pineda has been accused of being a Perry clone and listening to ‘Revelation’, it’s easy to see why. The album even included a bonus disc of re-recorded classic Journey hits, with Pineda absolutely nailing the performances throughout.

Journey’s 2011 release (and second with Pineda upfront) is not ‘Revelation Part II’. For the most part, it represents Journey’s rockiest instincts; the side of Journey rarely heard on their more popular cuts. The opening number ‘City of Hope’ makes this abundantly clear as the band lay down a meaty arrangement over a brilliant ringing, circular guitar riff from guitarist Neal Schon. While heavy by Journey’s standards, it still has plenty of melody too, particularly on a harmony-fulled chorus, which despite the hard rock nature, sounds very much like a Journey chorus. Also, between the huge riffs, Deen Castronovo’s hard rock drumming and Ross Valory’s bottom end bass work, there’s still room in the mix for Jonathan Cain’s piano to cut through. At over six minutes, it’s a bit of an epic workout (as is a good proportion of this album), but nothing feels like padding. By the time Schon breaks into a guitar solo near the end, it’s a track which, frankly, rocks like a bastard. ‘Edge of the Moment’ is similarly hard edged, with some of Schon’s riffing holding a fair amount of power, but song-wise it’s not as appealing, since in places it feels a little chuggy for the sake of it. Despite this, Arnel Pineda is in particularly good voice, having found the confidence to sound like more his own man as opposed to a Steve Perry impersonator, and the chorus is another melodic high point.

‘Chain of Love’ hints at atmospherics with a piano intro, reverbed guitar sounds and a strong vocal performance, but then reverts to similar hard rock thrills as offered by the pair of opening cuts. This time though, Schon’s riff takes a slightly Eastern route with its approach, although probably more Lenny Wolf’s Kingdom Come than Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’. Journey should be commended with their ability to meld this into a full scale, harmony-driven chorus though, which sounds a little unexpected after such a pompous verse.

‘Eclipse’ may be harder than most Journey releases, but it’s not all bluster. ‘Tantra’, one of a few softer numbers, is a great showcase for Jonathan Cain’s piano style. The number begins with just voice and piano augmented by soft string sounds (in a ‘Faithfully’ style), before the rest of the band join a couple of minutes in. Schon’s guitar lines are gorgeous and the vocal harmonies are lavish, as they should be. Although most of ‘Eclipse’ doesn’t set out to emulate the older Journey numbers, this is one of a couple of numbers where they absolutely play it safe. Its predictable nature isn’t disappointing though – and it wouldn’t be a Journey album without something written in the Steve Perry vein. Also more “traditionally Journey”, ‘Anything Is Possible’ also really hits the mark, and in terms of melodic rock in its purest form, it is certainly ‘Eclipse’s stand out track. A solid drum line from Castronovo and shining piano motifs from Cain are joined by a fantastic performance from Pineda over a very much tried-and-tested, mid paced riff (the kind which usually accompanies AOR tunes called ‘Don’t Walk Away’). Schon’s guitar leads are full of vibrato-filled magic – which, in short, makes this a classic Journey number.

The semi-acoustic base of ‘She’s a Mystery’ also provides a little respite from the huge riffs, and also allows Pineda another opportunity to exercise the softer end of his range. Here, he reverts back to the kind of Steve Perry influenced performances he gave on ‘Revelation’, but with a slightly husky edge, more in keeping with Steve Augeri. This number’s simplicity is great, not even tarnished by a pre-programmed drum part; Schon proves, once again, he’s a master at all guitar styles, while Cain’s keyboard parts add a lot of atmosphere. Even here, though, Journey can’t resist lapsing back to solid hard rock riffing... The second half of the number adopts a slightly Led Zeppelin influenced riff, over which Schon breaks into a screaming solo until the track fades. Another highlight, ‘Someone’ is a bouncy pop-rock number capturing lots of the old Journey spirit. With 80s style stabbed piano and synths used in a shameless manner and Pineda in top form vocally, it would be great enough; but once Schon steps in with a sweeping solo (the kind which filled their ‘Escape’ and ‘Frontiers’ discs), this number has a sound which could convince the listener it had been left on the shelf from the band’s glory days.

Afer over an hour of surprisingly hard rock cuts, Journey offer an even fiercer closing statement. The instrumental cut ‘Venus’ opens with a few majestic guitar chords, overlaid by Cain striking some bass chords on his piano. Schon wastes no time in breaking into an overly complex solo which appears to feature more notes than expected, or perhaps even necessary, while Castronovo provides a ridiculously heavy backbone with his drum line dominated by double bass pedals. Symbolic of so much of ‘Eclipse’, this is Journey without a safety net.

‘Eclipse’ is not a great Journey album in the traditional sense. However, it is an absolutely stunning rock album in its own right. If you came looking for radio friendly songs in the vein of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’, ‘Who’s Crying Now’ and ‘Be Good To Yourself’, you won’t find too many of those here, so you’ll be much better of investigating ‘Revelation’ if you’ve not done so already. If, however, you’re a huge fan of Neal Schon’s distinctive guitar work, hard riffs and extended arrangements, ‘Eclipse’ delivers more of those elements than any Journey release for years, maybe even ever. For those still bemoaning the absence of Steve Perry, be thankful for what you’ve got here – at least musically – and if you still don’t like what Arnel Pineda represents, be thankful that Journey didn’t hire Hugo.

May 2011

Monday, 30 May 2011

DOM LIBERATI - The Good Hurt


Following on from his first two self-released discs (‘Humans’ in 2007 and the acoustic ‘Frailty EP’ in 2008), Dom Liberati’s third release takes the sounds of his previous work and tightens them considerably, while bringing in some extra punch. Combining great hooks with a commercial alt-rock edge, ‘The Good Hurt’ is an album which captivates the listener from the first listen.

The lead track ‘We Own The Night’ begins with a jangly acoustic intro before kicking in to an alternative rock arrangement which has a bouncy air. The track has a very radio friendly quality and is a mix of influences – from new wave keyboard bleeps, to alternative rock moments in the vein of Goo Goo Dolls. Liberati’s vocal style has a tunefulness which often makes him sound at ease with this guitar driven alt-rock; however, for the chorus, Liberati’s vocals aren’t quite as restrained - their carefree manner tips the hat to Kings of Leon mouthpiece Caleb Followill [all the goodwill in the world still prevents me from calling that man a singer]. The simple hook and effective use of a ‘whooah’ make it a tune which sticks in the head. As such, it starts ‘The Good Hurt’ with a strong number.

‘Love Holds It Down’ has a bigger groove, due to a prominent bass line and a crunchy riff. Again, the hook is a very strong one, but it’s from this point on, it becomes clear that although Liberati is gifted as a songwriter, it’s his arrangements which really shine. The rhythm guitars are sharp – though never outdone by the fantastic bass work – and the drum parts are quirky, occasionally in a way which would make Stewart Copeland proud. ‘Burn’ takes those Police influences and makes them as obvious as a fist in the face. It’s a number full of hi-hats and tight drumming, which alone would be enough to warrant being likened to The Police in places, but once the track weaves its way around a fantastic bass line that’s more than reminiscent of ‘Driven To Tears’, those influences and comparisons become so, so unavoidable. Frankly, though, as far as influences go, Liberati could do far worse! The chorus brings an upbeat, jangly guitar riff, over which Liberati’s vocals are hard sounding without being aggressive.

‘Next To You’ offers something softer, with acoustic vibes overlaid with subtle electric leads. Liberati’s hushed tones have a slight Americana leaning against an atmospheric arrangement. The electric guitars and drums have a great amount of reverb and the electric piano compliments them well. The hushed vocal tones are at the other end of the scale to Dom’s louder performances on ‘We Own The Night’, but this change sits rather well among the rockier numbers. ‘Lookin’ Around’ comes with a similar laid-back quality, here capturing Liberati in a mood which would suit the under-rated Pete Droge. It’s a number which rarely breaks from an easy groove, with both Liberati’s under-stated vocal and a slide guitar solo providing the high points.

‘Won’t Let You Down’ is a mid-paced number full of staccato rhythms on the verses, which settle into fairly generic chiming guitars on the chorus. The musical approach lends itself to another Kings of Leon comparison. It’s safe, stadium rock approach makes it one of ‘The Good Hurt’s more predictable numbers, but even then, a ringing lead guitar part towards the track’s end and a rumbling bass provide some appeal on a number absolutely designed for radio. For ‘Meltdown’ a greater focus is put up on the drums with their pounding approach; over the drums, the guitars have a simple, yet fairly dominant twang. Vocally, Liberati keeps things restrained and manages not to slip into those Kings of Leon-isms on the louder moments, often being joined by a blanket of backing voices. The uber-dominant bass returns for ‘The Solution’, a number which features a great vocal, a better chorus and even better bassline, as Liberati offers something which mixes the sound of 21st century alt-rock with the quirks of late 80s hi-tech rock in the vein of Baxter Robertson (specifically the backing vocals) and ‘Power Windows’ era Rush (there’s more than a hint of Geddy Lee’s bass style throughout).

With no duff tracks and nothing which could especially be called filler material, ‘The Good Hurt’ is a very accomplished release; one which showcases a brave mix of styles without ever becoming overly flashy or outlandish. Although it plays host to plenty of top notch songs, it’s often the level of musicianship – particularly those busy basslines – which makes ‘The Good Hurt’ so good. A highly recommended listen.

May 2011

Friday, 27 May 2011

EDDIE VEDDER - Ukulele Songs


Post ‘Yield’, Pearl Jam’s career seemed to go more than a bit wobbly. Their sixth and seventh albums (2000’s ‘Binaural’ and 2002’s ‘Riot Act’) were largely sub-standard. 2006’s self-titled offering offered some improvement, even scoring a US #1 single, but even so, Pearl Jam’s best days seemed long gone. 2009’s ‘Backspacer’ represented an unexpected return to form, quite possibly their most cohesive work since 1994’s ‘Vitalogy’.

It’s surprising that in all the years of being Pearl Jam’s frontman (and instantly recognisable voice) it took Eddie Vedder so long to record his first full solo album. That honour went to the soundtrack for the 2007 movie ‘Into The Wild’ (although Vedder was no stranger to soundtracks by that point, having already contributed recordings to the soundtracks for ‘I Am Sam’ (solo) and ‘Dead Man Walking’ (two recordings with Nasrat Fateh Ali Khan). This, Vedder’s first non-soundtrack work, still sounds like it ought to accompany a movie. ‘Ukulele Songs’ does exactly what it says on the tin: a bunch of recordings featuring Edward Louis Severson III and his uke. It offers sixteen pieces of music – some original compositions, some covers – with the Vedder-penned numbers, supposedly written between 2001 and 2011.

A re-recording of the 2002’s Pearl Jam track ‘Can’t Keep’ opens the disc, where after a muted strings intro Vedder busily hammers at his ukulele. His vocal has a strong delivery in places, but the stripped back nature of the arrangement painfully highlights his limitations as his vocal wobbles off-key in various places, particularly during the longer notes. It sort of works on the ukulele, but then it was supposedly on the uke that Vedder wrote his original demo of the number way back when. With the token gesture to Vedder’s rock career out of the way, ‘Sleeping By Myself’ brings a folk vibe, with a vocal much softer around its edges and the ukulele similarly toned down. Although the idea of Vedder + uke may seem like a mere quirk, this has a campfire charm and wonderfully intimate nature. Similarly, the gentle ‘Without You’ features Vedder’s best vocal, with more bass end than some of the other tracks, but essentially capturing the brilliant softer sounds of his range, in a recording which could stand alongside Pearl Jam’s ‘Better Man’ in terms of vocal greatness. Elsewhere, the ringing tones of ‘You’re True’ (a number which, although fine, would be even better with a mandolin included too) and relatively sparse ‘Light Today’ provide enjoyment, if not a lot of variety.

While some of Vedder’s self penned tunes have a one-take DIY charm, it’s a couple of cover tunes which perhaps leave the strongest impression. ‘Sleepless Nights’ (best known in versions by The Everly Brothers and Gram Parsons with Emmylou Harris) finds Vedder joined by The Frames’ Glen Hansard. With that second harmony voice, Vedder sounds more natural, and although his voice is louder - more distinctive than Hansard’s - the two performers sound good together. Cat Power guests on a version of the 1920’s song ‘Tonight You Belong To Me’ (possibly best loved in its 1979 rendition by Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters from The Jerk), and as expected, with Vedder providing the lower registers and slightly mumbly delivery and Cat delivering a distinctive female counter melody (with their male/female parts in reverse of Martin & Peters), it’s schmaltzy simplicity is lovely. He really pushes his luck a little far on an empty rendition of The Mamas and Papas ‘Dream a Little Dream’, though, where the baritone vocal is almost inaudible.

‘Ukulele Songs’ certainly adheres to that old saying that a solo work should be markedly different from a performer’s “day job”. The album is enjoyable in places, though its sparse qualities understandably show up Vedder’s occasional vocal raggedness. Also, the fairly uniform nature of the material means ‘Ukulele Songs’ doesn’t always sound like it was designed to be heard in one sitting; even with the relatively short running time of 35 minutes it can feel a little one paced. Even so, there are a few great tracks to be cherry-picked.

May 2011

Thursday, 26 May 2011



Bowery Beasts have been hyped as the best band to come out of Los Angeles for years. Former Sex Pistols man Steve Jones has been very vocal about them. Their ‘Heavy You’ EP is a fairly intense mix of alternative rock sounds, which initially isn’t so easy to grasp.

‘He Was Your First Tattoo’ works around a groove-led drum rhythm, which at first makes the listener think we’re headed for garage rock territory. However, those drums are a bit of red herring, as once the chorus rolls around, the band have settled into a mid-paced alt-rock groove. The drums retain a great live sound throughout. In places, the rhythm guitars jangle from the right speaker, at the bottom of the mix overlaid by a whole world of other guitar parts. Marion Belle’s vocals fuse elements of alternative 90s rock and 1970 rock star wailing in such a way that gives Bowery Beasts a proper edginess. It’s a number which requires a few spins for it to reveal all of its many layers, but after a while, Bowery Beasts’ style seems to work...even though at times you might try and convince yourself it shouldn’t.

After a brief intro of feedback, ‘White Diamond Babe’ provides jangly guitar rock in a fairly predictable fashion. The most striking feature is another rock solid drum part until the chorus where Belle pushes his vocal to extremes, at times hitting a piercing banshee wail. Among the more ordinary indie-rock elements, there’s a moment which appears a little darker with fuzzy sampled voices and reverb. Underneath the layers of guitar, there are hints of a great bass line. The upbeat ‘Young Rockers’ shows Bowery Beasts at their most accessible – at least in terms of radio friendliness – with a strong hook, more restrained vocal and multilayered guitars. It’s the EP’s most sing-along offering, certainly, but it’s relatively safe approach means it’s not always as distinctive as Bowery Beasts are capable of being.

‘Amulet’ provides a change in mood, with plenty of acoustics overlaid by ringing electric guitar, The vocals harmonise for a huge part of the number, which uses of lots of retro rock elements, both from the 90s and 70s, with a reverb filled guitar solo filling several bars towards the track’s end. Its familiarity is certainly comforting, though Belle’s shriek which cuts through a good proportion of the track will not be easy listening for everyone. The closing number, ‘Rock N Roll Queen’, continues in a mellow vibe, as acoustic guitar work is joined by sparing piano lines and the sound of flutes. Each of these elements combined create something magical. It provides a great contrast with the darker edges present on ‘White Diamond Blue’. Belle’s vocal style features moments where you’d think he was evoking the spirit of Mother Love Bone/Malfunkshun legend Andrew Wood; something which becomes really obvious when he delivers the word “honey” with almost exactly the same affectation.

‘Heavy You’ is unlikely to click with you on first hearing. It may not even click with you on the second. Some of you might not even get it at all. It may not always be easy listening (and most of it isn’t as dreamy and smooth as a few of the non-EP tracks floating around the net, ‘Jean’ in particular) but perseverance definitely pays off, since this release features some great moments.

May 2010

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

WARRANT - Rockaholic


For a lot of people, glam metal band Warrant peaked with their third album, the 1992 release ‘Dog Eat Dog’. It took Warrant’s trademark sound and toughened the edges resulting in a near perfect mix of glam and hard rock. Then frontman Jani Lane said at the time it was the first Warrant album he’d been completely happy with and as a result, he wanted “to burn their first album and re-record the second”. In many ways, those who hold up that album as the band’s peak are correct to do so, although it’s successor, 1994’s ‘Ultraphobic’ has some interesting moments - most notably the King’s X inspired ‘Followed’. From that point, Warrant’s career certainly came off the rails... ‘Belly To Belly Part 1’ attempted to recapture some of the magic delivered by ‘Ultaphobic’ but had none of the memorable hooks or charm and Warrant followed that with a re-recorded greatest hits package which is best avoided. Vocalist Jani Lane subsequently quit and Warrant were never really Warrant again.

Longtime members Jerry Dixon (bass), Steven Sweet (drums), Joey Allen (lead guitar) and Erik Turner later teamed up with Black ‘n’ Blue vocalist Jaime St James on the appropriately titled ‘Born Again’ in 2006. ‘Born Again’ was a workmanlike hard rock record, certainly not terrible, but not worthy of the Warrant name either. St James subsequently returned to Black ‘n’ Blue, while the core of Warrant enlisted the help of ex-Lynch Mob/Cry of Love vocalist Robert Mason.

The resulting album, 2011’s ‘Rockaholic’ (released in the same week as the 2011 release from Black ‘n’ Blue, possibly not coincidentally), is a decent hard rock record, much better than ‘Born Again’. The opening numbers offer solid hard rock thrills, with heavy slide guitar powering ‘Sex Ain’t Love’ and guitar tapping and classic 80s riffing making up the core of ‘Innocence Gone’, which also features a great, pumping bassline from Jerry Dixon. On the rousing ‘Show Must Go On’ and ‘Cocaine Freight Train’ Warrant get in touch with their heavier side and on the latter, particularly, they appear very spiky indeed. The riffs are big; but more impressively, on the verses, Steven Sweet’s drumming occasionally resembles something more than a little Motörhead inspired. By the time the chorus rolls around, though, things settle in to more traditional glam/hard rock, with plenty of gang vocals; on an instrumental break, a harmonica line gives things a much needed blues-rock touch.

Elsewhere, there are a couple of outstanding mid-paced rockers: ‘Life’s a Song’ showcases Robert Mason’s less squealy vocal talents (and here it becomes obvious why he’s clearly the right man for the job) and a really classy guitar solo from Joey Allen. Throw in a bunch of harmony vocals and the track is a definite winner - near classic Warrant. ‘What Love Can Do’ has a great rhythmic punch on its verses, but as always, it’s on another harmony filled chorus Warrant really shine.

No matter who’s in the line-up, a Warrant release wouldn’t be complete without a couple of huge ballads, and on ‘Rockaholic’s soft numbers, lots of Warrant’s old magic can still be heard. ‘Found Forever’ is the kind of rock ballad Warrant excelled at in the late 80s, and even in 2011 - sans Jani Lane - they prove rock balladry is possibly their greatest strength. Robert Mason’s softer vocal style appears sympathetic to the arrangement, which comes full of understated guitar chords (courstesy of Erik Turner and Joey Allen) and a nice bass line. The keyboard fleshes everything out and makes it sound bigger than it actually is, while Joey Allen’s lead solo is brief but well placed. Despite lots of decent elements, it’s the huge chorus vocals and harmonies which make it really stand out. Similarly, ‘Home’ is an archetypal Warrant ballad. With an upfront bass line and clean guitar work underpinned by a keyboard string section, this sounds like a distant cousin of the excellent ‘Heaven’ from the band’s 1989 debut ‘Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich’. This track has the spirit of Jani Lane all over it, but then, It’s written in such an old Warrant style, it’s almost impossible not to hark back when listening to it.

Throughout most of ‘Rockaholic’, the band really delivers the goods. Robert Mason fits in very well and Warrant sound like a cohesive unit once again. It may suffer from a couple of weaker tracks and a horrible album title (“-aholic” is NOT an acceptable English language suffix), but this is about as good as you’re going to get from a Lane-less Warrant.

May 2011

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

GLEN DROVER - Metalusion


Glen Drover will be best known as having been the guitarist with King Diamond and Megadeth, as well as having been a touring member of Testament. As its title suggests, Drover’s solo debut moves away from the purist metal stylings of his previous employment and into a world of metal guitar meets jazz-rock fusion. With a selection of guest performers, Drover offers five original cuts and also puts his mark on tunes by Al Di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty and the legendary Frank Zappa, often with mixed results.

The rather aggressive ‘Ground Zero’ works its main riff around some decent staccato work with a tune which is closer to jazz fusion than metal. Things soon fall apart when the lead guitar section presents itself. The main bulk of the number features furious (and often ugly) three-way showboating between Drover and his featured guests - in this case, UFO’s Vinnie Moore and sometime Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland. While guitarists may marvel at the level of metallic fretboard wankery on show from the three performers, for anyone else, it’s not always so interesting. While some guitar instrumental stuff is great, for non-musicians the best stuff is often about tunes as opposed to flashiness – and if it’s a tune you want, you won’t find it here. The second half works slightly better once the guitars settle into chorus style harmonies (overlaid by a busy piano, courtesy of Saga’s Jim Gilmour), but overall, it’s hard work. ‘Egyptian Danza’ (originally by Al Di Meola) opens with a superb, eastern sounding riff, it’s off-kilter jazz rock qualities bring out the best in Drover’s guitar style. With a slightly edgy style, Drover weaves a riff that’s jazzy in a progressive metal way, his occasional use of whammy bar adding extra interest. This would have make for an okay track alone, but the middle section is rather more interesting. With a soft, clean guitar tone, Drover plays a busier eastern sounding motif, which gets faster as it goes building excitement and a little tension. Chris Sutherland’s complex drum part alternates rock and jazz, occasionally settling for a playful shuffle. While Drover’s playing is more aggressive in places than Di Meola’s original work, the end result is great, demonstrating a clear understanding of the piece’s intended mood.

That’s more than can be said for his take on a couple of Zappa tunes. While it could be argued that it takes a very brave rock musician to take on the works of Zappa, Drover’s often metallic approach to his instrument kills both the Zappa pieces almost instantly. A minute’s worth of ‘The Purple Lagoon’ (used as an intro) takes cheeky fusion style of the original, takes one of its riffs and then hammers it into a heavy metal stupor, before Drover launches into a particularly uninspired, heavy-handed take on ‘Filthy Habits’. The dual guitar parts are ugly and the widdly-widdly (technical term) parts are even worse. It’s only by the time we get a couple of minutes in things start improving, but even then, any improvement is slight. Obviously, Zappa had a very unique style which it would’ve been wrong for Drover to attempt to copy, but one would suspect that Zappa would not necessarily approve of this jazz-rock freakout being overlaid by very metallic soloing. The keyboard laden free-form section which closes the original is reproduced here in an uninteresting manner; while Jim Gilmour is a great musician, his keyboard skills are a world away from those of George Duke. Since much of Drover’s chosen guitar tone seems far better suited to metal as opposed to jazz fusion, Jean-Luc Ponty’s ‘Don’t Let The World Pass You By’ could have easily suffered the same ham-fisted approach. However, the piece is ultimately saved by a blanket of keyboards from Gilmour and a staggering bass part courtesy of Paul Yee. Throughout most of the number, the bass lays down interesting, busy funk lines which never fall short of amazing. Even the crystal clear rhythm guitars work well within the arrangement; however, once Drover and Opeth’s Fredrik Akesson exchange showy guitar leads, it suffers the same fate as ‘Ground Zero’ in that it’s often just too much to take in. A take on Ponty’s ‘Mirage’ is preferable thanks to an easier melody, but once again, the subtleties of Ponty’s 1977 original are often lost here.

The self-penned ‘Colors of Infinity’ presents the best side of Drover’s playing. A much cleaner tone and use of vibrato lends plenty of atmospherics on a number which, in places, hints at Gary Moore’s mid-eighties work. He still has a tendency to lean towards metallic playing in places (but then, that’s his forte), but in all, the softer side presented here makes far more interesting listening. Just as you think you know how the rest of the piece will sound, Drover throws in a jazz-funk-metal refrain over the mid-section which at first throws the listener off a little; he then returns to a more standard rock arrangement where multi-tracked guitars provide some great chorus sounding work. The layers of keyboards and off-kilter rhythms driving ‘Illusions of Starlight’ are a dead ringer for Dream Theater’s softer, more accessible works; Drover appears very comfortable playing in a progressive metal style and while the sweeping notes get overtaken by showmanship on occasion, the six minute piece makes fairly smooth listening. A special mention must go to Saga’s Jim Gilmour guesting on keyboards here; he provides some great atmospheric accompaniment throughout.

In general, Drover’s metal-fusion works well on most of his own compositions; these are tunes which, naturally, are very sympathetic to his playing style. Bringing the metal aspect of his playing to numbers by Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Zappa doesn’t always seem appropriate – the heavy guitar style smothers the quirkiness which should be found within the works of two highly original composers. With that in mind, it’s hugely surprising Drover managed to capture such a good performance of Al Di Meola’s ‘Egyptian Danza’, but even so, it’s certainly one of this album’s standouts. Despite help from the aforementioned guests (plus Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis and Forbidden’s Steve Smyth), ‘Metalusion’ is a hit and miss affair, and one which may have been stronger if more of Drover’s own compositions had been included.

April 2011

Monday, 23 May 2011

KATE BUSH - Director's Cut


Kate Bush is a brilliantly talented, unique individual who has provided inspiration to thousands of musicians and singer-songwriters. She’s recorded a handful of the best tracks of the 1980s, with her 1985 album ‘The Hounds of Love’ being not far short of a masterpiece. However, such talents bring with them an artistic temperament. Her first (and so far only) greatest hits package, 1986’s ‘The Whole Story’ features a re-working of her classic ‘Wuthering Heights’, since Kate was unhappy with the already brilliant original. The ’86 version, featuring a significantly lower and more limited vocal range – isn’t a patch on the original, despite what KB herself thinks. She’s also gone on record stating how much she dislikes her earlier work. Presumably, then, this is why we’ve been denied a fully comprehensive DVD of any kind, even though her promo videos and her only filmed live show from Hammersmith ’79 have been treasured by fans for years on old VHS releases. If we take into account the never-officially released stuff like the mimed performance at the Efterling theme park for Dutch TV or the 45 minute 1979 BBC Christmas special featuring Peter Gabriel – both of which have been widely circulated over the years - that’s a world of stuff which has never seen the light on day on DVD...

After the late 80s, she was rarely seen in public and appearances on television were just as scarce. We can guess that this is because she no longer looked like the 20 year old who pranced around in leotards, an argument given some weight by the ridiculously airbrushed promotional photograph accompanying this ‘Director’s Cut’ release. Has most of Kate Bush’s career hinged on how she feels she is perceived by the public? Possibly. What’s definite though, is that her striving for perfection – to obsessively airbrush the bits of the past which make her unhappy - leaps to new heights on ‘Director’s Cut’. It’s not a best of; nor it a remix project. ‘Director’s Cut’ features a selection of songs originally released on Kate’s 1991 and 1993 albums ‘The Sensual World’ and ‘The Red Shoes’; and for better or worse, they’re re-imagined here in a way which pleases Kate - though they’re unlikely to be favoured over the original cuts by anyone else.

At first, ‘The Song of Solomon’ doesn’t appear to veer too far from the original version. The bass has a bigger role, bringing a slightly dubby quality and Kate’s vocal doesn’t appear as prominent, and then we get to the end where a new vocal line is added. Did she say ‘Whap bam boom?’ Surely some mistake...? Seems she did – and then used it as a sample. That’s a bad idea, which spoils anything which has gone before. Certainly not the strongest of openings, but ‘Lily’ is a little better. Gone are the late 80s synthetic sounding drums, they’ve been sidelined for something more natural. The production sounds a little compressed, Kate’s voice is a little lower, but the performances themselves are commendable. ‘Never Be Mine’, ‘Top of The City’ and ‘And So Is Love’ each get a dusting down which doesn’t improve the original cuts in any obvious way and as before, Kate’s vocals aren’t as powerful; even so, they’re not objectionable, just a little pointless. Thankfully, Kate has opted to keep Eric Clapton’s guitar leads from the latter intact. Since those guitar lines provided one of the original version’s best features, to replace them with something different would have been madness.

‘Deeper Understanding’, meanwhile, has been completely butchered. What would improve the atmospheric, multilayered original with its fretless bass parts? Nothing. ...But clearly, Kate’s opinion differed. She’s wrong. Maybe she should have had someone to tell her that once in a while. The keyboards are the same as before, but the bass is buried in the new inferior mix and what’s more, the track features a truckload of auto-tuned elements. Granted, the song is – at least in part – about computers, but that’s no reason to think your audience would want to hear it sang by an emotionless robot. ‘The Red Shoes’, meanwhile retains a fair amount of its original bounce, but not all of its original spark, due to a smoothing out of the 80s edges and Kate’s re-recorded vocal not quite hitting the marks of the ’91 model.

Alongside these tweaked cuts, ‘Director’s Cut’ features three tracks which have been totally re-recorded. The steamy ‘Sensual World’ (now re-titled ‘Flower of the Mountain’) reinstates words from James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ which Kate had been refused permission to use back in 1991. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but everything else about it really awful. The drums have been removed, the bass turned up and the production has a nasty, muddy sound. Kate’s vocal in a lower key really doesn’t match the dreamy performance on original cut of ‘The Sensual World’; in fact, it sounds like a warbling noise from an old lady. This is supposedly one of ‘Director’s Cut’s greatest achievements, but frankly, this has the sound of a middling demo take. If you hadn’t already lamented the fact that Kate’s voice isn’t a patch on its ‘Sensual World’ era equivalent you certainly will here. By the time she reaches the last verse, it feels like she’s barely trying to put in any effort at all. She’s absolutely deluded if she thinks this is an improvement.

The brilliantly played piano part of ‘Moments of Pleasure’ gets a slower arrangement here to the point where it’s almost unrecognisable. Again, this has a lot to do with the lower key. Kate’s vocal is okay but certainly not outstanding. The bouncy pop of ‘Rubberband Girl’ appears as an odd shuffling number combining a Rolling Stones inspired rhythmic twang with brushed drumming. A potentially good idea is made unlistenable by compressed production which makes everything sound underwater, while Kate’s vocal is understated and somewhat mumbly. It’s like listening with your fingers in your ears. A brief bass line which sounds like a stretching rubber band provides a great moment but it’s really fleeting.

We all change. Change is natural. We change as people – our personal views change, our tastes in music change. Slowly over time, everything about us changes. Kate Bush needs to accept that too and not indulge in exercises of warped revisionism. The overtly narcissistic ‘Director’s Cut’ only exists to massage Kate’s ego and to give her many sycophantic fans something to get excited about, since they don’t have anything wholly new. The past is the past, you can’t change it; you certainly shouldn’t attempt to rewrite it. The world doesn’t need the musical equivalent of plastic surgery, especially when such surgery brings little to no improvement.

‘Director’s Cut’ isn’t the work of the once brilliant and unique Kate Bush...it’s a totally misguided affair, presenting the ugliest face of vanity. If Kate wants to piss on her legacy that’s fine – after all, they’re her songs to mistreat as she wishes - but she shouldn’t expect everyone to still love her unconditionally afterwards.

May 2011

Sunday, 22 May 2011

PETER PARCEK - Pledging My Time EP

peter parcek

In 2000, Peter Parcek released his debut album ‘Evolution’, a collection of original material which interspersed with covers of tracks penned by Mose Allison and blues legend Freddie King. The album was available only at live shows and via Parcek’s website. A decade later, his follow-up album, ‘Mathematics of Love’ enjoyed proper distribution and earned him critical acclaim, including a nomination from the Blues Foundation for “best new artist debut” at the 2011 Blues Music Awards. A nomination which was well deserved, since the album was brimming with great moments - not least of all on the Parcek written ‘New Year’s Eve’ (a remixed version of a track which made its debut on ‘Evolution’) and an absolutely storming take of the Peter Green penned ‘Showbiz Blues’ (the original of which can be heard on Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 masterpiece ‘Then Play On’).

There may have been a decade between Peter Parcek’s previous two studio works, but he was quick to follow up ‘Mathematics of Love’, and given the buzz it generated in blues circles, was certainly right to do so. His 2011 EP release ‘Pledging My Time’ sees him re-imagine a few numbers penned by the legendary Bob Dylan. The spacious, emotional approach which Parcek brings to his four chosen covers sometimes changes the mood from that of Dylan’s original vision, but each one really benefits from the passion and musical skill on show here.

Opening with the mush covered ‘She Belongs To Me’, there’s a sense of something friendly and familiar. Parcek tackles the song at the same pace as the original and treats the lyric with a great respect, the words suiting his slightly husky delivery. Musically, it has a great organic, live in the studio feel. The dobro is as clear as a bell during a great solo and provides a few great slide-driven moments elsewhere, while the electric elements add a decent amount of depth. Of particular note is Nick Giammarino’s drum work, which has a simplicity which really fits the mood. ‘Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat’ gets a straight-up blues treatment, showcasing Parcek’s electric lead work – the sound of a man who’s at one with his instrument; his playing appears effortless as he straddles a fine-line between soulful and angry leads, as he is backed by fantastic live sounding drums and a B3 organ. The vocal may not retain the slightly sneering qualities of Dylan’s ‘Blonde On Blonde’ cut, but as far as blues influenced vocals are concerned, Parcek’s delivery is fine enough. For this take of ‘Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat’, it’s definitely the music which does the talking.

The lesser-known ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothing’ (featured on Dylan’s 2009 album ‘Together Through Life’) presents a voyage deeper into the blues. Dylan’s version offered a solid blues vibe, but this reworking takes things up a notch. The root of the song is essentially the same; keeping the Peter Green inspired, ‘Black Magic Woman’ style framework. Beyond that, though, the arrangement featured here is superior, dispensing with the ugly accordion and flat brass work of Dylan’s original cut. Parcek’s guitar tone has a pleasing bite which works well against Larry Vann’s B3 organ swirls. The organ lines develop into a solo which has far more presence than the one featured on the original version. While the tight-but-loose blues vibes create a great atmosphere, it’s Parcek’s lead guitar work which steals the show.

Leaving the best for last, ‘It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’ fades in with echoing guitar and a subtle drum track, giving an almost Daniel Lanois-eque spaciousness. Against a laid back drum-line, blanket of B3 and occasional reverbed guitar, Parcek’s vocal pulls the original lyric in a whole new direction; one which has a cool smoothness and an ache that’s lacking from Dylan’s straight (although still brilliant) bar-room blues approach on his original 1985 recording.

When Dylan’s songs are stripped of their unique vocal and left in the hands of lesser artists, they can sometimes feel a little ordinary, despite retaining their highly original lyrical content. Occasionally though, there are artists who’ve managed to remould Dylan’s works into something (almost) as brilliant in their own right. These versions of Dylan songs may not ever take on a life of their own in the same way as The Byrds’ ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ or Jimi Hendrix’s earth shattering reading of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ (still the greatest Dylan cover ever); however, Parcek and his band must be applauded for twisting these four Dylan songs into brilliantly atmospheric, blues edged workouts which captivate the listener. Although a great singer and musician, it’s his gift for arrangements which really provides the true heart of this EP. For listeners with an interest in blues-based music, or anyone interested in Dylan covers – hopefully both – ‘Pledging My Time’ is an essential purchase.

April 2011

Thursday, 19 May 2011

THE DEAD EXS - Resurrection


Although the garage-blues sub-genre maintained an underground presence throughout the late 80s and 90s thanks to Billy Childish and Jon Spencer’s mighty Blues Explosion, it really only reached a broader public consciousness once everyone’s favourite red and white candy striped duo, The White Stripes, broke into the mainstream.

Keeping with similar musical traditions, The Dead Ex’s debut ‘Resurrection’ pulls together the best elements of The Blues Explosion with a hint of Childish’s ramshackle attitude – and while it brings little that’s new to the musical style in question, it’s not without a few gems.

The Dead Exs’ vocalist and guitarist is David Pattillo, a New York producer of note, having worked with a number of bands including The Hold Steady, Beastie Boys, Jakob Dylan and Alanis Morissette. For his own project, however, the production values are less than shiny; this Dead Exs release was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. The fuzz-driven vibes are similar to his project The Dirty Glamour (which has a similar feel to early Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Spanish duo Idealipsticks), but in direct comparison, The Dead Exs bring the listener fewer hooks and user-friendly qualities. However, what The Dead Exs lack in hooks, they make up for with power and grit.

The subtle ‘Shut Up and Love Me’ is based around a solid groove with dominant drums. Wylie Wirth’s style has presence, but maintains a very basic style. Patillo’s vocal is strong yet heavily filtered and a one-line chorus, intercut with rather uncharacteristic ‘whoo-hoos’, tops some great, yet fairly weighty slide guitar work. It’s with the boogie-blues of ‘Come Down Easy’ that The Dead Ex’s sound at their most assured, though. Wirth settles into a fabulous shuffle (which becomes heavily reliant on cymbals in places) over which, there’s a guitar groove recalling ‘Boom Boom’ by John Lee Hooker clashing with the youthfulness of the early white rhythm and blues of the 60s – albeit with a hugely increased volume.
It’s a recording which captures the bristling energy and sweat within the studio at the time of recording and in doing so, manages to encapsulate The Dead Exs’ pure musical style.

The slow, brooding ‘Gone’ offers the flip-side of the band’s sound and while it loses a sense of fun, in its place is a musical snapshot of a duo that have really hit their stride. While the lead guitar work rarely stretches beyond a bit of rudimentary string bending and a heavy reliance on distortion pedals, there’s something enjoyable about it’s almost primal qualities - in the same way there are thrills to be had by hearing The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion careening out of control, or experiencing J Mascis throwing in out of tune solos in unpredictable places during Dinosaur Jr numbers.

‘The Angel From New Orleans’ is driven by another great shuffle. It maintains listener interest for the duration and this in turn allows Pottillo to lay down a slide guitar line which – aside from a bluesy run in places - settles for being a sheet of unsubtle slide noise. It brings nothing you won’t have already heard from similar sounding garage blues, but even so, if you’re a fan of the genre, it’s got its share of hard-time, beer-soaked thrills. If you want to experience the band at full-pelt, then ‘Trouble In Kind’ more than delivers; throughout a heavily distorted blues workout, Patillio adopts a very thrashy, almost garage-punk approach to the slide guitar whilst Wirth smashes his kit in a relentless fashion. For what it offers, you’d be hard pushed to find better.

‘Whole Lotta Nothin’, however, couldn’t be more aptly named. Over rudimentary slide work, Pattillo wails and sobs like he’s being poked repeatedly with a stick for over two minutes. Naturally, it sounds like it’s building up to something, but by the time Wirth kicks in with a proper drum part, it’s a bit late in the day. This is a great shame, since his heavy drum sound has a great presence once again; and with that comes a change in tone from Pattillo’s guitar work, leaning farther towards a bottom end-fuzz. Bringing these elements in earlier really could have saved this number. Luckily, this is swiftly followed by one of the album’s best moments... ‘Nolita Strut’ is a cocky instrumental with Pattillo’s guitar taking on a heavily treated vibe – all pedals and overdrive, which combined with the swagger, creates an infectious ditty which sounds like a studio jam by The Dead Weather. Even when The Dead Exs briefly move away from the original riff, although Wirth’s drum fills seem a little disjointed from Pattillo’s heavy-handed approach to lead guitar, they manage to keep momentum. In all, although clocking in at a brief two and a half minutes, ‘Nolita Strut’ is superb; ‘Ressurection’ is worth seeking out just to hear this number.

While the limits of their chosen genre may mean there’s not much room for variation and David Pattillo does not always summon the energy bought by early Jon Spencer performances,‘Ressurection’ manages to be a fairly consistent release. There are more than enough garage rock thrills here for listeners who have a soft spot for the Blues Explosion’s pre-‘Extra Width’ grooves and other similar sounds to to get a fairly big kick out of The Dead Exs.

Listen at the widget below. Download is available on a pay what you want basis. If you like it, send the guys a few bucks if you can.

March 2011

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

READYMADE BREAKUP - Readymade Breakup


With a solid fusion of alternative rock riffs and power pop harmonies, Readymade Breakup’s sound will undoubtedly bring to mind several bands you’ve heard before. Their first two albums (2007’s ‘Isn’t That What It’s For?’ and 2008’s ‘Alive On The Vine’) have their moments, but the third album by this New Jersey band – now down to a four piece following the departure of keyboardist Matt Jaworski - demonstrates a stronger gift for great songcraft and musicianship.

The album opens with a simple drum pattern and fairly angry rhythm guitar work. This kind of relative simplicity could have appeared lumpy, but bassist Gay Elvis plays a fairly busy bassline to flesh things out. When then the chorus kicks in. It’s not as hooky as you’d expect, but even so, Paul Rosevar’s lead vocal is very strong. By the time the harder alternative edges hit the chorus for the second time (via a bridge full of Beatle-esque harmonies), it’s obvious they may be on to something. A similar mid-pace drives ‘Just’, where the band embrace lots of great 90s sounds, but it’s the more aggressive styles of The Posies (circa ‘Amazing Disgrace’) and Ty Tabor’s short-lived Jughead project from 2002 which are among the most obvious, thanks to the collision of chunky riffs with a wall of power pop harmony vocals.

‘Waiting For You’ is the first of a few real standouts, dominated by a busy drum pattern intercut with huge guitar chords. It’s at this point Readymade Breakup really start to hit their stride; their brand of alt-rock showing hints of the lighter Foo Fighters material. ‘Unzip My Face (I Miss You)’ follows swiftly and its faster pace is very welcome. While a simple chorus brings with it a great hook, musically, it’s Gay Elvis’s rumbling bass and Spicy O’Neil’s crashy drumming style which provide the best moments. While some solid backing harmonies and an occasional piano hint at the noisy end of power pop, it’s another slice of 90s retro, alternative rock = the kind which Readymade Breakup seem to deliver so well.

After an acoustic opening, ‘Good Things’ is another upbeat number – and one which features all of Readymade Breakup’s best elements in just over three minutes. A solid electric riff compliments the acoustic rhythm, and although the full-on riffs all but dominate afterwards, the acoustic work can still be heard rounding out the sound of the quieter moments. As before, Gay Elvis’s bass playing is superbly busy throughout and O’Neil’s drumming features a couple of quirky moments. With a fantastic mix of riffs and harmonies (and a rather raucous guitar solo from Jim Fitzgerald), this is the sound of Readymade Breakup at their best. The more discerning listeners among you may hear something reminiscent of oft overlooked 90s alternative band Mother May I during the noisier sections. The album is worth checking out for this track alone.

The closing number finds Readymade Breakup leaving one of their best for last. ‘Erased’ is a mid-paced workout, full of lush harmony vocals, punctuated by occasional ringing guitar. There’s not so much of a chorus here as on some of the previous numbers, but those harmonies and a slightly more adventurous arrangement make up for that - particularly on a funky bridge section featuring Rosevar laying down some funky electric piano. The band eventually delivers some louder, more typical rock riffs before the fadeout.

After a slow start, ‘Readymade Breakup’ proves to be a very strong release indeed, tougher in places than some of Readymade Breakup’s previous outings. The fusion of alternative rock and power pop might not always be of interest to the more pop-oriented listeners among you...but for those who like alternative rock with a focus on strong song-writing and big harmonies, this is an album which could be a cult classic.

May 2011

Monday, 16 May 2011

ELIZA CARTHY - Angels & Cigarettes


Being the daughter of English folk legends Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson (and the niece of Lal and Mike Waterson), you could say that music was very much in Eliza Carthy’s blood. It would also seem natural for her career to explore avenues of traditional (and traditional sounding) English folk music. She gained great praise for her double release ‘Red:Rice’ in 1998 – the first part fusing her folk songwriting with modern drum loops and the second being stripped back, venturing down a more traditional folk route.
Her fourth album (and US debut) ‘Angels & Cigarettes’ presents Carthy at her most commercial; the songs are more in the adult singer-songwriter pop mould than usual, although her folk influences are occasionally present.

The opening number ‘Whispers of Summer’ is largely representative of this album’s shift away from folk music. Eliza’s voice is still very much in the heavily accented folk vein and her gently played fiddle may put in an appearance, but this is tempered by an unobtrusive drum loop and backing vocals whose ‘oohs’ aren’t particulary folky. A far cry from the likes of ‘The Snow It Melts The Soonest’ or the jigs and reels present on ‘Rice’, it feels like one of the album’s folkiest numbers, but it’s barely folk. It’s one of the only times Eliza gets anywhere near her trademark fiddle style and then that’s only a flourish rather than its main feature.

‘Perfect’ is lightweight pop which manages to remain charming due to Eliza’s lilting folky vocal; ‘Fuse’ makes excellent use of strings and Eliza’s voice carries much sadness. ‘Breathe’ is fantastic with its use of piano and Massive Attack style drum loop. The real star here is Barnaby Stradling whose bass playing is superb and adds much needed warmth. ‘Train Song’ is dark and brooding, where the vocals are used to create beautiful harmonies over the strings, in turn used sparingly to create atmosphere. Similarly, the bass-led ‘Whole’ works well due to being very musically understated. The end result is brilliant, but (as with a lot of ‘Angels & Cigarettes’) it’s not necessarily what some Eliza Carthy fans are looking for; it could just as easily have been a Beth Orton number. A cover of Paul Weller’s ‘Wildwood’ suits Carthy’s vocal style very well and is further proof that ‘Angels & Cigarettes’ seemed largely pre-occupied with the idea of being a cross-over album, introducing Carthy to an adult pop audience and hopefully breaking the US in the process.

If you’re not much of a fan of English folk in its purest forms but don’t mind a little creeping in, ‘Angels & Cigarettes’ offers your best entry point into Carthy’s work - and especially so, if you have a passing fancy for Kirsty MacColl or Beth Orton, for example. Eliza’s rendition of ‘Wildwood’ is worth your time alone.

[Eliza Carthy's eighth album “Neptune” is out now.]

February 2010

Saturday, 14 May 2011

“My Lovely Horse: Real Gone’s Eurovision Gold”

It’s Eurovision time again! With the 56th contest and Graham Norton’s enthusiastic commentary looming on the horizon, it seemed like a good time to celebrate Eurovision’s “unique brilliance” with a few clips. Here are Real Gone’s favourite ever moments.

In reverse order:

Odd Børre – Stress (Norway 1968)

With a brilliantly orchestrated arrangement, occasionally lapsing into sub-par Burt Bacharach-isms, this could have been superb. It’s still kind of enjoyable, though we’re not sure why...

Guildo Horn – Guildo Hat Euch Lieb (Germany 1998)

An ageing rocker treating Eurovision with the tongue-in-cheek approach it really deserves: singing a song about himself, served up with ridiculously brilliant theatrics. Of particular note are his attempts at embarrassing male members of the audience, some cowbells and an impressive leap on to a high platform in huge platform shoes. Fabulous.

Jahn Teigen – Mil Etter Mil (Norway 1978)

This is the gold standard of how not to do it. So bad, in fact, Norway scored the famous nul points for Teigen’s performance. It was the cause of their being associated with nul points for several years afterwards. Bizarrely though, Teigen was invited back to represent Norway in 1982, where he finished in 9th position.
The golden moment here is the huge wail at 1:30, which appears to be followed by similar over-the-top wailing and a cockney knees-up. Allegedly Jahn Teigen hated ‘Mil Etter Mil’ and sabotaged his own performance in protest. We’re not sure we believe him, since a clip of him singing the song during the pre-contest heats is only slightly more restrained at the end.

May 2011

Friday, 13 May 2011

THE WINDUPDEADS - Army Of Invisible Men


Already having had tunes featured on popular US TV shows ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘One Tree Hill’, Stockholm based band The Windupdeads have already been given a fair amount of exposure in media terms. They’ve also been favourably compared to Radiohead and Muse, though listening to their second full-length ‘Army of Invisible Men’ (released on OK!Good Records), this comparison would appear to be lazy journalism forced by the unnecessary need to pigeonhole the band.

Granted, Richard Olsen may have an early Thom Yorke strain to his vocal style occasionally – and thankfully, he’s not possessed by the hideous untrained wailing practiced by Muse’s Matt Bellamy – but in honesty, that’s about as far as any comparisons go. The Windupdeads lack any of the experimentalism practiced by latter-day Radiohead too (and that’s potentially a good thing) and the bulk of their music settles for a fairly safe brand of rock/pop.

The Snow Patrol/Fray-esque ‘Used Cars’ shows The Windupdeads in a good light, working a memorable chorus around a breezy drum part with lots of understated cymbal work. The verses are tuneful in a radio friendly way, all building to a mid section which features some sharp guitar work which (under layers of studio trickery) never really breaks into a full solo. ’59:1’ begins with multi-tracked vocals and new wave keyboards, and in doing so, promises a great deal. Those vocals eventually make up the bulk of a decent chorus, but the verses themselves aren’t so strong. The drums do little more than mark time and Marcus Von Boisman’s guitars are limited to rhythm work, fleshed out with swirly keyboards (interesting that keyboards would have such presence when nobody is credited for them), over which Olsen delivers a lightweight vocal. It’s a track saved by its chorus; it’s a shame they couldn’t beef up the rest of the arrangement just a little.

Undoubtedly the album’s strongest track, ‘Quiet Down’ has a great intro with multi-tracked guitars and a moody verse with Jonas Westholm’s bass upfront. Olson’s vocals are stylised at first sounding like he’s singing down a telephone, but by the time his full voice is heard, it’s easy to hear where the knee-jerk Radiohead comparisons are coming from. Olsen channels his inner Thom Yorke for a ‘Bends’-era style vocal over a subtle waltz time signature. The Windupdeads certainly sound more assured here – and it’s a style which suits them very well. ‘Blood On Her Hands’ opens with a very mechanical feel which runs through the rest of the track, with Olsen’s heavily filtered vocals taking on a very staccato quality for the verses. Things pick up for the chorus, which utilises a fairly simple hook, but overall, the end result feels somewhat empty.

‘Don’t Let Go’ features another of the album’s best choruses. The musical simplicity – effectively a stomp – gives Westholm’s bass another moment in the spotlight and although the featured guitar solo isn’t brilliant, it’s nice to actually hear one, since most of The Windupdeads’ material doesn’t really offer much in the way of instrumental breaks. The mid-paced ‘Perfection’ makes great use of keyboards in lieu of affording a full string section, before falling away to allow Olsen’s vocal to take a dominant role. By the time the chorus rolls around, he’s augmented by soft backing vocals and chiming guitars all of which have a pleasant quality.

And that’s the word which best sums up The Windupdeads: they’re pleasant. There’s nothing objectionable in what they do, but despite any comparisons to Radiohead and Muse, there’s very little that’s edgy or alternative on show. ‘Army of Invisible Men’ is the work of solid musicians delivering material that sounds like it was made for American television dramas; a band making music for an audience looking for something that gives them more of a challenge than Keane...just.

May 2011

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

THE CARS - Move Like This

the cars

‘Move To This’ may be the first new material recorded by The Cars since their forgettable swansong ‘Door To Door’ back in 1987, but after a few bars of their 2011 comeback release, it’s like they never really went away. The keyboard bleeps which cut through the main riff of the opening number ‘Blue Tip’ are unmistakably the work of Greg Hawkes and frontman Ric Ocasek’s spiky vocal style is even more distinctive. More impressively, not much of an attempt has been made to change or update The Cars’ signature sound here – ‘Blue Tip’ could have opened a Cars disc in the late 80s.

The four surviving members – Ric Ocasek (vocals/rhythm guitar), Greg Hawkes (keyboards, bass, backing vocals), David Robinson (drums) and Elliot Eason (guitar/backing vocals) sound as sharp as ever and Jacknife Lee’s production job is as lavish as either Roy Thomas Baker or Mutt Lange’s previous efforts with the band. After ‘Blue Tip’ opens with a keyboard bass augmented by jagged rhythm guitars, Hawkes chimes in with the mechanical keyboard sounds, making this sound like a number which sounds like it could be a ‘Candy-O’ leftover. To balance out the shameless new-wave elements on the verses, the chorus has a fuller sound where Elliot Easton gets to deliver a simple guitar riff. The Cars always had a knack for great hooks and ‘Blue Tip’ has a decent one, but it takes a couple of plays to sink in, since initially it’s a little overshadowed by those keyboard noises and the general excitement of a new Cars record.

‘Sad Song’ utilises handclaps and a rhythm guitar in a way which recalls ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ and its chorus section riff has echoes of ‘You’re All I’ve Got Tonight’. Both elements are given a dusting down and a new slant though, and here Hawkes’s keyboards have a fantastic full sound, brilliantly complimented by Robinson’s drumming, which has a hard edge without ever becoming aggressive.
A similar mood can be heard on ‘Hits Me’, which showcases the best elements of each of the musicians – Hawkes’s keyboards maintain their retro futurism, while Easton’s staccato guitar style dominates. The slow number ‘Soon’ – in a better, fairer world – would be a number which previously would have been a vocal spotlight for Ben Orr [Orr passed away in 2000 after a battle with pancreatic cancer]. Despite his edgier style, Ocasek manages to rein his voice in a little and deliver a sympathetic, soft vocal. Musically, its simplicity is the key; the rhythm guitars have a lovely ringing sound which carries the tune throughout and Greg Hawkes’s keys offer a few subtle bell noises. He can’t resist an old-school keyboard solo in the middle though; but even then, it sits on the good side of tasteful.

The quirky pop rock workout ‘Free’ has a slightly harder quality, which in places is reminiscent of Ocasek’s 1997 solo release ‘Troublizing’ with its more modern take on a retro sound (but certainly none the worse for that), while it’s occasional stabbing guitar riff tips the hat to ‘Bye Bye Love’ from The Cars’ debut album. The chorus is strong, with Ocasek backed up by Hawkes and Easton on a pleasing backing vocal. ‘Drag On Forever’ has a gentle chug which manages to stay buoyant thanks to a lead guitar part creeping in between the verses, with Easton delivering long, full notes. The whole track is swamped by the sound of Christmas bells, which can seem a little jarring – maybe that was Greg Hawkes’s way of lightening the mood a little... ‘Take Another Look’ is the album’s most lightweight number, harking back to the most commercial moments of ‘Heartbeat City’. David Robinson’s electronic drums underpin a smooth arrangement full of harmony vocals on a very, very Ben Orr-esque number.

It may not be as classic as The Cars self-titled 1978 debut or as over-polished as parts of their 1985 million-selling ‘Heartbeat City’, but ‘Move Like This’ is streets ahead of 1980’s difficult ‘Panorama’ or 1987’s ‘Door To Door’. Original bassist/second vocalist Ben Orr is sadly missed in a couple of places, but the four surviving original members deliver an album which celebrates the past without ever sounding self-congratulatory. Comebacks can sometimes sound forced or stale (especially if that comeback is solely money oriented), but for ‘Move Like This’, there’s no hint of that. The chemistry between Ocasek, Hawkes, Easton and Robinson sounds magical, with their formulaic, somewhat predictable sound often working as a great strength. An album with so much riding on it could have been disappointing, but for long-time fans this is a welcome return and an essential purchase.

May 2010

Sunday, 8 May 2011



Over the course of the 90s and 00s, the melodic rock and metal market has been swamped with metal tribute albums, often featuring a host of well known performers. Such releases are often workmanlike affairs with the featured artists never really making the most of their talents. Occasionally, you’ll find a surprisingly good one, as was the case with ‘Dragon Attack’, a metal tribute to Queen (something which really ought to have been awful, yet somehow retained a sense of fun and a great deal of charm).

‘Sin-atra’ – a metal tribute to Frank Sinatra, masterminded by ex-Kiss/Skull man Bob Kulick and Mr Big’s Billy Sheehan – didn’t sound like a very good idea on paper, and in reality, it still isn’t. Most of the performances take things into the realms of the ridiculous and while there are a lot of gifted vocalists featured, half of them have not survived the project with any dignity.

The tribute begins with perhaps Sinatra’s best known song, the ubiquitous ‘New York, New York’, left in the hands of the superbly talented and unique Devin Townsend. Over a juggernaut riff, Townsend adopts a really over the top metal voice – the kind you’ll find on the heavier parts of his ‘Infinity’ and ‘Ziltoid’ albums. In a powerful croon, he declares he’ll be “king of the hill, top of the heap, infinite overlord of all space and time...”. As expected, Townsend takes more of a lead than some of the other performers, with parts of his performance featuring his signature sound, multi-tracked guitars and keyboard drone. Equally cool, Mr Big’s Eric Martin gives ‘Lady Is a Tramp’ a decent send off with an arrangement which wouldn’t sound too out of place on his ‘Destroy All Monsters’ album from 2003. Martin’s voice has always been one of the best in melodic rock, and here is no exception. Following a decent staccato opening riff, things settle into a great melodic rock groove where chunky guitars meld well with a horn section, over which Martin delivers a vocal which fuses his rock and soul styles to great effect. He was right to approach this with a similar style he may have given one of his own numbers – in all, a very naturalistic and classy performance.

During ‘World on a String’, Doug (aka dUg) Pinnick croons in a deep tone, one almost unrecognisable as being the same man who sang on the King’s X classics ‘Gretchen Goes To Nebraska’ and ‘Faith Hope Love’. With a voice far lower than his 80s and 90s vocal style, he treats most of the number softly and respectfully, until midway, until Kulick and co just can’t hold it in any longer. The metal riffs don’t improve the track particularly, but they work better than the parpy horn section. Ex-Warrant man Jani Lane (a stalwart of tribute albums) makes a reasonable effort with ‘That’s Life’ - augmented by Winger/Whitesnake man Reb Beach on guitar and a predictable female backing harmony. Truthfully though, David Lee Roth’s similar version of the song (featured on his 1986 album ‘Eat ’Em and Smile’) will always be its definite rock cover.

Queensryche’s Geoff Tate lends his instantly recognisable style to ‘Summerwind’, and miraculously, the house band (featuring Kulick, Sheehan, Velvet Chain’s Brett Chassen and orchestral arranger Doug Katsaros) lend the track an almost sympathetic arrangement. A couple of Kulick’s riffs hit the mark and Katsaros’s orchestration is the album’s best. Tate attacks the number like a total professional, but even so, it’s only really worth checking out if you’re a die-hard fan. Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider’s vocals on ‘It Was a Very Good Year’ are fantastic and Katsaros’s strings are suitably arranged, but the chugging riff which brings the two together isn’t that interesting. At times sounding like a poor approximation of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ played by ham-fisted rockers. It also would have benefitted from being slightly shorter – by the time it starts to fade out at the five minute mark, it’s already started to sound a little dull.

The rest of ‘Sin-atra’ is simply awful. The remaining numbers are very poorly realised, even nearing desperation at times. Over a chuggy riff augmented by John Barry-esque horns, Anthrax’s Joey Belladonna struggles to croon his way through ‘Strangers In The Night’, absolutely murdering it in the process. The chosen vocal style really doesn’t suit him and it results in embarrassment for all concerned. Similarly, Glenn Hughes wails and squeals his way through ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ in a painful manner, not helped by an average musical arrangement. ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ suffers the same fate once it’s been strangulated by Robin Zander – hard to believe that such an ugly performance could be the work of the same voice from Cheap Trick’s ‘In Color’, one of the greatest power pop releases ever. If he’d sounded like this back in the mid 70s, he would never have got a foot through the door of the Budokan, let alone contributed to a world famous live album. His vocal style just isn’t meant for the heavy metal style the song has been given though, so it’s a little unfair to lay the blame squarely upon him.

Still, none of those bad tracks are anywhere near as nasty as ‘Love and Marriage’ – delivered at full pelt in a growly voice by Nonpoint’s Elias Soriano, over a 80s thrash metal riff augmented by a brass section. It was a terrible song anyway, and it really isn’t improved by the heavy handed treatment it gets here. Bob Kulick throws in a rudimentary solo, but chances are, by that point in the song, you’ll have had the sense to push the stop button. The man from Nonpoint gets nul points. An incredibly unsubtle take on ‘High Hopes’ featuring Scars on Broadway guitarist Franky Perez suffers a similarly embarrassing fate...

Yes, a lot of this release really is that bad. Possibly as misjudged as ‘Metal Zeppelin’ - a heavy metal “tribute” to Led Zeppelin from 2002, featuring lots of second division European metal bands...and Blaze Bayley. It was a mistake to try and make Sinatra’s tunes fit the metal mould while retaining a swing/crooning style to most of the vocal performances – it just doesn’t work. You have to wonder what everyone was thinking when they signed up for this project... At least Devin Townsend had the smarts to realise this was rather silly and played it up for all of its absurdness.

None of the tracks here represent worthy additions to the performers respective back-catalogues. Even the completists among you will possibly baulk at most of these performances. You could approach ‘Sin-atra’ as a bit of fun, but most of it is so heavy handed it makes difficult listening. Eric Martin’s contribution is worth downloading (and even Townsend’s piece of over-the-top theatrical silliness too if you’re that way inclined), but otherwise, this is an album you could definitely live without.

May 2010

Friday, 6 May 2011

THE BLACK STOUT - Voice Of Generation EP


Often sounding like a cross between The Lawrence Arms and Rancid, the Paris-based punk/punk n’ roll band The Black Stout arrive in size ten boots with a message. “We will kick your backside/since nobody did before us” shouts lead vocalist Vaness’ over the chorus of the opening number ‘Voices of Generation’, in a husky, drawling voice, influenced in places by Brody Dalle. She may have a point, since although France has spawned its share of punk bands over the years, few have made a significant breakthrough outside of their home country.

Across the three minutes of that opening number, the riffs have a classic pop-punk sound and the playing is tight; to reinforce the punk ‘n’ roll aspect of the band’s sound, on lead guitar, Dam offers a twangy, old school solo, with a few ugly notes for good measure. For those who want something in the straight up punk vein, ‘Prince Charming’s an Asshole’ is spiteful, fast and angry. The riffs in places sound like a meatier variant of the Adrenalin OD inspired material from the early Screeching Weasel discs. The jagged guitars and shout along chorus pack plenty of energy into just over three minutes during a number which barely takes time to breathe. Equally as good, possibly better, ‘Tell Us’ recycles the kind of punk-pop riffs and posturing you’ve heard from various Lookout! Records and Fat Wreck Chords album releases time and again. Vaness’s Brody Dalle-isms are at their most obvious here and with the shouty gang vocals on the chorus add to its style of “early Distillers cast-off”, but a simple, memorable hook and sheer energy and conviction behind the performance gives the track a great feel.

The best number, ‘Workers Mad Game’, has a slightly slower pace. Less punk, slightly more punk ‘n’ roll with a hint of rock, musically the band are at their strongest here, especially AL1’s rattling, high in the mix bass playing which provides a rock solid sound; a sound especially effective during the intro when set against Flo’s staccato guitar work. There’s a hint of the Parasites to be heard in places too. The only time The Black Stout miss the mark is on the retro rock number ‘Celebrate’, which is just a little too slow and shiny to make the best of Vaness’s ragged vocal style. The ringing guitars are pleasant enough and, once again, the backing vocals on the chorus provide something well rounded, but even so, it’s the kind of feel-good alt-rock track you’ll have heard performed better by a lot of other bands. Is it a skipper, though? Probably not.

On this EP, the song-writing is solid, the choruses are big, the production values are sharp and the riffs are sharper. The accented vocals can be a little hard to decipher in places, but not enough to stop The Black Stout’s debut being an enjoyable listen. Sure, you may have heard it all before, but that’s no reason not to check them out. Punk rock by numbers this may be, but The Black Stout’s enthusiasm, talent and self-belief really shines through.

You can listen or download the EP from the widget below.

April 2011

Thursday, 5 May 2011

MARK BACINO - Queens English


Mark Bacino’s first two albums, ‘Pop Job: The Long Player’ and ‘Million Dollar Milkshake’ are fantastic records. Simple as that. Both releases are chock-full of infectious hooks which stick in the head for days. ‘Million Dollar Milkshake’ could possibly be one of the greatest ever power pop albums ever.

Bacino’s third release, 2010’s ‘Queens English’, presents somewhat of a departure from his earlier bubblegum/power pop sound, presenting him in more of a singer-songwriter guise. It’s not as easy to get into as his first two albums and doesn’t always have such a feel-good quality, but its real life vignettes are more than endearing. ‘Queens English’ is named after the New York borough of Queens and the spirit of New York runs through each of the album’s tracks in the same way a seaside towns name runs through a stick of rock. But while Bacino’s other albums have a rock-candy sweetness, ‘Queens English’, is a mixture of sassiness and introspection. Sure, there are a few moments of his usual infectious pop, but it’s a record which definitely sees him branching out.

For fans of Bacino’s straight up power pop sound, ‘Muffin In The Oven’ and ‘Angeline & The Bensonhurst Boy’ do not disappoint. ‘Muffin’ – a song about being excited/nervous about a pregnancy – comes across as a mix of Jellyfish playing Billy Joel. Ron Zabrocki’s electric guitar leads are nicely played – in fact the whole track is impeccably arranged – but the greatest elements come from the meted horns, mellophone sounds and a simple ‘do do do’ hook – the kind Bacino knows will get in your head. ‘Angeline’ makes great use of horns once again, while the upbeat arrangement really captures a great mood, while Bacino himself delivers a confident, breezy vocal performance.

In a style never present in Bacino’s previous work, ‘Bridge and Tunnel’ has a slow sureness, with an upright bass marking time over a classy string arrangement. Bacino’s vocal is clear as he delivers his ode to the outer boroughs of New York – Brookyn, Staten Island, Bronx and Queens, where “the butt of all the jokes are the wheel and spokes of the city”. The New York quality of this song is so strong, it’s impossible to avoid. Had Randy Newman written it, it would be destined for a movie (either a montage or end credit placement, it really doesn’t matter). The same could be said for ‘Happy’, which sounds like a Randy Newman composition for children. On the surface, its shiny optimism is charming and works well thanks to great use of piano and Franch horn, but as with much Randy Newman-esque stuff, there’s a sarcastic streak below the surface. A similar rumpty-tumpty approach sits at the heart of ‘Who Are Yous?’ where Bacino delivers a similarly simple tune and hook...but then, who said great tunes had to be complex?

‘Queens English’ also features a couple of very personal moments where Bacino recounts moments with his young son. ‘Camp Elmo’, telling a tale of life-changing events a new baby brings, utilises a similar piano simplicity as heard on ‘Happy’ and could be seen as a little twee; however, ‘Ballad of M & LJ’ - a pure celebration of being a father – is far stronger, particularly in the cheekiness of its lyrics, especially the suggestion that Mark and Lee Joseph “might eat three ice cream cones and listen to The Kinks when mommy’s not home”. The work of Ray Davies, a small child + a giant sugar rush...sounds like a fun day.
To balance out the more personal, softer aspects of the album, the title track presents Bacino in a rockier mood than ever before. A tough power pop guitar riff drives the number, while the simple hook of “speakin’ the Queens, speakin’ the Queens” is one of the album’s most instant and direct. The seventies edge of the riff has an almost glam rock feel and a rock ‘n’ roll piano thrown into the mix just adds to the general frivolity. At just under two minutes, it makes its exit almost as quickly as it arrived.

While ‘Queens English’ often retains Bacino’s gift for penning two and three minute gems which never labour their point, it’s not as instantly gratifying as ‘Pop Job...The Long Player’ or ‘The Million Dollar Milkshake’. Stylistically, it shows Bacino maturing as a songwriter and it’s only after repeated spins that its semi-autobiographical nature provides a very rewarding listen. Stick with it – you won’t be disappointed.


April 2011

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

8IN8 - Nighty Night

palmer folds gaiman kushian

Billed as ‘Tomorrow’s supergroup today’, 8in8 is an impromptu project spearheaded by sometime Dresden Dolls frontwoman Amanda Palmer. Palmer’s dark cabaret works can sometimes be an acquired taste, but amongst the sharp edges and quirkiness, she often demonstrates a fun side. This was never more obvious than on her 2010 EP ‘Amanda Palmer Plays the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele’, which (aside from an occasional appearance of a broken piano) does exactly what it says on the tin. Her work on 8in8’s ‘Nighty Night’ has none of the novelty factor of that EP - nor does it feature a ukulele - and Palmer herself does not appear as harsh or challenging here as perhaps she once did.

Also appearing as part of the project are the legendary Ben Folds (who previously made extensive appearances on 2008’s ‘Who Killed Amanda Palmer’), OK GO frontman Damian Kulash and writer Neil Gaiman, who also has the distinction of being Amanda Palmer’s husband. According to Palmer’s online blog, it was Gaiman who contributed the lion’s share of the lyrics to this project.

For Ben Folds fans, ‘Twelve Line Song’ is the EPs essential track, as aside from a backing vocal from Palmer, musically, it could easily be a demo of an unreleased Folds number. His bouncy piano work is augmented by a marching drum (also played by Folds), over which his vocals are sparky. In all, despite the unpolished nature, it’s a track which could be better than most of the material from Folds’s disappointing ‘Way To Normal’. As it pulls to a close, the dominant drums and piano line shuffle along with just Palmer’s ‘do do do’ refrain for company. As it ends, if you’re a Folds fan yourself, you’ll undoubted ly want more. If your listening preferences favour Amanda Palmer, ‘I’ll Be My Mirror’ pushes her distinctive vocal upfront on a number which features an even more dominant drum line. The lyrics are hard, concerning a homeless asian woman shouting at her own reflection; a lyric which offers the suggestion that one day it could be any one of us. Palmer’s slightly harsh voice is given suitable accompaniment from crashing guitar chords from Damian Kulash and as far as straighter rock vibes are concerned, it’s one of the EP’s best offerings.

The rest of ‘Nighty Night’ is decent, though not quite in the same league as those numbers. ‘One Tiny Thing’ features Kulash’s lead vocal weaved around a very seventies inspired stomp and handclap arrangement. It doesn’t really deviate from its opening groove and after a few listens becomes rather ordinary. ‘Nikola Tesla’ features stabbed piano and a harsh, Lene Lovich style vocal from Palmer. Augmented by Ben Folds on drums and a warm bass line from Kulash, it grabs the attention but is certainly a number for Palmer fans only. This is balanced out by the soft ‘Because The Origami’, a gentle piano duet between Palmer and Folds, whose voices blend rather well. Palmer’s solo voice retains a few ragged edges, but Folds’s piano line remains sympathetic throughout. Closing the EP, ‘The Problem With Saints’ finds Neil Gaiman stepping up the microphone to deliver a very music hall style vocal in a slightly flat, yet charming tone. It shouldn’t work, but is given a lift by Folds’s stabbing piano work, giving way to a almost silent movie esque solo in the centre. It’s certainly a memorable way to end an already quirky release.

This six song EP is the result of a plan to write and record eight songs in eight hours as a benefit for the Berklee College of Music in Boston. The fact that it was recorded almost off-the-cuff really shows, as the tracks featured have a great in the studio sound. Although some tracks are better than others, it’s a marvel they all turned out as well as they have, given there was little time for quality control. ‘Nighty Night’ is an unmissable and rather unexpected rough diamond.

You can stream or download the EP from the widget below.

May 2010

Monday, 2 May 2011



The previous album by Duff McKagan’s Loaded, 2009’s ‘Sick’, was a partly enjoyable romp through a selection of trashy hard rock numbers. However, it was one of those albums which could be easily forgotten once the tunes ended. It was very much a case of enjoyable, yet ultimately, inessential listening. Duff McKagan never pretended to release thought-provoking music, but even so, a little more groove and a couple of heavier riffs might not have gone amiss. 2011’s offering, ‘The Taking’ - proposed to be the soundtrack for a ‘Slade In Flame’ and ‘Hard Day’s Night’ style film featuring the band - certainly has a much darker edge on a few numbers.

The darker approach can be heard on the opening track, ‘Lords of Abbadon’. Mike Squires delivers a grinding guitar riff, which in part, resembles some of Jon Hudson’s work on Faith No More’s swansong ‘Album of the Year’ (particularly ‘Naked In Front of The Computer’). This is joined by a solid drum part from Isaac Carpenter. Duff’s vocals are of their usual raggedy style, but are rounded out by some decent backing on a more upbeat chorus, which is incidentally one of the album’s best (for that, read one of only a few memorable ones). There are a few twin guitar moments thrown into the mix which work well and Squires’s featured solo is also great, making full use of effects pedals. The slightly threatening vibe carries through to the following number, ‘Executioner’s Song’ which crashes in with a suitably weighty riff. It has a slow pace resembling many stoner rock grooves, though without the fuzzy bottom end. Over the almost monolithic chug, McKagan stretches his vocal to his limit. The band are in great form, with Carpenter’s drum sound, once again, being particularly pleasing. ‘Your Name’ is the greatest of the harder numbers, with Mike Squires’s down-tuned riffs creating a suitably menacing atmosphere during the opening. McKagan’s vocal is sneering, which combined with the riffs would have made a decent track, but Loaded up the ante for a mid section, where Jeff Rouse plays a few great bass fills and Squires offers a fantastic old school melodic metal guitar solo.

For the rest of the album, Loaded revert to the kind of trashy hard rock which they’ve delivered previously. ‘Dead Skin’ is an upbeat hard rock number which shifts the focus away big riffs and delivers a great, upbeat vocal performance from McKagan. McKagan’s rhythm guitars are far more evident throughout, with Squires taking a step back. Similarly, ‘Indian Summer’ finds a space neatly in the hard rock pigeon hole, with slightly distorted rhythm guitars against a punchy, yet simple drum pattern. Some solid backing vocals flesh out a chorus which, after a few spins, proves to be a definite highlight. ‘King of The World’ features some solid bass work, a meaty hard rock riff and another decent-ish chorus. It’s not quite in the same league as ‘Indian Summer’, but a good performance nevertheless.

‘Cocaine’ shifts sideways from trashy hard rock, bringing in a slightly bluesy element via Squires’s vibrato filled lead work. On this kind of swaggering material, McKagan’s sometimes limited vocal style sounds far more at ease. For those who wish the blues tint had been played up a little more, the album closes with an acoustic reworking. On the acoustic version of ‘Cocaine’, Loaded fully embrace a bar room blues groove, with Squires’s lead work adding a few nice lines (no pun intended).

‘Wrecking Ball’ sounds, at first, like it may bring the listener something as good as ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘King of The World’, but aside from a good bass line and another of McKagan’s better vocals, it falls a bit flat. A better chorus certainly would have helped. Although it’s not great, it’s miles better than ‘Follow Me To Hell’, which marries a dirgy riff with a really bad vocal. It makes the sleazy moments of Loaded’s previous album sound like polished, meaningful rock music. The ugly riff could have scraped by (even if it couldn’t quite muster an enjoyable quality), but there’s something about McKagan’s vocal which pushes the ugliness a little too far.

If it’s riffs you’re after, parts of ‘The Taking’ present Duff and co at the top of their game. Riffs aren’t always enough to get by though, and there are times when Loaded could really benefit from better hooks. Like Loaded’s previous works, ‘The Taking’ is not always a consistent album, but the good parts certainly outnumber the bad...and even with their faults, this is a band which still manages to sound more vibrant and enjoyable than Velvet Revolver.

April 2011