LP Review: Bush, ‘The Art Of Survival’ – A Great New Album From A Band I’d Almost Forgotten

image

Maybe it’s just me but it seems like there has been a lot of great music that has come out over the last few weeks. Autumn is always a great time of year – leaves start turning wonderful colors, NFL football is in full swing, we can wear flannel shirts over our concert t-shirts and maybe even put on a sweater. I look great in a sweater but who doesn’t? More importantly, suddenly bands start putting out music. As the Chili Peppers once sang, “Autumn’s sweet, we call it fall.” Every time I look up a great new album has come out – from Ozzy’s Patient Number 9 to Jack White’s Entering Heaven Alive to Starcrawler’s She Said to the Cult’s sublime Under The Midnight Sun, music is coming at me fast and furious… even Billy Idol put out a great new EP, The Cage. Most of this music is stuff I was anticipating. But an amazing album came out a few Fridays ago that I certainly wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t expecting it because I’d kind of lost touch with this band… Bush. As I listened to this great new album, The Art of Survival, I realized I’d been ignoring this band at my own peril. I was absolutely blown away by this new LP.

My relationship with Bush has always been tumultuous. It’s like this woman I dated in the late 90s during Bush’s heyday… before the Rock Chick, of course. We’d fight and then inevitably break up and go our separate ways and then she’d show up at my door at 3 a.m. wearing only high heels and a trench coat. It’s hard to think rationally during an episode like that, but I’m getting off topic here. I’ve admitted in previous posts, when a wave of some new musical movement comes, it tends to overwhelm me. When the Hair Bands took over the world (and especially MTV) in the 80s, they all sounded alike to me. I was still assimilating all the great music of the 60s and 70s, educating myself about Cream and the Allman Brothers or early Dylan, just trying to catch up. I mostly ignored the hair bands. I was slow to get on the Guns N Roses bandwagon because I dismissed them as just “another hair band” after seeing the video for “Welcome to the Jungle.” Then I heard “Paradise City” and realized how wrong I’d been. It wasn’t until this millennium that I got deep into Motley Crue.

Grunge was no exception to my guarded approach to assimilating the latest and greatest music. Suddenly it was everywhere. Thanks to a woman I used to know I was early getting on the Pearl Jam bandwagon. She left her copy of their debut CD Ten at my house and it went into high rotation until she showed up, stormed in and took it back. Soundgarden was another band I really dug but then I used to describe them as the new Black Sabbath. They were more metal than grunge to my ears and I like metal. Alice In Chains was probably the next band I had pegged as being “important” enough for me to invest time in. It was their EPs Sap and Jar of Flies that drew me in. I was more cautious with Nirvana, for reasons now unclear. The hype around them was just so big it was off-putting. I believe it was their Unplugged album that turned on the light bulb on them for me. Well, that and the song “Heart Shaped Box,” which is still their best tune in my opinion. In Utereo was actually the first LP of theirs that I purchased.

There were just so many grunge bands that were on the alternative rock radio station at the time. So much good music to sort through… Hole, Blind Melon, Green Day (who weren’t grunge they were proto-punk but they broke at the same time) and even Jane’s Addiction who I also don’t consider grunge. I’m only scratching the surface with that list… I’m surprised Bush was even able to pierce my consciousness. I remember really liking “Everything Zen.” It had a great line that I thought my brother could have written, had I lived in L.A., “Should I fly to Los Angeles, find my asshole brother.” “Little Things” and “Comedown” were also on the radio a lot and I liked both of those tracks. But oddly enough, it wasn’t until I heard “Machinehead” that I purchased the album. That song, “Machinehead” was on every exercise mix tape/disc I put together for about 5 years after that… That debut, Sixteen Stone was indeed a great album. The themes were very dark but since lead singer/rhythm guitarist/songwriter Gavin Rossdale was so good looking people tended to overlook his dour Cobain-esque view of the world. I would describe Sixteen Stone as one of the essential albums from the grunge period.

I didn’t jump on their second LP, Razorblade Suitcase, until I saw them in concert, which was literally by accident. I was on a disastrous vacation in Jamaica with a buddy of mine, the medical student, when we were forced to flee the resort and country early. I think I told the airline officials my grandmother died so they’d let me change my tickets. It was truly harrowing. Anyway, we flew back home 2 days early and somehow ended up at a Bush concert… there was a lot of rum involved in the whole episode… luckily no warrants were issued and international incident was avoided. But I have to say Bush killed it live and I was really glad to be at that show. They were great. I heard them do the song “Cold Contagious” and immediately bought the second album. But after that, I have to admit, they faded out of view for me. I think they tried some electronica stuff which was the rage back then… see Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore for reference. Then, in 2001 I think they broke up. I read that the guitarist didn’t want to tour any more. You’re in a world famous band, you gotta get off the couch and leave the house once in a while.

It was the Rock Chick who, in 2011, turned me onto the new version of Bush’s then current album, Sea of Memories. At that point Rossdale was the only original member. He was joined by Chris Traynor on lead guitar, Corey Britz on bass and Robin Goodridge (who has since been replaced by Nik Hughes) on drums. The critics didn’t dig it but I did. “The Sound of Winter,” a galloping rocker, was probably my favorite track on that album but “The Afterlife” was also a fine rockin’ tune. “Baby Come Home” and “She’s A Stallion” are also tunes that spring to mind. Sadly, at that point, like my usual tumultuous relationship with Bush, I lost track of them again, which is a real shame. I recently went back and listened to their previous album 2020’s The Kingdom and damn if it’s not a great little record. I had completely missed it.

As I mentioned before, I was surprised to see Bush had a new LP out a few Friday’s ago, the same date the Cult’s new LP Under The Midnight Sun came out. When a band we dig puts out a new album the Rock Chick and I tend to spend that Friday night here at the B&V labs listening to the new music. We cranked the new Cult album a few times and I mentioned in passing that Bush put out a new album and I really wanted to check it out. The Rock Chick put it on immediately… I was not prepared for how heavy these guys have gotten. They are RAWKING. The first track “Heavy Is The Ocean” exploded out of the speakers. All that existential angst that was the backbone of grunge is still present in Rossdale’s singing and songwriting. He sounds, frankly, more pissed off than worried. “This fuckery could be the death of us,” he repeats towards the beginning of “Heavy Is The Ocean” and it sums up how I feel about the world. There is a rocking urgency to these songs that demands your attention. If you’re like me and you’ve spaced these guys off, I strongly urge you to get back in.

As I said, “Heavy Is The Ocean” is one of the best songs these guys have ever done. It has this heavy quiet to loud thing that was always a great punk rock move. I do like that he’s not all dour on the track when he sings, “we crack but we don’t break.” Clearly climate change is the theme here. Nik Hughes is a bruising drummer. “Slow Me” is another intense tune that has moments of quiet beauty interspersed in it. “Slow me, I cant’ let go, it’s a cold wind that blows…” He goes on to sing, “Everybody’s right, everybody’s wrong… wars have no endings…” This stuff is torn from the headlines and yet feels very personal. “More Than Machines” is the first single and it’s another outstanding track. It’s a great track in support of women’s rights. It’s a goddamn rally cry. “Everything wrong should be right, girls, You in control, Not the government…”

“May Your Love Be Pure” pulses and throbs with anger… “Money makes the world goes round… not much rain in California… yeah we need water…” Great, great stuff. “Shark Bite” is also another track that may contend for heaviest riffage here. It’s as though Bush is stomping their foot and saying, “Pay attention.” “Human Sand” also contends for one of my favorite songs. “I believe in terrestrial angels, Believe in the power of one, I believe in life ever-changing, Believe that we are not done.” Oh, hell yes. “Kiss Me I’m Dead” is another bruising riff rocker. “Gunfight” is another in that same vein. All of these tracks rock and deserved to be cranked loud.

There are two tracks that are ballads, ala “Glycerine.” The first is “Creatures of the Fire” and it’s as you would expect from Bush and Rossdale, simply beautiful. But the album ender “1000 Years” is the most beautiful slow track these guys have ever done. It’s just gorgeous. It’s a break up tune, “You were wrong to me, You set me free, But I wish we could sleep, For a thousand years, I love you best, When there are no fears.” I can’t say enough about these slower moments on the record which are both great change of pace tunes but please don’t take that as me discounting either of them.

The two tracks that I didn’t connect with as strongly – and I still like – are “Identity,” a quick paced, meet me at the finish line rocker and “Judas Is A Riot,” a riff heavy track with the great line “I’ve got a house full of sorrow but beauty is where beauty sings.” I still like both of these tracks – full disclosure the Rock Chick did not – they’re just not as strong as the rest of the album. That said – don’t let that scare you away from this album based on those two tracks. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Bush and the Cult all week and it’s been an awesome week.

This is the best album Bush has done since Sixteen Stone. If this new, urgent lyrically, riff heavy thing is their new direction we all need to be paying more attention to Bush. This is certainly one of the best albums of the year for me and seeing as I had no idea it was coming, that says a lot. And remember…”this fuckery could be the death of us…”

Cheers!

LP Review: The Cult, ‘Under The Midnight Sun’ – A Sublime Listening Experience

image

I can’t believe it’s been six years since the Cult’s last album, Hidden City. As Dylan sang, “time is a jet plane, it moves too fast.” When a band I really like waits that long between LPs, and they all seem to wait that long between albums these days, I worry that my anticipation will get the better of me. Sometimes when we let our anticipation run wild we can be disappointed. I know that happens to my buddy Arkansas Joel every time U2 puts out a new LP, but then they did hit a rough patch there for a while so that’s understandable. The Rock Chick was disappointed with Unlimited Love from the Chili Peppers, released earlier this year but again, that was anticipation fueled by Frusciante’s return. I actually liked that album… But for every LP we’ve been disappointed by there are many albums that utterly satisfy – Ozzy’s Patient Number 9 or Billy Idol’s new EP The Cage were both wonderful recently released albums.

And yet, even knowing the Cult would likely deliver, I too was worried about that old monster, anticipation. My excitement for the new album was given a shot of jet fuel only a few weeks ago when I saw the Cult live here in KC at the Uptown Theater. It was a great, great show. I feared that anticipation would somehow cloud how I felt about the album. Then I saw that the album was only eight songs long. That’s what, barely over a song a year since the last record. I heard rumors that it was all pretty “midtempo” or “monochromatic.” Critics were a bit “meh.” And yet as I’ve spent the last four or five days listening to nothing but Under The Midnight Sun – a title inspired by a show they played in Finland where the sun was up all night – all I can think about the Cult (Ian Astbury, vocals; Billy Duffy, guitar; John Tempesta, drums; and I’m unclear who played bass… Grant Fitzpatrick may have played on the LP, Charlie Jones is touring with them) is “My God, they delivered.” The Tom Dalgety produced Under The Midnight Sun is a wonderful, nuanced, spiritual listening experience.

Inevitably when folks talk about the Cult, they’re thinking of their late 80s heyday when they released a trio of iconic albums: Love (1985), Electric (1987) and of course, Sonic Temple (1989). But back in those days, toward the end of my college party experience and the beginning of my corporate, first job exile in Arkansas, I wasn’t paying any attention to new rock n roll. I was immersed in the past. I was listening to stuff from the 60s (the Beatles, The Band) or the 70s (Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Faces, and the Allman Brothers). It’s like I felt I had to catch up on all the music that had passed before I started listening to rock n roll. And admittedly after my corporate masters exiled me to Ft Smith, Arkansas – something I’ve never forgiven them for – my main conduit to new rock was MTV. All hard rock bands basically made the same video so I became numb to the then current music… I should have been paying attention, especially to the Cult.

It wasn’t until I met the Rock Chick that I was turned onto the Cult. The first LP they put out in the new millennium, while I was actually paying attention, was Beyond Good And Evil. My main experiences with their music have been with their latter career. Don’t get me wrong, I love those late 80s masterpieces. I saw them on both the recent tours for Love and Electric when they played those albums in their entirety. But beyond that I have really enjoyed everything they’ve put out since Beyond Good And Evil. To gear up for the release of Under The Midnight Sun I put on Born Into This, not Electric. And so because of that, shall we call it, delayed perspective on the Cult I tend to look at their new albums in the perspective of what they’ve done since 2000 vs what they did from ’85 to ’89. And frankly I think 1991’s Ceremony deserves to be in the conversation as well – it’s a super album but Kurt Cobain and grunge killed everything that came before it including Ceremony.

Yes, I will admit I was disappointed we only got eight tracks on the new album. It is, as advertised, a mostly midtempo experience. There are two wonderful ballads that serve as great change of pace moments. And yet despite any hard rock anticipation I was fostering, I find this music utterly captivating. While the music is immediately identifiable as the Cult it only has echos of stuff they’ve done in the past. I feel like this is new ground for them. I’m like most Cult fans, I’d have loved a screaming rocker like “Dirty Little Rock Star,” or “Rise” to pump things up a bit… or yes a “Fire Woman” would be nice. But that’s just not where these guy’s heads are at. I would have thought they could have pulled a few more tracks together – at least two but I’d have loved four more to get us to 12, the standard CD length – and had they done that and made those additional tracks screaming rockers this album would likely rank amongst their best. In my mind, it still does rank quite highly.

There is a passion and urgency to the songs on UTMS. Billy Duffy is really the hidden star here. His guitar is less aggressive than what I’m used to but his playing is shimmering, smokey guitar riffs and solos. Maybe because half the band was in England and Astbury was in New York there’s a yearning in this music. Although it’s mostly a spiritual or universal yearning. A hope that we can come together on this planet. “Give me mercy, a new language.” That line, “a new language,” really resonated with me. It’s like we’ve forgotten about compassion and love and this music is a spiritual touchstone to guide us back. There is a certain majestic quality to this music that bores into my brain. Lyrically it’s as if Astbury – whose baritone is in fine form, what a voice! – is looking at the universe and needs to express the existential angst. And did I mention his voice? One of the best in all of rock n roll.

There were two songs released prior to the album coming out. I reviewed “Give Me Mercy” already so I won’t beat that horse but the more I hear it the better I like it. As mentioned, the lyric “Give me mercy, a new language, give me mercy, love will find you” is like a lost Buddhist mantra. The second track they put our prior to the album release was “A Cut Inside” which is probably the heaviest riffing, hardest rocking song here. Even I’ll admit it’s more of a simmer than an explosion but I still really connect with this song. It was both great in concert and in the car… some tunes just have to be cranked up while you’re speeding on the parkway… “A Cut Inside” has a soaring chorus, “Caught in a lie, tears in my eyes…” I love Tempsta’s drumming on the track. He now may be the longest tenured drummer in the Cult.

“Mirror” is the opening track and it sets the sound palette for much of the rest of the record. Duffy’s plaintive guitar weaves in and around of Tempesta jungle drumming. Billy plays a great solo on this track as well… Ian’s baritone is sensational, “Love, love, love, forget what you know…” “Vendetta X” may be my favorite track here. It’s got a slightly, dare I say, funky riff/drums thing going on. It’s got a low key intensity and kind of reminds me of some stuff on Dreamtime (for you really long time Cult fans). Astbury keeps singing “Sucking on a dirty blade, fighting over Love and Hate,” and you believe him the way he spits out the words. “Impermanence” is another great track in that midtempo vein. “Outer Heaven” is slightly mellower, but I wouldn’t call it a ballad. It starts with a nice wash of strings. Billy works up a bit of a squall on the track over Tempesta’s now galloping drums. That one ends as almost a religious chant. It’s another highlight here.

As mentioned there are two ballads on the record and they’re some of my favorite moments. “Knife Through A Butterfly Heart” ranks amongst their best ballads ever – right up there with “Edie (Ciao Baby)” and “Nico,” two of my favorites. It’s all haunting acoustic guitar – which we don’t get to regularly hear on a Cult album – and strings. Billy does lay in some nice electric notes weaving around the edges of the track until the end when he delivers the killer solo. It’s another personal favorite on this record. The title track, which ends the album is also a highlight. It’s a very cinematic track. It has strings that had me thinking about James Bond and the Rock Chick thinking about the show Dexter. It also has a lot of acoustic guitar. I’ve heard it described as a “spaghetti Western of a song,” and I get where they get that description. I just think it’s a cool. “Under midnight sun, with creatures of the wild, lost in love’s illusion, all will fade in time.” Damn, that’s some heavy stuff right there.

This is a really great album. Don’t let any of your expectations or anticipation get in your way on this one. It maybe a grower for some people. Put this one on and turn it up, pour something strong and let the lyrics and guitar was over you. It’s not going to rattle your fillings but it may just move your heart. I’m just happy we’ve finally got some new Cult to listen to.

Namaste!

New Song: Stevie Nicks’ Covers Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth” – A Protest Song For The Ages

FdMfUiqWAA0bvws

*Image above taken from Stevie Nicks’ Instagram page

For those of you who are handwriting-reading impaired like me, here is the text of Stevie Nicks’ handwritten note regarding her new cover of the Stephen Stills’ penned song, originally recorded by the Buffalo Springfield:

I am so excited to release my new song this Friday (9/30). It’s called “For What It’s Worth” and it was written by Stephen Stills in 1966. It meant something to me then, and it means something to me now. I always wanted to interpret it thru (sic) the eyes of a woman – and it seems like today, in the times that we live in – that it has a lot to say…

I can’t wait for you to hear it. Stevie Nicks

There’s something happening here but what it is ain’t exactly clear, There’s a man with a gun over there telling me I got to beware” – “For What It’s Worth,” Stephen Stills

We’re not a political blog here at B&V. As I’m fond of saying, “I’m a lover, not a fighter.” But there are occasions in this life where art and politics intersect. The best of art – whether it’s painting, poetry or music – reflects the times in which it’s created. And to quote the movie Aliens, Hey, maybe you haven’t been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!” These are deeply troubled times. I keep waiting for someone to step forward with a protest song that captures the moment. From Iran – where the “Morality Police” killed a woman for not wearing her hijab “correctly,” – all the way to Ohio, women and their basic human rights are under siege from conservative, uptight, old men. Who will step forward and lead us musically out of the darkness… Will it be some new artist? Sadly, no. It’s icon, legend Stevie Nicks, who has recorded a song originally written in 1966 by Stephen Stills, who has captured the current moment’s protest in song. Words written almost 60 years ago seem so relevant today… “there’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware…” Sad that this song still feels so urgent today.

I’ve been a fan of Stevie Nicks almost from the beginning of my life long obsession with rock music. Like so many great bands, it was my brother who turned me on to Fleetwood Mac. He had purchased Rumours and one day I had wandered into his room and ended up staying for the entire album. I’m not sure how it happened but a few days later my brother entered my room which was rare (“Get out of here Curtis, I don’t hear you unless you knock.”) and he was carrying Rumours. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He’d trade me that legendary album for my copy of Supertramp’s Breakfast In America. I had worn that album out with repeated plays. My brother and I never bartered albums. And, to this day, this is the only instance of us trading an LP in our long and storied history. Believe me, I’ve known this guy my whole life. Anyway, I remember sitting in my room listening to “Dreams” while I stared at Stevie’s image on the cover art. We all had a crush on Stevie. She was the cool chick you could drink a beer (or a wine cooler) with, maybe get high and if you’re lucky possibly make out with and it’d be no big deal.

Her first solo LP, produced by Jimmy Iovine Bella Donna, came out when I was a junior in high school. I think it made my list of best solo debut LPs… I remember driving up and down the main drag of my neighborhood and cranking “Edge of Seventeen.” Her duet with Tom Petty, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” is one of the greatest duets ever. I just found out the Rock Chick is a huge fan of the duet “Leather and Lace” by Stevie and Don Henley. It says a lot that she digs the song since, like “The Dude” she hates the Eagles. I was in college when The Wild Heart came out. Oh my, we loved that album. It was on that tour – her first as a solo artist – that I got see Stevie live in concert in Wichita, Kansas. Joe Walsh opened up that show and kept saying how great it was to be “home.” We thought he was joking. Turns out he was from Wichita. I ended up in the front row by the stage during the encore when Stevie sang “Beauty And The Beast” which I thought was for me… I was a bit of a beast in those days. What a band she had that night – Liberty Devito on drums (from Billy Joel’s band), Benmont Tench on organ (Heartbreaker), Roy Bittan on piano (E Street Band), and on guitar, legendary session guy Waddy Wachtel (Everly Brothers, Zevon, Keef). Instead of a t-shirt I bought an 8×10 glossy, black and white photo of Stevie which remained on my wall until I graduated.

It wasn’t hard to be a Stevie fan in the 70s/80s. At the time Lindsey Buckingham had sort of lost his mind and Stevie’s songs were the typically the best ones on the Fleetwood Mac LPs. I like Christine McVie but she was a bit saccharine for me back then. Nicks was on a roll. But after The Wild Heart, Stevie kind of got consumed by her drug habit. From there my relationship to Stevie’s music, like so many of my relationships before the Rock Chick, was “on again, off again.” The Rock Chick owned and still loves Trouble In Shangri-La. I had taken a long break from Stevie’s LPs until I bought In Your Dreams. I thought it was a strong comeback album. I also jumped in on 24 Karat Gold, although admittedly it was her recording a bunch of songs she’d written in her heyday. Her latter day music is the kind of stuff I started this blog for.

Which all leads me to her cover of “For What It’s Worth.” You know we do love our cover songs/cover albums around here. Stephen Stills wrote the song in 1966 for his then band the Buffalo Springfield after witnessing the riots in L.A. protesting a 10 pm curfew. Once again old, uptight men trying to force the hipster boomers into going home early. While that is such a boomer reason to write a protest song, Stills’ words were prescient. “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” Here is the original version of the song:

I know Stevie has been performing this song on her current tour. Because folks, if you don’t think the “Morality Police” can come to your hometown, you haven’t been paying attention. In the last few months the U.S. Supreme Court has rolled America back to the Dark Ages. I’m surprised they haven’t legalized burning woman accused of being witches at the stake… which I do think Stevie is a Wiccan but that’s another post… Stevie just owns this song. I can’t say enough about her version. And yes, Waddy Wachtel is on the lead, buzz-saw guitar which hovers over the song like a police helicopter over the poor part of town. Stevie’s voice is hypnotic. At the end she keeps quietly, almost whispering the lyrics. It’s a simply amazing version of the song. Even the Rock Chick exclaimed, after I played the track, turned up to 11, in her car, “That’s an awesome song.” She did have to ask me who originally sang the song but not everybody is a musical obsessive. Here is Nicks’ version of the song:

Everybody really does need to “look what’s going down.” We’ve got to stand up for women now more than ever. All women everywhere deserve freedom. It may be time to start “takin’ it to the streets” people. Turn this amazing protest song up as loud as it’ll go, burn your bra and more importantly, register to vote. Whatever your political persuasion. Sorry if this PSA rocked your world.

Cheers!

Review: Billy Idol With Steve Stevens – The New EP ‘The Cage’ – Superb, Prime-Idol Rock n Roll, Yes!

image

It’s been about a week and half since Billy Idol and his wonderful partner in crime, guitarist Steve Stevens, released their latest EP The Cage and man, it’s simply superb. It rocks so hard it makes me feel like it’s 1983 and I’m going to take the t-tops out of the Camaro and drive up and down Main Street with my car stereo turned up to 11… maybe grow my mullet back. I must confess, prime Billy Idol always puts a little steam in my stride.

I feel bad I’m only now getting around to writing about this new Billy Idol EP. With new LPs by Ozzy Osbourne (Patient Number 9) and Starcrawler (She Said) combined with going to see the Cult in concert here in KC last week (a very special evening) my rock n roll cup “runneth over” so to speak. Late summer and fall have always been my favorite times of year and this year is no exception. Great music to go with the great weather. Soon I’ll be sitting on the patio in the “wee small hours” with headphones and (yes!) a sweater on while nursing a tumbler of sour mash and ruminating on… everything.

Billy Idol burst onto the scene as a solo artist after leaving his first group, the English punk band Generation X in the early 80s. He somehow connected with guitarist Steve Stevens and things took off from there. His first album came out in the summer of 1982 and I’ll have to admit, I don’t remember hearing any Idol in KC on the radio at the time. Of course I was immersed in Van Halen, Journey and the Robert Plant at the time… I do remember after going to college in the fall of that year (gads, has it been that long?), seeing – not hearing – Billy Idol on MTV. You read all the time about how MTV helped certain artists’ careers and it’s true for many. For Billy Idol, to a bunch of beer drinkin’, Midwestern kids just out of high school I have to say Idol was kind of hurt by his videos in our circle. What can I say, we were small minded. Were we just afraid of punk rock? Punk had already affected all of our favorite bands, so why the fear? Idol’s blonde, severe crew cut and leather clothes put us off for some reason. He was always snarling and punching the air. We were used to rock stars that looked like hobos – long hippy hair, a couple of guys with beards (usually at least the bass player or the drummer), all dressed in blue jeans and tie-dye. Actually by the mid-80s it was more likely our rock stars were wearing spandex and yet we were still put off by Idol?

I remember working in the kitchen where I lived that fall of ’82 and hearing “Hot In The City” on the local (mostly pop) radio station and really digging it. Of course I had no idea it was Billy Idol. I remember thinking, while hearing the song and melting in the heat of the dishwasher (I could never get away from crappy kitchen jobs) and thinking, “This guy is a real crooner…he sounds a little like Jim Morrison.” Then I’d go to the common room and MTV would be on – because it was always on except football Saturdays/Sundays – and see “Dancing With Myself” and think, “This punk rock guy is crazy, he’s killing zombies.” I was listening with my eyes and not my ears. I don’t know if I’m the only one who let video imagery turn me off a band? I was the same way with Guns N Roses, I’m embarrassed to admit. If you’d blind folded me and tied to me a chair – and I had a girlfriend at the time who tried once – and made me listen to the music I think I’d have jumped right in on Billy Idol. I remember hearing “Eyes Without A Face” on my car stereo and then going to work and singing “Steal a car go to Las Vegas, oh the gigolo pool…” on the loading dock until my foreman Howard said, “Shut up and load the barrels on the truck.” It was then that I started to think Idol might actually be, well, “ok.” But of course by early 1984 everybody’s hair had kind of taken a step toward the more chaotic so maybe I was more emotionally prepared to accept a guy with a blonde crew cut by then. Finally, somewhere in there, a guy named Walt (name changed to protect the guilty) moved in with us and he had Rebel Yell on cassette. Man, we wore that thing out. “Blue Highway” is still my favorite track from that album and should have been a hit.

I have to admit, after Charmed Life in 1990, I sort of lost touch with Idol. He put out a couple album over the first 15 years of the new millennium and while I was hoping for the best I couldn’t connect with them. Then, last year in late summer he released an EP entitled The Roadside. I think he and Steve Stevens may have found the perfect vehicle to release new music. EPs only have four songs they have to focus on. The lead track from that one was “Bitter Taste” and it’s not only one of Idol’s best songs EVER, it’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard, period. Oddly, despite absolutely loving “Bitter Taste,” and shouting that fact from the rooftops, I didn’t review The Roadside. I’ve gone back and listened to it. “Rita Hayworth” and “You Don’t Have to Kiss Me Like That” are strong tunes. I remember being oddly disappointed when I heard the rest of the EP. I think “Bitter Taste” was so huge it eclipsed the rest of the songs to me. And admittedly, I didn’t like the ballad “Baby, Put Your Clothes Back On,” because… who says that?!? to anyone? But in retrospect The Roadside was a fine comeback for Idol.

The Cage is definitely a harder rocking affair than the previous EP. The lead off track, which is nominally the title track, “Cage” is just a huge hard rocking track that I can hear people in the arena singing along to. I can’t say enough about how great Steve Stevens’ guitar is. I have reviewed this song already, so I don’t want to beat the dead horse, but it’s a great rock n roll anthem. And I will say “Cage” was in high rotation here to end my summer.

The next track is “Running From The Ghost” and it’s a stunner. It covers a lot of the same themes that “Bitter Taste” did. A man looking back at his checkered past not with regret but perhaps more resolve. It’s a “yeah it was tough but it was what it was” kind of track. It starts with just Billy’s voice and a piano. I thought it might be a ballad. But then then some light percussion and strings come in. You can feel the track building. And then Steve Stevens’ guitar pops in and melts your face off. Guitar notes hitting you fast and furious. It’s a great, great song in the car. Billy sings over rumbling drums while Stevens weaves his guitar in and out through out the song. “I’m running from the ghost, the ghost inside of me, heavy on my mind.” Talking about ruminating over a tumbler of sour mash… Great guitar solo from Stevens on this track too. It ends the way it started, with just Idol’s voice (which may be treated) and that haunting piano. Splendid stuff.

The third track, “Rebel Like You” of course harkens back to Idol’s big song “Rebel Yell.” It starts with the sound of a motorcycle. It’s about the singer meeting his soulmate in the front row of a show. It’s an upbeat, bouncing rocker with an infectious chorus, “Yeah it’s alright, now you’re here.” I wish I could have written this track for the Rock Chick. I totally get the vibe. Like “Cage” I could see this track bringing the crowd to it’s feet with arms thrown in the air. I can’t get over how great Billy and Stevens sound on these rocking tracks. He obviously had some pent up energy to expend after the lockdown.

The last track is “Miss Nobody.” I’ll admit it’s a complete left turn. It’s still upbeat. Idol actually speaks the lyrics vs sings them. There are background singers… it’s kind of, well, Vegas-y. But I still really like it. I think the Rock Chick is a little more reserved about the track but while I blasted the new EP in her car on Saturday for her she could see I was into it and didn’t say much. Idol sets the scene in the first lyric, “I was walkin’ ’round MacArthur Park, It was late night and the streetlights sprayed the dark.” Idol just sounds like he’s having a great, naughty time and who isn’t down for that? The track is like nothing I’ve heard Idol do, and yes, when the back-up singers sing the chorus they overwhelm Idol’s voice a little and I understand if I alone dig this tune but I’m into it!

This is great new music from Billy Idol and I think none of us would have guessed he’d still be this vital in 2022… I’m sure many of us would have guessed he wouldn’t be here in 2022 but let’s not get negative. Everybody needs The Cage on high volume. When I reviewed the song “Cage” I said that Idol had arrived to “save summer.” He may just be saving my early fall as well! Turn this up to 11… get out the Camaro (but don’t drink and drive) and have a ball!

Cheers!

LP Review: Starcrawler, ‘She Said’ – They Expand Their Sound Palette On Their Strong Third Album

image

I feel like I’m a little late to the game in sharing my thoughts on Starcrawler’s great new LP She Said. I think it’s been out a couple of weeks now and I’m just getting around to talking about it. It’s been a crazy two weeks. I had company here at the house so that always blows a hole in the music listening schedule. It’s frowned upon when I hide in the B&V labs listening to obscure B-sides on headphones when the house is full of company. And then, while I was drinking on the balcony with family, we had a flood of great releases: Ozzy’s new album Patient Number 9, CCR had their great vault release At The Royal Albert Hall, and then Beck surprised me Sunday night by releasing a Neil Young cover “Old Man,” on a commercial no less (terrible motive, great song). I had to comment on that one… And of course this week on Tuesday I went to see the Cult who roared into town and blew the roof off the Uptown Theater. How can a poor boy keep up with and listen to all of this rock n roll!! I think fall is going to be great for music!

A lot has happened in the world of Starcrawler since their last LP, 2019’s Devour You. Well, if I’m being honest a lot happened in the world since 2019. After the Rock Chick turned me onto Starcrawler, I actually got a chance to see them live right after Devour You came out. It was a great show and I really like Devour You. But then the pandemic and lockdown hit and like every other band out there Starcrawler was grounded. And like most bands they turned to writing the next album. I read a story about Arrow de Wilde (lead singer) being in her apartment and Henri Cash (lead guitarist) coming over and sitting outside her window, playing her the beginnings of “She Said,” the title track. She sang lyrics at him from the balcony “like Romeo and Juliet.” There were additional changes for Starcrawler since that last LP. Founding member Austin Smith (drums) left the band. He was replaced by Seth Carolina. I always worry a change in the line up can hurt band chemistry. Then Henri Cash’s brother Bill Cash joined the band to augment their sound. Bill not only plays rhythm guitar, he also plays pedal steel which I find fantastic. Tim Franco remains the band’s bass player. Starcrawler carries on now as a five-piece band.

Beyond all of that Starcrawler signed to a major label, Big Machine Records, after being on a small independent label for their first two LPs. I had forgotten their raunchy, punk rock debut was produced by creepy Ryan Adams but I’m off topic here. I couldn’t help but think about Social Distortion, another Cali punk band who made a huge leap forward between their second LP and their major label debut third LP. I mention all of this just to again frame the fact that a lot has happened to this band in the last three years. Not to mention they always seem to be on tour since the lockdown lifted. They’ll go from KC to Minny to NY to the UK to South Korea. They’re certainly putting in the roadwork. I actually just saw Starcrawler again a month and a half ago, before the new LP came out, and they were as usual, sensational. While they remain untamed rock n roll electricity on stage, they’ve toned down the blood spitting antics but they still bring it live. They’re thrilling to watch. Seth Carolina was great on drums and I love the addition of Bill Cash…chemistry intact. I wish I’d seen them right after the LP came out – I totally mis-identified an acoustic track they did and called it “Runaway” and it turns out it was “Better Place.” I didn’t have a setlist to go from. They played two acoustic songs and I do believe one of them was a stripped down version of “Broken Angels.” It was guess work and weak detective skills using the internet that caused the mistake. My apologies for the error.

I really like She Said. While the band has come a long way from the debut, especially in terms of songwriting (there are no songs like say, “Pussy Tower” about “head” on this album), I can still hear their influences: punk rock (maybe a bit of the Runaways), classic rock (Stones/Faces), and a dash of Glam Rock (Bowie’s more butch-y moments). The LP was produced by Tyler Bates who is more well known for doing movie scores. Perhaps he gives the LP it’s more cinematic scope. While I do think this is a step forward for Starcrawler, I see it as more of a consolidation of the large leap they made between the debut and Devour You. Some bands do defy the “sophomore slump.” Although as I think of this as a consolidation of gains made on the second album versus a large leap forward, I can’t help but think of all the new textures present on this album like acoustic guitar and pedal steel. They’ve got a new Gram Parsons/Stones ala “Dead Flowers” vibe that they only dabbled in on “No More Pennies” from the last LP. And I can’t say enough about how much more advanced Henri Cash’s guitar playing has become. The guy gets better each time out and that really helps propel the music forward. Lyrically many of the songs seem to point to a theme of longing – for a lover, for connection – which was perhaps influenced by lock down. I will say the production on this album is a leap forward for the band.

For fans of Starcrawler’s more punky, harder rocking stuff, you need not worry. While they’ve got a much more varied sound on She Said, they blast out of the gate with the lead off track, first single “Roadkill.” It’s a classic meet-me-at-the-finish line rocker. I really like Henri’s riff on this song. It’s fast and hard. There are plenty of songs that just rock out on this album. “Thursday” is another riff rocker. I like Seth Carolina’s drums on that one. Henri Cash’s guitar is kind of Stonesy on this one too with a brief, snarling solo. “You always leave me with nothing…” “True” is another of their hard driving rock songs. It’s got a frenetic energy that reminds me of the first album. “Runaway” is just a great hard rock tune. It may be my favorite of their driving, punk-influenced tracks.

The title track, second up on the LP, is where we start to hear some varied sounds from Starcrawler. I think “She Said” will go down as one of their more iconic songs. It’s more of a chugging rocker than their usual full-tilt attack. There’s so much longing in this song…”Please, please, come back to me…” It would have been a perfect pandemic track and is the first track they wrote for the album during that dark time. Henri’s guitar tone really opens up on this track and gives me that Stonesy vibe. “Stranded,” the following track continues that longing theme. I love the lyric, “I met a racetrack girl at a bus stop.” The chorus is infectious, “Stranded on the side of a one-way street, The stars in her eyes won’t shine on me.” Arrow hauntingly repeats the words “shine on me.” Wonderful track. Henri’s solo here may be my favorite.

Beyond those great tracks we really see Starcrawler expand their sound. “Broken Angels” is a ballad/midtempo track that I just love. There’s a haunting guitar figure and a hint of keyboards. If I’m not mistaken Bill Cash makes his pedal steel debut here. “Broken angel burn your wings, I’ll make you stay.” The wobbly solo makes me think of the Faces’ version of Chuck Berry‘s “Memphis.” “Midnight” is an acoustic based tune that is like nothing I’d heard them do before. Despite being slightly mellower, I heard this in the car and noticed I was driving very fast. “Better Place,” the final track borders on country-rock and is a lovely ending. Henri and Arrow duet on that song like Gram and Emmylou. That track is just a knock out, worth the price of admission.

Finally there’s a track I really like called “Jetblack.” It’s a real change of pace and kicks off the second half of the album. The song is almost dance-able. I’m not saying it’s their “Miss You” or anything It’s just got a funky drum going on. It’s very Glam rocky. I find my shoulders moving in my chair as I listen… I never dance so that’s as close as I’ going to come. It’s just a slinky, groove that I connected with immediately.

I urge everyone to jump on the Starcrawler bandwagon. These guys are putting out great rock n roll, playing real instruments and rocking out with a vengeance. They get better with every album and She Said is no exception. I recommend putting this one on and turning it up to 11.

Cheers!

Review: The Cult, Live In Concert At The Venerable Uptown Theater, Kansas City, MO September 27, 2022 – Sensational Show!

0

*Photo above of Ian Astbury (vocals) and Billy Duffy (guitar) of the Cult taken by your intrepid blogger

I wish I could capture the elation I feel after a great, great rock n roll concert. I felt like I was walking on clouds as I left Kansas City’s venerable Uptown Theater after last night’s show by the Cult – Ian Astbury (vocals extraordinaire), Billy Duffy (guitar), John Tempesta (drums), Charlie Jones (bass) and Damon Fox (keyboards). I felt even more pumped up than I did after recently seeing Starcrawler live in August and that says something.

I do have to admit, I couldn’t help but turn to the Rock Chick last night and say, “What a difference 4 or 5 months make…” We had seen the Cult previously on this tour, in Denver in May, and it was not like last night. The band was awfully sluggish that night although Ian Astbury worked his ass off to get the crowd into it. That wasn’t the case last night. When this band is on and they all lock into a groove – as they did last night immediately – it’s like watching the Bill Russell led Celtics in the late 50s… (not that I’m old enough to have seen that, I just like the metaphor). Championship play indeed! I was thinking it’d had been a while since I’d seen a band twice on a tour. I used to try and catch the Stones twice or more on their big U.S. tours. I would always try and see Van Halen in both KC and Wichita. I saw Springsteen twice on the Born In The U.S.A. tour. But that was all long, long ago in a galaxy far away. But then I realized I did see Depeche Mode on the Spirit tour in 2017 in both Denver and Tulsa. I am so glad we decided to see the Cult again, it was so much better last night.

I don’t know what it is about the Uptown Theater that seems to bring out the magic for the Cult. It’s where I saw them the first time on the Beyond Good And Evil tour in 2001 and it was one Hell of a show as was last night’s concert. Last night may have been so much better than the show in Denver because admittedly I had much better seats – the 5th row – and that always makes you feel more a part of the experience when you’re that close. The Uptown is a slightly smaller venue than the cavernous Mission Ball Room so that gave it a more intimate feel and maybe the band picked up on that. The stage was smaller so maybe that made them play so tightly. Or perhaps it’s just as Billy Duffy said when he got on the mic after the show, when the band was taking bows, “We’ve got a lot of history in this room.” Billy, I’m just glad to have shared some of that with you!

Make no mistake, this was a great show last night. The Cult, as my friend Stormin’ used to say, “brought down the sky” last night. I don’t know if that was the best Cult show I’d ever seen – it’d be hard to pick just one – but it certainly ranks up there. I really liked the Love tour where they played that entire LP. And yes, I also dug the Electric tour. My first time seeing them, which is always special, at that very same Uptown Theater also ranks up there… While I criticized Billy Duffy’s guitar playing at the Denver show as sluggish, I have to say last night he was on fire. He didn’t miss a note. His solo’s were incendiary.

The Cult climbed on the smokey, incense laden stage a little after 9pm last night. Astbury had a long, baggy black jacket on with a black bandana tied around his head. The bandana was so low it was hard to see his eyes. As the Rock Chick said last night, “It felt like he was always looking directly at me…” The first track of the night was one of my all time favorites from the aforementioned Beyond Good And Evil, “Rise.” While the setlist was very similar to the setlist in Denver, everything just sounded “on” last night. The crowd immediately had their arms in the air. I will say, that was one of only 2 tracks they played that weren’t on their best known trio of 80s LPs Love (1985), Electric (1987), and Sonic Temple (1989). I was late to getting on the Cult bandwagon – it was the Rock Chick who turned me onto them – so if I had any complaint I’d have liked to hear something from this millennium – “Dirty Little Rock Star,” or maybe “For The Animals.” They’ve put out some great LPs over the last 20 years. It’s a shame they skipped over that. Or I’d have been happy for maybe even “Dreamtime” from their debut.

After “Rise” they went into a great 4 song run from Sonic Temple. “Sun King” has always been a favorite and last night’s rendition was sublime. I was thrilled to hear a deep cut in “Automatic Blues,” a real crunchy rocker. Again, Duffy’s playing was on fire. It became apparent to me right off the bat that the rhythm section of Charlie Jones and John Tempesta may be the best the Cult has ever had. I could feel the drums and bass through the sound waves rippling through the legs of my jeans. For “Sweet Soul Sister” they let Damon Fox lead it off with his keyboards and then in the middle of the song he had a keyboard solo that reminded me vaguely of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Ian went on a rap and I could swear he was quoting the Doors’ “Horse Latitudes.” I’m not convinced that having a keyboard player adds much to the Cult – I liked it when they had a second guitarist on stage, but then I like guitar. But admittedly “Sweet Soul Sister” was a cool moment in the show.

After a soaring rendition of “Edie (Ciao Baby)” the band launched into a series of tracks from Electric. “Li’l Devil” is always rocking good fun. They followed that with “Wildflower,” and then another deeper cut in “Aphrodisiac Jacket” (a personal favorite), and finally “Peace Dog.” “Peace Dog” was a real highlight as it turned into a sing along toward the end with everyone flashing a peace sign high above their heads, yours truly included. After the Electric tracks they played one of the new songs from the upcoming Under The Midnight Sun album, “A Cut Inside.” I had only heard it once but will admit I was surprised they didn’t play “Give Me Mercy” which has been out a little longer. Hearing “A Cut Inside” makes me that much more anxious to hear the whole new LP! I will say I feel like “A Cut Inside” is an “ok” track but it didn’t hit me like “Give Me Mercy.”

After an incendiary version of “Fire Woman,” Ian stood up on the riser at the front of the stage, held out his long braided hair and said, “Why the short hair bro’s?” I laughed out loud. Hey, I’d grow my hair long too if it looked like Ian Astbury’s. They then launched into “Revolution” a great deeper track from Love. They ended the main set with two more tracks from that LP, which were both absolute highlights from the night, with “Rain,” and then “She Sells Sanctuary” (my all time favorite Cult track).

The encore was only one song but they made it count with an AC/DC-esque version of “Love Removal Machine.” They stayed on stage to sing Happy Birthday to John Tempesta… they even had a cake for him. Then they announced the band. They seemed genuinely touched by the crowd’s reaction, especially Billy. Billy asked if any of us had been there for their first show at the Uptown… and went on to say it was a GA show, and only 4 people were there… It just felt like a really special show for these guys.

If you’re out there somewhere and the Cult is coming to your town, as I always say, “Buy the ticket, see the show.” It’s worth it, trust me.

Cheers!

New Song: Beck Covers Neil Young’s Classic “Old Man”… For A Commercial? And It’s Good!

Unknown

Sometimes good things can come out of bad ideas. Or maybe we should describe it as good things sometimes come from bad motives.

My lovely daughter and her boyfriend were in town this weekend. They came in for the local Art Fair which was nice but let’s be honest, it was more of a rolling bash. Yesterday we had a little gathering – I wouldn’t call it a party – that was half house warming and half NFL football game watch party. My parents were here. My aunt and uncle made a surprise cameo. It was a nice afternoon if you don’t count how my team lost. The weather was perfect, quite a few people showed up. I described it as a successful gathering to my father who quickly pointed out, again, our team lost. I had no response other than, “Well other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

As the Sunday Night Football game came on last evening and the crowd had thinned out here at the house, suddenly I heard a countdown and then the beautiful acoustic melody of one of Neil Young’s greatest tunes, (and the Rock Chick’s favorite Neil Young song and that’s a short list) “Old Man.” I couldn’t help but think, in stunned surprise, “Wait, is this a commercial?” I was surprised that Neil Young, a staunch anti-corporate guy would use his song in a commercial. I mean it was Young who sang “This Note’s For You,” a song that railed against selling your songs to Pepsi or Budweiser. The lyrics of that song were pretty on the nose, “Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi, ain’t singin’ for Coke, I don’t sing for nobody, makes me look like a joke.” I believe we’re all clear on where Neil stands on the issue. It turns out it wasn’t Neil Young, but as I quickly realized from the video, it was Beck. The song was being used to pimp next week’s SNF (Sunday Night Football) game that will pit Patrick Mahomes, a young star QB against Tom Brady the titular “old man.” What in the Hell were they thinking? Rock n Roll and football… “cats living with dogs, mass hysteria,” worlds colliding.

I am on record as being a big Beck fan. I wasn’t crazy about his last couple of LPs 2017’s Colors or 2019’s Hyperspace but he’s always good for a great song or two even on his weaker albums. I may not have liked Colors but I certainly liked the single, “Wow.” “Giddy up, giddy up,” indeed. And I thought “Saw Lightning” was a great track from Hyperspace. Beck always seems to be able to slip a little blues riff in on the occasional track and that always pulls me in. I’d like to tell you I was an early adopter on Beck. I liked “Loser,” his big breakthrough single, and still do, but couldn’t connect with the LP it came from, Mellow Gold. I remember hearing Odelay and thinking it was brilliant but I didn’t buy it until the Rock Chick re-introduced me to that record years after it was released. Frankly, I’ve always liked Beck’s more acoustic stuff than his more “dance-oriented,” electric tracks. In fact the first LP of Beck’s I purchased was the acoustic driven Mutations, although an ex absconded with it. I lost a lot of music in the 90s. There was a theory, briefly, that I only got married to keep a hold of my CDs.

When I think about Beck’s more acoustic side, I can’t help but immediately think of Sea Change, his brilliant breakup record. I can’t  believe it’s been 20 years this month since that album came out. Everybody should check out Sea Change. I probably should have included it on my list of grim and sad LPs everyone should hear. After Sea Change Beck was on a hot streak. He released three great LPs in a row: 2005’s Guero, 2006’s The Information, and finally 2008’s Modern Guilt. Those three albums, along with Odelay, for me anyway, cement Beck’s status as an important artist. In 2014 he finally returned to his acoustic side with his masterpiece, Morning Phase. I consider it a sister LP to Sea Change. With those 3 LPs sandwiched between them you might consider them “bookend” albums. Since then though, his output has slowed down and I haven’t been able to connect with more than the stray track or two.

Being the music obsessive that I am, I had to go out and buy this cover song… heaven knows how we do love our cover songs and albums around here… This may have come out of a bad idea – a commercial for a football game which is as bad an idea as me opening a bottle of wine last night after an afternoon of beer drinking (terrible idea) – but I have to admit Beck crushes this song. It’s a pretty faithful cover. Just Beck’s voice and an acoustic guitar. He does bring in somebody in on back up vocals for the high harmonies on the chorus, “Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you, I need someone to love me the whole day through, Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that’s true…” There are really two ways to approach a cover song. One is to turn it on it’s head and make it something completely different. The artist “makes the song his own” so to speak. The other approach is basically what Beck does here – record the song and remain faithful to the original. There’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s a beautiful song and it’s beautifully sung here. There are some people who don’t particularly care for Neil Young’s voice in general… and I may be married to one of those people. If you’re one of those folks you might like Beck’s vocal better. Beck manages to capture the angst of Neil’s original. To the Neil Young purists out there this all may seem like blasphemy. You don’t touch an iconic song. I remember a friend of mine who was literally disgusted that Metallica covered Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page.” I’ve never really understood his anger. It was like it was a personal affront to him. He stood around red faced with a furrowed brow and rage spittle hanging at the corner’s of his mouth. I was like, dude, it’s a song?

I remember Beck turning Hank Williams’ track “Your Cheating Heart” on it’s head and I would have welcomed a more experimental treatment of this song. At the end of the day, long after everybody has forgotten this commercial and the football game it’s advertising, we’ll still have this kind of cool cover song. Being a Chiefs fan, I’m certain I’ll be trying to forget this football game even before it’s over but then, the Chiefs have been breaking my heart my whole life (until recently, anyway). It may have been spawned by the most awful corporate motives but something good, a cool cover song, came out of it. You don’t hear a lot of simple acoustic music these days. I urge everbody to check it out:

Here’s to hoping your football team or whomever you’re rooting for in whatever sport you’re into wins their next game! Well, unless you’re a Tampa Bay Bucs fan… Cheers!

Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘At The Royal Albert Hall – April 14, 1970’ – Another Great Live LP From Their Vault

image

It seems it’s time here in the B&V labs for us to (like the Dude) slip into our big, tan, baggy Westerly cardigan and mix a White Russian as we turn our attention once again to the mighty, mighty Creedence Clearwater Revival. You’ll have to forgive me for referencing the classic movie The Big Lebowski and Jeff Bridges’ iconic character, “The Dude,” but ever since the Dude lost his Creedence tapes when his car was stolen at the bowling alley the two have always kind of been tied together for me. CCR has once again opened up the vaults and released another searing live LP, At The Royal Albert Hall – April 14, 1970. I have to wonder how much great live stuff they have in the vaults and why it’s taking over half a century for these live recordings to see the light of day?

Say what you want about Creedence but they were a great band. I don’t think they ever had that “cool” cache like the Stones or the Beatles but they put out some great, straightforward, meat and potatoes rock n roll. They rocked but had a touch of blues in the music… along with a swampy southern vibe. It was a wonderful goulash. They were from San Francisco but dressed like lumberjacks from the great northwest. These guys had the Grunge look 30 years before it was a thing. And of course John Fogerty had that awful “page boy” haircut. Maybe that’s what hurt their swagger? They had a profound influence on rock n roll. Springsteen inducted them into the Rock Hall of Fame. In 1986 Bob Seger covered their iconic protest tune “Fortunate Son” and released his live version of the song as a B-side to the song “American Storm” (it was later added to the CD as a “bonus track”). I 100% agree with what Seger says to begin the song, “This by a band that I’ve always loved called the Creedence Clearwater Revival…” (although Bob, it’s just Creedence Clearwater Revival, there’s no “the” in the name). If ever there were two acts cut from the same cloth it was Seger and CCR. I think you can trace Creedence’s influence well beyond Springsteen and Seger though. Ike and Tina Turner covered “Proud Mary.”

For a band who never really released a great live LP during their active period of 1968 to 1972 they’ve certainly made up for it since. They did release Live In Europe in 1973 but that one feels like an LP released to fulfill contractual obligations. The Concert also recorded in 1970 but not released until 1980 was a more accurate portrait of this iconic band’s live show. It was only 3 years ago that they finally released the full recording of their performance at Woodstock, Live At Woodstock. Man, we loved that down here at B&V. But then as long time readers know, we love our live albums around here. Although embarrassingly we didn’t include any CCR on our list of our favorite live LPs. Oh well, live and learn. CCR – John Fogerty, vocals/lead guitar; Tom Fogerty, rhythm guitar; Stu Cook, bass; Doug Clifford, drums put out a body of work that will forever keep them in the conversation for “Greatest American Rock Band.” And live, well they could really bring it live. I’m going on record today as saying Creedence may be one of the greatest live bands ever.

As it turns out, At The Royal Albert Hall – April 14, 1970 actually documents CCR’s first concert appearance in the U.K. They certainly came to conquer as if this was the reverse of the War of 1812. The Americans are setting the capitol on fire. When we listen to this concert it helps to step back and look at the then current British rock n roll environment at the time. The Beatles, who had returned to a more rock n roll approach (vs the psychedelic approach they’d adopted) on Abbey Road and the soon to be released (May 1970) Let It Be had just announced their break-up. McCartney’s debut came out three days after this show. Cream had broken up the year prior. The Stones were coming off the successful Let It Bleed album and tour but founding member Brian Jones had quit and then sadly drowned in his pool. It feels like there might have been a rock n roll void in the U.K. at the time… enter “a band I’ve always loved,” Creedence Clearwater Revival.

At the time Creedence was at their zenith. 1969 had been an amazing year. They’d released three of their best LPs – yes, 3 LPs in one year – Bayou Country followed by Green River followed by my personal favorite Willy And The Poor Boys. Talk about a 1-2-3 punch. They’d also played in the wee hours of August 17th, 1969 at a little festival known as Woodstock. They were supposed to play the night of August 16th but the Grateful Dead just kept jamming and CCR had to come on after midnight on the 17th, much to John Fogerty’s chagrin. But that Woodstock set was legendary stuff. This concert at the venerable Royal Albert Hall was right before CCR was to release another great LP, Cosmo’s Factory. The time was ripe for an American Invasion of the British rock scene.

CCR come out on this recording and deliver. I will admit there are parts of this where Fogerty’s vocals are slightly distorted which only make the recording more deliciously menacing. They kick it off with “Born On The Bayou.” Right off the bat you can tell Fogerty is taking no prisoner’s on guitar. There’s no in-between song chatter (for the most part) it’s just set ’em up and knock ’em down. There was certainly some “chooglin'” going down that night. Fogerty is just wailing and talkin’ about old hound dogs and the 4th of July. They stretch “Born On the Bayou” into a hypnotic groove. What a perfect opening. That quickly rolls into “Green River.” It starts to feel like the Royal Albert Hall is turning into a roadhouse out at the crossroads, outside the city limits with beer for a quarter or perhaps for a pound. Fogerty’s lead stabs through clean and strong. That leads us into the third track, from the album Green River, the more obscure “Tombstone Shadow.” “Everytime I get some good news, there’s a shadow on my back.” Great, great track with a bluesy vibe and great lead guitar.

That leads us to my favorite track on the album, “Travelin’ Band.” I love this version of the song. It borders on manic. It is a full tilt, meet me at the finish line rocker. Fogerty says a quick thank you and then they launch into “Fortunate Son.” This middle section of the album is some of the greatest rock n roll I’ve heard in a long time. A screaming guitar solo kicks off “Commotion” and at that point it’s just hold on for your life. CCR is rawking. The pace is relentless. To give everybody’s heart a rest at that point, CCR slow it down and go midtempo with another personal favorite, “Midnight Special.” You can hear the crowd cheering as Fogerty sings the first few lines. The chooglin’ keeps on rolling with a spirited rendition of “Bad Moon On The Rise” ( the studio version of we included in our Moon themed playlist).

After that the hits keep coming. The band sounds enthused and into it. They hit “Proud Mary” which is one of their early hits. When Fogerty wasn’t playing any Creedence songs because he was tied up in litigation and just plain pissed, it was Bob Dylan who told him he needed to play his CCR tunes… “otherwise people are gonna think “Proud Mary” is a Tina Turner tune.” While Fogerty is on fire so is the whole band. The rhythm section of Cook and Clifford are tight. They keep rolling right into “The Night Time Is The Right Time,” perhaps the bluesiest moment of the night. The big surprise for me was the rollicking version of Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly,” and it’s big fun. Fogerty’s guitar is on fire at this point. I imagine the London Fire Dept having to pour water on the guy… But he manages to come back for one more, the appropriate ending, “Keep On Chooglin’.” After exhorting the crowd to keep on “chooglin’,” Fogerty jams and bends his guitar strings – and plays harmonica – through the longest song/jam of the night. I love this song.

I don’t think the set lasted even an hour. The crowd had to have left the Royal Albert Hall smiling and keyed up. If you’re into live albums this is a great one to have. It’s a high energy, full tilt rock n’ roll performance. Turn this one up loud and if you’re out there and you’ve had your Creedence tapes stolen… I hope this will help ease that pain. I know that between this live album and Ozzy’s latest LP, Patient Number 9, I am certainly feeling great these days. Although that might be the White Russians…

Keep on chooglin’ out there people. We need that vibe today more than ever.

Cheers!

Review: Ozzy Osbourne, ‘Patient Number 9’ – Glorious Metal LP Packed With An All-Star Band

attachment-ozzy_osbourne_patient_number_9

“It’s one of those days that I don’t believe in Jesus…” – Ozzy Osbourne, “One of Those Days”

I can’t tell you how good it feels to have a new Ozzy album out in the world. It’s like having your favorite, cool uncle who used to slip you beers at wedding receptions in town for a long visit. Ozzy went a decade between 2010’s Scream and his next album 2020’s surprise comeback LP Ordinary Man. We loved Ordinary Man here at B&V. But then we’ve been an Ozzy fan from the start. Well, almost from the start. I merely taped a friend’s copy of Blizzard of Ozz. At the time I was actually more into the Dio incarnation of Sabbath but there’s room for both in any record collection. My first Ozzy album purchase was actually Diary Of A Madman, his second LP. I had to wait until I was in college to finally see Ozzy live on the Ultimate Sin tour in Wichita. Jake E. Lee was his latest guitar wizard in 1986 and it was a great show.

Rather than waiting a decade for another album, apparently only four days after Ordinary Man came out, Ozzy grabbed producer/guitarist Andrew Watt and headed back into the studio to record the follow-up. I really like Andrew Watt as a producer. Besides Ozzy he also produced the fabulous Eddie Vedder solo LP, Earthling. The strategy on this LP was very similar to the last album – recruit top notch players and rock out. Much is being made about the all-star cast of guitarists who play on this album, but there are great musicians on every instrument here. While Chad Smith mans the drum kit for most of the songs on Patient Number 9, like he did on Ordinary Man, there are a few tracks where the late Taylor Hawkins drums. It makes me wonder if these songs were Hawkins’ last recorded tunes? Metallica’s Robert Trujillo, who actually played in Ozzy’s band before joining Metallica, plays bass on most of the tracks. But, Duff McKagan from Guns N Roses mans the bass on several of the tracks. And former Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney plays on “Nothing Feels Right.”

When you have a bunch of guest stars playing on an album I always wonder about continuity. Will the songs hang together well as an album? Recently Edgar Winter did a fabulous tribute album for his brother Johnny, creatively titled Brother Johnny. There was a host of guitarists who showed up to pay tribute to the late, great bluesman. I felt the album, reviewed in these pages, held together well because all the tunes were in a blues framework. I think despite all the guest appearances Patient Number 9 holds together so well as an album because a) it’s all in a heavy metal framework which keeps everyone rocking in the same direction and b) the base band for this album: Andrew Watt/guitar, Robert Trujillo/bass, and Chad Smith drums – who all play on a majority of the tunes – hold the continuity together from Eric Clapton to Metal Viking Zakk Wylde. It doesn’t matter who plays lead guitar, they have to play with the band. Everybody, including Ozzy, plays with enthusiasm and gusto. Despite some heavy themes you can feel the joy coming off this album.

It’s clear Ozzy has mortality on his mind. With titles like “Dead And Gone,” “Immortal” and “Mr. Darkness” it’s not hard to figure out where Ozzy’s head is at. But in the years since Ordinary Man the Ozzman has “been through hell.” He was diagnosed with Parkinsons. He got Covid. It’s a wonder he got this album out. While I doubt he’ll ever tour extensively again I think having this wonderful metal LP is a blessing. I can understand after all he’s been through why Ozzy sings, as I quoted above, about it being “One of those days that I don’t believe in Jesus.” I think we’ve all had those moments when we feel abandoned by Fate. I will say, and it was the Rock Chick who noticed this first, Ozzy’s voice does sound a bit treated on this album. It’s auto-tuned in quite a few places. But hey, it’s Ozzy I can forgive that. And again, you can tell everyone including Ozzy had so much fun on this project the heaviness doesn’t get to you.

I just love this album. If push came to shove I’d probably admit I liked Ordinary Man just a smidge more but that’s mostly because it’d been 10 freakin’ years since we’d heard from Ozzy and it was such a pleasant surprise. There is a lot to like here. As promised it’s a smorgasbord of guitarists. Ozzy managed to get two of the three former Yardbird guitarists to play on this record. Jimmy Page was approached and declined but I don’t think Jimmy plays that much any more which is a shame. Mercurial Jeff Beck plays lead on two of my favorite tracks here. I love the title track which features Beck’s fabulous solo’ing but I reviewed “Patient Number 9” already. Beck also plays on the power ballad “A Thousand Shades” and his playing is so melodic it’s one of the absolute highlights of the LP. Jeff Beck needs to rock out more. I was stunned when I read Clapton agreed to play on this album. He shows up on “One Of Those Days,” quoted above. I don’t know how they did it but Clapton plays like he’s still in Cream. It’s a great solo and perhaps the best solo Clapton has played since he guested on the Steve Winwood tune “Dirty City.” (Seriously, check that tune out).

While much has been made of Ozzy getting the former Yardbirds to play on this record for me two of the best moments on this album are when Ozzy teams up with his erstwhile bandmate from Black Sabbath, Tony Iommi. Those two go together like peanut butter (a substance I was forced to give up) and jelly. “Degradation Rules,” reviewed previously, an ode to masturbation – although I can’t decide if it’s pro or con – is a wonderful, sludgy metal tune and sounds like an outtake from Masters of Reality. Iommi’s guitar is unmistakable. Ozzy even plays some harmonica on the track, which I love. The other Iommi track is the epic “No Escape From Now.” It starts off like the spooky “Planet Caravan” from Paranoid but then the band shifts through several time changes. They go fast, they slow down. Then the band falls away and Iommi drops some of the heaviest riffage I’ve heard since Vol 4. His solo’ing on this song is so epic and beautiful it belongs in an opera.

Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready shows up on the heavy track “Immortal.” His solo verges on Eddie Van Halen territory. Many notes are shredded. It’s wonderful. He really acquits himself well here. Dave Navarro of Janes Addiction (and briefly the Red Hot Chili Peppers) shows up on the other power ballad here “God Only Knows” and it’s actually one of my favorite tracks. There’s a track on here that doesn’t credit any lead guitarist, “Dead And Gone” that is also an absolute highlight. It takes me back to “Shot In The Dark” just a bit. I’m guessing Andrew Watt saved that solo for himself. Although I’ve heard that Josh Homme from the Queens of the Stone Age played on here somewhere – I can’t find him in the credits – and maybe it’s him. All of these are great moments.

Ozzy’s longest tenured guitarist Zakk Wylde shows up on more tunes than any other guest guitarist. The guy is just a Heavy Metal Viking. He’s got to be a  head taller than Ozzy. I saw them together on the Black Rain tour and it sounded like an airplane landing in the arena. My favorite of the Zakk tunes is probably “Evil Shuffle.” That’s pretty much how the Rock Chick sees me walking through the house – with my evil shuffle. Its a typical, HEAVY Zakk tune. “Mr. Darkness” about an obsessed fan “stanning” over Ozzy is another Zakk highlight. “Nothing Feels Right” which was released as the third single could be seen as Ozzy giving us the state of his health over Zakk’s soaring guitar. It’s all great stuff.

If I had any complaint about this record – and I don’t really – it’s that it feels a little longer than the sixty minute running time. They likely could have edited a few things out. There’s a little bluesy throwaway at the end, “Darkside Blues,” where Ozzy again plays harmonica that they could have cut. It’s only a minute and a half long. Although I kind of wish they’d fleshed that out into an actual tune because well, I love the blues. They could have cut the “scary monster, b-movie, horror film” intro on the title track. And they likely could have cut one of the four Zakk tracks to streamline this thing a little bit. But again, complaining about too much Ozzy on an album is like complaining about too much money in your checking account.

This is a great album and a wonderful celebration of the man, the myth, Ozzy Osbourne. The Ozzy comeback or renaissance continues strong on Patient Number 9. I’ll probably spend most of my weekend up in the B&V lounge cranking this metal mayhem up to 11 and spilling Woodford Reserve on the carpet. This one is a must have for all you hard rockers out there. Enjoy this one at max volume!

Cheers!

Song Lookback: Pinball Wizard – With 3 Versions To Pick From, What’s Your Favorite?

GettyImages-74278118

I was listening to my MP3 player on “shuffle” the other day while I was reclining in the sun. All these years after those summer jobs, toiling in the heat and here I am still working on my tan. While listening to an MP3 player seems to run against our vinyl ethos here, I’m on record as listening to multiple sources of music as it’s hard to take a turntable everywhere you go. While my turntable may fit in the overhead space on an airplane it’s generally frowned upon to bring it with you on the flight…it is certainly frowned upon by my wife. There is something to be said about the convenience and portability of your music. I have to “not so humbly” admit, my MP3 player is the best “radio station” around right now, but I digress. Anyway, I’m basting in the sun, half expecting a chef to come rotate me ala rotisserie while pouring butter on me, and up pops the great Who song “Pinball Wizard.” It got me thinking about that particular tune and the different versions by different artists that I’ve heard over the years. Most of my ideas for B&V come when I’m listening to tunes and I guess this is no exception.

There are certain songs that are just classic in and of themselves regardless of who records it. The song seems to take on a life of it’s own. I remember long ago before I met the Rock Chick, having an argument with a woman in a bar – not an irregular experience at the time, sadly – and she was insisting that the song “Black Magic Woman” was first and perhaps only recorded by Santana. I was gently trying to explain to her who Peter Green was and that there was a Fleetwood Mac before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. She was having none of it. I’m not sure she even believed me about Peter Green founding Fleetwood Mac and she certainly didn’t believe that he’d written that song. If I may quote the movie Cool Hand Luke, “Some (wo)men you just can’t reach.” It was indeed “a failure to communicate.” I finally demurred and backed off realizing it was better for her to live in ignorance and for me to head to a different bar stool.

As I thought about “Pinball Wizard,” I was reminded of a similar post I’d done a few years back. I had the good fortune to be able to go on a beach vacation. One rainy afternoon I ducked into the lobby bar and the guy was playing the old Smokey Robinson tune “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me.” That melody quickly lodged itself into my rum-addled brain. I started thinking about the three versions of the song I like the most: the original, the Beatles’ version and finally Eddie Money’s version. To the surprise of most people, I like the slinky almost bluesy version done by Eddie Money(!) best. That may seem crazy and perhaps hurts my rock n roll credibility, but that was the first version of the song I was familiar with – being a product of the late 70s/early 80s – and the version that appeals to me most. Sometimes, a version of a song you hear first is the one you attach to.

In the 60s when the British invaded they brought with them all these great blues and soul tunes that they’d been listening to. Most white folks over here weren’t listening Little Richard, Chuck Berry or Muddy Waters but Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Keith Richards and Paul McCartney (among others) were. When young teenagers in the suburbs heard all those great cover versions on early Stones’ or Beatles’ records it’s doubtful many of them realized they were songs by great African-American artists right here in their own backyard. It was kind of subversive if you think about it. There are probably a large number of people who think “Roll Over Beethoven” was strictly a Beatles tune… and word to the wise, if you happen to get into an argument in a bar about it, just quietly change seats. It’s not worth it.

When I was growing up, the source, yay the font of rock n roll music was local radio. For us here in Kansas City it was KY/102. There was a more pop oriented station Q104 but that was for wussies and soccer moms. I’m sure most cities around were similar. They may have had more than one rock n roll station, and probably more than one pop station, but the radio universe was similar wherever you went. As a young teenager in the late 70s, I didn’t have a vast knowledge of all the music that came before me. I was into what was on the local radio. While they played the Who they really didn’t play “Pinball Wizard” very often. I heard “Baba O’Riley,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and “Who Are You” on high rotation but “Pinball Wizard,” not so much. I even heard “You Better You Bet” from one of the LPs only I like, Face Dances, more than “Pinball Wizard,” but it was then-current. The version of “Pinball Wizard” that did get airplay was the one by Elton John, recorded in 1975. To this day, it’s the Rock Chick’s favorite version of the tune. That freaks the purists out but I get it – it was the first version of the track she heard.

For me, there are really three essential versions of the song. They are, as follows, the original by the Who, a version recorded by Rod Stewart with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and finally the aforementioned Rock Chick favorite by Elton John.  Let’s look at all three:

The Who, 1969

“Pinball Wizard” was the first single released from the Who’s fourth LP, the epic rock opera Tommy. It’s hard to overstate how innovative it was for Pete Townshend and the Who to marry low brow rock n roll with the high brow concept of opera. Tommy is one of the earliest examples of a “concept album.” I remember being somewhat disappointed that the main riff, played by Townshend, was on an acoustic guitar instead of an electric but when I was a teenager I liked it loud and I too was raised on Elton’s version. It’s one of the Who’s great singles. It’s hard not to love this track. It’s one of the fundamental building blocks or rock n roll.

Rod Stewart & the London Philharmonic Orchestra , 1972

This is a version of “Pinball Wizard” that I’m going to guess not many people have even heard. I hadn’t ever heard it until I bought Rod’s box set Storyteller. Rod had been approach by the Who to sing the song with the London Philharmonic Orchestra – a project they were fully involved in – and appear in the movie version of Tommy. The Who did a few versions of songs from the rock opera with the Orchestra as well. Rod agreed to sing the song (in a more rock n roll version) and be in the movie but his drinking buddy Elton John talked him out of it. Elton told Rod he’d be too identified with and tied to the song if he appeared in the movie. I like this version of the song because well, I like Rod but also like the dramatic tension the Orchestra brings to the music. It’s a really elevated, cool version.

Elton John, 1975

Having screwed his buddy Rod Stewart by talking him out of the role and performance of the song, Elton slipped in and recorded his version. And he also appeared in the movie, pictured above. This is a more 70s rock n roll version. The piano and electric guitar fuel the classic riff instead of Townshend’s acoustic guitar on the original. There are a lot of people from the 70s who grew up listening to this version rather than the Who’s version who will swear it is the ultimate version of the song. I bet there are a few drunk people in bars who think that but hey, I don’t hang out in bars any more… OK, at least I don’t argue with women in bars anymore other than my wife. This really is a great version of the song. Davey Johnstone, Elton’s great guitarist, plays a tasty solo toward the end.

Conclusion?

As you listen to these three versions of the song back to back – as I did over and over this week while waiting for Ozzy’s new album to drop (review forthcoming soon) – you come to realize this is really one of the absolutely great rock songs of all time, whoever is performing it. I would advise any rock band whether they’re just starting in a garage or if they’re a bar band or playing arenas to learn how to play this song.

So what’s my favorite? Will I make a radical choice like the Eddie Money pick from the “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” post? For me, the favorite is clear, it’s the Who’s version. Although I’ve always been more partial to Quadrophenia than Tommy. For all of those who vote for Elton, I get it, it’s a tremendous version of the song and it gave me pause when trying to decide which version I liked best. For those who dig the Rod version – kudos on thinking outside the box.

If you want to voice an opinion of these three, I encourage everyone to contribute in the “comments” section. Enjoy this and be good out there.

Cheers!