Monday, December 4, 2017

Hair Metal Justifies #2

With their big-ass, poofy hair, cowboy boots and spandex, Cinderella looked an awful lot like every other glam metal band out there. Their debut record, Night Songs, also sounded a lot like the other glamsters, but if you listened hard, you could hear a definite difference in their sound. Cinderella leavened their rock with gritty blues elements, and that helped them stand out a little from their contemporaries.



Night Songs was just the beginning. On their second record, Long Cold Winter, Cinderella cranked up the blues. Slide guitars, acoustic strumming and piano balladry find their way onto this album, and, mixed with the band’s heavier elements and Tom Keifer’s gruff, gutty singing, Cinderella gave us a record that has staying power a lot of other 80s music just doesn’t. It has an immediately identifiable sound that makes you stomp your feet and smile.

Speaking of stomping your feet, the album’s first track, “Bad Seamstress Blues/ Fallin’ Apart at the Seams” will get your fuckin’ foot a-pounding. Fred Coury’s drums hook you and drag you through the mud, while the greasy main riff gets stuck in your head immediately. One listen and you’ll be hearing it in your sleep.



Next up is “Gypsy Road”, one of the most anthemic songs the hair metal boom ever produced. But it’s still a tightly constructed gem of a song, from the bluesy, bendy main riff, to the gang vocals that spice up the chorus. This kind of metal alloy may not invite you to windmill your head so fast, it nearly flies off your body. But it does invite you to crank the volume and sing along.



While we’re on the subject of singing, I need to mention how awesome Keifer is on this record. His gruff, screeching voice perfectly fits the band’s bluesy rockin’ sound. His voice recalls Brian Johnson’s AC/DC work. Any rock singer who can draw comparisons to Johnson is fucking getting it done. Getting. It. Done. I honestly think Keifer was under appreciated as a singer, and his guitar playing was pretty bad ass, too.



The next song on the record, “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” is a showcase for Keifer, who actually sounds like he means what he’s signing. Sincerity isn’t something you find much in hair metal, but it’s all over this song. The pianos here make the song sound kind of majestic. This may be a power ballad, but it’s also a well-written, incredibly affecting song. I’ll admit it. I get a little misty-eyed when I hear this tune.



Let’s jump ahead a little to the album’s title track. “Long Cold Winter” isn’t a bluesy metal song. It’s not a blues rock song. It’s just plain old blues. It winds through the chord changes like a python winding around its prey. Keifer sounds completely at home belting out a blues melody about heartbreak. The lead guitars shower down like rain. I’m not exactly sure how Keifer and co-axeman Jeff LeBarr split the lead playing, but there are some killer blues lick flying around on this one.



Next up is my personal favorite track on the record, the stomping, rampaging “If You Don’t Like It”. Driven by the most aggressive riffs on the album, this song hooks you with with Coury and bassist Eric Brittingham’s immense grooves. And check out the cowbell in the pre-chorus! On top of all that, Keifer’s spitting lyrics like an Uzi spits bullets. And, like all good hair metal songs, it’s perfect for cranking up and screeching along in the car.



“Coming Home” is a gorgeously melancholy tune, replete with jangly acoustic guitars and Keifer screeching and singing in his lower register. This song seems to encompass a lot of regret, like the narrator is happy to be on his way home, but he kind of regrets heading home, too. It’s as if he’s a little crestfallen that he didn’t really accomplish what he left home to do. I love that kind of emotional mixology in music.



Long Cold Winter draws to a triumphant close with another slide guitar-driven song, “Take Me Back”. By this time, Cinderella has left you with a big, stupid smile on your face. It’s the perfect note to leave us on, not too happy, not too sad, and absolutely fucking rocking.



If you dig this kind of music, it’s really hard to do better than Long Cold Winter. It’s a criminally effective fusion of bluesy rock and pop metal and it still sounds pretty fantastic today. This record is something I can still listen to today without feeling like I’m killing off my brain cells. If I had to sift through piles of shitty cookie-cutter butt rock records to find this one, it would totally be worth it.

Next time, we dig into Heaven's Edge and their self-titled debut record. Is this one as musically significant the others we've looked at so far? No. Do I love it just the same? Oh, hell YEAH!


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Getting Giddy Over Infinity War

So, the trailer for next year's Avengers: Infinity War dropped today. And I decided to be a sheep and do a reaction video just like everybody else. I'm not much to look at, but this moment was worth preserving and sharing.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Hair Metal Justified #1

Hair metal. It was vapid, soulless party music made to be blasted from car stereos and boom boxes while kids got drunk and fucked each other at keggers. It wasn’t meant to be important. It wasn’t meant to last.



And yet, somehow, some of the music produced by hair bands actually has managed to survive the test of time and even achieve classic status. Beyond that, hair metal was my doorway into real metal. For me, hair metal is kinda like Die Hard, the first R-rated movie I ever saw. It helped form part of the foundation of who I am now.


So, I decided to throw together a new feature highlight the records that, at least for me, justify the entire existence of hair metal as a genre. They make all that other stupid, vapid music worth it.


First up, Tesla’s The Great Radio Controversy.


Hailing from Sacramento, CA, Tesla stood out from their bigger-haired contemporaries like a Flock of Seagulls fan at a Slayer concert. These guys came off as blue jean-clad working class dudes in a world populated by androgenous, big-haired girlie-men. And while they never considered themselves a metal band, their sound was heavier and more bad ass than most of the other hair farmers.




Tesla’s first record, Mechanical Resonance, had quite a few good moments on it. But the band really hit their stride on their second record, The Great Radio Controversy. The record is a hard-hitting, hard-rocking, yet wonderfully varied, effort packed full of well-crafted songs. Let’s investigate.


Great Radio opens with “Hang Tough”. Brian Wheat’s bassline hooks us and pulls us in before the song erupts into a storm of pick scrapes, power chords and Troy Luccketta’s pounding percussion. Axeman Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch break into an Iron Maiden-style harmonized lead before the song settles into the verse.





Here, singer Jeff Keith takes over. I love this dude’s voice. It’s gruff and tough-sounding without being harsh or off-putting. The chorus gets spiced up with the requisite gang vocals, and instantly you have an anthem. I can see cranking this song up at the gym to get me pumped up do some bench presses or some shit. If I ever went to the gym.


“Lady Luck” follows, with its more sinister chord progression that tells that not all is right. And it turns out that all is, in fact, not right. Keith has been snowed by a beautiful but dishonest woman. I love the line where Keith asks this devil woman “How do you do”, and she replies “I don’t.”


“Lady Luck” is a perfectly solid tune, but it’s just set-up for “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)”. One of Tesla’s best songs, “Heaven’s Trail” pounds along riding a heavy dropped-D riff and some rock-steady drumming from Luccketta. The electric guitars drop out as the pre-chorus builds and then the song explodes into the chorus. It’s hooky, hefty and gets your foot stomping. Don’t stomp along if you live upstairs from someone else. It’s rude.



“Heaven’s Trail” is also one of the tracks on Great Radio that features some tasty slide guitar work. The next tune, “Be a Man” opens with some scorching slide guitar licks before morphing into a sing-along working class anthem. Keith’s lyrics lambast close-minded people who might think that what you look like determines what kind of person you are. Growing up in a predominantly Mormon community where folks were way too focused on the length of your hair and how you dressed, I really appreciated this message.


Tesla keeps the energy up for the next couple songs, and really revs it up for “Yesterdaze Gone”. “The Way it Is” is a big, sweet ballad where Keith extols the virtues of working through personal shit in a relationship. It’s got one of those guitar solos that you can hum after you hear it like twice and gives Wheat a little more space to show off on bass.




Great Radio closes with a really great 1-2-3 punch. “Love Song” is another acoustic guitar-driven ballad that opens softly then builds and builds to a tasty guitar solo and an infectious, sing-along outro. “Love will find a way”, get repeated ad nauseum, but you’re so hooked by then that you don’t care.




The next tune “Paradise” is the best song on the whole record. It opens as a piano ballad that Elton John would be proud to call his own. Again, the song builds, shifting to a double time tempo before Hannon and Skeoch break into tag-team guitar solos a la Judas Priest. The song is so well written that it pulls at the heartstrings and then melts your face, all within less than five minutes. It shows Tesla at their most versatile, capable of sweeping emotion and ass-kicking rock.




The last track, “Party’s Over”, is another stomper, with Luccketta providing a beat that kinda staggers around like a drunk ambling around the parking lot looking for his car. The chorus is huge, Hannon and Skeoch provide more harmonized leads that bury themselves in your brain, and when it’s over, you can’t wait to start the party all over.


Tesla may not have been a hair metal band, but I’m really glad stupid record executives thought they were. They were signed when hair metal was all the rage, and we got The Great Radio Controversy out of that deal. It’s a solid record from top to bottom, perfect for blasting from your car while out on a drive in the country. Hair metal history is lousy with records sucked giant bags of dicks. Thank the Maker, The Great Radio Controversy wasn’t one of them.

Coming soon: Cinderella's bluesy and bitchin' Long Cold Winter!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

NASA Bound...

Just letting you guys know that I'm done being a writer. I love writing, but my true calling is keep Earth safe from E.T. and his other pernicious buddies. I've been searching for my calling and it turns out NASA is looking for an officer in charge of protecting our planet from extraterrestrial threats. THEY'RE LOOKING FOR ME!! I'VE FINALLY FOUND WHERE I BELONG!!

Plus, it pays a lot better than my current gig...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

My Bloody Blonde Valentine

I'm too lazy to write a full review of Atomic Blonde, so here's a "skinny review" (I'm so clever...)

Atomic Blonde is a breath of fresh air at a time when violent yet bloodless franchise actioners targeted at rule the day. It's the kind of movie where when someone onscreen get decked, the folks in the audience feel it. It feels like a life and death struggle, instead of endless pixel piles punching pixel piles. And I loved it.

The cast is awesome. Charlize Theron is hard frakkin' core. She smulders with sex and violence and says so much with her eyes, you almost don't need dialogue. James McAvoy is equally awesome. John Goodman and Eddie Marsan (you may not know his name, but I bet you know his face) are also rock-solid. And this is the most acting I've ever seen Sophia Boutella do, and for the most part, she pulls it off.

This movie is more of a cat and mouse chase movie than I was expecting, which is fine by me. The action scenes are like blood-drenched dance numbers. Busby Berkley would be proud. But when people get hit the get HIT. There's a scene involving a staircase that was intense enough that it left me feeling like I just got dropped down an elevator shaft. That good action filmmaking.

The action in this movie pulses to a soundtrack chock full of classic 1980s pop songs. Some of these songs I haven't heard in YEARS. That adds another layer of enjoyment to the proceedings. Watching people beat the crap outta each other to tunes by Duran Duran, 'Til Tuesday and Joy Division is just about perfection.

Flaws? The biggest flaw is the convoluted plot that outsmarts itself. You can see the ending coming by about 45 minutes into the movie. And some of the stylistic choices made by director David Leitch are a little too far over the top. When you get popped out of the story because of how the camera is moving, that's a result of bad filmmaking.

That said, it is sooooo nice to see a movie where you can see the director's fingerprints on a film, and it's something we're losing in this movie landscape of cinematic universes and massive franchises. I'd much rather watch a movie like this or Baby Driver, movies where the filmmaker's personality ends up on screen, than War for the Planet of the Apes, where director Matt Reeves tells a good story, but that's as far as it goes.

Anyway, Atomic Blonde is fuckin' awesome, and it's a terrific antidote to the massive movie franchises. The action is raw and intense. The movie has style for days. The cast kicks ass. If you're looking for a good time at the movies, and you're not into Marvel, D.C., or sequel/prequel/remake/reboots in general, check this movie out. It could be exactly what you're looking for.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Blues Brothers for the New Millenium


I went to film school during the height of the indie film movement in the 90s, so you'd think my favorite movie would be something classy or artistic. Like something from Kurosawa, Herzog, or Paul Thomas Anderson. You would be wrong.

My favorite movie of all time is The Blues Brothers, a silly comedic musical spun off from a Saturday Night Live sketch. The one-liners! The car chases! The music! Dude, the MUSIC!

I've seen a lot of musicals, and even the best of them seldom seamlessly combine the music and the rest of the story. Blues Brothers was the first movie I can remember where music felt like a part of the story as a whole. It bounced along to its classic blues and R&B soundtrack. It's like the movie WAS music.

I bring that up because I just saw Baby Driver and it was chock full of that same feeling. Baby Driver pulses, almost breathes, to the rhythm of its soundtrack. It's not just the music that's playing as protagonist Baby (Ansel Elgort) spins the wheel of his getaway car, it's part of his thought process.

Baby Driver introduces us to its title character (Elgort) as he's closing in on paying off a debt he owes to his boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey). He also meet Debra (Lily James) and is quickly smitten. Baby and Lily plan to get away from their lives and start new, but when you're good at crime, it's not so easy to get away from it. Drawn back into Doc's gang for once again, Baby plans to get free from Doc and his gang for good.



There's no denying Baby Driver is an Edgar Wright flick. He's subdued his usual kinetic camera style, although he still has some amazing shots. Wright is also the king of fantastic scene transitions. His mastery of editing stands out even more amidst incompetently hacked-together shit like Suicide Squad and Tom Cruise Mummy movie.

Wright fuses his camera moves to the music on the soundtrack, and it works so well the camera almost looks like it's dancing. His car chase scenes move and have an energetic feel without suffering from an overabundance of shaky camera and Michael Bay-like chaos. You always understand what's going on and who's involved.

And the writing is stellar. The dialogue is far more catchy and witty than the way everyday people talk, buy it doesn't cross the line of being full-on cheese. Each character has a unique voice and that helps boost the performances even higher. Elgort and James have a palpable chemistry. Spacey, Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez are great in their roles.

But it's Jamie Foxx who steals the show. He's menacing, hateful and hilarious. I haven't dug a Foxx performance this much since he was Motherfucker Jones in the first Horrible Bosses flick. And his comeuppance scene is the best, most-satisfying comeuppance scene in recent movie-dom.

I LOVED this fuckin' movie. It's my favorite movie of the year so far. That includes stuff like Logan and Wonder Woman. It was the perfect fusion of art and violence, speed and wit, writing and action. It made me laugh, dropped my jaw to the floor and tugged at my heartstrings. I sincerely doubt I'll see anything I like better the rest of the year.

Now, time to crank up the tunes and go for a drive! PEACE!!




Thursday, March 2, 2017

Now THIS Is How You End Something!


Let's get the big thing out of the way right off the bat. Logan, the final movie starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, is good. Really good. Really, really fucking good. I'd go so far as to say it's the best X-flick to date. Yes, that includes Deadpool. You're fucking A right I said it.

Logan finds its titular protagonist close to the bottom of the barrel. The X-Men are long gone, and Logan's sole purpose is serving as a caretaker for the rapidly deteriorating Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, of course). Which is ironic, since Logan's badly deteriorating himself, sick, tortured and trying in vain to drink away his pain.

Logan's relative equilibrium is shattered when a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) enters his life. Logan takes Laura and Prof. X on the run from a band of well-armed assholes with bad intentions. The goal is to reach a safe place where Laura doesn't have to live in fear. The pursuit is filled with bloody action set pieces and a lot of Logan struggling against his fate and what's left of his better nature.



I won't lie. Logan was hard to watch. Not only do you kinda know where things are headed from the first frame, but it straight-up SUCKS seeing Logan and Xavier as shells of their former selves. The dread builds as Logan progresses toward his fate and all you can do is watch and hope.

And yet that also leads us to the best thing about Logan: It has genuine emotional weight. It affected my emotional state in a way no other superhero movie ever has. It addresses issues like losing your capabilities as you age and what happens when you're broken and you have no clue how to put yourself back together. That's heavy shit that I deal with every day and can totally relate to. And because it has genuine emotional heft, Logan satisfies in a way no other comic book movie can.

That said, Logan isn't the most fun movie to watch. I mean, it's pretty fun watching motherfuckers getting shredded like cheese. But it's not a cool action-filled romp like most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe flicks. It's not a symphony of dick jokes and superhero movie deconstruction, like Deadpool. But, while I've enjoyed all those movies, they haven't had me examining my own life the way Logan did. I wasn't expecting that heading into it, but I really think I needed that.

I'm not gonna break down the writing or the directing, both of which are more than good enough to get the job done. I will say that both Stewart and especially Jackman give two of the best performances I've ever seen them give. I hope they somehow get recognized for their work in Logan. It's exceedingly powerful stuff.

I was a teary-eyed mess by the time Logan ended. Admittedly, part of that came from knowing I don't get to see Jackman and Stewart playing Wolvie and Prof. X anymore. But Logan is a powerful, emotive story that might make you think if you're not careful. I can't recommend this movie enough. If you have any interest in seeing Logan, get your asses to the theater as soon as humanly possible.