Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hair Metal Justified #3

Most of the records I look at in this series are here because I think they’re great pieces of music that undeservedly get overlooked because of the “hair metal” stigma attached to them. But not this record. This one’s here because I LOVE it and that’s the only reason it’s here. Let us begin.

There was this record store in my hometown called Rainbow Records and Tapes. I spent A LOT of time there and got to know the staff pretty well. Because I grew up in a town that was like 90% Mormon, I didn’t know anybody who liked metal, even the lightweight stuff. Everybody seemed to like stuff like Depeche Mode or (ugh) country.

But there was one girl at Rainbow who was into metal, and one day when I waltzed through the door, she told me about this new record by a band called Heaven’s Edge. She popped her copy into the store’s stereo and I was immediately interested. Heaven’s Edge walked the sonic line between the typical metal-light of bands like Poison and Warrant and heavier metal alloys like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I picked up a copy and drove like a bat out of hell to get home so I could play loud on my bedroom radio. (At the time, the stereo in my car wasn’t working. It was hell.)

Heaven’s Edge’s debut came out in 1990, toward the end of the reign of hair metal. The record showcased the riffing of axe men Reggie Wu and Steven Parry (not the Journey dude), the voice of Mark Evans and the booming rhythmic work of bassist G.G. Guidotti and basher David Rath. Wu handled the majority of the solo work, and he apparently went to the Vinnie Vincent school of shredding, where you never play just two notes when you have room for twenty. The songs aren’t very deep, but that was par for the course with glam metal. Still, why did I love this record so much?

The first reason I think this band stuck for me in their sound. That is on full display on the song “Up Against the Wall”. The guitars are loud and grinding, like the guitars on a good Judas Priest song. Rath’s drumming is rock-solid and Wu’s leads have a liquid metal lunacy and precision that a lot of guitarists of the day couldn't touch. And Evan’s voice is in that perfect cocky rocker guy zone that makes wanna punch the air and scream “fuck yeah!”

Another reason I loved this band is because they had a little range when it came to subject matter. “Find Another Way” is like the ultimate broken-hearted optimist anthem, as Evan begs the object of his affection for another chance. It’s not a happy song, but it is hopeful.

The next track, “Up Against the Wall”, finds Evans dodging the angry daddy of an underage girl he hooked up with. He seems to realize just what a dumbass he is, but he keep acting stupid anyway.

“Bad Reputation” and “Daddy’s Little Girl” lament the decisions that led a nice girl down the path to misbehavior, though these songs sound a little too slut-shamey to my older, slightly wiser ears.  

Anyway, you get the idea.

Along with the range in subject matter, Heaven’s Edge was good at mixing tempo and intensity. While there are plenty of hefty mid-tempo jams on the record, the band slows down for the ballad “Hold On Tonight”, which isn’t too original but can still stand toe to toe with any other ballad from the era.

Elsewhere, HE turns on the jets for the rollicking “Can’t Catch Me” and locks into a bluesy grove to kick off “Is That All You Want”. Other bands tried to mix things up, but the Heaven’s Edge boys had the skills to actually pull it off.

HE never broke big, I think for two primary reasons. First, they came out when the market was already saturated with cut rate butt rockers. And grunge came along to knock metal out of the spotlight a short time later. Heaven’s Edge never got the time to really establish themselves.

The second reason Heaven’s Edge never broke big is that they didn’t really stand out from the rest of the hair metal pack visually. They look pretty plain. They might have been able to play the working class rockers of the hair metal scene, but that role was already filled pretty well by Tesla. Other bands that got big back then had more extreme looks. They were easier to spot. HE may have been thinking “We’re here to play, not pose”, but I do think their lack of a more discernible visual aesthetic ended up letting them down.

Whatever the reason, it’s kinda sad Heaven’s Edge never got big, because I think they were a road sign pointing to where hair metal was headed. A rougher, more metallic sound that engaged those who love sharp musical chops just as much as it did lovers of sticky melodic hooks. It’s not extra-special, but this band did have more talent than a lot of other rank-and-file hair rockers. Evans, in particular was a much better singer than guys like Bret Michaels and Jani Lane. Although when he tries to hit those super high notes, it kinda hurts the ears.

Anyway, I still love this record, and it feels kinda cool to be able to share them because they feel like some secret that I’m in on and few others have any idea this band ever existed. I hope, if you choose to watch the vids and listen to the songs I mention, that you enjoy what you hear. I know that this is a band that, when a certain mood hits me, I’m always gonna spin.

Next time: Jake E. Lee joins forces with Ray Gillen and Eric Singer to give us the badass debut by their band, Badlands!

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!!