Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ratt's Infestation CD review (2010)

Ratt are back and sounding better than ever with Infestation (Loud & Proud/Roadrunner), their first album of new music in 11 years.

With three-fifths of the band's classic lineup -- singer Stephen Pearcy, guitarist Warren DeMartini and drummer Bobby Blotzer -- still intact and some new blood injected into the band, it's no wonder the Los Angeles veterans are in particularly rare form on this latter-day hair metal classic.

Robbin Crosby is, of course, RIP, while original bassist Juan Croucier has long been MIA and has since been replaced by four-stringer Robbie Crane. Joining the fold to give the band a dual-guitar attack is Quiet Riot guitarist Carlos Cavazo.

Having two legendary six-stringers like DeMartini and Cavazo in the studio must have presented at least some temptation to producer Michael Baskette (Limp Bizkit, Chevelle, Incubus) to push the guitars way up in the mix at the expense of the rhythm section. But that's not the case.

Sure, the guitars and vocals jump out at you, but Crane and Blotzer also stand out with a clean, clear rhythm presence. This is one record that you can actually hear the bass on! In fact, Baskette's studio style recalls the crisp production work on 1986's Dancing Undercover -- the last truly stellar Ratt record.

Below is a track-by-track review of Infestation.

1. Eat Me Up Alive

Infestation opens with an irrepressible blast of a song that almost borders on '80s power metal in the vein of Judas Priest. Pearcy's threatening opening lyrics -- "Tell me all your secrets now / as I lay you on the bed" -- recall Priest's "Eat Me Alive."

There's even a breakdown at 2:15 that's reminiscent of the one in Priest's "The Sentinel." Pearcy engages in some brief Halford-ian wordplay during the breakdown and then DeMartini and Cavazo use the solo to trade barbed-wire licks like they're Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing.

Who would've thought Ratt had a Defenders of the Faith moment in them?!

2. Best of Me (Metal Mixtape favorite!)

After the Birmingham, England-like metal blight of "Eat Me Up Alive," we go straight to sunny California's Sunset Strip for this stellar single.

From the moment the chunky, melodic riffing of the song's intro kicks in with a sublime DeMartini lead over top, you know you're in for something memorable. It's the kind of music that can appeal to longtime fans without sounding like a retrospective rehash. It's amazing that this storied L.A. act can sound this good after all these years.

3. A Little Too Much

Another energetic number that contains some of the most dense guitar shredding of the record. This is a tough trash-talking rocker. Love that tolling of the bell around 3:10, too! It's just a moment, but it's a nod to the history of the genre's roots that calls to mind AC/DC's "Hell's Bells."

4. Look Out Below

An almost "Way Cool Jr." style jam with some bounce and shuffle, and touches of wah-wah on the guitar during the hook. The band hits double-time to end this track on a high note.

5. Last Call (Metal Mixtape favorite!)

This is an almost AC/DC-like call to debauchery, with a riff that recalls the Antipodeans' "Riff Raff" filtered through the Sunset Strip. Things get loose as a goose when the bridge comes along and there's a blues shuffle à la Tora Tora before kicking into the driving hook.

The solo opens with another Priest-ish moment, as DeMartini and Cavazo hit some tandem ascending runs that conjure up Tipton and Downing all over again.

6. Lost Weekend (Metal Mixtape favorite!)

Here it is, another Holy Grail moment for the hair metal faithful. Opening with an accentuated rhythm borrowed from early Mötley Crüe, "Lost Weekend" is the real deal with big chunky slabs of melodic riffing and party-hearty lyrics that show us all how to let our hair down.

It makes Pearcy's opening question on this track -- "Are you ready for big fun?" -- a needlessly rhetorical inquiry. Ah, Stephen, we were born ready. Where were you through much of the '90s when we needed you, while most rock fans were turning into depressed coffee-drinking losers?! Welcome back, boys!

7. As Good As It Gets

Slow, sleazy grooves dominate this mid-tempo number as Pearcy pays tribute to making love to his wife. Is it just me or does Stephen's voice have an almost Lemmy-like hoarseness on this track? In fact, this song feels kind of like a slow, heavy blues that Motörhead might pull off.

8. Garden of Eden

Here the record, in my opinion, begins to hit a lull. "Garden of Eden" just doesn't seem catchy, despite the Sabbath-y stomp of the verse with its stops and starts à la "War Pigs." It's almost like Ratt trying their hand at stoner rock.

Checking in at a very short three minutes, "Garden of Eden" feels like it's missing something. What's missing, though, I can't say. But this song feels to me like it was an afterthought that would have been better as a B-side.

9. Take a Big Bite

Another raunchy rocker with some nice harmony runs from DeMartini and Cavazo in the solo. Viva la double-guitar attack of classic metal! "Take a Big Bite" reverses the dull trend that started with "Garden of Eden."

10. Take Me Home

This is as close as we get to a power ballad on Infestation. "Take Me Home" has a dreamy sound, with guitars that mimic violins during the verses (think Boston's Tom Scholz on Third Stage) and nice orchestration courtesy of producer Michael Baskette to heighten the sense of drama.

Sure, it's a little left field for Ratt, but it plays nicely into the sensitive side of the bad boy stereotype that Pearcy and the band cultivate. And that's a big part of what makes the hair-metal genre so appealing to men and women alike.

11. Don't Let Go (Metal Mixtape favorite!)

At last, the final send off to a great album. "Don't Let Go" was co-written with John Corabi (Union, Mötley Crüe) and has that daring, driving guitar sound that feels big, edgy and dynamic like vintage Van Halen.

Pearcy's opening line is "I'm gonna get me some leg tonight for sure / and I don't care who I'm with." Um, when was the last time you heard anyone say that since David Lee Roth did it in "Unchained"?! That was 1981, for chrissake!

Bravo, Stephen! A heartfelt "thank you" to Ratt for making us remember the good times and creating brand-new music for us to make memories with in the future.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Whitesnake, Slip of the Tongue CD review

David Coverdale must not have been a happy camper in 1989. With ace guitarist Adrian Vandenberg injured and Vivian Campbell out of the fold, the British frontman was getting mounting pressure from Geffen Records to follow up on the multiplatinum breakthrough success of Whitesnake's self-titled 1987 effort.

No wonder then that Coverdale tapped musical chameleon Steve Vai to handle all guitar duties on 1989's Slip of the Tongue. After all, Vai was the "go to" guy of choice for everyone in the hard rock world long before collaborations and guest appearances on other people's record became the norm in popular music.

Vai had filled Yngwie Malmsteen's sizable shoes after the Swede's departure from Alcatrazz, and David Lee Roth knew he was the only man who could play his foil after the blond-maned rocker's years with Eddie Van Halen & Co.

Below is a track-by-track take on this quintessential arena metal platter.

"Slip of the Tongue"

A heraldic keyboard intro and quick doses of Vai's harmonic flash open the record with a sense of drama and pizazz. The hook is relentless and rocking. Lusty lyrics conjure images of Coverdale cavorting with then-wife Tawny Kitaen on MTV in a million homes. Welcome back, boys.

"Cheap an' Nasty"

Coverdale gets the record's most awkward moment out of the way early. Maybe he was just playing to Vai's recent resume, but spoken Roth-isms like "Just to the left, love" and "Don't talk with your mouth full" during the song's breakdown sound very un-rock & roll when it's the Queen's English coming out of your mouth.

Even a guest appearance by an ad hoc singing mob called "The Delberts from Hell Chorus" -- featuring Coverdale's former Deep Purple cohort Glenn Hughes -- can't rescue this song from sounding trite and tired.

"Fool for Your Lovin'"

In order to score his first and only No. 1 pop hit, Coverdale dug deep into Whitesnake's history to reprise "Here We Go Again" -- a song that first appeared on the band's 1982 album Saints & Sinners.

So it was only natural that Coverdale would look back to 1980's Ready an' Willing to try to capture the gold again. However, it's the bluesy edges of this track that prevent it from being pop-metal paradise.

"Now You're Gone"

The first of two power ballad-ish moments aimed at the "Here We Go Again"/"Is This Love?" audience.

This mid-tempo number has all the hallmarks of what could be a classic: the keyboard heaven intro with a searing, melodic lead; a few plaintive lyrics about lost love to open the song over a bed of lush keys; a quick cut to a metallized bridge; and the payoff of an arena-rock-sized hook meant for singing along to.

But it all feels a bit "by the numbers" and like it's been piece together from disparate parts, more a product of studio stitchery than anything else.

While we're on the topic of studio work, it never ceases to amaze me that you can still hear unintentional noise bleeding through during the quiet parts on some of these big-budget major label releases.

Pop on a pair of headphones and listen at exactly :21 seconds during the intro to hear a muffled voice in the right channel. Later, at :26 seconds, you can hear an even fainter sound of what seems to be someone in studio laughing as Coverdale trails off from the song's opening lyric.

Perhaps studio whizs Mike Clink and Keith Olsen were too busy producing the Sea Hags' self-titled debut and the Lean on Me soundtrack (!) in 1989 to notice in the final mix!

"Kittens Got Claws"

Was Steve Vai the right fit for Whitesnake? Well, he certainly brings a sense of humor to heard-it-all-before material like "Kittens Got Claws" when he makes his guitar meow and purr during the intro and outro. His vibrato work on this one has that quintessential Vai sound -- as plastic and flexible as a melting watch in Salvador Dali painting.

"Wings of the Storm"

After the rockin' comic relief Of "Kittens," things gets deadly serious again with the driving metallic riffing of "Wings of the Storm." Anyone notice the musical similarity between this number and "Bark at the Moon"? No surprise really, considering that bassist Rudy Sarzo and drummer Tommy Aldridge both laid rhythm for that mid-1980s Ozzy Osbourne classic.

Of course, Vai makes "Wings of the Storm" his own during the solo. Check out the extended descending fretboard run at 3:17 for proof.

"The Deeper the Love"

While "Now You're Gone" may have been the heir apparent to "Here We Go Again," "The Deeper the Love" is my pick as the stronger of the two power-ballad singles.

Coverdale layers his airy vocals like cotton candy over dreamy keyboards. The guitar work rocks you gently with Vai getting extra texture out of what sounds like a bit of finger-plucking at the end of the melody line. And that simple, insistent drum beat is the bedrock for what might have been a wildly popular hit single.

It all comes together in a more organic way than "Now You're Gone," which has just enough moving parts to feel unfortunately forced. "The Deeper the Love", by comparison, just flows seamlessly. To paraphrase Marlon Brando, this one shoulda been more of a contender.

"Judgment Day"

Coverdale has often been accused of being a Robert Plant rip-off and "Judgment Day" does little to counter that belief. A vaguely exotic stampede of percussive chords and subtle sitar work call to mind Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."

"Slow Poke Music"

This song has an interesting, stuttering rhythm during the chorus. But otherwise it's not too memorable, despite nice playing from Vai that almost recalls his gritty guitar work on "Tobacco Road" with David Lee Roth.

"Sailing Ships"

Opening with minstrel-like acoustic work reminiscent of Ritchie Blackmore, "Sailing Ships" is the perfect end to Slip of the Tongue.

Toward the end, an extended electrified coda erupts in a flurry of Led Zeppelin-esque sonic stomping. Sublime, soul-searching lyrics like "You'll find that you're the only one / can sail your ship across the sky" leave you with a sense of wonderment and awe at the possibilities of life.

In the last moments of the song, Coverdale hits a dramatic high note that rivals the one in "Still of the Night," while Vai's guitar echoes off into eternity.

Could this be Whitesnake's "Stairway to Heaven," with its meld of unique styles into an epic songwriting structure? Perhaps. This much is certain, though: Like a class act, Whitesnake leave you wanting more with "Sailing Ships."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Steelhouse Lane, Slaves of the New World CD review

Here are just a few highlights from this stellar disc:

"Give It All Me"
A heavy blues-rock opener that's fairly predictable until the 2:30 minute mark. That's when you get a little taste of the band's unconventional flare for the dramatic with singer Keith Slack's wordless syllables echoing while guitarist Mike Slamer coaxes interesting tones out of his axe. It's just for a moment, but it's a preview of more of the band's experimental side to come later on this record.

"Find What We're Lookin' For"
Instantly the most catchy track on the entire album. The combo of Slack's voice and Slamer's fretwork call to mind Don Dokken and George Lynch, with the song sounding at moments like Dokken's "Burning Like a Flame."

A dramatic pre-chorus about a soul-searcher sung over piercing razor-sharp arpeggios and some cool keyboards resolves with a feel-good refrain with choir-like layered vocals.

When Slack pleads "We've come too far / We ride too long / One love, one heart / Deep inside / we'll find what we've been / looking for," well, Steelhouse Lane will make you a believer. This is music that will make you hopeful again.

Simply put, a masterpiece.

"Son of a Loaded Gun"
A bit too imitative of the "Wanted Dead or Alive"/Blaze of Glory vibe and about a decade too late at that. But this does help fulfill the minimum requirement that every good AOR album have at least one acoustic-based track.

"Turn Around"
Opens with unique echo-laden guitar work that has a mysterious air to it. Later, Slamer's singular fretwork has flashes of inspiration that meld the finger tapping and harmonics of Eddie Van Halen with the fusion sensibility of Allan Holdsworth. Best of all, it all gives way to a radio-friendly hook that perfectly showcases the band's knack for combining woodshed musicianship
with commercial instincts.

"Slaves of the New World"
Heavily percussive guitar percolations ushers in a wild romp à la the abandon of Van Halen's "Tora Tora." Definitely the most unique on the album and a cool focal point as the disc's title track. We also get a hint of social consciousness with lyrics that survey the last several hundred years of history. Slack begins by decrying the loss of the plight of native American Indians and then likens their enslavement to that of the modern person at the hands of technology...unless I'm reading too deeply into this song!

And who's that making a cameo at the 3:00 minute mark? Why, it's that familiar opening voice from the Scorpions' Humanity Hour 1!

"All I Believe In"
This is Slamer's moment to shine, with an extended solo intro against a lush backdrop of heaven-drenched keyboards that lasts for more than a minute. His playing his a beautiful yet mournful tone that I can only liken to "Rain" -- Jason Becker's amazing solo guitar piece.

What follows after the intro is a true ballad for the romantics among you with a strong sense of melody and an even stronger vocal presence.

"In Too Deep"
A fun rocker with a chunky mid-tempo riff that recalls Loudness' "Let It Go." A nice companion piece to the go-for-the-throat melodic energy of "Find What We're Lookin' For," albeit a little more sedate than that gem.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Spiders & Snakes' Arachnomania CD review

This 1991 dark glam release from the Los Angeles-based Spiders & Snakes was perhaps a day late and a dollar short for its time, but it's still a fun listen regardless. Below is a track-by-track review of this five-song disc.

"California Slide"

Starts out with a strong opening riff that has hints of Ratt's "You're In Love" with several whammy bar workouts in under a minute. The hook, however, is extremely obnoxious with singer-guitarist Lizzie Grey's incessant shrieking -- Ya sliddddeee...sliddddeee! Strong musicianship, but the vocals are a definite acquired taste. Fortunately, Grey's vocals are never quite this annoying again on Arachnomania.

Lyrically, you have the typical tales of gutter and glam: "It's getting so that nobody can think anymore / and everybody likes it that way / How you gonna run away leave your small town behind / when you're born in L.A."

"Captain Tripps"

Taking a cue from Operation:Mindcrime, this track opens with a news snippet about the threat of Mexican prostitutes spreading AIDS to American men. Nice to see a burgeoning social conscience!

This track builds from power ballad arpeggios with touches of layered lead guitar during the verses to a chorus that's all NWOBHM double-paced hooks.

The Captain Tripps of the title is a menacing Twister Sister-like protagonist ("Captain Howdy," anyone?) and there's probably some connection between his misdeeds and the Mexican prostitutes, but it's eluding me at this point.

"The End of Marylou"

Lest Spiders & Snakes be branded a bunch of misogynists, the next track bounces back with a very sensitive story of a woman who wants out of a neglectful marriage. She dreams of going to school, and the lyrics show a deep empathy that lets belies the band's party hardy facade. It's the kind of populist songwriting you might hear from Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp.

The music is propulsive with possible hints of keyboard seemingly buried deep in the mix. It's almost Dio-esque in its momentum, in the way "We Rock" is a full-steam ahead chugger.

"Little Willie"

It's good to hear somebody picking up on this Sweet classic, joining the likes of Krokus with their classic cover of Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz."

Too often it seems like hair metal bands were only fixated on the equally talented Slade when it came to their choice of covers. Recall Quiet Riot with "Cum on Feel the Noize" and "Mama Weer All Crazee Now" and Britny Fox with "Gudbuy T'Jane."

Unfortunately, Grey's delivery sounds like he's Ric Ocasek of the Cars.

"Billion Dollar Babies"

Grey does a great Alice Cooper, mimicking every vocal nuance of Alice Cooper, right down to the double-tracked vocals of talking and singing during the verses.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Overkill's Ironbound CD review

In tribute to their native New Jersey, Overkill have unleashed their 16th studio album, Ironbound, which takes its name from an industrial neighborhood in the city of Newark.

Ironbound has been called a "thrash metal masterpiece" in promotional materials. But that's probably more hyperbole than anything -- in the end, what you have is really just another solid, if occasionally above average, album from the Garden State metal veterans.

With Ironbound, frontman Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth & Co. have delivered a record steeped in thrash history -- both the history of the band itself and the history of the genre as a whole.

Need proof?

• "Killing for a Living" opens with a D.D. Verni bass line that has shades of the late Cliff Burton's haunting, impressionistic "Damage, Inc." intro.
• The disc's first single, "Bring Me the Night," is built on a riff that clearly borrows from Diamond Head's "Helpless."
• The blood-pumping build up of "The Green and Black" around 2:35 is actually a case of Overkill plagiarizing themselves. Listen to the ascending riff madness of "Charlie Get Your Gun" off 2007's Immortalis from about 1:55 as a comparison and see if you don't agree.

This is not to say that Overkill -- rounded out by relative newbies drummer Ron Lipnicki and guitarists Derek Tailer and Dave Linsk -- sound tired or unimaginative on Ironbound. In fact, the core songwriting team of Blitz and Verni sounds more invigorated than most guys in their early 50s could ever hope to be.

But it's important to note the historical context for their latest music, especially as Overkill gain younger fans who may not be aware of the legacy this band has.

"Give a Little" is one of the most interesting tracks on Ironbound, and it offers a hodge-podge of a few different elements from the band's 1989 classic The Years of Decay. Its bitter lyrical tone calls to mind "Elimination", while the slow build-up section nicks the breakdown riff from "E.vil N.ever D.ies." But the track's truly standout moment comes during the pin-drop quiet breakdown at 3:40 when you can hear unique, almost bluesy timbres in Blitz's throat.

If you think you know the entire spectrum of this legendary screamer's voice, well, think again.

"Bring Me the Night," Ironbound's first single, is absolutely riveting and relentless go-for-the-throat thrash. One of its main riffs also happens to be a near carbon copy of the aforementioned Diamond Head track. Listen to Metallica's cover of "Helpless" to hear for yourself.

This, ultimately, is all a testament to Overkill's continuing tradition of fine metal craftsmanship. Any good album should hit on some familiar sonic touchstones and use them as a departure point to explore new horizons. And that's exactly what Ironbound does.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Blackeyed Susan's Electric Rattlebone CD review

After parting company with Britny Fox, frontman Dean Davidson launched his solo career with this 1991 effort. Electric Rattlebone was an homage to the Americana roots of rock & roll that aimed for a Black Crowes/vintage Rolling Stones kind of appeal. Below are just a few highlights of this unique album.


After the juke joint jam of the album's self-titled intro, the first proper song we get is an E Street Band-like jubilee with horns, parlor piano and plenty of backbeat attitude.

Gone are the throat-straining vocals of the Britny Fox days. Davidson shows off a more realistic vocal style that doesn't sound like he's trying to achieve any sound other than his own natural timbre.

"None of It Matters"

This is by far the most unique track on Electric Rattlebone with Indian influences like that opening sitar riff, the guru chants peppered throughout and some orchestral overtones on the outro.

Fortunately, Davidson never loses sight of catchy pop hooks. Think of it as the Sgt. Pepper's moment of Electric Rattlebone. Also notable is a brief return of Davidson's over-driven Britny-style vocals at around 3:25 and elsewhere in the track.

"Ride With Me"

Here's a song that was, in a sense, ahead of its time. Pedal steel guitar mixed into the power ballad format predates the hair metal-country crossover by what, 10 years at least? "Ride With Me" is the most beautiful ballad on the album, and it wouldn't be out of place on commercial country radio in 2010.

"Best of Friends"

Almost like a companion piece to "Ride With Me," "Best of Friends" opens with a familiar sounding arpeggio that has definite shades of Cinderella. Beautifully moving piano lines, strong backing gospel-style vocals and a dedication to late founding Britny Fox drummer Tony "Stix" Destra makes this the most poignant track on the record.

"Heart of the City"

Davidson's tribute to his beloved Philadelphia. Heavily electrified slide guitar, clinking cowbell and an instantaneous groove that could make the most leaden footed among us move. Again, a touch of the rough-and-tough Britny-sounding vocals are punctuated throughout for added emphasis. A perfect end to an often overlooked album.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bruce Kulick's B3 CD review

Highlights of former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick's latest solo effort:


Post-modern rock with somewhat nonsensical lyrics delivered in that fast pitter-patter way reminiscent of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Kulick's vocals are heavily processed to give it them that machine-line tinge. Just one song out of the gate and we already get a couple of lyrical nods to Kiss, as Kulick drops line that name-check "War Machine" and "Shout It Out Loud" -- ironically both songs that pre-dated his joining the band.

"Ain't Gonna Die"

The Kiss love continues with Gene Simmons co-writing and singing this track. As usual, fame and immortality are on Simmons' mind and the songwriting moves through twist and turns and some experimental orchestration at the end. Recommended for fans of the Demon's 1978 solo album.

"I'll Survive"

Pink Floyd-like strumming dominates this track that addresses Kulick's experience getting shot by a stray bullet a few years back. Sample lyric: "The warm, smoking gun couldn't take me away / My life was spared, I was blessed that day."

"Dirty Girl"

Ah, now we're finally getting to the heart of the album with this cut and the next. "Dirty Girl" is pure pop-rock paradise in the vein of Enuff Z'Nuff or some of Paul Gilbert's King of Clubs album. There's a strong, melodic footprint and perhaps the best, sweetest-sounding vocals of the entire album, courtesy of the Knack's Doug Fieger (of "My Sharona" fame).

"Final Mile"

A heart-achingly beautiful song that has harmonic shades of "God Gave Rock N' Roll to You." If you loved the vague classical feel and dual-guitar harmonies of Kiss' cover of the Argent song, you're sure to love "Final Mile" too.

Visit for more information.