Friday, September 29, 2006

Vintage Anthrax Picture

Keep It in the Family

While attending a recent wedding on my wife's side of the family, I had the pleasure to chat with her older cousin Anthony S. Fiore, Jr. It turns out cousin Tony is a lifelong photographer and metalhead, so he and I had a great time talking about '80s metal. He told me he had some old-school pics from a record signing Anthrax did at the now-defunct Rock N' Roll Heaven record shop in Clark, New Jersey. The store was owned by John and Marsha Zazula of Megaforce Records fame and apparently counted ex-Overkill guitartist Bobby Gustafson among its employees.

I recently stumbled across the picture he was talking about on Anthrax's website. Cousin Tony is flanked by Charlie Benante, Joey Belladonna and Scott Ian. His brother, cousin David, is seen on the righthand side of the image throwing up the horns and nearly cuckolding Ian in the process! Cousin Tony also shot the band at a 2005 fan-only event in Sayreville, New Jersey. Some of his other music-related pics can be found here. I hope to be able to post other vintage metal pics from the Fiore archives in the future.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Randy Rhoads Vs. Randi Rhodes

What's in a Name?

Have you ever wanted to rename yourself after a dead rock star? That's exactly what Randi Rhodes (pictured right) did. Born Randi Bueten, the talk show personality hosts her own program on Air America Radio.

She rechristened herself in honor of the late guitarist Randy Rhoads (pictured left) of her own volition, not because of some dubious decision thrust on her by management. "I named myself after Ozzy Osbourne's guitar player," Rhodes recalled last year in a C-SPAN transcript. "And people think they're making some joke when they say, 'Oh, your named after' -- I did it on purpose . . . I thought of Randy Rhoads, who was a consummate professional. He had long blonde hair like me . . . He always practiced. I mean, he practiced eight hours a day. He lived to be the best. So I just loved his legend and I loved his professionalism and I loved Ozzy and I loved everything about that band. So I named myself Randi Rhodes."

In other bizarre metal moniker news, there's apparently a man impersonating Bruce Dickinson from his pre-Iron Maiden days. He goes by the name Bruce Bruce -- just as Dickinson did during his Samson years -- and was last seen perfecting a stand-up routine at comedy clubs across the country!

Europe Start Their Own Secret Society

Joey Tempest & Co. Ready New Release

Europe have announced their new album, Secret Society, will hit stores Nov. 7 through Sanctuary Records. Secret Society features the band's original lineup -- singer Joey Tempest, guitarist John Norum, bassist John Leven, keyboardist Mic Michaeli and drummer Ian Haugland. The album's cover art was created by legendary graphic artist Storm Thorgerson, the man behind famous Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Helloween and Bruce Dicksinson covers.
Do you think this Europe cover ranks among Thorgerson's classics?

1) Yes, it has all the elements that make his art so arresting.
2) No, he really dropped the ball on this one.
3) I could care less. I never thought Europe had cool covers anyway.
4) Write in with your own response!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hair Apparent: Great White

(Editor's note: This is the third installment in a series about old albums that don't quite qualify in the Lost Classics category, yet still warrant a closer look.)

Great White, Hooked (Capitol, 1991)

The Big Idea: Blues-rockers make a (mista) "bone"-afide grab for arena-rock stardom

Choice Cuts: "Call It Rock N' Roll," "The Original Queen of Sheba," "Desert Moon" and "Afterglow"

Sonic Brethren: Kix, Cinderella, Tesla and AC/DC

It's nearly impossible to talk about Great White these days without mentioning the 2003 fire in a Rhode Island nightclub that killed 100 people. Yet while the focus understandably remains on the tragedy, people have nearly forgotten about the great blues-based hard rock once made by the Los Angeles quintet.

Hooked was frontman Jack Russell & Co.'s fifth full-length studio album and aimed to recapture the success of the band's double-platinum breakthrough effort, 1989's . . . Twice Shy. While it never matched it predecessor in sales, Hooked remains one of Great White's better efforts.

The platter kicks off with the four-on-the-floor stomp of "Call It Rock N' Roll," the disc's first single. Russell addresses the censorship of parent groups like the PMRC with the lyric "There's trouble all around/Trouble with the PTA/Tell me whatcha gonn do?/Takin' all our highs away" while guitarist Mark Kendall cuts loose with some tasty licks in the vein of Chuck Berry. The next track, "The Original Queen of Sheba" is built on a hook with a lot of down-home twang -- so much that it even bears a strong resemblance to "Gyspy Road" by Cinderella!

But Great White are capable of more than just straight-up rock. "Lovin' Kind" is a piano ballad that anticipates the unplugged direction the band would take on their rootsy 1994 effort, Sail Away. While never released as a single, "Lovin' Kind" would have been a good candidate to capture some of the market dominated by keyboard-laden tunes toward the end of the hair metal movement.

The remainder of the album displays a variety of styles from the hardest-rocking cut "Desert Moon" to the expansive swamp boogie "Congo Square," the latter checking in just shy of seven minutes in length. Laidback acoustic guitars dominate cuts like the lazy, back-porch jam "South Bay Cities" and an album-closing cover of the Small Faces' "Afterglow."

They couldn't have known it at the time, but Great White's interpretation of "Afterglow" ends the album on a somewhat prophetic note. Though Hooked would hit the gold mark shortly after its release, none of the band's subsequent albums would ever go gold or platinum again. Hooked's sales of 500,000 copies was like a brief coda to the two million-deep sales of . . . Twice Shy. Afterglow, indeed.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Queensrÿche Show Review

Handguns and heroin. Anarchy, religion and prostitution. Revolution, revenge and redemption. These are just a few of the elements that figure into Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime and Operation: Mindcrime II. Lead singer Geoff Tate & Co. rolled into New York's Nokia Theatre in the heart of Times Square last night to perform both albums back-to-back -- a mammoth task that few bands could tackle. For anyone who missed last night's show, the group will be playing again tonight.

Half of the fun of last night's performance was seeing live actors up onstage fleshing out the storyline. The original Sister Mary -- singer Pamela Moore -- reprised her role and brought her usual thespian touch to the character. Tate, meanwhile, variously portrayed both Dr. X and Nikki at different points in the storyline. I'm not sure of the name of the fellow who also portrayed Nikki during other parts in the production, though I'm fairly certain the same actor also handled those duties in the Mindcrime tour of a few years ago.

As for the musicians, they were extremely tight and came very close to recreating the studio sheen heard on the Mindcrime albums. My only criticism would be of guitarist Mike Stone. While I've really come to appreciate Stone over the last couple of years, I can't help but think he's always a little off with his renditions of Chris De Garmo's guitar lines from the first Mindcrime album, but that's a minor quibble at best.

Following the performance of the original Mindcrime, Queensrÿche took a 20-minute intermission before returning to begin the sequel. The high point of the Mindcrime II set undoubtedly came during "Murderer?" as Tate wrestled with the agonies of a man torn between revenge and forgiveness. It is at this point that he must decide whether or not to slay the blindfolded and beaten Dr. X.

I won't ruin the surprise for those of you who have yet to see the show. However, if you listen to the track on the album there's a subtle audio clue as to the outcome of action at approximately 4:04 or 4:05. I had the good fortune to interview Tate about the album some months ago and he revealed that tidbit to me. At the time, it didn't make much sense. But having now seen the show, it seems almost obvious in retrospect.

Hearing both albums in their entirety was a real treat, but Tate & Co. also played a two-song encore featuring "Walk in the Shadows" and "Jet City Woman." How many bands half the age of Queensrÿche could deliver a 34-song set with such ease? And right about now they're getting ready to do it all over again tonight!

Check out some exclusive pictures from the gig below.

Queensrÿche at New York's Nokia Theatre 09.21.06

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

KingoftheHill: The Disregard of Timekeeping?

Punching the Clock . . . Into a Bloody Pulp

I recently found a used copy of KingoftheHill's 1991 self-titled debut (yes, apparently the band's name is written as one continuous word). The St. Louis quartet -- led by blonde frontman Frankie Muriel -- was signed to SBK Records, the label home of Vanilla Ice, Selena and others.

"I Do U," one of the disc's singles, has a funky, horn-drenched sound that earned Muriel & Co. a reputation as a poor man's Extreme. Meanwhile, another single called "If I Say" is an acoustic-based ballad that's similar to likeminded material from Poison or Firehouse.

I find it difficult to recommend this album; it's a bit too faceless and anonymous with little to distinguish it. In fact, one of the most remarkable things about the platter is a shameless marketing ploy used in the liner notes. "If I Say" is listed as being three minutes and 72 seconds long. I mean, come on, as if a radio or video programmer isn't going to notice the blatant attempt to come in around the three minute mark -- even though the real length is four minutes and 13 seconds! Likewise, "Place in My Heart" checks in at three minutes and 85 seconds in the track listing. That's four minutes and 27 seconds for those of you who don't speak metric.

I guess you can't fault a band for trying anything to get their songs played, but I've never seen this particular ploy before. Do a radio edit, for crying out loud! Putting out mediocre hair metal is one thing. But to add insult to injury by also violating standard rules of time calculation is just unacceptable.

(Editor's note: Incidentally, "Place in My Heart" is in a similar vein to "If I Say" and is the best tune on the album, in my estimation)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Lost Classics: Nelson

The Timotei Twins Strike Again!

Nelson, After the Rain (Geffen, 1990)

The Big Idea: The spawn of a late teen pop star churn out fluffy pop metal

Choice Cuts: "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection," "After the Rain" and "Tracy's Song/Only Time Will Tell"

Sonic Brethren: Winger, Bon Jovi, Slaughter

First off, let me say that I know this is a much maligned album. However, I believe it's one of the stronger efforts in the commercial metal genre. If you like your metal with pop hooks, Nelson are a sure bet. Consider the band's pedigree for a moment. As the twin sons of '50s teen star Ricky Nelson, singer/bassist Matthew and singer/guitarist Gunnar had ample opportunity to study up on pop songwriting from their father's catalog of hits, which included "Travelin' Man," "Poor Little Fool," "Garden Party" and more.

But while their old man's connections may have helped them secure a record deal, Matthew and Gunnar's music succeeded on much more than nepotism alone. The material on their After the Rain debut married a strong Top 40 vocal presence with pop-metal production values and blazing guitar solos courtesy of Bret Garsed. And let's not forget the role their image played in their initial success -- those boyish faces framed by straight blonde hair earned them the nickname the Timotei Twins in the European press (after a popular Swedish shampoo that featured a female look-alike in its commercials).

The band's first single, "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection," builds from a beautiful acoustic guitar pattern topped by the brothers' mellifluous vocals into a pop confection with sugary hooks. I'd say 'saccharine hooks,' but the connotation is disingenuous. Call me a fool, but I find Nelson believable when they perform their songs. This tune, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1990, is said to have been developed from a riff Matthew came up with while looking at a photo of Cindy Crawford in Vogue magazine.

Meanwhile, the disc's title track benefits from sparkling keyboard flourishes courtesy of piano man Paul Mirkovich, additional vocal and instrumental expertise from six-stringer Joey Cathcart and a rock steady groove laid down by ex-Vinnie Vincent Invasion drummer Bobby Rock. While "After the Rain" is a mid-tempo rocker, "Only Time Will Tell" is a true power ballad in every way: Mirkovich dominates with a piano-based arrangement; the hook kicks in with a swooning string section; and the tune is even preceded by a classical guitar intro titled "Tracy's Song" in honor of Matthew and Gunnar's sister Tracy. Need a quick primer on every glib power ballad cliché in the book? Look no further than "Only Time Will Tell." But that's precisely why we love the Timotei Twins -- they give their fans what they want.

I believe Nelson fans suffer from the same affliction that strikes Spice Girls or New Kids on the Block lovers: Though these are all multiplatinum acts, you can't find a single person who'll fess up to having bought a copy. Well, I'm proudly announcing myself as a Nelson fan and consumer, albeit 16 years too late. (Though I would never pay full price. I found After the Rain used for $1 at a local record shop!)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Hair Apparent: Kik Tracee

(Editor's note: This is the second installment in a series about albums that don't quite qualify in the Lost Classics category, yet still warrant a closer look.)

Kik Tracee, No Rules (RCA, 1991)

The Big Idea: Dana Strum protégés deliver nuanced, ballad-heavy hair metal

Choice Cuts: "You're So Strange," "Big Western Sky," "Lost" and "Fade Dunaway"

Sonic Brethren: Slaughter, the Cult and Guns N' Roses

1991 will long be remembered by '80s metal aficionados as the year Nirvana arrived to sound the death knell for hair metal bands. It also happens to be the year that Los Angeles quintet Kik Tracee released its debut disc, No Rules. At the time, Kik Tracee and No Rules had a lot in their favor: big hooks, great songwriting, management courtesy of Sharon Osbourne and a celebrity metal supporter in Slaughter bassist Dana Strum, who produced the disc.

The album's two singles -- the rambunctious, forced bravado of "No Rules" and the slower, dreamier "You're So Strange" -- are a study in contrast. It's as if frontman Stephen Shareaux & Co. didn't know whether they wanted to rock or croon ballads. The latter tune manages a bit of both: it opens with a beautiful reverie of an arpeggio that dominates the tune's verses, while the chorus delivers a radio friendly hook that rocks within moderation. In a metamusical moment, Kik Tracee use the same arpeggio to end the album in "Fade Dunaway." The brief tribute to movie queen Faye Dunaway leaves you with a tantalizing taste of golden Hollywood as its fades off into the sunset in just 41 seconds.

Some of the best material on No Rules is the lighter, more balladic fare. While "You're So Strange" was the most commercial of the disc's dramatic ballads, "Big Western Sky" and "Lost" also benefit from slower tempos, acoustic fretsmanship and introspective lyrics.

It's on the hard-edged material where Strum's production really takes the spotlight. The rocker-cum-producer sets the tone for Kik Tracee's unique take on Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" with nearly a minute of atmospheric air raid sirens ("War Pigs," anyone?) and machine gun fire sound effects as the tune builds up. Likewise, "Trash City" uses touches of helicopter and police siren sound effects to set a narrative mood. As a tale of urban decay, "Trash City" is a fitting companion piece to, say, Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" or Babylon A.D.'s "The Kid Goes Wild."

Much has been written comparing Kik Tracee to GN'R. I believe the comparison -- which probably stems largely from Shareaux's penchant for nasally vocals à la Axl Rose -- isn't wholly accurate. In fact, the darker edge of the band is more in line with goth-inspired rockers the Cult. Witness "Velvet Crush" as Shareaux does some distinctly Ian Astbury-like wailing.

There's no debating that Kik Tracee wears its influences on the sleeve. After No Rules, they completely revamped their sound for their final recording, the 1992 Field Trip EP. Would Shareaux & Co. have continued their sonic explorations and developed a sound all their own on subsequent releases? We will never know.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Video of the Week: Bullet Boys

Marq Torien and the Boys Prove They're Regular Eisensteins

It's not often that highbrow art and lowbrow schlock combine, but I'm happy to say I've belatedly discovered the Bullet Boys managed to pull it off back in 1991. Thanks to YouTube, I've been able to watch uncut '80s videos that I had long forgotten about or never saw in the first place. One of my recent discoveries has been the Bullet Boys' video for "THC Groove," a cut off their sophomore album, Freakshow. Frontman Marq Torien & Co. open the video with a tribute to the famed 1925 silent film The Battleship Potemkin by Russian auteur Sergei Eisenstein (shown above).

The most famous sequence from Eisenstein's film depicts an advancing army marching down a flight of steps and exterminating civilians. In the midst of the onslaught, the camera follows a runaway baby carriage down the stairs.

The Bullet Boys -- in their infinite knowledge of Russian silent cinema -- begin the "THC Groove" clip with grainy, black & white footage of a carriage tumbling down a set of stairs -- an obvious tribute to The Battleship Potemkin scene. When the carriage comes crashing down at the bottom, there's a sense of drama and breathless anticipation -- you simply must know if the baby survived the perilous descent. But instead of seeing a baby, the camera zooms in on Torien as he pops his head out of the carriage and announces "Teatime!" as the tune's nasty groove kicks in. What a moment! The band is then seen (now in living color) performing the song on the steps. Of course the Eisenstein homage was likely the idea of the clip's director, but kudos nonetheless to the Bullet Boys for this clever video.

Click here to watch now.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Male Objectification in Heavy Metal?

While recently listening to Kik Tracee's No Rules to determine if it fits into the 'lost classic' category, I was struck by a song called "Tangerine Man." Below is an excerpt of the lyrics:

"Burn the eternal flame, but you'll never catch my name/
You're burnin' out, I ain't your fireman of fantasy/
Blue oyster boy don't stop until he's hard as rock/
He's comin' on, raging bull won't ever stop

I'm going a la carte, blue oyster missed his mark/
Couldn't read the signs, exit only/
Listen to serenades, selling his lemonade/
Turn around and take it to another place"

Plenty of metal songs have been written as a come-on to some lusty lady of the night, but this one bears the distinction of being deliberately written to ward off a homosexual advance. In the '80s, metal was bashed for its portrayal of women, but I argue that male objectification is even more rampant in the genre -- from Judas Priest singer Rob Halford's gay biker look to Vinnie Vincent Invasion/Nelson drummer Bobby Rock's Chelsea boy physique (seen here) to the infamous codpieces of WASP's Blackie Lawless or Kiss' Gene Simmons.

And what of female homosexuality in metal -- are there any sapphic six-stringers out there? It's difficult to deny that there's a strange kind of homoeroticism in metal, perhaps more so than in other segments of the culture. As to why this is, well that's for the sociologists to ponder, but feel free to write in with your thoughts.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Axl Rose Makes a Quiet Riot at VMAs

I Wanna Hear You Scream!

The Guns N' Roses frontman introduced a performance by modern rockers the Killers last night at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards. Meanwhile, Rose revealed to MTV's John Norris that Chinese Democracy is still scheduled to drop this year (yeah, right!) and the band will kick off a U.S. tour in late October. Click here to watch the backstage interview.