Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cooper, Alice - "Hey Stoopid"



Cooper, Alice - Hey Stoopid
1991, Epic

1. Hey Stoopid
2. Love's a Loaded Gun
3. Snakebite
4. Burning Our Bed
5. Dangerous Tonight
6. Might as Well Be On Mars
7. Feed My Frankenstein
8. Hurricane
9. Little By Little
10. Die For You
11. Dirty Dreams
12. Wind-Up Toy

So here's something weird - Hey Stoopid does pretty much all the same things as Trash but I like it better. Again, there wasn't anything wrong with Trash, it just didn't do a lot for me. Another weird thing because it's totally 80's and you would think I'd be all over it. But, nope. Hey Stoopid for some unexplainable reason was more likable and catchy to me. I think this one might actually more commercial too. Yeah... I don't know. I do want to point out the cool guitar part in the verses of "Might as Well Be On Mars." I think this album also has more of the creepy Alice Cooper feel too (especially in "Wind-Up Toy"). I'm not sure this one will rank up there with my top Cooper platters, but it's definitely in the upper B-tier.

Useless Fact: Alice Cooper was in Wayne's World. "Feed My Frankenstein" was featured in the movie as well. Though I'm sure you probably already know that.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ayreon - "The Source"



Ayreon - The Source
2017, Mascot

DISC ONE:
1. The Day That The World Breaks Down
2. Sea of Machines
3. Everybody Dies
4. Star of Sirrah
5. All That Was
6. Run! Apocalypse! Run!
7. Condemned To Live

DISC TWO
1. Aquatic Race
2. The Dream Dissolves
3. Deathcry of a Race
4. Into the Ocean
5. Bay of Dreams
6. Planet Y Is Alive!
7. The Source Will Flow
8. Journey To Forever
9. The Human Compulsion
10. March of the Machines

So let's talk about comics for a second, yeah? If you're a fan you'll know that every so often a comic book series will kind of "start over" either totally with a new number one issue or just sort of clear the way with a simple story. These are usually intended to be jumping on points for new readers. They're designed to be read without having to know all the lore beforehand. I bring this up because I think The Source is...you guessed it... a great jumping on point for new listeners. It's sound is quintessential Ayreon. If you know someone who's every been curious, you can hand them this album and they'll get an excellent overview of what Ayeron is all about.

Some of the reason I say this is because the music is a bit more accessible as well. As a whole I don't think it's as long as previous Ayreon albums (not that that's a bad thing). It's also a bit more traditional in structure with a lot of anthemic choruses and catchy riffs. The focus of this album seems to be two-fold: more guitar and heavier guitar. In fact, I think this is the band's heaviest album to date. This is in stark contrast to the more melodic and progressive The Theory of Everything. While I say this album is the heaviest I don't mean to say there aren't slower, melodic parts because there are - and they go well with the crushingly heavy riffs the album is built around. There's also a lot of faster paced, full on metal songs like, "Everybody Dies," "Run! Apocalypse! Run," and "Planet Y Is Alive!." Arjen said that he thought this album would originally be a Star One album because it was so heavy but that he came up with too many proggy, slow parts for it to really be a Star One disc. He's also said that every album is a reaction to the previous album, which I've said was the more complex Theory. I don't think I've ever been disappointed by an Ayreon album and that still holds true with The Source. So to all you Ayreon-ignorant people out there - the train is pulling up to the station. It's time to get on and experience the wonderfulness that is Ayreon.

Useless Fact: Arjen usually records the vocalists in his own studio, The Electric Castle. However, this time more of the vocalists couldn't do that due to time restraints so only a few of the artists recorded at the Castle. The rest worked in their own studios.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Paramore - "After Laughter"



Paramore - After Laughter
2017, Fueled By Ramen

1. Hard Times
2. Rose Colored Boy
3. Told You So
4. Forgiveness
5. Fake Happy
6. 26
7. Pool
8. Grudges
9. Caught in the Middle
10. Idle Worship
11. No Friend
12. Tell Me How

In my mind, Paramore holds a distinct honor that few bands hold. That is, they've gotten better and better with each release. This culminated in 2013's self-titled album which mixed their original alt-rock sound with pop sensibilities. I found it to be the peak of their career at the time - their final form, if you will. What could the band do that could top that? How could they get even better? Answer: reinvent themselves. This is always a dangerous proposition, as Linkin Park is finding out. Paramore, however, have pulled if off with their usual aplomb. Despite jettisoning all hints of their former alt-rock past, the band has crafted a bright, catchy Eighties throwback pop record. It's immediately recognizable as Paramore but still different from anything they've done before and certainly different from anything on the radio right now. I think that's where Linkin Park erred. Their new album sounds like the usual dreck you hear on the average Top 40 radio station. Paramore, on the other hand, sounds like what you might hear on the radio thirty-some odd years ago. This is a good thing. It's also not really out of left field as a few tracks on the last album kind of hinted at the direction this album took. It's weird because it seems like each song demonstrates some trope of Eighties music but it doesn't come off as ingenuine or pandering.

Now despite the bright album artwork and the upbeat, luminescent instrumentation After Laughter is pretty dang depressing. From the opening notes of "Hard Times" to the moody longing off "Tell Me Now" this is an ode to bleakness. "For all I know/The worst is over and the best is yet to come..." begins "Told You So." I like the contrast between the music and the lyrics, however, and I think it's just one more thing that makes this record stand out from the crowd. So yeah... four great albums in a row. That's a hard thing to do even for the best of bands. My hat is off to Paramore and hope we've got many more years of albums to look forward to.

Useless Fact: The band put together a playlist of songs that inspired this album. Many Eighties bands make appearances. I know...shocking.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cooper, Alice - "Trash"



Cooper, Alice - Trash
1989, Epic

1. Poison
2. Spark in the Dark
3. House of Fire
4. Why Trust You
5. Only My Heart Talkin'
6. Bed of Nails
7. This Maniac's in Love With You
8. Trash
9. Hell Is Living Without You
10. I'm Your Gun

I remember seeing a lot of "Poison" on MTV back in the day. Of course, as an innocent young lad I had no idea of the scope and breadth of Alice Cooper's work. I liked that song and that was pretty much it. Though it did really well on the old countdown shows they used to have...can't remember how high it got, though. Aww...remember video countdown shows? I totally miss those. Anyway, this is another of Alice's commercial hard rock platters that conforms to the style of the era. Trash is brazenly sexual - not necessarily vulgar, but definitely sexual. Some of Cooper's hallmark "horror vibe" is kind of missing here, which is a shame. That's not to say the album is bad - it's not. The songs are all good with good hooks and performed by competent, professional musicians. It's a solid album but I don't think this will be my go-to album when I need an Alice fix.

Useless Fact: Bon Jovi has some songwriting credits on this album.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Iron Maiden - "Brave New World"



Iron Maiden - Brave New World
2000, Columbia

1. The Wicker Man
2. Ghost of the Navigator
3. Brave New World
4. Blood Brothers
5. The Mercenary
6. Dream of Mirrors
7. The Fallen Angel
8. The Nomad
9. Out of the Silent Planet
10. The Thin Line Between Love and Hate

I haven't gotten into a lot of Iron Maiden's later period... Book of Souls notwithstanding. Mostly because I'm not sure what's good. There was a period where Bruce Dickinson left and they put out some albums that have gotten really horrible reviews. I heard through the grapevine that this one was pretty good. It sees Bruce Dickinson back on vocals so that's something. It's not too much of a stretch to say that if you liked the classic Maiden sound then you'd be pretty happy with Brave New World. I know I was. I can see where their penchant for extended galloping jams was really starting to develop. Several songs have extended sections with leads and choruses that could have probably been trimmed by a minute or two. Still a solid Maiden album, though.

Useless Fact: "Out of the Silent Planet" is the title of a novel by C.S. Lewis. I don't think the song is about the book, but I could be wrong. The case can be made, I think.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Alabama - "16 Biggest Hits"



Alabama - 16 Biggest Hits
2011, Sony

1. Mountain Music
2. Song of the South
3. Love in the First Degree
4. If You're Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)
5. Born Country
6. Feels So Right
7. The Closer You Get
8. She and I
9. Fallin' Again
10. Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)
11. Jukebox in my Mind
12. Down Home
13. I'm in a Hurry (And I Don't Know Why)
14. Can't Keep a Good Man Down
15. Southern Star
16. High Cotton

I bought this CD in New York while I was in town because my father had passed away. I saw it in Walmart and couldn't help think back to all the car trips in and around the hills and valleys of upstate New York listening to Alabama. Them, along with Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Oak Ridge Boys, Ronnie Milsap, Charlie Daniels and others formed a lot of the soundtrack to my youth. I got this as a way to honor dad in my own weird way and also to see after all these years (and my avowed hatred of country music) if I could get into this at all.

Well... kinda...?

Some of the songs I remember liking as a boy I still like - "Mountain Music," and "Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)" provided the most vivid jaunts down memory lane. I liked those as a kid and still do kind of like those songs. What surprised me the most listening to this album was that the more country the song was, the more I liked it. Take "If You're Gonna Play In Texas..." for example. It's a very country, almost bluegrass song and it ended up being one of my favorites. Unfortunately the lion's share of material on this collection is their radio friendly adult contemporary ballads and what not. These songs are boring as dirt. "Love in the First Degree" and "The Closer You Get" come to mind. I guess that's why I liked the honky tonk songs a bit better - they had some character and were pretty unique. The rest was just radio fodder from the Eighties. Some day it might be worth my time to assemble the songs I like into a playlist and make my own 16 Biggest Hits.

Useless Fact: I noticed that another song of my youth: 40 Hour Week (For a Livin') wasn't on here. How was that not one of the sixteen? Also... Alabama sure did love parentheses didn't they?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Whitecrosss - "Nineteen Eighty-Seven (Gold Edition)



Whitecross - Nineteen Eighty-Seven (Gold Edition)
2005/2015, Retroactive

1. Who Will You Follow?
2. Enough is Enough
3. He Is the Rock
4. Lookin' For a Reason
5. No Way I'm Coming Down
6. Seein' Is Believin'
7. All I Need
8. Nagasake
9. Signs of the End
10. Love on the Line
11. Re: Animate
Bonus Track:
12. Angel's Wing

I never purchased or listened to Whitecross's debut album back in the day. I don't know why. I guess I figured I had Triumphant Return and In the Kingdom so I didn't need anything else. I didn't even get it the second time it came out in 2005 - newly rerecorded with beefier and more modern production. Chalk it up to my wanting to archive things I finally picked up the Gold Edition of Nineteen Eighty-Seven. I am a little disappointed in myself that I waited so long to pick this up. There's nothing like listening to a shredder like Rex Carroll - a man wholly at one with his instrument. He is a true virtuoso that will probably never be widely recognized as a guitar hero because of his "Christian" status. Have I said that before? I feel like I said that before. It doesn't matter, though, because it bares repeating. The more modern production of the rerecording only helps highlight Carroll's considerable chops. I do kind of wish the Gold Edition came with some lyrics or liner notes or something. Also, I'm not wild about this move over to cardboard sleeves for everything. I know it's cheaper...but I like my stuff to have some weight, y'know?

Useless Fact: There are some outtakes at the end of the CD which are interesting once. There's also "Scott's Rant" which is basically telling people they shouldn't be looking for the devil, they should be looking for God. This was back when people were really upset about backward masking (that's when you have a vinyl record and you purposely spin it backward and it makes weird noises, kids). I can't remember if that message was actually on the debut album as a real backward message or what. Still a good point, I feel, in this day and age when a lot of Christians are busy looking for the devil in everything up to and including Pokemon Go.