Firstly, I have to apologise for the relative quietness of the blog recently. I’ve been doing quite a bit of personal writing recently, most of it for this MA Creative Writing course of mine, so the Crash Course hasn’t had as much of my attention as perhaps it should have. This isn’t all vanity stuff, either – I have a couple of assignments due soon so most of my creative energy has been channelled into those. It also doesn’t help that the pop singles charts have been really, really bad recently, so even the stuff that is good for me to review I haven’t been able to conjure up the interest or enthusiasm to write about. Shameful, I know, but there we are.
So with all that in mind, in order to keep a little bit of consistency going with this blog, from now on at the end of every month, or maybe even the first day of the next, I’m going to try and put together a list of songs that I’ve been listening to during those past thirty-odd days, just to keep you guys updated with what’s going on with me music-wise. This will include new stuff I’ve been checking out as well as old favourites and deep cuts I’ve been giving a spin. This will also give me a space to talk about new records that have come out recently without having to dedicate a whole review to them.
P.S. Although it says March 2015 in the title this is going to be more of a February/March list, just so you know.
EUROPE, “War of Kings” (2015)
I’m still deciding how I feel about the new Europe album, War of Kings. My expectations were certainly high with the band calling it their best album yet and the record they’d always wanted to make. It even had Dave Cobb on production so I was definitely psyched. The album itself, though, hasn’t really gelled for me yet. I don’t know if it’s just me, because it has been getting very good reviews, but the majority of the record feels a bit too slow for my tastes and a lot of the songs feel underwritten, especially in the choruses, as if they were going for this huge epic feel to the album but forgot to write any hooks to prop it up with. I’ve listened to it a couple of times now and maybe in a couple more it’ll click, but after 2012’s very, very good Bag of Bones it feels like a step down. The title track is still boss, though.
THE ANSWER, “I Am What I Am” (2015)
The Answer had a bit of a career second wind with fourth album New Horizon back in 2013 which has carried them through the next year and beyond, culminating in the recently-released Raise a Little Hell. I pre-ordered the album a few months prior and, as a result, I got to hear this track, “I Am What I Am”, early. Even then I knew this was going to be an album highlight: it’s heavy, it’s groovy and it’s catchy as that hell they’re so eager to raise. I can’t decide where the album as a whole sits among the band’s best and worst efforts: I don’t think it’s quite as strong as Rise (though to be fair, fans may as well be waiting forever for them to top that one) but it’s definitely a notch above Everyday Demons and Revival.
SCORPIONS, “The Scratch” (2015)
I’ve only just got into Scorpions and, I have to say, I deeply regret not checking them out earlier. The band announced their final album, tour and subsequent retirement back in 2010, only to call it off a few years later and put together another album, Return to Forever, in February of this year made up partly of old bits and pieces that never found their way onto an album. I’ve no idea if “The Scratch” is one of the new songs they wrote or something based off an old idea, but it’s one of the most unique-sounding songs on the record with a limber swing to it that defies the band’s fifty years of age. If you can pick up the record – apparently certain territories can’t, which just plain bites – I definitely recommend it. Very solid disc.
UFO, “Run Boy Run” (2015)
A new UFO album in 2015, eh? No, Michael Schenker isn’t in the band anymore and nor is Pete Way, but the band is soldiering on strong regardless despite most channels, even the specialist ones, pretty much completely ignoring them. No, no, classic rock radio, you just keep on playing “Communication Breakdown” for the nine-billionth time. It’s a shame, too, because here’s a song that could really put UFO back in the big leagues (well, the big leagues of the classic rock scene – it’s all relative), set to one of Vinnie Moore’s grooviest, muscliest riffs in recent memory. Phil Mogg’s melodies are still so nondescript they border on spoken word, but I do like the attitude and energy he puts into this performance. As for the album, the oddly-titled A Conspiracy of Stars, it’s not too bad. I think I prefer 2012’s Seven Deadly by a smidge but, apart from a sagging mid-section of tracks, there’s some strong stuff on there. I also recommend checking out “Ballad of the Left Hand Gun“, another solid song.
BLACKBERRY SMOKE, “Holding All the Roses” (2015)
This is from the album of the same name, an album I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. Blackberry Smoke have been getting good press for a few years now but I was never a big fan of country or Southern rock so I mostly overlooked them. This was the song that finally made me stand up and take notice, though – a bit faster and heavier than their usual style, but still very much in tune with that Southern vibe – and the album didn’t disappoint on the promise its title track made. If you can play an album several times in the space of a few days and not get tired of it, that’s always a good sign, especially for somebody with an attention span as shot as mine is.
CHEAP TRICK, “Woke Up with a Monster” (1994)
I don’t listen to Cheap Trick nearly as much as I should. A little while back I decided to give their 1994 album Woke Up with a Monster another listen after having put it aside for ages. This album was a big comeback for the band after the dud that was 1990’s Busted with a drier, heavier sound that didn’t sacrifice their knack for a hook, and though I’d be lying if I said it was excellent it was still the best bunch of music they’d put out in a long time at that point. The title track is a standout among a very tight set, while the song’s music video might just be the most Nineties thing I’ve ever seen.
BLACK STAR RIDERS, “Bullet Blues” (2015)
The band that used to be Thin Lizzy but aren’t anymore even though they still kind-of are put out their second album, The Killer Instinct, in late February. This was another record I had high hopes for but can’t quite decide how I feel about (I should probably just stop anticipating things, shouldn’t I?). I mean, it’s good, it’s really good, but I really liked their first album, 2013’s All Hell Breaks Loose, and I’m not sure where this stands in comparison to that one on my personal barometer. I had a tough time picking a song from this one but eventually I went with the album’s second track, “Bullet Blues”, as a good representation of the Celtic-tinged hard rock the band cook up here. I also highly recommend “Soldierstown” (which is essentially Thin Lizzy’s “Emerald” Mk II, but still), the gorgeous ballad “Blindsided” and the punchy “Through the Motions“, which was going to be my track pick here but sounds a little too similar to UFO’s “Run Boy Run” to stand on its own in the list.
KISS, “What Makes the World Go Round” (1980)
A deep cut from an album most KISS fans would probably care to forget, 1980’s Unmasked, when the band went pretty much full-on power pop. I actually enjoy Unmasked, though, and personally find its polished sound a lot warmer and more focused than the weirdly cold and dark Dynasty that came before it. This is a favourite of mine from the set, and while it’s very disco-y and outdated I can’t help but smile whenever that chorus kicks in.
NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS, “Do the Damage” (2015)
I’ve recently realised that Oasis have fallen into a very weird category for me: they’re a band that I genuinely love, but if anybody wants to tell me that they suck I have no inclination to argue with them. Maybe it’s because Noel has been shouting his mouth off more than usual recently and I’m finally catching up with why the world is so sick of the Gallagher brothers. Anyway, Noel has a new album out and it’s a good’un (well, it’s certainly better than his 2011 solo debut, anyway). “Do the Damage” is actually a bonus track on the deluxe edition that was originally a B-side to the “In the Heat of the Moment” single, but it’s so good it’s a minor crime that it wasn’t on the standard release. Why can’t every song have a sax part?
MOTOR SISTER, “Fork in the Road” (2015)
Eddie Trunk has been championing this band for a good month or two now. As it turns out Motor Sister are actually a supergroup formed in part by Anthrax guitarist, Scott Ian, and his wife, singer Pearl Aday, devoted entirely to performing songs by frontman Jim Wilson’s old band, Mother Superior. They knocked together an album of these covers, titled Ride, in a couple of days and it was released earlier this month. If you’ve never heard of Mother Superior before, don’t worry – neither had I when I first found about this project, and I’d bet a pretty penny that I’m not in the minority on that one. That said, you don’t have to be familiar with their back catalogue to enjoy this: basically if you’re looking for some pure, energetic, unpretentious rock and roll then this record is your ticket.
SCORPIONS, “The Zoo” (1980)
Yeah, two Scorpions songs, get over it. Like I said, I’ve really been getting into Scorpions recently and this song, rightly regarded as a staple of the band’s catalogue, probably stands as my favourite of theirs bar none. The riff, the vocals, the chorus, the groove, the talkbox solo… this song is pure sex. There, I said it and I can’t unsay it. Allow these numerous saucy ladies to illustrate my point (and no, I didn’t make the video).