scorpions

Playlist: September 2015

W.A.S.P., “Scream” (2015)

After six tumultuous years for Blackie Lawless (if the monthly feature on his website is anything to go by), the long-promised and long-awaited fifteenth W.A.S.P. album, Golgotha, is out on October 2nd – a very busy day for yours truly, as it turns out, with Clutch, Queensÿche, Eagles of Death Metal, the Winery Dogs and Federal Charm all dropping new records as well. Based on the strengths of this song alone, though, W.A.S.P. might be the one I’m looking forward to the most. It’s the typical W.A.S.P. formula, but if I had a formula this good I’d never break from it either. Loud, passionate, gutsy and insanely catchy.

More than a few commenters have pointed out its similarities to “Crazy“, the opening track from previous album Babylon, and I have to agree to some extent – they’re really very much alike, right down to the chorus lines: “scream if you love me” and “you’d have to be crazy to say that you love me”. I’d say “Scream” is a little better, though, if only for a better chorus and that infectious guitar figure between the lyrics in the verses.

LYNYRD SKYNYRD, “Saturday Night Special” (1975)

I’m going to tell you a little secret here: I first became aware of this song through the Armored Saint version which is, to put it lightly, a bit more gung-ho than the original. It’s also given me a newfound appreciation for Lynyrd Skynyrd, a band I’ve never really had much time for before, which is weird for a couple of reason: one, I’ve been reading Saving Country Music for over a year now, despite still not having much of a vested interest in the genre; two, I really enjoyed the new Blackberry Smoke album and they’ve been referred to as “the new Lynyrd Skynyrd” in the past; and three, Skynyrd’s music is surprisingly heavy. Even “Simple Man” has those crushing chords that border on, I don’t know, some sort of Southern metal – and of course, there’s “Free Bird” with its relentless, immortal solo.

This has to be a favourite of mine, though, with a bit more of a kick to its riff than their usual fare. Oddly enough, too, the “new” Lynyrd Skynyrd released a song a few years ago called “God & Guns” which seems to contradict the anti-firearm message of this song, though frontman Johnny van Zant (brother of their late vocalist Ronnie – funny, I always figured the latter was the former’s father) has explained that the song is actually not so – kind of. I don’t think the issue really needs any explanation, honestly, given that Johnny and Ronnie were and are different people. In fact even Johnny isn’t all that pro-gun by his own admission, though he does keep a few.

GENTLEMANS PISTOLS, “The Searcher” (2015)

I put Gentlemans Pistols’ new album, Hustler’s Row, in my Top Ten Anticipated Albums of 2015 list a little while back, and now we’ve had the lead single and opening track “The Searcher”, which Setlist.fm tells me the band have been playing for a good two years now (along with most of the songs from the new record). I wouldn’t have pegged it as an opening track, to be honest, but I’m not sure why. Maybe there’s just something I heard in their other openers “Just a Fraction” and “Living in Sin Again” that I’m not quite hearing here, or maybe it’s because the song as a whole took a little while to grow on me.

Make no mistake, though, it is growing on me – the riff is classic Gentlemans Pistols, and it’s good to hear James Atkinson’s wonderful vocals haven’t changed a jot, even if they sound a little buried by the guitars here. Still, it’s warm, joyous and raucous, and everything good timeless rock and roll should be. Meanwhile a couple of the morons in the YouTube comments can’t quite believe that their metal label Nuclear Blast has been invaded by something with comprehensible vocals, which is always funny to read.

EAGLES OF DEATH METAL, “Complexity” (2015)

And here’s where I have a little bit of a moan. The new Eagles of Death Metal album, Zipper Down, is out very soon, and it’s their first album in seven years. This is the first single from the album, “Complexity”, and if you’re a loyal reader of these playlists you might be having déjà vu right now. That’s because I mentioned the song months ago in my April playlist as a Boots Electric song, Boots Electric being the solo moniker for EODM frontman Jesse Hughes and the song being the lead track from his 2011 record Honkey Kong. I’m allowed to be disappointed by this, aren’t I? Especially as the track listing for the new record seems to suggest we’re getting a mere thirty-five minutes of music, one song being a cover and at least three others being reworkings from a four year old album.

Okay, so it’s difficult to really get truly angry about any of this. The song is still maddeningly catchy, and there are some minor changes made to the music: the electro-rock gloss has been stripped away, replaced with the candied scuzz-rock stomp EODM do so well, with an additional verse slipped in, while the instrumental outro that ended the original on a bit of a flat note has been capped with a repeat of the chorus, making for a more satisfying listen. In a way, too, it’s good that this is finding a wider audience as an EODM song, rather than fading into obscurity as it was probably destined to do as a Boots Electric number.

But I have one question: if they were always going to rework some of Jesse Hughes’s solo stuff, couldn’t they have at least considered tackling “Trippy Blob“?

JUDAS PRIEST, “A Touch of Evil” (1990)

September 3rd marked the 25th anniversary of Judas Priest’s Painkiller, the album that brought them back from the brink of irrelevance with a supercharged aggressive speed metal sound (which, in fairness, they’d already been hedging towards on previous release, 1988’s Ram It Down). It’s known as a fast and heavy album, but what’s probably not as well realised is just how dark it gets. Take “A Touch of Evil”, a high point on an already rock-solid set. Priest have always had a high sense of drama in their music, and here the sense of theatricality is elevated to magnificent heights with Don Airey’s swirling, creeping keyboards.

Lyrically it doesn’t stray too far from the Priest mold of kinky loving, but the words take on a much more ominous meaning when matched up with that marching groove and those wonderfully Gothic chords. The words “death approaches” leap to mind, probably because I have a strong image of listening to this song in my sixth form study room back in 2011 while reading The Girl Who Played with Fire and worrying about my own mortality. Don’t ask. Listen instead.

SCORPIONS, “In Trance” (1975)

Another anniversary inclusion, funnily enough falling on my 23rd birthday, so I had two things to celebrate that day. Lucky me, I guess. Scorpions’ In Trance turned 40 on September 17th, making 2015 the 50th anniversary of the band’s formation, the 40th anniversary of this album, the 30th anniversary of World Wide Live, the 25th anniversary of Crazy World, the 20th anniversary of Live Bites, the 10th anniversary of Moment of Glory, the 5th anniversary of Sting in the Tail and the 0th anniversary of Return to Forever. I might be a touch obsessed with anniversaries.

Anyway, this is the title track from that album and is often cited as one of the best songs Scorpions ever recorded, if not the best. I’m not so sure I’d agree completely. It’s certainly got one of the best choruses of any Scorpions song, right up there with “Rock You Like a Hurricane“, but the rest of the song is a little too reminiscent of their early psychedelic sound for me. In fairness they were moving away from that sound with songs like “Robot Man” and “Dark Lady“, and the moodier passages do build a nice atmosphere for the chorus to erupt from. The album artwork is also worth noting as being somewhat notorious, back in its day at least, for showing the cover model’s bare breast, a controversy that seems oddly quaint given their next bold choice of album art – and besides, would you expect anything less from the band whose biggest hit features the line “the bitch is hungry, she needs to tell / so give her inches and feed her well”?

Please also enjoy some complimentary naked ladies staring at you in blurry black-and-white, as provided by the video. I don’t get the concept myself. Are they entranced? Are they trying to entrance you? Who knows.

REVEREND AND THE MAKERS, “Black Widow” (2015)

I’ve been a Reverend and the Makers fan since “Heavyweight Champion of the World” first hit the radio and even I was surprised at the announcement of new album, Mirrors, even though it’s been nearly two years since the last one came out. With that album, ThirtyTwo, I kinda got the impression they were spinning on their wheels a little bit, eager to push themselves forward but unsure of where to go, and on the merits of “Black Widow” (and the other couple of free downloads you got with the Pledgemusic pre-order) they seem to have found a new direction: throwback psychedelic rock, a little like their second album A French Kiss in the Chaos but without any trace of the funk elements that made their name (which that album still tried to maintain to some degree).

In other words, they’ve completely overhauled their sound for their second decade of activity, and on the basis of this song I kinda dig it. It’d have been nice for them to come up with a more substantial hook, but the impression I get from this new album is that it’s going to be more of an atmospheric, immersive experience, rather than the big ol’ bag of songs The State of Things was, so it might be best judging it in context of the whole record.

BILL WARD, “Bombers (Can Open Bomb Bays)” (1990)

Have you guys ever checked out Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward’s solo career? It’s probably the most interesting stuff put out by any of the original four members. I checked out his most recent album, Accountable Beasts, and it’s really experimental stuff, with elements of Gothic and classical music interwoven into some truly heavy metal. Ward isn’t the strongest of vocalists but I always enjoyed his singing on Sabbath’s “It’s Alright” and “Swinging the Chain“, and even on his newer stuff there’s a charming genuineness, like he’s putting everything he has into it.

Maybe it was best, though, that he handed the mike to old bandmate Ozzy on this tune from his first solo album, Ward One, because Mr Osbourne’s sinister tone really helps to sell the menace of the music in a way I’m not sure Ward’s voice could. And yet for a song about war it’s surprisingly hopeful, and don’t say you don’t well up a little inside at the simple beauty of lyrics like “don’t hurt them, just hold them, make someone happy” when set to those chords. Just lovely. As for the music, well, it’s just unmitigated awesomeness.

FEDERAL CHARM, “Hercules” (2015)

You know, I’d forgotten how much I loved these guys. A blues-rock band from Manchester, they released their first album back in 2013, which I’m not ashamed to say I bought solely on the strength of the band name. Federal Charm: sounds like a vintage whiskey, doesn’t it? The album actually didn’t do much for me at first, but I gave it another listen a while later and something just clicked, and it’s easily one of my favourite albums released that year. They’ve got another one now, Across the Divide, coming in October, and “Hercules” is the lead single.

It only struck me after a couple of listens just how simple this song is, and yet the repeated ideas never get old somehow. The riff is ridiculous in how catchy it is, the groove is smoking hot, and all in all it’s just a good old jagged, danceable blues stomp. You know, one of those. I still haven’t figured out what “so hot, she’s Hercules” means, either, and I’m not even sure I care. As far as I’m concerned this is a great primer for the new album.

BLACK SABBATH, “End of the Beginning” (2013)

“Is this the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?” Well, as if it was ever really going to be the former. Yes, after several mentions here and there from the band, Black Sabbath have finally announced their farewell tour for 2016. Now, if you know anything about “farewell tours” you’ll know they tend not to stick. KISS went on a farewell run at the turn of the millennium and they’re still packing stadiums. Scorpions spent three years on the road “retiring” before doing an about-face and calling the whole thing off. Even Ozzy went on at least one of those in the Nineties, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t Sabbath’s first farewell either. That said, the three band members left (Bill, we’re all rooting for your return, buddy) have a combined age of 199, and given Tony’s still tenuous cancer status maybe it’s best that this really be the end.

I’m not sure how long the tour will last – I mean, Mötley Crüe have been trotting out their farewell bash for two years now, and that’s with a contract over their head legally prohibiting them from playing together again after the tour’s over. There also doesn’t seem to be any mention of that mooted final album either, though to be honest I always found that prospect a little unlikely, given that a good chunk of 13 was clearly written as a send-off to their career. Still, it’s a shame to see one of my favourite bands finally hang up their hats, even if I’d only been following them since 2009 (hey, sue me for being born late, why don’t you?). The good news is that Rival Sons will be supporting them on at least one leg of this tour, which should expose them to the larger audience they deserve.

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Playlist: March 2015

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).