Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ratt- Tell the World: The Very Best of Ratt

Author's Note: This review originally appeared on It can be found here:

Arriving on the coattails of Motley Crue in 1984, Ratt was the epitome of the first wave of ‘80s hair metal. The songs were poppy, but there was a sleazy undercurrent that made them seem tough. As the ‘80s wore on, they lost the sleaze and just followed the typical ‘80s metal formula. By the time they released Detonator in 1990, they were indistinguishable from Warrant. The band’s new hits collection, Tell The World: The Very Best of Ratt makes this painfully obvious.

The album’s track list is virtually identical to 1991’s Ratt n’ Roll 8191 but is out of chronological order. This seems ideal at first, since Ratt n’ Roll’s chronological approach dragged towards the end. Unfortunately Tell the World is so poorly executed, the best moments nearly get lost in the shuffle.

The album kicks off with “Dangerous But Worth the Risk and “Back For More.” These songs are ideal choices to open a compilation because they show what Ratt was at their best: a killer pop metal band. Both songs have raw production, huge hooks and impeccable guitar work. The momentum is ruined by “Loving You is a Dirty Job,” an overproduced, underwritten attempt at mainstream acceptance. The mediocrity continues until things pick up with “You’re in Love.” Once again, the momentum is ruined by “City to City,” the unremarkable opener from 1989’s Reach For the Sky

This is a shame, because a lot of the songs still hold up. The band’s signature tune, “Round and Round” is as infectious today as it was in 1984. “You’re in Love” and “Lay it Down” contain monster riffs and white hot shredding from guitarist Warren DeMartini. “Slip of the Lip” contains a sexy groove and one of the best choruses of the 1980s. It’s obvious the band didn’t want to go the chronological route again, but they could have arranged the songs in a way that emphasized their strengths. There is no logic in putting the songs from Detonator up front and putting most of the songs from Out of the Cellar towards the back. By making this careless decision, the band alienates the target audience for a compilation, the casual fan.

Although the sequencing is especially inept, the choice of songs is also flawed. While all of Ratt’s major singles are present, there are no tracks from the 1983 self-titled EP. There are two versions of “Way Cool Jr.,” but no “You Think You’re Tough.” The album is called Tell the World,, but “Tell the World” is not on the compilation. How do you name an album after a song and then not include the title track? It defies all logic.

Ratt intended Tell the World to become their definitive greatest hits album. Unfortunately, poor sequencing and missing tracks make it a subpar overview of one of hair metal’s greatest bands. There are some great songs on this disc, but there are much better ways to get a fix of Ratt n’ Roll.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Dimestore Haloes- The Ghosts of Saturday Night

Author's Note: This review was originally published on The Label Project. It can be found here:

Nothing will ever sound as good as the music coming from your first stereo. The sound quality was terrible, but the music coming from those speakers is the most important music of your life. In those early teenage years, your first cassettes and CDs shape your musical taste. These bands help you become who you are, which is why people become so nostalgic for the music of their youth. It’s the kind of experience that every human being has, but it’s almost impossible to capture on record. The Dimestore Haloes have found a way.

The Ghosts of Saturday Night is an album of teenage romance, alcohol fueled nights on the town and reflective laments. A large part of the band’s appeal is their sound, a mixture of Hanoi Rocks style glam and ’77 punk. The music sticks to that early punk ethos. Songs are kept short and simple, with attention to melody. Unlike a lot of so-called punk records, the production is basic. There is no overdubbing, no fancy effects and no cameos from Jay-Z. What you hear is what you get: guitar, bass, drums and a bit of piano thrown in for good measure. A large part of the band’s sound is guitarist Chaz Matthews’ whiskey soaked vocal cords, which give his words a layer of authenticity.

Matthews’ lyrics are what separate The Ghosts of Saturday Night from the pack. His lyrics are complex, evocative and honest. Matthews’ songwriting skills are best represented in “Hot Pink Stereo,” the album’s emotional high point. Matthews perfectly captures the American teenage experience of feeling alone and scared. His line about Joey Ramone’s “dyed black hair, a nest of dreams” is especially poignant. Most modern bands talk about rock n’ roll with a wink and a nod. It’s meant to be ironic, a joke. There is nothing ironic about “Hot Pink Stereo.” Matthews truly believes in rock n’ roll and his earnestness is exalting. If the rest of the album was filler, “Hot Pink Stereo” would save it.

Fortunately, the record consistently delivers. The opening track, “Black Glitter Baby Doll” is an addictive number about summer loving and having a blast. Matthews’ lyrical structure is especially interesting in this song, because he sings the first verse, then the chorus and then repeats the same verse again. This type of structure isn’t used very often in the 2000s, so the song really stands out because of it.

Unfortunately, the album nearly derails with the final track. “Adore Me” is the kind of off key punk tune in the grand tradition of Sid Vicious’ “My Way,” sung by drummer Jimmy Reject. The song isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s placement on the album was a grave mistake. The song should have been placed in the beginning of the record, where it could be easily skipped. As the final track, it disrupts the flow of the album and leaves a bad taste in the listener’s mouth.

Despite this flaw, The Ghosts of Saturday Night is full of everything that makes punk rock great. The band broke up shortly after recording this record, and it is a fitting swan song.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Elvis Costello- My Aim Is True (Deluxe Edition)

Date: 9/17/2007

Well, here we are again. Elvis Costello has re-released his debut album, My Aim Is True just in time for its 30th anniversary. This is not uncommon, most bands reissue key albums at some point in their career. It’s a good way to bring new fans into the fold and reward hardcore fans at the same time. However, this is the third time in 15 years that Costello has re-released My Aim Is True. This begs the question, is the new deluxe edition of My Aim Is True worth it?

If you don’t own a copy of My Aim Is True, you should know the answer to that question. Three decades after its original release, it remains one of the greatest debuts in music history. With biting cynicism and an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music, Costello created songs that have become standards. “Alison,” “Watching the Detectives”and“Less Than Zero” have not aged. Like all great debuts, there is a sense of greatness as if you know that the artist will continue to grow. So if you’ve never heard this record, the deluxe version provides the perfect excuse.

If you are already a Costello devotee, the answer is not as clear cut. What sets this reissue apart from the 1993 Rykodisc edition or the 2002 Rhino edition? The good news is that there isn’t much overlap. The demo versions of “No Action” and “Living in Paradise” are still present, as are the outtakes. One of those outtakes, “Radio Sweetheart,” is a classic in its own right. However, the song’s country twang doesn’t fit in within the album’s pub rock parameters. The first disc also contains Costello’s demos for Pathway Studios. Four of the songs on the demo tape are unreleased, but while they are good, none of them are forgotten classics.

The second disc is a live concert, recorded in 1977. This is the incentive for the hardcore fan to purchase this disc. Costello takes the stage backed by The Attractions, and the concert serves as a bridge between My Aim is True and This Year’s Model. Many of the tunes that would appear on This Year’s Model are on the setlist, and it’s interesting to hear them in their early form. The Attractions sound tight and professional, but haven’t quite gelled. Within a year they would become a force to be reckoned with, but at this point they are still feeling each other out.

The deluxe edition is not without its flaws. Rhino’s 2002 reissue contained a wonderful essay by Costello, along with several paragraphs explaining the various outtakes and B-sides. The booklet in this reissue just contains the lyrics and a few photos. The Rhino edition also contained nine unreleased songs that are nowhere to be found on this set. Because of this gap, there is still no definitive version of My Aim is True.

Despite its shortcomings, the deluxe edition of My Aim Is True is worth a purchase, both for hardcore and casual fans alike. The album itself remains timeless, and the live concert provides a fascinating glimpse of an artist trying to find himself as a performer. One question must be addressed however: Will the album be worth buying a fourth time? I certainly hope not.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sixx AM- The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack

In 1987, Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx died of a heroin overdose. On a particularly decadent night out with members of Guns n’ Roses and RATT in tow, Sixx let a dealer inject him with a massive dose of the deadly narcotic. Within seconds, he was turning blue and having trouble breathing. Eventually his heart stopped and he was declared legally dead. Fortunately for Sixx, the paramedics were able to save his life by plunging two adrenaline needles directly into his heart. When he arrived home after this ordeal, he recorded a new message on his answering machine: “Hi, this is Nikki. I’m not home because I’m dead.”

This story sounds like a harrowing tale of rock n’ roll excess, but Nikki Sixx has told it so many times that it has lost all meaning. Despite the over exposure of his overdose, Sixx is taking us on the ride one more time with The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack. Designed as the audio companion to his new book, The Heroin Diaries follows Nikki Sixx from his darkest days to his recovery and eventual redemption

Redemption is the main theme of this record, but there is very little to redeem The Heroin Diaries. The record is marred with lazy songwriting, slick production and goofy interludes. There is nothing that separates The Heroin Diaries from a thousand other rock records to be released this year. It’s a shame, because Nikki Sixx is capable of so much more than this.

The problems begin right away with the opening track, “X-Mas in Hell.” Sixx reads his diary entry from Christmas of 1985, the lowest point in his life. The entry is dark, unflinching and honest. It would be quite effective on its own. Unfortunately, the entry is lost in a metallic version of “Carol of the Bells,” playing in the background. The effect is comical. These spoken word interludes occur throughout the record, each one meant to be a glimpse into the soul of an addict. Unfortunately, these interludes do nothing but break up the flow of the album.

“X-Mas in Hell” leads into “Van Nuys,” the first proper song of the album. The song begins with singer James Michael proclaiming that “he doesn’t want to die/out here in the Valley.” Michael is a major problem with The Heroin Diaries. He doesn’t have a bad voice, but it is completely devoid of charisma. He sounds like a million other rock singers, relying on the vaguely Eddie Vedder-ish tenor that has become an institution.

Michael is not completely to blame for this record. Guitarist DJ Ashba contributes nothing to this record, except for forgettable guitar riffs that are covered up by layers of effects. It’s almost as if Ashba thinks he can cover up his mediocre playing with Pro Tools Editing.

Ultimately, the blame falls upon Nikki Sixx himself. When he is motivated, Nikki Sixx is a great songwriter. It’s depressing to think that he has been working on this record for so long and the best he could come up with are clichés. “Life is Beautiful?” “Accidents Can Happen?” “Tomorrow?” This is all stuff you have heard before, and done in far more interesting ways. At times it feels like Sixx is cribbing lyrics from a Tony Robbins seminar.

The Heroin Diaries could have been a great record, but gets lost in a sea of clichés, Spinal Tap size pretensions and slick production. After 20 years, Nikki’s addiction stories have finally overdosed.