Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sebastian Bach- Angel Down

It’s easy to view Sebastian Bach’s new album with a haze of cynicism. Bach is in the middle of a publicity windfall thanks to his appearance on MTV’s Celebrity Rap Superstar, so a new record seems very convenient. However, Angel Down has been in the works for seven years, and is Bach’s first real solo record since leaving Skid Row in 1996. Although 1998’s Bring ‘Em Bach Alive contained five new songs, it was mostly a live record, with Baz shouting out Skid Row classics. The new songs were decent enough, but contained little of the fire of his previous band.

Angel Down is Sebastian Bach’s triumphant return to the metal throne. Bach has not sounded this focused since 1995’s Subhuman Race. With its lean production and razor sharp guitar riffs, Angel Down is almost an extension of that record. Bach’s titanium pipes are still in tact and he hits every high note effortlessly. Many of these songs have been floating through Bach’s live sets for several years, and they reach their full potential here.

The title track continues the grand metal tradition of a soft intro followed by a roaring chorus. This technique has been used by so many bands that it could easily morph into self-parody. Bach diffuses the cliché by using the intro as a warning. Once the guitars kick in, the song does not let go. The band spends about ten seconds on the opening riff before Bach comes in with a devastating roar.

One of the more puzzling aspects of Angel Down is the presence of Axl Rose. Rose comes out of his artistic coma to lend his voice to three tracks. Rose is in surprisingly good form vocally, but his contributions are a mixed bag. He fits in well with the album’s ridiculously titled first single, “Love is a B*tchslap,” a gleefully chauvinistic romp that sounds like a leftover from Appetite for Destruction. The lyrics cannot be repeated here, but it is impossible to take them seriously.

The album’s only misfire is Bach’s cover of Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle.” The song is performed as a duet with Axl Rose, and the dynamic duo completely misinterpret the song. The raunchy blues groove of the original is mutated into generic heavy metal. Every element of this song is out of place, from Bach’s overdrawn screaming to an embarrassingly metallic solo. When have you heard Joe Perry play a million notes in rapid succession? That’s right. You haven’t.

Fortunately, “Back in the Saddle” is one weak moment in an album of greatness. Angel Down won’t change the world and doesn’t have anything particularly “important” to say, it’s just a heavy metal record. Bach’s loyalty to the genre is part of what makes Angel Down such an enjoyable listen. This has everything you want out of a metal album: It’s fun, unpretentious and sounds best when played at high volumes. Sebastian no longer has the youth, but he remains forever wild.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Rock n' Roll Stormtroopers- On Fire

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

One look at the Rock n’ Roll Stormtroopers tells you what kind of band they are. The clichés are all present and accounted for. There’s hellfire, cutoff denim vests, devil horns and several assurances that this record will rock your face off. All of this is extremely charming and somewhat reassuring, because as Twisted Sister once put it: We all wanna rock. Unfortunately, On Fire doesn’t deliver. My face is still present and accounted for.

The main problem with On Fire is that the Stormtroopers are too self-aware. They know the image is ridiculous and every song is delivered with a wink and a nod. There is nothing wrong with being in on the joke, but there has to be at least one serious element. For example, 90% of AC/DC’s lyrical content is utterly ridiculous, but Angus Young’s guitar work keep them from being court jesters. The Stormtroopers don’t have that, and the shtick gets old very quickly.

The Stormtroopers’ saving grace is their boundless enthusiasm. Lead singer Tex Tornado (How’s that for a rock n’ roll name?) and the boys sound like they are having a great time. The band’s heavy German accents also set them apart from a million other bands, simply because you don’t often hear such heavy accents within this genre. Unfortunately this positive trait is undercut by static production that sucks the energy out of the songs

The album’s opening track, “Bulldozers on the Loose,” sets the tone for the entire record. Tornado repeats the title of the song for a minute or so, before crooning some generic lyrics about mindless destruction. Repeat chorus. Add in a few uninspired AC/DC riffs and you have the crux of the Stormtrooper sound. “Bulldozers on the Loose” is a catchy tune, but only because the chorus is repeated ad nauseam. Every other song on the record follows this basic template, with a few minor changes to mix things up a bit. The three themes: Rock, parties, and the almighty power of rock.

The Stormtroopers have the basic idea of party rock down but they fail to understand what makes it work. It’s not really about being original, but about taking the clichés and putting your own twist on them. All the elements are in place, but the Stormtroopers haven’t figured out how to make the genre their own.

Despite these minor setbacks, the Rock n’ Roll Stormtroopers have a lot of potential. If they lose some of the shtick and tighten up their songwriting, they could be a force in the sleaze rock scene. As it stands, they are all smoke and no fire.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Who- Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy

How do you start listening to The Who? This sounds like a stupid question right? Tommy, Who’s Next or Quadrophenia would probably be typical answers. Those records are incredible works of art and showed how far rock n’ roll could be taken. As great as those records are, they would not be a good place to begin. Why? The complexity of those records can be quite intimidating for a newcomer, and they would probably be turned off. A compilation would be a more logical choice.

Choosing a Who compilation is often more confusing than choosing a proper album. Most Who compilations tend to focus on their arena rock heyday, virtually ignoring their early singles. Instead of getting a balanced view of the band’s musical career, the listener is only hearing one side. Fortunately, one compilation distills everything great about the Who into a single disc.

Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy is one of the best compilations in the history of rock n’ roll. Unlike the later Who compilations, Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy has a purpose. Like their contemporaries The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, The Who’s early singles were never released on an actual album. Therefore this record was intended to collect all those early singles in one handy place.

Although it was a greatest hits collection in England, Meaty Beaty was considered a rarities album in the United States because none of the early Who records had charted. We tend to think of the Who as just behind The Stones in terms of popularity in the 1960s, but on their first tour of America they actually opened for Herman’s Hermits! Think about that for a second.

All of the major singles are here, from “I Can’t Explain” through “Pinball Wizard.” The songs are very poppy and on the surface seem like the typical British Invasion sound. The jangly guitars, high harmonies and catchy hooks are abundant, but the lyrical content sets them apart from peers like The Dave Clark Five. Although Pete Townshend was still finding his voice as a writer, his trademark vulnerability runs through the seemingly happy tunes. He is insecure in “Substitute,” (“I’m a substitute for another guy.”), and slightly paranoid on “The Kids are Alright,” (“I know I gotta get away/cause if I don’t I’ll go out of my mind.”). Even the sing-song chorus of “I Can’t Explain” is self-doubting.

The other element that sets The Who apart is the manic drumming of Keith Moon. In a time when drummers played simple beats, Moonie bashed the entire kit. His drumming gives the music a propulsive energy that other bands of the era can’t match.

This energy is the reason why Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy holds up better than other Who compilations. There is a visceral thrill in hearing The Who when they young, hungry and trying to prove themselves. Their music became louder and more complex, but The Who never rocked as hard as they did on these early singles. There is no pretension on this record, just maximum R&B.