Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What the hell is it with Bob Ezrin and children?

I have several albums that were produced by Bob Ezrin in my library, and it seems like every one of them has a track with either babies or kids on it. For example, Pink Floyd's The Wall has a baby crying on an early track and the kids singing backing vocals on "Another Brick in the Wall." Kiss' Destroyer has some kids on "God of Thunder" which nearly ruin the song and a children's choir on "Great Expectations" (which may be the sleaziest song ever written). Alice Cooper's "Department of Youth" also has children doing backing vocals, and even one of the tracks on Lou Reed's Berlin has a crying baby on it. It's kind of creepy.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Manowar - Gods of War Live

6/10

At this point, it's obvious that Manowar have passed into that weird afterlife where a band is mostly a touring outfit rather than a recording one, what with them having released 6 discs' worth of live material since 1997, as opposed to just 3 of new studio songs. Fortunately, Gods of War Live doesn't just focus on material from that terrible album. The first disc features songs from the band's entire back catalog; some of the songs were on the previous live albums and are a bit redundant, but "Each Dawn I Die" and "Gloves of Metal" get long overdue live renditions, and the songs that were on previous live releases are very strong.
Disc two is almost entirely songs from Gods of War, and while the filler tracks are just as bad as ever, they don't dominate as much as they did on the studio album. It would've been loads better if they ignored the filler tracks altogether, but I guess that was too much to hope for. I give this release a 7 for the first disc and a 5 for the second one, which averages out to a 6. If you need a live Manowar album, Hell on Wheels is the one to get.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Manowar - Gods of War

4/10

NOTE: Both links in this review are not safe for work due to the naked women on the album cover.

Gods of War, like its immediate predecessor is bogged down with filler. The filler here is all made up of terrible orchestrations and synthesizers. There's actually a pretty good Manowar album hiding in between them, but it's kind of hard to find. There's also a terrible narrator (who isn't credited in the liner notes, but whom I suspect is a pitch-shifted Joey DeMaio), and you won't even hear Eric Adams' voice until the end of the second song, or a guitar until the third song. Also, it's a concept album about Norse mythology, a well which I think Manowar has pretty much drained dry by this point. Can't they go with lyrics about lesser-known myths from places like, say, Hawaii or India? (Then again, a Manowar song with a ukulele or sitar is something I'd rather not hear.)
The album's nadir is "Glory, Majesty, Unity." I haven't heard such a blatant filler track since "Voices of Old People" off of Simon and Garfunkel's Bookends; there's barely any musical content here at all. The pitch-shifted narrator is replaced with a completely different narrator, whose voice I had trouble placing until I realized it was the same guy from "The Warrior's Prayer" off of Kings of Metal, which was almost 20 years old when this came out! Why were they using leftovers from such an old album instead of re-recording it with the new narrator? The mind boggles.
That said, the actual metal songs are pretty good (even though the narrator and synths encroach on them, too, making them worse than they should be). My personal favorite is "Sleipnir," which has a great anthemic chorus. There's also "Die for Metal," which is a "bonus track" that has nothing to do with Norse mythology. I would've loved it if it hadn't ripped off Led Zeppelin's Kashmir so blatantly.
All in all, this album is nearly half filler. You might want to buy the actual metal songs off of iTunes (these are King of Kings, Sleipnir, Loki God of Fire, Sons of Odin, Gods of War, Odin, Hymn of the Immortal Warriors, and Die for Metal) You'll miss the concept parts, but they're nothing you haven't heard before if you have even a superficial knowledge of Norse mythology. The non-metal tracks are beyond worthless and should have been jettisoned entirely.

I reviewed this album nine months ago on the Metal Jerks site; the review can be found here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Manowar - The Dawn of Battle (Single)

7/10

This CD-single contains "Call to Arms," one of the better songs off of "Warriors of the World," as well as two non-album tracks. The title track is a great thrashy number that's somewhat mitigated by a lame "symphonic" section in the middle that's not very good, while "I Believe" has some of those patriotic overtones that marred some of the songs of "Warriors," but it's not quite as pronounced. Both of the non-album tracks would've been fine on the album, and their inclusion would've bumped my rating up from a 5 to a 6; I'm not sure why they were relegated to B-sides.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Manowar - Warriors of the World

5/10

This album's cover shows the typical muscle-bound Manowar cover subject holding an American flag while standing over a bunch of dead bodies. I'm not sure if there was some recent event in 2002 that made Manowar try to pander to a "patriotic" audience after ignoring their home country for so long on Warriors of the World, their NINTH studio album and ELEVENTH album overall. The awful redneck anthem "The Fight for Freedom" is the best example of this, with terrible "patriotic" musical and lyrical cliches (as opposed to the awesome Manowar cliches). There's also a pointless cover of Elvis' "An American Trilogy." Not all of the filler is pandering to rednecks, however; there's also "Valhalla," a 35-second synth instrumental, the godawful "symphonic" instrumental "The March," and a horrible rendition of "Nessun Dorma" (what the hell were they thinking?)
Fortunately, most of the more typical Manowar tracks are pretty good; "Call to Arms" gets things off to a great start, and the last four tracks are perfectly fine (although I have to question the wisdom of naming a song "Hand of Doom" when the Black Sabbath song of the same name is so iconic, and you just know DeMaio was aware of it, since he'd worked as a bass tech for Sabbath). It's a shame that what good material there is is nearly drowned out by crap.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Manowar - Hell on Stage

6/10

ANOTHER double live album, hot on the heels of the last one? I'm guessing that Joey DeMaio was having trouble in the songwriting department, because I can't think of any other reason to release two double-live albums in a row. Unlike Hell on Wheels, the songs on Hell on Stage are more or less in chronological order. Fortunately, there's no overlap with the previous release, but unfortunately, there are some pretty poor song choices, especially on the first disc, which features four 8 minute+ songs in a row. There's also a bass solo on both discs, which is just overkill, and some strong songs that weren't on Hell on Wheels are unrepresented here (All Men Play on 10, Gloves of Metal, Pleasure Slave, Each Dawn I Die, Defender). It also wasn't necessary to include the spoken word "The Warrior's Prayer," as amusing as it was to hear the audience chanting along with it. The good songs are still pretty good, but there's too much dross on here for me to give it anything more than a 6.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Manowar - Hell on Wheels

8/10

I feel the need to quote this message in the liner notes in its entirety.

Well here it is- our first live album. Yeah, we know it has taken a while but we wanted all of you to be on this disk with us screaming and going totally Fucking Crazy because the truth is we made this disk for all of you wild men and women of metal. This record is Completely Live. So there will be times that you hear all kinds of noise from speakers blowing up, power problems in the hall and all kinds of fucked up crazy things that make a Manowar concert a night to remember forever. This tour has been a killer right from the very start. Lots of Beer drinking and Hell Raising, Loud Crowds, Brothers and Sisters, Bikes and Bikers, Tits and Ass. The party is Rockin Fuckin Hard and we are just getting started, we're gonna go right back out on the road and make a live video next. We just can not get enough of being on the road and in the halls with all of you Power Maniacs. We just do not fit in with what people call the real world or what they think is the right way to live. Livin' on the edge of life is where we like it. People will always try to put down something they are not a part of. So, if people don't like & understand you or us, it's too fuckin bad! To all of them we say a big, strong, loud, proud FUCK YOU! We have said it before and we will say it again and again, you are the blood in our veins and the meaning of the music. You are the FUCKING best of the very best.
This record was made to be played loud. Louder Than Hell to be exact. Get your friends together, start up the party, put this disc on and turn up the dial until your neighbors lose their smile.

Born to Rock, Drink and Fuck.
HAIL AND KILL
MANOWAR

Looking at the back of the CD case and seeing where all of the the songs were recorded, I noticed something funny. Despite the fact that Manowar is an American band, there wasn't a single song recorded in the US or Canada. In fact, a North American fan of the band like me would've had to fly all the way to South America or even Europe to catch them. I guess that Manowar is to American metal bands as Foster's is to Australian beer, at least popularity-wise.
The performances on Hell on Wheels are raw as hell, and that's a good thing; I can't stand when bands feel the need to lace live tracks with overdubs, as that destroys the whole point of having a live album in the first place. I also liked how Eric Adams inserted profanity into a few tracks in a typically goofy Manowar manner ("We don't turn down for anyone, we do what the FUCK we please!") There are some questionable song choices (three songs from "Fighting the World," only one of which was any good) and changes to songs that don't work ("Hail and Kill" gets a pointless extended intro, and did we really need TEN MINUTES of "Black Arrows?"), but those are few and far between and don't take much away from this otherwise fine release.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Manowar - Louder than Hell

10/10

Drummer Scott Columbus is back in the band, and there's a new guitarist named Karl Logan, whose playing is a bit noisy, but in a good way. The songwriting is strong all of the way through; even the lesser songs, like "Number 1" and "Outlaw" only pale in comparison to the other songs and would stand out on most other Manowar albums. The best songs include "The Gods Made Heavy Metal," with its biblical lyrics and hilarious outro; "King," which has a surprisingly subdued piano intro before turning into an archetypal Manowar ass-kicker; and "Return of the Warlords," which has some of Manowar's funniest lyrics ever. There's also a ten-minute instrumental ("Today is a Good Day to Die") which is mostly orchestral; it sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it's actually good, and nothing like anything else Manowar ever did.
This is definitely my favorite Manowar album, and encompasses everything I love about them. Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Manowar - The Triumph of Steel

7/10

This is a bit of a transitional album for Manowar. It features a new guitarist, David Shankle, and a new drummer called "Rhino," and neither would play on a single Manowar album again. Things get off to a very good start with "Achilles: Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts," which is Manowar's equivalent of 2112. It's almost half an hour long and has little filler; all that sticks out as being supbar is Rhino's drum solo, which just sounds like he's hitting those skins completely at random. Otherwise, Achilles is some of the band's best work.
Unfortunately, the album as a whole is also reminiscent of Rush's 2112, as the side-length is almost all that's good about it. Okay, I'll grant that Triumph's second side is somewhat better than 2112's, as it has the hilarious metal anthem "Metal Warriors" and "Master of the Wind," which is about as good as a Manowar ballad with almost no guitar can be, but songs like "Burning," "The Demon's Whip" and "The Power of Thy Sword" are just Manowar by numbers with too much reliance on chugga-chugga riffs; you'll forget them as soon as they're over. Achilles gets a 9/10, but the other songs get a 4/10, so we'll split the difference, round up, and call this album a 7.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Manowar - Kings of Metal

9/10

Thank God the last album was a one-time misstep. Kings of Metal is Manowar's finest album yet, with songs ranging from the by-the-numbers-but-still-great "Wheels of Fire" to the hilarious self-aggrandizement of the title track to another ridiculous classically based bass solo, "Sting of the Bumblebee." Then there's "Hail and Kill," one of the band's best known songs and one of my personal favorites, mostly because of the immortal line "may your swords stay wet like a young girl in her prime." I also liked the synth-based "The Crown and The Ring"; it barely counts as a metal song, but it fits the Manowar aesthetic just fine. The production is strong without being too glossy like on "Fighting the World", with choiral backing vocals that are cheesy but fun. I also love "Pleasure Slave," with its great slow-paced riff, hilariously misogynistic lyrics and women moaning in ecstasy in the background.
This misses the 10 because the spoken-word "The Warrior's Prayer", while amusing, is about twice as long as it needs to be, and because "Kingdom Come" is a pretty bad song that might as well have been on the preceding album. It's still a great album, though, and one of the best places to start with Manowar. After this album, Ross the Boss would leave the band to rejoin the Dictators. I think he thought the band was selling out, which would make sense after Fighting the World, but not after this effort.
I would be remiss to neglect that this was the first Manowar album cover drawn by Ken Kelly, who has done all their album art ever since. His hallmarks are musclebound men with faces that are just pitch black with nothing but featureless yellow eyes, with some naked women sometimes thrown in (we wouldn't want anyone to think these album covers are gay, would we?) His covers are about as closely associated with Manowar as Roger Dean's are with Yes, or Vince Locke's are with Cannibal Corpse.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Manowar - Fighting the World

3/10

Manowar released their first four albums in the span of three years, so I can only imagine how their fans felt when they were awarded for their wait with this piece of garbage. "Fighting the World" is Manowar-lite; it's recognizable as Manowar, but a genericized version of the band, playing material that was about as memorable as any of the hair metal bands that infested the airwaves in 1987. The proponents of "true metal" had become just another "false metal" band. (I was going to make an allusion to the end of "Animal Farm" here, but making literary references in a Manowar review is just too pretentious even for me.)
There are only two good songs on here. The first is "Defender," which I discussed in the review of the earlier single version, so I won't talk about it here. The second is "Black Wind, Fire, and Steel," which is still a little glossy by Manowar standards (I prefer the live versions of this song), but is still head and shoulders above most of the other songs. The rest suck. Songs such as the title track, "Carry On," and "Blow Your Speakers" could have been written and performed by almost anyone. This is definitely Manowar's worst moment, but things would get better.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Manowar - Sign of the Hammer

8/10

Sign of the Hammer was the second album Manowar released in 1984. "All Men Play on 10" gets things off to a pretty good start, although drawing comparisons to "these go up to 11" from "This is Spinal Tap" probably wasn't the band's intention. "Animals" is much faster than most of the band's previous work, but the lyrics lack that Manowar goofiness I love. The squeaky bass pedal is back, too; it's especially audible at the beginning of "Thor (The Powerhead)".
A few songs are overlong, such as the aforementioned "Thor" and "Mountains," which made me reduce my grade a bit. There's also another bass solo, "Thunderpick," which isn't especially interesting. I did like the album closer, "Guyana (Cult of the Damned)"; Eric Adams' delivery on certain lines such as "Rotting flesh... a sacrificial mound" is the essence of what I love about the band. Sure, it's tasteless, but anyone looking for good taste in the metal genre is undertaking a futile endeavor. Sign of the Hammer is solid, and it's a shame it took three years for the follow-up to be released.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Manowar - Hail to England

8/10

Okay, this is where things really started to get good. Like the last album, there are just seven songs, but most of them are fairly compact, with just one epic at the very end. This leads to a short album (less than 35 minutes long), but it leaves you wanting more. The best parts are "Kill With Power," with an even more obvious squeaky bass pedal than "Gates of Valhalla," and "Black Arrows," a DeMaio bass solo with a gut-busting pitch-shifted introduction in which the band first denounces "false metal". DeMaio also starts his habit of name-dropping the names of previous songs and albums in "Army of the Immortals," a tribute to the band's fans. The only long song on the album, "Bridge of Death," veers a little too far into Satanic silliness than macho silliness for my tastes and is a bit overlong. Otherwise, the album's Manowar's best to date.
A lot of people seem to think that Manowar's only good albums were the first four; I disagree, but this is my personal favorite out of them. Recommended.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Manowar - Defender (single)

4/10

This was a single released in 1983 to promote "Into Glory Ride". The titular song didn't make it onto the album, but it a re-recording would make it onto "Fighting the World" a few years later, and it's the version I was familiar with first. It's another song with narration from Orson Welles, and I prefer the later version to this one. The "Fighting the World" version does a better job of integrating the narration into the song, and doesn't have the too-rough production of the single version. I also liked how the "Fighting the World" version faded out instead of trying to end with a bang. The B-side is "Hatred," which wasn't one of the better songs on "Into Glory Ride." I have no idea why they made the A-side an otherwise unavailable song and the B-side one from the album, instead of the other way around. This is only for die-hard fans.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Manowar - Into Glory Ride

6/10

You know, for all the talk about Manowar being homoerotic, not much of that comes out in their actual music. Okay, their stage costumes and album covers are definitely gay as all hell, but their lyrics really aren't gay at all. There are a few exceptions, of course, including their 29-minute "Achilles: Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts," but that's more due to the source material than their input. And then there's this album's "Gloves of Metal," which contains the line "We wear leather! We wear spikes!" I can't defend that at all.
The songs on "Into Glory Ride" are really long, with an average length of over six minutes. I just can't shake the feeling that something's missing with these songs, like Manowar were still a little scared to go to the self-parodic heights of later material on some songs. Some of the songs definitely could have been cut down a little without losing anything; I think the sophomore slump, which leads to a band having trouble writing new material quickly, led to Ross and DeMaio stretching out songs beyond their intended length to fill time by playing them too slowly and adding unnecessary sections. The production's also rough in a way that I didn't find appealing, although I did like the way they didn't even try to hide the squeaky bass pedal near the end of "Gates of Valhalla". The only real improvement over "Battle Hymns" that I can see is the addition of Scott Columbus, whose drumming fits this kind of material a lot better than the other guy's did. Manowar was still developing on this album.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Manowar - Battle Hymns

7/10

Manowar's debut is surprisingly typical for an early 80's metal record; Eric Adams' voice is a bit more restrained than on later releases, and only the last three tracks are quite as silly as much of their later material. I think that's due to the influence of Ross the Boss, who co-wrote six of the songs with Joey DeMaio, the most songs with writing input from other band members out of any Manowar release. The first five tracks aren't much more over the top than what other metal bands of the era were putting out; they're not bad or anything, but they're a bit generic.
Starting with "Dark Avenger," though, we get a taste of what Manowar would be known for- ludicrously bombastic fantasy-based lyrics and hilariously overblown musical backing. "Dark Avenger" tells the story of a man executed by his tribe who comes back from the dead to avenge his death. The middle part of the song is narrated by none other than Orson Welles, who was probably just glad to be working on something other than frozen pea commercials. Then there's "William's Tale," a DeMaio bass solo version of the William Tell Overture, which would be the first of several (bad) attempts to incorporate classical influences. The final song is the 7-minute title track, which is the first of Manowar's battle epics, and it's pretty good, with chanting background vocals that would become a hallmark of the band's sound.
Overall, the first half is a competent but not amazing early 80's metal album, but the second half is where Manowar starts to adopt their best-known tricks. Of course, it's still pretty silly (if not quite as much as the band's later material), but I can't get enough of silliness in metal so I love it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Manowar - Intro

Manowar are one of the silliest (and therefore, best) power metal bands to spring out of the 1980's. With some of the most ludicrous lyrics of all time, Manowar attempted to bring their brand of "true metal" to the masses, completely destroying the hair metal bands which dominated the mainstream at the time. It's like they saw "This is Spinal Tap" and thought that it was the most awesome thing ever (except for the fact that their debut predates that film by two years). The only constant members are singer Eric Adams and bassist/songwriter Joey DeMaio; other members have included Ross "The Boss" Friedman, formerly of the Dictators. Unfortunately, they never really made it in their native America, being mostly popular in Europe, but they're still together and as hilarious as ever (even if they claim to take their music completely seriously).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Y. Bhekhirst - Hot in the Airport

8/10

Since I need some extra time to decide which artist's albums I'm going to review next, I've decided to kick off a series of reviews of albums that were their artists' sole releases. First up is this album by the mysterious "Y. Bhekhirst".
Y. Bhekhirst is mysterious because no one knows much about him. "Bhekhirst" seems to be an alias for one Jose Hugo Diaz Guzman. He has registered a lot of songs with the US Copyright Office, but "Hot in the Airport" is the only one which seems to have seen the light of day. It starts off with "Dalmar," a weird instrumental where the guitar, bass and drums are all out of sync with each other. It's speculated that Bhekhirst/Guzman played all the instruments himself and dubbed them over each other; this can be done quite well (see the first 3/4 of Todd Rundgren's Something/Anything?), but Bhekhirst was no production wizard and it sounds like a mess as a result.
And then there are the vocals. Not since Triumph the Insult Comic Dog have I heard a voice which divides people so much on what kind of accent it is; I've heard people claim that the singer sounded Indian, German, French, Spanish or Latin American. (Given Bhekhirst's presumed real name, it's probably one of the latter two.)
The songs are very repetitive, but have an undeniable charm. The real crowd-pleaser is the title track, with Bhekhirst crooning "Toni-i-i-i-ight" over again in a hilarious way, and the way the track seems to start over again two minutes in for no good reason. There's some weird mixing in some tracks; in "I Run My Car," the bass is front and center while the guitar is nearly inaudible. And "I Will Sing" features Bhekhirst singing "I will do anything for love" in a manner shockingly similar to the similarly-titled Meat Loaf song (which wasn't released until 1993, 7 years after Hot in the Airport.) A few tracks are just boring, like the 7-minute album closer "Every Time I", but most are hilarious in some way or another. Fans of outsider music shouldn't pass up this gem.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

When a band's not what it seems.

As you can see from my Queen + Paul Rodgers reviews, you should be wary of any show featuring an established band being billed as "with such-and-such." Generally, you'll be getting ripped off. A few examples:

John Kay & Steppenwolf: Kay only used the Steppenwolf name so his old bandmates couldn't.

Asia Featuring John Payne: Payne didn't join the real Asia until the 90's, and all the other members are ringers.

Jack Russell's Great White: If you attended a particular show in Rhode Island, getting a band with two actual members and three stand-ins was the least of your problems.

Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi: Iommi recorded "Seventh Star," which was supposed to be a solo album, but the record company demanded that he use the "Black Sabbath" name, leading to the album cover featuring that billing. Unfortunately, Iommi would go on to record more albums under the Black Sabbath name during the late 80's and early 90's, most of which have a terrible reputation.

And there are two competing versions of Herman's Hermits, each featuring only one original member.

Of course, there are many more bands which have gone through tumultuous lineup changes, but you're basically assured of getting ripped off if the band name includes a member's name; assume that all the other members of the lineup you loved are gone.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Queen + Paul Rodgers - The Cosmos Rocks

1/10

Queen : Queen + Paul Rodgers :: '60s Beach Boys : 80's-present Beach Boys

May, Taylor and Rodgers have dragged Queen's legacy through the mud, much like Mike Love did the same to the Beach Boys. Hell, even the lyrics are just as painful as Love's pandering to teenagers:

"Across seven seas through the Panama,
Now they're rockin' on beaches and they're rockin' in bars
Don't ask me how and don't ask me why
From Miami Beach down to old Bondi
There's a rock 'n' roll fever in every place
Next thing you know they'll be rockin' out in space"

"Music makes the world go round
I've been flyin' on the wings of the sound
It feels so good from way up here
I'm still a believer
Headin' for the stars"

"In an instant the mysteries of life will unfold
The myths and the dragons of time will explode"

"I believe there's just once chance in this world to hear our brothers
You believe there's a better way to listen to each other
We don't get what the other guy is saying
We hear the words but we don't understand
So around the world the same old anger raging
And we all cry for shame and the same old tragedy goes down"

Okay, I've tortured you enough, I'll stop now. Sure, the lyrics on regular Queen albums weren't always great, but they were never this banal.

Or maybe the better analogy is to Kiss' Psycho Circus, which, despite the fact that it was promoted as the return of the original lineup, featured only marginally more contributions from Ace Frehley and Peter Criss than Freddie Mercury's contribution to this album. Calling this "Queen" is just crass commercialism; I take this album's claim to being by Queen about as seriously as Bill Wyman takes age-of-consent laws. Everything is completely generic; aside from a few bits where May's distinct guitar tone is evident, it sounds nothing like Queen. It's just banal MOR/adult contemporary drivel imaginable that could've been played by anybody. Even "Hot Space II" would have been loads better than this. This isn't just terrible as a Queen album; it's a terrible album, period. This deserves to suffer the same fate as the Doors' post-Morrison albums: to be disowned and out-of-print forever. As it is, it'll be filling up bargain bins for years to come.

(I should note that I haven't actually heard the post-Morrison albums, and that they could be decent for all I know. It's just one of the best examples of albums being disowned by their creators that I could think of.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Queen + Paul Rodgers - Return of the Champions

2/10

The Venture Bros., a show I deeply adore, had a bit of a crossover with the old 60's cartoon Jonny Quest (which it parodies) in its first two seasons. In an episode in the first season, Race Bannon, the bodyguard from Jonny Quest, died after falling out of a plane, while Jonny himself was portrayed as a crack addict in a second season episode. They had the full blessing of the rights holders, as their channel, Adult Swim, had aired a show called Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, which made fun of basically every cartoon in the Hanna-Barbera canon (my favorite example was Boo Boo from Yogi Bear being portrayed as an eco-terrorist).
Then, in season 3, Jonny Quest appeared in another episode, but something funny happened. He looked exactly the same, but everyone called him "Action Johnny". I assume that something happened behind the scenes, and some executives were, well, being executives and decided to force a change on the show's creators despite the fact that there was strong precedent for shows featuring characters from Hanna-Barbera shows and lampooning them. What made it worse is that The Venture Bros. relies heavily on continuity; for example, a robot that was a one-shot character in the first season reappeared in a Season 3 episode that was one of my favorite moments in the show. The name change kind of put a black mark on the show's otherwise immaculate continuity.
It's stuff like this that destroyed my childhood dreams of writing for TV. There are enough examples from Adult Swim alone to have killed it (the aforementioned "Action Johnny" incident, the network paying $2 million to the city of Boston because the police mistook Aqua Teen Hunger Force advertisements for bombs, at least one Robot Chicken sketch mysteriously disappearing from the DVD release, the network completely caving after BET threatened to sue them over two episodes of "The Boondocks" which criticized the network). God only knows how many people with talents far greater that my own have been scared off from Hollywood due to stuff like this.
"But Pugs," you ask. "What does this have to do with the album?" Well, when I heard that this album was coming out, I knew that calling this "Queen" was simply sacrilegious, and using the name without Freddie is about a million times more conspicuous than even the incident mentioned above. Maybe (and I stress maybe) they could've gone on producing material immediately after Freddie's death. But waiting more than a decade after "Made in Heaven" to release new material is just a horrible decision. I was aware that May and Taylor had been making appearances as "Queen" for quite a while, but "Return of the Champions" was just too big to ignore. (John Deacon wisely retired from the music business during the mid-90's.)
And then there was the choice of who would be replacing Freddie. They chose Paul Rodgers; he's not a bad singer, but how would his gritty voice go with Queen's material? How yummy does a peanut butter and filet mignon sandwich seem to you? I haven't heard anything by Free, Bad Company, The Firm, The Law, or any other projects Rodgers may have been involved with, so I can't really judge him when he's in his element. But as a replacement for Freddie, he sucks. (Technically, he's not a replacement, as Queen just consists of May and Taylor now, and this album is credited to "Queen + Paul Rodgers." Why the plus sign? Why not "and" or "with"?)
The worst part is that they didn't have to defile the Queen name- they could easily have ditched it and formed a supergroup that wouldn't have had any baggage. You'd think that Rodgers might have suggested that to May and Taylor, since he's been in two supergroups. (Three, if you count The Law, a band that consisted of only him and Keith Moon replacement Kenney Jones. I don't.) But they didn't.
This double-live album should never have been released under the Queen name. Freddie was the heart and soul of the band, and his absence overshadows almost every track. There are a few performances I enjoyed, however; Brian May's vocals on "'39" and "Love of My Life" are very good (he only sang the studio version of the former) and Roger's vocal performance on "I'm in Love with My Car" is unpolished but appealing. Unfortunately, it's also very similar to the version on "Live Killers," so it's kind of redundant. Not surprisingly, none of the parts I liked featured Paul Rodgers at all; he doesn't exactly slum it, but he's just out of place on the Queen songs. I also felt that the Free and Bad Company songs that were included were just kinda dull. There's also a Roger-penned song, "Say It's Not True," which was written for an AIDS charity concert honoring Nelson Mandela, which is ironic, considering that Queen played at the infamous whites-only Sun City resort when South Africa was still under apartheid. (This was probably because of the obscene amounts of money offered them; others who performed there include well-known white supremacists Tina Turner and Ray Charles.)
Also, for some reason, they turned the first half of "Hammer to Fall" into a sorrowful ballad. But the most telling moment is "Bohemian Rhapsody," which barely features Rodgers at all; instead, the vocals are almost entirely a tape of Freddie, making the few parts that Rodgers sings stand out even more.
This album is just unnecessary. May and Taylor are lucky that Freddie was cremated, as per Zoroastrian custom, because if he'd been buried, he undoubtedly would've come back as a zombie and eaten their brains for this crap. Only for completists and die-hard Paul Rodgers fans (if they exist). At least they didn't try to record all-new material.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Queen - Made in Heaven

5/10

This is a posthumous release; Freddie recorded vocals for some Queen tracks to be released after his death, while some other tracks were originally solo tracks where the other band members recorded new backing tracks. As a result, there are a few seams visible in the production, but it's not as bad as one might expect. Fans of the Resident Evil games will recognize the song titles "Let Me Live" from Claire's jacket in Code Veronica X, and "Mother Love" from Billy's tattoo in Resident Evil 0. The first three songs are all pretty solid, but they're by far the best songs on the album. "Mother Love" is a bit too dreary for my tastes (especially because it has the last vocals Freddie ever recorded, and that he was to sick to record the last verse so Brian May filled in for him). Some other songs feel just like cast-offs, especially "My Life Has Been Saved" and "Heaven for Everyone". There are a few too many samples from the band's earlier work (I noticed clips from "A Kind of Magic," "Seven Seas of Rhye," and the call-and-repsonse from Live at Wembley). There's also a lengthy ambient track on the end which I liked, but I like Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon a lot, so your mileage may vary. It's better than one might think an album like this would be, but it's still not great.