Saturday, February 27, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Brainticket - Cottonwoodhill

This is actually a pretty good psych/krautrock album, but what the hell was on their minds when they made this cover (besides drugs)? It's like seeing a cross between the aliens from Mars Attacks and the aliens with half white/half black faces from Star Trek while on LSD.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Eaten Back to Life

8/10

Cannibal Corpse may not have been the first death metal band to utilize Cookie Monster vocals (Deicide's Glen Benton used a similar style, and that band's debut predated this by two months), but they've probably done more to make them famous than anyone else. Chris Barnes gives a great performance (even though he doesn't sound quite as comfortable as he would on some later albums, the fact that he sounds like he's straining frequently makes the songs more effective), and the twin guitar attack is as strong as ever, delivering awesome riffs and solos with amazing consistency. It's also a bit bassier than later offerings from the Corpse; on later Corpse albums, the only time I could really make out the bass without headphones were on the rare occasions where Alex Webster would get a brief solo.
My favorite song here is "Put Them to Death," a spirited defense of the death penalty which features the most easily audible words on the entire album: "FUUUUUUUCK YOU!" Okay, there's one riff in that song that sounds more than a little like the Benny Hill theme, but I love Yakkety Sax so I can forgive it- it makes anything funny! (Except, well, Benny Hill.)
The biggest missteps here are that some of the songwriting is repetitive (the last verse of "Shredded Humans" is just the first verse repeated- I think they were having trouble padding the album out even to 35 minutes), and the drumming. While Paul Mazurkiewicz isn't a great drummer today, he is absolutely horrible here; his playing rarely sounds heavy at all, and is mostly limited to fairly generic patterns. Just check out the opening to "Edible Autopsy"- it sounds like a kindergartener lightly tapping random parts of a drum kit with silverware.
However, most of Eaten Back to Life is able to transcend the amateurish drum performance, and, as the debut from one of the most famous death metal bands in the world, it's still an essential listen for any fan of the genre.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cannibal Corpse - Intro

Cannibal Corpse are one of the best-known and most influential death metal bands in the world. They're especially notorious for their lyrics and album covers, which push the limits of good taste to unimaginable levels with their graphic, violent imagery. But there's some actual good music behind all of the controversy, and that's what I'll be focusing on in my reviews.
The first time I ever heard Cannibal Corpse (or any death metal, for that matter) was on an online radio station, and I thought that the growling vocals were the most hilarious thing ever. I originally purchased Tomb of the Mutilated just to laugh at it, but I found out after repeated listens that I actually enjoyed it unironically. Today, death metal is one of my favorite genres. It's funny just how one can discover new things.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Queen - Queen on Fire: Live at the Bowl

8/10

It's amazing how good this live album is, considering that it was recorded while they were touring for Hot Space. I think it's a cliche (and frequently not true) that live recordings have more energy than their studio counterparts, but it's definitely true here for the tracks off of Hot Space- they're so much better without the over-glossy production and drum machines. Every one of them is better than the original except Under Pressure, which just isn't the same without Bowie present.
But the Hot Space songs make up just four out of 25 songs, and the setlist is pretty good (although, not surprisingly, there's nothing here from the first three albums). Half the songs from The Game are present here; while I didn't think that particular album was overproduced, it's interesting to hear more stripped-down version of those songs here.
This is a pretty strong live album, although not quite the equal of Live at Wembley. There are a few parts that aren't so great (did Somebody to Love really need to be stretched out as long as it is here?) but not too many, so I give this an easy recommendation.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Scorpions - Virgin Killer

Christ, this is horrible. Most "generic band picture" album covers are awful, but just look at that guy with the mustache staring into the camera- that's gotta be the dumbest expression ever, and the other guys don't exactly look like they're thrilled to be there.
This was actually a replacement cover- I'm not sure what the first one was, but what could be so horrible that this would be an improvement? Child pornography?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Live in Poland

7/10

The final release from Emerson, Lake and Palmer is this respectable-but-not-great live album. To tell the truth, this was one of the first ELP albums I ever heard, so I'm somewhat biased towards it. Another reason I enjoy it is that there are some songs early on which you wouldn't expect to hear- these include the ELPowell track "Touch and Go," "Bitches Crystal" off of the second side of Tarkus and "From the Beginning" from Trilogy. There's surprisingly little off of Brain Salad Surgery, with just a six-minute excerpt from Karn Evil 9 making the cut.
The second half consists of two lengthy medleys that showcase some of the band's longer pieces (Pictures, Tarkus, Fanfare). They're decent, but I really preferred the more unorthodox first half of the album. Lake's voice is gritty-sounding, as can be expected, but Palmer's drums actually sound real here, unlike the Royal Albert Hall album.
Live in Poland shows that ELP were still decent live even after their horrible late-period studio albums, although it's still more for die-hards than casual fans.
There's actually a 3-disc set of ELP techno remixes which I'm not going to review- I used to own it and it's about as bad as you'd think, with no less than SEVEN versions of "Fanfare for the Common Man."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - In the Hot Seat

2/10

Emerson and Palmer had both undergone surgery on their hands shortly before this contractually obligated album, so there really wasn't any way it was going to be good- most of Keith and Carl's parts could easily have been programmed into machines. Once again, the production is completely stuck in the 80's, with Palmer's playing being ludicrously compressed and everything else being just completely sterile. If this and Black Moon can be considered sellout albums, they were horribly calculated, as this kind of synthy AOR was dated as hell by the early 90s. There's a bit more guitar here than on classic ELP albums, but it's as slicked-over as everything else.
As for individual songs, "Hand of Truth" has an intro that could've been pretty good if Emerson had been 100%, as it is, it sounds like a fucking techno song. "Daddy" is ridiculously oversentimental, while it's not hard to imagine "Heart on Ice" being sung by Celine Dion. "Man in the Long Black Coat" is a late-period Dylan cover that could've been pretty damn good if it weren't for the overproduction that plagues all the other tracks. "Give Me a Reason to Stay" is total adult contemporary trap, and I've heard a rumor that "Gone Too Soon" had session musicians replacing Emerson and Palmer, which seems quite likely to me.
The only real plus that I can see here is that Lake's vocal performance is considerably better than on Black Moon (with a few exceptions), but when the songwriting and production are this uniformly terrible, decent vocals aren't nearly enough to save a dungheap like this. By the end, I was actually missing all the blues/Dixieland jazz from Works, Volume 2. Ignore In the Hot Seat: it's as bad as Love Beach, and at least the latter album's cover made it an interesting conversation piece.
NOTE: Some editions of this album have a studio version of "Pictures at an Exhibition" added on at the end, which I didn't account for in my rating because I don't count bonus tracks. It's by far the best thing on here, but it's somewhat weak compared to earlier renditions- if I counted it in my actual rating, In the Hot Seat would only get a 3.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Live at the Royal Albert Hall

6/10

Live at the Royal Albert Hall isn't essential or anything, but at least it's somewhat pleasant, if hardly a replacement for earlier live efforts. Lake's voice sounds even rougher here than it did on Black Moon, but ELP was smart enough only to include the halfway decent songs from Black Moon here. Unfortunately, the band's most famous epics are here in extremely truncated form (Tarkus is cut in half and has some really annoying synth wanking at the end, and we get less than two minutes' worth of Karn Evil 9). Also, "Still... You Turn Me On" is the most boring song ever without the overdubs- at least "Lucky Man" gets some actual texture-based synth work from Emerson before the tacked-on solo in this live version.
Another problem is the drums- these just had to be electronic, as I've never heard drums this echoey in a live setting before, and they really detract from these songs. Also, even though I didn't like the original version of Pirates, the synth tones here that replace the orchestra make the song even cheesier.
Fortunately, there's an excellent instrumental medley at the end of "Fanfare for the Common Man," "Rondo" and "America" that ends things pretty well. I can only recommend this for people who've heard the classic albums first, but it's a pretty good replacement for Black Moon.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Terrible Album Covers: Danzig - How the Gods Kill

When I saw this cover, I thought "this artist is clearly ripping off H. R. Giger (particularly the cover of Brain Salad Surgery), but he completely forgot that the one cool aspect of his art was the mechanical/organic dichotomy and not the dumb phallic imagery." Then I did some research and found out that the artist actually was Giger. Lame.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Black Moon

3/10

The first full reunion album from ELP is firmly in the 80's vein despite the fact that it was recorded in 1992- the bass has that weird 80's effect, and the drums are either electronic or compressed as hell. Black Moon isn't really a good album, but it creates the illusion of being one due to front-loading all the best songs (the title track is dumber than you'd expect from ELP but a good arena rock song, "Paper Blood" has terrible lyrics but a wonderful chorus and good organ work from Emerson, and "Romeo and Juliet," the only classical adaptation here, is pretty strong and the synths are stuck in the 70's instead of 80's).
Unfortunately, there's little good beyond those tracks; the Lake ballads are as terrible as ever, with Emerson being mostly invisible (although there's an absolutely rancid synth-bagpipe solo on "Farewell to Arms") and Lake's voice is completely shot. His vocal performance on ELPowell was fine, but he's hard to recognize here; it's hard to believe that album was recorded less than a decade earlier. Emerson rarely shows any of the energy that he used to (the mostly slow and boring piano solo piece "Close to Home" is a prime example, although at least it's not as tacky as some of the other stuff on display here) There's even a terrible song that was written by the producer (has that ever been a good sign?)
Black Moon was another entry in a string of duds among ELP and not-quite-ELP projects. Except for a few strong tracks, it's completely ignorable.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

3 - To the Power of Three

1/10

Another ELP not-quite-reunion, 3 consisted of some no-name called Robert Berry replacing Lake as frontman. I have NO idea how he talked his way into this, but the fact that the band name downplayed Emerson and Palmer's participation suggests that they were embarrassed to be involved. And it's not surprising- To the Power of Three has nearly all of ELPowell's problems in more acute incarnations.
The synthesizers are terrible, Berry's singing is generic in the most terrible 80's way possible, the production is about as lame as was par for the course in 1988, and there's a cover of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" which is about as bad as you'd expect. Virtually none of it sounds anything like ELP, which shouldn't be surprising because Berry had the majority of the songwriting credits here. (He would later go on to an illustrious career recording tribute albums.)
It's not hard to imagine that this is the unholy result of some rock and roll fantasy camp that somehow resulted in an album actually getting released, but from what I've heard, it was recorded because Asia broke up and all the members (including Carl Palmer) had to perform on other albums to get out of their contracts. I've only given out a 1 once before, but it just feels necessary to do so again for this pile of crap that makes Love Beach look like a masterpiece. That 1 was for Queen + Paul Rodgers' The Cosmos Rocks, which was similar to this in that it features two members of a legendary band whose performances are so dull that they might as well be sessions musicians. I guess that Emerson + Palmer at least had the foresight not to evoke the ELP name, but May and Taylor were smart enough to hire someone who wasn't a total no-name. The results sucked equally, though. Highest recommendation to avoid.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Powell - s/t

4/10

Keith Emerson and Greg Lake decided to reunite in 1986, but Carl Palmer was playing drums for Asia at the time, so they hired journeyman drummer Cozy Powell (most famously of Rainbow) to take his place.
This is a very 80's album, with godawful drum production and incredibly cheesy synth tones (synthesizers should NEVER attempt to emulate the sound of a horn section- disaster will inevitably result), but there are still some good parts- "Touch and Go" is incredibly catchy, with a great Emerson solo, and there's some of ELP's great approach to classical music with a fine rendition of "Mars, the Bringer of War".
Unfortunately, most of the rest of the album is made up of dull AOR songs. Even the longer ones aren't "progressive" in any real way besides the fact that they're long. The worst songs here are the adult contemporary "Love Blind," the vomitous lounge-jazz of "Step Aside", and the ridiculously oversentimental "Lay Down Your Guns"- and they're all in a row!
Another problem is that Powell is no Palmer- his drum patterns aren't nearly as complex and are generally just simple stuff that one could have heard on any hard rock or metal album of the era. I guess it's an improvement over "Emerson, Lake, and Drum Machine," but that's not saying a whole lot. Then again, Emerson and Lake's songwriting isn't close to what it used to be- it says a lot that a bonus track that's an instrumental cover of "The Loco-Motion" is one of the most entertaining songs on here. ELPowell is easily forgettable.

Friday, February 5, 2010

New feature: Terrible Album Covers: Foreigner - Head Games


I've been thinking about adding a feature like this for quite a while, but seeing the cover for Foreigner's Head Games while reading Don Ignacio's excellent music review site inspired me to make it a reality. I mean seriously, what the fuck? It's like they were trying to be as creepy as possible. One can easily imagine a bunch of offscreen rapists about to assault her in that men's room- one can only wonder why an MOR band like Foreigner would have an album cover so scuzzy. I need a fucking shower now.

I will be doing this feature on Saturdays from now on, so be sure to check my blog on the weekends as well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Love Beach

2/10

As you may have guessed from the Jimmy Buffett-style album cover, ELP weren't exactly putting their all into this album. The damn thing wouldn't even have been recorded if it weren't for a contractual obligation.
The first side is mostly rancid Lake ballads- Keith is totally phoning in his keyboards, which sound more akin to something from 80's educational films than something worthy of his participation. Since Emerson wasn't too keen on this material, there's much more guitar here than usual, which could have been interesting if the material wasn't so banal. A cover of some classical piece called Canario would've been dull on other ELP albums, but it's probably the best thing here.
And then there's side two, made up of the suite "Memoirs of an Officer and a Gentleman." This monstrosity never gets out of first gear, with long stretches of nothing but vocals and piano. There's little about it that could be considered progressive.
I'm giving this a 2 for the okay Canario, and because Lake actually gives a decent vocal performance for most of the time (he was probably the only one who gave a shit about this album). Love Beach is every bit as terrible as its cover and reputation, and is only for the most desperate ELP completists.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Emerson, Lake and Palmer - Works Live

7/10

If you get just one ELP album bearing the Works moniker, get this one. Originally released in 1979 as the 1-disc "In Concert," it was revamped in 1993 as a 2-CD album. This was recorded live in Montreal on the Works tour, with many tracks featuring a live orchestra. Not surprisingly, most of the songs are from the Works albums, although a few appear from earlier releases (an abbreviated Pictures suite with full orchestra, Knife Edge from the debut, Abaddon's Bolero from Trilogy) as well as a version of Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn theme.
"The Enemy God," surprisingly, is a synthesized version that doesn't use the orchestra, and Emerson's piano concerto is cut down to just the last movement. Abaddon's Bolero and the Pictures suite are given new life by the combination of the band and the orchestra, and some of the duller tracks from Works, Volume Two sound considerably better here.
Unfortunately, the Lake ballads still suck, and much of the band's stronger material is absent here (but most of what's missing is on Welcome Back anyway). Works Live is a very good substitute for the patchy-as-hell studio records.