Album Reviews (Jan 12, 2016)

Have you ever had hemorrhoids so bad that when you go to wipe your bum it feels like you’re shaking someone’s hand?  No?  Uh… me neither.  Let’s forget we ever had this conversation.

Here’s some reviews…

Killer Dwarfs – Killer Dwarfs (1983)

Killer Dwarfs (technically written as KiLLeR DWaRfS) were lovable losers from Canada.  They debuted in 1983 with this self-titled LP on Attic Records.  The cover is pretty clever — showing the band’s sense of humor (an endearing trait that helped them win over some fans in their career).  The sound on Killer Dwarfs lies somewhere in that gray area between hard rock and metal.  All in all, the songs are moderately catchy but quite plain.  They could use a little salt.  The absence of backing vocals may be one reason why.  The production is pretty good given its vintage, with the drums sounding especially lively.  A decent debut, but not a classic by any means.  Better stuff would come later for Killer Dwarfs.  My score: B-

Killer Dwarfs – Dirty Weapons (1990)

As mentioned in the above review, better stuff was on the way for Killer Dwarfs.  Let’s skip ahead to 1990 and Killer Dwarfs’ fourth album Dirty Weapons.  This was their second album recording on a major label (Epic).  Their previous album, 1988’s Big Deal, was a very catchy pop-metal album (reviewed here).  By contrast, Dirty Weapons was a heavier offering.  This was partially because producer and mixer Andy Johns boosted the guitars in the mix.  In my opinion, both albums worked for Killer Dwarfs.  I have a slight preference for Big Deal, though I could probably be convinced otherwise.  Faves include the hard rockin’ title track and the softer Doesn’t Matter.  My score: A

Drive – Characters In Time (1988)

I always have a hard time writing reviews for albums such as Drive’s Characters In Time (Rampage Records).  This is one of those albums where the band does everything right, yet I hesitate to call it a favorite.  I can’t seem to find any real tangible reason why I don’t love this record.  But sometimes that is just how it goes.  We can’t always find analytical reasons for our own subjective tastes.

Drive had a formidable singer in David Taylor.  The band’s two guitarists Rick Chavez and Mercy Valdez were also top-notch axe-slingers.  The style here is clean, melodic heavy metal (think Queensryche, but heavier and less pretentious).  I’m not sure why I don’t totally connect with Characters In Time, since all the boxes seem to be checked.  I guess I could say the hooks don’t grab me (though Heroes End has a good one).  And if I were to get really picky, I would say the mix is a bit off (drums too loud).

Note 1: Though not listed as an official member of the band in the liner notes, future KISS drummer Eric Singer is credited with drum duties on the album.  Note 2: My cassette j-card lists a song called I Need The Nights as the album’s last song, but the track isn’t on the tape.  My score: B- 

Racer X – Second Heat (1987)

Baby-faced shredder Paul Gilbert returned for another lap around the race track with his high-octane band Racer X in 1987.  For the band’s sophomore effort Second Heat (Shrapnel Records), a second guitarist was brought on board (Bruce Bouillet) as well as a thunderous new drummer (future Judas Priest member Scott Travis).

Racer X’s sound was kind of a cross between neo-classical shred metal and Sunset Strip glam.  At this early point in his career, I sort of think that Paul Gilbert ‘s style was a ear-friendly mix of Yngwie Malmsteen and Eddie Van Halen.

While it was obvious that the musicians in Racer X possessed world-class chops (check out the jaw-dropping instrumental Scarified), they didn’t totally neglect the song writing.  The addition of Bouillet as a second guitarist also added a new element to Racer X’s sound — twin guitar harmonies.  All of Racer X’s positive attributes were crystallized on the rousing album opener Sacrifice.  Another highlight is the more traditional Heart Of A Lion — a song written (but not released) by Judas Priest.  It’s interesting that Judas Priest gave up this song (apparently Rob Halford “gifted” the song to Racer X vocalist Jeff Martin) because Heart Of A Lion would have been a welcome addition to Priest turds like Turbo and Ram It Down.  Judas Priest’s loss was Racer X’s gain!  Racer X showed that they could roll with the hair bands, too (check out the glam-tinged Living The Hard Way).  My score: B+

Racer X – Live Extreme Volume (1988)

Live Extreme Volume was kind of a valentine to hardcore Racer X fans.  Recorded at the Country Club in Reseda, California (where Racer X were supposedly rock royalty), Live Extreme Volume contains a solo spotlight for each of the four instrumentalists in the band.  Of the four solos, John Alderete’s bass solo is my personal favorite.  Also included are three songs from 1986’s Street Lethal album performed as a five-piece band.  (Street Lethal was recorded as a four-piece, before second guitarist Bruce Bouillet joined the band.)  There are two songs from Second Heat.  These tracks are interesting because you can tell which guitarist is playing what.  Paul Gilbert’s guitar is panned all the way to the left and Bruce Bouilllet’s guitar is all the way to the right in the mix.  This wasn’t the case on Second Heat.  Lastly, there are three new tracks (besides the solos).  None of these three are particularly noteworthy (though it’s hard to be introduced to a “new” song in its live form).

My score reflects the fact that I only have a passing interest in this release.  It certainly does not reflect on the sterling musicianship on display!  Like I said, Live Extreme Volume is really only for die-hard Racer X fans.  My score: C+

Mr. Big – Mr. Big (1989)

As a continuation of the above Racer X reviews, let’s follow the Paul Gilbert timeline to his next venture — Mr. Big.  While Racer X had a strong following out in Los Angeles, the major labels weren’t biting.  When Paul was asked to form a band with bass ace Billy Sheehan, he said yes.  A very good singer, Eric Martin, was also recruited.  I would describe Eric Martin’s voice as part Lou Gramm (Foreigner) and part Jeff Kieth (Tesla).

Because Mr. Big was built for radio, Paul Gilbert didn’t get to do as much shredding as he did with the balls-to-the-wall Racer X.  But Gilbert came up with some cool, tricky riffs for Mr. Big, and his solos (though shorter) were still spectacular.  This was kind of the Van Halen phase of Gilbert’s songwriting career.

Despite the assemblage of formidable talent in Mr Big, I am a little underwhelmed by this debut (Atlantic Records).  The opening track Addicted To That Rush is the best song, and it’s probably what I expected the whole album to sound like.  Unfortunately, Mr. Big doesn’t live up to the promise of that album opener.  They don’t really keep the adrenaline flowing.  The lyrics on most of the album are pretty weak and the hooks are lukewarm at best.  About half of the time Mr. Big sounds like a poor man’s Van Halen.

Mr. Big would make a splash with their sophomore album Lean Into It (1991) which featured the irresistible hit To Be With You.  The song reached number one in the United States — making it one of the last really big “hair band” hits.  My score: B-

Praying Mantis – Time Tells No Lies (1981)

Praying Mantis were considered part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM).  Although they were indeed new and indeed British, they were not indeed heavy metal.  The NWOBHM tag was placed upon many bands that weren’t necessarily heavy metal (especially by today’s standards).  But Praying Mantis had long hair and played electric guitars — that was good enough to earn them a spot in the NWOBHM fraternity.

The best part about Time Tells No Lies (Arista Records) is probably the cover.  The music is so-so.  Decent for its time, I suppose, but harshly recorded and not particularly memorable.  Praying Mantis were said to be influenced by Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash — this is evident by the abundance of twin guitar harmonies on display.  They also used vocal harmonies quite a bit.

Time Tells No Lies was re-released by Rock Candy Records in 2011 as part of their great “Remastered & Reloaded” series.  This one includes very informative liner notes as well as a handful of bonus tracks, though the remastering leaves much to be desired.  My score: C+

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3 thoughts on “Album Reviews (Jan 12, 2016)

  1. Good flashback as I bought back in 88 a Racers X Extreme Vol Live and along with Project Driver releases on cassette tape and they both gave me headaches in overplaying and trebly production. But both bands ahd the talent it was too generic ….shred shred shred…
    Nice write ups …

  2. I am a big Killer Dwarfs fan and I agree with everything you say about them here. Their first album isn’t as good as the others but I really love that track, “Outlaw of a Modern Man.” It does cook and like you, “Big Deal” edges out “Dirty Weapons.” For the latter, may I include “Out of My Way” as a cool track?

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