Album Reviews (Feb 16, 2016)

Another batch of album reviews…

Q5 – Steel The Light (1984)

If you have even a passing interest in electric guitars you’ve surely heard of the Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo (read about it here).  It was invented back in the late seventies by Floyd Rose (duh).  That same Floyd Rose was a member of a Seattle-based hard rock/metal band in the eighties called Q5.  The band released two albums.  The first was Steel The Light in 1984 (Albatross Records).  This album was met with rave reviews by both Kerrang! and Metal Forces magazines.

In 1985 Steel The Light was released in the U.K. on the Music For Nations label with a different cover.  It was also released in Canada by Mercury Records with yet another cover.

Steel The Light is a solid slab of hard rock/metal.  There is a good variety of tunes here.  This includes the groove-laden stomper Steel The Light, the quasi-ballad Come And Gone, the radio-friendly Ain’t No Way, and the vicious Pull The Trigger.  Vocalist Jonathan K. does a fabulous job of covering all the bases on these different numbers.  He’s like a vocal chameleon.  Compare his clean, melodic vocals on Come And Gone with his rabid performance on Pull The Trigger.   It’s hard to believe it’s the same guy singing both songs!

If an album features the one and only Floyd Rose it should be no surprise that the guitar work is top-shelf.  Rose’s guitar tone has a real nice bite to it and his solos are well-crafted.  My score: B+

Q5 – When The Mirror Cracks (1986)

… and the synths come marching in.  For When The Mirror Cracks (Squawk Records), Q5 changed from the hard-charging style of the debut (above) to a much more commercial and vanilla approach.  Keyboards abound on this record, which seems almost sacrilegious when you have Floyd Rose in the band.  The man is an important historical figure in the evolution of the electric guitar and here he is taking a backseat to synthesizers?  It’s like a Playboy magazine without the pictures.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

It’s very easy in hindsight to see that Q5 made a critical mistake by changing their sound on When The Mirror Cracks.  But let’s remember that at the time Q5 were just doing what many bands were doing — trying to sell albums and be successful.  They didn’t know that the keyboards and tech-y drum sound would later become synonymous with eighties cheese.  That part of history had yet to be written.  I’m sure that if Q5 had access to Doc Brown’s Delorean they would go back to 1985 and stop this mistake from ever happening.  But they can’t do that.   Instead we’re left with a neutered Q5 and an album that pales in comparison to Steel The Light.  Only the title track comes close to the quality of anything on the debut.  My score: C

Only Child – Only Child (1988)

Here we have a slice of adult rock with a schmear of that ol’ hair band cream cheese.  Only Child (Rampage Records) leans a little too much towards the former for my personal tastes, but if you’re a big AOR collector (is that even a thing?) this album might just be your holy grail.  The man behind Only Child was Paul Sabu.  He writes, sings, plays guitar and produces the album.  Paul has a long resume in the music biz.  He’s collaborated with everyone from Madonna to Malice.

I imagine Paul’s breathy, husky voice and catchy, synth-infused love songs were tailor-made for lonely housewives with yearning loins.  In an alternate universe Paul might have landed a legit hit with a few of these tracks.  A lucky break or two was probably all he needed.  The song Always is my personal favorite of the set.  Heck, Always deserved to be at least as much of a hit as Eric Carmen’s Hungry Eyes  or John Waite’s Missing You.  My score: B-

Omen – Teeth Of The Hydra – The Best Of Omen (1989)

Omen were a very productive band in the eighties.  They released four LPs and one EP from 1984 to 1988 — all for Metal Blade Records.  But don’t mistake quantity for quality.  I always thought of Omen as second-tier players in the metal game.  They were consistently average and stubbornly unremarkable.  This “best of” compilation released by Metal Blade in 1989 further illustrates my point.  Looking back on Omen’s albums, I can really only think of one song that ever stuck with me over the years.  That song is Holy Martyr — which happens to be the first song on this compilation.  To fill out the rest of Teeth Of The Hydra, Metal Blade had to rummage through some pretty slim pickings.  I’m not convinced that Omen were really deserving of a “best of” album, but what the heck, here it is.  My score: C+

Ted Nugent – Intensities In 10 Cities (1981)

This unsuccessful live album was Ted’s last album for Epic Records.  Though the title was clever and the concept was pretty interesting (all the songs included were new, unreleased songs), that’s pretty much where the positive attributes end for Intensities In 10 Cities.  We are led to believe that the ten tracks on this album were each recorded in a different city.  If you were at one of these shows and heard Ted tell the crowd he was about to play a new song, you probably thought it was a good time to go take a piss break.  If you did, don’t worry, you didn’t miss much.  Intensities In 10 Cities is nothing more than one long piss break.  What we get is pretty standard blues-based boogie romps with lots and lots of Nugent solos.  None of the songs are really album-worthy.  I guess My Love Is Like A Tire Iron might have worked as a cleaned up studio cut (despite the ridiculous title, the song ain’t half bad).  But that’s little consolation when your knee deep in slop like I Am A Predator and The Flying Lip Lock.  And let’s not forget the embarrassment called Jailbait — a song about a thirteen year old girl!  Seriously creepy stuff!

Unless you are a die-hard Nugent fan, I don’t see any reason to own Intensities In 10 Cities.  This album was more than likely the result of a contractual obligation for Ted to Epic Records — one which he delivered half-assed.  A new record deal with Atlantic and several years of irrelevance would follow for The Nuge.  My score: C-

Damn Yankees – Damn Yankees (1990)

Terrible Ted Nugent joined forces with Jack Blades (Night Ranger), Tommy Shaw (Styx), and some other guy to form the “super group” Damn Yankees.  The three rock stars were all past their commercial prime, but the Damn Yankees album brought them back to the top with double platinum sales.

The success of Damn Yankees had a lot to do with the smash hit High Enough.  This gold-selling single was one of the quintessential power ballads of its day.  With High Enough, Damn Yankees gave a clinic on how to deliver a hit song.  From the bombast of the string orchestra, the acoustic opening, the two-part vocal harmonies of Blades and Shaw, the build-up of the pre-chorus to the soaring chorus, the bridge, the soulful guitar solo, and finally the “big finish” — High Enough was executed to perfection (and in textbook “monster ballad” fashion).  Flick that Bic baby!  I’ve got to tip my hat to the crafty songwriting these grizzled rock pigs pulled from their collective ass with High Enough.  They sure don’t make songs like this anymore!

Other highlights include the hard rockin’ Damn Yankees (love that pre-chorus!) as well as Coming Of Age (a hit single on rock radio).

The only problem I have with Damn Yankees is that the album kind of falls off the table towards the end.  The last four songs don’t do too much for me.  For example, Rock City devolves into an almost parody of the genre (lyrically speaking).  And the album ends lamely on a cookie-cutter “Ted song” called Piledriver.  This is Ted’s only lead vocal performance on the album.  Up to this point, Shaw and Blades had managed to keep Ted on a leash where he belonged (letting his guitar do the talking instead of his mouth) — but I guess they had to throw him at least one bone.  So we’re stuck with Piledriver as the album’s out-of-place send off.  The lesson learned is this — never let Ted go full retard.  My score: B+

Fates Warning – No Exit (1988)

If you have ever had trouble sleeping at night, help is out there.  Pharmaceuticals are certainly an option.  For example, a fist full of sleeping pills will do the job.  But what about an alternative, all-natural solution for your malady?  My I suggest that you listen to No Exit by Fates Warning?  You’ll be unconscious in no time.

I don’t care what anyone says, I have always felt that the singer is the most important member of a band.  To me, the singer makes or breaks the band.  Fates Warning’s fourth album is a case in point.  Fates Warning first three albums ranged from very good to excellent.  Each record was better than the last.  On those first three albums, John Arch was Fates Warning’s vocalist and lyricist.  To me, Arch had what one would call “it” — that intangible magic, that Midas touch.  On No Exit, Fates Warning introduced their new singer, Ray Adler.  While Adler was technically a fine singer, he was not nearly as unique as Arch.  Adler sounded like dozens of other competent, power metal vocalists.  But through no fault of his own, he didn’t possess that one-of-a-kind style of John Arch.  He also didn’t write his own lyrics like Arch did.  Maybe that was another reason for the disconnect.

The biggest threat to your consciousness is the 22 minute long snoozer called The Ivory Gates Of Dreams.  Broken in to eight parts, this heavy metal “suite” is as pretentious as it is boring.  To my layman ears, the eight different parts seem like nothing more than a poorly sewn patchwork of unfinished ideas.  There doesn’t seem to be anything to bind the sections together.  No resolution.  No hooks.  No nothing.  My score: C-

Faith No More – Introduce Yourself (1987)

This Faith No More album came out way back in 1987 before Mike Patton famously joined the group.  At the time, Chuck Mosley was Faith No More’s bizarre, deadbeat vocalist.  Indeed, your enjoyment of Introduce Yourself will largely depend on your affinity (or lack thereof) for Chuck’s out-of-tune vocal stylings.  Mosley had this kind of couch-surfing, stoner vibe going.  It kind of works to some degree on songs such as We Care A Lot and Introduce Yourself — where his performance is comical in a way.  But an entire album’s worth of Chuck’s limited talent can be a jagged pill to swallow.  As for the songs themselves, they rely heavily on bass and drums, with Jim Martin’s guitar taking a back seat.  At least that’s how it was mixed.  The songs have a very open feel, but there isn’t enough variety from song to song to keep me totally tuned in.  As for Chuck, he was out on his ass by the time Faith No More’s next album came around.  Sadly, ol’ Chuck never really outgrew his days as a loitering waste-case.  It may have been cool way back when, but decades later it’s just kind of pathetic.  Get a job, man.  My score: B-

Kreator – Extreme Aggression (1989)

I’m never going to be a Kreator fan.  I’m pretty sure of this.  The particular style of thrash that Kreator plays just doesn’t appeal to me because it doesn’t have any melody and the vocals are really harsh.  It just ain’t my bag, man.  But I found this baby used for $1 and I couldn’t resist scooping it up.  What the heck, I’ll give it a spin.

Extreme Aggression was the forth full-length from this esteemed and extreme German thrash band.  It was actually recorded in Hollywood with American producer Randy Burns at the helm.  But if you thought Kreator were going to come to the U.S. and sell out, then you gotta another thing coming.  With Extreme Aggression, Kreator dialed back the brutality just a bit and delivered a more balanced album — but it was still heavier than almost anything else out there.   I actually like Extreme Aggression better than Kreator’s landmark release Pleasure To Kill (1986).  That one was just a dizzying blur to me.  Extreme Aggression is a jagged pill, as I expected it would be, but at least I was able to choke it down.  Kreator released a video for Betrayer (seen here), which pretty much embodies what these guys were all about — NO COMPROMISE!  My score: C


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