Deep Purple – Purpendicular

Deep Purple – Purpendicular

Another twist in the Purple saga was the departure, yet again, of Ritchie Blackmore. Steve Vai filled in during the tour. Steve Morse, ex Dixie Dregs, is the new ‘permanent’ member. After the pathetic effort last time out (The Battle Rages On, which rates as one of the worst CDs in my collection), I thought that it was time for Purple to finally rest in peace.

To my surprise, the reviews were actually good. The most interesting point made in the reviews was that Jon Lord was back on form. So I went out and bought the album, not really expecting too much from it.

I’m amazed. Purple are back on form. I’m not sure if this is a result of Ritchie’s departure, a need to prove that they could hack it without him or the influence Steve Morse has had on the rest of the band. I suspect it’s a combination of all of these.

The first thing that strikes you about the album is that Jon Lord and Steve Morse get more or less equal billing. This gives the album a similar feel to the earlier Purple albums. Jon Lord and the Hammond organ sound were always the features, to my ears, which made Purple standout from the crowd. The band have rediscovered that almost jazzy sound which they had in their heyday

There are a few songs which aren’t in the classic Purple vein. It’s clear Steve Morse in no mere session guitarist bought in the do Blackmore impersonations. Songs like ‘The Aviator’ & ‘A Touch Away’ are a departure and the songs which show the influence Steve Morse has had on the rest of the band.

In the grunge filled Nineties, it’s good to know that a bunch of old timers like Purple can still deliver the goods and show the Pearl Jam wannabies at trick or two about making decent music. Some people have been going over the top saying this is the best album Purple have ever made. I’m not sure that I’d go that far, but it is the best album they’ve made in a very long time. Purple Rainbow are dead, long live Deep Purple !

Rating : 9

Def Leppard – Slang

Def Leppard – Slang

My interest in rock music started roughly around the time of the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) which spawned both Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. So I’ve grown up (maybe I mean old ?) along with Def Leppard, through all the ups and downs in the band.

The last studio album (Adrenalize) was a major disappointment. It was a band sticking to a formula, trying to recreate past glories. The lack of Mutt Lange at the controls and the speed (by Def Leppard standards) with which the new album appeared suggested the band knew it was time for a change. Stories that Leppard had attempted to go grunge and a couple of quick listens to the ‘Slang’ single on the radio almost stopped me buying this. However, my collection wouldn’t feel complete without the latest Leppard album, so I eventually parted with my cash and bought the 6th studio album.

The first couple of tracks justify the Eastern influence in the back cover artwork. Maybe the lads have been listening to Plant and Page ? The current single ‘Slang’ is the first memorable song. It is best described as a party song, along the lines of ‘Let’s Get Rocked’ off the last album. I’ve seen some reviews where it has been described as the worst song on the album. I think that title should be reserved for the last song on the album ‘Pearl Of Euphoria’, which is meant to be the big epic at the end, but which is simply too long.

The rest of the songs fall either into the ‘rockers’ or ‘ballads’ categories. The copyright Mutt Lange drums sound is gone and so is the slick production. The rockers sound like Leppard returning to their roots, as I’m reminded of the less sophisticated sound of the first and second albums.

It’s the ballads that work best for me. Latter day Leppard ballads have been similar sounding i.e. When Love and Hate Collide and Two Steps Behind. All the ones on ‘Slang’ owe more to these than say ‘Love Bites’ from Hysteria.

Although I’ve written this review of the album, I’m not sure that I’ve reached a final decision about this one. Yes, it is a welcome departure from the formula. At the moment some of it I like, some I don’t. I think I’ll have to live with it for a while before I decide.

The version I bought of the album had a bonus CD included. This contains live acoustic versions of some Def Leppard favorites. I found this much more entertaining than ‘Slang’. ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ and ‘Animal’ translate surprisingly well to the acoustic format. The only downside is that Joe’s vocals are less than perfect on some tracks. If you’re a fan then this CD alone almost justifies spending your money.

Rating : 6

Ten – Ten

Ten – Ten

The Now & Then hype machine kicks into action once again. Gary Hughes is Now & Then’s favorite son. This time he has been paired up with Vinny Burns (ex Dare) on guitar. Comparisons were made to Giant, Whitesnake and Harem Scarem. The additional hype feature is that the album is produced by Mike Stone (Journey, Foreigner etc.).

Having had my fingers burnt a couple of times in the past by the Now & Then hype machine (Shotgun Symphony and to a lesser extent Crown Of Thorns) I was wary of this album. However, a few listens to the song on the Frontiers CD suggested that perhaps there was more to Ten than the Thunder soundalikes I was expecting.

The first song on the album kicks off with a instrumental passage which starts with guitar, adds a string section, before we arrive at the main part of the song. The start of the song reminds me of the start of ‘I’m A Believer’ from Giant’s ‘Last Of The Runaways’ album. The Giant comparisons are equally valid for the rest of the song.

The next batch of songs are rather good, but there a no obvious comparisons. Then we arrive at a trio of songs which are surprising poppy and all rather excellent. ‘Close Your Eyes And Dream’ is vaguely reminiscent of a rockier version of Deacon Blue. ‘Eyes Of A Child’ is the poppiest song on the album. ‘Can’t Slow Down’ is slightly more uptempo and 80s AOR sounding

‘Lamb To The Slaughter’ is the heaviest song on the album and the most obvious reference point is latter day Whitesnake. The last song is a 10 minute epic ballad called ‘The Loneliest Place In The World’. This one reminds me of pomp rockers turned AORsters Magnum. As is the case with one of the earlier songs (‘Stay With Me’), this song is saved by an acoustic guitar being used to good effect in the middle of the song.

I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by this album. For some reason I was expecting something heavier. Some of the songs (‘Close Your Eyes And Dream’ and ‘Eyes Of A Child’) have real hit potential if they were marketed properly. I have this idea that if the guitars were turned down, then a ‘band’ such as That Take/Boyzone could have a number one hit with these songs (in the UK charts). Unfortunately, I think it’s a safe bet to say that Ten aren’t going to have a hit with either of these songs.

Megastars or yet another second division UK rock band ? Another album would be needed before I could decide, and if the rumors are true we might not have to wait that long.

Rating : 8

Mark Spiro – Now is Then, Then Is Now

Mark Spiro – Now is Then, Then Is Now

The name Mark Spiro is one you might not be familiar with. He is best known as a songwriter. For example, on the first Giant album, which just happens to one of my favorites, he is co-writer on most of the songs. He has also worked with Bad English. It’s therefore no surprise that both Dan Huff and John Waite appear as co-writers on one track each.

Songwriters making their own albums can be a bit a disaster, for example Jim Steinman. This is not the case here. Mark Spiro’s voice is excellent and musically things are ticking along nicely as well. The overall sound of the album could be described as sophisticated lightweight rock. A combination of Bad English and Giant’s ‘Last Of The Runaways’.

The longer I listen to this album to more I like it. There is enough variety to keep me interested on repeated listens. It’s difficult to select the highlights, because my opinion tends to shift with each repeated listen. If I were to select a favorite song on each listen, then eventually I would have selected, at some point, virtually every song on the album.

If you are reading this review, then you’ve probably got a few Mark Spiro songs lurking in you collection already. If you like the ones you’ve got already, then you definitely won’t be disappointed with this collection performed by the man himself.

Rating : 9

Bon Jovi – These Days (Special Edition)

Bon Jovi – These Days (Special Edition)

It’s very easy to get caught up buying the latest import CD or trying to discover the rising stars of the rock world, whilst ignoring the mega release that’s been in the charts for an eternity and has spawned a string of hit singles. The release of this special edition of ‘These Days’ prompted me to part with my cash and finally check out the latest offering from BJ.

Bon Jovi have been producing fairly consistent quality CDs for a while and are probably the biggest rock band on the planet. You’ve all heard the singles so you know what to expect. The previous release, ‘Keep The Faith’, saw BJ taking notice of their critics and trying to experiment a little. This time out BJ seem happier with the sound they have evolved. BJ have matured. The album contains the expected mixture of rockers and ballads, no surprises, just consistently good quality rock songs.

Clocking in at 75 mins long, it takes quite an effort to actually sit down and listen to this all the way through. I’m not such that I can identify any particular songs as fillers, but perhaps the album would have been easier to listen to with a little more editing. A mini-album during the 3/4 year break that look likely, might have been a better way of using the songs.

The bonus CD features demos & live material. The version of ‘I Thank You’ doesn’t do much for me. I prefer the ZZ Top version. The live version of ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ features Saint Bob himself on vocals. The cover of ‘Mrs. Robinson’ which BJ did on the Chris Evans show (TFI Friday on Channel 4) is surprisingly good, as I’m not normally a fan of Simon & Garfunkel material.

Of the two demo songs, the slow blues of ‘Let’s Make It Baby’ gets my vote.

The remainder of the songs feature the other members of BJ on lead vocals, karaoke style. Richie Sambora fares the best, but on this evidence I won’t be rushing out to buy his solo LP, perhaps he improves with the help of a studio environment.

Nothing on the bonus CD could be described as essential listening, apart from ‘Mrs. Robinson’. I would therefore recommend getting the standard album and giving the special edition as miss.

Rating : 8

Ghost – The Other Side

Ghost – The Other Side

This is the debut album by Ghost, who are another group of AOR hopefuls that have been picked up by the Now & Then label.

Ghost start off proceedings extremely well with the uptempo ‘Can’t Stop’ which has shades of FM about it. Next Up is ‘Brand New Start’ which evokes comparisons with the mighty The Storm (maybe more circa first album). This is the standout track on the album.

After such a good start, the blues tinged ‘Country Boy’ is disappointing.

On the next track ‘Ten Years’ we finally find out who has had the biggest influence on Ghost – Bad Company. This influence is continued on the tracks ‘Should Have Been Me’ (which is rather good), and ‘Rescue Me’. I’m reminded of a band called Wildilfe (who evolved in FM) who’s album was produced by a couple of the guys from Bad Company.

Mid – life Whitesnake are the influence for ‘Get On The Bus’. This song is spoilt by the lyrics, which remind me of another song I can’t remember the title of.

The two ballads, ‘Send Me Somebody’ and ‘He’ll Let You Down’, sound like Journey (circa Raised On Radio) and Celine Dion.

The final and title track is an atmospheric affair with Celtic influences.

You probably guessed by the number of influences that I was able to detect that there’s nothing earth shatteringly original on this. The initial impact of the first two songs isn’t sustained throughout the album. Having said all that, I do enjoy listening to this & it’s good to see a band adding a blues flavor to AOR again. The singer is excellent and with more effort on song writing and establishing their own sound, then the next album should be something to look forward to.

Rating : 6/7

Tommy Denander – Less Is More

Tommy Denander – Less Is More

This is an unusual item in my collection, as I generally steer clear of instrumental guitar albums. Maybe you have to be a guitarist yourself to appreciate them fully. The other albums of this genre that I have in my collection are Marty Friedman (If ever there was a man who should give up his day job (Megadeth), it’s Marty) and Al Di Meola.

The most obvious comparisons I can think of are the couple of instrumentals that appear on Journey’s ‘Time’ boxed set.

I remember Tommy sending me Email a while back about tapes/trades etc. From this, it was clear that he is a big Toto fan and indeed the guys from Toto are present on this album. They co-wrote & play on the track ‘5492’ and I think may have helped out in other areas. I’m afraid that my knowledge of Toto doesn’t extend much beyond their IV album which spawned the hit singles Rosanna, Africa etc. However, I do detect Toto-isms throughout this album.

What I like about this album is that the other instruments haven’t been totally forgotten about and used to provide an bland background for the guitar work. The songs have structure and melody, rather than being flourishes, at great speed, up and down the fretboard which some guitar albums seems to be. The title ‘Less Is More’ is appropriate, because this album is free from the excesses that spoil most guitar albums.

The tracks are all fairly similar sounding. Maybe this can be forgiven because, as far as I am aware, this is the first in a series of albums which will feature a variety of styles. The second album was released at the same time as this and reportedly features some Dream Theater sounding material.

The best track is ‘5492’, featuring Toto members, which has slinky jazz/blues feel to it (kinda like Stevie Ray Vaughan meets Toto). This is the longest (10 mins) and last track on the album. It’s an appropriate grand finale. Cooler people than me might say ‘this one really shreds !’.

If I had a separate rating system for instrumentals then this would get a ‘9’ rating (simply because of ‘5492’). But I don’t, so, judged against albums featuring vocals, it gets one point deduced to make it ‘8’.

Rating : 8

The Posies – Amazing Disgrace

The Posies – Amazing Disgrace

So what do a bunch of trendy kids who look as if they just crawled out of Seattle have to offer the world of AOR/Melodic Rock ? Buying this album was an attempt to bring my collection kicking and screaming into the nineties.

The style of this album is power pop, which seems to one of happening trends at the moment. The best description would be ‘The Rembrants with attitude’. Imagine what The Rembrants would sound like if they were really pissed off. Like most young rock band these days, the influence of Nirvana can be detected. Look even further and a little bit of Cheap Trick is probably floating around in there somewhere.

This is a departure from my usual listening material. It certainly wasn’t love at first listen. However, repeated listens and an attempt to approach it with an open mind, did produce better results.

The highlights are when they put their ‘angry young men’ attitudes back in the box and concentrate of entertaining us with simple melodic tunes. My favorite track is ‘Terrorized’ which occurs as a bonus track on the international version of the CD. The boys were obviously listening to their old Blue Oyster Cult records before writing this one. ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ style harmonies abound.

Maybe this is just to radical a departure for me. It is good to have, to add a bit of variety to my collection, but I couldn’t honestly recommend it to anyone.

Rating : 4

Metallica – Load

Metallica – Load

If Bon Jovi are the biggest rock band on the planet, then Metallica must surely be the biggest metal band. This makes them hard to ignore, even for those of us who generally prefer our music on the more melodic end of the spectrum.

Metallica have their roots in the speed/ thrash metal genre. Most of this type of music leaves me cold, but Metallica do stand out from the crowd. The ‘black’ album seen Metallica producing material with a wider appeal than previously. This album takes things a step further.

The pre-release press talked out the band adopting a more ‘trad metal’ sound. This new direction, plus the makeup and the ‘country’ song, have created much discussion amongst their fans. The newsgroups were full of heated debate. The metalhead fans seem to have taken exception to the change in direction. All this criticism has led the band to make public that another album’s worth of heavier material is already in the can for later release.

So much for the background, what does the album have to offer AOR/Melodic Rock fans ? The answer is not as much as perhaps the controversy would have you believe. Underneath the subtle changes in style, it’s still the same old Metallica circa the ‘black’ album.

The album does improve as it goes along. This corresponds to the slight experimentation with different styles. Yes, the album does feature a slightly (and I do mean slightly) softer/melodic side of the band. I suspect that only the diehard metalheads would have any objections to this and that most people will have difficulty spotting the difference.

The highlights include the two ‘trad metal’ style numbers – ‘Poor Twisted Me’ & ‘Ronnie’, the familiar Metallica of ‘Thorn Within’ and the 10 min final track ‘The Outlaw Torn’. ‘Mama Said’, the country song, provides a moment of relative peace amid the aural barrage. This is more a Metallica ballad with country flavoring, rather than out and out country. Garth Brooks can rest easy, Metallica aren’t about to steal all his fans.

I have to admit that I like a bit of heaviness occasionally, but there’s nothing here that would persuade me to abandon Dream Theater as my favorite purveyors of the heavier side of my collection. Based solely as a ‘Melodic Rock’ album this one should get a low mark, but I’m actually going to give it a 5 ( maybe I’m a bit of closet headbanger).

Rating : 5

Harlan Cage – Harlan Cage

Harlan Cage – Harlan Cage

First the history lesson. The guys from Harlan Cage used to be in a band called Fortune. I’m not familiar with their work, but if you are then I’m informed that this is the guys continuing on from where Fortune left off.

The album has received favorable reviews from Frontiers, AOR Basement and SFK . They mostly talked out glorious mid-80’s AOR being born again. It was therefore hard to ignore.

The sound is mid-80’s keyboard driven AOR. Influences such as Balance, Touch and Survivor can all be detected. Highlights include Pay The Devil His Due (Aria period Asia), 98 In The Shade (a reworking of a Fortune song, complete with Final Countdown style keyboards), One Naked Kiss (shades of Mark Manigold) , Destiny (shades of Balance) and Run Rebel Run.

OK, I can see what people are getting excited about. It’s like taking a step back in time to days of the mid-80’s when AOR was in it’s prime. No-one else seems to doing this style of music anymore. I had expected to like this album more than I actually do. Harlan Cage prefer their songs in the 3 to 4 min category. I prefer them in the 5 min variety. The best songs are when they make it, only just, over the 4 min mark. For example, Run Rebel Run is spoilt by an early fade on the playout.

Rating : 7