DANKO JONES – Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue

Danko Jones - Rock And Roll Is Black And BlueAlbum review: DANKO JONES – Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue

By STEVE MASCORD

THIS reviewer first saw Danko Jones opening for Hardcore Superstar in Manchester a decade ago. It was spellbinding, this swaggering braggart sweating all over the first 10 rows as he tore through impossibly catchy tales of road life.

It was like Robert Johnson on crack, the frontman an updated version of the travelling bluesmen who’ve been breaking instruments and hearts for around a century.

That night, Hardcore Superstar were reduced to Softcore Extras.

But the output of the three piece, completed by bassist John ‘JC’ Calabrese and drummer Atom Willard has since been … not patchy, but nonetheless a little disappointing in comparison to the world-beating potential they had at the beginning.

Like many straight-ahead rock bands, Danko Jones have failed to do justice to their visceral live show when they’ve walked through the studio doors. If you think this is a really good band on tape, wait til you see them live.

This is Danko Jones’ sixth album and, realistically, they’ve released two and a half records worth of killer material in that time. I’d throw in “Full Of Regret”, “Lover Call”, “First Dates”, “Mango Kid”, “Cadillac”, “Rock Shit Hot”, “Woman Bound”, “Kids Don’t’ Wanna Rock”, “Code Of The Road”, “Sticky Situation”, “She’s The Drugs”, “Home To Hell”. “Play The Blues”, “Sound Of Love”, “Take Me Home”, “The Finger”, “Invisible”, “Forget My Name”, “I Love Living In The City”, “I Want You”, “Strut” and a few others.

These fit three categories: great rockers, novelty songs, and both.

What’s left over is garage rock ditties that meld into one, without the hooks that make the songs above so memorable.

So, how many of the tracks on Rock And Roll Is Black and Blue (great colours by the way) would make the Danko Jones mega-album?

“Get Up” hops along nicely, bringing back the brag to Danko’s persona, so it’s in. “Legs” (you don’t need me to explain what that’s about, do you?) is an riff-heavy anthem in the “First Date” vain. It’s in too.

“Just A Beautiful Day” soars, with a poppy chorus and spitting vocal delivery. Definitely in.

“Always Away” is reminiscent of Black Stone Cherry’s “In My Blood” in subject matter – being always on the move – and strikes a chord with this reviewer so it passes the litmus test too.

And ‘I Believed In God’ has the novelty value to avoid being quickly forgotten.

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LA GUNS – Hollywood Forever

Album review: LA Guns – Hollywood Forever

By STEVE MASCORD

THERE are no hard and fast rules for an eighties hair metal band aiming to eke out a living this decade.

Some, like Motley Crue, have studiously avoided the nostalgia circuit and aligned themselves with young bands. Others, like Whitesnake and Def Leppard, have their pre-Sunset Strip heritage as English blues and metal (respectively)  bands to fall back on.

There are those like Tyketto and Junkyard who have day jobs and tour in their vacation time. But for the likes of Ratt, Queensryche, Slaughter and LA Guns, it’s a fulltime job that now involves keeping their support base’s  attention, one fan at a time, via social media and the speciallist press which has been chased out of the physical realm and onto the internet.

As many readers will be aware, until recently there were two LA Guns, one headed by Phil Lewis – the singer from the band’s late eighties heyday – and the other by founder Tracii Guns. To the relief of confused punters everywhere, Tracii’s version is apparently now on ice indefinitely.

Hollywood Forever is from Lewis’ version and it’s a timely reminder that this genre is still turning out quality material – even though the mainstream has long since moved on. If you liked the new Van Halen album, dig a bit deeper to the likes of LA Guns and you won’t be disappointed.

The biggest compliment you can pay a band from the big haired eighties (Motley Crue might consider it an insult) is that the album sounds like the last twenty years never happened. That is certainly the case here – Phil Lewis is probably the number one torch-barer, anywhere,  for the Strip scene of the eighties and Hollywood Forever would have been a massive album back then.

Its biggest strength is its diversity. “Hollywood Forever”chops along metallically at at a cracking pace, “Eel Pie” is a sleazy grinder and “Sweet Mystery” is a dreamy radio ballad – and that’s just the first three tracks.

“Burn” is the sort of glammy blues lament meant to blast from convertables back when the riots were the number one topic of conversation in Lala Land and the “Vine Street Shimmy”  is the sort of song that makes you visualise the video clip (all low-slung guitars and sneers) even though there actually isn’t one.

My favourites are “Dirty Black Night”, a monster of a chugga-chugga glam rock epic that dares you to listen passively without the slightest nod or smile, and “You Better Not Love Me” which is a perfect example of the commercial LA metal genre.

People thought these eighties metal bands recorded catchy songs to get on the radio and please the record company execs. Maybe they even used this excuse themselves as an alibi for “wimping out”. But the radio and the execs are long gone – and the hooks keep coming because that’s actually the sort of music these guys like.

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EUROPE – Bag Of Bones

Album review: EUROPE – Bag Of Bones

TO most people attending the Bloodstock Festival two years ago, describing Europe’s place as headliner as “incongruous” was an understatement. What Europe played in the 1980s does not even count as metal by its current definition; Cold Chisel were heavier.

But Europe weren’t pelted with bottles of piss or sharpened pennies. They weren’t even booed or jeered that much. Because they WERE heavy – much heavier than anyone but their loyal fans present had expected.

To listen to Joey Tempest’s Swedish superstars now is to hear what Bon Jovi may have sounded like today if New Jersey flopped, if the ballads had failed to find traction. Imagine Jon Bon Jovi playing theatres instead of stadia, still fighting Ratt and Motley Crue for ticket and album sales.

Bag Of Bones is the fourth album since Europe re-formed in 2003. The first two, Start From The Dark and Secret Society, dabbled in modern rock territory. With Last Look At Eden a couple of years back, the Swedes managed to blend the need to be relevant with the echoes of their glory days.

Bag Of Bones is another big step in that direction.

“Rags To Riches” is a bluesy, riffy, stadium rocker, “Firebox” is modern rock without the contrived abrasiveness and “My Woman, My Friend” is actually something of an epic, beginning it does with a simple piano refrain and building to the crescendo of a booming chorus.

In an apparently deliberate attempt to be as diverse as possible, the title track is an acoustic lament with a beguiling melody, “Mercy You, Mercy Me” has the sort of choppy delivery reminiscent of Last Look At Eden and the reviewer’s favourite off the entire record – which stood out like, ahem, dogs balls live last time I saw them – is “Doghouse”. There’s no reinvention of the wheel here, folks, just a rollicking slice bar-room boogie.

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HEAVEN: Not Waiting (2012)

Heaven in 2012

By STEVE MASCORD

WHEN your band is called Heaven, it stands to reason that death is going to play a big role in how your career unfolds.

For the Australian 80s hard rock heroes of that name, it was not one death but two that led to their reformation, which is now in overdrive after a run of shows in the past month.

Drummer and band spokesman Joe Turtur’s day job these days is catering for rock concerts. In 2009, he found himself delivering grub for the Mick Cocks benefit show at Enmore Theatre. Former Rose Tattoo – and Heaven – guitarist Cocks was battling cancer at the time.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen with Mick,” said the talkative Turtur. “At the time, at Mick’s benefit, he seemed pretty good, it was pretty promising but six months later, he died.

“We were all at the funeral. That was a pretty touching moment for us. John Haese, who was the guitar player before Mick … John and Mick were very good friends (despite) the fact Mick had replaced John.

“We were all there and also our manager was there, Michael Browning, and a whole bunch of people – Jon Stevens, a whole bunch of people who were associated with the Michael Browning camp at the time. And lots of media, industry folk. Of course, all of Rose Tattoo. We get on well with all those guys, we’d done plenty of gigs with Angry and stuff. It was just a big day for us, you know? It was a realisation that we are still around, we’re still healthy, let’s do it again.”

The ephemeral nature of life was also re-enforced when Mark Evans, formerly of Heaven and a little band called AC/DC, went to Canberra for a gig around the same time. He ran into the brother of ex-Heaven guitarist, Bradford Kelly.

“He said ‘how’s Kelly’ and he said ‘you don’t know?” Mark said ‘know what?’ and he said ‘Kelly died … about a year ago’.

“As it turns out, he basically went to Canberra because that’s where his family was from. He was a bit of a loner … and died of AIDS. Prior to us, when he was with Swanee, he used to shoot up quite a bit and he contracted AIDS from sharing needles. None of us knew. I don’t think he even knew when he was in Heaven that he had AIDS. I suppose we’re probably all lucky that none of us contracted it – not that there were sexual connotations in any way.”

It’s the era of reunions in Australian rock – Nick Barker and the Reptiles did the circuit a couple of weeks ago and the Baby Animals are around next week. But Turtur and his men are half a generation older than those types – and twice as determined.

Former guitarist Mitch Perry had been lined up to be part of the reformation but was recruited by Lita Ford. So Rowan Robertson of LA big rockers the DC4 has filled the breach.

“Mitch (still) very much wants to be a part of Heaven,” says Turtur. “Whether that happens later on, we just don’t know. There is some talk of us going overseas later in the year. There’s also some possibility of some more work here in December and January …”

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DISNEYLAND AFTER DARK – Dic.Nii.Lan.Daft.Erd.Ark

Album review: DISNEYLAND AFTER DARK – Dic.Nii.Lan.Daft.Erd.Ark

By STEVE MASCORD

MOST of us have lists in our heads of “most under-rated bands”. D:A:D – Disneyland After Dark – are at the very top of mine.

I interviewed the Danes back in 1989 when they visited Australia on a promotional tour for No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims, their big American ‘breakthrough’ album. In fact, the breakthrough was extremely modest, although “Sleeping My Day Away” still gets airplay on specialist stations in the US like Sirius XM’s Hair Nation.

Like a lot of acts who have “escaped” international recognition but flourished in rich local soil – witness Powerfinger, for instance – and these lads’ artistic and creative evolution has not been sullied by the demands of suits from London or LA.. They had enough success to encourage, not enough to ruin. D:A:D craft hard rock songs that are musically almost perfect and lyrics that boast a sardonic wit that should embarrasses those of us who claim English as a first language.

Is there a better summation of this social media-obsessed world than “Winning hearts and turning heads/A simple beast that must be fed” at the start of “Breaking Them Heart By Heart”?
D:A:D are not allowed to call themselves Disneyland After Dark due to the threat of a legal suit by Disneyland itself in the late 1980s so this album title is a cheeky way around that. Dic.Nii.Lan.Daft.Erd.Ark is actually a little less even than its predecessor, Monster Philosophy, and would have perhaps been enhanced by losing a track or two. But when the Binzer brothers (singer Jesper and guitar whiz Jacob), bassist Stig Pederson and drummer Laust Sonne hit the mark, they do so spectacularly.

“A New Age Moving In” opens this platter with impressive bluster, Pederson’s two-string bass to the fore and “I Want What She Got” is a classy, brothel-creeping opening single. It’s the guitar fills that give D;A:D a wide-screen feel, something that few bands today manage aside from perhaps Foo Fighters and Metallica at their dramatic best.

“The End” is reminiscent of their heaviest, most discordant offering, 1995’s Helpyourselfish – but it still has an instantly memorable chorus.

Things go up a notch with the perfect hard rock of “Fast On Wheels”. D:A:D once wrote a song with the diametrically opposite viewpoint: “The Road Below Me”. That was about moving, this is about discovering the charms of stopping. And it’s utterly engaging, with the sort of playing we often associate with “alternative” rock and perfectly executed vocal melodies.

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SLASH FEATURING MYLES KENNEDY & THE CONSPIRATORS – Apocalyptic Love

Album review: SLASH FEATURING MYLES KENNEDY AND THE CONSPIRATORS – Apocalyptic Love

NO matter the PR spin, this is step back for Slash from his eponymous all-star solo album of 2010. The iconic former GN’R axeman has returned to a band environment, with Alter Bridge singer Myles Kennedy getting second billing, drummer Brent Fitz and bassist Todd Kearns providing back-up.

The result is an album best compared to the two Slash’s Snakepit releases. It’s clear from all three albums what the top-hatted one brought to Guns N’Roses – a no-nonsense hard rock attack in comparison to Axl Rose’s  epic melodrama, still evident on Chinese Democracy.

Both Apocalyptic Love and Chinese Democracy are unsatisfying for the same reason – they are estranged halves of something truly great.

In case that sounds like the musings of another miserable GN’R reunionist, here’s another reason why this reviewer sees Apocalyptic Love as Slash’s weakest album since leaving the Gunners.

While his cohorts in Slash’s Snakepit were unabashedly influenced by eighties hair metal, Kennedy’s involvement nudges this platter in the direction of modern rock – making it further removed from what we all loved about Slash in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong: if you love Alter Bridge you’ll like this. I don’t like Alter Bridge. At all.

I can understand how the soaring choruses and tightly-wound riffs push the buttons of their fans – but the buttons Desmond Child once played like a piano (mine) are impervious to their 21st century emo siren’s call.

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CRAZY LIXX – Riot Avenue

Album review: CRAZY LIXX – Riot Avenue

I HAVE a close friend with musical tastes that don’t so much match my own as overlap with them.

We both like AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, Airbourne. He thinks the Darkness are a joke. I think the Allman Brothers are boring. He likes Roth, I like Hagar.

But something he once said to me has stuck in my mind – and it applies to this, the third release from Sweden’s Crazy Lixx.

“Remember when new releases used to be exciting?” he said to me as we listened to last Chickenfoot album.

That sentence actually means more than the sum of its parts. He was referring to a time when everything – the cover art, the band’s hairstyles, the crunching opening riffs and the physical touch of the vinyl combined to set the blood racing. It was something you couldn’t completely rationalise. The closest phenomenon to it is the way a little kid feels about a toy that adults see only as a hunk of moulded plastic.

Even though my mate doesn’t actually like Chickenfoot, he realises the supergroup had that ephemeral quality.

And so do Crazy Lixx – in spades. This is quite simply a fantastic record. To get an idea of where they are coming from, think Airbourne with Aquanet and spandex.

Opener “Whiskey Foxtrot Tango” sets the tone: bombastic but not stupid. It’s the next generation interpretation of “WTF”, which of course stands for What The Fuck. These are big, big riffs and Def Leppard style layered choruses which do take a little getting used to.

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