Mother Love Bone: Shine

shineMother Love Bone is essentially required listening. They had a massive impact while only putting out an EP and an LP. Lead singer Andrew Wood died right before the Seattle scene really het up, and guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament would join forces with Eddie Vedder to form Pearl Jam. When Green River (of whom I’ve written extensively) broke up, it was to form Mudhoney and these guys. So, given the legacy and the ease with which you can listen to the entirety of their recorded output, why haven’t you done so? It must be something inferior about your innate being.

Anway, another nice feature of their small catalog is this EP is really a nice warm up to their album, Apple. It’s five (or four or six or seven depending on how you count them) tracks much in that style, but with a little bit of a rawer, less polished feel. Wood’s lyrical abilities and vocal charms are in full effect, as are the songwriting chops of Gossard, Ament, Bruce Fairweather, and Greg Gilmore. There’s a strong blues and glam influence and the band does a wonderful job of running with legs in both the world of catchy pop metal and that of alternative radio of the time. Which, given that this was 1989, sets them up just about perfectly for the coming merging of those styles in the early 90’s, grunge and otherwise.

You know “Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns” from the Singles soundtrack, but the rest of this material rocks considerably harder. My favorite is probably the “CD Bonus Track,” “Capricorn Sister,” which might have even gotten a Mix rating if it hadn’t been for the bonus track tacked on to the end of it which also features some silly dialogue and laughter at its end.

In my mind, I can hardly separate this from Apple. I came to them at the same time, and the music of the two is barely indistinguishable. The biggest difference is the bigger production of Apple, when the band managed to get to work with Terry Date. Which is maybe why it didn’t bother me too much when, post grunge blowup, the record label stuck both of them together onto one CD and named it Stardog Champion. SO JUST GO LISTEN TO THAT ALREADY!

But this is about Shine. If I had to pick which of the band’s releases was worse, fine, I’d probably pick this one. But it’s five tracks long and all of them would have worked on Apple, so your Mother Love Bone journey, which, again, is required, isn’t complete until you’ve taken this in.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Thru Face Away,” “Mindshaker Meltdown,” “Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns,” “Capricorn Sister”
Like: “Half Ass Monkey Boy”
Filed Between: [I don’t know I Haven’t unpacked my CDs yet] and Mother Love Bone’s Apple
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

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King Diamond: The Best Of King Diamond

thebestofkingdiamondAlways got King Diamond mixed up with King Crimson. Still don’t know much about King Crimson except they’re prog. Part of why I don’t know much about them is that they don’t allow their music on streaming services, so screw you guys, I’m going home. But anyway, an intro to King Diamond. You see that picture above? Well, that tells you pretty much all of it. The only thing that’s missing is timeframe (mostly late-80’s) and the fact that there’s a ridiculous amount of falsetto in his style. Growly stuff, too, but it’s the falsetto that really stands out.

And if you can get past that falsetto and the cheesiness of the macabre lyrics (oh, gee, Greek mythology sure had some scary characters in it), you’ll find some late-80’s metal that still stands up almost 25 years later. But that’s a mighty big “if,” one I’m having quite a bit of trouble with myself.

Still, lots of listening has helped me appreciate what’s here. Sonically there’s a lot of overlap with the first three Queensrÿche releases, though of course Geoff Tate’s natural range is so much more appealing than any falsetto. Even lyrically, early Queensrÿche fits a bit here, with its evil woman and vampire themes, though Queensrÿche got plenty more sci-fi-y.

There are also some big concept albums in King Diamond’s discography, and that’s evident here, as songs repeatedly bring back the same names, characters, and elements. There’s lots of Abigail, Miriam, Jonathan, and a very disturbing grandmother that recur. Wikipedia gives run downs of the plots if you’re curious.

But all of that is far more enjoyable than what, from what I can tell, was King Diamond’s big break: “No Presents For Christmas,” a track that throws so much shlock into the mix that it becomes completely unlistenable despite containing some of his best riffs. To be fair, it’s obviously the great, thrashy riffs combined with the ludicrous lyrics that made it so popular. Too much for me, though.

Finally, by rating some of these as “Like,” I was rating them relatively to the rest of the album. It’s very hard for me to say I want to listen to any songs with his falsetto in them ever again. “Abigail” is the best.

Rating:
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Like: “Charon,” “Abigail,” “The Invisible Guests,” “Eye Of The Witch,” “Burn
Meh: “The Candle,” “Halloween,” “No Presents For Christmas,” “Arrival,” “A Mansion In Darkness,” “The Family Ghost,” “Welcome Home,” “Tea,” “At The Graves,” “Sleepless Nights”
Song Notes: After the jump

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Ministry: The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste

themindisaterriblethingtotasteWell, this album is as I remember it. Mostly. What I remember is that this is a very difficult listen. It’s relentless with exactly two gears. You’ve got the non-stop assault of seven of the nine tracks which are made up of distorted guitar at ear-piercing frequencies, sampled instruments as well as dialogue samples used both for effect and for the vocal parts, and lots of shouting. The second gear is a slower, spookier mood and used exclusively on and as the exclusive mood of “Cannibal Song” and “Dream Song.”

But there’s a lot I discovered here for the first time. The most pleasant and most surprising surprise was “Test,” which I think I probably wrote off as the rap song in high school but is now my favorite song on here. The Public Enemy-style rap is throughout, and ends up being a bit of a third gear on the album as the song where non-shouting or dialogue-spoken vocals are given an emphasis.

Another big surprise was that, amid the relentless assault of quantized guitars and samples, there is some relenting. There are verses, choruses, bridges, guitar solos…there is structure beyond a four- to eight-bar repetition that gives your mind some reprieve. And the sophistication of the soundscape is amazing. It’s amazing that this came out in the 80’s. I knew Ministry was a band that was forging their own path, but it’s amazing just how out in front of everybody they were.

I don’t find this quite as enjoyable as its predecessor, but in most ways it’s obviously better. It’s a hard one to get into, requiring a very specific mood where you have to be ready to meet it head on. When you’re there, though, it’s a very impressive piece of craftsmanship.

Rating:
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Mix: “Thieves,” “Burning Inside,” “Test”
– “Never Believe,” “Dream Song”
– “Cannibal Song,” “Breathe,” “So What,” “Faith Collapsing”
Filed Between: Ministry’s The Land Of Rape And Honey and Psalm 69
Song Notes: After the jump
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King’s X: Gretchen Goes To Nebraska

Gretchen Goes To NebraskaAnother great record from King’s X. This is the only one of their first six I hadn’t heard before, and even then I recognized some of the songs. I am not sure how many times I saw them in concert, but it must have been quite a few because “Over My Head” was very familiar. And, yeah, I know it was a single, but I don’t think that’s the reason…I think I just picked it up live.

The strongest and the weakest part of this album is guitarist Jerry Gaskill. Strongest in that his chunky, full guitar riffs are about 70% of the awesomeness of the songs themselves. Weakest because there’s a guitar solo on most songs (if not all of them), and that’s just not his strong suit. I know guitar solos were de rigeur in 1989, but it’s not like the band was afraid to go against convention in other areas. The songs could have benefited from a bridge or something in that spot, but as it is those solos are pretty much all momentum-suckers. The exception is “Send A Message,” an uptempo rocker that doesn’t slow down for the solo. Not a coincidence that’s the only track I’ve got listed as a mix CD candidate.

In the end, this boils down to mostly awesome guitar-playing and song-writing from start to finish, with some momentum-sucking parts and songs thrown in that don’t ruin the overall awesomeness.

Rating:
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Mix: “Send A Message”
– “Out Of The Silent Planet,” “Over My Head,” “Summerland,” “Everybody Knows A Little Bit Of Something,” “I’ll Never Be The Same,” “Mission,” “Fall On Me”
– “The Difference (In The Garden Of St. Anne’s-On-The-Hill),” “Pleiades”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Tad: Salt Lick/God’s Balls

A while ago, Tad singer and guitarist Tad Doyle tweeted something about how a snare drum should sound like an ominous thunder clap. I like my snare sound tight and fast, so I didn’t really get it even though Tad is one of my favorite bands. Now that I’ve gone back to listen to this collection of some of their earlier work I get it. A big part of Tad’s sound is the pummeling of a snare drum that sounds almost like an extra punchy tom.

Salt Lick/God’s Balls, as its name suggests, combines two earlier Tad releases on Sub Pop. The first six songs are the Salt Lick EP and the last seven are culled from the ten songs that made up the God’s Balls LP. In between the two you’ve got the “Loser” single. Yes, that’s the inspiration for the Sub Pop “LOSER” shirts.

Somewhat surprisingly, this mash up works really well as a whole. The sequencing isn’t quite right, for obvious reasons (you could probably have a superior experience just putting it on shuffle), but conceptually and sonically it all works together. One thing that doesn’t make sense about this release is how it’s missing three tracks from God’s Balls. This came out in 1990 on CD and cassette only, so it would have been no problem to fit those in.

Alice In Chains and Soundgarden, especially the former, are often held up as the metal sides of the grunge scene. Tad’s there, too, but in more of a dirty, grimy, Cookie Monster-vocal kind of way as opposed to the arena-friendly sustained chords and melodically hooky guitars of the other two. Tad’s kind of like Sex Pistols meets Melvins. This collection could use a few more hooks, but that’s asking something of them that they’re not. This is a fantastic set of music.

Rating:
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Mixers: “Wood Goblins,” “Potlach,” “Loser,” “Satan’s Chainsaw”
– “Axe To Grind,” “High On The Hog,” “Glue Machine,” “Behemoth,” “Pork Chop,” “Helot,” “Sex God Missy,” “Cyanide Bath,” “Boiler Room”
– “Hibernation”
Filed Between: T-Ride (T-Ride) and Tad’s 8-Way Santa
Song Notes: After the jump
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Skid Row: Skid Row

I spend too much of my time defending hair metal. Like anything else, there was a lot of crap that went along with it, but the baby doesn’t need to get thrown out with the bathwater. You wouldn’t throw out Nirvana because of Candlebox, so why throw out Skid Row and Guns N’ Roses with Trixter and Slaughter?

It’s a tough case to make since the genre was founded on an awful lot of ridiculous showmanship. The hairspray, the leather pants, the very pretty lead singer, the lyrics almost entirely about banging hot chicks, and even the squealy guitar solos replete with scrunched-up faces: Skid Row did not escape any of this. But they fucking ruled.

Their self-titled debut ages well, but not exceptionally well. There are catchy, rocking songs from start to finish, but the weaker songs in the bunch aren’t quite good enough to overcome the eye-rolling treatment we give to songs of the time. The machismo, I-ams-what-I-ams lyrics of “Piece Of Me,” “Here I Am,” etc. seem to be written explicitly to appeal to adolescents frustrated with family and school life, looking for a way to aggressively express their frustrations. That’s fine, sure, but it doesn’t stand up to future generations.

The three best songs are the three hits: “18 And Life,” “Youth Gone Wild,” and even the power ballad “I Remember You” all stand the test of time better than almost anything from the era. You can call them formulaic, but what you have to realize is that this stuff was setting the formula. It’s only really formulaic post-hoc. Also, the disc sounds awesome. Almost 25 years later(!) and I still can’t reliably get music that sounds this good.

Like I’ve said, I’ve spent too much time defending hair metal’s redeeming bands, songs, and albums. I don’t want to do it anymore. This album goes into the required listening bucket. If you want to have a conversation with me about it, listen to this, Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction (possibly the best album of all time), Too Fast For Love (Motley Crue’s only good album), and this album’s follow-up, Slave To The Grind.

Rating:
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– “Big Guns,” “Sweet Little Sister,” “18 And Life,” “Youth Gone Wild,” “I Remember You”
– “Can’t Stand The Heartache,” “Piece Of Me,” “Here I Am,” “Makin’ A Mess,” “Midnight/Tornado”
– “Rattlesnake Shake”
Filed Between: Skeleton Key (Obtainium) and Skid Row’s Slave To The Grind
Song Notes: After the jump
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Screaming Trees: Buzz Factory

I remember liking this a lot more.

The band’s last “indie” label release, this one was produced by Jack Endino, who produced about a jillion amazing albums, most famously probably Nirvana’s Bleach, which came out the same year as this album.

Like Bleach, this album has some amazing songwriting, always a strength of Screaming Trees, and also like Nirvana’s first album, this one is best listened to loud. The sound is kind of muddy if you listen to it at lower volumes, but when you crank it up it kind of breaks through into a nice fuzzed out raunch.

Lanegan starts to get amazing here. He screws his voice up and down into all kinds of contortions on “Black Sun Morning,” (which is, along with “Smokerings” from Invisible Lantern, the best song they’ve done to this point) in a way I don’t think he’s even done since.

Here’s a tribute to Screaming Trees: Consider that by 1989, a full two years before Nevermind and Ten and three years before people would actually turn on to those albums, these guys were on their fourth album and had matured into an awesome band. I think I even hear some drop-D tuning going on here…the signature sound of what would be called grunge years later. For crying out loud, this was the same year Melvins would release the ridiculously raw and untamed Ozma.

Anyway, a lot of good songs, but not as many great ones as I remember. I remember “Flower Web,” “Where The Twain Shall Meet,” and “End Of The Universe” all being better than I find them now. On the other hand, I don’t remember “Black Sun Morning” being quite this strong and it’s been a real treat to re-discover “Yard Trip #7” and “Subtle Poison.”

Rating:
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– “Where The Twain Shall Meet,” “Black Sun Morning,” “Yard Trip #7,” “End Of The Universe”
– “Windows,” “Too Far Away,” “Subtle Poison,” “Flower Web,” “Wish Bringer,” “Revelation Revolution,” “The Looking Glass Cracked”
Filed Between: Screaming Trees’ Invisible Lantern and Something About Today
Song Notes: After the jump
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