Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Toto Return With 'Toto IV' Era Outtake 'Devil's Tower'!

With Weezer's recent cover of "Africa" introducing Toto to a new generation of fair-weather fans, the band's career-spanning 13-CD box set All In is geared only to the band's longtime fans, of which the band believes 2,000 will pony up the necessary dough to own this mega-deluxe paperweight.

To hype the new box set, which is impossible to track down despite being released mere weeks ago (did it already sell out?), as well as this year's extensive 40 Trips Around The Sun world tour, the band has released their new single "Devil's Tower".

No doubt recognizing that digging up something from the Toto IV era would guarantee coverage by prestigious rock blog The Shit (ha!), the band decided it was time to finish this track.

The big question was, though, who would sing on the track?

More importantly, who should sing on the track?

Being a fan of Toto prior to IV, this writer would vote for the band's lead singer at the time, Bobby Kimball to be given the honor of singing the shit out of this tune. Of course, Kimball parted ways with the band (again) in 2008, but that would have been the right thing to do.

Second choice would be for the band's other damn fine singers, Steve Lukather (who sang on "Georgy Porgy", "99", "I Won't Hold You Back", as well as the verses on "Rosanna") or David Paich (the band's most prolific songwriter).

It only makes sense that, since Mike and Jeff Porcaro have since passed away, that the band would have simply gotten the remaining surviving band members from the Toto IV days together to pay tribute to their fallen brothers (both figuratively and literally).

Instead, they enlisted Joseph Williams, who wasn't in the band during the Toto IV days, but replaced Kimball in 1986 (before being replaced by Kimball in 1989) and just so happens to be in the band now.

As much as we enjoy hearing Toto cut loose like they did before the success of "Rosanna" and "I Won't" essentially broke up the band, admittedly, hearing an unfamiliar voice handling the lead vocals makes this track indistinguishable from anything you'd hear from any number of same-sounding melodic rock bands signed to Frontiers Records.

We give it a 6.5 out of 10.

Can't Judge A Book (or Album) By The Cover: The New Adventures of Old New Age Music!

After selling a bunch of '80s new age promo LP's for a substantial wad of cash, it became apparent to this writer that hipsters have now firmly entered that area of current pop culture known as "comedy relief".

So eager to embrace any aspect of the '80s that hasn't already been rehashed to death, these bearded coffee-swilling fedora fetchers will even soak in the tepid awfulness of '80s new age just to prove that they're cooler than you.

Admittedly, I, too, was once swayed by the wonderfully futuristic Ray Lynch, Tomita and Vangelis album covers that once beckoned to me from yonder record bins. After all, with "new age" being close enough to "new wave", how could I resist? It didn't take long to hit "play"and realize that I'd been sold a slab of wax that offered only the most glacial version of music imaginable.

Based on the cover alone, never in my life have I wanted to like any album more than Vangelis's See You Later.

Also, based solely on cover art, Private Music (a label started by Tangerine Dream's Peter Baumann) got me to buy a good dozen or so albums that should have been put out by NyQuil for their magical powers to render the listener unconscious.

It is for that reason that I have always contended that new age albums deserve advisory stickers of their own:


It might be hard to believe now, but back in the mid-80s, numerous music retailers gave key floor space to their massive selections of new age titles.

Hell, the regional chain that I worked for went so far as to place their new age section at the very front of the store so that these titles were the first thing you saw upon entering the store. Back then, Windham Hill was to the new age market  what Sub Pop was to grunge, cornering the new age market with a steady stream of easily identifiable titles by artists such as Shadowfax, William Ackerman, Liz Story and Michael Hedges, to name but a few.

The most recognizable aspect of the Windham Hill experience wasn't the music, but, rather, the clean, minimalist feel of the cover artwork by Anne Robinson, which always hinted at music so much more alluring than it really was.

Although a handful of artists such as Yanni, Jean-Michel Jarre and the aforementioned Vangelis continued to thrive, it was for this reason alone that the new age movement quickly petered out and retailers soon relegated the genre to the back of the store, near the cut-out bins, where it belonged.

Over the past few years, however, retailers such as Amoeba Records have been experiencing difficulty keeping vintage new age vinyl and cassettes in stock while re-issue labels begin unearthing rare and out-of-print new age works. For example, Chicago's own Numero Uno recently released Celestial Soul Portrait, a career retrospective by Iasos.

Of course, since ambient music has its origins in the new age movement, its only a matter of time before the line gets blurred beyond recognition and new artists influenced as much by Andreas Vollenweider as by Aphex Twin begin to breathe new life into the new age genre.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Cheap Trick In The 90's, Part 3: Epic Do-Over!

By 1997, Cheap Trick were not only celebrating the release of their thirteenth studio album, but also their 20th anniversary as a national act. In hindsight, it's hard to believe that the band was only reaching the midway point of a career that as seen the band has put more miles on their tour bus than any ten bands combined and be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Despite working for their third label in as many albums, Rockford's fearsome foursome seemed more unified and determined than ever to prove their relevance in a post-Nirvana musical landscape that was giving way to the No Doubts and Sugar Rays of the world.

While 1994's Woke Up With A Monster had been closer in tone to the band's masterfully subversive debut effort, 1997's self-titled album was a signal to longtime Trick fans that CT were just as eager to wipe the slate clean and start anew.

 Of course, the band didn't completely break from their past, recruiting Next Position Please engineer Ian Taylor (best known for his work, with Roy Thomas Baker, on the Cars' first two albums). The resulting album shows Cheap Trick firing on all cylinders and more determined than ever to move forward in an industry hell-bent on pigeonholing them as a classic rock act.

While "Anytime", "Yeah Yeah", "Baby No More" and "You Let A Lot Of People Down" rock as hard as anything on their critically-acclaimed debut effort, the rest of CT 97 is chock full of Beatlesque beauties brimming with subtlety and nuance.

Unfortunately, the promise of a new beginning soon gave way to a new set of label issues as Red Ant Records ran into financial difficulties within weeks of the album's release, forcing them into a period of corporate restructuring in hopes of finding a new buyer to stave off the inevitable bankruptcy of the label.

With the band still making the rounds on TV and radio to promote their new album, their label was hoisting the white flag of surrender. By the time they'd gone into the studio with Steve Albini to re-record In Color in 1998, Red Ant was history.

This left the band with no way of releasing In Color V 2.0.V Even so,  the album somehow found its way onto the interweb as bootleg copies started surfacing at record shows and the like. As recently as 2010, Rick Nielsen was promising an eventual release for the album that has yet to materialize.

Just as Red Ant collapsed, the band found themselves getting back into bed with Epic Records, whose Legacy Records imprint was re-issuing Cheap Trick's first three albums, complete with bonus tracks.

By the end of '98, Cheap Trick had pioneered the concept of performing classic albums in their entirety; a theme that brought the band to Chicago's Metro for four sold-out shows. Luckily for those who couldn't attend, the band took the opportunity to record each show and released the highlights as Music For Hangovers, their first live album since Cheap Trick At Budokan.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

22 Million Reasons Not To Write A Song About Wendy Carlos, The Momus Edition!

Back in 1998, Scottish provocateur Nick Currie, a.k.a. Momus, released his twelfth album, The Little Red Songbook, an album full of self-described "analog baroque" ditties that playfully tackled some rather ribald subjects.

One such ditty wound up getting Sir Momus in much trouble and, surprisingly, it wasn't "Everyone I Have Ever Slept With" or "Coming In A Girl's Mouth", but, rather, a song by the name of "Walter Carlos".

Walter Carlos, of course, is best known as the electronic musician and composer most responsible for taking the Moog synthesizer mainstream with the release of Switched-On Bach in 1968.

The album saw Carlos and musical partner Benjamin Folkman tackle a number of Bach compositions with nothing but a monophonic Moog synthesizer. 

Soonafter, Walter would begin her transition to a woman, thereby changing her name to Wendy Carlos, and go on to create the legendary motion picture scores for the films "A Clockwork Orange", "The Shining", and "Tron", among others.

Momus's song explored a time-travelling scenario whereby Wendy Carlos returns to a time before her gender reassignment surgery and marries her male self, which, it seems Ms. Carlos did not appreciate.

Carlos responded by suing Momus for $22 million dollars.

In the end, the case was settled out of court, with Momus forced to remove the offending song from all future pressings of The Little Red Songbook and pay Carlos's legal fees, totaling $30,000.

To raise the money to pay off the $30,000, Momus came up with the brilliant idea of commissioning his talents, whereby for the sum of $1,000, he would write a song about anyone,or anything.

That he found thirty takers is admirable in and of itself because, let's face it, his music is a bit of an acquired taste, but among those who forked over ten Benjamins were the rock band The Minus 5 and the musical PR firm Girlie Action.

All thirty selections were then released as Momus' next album, Stars Forever.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Song Of The Day: Hey Mercedes 'Boy Destroyers'!

I have this thing that I like to do anytime I meet someone who talks just a little too much about how great Foo Fighters are or who can't help but show off the "FF" logo on their forearm.

I simply slap a big, sticky strip of "Hello Kitty" duct tape across their piehole, handcuff them to their own lack of imagination, and blast "Boy Destroyers" by Hey Mercedes.

Sometimes, just for shits and giggles, I tell 'em its the new Foo Fighters album just to mess with them. Obviously, by the time Bob Nanna's vocals come in, anyone with ears can tell this isn't Dave Grohl, but 75% of the time, these Foo-loving chotes can't tell the difference.

As a result, I've accidentally made Hey Mercedes a lot of new fans. I know this because I ran into many of them when Hey Mercedes reunited in 2016 after a thirteen-year "hiatus", during which time Dave Grohl completely hijacked their schtick.

Just before Hey Mercedes kicked off their reunion tour at the intimate Subterranean, one such convert ran up to me and declared, "Wow, I've never seen a concert in a shoe box." Another introduced me to their wife (well, hello...) by excitedly declaring, "Honey I want you to meet the dude who plastered my hipster beard with 'Hello Kitty' duct tape and turned me on to Hey Mercedes!" before asking, "So, where are the video screens?"

Hey Mercedes then proceeded to rip the roof off the joint, having not lost a single step in the fifteen years they were gone, thereby reinvigorating my adoration for the band and their complete lack of contempt for the machine that spat them out or the fans that never came.

That Foo Fighters continue to appease millions of fans by releasing the same album over and over while the members of Hey Mercedes (singer/guitarist Bob Nanna, Todd Bell on bass/vocals, Mark Duwarsk on guitar/vocals, and drummer Damon Atkinson) toil in technicolor obscurity for having the solid gold clackers to give the hornet's nest that is emo the gut punch it has long deserved, it seems I'm the one taking it hardest of all.

When my girlfriend accuses me of being a bitter musician who never made it big just because I left the toilet seat up again, I'll remind her once again that I'm not bitter about me not making it, but about bands like Hey Mercedes not getting to tool around the world in private jets and date supermodels.

I was joking when I wrote that, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how true the statement is and how I have to be reminded from time to time of my own commercial misfortune. And to put the toilet seat down.

Lost In The '80s No-Zip Sorting Bin: The Lover Speaks!

There are some albums that connect with you in such a deep, profound way that even when the industry washes their hands of them, the bond between you and the music remains strong.

As time passes by, you find yourself grabbing copies of the album anytime you see one at a rummage sale, used record store or flea market for mere pennies. Then one night, many years after the album's initial release, as you're listening to desert radio static on yet another cross-country tour, a familiar melody beckons to you like a lover from the past, but the voice belongs to someone else...

"Holy crap, is that Annie Lennox?" you ask yourself.

The song goes on to become a gigantic smash hit in the U.S. and around the world, securing a Grammy statuette for Ms. Lennox in the process. Soonafter, used copies of The Lover Speaks' self-titled CD begin selling for ungodly amounts on eBay, yet no one in the industry thinks to re-issue the album.

The year was 1986 so, unbeknownst to many at the time, we'd already stepped headlong into the "ass end days of the '80s". While there were probably more great albums being made than at any other time in recent music history, there was also more hideous crap than ever infiltrating the charts.

By then, MTV had the music industry on a short leash. No band broke big in those days without the cable network's support.

Hooky as each chorus may have been, this strange album unfolded like a storybook, with singer David Freeman acting more as narrator/tour guide than singer/frontman.

Combined with the odd band name and the overly ornate album packaging, what you had was an album too clever for its own good by far. Was this a band, a soundtrack, or some oddball one-off side project I asked myself as I absorbed the album during my days as a record store clerk.

One day, after hearing the album for the fourth or fifth time, I finally vacated my post in the store's cassette section to venture to the front of the store where the in-store turntable was located. Grabbing the album cover, I scanned the credits looking for something that could help me make sense of what I was hearing.

The first name that caught my eye was that of producer Jimmy Iovine. I then saw that guitars had been provided by Eurythmic Dave Stewart, Toto's Steve Lukather, and the E Street Band's newest member at the time, Nils Lofgren.

Seeing these names did little to help me make sense of things.

While the lyrics were filled with darkly cinematic prose, with each song bursting forth like one bombastic hook-filled chorus, it was the playful, and highly effective use of female backing vocals as counterpoint to Freeman's that gave each track its emotional kick and sets the album apart to this day.

On "Every Lover's Sign", "Love Is 'I Gave You Everything'", and "No More 'I Love You's'", the vocals of June Miles-Kingston come dangerously close to stealing the spotlight from Freeman's jovial protagonist, but it is that interplay that gives the album a memorably theatrical feel.

And just as quickly as this big beat opera of a rock album had entered my life, both album and band were gone.

Months later, Alison Moyet, who knows a little bit about being shunned in the U.S., herself, recorded a song called "Sleep Like Breathing". Written by Freeman and his bandmate in The Lover Speaks, Joseph Hughes, the song appeared on Moyet's Raindancing album. In some parallel universe, one believes, this song would wind up doing for Moyet what "No More 'I Love You's'" had done for Lennox.

Sadly, and inexplicably, the tune failed to crack the Top 40 in the UK and made even less of a splash in the States, where Moyet was being as neglected by CBS Records as The Lovers Speaks had been by A&M.

The Lover Speaks recorded a second album, The Big Lie, which was co-produced by Daniel Lanois, before being buried by A&M before it was even released. Thankfully, for the curious, it is on Youtube.

The album's atmospheric production lies in stark contrast to the group's debut, embracing a more ambient direction with songs that evoke a haunting longing but admittedly lack notable choruses, whereas the first album had essentially been one big chorus.

Only in the ensuing years did I come to discover that Freeman and Hughes were members of The Flys, whose "Love And A Molotov Cocktail" single I had nabbed sight unseen from the import section as a kid back in Michigan. Freeman's vocals sound almost unrecognizable at first and the band's brash pop punk sensibilities have zero in common with The Lover Speaks.

Granted, eight years had passed between projects.

Even more years had passed between my owning copies of The Lovers Speaks on CD so when Cherry Pop announced plans to re-issue the album complete with bonus tracks in 2015, I was beside myself, but the remastered version of the album was even more stunning than I could have anticipated. It also reawakened an age old mystery as to how such a beautifully crafted album could have escaped the public's ear to such a large extent.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Rock & Roll Time Machine: KISS Unmasked On MTV, 1983!

Through the late 70's, there was no bigger band in the world than Kiss, but once their fan base hit puberty, suddenly the idea of seeing the girls at school in heels and make-up became preferable to seeing Kiss in heels and make-up.

Gene Simmons recognized this more than anyone, of course, so around 1978, you couldn't pass by a magazine rack without spotting the latest issue of 16 Magazine, Teen Beat, or People teasing their readers with promises of photos depicting members of Kiss sans make-up.

In hindsight, such 70s tabloid fodder seems positively innocent by today's standards, but at the time, it was quite the big deal. Not for me, of course, because one flesh colored Crayola crayon had already revealed the band's true identities to this prepubescent sleuth back in '76, but there was obviously someone out there who kept buying these magazines.

In 1980, the band themselves capitalized on the concept by calling their eighth studio album Unmasked, while still refusing to remove their make-up.

Fans responded by largely ignoring the album. The wheels soon fell off the Kiss Kruiser as Peter Criss became the first original member to exit the band.

Two more albums, Music From 'The Elder' and Creatures Of The Night, would flop before the band would finally reveal their true identities to the world on MTV in 1983. By then, of course, Ace Frehley had also left the band and, quite frankly, nobody gave a shit about seeing Vinnie Vincent or Eric Carr unmasked.

MTV VJ J.J. Jackson drew the short straw and was called on to feign interest in this desperate spectacle which proved to be about as anti-climactic as an episode of "Hee-Haw".

It wasn't until 1996, when the original line-up decided to put their make-up back on, that interest in the band re-ignited with a frenzy not seen since the band's initial heyday.

For that hotly anticipated UN-unmasking event aboard the USS Intrepid, Conan O'Brien drew the short straw and was called upon to feign interest in this even more desperate spectacle.