Monday, 29 July 2013

The Quireboys' 'Beautiful Curse' - Album Review

After a very successful start to their career which saw both albums and singles charting more than respectably, The Quireboys almost sunk to being footnotes in the British rock scene - a curio of the early 1990s. However, over the past few years, it seems the band have been rebuilding their reputation and still have a dedicated fanbase worldwide which was maintained through relentless touring. 2013 sees the band release their sixth studio album of original material Beautiful Curse which is their first since 2008's Homewreckers & Heartbreakers. This album saw the band take to the studio as a four piece, with founding members frontman Spike and guitarist Guy Griffin joined by long time members guitarist Paul Guerin and keyboardist Keith Weir. All of the album's bass guitar was handled by Griffin and Guerin and the drums were performed on a session basis by Simon Hanson (Squeeze). Beautiful Curse follows the standard Quireboys blueprint mixing classic British rock music with a hair metal attitude. The usual mix of upbeat rockers and delicate ballads is present but the album seems to be a little more laid back than some of their others, possibly taking influence from their 2009 album of acoustic reworkings Halfpenny Dancer. Overall the production is good, and being handled by veteran Chris Tsangarides you would expect nothing less, but I do think the drums sound very quiet which is odd for a rock album. A little more punch, especially on the bass drum, would have gone a long way to make this album sound even better.

The first song on the album, Too Much of a Good Thing, is classic Quireboys. A simple, yet effective guitar riff, drives the song and Spike's trademark smoky vocals ooze out over the top of it. Boasting a catchy chorus backed up by some bouncing paino it is one of the best songs on the album, and maybe one of the best the band have ever recorded. Chain Smokin' follows and this is a dirty blues tune that you can imagine being played in a dingy backstreet bar somewhere on a Saturday night. It has a slightly sleazy feel to it, especially the sneered chorus and the guitar solo. Talk of the Town is up next and is the first of the album with the laid-back feel that I described above. It is acoustic-led with washings of organ which really brings out the best in Spike's perfectly strained vocal delivery. He sounds great all over the album and is surely one of the most underrated frontmen in rock. Mother Mary is probably the album's best song and I remember it well from when I saw the band live in April supporting Saxon. It is a beautiful ballad with fantastic lead guitar throughout that compliments Spike's vocals well and is very emotive. In a way, it reminds me of Guns N' Roses' ballads like Don't Cry (which Spike has actually sung before on a tribute album) as the guitar has quite Slash-type feel to it. A really fantastic song, and one that I suspect will be in the band's live set for years to come. The next song of note is the dirty rocker Homewreckers and Heartbreakers (note the 'and' not the '&' as in the 2008 album - but it is another example of songs that are not on the album of the same name!). Another simple riff backed up by some excellent organ pushes this song along but it is songs like this that you really notice the strange drum production - this would have really benefited from a little more power. Still, this song is The Quireboys at their bluesy best with some excellent slide guitar work throughout and an anthemic chorus perfect for the live arena.

Diamonds and Dirty Stones follows and this is another real winner. With a very 80s feel to it, I now understand why they sometimes were referred to as 'Britain's answer to Poison'. Again, the lead guitar is excellent throughout with a great solo after the second chorus and leads to back Spike's vocals during the chrouses. The 80s style backing vocals are the icing on the cake, and I would love to hear this one live sometime. The album's title track is up next and gets back to the more laid back vibe. I can almost imagine Jon Bon Jovi singing it, as it has that very accessible rock feel to it despite the huge sound with it's all-encompassing organ. After a couple of more average tracks, we get to the last two songs on the album. Twenty Seven Years seems to be a slightly autobiographical song which contains a lot of beauty and more excellent keyboard work from Weir. The musicianship displayed on this album by all involved is staggering really. The band is known for their catchy songs and excellent live shows but after listening to this album it is clear that they are all proper musicians too. The variety of guitar styles here is quite a surprised for an album of this type, and they keyboard work - espeically the solo on this track - is great. Things come to a close with another laid back number I Died Laughing. It has a very summery feel and is an excellent way to end to the album. Overall, this is another excellent release from one of the Britain's best-kept secrets. I am glad that bands keeping the real tradition of British rock 'n' roll alive are still popular in the 21st Century and The Quireboys are one of the best in that genre!

The album was released on 24th June 2013 via Off Yer Rocka Recordings. Below is the band's promotional soundclip of Too Much of a Good Thing.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Mostly Autumn - Tavistock Review


Monday, 22 July 2013

Black Sabbath's '13' - Album Review

In the metal community no album has arguably been more anticipated in 2013 than 13, the latest album by heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath. It is an album full of 'firsts' which I shall try and detail here. It is the first new material to be released under the Black Sabbath name since 2007 with the new songs recorded for The Dio Years compliation. It is the first new material to feature founding member Ozzy Osbourne since 1998 with the new songs recorded for the Reunion live album. It is the first Black Sabbath studio album since 1995's Forbidden. It is the first studio album to feature founding bassist Geezer Butler since 1994's Cross Purposes. Finally, it is the first studio album to feature Osbourne since 1978's Never Say Die! - that is a lot of 'firsts'! Since being annouced in 2011, the hype for 13 has been huge and I feel that things very rarely live up to the expectations. That being said, this album is exactly as I expected it to be. It is heavy, doomy, and moves at a slow pace like the Sabbath of old and fans of the original/classic line-up will find a lot to enjoy here. I will say that Ozzy-era Sabbath has never been a favourite of mine. Sure, I appreciate the legacy and sound that the band created but sometimes I find the songs turgid, slow and devoid of a good tune. In some respects this album is like that, but in others it is wholly enjoyable with plenty of mammoth riffs and solos from the Godfather of Metal Tony Iommi. Before I look at the songs however, I will make a quick note on the production. I think this album sounds great and the guitars, bass and drums all sound massive; but I have read and heard lots of people complaining that it sounds too compressed and is is a victim of the 'loudness war'. If I am honest, I do not really know what that is and everytime I try and hear the 'clipping' that is supposedly going on I fail to hear it or understand what the problem is. Maybe I am not susceptible to it, but if this sort of thing does bother you then I suggest you prepare to be disappointed in that respect as apparently, accoring to many, there is a lot of that to be found here.

The album gets off to a strong start in classic Sabbath style with End of the Beginning. The song is built around a simple riff that is actually quite similar to the first song on their first album, which I presume was deliberate, and evokes memories of Sabbath past. Osbourne sounds great on this album, as he did on his last solo album Scream from 2010, and it is great that after all these (hard) years he can still pull it off convincingly. Also, Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine; Audioslave) plays the drums on this album in place of Bill Ward and he acquits himself very well. While he does not really have the 'swing' that Ward had, he has a certain power and an organic feel that fits the band well. Lead single God is Dead? follows and this seems to be based on the writings and theories of Friedrich Nietzsche. It was also the song released as a taster before the album was released and managed to get people suitably excited for the rest. It is the longest song on the album at just short of nine minutes long but I would say it is my favourite. The riffing is stellar combining heavy passages with some doomy clean picking and Osbourne's voice has a certain haunting quality that has not really been present in his delivery for quite a while. The ending picks up the pace and evolves the riff some more to create one of legendary proprotions - truely great stuff! Loner is up next and this is a much more straight-up mid-paced metal song with another memorable riff from Iommi. Simpler stuff, but it is still really enjoyable without all the doomy extras. It edges much more into the hard rock territory but it manages to hold it's own on the album. The dreamy Zeitgeist follows and this seems to be a bit of a sequel to Planet Caravan from 1970's Paranoid. Acoustic guitar and distant percussion drive the song while Osbourne's effect-laden vocals swirl around it all creating a very different sound to what has come before on the album. The understated, bluesy solo towards the end is great too, and shows a different side of Iommi's playing. That part of the song almost sounds like an old and forgotten Deep Purple jam session!

Age of Reason gets back to the metal with another big riff backed up by a beefy bassline and some pounding drums. After a while, the song slows down into a 'cleaner' riff that should be on a horror soundtrack somewhere that only benefits from Osbourne's crooning over the top of it. More so than some of the other songs on this album, this one is based around a collection of future-classic Iommi riffs rather than taking one and molding it around a song. There are a few distinct parts to it, each with it's own identity and riff. Live Forever is up next and gets back to the simpler sound of Loner. Songs like this are needed on 13 to give a break from the longer, more experimental songs with many parts and a slow-burning atmosphere. In some cases a shorter, more to-the-point song can be just as effective anyway. The guitar solo in this tune is particularly good and has a very classic rock feel with a mixture of slower notes and speedy runs. Damaged Soul follows and this is probably my least favourite song from the album. The doomy blues sound of the track just does not appeal to me in the way that the other songs do and I find this one a little turgid and a collection of all the things that I do not like about Ozzy-Sabbath. I am glad that the band decided against making a whole album of songs like this, because this sort of thing just does not really interest me. However, it does pick up towards the end after the strange solo/jam part with another rocking riff and yet another great Iommi solo. The final song on the album, Dear Father, is another a good one. It is heavy and angry with melancholic passages that evoke sadness and fear. The song ends as the first album began, with storms and a tolling bell - yet more nods to their past! Overall, this is a solid album from a band with nothing short of legendary status. After all, the band have nothing left to prove and clearly made this album for the fun of it and beause they actually wanted to. There was no record label pressure here and it seems the band had total creative control over their material under the watchful eye of Rick Rubin. While it is certainly not anything new or revolutionary, we cannot really expect a band to be that twice now can we?

The album was released on 10th June 2013 via Vertigo Records/Universal Music Group. Below is the band's promotional video for God is Dead?.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Megadeth's 'Super Collider' - Album Review

Being one of the 'Big 4 of Thrash Metal', a new Megadeth album is always highly anticipated within the metal community and the hype is always huge and often over the top. For my money, Megadeth have always been the most inventive and varied of the 'Big 4' so expecting them to keep reproducing the same album over and over again is foolish. Since reforming just under a decade ago, the band have been on a great run of form particularly with 2007's United Abominations and 2009's Endgame, with the later being lifted to new hights with the addition of super-shredder Chris Broderick to the band's line-up. Whilst 2011's TH1RT3EN was a slight disappointment for me, Super Collider is definately a step back in the right direction even if it does not reach the hights of Endgame or the band's classic early 1990s output. Super Collider is probably the band's most varied album since reforming. Not content to rest on their laurels, the band have strived to cover new ground and, on the whole, I believe that this had paid off for them. I am also surprised at the overall negative response that this album seems to have gotten, even amongst the band's hardcore fanbase. Granted, this is certainly not their best album, but I think there is plenty to be enjoyed here.

Things get underway with the ferocious metal of Kingmaker. From the outset, it is clear that band leader Dave Mustaine's trademark snarling vocals are as good as ever. He is one of the view people in the genre who has a perfect balance of aggression and melody in his voice, and either trait can be deployed when needed. The chorus on this song is one of the moments when the melodic side of his voice really shines and it is catchy as hell to boot. The album's first single and title track follows and this sees the band taking on a different style. This is much more of a 'hard rock' song as apposed to a 'metal' one and I think this contributed to a lot of the backlash before the album was released. Give the song a chance however, and you will find it growing on you - I find the chorus to be quite infectious! In any case, it is not like the band really have anything to prove anymore. Burn! is up next and this has a very traditional Megadeth sound being mid-paced rocker with a guitar sound and style that only they could pull off. I particularly like the snaking guitar work and drumming the chorus even if the lyrics are not some of Mustaine's best. Built for War gets back to the heavy-riffing sound of Kingmaker and rushes out of the gate at a good speed. Shawn Drover's double-kick drumming helps the song pound along (incidentally, he is also credited as co-writing the song). I have always been a fan of his sound and style and it is good to hear him in full flow here. The next highlight for me is Dance in the Rain. It has a very Countdown to Extinction feel, with Mustaine's 'spoken' delivery sounding good as ever on this style of song. The chorus riff is great and it is another catchy one. The song also features some guest vocals from David Draiman (Disturbed; Device) who adds his unique and strong voice to the overall sound and mood of the song.

The next song of note is The Blackest Crow. This is another example of the band trying something new with an almost folk-esque introduction. It works surprisingly well within the context of the track and the banjo mixes well with the guitar backing. Again, it is a reasonably slow song but it still manages to create a moody atmosphere and the folk elements only add to this. Up next is Forget to Remember which, like the title track, follows a much more traditional hard rock blueprint but it has a really great chorus and some nice crunchy palm-muted guitar work in the verses. Overall, it is just a really solid rock tune that is likely to become and earworm for many. Don't Turn Your Back... follows which, after a clean intro, turns into a real metal monster with more big drumming from Drover and nice fat bassline from David Ellefson that really helps to make the song sound huge. There is a really great, melodic guitar solo after the first chorus that really shines. The album comes to an end with a solid, if uncreative, cover of Thin Lizzy's Cold Sweat. It is very similar to the original but Megadeth manage to do it justice with some tidy guitar work and Mustaine's snarling vocals are in stark contrast to Phil Lynott's more soulful delivery on the original - even if it was probably the heaviest song Thin Lizzy ever recorded! Overall, I find this album to be a solid piece of work that contains a few experiments that have, mostly, worked well. Mustaine and co. still clearly have plenty in the tank and this new album is another to add to their extensive and largely impressive back catalogue.

The album was released on 3rd June 2013 via Tradecraft/Universal Music Group. Below is the band's promotional video for Super Collider.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Ricky Warwick - Exeter Review


Monday, 8 July 2013

Tom Keifer's 'The Way Life Goes' - Album Review

Tom Keifer, known to many as the frontman of glam/hard rock band Cinderella, has had a difficult career. From the highs of world tours and platinum-selling albums to the lows of a variety of health and vocal problems, he has faced it all. The Way Life Goes is his first ever solo album, and his first album of material since Cinderella's fourth (and currently last) studio album Still Climbing which was released in 1994. Nineteen years is a long time without releasing anything, but various sources seem to indicate that Keifer has been working on this album for quite a few years now. I am glad that he finally finished it though, as it is a solid rock album with plenty of variety. While there are obvious nods to Cinderella's sound over the years, comparisons could also be drawn to bands like The Rolling Stones, The Faces and The Quireboys as the album has a strong blues rock feel with a few acoustic-led numbers to offer a change of pace. Alongside Keifer, who handles the lead vocals, the majority of the guitars and some of the keyboards, the band for the album consists of: bassist Michael Rhodes; keyboardist Tony Harrell; and drummer Greg Morrow who all put in good shifts here and compliment Keifer's songwriting and style.

The album gets off to a strong start with second single Solid Ground, which is a rocking little song very reminisent of Cinderella's past work. Based around a great blues-style riff, the song grooves along at a nice pace with some slide guitar occasionally adding colour and a distinctly 'southern' feel. This is also aided by some slighty gospel-esque backing vocals by Etta Britt and Crystal Taliaferro. A Different Light follows and this is a much gentler, more heartfelt quasi-ballad that shows another side to Keifer's voice. Despite all the problems with his voice he has had over the years, he sounds great throughout this album and I am glad he has persevered through all the trouble and finished off this great album. A simple string arrangement really helps to elevate the song towards the end. The next highlight is the rocker Cold Day in Hell and this is the first of a few songs on the album co-written with former Survivor keyboardist Jim Peterik. The addition of some harmonica over the song's main riff, played by Pat Buchanan, adds an extra dimension to the song - as does some well-places saxaphone from Jim Horne. The chorus on this song is what makes it stand out. It is catchy and melodic, which is unsurprising with Peterik collaborating. Ask Me Yesterday is the next song worthy of note. It is a great slow, acoustic-led song which is similar in style to Cinderella's Heartbreak Station. I really like the lyrics on this song and again it has a really great chorus. Despite a reasonably large arrangement, it is one of the those songs that would clearly work totally stripped down acoustically - a quality I always like. First single The Flower Song, another of the co-writes with Peterik, has a definate Quireboys vibe. Washings of delicate organ help to flesh out the song and the slide guitar creates a very bluesy feel. It is full of melody and would probably get a decent amount of radio play with the right form of promotion.

Mood Elevator follows and this gets back to the rock. Cinderella guitarist Jeff LaBar lends a hand here with some extra riffing to create one of the most rocking songs on the album. The guitars sound nice and raw here and that sort of production helps bring out the best in the song. After a couple of more average tracks, we get to Ain't That a Bitch. The keyboards are big here and help drive the song along in a way in which Jon Lord would be proud. I really like the guitar solo in this song too. It has an odd sound and it not all that long but it just works so well. The album's title track follows with it's story-telling lyrics, big guitar sound and pounding drums. Again, it has the gospel-esque backing vocals which just work so well on this album. Things come to an end with the final song on the album Babylon. For what it is worth, I feel that this is the best song on the album - I love it! It really rocks and the chorus is very catchy. It is a great way to end a good album, and some more well places saxphone from Bobby Keys always helps! Overall, this album is very enjoyable and should satisfy all those people who are still hoping for another Cinderella album. This is the closest thing you are probably going to get for it for a long time (prehaps ever) but it stands on it's own too because of the variety you might not find otherwise. I think Keifer and his wife/songwriting partner Savannah should be congratulated on creating such a dynamic, rocking and heartfelt album after all this time.

The album was released on 29th April 2013 via Merovee Records. Below is his promotional video for Solid Ground.