Tag Archives: vinyl

Rocks In The Attic #600: Aerosmith – ‘Get A Grip’ (1993)

RITA#600During their formation in the early 1970s, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry initially rejected Steven Tyler’s proto-power ballad Dream On, believing that the only type of slow song the band should play was a slow blues. Perry was somehow won over (overruled? blackmailed?) by Tyler and they recorded the song in late 1972. It was a high point on the band’s self-titled 1973 debut, eventually becoming one of the band’s biggest hits, peaking at #6 on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 upon its re-release as a single in 1976.

Twenty years on, and Perry’s principles have been left behind in rehab with his various drug addictions. Either that or his accountant has managed to point out how many Ferraris and swimming pools Tyler’s ballads have paid for in the intervening decades. Their eleventh studio album, Get A Grip shows that Perry has all but given up in the struggle against Tyler’s proclivity towards slower, commercial songs.

Things don’t start well, with Tyler rapping – yes, rapping – over a drum loop. A snippet of their well-known Walk This Way riff completes the heavy-handed reference to the band’s crossover hit with Run-D.M.C., before making way for some Polynesian drums and the first song proper, Eat The Rich. It sets the scene well, with a heavy riff and a ballsy production by Bruce Fairbairn aimed at a grunge / alternative rock audience.

Something isn’t quite right though. Over their two previous records, Permanent Vacation (1987) and Pump (1989), Aerosmith showed that they could succeed by employing external songwriters. But Pump, the more successful of those albums, still had a decent proportion – 60% – of self-penned songs. With Get A Grip however, Aerosmith put almost all of the album – thirteen out of fifteen songs – into the hands of ‘song doctors’. As a result, the band sound less and less like the 1970s classic rock versions of themselves, and more and more like something created in a school for performing arts.

The album has no less than seven singles (released over a fourteen-month span), and this is where the album loses focus. It’s almost as if they were trying to create an album of singles, a ready-made Greatest Hits compilation. Released smack-bang in that early-‘90s period when nearly all rock albums tended to be sixty-plus minute affairs, the only limits were the band’s imagination (and the running length of a compact disc). As a result, it lacks the cohesion of Pump, and has far too much filler material.

Joe Perry should be happy though. The album contains a more than adequate dose of straightforward rockers, and he even gets to sing a self-penned number (the refreshing Walk On Down). However, it isn’t power ballads that Perry should be looking out for; Steven Tyler has a new weapon in his arsenal – country-rock. Be afraid, be very afraid.

One of the most joyous moments on Pump was its final song What It Takes – a slow-burning country-tinged ballad, co-written by Tyler and Perry with Desmond Child. Something about it didn’t seem serious though. Tyler hams it up by singing the lyrics in a southern drawl, and it sounds more like the band is having fun playing in a different style than a serious attempt at a change in genre.

Fast forward four years and either Tyler has been bitten by the country bug or somebody has pointed out how lucrative the country market is. Two of Get A Grip’s singles – Cryin’ and Crazy – are unashamedly country rock, and this time the band aren’t playing around. They’re deadly serious. By 1993, two of Garth Brooks’ four albums had debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 – a feat Aerosmith could only dream of at that point – so it’s difficult to view their change of direction without a degree of cynicism. Get A Grip would be their first record to peak at #1, so maybe the left turn into country music paid off.

The album does have some high-points– the cosmic jam of Gotta Love It finds them channelling the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Line Up is a welcome collaboration with Lenny Kravitz and Boogie Man might just be the weirdest, most soothing guitar instrumental you’ve ever heard after Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross.

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The Get A Grip tour programme

But it’s the big singles that are the showcase of the album. Released a month in advance, Living On The Edge is a weighty rocker, with the band in important-message-to-the-youth-of-today mode. It’s so earnest; a million miles away from the band who had recently been singing about transvestites and sex in elevators. The other notable hits – the Alicia Silverstone music video trilogy of Cryin’, Amazing and Crazy – are as commercial sounding as possible. Chart fodder, indistinguishable from a Bon Jovi record.

I saw Aerosmith on the Get A Grip tour, in Sheffield on Thursday October 21st 1993, the very first concert I went to, and so the record means a lot to me. I just wish that such an important record in my musical upbringing was a better record.

If Pump represented a high water-mark for the second age of Aerosmith, Get A Grip signals the beginning of a long, slippery slope downhill.

Hit: Livin’ On The Edge

Hidden Gem: Gotta Love It

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Rocks In The Attic #598: Elvis Presley – ‘The All Time Greatest Hits’ (1987)

RITA#598I recently watched Elvis & Nixon, a 2016 film directed by Liza Johnson. All I knew about the film was that it starred the fantastic Michael Shannon as the Big ‘E’, and the equally fantastic Kevin Spacey as the big crook in the Oval Office. I didn’t know whether it was a drama, a comedy, a satirical warning or a Bollywood musical; all I knew was that it sounded as intriguing as the real-life meeting it was based on.

A quick blast through the opening credits, soundtracked by Sam & Dave’s Hold On, I’m Comin’, lets you know what you’re in for – a light-hearted, absurdist, partly fictionalised tale of Elvis and Nixon’s meeting. The film is executive produced by Jerry Schilling, Elvis’ long-time confidant and member of the Memphis Mafia who accompanied him to the White House, so the film clearly has one film clearly stuck in reality. The other foot is waving everywhere, guided by a script by husband and (now ex-)wife team Joey & Hanala Sagal, and where-is-he-now actor Cary Elwes.

RITA#598aThe left-field choice of Michael Shannon to portray Presley is a strange one. Ever since I first saw Shannon in 2007’s Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead and the following year’s Revolutionary Road – two small but extremely effective performances – it’s been clear that he’s been one to watch. One of my favourite actors ever since, he hasn’t put a foot wrong yet. 2011’s Take Shelter and 2016’s Midnight Special are two particular stand-out performances, but his ominous presence shines through in everything he’s been in.

He plays Presley as a caricature of course – it is the 1970’s Vegas-era version of Elvis we’re talking about, after all – but he also shows a quieter, melancholic side of Presley. This isn’t hard to imagine, an unfortunate side-effect of the isolation from being the biggest star in the world.

RITA#598cIn December 1970, Presley turned up in Washington DC to ask Nixon to swear him in as an undercover agent for the Bureau Of Narcotics And Dangerous Drugs. The result, he hoped, would be that he’d be given a badge to add to his growing collection of law-enforcement badges. Nixon acquiesced, in exchange for a photo with Presley and an autograph for his daughter.

It was odd to see Spacey sat in the Oval Office given that I’d just binge-watched him sitting behind the same desk in the fifth season of House Of Cards. His portrayal as Nixon feels spot-on, but then Spacey has always been a great mimic. The cast is rounded out by Colin Hanks, Alex Pettyfer and an underused Johnny Knoxville, and the film is wrapped up with a great late-‘60s soul and R&B soundtrack.

This double-disc compilation, The All Time Greatest Hits, features 45 Presley 45s – an astounding body of work.

Hit: Hound Dog

Hidden Gem: Way Down

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Rocks In The Attic #597: Bill Conti – ‘For Your Eyes Only (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#597My childhood hero, the great Roger Moore died recently. My favourite Bond (it doesn’t matter who you think is the best, it’s the one you grew up with that counts) and one of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever encountered. A true gentleman, Sir Roger devoted his retirement years as a UNICEF ambassador, and really deserved his Knighthood for his tireless work for the charity.

I was overjoyed to see a double-bill of The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only at my local cinema last week, shown as a tribute to Moore’s passing. It was a worldwide re-release, as far as I can tell, although I’m not entirely sure why those films were chosen. Spy, I understand, but I would have thought other Roger Moore films would have been a better draw-card than For Your Eyes Only. I can only presume that those two films are the ones Moore was personally most proud of?

(There’s a nice bit of serendipity in that at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, the credits promised that ‘James Bond Will Return In For Your Eyes Only’. However, due to the success of Star Wars, it was decided to make Moonraker next, in 1979, before they got around to filming For Your Eyes Only in 1981. I’d like to think that this is just a coincidence, and that the two films were chosen for other, better reasons than a nice bit of circumstance.)

Watching Spy and Eyes on the big screen was a real treat as I’d seen neither at the cinema before – my Bond viewing started with two films, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again, in 1983 when I was five years old. I’ve seen a few of the earlier films on re-releases – Dr. No, Goldfinger and a scratchy print of Thunderball – so it was good to add a couple more Moores to the list.

For Your Eyes Only used to bore me as a kid. It had its moments, but it was such a step down from Moonraker in terms of the things that are important to a five-year old. Of course, I now love it for its bravery in trying to pull the character back closer to Ian Fleming’s template, and away from the more embarrassing moments of Moonraker.

One thing that really struck a chord with me when I saw it at the cinema was how European it feels. The locations are all on continental Europe, aside from some underwater filming in the Bahamas, doubling for Greece. It makes a nice change to the globe-trotting Moore’s Bond does in each of the four previous films.

The other thing I hadn’t noticed before was its structure. Watched back to back with The Spy Who Loved Me, it’s clear to see that in many ways it’s a remake of that earlier film, in that it tries to duplicate some of the elements which made Spy so successful. Both films start with Navy ships succumbing to peril, both have a strong female lead, and both feature England and Russia racing towards the same goal.

It was also quite eye-opening to see how much mansplaining Bond does to Carole Bouquet’s Melina. Even though she and her family are experts in underwater exploration, Bond feels the need to mansplain the technical risks of what they’re about to do. Given the term’s entry into the English language over the last five years or so, I might have to rewatch all of the Bond films to see how much mansplaining goes on (and I’m guessing it’s not a small amount).

In terms of music, For Your Eyes Only is another non-John Barry affair, who would return to score Moore’s two remaining Bond films after this one. I’ve already written about how terrible a non-Barry soundtrack can be, but I much prefer Bill Conti’s Eyes soundtrack to Hamlisch’s efforts on Spy.

If you ignore the fact that a lot of the score sounds like something you might hear on Conti’s soundtrack contributions to the Rocky films, it isn’t too bad. Those pumping horns definitely don’t sound like the kind of brass lines that John Barry would write. I’ve also written about how poorly I rate the film’s title theme, but at least it’s not Madonna.

The soundtrack also features one of those rare things – another proper song that isn’t the main title theme. These pop up from time to time on Bond soundtracks, and they’re always quite interesting. This time it’s Make It Last All Night, by Rage, which is used to soundtrack the pool party at the start of the film. It’s a nice bit of sleazy pop (and secretly, I prefer it to Sheena Easton’s bland title song).

I was lucky enough to meet Roger in 2008 at a book signing in Auckland, where he signed my copy of his autobiography. They say you should never meet your heroes, but I have no regrets. Thankfully, my wife was quick enough to film me shaking his hand on the way out. I try not to watch this video too often as it always puts such a huge smile on my face (and I don’t want to dilute that).

Hit: For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton

Hidden Gem: A Drive In The Country

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Rocks In The Attic #595: Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘Kaya’ (1978)

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This record features my favourite Bob Marley track, Is This Love. It’s a typical Wailers song – effortless, catchy and upbeat – and doesn’t let itself be burdened by the verse-chorus-verse template of western pop music. It has a structure, but a loose structure and the emphasis comes more from the message of the song rather than the boundaries of its form.

The record also features a re-recording of Sun Is Shining. Originally released on 1971’s Soul Revolution and then on the African Herbsman compilation in 1973, the song was later lifted by Funkstar Deluxe for a reggae fusion remix in 1999 which hit #1 in the USA and #3 in the UK. I’m not a huge fan of club remixes, but this was one of those tracks that forever seems to keep Marley’s music in the public eye.

I might have to hunt down the Deluxe Edition of Kaya on CD as it features a second disc of a live performance recorded in Rotterdam on the day I was born. Maybe that’s why I like Is This Love so much. Could Bob have been playing it just as I popped out into the cosmos?

Hit: Is This Love

Hidden Gem: Misty Morning

Rocks In The Attic #594: Manic Street Preachers – ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ (2010)

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I’m pretty sure the Manics have been making the same album over and over again since – at least – This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. The first four albums all sounded different than the ones that went before them, for better or for worse, but from album number five they seemed to reach a level of complacency that has also seen them become darlings of BBC’s Radio Two.

The finger pointing usually goes to the disappearance of Richey Edwards – what band wouldn’t be affected by this? – and I find myself blaming his absence like everybody else. To be fair, I haven’t heard 2009’s Journal For Plague Lovers, the record written using posthumous lyrics by Edwards. I want it to be great, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to ever hear that record, just in case it’s terrible. It’s the same fear that’s kept me from watching the DVD of To Catch A Thief that I bought 15 years ago, because it’s the only film from Hitchcock’s golden period of the 1950s that I haven’t seen.

The one thing in the last couple of years that really killed the Manics for me was seeing the music video for their song Together Stronger. Subtitled ‘(C’Mon Wales)’, this was the official song of the Wales football team for the 2016 European Championships. What were once angry young men…

The Super Furry Animals’ unofficial Bing Bong was a better song anyway…

Hit: (It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love

Hidden Gem: Auto-Intoxication

Rocks In The Attic #593: Jimmy Page – ‘Death Wish II’ (1982)

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Meet Paul Kersey. He’s a New York City architect with very bad luck. One day his wife and daughter are followed home from the grocery store by Jeff Goldblum and his pals. Perhaps frustrated by the continual struggles of being a jobbing actor, Goldblum’s goons beat up Kersey’s wife and have a bit of a grope with his daughter before they’re scared off.

Kersey arrives at the hospital to find his wife has died in surgery, and his daughter in a catatonic state. He buries himself in his work and takes a business trip to Arizona, where a colleague gives him a gift to take home in RITA#593chis luggage. On his return, Kersey opens the gift box to discover a revolver. Instead of filing a lawsuit against the airline for negligent baggage checks, he takes to the streets as a vigilante.

By cover of darkness, and soundtracked by some funky Herbie Hancock beats, Kersey traps would-be muggers into making a move on him before he guns them down. After he kills RITA#593aaa number of hoodlums, patrolman Nigel Tufnel covers up his arrest and Kersey is exiled to Chicago where he immediately identifies his next victims by pretending to shoot them in front of his new supplier. What a moron!

Death Wish II finds Kersey now living in Los Angeles with his daughter. This time around, it’s Lawrence Fishburne who numbers among those who gang-rape Kersey’s maid and kidnap his daughter. After she is raped, Kersey’s RITA#593ddaughters attempts to escape by jumping through a glass window where she falls onto a steel railing and dies.

Kersey doesn’t take the news so well. Instead, he takes to the streets again, this time soundtracked by a fresh-out-of-Zeppelin Jimmy Page, where he hunts down his daughter’s killers one by one. At the end of the film, Kersey’s girlfriend leaves him when she discovers he’s a vigilante. Women!

RITA#593eThe first victims of Death Wish 3 are the roman numerals of the title, as we open back in New York City where Kersey is visiting his old Army buddy. As Kersey takes a taxi from the train station to his friend’s apartment, a gang of thugs including Alex Winter (Bill from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) murder his friend.

Kersey becomes the local Neighbourhood Watch, soundtracked by rehashed Jimmy Page music from Death Wish II, and starts picking off gang members. The most ludicrous point of the whole film series comes when an attractive Public Defender, Kathryn Davis, asks him out for dinner. I’m not sure what sold her on Kersey – the fact that he’s thirty two years older than her, or the fact that he’s living illegally in the middle of a slum apartment block, with no visible signs of income – but he takes her up on the offer.

The romance doesn’t last long before old Paul ‘Unlucky In Love’ Kersey watches her perish in a fiery car accident. I expect that the upcoming Death Wish remake starring Bruce Willis will be a grim romantic comedy set in the world of Tinder, where women who swipe-right for Brucie accidentally die on their first date.

The end of the film features a long, boring gun battle between Kersey’s elderly clique and the criminals who are terrorising their neighbourhood. Ever the master of subtlety, Kersey uses an elephant gun, a machine gun, and ultimately blows the last remaining gang member through a window with a rocket launcher.

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown is the first film in the series not to be directed by Michael Winner, who left the franchise to spend his retirement eating Steak Tartare. This time around, Kersey is back in Los Angeles living with a fashion designer and her teenage daughter. Uh-oh. A blind man could see it coming…

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When Kersey’s surrogate daughter dies from a drug overdose, he goes after the L.A. drug dealers who supplied her.  This time Danny Trejo is a member of the organisation responsible, until Kersey kills him with an exploding wine bottle. Yes, you read that correctly, an exploding wine bottle. In a bold move that can be praised for its ingenuity as well as its ridiculousness, Kersey pretends to be a wine salesman, giving his sales pitch to the bartender before offering a free bottle to his targets. In one of cinema’s greatest moments of special effects work, a dummy (seemingly constructed by an autistic child to look like Danny Trejo) is then shown exploding. Ka-boom!

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There’s another great moment in the film when Kersey is pulled over on a city street by a police car. As Kersey’s car slows to a halt, the residents of the first floor apartment block in the background walk up to the window to have a good look outside at the great Charles Bronson filming in their neighbourhood. I mean, who wouldn’t?

In 1988, John McTiernan’s Die Hard gave us the unforgettable image of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber falling to his death from high up in Nakatomi Tower. After Rickman’s close-up, the long-shot was filmed by a stunt man, who falls backwards, cycling his arms and legs as he plummets to the street below. It’s reassuring to know that a year earlier, the makers of Death Wish 4 did the same stunt the old-fashioned way by throwing a mannequin out of a tower-block window.

With some more great dummy work – when you pause the DVD, you can even see the wire taking the charge up to the explosive – Kersey dispatches the villain of the film this time with a grenade launcher. At this rate, he’ll be using nuclear weapons by the time Death Wish 10 rolls around.

The final film in the series, Death Wish V: The Return Of The Roman Numerals, returns the action to a fabricated New York, filmed on location in Toronto. Unfortunately there’s no before-they-were-famous Hollywood actor doing the antagonising at the start of the film, unless you count the recently departed Michael Parks – Tarantino’s favourite character actor – who plays the film’s lead villain.

The setting for this one is the shady world of the fashion industry, but who cares anymore. It could be set in Antartica and Kersey would still be blowing Eskimos away for looking the wrong way at his girlfriend. This time his fiancé is facially disfigured by a criminal, and later gunned down, so Kersey dusts off his gun collection and goes on the warpath.

Progressing from the explosive wine bottle, the most bizarre death this time around occurs when Kersey uses a remote control football – no, really – to deliver an explosive charge to one of his targets. Again, there’s some shockingly-bad-it’s-almost-good dummy work if you pause the action just after the victim picks up the football.

Death Wish V’s main villain dies by falling into an acid bath, and Kersey walks away, never to be seen again. Well, unless you count the Simpsons:
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Jay Sherman: I’m your host, Jay Sherman, thank you. Tonight we review an aging Charles Bronson in Death Wish 9

Bronson: Ugh, I wish I was dead.

Hit: Who’s To Blame

Hidden Gem: Jam Sandwich

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Rocks In The Attic #591: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – ‘Live At Woodstock’ (1969)

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A couple of weekends ago, I saw a screening of Woodstock: The Director’s Cut at Auckland’s majestic Civic theatre as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival’s Autumn Classics programme. I have seen Michael Wadleigh‘s film many times, having owned it on DVD for half my life, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see it on the Civic’s supersized screen.

Of course, the biggest draw-card is the appearance at the end of the film by Gypsy Sun & Rainbows, the de-facto name for Hendrix’s temporary band on the day (despite Chip Monck’s stage announcement introducing them as the Jimi Hendrix Experience).

Hendrix was billed to headline the festival, the last act on the third and final day of music (Sunday). However, the storm that ripped through the festival over the weekend, coupled with several technical delays, caused the event to over-run. Hendrix was offered to play at midnight on the Sunday night, but his manager declined, wanting him to perform as the festival’s closing act, as he was billed and contracted to do so.

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The result is good and bad. Unfortunately, half of the audience had gone home by the time Hendrix walked on stage at 9am on the Monday morning, presumably back to their jobs working for ‘the man’ as the week started. On the film of Hendrix’s full performance, it’s clear to see the disappointment on his face on numerous occasions as he looks out at the grounds – half-full of rubbish, and half-full of tired hippies.

It’s also worth considering whether Hendrix’s meandering set-list was influenced by the time of day he played, and the massive reduction in audience numbers compared to the rest of the weekend. It’s far more improvisational than usual, particularly when you compare it to his set at the Isle Of Wight festival a fortnight later.

The one positive aspect of Hendrix playing early in the morning, is that the resulting film of his performance looks fantastic. The stage-lighting at the festival over the previous three evenings was basic, to say the least, and it’s nice to see a rare instance of Hendrix playing in daylight.

While the original cut of Woodstock only featured three songs by Hendrix (The Star Spangled Banner, Purple Haze and Villanova Junction), the expanded director’s cut also adds in a jam (the almost schizophrenic Woodstock Improvisation) and a jaw-dropping rendition of Voodoo Chile (Slight Return).

For the longest time, I was bored by Hendrix’s set at Woodstock – too few actual songs, and too much improvisational material. Over the years, the jams have grown on me and now the performance is one of my first go-to’s when I put a record on the turntable. I’ve gradually become obsessed with the performance, going so far as buying the film of his set on blu-ray.

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The lucky thing about the filming of the festival is that they had enough actual film to capture all of Hendrix’s set. Due to the delays over the weekend, the film crews used up far more film than planned, and by the time Hendrix walked on stage on the Monday morning, they had almost run out. The Hendrix performance was also captured by a pair of enterprising young men who smuggled their movie camera into the festival and snuck on stage just before the band’s performance started. This film, a grainy black and white image, is interesting given the different perspective it provides. Presumably so that they wouldn’t run into the festival’s official camera crew, they set up their tripod behind Hendrix and so it’s great to see a moment like Hendrix throwing the peace sign at the start of The Star Spangled Banner, from a reverse angle.

This 3xLP version of Live At Woodstock is the most complete version of Hendrix’s performance available. The two songs sung by rhythm guitarist Larry Lee (Master Mind and Gypsy Woman) are excised completely, while his guitar contributions across the rest of the set are very low, almost inaudible, in the mix.

The record’s greatest mistake however, is in the sequencing of songs between sides. The segue of feedback between Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and The Star Spangled Banner – mere seconds before one of the defining moments of the 1960s – is split across sides four and five. Sacrilege!

Hit: The Star Spangled Banner

Hidden Gem: Message To Love