Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Blood Lust - Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats


Provenance: A track of theirs was on a Classic Rock magazine sampler compilation, and it stood out so much that I was moved to start a thread about Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats on the music forum I used to post on, asking whether anyone else was aware of this band.

Well, bugger me if K.R. Starrs (Uncle Acid himself) didn't send me a private message to say that it was his band, and that he's glad I enjoyed what I'd heard thus far. As he posted with a hair metal-themed portmanteau username on the site (I did too), and had the good grace never to mention his band on the public boards (unlike some others - I'm looking at you, Carlos from Stonebreed) it was sheer chance that we came across each other.

Anyway, I have bought every album UA&TD have released - Blood Lust being their debut - and managed to see them live in Brighton, a gig which left my ears ringing for a couple of days afterwards. It was at this show where I encountered the rather startling Vodun for the first time, incidentally. 

Hey, live music - it weren't bad, were it?

Review: I don't think I am exaggerating when I say that 'I'll Cut You Down' is one of the best rock tracks of the last ten years. It's right up there with highlights provided by Ghost and Night Flight Orchestra, but to me it's all the more remarkable that it sounds like some ghoulish revenant from the Brown Acid series, a long-forgotten blast from 1971 rimed with murk and smoked with the lingering whiff of patchouli oil. I'm not usually keen on modern resurrectionists but I have a definite soft spot for anyone keeping the Sabbath flame alive, and 'I'll Cut You Down' is right in that wheelhouse.

'I'll Cut You Down' is the kind of brain-tenderising stomper I'll always love; eerie, charnel-house vocals, slabs of huge riffage and drums so ferociously primitive that they'd make the Stooges blush. If I had authored such a mighty piece of music I genuinely think I'd be tempted to call it a day. Once you've got the likes of 'I'll Cut You Down' under your belt, you can retire undefeated.

Fortunately, K.R. Starrs has more gumption than I'll ever possess, and so there's eight more tracks pitched somewhere in atmosphere between the gnarliest Hammer Horror films, the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, side two of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and the dying embers of Altamont. Yeah, Blood Lust hangs its hat on a very particular Seventies aesthetic, but there wasn't a better decade for curdled dreams, mental degradation and bummer endings. (Incidental note: one could posit that Black Sabbath and Steely Dan were two sides of the same coin, wrangling with much the same issues but from different perspectives; Sabbath embodying the howling death throes of an industrial working-class, whilst 'the Dan' tap into the irony, lassitude and weltschmertz belonging to a demimonde of sybaritic glamour - wot say you?)

Weren't we talking about Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats?

I can make this simple - if you like doomy stoner rock, you'll love this. If you like an epicene creepiness to your vocals, you'll love this. If you play this album loud enough, your neighbours will complain; if you play this loud enough and long enough, they will end up worshipping you. Do you want to be the Jim Jones of suburbia? Then get yourself a piece of Blood Lust.

Everything on here is stone cold killer material, right down to the unsettling bonus track 'Down To The Fire', but blunderbuss to my head, if I had to pick another highlight it would be 'I'm Here To Kill You', which sounds nothing less than a demented take on Van Morrison's 'Moondance', tapping into a hitherto invisible seam of violence lurking beneath the surface. So, Blood Lust - in terms of tasting notes this pairs well with psychonautic journeys to the centre of the mind, or simply lashings of the old ultraviolence.

Right-o, I couldn't let Ying-Yang Ballsteam provide the final review for 2020, but that's your lot for this year. Let's hope 2021 can clear the, admittedly, very low - almost 'pro-limbo dancer low' - bar that's been set by this shitshow, and that this time next year we're gambolling around like spring lambs, albeit with Windows 95 having been implanted into our arms. 

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Fire And Ice - Yngwie Malmsteen

Provenance: Fucking hell. Suffice to say that we all go through some awkward phases in our adolescence, and one of mine was a fleeting interest in shred. 

I confess, I wanted to play guitar like Satriani, Vai - and Malmsteen, at one stage at least. Perhaps I was infected with a relatively benign precursor to Covid-19 as I certainly experienced an extreme lack of taste in order to walk into HMV, see this on the shelves and think to myself, "that'll do for me."

Even back then, green around the gills as I was, I had an inkling that Malmsteen had a hint of farce about him. Prior to being unmasked as a particularly charmless air passenger, there was the braggadocio about his own abilities, his disparagement of other fine guitarists and his ludicrous stage-hogging

But he can sure burn it up on the fretboard, right?

Review: I haven't listened to this for many, many years in the belief that it is doubtless garbage, and - surprise, surprise - I am right. Released in 1992, the tail-end of the butt-rock era, it has the sonics and clarity of an album produced ten years prior. Before I go any further, I would like to reproduce Malmsteen's personal thanks entry from the sleeves notes in full. I think these shed much light on the whole endeavour:

Yngwie Malmsteen's personal thanks to: Erika Malmsteen, Lennart & Lolo Lannerback, Fuzzy, Peter, 'Putte' Rooth, Guilio Lomma [sic], Nicolo Paganini [sic], J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Ludwig van Beethoven, Jimi Hendrix, H.P. Lovecraft, Enzo Ferrari, Leo Fender, Dinsdale, Monty Python's Flying Circus and to all his family and friends.

What an absolutely marvellous porridge this is; and we shall come back to the principals in a moment, but there's a glaring omission here if influences are being reeled off. Where is Ritchie Blackmore? Surely one cannot produce what is essentially a bad Rainbow album, albeit one juiced to the gills on steroids, without a tip of the hat to the Man in Black? Fire And Ice is essentially the first three Rainbow albums sped up, with less interesting guitar playing, and a complete absence of the charm that made that trilogy so exceptional. So, power metal, essentially.

Credit should be given where due, and I am thankful that Fire And Ice is an attempt at squeezing Malmsteen's electro-baroque sensibilities into band format; much like Steve Vai's (admirable) Sex And Religion, we have a singer present to give shape and meaning to all the twiddling. Furthermore, the fellow in question - Goran Edman, a kind of throat-for-hire - does sterling work. It cannot save the material, naturally, much as one strong swimmer cannot tow a freighter into port, but he does a manful job nonetheless.

What we're left with, then, is a melange of Rainbow, Magnum, Stratovarius and a clutch of other bands that see merit in rhyming 'fire' with 'desire' and wailing away on harmonic minor scales (so, power metal, essentially). Where Jimi Hendrix figures in this whole farrago one can only speculate, but if Malmsteen is laughing into his sleeve at 'forgetting' Blackmore ('How Many Miles To Babylon', really?), the more deceased of his influences come through loud and clear. Boy howdy.

I am not a good musician, and as such I think I would find it a tough yomp trying to build a metal song around, say, a Bach fugue. This trickiness is untroubling to Herre Malmsteen, who cuts the Gordian knot by simply stopping the song in its tracks so we can hear some fruity organ work. It is distracting and tonally illiterate in 'Cry No More' and 'C'est La Vie'; at least he has the restraint(!!) to only bamboozle the listener for a few bars of this guff in fizzy AOR radio-bait 'Teaser'. Hey, what do I know? I ain't never had no number one album in Japan.

We should come into the soloing. It's all reheated Bach 'n' Paganini I'm afraid. Blackmore was, to my mind, the first to popularise neo-classical soloing into heavy rock and metal, but Malmsteen is the one who has really picked up the baton and run with it. But to where? He is undoubtedly a master at playing all these baroque and romantic scales incredibly quickly, but it's almost as if he's boxed himself into a corner. Taste, musicality, moderation are all sacrificed to a frightening, but ultimately banal, demonstration of speed and technicality. Malmsteen is not quite as incontinent a guitarist as double haircut-haver Michael Angelo Batio, but on a track like 'Forever Is A Long Time' (stupendous title) he runs Nitro's finest close.

Highlights? Yeah, there are a couple. Literally, two. After the snorefest of instrumental introduction 'Perpetual', the first track to feature vocals, 'Dragonfly', is pretty decent melodic metal. At the halfway mark, title track 'Fire And Ice' achieves something utterly absent on the rest of the album - a catchy chorus hook. It's a good track! Sad, then, that the album sags with the preposterousness of 'Forever Is A Long Time', and then takes a swan dive off a bridge with 'I'm My Own Enemy' (never a truer word spoken, etc.) which sounds like the Michael Schenker Group (drunken edition) in slow motion.

It's hard to truly loathe Fire And Ice, however. Much like its creator, it's a bombastic, strutting popinjay of an album, all surface and no depth, but it doesn't try to pretend to be anything it's not. I do want to be a little more charitable, truly. But then I hear a fucking lute on some dog awful shit called 'Golden Dawn', remember that Eddie Van Halen is dead but Malmsteen lives, and that I always have the option of listening to Helloween or Savatage.   

Sunday, 6 December 2020

The Turning Tide - PP Arnold


Provenance: An interview in the Guardian set me on the path to buying a copy of The Turning Tide. This was meant to be Arnold's third album, but having been recorded in the late 60s and early 70s it languished in the vaults until issued by Kundalini Music in 2017.

It's not just that PP Arnold was - and no doubt remains - a fantastic vocalist who could do powerhouse bombast and quiet intimacy with equal success; this album is stacked with talent. Alongside Barry Gibb, who produced and wrote a number of the tracks, there are performances by Caleb Quaye, Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock and Rita Coolidge, Bobby Keys plus a squadron of crack session players.

There's a good chance I'd have bought this album anyway, given all the hands involved, but The Turning Tide's status as a 'lost' album lends it that extra gloss of curiosity that makes it impossible to resist. Sometimes, the mere idea behind an album amplifies it as more than just a collection of songs; the trauma behind AC/DC's Back In Black (excellent album), the teeth-pulling pursuit of technical ecstasy that went into Steely Dan's Aja (excellent album) or the sad documentation of a mind coming apart at the seams as on Skip Spence's Oar (one of the most uncomfortable listens out there).

Review: Apparently, we have former Bee Gees manager, the late Robert Stigwood, to thank, at least in part, for stalling the release of The Turning Tide. I would submit that anyone who heard Arnold's pulsing interpretation of of Traffic's 'Medicated Goo' and decided it was not up to snuff needs their ears syringed. Support for this assertion comes courtesy of the fact that Stigwood was the producer responsible for the execrable Saturday Night Fever and Grease films.

It is as a conduit for the writing efforts of others that Arnold primarily appears on the album, although two of her co-write efforts with Quaye, the soaring ballad 'If This Were My World' and the dewily idealistic 'Children of the Last War' are real highlights. The full range of Arnold's talents are made apparent on the Gibb number 'High and Windy Mountain', which begins as a fairly nondescript soul-inflected soft rocker and mutates into gigantic beast propelled entirely by Arnold's astonishing - and frankly, scary - vocal power. For good measure, the trick is repeated on 'Bury Me Down by the River'.

Maybe - maybe - what counted against the The Turning Tide was that it undoubtedly looks backwards, towards a time of lush arrangements and voices spilling over with melodrama. Comparisons with Ivor Raymonde's arrangements for artists like Dusty Springfield, the Walker Brothers and Kathy Kirby are apt. And perhaps it was this polish and care that meant it fell between the gaps, awkwardly out of synch with the glam-stomp, prog meanderings and bedsit folk that was starting to poke through the crazy paving at the time. Arnold's cover of 'Spinning Wheel' is a sizzler, but was there any call for it come the early 1970s? And whilst the version of the Rolling Stones' hardy perennial 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' is certainly in the top division of attempts, it must have sounded old hat, even then.

Am I allowed one last little dig? When every song is a towering blancmange of emotion, one wishes for a track to come along to give proceedings a kick in the pants. 'Medicated Goo' is the most lively in that sense, but it's the first track; a couple more uptempo numbers sprinkled hither and thither would've been welcome.

Look at me, though, what an utterly ungrateful little piglet I am! I'm writing this in 2020, so what business do I have making lazy assumptions at was in or out in a period I know mostly through Hollywood and my album collection. I wouldn't even make my debut on Spaceship Earth for another decade-and-a-half, so I should just shut my trap and enjoy the fact that The Turning Tide is even available, and sounds this good. An assessment, which, by the way, takes in every aspect of this album; I understand it was cleaned up somewhat from the original masters, yet every track possesses the soft glow of care and craft that went in to so much recording of 'throwaway' music of the time. Pretty much everything recorded in the last twenty-five years sounds dog awful in comparison.

Nobody with my haircut can lay a plaint about anything with a hint of the retrograde about it, so I will leave you with this - Gibb's knack for tugging on the heartstrings is almost unparalleled, the music is cool and classy, and above all other consideration, Arnold is a singer of preternatural talents. Is there anything else gathering dust in the vaults, one wonders?