Well, someone who wasn't able to chow down on fowl, grease and butter this year was one Ronnie James Dio. He wasn't because he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Say it with me: Yikes.
As many of you may well know, I am not in the slightest a fan of the man's music(Dehumanizer was a good album and Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow is tolerable in small doses). That said, Dio strikes me as one of the nicest people in metal and I hear nothing but overwhelmingly positive things about him as a human being. And even if I hadn't, nobody should have their insides exploding on them the same day they're supposed to be honkin' down a big slice of bird. Stomach cancer on Thanksgiving? Luck is a lady, but that doesn't stop her from being a royal cunt.
That said: It's important to remember that terrible shit hits "regular" people just as hard as it does celebrities, and fifty times more often. It's completely terrible that anyone should have to deal with this kind of thing during the time they're supposed to be living large off of cheap booze, poultry and familial hate. And while Dio has the resources to work through even a cosmic bitch-slap as big as stomach cancer, lots of people don't, and they're the ones you're not hearing about.
So while you're still working the weight off, let's have a "get well soon" for Ronnie James Dio and his family, but while you're at it, send a couple to the people you don't know, and three to the people you wouldn't care to know even if you did. Life is quick and shitty enough without this kind of thing sneaking up on folks, and definitely too much so for pettyness.
Let's all remember to watch each other's backs this holiday season, eh?
1976; Rockfield Studios, Wales; Gull Records
1. Is It Any Good?
This is one of the consummate Judas Priest records for fans in the know to point to as their "heaviest" record, setting it as an example against Judas Priest's later "pop shit". In other words, it's sonic proof that sometimes a hardcore fanbase doesn't have any fucking idea what it's talking about.
To their credit, this is their second album, so because it's early that does automatically make it cooler than later releases according to the Rules of Music. And there's an interesting conflict going on with this one because it contains a few songs that are arguably among Priest's greatest works-"Tyrant" is an absolutely blistering anthem, which stands to this day as one of their most ripping songs. "Genocide" has one of the coolest, most sinister grooves this side of Black Sabbath, and "The Ripper" is pure fun-try to keep from mouthing the words yourself as Halford purrs out "I'm sly and I'm shameless, nocturnal and nameless/Except for The Ripper, or, if you like, Jack the Knife."
The real standout here, though, is "Dreamer Deceiver", a big middle finger to anyone who refers to metal as being "artless"-psychedelic, haunting and dramatic as all hell, it's an absolutely gorgeous song. Not quite a ballad and not quite a straight-up metal song, it stands as a testament to Priest's early progressive tendencies, and what's more, it stands as an example of artistry that metal rarely reaches outside of a purely technical definition of the word.
Unfortunately, the only two words I can think of to define the rest of the album is goofy and forgettable-"Epitaph" in particular stands out as a huge WTF moment, a piano ballad about a sad old man in his twilight years. No, the old man in question is not a general, a king or a wizard, and yes, it is probably the least metal song you can imagine outside of Elton John making a soft-jazz concept album about bridesmaids. "Victim of Changes" starts out well enough and has some really interesting passages but unquestionably wears out it's welcome after 8 minutes. "Genocide" sees Rob Halford really milking that goofy voice thing he does where he tries to sound like an intense black woman-it's kind of neat when he does it in songs later in the band's career, but here he sounds like he's trying to take part of another dude out of his butthole(which is not the most implausible of scenarios, really). Worst of all, "Deceiver" follows right on the heels of "Dreamer Deceiver", and next to such experimental beauty the dependable zippidy-doo riffs come off sounding like cold shit, and it turns out to be a really lame way to end the album.
There are some really amazing aspects of this album, and in some ways it's worth investing in just to see the early roots of a band that would eventually become a metal juggernaut, but this is an album where the sum of it's parts definitely turn out to be better than the whole. In other words, buyer beware.
That is one fuck of an album cover though, isn't it? Shit.
2. Is It "Influential"?
This is, for all intents and purposes, the album that really kicked off the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement, which was one of the principal components of creating thrash metal along with punk. It might also technically be the first progressive metal album, which is a little bit of a blessing but mostly a gigantic, horrible curse.
3. Is It A Good Entry Point For Beginners?
As an individual album, no, probably not-they'll probably nod off about halfway through. If you expose them to individual tracks, though, there's a good chance they'll want to learn more, as what's good here is really good. If they already like Judas Priest, show it off, but if they're still iffy on the genre as a whole then it might be a good idea to keep this one tucked away for a little while longer.
1980; Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec
1982; Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec; Mercury
(NOTE: I considered titling this article "Rushing On My Run", but the idea of putting Rush next to the Velvet Underground in any context made me want to die. My stomach kind of hurt even while I was writing the above sentence.)
As many of you may know, I hate Rush. I hate them a Goddamn lot. It's not really my fault, either, because they seem to go out of their way to make themselves as unlikable as possible. Take this quotation from an interview with Neil Peart, and keep in mind that he's talking about the band's logo:
"All it means is the abstract man against the masses. The red star symbolizes any collectivist mentality."
Christ, forget Geddy Lee, even their logo is obnoxious and shrill.
Still, there are a couple of Rush songs I actually enjoy, if only because they're entwined in my mind with my childhood, listening to 107.7 The Bone with my dad as we drove around town-those songs being "Limelight" and "Spirit Of The Radio". So I said to myself a couple nights ago, "Maybe I haven't given these dudes a fair shake." So I did the unthinkable: I made myself listen to not one, but TWO Rush albums. One I picked, Signals, because I hadn't heard much about it but it seemed to be generally pretty well liked, and the other, Permanent Waves, because it had the aforementioned "Spirit Of The Radio" on it. It's also worth noting that I had previously listened to little snippits of each on iTunes and neither made me shit my pants with rage, which is not something that can be said of Hemispheres or 2112, those albums can go die in a coal mine.
Permanent Waves. My favorite song was first, so with that little bit of nostalgia out of the way, I can pretty accurately say that it was all downhill after "Spirit Of The Radio". "Freewill" is the second song and it's the same obnoxious shit I mentioned with that quote about the logo-that kind of condescending, Rand-fingering drivel that makes you want to put your foot through the monitor. The chorus of this song is, and I'm not making this up, "You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice/If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice/You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill/I will choose a path that's clear, I will choose free will."
You know what? Fuck you. That sort of shit is worse than when Slayer tries to tell me that I should become an atheist, because they're at least not pretending they're better than me. I don't give a shit how many times you've read "Atlas Shrugged", that doesn't give you the right to condescend to me about believing in God and buying things from Target. You dumbfucks have sold 25 million albums, you're no more a beacon of individuality than Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and you're ugly as hogs dressed in fetish gear to boot, so get off your high horses.
That's the only other standout song-the only thing I really noticed throughout the rest of the album was how hilarious Geddy Lee's vocals were(which I expected) alongside how fucking corny the lyrics are-you get shit like "Follow men's eyes as they look up to the skies/The shifting shafts of shining weaves the fabric of their dreams" and "We are secrets to each other, each one's life a novel no one else has read". I've heard less fruity lyrics come out of Gloria Gaynor songs-I'd almost prefer the Libertarian space-operas(that's actually what 2112 is about, I wish to God I was making that up), but that's a pretty fucking big "almost". Otherwise, the synths are cheesy and the sound effects are hammy, which is, once again, pretty much exactly what I was expecting from Rush, which did not please me, even if it did make me chuckle a few times.
As to Signals, there's less to talk about because they pretty much wrote the same song eight times. "Subdivisions" starts out kind of interesting and then you think "Wait, is the whole song going to be like this?" and it turns out that yes, it is, and by the time you've heard the same vaguely-uplifting-but-actually-kinda-dry keyboard riff for the 72nd time throughout the course of three songs, you're pretty much just waiting for the whole thing to end. It's pretty different from the previous album-it's definitely poppier, and in Rush's case I actually consider that to be a good thing. It would be hard to say that I liked it better...
...except that there was one song I actually came away with enjoying, which I hadn't hard before. "New World Man" is a sincerely good piece of music, with relatable lines like "He's old enough to know what's right but young enough not to choose it/He's noble enough to win the world but weak enough to lose it". It's nice and compact at 3:45, and I'm a little surprised it didn't become a bigger hit than it turned out to be. "The Weapon" also has a nice groove and it's well-paced and well constructed, but it looses points for having the subtitle of being "Part II of Fear", a quartet of songs that...doesn't begin until a few albums later. And that Neil Peart didn't even think of making until a few years after this album came out.
I mean, yeah, making a concept out of four songs spread across different albums, with Part II coming before Part I, and it didn't even really exist until the early 90's...yeah, that's sort of the kind of thing that you expect out of Rush, but I mean, Jesus. Take a few of those dicks out of your mouth and write a fucking love song, guys. You ain't George Lucas and George Lucas barely got away with pulling that off, and George Lucas didn't have the handicap of being a shitty progressive rock band.
Overall...Jesus, I don't really know what I was expecting out of this endeavor. I was looking for some hope that Rush could be redeemed-I love progressive rock and arguably the most successful progressive rock band of all time had to have something to offer everyone who enjoyed the genre, right? Sadly, that doesn't look to be the case. I can see what they're trying to do-there's a certain magic that the music of Rush is trying to capture, but there's a wall of pretension, snottiness and self-seriousness that they keep bumping into before they get anywhere close to it. The vocals are hilarious when they're not unbearable and while the instrumentation isn't as overwrought as it is during their most egregious offenses, the lyrics are still chillingly bad for the most part.
It's just...artless. It's like somebody booked a theater on Broadway and then forgot to hire a director. If there's any kind of appeal to this kind of music, I can't find it.
So last night I'm listening to It's Only Rock 'n Roll, which seems to be one of the only Rolling Stones records that has a reputation for not having any kind of reputation at all. Kind of like Black Sabbath's Volume 4, IORnR(pronounce that for me, win a prize if I think it's funny) is an album full of things that you associate with the Rolling Stones, nothing more and nothing less. You get a hit single, a Motown cover, a couple ballads, misogyny liberally sprinkled throughout, a few songs that go on for way too long and a little bit of "check it out, we're talking about balls" type of humor for good measure. It surpasses expectations only in that you could not have imagined your expectations being so remarkably met.
And then right in the middle you get "Luxury", and boy howdy is this fucker a real puzzler. It's not something that you'd be entirely surprised to hear the Rolling Stones do, but that doesn't make you any less confused when you actually hear it.
Too scared to click the link? Basically, this is the Rolling Stones attempting to do reggae. And when I say attempting to do reggae, I don't mean that they're doing an "Ob La Di, Ob La Da" kind of thing. I mean that they are tackling the genre in the most lunatic fashion you can think of: They ignore everything that makes the genre musically unique and then Mick Jagger tries to sing like a Jamaican man. I mean he really fucking tries his hardest to sound like he was born and raised in Jamaica. I mean he sings lines like "Make a meelion for de Texans, twenny dolla me/I workin' so hard, I workin for de companee".
When you register that Mick Jagger is trying to imitate a poor person from Jamaica, your brain will scream. It’s not exactly that it’s racist; it’s that Jamaican patois and the Rolling Stones fit together like ham and popsicles. Take a minute to read over the lyrics and think about it, though. “Luxury” is an attempt to do something that very few other songs will dare to even think about: Actually getting into the shoes of wildly divergent culture or social class than your own.
Irish musicians do this kind of thing a lot-sing about working in the coal mines, working on the railroad-but in general, Celtic folk and punk, when they do bring these things up, talk about the toil and hard work that their ancestors engaged in. Can you think of another rock song that tries to empathize with a working culture that’s nowhere close to the singer’s own(Jagger came from a decidedly middle class family), much less one that’s composed of a different ethnicity, much less one that’s attempting to present the material like somebody from the song’s situation might do so? In other words, you point me to the song where Neil Young tries to sing like a Chinese factory worker and I will eat the nastiest thing I can find in my home.
Now, once again, this is important: Does it work? It depends on how you think of it, but it’s completely arguable that no, it does not. Jagger definitely lays it on pretty thick and it comes across as a little offensive at points. It’s possible that this song would have been a success, or at least connected with a few more people than it did, if he just sang it in his regular voice. But it’s important to note that he adapts voices whenever he tries to fit any kind of specific role in a song-he sings with a southern drawl through many of the songs about working class people during Beggars Banquet, as an example. And more to the point, it’s interesting. How much would it whack you upside the head to hear Jay-Z sing from the perspective of a white bus driver in Chicago, or hear the Mars Volta do a concept album about a Tokyo schoolteacher, and then approach performing the songs like their subject material might? Would it be a success? Probably not, but would it be interesting? Shit, I’d take something ridiculous and possibly offensive but adventurous in a heartbeat over whatever Three Days Grace is doing right now.
“Luxury” struck me not only because it was approaching song storytelling in a way that I hadn’t seen in popular music before, but also because it was buried underneath a concrete slab of aggressively normal rock and roll. It makes you wonder what other little sparks of Different the world might be missing out on. It also makes you wonder where the line is, and if we can’t think about screwing around with it a little bit to see what works and what doesn’t. Music doesn’t have any real rules-it never did, and if the Rolling Stones can take that into account than there’s no reason why the rest of the rock world shouldn’t show a little hustle, too.