Reviewed: Voivod – Nothingface

Artist:  Voivod

Release:  Nothingface

Year:  1989

Songs:  9

Overall Rating:  89

Nothingface

So I moved to Washington DC in January of 1989 to begin an internship working for a congressman on Capitol Hill.  It was supposed to be a temporary thing so I left most of my “stuff” behind.  But I did have one of these:

Jambox

And that meant that, against my very basic instincts, I actually purchased what I called “store bought” cassettes.  Before then I always purchased LPs and would then record them on high quality blank casettes.  This allowed me to keep the LPs in mint condition and enjoy the music in my car or wherever.  Store bought cassettes were terrible quality; they sounded like shit and would often get eaten by players.  Anyone who lived in the 80’s and listened to music knows exactly what I’m talking about.

So, one day I’m reading about music in Spin Magazine.  Spin was relatively new then, and in the pre-internet days such magazines were one of the few ways to learn of new, unkown bands without actually seeing them.  And they had a story about a “cyberpunk” band from Quebec.  I didn’t know what “cyberpunk” meant in 1989 but the write-up on the band was interesting and thus Nothingface became my very first “store bought” cassette purchase.  It was a good one:
Nothingface Table Nothingface Chart Continue reading

Reviewed: Living Colour – Time’s Up

Artist:  Living Colour

Release:  Time’s Up

Year:  1990

Songs:  15

Overall Rating:  71

LC - Time'sUp

I bought my first CD player in 1990.  I was really excited about this because CD!  You could skip from one song to the next….or even from song 3 to song 8!  And the disc!  It was so shiny and modern looking and compact!

But I also had no CDs.  I lived in Washington DC at the time.  DC is an expensive place to live and I made little money.  So a $12-$15 purchase for a CD was a bit of a splurge.  But I didn’t debate long on whether to pick up Living Colour’s sophomore effort Time’s Up.  The band’s debut album Vivid was a soaring, eclectic mix of hip-hop, rap, heavy metal and jazz.  It was very innovative at the time, I enjoyed it immensely and when I saw a new album by the band I knew I wanted it.

Thus Time’s Up became one of my first CD purchases.  And I played that CD a LOT in the summer of 1990.  Commercially the release did okay but failed to live up to the lofty expectations generated by the band’s first album.  In my opinion, however, TU is superior in almost every way.

First off….like Vivid it’s a lengthy release clocking in at almost 60 minutes.  Second, the variety of songs is….ambitious.  Everything from hardcore heavy metal (title track) to rap (Under Cover of Darkness) to funk (Elvis is Dead) to jazz (Solace of You) and several other genres can be found among the disc’s 15 songs.  (The eclecticism is captured by the range of guest artists:  Queen Latifah, Little Richard, James Earl Jones, Maceo Parker and Doug E. Fresh).  There’s short pleasant instrumentals, noisy art-rock guitar work, silly one-off rap pieces.

All of this wrapped in a social consciousness that permeated through virtually every song and was THE POINT in many (such as Pride, New Jack Theme and This Is The Life).  Finally, Time’s Up was one of the first releases to embrace the new CD medium:  rock bands were no longer constrained by the 40-45 minutes or two sides of an LP;  this was instead a single 60-minute musical effort.

Liv Col Time's Up

I have to admit…my memory of the album is greater than its reality.  My memory is that Time’s Up was an awesome albutm.  And yet it rates only a 70 overall based on my scoring system.  There are a number of great 4 and 5 star songs; the 5-star songs are songs I will enjoy the rest of my life (Fight The Fight, especially).  But there’s also a lot of filler.   Specifically the short connecting pieces (History Lesson, Ology and Tag Team Partners) are all throw-aways; all served to distract from the rest of the album rather than enhance.  In addition the album’s closer, This Is The Life, is a lengthy, droning, one-dimensional affair that completely saps all the energy built up in the albums first 50+ minutes.

Still, I’ll always think fondly of Time’s Up.  I saw the band play at the Smith Center in support of the album and they blew the lid off the place.  I bought the band’s next release Stain the day it came out but it was a major disappointment, embracing the monotonous, 1-dimensional sound found on This Is The Life and void of the flair, innovation….color, if you will, of the band’s first two releases.  And that was it.  Living Colour was pretty much done (though they have made a few albums and toured here and there since).  No, 1990 was the band’s highpoint. And Time’s Up represents both the band at its best and a particular time in my life.

Album Review of the Week: Queensryche’s Condition Human

CH

So, if you’ve read my History of Queensryche you know the band has suffered almost two decades of mediocrity.  And that just made the departure of long-time frontman and original member Geoff Tate in a messy breakup in 2012 looked like the proverbial final nail in the coffin.

So it is with equal amounts of surprise and satisfaction that three years later we find the band re-energized and producing the most dynamic music they’ve released in over 20 years.  Condition Human combines a return to the band’s progressive metal roots while also sounding very contemporary in 2015.

CH Chart

Stubbornly dedicated fans such as myself know this is the second post-Tate album.  The first, titled simply Queensryche, was a rebound album.  It featured a return of the harmonic dual guitars and soaring, operatic, dramatic vocals that first made the band famous.  New vocalist Todd La Torre is  both eerily similar to Geoff Tate’s original vocal offerings and vastly superior to anything Tate had produced since the 90’s.

However it lacked ambition.  There were only 9 real songs and all were relatively short; the album’s original content added up to only 31 minutes of music (they added three live versions of classic QR as filler).  Progressive elements were lacking, with a virtual absence of solos, intros, outros and significant bridges or transitions.  Condition Human built on that by keeping everything good and adding the missing progressive elements.

It is a stunning triumph for a band that has lacked virtually any positive developments since founding member Chris DeGarmo left in 1998.  In fact Progressive Archive’s contributors rate CH 4.09, which would make it the band’s second highest ranked album on PA.  I’m not willing to go quite there.  I have it rated 84 overall; the highest ranked release since the band’s classic era (slightly higher than 2006’s underrated Operation:Mindcrime II) and sixth in the band’s overall catalog.  It’s a “did-that-really-happen” return to form that any rock, hard rock or progressive metal fan would enjoy.

One last note….the album’s title track and closing song is, by far, the best song the band has written since the glory days.  It’s a nearly 8-minute opus that combines brooding overtones, advanced musicianship, clever transitions and progressive interludes in classic QR prog-metal fashion.  It joins a long litany of outstanding album closers in the band’s catalog.  Even on some of the band’s lesser releases they’ve produced outstanding closers and I thought it’d be fun to look at them:

Closers

Eight of the band’s albums close with a 5-star song.  Here’s how I’d rank those 8 from best to worst (kinda hard to do but what the hey):

  • 8:  Anybody Listening
  • 7:  Eyes of A Stranger
  • 6:  Right Side of My Mind
  • 5:  Spool
  • 4:  I Will Remember
  • 3:  Condition Human
  • 2:  Someone Else
  • 1:  Roads to Madness

For what’s it’s worth the first 7 of those could easily be mixed up in just about any order for me….and Roads to Madness clearly stands alone; I consider it (along with Suite Sister Mary from the original Operation:Mindcrime) the best song the band has ever recorded.

Combined we’re talking 14 songs, 82 minutes and an overall rank or 89.  More than anything else…the fact Condition Human can add yet another super-high quality song to the band’s catalog of outstanding closers make me hopeful for the future of my once favorite band.