Saturday, July 18, 2015

BOBAFLEX "Anything That Moves"

(c) 2015 BFX Records

  1. Burn Them All
  2. Start A War
  3. Lose Control
  4. Dry Your Eyes
  5. Mama (Don't Take My Drugs Away)
  6. A Spider In The Dark
  7. Show Me
  8. Objectified
  9. Turn Me On
  10. You Don't Want To Know
  11. Pray To The Devil
  12. End Of The World
  13. Forgiven
Shaun McCoy--Vocals, Guitars
Marty McCoy--Vocals, Guitars
Tommy Johnson--Drums
Dave Tipple--Guitars
Jymmy Tolland--Bass

It has only been two short years since Bobaflex released Charlatan's Web, but in that time, not only was a tour completed and a new album written, but two new members joined the Bobaflex fold, as well.  Anything That Moves is the first album to feature new guitar player, Dave Tipple, and new bassist, Jymmy Tolland, and while some may argue that the two latest additions have sparked a new intensity in the band, don't expect anything drastically different from the modern rockers.As with their last couple of efforts, Bobaflex's sound continues to be driven by their occasional usage of spaghetti Western-styled musical interludes and imagery ("Bury Me With My Guns On"), unique rhythms, and darkly humorous lyrics ("I'm Glad You're Dead"), all while keeping their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks with a wicked grin spread across their collective faces.  Don't come here looking for synthesized string sections, huge breakdowns, or dub-step styled backing tracks, as you will be sorely disappointed if that is what you are after.  However, if you are after a hard-rocking, hell-raising good time from some of the nicest (sorry to ruin the image) guys you will meet in the business, then Bobaflex and Anything That Moves will be right up your alley.

The new record starts off with a throw away intro...we all know I hate intros...but at just 30 seconds, "Burn Them All" isn't an overly huge annoyance at the outset of this new record.  Things really get going in a big way as soon as "Start A War" kicks in with crunchy modern hard rock guitars, a catchy, sing-along chorus, and those brotherly harmonious vocals that make Bobaflex's sound unique.  "Lose Control" follows up nicely with another rocker, before one of my favorites here kicks in, with "Dry Your Eyes".  If you were a fan of that Western-styled approach I mentioned before, a la "Bury Me With My Guns On" (which is my favorite 'Flex track ever), you are likely going to dig "Dry Your Eyes" as that same approach is used, yet the song does not come off as a clone.

The album's lead single is the humorously (at least to me) titled "Mama (Don't Take My Drugs Away)", which is a solid mid-tempo rocker that has a big hook and more of those harmonies from the McCoy brothers that are such a trademark part of the band's sound.  While not necessarily my favorite 'Flex track, it is definitely a very good one that will likely find its way up the hard rock charts at both satellite and terrestrial radio.  "A Spider In The Dark" has all of the moody creepiness that the title implies and is another of my faves here.

Things hit a bit of a "samey-snag" on the next couple of tracks, as both "Show Me" and "Objectified" feel like album cuts from records past, and while neither is horrible, they don't really do anything to push the album forward, either.  The last three tracks are nearly as solid as the first three (again, excluding the intro), and round out the record in solid fashion.

It's hard for me to believe this West Virginia band has had seven albums now, but even with the line-up changes I mentioned at the beginning of this review, the McCoy Brothers and company show no signs of slowing down.  Anything That Moves isn't earth-shattering, but it is a lot of fun, and minus a couple of semi-off moments, may just be the best these guys have put out, even with the changes.

If you get the chance, check them out live, as they put on a heck of a performance, regardless of the venue size and, as I mentioned, are very nice guys to meet.  Hopefully, I will get the chance to take in a show with the new members soon, and I look forward to the inclusion of "Mama", "Start A War", "Dry Your Eyes", and probably "Forgiven" or "End Of The World" in the live show!      

Rating:  Crank this to a fun 7.5!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

SCORPIONS "Return To Forever (Japanese Blu-Spec Edition)"

(c) 2015 Sony Music Germany/Sony Music Japan
  1. Going Out With A Bang
  2. We Built This House
  3. Rock My Car
  4. House Of Cards
  5. All For One
  6. Rock N Roll Band
  7. Catch Your Luck And Play
  8. Rollin' Home
  9. Hard Rockin' This Place
  10. Eye Of The Storm
  11. The Scratch
  12. Gypsy Life
  13. The World We Used To Know (Bonus Track)
  14. Dancing With The Moonlight (Bonus Track)
  15. When The Truth Is A Lie (Bonus Track)
  16. Who We Are (Bonus Track)
  17. One And One Is Three (Japanese Bonus Track)
  18. Crazy Ride (Bonus Track)
Klaus Meine--Lead Vocals
Rudolf Schenker--Guitars
Matthias Jabs--Guitars
James Kottack--Drums
Pawel Maciwoda--Bass

I'm a bit late on reviewing this album as I was waiting for the Japanese special edition to be released, since I had read it would have at least two bonus tracks not available in America.  (it actually came out LATER than the American release!  When does THAT happen?)  Additionally, this was the first chance I had to actually pick up one of these extremely high-quality Blue-Spec Editions, which feature cutting edge sound quality, so it was worth the wait and...*gulp*...the additional $25 to get it.  

For those of you who may keep track of such things, the Scorpions were actually supposed to be done by now.  They went on a farewell tour, released their "final album", etc., etc., and were supposed to ride off into the German sunset.  But a funny thing happened while on that final tour...they fell in love with performing once again.  They found an energy that Schenker and Meine have both said was missing from the last couple of Scorpions releases, and they also found that they still enjoyed performing together despite the fact that the Scorpions have now existed (in one form or another) for  FIFTY YEARS, with Schenker and Meine having been musical brothers since 1970!  That's an insanely long time to go without killing each other!  Jabs, by the way, has been there since 1978, so that trio right there has been spearheading the Scorpions for 37 years, allowing for a largely consistent sound throughout the band's history...with just a couple of hiccups along the way.  

Since the band decided NOT to hang up their six strings, drums, bass, and microphone, they did the only real thing they could do; they headed back into the studio to record Return To Forever, the band's 19th album.  (Their first, by the way, was 1972's Lonesome Crow...check it out sometime...)  Now, the band has been very upfront about the fact that several of these songs are, in fact, older songs from the recording sessions of the band's two biggest records, Love At First Sting and Blackout, as well as left-over tracks from Crazy World and Savage Amusement, and a couple of other later albums.  There are, however, several new songs, as well, giving this album a true "across the decades" perspective that only a band of this vintage could do.  To help give the reader an idea of the new material versus the older stuff, I'm going to break this review up and separate the new tracks from the old...just to shake things up a bit.  


"Going Out With A Bang" (a foreshadowing title?) is one of the new songs written for this album, and it starts the album out in classic Scorpions fashion, albeit with an updated production sound.  It's funny, because to me this sounds like a song that may have been written in the 90's, when it is actually one of the newest tracks on this album.  A big, catchy chorus, smooth production, and a nice hook drive this song and really gives the album a jump start.      

"We Built This House" is "the philosophy of the band" according to Meine, and "basically tells our story".  Despite the fact that it was written for this record, it is undeniably classic Scorpions material, sounding very much like something that would have come out of the mid-to-late-80's musically.  Sure, there is an updated approach to the way the chorus is structured and how the vocals are layered over the instrumental track here, but for me, this is the best of a batch of good-to-great new songs and is the style of song I would love to hear utilized on a full album's worth of material.

"All For One" is a song that reminds me a lot of the Humanity Hour I era of the band, utilizing a smoother guitar tone on the intro to the track, and Meine's more updated vocal phrasing.  His voice still sounds almost EXACTLY like it did clear back in the 70's, which is amazing, but the way he phrases things has changes slightly as his grasp on English has improved (at least somewhat) throughout the years.  A solid rocker, if not an amazing one, that shows there are still signs of life in this dinosaur of a band.


One thing I want to point out is that these are NOT simply remixed versions of songs that were left on the cutting room floor, nor are they crappy left-overs that the band decided to add here to milk some more cash out of the Scorpions fan base.  These songs were, from my understanding, never fully recorded, nearly always missing lyrics, and often nothing more than a riff or a solo idea that was shelved due to lack of album space, album continuity problems, or what have you.  

Upon listening to several of these songs, it will be pretty obvious to most Scorpions fans what time frame they were written in.  For example, the excellent "Rock N Roll Band" was written during the Love At First Sting/Savage Amusement period, and features that signature Scorpions guitar tone and the tandem guitar riffing that were so distinguishable during the band's heyday period.  "Catch Your Luck And Play" is another excellent rocker that also originates from this same time period, carrying the same guitar tone as songs like Savage Amusement's "When Passion Rules The Game".  The guitars are big, the vocals have that powerful layering that the Scorps and so many other bands utilized in the mid-to-late 80's, and the drums are big and bold without burying the rest of the track.  "Rock My Car" also comes from this same time period, and musically it is a strong track, although lyrically, it is one of those Scorps tracks that comes across as uber-cheesy due to the band members' difficulties translating lyrical ideas into English.  As such, the chorus is extremely simplistic and one-dimensional, filled in with "whoaaas" and several "rocks!", apparently as space savers.  Despite this, a GREAT guitar solo carries the frantic track and actually transforms it into a fun top-down-summer-driving song.   

"House Of Cards" reminds me of "Send Me An Angel" from Crazy World, in the way the song is structured and performed, which leads me to believe it is also a mid-to-late 80's tune.  A very solid Scorpions ballad, it doesn't have quite the urgency of "Still Loving You", but the understated acoustic guitars allow Meine's still-strong vocals to really carry the song.  I really like that there are no overwrought strings or keyboards included here, as so many bands would likely be tempted to layer in, as this song is solid proof of how a well-crafted song and an impassioned performance can say plenty on their own.  Really a high point for me here.  

While not necessarily "classic", a couple other records have unreleased material represented here.  "Gypsy Life" feels eerily like the classic Scorpions ballad "Still Loving You" melded with a bit of "When The Smoke Is Going Down" from Blackout.  Originally written for Acoustica, this track was never released, which I think is a shame, as it is pretty darn good and is yet another excellent ballad that really showcases the band's understanding of this style of song.  "Eye Of The Storm" was originally intended for Humanity Hour I, but didn't fit the flow of that record, largely due to the number of outside writers that were brought in to work on that album.  It has been reworked a bit and included here, fitting in relatively well, even if it is the least "classic Scorpions ballad" sounding effort on this disc.  


The bonus tracks are songs that I know virtually nothing about, as far as when they were written.  Their style and sound gives me some inclination that none of these are overly old, as they have more of the smooth approach utilized on the more recent albums.  

"The World We Used To Know" honestly reminds me a lot of a Men At Work song, if you can believe that!  If you were to swap Meine for the singer of that band (Colin Hay...I looked it up), I think it might be tough to distinguish the two...seriously.  This song is so laid back, with such a simple rhythm and song structure, that never does it really feel like a Scorpions song.  It's not bad, just very 80's synth-pop feeling...but I still get the feeling this is a newer song.

"Dancing With The Moonlight" really allows the bass to shine, especially at the outset of the track.  Returning to more of an aggressive song structure, this is still a song that is definitely from the newer end of the band's songwriting spectrum.

"When The Truth Is A Lie" features an odd acoustic guitar line mixed into an otherwise rocking song, and really showcases Meine's still-strong vocals.  As I have said before, the guy doesn't sound like he has aged vocally at all, which is amazing after all of these years, albums, and shows.  The track is catchy, but not necessarily overly-memorable or typically Scorpions material, which is likely why it was relegated to bonus track status.  Definitely not a skipper, however, and my second favorite of the bonus cuts.

"Who We Are" is yet another undeniably Scorpion-esque ballad, and is performed very well.  Acoustic guitars intro the song, which is accompanied by some luxuriously layered backing vocals.  It never really builds like an 80's power ballad does, and it is a bit lyrically repetitive, but not a bad song, and a decent ballad to be included in these bonus songs.

"One And One Make Three" comes out smoking with rapid-fire guitars and charging guitars on this Japan-only bonus.  Lyrically, it makes very little sense (at least none that I can decipher thanks to these Japanese lyric sheets!), but, again, it's a decent enough song styled along the lines of the band's Humanity, Pt. I material.

Disc closer, "Crazy Ride", features more traditional-era sounding guitars and that familiar song structure from the 80's (I'm guessing this was a left-behind Savage Amusement track, or perhaps Crazy World, based upon the sound...).  Not as urgent in feel as some of the songs this was likely written alongside, but definitely a throwback to the band's most popular period, and my favorite of these add-ons.       
One interesting thing of note is that nearly all of the new songs were written by Meine along with "Nord" Andersson, and Martin Hansen (or some combination of the three), who both helped with a lot of the songwriting on Humanity Hour I.  Schenker's name is nowhere to be found on any of the newer tunes (nor is Jabs, who is not given writing credit on ANY song here).  On the flip side, the majority of the "classic" tracks were written musically by Schenker and lyrically by Meine.  And, with only one or two exceptions, it is pretty easy to tell the "classics" from the "currents" if you have been a fan of the band for any stretch of time.

As far as I can tell, there are FIVE different versions of this album:  the regular release, the deluxe American edition, the deluxe European edition, the Japanese import version, the Japanese Blu-Spec version (mine).  I have also heard there is a two-disc version of this album, but I have never seen it.  Each version has the basic 12 tracks that start off the disc, but depending upon which version you purchase, the bonus tracks are different on each.   For the money, I would probably tell most people to get the regular Japanese edition, which contains the final two bonus tracks here.  The Scorpions completist, import collector, or people with stupid amounts of money will want to seek out this Blu-Spec Edition, not only for the extra three European tracks, but the exceptional sound quality.  Yes, you can definitely hear the difference on this Blu-Spec Disc, as it is a VERY clean sound, with virtually no hiss or static between tracks or during the softest moments of the ballads.  Much like a Blu-Ray Video, you may not really notice how crisp and clean this is unless you get the opportunity to compare it side-by-side with a standard release, but if you get the chance, I can almost guarantee you will notice the difference.  Now, is it worth the extra money?  Probably not, and  I kind of doubt this ever catches on in the US where record companies are trying to go all digital download, but man, I wish they would find a way to drop the price (like Blu-Ray Videos have), as these suckers are really that SHARP sounding!  By the way, you don't need a special CD player of Blu-Ray player to play them, which, honestly, was a fear of mine...

So, is this the end of the Scorpions?  Honestly, I kind of doubt it, as the band seems to be having a lot of fun, and I have to believe that with a history as long as theirs, there is even more material they could plumb from the depths of the vaults and restructure/rebuild and present as new material, much like they did here.  And that would be fine with me, as this is an excellent effort from a truly classic band that, realistically, has shown no signs of slowing despite the massive number of years under their belt.

Rating:  A lot of crankable fun here!  While it doesn't displace ...Sting, ...Amusement, or Blackout, it definitely cranks at 8 for me!

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