Wednesday, July 18, 2018

RICHARD BLAKE THOMAS (a.k.a. Rev Theory's RIKKI LIXX) "Standing In The Fire"

(c) 2017 Deus Crux Publishing

Few will know who Richard Thomas is when they pick this book up, but all will know who he is...and more importantly, what he stands for...once they have finished reading.  Such is the goal of this autobiography of a young guitar virtuoso who began experimenting with drugs and alcohol by the age of 10, yet still managed to climb to rockstar status, while hiding his addictions until those same addictions, combined with isolation and depression, nearly took his life.  This is the story of how Richard Thomas became Rikki Lixx, found himself a pawn in a self-described "spiritual warfare" between God and Satan, escaped death, and came out the other side as a follower of Christ and happier and healthier than he had been at any other point in his life.  

The book starts with Thomas describing his young life as a young kid infatuated by the rock n roll lifestyle of his favorite band, Guns N Roses, while his home life fell apart due to the divorce of his parents and a self-described lack of supervision as his mom worked to support Richard and his siblings.  He talks of being raised in large part by his grandparents who "employed him" around the house so that he could earn money to buy his first guitar, which he soon became obsessed with.  By the age of 10, Thomas had started his first band, Twilight's Misery, and had "started drinking and doing drugs.  On a bad day I would drink close to a gallon of whiskey and a case of beer, not to mention all the drugs I was mixing with the alcohol."  By 11 Thomas had lost his virginity, by 12 he had experimented with cocaine, and at one point, he even went so far as to huff propane from a friend's grill to get high.  He was truly "living the rock n roll lifestyle" before he even reached his teen years!  Thomas looks back now on these incidents and can clearly point to indications of actual spiritual demons at work in his young life, but not having the tools or knowledge to resist the evil they were plying against him.  

From there, the book chronicles Thomas's life through special music schools that honed his musical abilities (he had guitar sessions at Berklee College of Music in Boston, the Governor's School for the Arts, CAPA, and others), and his succession of small, local bands, hearing himself on the radio in Philadelphia, and eventually his big national break replacing DJ Ashba (Sixx AM/Guns N Roses) as the guitar player in Operator, a hard rock band with a big label recording contract.  Assuming the name "Rikki Lixx" (suspiciously close to Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx...), Thomas found himself on a national tour and soon falling into the trappings of life as a guitar god rockstar.  But it wasn't until a couple of years later, when he joined Rev Theory, that Thomas's rockstar life would reach its highest peaks and then crash to its greatest depths, as he drowned in an ocean of alcohol, choked down handfuls of pills, and eventually decided to take his own life.

Interspersed throughout with commentary from various people from Thomas's life (M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold, Paul Philips and Greg Upchurch of Puddle Of Mudd, Tony Palermo of Papa Roach, Anthony Greve of Pop Evil, Jenna Guns from the Sirius/XM Octane radio station, and many others), Standing In The Fire is not the type of sin-to-salvation book that many are accustomed to reading, most likely.  With language that many would consider to be too coarse, vulgar, or profane (swear words are changed only with the addition of symbols, such as "s*!t", for example), frank descriptions of nudity at the Playboy mansion, and references to infidelity, prostitution, strippers, and obviously lots of drugs and alcohol, this is not a book that is attempting to preach to the choir or save the saved.  Instead, Standing In The Fire is more of a cautionary tale for those who may be desiring the things Thomas describes here, or for those who find themselves already surrounded by the types of depravity outlines here, and an invitation to find a way out before things get as out of hand and as seemingly hopeless as they had become for Thomas.  As such, Thomas outlines how he came to accept Christ as his Lord and savior, how his life has been changed, and how he is now able to see the spiritual warfare that surrounded his life every day while pursuing the life of a national rockstar.  

A short book, Standing In The Fire is an easy read (I finished in just under three hours over a couple of days), with only 10 chapters spread across 140 pages.  There are a few minor editorial/grammatical errors, but nothing that is overly distracting, and Thomas does jump around a bit at times, although he always manages to redirect himself back to his original point in the narrative. There are several pages of black and white photos included, as well.

Inexpensive and available in both paperback and eBook form from Amazon, Standing In The Fire is an interesting read, but not for the feint of heart.  While nowhere near as dark or graphic as Nikki Sixx's Heroin Diaries, Standing In The Fire still doesn't pull many punches in its description of the hedonistic, drug-addled life the author was leading, although his story of salvation at the end...along with numerous mentions of his faith throughout the book...is something not found in other, similar books.

Deus Crux Publishing (self-published)
Black & White Paperback or eBook 
140 pages

Saturday, July 7, 2018

PLASTIC TEARS "Angels With Attitude"

(c) 2018 City Of Lights Records

  1. Dark Passenger
  2. Secret Society
  3. Iris Kick
  4. Midnight Date
  5. Rhythm Rider
  6. Nuclear Nights
  7. Blue Angel
  8. Day By Day
  9. Headless Army
  10. Miss Stumbling Legs
  11. Universal Kid
Miqu December--Vocals
Andy Whitewine--Guitars
Juha Pietilainen--Guitars
Edu Kittunen--Bass
Eco Xtasy--Drums

Plastic Tears is a Finnish band I know absolutely nothing about, but when lead vocalist, Miqu, contacted me about reviewing their third album, Angels With Attitude, I told him I would be happy to give the band a listen.  While not declaring this the album of the year, or anything like that, I must say I was pleasantly surprised by what Plastic Tears offers here.   

Describing themselves as "street rock", Plastic Tears occupies an interesting spot, musically.  Combining elements of 80s New Wave rock with a lot of classic 70s/early 80s glam rock (think Bowie, New York Dolls, Slade, and especially fellow Finns, Hanoi Rocks), dashes of sleaze, hints of Cheap Trick (mostly in the poppier, hookier songwriting style), and some obvious punk influences.  The resultant sound is an up-tempo, gritty rock style that doesn't sound like anyone in particular, but that has the look, sound, and feel of pretty much everyone mentioned in one way or another.

The album starts off with one of the sleaziest tracks on the record with the revved-up 70s-inspired "Dark Passenger".   A thick bass line supports the verse sections of the track, while some sleazed-up, fuzzed-up guitars churn their way through the chorus and a solo section, as Miqu's vocals snarl their way through the track.  It is those vocals, by the way, combined with some interesting syncopation on the drums in places on this track...and others...that bring about the New Wave comparisons that I mentioned in the description above.  For anyone who grew up in the 80s, there are going to be some very obvious moments where Miqu's slightly nasal, slightly emo vocals are going to recall the radio rock style that I am referring to here, although Miqu doesn't particularly echo any one specific singer.  Not everywhere is this the case, but when you hear it, you will know it.  This is even more evident later on with more alternative sounding, maybe even more dramatic sounding, "Day By Day", which is one of the sleeper tracks on the album for me.  It doesn't really fit the style of the majority of the record, but it is definitely a solid song that showcases the band's ability to work in more than one style.  There is still some good guitar work here, but, as an example, the quirky section coming out of the guitar solo is completely different than anything utilized on the rest of the record, with Miqu echoing his snarled vocals with nearly spoken parts over a sparse bass and drum section.  "Nuclear Nights" has that New Wave-inspired feeling, as well, and dang it if I don't find myself bopping along to the rhythm of this song later on as it ends up being snared in my mind!  Interesting, unique, and unexpected, this odd incorporation of multiple styles is what keeps Plastic Tears from sounding like anyone else that has crossed my desk in quite some time, and keeps me interested after multiple spins.

As good as "Day By Day" and "Nuclear Nights" are, for my money, the fun punky rocker, "Iris Kick" is the best track on the album, with a rumbling bass line starting things off and never backing down throughout the entirety of the track, while the guitars rip and tear their way through the bouncy track.  Xtasy's drums add some nice bottom-end thump coming out of the lead solo as Miqu reintroduces the song's simple-yet-singable chorus.  Nearly as catchy and fun is the follow-up rocker, "Midnight Date".  Rather than utilizing a big guitar solo, "Midnight Date" actually uses more of an extended drum fill, giving Xtasy a bit of time to shine.

If "Iris Kick" is the best song on the album, "Miss Stumbling Legs" is a very close second, coming across as a sleazed-up barroom rocker that Faster Pussycat might have found themselves tangling with on their debut effort.  "Headless Army" is another punkish rocker with a catchy hook and an extremely singable chorus that really finds the band firing on all cylinders, as does the amped-up rockabilly of "Blue Angel".  The album closes in similar fashion with yet another sleazy punk number, "Universal Kid", which feels a lot like a song Dogs D'Amour or Quireboys would have played with back in the day.  A solid way to bring an overall fun and surprising album to a close.

The production here is rather raw, with a definite live feeling to much of the music.  Don't mistake that for me saying it sounds "garage" or "demo", because that is not what I am saying.  Gritty and dirty and real are words that better apply, as there are no obvious production tricks played on the listener here, no canned elements or vocal adjustments or layer-upon-layer of guitar tracks to try to make the sound  bigger than it is.  If I have one complaint here it is that the album seems to have been recorded rather quietly, with a definite difference in volume levels between this album and whatever album I have cued up next.  Perhaps this is merely an issue with the digital review version that I am working with.  Otherwise, I like the feel of the record and I imagine that what you hear on Angels With Attitude is very much what you would hear from Plastic Tears in a live setting.

I find it likely that I will be tracking down the older material from Plastic Tears, as I was impressed with what the band has done here.  Again, it's not that this album is Earth-shattering, as much as it is that the band holds tight to their conviction to be themselves here, not wavering in their own unique approach to a well-known style and sound, and not catering to trends.  Plastic Tears is not a band you are likely to hear anybody copying or imitating, and any who try will likely find themselves falling short, as Plastic Tears is Plastic Tears, period.  They are not who you want them to be, but they are very good at being themselves, and in a world of cookie-cutter bands, being yourself is an impressive feat.  I wish more bands would go this route rather than try to follow the wave of what's popular now.

Rating:  Definitely crankable, but an album that will challenge those who are pigeon-holed into one particular style of rock, Angels With Attitude definitely earns its 7.5.