Thursday, December 26, 2013

DEF LEPPARD "Viva Hysteria: Live at the Joint, Las Vegas"

(c) 2013 Frontiers Records

  1. Women
  2. Rocket
  3. Animal
  4. Love Bites
  5. Pour Some Sugar On Me
  6. Armageddon It
  7. Gods Of War
  8. Don't Shoot Shotgun
  9. Run Riot
  10. Hysteria
  11. Excitable
  12. Love And Affection
  13. Rock Of Ages
  14. Photograph
  1. Intro/Good Morning Freedom
  2. Wasted
  3. Stagefright
  4. Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)
  5. Action
  6. Rock Brigade
  7. Undefeated
  8. Promises
  9. On Through The Night
  10. Slang
  11. Let It Go
  12. Another Hit And Run
  13. High N Dry (Saturday Night)
  14. Bringin' On The Heartbreak
  15. Switch 625
  1. Women
  2. Hysteria
  3. Animal
  4. Love Bites
  5. Pour Some Sugar On Me
  6. Armageddon It
  7. Gods Of War
  8. Don't Shoot Shotgun
  9. Run Riot
  10. Hysteria
  11. Excitable
  12. Love And Affection
  13. Rock Of Ages
  14. Photograph
  1. Ded Flatbird (Friday, March 29, 2013)
  2. Ded Flatbird (Saturday, March 30, 2013)
  3. Acoustic Medley
  4. Photo Montage
Joe Elliott--Lead Vocals
Phil Collen--Lead, Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals
Rick Savage--Bass, Backing Vocals
Rick Allen--Drums, Programming
Vivian Campbell--Lead, Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals

For years...heck, for decades...people have been clamoring for a proper live CD from Def Leppard.  There were some random bootlegs floating around, and of course there is the live video from the Hysteria tour many years ago, but there had never been a proper live CD from the Boys from Britain through their first several studuio albums.  Then in 2011 they put out Mirrorball, which most people felt was not exceptional (I kinda liked it) and featured too many newer songs, not enough classics, and completely ignored some records all together.  Many people thought the band may never get around to releasing a GOOD live album.

Sadly, for those that didn't like Mirrorball, I still say they haven't released a good live album.

Oh, sure, Viva Hysteria: Live at the Joint, Las Vegas is a live album, but it isn't a good one.  In fact, I think it stinks.  I have read other reviews praising this record as "amazing" and "an incredible record", and I find myself having to ask if they have ever heard Def Leppard, ever actually attended a good Def Leppard concert, or just went through the talking points sent to them by Frontiers Records, because this record is FAR from "amazing" or "incredible".  For me, half of this album is unlistenable, and the other half is only a keeper because of the amount of rare material included.  Simply put, unless you are a collection completist, a rabid fan of the band, or someone who loves to collect garbage, there is no reason to own this record.

For the uninitiated, or those who didn't take the time to read the tracklisting, Viva! Hysteria is a live start-to-finish performance of the record-breaking album, Hysteria.  Included are both a CD and DVD version of the same show, as well as a second musical disc that includes songs culled from various albums, dating clear back the band's first release.  In theory, this seems like it would be a great thing, especially since so many of these songs aren't tunes that are usually tackled by the band in a live setting (at least that I have had the chance to see), and Hysteria was a game-changer for the hard rock industry, although whether as a positive or negative depends entirely upon your personal opinion of that record.  Again, in THEORY this seems like a great thing for the legion of die-hard Leppard fans out there.  But, no matter how great the theory was, the end result is something FAR from great.

For starters, Joe Elliott's voice is shot; there is no other way to put it.  His range is completely gone, especially on older songs like "Stagefright", or, most horrifically in my estimation, on one of the band's biggest songs ever, "Love Bites".  On most of the band's songs, he has to sing in such a low register it doesn't even sound like Joe any longer.  For several albums now, many people have speculated that his voice was pretty much manufactured in the studio to keep sounding like his old self, and the live setting pretty much exposes all of Joe's vocal weaknesses in one shot.  Not only can he not hit the high notes now, he can't hit half of the middle ones, either!

The rest of the band doesn't get a pass, either, at least as far as I am concerned.  They sound...bored.  I guess that's the word I would use.  And...sloppy isn't the word, so maybe loose?  The opposite of tight, as it applies to music.  There are just gaps in the music that shouldn't be there.  Some of the songs are played entirely too slowly, and none of them sound any closer to what is on the album than I have heard cover bands do.  I'm not kidding.  Phil Collen is probably the shining point as far as band members go, as he is still pretty much spot-on with his solos, and he looks to be in great shape and puts on a good show in the DVD.  And Vivian Campbell is talented, to be sure.  So why does this record just sound so flat and lifeless to my ears?  I just don't get what people are raving about when they hear this live record.

Now, I will give it a bit of a pass because of the second disc and the Ded Flatbird material that is included (see tracklisting above).  Some of these songs I have never heard Leppard play live, and I have caught them a few times now.  So, to the people who compiled this tracklisting, kudos; you are the lone saving grace of this record as far as I am concerned.  Especially cool is the inclusion of some VERY early Leppard (actually pre-Leppard) material in the Ded Flatbird performances, and the acoustic medley is the one musical high point as it doesn't rely on Joe's voice reaching it's former heights.

Look, I realize that many times the entire concert experience is what makes a show great: the music, the crowd, the lights, the energy, etc.  But when a band does a live recording that has NO energy, where the music is subpar, and even the crowd doesn't seem all that enthusiastic, it's kind of hard to get behind the record.for me.  Now, the DVD isn't bad from a visual standpoint, but the performance musically (and especially vocally) isn't saved at all by the video production.

I'm going to be honest in saying that it scares me a little bit that Def Leppard is reportedly gearing up for a new studio record because I just don't know if the band has it in them any longer.  I also don't like hearing that they plan to doin Viva! Pyromania in the near future, because that is, for me, one of the defining records of the early 80's hard rock scene.  Yikes!  Simply put, I don't that Def Leppard have put out a complete record since X, and I'm a member of the minority that actually liked THAT record.  Yeah, I know they will doctor up Joe's vocals, and I know that endless retakes and studio loops and layers will beef the guitars back up to where they should be, but this is a tired sounding band to my ears.  I hate that a band that I once considered one of the best around appears to be going out with a thud rather than a bang.  I can honestly say that I don't see myself ever shelling out the kind of money that Leppard commands for tickets now because I just have no desire to see a formerly great band limp around as a shadow of its former self.

Musically, Mirrorball DESTROYS Viva! Hysteria, with the track selection being the only thing that Viva! has over it's predecessor.  Just do yourself a favor and buy Mirrorball and play the studio version of Hysteria in its entirety to get a better representation of what this band once was.

Rating:  Turn it down to a 4.5, and two of those points are only awarded due to some of the rare material included.  This is simply not a good live record at all.

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

LaVALLE "Dear Sanity"

(c) 2013 Kivel Records

  1. Fading Like The Sun
  2. Scared To Love
  3. Don't Cry
  4. One Day At A Time
  5. Cry Of The Wolf
  6. The Lucky Ones
  7. Smoke And Mirrors
  8. Break Your Heart
  9. Rock Your World
  10. Wait Too Long

Eddie LaValle--Guitars
Carsten "Lizard" Schulz--Vocals
Paul Logue--Bass
Ramy Ali--Drums
Alessandro DelVecchio--Keyboards

LaValle is a project that I had heard a lot about in the months prior to its release.  Numerous sites and press releases touted the fusion of guitar wizard Eddie LaValle with established melodic rock veterans Logue (Eden's Curse) and Ali (Frontline), combined with the powerhouse vocals of Schulz and the talented contributions of DelVecchio.  It was one of those deals where what I was hearing and reading was likely too good to be true, as no one seemed likely to be able to live up to the hype. 

Boy, was I wrong!

LaValle is, as of this writing, quite possibly the best band I have heard all year, and Dear Sanity may be the album of the year.  It is really a nearly impossible task to overstate just how good this project is on all levels.  I was simply not prepared for an album of this magnitude to come from what, at least on the surface, appears to be a project band.  How could I know that I would be absolutely blown away from the opening vocals of the hard rocking "Fading Like The Sun" to the closing notes of the bluesy power ballad, "Wait Too Long"?  How could I have predicted that behind that very sleazy looking album cover was a CD packed full of some of the most perfectly crafted melodic hard rock I have listened to in the last decade?  Damn it...why didn't someone tell me?!  Oh...wait...people tried, didn't they?

Try as I might, I simply cannot find a song that I do not like here.  Now, I realize it may be a bit odd that I am actually trying to find a song to not like, but when I am reviewing an album that starts inching dangerously close to that 9-10 rating range, I find myself second guessing myself a lot, becoming overly critical at times, and looking/listening for even the slightest flaw.  I just can't find that with Dear Sanity.  I honestly can't find a single song to make a complaint about.

Album opener, "Fading Like The Sun" starts off with Schulz's powerhouse vocals setting the stage before LaValle's guitars come ripping through the speakers.  An up-tempo, driving number, this track immediately lets the listener know that this is not your average hard rock album.  The players here are true masters of their craft, not just in their performance, but also in their writing.  The hook and chorus here are just insanely catchy and I find that they stick with me for hours each and every time I queue up this album in my CD player or iPod.  

"Scared To Love" follows this up with a bit slower, but every bit as powerful, performance.  By no means a ballad, this song has a bit of a Dokken-ish feel to it, but with obviously more updated production and a different vocal style.

"Don't Cry" is in a very similar stylistic vein, again very melodic, this time showcasing a bit more keyboard than the previous two songs, but not in an overpowering fashion (we all know I HATE that!).  LaValle still has plenty of room to shine with his guitar prowess, and this song has one of Schulz's top vocal performances on the album.

"One Day At A Time" is pure power ballad bliss...if that is your sort of thing.  A song that I feel is on par with some of the best material put out by bands like Giant, Unruly Child, and other 90's/early 2000's melodic rockers, this song has plenty of emotion with just enough keyboard to give the song a truly ballad feel without it becoming a bloated mass of whining, which so many ballads do.  This is the track that a lot of people steered me toward when I first sought out this album, telling me I would be a fan instantly.  To be honest, it actually had to grow on me, because I am not necessarily the biggest fan of the traditional "power ballad", as too often they are overwrought and sappy.  "One Day At A Time" does not venture into that territory, for which I am very glad.

"Cry Of The Wolf" may be my favorite song on the disc (rivaling "Fading..."), which sets me apart from a lot of people I have talked to, as this is never a song that seems to be at the top of other fans' lists.  I love it, however.  I think the structure of the song is a key to the greatness of the track, with a bit of a slower, more blues-influenced approach to the chorus, and some absolutely scorching lead guitar work from LaValle.  I also think the bass is a bit more prominent here than in some of the other songs, giving it, again, a bit of that bluesy feel I mentioned.  Love this track!

Without going into a track-by-track diagnosis of the rest of the album, it is safe to say that the rest of the album follows a similar, yet non-repetitive pattern of greatness.  The writing here is so strong that the songs flow seamlessly into one another, giving the project a truly fluid feel when listened to as a whole.  The musicianship is unmatched, in my opinion, and the mix is spot-on perfect, with no instrument overpowering the others, yet giving plenty of love to the band's namesake, Eddie LaValle and his amazing skill.  

I find it odd that I had never heard of LaValle before, as I am a big guitar fan.  However, I spend more time on the hair/sleaze side of the spectrum (also mixing in healthy doses of thrash and modern hard rock) and not as much time on the melodic rock side.  If there are more albums that are at the level of greatness of this record (as well as the latest from AdrianGale, H.E.A.T., WET, and others) that DON'T bore me to tears with keyboard-heavy sappiness, I need to do some investigating!  

In all seriousness, I am going to just go ahead and call it:  Dear Sanity will be the number one album for Glitter2Gutter for  2014 barring an absolute musical miracle being released in the next few weeks.  My one regret with this album is that it took me until November to get it, cheating myself out of a couple of months of musical happiness.  If LaValle releases another album, trust me when I say that I won't miss a single day if I have any say in it.

Rating:  Flawless.  "Dear Sanity" reaches the pinnacle of the Glitter2Gutter spectrum with a perfect 10.  Get it...get it NOW!

Sunday, December 1, 2013


(c) 2013 Roxx Productions

  1. Liber 111 (Intro)
  2. The Annals Of Subterfuge
  3. Angst
  4. Hope Lies Beyond
  5. Detox
  6. Nude
  7. Passing
  8. A Perfect Sky
  9. Where Eagles Dare (Iron Maiden cover)
  10. Entgiftung (German version of "Detox")

Jimmy P. Brown II--Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Michael Philips--Lead & Rhythm Guitars
Manny Morales--Bass
Jayson Sherlock--Drums

Normally, Glitter2Gutter doesn't stray into thrash territory, but in this case I will make an exception.  Having been a fan of Deliverance for more than 25 years, and being the co-Executive Producer of a Deliverance tribute album, I have a special tie to the band that I felt I should acknowledge as Jimmy P. Brown II and company make their final curtain call as a collective unit.  Hear What I Say, is the culmination of the band's incredible career and is, in my opinion, a fitting closing chapter on what has been an incredible book.

As has been the case with Deliverance since, oh, their third album, this is NOT Weapons Of Our Warfare Part II, nor is it a retread of the debut thrasher.  Rather, the new album is a combination of elements from Learn (my personal favorite Deliverance album), Assimilation, As Above, So Below, and Stay Of Execution, with hints of the thrashiness of Weapons... or What A Joke.  Note that I said "hints", because this album is NOT a full-on trash album, although it does have thrashy moments, especially on "The Annals of Subterfuge" and "Angst", but even these songs never become full-throttle thrashers like "Weapons Of Our Warfare" or "No Time", or other thrash classics from the Big D.

For the most part, the album falls more into the musical style of the last few Deliverance records, with Learn and Assimilation both being obvious points of reference.  "Detox" and "Pass", my personal favorite track here, both have definite Assimilation lineage, both carrying the same type of song structure, but not incorporating the industrial elements.  Other songs, such as my other personal fave, "Nude", have a definite Learn styled leaning to the music, taking on a more progressive modern, yet still heavy, sound.  "Hope Lies Beyond" sounds like it could have been taken straight out of the Learn writing sessions, as well, while "A Perfect Sky" has a more melancholy feel, much like the writing on the Camelot In Smithereens album, although this song is largely acoustic based and reminds me a lot of the music of Days Of A New, although Jimmy's soaring tenor adds a dimension not present with D.o.a.N.

Iron Maiden has never been a band that I equated with Deliverance at any time, as the styles really are not all that similar.  Queensryche, Fates Warning, and bands like that...yeah, I can hear that, especially on the later, non-thrash albums.  But Maiden never really popped into the equation for me.  That being said, the cover of "Where Eagles Dare" is done masterfully, with a thrash-esque drum intro, some excellent guitar work, and some lower-register vocal work from Jimmy.  Manny's bass is definitely present here as well, and it is evident that the band had fun with this song as there is an energy here that you simply can't fake.  It kind of makes me wish that Deliverance had attempted a cover album of influential music, or personal favorites, as I think a lot of songs could be given new life with the Deliverance treatment.

Lyrically, Jimmy goes a bit deeper and darker than on some previous efforts.  As I said before, the album is definitely more introspective and the social commentary is evident throughout.  While not blatantly religious, there is definitely a searching that is going on with this record, giving the listener a more mature take on spirituality and how we relate to each other and the world around us.  Take for instance the following lyrical snippet from "Pass":

"Ain't it funny how the comforts of home make us feel safe and secure...
 We hide from family, the neighbors and pets and make friends with a computer"

Or these from "Nude":

"I close my eyes and see myself for that which I've become..
A selfish man, a pitied man...trying to please the world and myself
I hide in the shadows and in plain sight for all of you to see
The double, the triple, the other selves, condemned to hide who I really am."

Again, not your typical "Christian" lyrics, but I'm not sure what that label is even supposed to mean.  This is especially true of a band like Deliverance, who has really gone away from the chapter-and-verse types of lyrics for much of their last four or five studio albums, although there has never been a question (at least in my mind) as to where Jimmy's faith lies.

Do I have any issues with this effort?  Yes, bur they are minor.  This is not a perfect album, but it does come close.  For starters, I have little to no use for intros, a fact which I have made abundantly clear throughout my reviews on this site and in other places; I just don't think they serve any real purpose.  Second, if you take away the intro, the German version of "Detox", and the cover song, there are really only 7 new songs here, which is kind of a bummer considering the band will never (likely) record new material again.  But you know what...those are really and truly my only complaints, and really they both boil down to the same point: there are just not enough new songs for me!  If you are going to go away forever, you don't jot a short note, you write me a full letter, Jimmy!  Come on, my friend!

The production is excellent, the musicianship is top-notch, and Jimmy is very strong in his delivery.  The songwriting is also superb and introspective, often somber, dark in a couple of places, but undeniably Deliverance, especially toward the latter part of their career.  

Rating:  If you're gonna go out, go out on top!  I'm not saying this is THE definitive Deliverance album, because that will depend upon your own personal preference as to the era and style of the band.  None of that takes away from cranking this to a 9, however.