Sunday, August 10, 2014

KIX "Rock Your Face Off"

(c) 2014 Loud & Proud Records

  1. Wheels In Motion
  2. You're Gone
  3. Can't Stop The Show
  4. Rollin' In Honey
  5. Rock Your Face Off
  6. All The Right Things
  7. Dirty Girls
  8. Inside Outside Inn
  9. Mean Misadventure
  10. Love Me With Your Top Down
  11. Tail On The Wag
  12. Rock N Roll Showdown
Steve Whiteman--Vocals, Harmonica
Ronnie "10/10" Younkins--Guitars
Bryan "Damage" Forsythe--Guitars
Mark Schenker--Bass
Jimmy Chalfant--Drums, Vocals

Nineteen years.  That's how long it has been since Kix released a studio album.  Heck, there are people who weren't even born yet that can vote now...that's how long 19 years is!  But, you had to wonder if the top dog of the B-level hair bands wasn't going to take a stab at a new record at some point, especially with the release of their live record a couple years ago.  And, now in 2014, we find that Kix did have (at least) one more trick up their sleeve, as they have released Rock Your Face Off to their surprisingly large fan base.

A couple of weeks ago, the band teased the album's release with a lyrics video of the lead single, "Love Me With Your Top Down", and judging by the internet chatter I observed on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, the initial impression was mixed, at best.  While I certainly didn't think the song was a world changer, it was still a Kix song, without question, from the vocals of Whiteman to the catchy-yet-cheesy lyrical approach and the AC/DC-meets-a-barroom-hair band musical approach.  I had hope, but I wasn't going to let that hope turn into hype at that point.  But, once I actually received the disc and popped it in, a smile spread across my face and I was sold.  Kix was back.

True, founding member Donnie Purnell is gone from his position as bass player and chief songwriter, and that meant the band was already behind the 8-Ball to a degree, at least in terms of carrying on the musical tradition of the band.  It's one thing to go out and play all the songs you have been playing for years, and still pull it off.  But its quite another thing to write new material that still sounds like your band, especially if one of the key songwriting ingredients is gone.  For the most part, Kix manages to capture the essence of who and what they have always been on this new record.

Right from the start, the album is front-loaded with the best material on the record.  "Wheels In Motion" jumps out of the speakers with an urgent tempo and rhythm that immediately throws the listener back about 23 years, as this song is very reminiscent of the approach used on the Hot Wire album.  "You're Gone" keeps things going, but this time with a more mid-tempo track that features a throbbing bass line throughout and Whiteman's instantly recognizable sneering snarl slinking along, snagging the listener's attention, especially on the chorus.  "Can't Stop The Show" is another great track, this time taking a more simplified approach during the verses, using an out front drum-and-bass delivery to support Whiteman before the guitars come ringing in.  Three-for-three is a great way to start things off, to be sure!

"Rollin' In Honey" slips off the mark just a bit.  Lyrically and thematically it is everything Kix has always been, but the music is missing something.  It's just doesn't grab my attention all that well for some reason.  Not a skipper, but a weaker point in an otherwise great first half of the record.  The same can be said of the title track, "Rock Your Face Off", which seems like a statement kind of song from a band who has no reason to make a statement.  Yeah, we get're in your 50's and you still rock.  Got it.  No need to state it or put it to music.  Honestly, if there was one song I was going to completely remove from the album, it would probably be this one, and this is as close to skip material as there is on the record.

"All The Right Things" quickly rights the ship, however, and is probably my favorite track here.  Starting off with a dark, bluesy guitar riff, this song reminds me a lot of vintage 70's era AC/DC in the way it starts, before the jangly Kix approach to music slips in and takes over in an insanely catchy song that comes so very close to capturing the magic of the band in their Midnite Dynamite-Blow My Fuse-Hot Wire span.  Just a great, great song.  

"Dirty Girls" is a simplistic, yet fun, song that really needs no explanation, as the title  pretty much says everything that can be said about this uptempo rocker that, again, really has that 70's ear AC/DC thumbprint on the music.  Again, this is one of the better songs here and really finds the band at least touching, if not fully grasping, that Kix musical magic from the late 80's/early 90's efforts.  The same can be said for album closer, "Rock & Roll Showdown", which wraps things up perfectly and gives the listener the hope that perhaps there is one more great album left in this underappreciated band that I still contend was one of the most entertaining and consistent bands of the 80's.

There are a couple of entries in the complaint department here.  One, the "big" ballad isn't present here, which is a bummer. No, I didn't expect "Don't Close Your Eyes II" or anything like that, but "Inside Outside Inn" just doesn't really hold my attention all that well.  It's not horrible, but I doubt anyone will rush right out to download this as a single, either.  The other real issue I have here is that some of the songs seem thin, like there are instruments missing.  You know what I'm talking about...when a song just doesn't feel "full".  Sometimes this happens with albums on small, independent labels that have no real production budget to speak of, and I'm wondering if that isn't the case here.  "Mean Misadventure", for example, is a solid Kix track, it just doesn't have any "beef" to it.  "Tail On The Wag" is another good track that kind of feels flat, for lack of a better term.  I don't know if this is the absence of Purnell showing through, if its a production thing, or if it was an intentional stripping of the sound, but for me it takes a couple of pretty good songs and leaves them below the par of the rest of the album.

In the end, Kix's return is a very good, very solid one, if not career re-defining.  Not as good as Blow My Fuse, Midnight Dynamite, or Hot Wire, but certainly better than their first two records and $how Bu$ine$$, this record will keep Kix fans more than happy for a long time, I suspect, and will be given consideration for many Top 20 lists by fans of the genre in general.

Rating:  Crank this to 7 and let the good times roll once again!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

VALERIE "Dangerous"

(c) 2014 Independent Release

  1. Night After Night
  2. Hearts On The Line
  3. Dangerous
BT Valerie--Guitars, Lead Vocals
Augustus Clark--Bass, Vocals
Erlend Omdal--Drums, Vocals
Magnus Christiansen--Guitars, Vocals

Norway's Valerie returns with a self-released EP called Dangerous.  One look at the track-listing and you have to know I was frustrated, as only three songs make their way onto this limited edition release (only 500 CD's were printed).  THREE SONGS!  Let's be honest here...if you are only going to put out three songs and still call in an EP, it better be good.

It is.

Leading things off is the "single" from this release, "Night After Night".  Showcasing a somewhat AOR approach to their melodic hard rock, Valerie kicks things off right here, as "Night After Night" is a solid song that does exactly what it is intended to do: it gets the listener primed and ready for the band's second album, which is being financed in part through sales of this EP. I get it!  Anyway, "Night After Night" starts off with an acapella intro, followed up with slick, 80's-influenced guitars that are reminiscent of those used by acts such as John Parr, Survivor, and the like back when AOR and melodic rock could still get airplay in the States.  For those who have the band's first, self-titled release, this song is very much in the same vein and is likely to keep that fan base happy.

The next two tracks are exclusive to this EP and will not be featured on the new full-length record (at least that's the plan for now).  "Hearts On The Line" is very reminiscent of the style of rock played by fellow countrymen, Stage Dolls.  Starting off with an "Unskinny Bop" styled bass line, this song could actually be slipped onto a Stage Dolls record and a lot of people may not even notice.  There is some excellent guitar work here, especially on the scorching solo, and the tight vocal harmonies and locked-in rhythm section really drive this track, which is my favorite of the three here (although all are good).  "Dangerous" rocks a bit harder than the previous two tracks, shedding the slickness of the guitars from the opening track, and adding a bit of grit to the backing vocals.

The packaging, as you would guess, is EXTREMELY simple, with the front cover artwork (pictured above) being the only adornment on the cardboard sleeve the disc arrived in.  The back is nothing but the band's logo, tracklisting, writing credits, and band line-up.  Short and too the point.  It is obvious the band spent as little in the packaging as they possibly could, again largely because they are using money from this effort to finance the second full-length record.

If you haven't checked out the band before, I would probably suggest you go for their debut record, Valerie, as it is 8 songs long and offers a bit more bang for your buck.  However, if you are already a fan and would like to snag a limited edition collectible, Dangerous is a fine, if extremely short listen.

Rating:  At only three songs, I hesitated to give it an official rating, but if forced, I would say this is crankable to the 7.5 range.  Nothing overly spectacular, but very solid and a fun listen.

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