Friday, December 30, 2016

TANGO DOWN "Bulletproof"

(c) 2016 Kivel Records

  1. Punching Bag
  2. Give Me A Reason
  3. Bulletproof
  4. Carry On
  5. When We Were Young
  6. Going Under
  7. Superstar
  8. Edge Of Goodbye
  9. Anything Can Change
  10. Broken Heart
Chas West--Lead Vocals
Scott Miller--Lead and Acoustic Guitars
Axel K. Gessrier--Bass
Keith Michaels--Drums

Additional Musicians:
Jace Pawlak--Piano, Backing Vocals
Erik Johnson--Keys, Backing Vocals
BJ Zampa--Drums on "Broken Heart"
Justin Velte--Acoustic Guitars

Hard as it is for me to believe, it's already been over two years since Tango Down released their excellent record, Charming Devil...and since David Reece left the fold of the band as lead singer.  Additionally, bass player, Ronnie Parkes, also exited the band, leaving just Miller and Michaels to pick up the pieces and attempt to assemble an outfit worthy of continuing on with the name Tango Down, as it has become synonymous with melodic hard rock of the highest degree.  Thankfully, and perhaps unsurprisingly due to the superb musicianship of Miller and Michaels, the band manages to not only pick up right where they left off, but to also surpass the level they had previously reached on earlier albums.  

New vocalist Chas West (Bonham, Lynch Mob, Red Dragon Cartel) steps in and lends his smooth, soulful vocal talents to the new record, Bulletproof, as does new bass player, Axel K. Gessrier.  As a testament to the professionalism and talent of these two men, the band comes out firing on all cylinders on the new record, with "Punching Bag" immediately setting the tone for this new effort, showcasing a very tight-sounding band, despite the changes, on this upbeat, sassy track.

As good as "Punching Bag" is, it's on the next track, "Give Me A Reason" that the addition of West as vocalist really shines through.  While Reece is a fine singer, no question, West's smokier, more soulful style really carries a lot of emotional weight on this smooth, more mid-tempo melodic rocker.  Beautifully layered backing vocals also serve to enhance this track which also features a tasty little guitar solo and solid rhythm work.

"Bulletproof" is up next and the edge returns to the sound on this hard-hitting track that is highlighted by one of Miller's best solos on this record, an interesting acoustic moment before the last chorus section, and more of West's excellent vocals.  The chorus is simple, to say the least, but it is also highly infectious and allows West to demonstrate his command of his range by simply adjusting his intonation on just one word...bulletproof.  

"Carry On" is another catchy rocker that really recalls a band like House Of Lords for me, with a solid hook, a throbbing bass line, searing guitar solo, and...dang it, I'll say it again...some of the coolest vocals I have heard in this year's batch of albums sent to Glitter2Gutter for review.  I honestly thought losing Reece would be a bigger deal for the band than it turns out to be, because I truly feel that West trumps him in nearly every way.

Perhaps part of this is due to the supreme quality of the songs on this record.  Take for example the next track up, "When We Were Young".  Not only a nostalgia trip lyrically, the song just has that magical quality that makes you want to hit the "repeat" button multiple times so that you can sit back and let the music flow over you.  And when a song is written this well, the addition of a vocalist who can command they lyrics is icing on the sweetest of cakes, which is what I think this song is on Bulletproof.  Definitely my favorite song on the record and a candidate for song of the year for me.

Big drums come thundering back in on "Going Under", but a smoother, more melodic guitar approach reins the track back in before it become some big, bombastic arena number (which isn't necessarily a bad just wouldn't fit here).  This song is a bit more laid back and reserved than the majority of the material here, and it is probably my least favorite track on the record, but by no means is it a bad song at all.  Gessrier's bass is definitely given a voice in this song and he proves himself to be a more-than-capable player in this exceptionally tight melodic machine.  

"Superstar" smacks you across the face if you happen to drift a bit during "Going Under", with gritty guitars and punchy drum work driving this hard rocking track that finds West sounding, ironically, somewhat like Reece did on Accept's Eat The Heat album.  

"Edge Of Goodbye" is the album's big ballad moment.  Featuring a piano intro from Kivel labelmate, Jace Pawlak, the song remains relatively quite and restrained during the verse sections before building and soaring during the chorus sections.  Lighters will be held high, to be sure, if this song finds its way into the band's live sets, and with good reason.  Miller contributes a great, emotionally-charged solo on the outro to the track, by the way, and listeners should be sure to go back and give it the attention it deserves.

"Anything Can Change" returns to rocking mode for the band, leading seamlessly into the gritty, dirty rhythms of album closer "Broken Heart", which finds Maxx Explosion/House of Lords drummer, BJ Zampa, occupying the seat behind the kit.  Some nice keyboard work provides a solid support structure for this track without becoming a distraction, and the bass and rhythm guitar work here is extremely tight.  Miller again melts his way up and down the frets of his guitar on another ripping solo, and West leaves no doubt that he is the man in command of the mic now as the album comes to a close.  A stellar way to end a record, to be sure! 

Perhaps the most overlooked and underappreciated contributor to this entire project is Ty Simms of Bombay Black, who once again lends his prodigious talent to the production, mixing, and mastering of the record.  It's hard to say enough about the talent of this man and the way he helps bring the best performances out of the bands he works with, and the work he does on Bulletproof is no exception.

It's also important to note the work of Erik Johnson on this record, as the backing vocals are a huge part of what makes this album click.  It's amazing how well his voice, and those of his assembled cast, help to round out the overall sound of Bulletproof, and I love the way those vocals are layered to add depth to several cuts here.   

Also playing a big role in this record's success would be the slew of Kivel stablemates who contribute to the songwriting here.  Shawn Pelata (Livesay/7HY/Final Sign), Pawlak, Jimi Bell (Maxx Explosion/House of Lords), and Zampa (Maxx Explosion/House of Lords)...along with Mr. John Kivel, himself...and a few others, all put pen to paper in some fashion in helping to create the songs on this record.  Miller had a hand in writing or co-writing half of the tracks here, as well, and it goes without saying that no matter how good a band is, they have nothing to work with if the music is of poor quality.  That is definitely not the case on Bulletproof. 

As is typical of Kivel products, the packaging is top-notch, with a full-color, 16 page booklet filled with lyrics, writing credits, and thank yous...not to mention the return of the gorgeous cover model Azarja van der Veen (is she an official member now?).  

Rating:  Roaring back better than ever, Bulletproof is top-notch cranking material!  Twist the volume up to 8.5!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

METALLICA "Hardwired...To Self Destruct"

(c) 2016 Blackened Recordings

Disc One
  1. Hardwired
  2. Atlas, Rise!
  3. Now That We're Dead
  4. Moth Into Flame
  5. Dream No More
  6. Halo On Fire
Disc Two
       7. Confusion
       8. ManUNkind
       9. Here Comes Revenge
      10. Am I Savage?
      11. Murder One
      12. Spit Out The Bone

Disc Three (Expanded Edition)

      13. Lords of Summer
      14. Ronnie Rising Medley
      15. When A Blind Man Cries
      16. Remember Tomorrow
      17. Helpless (Live)
      18. Hit The Lights (Live)
      19. The Four Horsemen (Live)
      20. Ride The Lightning (Live)
      21. Fade To Black (Live)
      22. Jump In The Fire (Live)
      23. For Whom The Bell Tolls (Live)
      24. Creeping Death (Live)
      25. Metal Militia (Live)
      26. Hardwired (Live)

James Hetfield--Lead Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
Lars Ulrich--Drums
Kirk Hammett--Guitars
Robert Trujillo--Bass

1988 is a long time ago, especially if you are a fan of a band who, in the estimation of many of its most ardent fans, has not released an album worthy of their name since that time.  Metallica is just such a band.  A true legend in the metal field, and considered one of the pioneers of thrash metal, the mighty Metallica was at the top of the metal heap in the 80s, releasing four consecutive albums of thrashy bliss, starting with 1983's Kill 'Em All, then continuing through Ride The Lightning, Master Of Puppets, and the 1988 offering mentioned at the outset, ...And Justice For All.  Throw in a top-notch covers album, $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited, and you had five albums that showcased the fast and aggressive thrash the band was known for, intermixed with enough NWoBHM to outline the difficulty in pigeonholing the band, and enough progressive elements to show the band's growth and maturation as they progressed from album to album.

But many felt success bred a rapidly declining aggression to the Metallica sound, pointing to the band "selling out" on the self-titled 1991 album, also referred to as "the Black album", which was decidedly more hard rock and less metal than anything the band had done before.  This new sonic accessibility led to increased sales and a larger fan base, with the record selling more than 16 million copies and becoming one of the top albums, sales-wise, in American history.  It also cost the band some of their die-hard fans, as the disenchanted began to look elsewhere to get their metal fix.  This was probably a good thing, too, as the band departed more and more from their thrash roots, releasing to alternative metal albums, Load and Reload, the live S&M album which featured the band being backed by the San Francisco Symphony, and a new covers album, Garage, Inc.  For original fans from the Kill 'Em All days, Metallica was about as far removed from the band they fell in love with as they could possibly be.

Of course, most readers know that things DID get worse, as the abysmal St. Anger was released in 2003, at which point even I had all but declared the band dead.  I enjoyed the Black album, I found things about Load and Reload to enjoy, and I'll even admit to enjoying S&M for what it is (the record...not the sexual fetishes, by the way...), but St. Anger killed the band for me.  To me, the album is so bad I don't even own it now...and I'm a completist when it comes to collecting my favorite bands.  (I also don't own the equally crappy Lulu, which found the band collaborating with Lou Reed.)

Of course, the band started to work on a musical resurrection with Death Magnetic in 2008, and the band seemed to be returning to their roots musically, although the production on the record is overly compressed, the sound suffers as a result, and many of the songs were almost too complicated for their own good.  Throw in the fact that Hetfield had apparently forgotten how to sound like Hetfield vocally (both on record and live, by the way...he had pretty much lost his edge by this point), and this album was a letdown for me, although there was some hope that the band may be finally coming full circle and the band remembered how to thrash about a bit.

That brings us, finally, to Hardwired...To Self Destruct.  Unlike Death Magnetic, the new album doesn't come off as the band throwing a bone to a long-starved section of their fan base; it comes across as the band sounding like they genuinely woke up from a long musical coma and suddenly remembered, "Hey, we're Metallica!  What the hell have we been doing these past 20 or so years?!"  They then locked themselves in a room, pulled out the first five albums (yes, there are still some hints of the Black album here...but not many), picked up their instruments and re-learned how to be Metallica!

The new record starts off in blazing fashion with the frantic thrash-about of the title track, "Hardwired...To Self Destruct", which should immediately have fans slamming off of one another and moshing about the room.  With a loose and easy speed that hasn't been present since Puppets, and a tone that is reminiscent of the Justice days, "Hardwired" finds the boys chewing through an actual thrash song, complete with Lars sprinting away on double kicks and James threatening to scorch the strings right off his rhythm guitar.  While he didn't contribute any writing to this album, Hammett rips off a nice solo in the middle of the track, and UNlike the Justice record, you can actually hear Trujillo go to work on the bass, which really helps support the structure of this blistering track.  While all of this is great and welcome, for me one of the most important...and likely most overlooked...facets of this song and album is the return of the Mighty Hetfield as lead snarler for the band.  Sure, he still attempts to throw in some hip crooning here and there (mostly on disc two), but the sneer and snarl are back for the first time since the Black album, and James truly sounds like the James of old, which does so much for the sound of the band that it is almost impossible to adequately describe.  Honestly, this more than anything else had me excited upon hearing "Hardwired".

"Atlas, Rise!" shows a bit of the progressiveness that the band had started toying with on Justice and then continued with to varying degrees of success for several albums, but the rhythm guitars continue to blaze along on this track, the tempo changes are more metallic in nature, and the high speed guitar solo keeps the listener's attention solidly directed, all of which don't allow "Atlas, Rise!" to devolve into the alternative dreck that so many songs did on Load and Reload.  It's not my favorite track here, but it's still very much a Metallica track of the older-school variety and one I enjoy.  "Now That We're Dead" drifts closer to the edgier hard rock sound of the Black album than it does the thrash of the first four records, but it remains heavy as stink and fits nicely with its surroundings.  Kudos to Lars for the different drum tempos used within this track, especially during the extended break before the last bridge and chorus.  "Moth Into Flame" drags a Ride The Lightning tone to the opening guitars and a "Four Horsemen" styled structure to the verses, which is pretty dang cool to hear on what is easily one of the best songs on this new record.  A definite nod to the old-school, while not ripping themselves off or simply rehashing old ideas, "Moth Into Flame" finds the band successfully revisiting familiar waters while still managing to sound fresh.  "Dream No More" again recalls the more simplistic bottom-heavy rock of the Black album, not sounding wholly dissimilar to "Sad But True", but again it manages to avoid being a complete reworking of that song, largely due to some absolute jackhammer drum work from Ulrich in spots, and a cool solo from Hammett that really showcases the guitar slinger finding a groove and just absolutely running with it.

"Halo On Fire" is my least favorite track on the first disc, but it isn't horrible by any stretch.  At more than eight minutes in duration, the song is likely too long for a lot of people, although the tempo changes should help alleviate attention span problems.  My main issue with it is that this is an example of a song where James slips into that sing-song crooning style that he used in the Load/Reload era of the band that seemed to get stuck in his head as his go-to approach in all cases, even when performing older material live.  The music itself isn't bad here, just not overly interesting or memorable, but again, so much more palatable than 90% of the material the band released from Load through Death Magnetic.

Disc 2 starts off in fine fashion with "Confusion", which again has a definite throw back approach, with the intro drum cadence and guitar riff punching you so familiarly in the face that you welcome the bloodied nose with a smile, as Hetfield once again proves himself to be one of the greatest  rhythm players in the history of the genre, and Hammett absolutely scorches through a really good solo here.  But from here, Disc Two limps along a bit for three of the next four tracks. "ManUNkind" gives a co-writing credit to Trujillo, and after an odd, atmospheric intro, slips into a Black-ish groove, although there is an element of Rage Against The Machine to the guitars leading into the verses that I find rather unsettling (I freaking HATE RAtM!).  If I had to completely drop one track from the album proper, this would likely be it.

"Here Comes Revenge" has a purely Justice inspired tempo and opening riff and quickly rights the ship (although its not like "ManUNkind" had sunk the record by any means), with "Am I Savage?" finding the band getting a bit more experimental/progressive and drifting a bit in the direction of Load/Reload, but Hetfield resists the urge to slip into "metal Sinatra mode" for the most part, which helps keep this from becoming a straight-up skipper.  Much like "ManUNkind", this would be a track that I would have likely left off, or at least moved to the bonus disc of the deluxe version.

"Murder One" starts off like it wants to be "One...Pt. 2", but a couple of rapid-fire drum bursts disrupt that feeling on this track which tributizes the late Lemmy Kilmister and name-drops several Motorhead song titles throughout the lyrics.  Not my favorite, and one that could likely have been left off, but I guess it isn't something that has to be skipped, either.

"Spit Out The Bone" is an absolutely perfect close to the second disc, and the main album, with huge drums, blazing rhythm guitars, a piercing solo, and gut-wrenching thrash tempos ripping right through your skull, with Hetfield's snarl held firmly in place throughout.  It wouldn't shock me to learn that "Hardwired" and "Spit Out The Bone" were written in the same writing session, as both really recall the thrashiest sounds the band has put on a record in many, many years.

The bonus disc contains a re-recorded, and somewhat shorter, version of "Lords Of Summer", which I was kind of surprised didn't make it onto the actual album.  The "Ronnie Rising Medley" here was also previously released on a tribute to Dio, and it's pretty cool to have it here as part of this package, even if it really doesn't fit anywhere, stylistically.  "When A Blind Man Cries" is a cover of a Deep Purple track, and it is done very, very well musically, although many are going to find the song's bluesy approach a bit of a downer after the much heavier, faster material on the two main discs of this set, and...well...Hetfield sings rather than snarls, so there is that.  "Remember Tomorrow" is an Iron Maiden cover, and hearing the twin guitar tones that are so much a part of Maiden is pretty cool coming from Hetfield and Hammett, and the bass of Trujillo is really given a voice here.  Again, probably too sing-songy for me, and Hetfield will never be mistaken for Dickinson, but it's a nice cover nonetheless, from a band that loves to do covers.

The live material sounds better than so many other recent live recordings that I was really happy to have it included here.  Hetfield actually sounds like Hetfield here, and the tempos are crisp and fresh, perhaps even a hit faster in the live setting than on the original albums, especially with the slower-tempo tracks.  One minor letdown was not including any Puppet or Justice songs in the live set, but its a short set performed specifically for the reissue of Kill 'Em All and Ride The Lightning, so it is understandable.  Plus, no Load/Reload schlock was included either...or God forbid, something from St. I'll take it!

This is the album Metallica fans have been clamoring for for decades now, as the band has finally, fully returned to their thrash roots, even if those roots are more from the Justice era than Kill 'Em All  or Master Of Puppets.  While Death Magnetic was a step in the right direction, Hardwired...To Self Destruct fully embraces, to varying degrees, who the band was on those first four classic albums, and finds the band in top-notch form as far as both musicianship and songwriting goes.  While I have no belief that it is the end of the band's recording career, if Hardwired... WAS to be the last album the band released, it would be a more than satisfying bookend to a legendary career.

Do yourself a favor and spend the extra few bucks to get the deluxe edition.  The bonus tracks and the live set are worth the dollars spent.

Rating:!  Rattle the windows with this masterpiece nearly 30 years in the making, by cranking it up to 8.  A bit of bloat keeps it from being even a notch higher, as it is that good in its best places.  Once again, all hail the mighty Metallica!

Monday, December 26, 2016

EDEN'S CURSE "Cardinal"

(c) 2016 AFM Records

  1. Prophets of Doom
  2. Sell Your Soul
  3. The Great Pretender
  4. Messiah Complex
  5. Find My Way
  6. Kingdom of Solitude
  7. Utopian Dreams
  8. This Is Your Moment
  9. Rome's On Fire
  10. Unconditional (feat. Liv Kristine)
  11. Saints and Sinners
  12. Jericho
Nikola Mijik--Vocals
Thorsten Koehne--Guitars
Paul Logue--Bass
John Clellane--Drums

Eden's Curse is a band I have at least some passing knowledge of from their albums with the band's namesake, Michel Eden, on vocals.  At that time, the band was something of a power metal/symphonic metal band with huge vocals, tasty guitar runs and sweeps, and some really strong rhythms.  Not my necessarily my typical fare, to be sure, but I own the first two albums on CD and the third digitally, and pull them out from time to time, when the mood strikes me.  

When Michael Eden left, I assumed the band was dead, so I was completely unaware of their new singer, and had no clue that they had put out Symphony Of Sin in 2013.  So imagine my surprise when I was sent this new album, Cardinal, for review, as I simply believed this band was no longer in existence.

The album starts off strong, with the first four tracks ranging from good to excellent, as the band flexes its musical muscle from the outset.  The record starts with "Prophets Of Doom", kicking things off in a familiar symphonic manner, reminding me quite a bit of something Avantasia or old Rhapsody (now Rhapsody of Fire) would have done.  A galloping rhythm and an underlying keyboard current support "Prophets of Doom", setting the stage for the big, sweeping guitars one would expect from this style of metal.  However, it's Mijik's vocals that are the big surprise here.  Sure, the lyrics are rather typical of this genre, bordering on a cheddar-fest at times, but I've never been one to complain about the dungeons-and-dragons, kings-and-queens lore-styled lyrics, so I wasn't put-off by what was being sung; I was more impressed with HOW Mijik was able to sing the lyrics.  I'm not sure what he has done in the past...if anything...but his is definitely a versatile instrument allowing him to sound somewhat similar to Tobias Sammet here, and then more like Jorn-lite on later tracks, such as the absolute beast on this record, the huge "Messiah Complex", which I will admit to putting on repeat for about half a dozen straight listens when I first got this record for review.  While it sounds more like an Allen/Lande song than anything from Eden's Curse's catalog, it is a monster of a track with some absolutely catchy-as-sin hooks, some really cool guitar licks, and an edge added to the vocals that really up the ante for this record musically.  In between these two tracks, "Sell Your Soul" and "The Great Pretender" are both strong numbers as well, with "Sell Your Soul" being the first real example of the band shifting gears since the loss of Eden on vocals, as there is a definite melodic radio rock feel to this track that wasn't really a part of older Eden's Curse.  It's not a bad song by any stretch, but there are some metallic sacrifices made here that make the song more accessible than "Messiah Complex", for example.  Still, no alarm bells go off for me through these first four tracks.

The first slip for me comes with "Find My Way".  The track starts off with some rather stylistically off-putting keyboard effects that don't fit this style of music all that well and really have no home with the rest of the record.  A nice, crunchy rhythm guitar steps in to help the track recover before disappearing entirely to leave Mijik and a piano as the sole workers on this track which for much of the first verse, before the band sweeps back in on what has now morphed into a big, Journey-esque power ballad type of song.  Yes, I said Journey-esque.  Take just a hint of the flowery flourish out of the keyboards, and exchange Steve Perry for Mijik, and I think you would agree that this track would have been all over AOR/Top 40/Mainstream Rock stations in the early-to-mid 80s.  The song just doesn't fit.  I'm also not a big fan of the keyboard solo that is interjected into the middle of the track, or of the way the keys take over chunks of the song in general. 

If "Find My Way" sounded slightly off from the sound of the rest of the record, "Kingdom Of Solitude" juts right out of this record like a third arm, musically.  This song has Extreme written all over it, from the funk-infused guitar intro to the keyboard horns, the boogie dance rhythm utilized in several spots on the track, and the Nuno-inspired guitar approach of the solo...and much of the rhythm riffing.  Lyrically, its not territory that Extreme explored, but musically, this could've been on Pornografitti or III Sides To Every Story rather easily.

"Utopian Dreams" heads the ship back in its original direction after being blown briefly off course.  The gallop is back in the music on this Stratovarius...or perhaps more Kamelot...styled symphonic track that includes the genre-typical keyboard runs and solos where true power metal bands would have dropped a blazing guitar solo or and extended fret flourish of some sort.  But, this is the genre that it is, and so if these things bother you to great degree, then Eden's Curse isn't a band you should be seeking out in the first place.

"This Is Your Moment" is a really strong rocker with a catchy hook, some really good backing vocals, and top-notch rhythm guitar work from Kohne.  Mijik's vocals really stretch toward the upper end of his tenor range here, and he proves himself more than capable of sustaining a note or ripping out a scream when necessary, then slipping back into that edgier Jorn-ish approach.  Good stuff here.

"Rome's On Fire" is probably my second favorite track here (probably switching on-and-off with "This Is Your Moment"...), and is one of the more straight-forward power metal tracks on the record, with big, thundering drums, top notch rhythm guitars, multiple mini-guitar solos, big backing vocals, and a really strong performance from Mijik.  Also, the keys take a more subordinate role here, which is what I typically prefer. 

"Unconditional" is simple too saccharine for me to stomach, with its pop radio rhythm, the echo effects on the guitars, and the overly emotional female vocals of Liv Kristine threatening to push me into a diabetic coma.  Honestly, despite the weirdness of having pseudo Extreme and Journey tracks mixed in, this is the lone skipper for me as I seriously just don't enjoy it at all.

The album recovers to finish strong with both "Saints and Sinners" and "Jericho" both being top five tracks on the record.  "Saints..." is extremely catchy, with Mijik again showing his vocal versatility on this symphonic speed metal treat, and "Jericho" is the album's "epic" track, clocking in at just under eight minutes and featuring multi-layered vocals, several time changes, chorus-styled backing vocals, and some straight-from-the-80s power chords and rhythm guitars, interspersed with healthy doses of symphonic keyboard sweeps, some 70s-sounding synthesized Hammond organ, and high speed guitar-keyboard solo interplay.  A big song to wrap up a slightly uneven, but overall impressive album from a band I thought to be dead and gone.

The production is clean and all of the instruments are separated nicely, which is pretty typical of good symphonic metal.  Compression is not an issue here, as the sound is full and vibrant, with plenty of highs and lows throughout the mix.

The vast majority of Cardinal doesn't stray too significantly from the material the band was putting out with Eden at the mic, although there are some definite AOR/melodic radio rock elements mixed in now that I don't recall being a significant part of older records (I'll now have to pull those to check them out more closely, I guess), and the occasional oddball track slips in to challenge the flow of the record near the middle.  But, for the most part, if you are a fan of symphonic metal and/or power metal, Cardinal is going to be right there in your wheelhouse and I can't imagine you not enjoying the majority of the record.

Rating:  Crank this to 7, with the high points pulling more weight than the scattered low points.

Friday, December 23, 2016


(c) 1991 Capitol Records

  1. Call It Rock N Roll
  2. Original Queen of Sheba
  3. Cold Hearted Lovin'
  4. Can't Shake It
  5. Lovin' Kind
  6. Heartbreaker
  7. Congo Square
  8. South Bay Cities
  9. Desert Moon
  10. Afterglow
2005 Reissue Bonus Tracks (Japanese Edition)

     11. Train To Nowhere
     12. Weak Brain and Narrow Mind
     13. Down At The Doctor
     14. The Hunter

Jack Russell--Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals
Mark Kendall--Lead & Rhythm Guitars, Backing Vocals
Audie Desbrow--Drums, Percussion
Tony Montana--Bass
Michael Lardie--Rhythm Guitars, Piano, Synth, Hammond, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians:

Alan Niven--Backing Vocals, Production
Michael Thompson--Slide Guitar on "Cold Hearted Lovin'"

Everybody has that go-to album that they can pop in at any time and it instantly changes their mood for the better.  It may not be the most popular album a band has ever released, it may not even be by your favorite band, but that one album is a game changer for you.  For me, it just so happens that it IS an album by my all-time favorite band, Great White, but the first part of my statement rings true, as Hooked is definitely not the most popular album in the band's rather extensive catalog.  In fact, I would dare say it is one of their most underappreciated albums, despite it's musical greatness.

Now, I know that it's hard to say an album is underrated or underappreciated when it manages to chart Top 20 and sell over 500,000 copies, but hear me out on this.  Yes, it sold and charted well, but I have always argued that it did so on the basis that it followed up the MASSIVELY popular ...Twice Shy album and the band's biggest hit song, "Once Bitten, Twice Shy".  Had it not been for that album, and that song, in particular, there is a very good chance that Great White would have been little more than one of the dozens and dozens of hair bands of the 80s vying for attention in an over-saturated and often-under-talented market.  If that were the case, I dare say that Hooked would have been little more than a blip on the scene's radar despite the fact that I consider the album to be one of the highlights of the band's career.

Personally, I own numerous different versions of this record.  Starting at the top right and going clockwise, there is the the "censored" pressing, the nude cassette version, an import censored pressing, the censored exterior/nude interior pressing, the Japanese double-disc reissue with the nude cover and the Live In New York album as a bonus disc, and the very cool Hooked promo kit that comes with a fisherman's net bag, held together by an imitation shark's tooth, surrounding an entirely different alternate cover on the outside and a CD and cassette on the inside.  The center disc is a censored exterior/nude interior version, autographed by the Jack, Mark, Audie, Michael, and then-new bassist, Teddy Cook.  I also own two vinyl versions, as well as all of the CD-singles from the album, both foreign and domestic, which included "Desert Moon", "Lovin' Kind", "Call It Rock N Roll", and "Congo Square". (Did I mention I love this record?) 

Sure, some are going to say it's the collector in me, combined with the fact that I love this band, that gives the record such high praise, but I truly do feel that this album was where the band fully developed the "Great White sound", and where they really seemed to hit their stride musically and creatively. This was the last full-length album to feature Montana on bass, as he would depart after this record, but the "Core Four" of Russell, Kendall, Desbrow, and Lardie would continue on for several more releases, honing the sound that was really first developed on Hooked.  This style and sound included a lot more blues influence to their hard rock material, with far less of the "Hollywood hair" flair than had been previously employed.  The ballads, which Great White, and Russell in particular, is possibly most famous for, also incorporated a lot more soul and substance in their approach, going more for emotional content than "lighter in the air" power balladry.   Both ballad entries here, "Lovin' Kind" and "Afterglow" showcase this more 70s-inspired, soulful approach.  

The rockers, meanwhile, are among some of the best ever recorded by the band.  "Call It Rock N Roll" starts the album off in fine form, not overly flashy, but to the point and indicative of where the band was headed with Hooked.  And while many point to "Call It Rock N Roll" as being a "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" clone, I don't find that to be the case at all, and actually prefer this track.  "Original Queen Of Sheba" is catchy 3-chord AC/DC-styled rock but with far superior vocals and more bluesy sass, and the Stones-esque "Can't Shake It" should have received airplay, in my opinion, at least on album rock stations.  Two of my personal faves from the band appear on this record, with the hard-hitting "Heartbreaker" sounding a bit like a throwback to the band's earlier sound, but again with a bit more blues and soul incorporated, and "Desert Moon" is catchy as heck and would likely have become a radio staple had it been recorded and released even 5 years earlier.  Sadly, "Desert Moon" will likely always be known as the song that was being performed when the fire broke out at the Rhode Island Station nightclub, forever altering the Great White story.  I also think that "South Bay Cities" is a particularly fun track, even if its not exactly the deepest song the band has ever worked on, lyrically, nor is it meant to be.  Jack's howl on the chorus is just a treat to listen to here, and "South Bay Cities" works very well to help inject some fun, laid back atmosphere into the more emotionally-charged mid-to-slower-paced tracks here.

Three singles were officially released from this record, with "Desert Moon", "Congo Square", and "Call It Rock N Roll" all achieving some sort of chart recognition in either the United States or United Kingdom, with "Call It..." actually cracking the Top 5 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart, while "Desert Moon" hit number 16 on that same chart.  "Lovin' Kind" was pressed as a single in Europe, as well (I have a copy, so I know it exists) but it received no push at all, and I've heard (but haven't verified) that the band was pretty upset with Capitol for not working that song, which they felt could have been a chart hit.  I'll have to ask Jack the next time I see him.

The bonus tracks on the reissue are, for the most part, throw-away for me, largely because I already have the songs from other compilations and live albums.  Still, if you can find it for a decent price, I suppose the reissue may be the best way to go if you are looking for musical quantity for your dollar.  All are cover songs, and none fits the flow or sound of Hooked overly well, but all are done well, with "Down At The Doctor" and "The Hunter" being the best two, in my opinion.

Russell is in top-notch form throughout the record, with his raspy tenor adding edge and sass to the rockers and soaring effortlessly on the ballads here.  Kendall's guitars are the perfect complement to the approach and sound of the songs on this record, with simple-yet-effective solos slipped into the mix, while he and Lardie work so well as a tandem on the rhythms throughout the record.  Lardie's keys are also a nice supporting character here, as well, not stepping on any musical toes by trying to jump out front to grab the spotlight, which is clearly not where they should be in a band taking a decidedly more blues-based approach.  Montana and Desbrow are locked in on the bottom end throughout the effort, whether the band is in full-on rocker mode or tackling a more honky-tonk, shuffle-styled track like "Congo Square".  Again, as I stated previously, I think the band really hit their musical stride here, as all facets of the band were clicking, from the individual performances to songwriting to the production of Alan Niven. 

Rating:  Again, many will say it's because this is my "go to" record that I crank this record to a 9.5, but I argue that if people had heard the Hooked record before Once Bitten... or ...Twice Shy, this would be the style of Great White that most fans would grab hold of, and "Can't Shake It" or "Call It Rock N Roll" would be the hit that "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" has become.

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