Monday, March 03, 2003

Music to My Ears XXVIII
One of my not-too-long ago Ebay impulse buys was a 100-plus cassette collection of mid- to late '80s heavy metal and hard rock music. This is a slightly awkward pairing of reviews of two of those recordings -- I'm not sure whether I'll try to review all of them, but these two fill a particularly soft spot in my heart -- and a long-delayed local record review. Thank you for your patience!

Anthrax "I'm the Man" EP (Island, 1987)
This multi-faceted and belatedly unfortunately named metal band's jokey rap entreet is a slightly self-aware yet clever parody of what would eventually emerge as a genuine genre -- rap metal or nu metal. By presaging the mixture of rap and metal, poking fun at the malevolent Metallica in the process and playing off the stupidity of one band member, Charlie Benante, the band released this 1987 EP laden with live tracks that should have been relegated to a cassingle of the day. Padding the EP wiith the "censored radio version" in addition to the "def uncensored version" unripe for radio play, as well as a live "extremely def ill uncensored version" represents the worst kind of commercial complicity. The "Among the Living" album brought the band new attention, but did it really attract the demand for this? Anthrax's cover of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," as well as the Dallas-recorded live versions of "Caught in a Mosh" and the Judge Dredd-inspired "I Am the Law" are interesting solely as lively rarities, but "I'm the Man" as a joke song with unintended consequences hardly deserves its own EP. The song, as good as it is, could have easily been a bonus track on the next album. Had Anthrax not stayed with Island, I'd cry contractual obligation.

Def Leppard "Pyromania" (Phonogram, 1983)
My sister was a big Def Leppard fan, and this was one of the first cassettes I borrowed (stole) from her room. Despite the synthesizer opening to the first AC/DC-inspired track "Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)," the record's not that embarassing. The guitars and vocals are anthemic, and the drums are mixed well. But outside of the video-ready "Photograph," and perhaps "Die Hard the Hunter," the album is relatively boring, given the songs' speed. Leppard's too-long faux-live opening "Stagefright" is interesting, albeit a cliched rock-band concert shill. "Too Late for Love" and "Die Hard the Hunter" close out what might be one of the more promising A sides of an LP, regardless of the slow tempos. The B side, then, starts with the synth-heavy single, "Foolin'." I must admit that I'd forgotten "Rock of Ages," which holds up well despite the flawed drum effects. And then "Action Not Words" happens. All in all, this is an extremely strong album. The synth-swelling "Billy's Got a Gun" is a weak ending, but otherwise, with several solid songs on the record, Def Leppard is able to keep it real 20 years later.

The Fleece "Wrecked at Rehearsal" (Teagown, 2002)
I have a Fleece T-shirt. It's not made of fleece, and I didn't feel ripped off when I bought it, but there we go. The band sent me this CD about six months ago, just before I left for the 2002 CoF Roadshow, and it's well worth waiting to concentrate on. Thanks for your patience! With the quiet opening to "The Press Release," complete with Papas Fritas-like vocals, albeit out of tune, the band's come a long way from the first time I saw them. Tuneful yet discordant, their earnestness is admirable. And the triumphant head of the song is awesome. Hooray for organ. The second song, "The Vanishing Face," features some Lance Hahn-styled vocals and more triumphant guitars over keyboards. Quite pleasing. The stop and start section preceding the ending is most impressive. The rest of the record continues to impress. The keyboard-tinged Elephant Six-ness of "Perfect Hands" perfectly casts the slightly out-of-tune vocals, shades of Sinkcharmer and Soltero, which I totally appreciate. There are some piano flubs, but they're OK, as the jangly "Everything Has Not Been Discovered" entices rather than discourages. Wrapping up the record, "As You Were" cascades with an almost triumphant guitar proposal leading into a Neutral Milk Hotel-meets-Graham Smith vocal overture that indicates an increasing interest in melodic mention. A fine release, slightly uneven at first, but in the end, impressive. Beautiful, little-known New England pop goodness.

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