Rush – Grace Under Pressure (1984)

When I first got into Rush, my friend Derik Rinehart (now an accomplished prog-rock drummer) made me a tape from his LPs, with this on one side and Moving Pictures on the other. Of course, I played the hell out of both sides, and I probably liked Moving Pictures a lot more because it rocked, and everyone likes it more, right? But I still listened to Grace Under Pressure because I didn’t want to waste my precious Duracells rewinding the D-90 in my walkman, and the album burned it into my brain. And I’m not sure if it’s the content of the album, or the thoughts back to that era, but when I think of this LP, I think of a sterile bleakness. My pal Simms once told me, “It’s the Cold War, man. I love it!” And maybe he’s right. But it’s something that now, 20 years later, I can’t completely reconcile when I try to decide how meaningful this 39 minutes and 26 seconds of music is to me. Continue reading

Passafist – Passafist (1994)

I’m surprised I didn’t throw this album out a long time ago. I’m not saying that it’s that repulsive, I’m just saying that it never really clicked with me, and it went away in a box for a long time, until recently, when it popped into my head and I had to dig it out of storage to give it another listen. Then I had to get on google and see exactly why I ever had a copy of the record in the first place.

Here’s the deal. There was this contemporary christian artist called Steve Taylor who had a decent solo career but pissed some people off for making fun of the jesus types a bit, including a song called “I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good”. This was followed by a band called Chagall Guevara that’s best-described as CCM alt-rock, and their debut had some degree of mainstream crossover success. When label MCA did their annual juggling of the bands, CG faltered and split. Taylor went on to discover and produce Sixpence None the Richer, and that’s where his story ends very happily, but it’s where Passafist’s story begins.

Chagall Guevara guitarists Lynn Nichols and Dave Perkins reinvented themselves as the Caruso Twins, Waco and Reno, and picked up John Elliott of Dessau, a Nitzer Ebb-like dance/industrial band, and two members of the band Afrikan Dreamland. This is one of those combinations that could only work in a city like Nashville, filled with session players with lots of time on their hands and numbers in their rolodexes. The group somehow got a contract, and did this one-shot studio album, somehow capturing a brief sample of 1994, while also proving what kind of strange albums get made when semi-famous people from other bands somehow roll the dice correctly and get a chance to go into the studio.

The easiest way to describe this seven-track LP, aside from the staple “alternative”, would be to call it a very studio-sterile industrial, taking every possible approach to be as widely liked by as many people as possible. It seems like they wanted an album that would go to dance floors, but maybe yield a single, but get picked up by some people just cruising the CMJ for good college rock, but not offend the CCM crowd and possibly get a few purchases from old Chagall Guevara fans. That ultimately means the album is so soft and pliable, I’m not sure anyone could like it.

There are a lot of obvious tongue-in-cheek religious or social awareness issues painted across this album like ketchup on a four-year-old’s plate. Even the band name – Passafist – well, I’m not going to explain it, it’s so stupid. There’s a song called “Glock” that’s about guns. “Christ of the Nuclear Age” is like some kind of REM-like jolly singing, a quick departure from all of those electric drums and Skinny Puppy posturing on the other songs. All lyrics are heavily basted in effects processing, with the Korn-like “singing through a bullhorn” used frequently. Guitars are all over the songs, but more rhythmic than metallic. They even cover the Stones song “Street Fighting Man”, in a very pathetic way. Most of their songs sound like if Nokia or Ford or Revlon were making a commercial and needed “Street Fighting Man”, but couldn’t pay the Rolling Stones, so they got Anonymous Studio Band #57 to re-record the song, and a producer said “Make it edgier! we need to sell these cars to kids!” Add that to the fact that the seven songs here barely sound like they were recorded in the same genre, let alone by the same band, and you have a pretty uneven and unlistenable album.

The one song that is interesting closes up the album, and it’s called “The Dr. Is In”. It’s a ten-and-a-half minute song that’s based on and filled with samples from the dark comedy Doctor Strangelove, which is of course about nuclear war. At first, the song is very mellow, with slower drums, ebbing guitar, and almost spoken lyrics that sound like Roger Waters. It also uses an occasional chorus in the song, anonymously singing an “oooooh” here or there. It seriously sounds like some lost Pink Floyd song about nuclear war, maybe by the new ‘Floyd. It’s not bad, though. Then, as the “countdown” continues in the pseudo-concept song, the drums get more percussive, and it switches to more of the bullhorn lyrics, as the guitars get louder and frenetic. It all leads up to the big nuclear blast, and not a bad little song. It does beg the question as to why you’d write a song about nuclear war with the USSR a few years after the whole thing fell apart, but what can you do.

I don’t even know if you can get this album anymore, but even if someone handed it to you, it’s probably not worth more than a cursory scan of the first six tracks and a single listen of the last one. I enjoy listening to this only in that it’s one of those strange curiosities, like Crystal Pepsi or Laserdisc movies, that seemed like a really good time to an executive, and then he probably lost his job at the end of the year over it. I am glad I didn’t throw out this CD, but only because I’d still be trying to figure out who did “The Dr. Is In”, and I’d never find out.

Rating: 6

Geoff Tate – Geoff Tate (2002)

Look, I’ll start off the review by saying the obvious, and scaring off the 90% of you that just won’t get this album. First, this isn’t a Queensryche album. Second, it’s not even really a metal album. And if you best remember Tate as a guy racing through eight octaves of scales like an opera star on crystal meth, you aren’t going to like this at all. If any of these three things disturb you, go ahead and say “man, what a gyp”, and go back to downloading Dream Theater bootlegs. Continue reading

Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)

You can divide the history of Rush into different discrete eras – in fact, the band did a good job of this themselves by putting out a live album exactly every four studio albums, wrapping up their career into nice little leather-bound volumes of history that chronicled their change from a Zep Clone band on the Toronto bar circuit to the prog-rock juggernaut they became by the 1980s. But if you had to look at their album output and find the one album that signaled (no pun intended) their high-water mark, the place the trio of long-haired, polyester flare-pant wearing Tolkein lovers switched into a tech rock genre unto themselves, you’d have to say Moving Pictures. Continue reading

GTR – GTR (1986)

You know how now (with now being 2008), all of the major phone companies and wireless companies are merging together and buying each other out, so where before maybe you paid Southern Podunk Bell for your local line and ABC Wireless for your cell phone, and now you just make one check out to some huge monolith like Verizon? Well, basically the same thing was happening with prog-rock groups back in the mid-eighties, with all of the loose members of Yes and Genesis and Marillion and Asia and whatnot being all rolled together into big megagroups designed to succeed on the corporate level. GTR is an example of one of these prog-supergroup things. It’s also, unfortunately, a good example of how that doesn’t work, and indirectly, why Verizon is evil, but I’ll stick to the music part here and leave the phone company stuff for another forum. Continue reading

Dream Theater – A Change of Seasons (1995)

Dream Theater has never been known to show up at a gig, play the songs from the new album, throw in a few old numbers, and call it a night. Similar to Frank Zappa, they’ve always been known for having a large amount of material available to play at shows, and they’re known to mix things up a bit. That includes playing stuff that’s never been on an album before, including songs that will make it to disc in the future, and other bits that are just place-holders, or things that happen live just for the fans. Dream Theater is also a band that listens to fans, both in emails and from the mail that comes in to their fan club.
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Queensryche – Operation:Livecrime (1991)

After the 1988 release of Operation: Mindcrime, Queensryche weren’t in a position to put on a lavish stage show or three-hour
headlining concert yet; in fact, they spent their time opening for Metallica on the epic …And Justice For All tour. (Unfortunately, they were only on the first leg of this tour; by the time I got to see Metallica supporting this album in the summer of 1989, we had to endure The Cult as an opener.) But after the huge success of 1990’s Empire, the band had enough clout to book an extensive headlining tour, which included all of the video screens needed to produce a show that could feature the rock-opera album in its entirety.
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Queensryche – Hear in the Now Frontier (1997)

This oddly-titled release is often bemoaned as being too “alternative” or “grunge” by many fair-weathered fans of the band, which is a pretty inaccurate comparison. This came at a time when many bands were cutting their long hair and trying to move out of the strictly-defined world of metal to survive, and bands from Metallica to Tori Amos were being called “grunge” or “like Soundgarden” by disgruntled purists. The funny thing is that this album was recorded in Nashville, and probably owes more to country, or at least the new alt-country sound of the era. And it’s also produced by Peter Collins, who desked Queensryche’s two most popular albums (Operation: Mindcrime and Empire) and is more of a direct connection to the band’s metal background than anything else.
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Queensryche – The Warning (1984)

While their self-titled EP sounded like some kind of generic heavy metal, this Seattle once-covers band started down the path of prog-metal with their first full-length release. This nine-song album features some great long-form metal pieces, excellent sound, and the beginning of the formula the band grew with over their career.
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Joe Satriani – Flying in a Blue Dream (1989)

Everyone remembers Joe Satriani’s third studio album as “the one where he started singing”, and it’s true. The guitar genius, for whatever reason, decided to add his vocals to some of the tracks of his otherwise instrumental discography, and it stuck out like a sore thumb at the time.  It’s also true that he released many more later albums without singing, and the people who stopped listening to his musical output in 1989  solely because “he sings now” are largely retarded, much like the people who claim Seattle grunge bands singlehandedly killed glam metal bands, even though most glam metal bands were a fad, and conversely, MTV was still kissing Guns N’ Roses’ collective asses and the Metallica black album was selling about 50,000 copies a day well after Kurt Cobain’s headless body had gone room temp. Satriani tried something, it didn’t work, he went on with other things. Right?
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