No Sweat – No Sweat (1990)

NoSweat_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1990, a band called No Sweat burst out of Ireland with its sole album, a terrific collection of catchy AOR/Hard Rock material in the same vein as the group FM.

In truth, not only does the band have the same sound and style as FM displayed on its excellent Indiscreet and Tough It Out albums (which both popped up just prior to No Sweat’s debut), but No Sweat also had a singer (Paul Quinn) of the same high caliber as FM’s Steve Overland, although perhaps not quite as instantly recognizable when it came to his timbre and tone. Nevertheless, Quinn sings with strength, quality, and authority while the band of equally talented musicians drive through some memorable and polished tracks with a professionalism not often seen on debut albums.

The opener “Heart and Soul,” as well as numerous other upbeat and energetic rockers such as “Generation,” “On the Edge,” “Mover,” “Tear Down the Walls,” “Shake,” and “Lean on Me,” are all highly memorable, possessing the sort of melodies that stick in your head long throughout the day. Additionally, several other songs such as the acoustic-guitar enhanced “Waters Flow” and “Stay” seem almost a mixture of FM with Thunder or Little Angels, two other U.K. groups that popped up during the same era with their driving and engaging styles.

Therefore, No Sweat was one short-loved band that deserved at least some recognition, if not worldwide fame, but the band’s timing was (for some reason) ill-fated. Still, it’s a damned shame No Sweat didn’t release more material, especially since the group (based on this sole album) was obviously capable of creating impressive and unforgettable choruses. Instead, No Sweat disbanded shortly after the release of this ten-track collection of tunes, which ended up becoming one of my favorite AOR/Hard Rock releases from the early ’90s.

 

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North Star – Power (1992)

NorthStar_Power2.5 out of 5 Stars!

I wanted to love this one…I really did.  Unfortunately, the overall production is horrific (tinny sounding and badly mixed) and ruins the entire release.

The musicianship sounds fairly solid, and the vocalist (although he tries WAY TOOOOO HARD to mimic Fish from Marillion instead of singing naturally) isn’t all that bad, but the songs also lack originality.

Whereas Marillion’s first few albums were crammed with songs (and vocal performances) that displayed true depth and heartfelt emotion, were darkly atmospheric in their instrumentation, the songs here offer little of that. At best, this is an early-Marillion clone without the stellar early-Marillion material…ie. there’s absolutely no passion here.  Generic prog-rock, sadly. Not universally horrible, mind you, just lower quality with embarrassing and shitty production.

A shame, really, since the band shows some potential.

Nightwing – My Kingdom Come (1984)

Nightwing_MyKingdomCome4 out of 5 Stars!

On My Kingdom Come, probably one of Nightwing’s finest, the band falls somewhere in the cloudy “gray area” between commercial (or AOR) Hard Rock and Progressive Rock. (For some reason Nightwing was always mislabeled with a “Heavy Metal” moniker—probably due to the era when the band emerged on the rock scene and started being featured in magazines such as Kerrang! and Metal Hammer.) Actually, Nightwing reminded me of a cross between the sadly overlooked Grand Prix (the Samurai album springs to mind) and the always-brilliant Magnum (circa the On a Storyteller’s Night masterpiece). The keyboards, supplied by a talented chap named Kenny Newton, dominate the proceedings only when needed, depending on the overall mood of the track, which is where a lot of the “gray area” of “commercial vs. progressive” appears. Since I’m a fan of both types of music, however, I found this merging of styles more than appealing.

Much of Nightwing’s commercial sound on this album is due to the lead vocals, supplied here by the excellent and shamefully ignored Max Bacon (formerly of another overlooked British band called Bronz, and who would leave Nightwing about a year later to front Steve Howe/Steve Hackett’s more renowned band GTR).

Standout tracks on this album include the trio of openers “Back On The Streets,” “Fingers In The Fire,” and the single “Night Of Mystery” (produced by Steve Hackett himself). The band have a harder edge on the B-side, where “The Devil Walks Behind You” and “Living Behind The Eight Ball” feature more guitar and allow Max Bacon to really belt. But the final two tracks, “Men Of War” and “My Kingdom Come,” are where Nightwing really shines, showing exactly what the band could achieve given the right mindset. The title track, especially, is where the wedding of commercial and progressive styles is at its most successful.

With the right promotion and radio airplay (especially in the States, where this band was generally “unheard-of”) Nightwing might have achieved some level of success outside of England and/or Europe in general. In this respect, the band also reminds me of Magnum (or all the aforementioned bands, if the truth be said, apart from perhaps GTR), who also failed—unfortunately—to “take America.”

My Kingdom Come is definitely worth a listen, especially if you can locate a cheap copy in a used record bin somewhere (which I did, even though it was labeled as “Export.”) It was well worth the five bucks I spent for it! It’s also a definite “must have” if you’re a fan of Max Bacon, which I am.

 

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Nightqueen – For Queen and Metal (2012)

Nightqueen_ForQueenMetal3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Despite this Belgium band having a name way too similar to Nightwish, and including a female singer to boot, Nightqueen’s parallel’s to Finland’s Nightwish are limited to only a few areas. Although some of the songs (such the two-part opener “Into the Night/Nightfall”) and the overall orchestrations when it comes to the often bombastic and symphonic keyboards could have come right out of the Nightwish catalogue, the singer (Laura Asikainen) is completely different and the band’s style is more straightforward. There’s not a shred of operatic vocals, but Asikainen has a deeper, somewhat gruff (yet melodic) approach and vocal range, similar to the singers of Benedictum, Virus IV, or Beautiful Sin. Additionally, there are (thankfully) no over-the-top “Beauty & The Beast” pretty female/growling male vocals to spoil things like most female-led bands with related styles. Unlike what one reviewer at a music-review website once said, I noticed no out-of-key vocals. Sure, Asikainen doesn’t have the most beautiful voice–as I mentioned, she sings in a lower register and has a dirtier/grittier sound, a more “Metal” approach–but she certainly does sing on key.

As far as the music itself, tracks such as “Majesty,” “Screaming for Mercy,” “Mystical Night,” “Rebel to Rebel,” and “Dark Fairy” lean toward Power Metal with a hint of Progressive Metal. Not bad overall. On a few songs, I felt the melodies could have used some extra work, but generally the band is solid enough, and the instrumentation is above average compared to many bands playing this form of music, with fierce riffs, shred guitar, and a solid rhythm section throughout. I do have one quibble, however, regarding the overall mix—yes, the sound is full and grandiose, as I expected from a band of this nature, yet occasionally it tends to be a bit too dense, where it’s difficult to actually distinguish the rhythm section through the musical fog of guitars and multi-layered keyboards.

Anyway, when it comes to Nightqueen, the potential is evident, and hopefully the band will continue to develop its sound and style. Although I recently picked up a copy of the group’s sophomore effort (2014’s rEvolution), I have yet to find a chance to actually sit down with it to see whether there’s any noticeable growth. Regardless, it’s too bad about the band’s name, since it will likely pigeonhole Nightqueen, with many fans of the genre assuming the band to be nothing more than a direct Nightwish clone, which is certainly not the case.

 

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Mott the Hoople – Honaloochie Boogie / Rose (1973)

Mott_Honaloochie5 out of 5 Stars!

I don’t typically buy singles, unless they include a hard-to-find track or tracks not included on any album. And so I purchased this single, not for “Honaloochie Boogie” itself, which is a catchy, fun, and decent track in its own right (but since I have the album Mott, I didn’t need the track), but for the excellent B-Side “Rose.” Why this track was never released on the Mott album is a mystery to me.

I’m a huge fan of most Ian Hunter ballads, and “Rose” (along with “The Journey” from the Brain Capers album) is probably my favorite. As with many of Hunter’s ballads, this one is also crammed with emotion and features beautiful piano-playing during the verses. The touch of organ during secondary verses adds extra mood, and when the entire band kicks in during the choruses, the power is grand! The track sort of reminds me of the equally impressive “Broadway,” from Hunter’s solo Overnight Angels album.

Anyway, “Rose” truly shows the flip-side (no pun intended) of Mott The Hoople, a band that could turn out both killer rockers and stunning ballads with ease.  I love this track!!!

Mötley Crüe – Generation Swine (1997)

MotleyCrue_Swine.jpg0.5 out of 5 Stars!

After probably the BEST Motley Crue album featuring the excellent vocalist John Corabi, the band returned with this piece of utter shit! Seriously, what the fuck is this crap? Mötley Crüe playing Alternative Rock? Give me a break!

I listened to the album (barely) twice, but couldn’t stand the sound of it, and Vince’s vocals are the worst in history. Why the band fired Corabi in order to lure Vince back into the fold (a less competent singer if I have ever heard one) is a mystery.

Needless to say, I never again listened to this album, nor did I purchase any subsequent release by this band. The John Corabi album was the best the band ever did, and sorry to say, they never recovered from the loss. Greed…ah, yes, greed…the previous album didn’t sell a g’zillion units, so they attempted to make magic with the old singer and got nothing but crap (and half the sales) for their efforts. I hope they learned a valuable lesson for their lust for greed.

Mind Colour – Mind Colour (2002)

MindColour_12.5 out of 5 Stars!

I wish I could rate this higher, since the songs, musicianship, and arrangements, even the overall production, are decent, even above average in many cases. But the vocalist just ruins everything with his slightly off-key melodies and his continual wavering off pitch when holding long notes. His rapid vibrato is also extremely annoying, and when he attempts to harmonize with himself?…completely unlistenable! Needless to say, he drags everything way down to “below average” level. A shame, since the band has potential.

Mercyful Fate – Melissa (1983)

MercyfulFate_Melissa3 out of 5 Stars!

A killer album musically, if you love the darkness of Black Sabbath riffs and themes. A wretched album vocally, however…King Diamond has a relatively “okay” voice when he actually “sings,” but unfortunately he reaches for the rafters even when unwarranted, continually screeching in falsetto like a castrated tomcat and turning each track into a banshee-wailing mess. Definitely takes a lot of getting used to, and I truly never could get used to it. Even listening to him today, all these years later, is like having dozens of sharp nails raking a chalkboard.

So, the music gets a “5” and King Diamond gets a “1,” bringing the album to a respectable “3” rating overall. This was the first and last album I purchased from this band, since KD’s voice left my eardrums bleeding and gave me a churning stomach waiting to spew. I would have also purchased many of his solo projects, since the music was definitely above average for the metal genre, were it not for him and his vocal gymnastic nonsense.

Christine McVie – Christine McVie (1984)

ChristineMcVie_15 out of 5 Stars!

While everyone else seemed to fall at the feet of Stevie Nicks or Lindsey Buckingham during Fleetwood Mac’s most successful stretch, praising their supposed magnificence, I worshiped before the altar of Christine McVie, who was essentially the glue that firmly held the band together, despite Lindsey’s dominating presence or Stevie’s charisma. Always a gifted songwriter with a smooth voice and laid-back attitude, this classy dame penned some of the catchiest and most enduring hits of the band’s career. You could always count on Christine’s songs to feature her rich, mellow voice, some soulful lyrics (her classic “Songbird” is a perfect example), and a melody that could stand the test of time. Normally, I would skip over some of the Stevie songs, most of the Lindsey songs (what was he thinking on Tusk???) and shoot right for Christine’s gems.

This solo album proves just how valuable Christine’s contributions were to Fleetwood Mac. Indeed, listening to this album reminds me of Fleetwood Mac at their best. (How many people heard “Got A Hold On Me,” the hit single from this album, and at first thought Fleetwood Mac had finally gotten back on track?) The songs and production are high quality, and Ms. McVie finally has a chance to dominate the proceedings without being overshadowed by the egos of her band-mates. If you’re a “Christine fan” as opposed to a “Buckingham/Nicks fan,” then this album is essential for your collection!

“The Challenge,” “Who’s Dreaming This Dream,” “Love Will Show Us How,” and the other seven tracks each have something special–that same “Christine magic” she brought to Fleetwood Mac. Just about every track on offer here deserved to be a hit. It’s like listening to a “best of” Fleetwood Mac album, but without the weaker songwriters butting in to botch things up.

The woman with the birth name of Christine Perfect gets a perfect score from me with this release!

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Tantrum – An Overview

Tantrum_logoAlbums In My Collection

– Breaking Away
– Rather Be Rockin’
– Tantrum

An Overview

During the late 1970s, this popular Chicago-based act was aptly publicized as “The Female Version of Three Dog Night.” Supposedly their soon-to-be manager heard Three Dog Night performing the song “One” on the radio and imagined what would happen if he put together a harder-rocking band revolving around three female singers.

From that simple pondering, Tantrum was born. Their self-titled debut album Tantrum was released in 1978 on the small Ovation Records label, and their second album, Rather Be Rockin’, was issued in 1979, bringing the unusual band growing popularity and critical acclaim throughout the Midwest and beyond, due to radio play of the singles “Kidnapped” (from the Tantrum album) and “Rather Be Rockin'” (from the album of the same name). Their third and final album, Breaking Away, was never released as planned when Ovation Records folded due to financial hardship (rumor has it this occurred just one day prior to the vinyl being shipped to the retail stores).

Subsequently, disheartened and shocked at the situation, the band also folded shortly thereafter, unable to generate interest from another, more financially sound record label. Only more recently, in 2005, twenty-five years after its originally scheduled release, did Tantrum’s third album come to light, thanks to Escape Music (a European company), who issued all three albums in a special 2-CD set entitled Rather Be Rockin’/Tantrum/Breaking Away.

There’s no question about it—Tantrum is probably my favorite band of all time!

First, I admit to being totally prejudiced when it comes to them, since I personally knew the band members.  Having gone to as many of their shows as possible, I got to meet and eventually became friends with the band. I even had an advanced copy of their third  album. Nevertheless, this personal connection would have never happened if I hadn’t been such a huge fan of this local Chicago act to start with. They are the band I MOST MISS of all defunct acts, and even after all these decades I still regularly listen to their albums (and obsess over “what might have been” had they continued).

For those unfamiliar with this band, again imagine a female version of Three Dog Night, with an attractive blonde, brunette, and redhead, all with powerful and (most importantly) distinct voices, doing a blend of melodic hard rock and catchy AOR material, swapping lead vocals and with spot-on harmonies, backed by four terrific male musicians. This sort of lineup is highly unique, especially considering the type of music the band played…the only other acts with three female lead singers fall into the soul or pop categories, and the only other “rock act” with this sort of lineup was the outrageously successful Three Dog Night. This is one of the reasons this band, in my eyes, is sorely missed. Love them!

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