Hanoi Rocks – Two Steps From the Move (1984)

HanoiRocks_TwoSteps4.5 out of 5 Stars!

To me, when New York Dolls disbanded after only two albums, the band left a musical vacuum of “glam meets punk.” Thankfully, Finland’s Hanoi Rocks finally filled that vacuum when it appeared on the scene in the early ’80s. But unfortunately, Hanoi Rocks also got lumped in with all the other “hair bands” such as Poison, Cinderella, Ratt, and any other one of the zillions of groups that emerged with truckloads of Aqua Net in tow.

But Hanoi Rocks was so much more, especially since the group possessed that raw sound and punk attitude other “hair bands” sorely lacked. I loved them, and especially Two Steps From the Move, the band’s Bob Ezrin-produced fifth studio album, which showed the group at its rowdy, rollicking, and raucous peak, on the verge of worldwide fame, with the songwriting and performances never better.

A slamming cover of CCR’s “Up Around the Bend” opens up the album, probably the best version of the song I’ve ever heard recorded. And from there, things just get even better with the loud and rebellious “High School,” which leads into the punky and pouting “I Can’t Get It,” both tracks easily matching muscle with any of the band’s previous classics. “Underwater World,” “Futurama,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and “Boiler (Me Boiler ‘n’ Me)” all deliver pounding and killer riffs, some of Andy McCoy’s most inspired songwriting (with a little help on several tracks from Mott The Hoople’s Ian Hunter), while “Cutting Corners” and “Million Miles Away” both offer something a bit different, with Mike Monroe’s blazing sax included. Moreover, the band delivers a superior version of McCoy’s “Don’t You Ever Leave Me,” making mincemeat of the original (which appeared on the band’s debut album as “Don’t Never Leave Me”). Yes, Two Steps From the Move featured a collection of amazing tracks, a nearly perfect album from a band that finally seemed to have its act together and luck on its side.

But sadly, the ever-growing momentum ended shockingly and tragically when drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley was killed in an automobile driven by Motley Crue’s Vince Neil, and Hanoi Rocks had to cancel the remainder of its first U.S. tour supporting the album and fell apart soon afterward. Although the band eventually reemerged in 2001 with a revised line-up to release three enjoyable albums in the following years, the “big moment” for Hanoi Rocks had passed, and this was the album that nearly catapulted the band to the top of the charts. Glam-Punk at its best!

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Mott The Hoople – Brain Capers (1971)

Mott_BrainCapers4.5 out of 5 Stars!

On Brain Capers, a musical time-capsule, we bear witness to a band on death’s doorstep (well, not actually, but the band members thought so anyway). Here we see Mott The Hoople, made up of five talented yet underappreciated musicians, rebellious to the point that they symbolically screamed, “Screw the record company, we’re creating the type of album we f*cking want to release!” and in the process, producing a borderline masterpiece, thus making enough of a “statement” to draw the attention of David Bowie, who went on to “resurrect” Mott The Hoople and ushered the band into several years of success.

This is undoubtedly one of my favorite Mott The Hoople releases of all time—it’s rebellious and sleazy, beautiful and raw, not to mention gaudy and jarring as all hell, especially since it came only eight months after the wimpy and countrified “tang” of Wildlife, an album I truly detested. And Brain Capers is certainly the best of the four pre-Bowie albums, even though it also contains several actual flubs—such as the rhythm section making a noticeable goof in the middle of the otherwise wonderful “Sweet Angeline”—left fully intact and uncorrected, the musicians prioritizing the “feel” of the song over perfected performances. This further shows a band that didn’t give a damn at this point in their “failing” career, which somehow adds to the album’s everlasting charm.

On the frantic opening track “Death May Be Your Santa Claus”—a track originally recorded as “How Long?” but revised and played in a different key—you can almost feel the venomous blades being hurled by Ian Hunter’s forceful vocals, a man lashing out at an unfair music industry. The same can be said for the raging “The Moon Upstairs,” where I can imagine the band members smashing their instruments the moment they’d finished laying down the tracks.

But the album is not all riotous in its intensity. “Darkness, Darkness,” a cover of a tune by The Youngbloods with Mick Ralphs on lead vocals, is one of the less caustic songs on offer and has a similar flavor to the following album’s “Ready For Love,” while “Your Own Backyard” could have easily been an excerpt from MTH’s debut album, with Ian Hunter doing his best Bob Dylan impersonation.

But for me, the highlight of the album is “The Journey,” a lengthy semi-ballad written by Ian Hunter (who typically excels at these piano-driven pieces). Indeed, Hunter’s emotional delivery (with his voice cracking on numerous occasions—certainly no polished performance here) gives the track a “live in the studio” feel, while the chord patterns of the verses, Hunter’s beautiful piano with Verden Allen’s haunting “Procol Harum-like” organ in the background, and the pompous arrangement all bring to mind another of my favorite Hunter ballads—”Rose”—only on a much grander and furious scale. Simply marvelous!

Too bad Mott The Hoople didn’t last forever, but at least the world has several musical time-capsules like Brain Capers and the subsequent post-Bowie albums to help us remember all the rock ‘n’ roll fun this group brought to the table.

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Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure (1973)

RoxyMusic_ForPleasure5 out of 5 Stars!

In my eyes, For Your Pleasure, the second release from Roxy Music, is one of the finest Art Rock albums ever made, and is certainly my favorite by this unique band itself.

Sure, Roxy Music’s self-titled debut from the previous year contained a slew of exciting material and aural oddities, the songs being simultaneously both catchy and bizarre, but Peter Sinfield’s production quality lacked. The vocals or instruments ended up either too forceful or too buried in the mix so the listener couldn’t fully appreciate all the delicate nuances Roxy Music offered regarding the fascinating woodwind blasts, keyboard and synth effects, and luscious guitar and bass melody lines.

On For Your Pleasure, however, the overall production (the band self-producing this release) took a giant leap forward, with the collection possessing a sleek and sensual atmosphere, and all of those instrumental idiosyncrasies, those peculiarities that set this band apart from all of its contemporaries, stood on full and wacky display.

Bryan Ferry’s songwriting had grown seemingly by leaps and bounds, his lyrics being especially quirky, clever, and wry, and the musicians had perfected the art of spiraling off on individual whims, occasionally jamming wildly over and around each other within the confines of each song, yet the band still sounded remarkably cohesive and tight.

With classic tracks such as “Do The Strand,” “Editions of You,” The Bogus Man,” “Beauty Queen,” “For Your Pleasure,” and the unforgettable and rather creepy “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” the album contained a wealth of Art Rock experimentation with a touch of Glam, including strange and kooky arrangements, eerie and mind-bending synths and sound effects, all dripping in top-notch elegance and pizzazz, with the end product becoming nothing short of a 5-Star masterpiece.

Unfortunately, this would also be the last album to include Brian Eno, and his genius-like contributions to the Roxy Music sound would be sorely missed on future releases.

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Silverhead – 16 and Savaged (1973)

Silverhead_16Savaged3.5 out of 5 Stars!

In the early ’70s, Silverhead released two solid studio albums of bluesy Hard Rock with glammy overtones, bringing to mind a cross between artists such as Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Faces, Mott The Hoople, and T-Rex.

Led by flamboyant singer Michael Des Barres (Detective/Chequered Past) and also including bassist Nigel Harrison (Blondie/Chequered Past), the band churned out some raw and sleazy tunes that had great commercial potential. For instance, on 16 and Savaged, the band’s second and final album, the rousing opener “Hello New York” has a similar vibe to Bowie’s “Suffragette City” with sax included, while the suggestively named “More Than Your Mouth Can Hold” has the same downtown strut as the Rolling Stones’ “Happy.”

Regardless, primed for stardom, the band never got the major push from its record label, and instead of gaining fame to match similar bands of the era, Silverhead garnered nothing more than a cult following and remains virtually unknown all these decades later. A crying shame.

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The Dogs D’Amour – In the Dynamite Jet Saloon (1988)

DogsDAmour_JetSaloon4.5 out of 5 Stars!

On its first official release, The Dogs D’Amour delivered some ultra-catchy, decadent, and rollicking “Sleaze ‘N’ Roll.” I loved this U.K. band when it first appeared, with singer Tyla and the other glammed-up guys doing their best impression of The Rolling Stones, and 1988’s In the Dynamite Jet Saloon album saw the band at its most prolific, most defiant, most ravenous period of its career.

Opening with the magnificent track “Debauchery” (that says a lot, huh?), this album just doesn’t let up for a moment. And with its roster of additional tunes including “Last Bandit,” “Wait Until I’m Dead,” “Everything I Want,” “Medicine Man,” and the catchy-as-hell “How Come It Never Rains” along with the potential hit “bonus” track “The Kid From Kensington,” In the Dynamite Jet Saloon is (to me) a classic of the genre.

Like when it comes to Hanoi Rocks from about the same period in time, you can listen to the “Dogs” and practically smell the fumes of whiskey and cigarettes wafting through the stereo speakers…indeed, “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum…Debauchery” pretty much says it all.

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Mick Ronson – Slaughter on 10th Avenue (1974)

MickRonson_Slaughter3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Basically, guitarist/vocalist Mick Ronson’s debut solo effort Slaughter on 10th Avenue includes all the musicians from Bowie’s “Spider From Mars” group but without Bowie himself.

Here, Ronson showed off his own voice, which had many of Bowie’s same quirky qualities, as shown on tracks such as “Only After Dark” and “Music is Lethal,” and he recorded this album just prior to briefly hooking up with Mott The Hoople until he and Ian Hunter went off doing their own “duo thing.”

In my eyes, Ronson was a unique and sorely underrated musician, more than simply a “sidekick” to Bowie, and although not perfect, Slaughter on 10th Avenue was nevertheless a classic of the glam-rock universe, displaying some impressive fretwork, songwriting mastery and orchestrations (such as on the grandly scored title track), and deserves many more accolades than it actually received at the time of its release.

(RIP, sadly, to both Mick Ronson and bassist Trevor Bolder!)

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David Bowie – The Man Who Sold the World (1970)

DavidBowie_ManSoldWorld4 out of 5 Stars!

The Man Who Sold the World was the first Bowie album I ever purchased, and it’s still one of my favorites (just shy of being equal to my fondness for the “Ziggy” era releases).

Regardless, this album is nothing if not unique within Bowie’s vast catalogue of platters, being his only album to truly border on Heavy Metal with tracks such as “She Shook Me Cold, “The Width of a Circle,” “Running Gun Blues,” “Saviour Machine,” and “The Supermen.”

With Mick Ronson performing his raw, somewhat psychedelic guitar gymnastics on many tracks, along with some acoustic and spacey bits tossed in that add haunting touches to several songs (“After All” and the title track instantly spring to mind), Bowie and his cohorts created a rather fascinating and experimental exercise in “Glam Metal” on The Man Who Sold the World that undoubtedly influenced countless Glam rockers in the years to come.

A true gem of the genre!

(RIP, sadly, to both David Bowie and Mick Ronson, rock legends forever!)

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The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – The Penthouse Tapes (1976)

SAHB_Penthouse4 out of 5 Stars!

On The Penthouse Tapes, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band included only three of its own tracks, and for the rest of the album, it recorded renditions of cover songs, including “Crazy Horses” (The Osmonds), “Love Story” (Jethro Tull), and “School’s Out” (Alice Cooper).

Of course, as only SAHB could do, the band also chose some wildly unlikely songs to record, namely Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene,” and Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek.”

As always, despite the band members not writing these various tracks, SAHB still put its own trademarked “twists and craziness” on each song.

Another fun experience from a fun band.

To check out my overview of this “sensational” band’s entire career, view this page: https://zapniles.wordpress.com/2015/12/07/the-sensational-alex-harvey-band-an-overview/

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SAHB_Penthouse

EZO – EZO (1987)

EZO_14 out of 5 Stars!

This ’80s Japanese band merged Hard Rock, Glam, and Metal, eventually capturing the attention of Kiss’s Gene Simmons, who secured the band its record deal in America and even produced its debut album.

I thought EZO quite awesome and horribly ignored—especially with awesome tracks such as “House of 1,000 Pleasures,” “Flashback Heart-Attack,” “Destroyer,” “Desiree,” and the single “Here It Comes”—and I continue to enjoy both of the band’s albums to this day, although I actually find the sophomore effort, Fire Fire, slightly superior.

(Note: In the early ’90s, half of EZO eventually merged with Loudness after that band’s original line-up also disintegrated. Although I adored early Loudness along with EZO, the merging of the two talented groups just didn’t quite gel for me. A shame.)

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Alice Cooper – Easy Action (1970)

AliceCooper_EasyAction3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although Easy Action, the band’s second album, still finds the group in a musical quagmire left over from the debut album Pretties for You (sort of like a bizarre version of The Beatles, one where the Pop Rock has a punkish attitude, a flower-power vibe, and some Zappa-inspired silliness and wild experimentation), you can actually hear the signature style beginning to materialize on tracks such as “Return of the Spiders” and “Mr. and Misdemeanor.”

It would take one more year, during which time the quintet relocated to Detroit to revamp itself, resulting in the classic Love It To Death album, until the band’s popular sound fully solidified.

Therefore, with the weird “Lay Down and Die, Goodbye,” “Still No Air,” and “Below Your Means” included on Easy Action, tracks where I need to be in just the right mood to enjoy, this is certainly not the band’s most accessible album, but one I nevertheless still play on occasions when I yearn for something more than a tad off the wall.

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