“Everything went wrong, I’m sorry boys I’ve got to let you go”
Abandon, Deep Purple’s second album with guitarist Steve Morse, didn’t quite reach the high standard set by its joyous and adventurous predecessor Purpendicular. But it did feature a batch of great, underrated tracks and Fingers To The Bone is a standout that ranks among my favourites of the Morse era. It’s the sound of a veteran band ageing gracefully: Purple depicting the harsh blow of job losses with thoughtful lyrics, beautiful guitar parts and a folky, proggy muso confidence that reminds me of 80s Tull albums like The Broadsword And The Beast. A rich and rewarding deep cut that proved Purple were far from redundant.
Saxon’s Krakatoa is an explosive B-Side from their 1985 single Rock N’ Roll Gypsy. It’s a lively old-school banger very much along the lines of their classic Power And The Glory. Probably a bit too much like it… which might explain why it never made it on to an album. But even if it is Saxon-by-numbers, it’s got more fire and grit than a lot of the stuff that made it on that year’s Innocence Is No Excuse. And if you’re one of those fans that found that album a bit too Def Lep for your liking, this track will be right up your alley.
The meanest and heaviest album of KISS’ classic era. When their self-titled debut LP wasted no time in sliding out of the charts, KISS headed back into the studio to rush out a replacement, 1974’s Hotter Than Hell. This time ramping up the layers and distortion in an attempt to replicate the power of their live sound. The sludgy, messy end result is oft-criticised but I think the album has a dark, underground edge and the more metallic material here works really well. Songs like the genius riff-fest Parasite and the predatory Watchin’ You sound gritty and nasty. My main gripe is the stupidly slow tempos. Top tunes like Got To Choose, the title-track and Let Me Go Rock N’ Roll just sound like they need a good kick up the arse. But they’re still enjoyable versions if you just get into that blockier, doomier mindset and, best of all, there are no real clunkers here. They won’t show up on greatest hits sets but tracks like Comin’ Home, Goin’ Blind and Strange Ways are all choice deep cuts for the KISS connoisseur. Especially Strange Ways for its phenomenal whacked-out Ace Frehley guitar solo. Total attitude. Not their hottest album then but definitely one of their coolest, a rewarding evocation of KISS’ hungry years.
The release of Bruce Dickinson’s first solo album,1990’s Tattooed Millionaire,didn’t represent the fulfillment of some pent-up creative ambition. Instead, an offer to record a track for Nightmare On Elm Street 5 turned into an opportunity for the Iron Maiden frontman to have some simple fun recording an album with his drinking pal, jobless ex-Gillan guitarist Janick Gers. Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of a throwaway effort. The title track is upbeat and infectious but pub rockers like Lickin’ The Gun and Zulu Lulu prove every bit as unremarkable as their titles and album nadir Dive! Dive! Dive! is just too silly (“no muff too tuff”). But the album gets evocative and personal on the excellent Born In ’58, the dusty Bad Company-esque opener Son Of A Gun is one of my favourite Bruce tracks and there’s a sense of fun and warmth in the band’s unpretentious approach. So, while far from a classic, time has been kind to Tattooed Millionaire, especially its stronger first half. I return to this album any time I want a bit of nostalgic summery fun.
He was the lurking, shadowy menace on the cover of Iron Maiden’s first single Running Free and now wwoooaarghh… here’s Eddie! The band’s undying, murderous mascot was finally revealed in his full glory on the front of their self-titled debut album. His ghoulish presence amidst London’s grubby bins, doorways and streetlights perfectly evoking the rough, dangerous music on this NWOBHM classic. Iron Maiden sounds like it wants to jump you in an alleyway and cut your face. Gritty and aggressive tunes like Prowler, Transylvania and Iron Maiden taking the metal pioneered by Priest and Rainbow to a new level of raw intensity. And guided by bassist/songwriter/Genesis fan Steve Harris, there’s also plenty of ambition and excitement in the extended structures of tracks like the lucozade-powered Phantom Of The Opera. These days I gravitate to the Hendrix-y mellowness of Remember Tomorrow and Strange World but all the songs on this album have been a favourite at one point or another. The whole band impress but Paul Di’Anno’s raucous vocals and Harris’ forceful basslines deserve special mentions. The band members still whinge about the gnarly production but nobody else gives a flying fuck. Iron Maiden wants you for dead and if this album doesn’t get your blood flowing, you might as well be.
The legendary Lemmy/Philthy/Fast Eddie lineup of Motörhead roars into life on their 1977 self-titled debut, sounding every bit the skint, pissed off, ne’er-do-wells they were. Over 40 years later Motörhead is still an impressively belligerent noise. It captures the band at the point where they were dubbed “the worst band in the world” (and couldn’t have cared less). The title track is a thunderous biker anthem and Iron Horse/Born To Lose, White Line Fever and Keep Us On The Road are low-down and mean rackets. The band’s everything-louder-than-everything-else chemistry is already thrillingly volatile but the hurried recording sessions didn’t allow much time for writing. So there’s a reliance on old songs from Lemmy’s stint in Hawkwind and songs from a formative and short-lived earlier lineup of the band. Which means Motörhead ends up more trippy, dated and ponderous than later albums where the band would truly gel: mixing their wide range of influences into a seamless Motörmusic. But it’s a great and important debut: an obnoxious, warts-and-all album that set a new standard in loud, dirty, fuck off rock n’ roll.
Saxon concluded their 90s catalogue in robust fashion with the aptly-titled Metalhead. It continued the dark, heavy vein of 1997’s Unleash The Beast but with a vigour and confidence bolstered by a traditional metal renaissance in Europe.
The crushing metal chugs and ominous tones of tracks like Metalhead and Are We Travellers In Time have a contemporary edge but also a technicality to the riffage that bulldozers away the boozier, spritlier charm of the band’s early days. But Saxon’s spirit and songcraft remains. Even at its heaviest, the album sports durable melodies and there’s a welcome lighter touch and variety on songs like the bouncy Prisoner, grooving What Goes Around and the proggy Sea Of Life. It’s not all gleaming and modern: the Saxon traditions of headbanging and tales of olde are upheld in the thrilling All Guns Blazing and the rousing Conquistador.
Some inevitable clunkers (Piss Off and the forgettable Watching You) and a sense of solid proficiency prevent it ranking alongside inspired classics like Power & The Glory. But with Metalhead Saxon made their stongest, timeliest statement of the decade and this is where the modern lineup* really clicks, finding a new reason to be. I’ll bang my head to that.
HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5
*Worth pointing out that Nigel Glockler had left (again) due to injury, replaced by Fritz Randow. But you won’t notice the difference.