Basking in the incredible success of their 1996 reunion tour, the four original members of KISS headed back into the studio to pick up where they left off: completely unable to work together. In fact, the entire band only appear together twice on 1998’s so-called reunion album Psycho Circus. The whole band performs Ace Frehley’s Into The Void (which, surprise surprise, is the only track here that sounds anything like classic KISS) and they all sing together on the fairly average You Wanted The Best. In truth, however, this is the Paul n’ Gene show. Which would be fine if the album was actually any good, but it’s a muddled, mediocre effort. Stanley exerts a bit of quality control with the anthemic, stomping title track and Gene offers up the suprisingly good closer Journey Of 1,000 Years but both performers have seen better days. Within is terrible alterna-metal, Finally Found My Way is a limp and dated ballad and the album is loaded with empty and charmless statements of unity. Doing a greatest hits nostalgia trek is one thing, moving forward as a creative unit is another entirely. KISS would have been better settling for the nostalgia because Psycho Circus left the inimitable rock legends looking like nothing but a bunch of clowns.
It’s tempting to see 1992’s Angel Dust as a deliberate and contrarian attempt to confuse fans following the unexpected success and “funk metal” pigeonholing of 1989’s The Real Thing. But that album was already weird enough, with its vibrant range of styles and Mike Patton’s darkly humourous lyrics. So, with Patton now fully involved in the band’s musical direction rather than just vocals and lyrics, Faith No More were really just evolving naturally: becoming weirder and more eclectic than ever before. Scathing, metallic rockers like the sarcastic Land Of Sunshine and the jackhammer Caffeine mingle with the sample-heavy melodic genius of Midlife Crisis, Everything’s Ruined and A Small Victory. But the album is at its best when it goes all Alice Cooper. RV‘s quirky portrayal of a trailer park slob has moments of soaring pathos and the album’s choicest deep cut Crack Hitler is a funky soundtrack for the best 70s TV action show you’ve never seen. It’s not all perfect. The cover of Midnight Cowboy is a pointless coda and I find the noisemare tracks Malpractice and Jizzlobber a bit uneventful. But even they still contribute to the dark, weird totality and I doubt Faith No More wanted anyone to like all of this. The contrary buggers. Like the cover’s pairing of a majestic egret with images of a slaughterhouse… Angel Dust is both beautiful and hideous. A challenging masterpiece. So sing and rejoice, sing and rejoice.
Ten years after their last album, The Wildhearts are back! On new album Renaissance Men (so called because they have came back) the band promises to rock you like a boomerang (a thing that comes back). And, like renaissance men, The Wildhearts are a sophisticated bunch so you get clever puns about comebacks and a wide range of lyrical concerns: online bullying, mental health, wankers, celebrity drug deaths, and coming back. It’s all extremely in-your-face but also a lot of fun too. Everything’s direct and punky so you don’t get the exciting, sprawling riff adventures of older material like Everlone and Rooting For The Bad Guy. But the songs themselves are eclectic and sharp. Dislocated veers from metal blitzkrieg to touchingly vulnerable, Let Em’ Go is a guaranteed drunken singalong and My Side Of The Bed mixes atonal noise with blissful power pop. And the heads-down pace of the album means the by-the-numbers moments like Little Flower and Emergency (Fentanyl Babylon) are short enough to forgive. Especially when mingling with belters like the powerful closer Pilo Erection (stop tittering and google it) and the wonderful, celebratory title track. Feels like a band that’s came back at the right time and for the right reasons and this is an album that’ll keep you coming back for more. Like a boomerang.
Dio in his spectacular 80s live prime: explosions, lasers, crystal balls, knights, heraldry and a big fucking dragon! None of that on the CD version though… but have no fear! The music is just as spectacular. The band, including new guitarist Craig Goldy, breathe fire into the new material from the under-rated Sacred Heart album: King Of Rock N’ Roll is an explosive opener; Sacred Heart and Like The Beat Of A Heart are stately magnificence; and Hungry For Heaven and Rock N’ Roll Children are fun melodic anthems. The powerful band does a great job on the older Dio tracks like We Rock, Stand Up And Shout and Rainbow In The Dark too. In particular, the version of Don’t Talk To Strangers here is goosebump city: the best version of the track I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, some of the other Dio, Rainbow and Sabbath classics get shoehorned into medleys, which are enjoyable enough but a bit frustrating. Especially when drum, keyboard and guitar solos are allowed to drag…on(!) for 18 minutes of valuable running time. So there’s both heaven and hell here for Dio fans. If you can find the sacred skip button, you’ll discover golden renditions of your favourites and fresh excitement from some lesser-heard treasures. Buy the live DVD too… it’s got a big fucking dragon in it!
“Welcome all you fuckers/seeking evil excitements/yeah! You want to be cool” Of course you do! Then why not impress all your friends by listening to Bulldozer’s excellent debut album The Day Of Wrath. The Italian band was often written off as Venom clones but they were a more musically capable outfit (check out the maniacal guitar soloing throughout Mad Man) and edged very close to the crude Teutonic thrash of bands like Destruction and Kreator. And even if it didn’t exactly break new ground, Bulldozer’s debut endures on the strength of its songs and its attitude. The album is laden with killer riffs and hooks: from the sacreligious darkness of Welcome Death, the marauding Cut-Throat, the seductive Great Deciever and the unforgettable party-banger Whisky Time (“It’s fucking whisky time!”). Falls short of full points due to skippable intro/outro shenanigans but make no mistake! If you’re an uncool fucker, seeking evil excitement… it’s fucking Bulldozer time!
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.