Special thanks to our readers

Hey Black Wax Reviews Reader,

Queensryche, circa early '80's.

We know you… You are our brothers and sisters…

Before there was an internet you’d catch a ride with whomever to the nearest bigger town or city. You’d flip through thousands… TENS of thousands of albums and buy the ones with the coolest covers… no chance to preview them on amazon. The only amazon was the jungle. There was no ‘dot com’ to run to. And if you lived in a town small enough, you went to the hardware store, where they’d special order LPs for you. But you had to be careful… you could order Highway To Hell and easily end up with Powerage. They didn’t know the difference. We were putting our hard-earned cash on the counter and hoping for the best. Lots of times, we got burned. Dropped the needle only to find we hated what we heard. Or that it was initially only tolerable, but grew on us over time.

But there were the winners, too. The ones we fell in love with. Ride the Lightning. Master of Puppets on cassette two weeks after it was released. Grim Reaper’s first album. Armored Saint’s ep. Queensryche’s ep. Great White’s first album. (Remember? Before the rockabilly thing?) These days, when someone says they only like ‘old Scorpions’, and we ask what that means for them, we smile a little bit when they say ‘Love At First Sting’ or anything later. Give us Lovedrive. Animal Magnetism. Blackout. (And some of us are so hardcore that only Lonesome Crow will do.)

We remember our first rock concert. Some of us traveled for hours in the back of a pickup truck on a Sunday night to see it. Some of us had our first encounter with second-hand smoke at that concert. (On the way home, excitedly talking about what we’d remember as one of the best shows of our lives, one of my friends asked, “Hey man… do you have a buzz?” Started laughing at me when I reached up to feel my head. “No… what are you talking about?” Young and innocent, all it took for me to have my world rocked was breathing the air in the arena.) And for some of us, that band became gigantic. Or not.

For me it was Maiden. July 24, 1983. A trip to a certain big city (rhymes with “Houston”) in the back of a pickup. Granted, it had a topper. Fastway opened. Then Saxon. Then Maiden. In the weeks leading up to the concert, I sold all my 8-tracks and my portable 8-track player for cash to take to the concert. Once I got in the door of the Houston Coliseum, bought all three concert jerseys available. Put them all on right away, before they could get stolen.

They went over my Number Of The Beast t-shirt. I’d taken that shirt to the local printing shop and had them put “Maiden Rules” on the back, in all caps, in red iron-on letters. An hour earlier, while standing in line, some Older Guys had admired my shirt. “Hey, that’s pretty cool! Why don’t you give it to me!” As I stood there dumbstruck, my friend and fellow Black Wax Reviewer diffused the situation cooly… “Ha ha… that’s pretty funny, man…” I’m still grateful for that one.

Brain damage in Tejas...

Saved the ticket stub forever. Until i lost it. Kept the shirts forever. Until I threw them out in a fit of ‘maturity’. (Those very shirts are now worth hundreds of dollars on e-bay). Maybe like us, you saw the same band(s) multiple times. In different states. Maybe even in different territories or countries. Some shows were better than others. But even after all these years, these experiences are dear to our hearts.

For some of you, I’m describing a dad, mom, step-parent, uncle, or twisted older brother or sister. For some of you, the internet delivered your first taste of your beloved bands.

That’s totally cool.

Whatever path we take, the destination is the same; our undying passion for music. Honestly, at the end of the day, we don’t even mind what kind of music it is that you love — if you’re passionate about music, like we are, then you have our respect.

Photo courtesy of G.

What was your first rock concert? Which albums did you buy with fingers crossed? Which ones ended up standing the test of time? Which ones didn’t? What was your best concert experience? What was your worst?

We’d love to hear from you. Just add your comments down below, if and when you feel like it.

And thanks for stopping by. You rule.

Horns To You,
Black Wax Reviews

Steely Dan: The Royal Scam (1976)

Four years old.

Standing with my face pressed against the front of the jukebox at Jerry’s Pizza King, outside Tampa. Chaser lights flashing. Music blasting. If I reached with all my might, I could almost touch the selector buttons. “Do It Again” at full volume. I heard that song so many times that I assumed every other child was listening to the same thing in their heads. (Two years later, it would be Side One of Apostrophe that my tender little mind and heart would be absorbing through osmosis and repetition.)

College. Austin, Texas. Sun Harvest Farms, hawking produce. Muzak. “Hey Nineteen”. “Peg”. “Babylon Sister”. My psyche’s hazy aural backdrop. I should find out who this is and get some. On compact digital chromium oxide cassette.

And pretty soon, it’s all I’m listening to. Again. But this time, by my own choice. Wait. Never mind. I have no choice. It’s the only thing that consistently soothes me.

Orlando. Indianapolis. Puerto Rico (“the city of St. John…”). Back to CONUS. Japan. Years fly by. Circumstances change. But The Dan is always there, playing in the background. Even put out some new stuff. (Most of which I love.) But the classic soundtrack remains.

Fast forward to present day. Back to vinyl. Digging in to the meat of things. Who played on what. Reviews. Interviews. And best of all, instant access to direct quotes from Don and Walt themselves. DVDs revealing ‘behind the scenes’ of tracking sessions. Mixdown sessions. How many lead guitar breaks were considered for that song. Who said what. Who propped up a cardboard sign in front of his drumset. A doorway into a dreamworld.

But those doors never take me as far through those inner hallways as the music itself. They might show me a little more of Don and Walt. But as it turns out, that was never what I was searching for. As it turns out, I was searching for more insight into my own self. And somehow the music is the mirror.

“Arch pop ditties.” The inner sleeve notes on Aja are hysterical. Suitable for framing. And give some real insight into the genius of these two guys. There. I said it. I guess by now, Gentle Reader, you’ve figured out that the Black Wax team strongly approves of the musical pursuits of Steely Dan.

I downloaded the Internet and found that The Wikipedia has this to say about The Royal Scam: “The album was not as highly rated upon its release as its predecessors with most reviewers noting that it did not seem to represent any musical advancement.” Of course, hindsight is 20/20. The Royal Scam is a work of art, and as such, is celebrated on turntables from Topanga to Watts. Brooklyn, even.

Side one

  1. Kid Charlemagne” – 4:38
    Guitar solo by Larry CarltonThe Wikipedia tells us it’s a song about Bear. Upbeat. Cryptic. When I was eight years old and the bicentennial stickers were at eye-level on the glass doors of every convenience store, the funny pants, the crazy moustaches and all other accoutrements (sights, sounds, smells) of the era were like water to the fish: so normal, common and accepted as to be seemingly invisible. More than 35 years later, the lyrics elicit a smile and vague memories of a wild time. Sorry I was only a kid and missed it, but it’s probably a good thing I was only a kid and missed it. A sad and wiser man, all the same.
  2. “The Caves of Altamira” – 3:33[7]

    Larry Carlton. Mister 335. Hero.

    Tenor saxophone solo by John KlemmerIs that hope I hear in the chord progression?

    My friend Wiki says, “The lyrics, written in first person on the theme of art, follow in typically abstruse fashion the story of a young boy who would avoid society by entering a cave and admiring cave paintings on its walls.”So, art as escape… the cave of the psyche… make up your own.

  3. “Don’t Take Me Alive” – 4:16
    Guitar solo by Larry CarltonHere’s a little gem I found at
    http://www.guitaretab.com/s/steely-dan/18296.html :

    • Date: Mon, 2 Oct 1995 20:31:44 -0300
      From: Bruce & Peggy Mackinnon
      Subject: s/steely_dan/don't_take_me_alive.crd
      INTRO:
      First slowly strum out a G7#9 with this shape: EADGBE
                                                     355466
      This may look like an impossibility, like a cruel, unusual and
      unplayable chord, but it can be done. You must use the power
      of the force. First you use your ring (3rd) finger to cover
      BOTH the 4th and 5th strings on the 5th fret (straight down on
      the fingertip, not barred), and next you  use the baby finger to
      barre both the 1st and 2nd strings on the 6th fret. Of course your
      index finger is on the 6th string, 3rd fret, and your middle
      finger is on the 3rd string, 4th fret.

      Thank you, dear friends, for shining a light on that godforsaken first chord. Like the opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night“, it wakes many of us guitarists from our peaceful slumber. Killing dreams. Crushing souls. Well, mine anyway.

  4. “Sign in Stranger” – 4:23
    Piano Solo by Paul GriffinGuitar Solo by Elliott RandallStories of the seedy underworld. Like most Dan songs. I can almost see these cretins standing in line, queueing up politely as they can. Slowly winding back and forth through the little rope barriers, quietly working their way toward the Glass Booth. Lady behind the glass sitting there with a bored look as one after another shuffles up, pushes giant wads of cash through the slot and fills out the application to make those mugshots disappear. But even the tempo and erratic piano solo suggest a looser, more laid-back, under-the-table approach to things. Maybe a bit more informal than signs with arrows and “for service ring bell”. To each our own, right?

    The Dan in 1970

  5. “The Fez” (Becker, Fagen, Paul Griffin) – 4:01
    Guitar solo by Walter BeckerIt would be decades before I’d learn that they weren’t talking about the guys with the go carts. The tradeoff for losing innocence is finally being in on the joke. Bittersweet. But worth it, I think, in the end.

Side two

  1. “Green Earrings” – 4:05
    Guitar solos by Denny Dias (1st) and Elliott Randall(2nd)I can see her. The dental work. The way she pushes her hair back behind her ear without even being aware of it.
  2. “Haitian Divorce” – 5:51
    Talk box guitar solo by Dean Parks, altered by Walter BeckerHopelessly in love with the way “soon everybody knew the thing was dead” happens before we’re even through with Verse One. Ever been divorced? New York City’s tie with sunny islands / foreshadowing for the end of the album is happening here in spades. I could make up something here about intertwining story lines and hypothetical spectres. Best if I just stick to personal opinion. I like it.

    Modern-day Dan.

  3. Everything You Did” – 3:55
    Guitar solo by Larry CarltonThis is not my beautiful wife. This is not my beautiful house.
  4. The Royal Scam” – 6:30
    Guitar solo by Larry Carlton
    Quite possibly one of the greatest Dan songs of all time. Cold. Calculated. Brooding. The lyrics are pure poetry. Contrast. Bright colors against shades of gray. The American Dream. The lies we tell to keep it alive, even as we’re being plowed under.The percussion work is brilliant. Actually, it feels rather pointless to say that any aspect of the music is brilliant or amazing, since all of it is. “That wave is so WET!” Okay. Whatever.Still. The crazy, subtle hand percussion that happens at the very beginning of the song, behind the piano (the tapping, clicking, whatever it is) really adds to the spookiness. The darkness. And this is truly the perfect song to summarize the entire album. The seventies. The American Dream.

    Call me a jaded cynic. Call me what you will. Steely Dan for President.

    RATING: 11 Stars out of 11. The Perfect Album in every way.

    EPILOGUE: Lots of love for Mister Whatever on the Webs. For starters, go here: http://www.steelydandictionary.com/

Blue Oyster Cult: Fire Of Unknown Origin (1981)

Before starting this piece, I made the mistake of reading other peoples’ reviews of this classic album, a practice I’ve entirely avoided to date.

It almost ruined the entire affair for me.

From references to the movie Heavy Metal to listings of various co-writers and collaborators, so much has already been said about Fire of Unknown Origin. In so many different languages. A 15-second visit to the googleramps reveals a wide variety of reviews in everything from French, Spanish and English to this, from Strangecharm:

The only 3 which rank this largely junk-cult of previous decade hardened pop-rock trash above 1+1/2 stars, which ever really flared up enough to keep this ‘gee-wiz’ kid more than disaffectedly chill about the whole 9-yards of raw mid-glossed-over target-marketed material were the opening-salvo triad of shot, put above the usual same-old burn-out studio mixing board fare for such down-but-not-too-willingly-dirty modern swine-heardsmen & bore-huntswomen…”

(Someone’s trying a little too hard to sound like Don and Walt. But I digress.)

So I stepped away from the computer, put on my vinyl copy and got back in touch with why I love this album.

Simply put, it’s bright without being to cheery; it’s dark without being too moody; and it’s over-the-top without taking itself too seriously. The perfect balance, in my book.

At times the keyboard sounds come close to sounding dated, but still sound pretty fresh. I remember thinking how heavy this album sounded back in ’83, when I first heard it. With the technological advances in the past 30 years, it’s unfair to pull it out of context and judge it as pop. Yet, as we’ve said before, there’s really no other way to judge the timelessness of an album.

With this in mind, Fire of Unknown Origin stands the test of time pretty well if you enjoy pop (by today’s standards) hooks and tongue-in-cheek humor. And really, all things considered, it is still pretty heavy sounding.

Intended Sound vs. Actual Sound

Part of what makes this album magical for me is how I listen to it. That is to say, when I hear these songs, the soundstage is much broader in my head than what is actually being presented by the recording. The distortion, while being just fine on the record, for me is simply a respresentation of a much larger and heavier distortion; almost as if the actual recording is simply a reminder of a much more powerful recording, albeit one that has never actually existed.

For me this is part of the magic of Blue Oyster Cult; through Fire of Unknown Origin they’ve captured the spirit of something much grander than can be actually articulated.

Rant: Five Weeks without a turntable

I’d always wondered what I’d grab on my way out the door if the house ever caught fire.

Now, with the wife and the cat safely outside, eleven p.m. on a cold, December, Colorado night, getting my answer didn’t seem nearly as satisfying, or romantic, as I’d hoped. Hopping on one leg down the hallway, wallet and keys in the backpack on my arm, trying to put on my jacket and a boot simultaneously, it all became unceremoniously clear:

1) Wife’s new Martin acoustic. A no-brainer.

2) My ’96 PRS CU24. Also a no-brainer.

3) Laptop (WITH power cord). My connection to the world.

That was it. As we stood outside in the 10-degree F. weather for more than two hours, surrounded by emergency vehicles of all shapes and sizes, I realized that my two-week winter vacation (scheduled to start the next day, which I’d planned to spend writing and recording for the new album) was shot.

And I was right. That two weeks would be spent living in a local hotel, driving to the house each day, checking on the cleanup crews, talking with insurance agents (who were all on vacation for the holidays, naturally), wandering around town trying not to spend money frivolously, wishing, just WISHING I had my kitchen back so I could make a simple sandwich in the privacy of my own home without having to place an order, wait for the food, wait for the check, wait for the waiter to return with my card and the check, figure the tip, and try, just TRY to get out for less than $20, only to head back to the hotel for a late afternoon/early evening mind-numbing cocktail and prayers to the Hotel Gods that tonight’s new neighbors would not have small children who were excited to see the historic train, located some fifty feet away.

To be expected, no doubt.

But what I’d NOT expected was that today, more than Five Weeks later, on my birthday, no less, I’d STILL be without albums and turntable! As it stands at this very moment, all 600 or so LP’s are safely stored in an upstairs closet, where cleanup crews could not find them proudly displayed and accidentally send them crashing to the floor as they tried to move an entire 7-foot tall book case loaded down with precious vinyl.

“Better safe than sorry,” said I, and took it upon myself to make no fewer than 23 trips up and down the fifteen stairs to hide them safely out of sight and mind, protected from the clumsy fingers of the unannointed.

And let me tell you, Five Weeks is a long time.

Long enough to grow numb to the silence-enshrouded dinners. Long enough to forget the joy of arranging and rearranging. Long enough, in fact, to forget what I even have in the collection at all.

But today marked the end of cleanup crews. The end of painters, plastic drop cloths, and unexpected visits from clean and sober folks who talk way too loudly. Not quite the end of insurance paperwork, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Not yet.

And yet now, with freedom on the horizon, it occurs to me that there’s No Better Time than the present to rearrange our living situation. “If EVER there was a time to make those changes, it’s NOW, BEFORE making that second batch of 23 flights up and down the stairs with armloads of albums.” While I can’t bear the thought of another single day without being able to listen to my vinyl, at the same time, I can’t seem to decide on the best way to store them so they’re all at EYE LEVEL, within reasonable proximity to the turntable.

Prologue: the vinyl, back in action, a few days after this rant.

This, of course, is to say nothing of the issue of arranging the albums themselves. I’ve never been an “alphabetical” kind of guy… how can the Beatles and Black Sabbath be neighbors? Back in the day, I always arranged by emotional state. One of my favorite on-screen moments is John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity… arranging his albums autobiographically. And Dick, walking through the stacks of LP’s, as if in a trance, trying desperately to sound cool… “I could help you… uh… man… if you want…” or something like that. I’m not going to google the script right this moment.

My point, if there can possibly be one on a night like tonight, is that I’m tired, and I want to listen to my records again. But there are miles to go before I drop the needle on the wax again. Maybe this weekend? (Maybe tomorrow, maybe next summer… Girl, I just don’t know…)

Bottom line: Life without vinyl sucks. Life with vinyl, but without the means to play it, is treacherous. And life with a ton of vinyl that you love, that was NOT destroyed in the house fire, that is stashed away in the closet at the top of the stairs waiting for you to come bring it back into rotation, is, somehow, divine.

Dual Review: KISS (Music From The Elder–1981) & Black Sabbath (Born Again–1983)

I know what you’re thinking.

How in the WORLD could the Black Wax Review team possibly choose these two albums for a Dual Review? What on earth could they possibly have in common?

Answer: they’re both one-of-a-kind.

The Elder… KISS’ attempt to be “taken seriously.” Panned by the critics. Looked on with disdain by the band members themselves. Probably regretted, even.

Born Again… Sabbath’s ‘one-off’ with Ian Gillan. Folklore has it that during the recording/mixdown of this album, various band members would sneak into the control room after hours to adjust the mix to their liking. Looked upon with disdain by the band and related parties themselves. Probably regretted, even.

Both albums: masterworks of genius for those of us of a certain age.

The Music Window

Here at Black Wax Reviews, our highly-trained Professional Listening Staff adhere to the Code of the Music Window. Actually much more a philosophy or a way of life than a simple code of ethics, the Code of the Music Window guides us on the continued quest for excellent music. The Code states that during a certain, critical period of time (consisting of 1,000 days between the ages of 14 and 17), a person’s heart opens temporarily, during which whatever music she or he falls in love with becomes indelibly imprinted upon one’s heart, mind, and psyche.

Case in point: according to Historical Documents, Scott Ian (Anthrax) has heralded KISS’ Unmasked (1980) as being their best album. Born in 1963, he first saw KISS in 1977 at Madison Square Garden, when he fell in love with the band. That means he was 17 when Unmasked came out. (He was a late bloomer, obviously.)

As one Black Wax Reviewer so succinctly put it, “Scott Ian’s Unmasked was our Elder.” Though Elder came out in ’81, certain members of the Black Wax Review team discovered it in late 1982/early 1983… meaning that for them, it was brand new. The window was open. The heart/mind/psyche was laid vulnerable. So it is that albums such as Elder and Born Again, though considered in some circles as miserable failures, are deeply loved by the Black Wax Reviews team, as well as legions of others around the world.

KISS: MUSIC FROM THE ELDER (1981)

It’s so easy to take pot shots at The Elder… Teaming up with Lou Reed was a big mistake… Ace hated the whole concept and only went along under duress… the lyrics so painfully idealistic that they cause the listener to blush with embarrassment (check out Dark Light… “LOOK OUT for the death of love… there will be no more love… WATCH OUT, it’s yourself that you are fooling… Who do you think you’re fooling?“)… the lousy production value (substandard tracking and mixdown — guitar sounds are muddled together and indistinct; the whole album is just slightly “out of focus” and blurry, compared to the clean, crisp recordings by other bands during the same era, such as AC/DC – For Those About to Rock; Black Sabbath – The Mob Rules; Blue Öyster Cult – Fire of Unknown Origin; Alice Cooper – Special Forces; Iron Maiden – Killers; Judas Priest – Point of Entry; Mötley Crüe – Too Fast For Love; and Ozzy Osbourne – Diary Of A Madman)… and since we’re on a roll, the guys cut their hair, had drastically streamlined costumes… the list of complaints could go on and on.

And as if things weren’t bad enough, at the end of the day KISS had to actually sue their own record company to avoid going bankrupt after Elder. It’s no wonder that everyone involved in the creation of this album might prefer to sweep it under the rug and look the other way. Pretend it never happened. Like parachute pants.

Still, in light of all that, the Black Wax Reviews team LOVES this album. The stars were aligned. The window was open. And we’re still on this Odyssey.

The Oath. Heavy power chords, from the moment the needle hits the wax. Tuned down 1/2 step to Eflat, in case you’d like to play along. Nothing particularly difficult, yet, at the same time, flashy and exciting, nonetheless. I read/heard somewhere that Eric Carr couldn’t quite cut it on every track, but the rest of the guys appreciated his humility and readiness to step aside and let Anton take the throne for those duties he couldn’t handle yet. Some technical parts in The Oath and Dark Light that are pretty sweet, despite the crappy production value of the tracking. (*Full disclosure: our team is using an original vinyl pressing for this review. As of press time, a ‘remastered’ version has been released, but not yet enjoyed by our team. Give us ‘remixed’, not ‘remastered’.)

Fanfare. WTF? It’s okay… makes me think that they might actually have written a movie for which this is the soundtrack. Which, of course, they haven’t. But adds to my suspension of disbelief nonetheless.

Just A Boy. Formage. (But certain kinds of cheese are simply irresistible.) Opening acoustic guitar part is absolutely gorgeous. Triangle/chime part is still pretty indistinct… wish it were cleaned up a bit. Again, I’m waiting with baited breath for a remix. Probably ’til my dying day, I realize. Nonetheless…

Dark Light. In the day, it sounded like Ace was really into it. Thirty years later, knowing some of the back story, it’s pretty obvious that he didn’t really want to be doing it. In addition to his vocal delivery (something unconvincing about the contrast between the medieval language and Ace’s enunciation; think Robin Hood with a Brooklyn accent), Ace’s solo gives this away pretty blatantly… he relies on tired blues scale motifs. The closing phrase of the solo, where he repeats the same descending pull-off for no fewer than six bars, changing only the phrasing, serves as clear evidence. And yet I love it nonetheless.

Only You. When Gene writes a song, you can bet that it’s going to be about one of two things: having sex, or being powerful (leading to sex). This is one of the latter…  joining the ranks of earlier works like “Calling Doctor Love” and “God of Thunder”, as well as later stuff like “Charisma” and “War Machine”.

Under The Rose. Sigh. Gene again. With Eric. Melodramatic, as ever. Ace’s solo is kick ass. It took me years to realize that he’s using a delay pedal. (Kicks in about 1/3 of the way… everything after that moment is seriously simple; dry in the right channel, wet in the left channel. Just focus on the right and you can play along just fine.) Why do I love this so much? Can’t really say, but this song, like all the rest, play key roles in this entire album. Lofty though their goals may have been, they really did choose to go for broke. Is it earnestness? Sincerity? Or is it my own rose-colored glasses that I’m looking through as I gaze back across the decades, hoping to find some scrap of the youth I was all those years ago? Aw, what the hell. Let’s flip the album and take a look at Side Two.

A World Without Heroes. So overplayed back in the day that I still skip this song. Gene’s tear running down his cheek at the end of the video stopped me dead in my tracks back in the day. Now… well… Let’s move on, shall we?

Mr. Blackwell. Gene redeems himself on this one. God of Thunder, once again. But this time it’s not so much “I’m so cool” as “You’re cold and mean, and in between, you’re rotten to the core…” Nice main guitar lick. Sweet guitar solo. (Ace refused to join the band for tracking; laid down his own stuff at his home studio–“Ace In The Hole Studios”– and mailed it in to Gene and Paul. Nice. Here we are, with 15 and 16 year-old kids’ psyches hanging in the balance, and the guys in the band are arguing about money, power, and contractual obligations. Didn’t they REALIZE that it was the music that mattered? But I digress…)

Odyssey. Paul being Paul. Sadly, I could never understand about 70% of the lyrics on this album, thanks to the sub-standard tracking/mixdown quality. This song was one of the most guilty of the unintelligible. But still, the melody lines soar through my heart to this day. Nice piano.

I. Yep. I bought it, hook, line, and sinker, back in the day. Today I can play along with it and I realize that it’s not that challenging. Hand-claps… maybe not so much. (By the way, the opening and closing tracks, “The Oath” and “I”, respectively, serve as bookends in that they’re basically the same chord progression, with minor variations.) But despite all of my cynicism (bank bailouts in 2008, unthinkable crimes committed against humanity, aging parents, etc.) I DID drop nearly $40 for this album. And I’d do it again. Because Music From The Elder represents more than a struggling band at the edge of a precipice in 1981. It’s a snapshot of a time forgotten… when someone on the verge of transformation was uncertain of what path to take. Laugh all you want. For better or worse, it’s a snapshot of you at your most vulnerable. The biggest question is, do you get it?

Music From The Elder: NINE STARS

BLACK SABBATH: BORN AGAIN (1983)

Like The Elder, Born Again, upon first listen, is a bit of a mess. Crappy production value. In desperate need of a remix. Give us some bottom end, for the love of all things unholy.

But there’s more going on, beneath the surface. If you’re willing to give it a chance.

Trashed: First off, excellent lyrics. “Ooh, Mr. Miracle, you saved me from some pain. I thank you, Mr. Miracle, I won’t get trashed again…” Then, toward the end of the song, “And as we got trashed, we were laughing still, well bless my soul…” It simply doesn’t get any better than this snapshot of the human condition. Also, Ian Gillan’s screams are blood-curdling. We get to hear them for the first time in bar 11 of the first song, and he simply does not let up from that moment until the closing of Keep It Warm.

Transported back in time, as I held the record jacket in my hands while listening to the album in 1983, I could not get over the picture of the hirsute caveman doing the blood-curdling, spine-chilling screaming. A master, no doubt. So strange, decades later, to see Mr. Gillan The Gentleman on the youtubes, ever the polite and diplomatic, backstage with Yngwie, holding a banana to his ear, pretending to answer a telephone. That’s no telephone, you silly man! That’s a banana! Oh, I see what you did there! What a gas! You’re so British!

Stonehenge: Geezer bought some cool pedals to use with his bass. Kinda warbley… is it a chorus? Maybe some delay? Sounds spooky.

Disturbing The Priest: 100% cool points for the contrasting scream/laugh against the spooky/calm/subdued vibe of Stonehenge a moment earlier. The first five seconds of this song ALONE are reason enough for this album to receive a full Eleven Stars.

The Dark. Geezer’s pedals again. Sets the stage beautifully for…

Zero The Hero. No need to go into the whole Guns N Roses ripoff. We’re all adults here. Slow and plodding… heavy. Ever playing on the tri-tone thing, the plot of soil where Sabbath staked their flag on the first album. (Randy tipped his hat in respect with the opening notes of his solo for “Over The Mountain”.)

SIDE TWO (One of the most solid “sides” in metal)

Digital Bitch: Fast and crazy, this song would sound a lot better with some added low end and subtracted mid-range. Our team has used AC/DC’s “Fly On The Wall” as the perfect example of how NOT to mix down an album (mid-range headache); Digital Bitch is another great example. Just too much mid. Makes me lift the needle so I can skip to…

Born Again: A masterpiece. Awesome lyrics. Sonically puts me in a quagmire of maple syrup… or quicksand… I’m stuck, and I’ll never, ever escape. But with lyrics that intrigue and remain fresh to this day… “As you look through my window, Deep into my room… At the tapestries all faded… Their vague and distant glories concealed in the gloom… The icy fingers of forgotten passions, softly brushing my lips… At the tips of my primitive soul…”  Timeless. Relevant to anyone with a heartbeat. And Ian punctuates it all with his trademark scream. A master. Forever. Nothing but respect here.

Hotline: An up-tempo rocker that truly serves as a springboard for the final track.

Keep It Warm: Mid-tempo, solid, awesome progression, questionable lyrics–or should I say, awesome lyrics about a soul with questionable ethics… (“It’s not true, well maybe half-and-half… you know I love you but I still like a laugh…”). The perfect close to an almost perfect album.

BORN AGAIN: TEN STARS (If it were remixed to bring in some warm bottom end, it would easily score a perfect Eleven Stars. Tony, are you listening?)

Makes me want to start a tribute band that plays nothing but these two albums. My window was clearly open in ’82-’83, when these records found their way into my life and heart.