When I was a little’un, the second greatest thing in the world was getting a new copy of Guitar World and sifting through the tabs. I didn’t know half the songs in it, but that didn’t stop me from trying to learn them. This was pre-YouTube and if a song wasn’t on TV, you had to physically go to a store and purchase it with real actual money by interacting with a real actual human being. If a band didn’t have an Australian deal, you (and by ‘you’ I mean ‘me,’ and by ‘me’ I mean ‘my parents’) had to pay about $50 for an imported CD. Yipes. So in a way, my only way to figure out if I liked a band or not was to play through the transcription of their song in Guitar World. This is how I found out that I liked Megadeth (“Hangar 18″) and Sepultura (“Dead Embryonic Cells” in Guitar World‘s sister magazine, Guitar School), respected ZZ Top (“Doubleback”) and did not care for Bulletboys, not one jot sir (“Talk To Your Daughter,” although I think that was a cover).
Ok, I know that’s a provocative headline. And I also know 1991 was the new 1967. Maybe 2009 is the new 1991… let me explain. Lots of awesome stuff happened musically in 1967. Cream’s Disraeli Gears. Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced. Sgt Pepper’s. This was when rock went from being a somewhat naughty child to a pushy, bratty teen, and suddenly guitar playing wasn’t polite any more. The dinka-dink chords of previous years gave way to bluesy wails and orgasmic moans.
Some pretty earth-shaking stuff happened in 1991 too: Metallica’s Black album redefined commercial metal and gave rise to the tragic practice of hiring Bob Rock for stuff that doesn’t contain the words ‘oh baby.’ Nirvana’s Nevermind was not my cup of Penny Royal Tea but you certainly can’t deny its influence. And on Van Halen’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge Eddie ditched the synths and far-too-friggin’-clean guitar tones of OU182 to return to being a guitar hero.
For me, at least, 2009 is shaping up to be as important as those watershed years, because in 2009 a whole bunch of artists I’ve loved forever released albums that restored my shattered faith in the remnants of humanity, or at the very least my faith in the artists themselves. Most of the artists I’m about to mention have been around for several decades and could be excused – though not forgiven, oh no, not forgiven – for handing in the occasional clunker. So just because I can be a bit of a jerk sometimes, I’m going to compare each of these new albums to the artist’s worst misfire. Yes I know, that’s not really fair and will probably give an inflated sense of greatness to the new release, but hey, it helps me to emphasise my point – than an uncommonly high concentration of cool albums have been released this year by my favourite artists.
Alice In Chains – Black Gives Way To Blue Buy CD
A reminder that on the last Layne Staley-fronted AIC album, Jerry Cantrell did the lion’s share of lead vocals anyway. Black Gives Way To Blue could probably stand to be a little less layered and a little more dynamic, but it’s still better than anything your band has put out this year, unless you’re Dave Mustaine.
Clunker: Alice In Chains. Not quite there and the mix was amateurish.
Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know Buy CD
A defiant ‘fuck you’ to Ozzy’s inability to pull himself together enough to do a full-on Sabbath reunion justice, Mssrs Iommi, Butler, Dio and Appice shut everyone up with this demonically solid disc. And did you know that the opening riff in ‘Atom & Evil’ was written not by Iommi or Butler but by Dio? Truesies. You’ll never see Ozzy walk into rehearsal with something like that.
Clunker: Born Again. Dirty, messy and sloppy, and not in the cool way.
Devin Townsend – Ki Buy CD
Devy gets a lot less hevy on this atmospheric, moody, kinda gothy but really just its own thing release. The guitar tones are mostly a combination of clean amp and single coil. Hard to believe, I know. This album gets better with every listen, and I can’t wait to hear Devin’s next exploration of this style, whenever that may be. His next CD, Addicted, is going to be pretty heavy, so it might be a while before he revists the Ki sound.
Clunker: Accelerated Evolution. Some good moments but seems to lose direction somewhere around the middle.
Queensryche – American Soldier Buy CD
Yeah, it sounds a little ProToolsier than I’d like, and there are more chordy, strummy parts than one could reasonably desire to hear on a Queensryche album, but Geoff Tate’s vocal performances are killer and Michael Wilton digs into his solos like a man possessed. Even if you don’t dig the concept, you owe it to yourself to check out ‘The Killer’ and ‘Dead Man’s Words.’
Clunker: Hear In The Now Frontier. Queensryche doing grunge? Even the pre-Nickelback radio-friendly hard rock of Q2K blew the hell out of that one.
Living Colour – The Chair In The Doorway Buy CD
Now, I love Living Colour’s Stain album. I’ll love it til the day I die and then I’m coming back to haunt it. The Chair In The Doorway is no Stain. It’s not as heavy nor intricate, but it’s more colourful and groovy. It’ll never be my favourite Living Colour album but I’m okay with that, and I quite like it.
Clunker: Collide-O-Scope. I feel it’d be a better album if a third of the songs were removed and provided as a bonus EP. Yeah I know that’s kinda weird – I’d like it more if the exact same songs were presented exactly as they are but in a different context – but dude, the heart wants what the heart wants, and I want a little more focus on this one.
Dream Theater – Black Clouds & Silver Linings Buy 3-CD special edition
When Dream Theater released Falling Into Infinity, I was pretty disappointed. Then they put out Metropolis II: Scenes From A Memory and I was so blown away by the awesomeness of the song ‘Home’ that I literally cried. Well, I was also going through some things at the time and I think I was just happy to have something positive to enjoy, but I digress. Then Dream Theater seemed to spin their wheels a bit. I got kinda bored, and while I still bought the albums, I just didn’t enjoy them all that much. Then Black Clouds & Silver Linings came out and hot damn, it has a lot of that same spirit that I loved so much on Scenes From A Memory. Warm guitar tones, chunky riffs, great performances, and songs you could actually remember. I hope it’s not another 10 years before Dream Theater releases an album as cool as this again.
Clunker: Octavarium. Took me years to be able to listen to it all the way through.
Chickenfoot – Chickenfoot Buy CD
Technically a debut release but each member of this supergroup has a history and therefore I’m lumping them in with the rest of the acts in this list. Ok, so a few tracks sound a bit like filler. Sorry Sammy, but ‘My Kinda Girl?’ ‘She’s a bar skank who bangs band members and gets trashed all the time but she’s really sweet and a good mom…’ – I’m paraphrasing but that’s what I hear when I listen to that one. But ‘Avenida Revolution?’ ‘Soap On A Rope?’ They’ll kick your ass.
Clunker: Super Colossal. Sorry Joe, I like parts of it but the rhythm tracks and overall presentation on that one just didn’t feel as developed as I’d like.
Megadeth – Endgame Buy CD
Megadeth finally settles into the post-reunion era (which began with the hugely underrated The System Has Failed) with this pummelling, virtuosic slab of death-killing metal aggression. Mustaine has never sounded so pissed off yet so intent, so angry yet so focused. In years to come when Megadeth is a thing of the past, headbangers of the future will lump this one together with Rust In Peace. Yes, it’s that good.
Clunker: The World Needs A Hero. Megadeth tries to return to its roots, but fails partly due to one too many rewrites of already-existing Metallica songs (Dave, I love ya but ‘Dread & The Fugitive Mind’ is just the verse of ‘This Was My Life’ and the ‘Can’t say what’s on my mind’ bit of ‘Tornado of Souls’).
Steve Vai – Where The Wild Things Are Buy DVD or Buy CD.
Vai augments his live sound with a pair of violins which sometimes take the place of harmonized guitars but they do oh so much more, allowing the arrangements to open up and making for his least cluttered, most energetic live recording to date (and there have been a lot of them since the first G3 compilation).
Clunker: C’mon, it’s Steve Vai, there no clunkers.
Paul Gilbert & Freddie Nelson – United States Buy CD
Paul Gilbert teams up with unknown vocalist and releases one of the best albums of his career, with chunky guitar tones, great vocals and some unstoppably awesome songcraft.
Clunker: Flying Dog. Some good moments but doesn’t quite have the spark of Pablo’s other stuff. Except ‘Girl Crazy.’ That track was badass.
Last week Mrs I Heart Guitar and I were reminiscing about how much of our early musical tastes were defined by Rage, a TV show that started here in Australia in 1987 on the national broadcaster ABC and is still running today. I discovered Rage some time that year (I turned 9 in July 87). I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started watching it – I guess it couldn’t have been too long after it started in April of 1987, but probably a little while after my birthday. Memory’s a bit hazy. Oh well.
For those reading outside of Australia, let me fill you in. Rage typically starts some time around midnight, and in addition to a top 50 countdown which starts around 7am to 10am on Saturday mornings and 4am to the end of show on Sundays, it features guest programmers or loosely assembled themes.
Let’s get into the mood with the credits:
In my earliest Rage-watchin’ days I used to get up after everyone had gone to bed on Friday night, turn the TV volume right down so I wouldn’t wake anyone and get yelled at to go back to sleep, and let this exciting new world of music reveal itself before my eyes. My favourite video back then was this:
I loved the shimmery moodiness of this track. It blended especially well with the glow of the TV screen against the otherwise dark loungeroom, the silence of the outside world (nighttime is VERY quiet in small-town Australia!) and just the general feeling of being awake way too late and knowing it was a bit naughty.
I also really loved this one by another Aussie band:
This was pretty awesome too:
Not too much later I discovered the glory of big hair, pointy guitars and a gentleman named Steve Vai.
I was already messing around with guitar by then, but this was the song that really made me want to get into crazy solos. It had a huge impact on me. The Beatles and Dire Straits made me want to start playing guitar when I was about 7, but Steve Vai made me want to play the guitar like a motherfucker.
A few years later puberty started knockin’ and I discovered Siouxie Sioux, who I liked for several reasons, some of which were musical, and some of which weren’t. Damn.
It seemed almost impossible to watch an episode of Rage without coming across this gem. It’s almost become an in-joke… ‘how long til they play Ashes To Ashes?’ then hi-fives when they do.
A few years later – we’re talking about 1992 or 1993 – I noticed a few bitchen videos in a row so I chucked a tape into the ol’ VCR (consult a history teacher for information about this archaic machine). What followed was a taste-shaping foray into the darker side of music. I was already into some metal stuff, but that night I also had my little mind exploded by these tracks:
Betrayer – Kreator
That night they also played every Alice In Chains video up to that point, which was pretty freaken sweet.
I don’t watch Rage very much these days, but I’d kinda like to stay up one night, grab a blanket and warm cup of Milo and just reminisce, y’know? You’re still likely to tune in and see something pretty eclectic, esoteric, unique, creative, off-the-beaten-path, or just downright awesome.
By the way, Mrs I Heart Guitar said her first memory of Rage was the Linda Ronstadt-performed version of this (sorry I couldn’t find the video for Linda’s version):
I just interviewed Dave Mustaine! Dave’s been a huge hero of mine ever since I was 12 or 13 years old and first heard Rust In Peace. I always dug the level of detail and precision in his rhythm guitar playing, as well as the fire and outright angriness of his lead stuff. And I also liked that he was unrepentently intelligent and also a bit grouchy at times. As a rather bookish lad and a budding metalhead at the same time, I liked having a hero who embodied both extremes.
So today finally, at age 31 and after seeing Megadeth live 5 times so far, I finally got to interview Dave! There were a few hiccups regarding a wrong phone number and stuff but eventually it got sorted and the interview happened a few hours after the scheduled time. The interview will be in the next issue of Mixdown and will also be here in extended form soon. Originally I thought I’d publish it tonight but I might sit on it til Tuesday cos I’m publishing my Bumblefoot interview this week.
I’ve done a lot of interviews over the years with some of my heroes – Joe Satriani, Zakk Wylde, Devin Townsend, Steve Lukather – and I’m not usually that fazed but I was kinda nervous talking to Dave – fanboy geek alert. But the dude is such a slick interviewee after many many years of doing it, that it seemed to go really well and he overlooked my geekdom. I think he got a bit bored when I asked one too many questions about Chris Broderick (sorry Dave!) but everything quickly got back on track when we both nerded out over Marshall and Dean.
It was a great chat and I can’t wait for everyone to read it.
I recently stumbled upon the excellent Strat-o-blogster blog which features lots of great Stratty goodness. Site owner JP has a very easy-to-read style, is very knowledgable and has a great sense of humour – some of these posts have me spraying coffee out my nose. I’m slowly working my way through backposts, in between practicing my Jason Becker arpeggios and trying to nail the marimba solo from St Alphonzo’s Pancake Breakfast