Meat Loaf- Hang Cool Teddy Bear

Let me get this out in the open before I begin. I have never been a fan of Meat Loaf. For such a legend of rock, I found his music incredibly tame, and bordering on quite sappy and bland. He was just an artist I didn’t get. Popular? Undeniable. To my tastes? Barely, which is why his new release, “Hang Cool Teddy Bear” came as such a surprise to me. It is actually really good.

“Hang Cool Teddy Bear” is apparently the start of a new series of albums, like his previous “Bat Out Of Hell” trilogy. This time it deals with a wounded soldier’s visions of future lives he could have lived. Produced by Rob Cavello, the producer who gave Green Day their first steps into the realm of the concept album with American Idiot, this album sounds great. One problem I had with listening to older Meat Loaf was that for all the intended bombast, it never really came across due to incredibly flat and dull production. This is honestly not the case here. Sweeping orchestras, soaring choirs all back up the core, classic rock line up of guitar, bass, piano, drums and vocals. But that’s the main point, it doesn’t wash the rock into the background. Finally, the guitar track is actually audible on a Meat Loaf release!

I don’t know whether it will apply to rest of the series, but this first release filled with celebrity appearances. Justin Hawkins (most famously of The Darkness) turns up co-writing some of the songs and singing backup, Jon Bon Jovi co-wrote the final track of the album, and Steve Vai and Brian May both play lead guitar on a couple of the tracks. After playing Meat Loaf’s son in the movie “Pick Of Destiny”, Jack Black lends his backing vocals to a track, an American Idol judge sings a duet with Mr. Loaf and, craziest of all, the multitalented Hugh Laurie appears to lend his piano chops to the already star studded “Hang Cool Teddy Bear”.

This is of course forgetting the real star of the show, Meat Loaf himself. He may be getting on in years, but it hasn’t done his voice any harm. If anything, it’s added more of an edge. Meat Loaf’s voice is still flying high like you’d expect, but he’s gained a growl, a gruffer edge, and it really works for him. This isn’t the vocal of an aging rocker, this is the vocal at the peak of maturity. It’s very lucky that he is still so good because he is taking on quite an eclectic mix of styles here. He runs the gauntlet from waltzing power ballads to hip-hop influenced rockabilly, screaming blues-rock to prog-heavy metal. It is actually kind of amazing that so many songwriters writing so many styles could produce such a cohesive album. Each track flows really well to the next, despite only being linked by this overarching concept of a soldier’s visions, which thankfully doesn’t get in the way. This isn’t story album, it’s a collection of interlinked tracks and gladly they do manage to link.

This album has managed to convert me. Ok, you still won’t find “I Would Do Anything For Love” on my iPod, but I have had a great time with “Hang Cool Teddy Bear”. Meat Loaf’s consistently strong vocal is finally backed up by great songwriters, high-class production and star musicians, offering the backing that Meat Loaf has always deserved. Occasionally it’s a little corny, but it’s all part of the fun, and it wouldn’t be Meat Loaf without it. Lets just say I’m definitely keeping my eye out for “Hang Cool Teddy Bear II”

9/10

Standout Tracks:

Living On The Outside

Like A Rose

Song Of Madness

Download the Bonus Track “Prize Fighter Lover” at the  Album’s Site for FREE!

SOS- Adult Situations

"The True Face Of Hard Rock"

“Adult Situations” is the 5th release from New York based rockers SOS, and even though you may not have heard of them up until now, gives good reason why you should go and search them out. If you want some backstory, then read the rest of this paragraph, if you just want to get onto what they’re like musically, and how good the album is, then feel free to skip ahead a little past the break. Formed in the good old days of the mid 90s, SOS worked the New York gig scene, working on their craft under the slogan of being “trained to rock”. A few roster changes have occurred in the period between their previous release “A Guide To Better Living”, but it doesn’t seem to caused any problems with their sound.

The fact that these guys formed in the mid 90s is an important fact to remember. If you liked the metal and grunge and punk of the late 80s and early 90s, then there’s probably something for you to like here. SOS seem to take their cures from greats such as Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, (early) Offspring and even the mighty Metallica. A good way to describe them would be what would happen if you took 90s grunge, upped the distortion and taught it how to play Master Of Puppets. Though, this metal influence pales in comparison to all the grunge going on in “Adult Situations”, it’s still undeniably there. SOS’s sound is actually a little bit of a breath of fresh air in a rock environment filled with whining metalcore and the return of the synth. Straight ahead, hard, grungy rock from a band who’ve worked to get where they are, rather than garnering success from a first release and gradually faltering more and more from expectations.

As an album, it works decently. It’s no Sgt. Peppers, or anything in the concept album ilk, but it still feels like a cohesive whole. That said, “Walk Of Shame” is a little bit of a weak opener to the release, due mostly to the bass and drum led intro in particular and the song in general having a shallower tone than the rest of the album. “Adult Situations” is a thick album, full chords put through distortion, effects all over the place, multiple guitars. It’s just a shame that the opener pushes the 90s grunge structure of soft verse/hard chorus a little too far, leaving the verses sound thin rather than soft. Gladly, this is not representative of the album as a whole. Tome heavy drumming thickens out the sound satisfyingly, and generally is backed up by deep delving basslines. The guitar runs an eclectic mix of grunge dissonance, metal riffing, almost clean lead and, on occasion, searing solo lines. This is not including the times when it’s running through a wah pedal or reduced to cleanly strummed chords. You could listen to just the guitar parts, and have a wide aural experience. Not to forget the vocals which have just the right amount of growl for the tone (think “pissed off Smashmouth”), and have vocal lines which manage to pleasantly deviate from the norm at times.

This isn’t a perfect album by any means. The 90s have come and gone, and SOS are one of the few remnants of the music of that era, other than struggling new releases from those big names SOS seem to be inspired by. This means that either there’s a big market for people who miss that sound, or that this sort of rock has died out for a reason. Personally, I’m glad to have it. Sure, a couple of the songs are a little samey, but I guess that is “Adult Situations” toeing the fine line between having a unified sound, and all of your songs being identical. Luckily, they err mostly on the side of a unified sound. I’ll be listening to these songs for a little while to come, so maybe you should give them a listen and see if you have a hankering for a band who are “trained to rock”

7.5/10

Standout Tracks:

Daddy Like

Wasteland Temptress

Hypoxyphilia

Thanks to Mike as 316 Productions for providing the album for review.

Lostprophets- The Betrayed

"How Long Can YOU Stare Moodily Into The Middle Distance?"

Looking back at other reviewers takes on Lostprophets earlier albums; one word comes up repeatedly that actually seems a little bit out of place. The thing is, reviewers keep describing them as metal. I don’t know if their singles have been giving me the wrong impression about them, but metal is one word I would never use to describe Lostprophets. Well, not until their fourth release, “The Betrayed.”

Before I get onto the metal content of this album, let me quickly just judge a book by its cover, or rather an album by the same. “The Betrayed” has one of the most pretentious album covers I’ve seen in a long time. The front cover is not too bad, the album title and artist are in the centre, backed by dark bird wings on a black background, it’s maybe trying a little too hard to be edgily epic, but it doesn’t come across as too bigheaded. No, the big problem lies with the back cover of the album. It uses the layout of a movie poster, with the band members in the centre looking moodily into the camera. The album title sits in front of them, and beneath this the track names are disguised as movie credits. It just makes the band seem really bigheaded, which casts a bad light on the album in terms of first impressions. This is a pity, as “The Betrayed” is a legitimately darker album.

Ok, so metal then. I would certainly say that at the very least, this album starts off sounding like metal. It actually gradually softens up over the course of the album, but manages to retain a darker feel than much of the rest of their material. Even if there is a gradual softening, the songs “If It Wasn’t For Hate We’d Be Dead By Now”, “Dstryr and Dstryr”, “Next Stop Atro-City”, and the lead single “It’s Not The End Of The World But I Can See It From Here” all sound either mostly or totally like honest to goodness metal, making almost half the album full of darkness and distortion. Many of the rest of tracks hark back to their softer hits, but without going quite as poppy as songs such as “Last Summer” or “Last Train Home”. There are even a few little Ska influences in a couple of the tracks, and moments that bring to mind other British Indie bands like Futureheads and Fratellis, albeit with that “dark” vibe that Lostprophets have overarching the entire album. Even if musically, a song sounds like it should be jolly fun, the lyrics turn this the happiness into melancholy. If the lyrics aren’t quite doing it, there are some little industrial flourishes in the background of some songs just to add to that sense of unease and darkness.

Despite not having any songs that stick in the head quite as well as their earlier singles, and being stuck inside a very pretentious cover, “The Betrayed” is a thoroughly enjoyable turn from Lostprophets. They were trying to go darker, and they delivered, at least for the first half of the album.

7.5/10

Standout Tracks:

It’s Not Of The World But I Can See It From Here

Next Stop Atro-City

Streets Of Nowhere

Orchestras and Rock- Will It Blend?

"Not Exactly What I Mean, But Appropriate Nonetheless"

Usually, I am a proponent of the idea of adding an orchestra into a rock song when the time is right. It can make a song sound very filmic in a good way, it adds atmosphere and a great feel of the epic. Metal and orchestras always go well together, but then, I’ve always had the theory that metal is the closest popular genre to classical (but that’s a whole other article). Take Dimmu Borgir for example.

Sounds just like something out of Lord Of The Rings in the background doesn’t it? Imagine that song without the orchestra, it would sound a lot blander. To change direction slightly, bands such as Aerosmith can use orchestras brilliantly too. Though, with them, rather than sounding like film sountracks, their songs end up getting chosen as theme songs when they use orchestras (I’m looking at you “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”), but that may be just because they are a bigger and more radio friendly band than Dimmu Borgir.

I’m giving the impression that you need a really thickly produced song already to make an orchestra fit in, but you really don’t. Many a heartfelt acoustic song has moved its way into the category of heartwrenching with the addition of a swelling string section over the top. The classic example of this would be Green Day’s classic “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)”, but here’s a unique version of The Beatles “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from the Love show too, just to show you how strings can be used brilliantly.

A little note on The Beatles here; they are the only popular band I can think of who have made popular rock songs with only an orchestra for backing. I think that’s an achievement not as much for the band, but for the arrangements of George Martin, in his ability to get hit songs for The Beatles without them using their own instruments for a single note. This loops round nicely to the beginning actually, as I had always thought that “Eleanor Rigby” would make a great metal song, but I am yet to hear someone pull it off successfully. Oh well, here’s “She’s Leaving Home” just for argument’s sake too.

Considering all I have just said, how the hell did Ben Folds manage to ruin the single version of his song “Landed” by adding an orchestra? By all rights, this should have made it even more heartfelt and powerful but no, the strings feel tacked on and in the way. The original is bordering on a perfect piano led pop song, why did he feel he had to add strings to the single, the version most people are going to hear, if it ends up sounding like that and turning from heartfelt and charming to overwrought and sappy. Just listen for yourself and form your own opinions on it, I’m going to go back and compare two different versions of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe” to see whether my theories work there.

Gama Bomb- Tales From The Grave In Space

"Metal. The darkest, most brutal genre of all."

Ahh, metal. Where would we be without you? To be honest, metal has been a far more influential genre than a lot of people give it credit for, which is very surprising, considering how silly a genre it can be. At times, it’s multitude of subgenres can make it seem like it has identity issues too. Does it want to be brutal and hard to listen to, or does it want to be soaring and epic? Not to mention the break-off arms of the genre, like Industrial and 80s glam metal. Still, there seems to be a consensus around a group of fans as to what makes “true metal” and Gama Bomb seem to hit this, with a big dollop of fun.

Ok, so what should “true metal” have? For this, we look back to the 70s, and bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. Dark, fantastical themes, soaring vocals reaching into the giddy heights of falsetto, massive guitar distortion and a heavy bass presence all make metal the genre we recognise. Gama Bomb have all this in droves, and combine it all with the brutal speed of thrash.

One thing that turns a lot of people off metal is the perceived seriousness of it all. Metal is seen as a big, boys only club, where blood, death and destruction are discussed at eardrum destroying volume. Gama Bomb, on the other hand, are anything but serious (but may still break your eardrums). I could try and describe their brand of fun to you, but just let me give you a sample of their song titles, and some choice lyrics from them and let you work it out for yourself. It’s better this way, I promise:

New Eliminators of Atlantis B.C.: centurions/of a second breed/robots/powered by piston steam/

Three Witches: and now you’ve no balls/eyeballs that is

Escape From Scarecrow Mountain: come on honey/stop acting funny/let’s get romantic/ow!

Mussolini Mosh: the slippery slope to genocide/but we know your legs won’t let it slide

Return To Blood Castle: the lord of the manor’s been up to no good/and now he must pay

Now, tell me you can take this band seriously. Don’t worry if you can’t, I very much doubt they want to be taken seriously. This is an album of silly fun, playing on the stereotypical expectations of metal. Musically, it’s not amazing, but very little metal ever is. For instance, I’m pretty sure this whole album is in the same key, as there have been numerous times when I’ve not realised when one song ended and another began. Also, there’s not as much of the guitar virtuosity some other bands have either. Though it isn’t completely absent, as seen in songs such as Polterghost, for instance, it is a lot more subdued than hat you would get from power metal bands such as Dragonforce. The rest of the band seems to be there just to play bloody fast, and create a good mood to hold up the really enjoyable narratives of the vocals. If you love metal, you’ll love this album, so feel free to add a point to my score at the bottom of this review for yourselves, metalheads. If your not a metal fan, it’s still worth a look, even just for a good laugh at the sillyness of it all.

7/10

Standout tracks:

New Eliminators Of Atlantis B.C

Mummy Invasion

We Respect You

Click here to get a free download of this album, directly from the band themselves!